Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Politicizing the Church: 2

Back in July, while General Convention was in full swing, my brother Sterling shared some observations and thoughts with me about the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. I have his permission to share them here.

It helps to know that Sterling received chrismation into the Greek Orthodox Church several years ago. He's a very faithful and knowledgeable Orthodox Christian. So he's looking at the Episcopal Church/Anglicanism from the outside. But it's precisely because he has both distance from all of the divisiveness plaguing the Anglican house and a grounded spiritual life in the faith of the Church that I find his comments on the politicizing of the Church so perceptive and, sadly, so accurate.

I should also add that my brother's comments were offered to me in the spirit of love and concern. And it is in that same spirit that I offer them more widely.

This may be obvious, but the tone of these discussions is overwhelmingly political. Now, certainly there is no lack of political maneuvering within the hierarchy of the Orthodox Church. And again, there were moments when statements from Anglican sources clearly reflected a genuinely religious concern for the Apostolic Christian faith. I guess the difference seems to be a presupposition lurking behind the Anglican discussions that the search for a solution is obviously a purely political matter. I doubt that anyone would want to admit that, but where I sense fervor, that fervor feels political rather than religious. No one on either side, with the exceptions being Wright and Williams, has left me believing that they truly feel the awesome burden of standing in the role that the apostles once filled. If they did surely there wouldn't be room for such a lack of humility (and reverence) on all sides. I just don't sense the Holy Spirit in the midst of any of this. It feels like an entirely human endeavor that bottoms out in philosophical ethics at best, and at worst, again, in pure political rhetoric. Its a kind of cynicism that I'm not used to. ...

I'm accustomed to the Orthodox sensibility about authority, particularly with regard to bishops and archbishops, according to which obedience itself is a major virtue. It is a common matter of course for our priests to alter their doctrine and practice, without public comment, purely out of obedience to their bishop. Of course, this gets kind of tricky. There are certainly major saints who appropriately defied corrupt bishops. Nevertheless, those people were always acutely aware of the gravity that their actions carried in that regard. I guess I just don't see anyone in these Anglican debates asking themselves what place the whole concept of obedience should have in the proceedings. If they were, even if the answer turned out to be that obedience must be forsaken, that course would be taken with fear and trembling. I'm not seeing that.

I can't help but believe that a real gut-level faith in the divine/human nature of the Church would totally transfigure these proceedings. I'm used to ecclesiology, and ecclesiological devotion, being central to the concept of Christianity. All sides in the Anglican Communion, even those who feel it would be a tragedy, sound to me like they would find it far too easy to walk away.


Christopher said...

Now to come at this as a Benedictine.

Humility is not humiliation. Some who are insisting on being treated with dignity are acting precisely in the spirit of humility which is not humiliation. There are facets to humility as the Benedictines know well. Frankly, I do not see Bp Wright as humble. He is quite arrogant in the ways he has spoken of persons of my sort and condition.

Obedience in Benedictine tradition is rooted in obedire, to listen to, and is never a one-sided affair. I've know the I-speak-you-jump sort of authority. It's dangerous, and post-WWII and the Churhces' collusion (not to mention colonialism and more), to not take in historical correction to such terms is gravely troubling. We Anglicans take historical correction seriously, that is part of how we understand our ecclesial Christology. To pretend to escape politics is silliness. Has anyone here actually read the mess of Nicaea? As Stringfellow reminds, precisely because we recognize God working God's purposes out in all portions of human existence, including politis, we can claim to be an incarnational people as Anglicans. The minute we want to pretend there are no politics--people interacting, we usually are the most political of all. And knowing enough Orthodox, there are plenty of politics to be had in that tradition, just a lot more passive-aggressively than our own.

Which gets to the third part. We don't so much have an ecclesiology, as an ecclesial Christology, a la Ramsey. We have gotten so bogged down in ourselves, that we have failed to serve Christ in the other, greeting and bowing appropriately as our Benedictine inheritance might ask.

The point, there is no panacaea or green fields. Embrace the mess. God is here. Lately though Fr Bryan, your posts have veered to the sour and that will not inspire anyone to Christ.

Bryan Owen said...

Thanks for sharing your opinions, Christopher.

Of course, there's politics, and then there's politics. It's not all necessarily the same thing. And so I'm rather hesitant to compare anything happening in the Episcopal Church/Anglican Communion these days to the outcome of the Council of Nicaea.

As to inspiring anyone to Christ, I know for a fact that, at least in my diocese, not just self-identified conservative Episcopalians (lay and clergy), but increasing numbers of self-identified moderate or centrist Episcopalians (lay and clergy) are growing increasingly weary, not just of the fighting, but especially of "theological" statements they hear and read from "progressive" church leaders. They no longer feel "inspired to Christ" within the Episcopal Church. They are considering leaving.

I've been told by some "progressives" that that's okay, let them go. We can always replace them with others. Which suggests to me that for some of us, we have brothers and sisters in Christ who are expendable.

Talk about veering to the sour!

DavidB said...

At least we're not alone:
"The 2009 Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) on August 21 approved opening the ministry of the church to pastors and other professional workers living in committed same-gender relationships. The resolution passed by a vote of 559 to 451 and overturns previous church policy that prohibited participation of gays and lesbians in church ministries unless they were celibate.

Discussions about human sexuality have dominated the August 17-23 assembly in Minneapolis, the chief legislative authority of the 4.6 million-member denomination. ...
The assembly also approved a resolution committing the church to find ways for congregations that choose to do so to "recognize, support and hold publicly accountable life-long, monogamous, same-gender relationships." It did not use the word "marriage." It also approved, by a vote of 771-230, a resolution committing the church to respect the differences of opinions on the matter and honor the "bound consciences" of those who disagree."

So, 230 delegates voted against respecting differences of opinion and the consciences of those who disagree. Now that's political! I pray that this issue will be less divisive in their church than it has in ours and that people on both sides approach each other more respectfully.

Joe Rawls said...

Thank you, Sterling, for a perceptive comment. I think that for many Anglicans "ecclesiology" is just another buzz word, regardless of their place on the theological spectrum.

Joe said...

These words were particularly striking: "...I just don't sense the Holy Spirit in the midst of any of this. It feels like an entirely human endeavor that bottoms out in philosophical ethics at best, and at worst, again, in pure political rhetoric. Its a kind of cynicism that I'm not used to. ..."

Amen. I heard a similar comment from a long time Episcopalian in my parish, "I just don't see the face of Christ in any of this ... ."

May God be merciful.

Joe Roberts