Archbishop Jensen of Sydney, Australia, made remarks published on the Diocesan website concerning both the churches in the Global South and the Episcopal Church. Both were on the shaky road to bad caricature.
About the Global South, the article quoted and summarized the Archbishops thoughts as follows:
“They have a new sense of maturity and independence from the West,” he said.
“They are outward looking, missional and have strong leadership that is very impressive.”
But he added that without good Bible teaching, the Global South, like any church, was only one generation away from disaster.”
So, Sydney to the rescue…good Bible teaching, here it comes. Actually, the Archbishop may be right, maybe the churches of the Global South have not so good bible teaching right now. But I don’t think that is the problem. The problem, it seems to me, is that they (and an awful lot of ‘we’) have all the biblical critical apparatus, but less of the social critical apparatus. That is, they (and often we) were informed by a missionary tradition that did not provide useful ways to move deeper into the texts, particularly as concerns moral and social issues. There are not many liberation theologians to be found among biblical evangelicals.
Maybe this is as much a bad generalization as the Archbishop’s. But I am not the spiritual leader of a Province (not the whole blessed Province, but an internal one, New South Wales - thanks to Jim Naughton for the correction) , so few people will care if I got it right. But we ought to care when he gets it just a little off the mark. The suggestion that they are in need of “good Bible teaching” can only be of interest if there is some question of what they have now. More, it is a self affirming sort of statement. It suggests, “we have something they need.” Well, maybe yes, maybe no.
And just to make sure the Archbishop is even handed in bad generalizations, it was then reported that
“Archbishop Jensen described the Episcopal Church as ‘America’s cultural elite at prayer’ and said that US society’s ‘powerful individualism and triumphalist belief that it leads the world in civic freedoms has captured the church’.”
(Please note: The article from the Archbishop's own diocese, attributed that statement to the Archbishop. The speech it was lifted from attributed it to Bishop Steenson, of the Diocese of the Rio Grande, as follows:
"He (Steenson) also observed: “For a long time the Episcopal Church has identified itself with H. Richard Niebuhr’s category, the Christ of culture: it sees itself as America’s cultural elite at prayer. Whatever we think of ourselves as progressives or traditionalists, we bring American values and behaviour patterns with us. But that does not always sit well with the rest of our Anglican Communion family…The Anglican Communion is undergoing a remarkable transformation, and I cannot help but think that so many of the attitudes and behaviours we take for granted in the American context will not be welcome in the new communion discipline.’
I think that Bishop Steenson is right. The powerful individualism of American culture, and its triumphalistic belief that it leads the world in civic freedoms has captured the church. The new faith is a missionary religion. America is a missionary country, with its version of human freedom to export throughout the world. What happens in the US will affect every nation and we see here the belief that what has happened in this decade in the US will occur in the next decade in the rest of the world. The difficulty is that as far as much of the West is concerned it has probably already happened."
The actual article by Archbishop Jensen is quite interesting and a bit more evenhanded than the article ABOUT him. Still, the observations in my first posting still stand.)
But what is really interesting is the links that are then made: American cultural elite at prayer – powerful individualism – triumphalist belief in America’s leadership in civic freedoms= capture of the Church. It is the charge that the Episcopal Church has been snookered by the nasty Americans in the culture wars.
Well, it ain’t necessarily so. Again, the Archbishop is not all wrong. Reading Peter Burger’s A Rumor of Angles or Gibson Winter’s The Suburban Captivity of the Church is enough to sent us all in the Archbishop’s direction. But the Episcopal Church is not one thing…it is not all leadership from the cultural elite, it is not all individualistic or triumphalistic. The Episcopal Church is many different sorts of people, including many different sorts of leaders. That is why The Episcopal Majority is not a cabal, but a gathering of people who believe we work out a common life in prayer/thanksgiving and meeting both.
This Episcopalian doesn’t like being put in a box that makes his church “America’s cultural elite at prayer” and in need of rescue, any more than one might suppose a Global South biblical scholar would like hearing that “without good Bible teaching, the Global South, like any church, was only one generation away from disaster” – not if the implications were that rescue was necessary.
Have a care, good Archbishop. We might wonder if you ever knew us, or cared.