Thursday, December 28, 2006

Roots of the Matter

Mark Harris has just posted a fascinating question and an opening for discussion with Are the English Mission Societies fighting a war by proxy, with the Episcopal Church as the turf?

One of many parts of note is the contrast between accounts of two conversions to Christianity:

Two quite educated and articulate bishops from Africa illustrate the profound difference in how they came to understand their initiation or conversion into Christianity. Bishop Alpha Mohammed told a clergy conference in Delaware once in the 1980’s that he knew precisely the date of his conversion, which occurred on his reading the New Testament for the first time with a sense of comprehension in which he knew he was being called to new life in Jesus Christ. I am told he has used this illustration on other occasions. Bishop Desmond Tutu often recites his experience of witnessing Fr. Trevor Huddleston treat his mother with respect, naturally, and feeling called from that to a life of faith in the Church. That too has been a regular part of his testimony.

The post raises for me deep questions about our current conflict in the Communion, and that perhaps many of our brothers and sisters who were baptized into Christ through the Anglican tradition joined an ongoing theological dispute not of their own making, rather one that has roots in the unique contexts of the Northern European Reformation(s) in the sixteenth century. That we are fighting a renewed battle across rifts opened by Calvin, Luther, Medieval Catholicism, et. al., with a healthy dose of nationalism thrown in is a haunting, if not intriguing thought. That human sexuality then is only a focal point might be a relief in an intellectual sense, but it still does not fully address the plight of LGBT Christians in many parts of the Communion, or the profound and often inter-cultural questions about biblical interpretation and authority, or the legal and ecclesiastical quagmires posed by actions of late by Truro, Falls Church, et al., or the violations of traditional jurisdictional boundaries of the Communion.

So whether this will all be helpful ultimately is also an open question -- but in no way do I mean that to diminish Mark Harris' illuminating thoughts. Perhaps, at very least, his words serve to remind us that the Elizabethan Settlement between Puritans and Catholics was the first of many delays in an ongoing theological dispute close to the heart of the Church -- a theological dispute that many branches of the Body of Christ "solved," at least for a time, through formal schism, violence, or both.

Anglicanism's genius, even given the impetus of political interests and periods of our own violent upheavals, was to hold such disputes in subjection under our primary unifying head: Jesus Christ.

If I am right in that, then all of us have to be very careful about what we mean when we claim that the other "side" no longer has the mind (or the heart) of Christ. That is the language of schism. And perhaps we can utter more definitively, that is not Anglican.

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