11/24/2005

Keep Awake: Loving Kindness is at the Door.

A correspondent from Australia was kind enough to point me to an article by Ruth Gledhill, Comment on Global South letter.” It is worth the read and challenging in at least one of its comments. She writes, about the Global South letter “…the letter has prompted fury among liberals, particularly in the US. Some had seen Nigeria's deletion of Canterbury from its constitution as an indication that the divorce was happening at last. Nigeria's covenant with the Reformed Episcopal Church and the Anglican Province of America, neither of which are in communion with Canterbury, added to these, dare I call them, 'hopes'.

Her suggestion is that some liberals are hoping that the divorce is “happening at last.”

For want of a better term, I am part of the group classed as liberal. Do I hope that the divorce is happening at last? For the past few days I have been thinking about that. Has the struggle to work through the wildly tangled mess that the Anglican Communion has become simply lead some of us to hope for an end to the craziness and a return to a place where we can focus on something else?

I am sure it has, for some. Just as in the mess of a marriage whose death seems imminent, perhaps it is normal for some to hope we can just get it over with and get on with our lives. This destructive mad shouting match about Biblical Authority is also a shouting match about people, their beliefs, their fitness for the basic ordination as Christians, their morals, their sex lives, and of course (so the picture is complete) some posturing about money. It is as if the union that is the Anglican Communion is breaking up just as marriages do, with people questioning one another’s faithfulness and destroying one another’s hope.

But nowhere in all this is there much said about love. That’s the trouble. The troubled relationships between Primates, Provinces, and dioceses leads to impaired communion, breaks in communion, and outright rejection. The trouble is all about faith and hope. Faith and hope endure, and no doubt it is important to hold the true faith and to have a reasonable hope. But it is hard for us to remember that, actually, love too endures, and Paul suggests it is the greatest of these enduring things.

It is easy to lose our way, as I found out last week. A list of the participants and guests at the Third South to South Encounter in Egypt was posted on the Global South Anglican website. At first I was intent on finding out just who from the “West” was there and why. There were several names I did not know. As I searched out just who they were my urge to “detect” their faith credentials and their hopes fell by the wayside. They became more and more real people, people capable of great love and manifesting that love in astonishing ways. Whatever their credentials, and whatever they may think of mine, they became much more than evangelicals intent on realignment. They moved out of the shadow of being my adversaries and became just a bit more solid.

That is, across great gulfs of how we express our faith, even to the point of exclusion, and what we see as our hope and how it is realized, the enduring possibility of the sort of love that involves regard and respect and even care came through.

Well, it was an interesting exercise in waking up.

So, let’s keep awake (an appropriate call the first Sunday in Advent). Keep awake. Keep our eye on the prize. This prize is NOT about the Anglican Communion per se. The prize is about love. We need to keep awake and keep love alive.

What the Anglican Communion is good for, in its better days, is that it can be an instrument of loving kindness. All of the talk about the instruments of unity pale in comparison to the Communion itself as an instrument of loving kindness.

In its bad days the Anglican Communion is about the machinery of death. It works its powers to a hierarchical and monarchical end. The predominant color of Episcopal purple becomes on these bad days more important, seemingly, than the multi-colored expanse of faces of those who belong to the communion.

I do not hope that the news from Nigeria or the Network or the myriad other configurations of “realignment” thinking spells the end of the Anglican Communion, or their or our part in it. I do not hope that the madness simply ends in divorce.

The Anglican Communion will indeed collapse if all we can do is talk about whose biblically based faith is orthodox, real, righteous, or even intelligible. It will collapse if all we can get our minds around are the eschatological hopes that this or that party holds, and having done so condemn those who dream differently then we do, who dream of universal salvation or who dream of judgment and 144,000 or so saved.

It will indeed collapse if the discussion about Biblical Authority becomes the shouting match of this coming Lambeth Conference. Ruth Gledhill suggests that the question of Biblical Authority will dominate the Conference. I hope she is wrong. Bishops behaving badly about Scripture is no help.

