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THE WATCHING WORLD

Justin Welby, almost Archbishop of Canterbury, in a recent interview remarked: “If you look back on some of the arguments we’ve had over the last few months in the Church of England, it is poison to the mind of those who are outside the Church. It anaesthetises them against the gospel.”

 

He goes on to note that it is not unusual for Christians to disagree, but the tone of that disagreement matters. Of course if one doesn’t care what those outside think of our quarrels, or if one thinks that the justice of the Cause trumps concerns about the thoughts and feelings of others outside the camp, then demonizing those with whom one disagrees doesn’t factor. To liken one’s opponents as terrorists, as our Presiding Bishop seems to have done recently in South Carolina is a case in point. It may have thrilled the group to whom the remarks were aimed. Those to whom the remark was aimed probably expected nothing more. But what of those on the outside reading her words, let alone of those who attend their local parish because it is home, has been home perhaps for generations? I would hazard a guess that a good number of the people who went last Sunday to their local parish, even though it is now “schismatic” are hurt and puzzled.

 

I’ve now been an Episcopalian for fourteen years. I’ve done my best as an individual to “speak peace to those who are afar off and to those who are near”, to be a reconciler. Yet year by year matters have become worse. Both sides in our conflicts seem to prefer to emulate the political divisions and tactics in secular politics rather than seeking to follow the example of Jesus. “Father forgive them” seems a wimpy response to make to opposition, even when murmured from the Cross.

 

Recently a group of young clergy and ordinands pleaded for an end to law suits, depositions and hatefulness. Their appeal was to both sides. A few hundred joined them. Some questioned their motives. Others trashed their views. Cromwellian England seems close at hand.

 

“See how these Christians love one another,” exclaimed many during the persecution of Christians in the early days looks like an exercise in irony to those who would like to embrace Christianity. To those who wish to deride the Faithful for hypocrisy, we provide even more ammunition.

 

While we consider reforms to structure, it is high time we re-examine our approach to dissent. As Lent approaches it would be salutary for Episcopalians to pray about our new archbishop’s wise words. Our pleas for orthodoxy or justice are utterly compromised when we can’t even respect each other, pray for each other, and make space for each other. Christian conflict can’t be resolved through legislation, majority rule, brilliant responses. God in His time works out His purposes and we are called to be patient and to be faithful as God does his work of grace.

A MORE EXCELLENT WAY

A growing number of (mostly) younger clergy and laity are signing a statement urging all sides in our present conflicts to cease using the secular courts to enforce canon law or challenge canon law. You may find the statement ashttp://www.thepetitionsite.com/233/377/858/bearing-with-one-another-in-love-toward-reconciliation-in-south-carolina/  I believe that many Episcopalians find themselves challenged by the present policy of the TEC leadership to rely on the secular arm. For some this is a scriptural issue, perhaps encapsulated in the Pauline requirement that Christians not involve the secular world in its internal struggles, in itself St. Paul’s thoughts on our Lord’s teachings about how we deal with each other, and with those we perceive to have wronged us. For others, the issue hinges on how our internal struggles affect our ability to faithfully portray to the watching world how we manage to be faithful to the reconciling, caring Gospel, how well we walk those extra miles, or forgive ‘until seventy times seven’. Perhaps there are also those who feel strongly that the legal costs incurred call into question our stewardship of our resources, which are of course, God’s resources. Some of us think that recourse to the state to enforce godly discipline further erodes separation of Church and State. In this respect secular courts, I believe, should intentionally absent themselves from matters which compromise their neutrality in church matters.

 

Nor are these matters solely a problem for our leadership. Those who have left TEC must similarly question whether their assets are best spent in resisting attempts to recover the buildings and funds they seek to retain. If one believes it intolerable to remain within TEC one must consider whether attempting to hold on to real estate is worth the expenditure involved or whether leaving bricks and mortar isn’t an appropriate symbol of a determination to begin afresh in mission. “Where your treasure is….”.  Many who have left all behind find the experience liberating, find their new church buildings affirmations of their intention to go into the world traveling light. The legacy of these battles over material assets is sure to hamper future reconciliation when God’s purpose for the church triumphs over out time-based divisions. In this Week of Prayer for Unity, surely the legacy of our unhappy divisions are in our focus. The history of such battles in the North African churches of early years, left the church so weakened that it was unable to resist near extinction. In a growingly secular Western world, one may have sympathy for those who look at the church and say “who needs this?”

 

I by no means seek to trivialize the theological divisions which beset contemporary Anglicanism. Rather I seek to stress a simple truth. God will work his purpose out. We see “puzzling reflections in a mirror” but inevitably it will be self-sacrificing love which prevails for that is God’s purpose. Those of us who believe that God has revealed his will in scripture, in the light of tradition, through our collective use of sanctified reason must also understand that while we apprehend, as best fallen creatures may the will of God, we haven’t the foggiest idea of just how God intends to utilize that which he reveals.

 

Both sides in our present troubles are often guilty of assuming that we have apprehended that which God is actually doing. We confuse legislation with revelation: we claim that the Holy Spirit endorses not only our attempts to be faithful, but also the programs we impose on the Divine Agenda. As moderns we love pre-packaged solutions, peddled by synods or by persons and groups who have produced these programs. We “buy into them” because that is how we run our governments, schools and communities. Revive a parish or a diocese? Purchase a program. We are incapable of addressing almost any activity without looking for or purchasing a ready-made solution. And so we can’t just do that which we have been called to do. We can’t pray, worship, evangelize, care for the poor without adopting a method, even if such a method becomes a substitute for the deed, and even if that method itself becomes a matter of controversy and division. Underneath all the issues of the moment lies our desire to be as God, to be in control, to protect ourselves and enforce our will.

 

We are where we are because we have failed to submit ourselves to God, and because we dare not love.