31 May 2007

Lord Carey then and now

Seven years ago, the Anglican Communion faced a crisis. Bishops had been consecrated for ministry within a parallel jurisdiction operating inside the United States of America. The then Archbishop of Canterbury, +George Carey, wrote a letter to the bishops of the Communion in February of 2000. It is instructive to read that letter, because it reminds us how much innovation has happened among conservatives in the last few years. (Ironic isn't it? Progressives are called innovators, but actually conservatives do a fair amount of innovating on their own.)

In his letter, Carey reminds people that the Primates' Meeting (which was to be held in March of 2000) is consultative. He is very clear: "To talk of the Primates disciplining the Episcopal Church of the USA or any other Province for that matter, goes far beyond the brief of the Primates' Meeting." After noting that Lambeth resolution 1.10 "reflects the traditional teaching of the church," Carey goes on to say
Nevertheless, in many parts of the Communion, faithful Christians, some of whom are homosexual themselves, are seeking to engage the Church in a challenging reassessment of its teaching on human sexuality, because they have felt excluded from the Church for many years. I believe that it is wholly in the spirit of the resolution, and that is why the Presiding Bishop of ECUSA and I set up an international conversation between bishops of different views, an experiment which was so successful that it will meet again later this year. I have also sought to encourage such conversations more locally as well.
Of course, sadly, that Listening Process never really got off the ground in most provinces. One might note that the very provinces who have ignored this part of the Lambeth resolutions (listening, engagement) are the same provinces who are quick to proof-text the parts of the Lambeth resolutions they like, in an attempt to compel ECUSA or Canada into a particular course of action.

Carey reminded the Communion that "we must guard against the risk of allowing one issue to divert all our attention from the primary task of mission to which we are called." This seems very true, and prescient of a time in which conversations about mission, evangelism, poverty, and other pressing matters are only given agenda time once matters of polity and sexuality have filled most of a meeting.

The purpose of the letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury was to remind the Communion about our fundamental unity, and to indicate that he would not support episcopal ordinations that flouted our unity. For that reason, Carey indicated he could not recognize the AMiA bishops consecrated in Singapore in January of that year.

So back then, Carey expressed his own views of sexuality, in accord with Lambeth 1998, resolution 1.10. More than that, however, he voiced hope for reconciliation, reminded the Communion about a deep unity in Christ, and sought to marginalize those who would undercut the structures of the Anglican Communion and its provinces.

You may have seen the letter Lord Carey sent to the Church of England Newspaper this week. (Thanks to The Lead for alerting me to it, and to Thinking Anglicans for Carey's letter and for links to the letter of 2000.)

Now Carey has changed his tune, because, "It is not too much to say that everything has changed in the Anglican Communion as a result of the consecration of Gene Robinson." Well, with all due respect, I beg to differ. The mission of the Communion has not changed, nor has the day-to-day evangelism, prayer life, and other ministries of parishes, dioceses, and provinces around the Communion. What has changed is that a "crisis" has been created, mostly by clergy, for various and sundry reasons. No one told +Peter Akinola he needed to ordain gay people, and no one has forced +Henry Orombi to bless same-sex relationships. Within ECUSA, by and large, conservative parishes and dioceses are allowed to continue in their traditional practices.

So, Lord Carey, it is true that some things have changed, and that life in the Communion is not the same as life in 2000. But that is to be expected. The history of Christianity, of Anglicanism, and of Lambeth Conferences is a history that reflects a changing understanding of the church, of life in community, of ethical practices, and of biblical interpretation. Throughout this history, there have been -- at times -- periods intense conflict. And, yet, the church survived. As you yourself indicated in 2000, conflict often brings a stronger, more Christ-centered church. But only when we treat one another with charity, practicing reconciliation and avoiding schism.

Carey now writes that ECUSA "clearly signalled its abandonment of Communion norms, in spite of warnings from the Primates that the consecration of a practising homosexual bishop would 'tear the fabric of the Communion'." That's a marked contrast from a consultative, advisory notion of the Primates' Meetings. Now Carey is suggesting that ECUSA can itself be marginalized because of disregard of the Anglican curia. Now, I should also point out that there are plenty of "practicing homosexual bishops" in the Communion. What distinguished +Gene Robinson was his openness and honesty. Or I could point that that, yes, ECUSA did not adequately involve the Instruments of Communion in what was going to be a contentious issue. (And I don't think we Americans admit that enough; mind you, I fully support the consecration of Gene Robinson, but we might have done a better job of talking about it before-hand and acknowledging the difficulty it caused afterwords.)

Still, it is a long ways from disregarding a warning from a group of primates, once understood to be advisory, to suggesting that those who work to subvert the valid Anglican province in the USA ought to be recognized.

What's my point in all this? Well, I for one have no trouble with Lambeth invitations going to all duly elected and consecrated bishops, and I think that might well include the AMiA bishops, and it certainly includes +Martyn Minns. And, of course, it goes without saying that +Gene Robinson should get an invite. My point is that there is a bit of conservative revisionism going on with respect to Anglican polity. Witness Carey's two letters. In one, he unequivocally supports unity, and in the next, he implies that those conservative bishops who would imperil unity should be invited to Lambeth.

Some will question the right of a former Cantuar to advise the current Cantuar. My take is this: George Carey is a baptized Christian, and the church is his, just as it belongs to +Rowan Williams, +Gene Robinson, +Peter Akinola, +Martyn Minns. And the church belongs, in equal measure, to you, dear reader, and to me. So if someone wants to fire off a letter to CEN, more power to them. If someone wants to start up a blog, fine. But let us remember that the current Archbishop of Canterbury will invite whomever he pleases to the (consultative!) Lambeth Conference. And, most important, let us carefully remember who we are and where we've been in all this. It would be easy, after all, to forget what we're all about. Carey's letter in the year 2000 is an excellent reminder of that, and I commend it to everyone.

