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.