Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Beyond General Convention...

I spent Sunday afternoon trying to immerse myself in the US Open Golf championship from the Winged Foot Golf Club rather than allowing the news that Katharine Jefferts Schori had been elected as Presiding Bishop to eat at me. However, when I logged on both on Sunday evening and Monday morning there were emails asking, "Where do we go from here?" I can honestly say that I don't know, although I am beginning to believe I that patience and prayer are the best counsel that I can give.

On Monday morning Ruth Gledhill, the Religion Correspondent of the London Times, was on the BBC World News. She is one of the most respected observers of the world Anglican scene, and suggested that while Shori's election is probably not going to cause a split within Anglicanism, it was yet another straw in the wind that something of this nature is less and less avoidable. Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali of Rochester in England, a visitor in Columbus and an astute leader and theological mind, is saying something similar following the election.

Of all the candidates on the list I would have had to say that the Bishop of Nevada seemed not only the least likely to be elected Presiding Bishop, but also the least qualified. A dozen years in ministry, none served as rector of a parish, hardly seem qualification for leadership of a denomination at a time like this, however able an individual she might be.

Bishop Schori's election is a perfect illustration of Philip Turner's comment in his new book, co-authored with Ephraim Radner. He writes, Episcopal elections in America now turn on how the candidates stand on the issues, and behind each issue stand contending interest groups each pressing their particular cause. Seldom, if ever, does one hear questions asked about the candidate's grasp of Christian tradition, the depth of their life in Christ, or what might be called their wisdom in the Lord. The ability of a candidate to further what is common seems in no way to be a qualification for office. The important thing is their commitment to a particular set of interests. In short, the life of the Episcopal Church has been politicized all the way down, and the result of this process is erosion of the church's communion" (The Fate of Communion, page 141).

I know little about Bishop Schori, and have no intention of criticizing or defaming her -- that would be churlish. Bishop John Howe of Central Florida, whose opinion I respect, says that she is a delightful and brilliant person, although lacking in experience and seasoning. Personally, having known a good few Presiding Bishops going back to Henry Knox Sherrill of the 1940s, who I met about a year before he died, Katharine Schori does not seem to measure up to the stature of most of her predecessors. I wish her well and promise her my prayers, but wonder if her election isn't yet another symptom of the deepening malaise of a denomination lost in the wilderness.

However, her election and actions of the General Convention suggest that our problems have reached massive proportions which cannot be dodged or fudged. Yet these difficulties will not be solved by ranting, fuming, losing our cool, and whatnot, but by much care being taken in fellowship with our sisters and brothers in Christ around the world to find God’s will and do the right thing. Unilateral action and anger by faithful people will not help but only hinder and hurt both in the short-term and the long-term.

My own spiritual and theological conditioning, which is rooted and grounded in the genius of Anglicanism, shies from division. I have done a lot of study of Scripture on this issue in the last three years, and not only did Jesus call us, his disciples to be one, but Paul echoed the Lord by saying, "Endeavor to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace," (Ephesians 4:3).

The question puzzling me now is how. Let me quote Philip Turner again, words with which I agree and resonate, but, nevertheless, struggle: Any rejoicing in or acceptance of our divisions can only be read either as failure to get the point of what God is 'up to' in and through Christ and the church or a deliberate rejection of his providential purposes... in the midst of the inevitable divisions that appear in the process of handing over the faith and practice of the apostles, the godly attitude is one which leads us to 'make every effort' to overcome our divisions. To put it another way, in times of greatest stress, 'patience' as well as love and truthfulness, is a power of soul necessary not only for the peace of the church but also for the truthfulness of its witness (Ephesians 4:2). (The Fate of Communion, page 169). I commend the whole passage by Turner from which this clip has been taken.

The question is how to make sense of such an obedience at a time like this. Early this morning as I sat looking out of the window watching the dawn break across the misty newly-mown hay field behind our house, I found myself being forced to think about what continues to be for me the unthinkable as we seek a faithful way forward. Let me say that I lean in the direction of Dean Turner, and am merely pondering the point, not recommending we necessarily pursue it. What I found myself wondering was whether we want to be an ecclesiastical equivalent of Yugoslavia or Czechoslovakia, nations that have now disappeared from the map.

The Yugoslavs managed to create a network of sovereign nations out of one federal country at the cost of tens of thousands of lives, much disruption, the destruction of the economy, genocide, the entrenchment of hatreds, continuing suspicion, and the agonized involvement of nations and troops from across Europe and the world. The former Yugoslavia has not been a pretty sight and will take generations to recover from this disastrous trail of events.

On the other hand, the Czechs and the Slovaks when they found themselves no longer able to live together in anything approaching national harmony, negotiated the famous "Velvet Divorce" under the leadership of Vaslav Havel, the dissident writer turned president. Today both Slovakia and the Czech republic are prosperous countries in the heart of Europe and part of the European Union. While there may not have been the long history of tension between the two that had existed for centuries in the Balkans, such a bold move that ultimately peacefully divided the land in two could easily have led to much bloodshed.

