Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Enuf is Enuf!
It begins with a nod to the academic delving into the history of Christianity in the US with all the appropriate footnotes, but it is a history of the American ‘popular church’ that is no more characteristic of the Church in which I have served for the past 30 years than a barrel of monkeys. And after his nod at scholarship he goes on a 5 page rant about how ‘un-Anglican’ and even ‘un-Christian’ TEC is because we have been so high-handed in what we have done by consecrating openly gay and lesbian clergy to the office of bishop. It is interesting that there is no reference to the Anglican Church of Canada who did many of the same things.
Doll was born in the US and a Yalie, and perhaps feels that he is an authority on all life in America. But it is clear from his writing that he has no experience of the church he is supposed to be writing about. He has spent most of his adult life ordained for the C of E, living in the culture of the UK. The C of E and TEC are not the same but we come from the same roots.
Doll’s statement : ”The American religious experience is like no other, and even if American Anglicans have historically identified themselves as standing apart from evangelical Protestantism, as being a cut above socially and intellectually, their actual experience is nevertheless deeply imbued with these same primordialist assumptions” is not only not true in the Episcopal Church since WWII, it is offensive to those of us who find their spiritual home in a church that straddles the catholic/protestant abyss today in ways never appreciated in other parts of the Communion. It is clear he has a singular prejudice against the concept of a faith rooted in experience with nips and digs at the evangelicals that are presently ascendant in American politics and the Methodists for their lack of orthodoxy (really?) and then paints the whole American religious canvas as gnostic.
The American Episcopal Church IS a unique church. That is part of the glory of Anglicanism. All our national churches are unique to the cultures we serve. We do provide an alternative to the Calvinistic and Roman Catholic strands of Christianity that make up the majority the Christian experience here. We are a small presence in the total mainline tree of Protestantism in the US. But we do like to think that we provide a place for a thinking person’s response to faith. We are a vital leaven in the whole Christian loaf that makes up the US.
Unlike the C of E, we are not an academic-bound church. We have good theological schools and have produced fine teachers, but we do not expect our bishops to be scholars. Like the Lutherans we put much more emphasis on the pastoral duties of our bishops, priests and deacons. We find ministry to those in the pew, the celebrations of the sacraments and service of the needy lively ways to live out what it means to be the Church of Christ in our area. We believe that these stem from our Baptismal covenant and are central to how we not only experience faith but also how we share it. In other words, the laity is the primary order in the church not priest or bishop.
We are aware that we are not only a church in a very powerful country but in 9 other nations of the world. TEC often stands in opposition to the actions of US national interests as a voice for the poor, disenfranchised and the voiceless. We too stood with South Africa in her fight against apartheid. And it was the dogged work of Bishops John Walker and Archbishop Tutu that brought the US sanctions that finally helped topple the moneyed interests in South Africa. TEC too has voiced our concerns against the misuse of power that often accompanies global industries which pollute or disorient local economies. We try to address the issues of our day in the light of the Gospel. We are not the church of the moneyed class any longer.
We are truly trying to encounter this new era of technology and post-modernism with the message that the Incarnation is present now as it was in times past. Granted this newness is not going to look like it always has, but it will continue to challenge a new era by inviting a whole new generation into the intimacy with their God. Now, if that is what is to be called ‘cultural imperialism,’ so be it. It seems to me that this is what mission is about. It is also what happens when there are great movements in history that change the way that people embrace the truth of their existence in relation to their surroundings. We need but see the movements in faith history over the past 4 millennia to see what is happening in our world today.
In the past almost 10 years, I have found it almost comical that TEC is blamed for GAFCON leaving the Communion. We have forced no other church to force people or churches or dioceses from the common Table. We have not demanded that others think or act the way we do. We have gone ahead and acted on 40 years of study and ministry to best serve the people we have in our Church. We find that honesty about sexual orientation is preferred to hiding behind celibacy or denial. We believe that both the scientific and spiritual communities have spoken to the issue of homosexuality clearly and it is important to address the injustices of furthering discrimination as we have done on issues such as slavery, racism, colonialism and sexism. We do not demand other parts of the communion to believe as we do. But we do expect that when we send our leaders to be in council with other parts of the Communion that they will be respected and welcomed as Christ just as we would welcome and respect the leaders of other churches.
