Monday, April 28, 2008

April 28, 2008

The Bishop of Durham has given an interesting address to something called the Fulcrum Conference in which he suggests among other things that we are in a ‘2 Corinthians time’. In our first Corinthian moments many were looking for the Archbishop of Canterbury to answer all the questions and set out with clarity what was right and wrong etc. Apparently some looked for that out of the Windsor Report and did not get it. He now sees ‘super-apostles’ appearing (presumably but not explicitly including the likes of Minns, Akinola, Sugden, Guernsey and the like) who are trying to clarify things with power plays for which there is no support within Anglican polity. You can read his lecture here:

In the same speech he argues, persuasively in many respects, for the development of an explicit Anglican covenant, now underway. He says :

The IATDC, the Windsor Report, and the Primates, have all suggested that we seek to work towards a more explicit 'Anglican Covenant', not in order to bind us to new, strange and unhelpful obligations, but rather to set us free both from disputes which become damaging and dishonouring and from the distraction which comes about when, lacking an agreed method, we flail around in awkward attempts to resolve them.”

Part of the problem as I see it (in what is no doubt a grossly oversimplified way) is that if your view of Anglicanism is that we are somehow a unified ‘church’, then all the business about conservative Episcopalians living in an intolerable environment beset by liberal (read heretical) bishops and ‘squabbles’ over property rights make sense. Those who believe homosexual people should be honored as such are just a wrong and unhelpful minority voice outside the bounds or norms (or something) of our common life. If on the other hand you think as I was taught, that Anglicanism is a communion of autocephalous or independent (in a sense) churches, in which relationship among those churches is in a dance with truth, each shaping the other over time, then the Episcopal church is an entity in which a new majority has finally emerged on the issues of human sexuality. Those who don’t like it are choosing to leave. They ought not take property held in trust for the mission of the church as this branch of Christ’s body has received and understood it and so on. This is the legitimate view of our leadership and they ought not be demonized for it.

Bishop Wright correctly identifies the tension as that between a minority voice being silenced or bullied into submission by a majority over against an unhelpful innovation that distracts the whole from important work and should be somehow ruled out of court. I think the task is to find a way for churches to honor one another in radically differing situations, to disagree in faith when necessary, to remember what is of ultimate worth (and that is not any particular –but unavoidable--enculturation of the gospel) and find ways to move forward together even at the price of some discomfort. Indeed this is what we do when we enter explicit relationship with a diocese in a culture in which the role and status of women is something we might judge to be less than fully human, yet justified on the basis of some alleged scriptural anthropology. What confuse some who hear me teach the scriptures and recognize my heavy reliance on the work of Bishop Wright is that I choose not to deify (or is it reify) a stance that condemns homosexual people as such and find that the whole biblical project stands with that modification of scriptural anthropology, just as it has with regard to the status of slaves and the status of women in many cultures,

Who knows what the summer and the Lambeth Conference will bring? I don’t particularly dislike the idea of a covenant as long as it is not a back door way of shutting down or excluding the voice of the American (or other) church, which itself represents a strong minority voice in many other churches of our communion, voices clearly shaped by faithful readings of scripture.

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