Friday, January 12, 2007

Enough is enough

A number of blogsites are beginning to question the wisdom of the current framing of the argument in the Anglican Communion, if not the framework of the Communion itself and unsettling developments as of late:

(1) The Archbishop of Canterbury has assembled a committee to begin drafting an Anglican Communion covenant that may lend considerable power to the Primates over provincial authority. (I'm taking a wait-and-see approach on this one, but others have commented extensively.)

(2) ++Katharine Jefferts Schori must now not only endure the tasteless equivalent of excommunication by some of her brother Primates in the communion, but continues to be attacked as a "heretic." This although she holds the same views about the salvific acts of Christ for all humankind that have been articulated by many theologians and other bishops of several Christian faiths. . .views that are not outside the bounds of traditional "orthodoxy." Jim Naughton has a post that documents a recent interview with ++KJS speaking directly to this point. I'm dubious of calling anyone a "heretic" based on scant evidence (in this case, found only in heavily edited news reports and brief interviews). Heresy must be a thoroughgoing position, if it is to carry that heavy title. Heresy is a fighting word in Christianity, and much blood has flowed at its utterance over the centuries. I would not wield it so lightly. Let the reader beware. This may well be the insidious wolf of misogyny parading about in sheep's clothing, even in the arguments of well-intentioned individuals.

(3) Conservative evangelical and fundamentalist forces have had a good crack at quagmiring the Episcopal Church's, if not the Anglican Communion's mission and ministry in a hotbed of conflict over human sexuality. This borders on the demonic. LGBT Christians remain unfairly shouldered with whether the AC fails, +Gene Robinson in particular, and we all continue to get deflected from the mission of serving the hungry, the sick, and those desperately needing to hear the Gospel while power-machinations and heterosexism take over and work out their pathologies in our midst.

(4) Thinking Anglicans reports that the head of a dissenting group in the Church of Nigeria has received death threats unless he "repents."

Enough is enough. Jesus would surely weep.

Mark Harris offers a pithy, comprehensive manifesto. Jim Naughton poses a question of stewardship the current conflict raises, and whether the Anglican Communion, to put it bluntly, is worth it. The Bishops of Nigeria (once again) call on The Episcopal Church and the rest of the Anglican Communion to see it their way, or else. And Fr. Jake points to the growing evidence that we are looking squarely in the face of institutionalized evil using even the unsuspecting in a game to undermine the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Welcome to the Church.

Enough is enough. We are seeing the end-game unfold now, and it is getting close to time for us to move on, with or without some of our detractors.

For the best way forward, we can only turn to God's grace in prayer. May those making critical decisions for the future of the Church in the coming months do so. And may we all with much-needed humility.

On a happier note, Tobias Haller has posted this day, the lesser feast of St. Aelred, an inspiring sermon. Aelred of Rievaulx taught us about Christian friendship, the cornerstone of any holy union, any covenanted relationship.


Anonymous said...

Richard, don't you take a day off? :-)

This is a good summary of the reams of words (many of them very, very well written) on other sites. Thanks!

R said...

Mondays. . .most Mondays!

Anonymous said...

Can I comment on the events you list from my very different perspective?

1) The Anglican communion can only have power over a province if that province cedes power to the communion which as endless progressives have (rightly) blogged the AC has no legal power – it is only a bundle of bonds of affection. The most it can do is set ot some conditions of membership – and no province could be forced to accept them. Evangelical provinces will be unwilling to cede much power to the centre. From the TEC perspective the worst that could happen is that formal membership of the communion is lost, to be replaced by formal or informal ties with provinces you choose to link with.
2) Some Primates did not want to share holy communion with the PBs predecessor at Dromantine. Perhaps things are a little hotter, but Griswold had a lot to put up with too. With the publication this month of ++KJS’s book people will have substantial pieces of her writing to base their conclusions on. There will be more interviews that give her a better chance to put her point of view – I thought the unedited transcript of the latest one showed her getting a fair hearing. She can expect some tough and close questioning though.
3) Do you feel like you are in a quagmire? The conservatives in TEC are very few in number. Surely they cant dominate your church. From here in Sydney I can’t see very much parish ministry being derailed by Communion matters. Personally if the AC fails I shan’t be blaming LGBT people.
4) This is very sad.

Let me endorse your last paragraph.

R said...

1) I agree in principle, but as Tanzania has already demonstrated, there are very real impacts on very real people's lives in some of the decisions being made. But you, Tobias Haller, and I have discussed this before, and I feel there's really very little to add.

I am not so concerned about bishops or archbishops, but all the parish and inter-diocesan relationships that are imperiled by broken and impaired communion. In other words, the "formal" relationships are not what ultimately worry me, but the weight put on the "informal," but very real and tangibly effective relationships when the formal ones fail.

Needless to say, I will be "okay." So will my parish. But there will be a diminishment in the comprehensiveness of God's grace the AC give witness to in the world, if, say, even Nigeria walks. And I write that with a straight face, so to speak.

