Some thoughts on the papers Christopher Wells and Lionel Deimel have posted…

Centrists / General Convention / Religion

Lionel Deimel and Christopher Wells have asked me to comment on the series of papers they have posted over the past couple of days. My thoughts below are jotted, not really “written”. I, like many of the people attending the General Convention, am on the road at the moment and not in my office surrounded by my regular tools and references. Given that disclaimer…

Firstly, I’m delighted to see that they have done this. The way to get past the hurt and the insults we have all endured for the past few years is to stop reacting to straw men and start listening to what the other party is actually saying. I believe that in this process that Christopher and Lionel have put together we can see a good model for how this can happen. They’ve looked to see what they can agree with in each other’s stance. They’ve looked to see where they disagree with the stance but taking care not to attack their fellow Christian. And then they’ve tried to make suggestions on what might happen to move the process forward a step. The process they are using seems similar to the one that Brian Cox and others have developed as part of the work they have been doing on Reconciliation. (N.B. reconciliation does not imply agreement. It means learning to live with each other and learning to respect each other’s consciences – which is not something the majority in the Episcopal Church has historically been able to do, no matter which viewpoint is in the majority at a given moment.)

Secondly, I’m struck by how deeply the views of each of the writers are influenced by their particular setting and place. Lionel writes as a “reappraiser” member of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, one of the few dioceses in the Episcopal Church where the “reasserter” party has a strong working majority. As such he has a sense of being on the margin and not being a full participant in the workings of the Church. (I base this on conversations with Lionel. Though I was once a priest in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, I’ve not been in the Diocese for almost 8 years now.) I believe that Lionel’s experience informs a good part of his concern with the idea of an Anglican Covenant and an active Council of Primates. Christopher, who is studying at a Roman Catholic theology school is very concerned about the effects caused as a result of the actions of General Convention in 2003 on the larger life of the Church. He is much more comfortable with parts of the church being subordinate to others and sees no reason to fear such an arrangment. I’ve not spoken with Christopher directly, but I would guess that he has had a chance to witness the sort of real-politic give and take that underlies the life of any Communion of churches and, as a result, is less anxious than Lionel about the possibility of such a structure arising in Anglicanism.

This recognition of each others’ sitz-im-leben is, I think, the critical first step for both Lionel and Christopher to be able to truly hear what the other person is saying. And by extension for us as well. One of the first steps of the reconciliation process is the telling of our own history and having other people repeat it back to us. Once we start to see each other as fellow members of the Body of Jesus, we start to be appropriately concerned that each be respected.

Speaking parenthetically on the topic of mutual respect; I believe that the present issues have been made much worse than they might otherwise have been because there has not been a perception of fairness and equality under the canons applied to all in the Church. Different groups believe that the canons have been used in un-fair ways against them in various situations. Our polity has not been able to find a way for groups feeling thus to find redress of their concerns. But that is more an issue to be dealt with under the rubric of the Anglican Covenant should we manage to get to that point. The issue here is that of the requests made of the Windsor Report to the Episcopal Church.

Moving away from process questions for a moment and looking at the actual issue being discussed, I find myself, as a person who is going to be expected to weigh both arguments and then vote, better informed about the question and its implications. I think Lionel makes an important point when he asks us to recognize that the particular genius of Anglicanism may need to be separated from the particular polity of the Anglican Communion at an instant in time. I think Christopher points to a deep truth as well – it’s impossible to be a “bridge” or to have “comprehension of positions” if one is not willing to be part of the community in need of said bridge. And that communities have norms and do place expectations on their membership.

Finally, Lionel’s conclusion ends with a recognition that the Episcopal Church may need to slow down and/or stop pressing for a season. This would allow a time and a space to reflect and listen to each other by not moving in ways that are perceived by others as precipitous. By Lionel’s own admission this is a slight shift in his thinking. Such a statement has been arrived at by the work of listening to and dialogue with Christopher’s points.

Does this work that Lionel and Christopher have jointly done lead me to make up my mind one way or the other? Not yet. In part because we still don’t know what form the legislation presented to the deputies will take, but more importantly because I am still working on listening. I believe that in the formal hearings and informal conversations in Columbus over the next days, there is more to be learned and digested. And most importantly there is a great deal of prayer to be done between now and then as well.

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...