Today is Guy Fawkes Day and also Joanna Hoare’s eleventh birthday. There is something vaguely ironic about the celebration of foiling a Roman Catholic plot on a weekend when the allegedly Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh had taken steps to attempt to separate from the Episcopal Church and ‘align’ themselves with some other Anglican province. It is surely the case that all such plots are about power and preference.
The Presiding Bishop is likely to begin the process that will lead to Bishop Duncan being charged with “abandoning the communion of this church” and so being deposed. The effects of any such action would probably not amount to much as some other bishop somewhere would say that they ‘recognize’ him and take him under their wing. It would however strengthen the claim that we are an hierarchical church and the position that is generally taken (which I support) that individuals can leave but parishes and dioceses cannot. I share the view of everyone who has expressed it that legal wrangling in the Christian Community is a terrible thing. I do not believe we would have such wrangling if sentiments such as those expressed by Bishop Duncan (that the liberal leadership have “hijacked my church” ) did not lead them to think that they are therefore above the rules, norms, canons, will of the Church expressed in Convention and so on. It is a classic case of someone believing that all processes are invalid when feelings are hurt. I think it is marvelous when an equitable arrangement can be made about property for those who wish to take their property when they leave, but that it is often complicated by buildings of historic interest and so on making the transfer of ownership trickier in some instances than others. Certainly we are enjoined to give to those who beg and to engage in nonviolent resistance to those who demean us in their use of power (see the Lukan version of the beatitudes in Luke 6), but what are we to do when someone is trying to take property from the Episcopal Church for use by a Nigerian or Chilean Church by fiat? Is there any way for our bishops to respond other than through legal adjudication and at the same time keep the promises of their ordination (which however fervently their opponents believe it and however loudly they proclaim that belief, our bishops have not broken faith with those of ages past, especially those who worked out a system of governance very similar to that of the United States.)
Perhaps more interesting are the alliances of some of the disaffected with African bishops. Philip Jenkins has written a thoughtful article in The New Republic (October 8, 2007 p 10-14) pointing out that African attitudes toward homosexuality are shaped by rather different cultural realities than those which affect us in the U.S. he talks about how “many African societies have well-established traditions of same-sex interactions and gay subcultures.” He sees this tempered by the rapid growth of Christianity in a “ferociously competitive environment”. That jives with my experiences in Africa where I was in many conversations in which the relative strength of Anglicanism over against Roman Catholicism and Pentecostalism was the topic. He offers some fascinating insight and history regarding the other main arena for competition and that is Christianity in competition with Islam. He tells of the incursion of Christianity into what is now Uganda in the 1870’s and how the king of Buganda had “adopted Arab customs of pederasty” and consequently killed or martyred those who would not comply with his wishes. “On a single day some 30 Bugandans were burned alive” He goes on to say: “That foundation story remains well known in the region, and it intertwines Christianity with resistance to tyranny and Muslim imperialism—both symbolized by sexual deviance… For many Africans then, sexual unorthodoxy has implications that are at once un-Christian, anti-national, and oppressive.” Jenkins warns that “gays in Africa face very real barriers to acceptance. And we do them no favors by viewing Africa’s culture war over homosexuality as a mere extension of the battle we are witnessing here in the United States, rather than as a fight which raises questions unique to African history and politics.”
It is all very sad and very difficult and we will all come through these conflicts in and by the grace of God, striving to act with integrity in all we say and do.
Happy bonfire night.