Wednesday, January 31, 2007

We Three Snarks

We three snarks of blogosphere are. . .

Sean McConnell, Communications Officer of the Diocese of California, Padre Mickey, and I together last week at Epiphany West. (That's Fr. Joseph (Nak-Hyon) Joo in the background, one of the presenters at Epiphany West this year, looking studious. . . with one of his children standing by!)

Fr. Francisco de Assis da Silva presents Carlos Eduardo Calvani's paper at Epiphany West. The tapestry behind him and to the left was given to The Rev. Dr. John Kater after an apparently rather contentious meeting about the Anglican Communion he attended in the Philippines this last year. It depicts two (possibly opposing?) tribal leaders meeting together -- a sign of hope for our Communion, and maybe a depiction of what God expects of us in the Current Unpleasantness.

Pictures by Padre Mickey

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Anglican Transformation

Sermon delivered at Church of Our Saviour,

Mill Valley, California
on the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

January 28th, 2007

Readings for The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

audio available

This past week, I attended Epiphany West 2007: Re-Visioning Anglicanism, a conference at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley. One of our speakers was Francisco de Assis da Silva, Provincial Secretary General of the Igreja Episcopal Anglicana do Brasil. While presenting a paper by Carlos Eduardo Calvani, he shared the story of meeting a Church of England priest while in the U.K. for another conference. The story goes something like this: the two of them shook hands, and the English priest noted Fr. Francisco’s collar. When he learned Francisco was from Brazil, he said something to the effect of, “Oh, you must be a Catholic priest, then.” Francisco replied, “No, I’m Anglican.”

There was a moment’s pause, after which the English priest said, “An Anglican from Brazil? Oh, an accident!”

* * *

Well, we should have known it wouldn’t last. In today’s gospel, Jesus has come home to Nazareth, reads from Scripture in the synagogue, and then sits down to begin teaching the people. Last week we were left with all the eyes of the people fixed on him: an expectant moment, a hopeful one in which this native son would deliver something so pleasing that the families he had grown up alongside, the households of children he had played amongst as a youth, the people who had known him as the carpenter’s son. . .something so pleasing that they would be proud of this son of Nazareth. Something that would bring honor to his family and neighbors so that they could remember Jesus to their children and grandchildren.

It was the perfect stage, it seems, for Jesus to build up a good reputation. But then he opens his mouth and sours the whole deal. To the townspeople’s surprise that a carpenter’s son has learned such gracious language, he quotes a proverb that might imply they think he’s nuts. To their natural desire that he perform a miracle because they are his townspeople, he refuses and turns then to hard truths that they are not ready to hear: that Elijah went to serve a foreigner before helping his own people; that Elisha healed the stranger and outsider before the people of Israel to whom he belonged.

The people of Nazareth turn from adoring, expectant friends and family into a lynch mob. To be insulted by one of their native sons, and right out of their hallowed religious tradition, is the greatest possible dishonor. Jesus has turned their expectations against them, suggesting that they can never accept him as anything other than a novelty – their carpenter’s son who suddenly turned odd; who traded strong hands and calluses for a vocation of proclamation, teaching and miracle making. . . but now, it seems, saying all the wrong things, and refusing to do what they most want to see.

* * *

The Anglican Communion is in turmoil right now because the unexpected has happened and is happening. Rapidly growing churches in Africa have tilted the balance of Anglican identity, population-wise, from the wealthy churches of the Northern Hemisphere to our sisters and brothers of markedly different cultures in the middle of some of the worst economic and social conditions on the planet.

In our part of the Communion, people who have been anathematized or subjugated by the historic church have moved into Holy Orders and been openly welcomed into our communities for who they are. One, Gene Robinson, was consecrated bishop in 2003. A firestorm of fury from several post-colonial Anglican churches ensued, including the most populous right now in the Anglican Communion, the Church of Nigeria.

A romantic notion of a past and glorious Episcopal Church. . .one I daresay that may have never been. . .has been dispelled by the election of our first woman Presiding Bishop. It has been further dispelled by a growing commitment to inclusion and missional outreach in our denomination that cuts across old boundaries that some thought were sacred. The outsider, stranger, and foreigner is suddenly welcome not only at the table, but into our leadership. Instead of what we often like to call ourselves -- the “frozen chosen” -- we are slowly becoming the warm-blooded, ever bending lovers of the poor, marginalized, and broken, even if it means we find ourselves at risk of being disenfranchised, too.

And the traditional broker of membership in the Anglican Communion, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is suddenly caught in the middle of a complex struggle of conflicting desires and theologies: differing biblical interpretations, democratic polity on one hand, and hierarchal polity on the other and lots in between, appeals to orthodoxy and a monolithic faith once received, and a recognition that our common life and contextualized faith is much more complex and diverse than we ever imagined. And he is confronted with other archbishops jockeying not only for recognition, but to be seen, for the sake of their own people, at last as equals in a complex geopolitical situation where globalization has taken hold along with inter-religious and inter-cultural violence, fragile young democracies, and the collapse of old modern tyrannical and colonial structures. The world has unpredictably crossed the Rubicon from an understandable modernity into an unpredictable post-modernity. And we hardly know what this may mean for Christianity.

Let’s give it up at least this much: there are no easy answers to this mess. The Primates of the Anglican Communion meet next month in Tanzania after the House of Bishops there essentially anathematized us as the Episcopal Church and several other Churches and Primates for ordaining gay and lesbian clergy. (All the Primates are going anyway).

Some Primates aren’t speaking to each other or even receiving communion together. At least one wrote the Archbishop of Canterbury and told him he couldn’t even sit at table with ++Katharine Jefferts Schori because of her theology. (The Archbishop of Canterbury invited her anyway.)

Sounds like a great group of friends gathering together for a chat doesn’t it? Or maybe your typical church fight with all the ruffian behavior we might expect. And we all have had a chance to live through a few of those, even here at Church of Our Saviour.

Sounds to me a bit like Nazareth, when Jesus says and does the unexpected.

When Christ says and does the unexpected in our hearts and in our communities, are we likely to become like the townspeople of Nazareth, furious that our expectations aren’t being met? Challenged perhaps by a God who doesn’t turn out the way we wanted God to be?

The foundational question on the table for us as an Anglican Communion right now is not one of human sexuality, although I know that will be a point of contention in places for years to come. Nor is it the ordination of women, although to see and hear how even some of the Primates are behaving right now towards our Presiding Bishop, you might be tempted to think otherwise. Nor is the foundational question about biblical authority and interpretation and who gets to do it, although that gets a little bit closer to the truth. Nor is it really about power, even though there is a lot of power-politicking going on right now in the name of Jesus Christ.

No, the foundational issue on the table right now is about transformation. Are we willing to be transformed? When Jesus comes into the midst of his people in Nazareth, he brings with him a Gospel message that will turn everything upside down and inside out. But the people of Nazareth are not ready to hear it, because all they can see is what they expect: Joseph’s son. This little boy that they knew whose expected to follow in his Dad’s footsteps.

My sisters and brothers in Christ, this message comes right home to us here at Church of Our Saviour, Mill Valley. To some degree the upheaval in the Anglican Communion can be kept “out there” at arm’s length, but the transformative and messy acts of God’s surprising grace will not stay “out there.” They will find a way in our doors, and if we shut them, they will seek ways through the cracks and gaps. . . and into our lives and hearts whether we want them to or not. Because God is changing the world. And Church of Our Saviour is changing, too, and surely in many ways that I or any of us cannot see or entirely understand.

A critical part of our vocation as Christians is in our gathering as we do today in prayer and in breaking bread and sharing the common cup. Another is sticking around to see how we can better prepare ourselves to address a changing world. Like the rest of the Anglican Communion, we’ve faced a long period of difficulty. Unlike the Anglican Communion, at the present time, we are blessed in that we can say we are almost on the other side of our time of turmoil. The Anglican Communion, one way or another, will get there to. When it does, the question for the greater Church will be the same as it is today for Church of Our Saviour: Now what?

By sharing in prayer and the companionship we find with each other and Christ at this table, we are opening ourselves up to that question, “Now what?” We are moving beyond the expectations we have for a Jesus we know and a God we can predict into the uncertain future with all of its hope, risk, and possibility.

The only way to deal with our uncertainty and expectations broken open is to do one of two things: become a fearful lynch mob like the people of Nazareth, or instead turn to the ethic Paul so beautifully lays out in today’s passage from First Corinthians.

The ethic of love is more than a principle. It is a critical part of our truest Christian vocation, our deepest calling, and our deepest longing. It is the language of God’s grace in our midst. It is what binds us as a community together in good and bad times. The patience, forbearance, peace, and gentle words we find in love are what we most need to be properly open to the transformation Jesus Christ brings to our lives and to our community.

Love is the language of broken hearts. Hearts broken open. I invite you to seek that with me beginning this day as we meet as a loving community in our part of the Anglican Communion to begin looking ahead, over the edge of our expectations, and into a future of wonder and God’s abundant grace.


Saturday, January 27, 2007

Beyond Modern Anglicanism

Part V, concluding a series of posts based on Epiphany West 2007: Re-visioning Anglicanism, at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, Berkeley, California.

