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Calling the Shots

http://livingchurch.org/covenant/2016/07/20/calling-the-shots/?platform=hootsuiteCalli

 

I care for two small missions. One is so small that half the members serve on the mission committee and all are involved.

 

The second is larger, with an ASA of around 30. A group of about a dozen do all the work and call the shots. I don’t mean that they ignore the views, wishes, and ideas of the rest: sometimes they would be delighted to hear from them.

 

Both congregations have representatives at the deanery and diocesan level.

 

I work in a largely homogeneous diocese (Springfield). We have one parish that some might call progressive, but if it were elsewhere in the Episcopal Church it would be very moderate indeed. Our last diocesan synod came shortly after the 2015 General Convention, which adopted a resolution removing impediments to same-sex marriage, but left it up to diocesan bishops to determine practice in their own diocese: some could allow same-sex marriages in their dioceses, others could forbid them. Our bishop chose the latter. In doing so he reflected his own views and those of most people in the diocese, but not all. The tensions showed in diocesan synod. Traditionalists called the shots. Progressives “lost.”

 

However, we are a kind group and so there was no sign of the pain and anger demonstrated at last week’s General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada, when it seemed to reject the first reading of a same-sex marriage resolution and then, after discovering a miscount, reversed itself. Perhaps the matter was made worse because a dramatic pastoral response came immediately for progressives when they seemed to lose, but was not immediately given to traditionalists when the vote was reversed. To give him his due, the Canadian primate apologized movingly for such oversight.

 

If our congregations seem at peace with themselves at the local and diocesan level, it stops there. This has been true of the Diocese of Springfield now for more than half a century. It was therefore heartening for us to hear our fairly new presiding bishop assure us that we have a valued place in the Episcopal Church. I’m sure he means it. Bishop Curry has a large heart. Perhaps it is churlish to wonder what he means by “valued.” One may be valued because one is useful, or has valuable insights. On the other hand, one may be valued rather like an aged relative, a relic of a long gone age, valued like an antique sideboard.

 

Let me grasp the nettle. In company with many in this diocese, I oppose same-sex marriage. How on earth may I be valued? Surely I must be a hard-hearted bigot, a homophobe of the deepest die? I probably have a statue of Donald Trump next to that of Our Lady.

 

Have patience with me as I propose why I should be valued: because I am a human being. I’m baptized. Therefore, like you, I belong in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, a.k.a. “the Jesus Movement” in these latter days. How good, bad, or indifferent a Christian I’ve turned out to be remains to be seen.

 

But I don’t believe people of the same sex can be married. Notice I said can, not may. I don’t believe the matter is one of permission, like divorce, but of possibility, like my being able to climb Mont Blanc. It has nothing to do with whether I like or love someone, or whether I endorse this or that group (I’m not good at belonging to groups.) I don’t doubt the state may permit same-sex marriage. In America, the state is separate from the Church. (I wish it wouldn’t steal the Christian vocabulary, you know, words like marriage and matrimony, but there it is.)

 

I have a view that I suggest the Church should value. I don’t believe that doctrine should be legislated, period. This was once a fairly common view in Anglican circles. The great shifts in doctrinal emphasis (I prefer emphasis to development) in our tradition have occurred as “voluntary” efforts. Jeremy Taylor, Henry Hammond, John Cosin, out of jobs and influence in Cromwellian England, proposed a Catholic emphasis. The Wesley brothers, George Whitfield, Fletcher, Toplady, met, prayed, preached, wrote hymns, and transformed the church in an evangelical direction. The Tractarians met in a country rectory and wrote Tracts on apostolicity. Their message echoed across the Anglican world. Anglican bishops began to meet at Lambeth, to lead us not by binding and dividing legislation, but by example and counsel.

 

Since World War Two all this has changed. We’ve made over our synods in the image of national secular legislative assemblies. We’ve created ruling parties, funded lobbies, and adopted all the tricks of secular politics. In the process we’ve won battles and alienated many. We now believe that anything is possible by majority vote.

 

Now, had the issue of how the Church is to respond to those who are attracted to someone of their own sex been discussed, worked on, and considered in practical ways in our congregations, there would have been passion, division, liturgical confusion, and the common sense of the people of God invoked, in the context of the normal life of the church.

