Tobias Haller: An Immodest Proposal

General Convention

Tobias Haller has followed up on his piece from last week, wherein he attempted to accurately describe the present conflict in the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church.

His post today begins by talking about the fact that any response to claims that GLBT people have a case for their full acceptance into the Church must take a two pronged approach:

“An incarnational presence is not always going to convince, even when it is accompanied by eloquent teaching. You will all recall, no doubt, that an incarnational presence can lead to a crucifixion. Moreover, Jesus noted, in his parable of Lazarus and the rich man, that those who have not heeded the weightier matters of the law inherent in such notions as ‘love your neighbor as yourself,’ and the prophetic call to justice, will be unmoved even by the resurrection.

I can give one concrete example from my own experience. At the last General Convention I had an extended conversation with an English Evangelical who began the conversation by saying to me, ‘Some of my best friends are gay; but you are wrong, and you are going to hell.’ My response was an aggressive: No, I am not wrong; but you are, and you will go to hell yourself if you persist in judging others; and here is why. As the evening wore on, I was able not only to reject his premise, but challenge every argument he brought to the fore — clearly not to the extent of convincing him, but to the extent of making him realize his arguments were not nearly so airtight as he had supposed.

It was also helpful to be able to say, ‘You are talking about me when you make these accusations.’ However, if that is all I had said, I doubt it would have shaken his thinking; after all, he said right at the beginning that some of his best friends are gay; it’s just that we’re going to hell. It was the willingness to argue as well as be a presence that made the difference. He said he’d never been confronted in this way before, and made to think about what he was so blithely saying about who was going to hell, as well as a number of his other favorite arguments. I heard the next day from several people who know him that this conversation was profoundly important for him — and he was grateful for thechallenge as well as for the presence.

In short, we need to do both. We are in a Hillel moment here: it isn’t just about us, but about others, too. The ‘easy’ ways at either end, capitulation or revolt, seem to me to lead in the wrong direction. How can we speak to and for the gay and lesbian persons suffering real persecution in so much of the world (far worse than not being allowed to be a bishop, or have their relationship blessed!) if we either give in completely, or separate off into our own private sanctum. ‘If I am not for myself, who will be? But if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?’ So what do we do?”

From here, Tobias goes on to sketch out some specific proposals that would respond positively to the Primate’s request, hold the Communion accountable for what has gotten us all to this place and accountable about keeping a “listening process” moving forward. He sketches out ways that partnered gay and lesbian people be cared for pastorally while the process is on-going.

There are a few places in his proposals where I might see some rough spots.

For instance I’m not convinced the final step of 1.2 is as simple as is claimed (though I do know that Tobias has been working on such a re-casting for some time now and I willing concede his greater knowledge in the area).

Additionally, without being more explicit about what we are describing, I’m not sure that the statement in 3.1 is going to be considered an adequate response.

But, even with those and perhaps other quibbles, this is a very helpful proposal and an excellent place for the Episcopal Church to start its discussions.

Read the rest here: An Immodest Proposal

(Via In a Godward direction.)

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...


  1. Tobias Haller says

    Dear Nick, thanks for the comments. I was being a bit self-conciously droll at 3.1, but with very serious intent. One of the ways in which the current debate falls short is its fixation on one particular form of human behavior, and this broadens the scope, I think helpfully.
    I am also consciously echoing the language of the Ordinal. Both deacons and priests are asked, “Will you do your best to pattern your life [and that of your family or household, or community] in accordance with the teachings of Christ, so that you may be a wholesome example to…” and here the diaconal rite says “all people” and the presbyteral “your people.” No such question is asked of candidates to the episcopate, so I thought it about time to consider raising the matter. (In passing, I also wonder what exactly is meant by “household” if it is neither family nor community. Roommates? Lodgers? Servants?)
    To get back to the questions, I was able in good conscience to answer in the affirmative to both at my ordination to the diaconate and presbyterate, as the focus was on “the teachings of Christ” — not Moses or Saint Paul. I do not pretend to be a perfect person, but I do attempt to “proclaim by word and deed the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to fashion [my] life in accordance with its precepts,” as the priestly ordination rite also says. (Nothing about this in the episcopal rite, either. That may explain a great deal…)
    Perhaps this is precisely where we have lost focus, and I would very much like to see it restored.

  2. Thanks for your responses here Tobias. I like the language you propose in 3.1 – for specifically the reasons that you chose it.
    My point was more political and pragmatic. Given that we’re being asked to respond in an unequivocal way to the request, I’m not sure that this would “pass muster”.
    However, having said that, the more I think about the implications of setting a precedent where the Primate’s meeting has the power of making requirements of the various provinces, the more uncomfortable I become with it. It is an exercise in political power more than it is an act of servant love. And, saying that, I’m wondering right now if it might not make sense to respond as you suggest, and then knowing the consequences, accept them.
    The one thing I am sure of at any rate right now is that I’m very grateful that I’m not a bishop. George Werner was right when he told me that he’s come to accept the truth of the motto of the Cathedral Deans – it’s better to be “very” than “right.” Grin.

  3. Tobias Haller says

    Dear Nick,
    I think we are on the same page here. The statement I offer is intended to press the envelope, and take the consequences. I think to give in to the Primates in the words they want to hear — ar at leasat what some of them want to hear (see Venables differing with KJS on the public/private issue re blessing) — would not only be wrong in itself, but set a disastrous precedent for the ulimate collapse of the church into certainty. Dare I reference Heisenberg to someone of your background — if we try to “fix” the position we will lose the movement of the Spirit… (also with grin)

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