Thursday, July 24, 2008

On the Anglican Communion

I hesitated to write this post, since I am new to Anglicanism and have so little knowledge, compared to others, of the history and dynamics of the movement. But I needed to write it, to help me process my growing concerns about the Anglican church and the movement within Anglicanism of which I find myself a member. Because I am no spokesperson for the church of which I am a part or of the larger AMiA movement, I ask that you please not link to, refer to, or quote any part of this post unless you ask my permission first.

With that in mind, I would love to hear feedback from my other Anglican readers or anyone who has wise things to say looking in from the outside. If you are outside of this whole argument looking in, please keep your criticism of the church to a minimum. I promise I have heard it all before, and it won't convince me. I can say from experience that the church is a messy place with broken people who often make mistakes and hurt others. But I am convinced that it is no worse than the world outside of the church and that those of us within it are thankful to have the grace of God to forgive ourselves and one another and to try again.

When my husband and I were first married and looking for a church, we stumbled across this crazy church in the Chicago suburbs that used the Anglican Book of Common Prayer but was not yet part of the Anglican Communion. Having never been part of a liturgical church before, we both found the service intriguing but perhaps a bit too Catholic feeling for our Protestant tastes. But the more we attended, the more we fell in love, with the liturgy, the rhythm of the church calendar, and the ways in which each service engaged all of our senses in worship of the Creator God. Before we knew it, we were becoming members.

Not long after we joined the church, the church leadership began looking for a larger tradition to join. In their search for accountability and communion, they decided to join the Anglican Mission in the Americas (AMiA), under the leadership of Rwanda. Having not been part of an Anglican tradition in the past, I knew little about the movement. I did have some notion of its being a reaction to the Episcopal church's increasingly unorthodox theology, but I didn't give too much thought to the politics of it all. Mostly, I was excited about being connected to the church in Africa in such a real way. Being a student of InterCultural Studies at the time, I was excited to be a part of a church whose leadership was Rwandan, as it made real the upside-down nature of God's kingdom. Besides, I was in love with my church and the Anglican tradition by then.

When we moved back South, it seemed natural to my husband and I to join another AMiA church. Now here I am, six years into being Anglican and definitely committed to my local church body, but with many questions and concerns about the movement in which I am now involved.

It is not my intention to delve too much into the theological divide in Anglicanism, but I think it is necessary to explain where my beliefs lie. I understand and affirm the need of Episcopalians to leave their churches and find new leadership in a desire to maintain the truths of the faith. I have heard stories from many former Episcopalians of churches where the life, death and literal resurrection of Jesus are no longer preached and where the uniqueness of Christianity is denied. If the central truths of the faith are not taught, I would not want to be a part of that local church body either. On the issue of ordaining practicing homosexuals, I also disagree with the Episcopal hierarchy. I'm not going to try to defend my view here, just present it. But I will say that I know homosexuals who have accepted a call to ministry and therefore committed themselves to celibacy in order to stay within the teachings of scripture. I know the issue is complicated, and I usually try to stay out of it and just love the people around me. Maybe another post, another time. (I'm intentionally avoiding the issue of ordaining women here, as I see it as one on which believing Christians can have differing and valid opinions, and for which scripture offers objections that are specific to a particular audience.)

Why, you may ask, if I seem to side with the beliefs found within the AMiA movement, do I have concerns about where I am? I think my concerns have been growing for a while, but the recent GAFCON statement, from the leaders of my movement and others like it, as well as the controversy surrounding Lambeth, have brought things to a head. I have read the GAFCON statement, as well as Archbishop Williams' response to it, which I found to be very thoughtful and wise in it's criticisms and affirmations. I also appreciated N.T. Wright's response to the situation in the Anglican communion.

I love our local church, and I have been impressed with the spiritual vitality and genuine community I have found at every AMiA church I have visited. There are many godly and wise people involved in this movement, and I have great respect for them. I am also thankful for our leaders in Rwanda, men who have seen great evil and are working to bring healing and reconciliation to a troubled nation while still offering pastoral support to their much wealthier brothers and sisters in America. Our local church has had a lot of contact with the church in Rwanda, being instrumental in beginning a sister-parish network for the AMiA churches and Rwandan parishes. In fact, my in-laws just returned from a trip to visit our sister parish with a team from our church. I am excited about the new paradigm that is developing, in which we partner with the African church and serve one another. I think it has a great potential to heal some of the scars of colonialism and to empower the African leadership.

