Thursday, June 14, 2007

Maturity in the Midst of Conflict

A Response to the Executive Council Actions
by the Rev. Thomas B. Woodward, the Rev. David K. Fly, and Lisa Fox

The center of the Episcopal Church, made up of the faithful who work and give and witness in response to the love of God they have known through their church, is the winner (if there are any winners) in the resolutions passed by the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church today. See "The Episcopal Church's Commitment to Common Life in Anglican Communion" (available here) and the summary of related resolutions.

If we could choose a phrase to capture the meaning of this event and of these resolutions, the one that comes to mind is from the language of conflict within families. It is: “There must always be at least one adult in the room at all times.”

What our leaders have done is what a devoted, mature parent would do within a family torn apart by discord and allegations of disloyalty to the family:

  • They affirmed our love for ourselves and for those who want to reorder our family on their terms, not ours.
  • They promised a process that will be fair and that will honor our several traditions without violating any of them.
  • They affirmed that we will not sacrifice any member of our family.
  • They acknowledged and reiterated the kind of boundaries that are necessary for us to continue serving God as the family God is calling us to be.
  • They accomplished all this as spiritual adults, not blaming, not making excuses – but reassuring us all that the family will continue to be a family, one which will thrive.
Our Executive Council – under the kind and gracious leadership of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and the President of the House of Deputies, Bonnie Anderson – has reframed the stresses and strains of our Communion. They have offered our Communion, our provinces, and our dioceses the opportunity to work together in framing our common future. Rejecting "assertions of authority met by counter-assertions of polity," they have called for a course of genuine reconciliation and recognized that "the questions before us now are fundamentally relational."

That our Church is always in need of reformation is clear. The nature of sin is to distract us from our calling, as Church and as individuals. We recognized that fact in the boldest way possible 200 years ago when we named ourselves “the Protestant Episcopal Church.” We protest any and all attempts to dilute or to diminish the power and presence of God in the life of our Church.

It is possible that we will come to see and to understand the "orthodox" stands against the full inclusion of gay and lesbian people into every aspect of our Church’s life as an outward and partial cry for a new dedication to personal and corporate holiness in the church. That cry is profoundly important at a time when forces in our culture are pulling us in the opposite directions of licentiousness and overly strict and oppressive moralities.

Surely, we all agree that our lives, as Christians and as a Communion, must be marked by a wholehearted dedication to holiness. The book of Leviticus tells us that is our calling – and it is our calling because holiness has to do with the being and identity of God, who has created us, redeemed us, and is leading us through the Holy Spirit. The Holiness Code in Leviticus 18ff. notes over and over again that we are called to be holy, even as God is holy.

We must be scrupulous in this discernment: What is involved in God’s call to holiness? and what is simply a response to our fears and the inadequate understanding of the purposes of God from earlier generations? For the majority of the Episcopal Church, it has become clear that the holiness of the Church is tied intimately to its full inclusion of all the people of God – and that the demand for holiness in our sexual lives is the same for all Christians, whether heterosexual or homosexual.

Our history as a Church has been marked, over and over again, by our struggles to understand and respond to God’s continuing call to be "a holy people." Throughout that history, there have been pivotal moments in which we have come to realize that what seemed so clear to previous generations was wrong; God has perpetually given us leaders and insight so we can, in our several generations, get it right. That is the setting for our life together in the coming years.

With all the Church we pray:

O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen [Book of Common Prayer, p. 280]


Anonymous obadiahslope said...

Your comments puzzle me. That's possibly because I occupy a different part of the anglican Spectrum, and so I may read things differently. You say that your EC "promised a process that will be fair and that will honor our several traditions without violating any of them" and
"affirmed that we will not sacrifice any member of our family."
I wonder if it is possible evangelical anglican such as to live in TEC without violating my "tradition". If one belives it is wrong,say for a gay person to be bishop, is it possible to hold an office which requires loyalty to the dicipline, canons and worship of TEC?
That being so is it possible to be a member of the family?

6/15/2007 2:31 AM  
Blogger MikeF said...

What a wonderful post, Lisa et al. If ever I were tempted to wonder whether the Anglican Communion was the right place to be, I'd only have to go and read this!

Thank you!


6/15/2007 3:35 AM  
Blogger Liz+ said...

It's possible to be a member of the family, Obidiah, if we continue to accept one another in our differences.

Following the family metaphor -- when I lived in my parents' house, they had to remind me more than once that as long as I lived under their roof, I lived by their rules. When and if I moved out, I could have my own rules. That all happened.

What I've learned as a member of this family is that we have learned to deveop adult relationships with one another. This means acceptance of differences, even in the areas of politics and religion, in order to maintain the essence of who we are as a family. That we are a very tight family even in the face of these differences and learning how to live with them is an indication of what is important to us. The commonalities far outweigh the differences. And we are all very clear about the levels of acceptance and tolerance that we must maintain if we're to continue in the family.

Other families don't fare nearly as well.