2) I disagreed with it then, and I disagree with it now -- even moreso, as ++KJS hasn't even had a chance to meet these Primates in person, and her appeals to reopen conversation with them on other pressing matters have been rebuffed. I'm sorry, Obadiah, but I find this entirely un-Christian behavior, even if she is regarded as a heretic leading an apostate Church. Christ did not die for a select few, but for the world, so says orthodoxy and my Bible, so there are essential Gospel witness to basic human dignity getting short-shrift here.

I am not all that worried about ++Katharine. She has a backbone much stronger than mine, and she has much support in TEC.

But the witness in this particular matter coming from ++Akinola, ++Orombi and a few others is hideously un-Christlike at this point. After Akinola's painful interview in the New York Times a few weeks ago, his credibility in the United States is, if anthing, diminished. Again, he may not suffer much -- and I doubt he cares. But there are people in need and a Body of Christ that is broken -- and not for the world, but for those who appear more interested in their self-righteousness and power. How is that possibly evangelical or, more broadly, Christian, for rich or poor alike?

And this brings shame on all Christians, especially in an already divided and divisive world.

3) Yes, I believe we are wrestling with a quagmire. Much of the press The Episcopal Church has been receiving over the past four years has been due to (as you rightly allude) a handful of forever-disatisfied bishops and archbishops meeting because they're upset about. . .sex.

Meanwhile, the United States has entered -- illegally in my view -- a war that has cost hundreds of thousands of lives, reduced our ability to support efforts to eradicate extreme poverty in the world, and further ruined our overseas reputation, potentially imperiling democratic and free peoples in many places.

We have watched the continued rise of violence fueled by fundamentalist extremism in many quarters of the world's and world's religions.

What is the Episcopal Church's witness and Anglican's Communion's public face in the media during this time? Well, it seems to me on weight of evidence. SEX.

+Gene Robinson's consecration was not a parlor trick or an in-your-face defiant act, I assure you. It was a painfully wrought decision, and I've seen the toll it took, because some of our smartest leadership knew the price we would be made to pay by those who would deplore our decision. And +Gene expressly said repeatedly, he felt called to be a bishop, not the GAY BISHOP, or the BISHOP WHO SUNK THE ANGLICAN COMMUNION. But that's the rep he must now bear, thanks to some of our own. Enough is enough.

And no one as far as I've seen has sat down to determine the cost so far to the church's mission, in real dollars, all the flying back and forth of bishops and archbishops, the paper used, the vestry fights and legal expenses, and the other resources that might have been used to forward the church's mission to a world in need.

Only God knows how many have gone hungry as a result. And how many have stayed away from a faith that might nurture them. . .stayed away until the dust settles and the bishops put their ecclesiastical swords away.

Not that we have absolute control over what the media covers or our government's decisions, etc., or the reactions of a few dissatisfied, but powerful folk. But we do have some control over our infighting and its costs.

And I will defy any assertion that this has been "all our fault."

There are plenty of examples of provinces in the AC who have disagreed with our decision but have strongly agreed there are other weighty members that deserve much greater attention than conscientious disagreement over sexual morality.

And, to be at least a little fair to my LGBT brothers and sisters, at the end of the day, this is not about sex. This is about essential human dignity as expressed in God-given covenanted relationships. No heterosexual marriage is built and sustained around sex. That never makes up the core of the relationship. We are suffering from a grave distortion, in my view, and so much more to our peril. We should know better as a Christian Communion.

But it's Sunday, and I should not leave off sounding so hopeless.

We've paid the price now, thank you very much, setting aside the additional blood a handful seem to want to continue to exact from us.

We elected ++KJS not to continue talking about sex as her main priority, but to start addressing the needs in the world we need to be addressing. And that she is determined to do.

I hope the Primates understand that, and, if I may be so bold, that ++Akinola himself repents -- at least not from treating her as a pariah and finding places where perhaps he might be able to work with her and us for the least among God's children. But maybe he can do that standing on the other side of the room at a safe distance. All the power to him if he can.

And please forgive my tirade. To quote Martin Luther King, Jr., whom we remember this weekend in the Episcopal Church and in the greater United States, "If I have said anything in this. . . that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me."

Letter from a Birmingham Jail, April, 1963.

Anonymous said...

Without seeking to raise any heat, can I respond?

1) your're right, that earlier discussion was helpful.

2) Let's assume the worst of the evangelicals in the anglican Communion. They have misunderstood your +PB. They have based this on media reports that have misquoted her or taken her out of context. Or they are willfully misrepresenting her.
If this is so, then a forthright statement from her on ENS that she is not a universalist, that she believes that Jesus is the only way to the father would clear this matter up. Would she take the line of "Dominus Iesus"? Hans Kung? John Hicks?
It would be helpful all round if she, or a progressive writer would point to her sermons or writings to show that she has been misunderstood. I can understand some irritation at having to do this, but it would be a real service.
3) the total giving to the TEC is some $1.4billion a year. All the activity around the communion matters would be a very small percentage of this.
In financial terms surely the quagmire is relatively small? I am on the other side of the world to you and find it hard to get a picture of what life in TEC is like. Yet I hope - indeed I trust - your Sunday was not diminated by the splits in the communion. Mine certainly was not.
4) It may well be that Akinola and your PB face each other across a crowded room. To put a positive spin on recent events the charges against your PB are not about sex but about what she believes about Jesus. So she has a good platform to talk about him in Tanzania. Surely that is a good place to start.

