March 29, 2007

(Part 1 of an occasional 3 – or is it 4? – part series)

Last month, a group of Anglican Communion leaders gathered in Tanzania to discuss issues that various churches within the Communion found themselves at odds over in an attempt to avoid schism. On one side you had the churches of the Global South – Africa, Asia, and South America, churches virtually exploding in growth and teaching an orthodox, or traditional (no, I’m not going to call it “conservative”), form of Christianity. On the other side, you had the churches of the “West” – The Episcopal Church (TEC), the Anglican Church of Canada, and the Church of England (the founding church of the Communion), churches wracked by discord (primarily over the issue of homosexuality), hemmorrhaging membership, and – perhaps more importantly – losing power and influence within the Communion.

The primary reason for this gathering was to discuss TEC and various actions it had taken which the Global South churches saw as contrary to the traditional teachings of the Church, particularly in the area of homosexuality. Specifically, the leaders of these churches took issue with: a) TEC’s consecration of a non-celibate gay man, the Rt. Reverend Gene Robinson, as Bishop of New Hampshire back in 2003, b) certain dioceses quietly sanctioning its clergy performing same-sex unions, and c) overt, hostile actions taken by TEC bishops against clergy and church congregations who disagreed both philosophically and theologically with the these actions and, as a result, sought alternative Episcopal (bishop) oversight, or to leave TEC altogether and affiliate themselves with churches of the Global South.

As a result of the meeting in Tanzania, TEC was given what amounted to an ultimatum: either conform with the rest of the Communion and the historic teachings and traditions of the Church, and allow alternative Episcopal oversight for U.S. dioceses who have refused to recognize the leadership of newly-elected Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, or face a reduced status within the Communion, or perhaps even expulsion. TEC was given until September 30 to provide the Anglican leaders with a response.

It didn’t take that long.

Last week, following a meeting of TEC’s House of Bishops at Camp Allen, Texas, TEC bishops released a three-pronged statement that rejected the Anglican primates’ ultimatum in its entirety. As the AP’s Rachel Zoll writes:

Episcopal bishops risked losing their place in the global Anglican family Wednesday by affirming their support for gays and rejecting a key demand that they give up some authority to theological conservatives outside the U.S. church.

In strong and direct language, the Episcopal House of Bishops said it views the Gospel as teaching that “all God’s children, including gay and lesbian persons, are full and equal participants” in the church. The bishops also said they would not agree to an Anglican plan for leaders outside the U.S. denomination to oversee the small number of conservative American dioceses that disagree.

“We cannot accept what would be injurious to the church and could well lead to its permanent division,” the bishops said in a resolution from a private meeting in Texas.

“If that means that others reject us and communion with us, as some have already done, we must with great regret and sorrow accept their decision.”

While this news may come as a surprise to many, it certainly doesn’t to me, as it is something I have been predicting would happen for a long time. Call it, “irreconcilable differences”, if you will. The fact is, whether you place yourself on the side of the Global South leaders or with the TEC bishops, what you have here are two sides that have finally come to the realization that there is no real way to reconcile the significant philosophical, theological, and pastoral differences that exist between them. While it is true these differences seem to have coalesced around the issue of homosexuality more than anything else, at the core is the tension that has always seemed to exist historically and fundamentally between the supposed “three legs” of traditional Anglicanism – Holy Scripture, Church tradition, and free will.

(Note 1: By “supposed”, I’m referring to that popular concept of Anglicanism’s “three legged stool”, commonly associated with the 16th century English theologian Richard Hooker, who, it is said, used the three-legged stool to illustrate the equal balance of Holy Scripture, tradition, and free will in the Anglican ethos. Many theologians and scholars, however, including Chuck Bradshaw, have argued convincingly that this nothing but a false [and, I wonder, hopeful?] supposition, that Hooker always believed in the primacy of Holy Scripture over everything else.)

(Note 2: More recently – and I would argue, predictably – this “three-legged stool” concept has grown to add a fourth leg, that of “experience”. This “leg”, a by-product of the Enlightenment and post-modernism, argues something to the effect that human experience, and an increase in human understanding, trumps long-held concepts and beliefs [some would call them “foolish myths”] left over from the days when the Christian Church reigned supreme. This “we know better, because we know better” train of thought is, in my view, nothing but human arrogance [and ignorance?] run amok, and, I would argue, does as much a disservice to modern society as the excesses committed by the medieval Church did back in pre-Enlightenment days.)

So, basically, what you have here is one side that holds fast and dear to the historic teachings and traditions of the Church, grounded in Holy Scripture; another believing that, to truly live out Jesus’ teachings as laid out in the Gospels, the modern Church must cast aside such outdated teachings and doctrines, and work towards a world that is truly one, united not necessarily under the Cross of Jesus Christ, but under a much holier umbrella of tolerance, acceptance, and diversity. That, my friends, is the crux of the biscuit, and the dilemma facing the Anglican Communion as it slides unalterably towards schism.

Next: What people on both sides of the equation are saying, and how they are putting those actions into words.

Filed in: Religion & Culture by The Great White Shank at 01:51 | Comments Off on A Defiant Response
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