But this is the mixed blessing of a family/parental metaphor -- As long as you live in our house, you live by our rules.

6/15/2007 6:22 AM  
Anonymous NWOhio Anglican said...

"As long as you live in our house, you live by our rules."

Oddly enough, that's exactly what the Anglican Communion Primates have been saying to the Episcopal Church. TEC doesn't appear to want to listen.

6/15/2007 9:54 AM  
Blogger C. Andiron said...

Liz, even with the adult model, there are limits at both extremes where we can err. It would be a shame to quarrel and split over something like politics or sports. On the other hand if the family member is involved in a serious criminal breach and you know it, you may have to tell them, "look, you've got to stop this, or I'm going to have to intervene. I can't just pretend this isn't happening."

Now in this spectrum, how do we treat Obadiah's question? I think I Co 5 answers that sexual sin is a serious enough violation to break communion over. And note this doesn't mean we don't evangelize them, or we don't act charitably in other ways.

Remember, we can throw analogies and rhetoric at each other forever, and both sides are guilty of this. But I must ask, are reappraisers willing to think this through rigorously and objectively? It seems there is a tendency to try to avoid this by ascribing motivations to the other side ('Well, YOU are bigoted' 'Oh, yeah? Well YOU hate God and his Law'), which again can be done ad infinitum and doesn't really address the issue. If someone acts rightly from the wrong motivation, that is between him and God. It is not for us to speculate as to his motivation to prevent him from acting rightly, although if he betrays himself, we can call him on it. Ex. we can all agree Fred Phelps has betrayed himself and has departed from the faith.

Can we agree to use the Bible an objective plumb line (Is 28:17)?
Otherwise we're all living in our own solipsistic, made up religions.

6/15/2007 11:19 AM  
Blogger TBW said...

I would like to add another dimension to what Liz+ said so well. In my former diocese, which was on the outer liberal edge, we had a few very conservative congregations. There were times at our Conventions that a priest from one of those congregations would plead for a softening of a resolution or a direction of the diocese, so his or her congregation would still feel part of the family. Such was given and if there were a deeper problem, we would structure a time for us to have honest, complete dialogue.

If we do love one another, we will make provision for one another.

Can't tell you how much we appreciate your comments and questions -- you are contributing to a very important dialogue.

Thanks, too, to Liz+. May the + be some day moved to the front of your name!

Tom Woodward (one of the co-authors of this piece).

6/15/2007 11:50 AM  
Blogger BabyBlue said...

The tone of this article says even more than the content.

The elevation of Self is breathtaking. The protection of the turf is a deathknell - and it is hard to watch, Episcopalian as I still am. It is very painful and that willful inability to acknowledge the pain caused by the actions of two General Conventions, the House of Bishops, and now the belligerent Executive Council is staggering.

What is interesting to contemplate is not so much the progressive/liberal view that is espoused here, but that ego-centered American-view (which seems to span across theological borders). The "Me-Factor" (which is particularly American and one that we are confronted with as we engage in global relationships) is stunning.

That our Church is always in need of reformation is clear. The nature of sin is to distract us from our calling, as Church and as individuals. We recognized that fact in the boldest way possible 200 years ago when we named ourselves “the Protestant Episcopal Church.” We protest any and all attempts to dilute or to diminish the power and presence of God in the life of our Church.

That quote alone is enough to make the point. Perhaps pride doth goeth before a fall. The fact is - we have all - all - screwed up the Episcopal Church and until the majority leadership recognizes the gravity of the situation - and it is TEC that has caused it as the Windsor Report graciously spells out - the history books will not be recounting what a Guilded Age this was, but what a travesty.

Ladies and Gentleman, we have separation.


6/15/2007 5:15 PM  
Blogger Liz+ said...

Just a short response to nwohio: The Anglican Communion really isn't a single family. It's more like a neighborhood made up of lots of families who enjoy living together. But they wouldn't even think of going into one another's homes and telling another family how to live.

But as c.andiron says, we can take the metaphor too far, and we are all "guilty" of using metaphors for our own purposes.

Bottom line, though, is that there are some in the WWAC and TEC who have decided that we need more rules if we plan on continuing to live together. The presenting issue has been the consecration of an openly gay bishop. But we see now, as yet another African diocese puts its fingers in the US church, that there is not a uniting concern that allows these splinter groups to join together. The attempts at colonialization of the Episcopal Church are turning into a very interesting drama, with an increasing number of men vying for the top purple spot.

At this point, I'm just really fascinated by the jockeying in which various US and African bishops are taking part.

6/15/2007 8:03 PM  
Blogger Liz+ said...

c.andiron writes: "Can we agree to use the Bible an objective plumb line (Is 28:17)? Otherwise we're all living in our own solipsistic, made up religions."

It sure would make life easier if we could really use the Bible as an objective source to settle our differences. But in the 2000+ years of the Christian tradition, that has yet to happen. Everything we read in scripture is interpreted through our subjective perceptions, experiences, biases, etc. The result has been hundreds of Christian denominations, sects, and communities. Excerpting one verse here or one verse there only exacerbates the problems and invites the accusation of prooftexting.