29 May 2007

Make your voice heard

For several days now, Integrity USA has had a letter-writing campaign going. It's a typical American response to such a situation -- inundate a corporation, institution, or an archbishop with letters, hoping that the recipient will change her, his, or their mind(s). While I support Bishop Robinson, I was not planning to blog the Integrity campaign (worried that it might be counterproductive with Lambeth Palace). But then, today, I was alerted to a poll on the Church Times website.

You can vote, on the Church Times site, to express your opinion that all bishops should be invited to the Lambeth Conference. As I write this, the polling is running against inviting all bishops. As blogs pick up this opportunity, things could sway either way. I think it can't hurt to click the "yes" (as I hope you will) or "no" buttons. Maybe Lambeth Palance will notice that lots and lots of people want every bishop to be invited.

I also think sending off a letter as Integrity suggests could be helpful. Here are my suggestions. First, be unfailingly gracious. Bitterness and anger are perfectly fine emotional responses to a very challenging situation, but they're probably not so useful in a letter. Second, I think we would do well (as InclusiveChurch has argued) to advocate for every duly elected and consecrated bishop to be invited. This would include Martyn Minns for sure, and it might include the AMiA bishops, though Archbishop Carey questioned their validity back when that entity was set up.

Why would we liberals want Bishop Minns to attend? Because we need everyone to be there, to share, to listen, and to be open to God's grace in our troubled situation. Let us model the kind of church we want: a place were the Gospel invitation is open to all.

24 May 2007

Thought for the Day

Courtesy of MadPriest: "If a bush ever tells you it is speaking the words of God, run away quickly in the opposite direction. Otherwise, you're sure to end up in the wilderness."

Good wisdom for today's church, especially this week.

Seeing the invitations from the other side

Most of what I've been reading is about the lack of an invitation for +Gene Robinson. But, of course, he's one of ten Anglican bishops who are not invited. Andrew Gerns has a thoughtful analysis of the invitation scene from the Akinolite point of view.

Gerns says the conservatives have not done well in the invitation list:
Remember, Akinola did not simply demand that Robinson be expelled from the Communion, he wanted all the Bishops who consecrated him expelled and even the whole Episcopal Church for consenting to his election and ordination. He wanted the Episcopal Church out and the conservative parishes under his care and their allies invited instead. Akinola, and many others, began to see Lambeth as the test of true Anglican identity based on a narrow notion of biblical interpretation and confessional orthodoxy.

Williams has rejected that notion, and in terms that the conservatives set up for themselves, has explicitly ruled that CANA is not part of the Anglican Communion. They have no seat at Lambeth because they have no legitimate jurisdiction. That was true of AMiA ten years ago and it is true of CANA today. In short, Akinola's brainchild has been rejected out of hand.
All eyes will now turn to Abuja to see what's going to be done:
So...Robinson is invited as a guest (out of deference to those of weaker conscience) and Minn is not. Robinson is real bishop in a real jurisdiction while Minn may or may not be a real bishop but he is not part of a valid, recognized Anglican jurisdiction. He was enthroned to nothing.

It seems to me that the ball is now in Peter Akinola's court. All eyes are on him to see if he will make good on his threat to organize an alternative Lambeth for Global South bishops. It has been clear that his support was wavering, and while he may have won the day in Dar es Sallem, he lost the war when numerous primates expressed discomfort with the solution and supported the HOB when they rejected the hastily gathered pastoral council. Notice, as the Bishops gather in September with the Archbishop, that rejection of that hastily devised scheme did not mean the Episcopal Church was dis-invited from the Communion.

If Akinola goes to Lambeth, he will be going to a place where he and his bishops would be voices among many. He will go on Canterbury's terms.

If Akinola stays away and forms his own meeting, he frees the rest of the Communion to deal with Bishop Robinson and to take on the listening process without further delay. If he stays away he will have taken himself out of the game.
+Peter Akinola has already said (through a statement) that if one Nigerian bishop (e.g. +Minns) is not invited, the whole House of Bishops from Nigeria isn't invited. So while we Americans have been wailing and gnashing our teeth, perhaps the big story is really going to be how this pushed Nigeria away from the Communion. Could Akinola be absent at Lambeth? Rumor has it that he's already book a venue in London for a shadow conference. If that's true, he'll make lots of news, but reconciliation in the Communion will not be achieved.

I'd like to see Nigeria (and New Hampshire!) as full participants in Lambeth. Perhaps Peter Akinola won't change his mind about LGBT Christians, but there are other Nigerian bishops who might be more open to a church where we model radical love, Anglican graciousness, and Christ-like compassion.

Changing Attitude and InclusiveChurch

In light of the two statements from InclusiveChurch regarding the Lambeth Conference invitations, there has been much furore. Some people have asked Changing Attitude to distance intself from InclusiveChurch, based on the perception that InclusiveChurch has been too slow to criticize +Rowan Williams.

I encourage you to read the entire statement from Changing Attitude, but here is an excerpt:

Changing Attitude England is a founder-member of InclusiveChurch and is committed to the goals and vision of InclusiveChurch. We have been asked by some groups and individuals to withdraw our support and publicly dissociate ourselves from InclusiveChurch.

Changing Attitude England is committed to a totally inclusive Anglican Communion. We take very seriously the challenges that have been extended to InclusiveChurch by the selective invitations to Lambeth 2008. How inclusive is Inclusive? We are working for a fully inclusive church, for LGBT people, our friends and families, for conservative evangelicals and everyone who has attacked and vilified us because of our sexuality. We do not believe there is any alternative to this radical challenge to the church, a challenge which took our Lord Jesus Christ to the cross. The resurrection of Jesus Christ, his ascension and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit challenges, inspires and resources us to be radically inclusive. Jesus invites us to be radically loving and truthful.

On the subject of engagement, Changing Attitude says this:

Changing Attitude England believes in positive engagement, especially with those who are fundamentally opposed to what we are working for. The Listening Process presents us with a serious challenge. We cannot hope to be listened to in depth unless we are prepared to meet across difference and listen with equal seriousness and respect. Listening will cease if any one group, CANA or The Episcopal Church, Changing Attitude England or Anglican Mainstream, decides to withdraw from the structures of the Anglican Communion. This means compromise. Some believe the time for compromise over the place of LGBT people in our church is over.

