Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Lambeth Conference

I have been encouraged by what I am hearing from US bishops who are attending the Lambeth Conference, as well as by the comments of Brian McLaren who addressed the bishops on the challenge of making disciples. (Susan Russel has posted on her blog Bishop Kirk Smith's comments on McLaren's presentation.) There appears to be a recognition, even a celebration, of the diversity of the bishops of the Anglican Communion.

What is discouraging is both the exclusion of the Bishop of New Hampshire and the boycotting of the Conference by leaders of the GAFCON movement. Bishop Robinson has been taking his exclusion with his usual graciousness. The GAFCON response to the presence of US bishops who consented to or participated in Bishop Robinson's consecration has been far from gracious. Not only have many of the bishops involved in GAFCON boycotted the Conference, others who are attending refused to receive Communion at Sunday's Eucharist. Both actions are quite literally communion-breaking.

Andrew Goodard of the Anglican Communion Institute has written a scathing critique of the GAFCON response to the proposed draft of the Anglican Covenant. After reading Dr. Goddard's analysis of the GAFCON response, I have come to the conclusion that the leaders of GAFCON have no interest in a covenant that would help to hold the Anglican Communion together, but only in creating an “Anglican Communion” that is confessional - with a confession that is reflective only of their theology and understanding of Scripture.

I pray that I am wrong about that, as I value my relationships with Anglicans from the Global South, with Anglicans from all over, especially with those with whom I disagree. I value being part of a Communion that is not theologically monochrome, a Communion where we can disagree in love about important matters. If there are those who are unable or unwilling in such a Communion, I pray that they will find a place where they can grow in Christ, but I believe that the Anglican Communion will be poorer without them, and I suspect that their lives will be poorer without us.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Risk-taking God

The RCL lessons for the past two Sundays (July 13 & 20) underscored the very risky nature of God's mission. A sower who scatters seed on good soil and bad without distinction and a land-owner who allows weeds to flourish among the wheat - what a revelation of God's profligate love for us! And what a challenge to the Church to be as wildly risk-taking in sharing the Good News with others.

There is no support in the parable of the sower for applying cost-benefit considerations to the Church's work. We are called to share the Good News as freely with those whom we would judge as "poor prospects" as we do with those who appear most likely to respond. And we are to resist the temptation to judge whether folks are wheat or weeds, leaving that judgment to God. I am even tempted to see in the parable of the weeds among the wheat a hint that perhaps growing up with weeds all around is good for the wheat! Certainly practicing what John Stott once called "rabbit hole Christianity" is not faithful discipleship. Isolating ourselves from anyone who is not a Christian - or our kind of Christian - for fear that we will be soiled by contact with them seems to indicate a lack of faith in God's ability to protect us from the evil one. (John 17:15)

I believe that the Church is being called to take risks in its ministry and to trust patiently the One who has called us.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Recommended Reading

Tobias Haller, BSG has written a wonderful essay about the importance of meeting with those with whom we disagree. He ends the essay:

As to the Gospel, it is in how we relate to those with whom we disagree that we reveal our likeness to Christ, who came to us and was among us while we were yet sinners, who was in fact most commonly found meeting with the sinners as opposed to the righteous. The “mind of Christ” which we are called to have in and among ourselves was the mind that brought him to us empty of glory, in order to save. Christ himself did not delay his coming to us until we were suitably redeemed: the whole point of his coming among us, while we were at odds with God, was to bring us what we lacked — unity in him, and forgiveness. It is not the healthy that need a physician, nor is it the unanimous who require a meeting.

During my upcoming sabbatical I will be visiting congregations in New England to learn how Episcopalians are learning to treat with respect those with whom they disagree and are continuing to meet at the Lord's Table.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


Bishop Wright wrote two responses to the GAFCON declarations for the Fulcrum website. I responded to the second which was much less glowing than the first. I also submitted a comment about the discussion of the Presiding Bishop's response to GAFCON. Read Bishop Wright's comments - and perhaps his earlier comments as well - before reading my response.

I applaud Dr. Wright on his taking another look at GAFCON, but I disagree with his assessment of the crisis in the Anglican Communion. As one who applauded the action of the 2003 General Convention of the Episcopal Church in consenting to the election of Gene Robinson, I know that my views may be in the minority in this forum, but the Anglican Communion will not survive this crisis if we refuse to listen to one another.

From the beginning I thought the crisis was, like the crisis over the ordination of women, a crisis of choice. By that I mean that traditionalists chose to make the ordination of a partnered gay bishop a communion-breaking issue and have viewed those who disagreed with them as unfaithful to the Gospel. Oddly, few have seen disagreements on other ethical issues as communion-breaking. I am still willing to be in communion with Anglicans who seem to ignore the Gospel's concern for the poor, or who disagree with me about capital punishment or the war in Iraq.

Making this one issue the litmus test for orthodox faith was a choice, perhaps a conscientious choice, to be sure, but a choice nonetheless. As a lifelong pacifist, I have been enriched by being in communion with those who do not share my convictions, with many who served faithfully in the military. I have been enriched by the diversity of convictions on many matters that exist within the Anglican Communion, within the Episcopal Church and my diocese, and within the parish I serve. It was a Provost of Coventry Cathedral who wrote, "If everyone in the Church were just like, what kind of Church would that be?" My answer is that the Church would be impoverished.

What GAFCON is proposing is, I believe, an impoverished Church, a Church where no dissenting or prophetic voices will be heard, a Church which will ultimately define itself over against the "wicked revisionists." Such a Church is fissiparous and we can expect to see divisions over other issues. Dr. Wright has already identified the ordination of women as one issue, but there will be others in time and those issues may well result in further divisions between the truly orthodox and those no longer orthodox enough.

Even though I don't agree with many of the comments that are posted in the Fulcrum Forums, am often confused by the acronyms, and don't understand the Church of England all that well, I have found it valuable to read the comments.

Monday, July 7, 2008

You May Be Mistaken

"I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken." (Oliver Cromwell)

Although this comes from what for me is a very unlikely source, Cromwell's advice is worth heeding. In the debates that are going on within the Anglican Communion, I often sense that some folks on all sides are not open to the possibility that they might be mistaken. I also sense, in me at any rate, a dangerous desire to define myself over against someone else: I am a progressive and not one of those terrible traditionalists!

Avoiding that danger, I see myself as one who is defined by God, who is becoming what God wants me to be - a beloved child of God formed in the likeness of Christ. And that means that I am by definition a sinner wh0m Christ came to save. And if a sinner, then most of the time - maybe all the time - mistaken in my understanding of the Good News.

Acknowledging that I might be - am likely to be - wrong does not mean that I don't stand upon my convictions, that I don't act as I believe God wants me to act. But I hope that I stand and act with a certain modesty, open to the strong possibillity that I'm mistaken and that I will need to stop and go in a new direction.