But while I love the people of the AMiA movement and agree that their theological stance is an orthodox one, I fear that we are making a great mistake that may do more harm than good to the Anglican Communion. There is an immediate need for pastoral oversight for those who have left the Episcopal church as a matter of conscience, and the African leadership has done a good job of fulfilling that need. But it is not a long-term solution. As Archbishop Williams suggests, Anglican leadership has historically been local, and in the long run, we cannot have two Anglicanisms in America. By holding a meeting in protest of Lambeth and issuing a statement, I fear that those involved in GAFCON have unecissarily drawn a line in the sand. While it may not be their intention, they seem to be saying that other Anglicans need to join with them or deny the historical truths of Christianity. I don't think such a push in necessary.

So what should we do? It seems to me that those of us who are part of the AMiA movement and others like it would do best to focus on building a vital and genuine community of faith among ourselves while maintaining communion with the Anglican body. If we truly believe that ours is the historical and orthodox representation of Anglicanism in American, then we should trust that it will endure. Eventually, the greater Anglican Communion will have to address the issues that are dividing the Episcopal church. Until they do and a decision is made, pressure to choose sides will only create a rift that could split a tradition I have come to love. There may come a time when the majority of Anglicans decide that the Episcopal movement is correct, and at that time, a stand may be needed. In the meantime, I fear we are pushing too hard and too soon. I pray that as we continue to work out what it means to be orthodox, Anglican, and American, we will learn greater caution and the value of keeping silent, praying and seeking wisdom over the long term in a desire to unite and not divide the communion.

Of course, this is only my opinion, as I wrestle with and pray through this issue. And I realize that those who have come out of the Episcopal movement and who remain in it have a lot of pain from a difficult history that I have not experienced. I would love to hear your thoughts, especially those of you who love the Anglican Communion.


Jana Morgan said...

I would just like to say that I find your post on this complicated issue to be very measured and thoughtful. I regularly attended the Falls Church (Episcopal) in Falls Church, VA during a time not long before that church left the Episcopal church. The current church that I attend embraces many components of the Anglican liturgy, but it is still non-denominational. However we are in the process of thinking about joining a denomination and considering which one. To me the saddest thing about the division of Anglicanism in America is the way that it is distracting the church. While I understand that there may be important things at stake, the internal fight is painful and takes away from the mission of bringing God's kingdom to earth. I pray that there is a way to resolve the division that respects the diversity within the Anglican movement while also embracing at least basic orthodoxy. It is hard to know which issues are worth such a painful and often mean-spirited division. Thank you for your thoughtfulness on such a polarizing topic.

Tipper said...

Interesting post.

Kerry said...

I am one of those who would like to see a seperate structure for orthodox Anglicans in the US, but you've made a good case for waiting, too.

My main impetus is that this divide between the orthodox and the "progressive" parts of the church has been growing for more than 70 years...and I believe the divide is widening to become a chasm. By continuing to wait, are we laying a stumbling block? I don't know.

It seems to me that many Anglicans, such as yourself, who are new to Anglicanism hold very highly the value of remaining united - which is a worthy value! But those who have been Anglicans longer seem to feel they've already done the waiting and praying and the time is NOW (or soon).

This is where it is good to be in a liturgical church with a strong hierachical structure...I submit to my authority (my priest) who submits to his, and so on and so on (as long as those authorities are not asking me to sin)...and God holds those authorities responsible for what they've taught. (not that we are totally off the hook for not discerning sinfulness)

Bravo to you for tacking such a subject!

Kate said...

This is so much more articulate and well thought out than the rambling email I wrote to you! Thank you for taking the time to share this.

I agree with what Jana has written about knowing 'which issues are worth such a painful and often mean-spirited division' and the way it's distracting the church. That's the saddest part for me too.

I suppose the problem I see with having to choose 'sides' is where do we draw the line between orthodoxy and progressiveness, liberality and traditionalism? I would probably be considered 'liberal' (because of my views on the ordination/consecration of women/homosexual priests/bishops, continual revelation by God of Godself) but I would not say that I am 'progressive'. I fully believe in the literal death and resurrection of Christ and the truth of Christianity. I don't think that liberality and progressiveness necessarily go hand in hand.

While I'm very sad about what's going on in the Anglican Communion, I don't have the deep hurt that many people do, and I think that also affects how I feel about it. I am happy with the stance the Scottish Episcopal Church (which is separate from the Church of England) has taken on many issues and the way it has embraced the diversity within itself (which is perhaps easier done because of its small size). However, there was an interesting documentary on BBC2 the other night about ++Peter Akinola and the African church, and the pain there was very real and needs to be listened to. But equally, I've been reading +Gene Robinson's blog, and he is a very hurt man as well, as are his supporters. Is there a way to move towards healing the pain on both sides without a division? I don't know.

