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A NEW DAY

As I am not an American citizen I seldom if ever stray into politics on my blog. I am enthusiastic about the future. The new President is an extraordinary young man. Just as a conservative Richard Nixon was perhaps the only politician who could engage China in constructive engagement, so it looks to me that President Obama, from the liberal wing of our society is the only person capable of engaging the “me” generation in constructive dialog about such old fashioned concepts as duty and community.

The negative side of our quest for “rights” during the past thirty or forty years has been an increasing desire for the entitlement of individuals and groups at the expense of the greater good of the whole. Barack Obama in his presidential address challenged the nation to reach above sectional rivalries and the rhetoric of partisanship to embrace its values. In no way does he decry the important steps which have been made to break down the walls of prejudice and expunge the stains of bigotry. Yet as the first President of African ancestry, who combines in his own blood Black and White he is uniquely suited to be the herald of change, a change which brings us to confront the demons of intolerance which have flourished as our politicians and parties have stressed our differences and demonized those who differ from them.

The President’s call as he cited I. Corinthians 13 and urged us to put away “childish things” should inspire Episcopalians and Anglicans to take seriously I Corinthians 12, St Paul’s call to bodily union and concord, a unity created and sustained by mutual love and concern.

Our own church has spent much of its time seeking to expunge the dirty stain of racism and “tribalism” in our communion. Yet unhappily it has succumbed to the negative aspects of the process by pitting theological liberals against conservatives and encouraging a policy of demonizing those regarded as “the enemy”. Those identified more often than not by their angry rhetoric and embraced marginalization have responded in kind and the result has been a rupture in the body.

Our identity as Anglicans is not unlike the American experiment. It is an identity grounded in its experience in comprehension and compromise, in a willingness to respect the historic origins, consciences, opinions and doctrinal beliefs of others in a communion which has embraced what seem to be mutually exclusive approaches to the Christian Faith. Such a comprehension may not be taken for granted. It involves a sympathetic respect towards the constituent parts of our tradition, whether liberal or conservative, Evangelical or Catholic and for the multifaceted nature of those who name and call themselves Anglicans. At the same time our comprehension requires that our governing bodies refrain from legalizing elements of belief and practice within our unity which have not yet gained general acceptance or have ceased to command general consensus.

Given the usual way in which new and old ideas appear from time to time among us, in which those who advocate such elements have been given in the past a certain freedom to advance their passions in an experimental and unoffical manner, such an approach invites the constructive criticism of such experiments without recourse to official synodical action. Over and over again in our history movements have arisen which have been tested at the local level, often over the objections of many and the attempts of bishops to enforce conformity. Granted there have been times when such a process has gravely exercised the consciences of many. Yet it is only when partisans of issues not judged over time by mutual experiment and common sense have sought to institutionalized their passions that our unity has been imperiled.

Over our long history passionate individuals and groups have sought to introduce the novel or resurrect things long abandoned, or have sought to bring us back to our origins. Many of their ideas have subsequently been embodied in our Liturgy or practice. Many have been rejected. Some have been altered. This constant process has often rescued us from torpor or error. Yet this process of comprehension is nowhere enshrined in our law. It is an essentially amateur process enabled by a mutual commitment to unity and concord enabled by the love of God.

It is high time we returned to this graceful and caring exercise of Christian discipleship. I hope and pray that the new President will be able to inspire the nation to duty above rights, care for others above partisanship and irresponsible individualism, and to forsake hedonism and a thirst of “my” rights divorced from “my” duty. Now is the time for our church to join this crusade, to embrace I Corinthians 12 in the light of I Corinthians 13 and to recover our mutual responsibility towards each other by acknowledging that our freedom meets its limits when it deprives our brothers and sisters of their own freedom. As +Rowan Williams often points out, our church has been a patient body, content to wait for consensus. Such a vocation in Christendom may not be exciting and may often seem untidy but it points forward towards a pattern for Christian Unity on a wider scale. However excellent our passionate beliefs may be, when they divide us, they cannot be of the Spirit. On the other hand our conscious embrace of tolerance requires that we give space for experiment, for the unpopular voices of saints, those prickly people who challenge our consciences and assail our institutions. Anglicanism might well have as its motto the advice given by Gamaliel to the Sanhedrin. If it is of God it will endure. The worst institution for testing the spirits is a General Convention which institutionalizes the majority as if the majority is usually right!

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