R said...


Your comments are always welcome here, even if they generate a little "heat"!

Thank you for fielding my long response yesterday, and I regret if I showed too much an edge of my temper. That said, I think you begin to understand our frustration at the present time, also recently expressed by Bishop Marshall in TEC.

Going back to my original post, it's the way things are being framed at present by a few loud voices that bothers me most. Their behavior at Dromantine is legendary, as they successfully bent the ears of several of the Primates, and have been plying them ever since with news and information about The Episcopal Church that has been, at best, one-sided; at worst, it has been distorted to serve their own ends.

Fundamentalism and certain strains of evangelicals in this country have risen to prominence over the past few decades. They have hijacked "Christianity" in the United States press, taken over at least one denomination (the Southern Baptists), have threatened to split Methodism and Presbyterianism in this country, have stirred homophobia and misogyny, aided the near takeover of one of our two primary political parties, and hamstrung legislation and public discourse at various times with their "family values."

And the influence they have had on our present Presidential administration and the current war, while difficult to measure conclusively, cannot be ignored.

I'm careful not to go after evangelicals whole-hog here. There are some evangelicals I strongly identify with. Jim Wallis at Sojourners is one (see the link from my blog). Besides, "evangelical" has that lovely root in the Greek word for "gospel." Like "Christian," I am not prepared to cede that to one particular theological bent. For that matter, I, too, am very interested in bringing the unchurched (of which there are many here) into a vibrant life with Christ.

Your $1.4 billion figure is a helpful note for perspective. I would only ask that it be tempered by remembering the high cost of living in this country (compared with the rest of the world, of course) and that most of that funding goes towards maintaining existing structures, and, of course, salaries for fully-employed "church folk" like me. Not that we are getting big bucks compared with other people serving in our communities. It might be more helpful to measure how much of that $1.4 billion is and will be spent on reaching out to the needs of the greater world.

To that end, I am (I hope appropriately) self-critical. Our own parish raises somewhere in the neighborhood of 1%-5% of our budget each year towards programs for the poor and those in need. That is nothing to brag about, and we are endeavoring to do better. But it is not all that common, either. Many churches in TEC are obsessed budget-wise with maintenance rather than mission. This is truly our biggest challenge -- perhaps our true "apostasy", the attacks on us that we have "departed from the orthodox faith" notwithstanding. We risk allowing ourselves to slide into irrelevancy by sitting on our hands and navel-gazing in the middle of rapidly changing cultural contexts. The current arguments only deflect us from this -- back to my original post.

I do take a bit of (charitable) umbrage to the suggestion that ++KJS offer some thoroughgoing explanation of her faith, but I write this before her book comes out in February. That may illuminate a great deal.

That said, there is an assumption here, it seems to me that she is "guilty until proven innocent." I'll admit that offends my very American sense of justice. But it also carries with it overtones of similar hurdles required of women or racial minorities moving into authority positions in many places. They must "prove themselves" acceptable, and hence must demonstrate their abilities (or, in this case, their faith) more than a white, straight male might. You may not intend that with your suggestion, but it could be understood that way.

Finally, no, my Sunday, like yours, was not dominated by splits in the Anglican Communion (as I hope my sermon demonstrates). That said, anyone outside the Episcopal Church in this country has only what the media has reported, and that is about the current dust up with the AC over human sexuality, the departure of Truro and Falls Church, etc. We have partially media bias to blame for this, partially our own failure in our PR both locally and nationally, and -- yes -- a good measure due to our detractors and their vociferous and misleading attacks.

In short, if I meet someone who has never been in an Episcopal Church before and they are from the United States, I can almost bet money on what subject first comes to mind when they hear about us. It cuts both ways, depending on who that person is, so maybe all that cancels each other out.

Still, we have much work to do here to move beyond the present debates in the public arena and get back to the heart of the Gospel, proclaiming "Christ is Risen" and loving our neighbors as ourselves and inviting others into a deeper, more transformative life in God.

I hope, as you do, that our PB will have a "good platform" to speak about Jesus Christ in Tanzania. Whether or not she will be heard is quite another question, although there are openings to hope that, as articulated by even ++Akinola, it seems, in a recent write-up at the Church of Nigeria website.

I'll keep praying, and I trust you will, too.

And, by the way, if you ever happen to be in the States, you are more than welcome at Church of Our Saviour. In the meantime, you can find out more about us at our website. That's a shameless plug, but I throw it in 'cause 1) it's my job, and 2) I mean it with all sincerity!

God's peace.