Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Unity in Diversity, Not in Uniformity

I often use the homily at the Wednesday Eucharist to think out loud about something that I think may be important. Today, as we commemorated Augustine of Canterbury, I tried to make some sense of unity in diversity, and especially of the limits on diversity within the Church. This is not only an issue for churches within the Anglican Communion, although that is the context in which it engages me.

I was asked recently if I would, were I to be serving on a diocesan Standing Committee, approve the ordination of someone in committed same-sex relationship when the majority of churches in the Communion would not approve. I didn't answer, chiefly because I find it hard to answer hypothetical questions which usually lack sufficient information for an intelligent answer. The question did get me thinking, once again, about how large a circle of approval a church needs. If we were to draw the circle to include the Roman Catholic Church, we wouldn't have women in holy orders or be able to allow divorced persons to marry without going through an annulment process which many Episcopalians find objectionable. Drawing the circle, as some have proposed, to include the churches of the Anglican Communion is certainly an option. That would mean that the Episcopal Church would refrain from any action which was not acceptable to the other churches in the Communion.  That might not mean acceptable in the sense that all or a majority of the churches would act in the same way, but that the churches are willing to let the Episcopal Church act in that way.

That seems to me be the proposal which the churches of Communion must consider. Although I see the logic of this proposal, I am not willing to accept it. In reading today's lesson from the Gospel according to Luke (5:1-11), I had a thought about the "fishing for people" metaphor, a metaphor which I don't like much. I thought about the differences of equipment and technique between bass fishing and trout fishing. Different contexts require different approaches to fishing.

How we think about, profess, and confess the faith (to borrow from John Douglas Hall) has to be contextual or it will be as unfaithful and unfruitful as using the wrong equipment and techniques when fishing. There are, of course, limits to diversity, just as there are in fishing - dynamite is not acceptable fishing equipment - but uniformity is not the right goal. Unity that is rooted in love - and not in absolute agreement - is what God intends for the Church, unity that allows for the diversity that our diverse contexts require.

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