A touching, revealing moment at the press conference just now. The bishops have been talking for several days now about sacrifice. “What are you willing to sacrifice” to keep the communion together?” The clear implication is that Western churches must sacrifice their desire to include gay Christians more fully in the Church.This raises all the right question, not least of which is the ecclesiological and theological question at the heart of Christian praxis (a word beloved of liberation theologians, which is why I keep bringing it up!): who decides what God's word is, and what it means? And more importantly: how?
Katie Sherrod of the Lambeth Witness asked the question I wanted to ask. In sum: who exactly do the bishops think is authorize[d] to negotiate on behalf of gay and lesbian Christians throughout the Communion? The primarily male, exclusively heterosexual delegations from the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada?
The people who are being asked to make a sacrifice are not represented at this conference.
Katherine Ragsdale, also from the Witness, put a finer point on it with her question. It is the essence of Christianity to sacrifice one’s self for others. It is in the inverse of Christianity to ask others to sacrifice themselves for you. The future of the Anglican Communion may rest on the willingness of gay and lesbian Christians to “sacrifice” for it.
It is, indeed, the inverse of Christianity "to ask others to sacrifice themselves for you." And that raises the nagging issue of the servant: the first among Christians is the last of all and servant of all. Which is not to say the most obsequious of all, but neither can you wrap yourself in a mantle of "representation" and claim to speak for others similiarly situated, especially if you are a church leader (bishop, in the case of the Anglican Communion). Where, then, is your authority to provide leadership, if you are only a "representative," a "democratically elected" politician, and nothing more?
On the other hand, you can't lead the parade if it won't follow you. So there is no absolute autonomy, nor is there absolute authority. Even the authority of the "word of God" is given by those who accept a certain interpretation of that word, and hold that interpretation, not the "word" itself, in common.
Which is also not to say it is all theory, and we should throw out the baby with the bathwater and do without a clean baby, or even the baby! But this cuts right to the heart of the matter: who has the power to decide?
Ultimately, again: it's all about power. Which is why the heart of the teachings of Jesus is of the servant, the one who serves power, who makes himself powerless; because the only power, is powerlessness.
But institutions don't do well with paradox, and the heart of theology is Hellenistic, not Hebraic, so paradox doesn't rest well there, either. And yet....