Thursday, October 31, 2013

Cold November Rain: The Sin of Division

Many years ago, Crusty went to a lecture by an unnamed person in an unnamed diocese.  This was a person whose theological views were diametrically opposed to COD's; there was very little we saw eye-to-eye on; and, frankly, Crusty thought the person in question was a bit of a jerk.  To be frank, the person thought the same of Crusty:  we had had a couple of testy exchanges at previously scholarly
I know that you can't love me, GAFCON, when there's no one left to blame.
gatherings, and we all know there's nothing scarier than a couple of academics being passive aggressive and smarmy with one another.  After the lecture, COD ran an errand in the town where the lecture had been held, and then headed from drugstore to the highway to drive home, when he noticed the person who had given the lecture walking, in the rain, down the street.  COD assumed he was walking to the nearest public transportation hub, which was a mile and a half away.

Crusty was then horrified at the feeling of glee that surged in him.  God help me, but to be honest, Crusty initially thought, "Where are all your conservative friends now?  None of them thought to give you a lift?  Now you have to walk a mile in the rain to the nearest stop?"  In the cold November rain.

This thought was instantly followed by Crusty feeling disgusted with himself for indulging such thoughts:  while perhaps understandable, schadenfreude is one of the basest emotions any of us can countenance.  Crusty turned the car around, doubled back, and pulled over.  When the window rolled down, the person gave a start to see that it was COD in the car.  "It's raining," Crusty said, "let me give you a lift."

COD ended up being 10-15 minutes later getting home than he told CODW (Crusty Old Dean's Wife), and, when CODW asked him if the rain slowed him down, Crusty told her the story.  "I had to pick him up," Crusty said, "even though I honestly wonder if he would do the same for me.  Maybe because he wouldn't do the same for me."

The Second Global Anglican Futures Conference (or GAFCON II: Electric Boogaloo) ended last week in Nairobi, Kenya.  To bring folks up to speed, GAFCON I: The Phantom Menace met in 2008 and gathered bishops, clergy, and lay persons from around the Anglican Communion, and issued a final communique, which it named The Jerusalem Declaration.  In the Declaration, they spoke of a "false gospel" being spread in other parts of the Anglican Communion.  It specifically states that this false gospel  "promotes a variety of sexual
You know, that's actually an apt motto for GAFCON.
preferences and immoral behaviour as a universal human right. It claims God’s blessing for same-sex unions over against the biblical teaching on holy matrimony. In 2003 this false gospel led to the consecration of a bishop living in a homosexual relationship."  GAFCON
 reaffirmed the 39 Articles, Holy Scriptures, 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and the first Four Ecumenical Councils (among others) as authorities in the church.  It created a Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans to carry forth the work of GAFCON, while at the same time clearly stating "Our fellowship is not breaking away from the Anglican Communion."  Many of the GAFCON bishops, however, declined to attend the 2008 Lambeth Conference of Bishops which was held later that summer.  

GAFCON II: Electric Boogaloo also issued a communique at the end of its recent gathering, which seems to indicate a shift in direction for the group.  GAFCON II: Electric Boogaloo likewise named a false gospel that "sought to mask sinful behaviour with the language of human rights. It promoted homosexual practice as consistent with holiness, despite the fact that the Bible clearly identifies it as sinful." GAFCON II's statement, however, seems to indicate a change in direction for the organization.  In essence, it looks formally to become a global Anglican "franchise" alongside the "official" Anglican Communion.  The communique describes new initiatives for the movement, which look like the kind of things a global communion does, such as

--supporting a network of theological colleges

-- discerning the need for new provinces, dioceses and churches — and then authenticating their ministries and orders as Anglican
--organise around a Primates’ Council, a Board of Trustees, an Executive Committee and regional liaison officers
--invite provinces, dioceses, mission agencies, local congregations and individuals formally to become contributing members of the GFCA...we ask provinces to reconsider their support for those Anglican structures that are used to undermine biblical faithfulness and contribute instead, or additionally, to the financing of the GFCA’s on-going needs 

GAFCON is calling for developing a network of theological education and training; creating new provinces, dioceses, and churches; establishing structures for governance, like a Primates' Council and Executive Council; and raising funds to support those and other initiatives, directly asking Anglicans to stop supporting the Anglican Communion and support the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (GFCA).  Looks pretty much like the establishment of another Anglican Communion along conservative lines.  Other communions have these -- for instance there is the World Alliance of Reformed Church and the World Reformed Fellowship in the Presbyterian/Reformed tradition; the Lutheran World Federation and the International Lutheran Council.

That these steps have been taken is not surprising.  Some of the differences in the Anglican Communion run deep, both in terms of theology, ethics, praxis, culture, and context.

What Crusty has found surprising is the schadenfreude and don't-let-the-door-hit-your-ass-on-the-way-outism in some corners of the Anglican world.    Andrew Brown's column in The Guardian sneered at the low turnout for a press conference in England announcing the GAFCON initiatives; other blogs crowed about predicting this years before; others offered short, curt dismissals of GAFCON II (maybe they're waiting for GAFCON III: The Search for Spock).