On Saturday, the Conference concluded with a paper, From Modernity to Post-Modernity: Rethinking the Myth of Anglican Communion by Carlos Eduardo Calvani, Director of the Anglican Center of Studies in the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil, Porto Alegre.

As Calvani was sadly unable to attend the meeting in person due to difficulties obtaining a visa, The Rev. Francisco de Assis da Silva, the Provincial Secretary General of the Igreja Episcopal Anglicana do Brasil, presented the paper in Calvani's stead, offering his own responses to questions and occasionally inserting anecdotes where he most resonated with Calvani's words.

Fr. da Silva shared, along with Calvani's paper, a common experience around the time of +Gene Robinson's consecration: the remarkably generous reaction of their parishioners, seeing the controversy over sexuality as not particularly relevant to their faithful walk, and trusting the Spirit in the people of New Hampshire and The Episcopal Church in the election and call of a new bishop.

There was a strong appeal here for those of us who are ordained to listen hard to the laity, and it reminds me of a question Fr. Jake posed a few weeks ago on his blog regarding the departure of churches in Viriginia: Is the Current Unpleasantness Clergy Driven?

The Failure of Modern Anglicanism

Calvani covered much of the history of our tradition that John Kater explored, emphasizing again that Anglicanism is an often re-visioned Christian tradition. Calvani, however, looks at another level, in which Anglicanism as a historical faith is very much embedded in the Enlightenment thinking that gave rise to modernity.

Most notably, Enlightenment and modern thinking assume that the world is ultimately knowable and empirically measurable. That this has set up many of the contemporary Christian and even more broadly religious conflicts both within and beyond Anglicanism is a particularly important insight for exploration. We must remember that the rise of fundamentalism, for example, in the late 19th- and early 20th-century was a thoroughly modern "measurable" faith over and against the surprising discoveries of Darwin, later evolutionary thought, and the challenges to historic beliefs posed by scientific inquiry on the one hand, and the rise of critical scholarship, particularly of biblical texts, on the other.

Today, even in the West, we still struggle with enculturated modernity. . .even living as we are in the new millennium, where quantum mechanics with its inherent uncertainty resides at the heart of our computerized world and a dynamic, evolving universe has become as ubiquitous in our conversation as the rapidly changing world is in our experience. We continue to measure each other, and, if we are not careful, we continue to argue faith out of quantifiable justifications and premises. I wonder if we argue all the more vociferously, if only to persuade ourselves, because we are slowly being infused with an increasing amount of uncertainty as the world has crossed into the new landscape of the post-modern era.

Measurable, quantifiable faith and the sense that God is ultimately knowable and that the Christian experience of conversion and transformation can be monitored through unchanging doctrinal and behavioral ethics. . . All of this is quintessentially modern in its construction. Contemporary notions of "orthodoxy" fall squarely into this paradigm, in my view.

The great irony is that the Anglican Communion itself as institution, Calvani argues, may be one of the last great products of modernism. My understanding of this suggestion is that the Communion was established and maintained in its most recent decades through a particular set of institutional bodies (Instruments of Unity) and conferences that were meant, amongst other things, to solve particular problems and resolve differences. That they have now, to a greater or lesser degree, failed, is not so much an indictment, but a symptom of a deeper, global challenge:

Modern institutional structures are no longer fully functional in their original forms.

Calvani sees modernism as a veritable metropolis of towers, a panoply of institutions whose builders are suddenly confounded when they encounter the growing diversity around them. Post-modernism is the abandonment of these structures for new, more organic forms of community. In this, Calvani alluded to the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11) as a biblical parallel. The tower of the ancient story is not destroyed, but the recognition of diversity confounds the hubris of the people building the city and tower. They abandon their project.

Anglicanism will fail in as much as it appeals to institutional structures for its salvation. Instead, Calvani argued rightly, I believe, that we must recover the theological roots of Communion and dispense with the appeals to power for rectifying our conflicts. In this I also hear a recognition that we are suffering from the legacy of old(!), modern colonial structures that favored authority for a few, and distorted the diversity of our common life in ways that were, at best, limiting God's grace, and at worst, violent and oppressive.

In tangible terms, appeals in the present debate for interventionist authority from the Instruments of Unity are not only unhelpful, but completely counter to the new direction we need to take. Calvani posits that we need leadership now, not institutional management. Whether this was intended as an indictment against anyone in particular, such as the Archbishop of Canterbury, I am unsure, but it speaks volumes to me even as a parish priest. My primary ordained priestly vocation in the post-modern era is not to preserve an institution, or even some concrete notion of "a faith," but rather lead with and for a people, a community, into deeper relationship with God.

Calvani sees post-modernism not as pessimistic, but rather as conscientious in its relinquishment of naivety, and its refusal to believe in the dreams of arrogance and power. This attitude is sensitive to the affects of accident, randomness, and contradiction. He cites, as a primary biblical example of this attitude, Abraham and Sarah's departure from a youth of security into an adulthood of venturing, led by God, into the unknown.

The Dance of the Trinity

Calvani begins to cut through modernity with a recovery of Trinitarian understanding that has been articulated with increasing frequency of late. I was immediately reminded, for example, of the address Bishop Marc Andrus gave this past autumn at the Convention of the Diocese of California. The theological demands of a diverse Communion require a dynamic rather than a static faith. A vision of the Trinity dancing rather than set in avowedly modern concrete structures of fixed meaning implies for our Communion a new, life-giving, dynamic relationship. With the language of perichoresis, Calvani joins Moltmann and other theologians in seeing the dynamic of mutual interdependence and dance in the Holy Trinity as the theological underpinnings of our common life in Christ.

Calvani was most critical of The Virginia Report for neglecting perichoresis, most particularly in its articulations around the Trinity. Orthodoxy, he argues, is implacably rigid and heavy, like those who hear the sound of the flute but refuse to dance. Orthodoxy, as alluded to in an earlier post, has become part of a modernist constellation of theological positions that are constructed around a game that creates winners and losers. Post-modernism, on the other hand, gives us an opportunity to not only question these theologies, but even the rules of the games themselves: that we can abandon the structures that set up winning and losing, insiders and outsiders.

Nothing could be more suggestive, it seems to me, than perichoresis as a renewed paradigm for the Anglican Communion. It calls for koinonia that is supple, organic, and interdependent, reflecting a much-needed understanding of human-divine relationship, and an incarnational identity that binds us not only to God in Christ, but to each other, and to the earth of which we are a part. It heals modernism's damaging objectification that fragments rather than unifies, and it calls for an end to the structures of hubris and violence that reduce life, strangers, and even our companion Christians to lesser beings rather than reflections of the divine, imago dei, in our midst.

And lest this seem a primarily Western or Northern point-of-view, take a look at this letter from Bishop Mdimi Mhogolo of the Diocese of Tanganika, Tanzania, just posted today (Mark Harris offers his take at Preludium). There are signs of hope: signs of the nascent interdependent coalitions in the Communion against oppression and suffering -- coalitions that Dr. Te Paa appealed for in her paper presented on Friday.

Biblical Truth

Calvani opened one section of his paper on Scripture with a scathing indictment:

Generally, discussions defending theological unity in the Anglican Communion and in other churches are based on an erroneous and superficial reading of the Bible, which does not delve into historical issues due to either fear or incompetence.
At first, I heard this (in typical modern fashion!) as a hit against one "side" in the present dispute. But Calvani's call to us is much deeper and profound: all sides must now learn to mine the Scriptural witness of our spiritual ancestors with great care and generosity.

Our propensity as of late has been a sea of proof-texting. We have failed on all sides to take into consideration the cultural privileging of our readings. The current mess has often been framed in terms of an elitist North American/Northern European reading vs. an indigenous cultural reading of the Bible (or worse, an academic reading vs. a "plain sense" reading). Neither approach, while here caricatured to a certain degree, is helpful.

Instead, Calvani seems to be arguing we must enter periods of self-reflection within our communities to identity the cultural and historical legacy we bring to the texts. Then, we must explore the cultural and historical legacy of the texts themselves. The Bible comprises numerous sources that were composed not in a vacuum, but in particular places and locations by peoples who, however inspired by the Spirit, were wrestling with distinctive and sometimes unique situations.

Calvani suggests that part of our re-visioning of Anglican identity around our most hallowed treasures of Scripture must begin with a parting of the ways from a set of monolithic gender, class, and culturally privileged interpretations that distort the texts (not to mention human beings made in the image of God) and limit what Christ could be saying to us through them.

We must remember that the biblical canon itself was established by the Church in a particular time and cultural location in the fourth century. During this period, as during many centuries of Christian history, authority was perceived as inexorably bound up with divinity. The privilege of setting the canon was embedded in even more privilege that set theological, conciliar, and ecclesiastical, not to mention political, agendas. Before this, the ancient Church had been a much more dynamic and diverse group of Christian communities, not bound as we became later with imposed and established interpretations that could impose violence on local communities and believers. Doctrinal unity simply was unknown in the early church, particularly in the New Testament.