The Revd Colin Coward, Director of Changing Attitude England, has just returned from Togo, West Africa, where he met 30 lesbian and gay leaders from the diocesan groups of Changing Attitude Nigeria (CAN) and West African Christian LGBT groups. They are committed Christians. The members of CAN are fully committed to their Anglican congregations. They are also deeply distressed by the failure to invite Bishop Gene Robinson to the Lambeth Conference.

They represent over 2,000 LGBT Anglican members of CAN. They represent the tip of an iceberg. There are tens of thousands of lesbian and gay Anglicans in every African Anglican Province. Were The Episcopal Church to pursue a strategy of disengagement from the Communion, and withdraw from the Lambeth Conference in 2008, these African gay Christians would be among those feeling abandoned. They would be left to the abusive, homophobic attacks of their Primates and bishops. They are people of great courage and faith. They need us, our solidarity with them as they work to achieve recognition and a safe space within church and society.

Changing Attitude England prays that the partner organisations of InclusiveChurch and our friends in The Episcopal Church will continue to engage with the Communion with graciousness and generosity, even when you are deeply distressed and unhappy with the events of this week. We do not believe that to threaten schism is ever a right response when decisions have been made which are not in accord with our most deeply held principles. The Anglican Communion needs the witness of The Episcopal Church now more than ever, and LGBT Anglicans in every Province need the holy passion and anger that inspires the call to justice and truth that is such a powerful part of the vision of our American brothers and sisters.

A further statement from InclusiveChurch regarding Lambeth invitations


(This is an official statement from InclusiveChurch, which you may also read on the InclusiveChurch website.)

InclusiveChurch has received a certain amount of adverse comment about the statement we released yesterday in response to the Lambeth Conference invitation announcement.

Our assessment was more positive than the statements of some of the organisations with which we work closely. It is our strong belief that although the situation is by no means perfect and the Bishop of New Hampshire should be there as a full member, the Lambeth Conference will offer an opportunity for serious dialogue on many subjects.

We are in a transitional stage in the life of the church and as we move towards the full inclusion of all people the cost is very high for those who are still excluded. The continued sacrifice demanded of lesbian and gay people, especially those in relationship, cannot be underestimated and we look forward to the day when sexuality is no longer the destructive issue it presently is.

Across the world, both in the Global South and in the rest of the Communion, lesbian and gay Christians are a significant part of the life of the church; we need to recognise this so that we can communicate afresh the Gospel truth of the inexhaustible love of God for the world.

It is our continued hope and prayer that all bishops will receive invitations to the Lambeth Conference. We especially hope that Bishop Gene Robinson will receive a full invitation, so that he can engage with the other bishops of the Communion. Should Bishop Robinson not receive a full invitation, we hope that, as the only openly gay bishop, he will be at the Conference. And we hope that the American bishops of the Episcopal Church will be there to witness to the full inclusion of all people as expressed so clearly in its understanding of the Baptismal Covenant.

The Archbishop of Canterbury affirmed in his letter of invitation that "An invitation to participate in the Conference has not in the past been a certificate of doctrinal orthodoxy. Coming to the Lambeth Conference does not commit you to accepting the position of others as necessarily a legitimate expression of Anglican doctrine and discipline, or to any action that would compromise your conscience or the integrity of your local church."

We hope that this chance for gracious engagement between bishops of very different theological hues is not missed so that the Communion can continue to grow in its welcoming inclusion. Successive Lambeth Conferences in 1978, 1988 and 1998 have requested genuine engagement with lesbian and gay Christians. We trust that the 2008 Conference will be part of the listening process called for many times in recent years.

22 May 2007

InclusiveChurch statement on Lambeth invitations


InclusiveChurch welcomes the news that the Archbishop of Canterbury has issued the first invitations to over 800 bishops in the Anglican Communion to attend the Lambeth Conference 2008. We believe the Anglican Communion will benefit from engagement among this diverse group of bishops. It is regrettable that a small number of bishops are not to be invited, but recognizing the painful fractures within the Communion we understand the need for generous sacrifice on all sides. We hope that in the spirit of such sacrifice the bishops who are not receiving invitations to the conference, including Gene Robinson, the Bishop of New Hampshire, might be welcome as observers.

'We clearly have a mountain to climb, but this is a real sign of the underlying unity of the Anglican Communion' said the Rev'd Giles Goddard, Chair of InclusiveChurch. 'I am pleased that the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada will be able to share our experience of the ministry of lesbian and gay Christians', said the Rev'd Scott Gunn, an American member of InclusiveChurch.

InclusiveChurch is a network of groups and individuals, aiming to celebrate and maintain the traditional breadth and diversity of the Anglican Communion.

UPDATE: Please see this additional statement.

Reconciliation at Lambeth?

So by now, the news about Lambeth invitations is all over the blogosphere. Nearly every diocesan bishop of the Communion has been invited, but as the Washington Post has reported, Bishops Gene Robinson and Martyn Minns will not be invited. There is quiet talk that the Bishop of Harare might be univited (which would really change the situation and the focus of invitations/uninvitations).

So what to make of all this? Well, it's better than many of us might have expected. Most bishops of ECUSA will be in Lambeth, which is surely a good thing. As we seek to repair breaches in the Communion, it is essential that people spend time together in prayer, worship, listening, and engagement. That cannot happen when we're talking about people, rather than with them.

I would have hoped that +Gene would be invited. Much of the focus is on him, so it would make sense to me (and to many others) that he be in the room to listen to share. Some people on the left will rejoice that +Martyn has not be invited, but I think the conversation would benefit from his presence as well.

I am a bit disappointed that we live in an age when the Archbishop of Canterbury must remind the bishops of the Communion about our polity (the Lambeth Conference is not a synod, etc.) and point out that doctrinal assent is not required for attendance. Nevertheless, I am happy that this expectation has been laid out clearly.

Let us hope that Bishop Robinson will indeed receive an invitation as a guest -- as Canon Kearon suggested might happen -- and that he will be able to be "inside" rather than "outside" when the bishops are talking about him.

