Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Walking in Love vs. Walking Apart

Witness Magazine has a great analysis of the Presiding Bishop candidates online now in an article entitled "Slated for Justice? What the Nominating Committee's Report Says About the Church." (Written by "Father Jake" of "Father Jake Stops the World" Blog fame.)

While the whole piece is interesting, my favorite part is where he takes on the AAC/Network folk with a clarity that gives whole new energy to the "wait a minute -- who's walking away from whom?" question:

The slate announced may indicate something that many have posited to be the case: that the strategy of the American Anglican Council and the Anglican Communion Network as outlined in the leaked 2004 Chapman memo -- a strategy of "a faithful disobedience of canon law on a widespread basis" while seeking to become "a 'replacement' jurisdiction with confessional standards" -- has backfired, with such free moving "beyond or within the canons" being widely interpreted as indicating a breach not only of the canons, but of the collegial trust required for a Presiding Bishop to function.

While one of the nominees, Henry Parsley, voted against consent to Gene Robinson's election, when the slate was announced he was quickly condemned by an American Anglican Council press release for having "strongly criticized the efforts of the AmericanAnglican Council (AAC) and the Anglican Communion Network (ACN)," and the press release noted disapprovingly that "he continues to increase financial support given by the Diocese of Alabama to the national Episcopal Church."

Clearly, the American Anglican Council suspects that their leaked strategy of disregard for both the canons of the church and principles of episcopal jurisdiction held since Nicea may have pushed them to the margins of serious discussions about the direction of the church -- and on that point they may be right.

"They may be right" all right -- and Fr. Jake is right on. The AAC and their Network colleagues have misread the solid mainstream of the Episcopal Church which has chosen continued commitment to the mission and ministry of the Good News of God in Christ Jesus over the orchestrated efforts of the schismatics to exploit differences that manifest Anglican comprehensiveness into divisions that would split the church. The report from the Nominating Committee for the Presiding Bishop reflects the faithful choice of mission over schism. The slate of nominees in the Diocese of California reflects the choice of diversity that draws us closer to including all of the baptized in the Body of Christ over blackmail that only the self-proclaimed "orthodox" can discern the movement of the Holy Spirit among us. And as the church-at-large prepares to gather in Columbus for General Convention 2006 it is with a swelling tide of sentiment that our charge to walk in love mean walking forward together in faith with those who agreee AND those who disagree on questions of human sexuality.

It is with an increasing awareness of the truth that there are some with power in this church determined to do nearly anything to keep it – including exploiting the fears of those who love this church that their love for each other will split it by repeating over and over that rupture of the communion is inevitable. Including calling themselves “mainstream” when they represent an increasingly small percentage of the radical, conservative fringe. Including trying to spin "walking apart" as what progressive Anglicans are doing by embracing the diversity that is our heritage while they themselves are busy walking away from anyone who challenges their increasingly narrow "orthodoxy."

"The problem," said one of my self-described conservative clergy colleagues "is that the conservatives have left ... but the liberals are still here."

"Well there you go!" I said. "Since historically Anglicans don't leave, I guess that makes us the traditionalists!"

He did not find it a compelling argument.

Well, it’s on the list of arguments I’m ready, willing and able to have. I am sick to death of the unity of this church resting on the shoulders of those of us who are threatening to STAY. I’m tired of being told that our desire to fully include all of the baptized into the Body of Christ is “copping out to the culture” while those making that accusation are busy reducing the Episcopal Church to a kind of Ecclesial Survivor Show by voting us off the island.

And so I find encouragement in what the Nominating Committee's Report says about the Episcopal Church -- and in Fr. Jake pointing out that the Emperor really has no clothes -- the AAC strategy has backfired -- and as much work as we doubtless have ahead of us as we move forward with the mission and ministry of the church that is precisely what we are committed to doing: walking in love with Christ who gave himself for us rather than walking apart from those with whom we disagree.

Not a bad way to start a Lenten Journey.


Annie said...

As a first time reader, I find solace in the strong stand that you take on gay/lesbian issues. Having heard about the Lent Event beginning tomorrow, I visited the website of All Saints for details, and ran across your blog. As a spiritual "wanderer" who is currently unsure of pretty much everything except the beauty and sanctity of my same-sex relationship, I am in need of finding a voice that I can respect. I will add you to my daily reading list.

Unknown said...

Susan, why all the name calling if everything is going so well?


Anonymous said...

Rev Susan :

A question for you that’s a little off topic, yet somewhat related to the post : You (and Fr. Jake) refer to “a faithful disobedience of canon law” in a sarcastic and negative manner. Violating the church canons is obviously a bad thing.

Regarding the Canons of the Episcopal Church, you are probably familiar with Title I, Canon 17, Section 7, which states : “No unbaptized person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion in this Church”. Yet, All Saints Pasadena even advertises on their web page that all persons, even those unbaptized, can receive Holy Communion at your church. What gives? Is this “faithful (or maybe unfaithful) disobedience of canon law”? Bishop Bruno seems to come down pretty hard on canon violators in his diocese – how do you guys get away with the blatant, in-your-face violation of this canon? Yes, I’ve asked this before, but no one ever gives an answer…

Unknown said...

That's a good point, Kevin. And of course the first women's ordinations (as much as I support them!) were "irregular" and could be called a “a faithful disobedience of canon law” as well. Why do some get to engage in matters of conscience and others are ridiculed?

Could it be because some are deemed "progressive" and some are deemed "reactionary" - or what that just be more name-calling?


Anonymous said...

