Is a Bishop truly able to hold in his heart and mind two differing and opposing views, one that of personal conviction and the other of the public stance of his church?
A DISCUSSION STARTER
May I ask my reader to be patient, and come with me on a brief journey of clarification, by setting a broad context, to try to get some perspective on this question before we answer it.
(a) In the world of industry, I may work for Ford making trucks and join with my fellow-workers in saying how great are Ford trucks; but it may be my private conviction that GM trucks are best and thus I buy such for my family. Nothing wrong with this, except I miss the discount in buying Ford!
(b) In the world of sport, I may live in a certain city and join with family and friends in the public and vocal support of the local baseball and football teams, as though these were the only teams for me; but in my heart my favorite teams may be those of the city where I was born, a thousand miles from where I currently live. Nothing wrong here, except if my local friends find out I may pay a price!
(c) In the world of weekly church attendance, I may go with my family and friends to a certain evangelical church where I feel comfortable and accepted, where the preaching and singing/music are robust, and where there is a strong sense of service to the community. To my friends I appear reasonably or even fully contented; yet in my heart I long for a different kind of religious experience, weekly attendance at the fullness of the Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Church (of which I have read in Russian novels and seen on DVD). Nothing wrong here’ except if my friends knew this they would probably think me very odd indeed and needing counseling!
Now we need to look at some examples involving moral and spiritual principles, which apply both privately to a person and in and for the group in which he is involved.
(1) Take the pastor, who regularly organizes his people to go on “pro-life” marches and demonstrations, insisting in his exhortation that human life begins at conception and the baby (foetus) in the womb must be treated as a human being with rights and be protected. However, there is another side to this pastor’s moral principles. When he found that his wife was pregnant and that it was clear that the baby would be born with major defects and problems, he insisted that she have an abortion quietly and in a center far away, for they could not on their busy schedules care for a severely handicapped child.
Such events have a way of leaking out and people getting to know. And in this case when it does then the moral leadership of the pastor disappears.
(2) Take the rector who regularly meets heterosexual couples who are living together, and who come to him to discuss the possibility of baptism for a child, church-membership or marriage. If he takes the strict view of the meaning of fornication found in the New Testament and Moral Theology, it is possible that he will urge them to separate, to change moral direction, and later to marry (if that seems right) and be church members. However, it is also possible that such are the societal pressures on him that he will forget his high principles, will welcome them, make no critical reference to “their living in sin” and proceed to do for them whatever they ask of him.
When this rector has compromised a few times and a growing number of people know, he will not any longer be able to preach with power and conviction the moral laws and commandments of the Lord our God. Why? Because he will know that many of his people know that he does not really believe these commandments of God, except perhaps as ideals for a different age!
(3) Take the Anglican Bishop who, as a member of the College/House of Bishops, is thereby committed to their agreed policy of not allowing a divorced person, whose spouse is alive, to be married in church. His own view would make various exceptions and is more liberal; but he refuses to implement it in his diocese because he believes it is duty to implement the joint-rule of the whole House.
In this case the difference between the doctrine/policy of the House and his own position is a difference within a given spectrum, not a wholly different doctrine. And the Bishop presumably can stand before Jesus the Lord with a clear conscience in this area. This is because he holds the full doctrine of Christian marriage as right, good and true, and teaches the same: however, how to care pastorally for those who have failed and after penitence wish to make a new start is not of easy answer, and various possibilities are open, and it is here where he differs from others.
(4) Take the Lutheran pastor, who has come to the remarkable conclusion through his own individual study, that salvation is wholly by works (good deeds) and faith is a good work. However, he knows that to preach or teach this will cause many problems in his circle and so he decides (a) to keep it to himself and a small group of friends and (b) to preach and teach the official Lutheran Confessional Doctrine that Justification is by Faith alone on all public occasions.
Here we have a case where what the Lutheran minister really and truly believes is that “salvation of wholly by works;” but that he is willing to keep this to himself and offer to his congregation and denomination the traditional Lutheran line of “faith alone.” Here what is true for himself is not what is true for others!
Dr Rowan Williams
The Archbishop of Canterbury has made it known himself, and others have confirmed it, that he has actually long believed that a same-sex couple in a faithful, covenanted partnership can be a genuine manifestation of the love of God; and thus this union is not contrary to the moral law of God or a threat to Christian marriage.
This he describes as his personal, private opinion, which he generally keeps to himself and does not publicly propagate, except in remarks and comments in restricted circles.
In contrast, he also holds in his capacity as the Primate of all England and the “titular head” of the Anglican Communion of Churches a responsibility to teach and propagate the doctrine of sexuality approved by a large majority at the Lambeth Conference of 1998, and further approved by individual Provinces, and taken as a base-line and developed by The Windsor Report. Here it is important to be very clear that this public, official Anglican doctrine has no place whatsoever in it for same-sex relations/partnerships within the Church—indeed they are always wrong whatever their quality.
Thus in his public capacity Dr Williams teaches and propagates a traditional doctrine which includes within it the condemnation of the doctrine that he holds as a private person. One can only speculate as to the conflict that this causes in his soul.
The question arises: Which of the two doctrines does Rowan really believe? Which one is for him the bringing into a meaningful form both the truth of God from Scripture and what reason tells us about the human condition as sexual? Which of the two teachings is truly in his heart as well as his mind?
One may never know the answer to this question!
However, one can see in recent decisions made by Rowan and through commitments of his, what seem to be evidence for the changing priority of each of his views. For example, the fact that he invited (a) all the American consecrators of Gene Robinson and (b) all the USA bishops who have been allowing the blessing of same-sex couples in their dioceses, to Lambeth 08 seems to proclaim one thing. But the strong and passionate call he made at Lambeth 08 for a moratorium on both same-sex blessings and the electing and consecrating bishops in same-sex relations points in another. Of course, one can read these decisions politically and leave the matter there.
My own reading of the human heart is that a doctrine held with conviction cannot be hidden all the time. It will make itself known in all kinds of little ways, and sometimes in big ways. Thus if Rowan does hold with inner conviction the doctrine that same-sex couples can and do exhibit the love of God then this indicates who he is and where he is. And, therefore, however hard he pushes the public doctrine and the policies of Lambeth 08 on moratoria, it will always be the case that he is internally fighting against himself. And he will never be able with full heart, mind and will to press the official Anglican doctrine.
Dr Peter Toon August 8, 2008 firstname.lastname@example.org