The real danger to the Anglican Communion is not the controversy about what to do with the ministry of gay and lesbian people within the Church. It is bound up in the way that some of us refuse to see each other as “real” Christians. Our decision to dismiss and objectify people with whom we disagree, whether they be left, right, gay, straight, American, African or whatever, is fundamentally changing the nature of this branch of the Church. It is destroying something rare and precious. We should stop. (I say “we” ’cause I do it too.) At its core the problem is that we arrogantly assume that we, as individuals or groups, have enough of the truth, in and of ourselves, that we have no need of real engagement with each other.
“Conversation” that is entered into with the presumption of knowing the final result is not conversation but attempted conversion. The job of the conversion of our fellow Christians belongs to the Holy Spirit. Our job, as members of God’s Church, is reconciliation.
Over the years that I have been an Episcopal Priest I have frustrated people who tried to figure out if I was “progressive” or “orthodox.” I have been excoriated in front of my parish by my then bishop for being a “closed minded hyper-orthodox thinker.” I have had my fellow clergy refuse to share the peace with me at the Eucharist because I insisted that gay and lesbian people have a rightful place in this church. I have been hissed at by fellow clergy at General Convention for being a priest of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. I have had bishops refuse to receive communion with me because I voted to confirm Gene Robinson’s election as bishop. I say all this to set-up my next point, and also as a personal illustration of my admittedly limited experience of being objectified and not heard.
I am, in truth, a moderate. I am theologically conservative and socially liberal. (I’m a financial conservative and a speculative scientist as well in case that matters…) I believe that we are all in the process of being transformed – and that we do not yet know what we shall become. I make no claim that my position is better than other positions. I am in spiritual danger of becoming a “luke-warm” laodicean Christian because of my moderation. I often long after the passion and self-assurance of others.
Because of my place in the “middle” I have good friends on both side of the “issues” confronting the Anglican Communion at the moment. I treasure them and the richness my relationships with them bring to my life. The thought that I might lose them because of our insistence upon “purity” of thought is making me sick.
The common wisdom at the moment is that the Anglican Communion is suffering its troubles because it contains two completely separate religions. And because there are two religions (which are assumed to be irreconcilable) it is thought that a separation between the two must occur so that there will be two churches – each of which can than go its separate way unencumbered by any need to make accommodation in its daily life for the other.
Besides the fact that this view is totally anti-thetical to St. Paul’s repeated teaching about the Church as the Body of Christ (which is made up of many members but is one body – see I Cor. 12), it is also the wrong diagnosis.
There is a common perception on the part of the public about Episcopalians that we are “catholic-lite”. We like the form of being church, but we don’t want to deal with the inconvenience that belief sometimes brings. While there are certainly folks within this denomination that focus on form rather than meaning, this idea that we are “lite Christians” is unfair. We are a church that is deeply, deeply formed by our incarnational theology. This theology leads us to a certain sensuality in worship and church life. But it also causes us to be a relational church rather than a confessional church. Like the Moravians, we are formed and informed by our insistence on seeing Christ in others.
But this core value is under assault today. There is a cacophony of intolerant voices doing rhetorical violence to the people with whom they disagree. Terms like “pagan”, “homo-priest”, “priestess”, “neo-puritan”, “nazi”, “bully-boy”, and “intellectual midgets” have become the common language of our church’s conversation. The language has so degenerated that our behavior has become a scandal to people outside the Church. (See this article in the New York Times.)
Our language reflects the spiritual arrogance that is the real enemy attacking our Communion from within. The various voices have decided that they are self-sufficient in and of ourselves. They have no need of others – especially of those with whom they disagree. Bishop Paul Marshall pointed this out in an article in the Living Church back in 2002. Archbishop Rowan Williams repeatedly points to our lack of humility in our internal dialogue. And until we recognize that spiritual arrogance is the core of our problem, we are a people who are losing our hope.
Look – this is an issue for all of us. Including “moderates” like myself. My own spiritual arrogance has to do with my preconclusion that my lack of passion and my moderation lets me see more clearly than others. There is just as much danger for us “moderates” when we start to believe that if others could just be “sensible” like we are, the anger would cease and we could get on with the mission of the Church.
The solution is not going to come from convincing other people that “we” are “right”. It is going to come when we stop trying to do what “we” want and start listening very very very hard to hear what God wants.