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


Daniel Martins said...

Richard, thank-you for your veritably Herculean writing efforts covering Epiphany West. To produce that many words in such a short time, and have them actually be coherent and pertinent, is a commendable accomplishment.

As a priest of the Diocese of San Joaquin, thank-you as well for your words of conciliation toward Bishop Schofield. He is not what you might call tech-savvy (not anything I wouldn't say to him directly and he would agree with!), so I doubt he's seen it, but still, it was a kind gesture.

You concluded an earlier post with the observation that we may be witnessing a major shift in the history of Anglicanism. You are certainly correct, but I would take out the "may." As soon I left Minneapolis in 2003 I knew that to be the case, and events since then have not proven me wrong.

June Butler said...

Richard, your series of posts on the conference are extraordinarily good.

I was pleased that you touched upon the emphasis on the Gospels vis-à-vis the Epistles, since I read the whole Bible through the lens of the Gospels, which are my touchstone.

Again, regarding The Design Group, I wonder about the whole covenant movement in the Anglican Communion, why we need another covenant in addition to the New Covenant given us by Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Why would sinful human beings come up with a better covenant than one that includes The Two Great Commandments and The Beatitudes, which Our Lord gave us? It seems to me that a further covenant would be limiting the work of the Spirit in the church, rather than freeing us to follow the Spirit.

If the Episcopal Church is to humble itself and take a lesser role in the Communion - say as an associate member church - then, so be it, but I don't foresee that The Design Group will come up with a covenant that TEC will sign on to

Thanks again for your reports.

Anonymous said...

Thank for the interesting entry -- I found it most enlightening on several fronts.

I have mentioned elsewhere, but it seems pertinent to reiterate, that it seems to me entirely mistaken to think that the Global South primates who are inclined to walk apart from TEC are not now nor have they ever accepted the WR & it seems to me extremely misleading for us to discuss things as if TEC were to impose moratoria, then all would be well. WR proposes a halt for a breathing space & dialogue. The "Akinolists" reject any possibility of a change in their position on LBGTQ issues, so there is no point in dialogue.

I apologise for berating this topic, but it seems to me that clarity on this matter is very important.

Anonymous said...

Fr. R,

This follows up well on my post "What do you think about Evangelicals?".

It is good to hear these two povs; I distrust "common good" language not because it doesn't have value, but because in the hands of folks like +Radner, often means, that lgbt Christians or whatever Christians of the day claim dignity in Christ should suck it up for the rest without the rest having to enter into our struggles--it's more "you get to bear burdens we would never bear ourselves". it is hardheartedness and sacrificial covered over by religious terms and overtones and justifications. It cannot help but lead to division because it isn't fully Pauline, nor kenotic, but rather hides a great deal of self-will as placing usually heterosexual, white men at the center of our common life rather than Christ.

In other words, it seems to me that at present in our AC, heterosexual men making the decisions are largely unaccountable to anyone else. Violence cannot help but arise in such circumstances, and controversy, as Paul writes in First Corinthians, may in fact be necessary to get us to Truth. Trust is multifaceted in our current situation, not only between Provinces, but within Provinces, and across diverse types of people. For example, I don't trust +Ephraim Radner, nor ++Rowan Williams, and not without good reason. Most gay folks wouldn't and shouldn't given differences in power dynamics, statements made, willingnes to cut off our agency as having a part ot play in discussions about our lives in Christ.

After all, whites saw that it was commonly good for everybody that blacks be treated poorly in the North with various property and work discrimination laws (or unwritten rules) and the South had Jim Crow. The same goes in South Africa. What one perceives as necessary sacrifice to be demanded of others for the good of the whole, the other perceives as hardheartedness on the part of those demanding their sacrifice for the sake of the whole. In such cases, we must begin to look at effects in either case on persons and communities. Empirical observation is an important part of a process that gets us beyond mere assertions of what is good for whom.

James Alison makes the excellent point that a catholic understanding is both common good and good for particular persons. That what is good for particular persons is in synergy with what builds up the community and vice versa. The closet is clearly not a good for persons, and I think by now we can demonstrate quite effectively how it isn't good for the community. Forced celibacy is also not generally good for persons, and we then have to ask ourselves how are same-sex couples contributing to the ecclesia and society. So framing questions in terms of how each organ builds up the community, how each person brings gifts becomes vital. This requires us to get beyond our primary identity as gay or straight, though these are important traits, and limit how we as particular persons will be able to express something of the character of the infinite God in our world, and we shouldn't pretend that they're non-existant, they are not in Whom we are one.

Common good must arise from all being a part of the reflecting process and be open to allowing that common good need not necessitate singular answers or responses. The current processes in the Anglican Communion in fact are very heterosexual and very male and very clerical, thankfully, less white, but therefore, nonetheless very flawed and not necessarily a good that hopes for the good of all persons in the common or is quite willing to impose what others think is for the good without input from those whom they're discussing--this is paternalistic, patronizing, imperialistic, and colonizing, and though we've begun to see how this was problematic with regard to colonialism/imperialism, we continue to search out someone upon whom we can write our script. From here, for example, ++Williams reads as a colonizer, this time not of Africa or Asia, but of queer folk.

This is the heritage TEC is beginning to wrestle with, and one I might add, that many Churches in the AC are wrestling with in different ways, it's just that we haven't yet come to recognize that just because one has found oneself oppressed doesn't mean we may not be oppressing someone else, knowingly or unknowingly, so we need a relational Trinitarian approach and structures to foster a recognition of Christ in one another beyond the current penis wars. If a covenant does this, great, but I have suspicions that that is not where this will go given the composition of those charged to compose the document(s).