8/01/2007

On the matter of an extended Good Friday

Bishop Duncan, Moderator of the Anglican Communion Network made this astounding statement in his address to the ANC Annual Meeting, on July 30th. The statement is in two parts, the first a video:



In that video he says, "Today is our Good Friday: as we mourn our Savior let us also mourn for the Episcopal Church and let us pray for our Communion."

That was followed by these remarks:

"Ever so many of us have found ourselves living through an extended Good Friday. None of us, of course, have lived through anything like our Lord's excruciating and singular Passion, but the emotional and spiritual depths of the present season have, for most of us, been like few other seasons of our lives… I truly came to grips with the unavoidable fact that the denominational Church that had—from infancy—raised me, captured me, formed me and ordained me, no longer had any room for me, or any like me. How bitter the rejection! How total my failure!

Yes, we are all at different places on the Calvary journey as concerns our ministries in the Episcopal Church. But I suspect I can speak for all when I say that where we are is not where we had hoped to be. God, in His wisdom, has not used us to reform the Episcopal Church, to bring it back to its historic role and identity as a reliable and mainstream way to be a Christian. Instead the Episcopal Church has embraced de-formation—stunning innovation in Faith and Order—rather than reformation."

Ephraim Radner, who resigned on Wednesday from the ACN, wrote a courageous letter of resignation in which he said of Bishop Duncan, "…he is, I fear, not working for the healing of our broken Body, but repeating the mistakes of Christians in the past, whose zeal has not only brought suffering to themselves, but has wounded the Church of Christ."

The zeal is there, in at least some of the leadership of the ACN, and in particular in the person of the Moderator; of this there is no doubt. It is accompanied by an assurance, made over and over again, that the way that has been chosen by the Network is the way of suffering and death and holds the promise of resurrection.

Enough of the model of the last days of Jesus is taken as the spiritual pattern for the life of the Network that we ought have no question in our minds that the Moderator is willing to push matters precisely so that God will indeed break in again. The Moderator is telling his followers or co-religionists that the time is at hand. He is assuring those who are with him that while there have been disappointments and discouragements, the last days are here. Good Friday is now. Presiding Bishop of the Southern Cone Venables has encouraged through meditations and prayers the same message: there is suffering now, but there is a new day to come.

There is a mishmash of symbolism here: Good Friday involves the mourning for our Savior: "our Good Friday" involves the mourning for the Episcopal Church. But Bishop Duncan knows that there is no equality here – the Savior and the Episcopal Church are in no way the same. Even in thinking of the Church as the Body of Christ it doesn't work. The Episcopal Church is not the Church, not in that sense.

The sufferings of those who feel wronged or thrown out of The Episcopal Church may indeed be the sufferings of servants. It is indeed a sadness and suffering for Bishop Duncan to have to utter the words, "… the denominational Church that had—from infancy—raised me, captured me, formed me and ordained me, no longer had any room for me, or any like me. How bitter the rejection! How total my failure!" But his suffering, and the suffering of others who have decamped from The Episcopal Church, and the suffering of many IN The Episcopal Church who in one way or another have been considered second class and "tolerated" at best, is in no way the suffering of the Suffering Servant. David Ackles, a wonderful songwriter, once wrote a song in which there was this line, "they suffer least who suffer what they chose." It is a hard saying. But I am convinced that the Gospel of our Suffering is not enough. We may tell of all our sufferings, and like Job believe that they are unwarranted, but in the end the good news in that suffering is not Good News.

The distance from Good Friday to Easter Sunday is quite rightly not to be understood as three days. It is as long as it takes for us to get from the one to the other… to get a hold on the Resurrection. God's Easter comes for us when God gives it to us. It was true for the followers of Jesus, it is true now. But I suspect that when Bishop Duncan speaks of "our Easter" which will come when God wills it, he is addressing his community about the end of the relationship with The Episcopal Church (the old body) and the emergence of a new body, a resurrected body. He is giving words of comfort to people who are leaving one place and going to another. The Moderator is often a good pastor.