If Bishop Nazir-Ali is right, if the warnings of the Archbishop of York remain unheeded, if the carefully argued theological plea of the Bishop of Durham has not been listened to, if the anguish of the Global South in the Communion is not enough to persuade the left within the Episcopal Church to draw back from divisive actions, then perhaps the time has come to start talking about talks that might lead to some kind of "Velvet Divorce" that is as amiable as possible – or some way of living under the same roof in a semi-detached kind of manner, not getting in each other’s way.

I hope it is clear from what I have already said that I have no real desire to break up the tenuous unity of the Episcopal Church, nor do I believe it faithful, but it seems that there are those in the church so set upon a course of theological and ecclesiastical novelty, that they do not either want nor value that unity which I treasure on the basis of my faith in Jesus Christ because they think they have the power to get their own way.

There are a variety of convictions living under the roof of the Episcopal Church, but it might fairly be said that these broadly break down into two categories. There are those who are committed to belonging to the wider Anglican Communion, to assent and submit to the values of the Windsor Report, to be part of the historic continuity, and to be in full communion with Anglicans throughout the world and the discipline of doctrine and fellowship that such a relationship demands.

Then there are those who have a distinctly American and postmodern vision for the church. They believe the church is acting prophetically and appropriately and want to press forward along this course. It is also clear that those walking down this path have little desire to be held back from their quest by those of us who because of our convictions cannot journey where they wish to go.

Has the time come when we must recognize that we have are now at an impasse, that patience has run out, and that perhaps the best way forward is a negotiated separation rather than a vitriolic battling that will ultimately be destructive to all involved, to the Gospel, and the only winner will be the lawyers? Personally, I consider this second, third, or fourth best, as almost every divorce is, yet I do not see any will on the left to allow those who stand in the mainstream of Anglicanism to live under a roof with them as anything but harried creatures, or the desire of those on the right to necessarily continue doing so.

There is sadness in my heart, for what I write is not what my inner being wants. While not a theological liberal and innovator, I have been generously supported and loved in my long ministry by many who are. Indeed, I would probably not be a priest today if it was not for a former bishop who nurtured me in the midst of crisis. He and I were theologically poles apart but he loved me and supported my family through the darkest tunnel. There may be truth in the adage that we all need each other, but how can we find a way forward when living under the same roof becomes more and more of a challenge?


Gene Packwood said...

Separation is not entirely without Scriptural warrant: "And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other." (Acts 15.39)...Paul and Barnabas. It's interesting to note that there is no sense of negative spin on the separation. It just happened and they went on about their business.

I enjoy your blog. Good job

Anonymous said...

I said it before, it's not a church, it's a play scripted by Monte Python. A take off on The Life of Brian. Like St. John said when he encountered a famous heretic in the baths, "Flee lest the roof falls in." Good advice, gird up our loins, take staff in hand and leave this apostate mess!!!

Tiber Jumper said...

This issue of the anglican communion splitting is yet another excellent proof in real life of why the church needs to be One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. Without any final authority over issues of faith and morals and how to interpret the Bible, history will repeat itself again and again as the churches have been doing since 1517. It's Deja Vu all Over again

Richard Kew said...

Dear Tiber Jumper, I honestly do not see how an infallible pope actually solves the problem, especially as one of the issues that Rome has to face is its own need to find means of re-formation

Ian Montgomery said...

Thanks Richard.

I like the "velvet divorce" as it seems the only way forward especially in the light of your remarks about the "left" allowing us to live under the same roof.

I am convinced that there is no common basis in a plea for unity. With two different religions the only basis left for unity is almost tribal and certainly not either covenantal or confessional. We are not one church with two minds as +Jenkins suggested, but indeed two different religions currently stuck in the same household.

Anonymous said...

Tiber Jumper, you're not the only who sees this as the swan song of the Anglicanism. Al Kimel and R. J. Neuhaus have also written about this. What you're all missing is that the ECUSA, and possibly the AC, is splitting along a Conservative/Liberal fault, not along the Protestant/Catholic fault that RCs since Newman have believed to be the fatal weakness in Anglicanism. The former fault exists and is active in the RC Church as well. Food for thought.

Fr Sullivan said...

Interesting that the Episcopal Church can meet in prayer for a week and a half can come up with "their own way." While those of us on the sideline follow Jesus' way. Or is it possible they found the mind of God in the midst of their prayful deliberations?

Hursley said...

As always, Fr. Kew, a fine, faithful, thoughtful, and loving response. Thank you for your deep faithfulness to the Gospel and for your nourishment in the irenic spirit of our beloved Anglicanism. As one who is struggling mightily along with you, I feel blessed to be able to use your thoughts in my discernment.