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WHOSE SIDE?

I like to receive comments, as long as they are polite. A commentator writing about my last blog ended by asking me whose side I was on? That’s a question I’ve been asked since I was a boy. “Which team do you support?” “Are you Conservative or Labour or perhaps Liberal?” “Are you Anglo-Catholic, Evangelical or Broad Church?” “Are you Democrat or Republican?” If I had the vote at the moment I’d find that one easier to choose, not because I have the foggiest idea as to which either party really believes in, but because of the War. I’m against it and have been from the beginning.

That alone draws me closer to a description of my attitude. I would support the Democrats not because they are Democrats but because they are, at least now, against the Iraqi debacle. My decision would be made about the issue, not about the political party. As an aside, another poster talks about the polity of TEC being based on the thinking of the Founding Fathers. I’m afraid that notion does little for me and I’m quite sure those worthy gentlemen, and the their wives, one hopes, were not really what we call democratic thinkers, at least as we see things, at all. It was Lord Hailsham who said that Great Britain is a republic with an hereditary head of state, and the United States a kingdom with an elected monarch. I must say that I am getting very tired of the mantra that we cannot or can do this that or the other because we are more democratic than other Provinces of the Communion. At least in the English General Synod, bishops sit with the clergy and laity and have to debate and vote with them, rather than two Houses talking to themselves. Now try suggesting that we reform GC. See if a debate emerges which does not invoke American patriotism or inbvocations of a long-age revolution. George Bush gets his power to stay in Iraq from George III and without mad George’s constitutional problems of keeping a majority in parliament!

Of course the question levelled at me is intended to ask whether I am on the side of those who support gay and lesbian blessed relationships or not. Now if I were asked whether I am on the side of gay or lesbians, or left-handed chalice-bearers I’d be able to say that I was taught from a very early age that it’s the person you are to love, not the person’s accidentals. As my grandfather was black, from St. Lucia in the West Indies, and as I have cousins of every shade and religion down there, I’d be a real humbug if I have not sought to live into my heritage and to that of my Yorkshire coal-miner’s daughter; my mother.

I suppose, with the risk of sounding pious or trite, I have to say that I am on the side of the Church. By the Church I do not mean, at first, the Episcopal Church, although that fits in to it. I believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. This I say almost every day. I don’t say each day, “We or I believe in TEC”! The major rites I celebrate in my ministry, Baptism, the Eucharist, Marriage and Burials don’t belong to the Episcopal Church, anymore than Ordination does. The very tradition and heritage in which I live as an Anglican reach back before the break ups of the Reformation or the Great Schism. I believe in the Church.

When St. Paul tells us that because of that which Jesus has done, we are NO LONGER Jew or Gentile, male of female, slave or free but all ONE, I take him and the authority of Scripture very seriously. Not only do I see this as an baptismal admonition against prejudice, but an admonition to the “no longer” part of the equation. We can’t escape being who we are -well we can in part but that’s another story: I can try with God’s help not to be such a grumpy old man or not to moan about my cancer. We can, through grace escape making “who we are” a celebration of difference to the extent that such a celebration trumps unity.

In the world in which we live, that’s a tall order. To get things done we have to form corporate groups or celebrate a corporate group. The fight for justice seems to necessitate the creation of lobbies, which claim, sometimes factually and sometimes not, to represent distinct classes or tribes, or racial groups, gender or sexual orientation and of coalitions of some of these. Often the price of such a necessity takes us in the other direction away from unity. Internal or external schism seems inevitable if not actually formal. “Whose side are you on?”

If the vehicle in which this rowdy crowd travels is destroyed, in what context shall we seek justice-with-mercy and unity in the bond of peace? It is well to remind our selves at the beginning of the WEEK OF PRAYER FOR CHRISTIAN UNITY that Jesus prayed that we might be one. It was an insistent prayer and there’s no small print attached to it. Baptism is the sign of that unity. Of course if you’ve cut St. John’s Gospel out of your Jeffersonian edition, my argument fails.

I spent over twenty-five years of my life justifying the position of my separated Anglican ecclesial body. Of course heresy is worse than schism. Of course unsound praxis is worse than schism. Of course one doesn’t need to be a formal part of the Anglican Communion to live into its heritage and tradition. In practice our definition of heresy became narrower, of schism optimistically wider, of praxis opportunistic. We deprived ourselves of a part of our heritage, its liberality: we began to drift away from our heritage and tradition. When I led us into talks with TEC in 1979, there was a world of bother for me, although much encouragement from PB John Allin of blessed memory. When those talks collapsed nearly a decade later, there was much glee on the right wing of the jurisdiction I served.

So, I changed my mind -something +Rowan is not permitted to do – only to find myself in a church bitterly and sometimes cruelly divided, a church which may cease to be in the Anglican Communion or which may split into rival ecclesial camps.

I am a moderate because I want to be free to make up my mind on issues, not parties. I am a moderate because I believe firmly in comprehension and I am a zealot because I believe in the Church, the Body of Christ, of which the Episcopal Church is part and parcel and not a self-created, self-authenticating sect.

One Response

  1. I’ve been a reader of your blog for quite a while.Now, I finally feel motivated to actually say something. Thank tou for your clear stance in favour of Anglican comprehensiveness in the Episcopal Church.I am in agreement with the liberals in the church on the underlying question of the freedom of the church to ordain or consecrate a qualified candidate for episcopal orders without regard for the person’s sexual orientation, but I’m deeply disappointed if the apparently growing tendency of liberals to sound every bit as sectarian as +Duncan, +Iker, and ++Akinola.Ironically,the ecclesiology of this liberal sort of sectarianism appears to be based on a nationalistic chauvinism that resembles nothing as much as the neoconservative political ideology of George W. Bush.I can only hope and pray that much of this is nothing more than the venting of accumulated frustration. The Elizabethan Settlement bequeathed to us a heritage that we should not lose because of the passions of the moment.

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