Better we should love the Holy Scriptures than that we should have faith or hope in them. I believe we need to practice the same love towards the complex and often mysterious thing that is the Scriptures that we practice with the complex mysterious people we love.

But here is the real hope I have. I hope that the Anglican Communion does indeed get through this strange time more or less intact and without getting too much more rigorous as an organization. We really don’t need a world wide church. As members of a Province of the Anglican Communion what I think we really need are friends out there beyond the confines of our own Church who we love and respect, and who love and respect us.

Most of the time belonging to the Anglican Communion has been a comfort. It signaled that we are working at being one, even if it is in one corner of the world wide community of Christians. It gives hope that perhaps if we can do it with this strange collection of peoples throughout the world, we can do it with, say, the Methodists or the Roman Catholics or even the Quakers.

That is, being part of the Anglican Communion is a way to practice ecumenical life. And the whole point of this practice is not primarily to share a common faith, or a common hope. The point of this practice is to love one another as Christ loved us.

I hope that the Anglican Communion endures because the love that exists among members of the various churches in the Anglican Communion endures. But that loving kindness will not endure unless we practice, practice, practice.

What then to say about the current crisis? Well, on one level we are certainly in a crisis, and we will need to be wise as serpents about all the ecclesial machinations, bad theology and ill feelings that get manifested. On the other hand, the only way we fail is if we distance ourselves of those we have loved and refuse to practice that loving kindness across the boundaries, even the boundaries of perceived correct faith and hope.

If the Anglican Communion makes it through these tough times we will still find much to disagree about. In England the business of women bishops is just heating up. In Australia thought will turn again to the issues of lay presidency in the Eucharist. The Archbishop of York has spoken in a timely fashion about the need to honor our own histories as a people, and God knows where that will take the various Provinces of the Communion.

Meanwhile Bishop Robinson will still be bishop of New Hampshire. Gay people will still pledge themselves to enduring relationships in faith, hope, but mostly love, and some will work it out. Straight people will keep trying marriage as a way to bolster faith-full-ness, and still get it wrong sometimes, which won’t stop them from trying again. And, there will be blessing enough to go around.

I hope the Anglican Communion endures, but actually I know that such hope is secondary. My primary hope is that it be an instrument of that which will endure, namely loving kindness. Paul was right, “Faith, hope and love endure, these three, and the greatest of these is love.”

16 comments:

  1. I find much light in what you say, but there is one bit that bothers me...

    "I hope that the Anglican Communion does indeed get through this strange time more or less intact and without getting too much more rigorous as an organization. We really don’t need a world wide church."

    As an Anglican Catholic I am troubled by this because we are in fact already a global church. We've got the faith and sacramental connections of a global church without the machinery to carry out our relationships in a healthy fashion. It is the latter that may lead to our splintering.

    What purpose is there to the Anglican Communion if it is not in fact a church, a constituent part of the One Church? Yes, ecumenical relationships are good. But the real ecumenism is the prayer we regularly utter, "That we all may be one." A loose federation of churches does little to further that aim and would actually move us backwards in terms of true ecumenism.

    ReplyDelete
  2. To say, at the worst such a position might "actually move us backwards in terms of true ecumenism," is not helpful. Does the writer mean back to the beginings of the Chruch? If so, he might read (or re-read) Raymond Brown's "The Churches the Apostles Left Behind."

    ReplyDelete
  3. Daryl Hutchings24/11/05 1:54 PM

    You wrote:

    "Better we should love the Holy Scriptures than that we should have faith or hope in them."

    Well put. In my own small layperson's way I always try to encourage people to read (and implement) the scriptures rather than debate them. Perhaps I'm naive in thinking that their authority doesn't need to be defended (only occasionally clarified) and that the over-zealous assertion of that authority sometimes becomes a substitute for it and bespeaks a certain unbelief.

    At any rate, a thoughtful article, as usual, and good material for Thanksgiving reflection.

