Monday, June 23, 2008

Church within a Church

June 23, 2008

There is a gathering of conservative Anglicans going on in Jerusalem called a Global Anglican Fellowship Conference (GAFCON). All the usual suspects are there including a reported 300 bishops from the US, Sydney, Uganda and Nigeria, England and elsewhere. The English press is reporting plans to provide a Church within a Church or some kind of global Anglican fellowship that sounds rather like the various groups we have known ‘within’ the Episcopal Church for a while. The Archbishop of Canterbury is being openly criticized (largely it seems for his remarks of Sharia law made a month or more ago (See entry for February 14, 2008). Ruth Gledhill reports in The Times today that there are a number of English parishes that would welcome such a fellowship if it did not mean leaving the Church of England. There are the usual protestations from some of the speakers about “our beloved Anglican Communion” and apparent intentions to remain in formal communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury but not The Episcopal Church or the Church of Canada. Once again, only this time on a world wide basis, we are seeing the strategy for a ‘takeover’, which will include all sorts of plans for people to request the oversight of bishops they like without having to leave Anglicanism for something else.

My views on this muddle change with some regularity. What I know is that I am wearied by the claims and the noise, especially claims such as the one made by Archbishop Akinola that western liberalism is akin to slavery. The Times quotes him as follows:

“Having survived the inhuman physical slavery of the 19th century, the political slavery called colonialism of the 20th century, the developing world economic enslavement, we cannot, we dare not, allow ourselves and the millions we represent to be kept in religious and spiritual dungeon.”

I don’t expect this summer to clarify anything much except to reinforce what we already know. The conservatives are unhappy. (They sometimes talk of their ‘pain’ at being part of such a dreadful, liberal and now ‘apostate’ church.) They are casting themselves as people who will soldier on bravely to save the church rather than be overtly schismatic. They will take the muddle they are fostering in the US and Canada worldwide and will continue to attempt to provide an alternative ‘center’ for Anglicanism marked, they believe, by fidelity to scripture, an exclusive belief in the power of God to save sinners, and clarity that no homosexual people are welcome. In the meantime they will not take communion with those of whom they disapprove. If they are challenged (especially in the courts) they will see this as further proof of the waywardness of the church that needs reforming and a sign that those who challenge them do not love them with the love of Christ. It is not a pretty picture is it?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Reconciliation redux

June 22, 2008

As I prepare to preach about the reality and even inevitability of conflict for those who would follow Jesus (Matthew 10:24-39), and then follow that with our first summer GIFT (Growing In Faith Together) opportunity on reconciliation (as promised in the post of May 28, 2008), I am aware of the conflict in our communion as part of the context for what I will be saying. The Living Church is a weekly magazine that can be found in our parish library and on line. It has recently published an article by Edward Little, the Bishop of Northern Indiana who bemoans legalistic responses to those who are leaving The Episcopal Church and asks “How do we say goodbye in an manner that honors the gospel, indeed honors our Lord himself?” (TLC, June 29, 2008, p.12) He is primarily addressing the departures of clergy and the resulting ‘deposition for reasons not affecting moral character’ that follow. He prefers that when clergy leave (perhaps for some other branch of the Communion) that bishops do nothing, potentially providing “room for conversation and perhaps, reconciliation.” (p.13) He would look for ‘interim non-juridical protocols’ for this ‘meantime’ while “the Spirit helps us to sort things out.”

I find myself of two minds about his suggestion. On the face of it, I am with him all the way presuming the premise that those who are departing (and currently being deposed from the ministry of this church and therefore clearly unauthorized to function as clergy within it or to represent themselves as such) do not see themselves as renouncing their orders, giving up ministry or any other such thing. Most see themselves as leaving the apostate and unredeemable Episcopal Church for a greater and self proclaimed orthodox communion. This is less a takeover than what they would like to see as a radical movement of reform. They wish, if I hve understood their point of view, to be part of a church that honors scripture by drawing the same conclusions that they do and has no danger of doing anything that might affirm the relationship of gay and lesbian people as the primary presenting symptom of infidelity to traditional faith and practice. In other words, they tend to claim and feel that ‘the Episcopal Church has left them’ and they, in conscience must find another way. They do not acknowledge or believe that they are leaving a legitimate expression of the worldwide catholic church in the sense that Bishop Little means in his article. They therefore appear to think (in varying degrees) that they and their congregations should be able to ‘transfer’ elsewhere along with assets left in trust for the ministry of The Episcopal Church.