To be clear:  Crusty is not on the same page of many elements of the GFCA.   Some -- but by no means all -- of the actions and rhetoric of conservative Anglicans needs to be called for what it is:  efforts by some to manipulate issues of sexuality in a quest for power and influence; and, at times, bordering if not explicitly homophobic. While disagreeing with the GFCA, COD also laments this division in the Anglican world.  Division is a sin.  COD would much rather prefer we stay in relationship and in dialogue, even if he disagrees with others.

As COD has mentioned, he studies history.  And if history teaches us one thing with regard to division, it is this:

Divisions take a lot, lot longer to put back together than they do to start.  The divisions over slavery in the 1840s in the Presbyterian Church were not mended until 1983.  The Reformed Episcopal Church broke away from the Episcopal Church in 1873 over many issues which are no longer relevant.  The Non-Chalcedonian/Oriental Orthodox Churches broke with the Eastern Orthodox Churches in 451 and while they now agree that there are no major theological divisions between them they are no closer to reunion.

One side needs to be willing to be open to reconciliation and dialogue, even if it is not reciprocated.  In 2010, representatives of The Episcopal Church were removed from international ecumenical dialogues and reduced to observer status on others.  As ecumenical officer at the time, COD scheduled a conference call for bishops and others persons involved in ecumenical work.  In that call, Crusty acknowledged people might be feeling hurt, betrayed, and/or angry (one participant was dumped after 17 years on one dialogue and just before the last, and final meeting, where the dialogue team was going to adopt a statement this person had helped to draft).  But COD also asked for patience and magnaminity: "The day will come," Crusty said, "when we will be invited back.  Let's keep our reactions to a minimum, stay engaged as we can, so that we will be able to rejoin these conversations in a spirit of charity and graciousness, without regretting things we might say in the heat of the moment."

Another time COD got a call where his caller ID read "Scranton, PA."  The only people Crusty knows in Scranton are the good people from Dunder Mifflin and the Polish National Catholic Church.  Either way, COD was taking that call.  It was the Prime Bishop of the Polish National Catholic Church (PNCC).  The PNCC broke away from the Roman Catholic Church in the early 1900s over the question of using Polish language in schools, appointing Polish priests to parishes, and over local ownership of church property.  It affiliated with the Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht, who broke from the Catholic Church over Vatican I (and linked up with the Old Catholic Church in the Netherlands, which had been independent of Rome since the 1700s), and in 1931 came into full communion with The Episcopal Church.  In 1978, the PNCC declared it was no longer in full communion with The Episcopal Church over the ordination of women.  The Episcopal Church, however, never took similar action; we never suspended our agreement of full communion with the PNCC.

"How can I held you, Prime Bishop?" Crusty asked, ever helpful.

"You can change the language in your Episcopal Church Annual!" he replied, clearly irate. "I'm looking at the new copy, and in the ecumenical relations section, you list us as a church in full communion!  We suspended full communion with you in 1978!"

Crusty pondered the fact that anyone, let alone the Prime Bishop of the PNCC, read the Episcopal Church Annual that carefully.

"Yes, but we didn't suspend full communion with you," COD replied.

"You need to change this language!"

"With all due respect, Prime Bishop," COD replied, (trying to work in "Prime Bishop" as much as possible because, come on, how often do you get to call someone that?), "but you don't get to tell us how to define full communion.  You're free to describe the relationship from your perspective in your own church annual.  We would welcome renewing our dialogue."

"Not likely very soon," he said, and the call ended soon afterwards.

Crusty believes it is incumbent for a partner to be open to dialogue and reconciliation, and that dialogue does not mean approval or agreement of everything a dialogue partner says or does.   

Or, as Paul writes, "As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it."  If we truly believe the church is the body of Christ, and not just a series of human-made denominations, then we must take our call to unity and reconciliation seriously. Risibly sniggering ecclesial equivalents of "Go f** yourself, I told you so," diminishes the speaker.  

COD does not agree with the GFCA.  But he would stop and give them a ride in the cold November rain, even if they wouldn't do the same for him.

1 comment:

  1. Helping get the NC Moravian Episcopal dialogue going was one of the high points of my life in the church, and I am grateful for the opportunity to be part of the national dialogue and to be present with COD and Bishop Epting when the Southern Province agreed to the full communion agreement. This weekend the Episcopal Diocese of Western NC will act to include clergy of full communion churches who serve Episcopal churches as voting members of diocesan convention. We have a retired Moravian presbyter and a retired ELCA pastor serving Episcopal churches in the diocese.

    The Episcopal church did have a short dialogue with the REC and the Anglican Province in America in 2000-2003 which was suspended after Bishop Robinson was elected. I think some of the actions of the Episcopal Church since 2003 have resulted in increased division. I can understand why the depose and sue strategy from the ordination of women conflicts of the 1970's was followed, but I think it has gone on too long. I enjoyed COD's story about the Prime Bishop of the PNCC, and I hope that a similar open-hearted approach could be shown to Archbishop Duncan, Bishop Lawrence, and others.

    The 6th of the 12 Traditions includes "lest problems of money, property, and prestige divert us from our primary spiritual aim." I think the Episcopal Church would do better to settle the lawsuits over property and trademarks, recognize that the church is divided and make an effort to include our "separated brethren." But I don't see any interest in doing so.


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