05 June 2007

Taking stock

A flurry, or perhaps a deluge, of statements and responses have been pouring through blogospheria Anglicana lately. I've been avoiding my own contribution to each new thought, but perhaps it's in order to make some general observations. After the Lambeth Conference invitations to all but a few bishops were announced two weeks ago, the right and left extremes immediately weighed in. Both sides immediately said that their bishops should not attend the Conference unless their particular bishops were invited.

InclusiveChurch has taken the position that all duly elected and consecrated bishops (including, certainly, +Gene Robinson and +Martyn Minns) should be invited, based on the notion that reconciliation depends on all positions, in all our diversity, being at the meeting table and at the Holy Table.

Meanwhile, the recently quiet +Bob Duncan spoke up in the last week. He has revealed plans for a "Common Cause" gathering of an alphabet soup of groups immediately after the ECUSA House of Bishops gathering this September. As Mark Harris has carefully observed, CANA is in this for the long haul, so this Common Cause gathering almost certainly signals the beginning of either a permanent alternative province in the US, or perhaps even the early stages of a new Communion. Will these groups be able to overcome differences on women's ordination, liturgical practice, and evangelical zeal? They may discover that the problems of the Anglican Communion were mild by comparison. If unity cannot be achieved in one church, it's hard to see that things will be different in another.

While many of us had our eyes on the right, trying to understand all the goings-on emanating from Pittsburgh and Abuja, the left has been busy too. People have been busy defining at which point we can stop "tolerating" those with whom we don't agree. I find that problematic. We Christians simply cannot say to another, "I have no need of you." Of course, we don't have to listen to hateful speech (from conservatives or progressives), and we don't have to do everything that people ask of us. But we do have to acknowledge that, like it or not, all of us Christians are in one mystical communion.

I've been disappointed by some reactions coming from the far left. When, Greg Jones+ suggested that there might be some good in the Lambeth invite list, his very Christian identity was questioned. This is respecting the dignity of every person? Raspberry Rabbit was dismayed by that interaction, and Dan Martins+ is tired of the whole thing. Martins writes:
I need a break. I read the headlines, but I don't have the energy at this time to follow the details, or pretend to offer erudite speculation. And maybe it's just the vibes I pick up in the air, but I have a sense I'm not the only one. I think many of us, on both sides of the Great Divide, have reached the conclusion that nobody can win this game, and any number can lose. We can all lose. It looks like we will all lose.
I think that's right. Both the far left and far right offer voices that the church needs to hear -- for different reasons. But it is God's love and a sincere desire for reconciliation that will be our path to reconciliation. Based on the angry mail (some of it hate mail) in my own email inbox, we have plenty of reconciling to do.

Meanwhile, the blogosphere has been so consumed with the invitation list, that only a few observers have noted what is perhaps (to my thinking) the most significant aspect of +Rowan's invitation letter:
The Conference is a place where our experience of living out God’s mission can be shared. It is a place where we may be renewed for effective ministry. And it is a place where we can try and get more clarity about the limits of our diversity and the means of deepening our Communion, so we can speak together with conviction and clarity to the world. It is an occasion when the Archbishop of Canterbury exercises his privilege of calling his colleagues together, not to legislate but to discover and define something more about our common identity through prayer, listening to God’s Word and shared reflection . It is an occasion to rediscover the reality of the Church itself as a worldwide community united by the call and grace of Christ.

But the Lambeth Conference has no ‘constitution’ or formal powers; it is not a formal Synod or Council of the bishops of the Communion, which would require us to be absolutely clear about the standing of all the participants. 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. (emphasis added)
Note the bold-face bits. That is very important. At first, I was disappointed that the Archbishop of Canterbury would have to offer a polity lesson in his letter. Clearly, though, many people have forgotten what the Lambeth Conference is. I am grateful for this reminder now, because in setting out the limits of authority for Lambeth 2008, Rowan is also reminding us that Lambeth 1998 was not an ecumenical council, and that its authority (and hence the authority of Lambeth 1998 Resolution 1.10) is limited.

Where do we stand? Near a cliff, I'm afraid. Uganda and Nigeria have said they won't come to Lambeth, and may be on their way out of the Communion. Tobias Haller+ says this might be part of the plan. The American-led left, speaking in (often understandable) anger, has not shown much sorrow as we near the point where the Communion might be diminished, suffering the loss of conservative evangelicals from several provinces.

Make no mistake. If large numbers of people leave our Communion, "we" will not "win." We will, as Haller says, all lose. How can we win? I'm biased, of course, but I think the InclusiveChurch message of unceasing graciousness and gospel invitation for all is one way of expressing hope and a path to reconciliation. The new Global Center offers another path. Either way, as soon as we write each other off, we've lost. As long as we remember that we are the Body of Christ, in need of all our parts, there is hope.


Reverend boy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Reverend boy said...

OK ... Comment, take 2 ;-)

Either way, as soon as we write each other off, we've lost. As long as we remember that we are the Body of Christ, in need of all our parts, there is hope.

Scott, for the most part I agree with you. However, it seems as if some conservative factions are not identifying those they disagree wtih as Christian.

Please correct me if I am wrong.

Scott Gunn said...

Yes, I suppose there are conservatives who will not acknowledge that some of us progressives are real Christians. And this will surely prevent any kind of meaningful talk of reconciliation. At the very least, it's hardly respectful. "You don't agree with my version of Christianity, so you're not a Christian." Really? I don't think the Anglican conservatives would like to be on the receiving end of that charge from a fundamentalist Baptist, for example.

Here's the rub. I do think there are limits of what we Anglicans might understand as mainstream (or orthodox, since many like that word) Christianity. From my view, the category of adiaphora is much wider than others might say. It seems to be that the Nicene Creed is a pretty good yardstick. Nothing about human sexuality there.

For those who will assert the primacy of scripture, I hesitate to open the whole debate in a tiny comment. Suffice it to say that we (progressives and most conservatives) seem willing to contextualize the Biblical view of, say, slavery or divorce. So why can't we contextualize our view of human sexuality. So while I'd like to say -- Biblical = Christian, I think it's a good deal more complicated than that.

So, no, this is a long way of saying I don't think you're wrong. And the heart of the debate comes to bear in exactly who is a Christian (i.e. who is in the church) and how do we resolve bona fide disagreements about our faith inside the church?

Ann said...

When I read the news of the Anglican drama I can fall into despair but then I go to church and baptize 2 babies and one adult and we celebrate the power of Life in the midst of death - I rejoice and remember that this is what it is all about for me.