Monday, August 4, 2008

Old School Religion rears its head at Lambeth

There were, apparently, two Lambeth Conferences taking place over the last few weeks - one about establishing relationships, seeking common ground, and listening; the other about insensitivity, political judgment, pompous paternalism, institutionalism, and, in the end, appeasement.

What is odd is that the former conference was actually planned by some of those who sought to impose the latter paradigm of conference on them. One has to wonder how this might be so.

This has been clear throughout Lambeth. The only conclusion I have come to is that skilled individuals were involved in the planning but they were under the thumb of Institutional leaders and, in particular, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Of course, this is reminiscent of oft-repeated 'bifocal' vision of Church that holds in tension the Body of Christ and Institutional Religion. Usually, in that view, the Body of Christ is held up as, well, God's vision of who we should be, while Institutional Religion is portrayed as a necessary evil to be ignored if possible and reformed if feasible.

It is ironic, but perhaps not surprising, that this Archbishop of Canterbury should find himself on the side of Institutional Religion and against the Body of Christ, and one has to wonder exactly what Rowan Williams - a scholar without parallel - had to do to twist his former theological perspective into the one on display at the last day of Lambeth.

Amid the experience of the Indaba groups - which almost every bishop who has spoken or blogged has described in glowing terms - there have been institutional presentations that violate the Indaba/bible study model - on the proposed "Covenant", the pastoral forum, the Windsor continuation process, and, now, the Archbishop of Canterbury's final summation of what has to happen for the Communion to survive (survive, at least, in the way he thinks it should survive).

To say that Williams comments were paternalistic is like saying that John Wilkes Booth's action in assassinating Abraham Lincoln was not "helpful" to post-war America - it was, in other words, a gross understatement.

But it was to be expected.

Conservatives will rejoice - though most likely they will ignore the call to withdraw from their incursion into the North American Provinces, and will likely also not back off of proposed incursions in England. Some have already left in all but name. No doubt their plans for a new Communion will continue unabated. The North American conservatives show no indication that they will back down and are, in fact, ramping up their attempts to alienate not just parishes but in some cases whole dioceses from their North American provinces.

Progressives - with much hand-wringing - will likely also ignore the call for permanent moratoria. Most likely this will first - and most immediately - be seen over the blessing of same-sex couples, which will continue in the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of Canada, and in some of the British provinces - ironically, most likely in England (though probably not publicly). The self-imposed moratorium on the consecration of those people whose "manner of life" represents a challenge to "some of" the Communion will probably last a little longer, but will go the way of all flesh in Anaheim at the 2009 General Convention (the Episcopal Church is nothing if not a democratic Church).

And what about the Anglican Communion? I expect it will continue to muddle along, uncomfortable about the "P.D.A"s - public displays of anger - and name-calling (so unlike the genteel model of relationship bequeathed to the Communion by our English cousins), wishing that we could re-focus on the really important issues - world hunger, global warming, the distribution of resources, violence and dictatorships, freedom and justice.

And stop worrying about trying to figure out who God thinks should love who.

Monday, February 25, 2008

American Religion - some interesting numbers

The Pew Forum on religion in America has just published a new survey and its figures are very interesting and well worth a look. A link to the survey is at the end of this entry.

On a very general scale, it is interesting to see what percentage of the overall population is still considered "Mainline": 18.1%.

Breaking that figure down into individual denominations produces the following: All Anglican groups (but primarily TEC) represent 1.4% of the total population. Other Mainlines: Presbyterians 1.9%; Baptists (mostly American Baptists - not Southern Baptists) 1.9%, Lutherans (all brands) 2.8%; Methodist (all brands) 5.4%

The "Maps" pages are not well presented, and so the information is difficult to determine, especially where the largest number of the Mainline Christians (as a percentage of the overall population) actually live (again, see the link below). However, it is possible to say that "Evangelical Protestant" is stronger in the South, especially the Deep South. They also have a higher percentage nationwide of the general population than do the Mainlines (26% to 18%).

A slightly different set of numbers is unrelated to the general population. This set breaks down where members of the Mainlines and the Evangelicals are located as a percentage of that denomination or affiliation group (rather than of the general population). If you want to look at the pie-charts then go to "portraits" (again, see link below). I include here general figures for "Evangelical" and "Mainline", and then additionally break out "Episcopalian" from "Mainline".