Calvani goes one step further to argue that we must move from a modern to post-modern hermeneutic: one in which we suspend "one interpretation for the entire Church" and, to use a term I coined in an earlier post, re-indigenize our readings both for ourselves, and to illuminate the biblical texts in their own particularity. That this is hard work, very much bound up in a self- and mutually discerning encounter in community, sets aside all the easy ways we use the texts of Scripture against each other.

In this way, Calvani recovers the diversity of the first Christian communities as found in the New Testament. It is more than just saying there are four canonical gospels or various schools: Johannine, Pauline, etc. It is to say that the story of the early Church within Luke-Acts, for example, showed remarkable breadth of doctrinal and ethical distinctiveness, as embodied in, say, the controversies over Jewish traditions as applied to Gentile Christian contexts.

Moreover, the Gospel of John, while often used in the current controversy as proof-text for "heresy," is itself a rich text of paradox, contradiction, and particularity -- a possible biblical example of an ancient "post-modern" text! Calvani notes the ending of John to illustrate:

"But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written." John 21:25 NRSV

The implication is that even a text as sacred as one of the four gospels is not complete in its revelation, but demands the fullness of being engaged with other sacred texts in an incarnate, human, Christian community with all of its own contradictions, cross-currents, and disagreements held even while gathered around the primary unity of God in Christ Jesus. John's contextual themes of early Christians seeking new ways of being in community when uprooted from their early Jewish connections is inherently applicable to our age of high mobility, rapid communication across cultural, geopolitical, and ecclesiastical boundaries, and the need to learn to live not only alongside, but in communion with the radically other.

Contradiction itself invites modernism to seek solution and resolution. On the other hand, post-modernity, and even the biblical texts themselves in their juxtaposition, posit contradiction as a rich context in which new truths may be discovered. This may seem to point to Hegelian approaches, but I believe it is more rich than the intellectual reductions of arguments to thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. Instead, we are seeing the richness of diverse contexts in interplay -- a dance, as Calvani suggests, that reflects the Trinity at work amongst us.

"Truth" itself must be recovered as a viable term for a post-modern era. It strikes me that post-modernism is sometimes perceived as most threatening because it implies relativism, leading to the dangerous slippery slope of anarchy. But this fails to see the deeper reality that Calvani raised up for me in his paper: modernism sees "truth" as essentially exclusive. For truth to exist, there must be some kind of opposite. Orthodoxy demands the existence of heterodoxy. Religiosity demands the existence of apostasy. Faith demands the existence of infidelity.

All of these categories assume, in a very modern way, measurable quantifications of "truth." In the post-modern era, and indeed, in the hoped for future of Anglicanism, we recover the notion of "truth" as mystery: while not utterly hidden, not utterly knowable to us either, but glimpsed in the organic communion we call The Body of Christ, whose boundaries are beyond the span of a single Christian, Church, or even the world or time. This means our understandings of truth must always be held provisionally and with humility. Such an understanding subverts the terribly violent ways we have used "truth" to attack those who disagree with us.

That is not to say that truth cannot or should not be defended, particularly in the face of human suffering and against all kinds of oppression, but it must be seen as contextualized in an organic way, not held out as an abstraction or universal for all time. Nor can it be inflicted, but truth can only be embraced through the inspiration of the Spirit.

Koinonia forms the theological foundation of our Communion, says Calvani. Koinonia means Christian companionship in the hoped-for Anglican Communion just as it does in the New Testament: through inspired experience of an encounter with God in relationship that makes truth imminent, transformational, and incarnational. This, to me, is a far greater understanding of Jesus' words in John's Gospel, "I am the way, the truth, and the life," than any abstraction of this statement through proof-texting as we have seen it recently, particularly as a criticism of our new Presiding Bishop.

Truths that we hold will only be as viable as they are simple, and only as applicable as they speak to the very real contexts of our lives in divinely inspired, life-giving, and loving ways. They cannot be defined in abstraction, but must live in our fleshy hearts, to allude, at least in principle, to Jeremiah 31:33.

In the West, we are called to set aside the over-privileging of academe, textual analysis, and historical investigation as the only way to divine knowledge. In the "Global South," we are called to examine and possibly reject our inheritance of a thoroughly modern construct of biblical interpretations for all time. Indeed, I posit that this may be yet another vestige of imperialist colonialism cloaked in the enormous honor we afford our sacred texts. Instead, we must all learn as Anglicans to live into the gracious and sometimes contradictory contexts of biblical interpretation, recognizing that we, like the early church, can wrestle with disagreement in faithful communion, koinonia with each other, and in devoted discipleship to Jesus Christ.

Calvani's paper was a breathtaking journey through so much of what had been said the previous four days and a magnificent conclusion to the Conference. I have barely begun to do him or any of the other presenters justice here. I will provide links to the original texts of their papers as soon as they are available.

Ways Forward in Communion

What I have so far gleaned from reflecting on the Conference speakers and discussions is that:
  • The Anglican Communion of the future grow by God's grace primarily around our shared following after Christ as exemplified in our baptism and eucharistic companionship: koinonia. . . and our love of God and one another as primary vocation. This growth cannot be institutional as much as organic, embedded in the communities of God's people in direct engagement and communion with each other. As Jenny Plane Te Paa put it, faith and relationship supersede the desire to guard historic institutions.
  • Monolithic notions of biblical interpretation, "orthodoxy" and other modern understandings of "truths for all time", if they cannot be dispensed with, be lightly held and sufficiently broad to encompass the wide variety of Christian witness and conscientious, faithful living in various locations. This means in our shared discourse and vocation as Christians, we need to agree to let go of the ancient oppressive words of imperial Christianity, including all language that dehumanizes and demeans. Theological language and biblical interpretation that builds up our koinonia will be both felt and articulated in ways that lead us into the dance of perichoresis, the holy dance of the Trinity.
  • Ecclesiastical policies, structures, and doctrinal matters can only be agreed to by local churches in clear conscience, they can never be forced upon them.
  • Accountability be understood as a mutual process of trust-building and loving witness in the context of our baptismal covenant at the individual, local church, and worldwide Communion levels.
  • New structures that complicate questions of authority be avoided. While not necessarily excluding it, this raises serious questions for the Anglican Covenant process under way.
  • The Communion be organic and interdependent at every level: personal, between local churches, and between provinces. We cannot rely on our Primates, Lambeth Conferences, or the other Instruments of Unity to hold the Communion together. Rather, our leadership and the Instruments of Unity are present only to facilitate the incarnational, tangible relationships in which we share common mission and that hold us together as a the Body of Christ, healing a world of need. Francisco de Assis da Silva articulates that our Communion relationships must be nothing less than "heart to heart, mind to mind, dream to dream."
  • Anglican identity in the 21st Century must be sought through and with the witness of women and indigenous, LGBT, and other marginalized peoples. They have much to teach the Communion about faithful Christian witness in the face of oppression and how the loving arms of Christ reach out to draw in the stranger, the meek, the forgotten, and even the oppressor into transformational communion. I cannot stress this enough: this is the only way of living into Christ that we will overcome our oppressive tendencies and shake off the shackles of imperialist (neo-)colonialism that still bind all of us from experiencing true freedom in God.
  • Diversity be recovered from our historic tradition as a creative challenge to all of our universalizing ideologies. We must re-learn the witness of the early Christians who demonstrated fidelity to Christ and discipleship even in the midst of strong theological and ethical disagreements.
  • We weigh all of our decisions against the central tenant of Christian ethics as found in Jesus' example, the Summary of the Law, and the witness of Christian non-violence across the ages.
  • Our disagreements be subjugated to what we share in common: following after Jesus and a commitment to mission in healing a broken world. In the 21st-Century, a major part of this task will be dismantling the legacies of warfare, structures of societal oppression, and all that destroys and demeans the planet and the people and creatures of God.
  • We provide each other with generous, patient space and a loving generosity as we move together through this re-visioning. Schismatic actions, oppressive acts, dishonesty, or subterfuge in our common life must be met with clear, but loving accountability. Wherever we hurt each other, we must call each other to account and engage in mutual processes of reconciliation.
So, onwards ho! Thank you much for your generous comments and taking the time to read these reflections. I hope, in some small way, they may join the great discussion currently under way. Prayers be with our Primates as they prepare to meet in Tanzania next month, and prayers be with all who suffer at the present time because of our divisions.

Padre Mickey, great to sit with you at Epiphany West and chortle together!

God's peace.

Part I: Anglican Romanticism
Part II: A Mess of History
Part III: Claiming the Re-visionist Label
Part IV: Head, Heart, and Hope

Friday, January 26, 2007

Head, Heart, and Hope

Part IV of a Series of posts from attending Epiphany West 2007: Re-visioning Anglicanism, at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, Berkeley, California.

I open this post with an apology for the harsh terms I used in yesterday's posting when referring to +John-David Schofield, Bishop of San Joaquin. (I have since removed the remarks, but my regret remains.)

It is far easier to judge someone I have not met, and far easier to blog with snarkiness than to seek face-to-face conversation. The community I currently serve is in the deanery where Bishop Schofield once was priest, and so I inevitably walk in places he once walked and know and love clergy and laity who once labored in the vineyard alongside him.

