Jesus’ silence and the questions facing the Communion

Centrists / Religion

Wonderful post by Ben Myers entitled “Alfred Hitchcock, the Church, and the silence of Jesus” of which this is just a part:

“In his remarkable book, Christ on Trial, Rowan Williams suggests that what we mean when we speak of God’s transcendence ought thus to be refracted through what he calls the ‘obstinate uselessness’ of Jesus’ silence before his accusers.

‘If we are really to have our language about the transcendence – the sheer, unimaginable differentness – of God recreated, it must be by the emptying out of all we thought we knew about it, the emptying out of practically all we normally mean by greatness. No more about the lofty distance of God, the sovereignty that involves control over all circumstances: God’s ‘I am’ can only be heard for what it really is when it has no trace of human power left to it.’

It is in this way that Jesus’ silence could begin shaping the practice of the Church. To participate in Jesus’ silence would mean to commit ourselves afresh to an alternative, non-instrumental mode of communal life. It would require that we abandon that perverse moral calculus that implicitly – and, at times, even explicitly – determines what is worthwhile and useful and constructive in Western society.

That is how I understand Stanley Hauerwas’ oft cited axiom: that the first task of the Church is not to make the world a better place, but to make the world the world. In other words, the sheer difference of the Church’s common life – what one might call our sacramentality – represents a kind of refusal to convey upon our given social, political and economic structures any moral legitimacy. It stands for the refusal to resign itself to the soulless Realpolitik that now structures and defines our societal sanity.”

Read Ben’s complete post here.

Not resigning ourselves to the World is not the same as overthrowing the World, or just simply rejecting the World. It is, to paraphrase Neibuhr, a call to stay engaged with the World so as to transform the World.

I guess at the core, this the reason that I see the Covenant process as being worth pursuing. (For what it’s worth there was a new draft of the proposed Anglican Covenant released yesterday. I’ve not really had a chance to do anything more than skim it, and won’t until next week.) Following the same reasoning as Hauerwas’ I think it’s worth staying engaged with the Covenant process because I think the Episcopal Church with our uniquely American polity has something to bring to the table. I don’t particularly like that we’re all being asked to sign on to something, but since we Episcopalians lost that Anglican Communion vote, the best course of action now is to stay at the table.

And oddly, perhaps paradoxically, I say this out of the line of reasoning that Myers is enumerating above. Walking away is the worldly response. It is an abnegation of Hope.

Walking away would be a form of rejection and would seem to me to choose the path of resignation and not engagement.

The Author

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


  1. I have spent some time with the draft. It is E. Radner all over again. It formalizes the “instruments of communion” even though no such exist at this moment, institutionalizes the primate’s meetings as jurisdictional, and creates formal processes whereby someone can pick which of the four jurisdictional institutions one uses to expel a province for not maintaining the status quo. In short it is an IRD/ACI fantasy in the flesh.
    For Canadians and Americans it contains a drop dead unacceptable process for granting de facto if not de jure standing to the schismatic organizations. It permits churches not currently in communion to affirm the covenant an then allows each ‘instrument’ to individually grant standing. No suggestion that such standing might be a problem given what we now call ‘incursions.’
    Other than that I guess, it is fine.
    The question is not I think, what goes into a covenant. It is do we want an Anglican Church (Dr. Williams’s oft used term) or do we want an Anglican Communion? In the first case, the draft will likely serve, in the second it is a dead letter.
    If “staying at the table” means discussing what could reasonably go into an acceptable covenant that would be a worthy thing to do. If it means trying to fine tune Dr. Radner’s vision of worldwide wrong wing control and then move under it, that is another matter entire.
    Or so it seems to me.

  2. Jim, is it possible that by moving to the particulars of the political, you’ve inadvertently fallen into the trap we all do? The effect of dismissing Dr. Radner’s words with pejorative ones of your own shuts down the possibility of loving and transformative engagement.
    It seems to me that we are all in danger of forgetting that Rabbi Friedman’s urge towards healthy self-differentiation was meant to occur within the context of continued engagement of the system.

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