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).
Consequently, if liberal Bishop Bruno of Los Angeles sees fit NOT to prohibit his front-line clergy from doing private SSBs, or even if he expressly authorizes such action, it’s highly improper for traditionalists to be savaging him for not doing what they think he should have done, because on that subject reasonable minds can differ.
The same goes for traditionalist Bishop Wimberly of Texas: If he won’t let his clergy do SSBs (which he won’t), that’s also his decision — although as a member of his diocese I hope he'll eventually change his mind — and it'd be equally improper for liberals to excoriate him for that decision, because on that subject reasonable minds can differ.
Circling back to the House of Bishops decision: Personally I might have preferred for the HoB to tell the Global South primates to butt out, in no uncertain terms, and let the chips fall where they may. Many traditionalists would have preferred just the opposite, namely a prohibition of SSBs and active-gay consecrations, accompanied by sackcloth and ashes. But none of us are charged with that particular responsibility. All this criticism of the HoB’s decision, from both ends of the ideological spectrum, accusing them of bearing false witness and worse, strikes me as the worst kind of petulant Monday-morning quarterbacking by people who take themselves a bit too seriously.