Anyone who has been following San Joaquin closely the past few years is probably aware that Bishop Schofield has been suffering from ill health. However accountable he should be held for leading his diocese down the road to schism, punitive action should be tempered or even supplanted with compassion. Having met people from the diocese, it strikes me that San Joaquin languishes to some degree from isolation and dysfunction with multitudinous causes. The present situation there is creating profound anxiety, hampering mission, and weighing down gifts that might otherwise be building up the people of God.

Attacking Bishop Schofield does not help and is far outside the bounds of what Christ taught his followers.

I very much doubt he takes the time to read my words, but if Bishop Schofield does, I pray he will hear in this my heartfelt regret.

There is no call for harshness on San Joaquin, but rather listening hearts and deep prayer for their leadership, and for all those who stand in harm's way if the wheels of schism begin to roll. For those who hope for a brighter future there, we must offer all our solidarity and best Christian love.

Democracy and Violence

The Rev. Dr. Ephraim Radner, Rector of Church of the Ascension, Pueblo, Colorado, opened this morning with a remarkable, thought-provoking lecture, The Wound of Division: The Political Character of Fragmented Communion.

Through the lens of his experience as a missionary in Burundi, and the transition there from a military dictatorship to a fragile, infant democracy, Radner tied together a wealth of sociological, political, and ecclesiological perspectives to illuminate the present realities of our global situation and, to some extent, the place of Anglicanism within it.

Dr. Radner is an outspoken apologist for both the Windsor Report and the Anglican Covenant that he is helping develop as part of the Design Committee. He minced no words in stating his belief that "the world needs this, and God wants it for the sake of life."

Concern for life was very much at the heart of his lecture, which examined a phenomenon that is only just starting to receive deep scholarly examination in secular circles: that democracies are frequently birthed in violence. No more true is this than in Africa where, as tyrannical regimes have fallen, an armed populace arises through a free flow of weaponry and newly acquired individual autonomy.

The primary challenge is that autonomy in both new and even existing democracies, if left unchecked, can become uncontrollably violent. Dr. Radner pointed to the stories now coming to light in the Rwandan genocide, where otherwise faithful Christians committed unspeakable atrocities in an orgy of violence. At present, bands of militias, armies with no true national loyalty, and warlords have enormous sway in Central and East Africa. Dr. Radner posited that when all the numbers are in, nearly 2 million people may have been killed at the hands of these groups, many of them formed in the midst of newly born democracies.

While Dr. Radner left the subject largely untouched, the parallels with contemporary Iraq are deeply illuminating. His research into the broader global phenomenon of democratization provides profound insight into the current frustrations of the Iraqi government, the Bush administration, and everyone involved with the situation there. Individual autonomy can only be functional and beneficial in a context of what Dr. Radner calls a "common good," a structure of agreed-to laws that limit autonomy and re-channel it for the benefit of greater society. Individual accountability must be dispersed throughout the democratic society in order for it to flourish.

Into this current global context of rising democratization and coinciding violence, Dr. Radner suggested the Anglican Communion's presence and witness are incredibly important. We have a faith tradition that, at its best, reflects a concern for mutuality and "common good" and dispersed accountability. Moreover, Anglican churches are burgeoning on the ground in places and are heavily involved with the development fragile democracies, like Burundi. (There, Anglican churches are largely in charge, at the government's request, of schools). We therefore have unique gifts to offer these new and renewed societies recovering from civil war and violent upheaval.

Dr. Radner's approach, while thought-provoking, stopped short of speaking at length to the question of autonomy in Anglicanism. I was tempted to read into his words a subtle critique of the articulation of provincial autonomy that plays into the current controversy. But perhaps the Windsor Report makes this argument for him.

He did, however, go so far as to say The Episcopal Church needs to learn that "pure autonomy" can embody death, and that only through death to self do we rise again into the life of community. I'm not convinced that assertion fully comprehends the Episcopal Church's stance in the current controversy. While autonomy has come up as a question, "pure autonomy" does not seem suggested to me by our general solidarity with each other and the concern that our General Convention and leadership has shown for the greater Communion.

But the question remains in the Anglican Communion as in fledgling democracies: how do we honor autonomy without it becoming a self-serving and even death-dealing force in the community?

Dr. Radner expressed his profound sadness over the breaks and schismatic actions that have ended dialogue and engagement in the Communion. Indeed, the path forward he sees -- and I agree with him heartily -- involves a rebuilding of trust. And trust can no longer be cultivated when a relationship is utterly broken.

While invigorated by Dr. Radner's towering intellect, I was a bit unclear at first about how it moved the discussion about the Anglican Communion forward in any thoroughgoing way, except to raise deep questions of what we mean when we consider the "common good" and how we can best contextualize it on the ground. (As The Rev. Dr. Bill Countryman once commented on a paper I wrote, "I found this more discursive than helpful!")

But following Dr. Radner's presentation, I entered some conversations that were very helpful indeed. Part of Dr. Radner's style, it seems, is to raise provocative questions and then let his listeners find the truths in conversation about them.

And he, too, then engaged for nearly an hour with a group of us in discussion. And there emerged some important insights and developments that are under way for us as an Anglican Christians:

The Covenant Design Group

During the discussion, Dr. Radner outlined what is under discussion in the Covenant Design Group, which met last week. Some of this may be old news, and some of it may indeed be news, as I have not been following this process as closely as say, Mark Harris, but here is what Dr. Radner felt permitted to offer in a public setting today:
  1. Through study and discussion, the group has generally settled that covenant is understood biblically and traditionally as centered on trust and word keeping. The Design Group is taking this seriously as a modus operandi.
  2. There should be nothing "new" in the formulation and articulation of an Anglican Covenant. In other words, the Covenant will be based on agreements and theological expressions that are already extant in the Communion and rooted in Christian tradition. In this case, the baptismal covenant (even as found in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer) is figuring prominently as a resource.
  3. The Covenant will not be addressing the particular disputes on the table at present (i.e. human sexuality, women's ordination, etc.) but will rather provide a touchstone for how disputes may be addressed in the Communion in the future
  4. Ways of living together in Communion that have been ad hoc in the past may be made more intentional for the future through the Covenant.

I found this hopeful, but I urge caution on drawing too many conclusions at this point, as we bloggers are overly prone to do! I will say that Dr. Radner did seem to make clear, however, that there are expectations, particularly on one "side" of the present mess, that will not be met by this covenant process: namely, expectations that a definitive answer to the present theological controversies and questions of biblical interpretation and polity will be forthcoming. Rather, the group is focused on creating a covenant structure that will help cultivate and engender trust so that further disagreements in the Anglican Communion will have a bounded context in which disputes may be negotiated and/or mediated.

ENS just released a report on the Covenant Design Group

A Question of Hermeneutic Weight

Coming out of this morning's session, I was left with at least one unsettled question about Dr. Radner's approach. He made reference to "bear one another's burdens" in Galatians 6, and another reference to Ephesians 2. Both passages have a great deal of traction in evangelical circles. I note in Ephesians 2: "You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient." Pretty heavy-hitting stuff when talking about accountability.

But I was puzzled why the Summary of the Law -- the heart of Gospel ethics, it seems to me, and certainly a foundational piece of our baptismal covenant -- was never mentioned, nor the word "love" brought into the conversation in any thoroughgoing way.

"Love your God. . .and love your neighbor as yourself," strikes me as clear an antidote to the trouble of unrestrained autonomy in democracy as any, as does Jesus' clear witness of self-giving inexorably combined with a strong sense of personal freedom to articulate and live into the divine truths he embodied. It also contextualizes and even incarnates our notions of truth in the face of our neighbors and our common life with them. "Common good" as an abstraction begs many questions: Whose good? What do we mean by good? And who gets to define what is common and what is good?

And, as yet another reference not made today, non-violence is a hallmark of the best Christian witness centered on the Summary of the Law, from the early Christian martyrs, to Francis, to Martin Luther King, to Desmond Tutu.

Whether Dr. Radner's omission of a central gospel passage highly relevant to the subject at hand was simply an oversight (or I didn't hear it when he mentioned it) or we are seeing Dr. Radner's natural gravitation to the Epistles, or there were deeper hermeneutic reasons behind his choice of Scriptural references, I am uncertain.

Behind my concern about this is that there is a widely-observed tendency in the present controversy on one "side" to favor the epistles and pastoral letters (particularly some of the Pauline and Johannine works) over the witness and Jesus' teachings found in the synoptic gospels.

I wonder if the heremeneutic roots of the current mess have something to do with the differing weight we place on various parts of the New Testament, depending upon our particular perspective. Part of the discussion forward may involve an honest unpacking about what each of us, as individuals and as dioceses and provincial bodies, most gravitate toward when defining our core biblical principles to address ethical questions and how to live together in community.


Dr. Jenny Plane Te Paa's softer voice, lilting New Zealand accent, and gracious presence have been a constant thread running through this Conference. She is a profoundly important figure at the present time, as she was one of the members of the Eames Commission who helped forge the Windsor Report.

