Monday, August 30, 2010

Being With

For the past few years I have been reading quite of lot of the writings of two theologians, Douglas John Hall and James Alison. Hall is a Canadian and his theology could be described as Lutheran, although he is a member of the United Church of Canada. Alison is English and a Roman Catholic and his theology is deeply influenced by the work of French philosopher RenĂ© Girard. As I have read these two I have looked for areas of agreement or convergence.  Although there are probably many points about which these two would disagree, I have long sensed that there was much about which they do agree.

Reading Alison's latest book, Broken Hearts and New Creations: Intimations of a Great Reversal, I found this: is inaccurate to talk about humans as if we have a 'self' within us which is just born that way,...and which then independently, and from out of its own resources, chooses to get in touch with rest of humanity. What we have is an intrinsically relational self.... (Page 162)
A relational self? That was something about which Hall was also very clear:
In the tradition of Jerusalem, however, the primary interest is not with various distinctive beings and the qualities that constitute them but rather their interrelatedness....To put it in a formulary way, being itself for this tradition is relational-is "with-being" (Mitsein). (Professing the Faith: Christian Theology in a North American Context, page 147)
I have become who I am because of the relationships in which I have shared, from the earliest relationships with my family to the wide variety of relationships that I now share. My being is, as both Alison and Hall assert, relational, with-being. And that is also, in the tradition of Jerusalem, true about God's being - God is Emmanuel, God-with-us. I have said many times, at the risk of being branded a heretic, that my reading of Scripture has led me to believe that God wants to be God only in relationship with us.

Being with presents us with some challenges, both in our more intimate relationships and in other less intimate but important relationships. Marriage, as I have pointed to couples, is not an extreme makeover operation. We are changed in marriage, but not because our spouses demand it, but because God works in that relationship, as God does in other relationships , to mature us. A problem arises in any relationship when one party insists  on a specific change in the other in order for the relationship to continue. The problem isn't that such demands are always unreasonable, but is whether the specific demand can be met without damaging other important relationships.

It seems to me that Episcopalians face this kind of challenge. We have been blessed to be in relationships with Anglicans in many countries, but now many of those Anglicans are demanding that we change in order to continue those relationships. The specific change that is demanded of us is to reverse the course we have taken towards full inclusion of lesbian and gay members of the church, or what has been called sacramental equality for all members. Reversing course on this would damage what I count as very important relationships within the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, as well as relationships with a wide variety of people outside the church.

I believe that many of us in the Episcopal Church have, to use a term from the Lutherans, bound consciences. We have, after careful study of Scripture, come to the conclusion that committed same-sex relationships can be holy and appropriate for the church to bless, and that persons in such relationships may be ordained.  We believe that God has led us to this conclusion, although we recognize that we could be wrong, and that we are bound to this conviction unless and until we are convinced that we were wrong. I have listened to the arguments against this conviction and remain unconvinced. I would be very pleased if I could remain in communion with Anglicans who disagree with me about this, just as I was pleased to be in communion with Anglicans who did not share my pacifist convictions. Sadly this now seems impossible.

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