Re open v. baptised-only v. member-only communion, leaving canon law out of it. Can one assume that the original apostles were baptized before the Last Supper?



Sorry, Henry ... Sick and tired of having the church of my birth and baptism hijacked by narrow idealogues doesn't have anything with leaving but everything to do with staying to advocate for the tradition of Anglican comprehensiveness I inherited still being available to my children -- and grandchildren!

Chip Webb said...

Rev. Susan,

You end up broadbrushing people with the "narrow ideologue" label and other ones in this post. While you talk about including "those who disagree," you seem to exclude anyone who wants to revive orthodoxy in ECUSA. Are the only ones you want to include those who may disagree but don't feel strongly enough (perhaps are not certain enough about their beliefs)to oppose the direction in which ECUSA is heading?

Bear in mind, too, that the "tradition of Anglican comprehensiveness" of which you speak is not one that other Anglicans of the past would have recognized. Just take a look at the open communion debate (which is as much a marker of division between the orthodox and the progressives as anything else): You cannot find such an understanding of the Eucharist at any earlier time in Christian history, including Anglican history. (Even Wesley didn't hold to the sense of "open communion" that progressives do today.) There would not have been a comprehensiveness that allowed some Anglicans to practice open communion but allowed others not to do so. Many other examples could be mentioned concerning comprehensiveness; suffice it to say that Anglicans such as Cranmar, Jewel, Ridley, Latimer, Taylor, and many others too numerous to mention, would not have recognized such a claim.

Peace of Christ,

Chip Webb said...


While we have no baptismal records concerning the apostles, true (even though many of them were first followers of John the Baptist and thus would undoubtedly have been baptized), it seems to me that you're missing the point. The Christian church throughout history has never held to open communion because the Eucharist was never designed to be a demonstratio of love to everyone. If that was its purpose, then I think that progressives would be right to at least bring this before the church. But the Eucharist has much deeper meaning. It's a sign of Christ's sacrifice for humanity's sins, and a means of grace for those who believe in him and are trusting in him based on the work he did for them on the cross. As Episcopalians and Anglicans, we hold that when we take the bread and wine, it is spiritually the body and blood of Christ.

Because when a person takes the Eucharist, he or she is receiving Christ (in a spiritual sense), we must repent before God of our sins before we take it. Sins separate us from God, and we must be reconciled to him first before we receive him spiritually. That's why the prayer of confession always precedes the Eucharist in our liturgy. That's why 1 Corinthians talks about that you must take the body and blood of Christ "in a worthy manner" (rough paraphrase).

And that's why, throughout Christian history, the Eucharist has been considered a meal only for Christians -- only for those who have turned to Christ and are trusting in him for their salvation. If we have never turned to Christ, then we are not reconciled to God, and we must be reconciled before the body and blood of Christ mean anything to us. It's a memorial of Christ's death on the cross for our sins. It's also, when taken rightly, a spiritual communion with Christ. Only those who have turned to Christ in repentance and faith can experience that communion.

The Eucharist, then, comes after baptism because it is a means of grace for those who are in the church. It is not a means of grace for those who have not yet turned to Christ. It has always been regarded this way throughout Christian history, even if different Christian groups have differed over whether the Eucharist is only a memorial or a sacrament, and over other related issues as well.

But it is not a practice designed to show how loving we are to outsiders as a church family. That's the job of everyone to do through welcoming people, to be sure!

Peace of Christ,

Anonymous said...

Chip –

Thank you for putting that a million times better and more succinct than I could ever hope to. I was not even going to touch the theological argument, which I believe to be overwhelmingly against open communion (which is why the canon exists in the first place). To me, offering open communion is like allowing someone in the pews to come up and consecrate the bread and wine (after all, its pretty uninclusive to only allow the priest to do this). Just not a good thing.
But I’d like to focus on just the black and white issue of blatantly violating a canon of the Episcopal Church. All Saints Pasadena (and many other churches in ECUSA) is deliberately ignoring this canon, with absolutely no fear of punishment. How are these churches able to do this? Is there a list somewhere which contains the canons that are OK to violate? Or is it more of a wink-wink, nudge-nudge mentality between churches like All Saints and bishops like Bruno?
It’s interesting that Rev. Susan will respond to trite one-liners, but won’t touch this one with a 10-foot pole. And by the way, I really am trying to be less antagonistic (really!), but on this issue I just can’t help it.

Kevin S.

Jake said...

Of course the gatekeepers who are already attempting to deny the sacraments to some of the baptized now want us to ask each person at the altar rail to present their baptismal certificate.

We live in bizarre times.

Anonymous said...

Jake –

So does this mean that you advocate violating church canons as long as you feel strongly enough against them? (you can obviously see where I’m going with this…)

Kevin S.

Chip Webb said...

No, (Father?) Jake, we don't have any baptismal police at our altars. It seems to me that the best a priest can do is teach his or her people regarding the Eucharist: what it is, why it is important, etc. At certain times when we know we'll have a lot of visitors(weddings, for example), the priests at my parish specifically mention that anyone who has been baptized can come and take the Eucharist; others can come forward for prayer.

So the operating assumption is that the Eucharist is for baptized Christians, but you're not checking everyone at the altar rail. This is a far cry from giving a general invitation for people to come regardless of where they are in their spiritual journey. To do so actually devalues the sacrament, taking away (or at least radically changing) the meaning of it.

Rev. Susan, you may think, to paraphrase one of your Book of Daniel comments, that this is about fearing that there's not enough grace to go around for everyone. It's not. It is all an issue about the meaning of the sacrament, though.

Peace of Christ!