She had asked of Dr. Radner in the morning the role of maleness in violence found in democratization, suggesting that the role of women in the process globally might help temper this tendency. This was a profound foretaste of what she was about to express.

This afternoon was her turn to speak to the Conference, as she presented Guessing the Spirit of Global Anglicanism: Perspectives of an Indigenous Lay Woman.

The great surprise was Dr. Te Paa's opening, which far beyond gracious, expounded a love and solidarity that I can only describe as inspired by the Holy Spirit. She had attended our General Convention this summer and commended to us the enormous love, sorrow, and breadth of what she saw there as a very Christian struggle with justice and love in divine relationship.

She expressed in a moving way how many provinces of the Anglican Communion still admire how The Episcopal Church organizes and carries out its mission, and articulated sadness at the way our province has been treated as of late:
  • how we have been, along with the Church of Canada, unfairly singled out and patronized in the present mess, and how our LGBT members have been scapegoated in overt and subtle ways
  • how several (male) leaders both inside and outside of the Episcopal Church have taken advantage of weaknesses in the Episcopal Church and Anglican structures to forward potentially schismatic agendas and vilify our church membership and leadership, including ++Katharine Jefferts Schori
  • how the Windsor Report's recommendations against cross-jurisdictional interference have been ignored while it has, at the same time, been used as a punitive instrument -- something Dr. Te Paa has clear reason to take personally
  • how in some quarters The Episcopal Church has been conflated with the worst of United States foreign policy, and the complexity of our context has not been properly understood or taken into account
  • how The Episcopal Church has shown enormous grace and restraint in voluntarily withdrawing from Anglican structures (i.e., the Anglican Consultative Council) at the request of the Primates, and has tolerated and taken care to provide room for internal dissent
And, most critically, she noted how historically marginalized peoples in the Anglican Communion have most identified with the challenges we in The Episcopal Church now face.

I was stunned by the incredible love, compassion, and solidarity Jenny Plane Te Paa wove into her words. Her words helped me recognize that, since 2003, The Episcopal Church as a whole has ceded a degree of privilege, let go of some of the numbing effect of our traditional avoidance of taking bold steps, and indeed stepped further -- in many places -- into the embodiment of Christian justice, most particularly at this point for lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgendered people.

Struck by this insight coming from an indigenous woman, whose blood ancestry knows oppression, and whose life experience breathes with the battle for identity in the face of institutionalized racism (often, sadly, in the Christian community), I was deeply moved.

I probably didn't invent the word, but it came into my mind and heart and seemed so apt for the Episcopal Church at this point in our journey. We are engaging in "re-indigenization," which might best be described as our reclaiming of the embodiment of Christ in our deepest, most human identity: a humanity that has been disenfranchised in many different ways and suffers violence as we have experienced and engaged in oppressive structures.

Many indigenous people, as I have encountered them, know the deep bonds with the land, the rhythms of the earth, and identity that is profoundly contextual, viscerally felt, and physically manifested. I have also encountered this in my wife, a native of Japan, who, as a woman, grew up in a still very patriarchal and sometimes oppressive culture. This, too, has been my experience with many of my LGBT friends and colleagues. Why? They all have been led by oppressive forces to wrestle hard with their identity and have therefore moved into deep places of self and relationship that many privileged, heterosexual males around the world have not felt the need to reach. From this comes a profoundly incarnational, rooted sense of being. In these deep places of being, as well as in the Other, we encounter God in Christ.

Likewise, oppressed peoples everywhere have had similar experiences. I am approaching the language of resurrection here. It is found in the deep truth articulated this afternoon by Dr. Te Paa in how the Gospel breathes transformation, liberation, and new life most directly into the situations of the down-trodden, the voiceless, and the oppressed.

By shedding some of our long-standing privilege in the Anglican Communion, the Episcopal Church, wittingly or unwittingly, has moved as a faith community into a more vital position of identity. . .identity with those who most easily embrace, internalize, and embody the Gospel. Our Spirit-led movement towards this re-indigenization, while incomplete at present, promises to revitalize and empower our ministries in ways we can only begin to imagine.

* * *

Dr. Te Paa offered in her stirring paper several vital suggestions for a way forward for the Anglican Communion:
  • continuing to offer each other a generous patience as we move through this conflicted time
  • articulating and understanding our common faith as one that transcends our particularities, but is expressed in and through them
  • confronting and calling out, in relationship with each other, the racism, sexism, and other prejudices that keep us apart
  • making restorative mission for the world our shared priority, which, as we engage in it, will create room and context for us to explore our disagreements
  • recognizing that the dismissing of native cultures, the appropriation of native lands, and the stripping of native peoples of their livelihoods is a major component of church history and restoration and accountability must be our Christian response to this legacy
  • moving beyond the distortions of identity politics -- the most visible context of our current disputes. This privileging of secular politics in our present discourse should undergo thorough theological scrutiny.
  • living into the profound truth that baptismal water is thicker than blood. We are, first and foremost, Christians with a common heritage centered around Jesus Christ
  • forming coalitions of soldarity against all forms of oppression
  • setting aside the desire to create new structures in favor of real, tangible engagement with each other as a way to renew our appreciation for one another as people formed in the image of God
Many of us were moved to offer Dr. Te Paa a standing ovation.

I will close this post with one thought. It has been much too rarely noted that most, if not all of the powerful, visible, and strident voices of the present mess are male. We have a history as Anglicans of male-dominated decision-making and power-brokering processes. Yet our churches, for centuries, have been cared for and nurtured in the day-to-day incarnational reality by women, so many of whom have remained unknown or forgotten by history.

After hearing Jenny Plane Te Paa this afternoon, if I am certain now of anything, it is that all of us will find ways forward by watching, listening to, involving, learning from, and engaging with our sisters in Christ at every level in the great diversity of the Anglican Communion. They may well together hold the key to our shared future and show us a new way to raise up all that is good, beautiful, and divinely inspired as a worldwide body of Christians witnessing to the Risen Christ.

Part I: Anglican Romanticism
Part II: A Mess of History
Part III: Claiming the Re-visionist Label
Part V: Beyond Modern Anglicanism

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Claiming the Re-visionist Label

This is Part III of a series of posts on Epiphany West 2007: Re-visioning Anglicanism, at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, California.

Today marked the beginning of the conference proper (the last two days were pre-conference classes and discussions).

As a brief personal sidebar, it was another three-bridge day for me. The morning began with dropping Daniel off at his nursery school, tootling up Knob Hill in San Francisco to check in with the Diocesan Office, and then heading over the Golden Gate Bridge to Mill Valley and Church of Our Saviour. In my rush into the church office to knock out some business in preparation for Sunday's Annual Meeting, I left my car lights on, which necessitated a call to AAA to get my car jumped. At one, I was a green streak on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge to Berkeley. The Bay Bridge would wait until after the afternoon conference sessions, following which I would join the traffic headed back into San Francisco.

I'm back at home now. A Three Bridge Day. Phew. So if this post seems a bit googly-eyed (for lack of a better term), I hope you'll understand.

This afternoon, The Rev. Dr. John L. Kater presented the first paper of the conference, Anglicanism Past and Future: Myths, Dreams, and Realities. In addition to covering in more depth some of the salient events of historical Anglicanism in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and beyond, Dr. Kater delved into the concept of "re-visioning" as an integral part of what Peter Toon calls the "Anglican Way."

Perhaps the "revisionist" label is not entirely off the mark, then!

