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.