 

Practical pastoral experience would have informed the debate until, at some time in the future, what emerged would have been accepted, amended, or rejected long after the heat of passion and partisanship dissipated. In both the Evangelical and Catholic revivals there were parishes in which things went on that infuriated bishops and scandalized many. Permitting such lawlessness just couldn’t be tolerated. Where the Church chose power, the right to enforce its will, it made martyrs but effected little else. Where the Church chose to follow Gamaliel, extremism was tempered by wisdom. The Church was able to do much, but at no time did it deny the teachings handed down by the Apostles, simply because it eschewed the legislative option.

 

Discussion, experimentation, and biblical and theological hard work done in the Church should never focus on individual and corporate rights — for the only claim we have is to mercy — but rather on our duty to our Lord as members of his Body. Far from weakening our claim for justice (and mercy), an emphasis on corporate duty establishes equality. Majoritarianism creates novel and shifting forms of inequality. That our underclass is traditionalist in no way justifies the system.

 

We cannot keep dividing, purifying ourselves until only the elect remain, and we join the Plymouth Brethren in exclusive isolation.

ALONE IN STATE

He lay there, alone in the church he led for a decade. The mitre Louise had made for him by Wippell, alone distinguished the scene from any other perhaps old fashioned funeral. The scene was so evocative of the man whose strife was finally over, sixteen years after he was diagnosed with cancer. He was a private man, a privacy sometimes mistaken for loneliness, sometimes for aloofness, until a smile lit up his mutton-chopped framed expressive face and a quip put his interlocutor at ease. He could be stern, but always with reconciliation in mind. He could infuriate the powerful to whom the exercise of power seemed necessary no matter the effect on relationships.

 

Edward Lloyd Salmon always believed that Jesus called us into relationship with God and each other. There it was, nothing more, nothing less. He became fascinated with systems that promoted healthy relationships, not merely as theory, but as means to restore and strengthen the fabric of families, churches and communities. Within days of his death his large fingers, appended to huge hands were still pecking out words of encouragement to a leader who left the church, a young priest in conflict with his bishop, a parish in an uneasy relationship with its diocese and a troubled couple. Called to the ministry of reconciliation, he practiced what he preached. The practice was not without pain. He was misunderstood, rejected by erstwhile friends and humiliated by the powerful.

 

Yet when he died one of the finest tributes came from the bishop of one of the most progressive dioceses in our church. Alas, the pile of letters of condolence contained not one word from our church’s leadership. Six years ago he and other bishops were ordered to recant their opposition to a theory that locates power in the church in the hands of a few elected officials. To Ed. Salmon, such a location and concentration of power was the very antithesis of his  theory and practice of Christian relationships. Fear of division over sexual matters issued  an ecclesial version of the Patriot Act. Ed. Salmon believed that a theory of coercion, born in panic, hastened division and schism. He grieved to see his former diocese, in which he had labored with success for seventeen years, one of the few dioceses that grew in an era of decline, split and wander into mutual recrimination. He loved the Episcopal Church, into which he was baptized and confirmed in rural Mississippi. (One of his oldest friends was a black seminarian with whom he traveled to VTS each term, forsaking white privilege in that segregated era by staying in black friendly places on the way.)  And there he was, aged seventy-six, after a life of service to the church he loved, accused of  disloyalty.  He recanted. But he remained convinced that a policy of division was the antithesis of the Gospel.

 

We spoke together often of how the church might respond with affirming pastoral care to LGBT people without requiring men and women to renounce the holy vocation to which Jesus calls them in Matrimony. Called at a moment when most seek a leisurely retirement to be dean of Nashotah House, he affirmed its historic mission as an Episcopal Church seminary to train ordinands in academic and formational excellence and its accidental vocation to welcome and train ordinands from separated Anglican churches. When he invited the then Presiding Bishop to visit the campus he was stung by the level of vituperation aimed at him by traditionalists to whom that which divides is all important. Not for Bishop Salmon. He believed that all that was important was the relationships we enjoy together because Jesus came, died, rose and lives for us. How we respond to such love is often inconsistent, messy, self-serving and even hypocritical. Yet in our response there is to be discovered relationships in themselves godly and redeeming.

 

I was privileged to be included among the “outer family”during his last years, to be welcomed and to share in his last battle. It is tragic that in the divisions that beset us, the unity of Ed. Salmon’s vision is dragged out of focus by being appropriated by factions. He didn’t join factions. He wasn’t an Anglo Catholic or an Evangelical, a progressive or a traditionalist. At heart he remained a mere Episcopalian, what might be called a Southern Catholic. His religion was developed and defined by Scripture – he loved the Gospel stories -and the Prayer Book. He loved his family, his dogs, his house and his routine. He loved to be on the road amassing friends and encouraging relationships. He was the last Edwardian. I miss him. May he rest in peace.