Wednesday, January 28, 2009

O Canada!

During my fall sabbatical as a Proctor Scholar at Episcopal Divinity School, I found a wonderful new friend in the other Proctor Scholar, Wayne Stewart, a Canadian Anglican. Both of is audited a course with one of the longest titles in recorded history: The Episcopal Church and The Anglican Communion: Imperial Impulses and the Post-Colonial Church. Taught by the Rev. Dr. Ian T. Douglas, Angus Dun Professor of Mission and World Christianity, the course considered not only current relationships within the Anglican Communion, but also the history of mission in the Communion, and especially in The Episcopal Church. Professor Douglas is the obvious person to teach such a course - he was the only seminary professor from The Episcopal Church on the design team for the 2008 Lambeth Conference.

The reading list for the course included books by Kevin Ward, a lecturer at the University of Leeds; Episcopal priest Mark Harris; Miranda Hassett, soon to be ordained to the priesthood in the Diocese of New Hampshire; Ephraim Radner, professor at Wycliffe College in Toronto; Philip Turner, Vice President of The Anglican Institute; Bruce Kaye, General Secretary of the Anglican Church of Australia from 1994 to 2004; and Professor Douglas; as well as a collection of essays edited by Douglas and his EDS colleague, Kwok Pui-lan, William F. Cole Professor of Christian Theology and Spirituality. That collection, Beyond Colonial Anglicanism: The Anglican Communion in the Twenty-First Century, included essays by scholars from England, South Africa, the West Indies, Tanzania, Canada, the United States, Brazil, New Zealand, and India. (A copy of the list is posted here.)

During class and in discussions over meals, Wayne and I both wondered why it was that The Episcopal Church, rather than The Anglican Church of Canada, was the target of so much criticism from conservatives in the Communion. Although The Episcopal Church has a partnered gay Bishop, there are now three or four Canadian Dioceses that have approved official rites for the blessing of same-sex unions, something which has not happened in Episcopal Dioceses. Wayne would often say that the Canadians had tried to take some of the heat off their southern neighbors, but that their efforts were futile. Somehow, we concluded, conservatives prefered to attack The Episcopal Church, often comparing the decision to ordain the Bishop of New Hampshire to the decision to invade Iraq.

The United States government, and US institutions, including The Episcopal Church, are easy targets. The US has, particularly during the past eight years, demonstrated a frightening ability to act unilatterally, pursuing its own often narrow interests and ignoring the legitimate concerns of others. The US is frequently seen, with some justification, as a schoolyard bully. I often agree with that assessment, but I am deeply troubled by that kind of characterization of The Episcopal Church, to which I have belonged for most of my life and which I have served for more than thirty-five years.

I propose two challenges for members of the Churches of the Anglican Commnuion. For those of use who belong to The Episcopal Church, the challenge is to be very mindful of how we act in our realtionships with Anglicans in other parts of the Communion, especially Anglicans in the southern hemisphere. We can be arrogant without even knowing it as we fall prey to the myth of American exceptionalism. Humility and a profound commitement to listening are very much needed as we continue to explore how we can remain in communion with sisters and brothers with whom we have some serious disagreements.

For Anglicans who are upset with the actions of The Episcopal Curch, the challenge is not to allow legitimate anger about US government actions to color their assessment of The Episcopal Church. Conservatives have legitimate concerns about the actions of The Episcopal Church, but equating those actions with the invasion of Iraq does not help any of us move ahead in finding ways to work together as Anglicans. The missio Dei, God's work of reconciliation in the world is too important, and our participation in it is too urgent.

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