Let us give thanks for so many invitations, and let us pray for a few more. Most of all, let us pray that a spirit of grace, charity, and concord will be kindled in the Anglican Communion once again.

(I'd write more, but I'm in Heathrow now, just about to board a plane for the US. More to come after I've had eight mind-numbing hours in a small aluminum tube to ponder all this.)

20 May 2007

Westminster Abbey lecture: biblical understanding and inclusion

Richard Burridge gave the Eric Symes Abbott lecture at Westminster Abbey earlier this month. Its title was "Slavery, sexuality, and the inclusive community." It's a bit of a read, but it's well worth it. Burridge says that we must consider both the words and the deeds of Jesus in our understanding of the Bible. Burridge also makes useful comparisons between our current debate on human sexuality and earlier debates on slavery and divorce.

Here's a sample:
I have argued that to be truly biblical, we have to imitate Jesus' teaching and his example, his deeds as well as his words. Jesus' demanding ethical teaching cannot be appreciated separately from his behaviour and activity. Both the biographical genre of the gospels on the one hand, and the ancient idea of imitation and Jewish rabbinic precedent on the other, suggest that Jesus' teaching must be earthed in his practical example, both of calling people to repentance and discipleship - but also his open acceptance of sinners, with whom he spent his life and for whom he died. Unfortunately, all too often those who do New Testament Ethics today end up doing one or the other: that is, teaching a rigorist ethic with extreme demands which seems condemnatory and alienates people - or having an open acceptance and being accused of having no ethics at all! Seeking to follow Jesus in becoming both 'perfect' and 'merciful' as God is perfect and merciful (compare Matt. 5.48 with Luke 6.36) is not an easy balance to maintain, but one which is vital if we are to be properly biblical.

To study the scriptures requires the context of an open and inclusive community of interpretation. The movement for the abolition of the slave trade could only discuss what the Bible really said about slavery once slaves and former slave traders were present and their experiences were heard. Similarly, change in South Africa about apartheid as 'human relations in the light of scripture' needed the 'voices of protest', with blacks present in the Bible studies and their experiences being recounted. Equally, over recent years, we have struggled to read and re-read the Bible about the place of women in church leadership, as deacons, priests and now as bishops, with women participating in the debate and their experience being heard - and we still have some way to go here. The same has been true for debates about human sexuality: in the middle of the last century, divorce was not permissible and remarriage in church was not allowed - on biblical grounds. But through the debates and reports of the 1960s, 70s and 80s, the experience of marital breakdown was heard and listened to - and then our understanding of a biblical approach for compassion and care changed how church treated divorcees.

Burridge argues that we must include gays and lesbians as we grapple with our understanding of the Bible. This is -- I remind you, gentle reader -- very much in accord with the as-yet-unstarted listening process that the Lambeth Conferences have been asking us to undertake for 30 years.

A sermon for Anglican Communion Sunday

I was the preacher today at St. Matthew's, Westminster in London. Here's what I said:

In the name of God: Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.

About three months ago, I was in Tanzania as one of the hangers-on at the Primates' Meeting in Dar es Salaam. I was there as a blogger and as a witness to the progressive voice within the Anglican Communion. I had opportunities to speak with several primates, and I spent lots of time talking with reporters, helping them understand the Byzantine world of Anglican polity and subtle discourse.

I also had occasion to speak with some ordinary Tanzanian church-goers. One afternoon, I had a long conversation with a Tanzanian man. We talked about all sorts of things. After we had spent some time together, getting to know one another a bit, I asked him about his views on the Anglican Communion. We are told, in America, that African Christians must take a hard line on moral issues because of the intense competition with Islam for converts. I asked him if he thought that being in communion with the liberal American church was a local problem in Tanzania.

He began his answer by telling me that he agreed with Peter Akinola with respect to human sexuality. But he went on to say that he didn't think that what happens in America is of great concern to those to come to church in Tanzania. He said, "People who come to church here want to praise God. They want to pray to God. They want to give thanks to God. They want to know God. They are concerned with their salvation, and they do not worry about what the American church teaches." He went on: "I hope that your country's practices do not happen here, but it does not trouble us too much if they happen there."

I asked him if the Anglican Communion should break apart over this issue, because Muslims might not join a church in Tanzania that is linked with a liberal American church. "No," the man said, "that is not the greatest concern. However, we will lose all credibility with Muslims if we divide on this issue. If we cannot stay together as one communion, we will not be able to talk with them about one God, one Jesus, and one church."

I think that captures a bit of the Gospel that we hear today. Jesus prays that a sacred unity, a mystical communion, be manifest in his disciples.
The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
This is not the unity of common views. This is not the love of those whom we happen to like. This is not communion with others in proportion to our approval of them. No, this is God's love. This is God's desire that all who follow Jesus as Savior might be bound together by a mystical connection that is greater than what we humans could accomplish on our own.

By the time the Fourth Gospel was written, the church was an established entity. We know from Paul's letters that there had been many, many disagreements over vitally important issues. And, yet, the evangelist could write these words, this great prayer for unity among followers of Jesus, even in the face of dissension and disagreement. The evangelist knew that the Body of Christ is stronger than those things that sometimes divide us.

I don't often preach about the situation we face in the Anglican Communion today. Frankly, I think it's not relevant to what happens in most churches on most days. It is the preacher's task to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ, not to fan the flames of a crisis that is too often stirred by clergy. Our gospel today, however, seems to invite a consideration of unity and of the nature of God's love. Of course, today is also Anglican Communion Sunday.

And there is another reason I might say a word or two about what's happening now. Father Chester asked me to preach here today because I'm in England this weekend doing some work with InclusiveChurch and hoping to find ways to witness to God's hope for unity in the Anglican Communion. Your parish has a special vocation of relationship with the Episcopal Church and a commitment to InclusiveChurch, so perhaps a few thoughts from an American perspective are useful.

