Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Dept. of No Surprise: African Edition

After declaring, quite loudly and publicly, that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania would reject assistance from (soon-to-be-former) partner churches which support same-sex marriage, ELCT Presiding Bishop Alex Malasusa now says, "Well, I can't say that. I really can't commit to anything." he is, one remembers, suddenly, a bishop.

Now, let's speak some of the unspokens here. Malasusa's original remark was taken as a slap at the American church, the ELCA, and his second remark comes after an initial (and one imagines polite but firm) discussion with the ELCA's presiding bishop Mark Hanson. The RNS article linked above also includes a journalistically dubious series of comments from Pr. Jaynan Clark (who before her divorce was Jaynan Clark Egland) leader of the anti-ELCA splinter group WordAlone. Clark indulges in characteristic rhetorical excess, by saying "I can't see how anything but the money could be influencing [the ELCT's]the ELCT would be taking position," and that the ELCT would be taking "blood money."

It all looks as though Malasusa is backpedalling rapidly, to keep his church from losing the million bucks per year that the RNS article says the ELCA provides. (We suspect that the number is low. It probably reflects direct aid from one national church to another, and does not include gifts provided by individual synods and congregations.) That is certainly Egland's -- damn, we meant Clark's -- implication.

What Malasusa will probably say, however, is that in fact, the ELCA does not support same-sex marriage. This is true. The ELCA presently supports the blessing of same-sex unions for the purpose of public accountability. This isn't called "marriage" in the official documents, and doesn't require the church to take a position on the matter of how marriage should be defined under either church or civil law. Whether the distinction is important, or will survive a few years of refinement, nobody knows. But at the moment, Malasusa has feasible, if not entirely plausible, deniability.

So here is what we expect Malasusa, having opened his big mouth, will eventually do. He may (1) go the humble route -- "Actually, this is all a big misunderstanding; I was talking about those wretched Swedes, who don't give me nearly as much money as the Americans"; or more likely he will (2) go the self-aggrandizing route, and say "I have conferred with my brother bishop Mark Hanson, and sternly warned him on behalf of all Africa not to do what he doesn't do or plan to do, so now we can be friends again and I can get my million bucks".

We aren't quite sure what Malasusa thought his first comment would accomplish. Did he really imagine that the ELCA would change course in response to his threat not to accept its money? Was he really prepared to simply forgo the fruits of a long and -- crass remarks about money aside -- spiritually fruitful partnership? And if not, where did he think it was all going to wind up, except with his own inevitable clarification-which-is-not-technically-a retraction?

1 comment:

Pastor Joelle said...

I got people in my congregation that are not going to pledge any money for paving the parking lot until we leave the ELCA.

I WISH WISH WISH I was stinking filthy rich to see what the congregation would do if I could promise them $20,000 if they would STAY in the ELCA.