I don’t have a better solution than anyone else given that people want to be out of communion with the Episcopal Church and in communion with Anglicans throughout the world, and given that the Anglican Communion has not yet found a satisfactory way of living with profound disagreement in an age of increasing attention to Christianity in the developing world and an age of instant communication. As more and more people (including Archbishops) take matters into their own hands and refuse to see where the Spirit is leading us through conferences of bishops and the like, it seems to me that such clarity as we have about who we are is expressed in our agreements or canons. Calls for premature reconciliation (or ‘space for conversation’) seem unhelpful while many are deciding that the time for conversation is over. Let’s be clear that those who are leaving are, in fact, leaving, remain open to reconciliation when the dust settles, realize that this will not be sorted out for generations, and get on with the business of doing the work we have been given to do, proclaiming the gospel as we have received it and for our time and place.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Henry Chadwick and the Days to Come

June 19, 2008

Henry Chadwick was one of the great figures of the church and one of the great figures of my life. He died earlier this week. He, among other distinctions was at various times Dean of Christ Church, Oxford (Master of the College), fellow of Magdalene Cambridge (where he had been an undergraduate) and Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge. He was a great historian of the early church, and allegedly turned down many offers of preferment, serving the church instead on many commissions including, significantly, the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC). As we head into what is becoming a significant summer for the future shape of world-wide Anglicanism two paragraphs from his obituary in The Daily Telegraph are of particular interest:

There has always been, about the Church of England, a certain imprecision when it comes to doctrinal formulation, and those most successful as Anglican churchmen are those who know how best to devise forms of words and constructs or accommodations which allow people of otherwise plainly incompatible beliefs to inhabit the same dwelling place….

…The limits to his methods…became apparent at meetings of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, in its sessions between 1969 and 1981, and again from 1983 to 1990, when the Anglican penchant for resolving differences by devising accommodations based upon ambiguous verbal formulations had limited effect on the professionals of the Vatican.

The same newspaper reports having seen an 87 page document drawn up by Archbishop Akinola of Nigeria and other conservative church leaders that signals the end of the Anglican Communion as currently constructed under the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the beginning of something else. They quote Archbishop Akinola as saying “There is no longer any hope, therefore, of a unified Anglican Communion.” Apparently the increasing acceptance and affirmation of gay and lesbian people is not something that can be accommodated by those who claim exclusive rights to determine what they call ‘the authority of scripture’. I’m among those who believe it is the authority of God revealed in and through scripture that makes such acceptance necessary.

Things have heated up (at last) in England as there has been some kind of service celebrating and maybe pronouncing blessing on a gay union in London, reported in the press and apparently attended by some senior clerics including bishops (according to the blog of Ruth Gledhill, the conservative religion correspondent of The Times PLEASE NOTE: There is an important correction to this information in the comment from Ruth Geldhill. No bishops were present. Please see her comment at the end of the post). Giles Fraser, rector of St. Mary’s, Putney and our speaker at Kanuga this coming autumn, has offered a ‘thought for the day’ (a daily and sometimes influential radio program in England) Read it here

My guess is that the Anglican Communion will continue with the integrity (in the sense used in the Chadwick obituary) it has managed to maintain thus far, that some conservatives in some countries will prefer to stay and others will want to depart for the purist group that is developing (and has been for a while), that there will continue to be confusing claims made about the nature of that group who will prefer to see themselves as reformers rather than schismatics, and that in time the dust will eventually settle. The much more important question will be whether churches proclaim the Good News of God in Christ such that people respond and find themselves inheriting the promises made to the people of God.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Double Cure of Sin

June 16, 2008

Yesterday we sang “Rock of Ages” the hymn by the eighteenth century Anglican Calvinist, Augustus Montague Toplady to the nineteenth century tune ‘Toplady’ by Thomas Hastings. The first verse as follows refers to a doctrine of ‘the blood and water flowing from Christ’s side on the cross being a ‘double cure’ from sin. The traditional words (our 1982 version is slightly different) are as follows:

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy wounded side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure;
Save from wrath and make me pure.