We have had many opportunities to reflect on the nature of communion, and of the Anglican Communion, because of recent events. You hear people say that this whole crisis, such as it is, has been driven solely by US innovation or even heresy. And you hear others say that the problem is intransigent conservatives, who refuse to be open to the Holy Spirit at work today. But of course, the problem is more complicated than that. If it were so simple, we'd have figured it out by now. Perhaps I could make a few observations.

Money is clearly a tremendous factor in all this. It may well be American money funding the communion that has kept us from being kicked out of the Communion. And it is also American money, much of it from the Institute of Religion and Democracy, that is funding a good deal of the conservative activity designed to tear apart the Communion and the Episcopal Church.

For both sides, it is worth noting that Episcopal Church polity is neither the cause nor the solution. We Americans must realize that not every province in the Communion has democracy and some transparency, and we must stop saying in a somewhat condescending way to the rest of the world, "You just don't understand our polity. We followed our own rules with the consecration of Gene Robinson, and there's nothing we can do at present to change our position." Instead, we might do well to gain some appreciation for what America and the Episcopal Church look like from across the world.

It would also, I think, be helpful if we all showed a good deal more respect for those with whom we differ. It is not helpful when African bishops enter the US to create parallel jurisdictions in the church, and it is not helpful when American bishops declare that they are coming to the Lambeth Conference whether or not they are invited.

The extent to which we say, "either you are with us, or you are against us" is the extent to which we will keep God out of all this. President George Bush famously uttered this cowboy line after the September 11 attacks, and thus began a desolate chapter in American foreign policy. This, I fear, is a major factor in our ecclesial difficulties. But I might also observe that you hear a very similar message coming from the left and from the right in our church struggles. Too many Americans are ready to jettison the Anglican Communion and our global mission, because "they" are too slow. Too many others are willing to expel the American church, because "they" have gone too far. My own view is that expulsion is not our role and not our right. Communion belongs to God, and St. Paul eloquently reminds us that we Christians cannot say to any other Christian, "I have no need of you."

The Communion is costly. To love in God's love is costly. All of us must be prepared to yield our own desires to the greater purposes of God's love and of church unity.

It's all well and good to say that, but how do we do it? Well, at the risk of sounding hopelessly naïve, I think we might begin in prayer and in worship. Sharing in this service, this time together, when Christ's body is manifest in bread and in this gathering reminds us of who we are, who God is, and of our bond together in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Today we are still basking in the glow of Easter glory. And yet we are aware, having just celebrated the Ascension, that Jesus has for a time returned to God, entrusting us with ministry here in this earthly pilgrimage. As St. Luke tells us, just before Jesus ascended in glory, he blessed his disciples. Others have noted that in the very act of trusting his disciples to carry on, there is a blessing. If you recall a time when you have been trusted with great responsibility, you will understand how Jesus doubly blessed his disciples on that day – first by his words, and second by his trust that they would minister God's love to the world. Perhaps if we could give thanks for this responsibility, for this trust, for this blessing, we would be better ministers.

The prayer of Jesus that we hear today is one that we would all do well to pray fervently. May we all be one, and may God's love dwell in us. It sounds so simple, and it is ironic to me that the one thing Jesus really asked us to do was to love God and one another, and we cannot seem to get that one thing right. We all spend our time finding reasons to exclude people, to fear others, and to do anything but practice radical, sacrificial, abundant love.

What would our world be like if we began with this question: how can I love others as God loves me? What would our church be like if we asked this question relentlessly: how can we love one another as God loves us?

I have one example of how our church could look. Recently I heard the rector of a large parish in southern California talk about a remarkable event in her parish. It seems that they had a lengthy conversation about whether or not they would permit the blessing of same-sex relationships within the church. After a sustained dialogue, the consensus was that these services could take place. At the first same-sex blessing, the rector was surprised to see one of her parishioners present, for this man was at the time very active in a national conservative group in the Episcopal Church. She said, "I'm surprised to see you here. I didn't think you approved of what we're doing." He replied, "I don't approve of this service, but these two men are my friends, and we are part of a community together. This day is important to them, and I love them. Why wouldn't I be here?"

My friends, that is a kind of church we want -- a church where people may not agree, but where they can find ways to love one another -- a place where God's love is shown forth.

In the Revelation to St. John of Patmos, we encounter a mystical vision of a world that is complete in God, ready to receive the presence of Jesus Christ.
"It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star."
The Spirit and the bride say, "Come."
And let everyone who hears say, "Come."
And let everyone who is thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.
The one who testifies to these things says, "Surely I am coming soon."

St. John speaks of the consummation of history, but I think this might apply well to a more imminent coming of Jesus. If we invite him, we can receive Jesus Christ into our hearts, into our lives. In the sacraments, and in our mundane lives, we can see Jesus revealed, whether in bread or in the face of a stranger.

This invitation is not for some, it is not for a chosen view. Hear the vision: "Let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift." Every minute we spend on discord and division within the church is a moment we could be inviting God into our own lives and offering God's love to a world that is thirsty for hope, for meaning, and for reconciliation.

I do not imagine that the wounds in the Anglican Communion will be easily healed. I do imagine that the healing will not begin until we place God's love at the center of our common life, until we focus on finding ways to enact God's love. If we believe that reconciliation is possible -- and I hope all Christians profess this -- then we must hope and pray that Peter Akinola and Gene Robinson and everyone else remain in conversation and practice listening. When we begin to shut people out of our conversation, for whatever reason, we have yielded to the notion that our fears are stronger than our hope for God's love in our midst.

As we continue this service, let us receive Jesus Christ. Let us receive Jesus Christ this day not only in the sacrament of Holy Communion, but in our hearts and minds and lives. Bishop Frank Weston had it right. After this feast at the Holy Table, we should go out into the "highways and the hedges" looking for Jesus in every face, in every life. By God's grace, we can love one another. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we can become a church that is truly an icon of the kingdom of God, a kingdom built on a foundation of radical, sacrificial, and abundant love.
"Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen."