Reflecting on Dr. Kater's presentation:
  • For the Tudor reformers (Cranmer and company), the re-visioning of the Church was, at foundation, a holy task. It meant replacing the centrality of the papacy with the centrality of Scripture, corresponding with the work of reformers in continental Europe.
  • The second period of re-visioning occurred in the Elizabethan Settlement, which of course did not settle matters for everyone. The resulting tensions drove an ongoing re-visioning of what came to be called "Anglicanism" up to the English Civil War and Oliver Cromwell.
  • The Restoration ushered in the third period of re-visioning. Despite calls to draw together Calvinists and those supporting the episcopacy, re-visioning of this period turned to the firm establishment of bishops in the Church of England and the development of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.
  • With the non-juror controversy following the Glorious Revolution of 1688, history sees the first rise of Anglicanism outside the direct jurisdiction of a state government in the Scottish Episcopal Church. The rise of a constitutional monarchy in England also moved the locus of final authority over the Church of England to Parliament. This is remarkable when we pause to remember that for nearly a century and a half, the Church of England had structured its polity around a strong monarchy.
  • We see an equally important period of Anglican re-visioning with the founding of The Episcopal Church in the late eighteenth century. This re-visioning is worth noting, as the polity that came out of it plays heavily into Bonnie Anderson's recent letter to the Panel of Reference:
    • episcopal authority was regulated by constitutional boundaries, and bishops were elected by bodies that included laity
    • no diocese in the newly formed Episcopal Church in the United States held metropolitan authority over another
    • the final arbiter in doctrinal, discipline, and polity matters was a bi-cameral governing body, the General Convention that consisted of bishops, clergy, and laity
    • the church moved towards dependence on voluntary contributions rather than state revenues
    • lay people became significant in the governance of the Church both locally and nationally
  • The first Lambeth Conference in 1867 was also a profound re-visioning of Anglicanism, as demonstrated in the strong opposition by both laity in clergy both inside and outside the Church of England. For better or for worse (as we are seeing now) this re-visioning accorded a new authority and primacy to the Church of England as the "mother church" of the new Communion. It assumed uniformity in core doctrinal matters. This re-visioning process culminated in the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral.
  • Part and parcel with the Lambeth re-visionings were the rise of Victorian value systems, revival movements of the 19th-century and the rise of evangelism movements both in missionary-colonial contexts and within established Churches and, by contrast, the Oxford Movement. Herein is another root of the current controversy: these revival and evangelical movements were in part reactions to the profound questions being posed by scientific discovery, biblical scholarship as an independent discipline, the appearance of evolutionary thought as a new explanation of how life began and develops, and growing mechanization in the West which would only expand into the scientific age of the 20th century (fueling apocalyptic world wars, hyper-industrial secular societies, and economic development dependent on vast resource consumption).
  • In the latter half of the twentieth century, we see at least two parallel developments that set the stage for the current conflicts within Anglicanism:
    • The emergence of increasingly indigenous evangelical churches in post-colonial states; churches with a natural distrust of their former colonizers and the West in general
    • The rise of liberation movements in several forms in different places: Latin America, Africa (as in South Africa), the United States (civil rights), and the ongoing struggles against tyrannical powers and neo-colonial and post-colonial imperialism
Okay, that's more than enough history to defend Dr. Kater's central point: Anglicanism is marked by re-visioning. In fact, this ongoing process of re-visioning to meet the challenges of a changing world may well be the hallmark of Anglicanism. Indeed, Dr. Kater pointed to Ian Douglas' definition of Anglicanism as "the embrace and celebration of apostolic catholicity within the vernacular moment."

What is most challenging about this understanding is that this it questions the romantic notion that we are the inheritors of an "unchanging faith."

Seeing the Heart of the Matter

A return to essential theology and ecclesiology illuminates the current controversy in a very helpful way, and when Dr. Kater made this point this afternoon, there was an audible response of comprehension from the crowd gathered in the CDSP Refectory:

The rise of the ecumenical movement in the West in the 1960's pushed a new re-visioning of Anglicanism in parts of the Communion. Namely, this was the development (I would say recovery) of a baptismal ecclesiology closely tied with the growing human rights movements of the same period.

With baptismal ecclesiology as a renewed foundation, we see the locus of power and authority move from ordination towards a more egalitarian and lay-empowered church community.

This both clashed and overlapped with the burgeoning evangelical churches elsewhere in the Communion. There was certainly some resonance with the empowerment of the individual in scriptural literacy and conversion. But the Lambeth Conferences of the 1990's were riddled with increasing tensions over issues of episcopal authority, the place of confirmation as a cornerstone of Christian formation, and the conflict between longstanding biblical and ecclesiastical traditions with parts of the human rights movements (i.e. the place of women, the nature of marriage, and the proper moral boundaries of human sexual expression.)

In response, we are seeing a "counter" re-visioning from more traditionalist and evangelical parts of the Communion. At the heart of this counter re-visioning is increasing authority being accorded to the four Instruments of Unity of Communion and a growing "Anglican" identity where local churches are seeking an external or overarching Anglican authority that will supersede provincial identity. This helps explain the power being afforded in some quarters to the Windsor Report, the clear desire for some kind of covenental structure, and the increasing authority being ceded to the Primates.

But another piece of this counter re-visioning includes a seemingly contradictory rejection of the centrality of the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Communion (quite possibly rooted in part in post-colonial resistance.) ++Peter Akinola's statement that the church "did not start in Canterbury" is an articulation of this re-visioning, as are Michael Poon's perspectives.

It seems then, we are approaching a critical juncture. Which re-visioning will take hold as the paradigm for the Anglican Communion in the 21st Century? Or will we, as some have suggested, ending up with two communions, whether through schism, a two-tiered Anglicanism, or a long period of impaired relationship that perpetuates the current impasse. . .or something else all together?

Seeking a Way Forward

Dr. Kater posed that common ground to move forward might be found in a common sense of mission, asserting that "the only Communion that matters is the communion of common mission in service to the One Lord."

I certainly agree with him on this. As the recent test of the relationship of the Diocese of New York with the Diocese of Tanganika demonstrates, common mission can trump theological disagreement, enough even to give, in this case, a local bishop the courage to buck reactionary ecclesiology, even at some personal risk.

But the question of what "mission" means came up this afternoon. The Rev. Dr. Ephraim Radner, who speaks tomorrow (and who is also serving on the Anglican Covenant Design Committee) responded to Dr. Kater's paper by posing that "mission" might mean something very different to, say, an Anglican evangelical in Nigeria (where mission is centered in converting others) than the average American Episcopalian (where mission might mean meeting the needs of the local community outside the church without direct reference to conversion to Christianity.)

I don't see these two understandings as mutually exclusive, but they do point to the need for the word "mission" to be contextualized before fruitful discussion around it can move the Communion forward.

Other thoughts of the Day

The last hour of the afternoon was spent in break-out sessions, and I joined one making a presentation about the on-the-ground realities in our neighboring Diocese of San Joaquin.

I have two words: Oh dear.

Room for dialogue is hard to find, and those desiring to remain in the Episcopal Church are uncertain as to what their standing will be should the diocese proceed in the impending final vote to secede from The Episcopal Church. (It appears quite likely that this will be the case).

It should be noted that California law affords San Joaquin fairly unique protections in the United States from litigation imposed by the greater Episcopal Church. Still, if that is the route taken, the fate of parishes, property, and members will potentially hang in the balance of legal wrangling for years.

All that grim prognostication on the table, the people of St. John's, Lodi (one of the parishes dissenting from the recent vote towards secession) along with Remain Episcopal have invited Bonnie Anderson to engage in dialog with members of the diocese and are now working to get as many San Joaquin folk to come to the event as possible.

Spread the word about this as our brothers and sisters continue to seek a life-giving way forward.

And pray for them. Please pray. They are looking over the edge of a very nasty mess.

* * *

My goodness. Dr. Kater is right. Never has Epiphany West been so timely.

We may well be on the edge of a major transition in the history of Anglicanism.

Part I: Anglican Romanticism
Part II: A Mess of History

Remembering Courage

As a quick post in the midst of Epiphany West 2007, Florence Li Tim-Oi was remembered yesterday in Lesser Feasts and Fasts and at our Evening Prayer service at CDSP.

Mark Harris has posted, in his usually insightful style, a remembrance of this saint in our Anglican tradition, and how her Christ-like witness in the face of delay and isolation by the broader Communion speaks to our present conflict.

The icon of the Rev. Dr Florence Li Tim-Oi was written by the Rev. Dr. Ellen Francis Poisson, Order of St Helena, New York. It was dedicated at St Martin-in-the-Fields, London on 24 January 2004, the Diamond Jubilee of Florence Li Tim-Oi's priesting.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

A Mess of History

Part II of a Series

Today, I attended two lecture/discussion sessions at Epiphany West 2007: Re-visioning Anglicanism. The first was offered by The Rev. Dr. Rebecca Lyman, whose area of scholarship, historical study, and writing is in the traditions of the early church, and whose lectures are just plain fun while at the same time incredibly illuminating.

We began by articulating the enormous complexity of forces driving the current debates in the Anglican Communion, ranging from power issues to questions of biblical authority, to cross-cultural struggles, to long-standing theological tensions, to the legacy of colonialism, new anthropological understandings, the rise of modernism and post-modernism as both thought processes and realpolitik, to the priority of "orthodoxy" in relation to "mission," and. . .well, the list is practically endless.

Then we turned to consider early Christianity and its growth around small house churches, with a faith largely built around the primacy of ecstatic experience, a strong sense of apocalyptic imminence (exacerbated by persecutions), the virtues of martyrdom, and a remarkable bringing together of diverse groups crossing gender, class, and racial boundaries. Since these local communities eventually sought to find some commonalities with neighboring Christian groups for solidarity and growth, leading eventually to discussions about unification and expansion of the role of and authority of bishops, we also compared and contrasted the (sometimes bloody) controversies and outcomes that led ultimately to the early church councils, particularly Nicaea and Chalcedon.

Orthodoxy, Catholicity, and Tradition

A close study of these councils is illuminating, in that they demonstrate our heritage is not a single thread of "orthodoxy" stretching from the apostles to the present day, but a much more ambiguous sea of disputes, political influences, theological compromises, and clashes between local traditions. We could even posit (and I do) that diversity is the modus operandi from the beginning of our shared story as a Christian people: 12 apostles, 4 canonical gospels (and many more than that before the New Testament canon was established), various letters between communities, multiple "schools" of theological thought, a variety of church "fathers" in unique cultural locations, etc., and the result: differing practices and beliefs of the early Christian communities in various places.

Dr. Lyman argues, and I tend to agree with her, that "orthodoxy" is a most unhelpful term, not only in the present debate, but in our reading of history. It generally implies, as she put it today, that there is "one right answer that is noble for me, and I am going to impress it upon you."

