Getting away from everything was a salutary experience. For nearly four weeks I knew nothing of what was happening in the world or the church. As most of the people who live on Diamond Creek remain in that state of blissful unaware on a permanent basis, I was not alone in my eccentricity. There’s no email or television reception up the mountain unless one has a satellite dish.
So after almost a month down the mountain we came to find that the French are right: “The more things change the more they stay the same.” Even the invincible majority within TEC shows signs of insecurity. In that it now shares the experience of the minority, now lived into for over thirty years. At worst this new insecurity may merely further polarize the church. At best it may lay the groundwork for a new understanding. The majority fears losing all they have gained. The minority knows it has lost a great deal of what it had when it called the shots.
I read an email today in which the writer feared another “Port St. Lucie” solution. I wonder how many remember the Port St. Lucie meeting of the House of Bishops about thirty years ago. The year before, by the slimmest of majorities, General Convention approved the ordination of women to the priesthood and diaconate. Whether the church was right or wrong isn’t the issue. There was no consensus. In a winner take all system the winners took all. The Presiding Bishop was +John M Allin, native of Helena Arkansas, former Bishop of Mississippi, a charming, caring Southern gentleman, full of good humor who had shown bravery at the height of the Civil Rights Movement.
+Jack Allin wanted to reach out to the losers. He had taken the risk of attending the traditionalist Congress of St. Louis and was refused communion when he went to the altar. Yet he was determined to reach out to the new and old “Continuing Churches” and to those who remained alienated within TEC. He managed to get the House of Bishops to endorse a “conscience clause” freeing bishops and dioceses who opposed the ordination of women from any kind of canonical sanction. The Conscience Clause was only a gesture. It wasn’t an act of General Convention. But the majority or some of the majority regarded Bishop Allin’s initiatives as a betrayal of their cause. After all if one believes that the Holy Spirit is responsible for majority decisions in General Convention, to oppose such decisions is close to being blasphemy.
Now our present Presiding Bishop and his successor are under fire for caving in at General Convention and calling for a time of inner debate and pan-communion discussions. After all the decision has been made that TEC may follow its own star. What’s to talk about?
September seems to be filled with meetings. The first will bring together our presiding bishops, the bishops of Virginia and Southwest Florida who share degrees of moderation and some Network Bishops who seem equally sure that all is up with TEC. This meeting has the endorsement of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who seems gloomy about the prospects for Anglicanism over the next ten years. The second important meeting will bring together the growing number of younger more moderate TEC bishops who began to make themselves heard at General Convention this year. That meeting has been convened by the elder statesman bishop of Texas. Both meetings offer hope.
There will be no hope, I suggest, if these meetings get stuck on the issue of gay and lesbian inclusion and marital blessings, for that is what same-sex blessings are really all about, or on matters of territorial jurisdiction. These matters are so thoroughly “political” that they obscure the core issue and have been argued to death already.
The core issue, or one of them is all about how minority groups may be accepted, loved and enabled within TEC at a time when the majority seems invincible and triumphant. If TEC is the Church in macrocosm then its validity lies in those things which are core, necessary unto salvation and which survive the changes and chances of the ecclesiastical world over centuries. What is now isn’t for ever. Time often amends and even forgets issues upon which seemed to hang the future of everything. Anglicans used to believe in the Divine Right of Kings. Such a pity we changed our minds.
On a wider scale Anglicanism has to decide whether the majority may abide what to them is the North American minority at this moment in history. After the Second World War when England began to divest itself of Empire and was broke, TEC stepped in to Africa and elsewhere. TEC seemed to offer a pattern for autonomy among the newly emerging indigenous churches and was amazingly generous with time, talent and cash. Indeed a mini-Communion within the Communion emerged alied first to TEC and only then to Canterbury. The time came when at Lambeth Conferences the American PB sat next to Canterbury in official photographs. But now this paternal figure has, it seems to these people, been found in flagro delecto. Pain, grief, amazement and disgust has replaced hero-worship. That’s not an uncommon reaction but not always a virtuous reaction.
Nothing will change unless we really desire to listen to each other, learn from each other and find ways to embrace each other and to do that we have to visit the place where grief is felt rather than repeating over and over again our slogans. Of course this is a merely Christian project, but in these days of a politicized church, whether we are up to being Christian it is quite another matter.
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