    ReplyDelete
  4. J-tron is quite right. Ecumenism is precisely about uniting the church into one, not what Mark suggests -- maintaining loving autonomous relationships. Our lack of unity has long been a scandal for the Church, of which we are reminded every time we say the Nicene Creed. Furthermore, it is very unclear to me why, if we have a World Council of Churches by which we learn to understand and love each other, do we need an Anglican Communion? If we don't share a common faith, this greatly hampers our ability to work together in the Church's primary mission -- forming disciples of Christ. If the Anglican Communion doesn't help us do that in a significant way (education, proclamation, evangelism) of what use is it? I frequently hear liberal voices speaking about focusing on caring for the poor rather than the controversy, and they have a point: this is one important thing disciples of Christ do. However, we don't need an Anglican Communion to care for the poor; there are other, more effective ways this can be accomplished.

    ReplyDelete
  5. This prize is NOT about the Anglican Communion per se. The prize is about love. We need to keep awake and keep love alive.

    What the Anglican Communion is good for, in its better days, is that it can be an instrument of loving kindness. All of the talk about the instruments of unity pale in comparison to the Communion itself as an instrument of loving kindness.


    Amen and amen, Mark.

    More and more, I think of the motto of the Irish School of Ecumenics (which I considered attending, almost 20 years ago): "We flourish, in order to perish."

    Much of what we consider essentially "Anglican", is transitory at best: all our hymns, all our BCPs, the 39 Articles, not to mention all that purple cloth!

    . . . but the love we have for each other (even when our faith is tried, even when our hopes differ---IF they really differ): that will endure.

    [said JCF, still committed to holding the marriage together . . . for the sake of the God-loved WORLD! :-D]

    ReplyDelete
  6. Some forms of unity are sinful, such as those predicated on dishonesty or injustice. Autonomy is a legitimate value. Only irresponsible Enlightenment bashing on the part of some communitarians has let us to undervalue it. Community can be oppressive. Freedom-in-relation, to cite the Windsor Report's definition of autonomy, requires both relation and genuine freedom. There are polities that tilt more in the direction of suppressing individual and local autonomy. Nothing wrong with being Roman Catholic. It's just different from being Anglican. Those of us who wish to preserve and celebrate this difference ought to stand up for local autonomy constrained by non-coercive relationships of love, modelled on the teaching and example of Jesus. Truly post-colonial Anglicanism would give up these efforts to grab the center and suppress local difference. We ought instead to challenge the distinction between center and margin.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Frankly, I see very little benefit in fooling ourselves that this relationship is about "love." IMO, this is the mistake the Church makes over and over and over again: it imagines that its reality and Christ's are one and the same.

    They are not. The Church is not, and never has been - I mean, take a look at its abusive history towards Jews, homosexuals, native populations, and women - the "Spotless Bride of Christ." Let's stop pretending that it is, so we can repair some of the damage.

    Yes: Love, the Lord, is on the way, and Alleluia! Let's not get confused, though, that the "Church" has anything at all to do with this. It doesn't.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Question:

    What model for "love" should the Anglican Communion apply? If the other provinces love ECUSA the way the diocese of Rochester expressed its love for All Saints, or the way the bishop of Connecticut expressed his love for St. John's in Bristol, should ECUSA be content?

    My fear is that "love" can mean just about anything one wants it to mean, given the context. Certainly the Anglican Communion can ask us to remove ourselves, and still claim to love us. And in the two situations I have mentioned, the perpetrators of the actions will claim that love is present. Does "love", then, have any meaning? Does it preclude certain actions?

    ReplyDelete
  9. Love is inconsistent with certain actions. It doesn't preclude them, if by that you mean make others stop. The problem here is that we disagree about what kinds of action are consistent with Christian love.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Okay. And "making others stop" somethings (by which I presume you mean coercion) was about the furthest thing from my mind; that was not my intention in using the word "preclude". Is then, Christian love perfectly consistent with the first two situations I mention, but not so with the last one? Why? Be so good as to explain the difference. If the Episcopal Church wishes to be accepted in spite of its dissention, is the way it handles its own dissenters really irrelevant?

