Saturday, July 23, 2005

Why I Remain An Anglican - Part 3

The crises of the last years has forced me, like so many others, to carefully reconsider my stance in relation to my Anglican commitment, and that is probably no bad thing given how stultifying it can be to get into a rut and take one's circumstances for granted. As I have looked at the alternatives, and as well as sought to understand what Anglicanism is, and where it is now, I have concluded that to be faithful I must remain an Anglican, and althought I would prefer a friendlier environment, must do so within the Episcopal Church of the USA.

I am also convinced that a weakening of Anglicanism both here and elsewhere is a weakening of the whole global Body of Christ, for there is a richness in Anglicanism that filters through into the whole broad array of Christian traditions from the Pentecostal to the Catholic. While there is a lot to learn in this present crisis, I am also certain that walking away from this church, even if it is to go to as venerable a tradition as Rome, is not the answer to the problem. This is not to stand in judgment over those who have taken this journey, but to assert it is not the path I will take. Perhaps it is because the Anglican tradition is so flawed that I, a deeply flawed individual, can relate meaningfully to it.

I also believe that in all our splitting and fragmenting there is a giving in to a desire for instant gratification. My observation over the years has been that divisions between Christians are as much about personalities and relationships as they are about beliefs and convictions. As I have been studying Paul's writings to the Corinthians this year I am touched by his way of doing things. It was not to compromise the fundamentals of the faith, but to win over those who attacked him and radically compromised the truth, with loving firmness and attempts as reconciliation in the name of Christ.

As I read Scripture, there is a divine imperative rooted in the person and work of Christ that we always seek reconciliation. There has been a lot of talk about reconciliation, and there is this tendency among those who represent the views of the political majority to think in terms of the orthodox "minority" laying down and playing dead before the majority. This is to misunderstand the nature of Christian truth, which has little to do with democracy and the opinions of the majority, and much more to do with obedience to what God has revealed. Yet the God who has revealed his nature is also the God who has reconciled us to himself in the Cross of Christ, and has "entrusted to us the message of reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:19). Despite the countless discomforts, our imperative is to continue to seek to end broken relationships within the continuing life of the church.

I am increasingly of the opinion that it is within this environment that we can best learn the truth. I do not trust the carnal me who is perfectly happy to say "I am convinced I am right," and then to turn my back on those with whom I am at odds. This would allow me to luxuriate in my own self-righteousness. While I am convinced of the veracity of biblical values concerning the nature of our humanity, and therefore in the sexuality debate, I am obligated to try to grasp what I might have missed, and this can only happen in an environment where I am not quaranteened from those who think differenly from me, however wrong I believe them to be.

The reality is that God's truth always trumps my limited perceptions. Doctrinal boundaries are vital, but we should not make them barriers. The truth always requires of us humility, on whatever side we are in the debate, and during the last few years we have seen precious little humility. I cannot pretend that I exhibit a rich vein of humility in my life or even in the way I have handled myself in the last couple of years, but I struggle forward knowing that true believing and genuine humility belong together.

Seeking to live according to the Gospel humility pioneered by Jesus requires a sturdiness of soul in these hard times, when one's primary detractors are likely to be those within the church. During the last few years all sorts of nastiness has been thrown at me because I believe the course being taken by ECUSA dishonors God -- and is plain wrong. There may be some truth in charges made against me, but I would graciously suggest that my detractors look at themselves before throwing accusations, perhaps they are just a little guilty of projection.

Then one does not walk away from the circumstances in which God has
placed you. While my careful analysis leads me to conclude that Anglican Christianity is the place where I belong, I confess that it requires a supreme effort to remain part of a province that has made it clear that it doesn't like people like me and wishes we would go away, despite the fact that we are the mainstream of world Anglicanism.

Yet it seems that God is remaking his church, and no good is served by me disappearing from the construction site during preparation of the land for our future. Much of my writing over the past twenty years has been to say that today's ecclesial configuration is not appropriate for tomorrow's missionary task. Rebuilding is by its nature messy, and during reconstruction involves all manner of temporary solutions and contingencies -- and this is precisely what going on around us.

We can only see the reality from a human standpoint, which means we are overwhelmed by the mess, but the truth is that our all-powerful, all-knowing God sees the beginning from the end, and the end from the beginning, and will guide and direct his faithful people through the intervening wilderness, as he has done before.

The history of salvation is constant recapitulation: the Exodus always being the model of God's way of deliverance. The Exodus, like the Way of the Cross, is about discovering the richness of faithfulness, believing that God in his time and manner will show us the precise course we should pursue. For God's people the Exodus journey required much patience as they wandered through the desert for forty years. Some centuries later there was the seventy years of Exile, and now we await the return of the Lord Jesus Christ, who will at that point make all things new. Patience, waiting, as well as periods of discomfort are all part of the faithful journey.

I am convinced there are more immense challenges ahead of Christian people, Anglicans and otherwise, in the 21st Century than we imagine. I agree wholeheartedly with Benedict XVI that "humanity must change course or face even greater atrocities and barbarism in the decades to come." The Pope has in his sights a relativism that says "there is no truth," and from which comes "the looming threat of new anti-human ideologies and philosophies" (Robert Moynihan, Let God's Light Shine - The Spiritual Vision of Pope Benedict XVI, New York: Doubleday, 2005, page 45).

Challenges will descend upon us hard and fast as this century proceeds. I do not actually believe the present crisis is primarily about sexuality, nor do I believe it is necessarily about authority, although that is a component, but I am certain that the nub of the matter is what it means to be human. The question is what it means to be made in the image of God, and thus what God is like. The revealed nature of God is being challenged from every direction imaginable, and those forces seeking to redefine our humanity will only become more ravenous. This is what gives significance to our present battles.