These figures show that the largest percentage of Mainline Christians live in the South (34%) as do the majority of Evangelicals (50%), and of Episcopalians (40%). Next comes the Mid-West (Mainlines 29% & Evangelicals 23%), though here Episcopalians only represent 13% of Episcopal Church membership. The last two regions are the smallest generally, though, again, our denomination is different. There are 19% of Mainlines in the North-East, 10% of Evangelicals, and 26% of Episcopalians. In the west the story is similar: Mainlines 18%, Evangelicals 17%, Episcopalians 21%. We are weaker in the Mid-West and stronger on the Coasts than Mainline denominations generally. This tells me we are stronger in urban and suburban areas than in rural areas.


Interpreting the significance of other numbers is also very interesting - here's an overview of some of them.

1. When Membership is broken down by age it becomes readily apparent that a picture of a vibrant Evangelical denominational group and a dying Mainline denominational group -or a dying Episcopal Church - is a myth.

That said there is some divergence between Mainline and Evangelical and Episcopalian in each of the age categories. Overall the numbers show only an average 3 percentage point difference between the first two groups (statistically that divergence is not really greatly relevant), but a greater divergence in the Episcopal Church. The Evangelicals have slightly more young people (age 8-29 +3%) than Mainlines, but 6% over the Episcopal Church. With young to early middle-aged (age 30-49) there is a +3% of Evangelical over Mainline, but 10% over the Episcopal Church. Mainlines have slightly more of the middle aged and older folk than Evangelicals (age 50-64 and 65+) at +2%, and +4% respectively with the Episcopal Church being+ 8% and +6%.

2. Educational background. There's a larger statistical difference between educational levels than age levels. Mainlines have more members reach higher levels of education, with Episcopalians again leading this pack. For college & post-graduate there are 70% more Mainlines than evangelicals and four times as many Episcopalians; and Evangelicals have 77% more members without high school diplomas than Mainlines, and sixteen times as many as the Episcopal Church (that’s really staggering).

3. Children at home. Surprisingly there's not a real difference here, except that Episcopalians seem to stop at two children per family. Given the age break-down in #1 above I'd say that Evangelical families produce no more children than Mainlines/Episcopalians do. This is particularly relevant considering the criticism leveled at recent comments by our Presiding Bishop.

4. Income. For incomes between $30,000 and $75,000 there is no difference between Mainlines and Evangelicals, though there are fewer Episcopalians in this income spread. But in two other income groupings there's a significant difference. Below $30k there are 36% more Evangelicals than Mainlines, and 47% more Evangelicals than Episcopalians, and above $100k there are 62% more Mainlines than Evangelicals but five times (yup! FIVE times) as many Episcopalians than Evangelicals.

5. Both Mainline and Evangelical denominations are predominantly white: Mainlines at 91% and Evangelicals at 81% of membership, and the Episcopal Church at 92%. This compares with a general population that, according to the Census Bureau (in 2006) is 66% white.

Overall the figures present a very revealing picture of Protestantism in America. We Episcopalians have a particularly well-educated membership with nearly 80% having attended college, and 57% being awarded a degree. We are somewhat wealthier than other Mainlines, and significantly so when compared to Evangelicals. While more than half of Mainline membership is under 50 only 40% of Episcopal membership is under 50. No Protestant group is doing well with the minority population -- the only one that's growing compared to the other ethnic groups.

With regard to our Church we clearly have work to do! But the myth of a vibrant young Evangelical group as compared to a moribund overly-elderly Mainline/Episcopalian group is clearly that: a myth.

These figures also give us an idea of who is attracted to our denomination - well-educated and financially successful/secure folk. It tells us both where we could focus our evangelistic efforts, and who is less likely to be attracted through the doors of the local Episcopal Congregation.

The actual report itself can be found here: http://religions.pewforum.org/.
The Census Bureau information can be found here: http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/releases/archives/population/010048.html

Friday, November 23, 2007

Thanksgiving - its all about peace!

Speaking as someone who grew up in England the "Thanksgiving" we celebrated was "Harvest Festival". I recall it happening on October 30th each year, though I don't remember whether this was the standard date or just 'local church option'.

It was, of course, a thanksgiving for harvest - something we've done since the birth of humanity, I suspect.