This notion immediately sets up an interpersonal and even inter-communal power differential and creates an offensive/defensive situation. In the worst case, it leads to forms of emotional, spiritual, and even physical violence in the name of faith, if not God in Christ.

The words "catholic" and "tradition" probably are more helpful, as the former implies a desire for some sense of unity beyond the local and the latter expresses what is true for a given person or group who have a shared heritage and spiritual/cultural/religious or even familial ancestry. Both seem valid articulations of identity and desire, and, when not held too tightly, leave the table open for discussion, finding common ground, and even, when necessary, forging compromise as a way forward together.

"Catholicity" and "tradition" seem to be the drivers of the best we can draw from conciliar movements in our common history, and if "orthodoxy" must be used, it was often broader and more succinct (e.g. the Nicene Creed) than narrowly definitive (e.g. longer confessional statements, Medieval canon law, or the tomes of systematic theology or biblical exegesis).

External Power

It is important to note in looking at the Councils of Nicaea from 325-381 that this critical juncture in the history of catholic Christianity was largely forced by external pressures exerted by political and economic powers. (Bearing in mind, however, that the relationship between religious and political powers was much more entangled in the fourth century Roman Empire than it is in many secular states today).

I was struck at the reminder that Theodosius had to compel the bishops to forge a consensus in 381, long after Arius and Athanasius were no longer on the scene. It took 50 years of meetings, haggling, and debating and the intervention of the imperial powers to complete the Creed. Chalcedon was not so successful, as political forces were deeply entangled in the dispute between Nestorius and Cyril, and by the simple but profound fact that by the fifth century, bishops had learned better how to manipulate the imperial power brokers to their own ends and vice versa.

This raises a fundamental question in our contemporary conflict. Who has some degree of external power over our global Anglican context? We consciously did away with the curia/magisterium model of Roman Catholicism through the English Reformation.

For a time, it was replaced by the crown. Elizabeth I forged the Settlement that bears her name, and, following the Glorious Revolution, Parliament later acted as final arbiter over disputes in the Church of England. (This raises an interesting question about whether or not the current efforts at forging a covenant in the C of E will be successful - Parliament probably would need to approve!)

But today, most of our provinces reflect a wide array of polity -- most of them exclusively internal -- some of our provinces rely on fairly well-empowered archbishops while others depend on conciliar bodies of bishops, other clergy, and laity. Most of us live now in at least nominally secular states in a world that generally honors national autonomy. And even the Church of England, while still technically established, operates for the most part under its own head of steam.

Where is our Theodosius or Elizabeth to help us settle the dispute we're in?

This helps explain the pressure brought on the Archbishop of Canterbury from all sides. We have a strong urge, even in the democratically empowered Episcopal Church to appeal to a pater familias to mediate our disagreements. And Rowan Williams, while issuing tentative suggestions such as the Windsor Report, tends to resist falling into a parental role.

And not without reason. . .

Understanding Akinola

This afternoon, I attended another presentation by the Graduate Theological Union doctoral student and my colleague and friend, The Rev. Nak-Hyon Joo of the Anglican Church of Korea. He led a small group in lecture and discussion around the legacy of Anglican mission and colonialism.

Of note is the increasing evidence that, to some extent, our present situation is an extension of disputes between the British missionary organizations. This is a point that relates to a perspective articulated by Mark Harris over at Preludium. And it is one that can be extended readily into the 19th-century colonial mission fields of Africa.

Also helpful is a linkage Fr. Joo made between colonialism and imperialism. Colonialism implies the movement of a population from one country to another with a view for creating permanent new settlements or "colonies." Imperialism means the exercise of power of one country over another and the extension of national sovereignty into another state.

That the two are often linked in history is demonstrated by Fr. Joo's use of the phrase "Colonialist Imperialism," which may better describe the political drives of the British Empire, but also reveals that the two phenomenon can be separated to some extent in practice. This we may be seeing in American actions of late, or in describing the economic hegemony of the West.

That said, Fr. Joo invited us to engage in small groups with a number of questions. . .one of which involved imagining ourselves in the "shoes" of post-colonial African Anglicans.

In light of the discussion, it seems to me in the present dispute in Anglicanism we are looking deeply into the heart of "colonialist imperialism's" legacy. And this is a point I believe I cannot overstate. Here are a few observations I'm willing to offer right now, considering the Church of Nigeria as a primary example:

1) Nigeria was a British colony that now has secured political independence. This leaves Anglicans there in a difficult situation in relationship with their local context. Is the Church of Nigeria an African Christian tradition, or is it the vestige of an old, hated colonial regime? Rhetorical appeals to tribal culture and identity become, in this tension, very attractive, whether we are talking about church autonomy or human sexuality.

2) What ++Peter Akinola says and does in relationship with the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primates, and the Lambeth Conference is critical in how it depicts ++Akinola as either a pawn of the old empire or a newly liberated leader of an independent Christian body.

3) How the Archbishop of Canterbury responds could either perpetuate the colonial legacy/struggle for independence so roundly articulated at Lambeth in the 1990's or demonstrate honor and empowerment for the new autonomy of former colonial churches.

4) The United States now has a strong economic influence in Nigeria through revenues from extracting oil along the delta regions of the country and elsewhere. Part of ++Akinola's Christian witness is to stand in opposition to Western hegemony that is propping up corruption and, at times, abusing the land and poorest people of Nigeria. When the Episcopal Church conscientiously acts to follow the call of of the Gospel in our own context, but breaks the faith as Nigerian Anglicans have received and transmitted it, there is not only a question of theological truth at stake, but further reason to be suspicious of a church enmeshed in a (perceived?) de facto imperialist economic power.

5) Approximately 50% of Nigeria's people are Muslim, and The United States and England are at the forefront of a most unpopular military operation in Iraq -- unpopular in the West even now, and deplored by much of the Islamic world. While some pundits are dismissive of the connection between Akinola's stands and inter-religious violence in Nigeria, I think it would be hubris to deny a very deep and complex relationship between American foreign policy, the reactions of Islamic extremists in Nigeria, their violence towards Christian communities, and the connections the Church of Nigeria has with the Anglican Communion. Akinola's relationship with us may have, indirectly, very real life and death consequences for those under his charge. Lest we forget, Christian martyrdom is a reality in Nigeria, and some Muslim-on-Christian violence is motivated in part by reactions to the political actions and cultural values of the West. This puts Akinola in, at best, a dicey situation. Surely he would argue, and perhaps he already has, that he should not be expected to put his people's lives on the line for a biblical interpretation or theological understanding they don't agree with. That is not to say the oppression of homosexuals in Nigeria isn't also a very salient issue. . .a humanitarian and Gospel question that cannot or should not be set aside. In the era of global communications and the continued suffering around violent religious extremism, herein lies a thorny set of potentially conflicting justice issues that do not yield easily to responses from either side of the present Anglican impasse.

Through this post- and neo-colonial lens, I begin to understand why Archbishop Akinola behaves as he does towards The Episcopal Church and the Archbishop of Canterbury. This is not to say that I at all agree with his theological stands or approach to discourse, as I have posted elsewhere, but I at least begin to glimpse some of the realities on the ground that may motivate his recent words and actions around the current mess. And I have no business arguing he is any more or less caught up in his cultural location and the demands of his faith and the people he serves than any other Primate is.

This further could explain ++Rowan Williams' hesitancy to be the "strong man" or parental figure of the Anglican Communion. He must evaluate carefully how his articulation of power and authority risk pushing away the churches still recovering from colonialist imperialism. Likewise, as we have already seen, even hints of meddling in The Episcopal Church can provoke deeply-seated cultural reactions that probably have some roots in our country's origins as colonies of the British Empire.

To sum up, this is a situation of no one group's or person's making, but rather, put simply, a mess of history, both political and ecclesiastical.

I do not envy Williams' or Akinola's tricky position in a dance that they inherited from the legacy of colonialist imperialism.

Going back to the discussion with Dr. Lyman, the way forward for the Anglican Communion may have something to do with how we disentangle our Christian traditions from our colonial ones. And it is possible that common ground may be sought with even the most strident voices in the current debate if we as Anglicans take a serious look at the neo-colonial and imperial forces still very much operative in our common life in the present.

But, again, that will take a serious commitment to discussion and perhaps some give-and-take from all sides. At very least, it will mean an unconditional dedication to rebuilding trust, heartfelt listening, and a deep pursuit of understanding.

I pray that the Primates' meeting in February will help start us moving more in that direction. With or without their leadership, we too are called to take up this task locally, diocese to diocese, church to church, and Christian to Christian.

". . .may we not seek to be consoled, but to console, nor look to understanding hearts, but look for hearts to understand."

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Anglican Romanticism

This is the first in a series of posts based on my attending Epiphany West 2007: Re-Visioning Anglicanism at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, California.

Today, I attended a lecture, Schism, Conflict, and Reconciliation, by The Rev. Dr. John L. Kater, Lecturer in Anglican Studies and my former academic advisor and teacher in Anglican ethics.

Here I offer a blog reflection in response to what I heard and discussed with others.