© 2007 Scott A. Gunn

18 May 2007

+Dorsey Henderon on the primates

Here is a bit a pastoral letter (via T19) from the Bishop of Upper South Carolina, +Dorsey Henderon:
All four instruments have their role, but none is primary, none is supreme. Accordingly, while the Primates may request that The Episcopal Church respond in a particular way and in accordance with a deadline, they do not have the authority to mandate either response or deadline. At Camp Allen, the Archbishop of Mexico was asked how he had experienced the Primates’ Meeting at Dar es Salaam. He responded that it was great—that although he arrived in Dar es Salaam as an archbishop, he departed as a "cardinal"! His point was clear. The Primates had assumed unto themselves authority which they have not heretofore possessed.
Yes, we need to remember that the primates have only recently given themselves great authority, and it is not clear that it was theirs to claim. The Primates' Meetings began as consultative meetings among peers, for mutual fellowship. Until very recently, no one would have imagined that this group would or could make demands on provinces of the Communion.
We Americans, however, need to stop claiming that they don't understand our polity. Frankly, that's a red herring. First, if it were an urgent matter at hand, we'd find a way to work around our own polity. Second, apart from our polity, it is appropriate for anyone to criticize the morality or position of a church -- if the polity prevents action on the "issue," that simply does not change the perceived problem. Third, I think it is condescending in the extreme to claim that these primates do not understand our polity. Finally, we do not need to have the argument about American polity. If we are going to talk about polity, let's talk about Anglican Communion polity, such as it is. Only the ACC has a constitution. It isn't clear who should come to a primates' meeting. And it certainly isn't obvious why any province should obey demands from the primates.

If +Rowan says something to our bishops, we should listen. He is, after all, primus inter pares. If the ACC says something about our delegation, we need to listen. They, after all, have a constitution and clear membership requirements. If the Lambeth Conference speaks, we ought to listen. Assuming that all provinces were fully represented, the Lambeth Conferences are a manifestation of the teaching authority of bishops. But the Primates' Meetings have no similar status. Someone, please leave a comment explaining the basis for the Primates' Meeting to make great demands, if there is a basis. I think +Dorsey has it right.

One small issue: the ACO website says that the ABC is the "Focus of Unity", but that there are three other "Instruments of Unity." The Windsor Report talks about four Instruments of Unity. Maybe someone can enlighten me on this discrepancy as well.

Adiaphora and communion

We can learn something -- well, many things, actually -- from the Anglican Church in South Africa. As you may know, South Africa now offers state-sanctioned civil unions. As part of that law, churches were to declare whether or not they would bless these relationships. The Anglicans have said no:
Bishop David Beetge, Dean of the (Anglican) Church of the Province of Southern Africa, said the church had notified the department of home affairs of its policy on gay marriages.

"We have informed the government that we are not in a position to bless civil unions and have made it open and clear to the government and our congregation about our policy," he said.

Now, as you may also know, Archbishop Ndungane is one of the allies of Bishop Katharine and ECUSA. So here is a man who presides over a church that will not bless same-sex relations, and yet who belives that the Communion should remain intact. I think there are many primates who are similarly moderate, but we don't hear from them much.

The so-called Global South primates need to remember a couple of things. First, they do not represent the whole of the Global South, and they do not even speak for everyone in their own churches. Second, it is the nature of mystical communion that we are bound together by things much deeper than shared doctrine. It is the mystery of the Triune God's love that binds us together.

We may passionately disagree about all sorts of things, but we should also be willing to see that some things are adiaphora, or things indifferent. If we could peer beyond angry primates, I think we would see pew after pew full of people who are concerned with salvation and life, rather than division and rancor. Let's pay more attention to South Africa. That nation, and that church, offers a prophetic witness of great power.

Learning the lesson from Acts 15 for today

David R. Anderson (no, not that David Anderson), writes in the Living Church:
Peter and James, the acknowledged leaders of the Jewish camp, both listened as Paul and his assistant Barnabas "told of all the signs and wonders that God had done through them among the gentiles." After a long silence, Peter stood up and said, Why would we ask these poor gentiles to keep the law when we Jews have been at it for all these years and haven’' exactly made great progress? "On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will." James said Amen, and the whole church united to send even more reinforcements with Paul and Barnabas into the great gentile mission field. (And today, you and I are Christians a world away from Jerusalem because of their spiritual wisdom and courage.)
And he concludes:
The beauty of the Jerusalem Summit is that no one had to be wrong so others could be right. Allowing Paul to preach in gentile territory a gospel that would have been frankly offensive in Jewish lands did not mean that everyone had to live that gospel (you can be sure the "circumcision party" did not!). It was simply an inspired recognition that the gospel was bigger than any one articulation of it.

That inspiration is what the Anglican Communion needs. I sorely wish we had a certain archbishop who would call a Canterbury Summit.
Of course, these kind of summits where conversion is possible happen regularly in the Anglican Communion. The problem is not that we lack summits, it's that we lack the openness for conversion. In Dar es Salaam, everyone went with their armor on, and everyone retreated with the armor intact, and not without a few bruises under their thick outer layers.

This is why I hope Lambeth 2008 is different. +Rowan has indicated that there may not be much, if any, voting on resolutions. It might be about conversation, which can lead to conversion. Sadly, rumors persist that some bishops may not be invited. This seems completely antithetical to what needs to happen. If we, as Christians, approach this crisis believing that reconcilation is possible, then how can we possibly hope to reconcile as we talk about people rather than with them? What possible harm is there in having all sides in the same room? Who is afraid of whom?

Let us hope that Lambeth 2008 -- Anderson's "Canterbury Summit" -- repeats the ancient Jerusalem Summit. Let us pray that hearts are opened, both in planning the Lambeth Conference and as it takes place.

(Thanks to T19 for pointing me to this article.)

15 May 2007

Share your response to the proposed Covenant

From ENS today:
Episcopalians have begun responding to questions in a study guide aimed at helping the Episcopal Church consider the draft version of a proposed Anglican Covenant. Congregations, diocesan deputations to General Convention and individuals can all submit comments between now and the June 4 deadline.

House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson said May 14 that some General Convention deputations have already met and formulated responses with the help of the study guide.

