"If only." These slightly petulant words seemed the leitmotif of the July 30-31 meeting of the Anglican Communion Network.Where's the joy? Shouldn't Christians, above all else, have a deep sense of abiding gladness? Maybe Katie just didn't report that part. If the meeting was filled with this despair, I worry about the future of their movement. I worry about whether there is room for grace when walls of fear, doubt, and despair are surrounding the movement.
If only the Archbishop of Canterbury had spoken even one encouraging word about the Network, it would be so much bigger than it is now.
If only some of the Network's biggest financial supporters weren't tied up in their own legal battles as they tried to take property out of The Episcopal Church, the Network wouldn't be facing financial "challenges."
If only other bishops had spoken up in support of the Network bishops.
If only all the other splinter groups didn’t see themselves as the body into which all the other "orthodox" would come, the Network could have served as that body.
The glass is clearly half empty for the Network. Optimism was in short supply while mistrust was rampant in the room. There were lots of questions about what happens in the future when they are not all so willing to gloss over differences -- like those over the issue of ordaining women to the priesthood -- in the interest of unity. But these misgivings were brushed aside as something to be expected among a group of wounded people who have been so abused and persecuted by The Episcopal Church.
On Monday morning, about 80 delegates, observers, and spouses met in a stuffy room at St. Vincent’s Cathedral in Bedford, a suburb of Fort Worth, to hear the Anglican Communion Network Moderator, Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan, sum it all up:
"What is needed is a completely new structure. Lambeth is failing, Canterbury is failing, the Anglican Consultative Council is prejudiced in a Western way and the primates are sadly divided north and south.
"We’ll leave and they can take the stuff with them to hell, because that is where they will take it. This is Good Friday and we have to face it."
As the meeting got underway the primary mood was one of deep sadness underlain with anger. This very white, very male -- I counted at most twenty women delegates -- very cleric-heavy group seemed bewildered by how they ended up in these "emotional and spiritual depths," facing financial challenges and feeling that The Episcopal Church no longer has any room left "for me or anyone like me," as Duncan put it.
"How brutal the rejection, how total the failure," he said.
And there's another thing. +Bob Duncan has totally lost perspective, it is now clear. He is reported to have said, "This is Good Friday and we have to face it." Bob, this is not Good Friday. No one is being crucified over Anglican Communion squabbles. No one in your movement is sacrificing much more than church property. That's a big sacrifice, but it's hardly Good Friday. Good Friday was once and for all time, not to be repeated. You should know that. It's in the 39 Articles, referenced in your Common Cause theology statement.
To compare our problems getting along with Good Friday cheapens Christ's sacrifice and it suggests an inability to grasp the (lack of) importance of our present "crisis." I have read much hyperbole from both left and right over the past few years, but the suggestion that the ACN is experiencing Good Friday is disrespectful at best. At worst, I suppose it falls short of blasphemy, but it is quite possibly heretical. I can only hope Bob was misquoted, and someone will correct the record.
Here's my prediction. This joyless, despair filled bunker mentality won't sustain people for long. Either these groups will disintegrate into even more sparring factions, or they will discren a hope-filled vision, or they will realize that they are welcome to come home to ECUSA. (This assumes that ECUSA will ensure it is a welcoming place for conservatives, and that we have a hope-filled vision ourselves. There's a challenge for us!)