We sing the last line of this first verse as " of sin the double cure, cleanse me from its guilt and power" which makes things a little more clear.

A quick survey of nearby clergy and other theological types failed to point me to the theological underpinnings of this ‘double cure’ doctrine. It seems to mean that we are saved not only from the consequences of our sin (wrath) but also from our sinful natures or our very propensity to sin (make me pure) thus being a ‘double cure’.

Toplady published a book called The Doctrine of Absolute Predestination Stated and Asserted in 1758. It was a translation of Zanchius' Confession of the Christian Religion of 1562 which had persuaded him to become a Calvinist. As such he became a great opponent of John Wesley and his veneer of scholarly respectability contained some religious vitriol (not just a modern affliction) that led Wesley to cease corresponding with him. (You can find all this with copies of the books and correspondence on line with search for ‘Toplady’.) Some have seen the doctrine of ‘Rock of Ages’ and its emphasis on the actions of God, and God alone, as criticism of alleged Wesleyan understandings of the place of human freedom in responding to grace.

It turns out that Calvin did refer to ‘double grace in the third book of his Institutes as follows: “Christ was given to us by God’s generosity, to be grasped and possessed by us in faith. By partaking of him, we principally receive a double grace: namely, that being reconciled to God through Christ’s blamelessness, we may have in heaven instead of a Judge a gracious Father; and secondly, that sanctified by Christ’s spirit we may cultivate blamelessness and purity of life.” So the ‘double cure’ appears to refer to justification and sanctification, forgiveness of sin (consequence) and holiness of life (nature). Now we know.

At one level this is something that need not keep us up at night. At another it is an argument for full conversion. We have a tendency to want to avoid bad feelings without addressing root causes, A friend of mine used to preach about dog repentance and cat repentance. He said that if you come into your kitchen where you had left your roast meat to ‘rest’ and found your dog and your cat polishing it off, your dog would come up to you wagging her tail and saying in effect, ‘love me, love me love me’. While your cat would lick his paws and look at you as if to say ‘do we have a problem here?’ Neither of course is repentance but many are the ways that human beings attempt to pas such attitudes off as repentance. If part of the consequence of sin is bad feelings (guilt) our desire for forgiveness sometimes appears to be an attempt to feel better without addressing our propensity to sin (cause bad feelings) in the first place. It is much easier to talk of immediate and momentary change rather than the profound transformation of life that can result from such a change.

John Herring in his sermon yesterday talked of our tenth grade pilgrims (including Alexander Hoare) who depart for Greece today and how they would be changed by God and through their experience in ways that may not become evident for many years. This is a similar concern and the ‘double cure’ language is shorthand for it and a useful reminder that God is not solely about ameliorating our symptoms (guilt) but putting everything about us to rights (righteousness, sanctification etc.)

Friday, June 13, 2008

Leadership and Formation

June 13, 2008

How about this as a working understanding of leadership? “Leaders are people who function effectively in their circles of influence and in a variety of circumstances.”

Martyn Percy is President of Ripon College, Cuddeson, a theological college in the Church of England. He talks of the training of clergy as “deep and rich composition” and “character formed within the Christian story and the demands of the gospel” (Formation in a Church of England Seminary in Anglican Theological Review Spring 2008, Vol. 90, No.2 p.289)

He calls this formation a “deep and subtle journey…a marathon, not a sprint,” and says that there “has to be some trust in the continuing process of discernment, and less concern about the outcome: Christ is Lord of the journey.” (p.291). Third, he explores the “tacit and intuitive knowledge” gained by experience and the consequent desirability of deep and personal sharing “how issues are addressed and resolved, and how individuals and organizations fare in this, and what reflections or analysis one may have about them…”(p.293). He writes of openness, vulnerability and the possibility of failure as part of the reality of this formation and the cultivation of ‘holy wisdom’ through continual attention to the relationship between embodiment, power and wisdom.”(p.294).

