Greetings from General Convention! At a forum on Reconciliation last night John Danford reminded the audience that our church used to be one where all sorts of people with all sorts of ideas were able to meet together at the altar. What happened?
That older Anglican virtue wasn’t contrived. Its roots are in the days when the church was undivided or less divided and villagers met in the church porch to discuss and argue community affairs and arrive at a common mind. The first “vestries” dealt not only with church fabric, but with the condition of the roads and who should receive poor relief. It was also a forum to settle feuds between individuals and factions.
The church porch perhaps still may serve as a compelling metaphor describing what Anglicanism is all about. Yet for some reason the issue of gay and lesbian inclusion has driven us from the porch to a wider arena where, in the glare of publicity and sensation seekers we do battle. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that those who admire and emulate the political divisions and passions to be found in our divided society, having baptized the methods of political debate, battle away for the soul of the church before an audience which includes a great number of fellow Anglicans.
The tragedy is that most of us are in the audience. For if those of us who believe that the tactics employed by lobbyists, factions and spreaders of false reports and who indulge in character assassination are of the devil would only get off our polite bottoms and say so loud and clear we might witness change. Those of us who believe that the issue is not about human sexuality or civil rights but about the nature of the church and its mission and our duty ought to do our theology and teach our theology. As such subjects as limited communion sharing with the Methodists, budget priorities, baptism versus confirmation, the Windsor Report are debated one is struck by the inability of most participants to even attempt a theological conversation which measures proposals at the standard of our mission to be the Church. Over and over again in the House of Bishops I have heard the claim that we are a “denomination.” Given enough votes, a party in a denomination may do as it pleases. In the Church that is not possible, for as Church people we are bound to a fellowship greater than our local presence. As I have noted before there is no such thing as “Episcopalianism.” Our great curse at the moment is denominationalism or as it should be termed, sectarianism.
At the Eucharist yesterday I sat at a table with a young lady who said that she arrived at General Convention determined to share her passion for gay inclusion but had come to the conclusion that she should be there to honor and love all, whatever their opinions or attitudes. That seemed to me to be a remarkable step in the right direction.
Village disputes often ended when one party or another said “sorry”. Those of us who are married know the necessity of such a step. In reality one often says sorry while believing at some level that one was at least partially “right”. Nowadays this dreadfully puritan idea that one must be utterly “sincere” before saying anything important gets in the way of Christian contrition. One has to feel in love to say “I love you”. It’s not sincere to pray from a book because one may not really be invested in the prayers offered. In reality one is much more likely to stay in love if one says “I love you” often and habitually. One is much more likely to pray the liturgy sincerely if one prays the liturgy habitually.
We have been asked as a church to humble ourselves and say sorry. We have not been asked as individuals to express contrition, although this may follow. We have been asked as the local church, meeting in the “church porch” here in Columbus, Ohio, to express contrition that we failed to speak for the whole village locally, or for the whole collection of villages world-wide. We have been asked to say that we are sorry that we have failed to recognize the truth of that which we profess in the Creeds, when we collectively proclaim our belief that the Church is one and that we are, by baptism, one in the Church. We are asked to say sorry for our factionalism, our fanaticism, our willingness to promote one self-described tribe against another and thus destroy the very oneness and inclusion we proclaim we desire.
Why can’t we merely frame a resolution which includes as its major text the form of confession to be found in the Eucharistic liturgy. If we can’t say “I’m sorry” in those terms, why on earth are we muttering those words together each Sunday?
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