Thursday, January 18, 2007

No Applause

Well, it's been quite another day for The Episcopal Church. The President of the House of Deputies, Bonnie Anderson, sent a strong, clarifying letter to the Panel of Reference for their recent recommendations concerning an appeal from the Diocese of Fort Worth and their concerns over their opposition to the ordination of women.

Anderson's letter is really a brief lesson in the polity of The Episcopal Church, and makes note of the fact that Bishop Iker of Fort Worth has never been brought up on disciplinary charges for violating the canons of The Episcopal Church or for a clear violation of the vows of his consecration. In short, The Episcopal Church has effectively chosen not to force women's ordination on any diocese or bishop, +Iker's and Fort Worth's protest and fears notwithstanding. In the even broader picture, this makes sense. No diocese or bishop, at least in The Episcopal Church, is obliged to ordain anyone.

If I can write this without sounding patronizing or surprised, I'm deeply impressed with Anderson's letter. Like ++Katharine Jefferts Schori, she is more than capable of speaking clearly and directly to a situation without malice or hesitation. I have so much to learn from them both. We have two extraordinary people leading our Church at the moment. . .perhaps extraordinary times call for extraordinary leadership. God delivered.

I am especially grateful for Anderson's counter-recommendation:

. . .that future bodies charged to make recommendations to the Archbishop of Canterbury on any topics that have to do directly with a particular province of the Anglican Communion, have adequate representation from the province directly affected by the recommendations of the panel.
It's not simply a matter of "homework," but representation -- the incarnational presence of those who might be most affected by the decision. To extend this principle further, if the Anglican Communion is to discuss the consecration of openly gay and lesbian clergy, they should be part of those discussions. If the Anglican Communion is to discuss the ordination of women, women clergy should be party to the meetings.

Anything less than that objectifies the very real people the decisions, recommendations, and policies affect. It turns people and Christians, made in the image of God no less, into mere abstractions.

That's un-Anglican in my view. If the Anglican Church is anything at all, it is incarnational. Our nature as churches on a common journey is centered around the Christian community, manifested in both local and global settings, coming together as the Body of Christ to enter companionship and solidarity in prayer to God, to witness the Spirit at work in our common and particular stories, to see the face of Christ in each other and in the breaking of bread and the shared cup, and to serve as Jesus' eyes and hands in healing a broken world in our midst and beyond our doors. Whenever we fail to do that and end up passing judgment on one another, we are violating this principle core of our identity, and violating our unity. St. Paul has something to say about that to all of us.

The painful violation of our shared incarnational identity, through schismatic actions and the insistent reduction of each other and, even more importantly, those we are called to serve to something less than human, is, I believe, what drives me most to continue posting on these questions. If we are to be no longer incarnational, but something else, be it merely "confessional," "hierarchical," or "biblical," then I want nothing more to do with Anglicanism. I will belong somewhere else.

Thank you, Bonnie Anderson, for standing faithfully in the truest part of our tradition. You inspire me.

* * *

Of course, the other piece of today's "big" news is that the time has run out for Truro, Falls Church, et. al., to reach a negotiated settlement with the Diocese of Virginia over the disposition of the church properties. For years, The Episcopal Church has generally held that all church properties are to be kept in trust by the local communities for the greater Church. It is my understanding that the spirit of these canons was to ensure against the use of property as a tool of protest when disagreement arose between local communities and their dioceses or the national church. Moreover, these canons were to protect the greater Church from the fiscal and tangible impacts of schismatic acts, whether they were for good or dubious reasons. And probably, they were also designed to make schism a little bit less attractive -- which is not necessarily a bad thing. Why should schism be easy? Why should divorce of any kind be entered into lightly? We take our relationships of covenant seriously, after all.

Still, I have mixed feelings about the inevitable lawsuits and wrangling that are likely to ensue. Part of me very much would like to say, "Let them take it all with them, and be done with it."

But another part of me, and increasingly the greater part agrees with the principles ++KJS articulates in her cautionary letter to +John-David Schofield a few months back. There are many people in every congregation, no longer living, who gave in trust for the future of not only their local community, but the greater Church. Their legacy is somehow diminished by a fragmentation of the outward manifestations of their labor and faith -- just as our greater sense of belonging to one another is broken by schism.

I cannot fault the actions of +Peter Lee and the Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. They have a fiduciary responsibility to protect the assets of the Church from actions that imperil future mission, God's grace notwithstanding.

But that's the problem. God's grace notwithstanding seems to me a faithless phrase. Would it not be charitable if, say, Truro Church could say to the Diocese, "We do not ultimately need this property. God will see us through," and if the Diocese could say to Truro Church, "We regret your departure but take the property in peace. God will see us through."

It seems the current situation now will only benefit the legal teams who rake in the fees.

My wife is fond of saying that the property you own owns you. No wonder Francis, other mendicants, religious orders the world over, and even Christ himself find relinquishing ownership -- a vow of poverty -- desirable.

What I can say with certainty is this: No applause is in order. This is a grim time. We are all falling on the swords of our own principled positions, however honorable.

Jesus, of course, said it with pithy, haunting words: "For all who take the sword shall perish by the sword."

At some point, we ventured beyond the bounds of Christian love into the twisted and scarred landscape of ecclesiastical warfare. The language has even bent in that direction, with reports from Bishop Lee that he has received death threats and other personal attacks.

Jim Naughton has only words of praise for +Lee for his forbearance and leadership in the midst of nasty circumstances. Solidarity and prayer are indeed essential for our duly called and elected leadership facing incredibly difficult decisions at the present time.

May God be with us all as we move forward with what must be done, however difficult it is.

Mark Harris offers a wider view of the events of the day in his usually profound and provocative style. . .while my friend, colleague, and successor as Vicar of Christ Church -- Sei Ko Kai, San Francisco, The Rev. Penelope Duckworth, in Mark's words, puts "the skunk on the table," with an editorial in the San Jose Mercury News.

Update: The Presiding Bishop has released a statement supporting the actions of the Diocese of Virginia. Yet another resoundingly clear, firm pastoral message from the hand of ++Katharine Jefferts Schori. And I commend "Praying for Answers," an online article from the Washington Post that documents the painful rifts schism causes in the local community.

No comments: