Thursday, March 01, 2007

In Today's NYT: "God writes straight with crooked lines"

I am traveling today and tomorrow so will have episodic online access but wanted to get this NYTimes piece up before I head to the airport. Well said, Jack Miles!

A Divorce the Church Should Smile Upon

[Los Angeles] THE decision of the global Anglican Communion to threaten the Episcopal Church, its American affiliate, with expulsion is about much more than the headline issue of homosexuality. Yes, the impending divorce has been precipitated by the decision of the Episcopal Church to consecrate a gay bishop and to allow individual congregations to decide whether or not to allow gay marriages. But as so often in religious history, the deeper issue is one of church governance. In effect, the Episcopalians left the Church of England more than two centuries ago.

The problem dates back to the time of the American Revolution, when the Church of England in America was just what that name says: it was the Church of England, merely in America. Since the 16th century, when King Henry VIII made himself, in effect, the pope of England, the English king had been the supreme church authority. Time had somewhat eroded this authority by 1776, thanks in part to the Puritan revolution in the mid-17th century. Nonetheless, the authority structure within the church remained officially monarchical.

So it was no surprise that after the newborn United States broke with the crown in the political realm, the Church of England in the United States did so in the religious realm as well, establishing a democratic form of self-governance under a “presiding bishop,” whose title echoed that of the chief executive of the new nation. The name the new church adopted — from episkopos, the ancient Greek word for bishop — signaled that its governance would be neither by pope nor by king but, as in early Christianity, by elected bishops.

British colonial history did not end in 1776, of course. As the British Empire grew, the Church of England went wherever the crown went, evolving in the process into a religious multinational, called the Anglican Communion, in which the Archbishop of Canterbury exercised a global spiritual jurisdiction. Structurally, however, the Episcopal Church, though long since reconciled with Britain, remained uneasy under this arrangement.

Why? Because the deepest rationale for the creation of the Church of England had been that church governance through separate national churches better reflected the practice of the early church than did papal governance. During its first centuries, Christianity had governed itself as separate but equal dioceses or administrative units, each coinciding with a great capital city, each headed by a bishop; the pope, at that time, was merely the bishop of Rome.

Thus, the same logic that dictated the initial creation of the Church of England dictated that, once the United States had become a separate nation, it ought not to belong any longer to the Church of England nor to the Anglican Communion as a colonial extension.

For sentimental reasons, including now fading American Anglophilia, Episcopalians and Anglicans alike tended to mute this logic. However, under the improbable stimulus of a dispute over homosexuals, the logic may be about to assert itself, with consequences that may be larger for the Anglican Communion, and in particular for the Archbishop of Canterbury, than for the Episcopal Church itself.

Numerically, the 2.3 million Episcopalians do not loom large among 77 million Anglicans. Symbolically, however, given the global importance of the United States, the departure of the Americans will leave the archbishop exposed as a quasi-colonial, quasi-papal figurehead heading a church made up, anachronistically, of Britain and her mostly African and Asian former colonies. This will be an awkward state of affairs, and portends further fissures along the same logic that underlies the impending departure of the Americans.

There is, finally, a quintessentially 21st-century implication to this quite likely split. A solid majority of American Episcopalians supports their church’s stance on homosexuality and gay marriage. A minority disagrees, and some of these members have even sought to pull out their congregations from the Episcopal Church and affiliate with one of the Anglican churches in Africa that have been most vehemently opposed to the Episcopalians’ decisions on homosexuality.
The flip side of such threats is that, along the same lines, any British or Canadian or Australian congregations that wished to disaffiliate from their local forms of Anglicanism might well affiliate with the Episcopal Church. In fact, a few have already signaled their readiness, though in the hope of preserving Anglican unity the Episcopal Church has not encouraged them.

I pass over, for the moment, the many legal complications involved in such rearrangements, the surrendering of church property that is entailed and so forth. The broader point is that communications technology makes new forms of church organization possible, and geographically distant congregations can easily join together. Rather than voting with your feet, you may now vote with your mouse, perhaps the most amicable form of religious divorce.

A generation from now, when we look back on the breakup of the Anglican Communion and on the status of homosexuals within the churches of the world, what may we expect to see? An old proverb holds that “God writes straight with crooked lines,” and at this juncture, the Author of Liberty, as a venerable American hymn names him, seems to have taken pen in hand.

Jack Miles is a senior fellow for religious affairs with the Pacific Council on International Policy and a scholar in residence with the Getty Research Institute.


Gordon said...