Thank you again for such a thought-provoking post.

TwoSquareMeals said...

Jana, Thanks for reading and commenting. We have several folks in our church who moved here from the DC area and Falls Church, including a deacon we are "borrowing" while he is in Div school. I agree that our focus needs to be on furthering God's kingdom. I think the divisions will take care of themselves, to some extent, as the Spirit leads the church in its mission.

Kerry, I do understand the need for a structure for the orthodox folks who left Episcopal churches for good reason. I just think we already have something that seems to be working for now with AMiA and other groups like it. In the long run, I think the church will have to decide what to do with the issues dividing Anglicans in America. In the meantime, I am afraid that pushing too hard will just break the Communion. Seventy years of conflict may seem long to our American sense of history, but it isn't such a long time to our British counterparts, who tend to make decisions more slowly and thoughtfully than crazy Americans. There are definitely cultural differences at play here between action-oriented Americans and the more cautious British leaders. If Rowan Williams is a godly, humble man, which I have every indication that he is (N.T.Wright's respect for him is enough to convince me), then waiting on his decision, and that of other Archbishops, is worth it.

Kate, I think I am probably progressive, as you define it, on a lot of issues. The one where we disagree would be ordaining practicing homosexuals. I do believe that God continues to reveal himself to us through the Holy Spirit, but I also believe that any revelation He gives will not contradict scripture. It seems to me that scripture and the created order speak pretty clearly about homosexual practice throughout the ages and to the different cultures for which the scriptures were written. It does not seem to be an issue specific to one church or culture like other issues addressed in the Epistles. I think that our tendency to equate sexuality with identity has blinded us in this area. That doesn't mean it isn't still a messy issue. I don't know why some people are born homosexual if practicing it is wrong. And I certainly don't think the church should exclude people who are gay and lesbian from its congregations. But ordaining leaders who practice a lifestyle that the majority of the world's Christians see as a contradiction of scripture does lead to division. I think this issue could ultimately divide the church.

Thanks for commenting, all of you, and feel free to send other folks who might have insight over this way. Just be sure to ask me before you actually publish a link to this post.

'becca said...

Great post! I am "liberal but not progressive" by Kate's definition and belong to a church in Pittsburgh that wants to stay in ECUSA rather than follow Bishop Duncan into schism. The conflict is very upsetting, and I agree that it has been a damaging distraction for everyone.

What bothers me most is the refusal of some leaders of the orthodox Anglican movement to share Communion with and/or pray for people who disagree with them. I know they mean it as a symbol of how deep the rift is and how these differences make the other people "not real Anglicans". But they are missing an opportunity to let Jesus into them and their foes together so that He can heal them and help them find a way forward together. (I know that both sides have indulged in many divisive actions. This is just the one that is most jarringly wrong to me.)

Overall, my sense is that none of this is what Jesus wants. Not only should we all be striving to work together for the Kingdom and love one another, but we shouldn't have all this hierarchy and bureaucracy. Tradition is wonderful when it brings people together, but it can become a snare that prevents us from doing what's right. Comparing what Jesus said about the pharisees and the Jewish traditions to the current situation, I think we have to pray for discernment of truth and remember that our leaders and customs are not gods.

I can't say I "love the Anglican Communion". I love the liturgy because it helps me find God, and I love the idea that millions of people worldwide follow these same patterns of worship. But a lot of the rule-making and quibbling over who is or isn't part of God's club is just distracting. The Kingdom of God is within us, not in Canterbury.

I don't much care if my parish remains Episcopal and/or Anglican. I care about the people who worship there being able to seek and find God in the way that is most effective for us and to share God's love with all who seek it. Whose "pastoral oversight" we're under isn't nearly as important as Who is really guiding us.

MHL said...

Very good post on a difficult topic. I love the liturgy of the Episcopal Church, but am troubled by the Unitarianism/ Universalism I so often hear preached there. (I don't have anything against Unitarians, it's just that I'm not one.) But I think you are definitely correct to be worried by further schism. Shortly before his death, Christ prayed that his disciples be united, and look what a mess we've made of that. Exactly how many Protestant denominations are there now?

I'm in the odd postion of being pretty liberal on most social issues, but pretty conservative theologically. I've about gotten to the point of deciding I should be either a conservative Episcopalian or a liberal Catholic. I still haven't decided which. :)

At A Hen's Pace said...

The discussion here has been so respectful--I really appreciate that!

