The Questioning Christian on the HoB meeting

Centrists / Religion

DC Toedt, who almost always makes me stop and think has posted his thoughts on the logic being used by folks commenting on the recent communique from the House of Bishops. I think his point about making arguments using the logical tactic of the “excluded middle” is impoverishing the conversation is very very well taken:

“Concerning this week’s House of Bishops report, ‘liberal’ blogger Scott Gunn writes, and traditionalist über-blogger Kendall Harmon agrees: ‘If we say that we’re not ready to authorize SSB’s [same-sex blessings], then let us ensure that they are not happening in our churches. Then if some priest (possibly including this one) wants to do them anyway, let’s face the consequences.’

That’s the fallacy of the false dichotomy, which I encounter mostly in traditionalist circles. It doesn’t have to be either-or, where the bishops must either authorize and encourage SSB, or flat-out prohibit them, with nothing in between.

There is indeed a middle ground, and the House of Bishops seems to be taking it. In effect, they’re saying something like this: As a body, we won’t authorize SSBs. But neither are we as a body prepared to prohibit them. As a body, we’re remaining neutral, taking no position. Priests who feel called to perform SSB, and whose bishops don’t prohibit it, presumably will do what they feel called to do, for good or ill — at least we’ll all learn from what follows.

Given the divisions within TEC on this subject, that’s not at all an unreasonable course of action. What is unreasonable, not to mention unseemly, is all the hypercritical second-guessing of the bishops that’s going on about it.

Some traditionalists claim that by failing to prohibit same-sex blessings, the bishops have implicitly authorized them. Nonsense; here’s what that logic would lead to:

• In Jena, Louisiana, white teenagers hung nooses from a tree, supposedly as a ‘prank.’ Their action was roundly and rightly condemned, but the district attorney and the U.S. attorney (an African-American) concluded that neither Louisiana law nor federal law prohibited the action. As a result, no one was prosecuted for the noose-hanging. Moreover, it seems unlikely that either the Louisiana legislature or the Congress will change the law to permit people to be sent to jail for such actions.

Does that mean that the Louisiana governor and legislature, and Congress and the president, ‘authorized’ the teenagers to hang nooses from a tree, and by failing to change the law, are authorizing similar conduct in the future? Of course not. But that’s what these trads seem to be arguing.

• Another example: A couple of years ago, my teen-aged son drove ‘his’ old four-wheel-drive pick-up truck into a muddy field to help pull out another vehicle that had gotten stuck. It was only later that he (we) learned that the mud had damaged his brakes. So as it happened, his Good-Samaritan intentions didn’t work out all that well, at least not for my bank account.

I hadn’t prohibited my son from driving in mud before he did so. Nor did I do so afterwards: I wasn’t going to second-guess his good intentions, nor his judgment, by forbidding him to do something that in some circumstances might make sense.

Did I thereby ‘authorize’ my son to drive in mud, or to damage his brakes? Of course not; I left it up to his judgment.  There’s a big difference.

It seems to me that we’re in a similar situation concerning SSBs. We don’t know yet whether the eventual costs of SSBs will outweigh the benefits. Reasonable minds can differ whether SSBs are a good idea (and the views of the various scriptural authors cannot serve as the final word, on that subject or any other).”

There’s more and you can read the rest here: Stop the Monday-morning quarterbacking, already!

The Author

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


  1. john 2007 says

    Gunn and Harmon are spot-on because, recall, those with ‘enhanced responsibility’, namely, the Primates, in effort to protect the true catholicity of the Church, (never mind the teaching of Lambeth, the Scriptures, and the overwhelming history of the Church), asked for specific things. There were specific requests and the HOB, for the second time, said, primarily, we will just buy time and move ahead with our agenda, some members by deep commitment to pansexuality and others by a kind of cultural-theological drift. They said they would not promote public rites of SSB’s–my hunch is that they know a widespread, active promotion of SSB’s would send people away in droves–but still gave themselves wiggle room and, of course, just look what KJS said about there not being any moratoria. I don’t know how one could think that the Primates request would not include a cessation.
    Granted, in the absence of the Primates request, ECUSA could fashion a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy, or a local option policy, or an anything goes policy. But once a plea is made for specific things then some specific things are excluded and an appeal to the fallacy of the excluded middle is just not convincing especially when one is working to establish common understanding and practice and norms of behavior.

