The perils of legalism

Bishop Johnson meets the people at Runnymede

It seems that the Diocese of Toronto has

agreed to allow pastoral services of prayer and blessing for same-sex couples, but will not authorize sacramental rites for the blessing of same-sex unions or gay marriages.

George Conger has the story here (see my earlier post). Ephraim Radner, who lives in Toronto, is not pleased.

“It is hard to escape the fact that the process you have now set in motion — one that involves public proposals, discussions, synodical actions, and all dealing with a way of ordering a particular ‘pastoral response’ that involves episcopal oversight and particular permissions, following directives that involve the nature of prayers – cannot avoid being seen as one of ecclesial ‘authorization’ of liturgical matters surrounding same-sex unions,” he said.

Dr Radner, one of the leaders of the Anglican Communion Institute, and a member of Anglican Covenant Design Group, said the new policy ran contrary to the wider mind of the Communion. While the bishops may have believed they were only giving a structure to a an arrangement for “private prayers”, the “very process you are following” calls for “formal, episcopal, diocesan, public, liturgical prayers of blessing.”

It would not be “very difficult indeed to make the case and persuade others” that what Toronto had now done violated the Lambeth Conference moratorium and [had] was in opposition to the “concerns of many Anglicans around the world.”

(The last paragraph is gobbledegook in the original, of course. Presumed corrections in red.)

If you - or the Covenant, or the common canon law project - take a legalistic approach to matters of conflict and division then hair splitting is precisely what you will get. There are no rules that cannot be sliced up or that need no further interpretation.

If the rule says you may not authorize Rites of Blessing for Same Sex unions you can expect someone to challenge the defintion of each term: this is a political game, not a juridical one. It will eventually work its way out according to majority opinion and not through legal judgements. Thus Bishop Johnson's 'year-long consultation' is not merely cover for his actions but an alternative process to that of the father-knows-best conservatives.

And that immediately hits another core area of dispute: can the church move with the general opinion of its people? Or must the church conform to the specific opinions of its leaders? It is, of course, a false choice. Both leadership and the assent of the led are necessary in the faithful management of change and continuity.


1 comment:

  1. I have a similar problem in getting what Ephraim Radner means precisely right. It might be partly my fault but his writing doesn't help. I can also be accused of similar.