Responses can be e-mailed to gcsecretary@episcopalchurch.org, faxed to 212-972-9322 or mailed to Draft Anglican Covenant, The Office of the General Convention, The Episcopal Church Center, 815 Second Ave, New York, NY 10017.
You can find the proposed Covenant online, as well as the study guide prepared by Executive Council.

LGBT Christians meet in West Africa

Looking at things from the vantage point of the US, it would be easy to take for granted the struggle that we face now for an inclusive church. Yet, in many parts of the world, worship for openly gay or lesbian Christians is simply not an option. A gathering of LGBT Christians in Togo has recently concluded. This is from the concluding statement:
The meeting this weekend, 11 to 13 May 2007 in Lome, Togo of 35 lesbian and gay leaders from West African Christian groups was a moment of history for LGBT Christians in Africa. The leaders represented groups from Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Mali, Senegal and Togo meeting with leaders from Changing Attitude Nigeria. We represented members of the Anglican, Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, Presbyterian and Roman Catholic Churches.

On Saturday morning we began our day by celebrating Holy Communion together. For most of us, this was the first time we have been able to share the life-giving body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ openly with our lesbian and gay brothers and sisters.

Think about that. This was the first time, for many of this gathering, that they were able to share the Body and Blood of Christ together. We must work for a church that is more like the kingdom of God, a place where all are welcomed and loved.

These Christians want nothing different from what all of us seek:

We believe we are created in the image of God, to love and to express the love we feel.
We are proud of who we are.
We will not live our lives in darkness.
We want to be fully included in the churches to which we belong.
We want our voices to be heard.
We want our churches to learn about our sexual identities.
We want our churches to accept and honour our relationships.

Problems with the Listening Process, even inside ECUSA?

Thanks to a post on Susan Russell's An Inch At A Time, I was directed to this one from meditatio. It seems that ECUSA's Executive Council might have a problem with the Listening Process.
Guess how many of the forty members of The Episcopal Church's Executive Council are lesbian or gay? The answer is eight.

Twenty percent of the elected leaders of the Church's most important governing body in between General Conventions are lesbian and gay clergy and laity from around the country. This is reflective of the talent, dedication, and service that this small minority of the church's membership offers to the whole. It is a testament to the esteem in which gay and lesbian Christians are held by our sisters and brothers.

Now, guess how many of these lesbian and gay leaders are serving on the Executive Council committee appointed to respond to the Communiqué from the Anglican Primates' meeting in Tanzania? The answer is zero.
This is more than an oversight, or a trival problem, and here's why:
This is called heterosexist privilege. Can you imagine a response to, say, requests about the ordination of women being drafted without women being in the room? Can you imagine a statement about racism being drafted without people of color in the room? I think you get the picture.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson are good-hearted people. They care about the lesbian and gay member of our Church. They are on record as supporting our full inclusion in the life and ministry of the Church.

Even so, their good intentions are readily subverted by the dynamic of heterosexist privilege operative in the decision-making structures of our Church. Their failure to insure that lesbian and gay leaders participate in drafting a response to requests for moratoria on gay bishops and blessing same-sex unions isn't just an unfortunate oversight. It is an unconscionable, even if unconscious, participation in unjust power dynamics that exclude and silence us.
You are urged to write to Bishop Katharine, Bonnie Anderson, and the Executive Council. Let them know that it's important to have GLBT people in the group that will form our response to the Primates.

I don't know how the drafting committee was formed. Perhaps all eight gay and lesbian Exec Council members declined to participate. But if this was a deliberate move, we should urge a GLBT presence on the committee. Keep an eye on the blogs I linked to at the top of this post. As facts emerge, I'm sure they'll keep us all up to date.

14 May 2007

Report: ECUSA will be invited to Lambeth

This is squarely in the rumor/speculation department, but I was intrigued by this report, which I read on Stand Firm.
In an address to a small group of people at St. Andrew's Cathedral in Jackson, Mississippi on the morning of May 13th, Bishop Duncan Gray stated that he had it "on solid authority" that the Episcopal Church would be invited to Lambeth 2008.

In other remarks, he said that "schism is far more dangerous than heresy," because history teaches us that schism is permanent. He also said that "heresy is like a grain of sand in the oyster - it produces a pearl, like the Nicene Creed." He said that "we incorporate and respond to heresy better than we do to schism."
I have heard similar things about ECUSA and Lambeth, but it's all rumor at this point. Frankly, it's hard for me to see any advantage in shunning ECUSA. What is the harm, I wonder, in conversation among those who disagree on something important? Isn't it better to listen and to hope for conversion, than to shun and to hope for exclusion?

I'm also intrigued by +Duncan Gray's assertion about schism and heresy. It's an interesting point, and one that I think bears more elaboration. This squares with a conversation I had with a local man while I was in Dar es Salaam. You can read the full report, but this is the relevant quote:
We don't share the same view of human sexuality; he said he basically agrees with Peter Akinola about the place of gays in the church. However, we kept talking. I asked him about people who come to church, and what they want in all this. He opined that most Tanzanians come to church to praise God, to hear God, and to grow in their faith. They are worried about their souls and salvation more than anything else, he said. I asked if it would be a problem if the US stayed in Communion -- if this particular society could tolerate being part of a global Communion where there is a more liberal presence.

This man said that he thinks church unity is more important. If the church fractures, then we lose credibility with Muslims. How can we say we are united in Christ if we cannot be united? This was fascinating to me, because the spin machine in the US tells us that any "taint" of homosexuality is a problem in this cultural context. And yet, that is not what I heard from at least this man. For him, the threat of schism is worse than Western liberalism.
As I keep saying, it is not our place to limit God's boundless love. Let us hope for a breadth of voices at Lambeth, and let us pray for a church in which all are welcome.