But again, in the zeal of the moment the symbols get mixed. The end of The Episcopal Church, or rather the end of a person's life in the Episcopal Church, and the beginnings of a new Anglican entity or a new life in a new Communion , is incomparably mundane compared to the end of the reign of Law and the beginnings of the reign of Grace, or more incarnationally, compared to the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The Moderator of the Network would have his hearers draw those parallels: mourning for the death of the Savior and the death of the Episcopal Church; identification of our suffering with the suffering of the Servant; seeing the death of our "old" self and the birth of the new as a Resurrection. It serves zeal well to do this: mourn, suffer, die and rise again. But it does not necessarily serve the spiritual truth well.

Dr. Radner suggests that perhaps this zeal "has not only brought suffering to themselves, but has wounded the Church of Christ." I think, sadly he is right.

How much of the ACN community is willing to take on this zeal, particularly as it becomes clearer that this zeal either expresses a true re-enactment of Good Friday, or is a sign of zeal gone slightly awry, I don't know.

Over the past years I have grown to know Dr. Radner by post and his writings and although I have never met him I have grown in my admiration of his efforts. We agree on very little, still we are in the same room. I believe he has made an important statement, one that needs to be understood and read with care by all of us.

It is no triumph for any "side" that he has stepped back from the ACN. There are many good people in ACN who would benefit from his continued council in their meetings. He is not now an instant ally: I do not presume that he will be any less an adversary than in the past, any less challenging to what must sometimes appear to him as progressive mush. At the same time his stepping back (or is it forward?) is a signal that perhaps the zeal of action in difficult and painful times has become over identified with the one and only Good Friday.

We have only one Good Friday, after all. All the rest of our Fridays are just so – so.

17 comments:

  1. Mark,

    A truly magnificent piece (and that's saying something!) It moves the argument out of the morass of polemic from which we all suffer - Good Friday or no.

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  2. Is TEC a wayward sibling, a cancer within, or Satan's handmaiden? How you characterize the conflict will determine not only how you operate within the conflict, but one could argue what will be the outcome as well. Christians cannot be reconciled with Satan but they can be reunited with brothers and sisters. The divide as I see it has become not one of strategies, but viewpoints.

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  3. Counterlight2/8/07 11:05 AM

    This sermon makes me think of Bette Davis' mother in "Now Voyager".

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  4. The beginnings of rapproachment? Prehaps, but we have much work to do on both sides.

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  5. Michael M.2/8/07 12:33 PM

    If you are familiar with the theological/biblical thinking known as "Girardian" you will see this from them;
    "I am hurting, angry, and my world and all I counted on is collapsing, so what can I do to feel better again? I must find who is causing me to be unhappy and cast them forth as the scapegoat, then I can feel good again."
    The scapegoating mechanism is going strong in the ACN and allied camp. Let us be certain that we recognize that scapegoating is not God's way and that we cannot view "them" as the cause of our hurt.

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  6. Re Duncan: If one is struggling through miles of freezing blizzard, and comes at last upon a house with lights and warmth and food and company, but upon entering realizes the people are gay, or friends of gay people - and if one then returns to the hardships for the blizzard, unable to enter and partake - one only has oneself to blame.

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  7. Mark, I don't understand why Bishop Duncan thinks there is no place for him in the Episcopal Church. Is he not welcome at the table? Is anyone forcing him to do anything in violation of his conscience? Is anyone depriving him of his right to speak? I just don't understand.
    Anna

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  8. I find CB's deliniation of possibilities interesting - as much for what is excluded as for what is admitted.

    The Episcopal Church may be "a wayward sibling." She may be "a cancer within." She may be "Satan's handmaiden."

    Conversely, she may be a prophetic voice, leading the wider Church to a new understanding of God's will - as were those who previously persuaded the Church to alter her views regarding slavery or the role of women.

    One may believe that this latter is not the case, but to exclude that possiblity is to disengage the conversation before it has even begun.

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  9. The video is incredible! Truly, if I had not seen this I would hardly believe it. The transcript does not do him justice.

    Anonymous, on the analogy of the refuge from the blizzard. I like it.

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  10. Mark,

    As always, thanks for a thoughtful post. I wrote about this over in my corner of the blogosphere. This is part of what I said, which evaluates the "Good Friday" comparison a bit differently.