  2. john 2007 says

    “Reasonable minds can differ whether SSBs are a good idea” Maybe, but faithful minds will not.

  3. I’ve really become completely disillusioned with people who call themselves Christians these days.
    They will stop at literally nothing to have their own way; now Kendall Harmon is arguing that TEC is wrong for NOT approving same-sex blessings! As usual, it’s not because he has any empathy for gay people and the hell that “Christians” visit upon us – but because he wants TEC kicked out of the Anglican Communion. He, and others, are now transparently using gay people for their own ends – which involve trying to get gay people out of their church.
    “Let us be sure they are not happening in our churches,” he says. OUR churches, as if they belonged to him and his pals, and as if – as usual – gay people were objects for him to pronounce judgement on.
    He doesn’t give a damn about our lives – only that his precious sense of propriety isn’t offended. And THIS is labeled “normal” and even “Christian.”
    Truly sickening. The Church really is the most godless place in the universe.

  4. Nick, I take it you’re not saying, in your preamble, that it’s my point that’s impoverishing the conversation? (Thanks for the cite, BTW.)

  5. Drat. Sorry DC, I hit post before I finished that last sentence. Too many balls in the air at the moment. I’ve fixed it now.

  6. bls: Your comment taking Kendall to task – which points out a logic to his statement that I hadn’t thought about yet – and sharing your frustration with “Christians”, reminds me of something I think Martin Luther once said. “The Church is the Bride of Christ, robed in “manure” stained robes and harlot though she may be…” (Or something like that.)
    I think I may need to meditate on Hosea today in a new more Christological light than I have before.

  7. John 2007 says

    Really, bls, Kendall Harmon is saying, simply, ‘Be honest.’ If we have as a HOB no commitment to the course the Primates asked us to follow–and let’s be candid, we don’t–let’s not be duplicitous or conniving or move into posturing or calculating. So that others can be clear about who we are, let’s be honest. My goodness, we have 2 PB’s in a row who have signed statement from the Primates and before the ink was dry they have each said that they did not agree with the position of the statements they signed! And the PB yesterday admitted that we were not changing course but doing this to buy time until we brought the rest of the communion along. So I see no reason to rail against Kendall as you do, and as I have known him, Kendall has lots of empathy for homosexuals, as do many conservatives even if we think celibacy outside of the marriage is the faithful and wisest personal choice and truest to the mind of Scripture. I know you won’t agree with this, but, whatever side people are on, I don’t see how anyone can look at this last meeting as really answering or addressing head on the Primates request. So a plea for greater honesty is not out place in my mind.