    I still question whether the Anglican Communion would lose a certain relevance if it is nothing more than a grouping of autonomous diverse churches. I suspect other groups like the Global South or the Anglican Communion Network, and perhaps the various liberal networks, may in the end become more relevant to the life of the church, since this would be an avenue for actually accomplishing the kinds of things what I mentioned earlier (evangelism, Christian education, etc. -- none of which involve coercion, BTW), whereas the Anglican Communion meetings would be avenues for (endless) discussion and possibly some political pronouncements (which probably would also have significant dissention). I envision in this scenario a time when many leaders in the various churches will find these meetings a waste of time. The ECUSA will probably find its relations with other American liberal Protestant bodies more helpful than its continued connection with this body.

    It seems likely that the Episcopal Church's relations with the Anglican Communion will grow more tenuous, not less, as evangelicals become more dominant in the Church of England (as appears to be happening), as the Global South continues its exponential growth, and as the ECUSA continues its own course. In the end, I'm sure that the Anglican Communion will be happy to give ECUSA its full autonomy, and send them on their way. This might be a good thing. If the old boundaries don't work anymore, perhaps it's time to draw new ones. Good fences make good neighbors.

    ReplyDelete
  11. RB asked, If the Episcopal Church wishes to be accepted in spite of its dissention, is the way it handles its own dissenters really irrelevant?
    The Episcopal Church continues to support the work of (i.e., contributes a huge portion of funding for) the ACC, despite being denied a voice there. We have continued providing (or trying to provide) funds and people to the African provinces -- even those whose Primates excoriate us most venomously. We have not called other provinces "evil," "dogs," "pagans," or "heretics." We ask only to be allowed to follow this course in accepting our baptized gay members as full members of the Body of Christ.

    That's a far cry from the rebellions that the dissenters in Connecticut, Rochester, & other dioceses have practiced. Apparently, they needed to cut themselves off from TEC in order to feel "pure." And, apparently, some of the GSP share that feeling.

    ReplyDelete
  12. obadiahslope28/11/05 5:33 PM

    Lisa
    In my view the real scandal is not our current disagreements in my view, but how little the western provinces (yours and mine included) have given to the poor.
    Compare the resources and budget of ECUSA, for example, to what is given to Africa.
    Perhaps our current situation would be different if generosity had been the order of the day. Africa would be richer, the west would be spiritually richer.

    ReplyDelete
  13. obadiahslope28/11/05 5:56 PM

    All of which I should add goes to underline Mark's basic idea that the point of the Anglican Communion is loving kindness.

    ReplyDelete
  14. On another board, obadiah, you stated that ECUSA "unilaterally changed the criteria" for bishops. I disputed this, as there wasn't a previously agreed-to standard that declared "a bishop may not be gay (and in a relationship)"---anymore than there had previously been a "bishop must be male" standard.

    In contrast, I have seen certain Episcopal priests (acting with the support of their parishes, presumably) violating specific oathes of obedience to their bishops.

    That's the difference: it's about the integrity to keep the vows you have already made (as opposed to retroactively imposing agreements that were never agreed to, ala Lambeth '98).

    [FWIW, rb, in Sandburg's poem, the line read "'Good fences make good neighbors'": it was said by character within the poem. The narrator (also within the poem) disagreed. And yet that line continues to be quoted as if it were solely in the affirmative: one of literature's ironies...]

    ReplyDelete
  15. If I had my way obadiahslope, we'd start liquidating our holdings tomorrow. This is the place where Global South Anglicans and progressive Episcopalians should walk together. It is a denial of the Gospel to watch people die from disease, poverty, and war, while spend so much on ourselves. Christ came to turn the world upside down. The Church too often has a preferential option for the rich, which means ourselves, certainly by global standards. It is sad that we lack the institutional will to do more. May God convert us all.

    ReplyDelete
  16. obadiahslope29/11/05 9:35 PM

    jcf,
    happy to chat/debate but I couldn't raise your site. (I'd rather go there than cross-post all over Mark-land)

    ReplyDelete

OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with comment moderation but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.
Rule: PLEASE DO NOT SIGN OFF AS ANONYMOUS: BEGIN OR END THE MESSAGE WITH A NAME - ANY NAME. ANONYMOUS commentary will be cut.