    To compare our problems getting along with Good Friday cheapens Christ's sacrifice and it suggests an inability to grasp the (lack of) importance of our present "crisis." I have read much hyperbole from both left and right over the past few years, but the suggestion that the ACN is experiencing Good Friday is disrespectful at best. At worst, I suppose it falls short of blasphemy, but it is quite possibly heretical. I can only hope Bob was misquoted, and someone will correct the record.

    Here's my prediction. This joyless, despair filled bunker mentality won't sustain people for long. Either these groups will disintegrate into even more sparring factions, or they will discren a hope-filled vision, or they will realize that they are welcome to come home to ECUSA. (This assumes that ECUSA will ensure it is a welcoming place for conservatives, and that we have a hope-filled vision ourselves. There's a challenge for us!)


    I do think that +Akinola's encroachments and +Duncan's bad theology are revealing much about this struggle in our church. The disproportionate response is tearing our fabric, not the efforts of some of us to ensure that all people are invited into the church to know saving grace.

    Pax,
    Scott+

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  11. malcolm - I meant it to be implicit in my comment that if TEC were viewed as prophetic, of course in that case how we would be dealt with would be different. But even if you do not find that to be the case, but rather consider her something to oppose, how you characterize her within that context dictates a lot that follows.

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  12. I think Drama Queen is the title of this video. Suffering - good grief - maybe Duncan needs a trip to Darfur to see what suffering is really all about. Having a tantrum for not getting your way in TEC is self absorbtion not suffering.

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  13. Remember General Convention 2003, the morning after we consented to the election of +Gene Robinson?

    Remember Harmon, Duncan, Anderson, Iker, Schofield, et. al. walking around with big old black smudges of ash crosses on their foreheads?

    So, no surprise that we have now arrived at Good Friday.

    Their theological position is at least consistent.

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  14. I honestly think that Duncan is cracking up. Not trying to be catty or anything--he really doesn't seem to be well.

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  15. michael m.--
    Girard certainly seems pertinent here -- if there is a problem, blame someone else that everyone can gang up on -- of course it is only a short term solution!

    ann --
    Remember the modern dissenter trope -- "disagreement" equals "persecution"

    The only thing that prevents Bishop Duncan from having a place in TEC is his ego (Oh, & the cancer, etc. -- this sort of language is normally a prelude to genocide when it issues from the stronger party)

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  16. On the matter of letter dimissory. Sometime ago, after following Canon Anderson's move from canoically resident diocese one to two etc., I asked for some clarification on this process from the folks at Episcopal News. Anderson, transfered to, I can't remember now, it was either Springfield or Quincy and was there for only six months. He, of course, had not left is actual job in Texas. This is why the canonical move interested me. My thought was that the plan to move to Nigeria was always a possibiloity and he wanted to make sure that he could obtain the appropriate letter. +Springfield would be willing?

    Could you help people like me a little out and explain this process a little better? I was trying to be very attentive to the Articles of Structure portion of the ACN meeting and was very alert to the trajectory planned by its organizers. That point of that meeting was for the ACN to create a new structure then and there. No TEC bishop could both agree to the terms as presented and remian within TEC. +Stanton pointed that out and quickly. +Wantland a canon lawyer who clearly knew the ramifications,was silent. I wondered if the umbrella statement that to protect TEC bishops, I can't remember the exact wording but it was along the lines of within the requirements of their other relationships, is sufficient. It may well be. But, if +Iker, +Schofield, +Duncan +Beckwith, +Ackerman are willing. EPfizH to receive these clergy who did not receive proper letters dimissory, would they then be in violation of TEC discipline and, is there not something in the AC that requires clergy to be in good standing to transfer?

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  17. Mark - Phillip Turner (ACI) has written a very fine letter to Stephen Noll in which he asserts that Duncan and Noll have committed theological error by relegating their progressive brothers and sisters to the "heretic" trash bin.

    He also seems to imply that a plan is afoot for Windsor Bishop (who meet this week) to call an "alternative General Convention" as Radner calls it, if after September 30th the HBs does not comply with the DES Communique.

    http://anglicancommunioninstitute.com/content/view/107/1/

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