Another way of looking at the situation is that a majority of the worldwide Anglican communion feels a schism was already created by the Americans when they started departing from the Scriptures and ordaining practicing homosexual priests, and then bishops.

Many orthodox believers from within TEC have been calling for their repentance for decades, and now are choosing to align themselves with the rest of the Anglican world instead.

You said:

Eventually, the greater Anglican Communion will have to address the issues that are dividing the Episcopal church. Until they do and a decision is made, pressure to choose sides will only create a rift that could split a tradition I have come to love.

Two thoughts:

1) The greater Anglican Communion has been trying--unsuccessfully--to address these divisive issues within TEC for a couple of decades. The rift is growing wider as time passes. I don't see how waiting will heal divisions of this nature.

2) Meanwhile, there are souls at stake! Fifteen? years ago, the Episcopal church I was attending had a remarkable healing ministry to homosexuals--we were seeing amazing transformations, with marriages and children following (and those marriages and families are still thriving today). But every once in a while, someone we'd been ministering to would go to another Episcopal church where they were told that God made them homosexual and they should act accordingly. This was very confusing to them, obviously.

We left ECUSA (as it was called then) after a year of prayer for and meetings with the Bishop of Chicago, Frank Griswold. Our rector and vestry members met with him several times, and some of the things he said were unbelievable, such as, "we are living in a time when the Holy Spirit may inspire us to do things that contradict Scripture."

Our rector was one of the very first to walk away from property and pension because he knew that there was no way he could keep his vows to obey his bishop. (And there was no AMIA then--we were on our own without oversight for another six years or so.)

You said, "in the long run, we cannot have two Anglicanisms in America." I think that is the hope of GAFCON and the idea behind the North American province. The bishops and archbishops who are no longer fulfilling their vows to uphold orthodoxy and Scripture (and are more concerned about Millenium Development Goals) are unlikely to continue to exist as Anglicans, so there needs to be a structure containing the rest of us.

Personally, I am excited about GAFCON. I don't see it as a pushy, divisive statement at all, but as a proactive way for orthodox Anglicans throughout the world to be united. I know there are structural questions, but I don't believe they are as serious as ++Williams makes them out to be, and many bloggers and commentators on both sides seem to agree with the statements' concerns about the present structure needing to be reformed. They agree that it has certainly not been very helpful for the crisis we've seen arise.

As I say--I am very hopeful about GAFCON--and I have been largely uninterested in the conflict ever since we left TEC. I think the spirit of prayer and seeking the Lord which surrounded the conference was significant. My sense is that the Lord is in it--but that's just my two cents!

Peace to you as you pray over these things--and may God sift them with you, especially anything I have misrepresented.


TwoSquareMeals said...

Thanks to all of you for your insights and comments. MHL, I would go for being a liberal Catholic at this point :)

Just a few things to summarize and clarify:

I definitely understand the hurt among those who have left the Episcopal Church in the last decade. A liberal agenda that often contradicts the truths of historical Christianity has been pushed pretty strongly, and there seems to be no sign of a willingness to consider the other side or to seek repentance.

That said, Americans do a great job of chopping up the church on a regular basis, and I think the Brits have something to teach us in this area. (Of course, Catholics would say we all have something to learn.) I think the Anglican Communion is moving toward a solution to the schism, just not at an American pace and not at the cost of breaking up the Communion.

There is a structure in place for support of orthodox Anglicans in America, and I am thankful to be a part of it. I don't think it needs to be dissolved. I just think we need to focus on doing the work of the Kingdom among our own communities and building unity as a group. We have given voice to our beliefs and our desires for the future of the Anglican church in America. Eventually, TEC will either lose its credibility or begin to seek reconciliation and renewal. In the meantime, more pressure just widens the cracks that may yet be mendable.

If we let it be known that our desire is unity under historic, orthodox Angicanism...if we remain humble and focused on the mission of the church...if we continue to grow in the Spirit and in number...THEN one day the Anglican Communion will either find a way to reconcile us and TEC or to choose one representation of the Anglican church in America.

Thanks again for commenting and giving several perspectives. Please let me know if you post on a similar topic!

Kimberly said...

Thank you for this discussion. Having left an unhealthy church experience several months ago, I have wrestled with joining a new congregation. I actually visited an AMiA congregation this weekend, and really enjoyed the service and the people. One of the hesitations I have is the politics between the TEC, AMiA, and Anglican Communion. Having a history with the Southern Baptist Convention, I have already witnessed the devastating effects of denominational politics, and am weary of subjecting myself to that again. However, the church I recently left was "non-denominational", and I developed an appreciation for the doctrinal accountability of structures such as exist in Anglicanism.