Edwin Friedman took a similar tack when he wrote about leadership for “parents and presidents…CEOs and educators, prioresses and coaches, healers and generals, managers and clergy.”(A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix Seabury, 2007 p.2)

Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky tell of how “every day brings you opportunities to raise important questions, speak to higher values, and surface unresolved conflict. Every day you have a chance to make a difference in the lives of people around you.”(Leadership on the Line Harvard Business School Press 2002 p.2)

They talk about the courage and character it takes to lead people through difficult change that challenges what others hold most dear.

Leadership is not something that can be taught even though there are some matters of information and technique that can be useful for reflection in developing or forming the character of leaders. There is a sense in which every Christian is, or could be, a leader by definition.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Identity Politics and the Church

June 10, 2008

Further to the entry of May 26: The Anglican Theological Review has also published an issue on theological education (Spring 2008, Vol. 90, No. 2) Jenny Plane Te Paa of New Zealand is again one of the contributors. She writes “identity politics is what emerges out of this milieu of identity making through claims and counter claims for recognition, and for the rights for individuals and groups so f similar individuals. If we were the tolerant and open societies we hope to be, these politics would remain relatively benign. But we now live in increasingly pluralistic societies characterized by complex layers of difference across religious, ethnic, gender, sexuality and class divides (to name just a few popularly asserted signifiers of difference).” (p.224) She seems to be calling for both a relaxation of the hard and fast definitions that sometimes go with identity politics and calling for a return to civility in our discourse as we learn to love in a and with the love of God. She says “I now unequivocally believe that it is only in the absolute putting the “we” at risk that we can ever truly realize the possibilities of our God-given humanity.” (p.238)

This seems to me to relate to the question of how people of faith deal with the reality of differences of power in our relationships. Any of us can be in power position in one conversation and in the opposite position in another. Consider the complexity of being a black urban professional who hires a maid from the Philippines. It seems to me that the tool we have is ‘law’ in the broadest sense and always remembering tht law is made for humanity and not the other way around. Law in this sense is that complex of norms, agreements, rules, covenants and the like that govern our interactions with each other. When those agreements don’t work any more for one reason or another then the constant work of discernment and conversation and, inevitably, change becomes critically important.

As the norms of the church shift in ways that many both within and without the Episcopal Church find completely unacceptable, it seems that the process continues whereby we both maintain our agreements and converse about whether and how they might change in ways that ensure a measure of justice for all. (Jenny Plane Te Paa called her doctoral thesis ‘Justice or Just Us’.) This is playing out as the Episcopal Church maintains (properly in my view) the reality of our agreements expressed as canons and recognizes that those who do not like the outcome of those agreements and who have not prevailed in the recent councils of the Episcopal Church may leave the Episcopal Church. Hence the deposition of clergy who denounce, renounce or otherwise abandon their orders in this branch of Christ’s body in favor of some other (which may or may not be in a measure of communion with TEC) and law suits over property. In other words if we do not like the results of how things work ‘under the law’ then we either work for change or we depart for some other form of church (or none). There are those who are behaving badly according to those norms and who like to say that the church is acting in unchristian and unloving ways when that behavior is challenged.

At the same time Anglican bishops throughout the world (or many of them who desire to continue to be in conversation with one another through and perhaps in spite of disagreements) will meet this summer and consider among other matters an Anglican Covenant, or agreement as to how we will manage with one another going forward. That may or may not result in happy issue out of affliction, but it is the right conversation about how to recognize and appreciate difference (perhaps reflecting the great variety of creation) while maintaining the possibility of change in the future. It is the challenge of avoiding the danger of ultimate rigidity in identity politics while ensuring that there are ways for us to be in civil conversation.