For my sins and iniquities I read the “evidence” placed before the General Synod of the Church of England as it debated a private motion which sought to recognize ACNA’s desire to be in communion with the English Church. ACNA, “The Anglican Church in North America” sent one of its bishops and others to watch the debate from the gallery. The proponent of the motion told the tale of ACNA from its point of view. TEC, “The Episcopal Church”, countered by providing position papers putting forth its version of what has happened to cause the rift.
Although the motion was part of General Synod business, it reminded me of the sort of goings on one hears of in divorce courts. By the time the matter has reached the court, each side in the divorce has retreated into its own world, sure of its own position, with not a shred of sympathy for the partner with whom they may have spent many intimate years. The deciding factor in granting the divorce will be an interpretation of law, plain and simple. Into that law is squeezed and shaped a story of two lives, two loves, two moments of joy, and often the lives of children and an extended family. The law does its job calmly and coldly.
The two partners to the divorce have failed to reconcile, and failed to agree on what is now termed a “no fault divorce” . In the firm knowledge of their righteousness, each partner defends its position and in the process discounts and ignores all promises made, all experiences shared and every moment of happiness experienced. There is a sort of madness about the exercise, a madness of selfness and introspection ruthlessly applied. This does not mean that there may be grounds for the divorce, sometimes frightful grounds. It may well be that the two need to be apart and their relationship legally severed.
So in London, last week, the two sides aired their differences rather oddly before a group of people, most of whom have the vaguest knowledge of the American context. In typical English fashion, the motion was amended to a “take note” and “report back” status, the usual way Brits delay matters and avoid adopting harsh resolutions.
Yet the venue and the passions expressed in the position papers offered to the English bishops, other clergy and laity have some significance. In a way, the Americans went home to “mother”, and by extension, to the wider family of the Communion. The tale told was hardly edifying, often immature and devoid of sympathy for their former partner.
Because of this, those responsible for a final decision on the status of ACNA are not only confronted with the dilemma of two entities in one place each claiming to be Anglican, but of the probable effect on the general public in North America if the Gospel is to be presented by two “individuals” sure of their righteousness and equally convinced of the perfidy of the other. “See how these Christians love one another.”
The question of who is right or who is wrong, of evaluating the “he said, she said” evidence becomes secondary to a basic Christian concept. Could not provision have been made, a settlement agreed upon, an untidy preservation of a unity while perhaps living apart for a while? The answer usually given is that attempts were made but one side or the other couldn’t be trusted. But had there been trust, there would have been no need for negotiation. In such circumstances a neutral mediator may often help to overcome mistrust enough to reach a settlement which would be best for the well-being of each side. It is because trust evaporated that we have reached this point of schism, the technical word for a frightful ecclesiastical divorce, a split not primarily of entities and property, but of people, real people, who have lived and loved together and who now invoke amnesia about the past in order to justify the harshness of their demands.
Yet in this Lenten season it is not too late for TEC and ACNA to take up the offer made a few years back by the Communion to provide neutral mediators to assist a settlement more honoring to God and better for the two entities than the probable outcome of this unholy struggle.
Where is Jesus in all this? He is dying on the Cross.
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