I wasn't in the room at the recent Primates' Meeting in Canterbury, but having had the experience over the last two decades of taking my share in the councils of the church at other levels I confess to an utter lack of surprise that the meeting's outcomes left most everyone with a slightly rancid taste in their mouth and triggered an explosion of blog-o-pinions around the Angli-verse. (That includes this post as well).
The upshot of it all was the reality that the Episcopal Church's decades long discernment over the inclusion of broader perspectives in human sexual orientation and gender identity is finally sinking in on all sides of the numerous debates. The arguments and opining have been going on for just long enough that in many ways we have gone past division and have arrived at a place just short of real schism. Division meaning that we are struggling to find places to name as common ground because of disagreement. Schism meaning that our divisions have become so great that we no longer recognize the other sitting across from us.
And thus, in reviewing the many op-ed articles, blog posts and missives from brothers and sisters in Christ who are vested in the ideal of this part of the Body of Christ being one with an "Anglican" identity, I write now in reflection that I pray offers hope in the face of despair and some small measure of peace to a venue that presents more akin to a battle zone.
We aren't done (in) yet....and I don't think we will be, in the long run.
You see, the Church is just once more in the midst of a struggle for identity as we grope for something more concrete in the structures of our institutions of state, faith and mutual order. The reality is that "Church" is not solid, nor enduring, nor is it a bulwark that defends us from the faithless out there in the world. You might as well try to grasp and hold on to a rain cloud. Go ahead, give it a shot.
You think that is absurd? Ah, take a moment and reflect....we do just that ALL THE TIME! I tell stories about how life in the church was "back then" often enough to ask that if people in earshot have heard this one before to please stop me. Increasingly, they do. I also bear witness to folks who remember and desire that the Church be whatever it once was...and for the most part that consists of being a reliable repository of safe reassurance. The rest of the world might be crazy, but at least the Church of my forbears can be relied upon to be just like it was.
The downside is that in a rapidly changing environment (which is, really, always!), there is little to rely on, and fewer and fewer reliable constants. The Church you were baptized in, and the one your family has relied on for sacramental support for generations is not what it was if you are not there to work, witness and bring life to it.
The Primates of the Anglican Communion represent the independent, and interdependent provinces of the global communion. They are one instrument of unity that comprise the bodies that give us structure. Oddly, they also lack authority to impose structure upon any individual province. So, to have TEC ostensibly suspended from what is in effect only an "opt-in" confederacy borders on the absurd. The request is to step back just a bit and give the rest some time. What heartens me is our leadership's compassionate response to that invitation....yes, but we will still be there to keep the discernment going.
The cartoon above has been a bellwether for me in life and ministry. I saw it first back in the eco-conscious 70s. We were worried about the environment, and good old Pogo reminded us that pollution is not an "over there somewhere" issue. There is no "over there" in this world. As well it is important to be mindful that the "bad" people polluting or disrupting the peace of the planet are not, and never will be "them." There is only "us."
This Sunday's scriptures point to that moment of Pogo's revelation that "they is us." If we really believe we are the body of Christ in this world, then we must allow that body is indivisible and is only true and real if we are willing and committed to remaining in true communion with each other. Communion like that is not found in conformity to hierarchy, or even doctrine. It is vested in a mutual submission to each other out of an abject, loving response to a God in Jesus Christ who announces that the scriptures are fulfilled TODAY and IN OUR HEARING.
Those who seek to throttle discernment in favor of retrenchment are wrong-headed to assume that truth is something they hold in stead of others. Those who seek to force change beyond bearing at the moment on people who are struggling are wrong-headed to assume that justice means "being right" at the cost of relationship. We cannot let go of the call to bring justice to any who have been excluded, nor should we embrace or allow others to push us back and down. We must continue to do what the Primates did right last week....resolve with unanimity to continue to walk together in faith. We also have to admit that they know they failed to completely live into the model of Christ when they asked anyone to "step back" from full communion.
When will we learn? "They is us,"