Wouoldn't it be nice if God would just provide us with all of the interpretations so we had The Truth and The Answers. But that apparently is not to be. On the other hand, if that were to happen, then we wouldn't need our ability to reason. Not sure I like that scenario, and I suspect God expects us to use our brains to figure things out.

6/15/2007 8:10 PM  
Anonymous Tom B. said...

Hi, Liz+. Just a comment. I think that neither side really 'hates' the other. That neither side wants to 'exclude' the other. The problem is some basic definitions, which we are unable to agree on. Your side (guess that indicates my point of view.. sigh) believes that our societal view today over-rides some of the language and stances of the biblical heritage we both treasure. I personally feel that (while it has happened in the past) there is no clear, compelling 'truth' that says we know more than St. Paul. The 'rub' is that we cannot agree on what is 'holy' in the eyes of God. The 'reasserters' (guess I am in that group) cannot accept someone we view as exhibiting sinful or ungodly behaviour as a leader or teacher in our church (could you accept a pedophile as a Bishop?). That's the 'rub'. While we both 'love the sinner and hate the sin' your definition of sin has changed. Our current social pressures make it exceedingly difficult to abide by the historical view of some things, and you cannot abide by the historical view of homosexuality. Except in places where it has not been forced down peoples throats, the average Episcopalian has not had to 'own up' to the issue. Only the HOB has really debated it (perhaps a few parishes), and in my opinion the vast majority of current Episcopalians are clueless, or simply following their local leader (not sure most 'average' Episcopalians are wll grounded in scripture, though that is a personal opinion). I expect that most parish families would be happy to simply go about their business without confronting this issue, but that cannot happen. We are faced with a decision about 'what we believe', and you believe a different thing than I do. While that could coexist, it cannot coexist when it comes to appointing leaders. The Episcopal church, through its leadership, has chosen to 'change' the definition of sinful behaviour. That will cause the ones who cannot accept that 'new' definition to leave. I don't believe it would be possible for you or Tom or David to vote for someone as Bishop that you believed was an unrepentant sinner, or that was teaching that their sinful behavior was actually the will of God, would you? How can you expect those of us that have not accepted your 'new' definition to support it?

6/19/2007 9:30 PM  
Anonymous NWOhio Anglican said...

"Just a short response to nwohio: The Anglican Communion really isn't a single family. It's more like a neighborhood made up of lots of families who enjoy living together. But they wouldn't even think of going into one another's homes and telling another family how to live." -- Liz+

Saying it doesn't make it so, Liz+. "Communion" means "eating together." To me, that says "one family" of whatever sort.

And the AC has a perfect right to say, "If you do thus and so, you are no longer welcome at the table with us." They have, in fact, said so; but they seem to be showing some reluctance to enforce it, apart from a few of the Primates.

Think "neighborhood association" if you like. If you don't keep your property up, the neighbors are going to complain. A lot. And they may ask you to leave the association meetings.

6/25/2007 2:46 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

NWOhio Anglican, would you explain to me why it is that a few primates think they can tell TEC how we must behave, while we would not have the hubris to tell -- for example -- Nigeria how they must behave?

6/25/2007 10:29 PM  
Anonymous Tom B. said...

Lisa, didn't Communion tell the African churches to 'stop the polygamy'? And aren't they trying? (their success may be debatable) How is that different from what they are asking of TEC?

6/26/2007 2:23 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

No, TomB. It's my understanding that the rest of the Communion said [regarding polygamy among Anglicans in Africa], "We trust you faithful Christians to work this out in your own time and your own way within your own culture." And they are.

6/26/2007 9:19 PM  
Anonymous Tom B. said...

Well, Lisa, I guess they can't expect the same consideration from TEC, can they? On the contrary, TEC is pretty much 'in your face' with its position on "Homosexuality as Godly behavior" (despite the current Anglican stance on the subject as defined in Lambeth 1.10). Or am I misreading the TEC stance? I'd be delighted to hear that I have been misreading the position of TEC on this issue.

6/28/2007 10:31 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Huh? TomB, you're not making sense to me. TEC and the bishops at Lambeth gave the African provinces that latitude. If anybody might ask for "the same consideration," I would think it would be the provinces like TEC, the Canadian church, the Church of England, the Scottish Church, etc. We've not forced our views or theology on any other province, but some other provinces are trying to force their views and theology on us. So how the heck can you charge TEC with "in-your-face" behavior?

No, TEC is not in anybody's face about "homosexuality as Godly behavior," anymore than any Christian could claim that "heterosexuality is ipso facto godly behavior." (To take a sick and bizarre example: rape is mostly heterosexual behavior, but that sure doesn't make it godly!) It's about the quality and nature of the relationship – not whether it's heterosexual or homosexual.

6/28/2007 11:21 PM  

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