Monday, October 29, 2007

Sunday, October 28, 2007

In the past week I have enjoyed two books that cover about thirty years of debate in the life of the Church of England. Colin Buchanan is an Evangelical who retired as Bishop of Woolwich where he served from 1996-2004. He was involved with the General Synod from its inception in 1970 and has written a fairly personal, journalistic account of those years called Taking the Long View: Three and a half decades of General Synod (Church House Publishing, 2006). Eric Kemp served as Bishop of Chichester for twenty-eight years, retiring in 200. He too was involved in the Synod for much of that time and has written a broader memoir of his life called Shy But Not Retiring (Continuum, 2006). His perspective is decidedly Anglo-Catholic. On matters liturgical such as the exact wording of Eucharistic prayers, the proper place of Confirmation in the life of the Church, and the desirability of Christian Union with Rome and Methodism they would tend to be on different sides of the aisle. They have much more in common however in relation to such matters as the proper way to appoint bishops, establishment and the like. They both make much of their working from time to time with members of the ‘other party’.

These books were not written with the other in mind and are not in formal conversation with each other. I am struck nonetheless by the fact that for both bishops, the work of that office is largely institutional: leading the institution, reforming the institution, protecting the institution, making sure that the institution is in proper relationship with other institutions of state and so on. I don’t suppose there is anything terribly wrong with this, but cannot believe that such an assumption with serve either the church of England or any province’s episcopacy much longer. Without a clear sense of mission front and center, however expressed, the Church does not have much reason to exist and certainly not ‘to influence the life of a nation’ or similar things that shape both men’s ministries. I am not saying they do not have such fundamental purpose. I’m saying it has to be deduced from their writings.

On the ordination of women, Colin Buchanan is supportive but quite concerned about the ways in which traditionalists can be included in the Church of England and worried that some wrong political moves on their part could leave them out in the cold. Eric Kemp is one of those traditionalists who made it possible for women to be ordained and licensed in Chichester even though he could not bring himself to ordain them. He expresses almost identical concerns as Buchanan about the politics and the process of finding a place for traditionalists. He writes: “There is no doubt in my mind that the decision that women can be ordained priest in the Church of England was the most devastating thing that has happened to the Church in my lifetime” (p.258).

They both show interest in affairs of the Anglican Communion internationally with Colin Buchanan being perhaps the more wholehearted. Kemp verges on expressing distaste for America in general and when he does visit remains securely and safely in what we would identify as the Catholic end of the conservative wing of the Church (Jack Iker, Nashotah House, All Saints’, Ashmont and the Church of the Advent in Boston.) Kemp does not address the current presenting issues of homosexuality. (He came close to the opinion that the Communion was effectively at an end with the ordination of women.) Buchanan does not have any natural sympathy for moves toward something he notes as being of “questionable morality” (p.216). When he debated Gene Robinson at the Oxford Union in November 2005, he made a case for how moves could be made toward the recognition of gay clergy within a legal framework. (He is clear and repeats more than once that this does not amount to advocacy for change on his part.) He essentially thinks that the Church must address the status of any kind of homosexual union before proceeding on questions of ordination. In this I am with him. While I am happy to support the ministry of Gene Robinson and would support the consecration of further lesbian or gay bishops if, as and when they are duly elected, I deeply regret that our conventions did not address the liturgical questions first. We have a man in the episcopacy in a relationship that the Church has thus far declined to sanction and has repeatedly said that we won’t develop rites to bring that about. It certainly makes us vulnerable and leaves us in a pretty untenable position vis a vis those in the communion who have no good will toward us on this matter.

I recognize that cultural differences as re profound and must be addressed with care and sensitivity. I question how it is that the practice in much of Africa and certainly those places I have been privileged to visit in which women are little more than indentured servants to men with a certain amount of protection through marriage as long as the man remains alive, --I question how it is that this in any way reflects the liberating gospel of love. I see it more as giving almost divine imprimatur to cultural norms and a blatant misunderstanding of Pauline teaching on social norms. If I can find ways to be sensitive to cultures that will inevitably have to address such matters in our global village, then why can my friends not afford me the same respect? They say it is about the enculturation (or interpretation) of Scripture, but it smacks of cynical reactionary and power politics to me. This sense is only sharpened as I see former colleagues lining up to become Bishops of African provinces who have declared themselves out of communion with the Episcopal Church. It is a good thing that I believe in the power of God to work even through this ecclesiastical mess.

1 comment:

Tom Clark said...

Thank you, Geoffrey, for your very thought-provoking comments. I look forward to reading each new post. I especially appreciate your focus on the importance of mission.
Tom Clark