The Reverend Canon is kidding himself if he does not recognize the Anglican Covenant as a punishing document. It was meant to be a punishing document. Even the original writers of the early process spoke of ‘punishing those churches that did not conform.’ We know that was the intention at the very beginning of the “Windsor Process”. Even in the far reaches of the New Zealand Church the Ateroa ? people recognize the wording as unfavorable to anyone who might need to serve the particular needs of a culture. The Covenant is not a document that serves to unite. It serves to separate any culture that does not fit into some unexplained, undeveloped criteria which is formed by those who might find expediency more important than the needs in the local church.
It is part of the zeitgeist of our age that we are quarrelling. We need but look at the governments of nations around the world that have been brought to a standstill simply because one element refuses to listen to the other. No covenant can counter that. The listening processes that were set in place long ago were allowed to be ignored in our Communion. They were easier to ignore and deny rather than to deal honestly and openly even at the Lambeth venue. The voice of those specifically concerned in the present issue were silenced and not allowed to be heard collegially, so fear replaced honest and frank discussion on a topic that concerns us all. We need but see the draconic legislation against LGBT persons in Uganda a direct result of the Anglican Communion not addressing issues with respect and a willingness to listen. And now lives are threatened simply because bishops were unwilling to listen to the new medical, sociological, biblical and information. This will not be helped by a Covenant. It will only be helped when we have raised up men and women who are willing to sit with uncomfortable topics and discuss them with all their gifts so that they can work in their own areas to serve their people.
So the Covenant is designed to ‘spank the Yank’ because we have gone ahead and done something that others find uncomfortable. Is it easier to spank the church that has remained in communion than to deal with those who have been disobedient to their own churches and have been aided and abetted by churches that disagree?
The Anglican Communion has churches that stand in all kinds of places: those places that are only on the verge of modernism, those who stand fully in the modern age and those who are deeply involved in a post-modernist experience of culture. There is no hierarchy of value in that. We cannot slow down or ignore the progress that is being made in the societies in which we live. If we allow ourselves to be ‘shamed’ into some kind of time warp, we will be like the Roman Catholic Church in many places, unable to address the needs of God’s people and unable to address the sweeping changes that face us. This does not mean that we are being high-handed. This does not mean that we are arrogant. But it does mean that we are listening to the culture as it is, not the way we want it to be. We are not trying to control the experience of God for our own motives. We are trying to listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying to our own age.
I agree, the Anglican Covenant cannot support the kind of Christian churches that will meet this new age. “It is a modernist document for a post-modern age.” It will serve to break apart the Anglican Communion because it is not flexible enough for churches to meet the needs of their people and cultures. We do not need a covenant. We do need the charity and humility of Christ enough to be willing to address things we do not understand trusting in the Christ that is in each of us.
That this ‘white paper’ ( I would be more inclined to call it yellow) is going to those who would vote for or against the Covenant in UK with the ABC’s imprimatur has finally tipped it for me. ++Williams has shown his hand as being just as Anti-American as others have told me he is. I am sorry to have to come to this awareness. I want the men I pray for each week to be able to be aware of the church here in my edge of the universe, not convinced that we are merely being arrogant when all we really want to do is serve in the joy of Christ.
I am tired of the wrangle though. I am tired of people telling me that I am not as Christian as they are simply because I think differently than they do. I have always thought that Anglicanism was based on not ‘having a window into men’s souls.’ I will never deny anyone communion at the table I serve because it is not my table to guard. It is the Lord ’s Table I serve and from what I read in the Gospel, Jesus fed all who came with abundance left over.