I read this article early this morning before leaving for work.
Of all the things written since Tanzania, this article really touched my heart. I mean really touched my heart in a very intense way.

I found myself thinking about the article on and off throughout the day. And I found myself thinking about my trips to England and how I love to go to church at St. Cuthbarts or St. Margaret's in London. I thought of the times I would gaze at the statue of John Wesley all dressed up in his Anglican clerical garb of his era, just before going into church.

I always feel at home in The Church of England. Of course I do! I should! I'm an Anglican!

Divorce is painful. But with the pain of separation and ending a relationship, othentimes comes growth. The formation of a new spirit, a new outlook on life, a new way of looking at the world.

So then I started thinking of the positive things that could come out of a painful separtation from the Anglican Communion. Here are some I thought of some right off of the bat. Without spending almost one million dollars to belong to the Anglican Communion, TEC'S contribution to the Millenium fund could be increased.
We would have more money to spend on missionary work, more money for homeless programs, more money for social justice,evangelism and outreach.

And last, but not least, The Episcopal Church would be able to do the ministry God has called us to do with such a loud voice he's slapped us up side of the head several times.

"What would that be?" some would ask. Well, we would have a open, loving, welcoming Episcopal church where ALL of God's children are welcome. We'd celebrate diversity,love,social justice and respect for all.

Hmmm....maybe a divorce wouldn't be a bad thing after all!

West Palm Beach, FL

Anonymous said...

"What if they gave a shism and nobody came?"
Time has moved on and Susan (sadly) is no longer not convinced that schism will come. In fact some of the articles linked here and at progressive blogs appear to be advocating it.


From "What if they gave a schism and nobody came" ... written back in the "olden days" ... 2003:

"If schism happens ... the blame will lie not with Claiming the Blessing, the Diocese of New Hampshire, Gene Robinson or the countless GLBT Christians living out their faith journeys in the Episcopal Church. It will lie firmly at the feet of those whose will to power is greater than their willingness to embrace the other, whose commitment to crisis is greater than their faith in the Gospel and whose singular obsession with things sexual has blinded them to the Spirit’s revelation via things incarnational."

And there you have it ... true then and true now.

Anonymous said...

Yep, I re-read your old piece and fully expected you would quote the passage you just did, when i made my earlier comment. Fair enough, that par was prescient even if the headline was not.Yet tell me, did you expect in 2003 that in 2007 it would be the left of TEC calling for schism? I always thought it was a theoretical possibility but now that it is really happening I feel surprised. Whay about you?

Anonymous said...

It is not the left calling for schism. If anything, we are just becoming used to the idea that we may have to accept it.

On the other hand, the far right has catapulted us towards schism for years.

In my own parish, back in the late 70s, Evangelical Catholic Mission held a national gathering at which the following words were spoken from our pulpit:

"Brethren," (no mention of the sistren who were also gathered!) "pray for schism."

Make no mistake about it - the right has had this sinister (pun intended!) agenda ever since BCP revision...and they have targeted the glbt community as the perfect scapegoat.

Anonymous said...

Schism between the states could have been avoided in 1860 if Congress had just reiterated that slavery would be allowed to exist indefinately and expanded into all new territories and states.

As for the thousands of current and future slaves impacted by such a declaration, it would have been a small sacrifice to avoid schism, wouldnt it? Besides, it is not as if we really believed they were equal to whites. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices to maintain unity.

If you are offended by what I have said above, you can understand the outrage over Bishops who, on the one hand, state that they are committed to full inclusion, and on the other, are lining up to vote to comply with the communique.

Robert McLean MD PhD said...

"There is no necessity for dividing the Church. Schism surpasses all crimes. It is a most horrible sacrilege.
Chrysostom was a passionate Greek. You really love the guy. Chrysostom put it this way:

“Nothing angers God so much as division in the Church. Not even martyrdom can absolve you of that crime.” Bishop Mark Dyer Nov 2004

And now...

"I want to make it abundantly clear that I am not in the least prepared to make any concession that strikes at the heart of my conviction…"

I am reminded of one of favorite hymns...
Hymn 525. Verse 3:
Though with a scornful wonder men see her sore oppressed.
by schisms rent assunder, by heresies distressed;
yet saints thier watch are keeping, their cry goes up, "How long?"
and soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song.

We are in a global struggle. The muslims celebrate at our difficulities. I highly suggest reading Bruce Bawer's "While Europe Slept". Mr. Bawer not only showed the intolerance of islam to homosexuality but he also takes up the cause of women and Jews.