Beginning a couple of decades ago or so, a particular group of theologians bestirred themselves to recognize that an arid concentration on propositions and abstractions did much less to enhance our understanding of God than it desiccated people’s interest in the whole topic. They pressed the case for “narrative theology,” which takes manifold forms depending on whose understanding of “narrative” and “theology” we’re adopting — but which typically focuses on the extent to which our knowledge of God involves extension in time, in a way that narrative captures more adequately than propositions.
Around the same time, politicians showed increasing awareness that a well-publicized anecdote (however embellished and fictionalized) sways the polls more than a carefully-reasoned policy document. Legislative hearings and executive speeches piled up one heart-wrenching anecdote after another in support of initiatives that would have been much less popular had they been debated as matters of statistics, rights, and responsibilities.
Comparable patterns of debate have emerged in the Anglican Communion’s contortions over sexuality and its appropriate expression. The parties involved have done a certain amount of theological reasoning, and have buttressed their arguments by copious examples of how harshly their adversaries have treated kind, pious disciples, or of how wonderfully the church flourishes when their way prevails, or of their sides’ martyrs, orr the other side’s tyrants.
The Windsor Report took sides on this issue: it specifically indicated dissatisfaction with the paucity of theological reasoning that the Episcopal Church’s leadership had advanced in support of the changes in church life that it proposes. Not everyone agrees that the Episcopal leadership lacks theological backing, but it’s obvious that they haven’t satisfied the Communion outside North America. I haven’t seen the Episcopal Church’s spokespeople redoubling their efforts to address this explicit perceived lack, but the stories keep coming.
Everyone will continue to say a lot about most aspects of this situation, but I want to make a single point at this juncture: “Narrative theology” is not the same thing as “telling affecting stories.” The narrative dimension of theological truth may involve many different things, but it still involves questions of truth that engage more than simply the heart-rending experiences of the aggrieved. Whatever we say about theological truth, we need to connect those claims with the truth that the church has received over the centuries, with Scripture, in a way that constitutes a satisfactorily reasonable argument. Windsor says ECUSA has not done that. Telling more stories not only will not answer Windsor’s point, but will convey disrespect for the very specific point that the Report makes.