  8. John, Kendall Harmon is the one who needs to be honest. Same-sex blessings are allowed for pastoral reasons and “experimentally,” at individual Bishops’ discretion, by the rules General Convention itself put into place. At the same time, there are no official rites in the Prayer Book for them. This is quite similar to what already happens in other cases all across TEC; certain parishes are allowed to experiment with liturgy, with their Bishops’ permission. There are “irregular” situations, too – I can’t remember the actual term for this right now – at places like Seminaries, and elsewhere, for this to happen. “Enriching Our Worship” is another “at the Bishops’ discretion” option in TEC, a text approved by General Convention for use.
    It’s completely above-board. And this IS the situation on the ground; you and Harmon want to push this further either because you can’t live with ambiguity – or so that you can point to TEC as “lawbreaker” and go to Lambeth with some ammunition by which to get us “disciplined.” Certainly many “reasserters” are indeed doing this for the latter reason; it’s transparently easy to see what’s going on.
    And there’s nothing wrong with PBs signing things they don’t agree with, either; people do such things all the time, and saying that they don’t agree with it IS being honest, in fact.
    Kendall Harmon has done everything in his power – he talks about forbidding same-sex blessings constantly – to ensure that gay people are repressed and made less than human at any cost. He apparently hasn’t stopped even for one minute to think about what it means to live a life such as he prescribes for us. He can’t step outside his own point of view for even a second in order to put himself in somebody else’s shoes. He talks about us as if we were objects and nothing more – and all because of his own particular INTERPRETATION of Scripture (which, as everybody knows, doesn’t interpret itself). (I think it’s based not on Scripture, but on a personal and cultural prejudice anyway, but that’s another argument.)
    I’m getting sick and tired of getting all this flack because some people can’t live unless life is black-and-white according to their own personal (and often very narrow) points of view. That fact is just really not our fault.

  9. John, the situation in TEC is far to complex for a simple yes/no answer to come anywhere near the truth. How about trying to adjust to reality before trying to adjust reality.

  10. John 2007 says

    Sorry Jon,
    I am the first to lament superficial descriptions of issues, on both sides of the presenting issue(s), in fact. Yet please consider these 4 request: We were asked by those with ‘enhanced responsibility’, the Primates (1) to stop litigation (2) to cease consecrating partnered same-sex bishops (3) to allow for episcopal and primatial oversight in a way that takes into account the concerns of those seeking it and (4)to commit as a body not to authorize SSB’s. Those were some of the major requests. What did we do? Here is the answer to that question.
    Our HOB did not even address 1. We allowed for wiggle roon in 2 (tho’ maybe less than before . . maybe. We did nothing new regarding # 3 but elevated a scheme already deemed unacceptable, and which unacceptability was precisely the reason the request made by the Primates in Dar-es-Salaam! And on #4 we agreed that there could not be official public authorized rites but, again, the issue was that the Primates knew we were allowing this to go on under the rubric of pastoral care. They asked us to be hones about this. What did we get. Well, and here it is obvious that we are not being honest–my point in affirming Kendall’s post–because bishops still said SSB’s could proceed as pastoral care and–hard to believe–we had Bruno claiming outright that he did not allow such blessings in his Diocese when he participated in Malcom Boyd’s ceremony.
    No matter how complex the presenting issues are, we simply did not respond to the actual requests. So–back to my point–better to say ‘We are unable to comply’ for, truly, we are not.
    As for the attempt to justify FTG’s signing of the Primates Statement prior to VGR’s consecration and then proceeding, and to justify KJS’s signing the Primates request (after which she backpedaled and gave some story about not signing . . .)which she also disavowed, I can only say I am phenomenally, speechlessly disappointed in that kind of behavior.

  11. John, I hate to tell you, but the Primates are not the ruling body of the Episcopal Church. They aren’t even the ruling body of the Anglican Communion (which, BTW, barely exists, legally), although they may want to be.
    I really can’t imagine why you have a problem with PBs disagreeing with policies they feel they have to put into effect. I mean, you can’t really be suggesting that people who represent governing bodies are going to agree with everything they are asked to do by those bodies, or by their own consciences as they discern how to represent those bodies. To my mind, it’s much more honorable to put into effect a policy you feel you must, even when you disagree with it. PBs are not free agents, you know.
    But as I said, it becomes truly tiring to have to defend correct decisions, simply because some people can’t tolerate messiness. TEC does not as a whole support same-sex blessings – which should be obvious, since we govern ourselves and we don’t have same-sex blessings currently.
    And please stop insulting us by calling us “pansexuals,” BTW. Homosexuality is a reality, and so is homosexual love. Only the most myopic and selfish people would think that homosexual people should be ignored and told to live loveless lives for being who they are. That’s a viewpoint that should be repented of, in fact – but of course, nobody ever does.

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