A romantic notion floats around right now, particularly amongst those who articulate a desire to return to "true" Anglicanism, often as opposed to, say, the recent decisions of The Episcopal Church and the Church of Canada (particularly the Diocese of New Westminster). There is a resonant call for a return to Anglicanism of the past, as though it were more real, more true, and more faithful to our Christian heritage.

Name your time period and location.

In The Episcopal Church recently, appeals have been made to the era prior to the sixties when the "innovations" began. This is still an sentimental heartstring even for steadfastly loyal Episcopalians today who fondly remember the days (often located in the postwar boom of the 1950's) when the church was full, more than enough money was to be had, rectors were rectors, men were men, acolytes were boys, and women wore hats.

I'm being a bit silly, but you get the drift. All of us who count ourselves as Anglicans have romantic notions about a true and more noble past, whether in our own Provinces, or in the greater Anglican Communion.

The difficulty is that we are tempted to look at history through rose-tinted glasses and project our own ideals onto a past that is, at best, distorted, or, at worst, fictitious.

In Dr. John Kater's lecture today at CDSP, he outlined, as examples for comparison, three periods and locations in "Anglican" history that were schismatic, polarizing, and bound up in strong disagreements over theology and polity.

The first we explored was the development of the Scottish Episcopal Church -- a tangled story of court intrigues wrapped up in the rise of the United Kingdom, the transition from the Tudor to the Stuart dynasties, the rise of Presbyterianism, Oliver Cromwell, the Restoration, the Glorious Revolution, and the Non-Jurors. . .and that's just a thumbnail sketch!

Dr. Kater posed to us a question for discussion: "Was the Scottish Episcopal Church 'Anglican' in its beginnings?"

That begged the question, of course, in how we define "Anglicanism." Sola Scriptura? Reformed or Catholic or both? Bishops or no bishops? Monarch or no monarch? Synod, convention, or presbytery? Guards or no guards. . .I'll tear 'em apart.

So where does Anglicanism begin, and where do its true roots lie? Before or after the Glorious Revolution? With Cranmer? The Elizabethan Settlement? The Concordat between The Episcopal Church in this country and the Scottish Episcopal Church? Or as late as 1864, when full communion between TEC, the Scottish Episcopal Church, and the Church of England was restored. . .or made for the first time?

History is a messy business, but from this little lesson about the Church that consecrated the first bishop in The Episcopal Church in the United States, we learn that Anglicanism's beginning cannot be so easily pinned down on a time line, nor can its root theology and polity.

* * *

The Nippon Sei Ko Kai, the Anglican Church of Japan, offers a 20th-century example of schism in the context of wartime and, it can be argued, a possible example of a path towards reconciliation.

The pressure of the wartime imperial government of Japan in the 1930's and 1940's ultimately deported a number of Western missionary bishops and clergy from Japan, and the NSKK was forced to either join a state-licensed Christian denomination or lose all standing. Some bishops joined, others did not, the church was split and dioceses were dissolved.

At the conclusion of the War, the NSKK was faced with a difficult problem reminiscent of the Church struggling with the Diocletian persecutions in the fourth century and the corresponding Donatist controversy.

Who were the faithful bishops and clergy in the Japanese context of World War II? Those who capitulated to the will of the Imperial government, or those who stood against it and faced investigation and imprisonment? And what to do with bishops who were consecrated while not a part of the NSKK?

The problem was only resolved ultimately with an appeal to outside mediation and even the judgment of a Lambeth Conference.

But, like several other instances of schismatic events in Anglican Provinces, such as the brief break during the Civil War in this country, this schism was short (a few years), was generally brought on by external political pressures and state conflict, and was solved with a desire on both sides for reconciliation.

That said, the Nippon Sei Ko Kai may have something to teach us about how to move forward in our present crisis. Out of this common experience the NSKK has engaged in several more recent and salient efforts at reconciliation, such as with the Korean Church for the atrocities committed by the Imperial army in World War II. . .and continue to exhibit a remarkable commitment to reconciling peace in their current opposition to the rising political will in Japan to begin developing a national military with offensive capabilities.

It might behoove the Primates meeting in Tanzania next February to seek and listen to what the NSKK Primate has to offer in terms of historical experience, and to learn how reconciliation looks and behaves in an internal church conflict.

* * *

The third example we looked at today was the founding of the Reformed Episcopal Church in the latter part of the nineteenth century in the United States. And here are some notable parallels around theological disputes in the present conflict.

The Oxford Movement had taken unique hold in a large part of The Episcopal Church through and after the 1840's, much to the chagrin of many evangelicals who feared the movement of the Church towards "romanization." In the 1850's and 1860's, accusations were made about false doctrines in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. Sound familiar?

There were puritanical overtones in some of the rhetoric of the time. Dr. Kater quoted to us today one evangelical voice of the period: "We need to purge the romanizing germs that are in the Prayer Book. . ." (emphasis added)

In 1868, some evangelicals were making appeals to General Convention to create special provision for those who dissented from particular language around baptismal and eucharistic rites and who wanted greater latitude around qualifications for ministerial authority. The appeals were rejected.

In 1871, a resolution was presented by these evangelical groups to restrict "extreme" Anglo-Catholic practices in The Episcopal Church. There was a strong sense that the Church had gone too far in its permissive attitude towards liturgical practice and Catholic sacramental theology.

This resolution too failed, and within just over two years Bishop George Cummins of Kentucky founded an alternative reformed church built, in large part, around the inerrancy of Scripture. Interestingly enough, the Reformed Episcopal Church believed it was returning to the "true Anglicanism" of Thomas Cranmer. The resulting Reformed Episcopal Church, with about 13,000 members in North America today, still believes itself to be part of this "true" Anglicanism. Take a look at their website if you haven't yet. You may find the claims there sound awfully familiar.

Another uncanny parallel, perhaps one worth noting at this point, is that Cranmer's legacy has figured into the current controversy, perhaps most notably in the blogosphere with the very recent scholarly exchange over Cranmer's understanding of scriptural authority between Ashley Null and Tobias Haller.

Of great interest to me is the notion around this schism in the history of The Episcopal Church that there was an evangelical outcry: certain contrasting theological perspectives and practices, particularly found in the Book of Common Prayer but also in the greater Church, were ultimately not acceptable. This puritanical approach to church polity, practice, and theological understanding is clearly echoed in Bishop Duncan's remarks in an NPR report from November 5th:

"There's no way for these two understandings to stay side by side. The best thing would be for us to let one another go."

History suggests that's the language of schism. It clearly worked in the past. Why wouldn't it work now?

Be assured, this is nothing new.

A few tentative conclusions:

It strikes me that we all suffer from our own forms of "Anglican Romanticism." Appeals to Hooker, Cranmer, or the missionaries who founded our particular Churches may, in the end, not help the present impasse or bring us towards reconciliation.

What the AAC, and, to some extent, the AMiA and CANA and other alphabet-soup networks are up to is really nothing new, but they are simply re-articulating an age-old position of puritanical theology and thought that can be traced back in the history of the Episcopal Church and even to the foundation of the Church of England in the sixteenth century. That's their "Anglicanism," and they have some justification from a particular reading of the historical record.

But they risk, like the Reformed Episcopal Church, becoming yet one more mere splinter in our common history. Their truly romantic and over-inflated notions, it seems to me, lies in their implicit and explicit desire to become some kind of new Province of the Communion or develop some polity that, despite contradicting over 1,400 years of jurisdictional tradition, will fly in the greater Anglican Communion. Or even to see The Episcopal Church "kicked out" of the Anglican Communion. Now I think that one's probably over the top, but it helps to explain the strong inclination to get close with the Archbishop of Canterbury and other Primates in the hope that a divorce from The Episcopal Church will not set them adrift as far as the rest of the Communion goes. Romanticism par excellence, I'd say!

What is more or less new, it strikes me from my current understanding, is that we are no longer facing intra-provincial schism here, but also inter-provincial conflict. CANA is a case in point. How do we disentangle, say, the Church of Nigeria's disagreement with The Episcopal Church, and their clear interest in the schismatic actions of Truro, Falls Church, et. al.? But that might be the subject of a subsequent post.

We might all learn more from the example of the Nippon Sei Ko Kai and heed what is required when schism is threatened or actually comes to pass.

It's an age-old lesson in forgiveness: reconciliation must be sought by all sides, not just one, if it is to bear fruit.

One final thought before I post:

My heart is very much with ++Katharine Jefferts Schori's "we'll leave the light on" statements. But let's not hold our breath. That, too, may suffer a bit too much Anglican Romanticism. And while hope is part of our legacy, this particular hope may not bear the weight of history.

Your comments are more than welcome, and please note I claim to be no historian. I will gladly welcome factual correction.

Links to Wikipedia should be taken with appropriate caution, as the accuracy of the information there may be suspect at times. I link to them only to offer a starting point for further reading. Make note of the references in any of the articles, as they may provide more accurate information than the Wikipedia article itself.

Part II: A Mess of History
Part III: Claiming the Re-visionist Label
Part IV: Head, Heart, and Hope
Part V: Beyond Modern Anglicanism