To this must be added the consequences of planetary degradation and the massive demographic shifts going on. The implication of mass migrations and imbalances of age and generation are beginning to be felt in every society, culture, economy, and in religious and ethnic relationships. What we have seen in London during the last couple of weeks is a symptom of this. There is no place in this environment for a weak, unreflective, divided, or diluted Christian voice and witness.

Futhermore, we can expect a new round of diseases and pandemics, as well as needing to find the resources to come to terms with inventions and discoveries that will fill the whole human race with both wonder and unprecedented terror. Superpowers will come, superpowers will go, and we need to recognize in the midst of all this that the whole infrastructure of contemporary life is immensely fragile. I could go on, but you probably get the point.

As I took one last look at my granddaughter sleeping in her crib before leaving England, I saw a person who could conceivably live to see the dawn of the 22nd Century. My prayers for her is that she will be a forthright and obedient servant of Jesus Christ through all of her life, and that she will be engifted by God to contribute to the solution of tomrrow's problems, not their intensification.

Which brings me back to Anglican Christianity, one significant stream within the multifarious channels that combine to form a vast river that is the covenant people of God. Whatever the shape of its future (and its shape will be very different from anything we have known), it has a role to play. Meanwhile, it is our lot to be the generation who are asked to be stewards of this small vessel as we feel our way through difficult times and troubled waters. So be it. As Paul told the Corinthians that "this slight momentary afflication is preparing for us an eternal weight fo glory beyond comparison" (2 Corinthians 4:17).

5 comments:

frtomgibson said...

What a refreshing and hopeful post, Fr. Kew. When GC 2003 voted to ratify the selection of Gene Robinson to the episcopacy my first reaction was thanks be to God for now we can move forward to address more important concerns. I was as unprepared to be anathemitized in my own diocese as you apparently have been in your own.

At any rate, I am happy to learn you are willing to put up with the likes of a priest like me as I am willing hear from a priest like you.

Fr. Tom Gibson
Diocese of Central Florida

Joe said...

Richard,

Thank you for sharing this...what a wonderful way of connecting our past with our future in a hopeful, personal way. I may not agree on every point, but overall, I found my head nodding throughout all three installments. May God bless you and the work you do in our Church.

Grace and Peace,
Joe

peggy said...

Richard,

Beautiful work. I was just recently confirmed into the Anglican tradition into a solidly orthodox church in Dallas. But I went through a terrible crisis not long after as to whether my choice had been a good one. It was just after my confirmation that Al Kimmel in PA announced that he was leaving our church for Rome and published his reasons on his blog. This was a blow to me for many reasons which I need not go into here. But in addition to the impact his reasoning made on me at the same time the pace of the collapse of the communion seemed to be quickening its pace. There was the now infamous clown "mass" and the appointment of Carnley to the panel of reference to name just a few events of the period.

But I came to realize like you that Rome was just not tempting enough. Neither was Orthodoxy. I realized that my coming into this church was more than just a personal choice. I had found my home after years of searching. There was and is no other place for me. God brought me to Anglicanism because Anglicanism is a home for folks like you and me. It is where we belong and no other place. God has made this home for us and if he has done so then we should fight with him to preserve the good in a tradition which has been so good for us and for so many others.

I tried to argue along these lines with Kimmel as well as with some fundamentalist Romans online but to no avail. Its nice to see someone else put my thoughts into words so much better than I have been able to so far.

I couldnt agree more with you. I think your posts should be published far and wide among us orthodox Anglicans. There is hope for our tradition while we remain as faithful and gracious and thoughtful as you have shown yourself to be. I am absolutely convinced of that. I think we can add these posts of yours to the growing evidence that we orthodox Anglicans have a legitimate place at Christs table and that we have much to contribute to his universal church.

David Wilson said...

I appreciate your wonderful expression of your thoughts on this difficult subject. I struggle with the absence of two things in your comments. First, when does our expression of love and grace towards those who seem to be eager to deviate from foundational aspects of Anglicanism veer into complicity? How will we know that ECUSA has left the faith of our fathers? How would we know that we needed to take more resolute action to "reattach" to mainstream owrld-wide Anglicanism? Secondly, in all of your comments there is no acknowledgement that beyond and behind the behavior of other people, we have an enemy, the thief who comes to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10a). Jesus spoke hard words to those who created barriers for others seeking to enter the Kingdom of God. Are we to do any less, in order to be tolerant of deceptive imitations of truth? These are very difficult issues that require much prayer and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but I would really appreciate reading your views on this in order to instruct my own decision-making.

Richard Kew said...

Thank you, each of your for your comments. Let me try to respond a little.
1. Obviously, I don't have all the answers to our present unhappy circumstances -- and there is much about the attitudes and priciples of those supposedly leading this denomination that I dislike. I do believe that what ECUSA has done is in error, and I find it difficult to live with it.
2. I don't consider it to be complicity with error to stay involved with a denomination in order to affirm the truth as revealed by God, and to assert within the church the fundamentals of faithful Anglicanism. We are called to be witnesses, and the Scriptures do not promise that witness is necessarily going to be easy or comfortable. Walking away, quite honestly, is in my opinion to suggest that error, un-truth, whatever you want to call it, is spiritually stronger and more powerful that the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed.
3. I have to take my responsibility for what has happened. What has happened to ECUSA has been an act of corporate failure and sin. Scott Peck wrote of such collective sinfulness that "The plain fact of the matter is that any group will remain inevitably potentially consciousless and evil until such time as each and every individual holds himself or herself directly responsible for the behavior of the whole group - the organism - for which he or she is part" (People of the Lie). I cannot take my share of the responsibility if I walk away.
4. Grace and truth belong together in Christ. Division is not grace-ful, and I do not believe it reflects the truth that is in Christ.
So, there are some of my thoughts.