Tuesday, March 22, 2011
The Elephant and the Ant
I have been watching how the discussion of the Anglican Covenant has been progressing through the various dioceses of the Church of England. It is not quite a done-deal in the UK. One diocese (Litchfield) has voted to reject the Covenant for several reasons:
1. That it is unnecessary
2. That it would harm the relationships in other parts of the Communion and those churches in the Scandinavian countries
There are two other dioceses; however that have voted for the Covenant because they believe that the American church needs to pay for being naughty and doing something that does not conform to the social norms of the CofE. This ‘spank the yank’ attitude doesn’t seem to extend to the Church of Canada even though they are participating in many of the same issues that TEC is. They have not consecrated gay/lesbian folk to the episcopate; therefore their sin is not as egregious. Cummon! They are blessing same-sex unions because they are the law of the land. And it will not be long before the CofE has to do the same. If the Archbishop of Canterbury thinks he is going to dodge that bullet in his own Church, he isn't dealing with a full deck!
Back in 2005 or so, Bishop Bruce Cameron, then primus of Scotland, said to me that the whole issue of the consecration of gays and lesbians was an American problem. That what was going on in Africa was a problem created by Americans who were using the Anglican Communion as the playground for their own political agenda. There was some truth to that. It would not be until later that we would find out that right-wing elements within the US, not necessarily Episcopalian, were using vast amounts of money and incredibley right-wing theologies to enflame the various churches in Africa and other nations that are threatened by Muslim encroachment. It was also a way, they thought, to control the mainline Protestants from continuing to address the national issues with a 'liberal political agenda.'
We as Americans often get rather cavalier about the way we interact with other nations. Our foreign policies tend to disregard other national interests. I remember Bishop Leo Frade, then the Bishop of Honduras, using the analogy of the ant and the elephant in bed together. And how does the ant sleep at night? “Very carefully,” he said. This is one of the problems with being the elephant nation. Whatever we do impacts other places in the world. And I was wondering just how much America has been culpable in the Communion-wide split that has created a perceived need for a Covenant in some parts of the Communion.
As one who is neither small nor noiseless, I know that can threaten people without any intention. I have been called a bully even when I have never intended or wanted to assert myself in a given situation. But because I am big and articulate, this is scary to some. But their fear cannot be the determining factor in how I lead my life. I know that my intention is not to hurt or threaten, so I have to choose the best way to live my life in accordance with what I am called to be by God.
I believe that is what TEC has done. I believe that is what Canada is doing. It is what the Church of Sweden has already done. And when Spain, that most Catholic of countries can recognize same-sex unions, there is a change that is happening that we must address as Church . I believe that is what many are doing throughout the world. But because we are the elephant country, we get blamed for being precipitous and insensitive.
Great Britain used to be the top dog in the world in the 18th and 19th centuries. They ruled the waves and bullied their way through their suzerainty. We had a War of 1812 to remind us. They too had to learn through the hard knocks of loss of colonies that to be in bed with the ant would produce stings. And I believe that TEC too has learned that we have been a bit too naïve in the way that we have moved on major issues in the Communion. BUT this does not mean that the attempt to reach out to the LGBT community, women clergy and bishops and the need to right the wrongs of bad theology, poor Scriptural interpretation, scape-goating, continuing smear campaigns against a group of people who just want to be God’s own can be put on hold until a generation has gotten over their fear.
The fear of the ant cannot keep the elephant from breathing or living into the reality of the call of Christ.
Punishment for following Christ is certainly not unique in the annals of Christian History. And Christians have often fought with each other in the name of Christ. If the CofE feels that TEC needs to be punished for responding to the despised and the rejected they will vote for the Anglican Covenant. If other churches feel that we are trying to address a new world with the words and love of Christ, they are going to have to look beyond our size and our power and wealth and find that we too believe deeply in a God that can heal all wounds, and can bless all relationships. The smaller churches know of our generosity and care.
For the churches to take upon themselves to punish other churches belies the mandate of Christ to love one another. It goes far beyond what our Communion has always thought itself to be, a ‘community of independent churches’. It continues a type of colonialism that has caused these problems in the first place.
The Anglican Covenant is a poor substitute for the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral that has served us for over a century. It is an attempt to control that which cannot be controlled—the Holy Spirit as it blows in the churches that make up our Communion.
If the CofE still needs to ‘spank the yank’, then it also needs to know that the bed is small. “Relational consequences” do exist. The ant may sting, but the elephant remembers.