Honoring Florence, honoring women

Yesterday's Guardian has an essay by Christina Rees on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Florence Li Tim-Oi. Rees concludes:
Perhaps this centenary year of Li Tim-Oi's birth is a good time for the Anglican communion to speak out with one voice against traditions and practices that harm and discriminate against women and to affirm the ministry of women to all orders: deacon, priest and bishop. The greatest tribute we could pay to Florence Li Tim-Oi - and Florence Nightingale - is for our church to accept that God calls women just as God calls men.
Rees is referring to the fact that in the CofE, women are still not admitted to the episcopacy. Even in ECUSA, one could not claim full equality in the church for women. And, yet, the Gospels -- and the broad outlines of Paul's teaching as well -- seem to compel us to work for a church in which all people, without regard for any human criterion, are seen as equal children of God.

Let us remember that InclusiveChurch seeks a church that embodies a simple, yet radical, idea. All people are invited to enter into the fullness of Christ's church. God's call to ministry -- of any kind -- should not be limited. We talk about human sexuality on this blog, but our "issue" is not sex, it is the breadth of Christ's call to the whole world.

If you look at the InclusiveChurch website, you'll see a quote by Desmond Tutu: "Christ when he was lifted up did not say, 'I draw some people to myself.' He said, 'I draw all, all, ALL.'"

13 May 2007

The myth of exclusion. Sigh.

As I was perusing T19, I noticed Gerry O'Brien's take (in CEN) on the Martyn Minns installation. It concludes with this bit:
The Washington Post came out with a report on Sunday headed 'Rebel Anglicans appoint a bishop.' It might have been nearer the mark to say that estranged Episcopalians were reasserting their true Anglican identity.
Well, not really. While there are a few spectacularly bad examples, the fact is that there is no broadly rooted liberal persecution of conservatives in ECUSA. This is a fiction designed to justify the taking of property. When pressed, conservatives often start talking about draconian legal measures. And when pressed again, it often turns out that these legal measures were taken after some number of parishioners attempted to claim a church building as they were departing ECUSA.

Many conservatives from ECUSA depart for Rome. As many observers have noted, Pope Benedict would not even for one nanosecond contemplate allowing some dissident Roman Catholics to leave the church and take a building with them. Why do so many Episcopalians seem to have trouble with the notion that the church is larger than their parish?

Oh, there was one other bit of fiction in the O'Brien piece, but it comes from +Peter Akinola. He is quoted as saying:
The Church of Nigeria itself stands to gain nothing from this. We are doing this on behalf of the Communion. If we had not done this many of you would be lost to other churches, maybe to nothing at all.
This seems manifestly wrong on several levels. First, the Church of Nigeria is gaining a presence on the world stage (and its primate gets to be in Time magazine). This would not happen if Akinola were spending his time in Abuja rather than Virginia. Second, one imagines that former ECUSA parishes are sending lots of money to Nigeria, much more than they were sending there via 815. I have no trouble whatsoever with American money supporting mission in Nigeria, but let us acknowledge that the money is flowing. Finally, it is hubris in the extreme that to imagine of Akinola had stayed home, people who do not like ECUSA would "be lost...maybe to nothing at all." Let us be clear. They would have Jesus Christ, they would know God, and they would experience the Holy Spirit. These things do not depend on visitations from Peter Akinola.

As we deal with these crises, it is important to be honest. We need to be honest about ourselves, and we need to be honest about those with whom we disagree. We need to be honest about how the church has treated people, and we need to be honest about how we want the church to treat people in the future.

04 May 2007

Drama builds around +Martyn installation

I've been resisting posting on the Martyn Minns saga, for the most part. I figure there are other blogs covering that ground. But things are getting really interesting now.

For those of you who might have been away from Planet Anglicana, there are plans formally to install +Martyn Minns as the head of CANA here in the US. The service is set to take place in Virginia tomorrow.

Word of these plans leaked some time ago, and earlier this week, +Katharine Jefferts Schori wrote to +Peter Akinola, asking him to cancel his plans.
First, such action would violate the ancient customs of the church which limits the episcopal activity of a bishop to only the jurisdiction to which the bishop has been entrusted, unless canonical permission has been given. Second, such action would not help the efforts of reconciliation that are taking place in the Episcopal Church and in the Anglican Communion as a whole. Third, such action would display to the world division and disunity that are not part of the mind of Christ, which we must strive to display to all.
In a day or so, Peter wrote back:
Sadly, this proved to be true as many provinces did proceed to declare broken or impaired communion with the Episcopal Church. Since that time the Primates have established task forces, held numerous meetings and issued a variety of statements and communiqués but the brokenness remains, our Provinces are divided, and so the usual protocol and permissions are no longer applicable.
Peter also claimed (without much basis in fact) that the Communiqué supports a separate CANA, which is simply not factually true. So, in other words, Peter is saying, "you're heretical, so anything I do is A-OK."

Now, today, comes the reason for this (very long, as it turns out) posting. +Rowan Williams has written to Peter, asking him to cancel his plans. This is newsworthy principally because Rowan has rarely spoken against the so-called Global South bishops and their agenda of schism. The full text of Rowan's letter is not available, but this is what Canon James Rosenthal of the ACO had to say: "
Many people have noted that such an action would exacerbate a situation that is already tense, especially as we look forward to the September 30 deadline outlined by the Primates at their meeting in Tanzania and the Archbishop of Canterbury's planned visit to the House of Bishops."

Will Peter stay home? That seems unlikely, but it begins to appear possible that it is the Akinolites who are out of step with the Communion, and not (just) ECUSA. Watch carefully tomorrow for word from Virginia. We should learn quite a bit from the way things are carried out and what is said from the pulpit.

01 May 2007

Canadian HoB on same-sex blessings

Via The Lead, here is this:
...we believe it is not only appropriate but a Gospel imperative to pray with the whole people of God, no matter their circumstance. In so doing we convey the long-standing Gospel teaching that God in Christ loves each person and indeed loves him/her so much that Christ is calling each person to change and grow more fully into God's image and likeness. To refuse to pray with any person or people is to suggest God is not with them. All of us fall short of the glory of God but all are loved by God in Christ Jesus. We believe that in offering the sacraments we invite God's transformative action in people's lives.
Read the whole statement here. (Once I've read the whole thing carefully, I'll have more to say, I suspect.)