And it's something deeply rooted in Christian history: the Twelve did it (with startling results) at Shavuot ("Pentecost" - "The Fiftieth Day" - which was, after all, a harvest festival).

But our modern celebrations of harvest - especially American Thanksgiving - have become about a great deal more than just than a thanksgiving for the crops.

Anyone in the travel industry (and I used to be one of those) will tell you that Thanksgiving is the busiest travel season of the year, and the Sunday thereafter the busiest day. People travel for Thanksgiving much more than at any other time for any other celebration.

I believe this is because - unlike Christmas or Easter, both of which focus for most people on something that happened "long ago, on a continent far, far, away" - Thanksgiving in this country is the time we celebrate each other - we travel to be with family, to give thanks, to celebrate what it means to be gifted with so much and so many wonderful people. I suppose that, if we really understood Stewardship then we would focus our educational efforts each year around Thanksgiving (and some of us do).

There's an old saw I first heard over here that goes like this: "England, where 200 miles is a long way, and America, where 200 years is a long time". Perhaps that explains why the search for the meaning of Thanksgiving focused on the famous (or infamous, depending on which side of the table you sat) meal provided to the starving colonists by the First Nations people of the East.
I suspect that the modern human obsession with specific causes - a certain person did this ("Luther started the Reformation"), a specific event was the sole cause of that ("The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand was the cause of the First World War") - might explain why we focus so much on the Pilgrim/First Nations meal and lose the deeper significance of this festival of thanksgiving.

But that's a modern "Johnny-come-lately" understanding of "Thanksgiving". The Thanksgiving celebrated today finds its specific origins in the Civil War and a proclamation by Abraham Lincoln. But it is possible to see the influence on him of Sarah Josepha Hale.

Sarah Hale was the first to urge equal education for women and girls in this country. She was the first to start day nurseries for working women, the first to suggest public playgrounds, and the first editor of the first woman's magazine in America - the "Ladies Magazine".

Sarah Hale was the author of two dozen books and hundreds of poems, including perhaps the best known nursery rhyme in the English language: "Mary Had a Little Lamb."

And it was Sarah Hale who proposed as early as 1827 a national day of Thanksgiving as a way of avoiding Civil War, writing literally thousands of letters, and deeply influencing Lincoln's decision to set a specific Thanksgiving day.

Thanksgiving, therefore, is profoundly a day for peace, a day of peace, a day demanding peace.

So much for the Pilgrims!

The good news is that, for many of us, that particular origin of the festival has slipped away, to be replaced by the much more human and personal celebration.

And that, in my view, is all to the good! A focus on the Pilgrim's meal is more divisive for our nation than it is uniting.

And perhaps, if we could recapture Hale's vision, Thanksgiving could become even more powerful in our lives. Perhaps it could be even more than a day for family and overeating and become a day each year when all of us actively promote Jesus' vision of peace, where the lion will finally lie down with the lamb, and where we share a foretaste of the heavenly banquet where all are welcome and where we finally recognize that, in the end, its all about each other!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

“Oops! What I really meant was.............”

Well, the Archbishop of Canterbury is back-peddling. We are told (not by him, but by “Lambeth Palace”) that his words are being misinterpreted.

Archbishop Williams did not, they have told us with straight faces, intend to say anything new. Well imagine my surprise! Of course he didn’t intend! That’s the problem. Archbishop Williams hasn’t intended to do a lot of things – nevertheless he has done them.

It is hardly surprising, considering The Letter’s effect, that Lambeth Palace has issued a "clarification". What was said publicly in the letter could have potentially devastating consequences for the Anglican Communion – as many people on both sides of the pond and from both conservative and progressive perspectives have pointed out.

Alas, for Canterbury, therefore. He is trying to use a half-empty bucket to put out a raging forest fire

Because that’s all that Canterbury has, considering the circumstances. No matter what 'clarifications' Canterbury might issue regarding The Letter (such as that he didn't really mean provinces were totally irrelevant - gee, thanks Rowan!) – no matter what the "clarifications" his original words could (and, of course, would) be interpreted as allowing dioceses to bypass their provinces and relate directly to Canterbury.

We didn’t have to wait long! Today, October 24th, the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth has done exactly this (see below).

That's the thing about a Pandora's Box: once you open it then you really can't close it, and the contents take on a life of their own.

This sad situation is not helped by the content of the “clarification” itself, as Forth Worth has clearly noticed.

The “clarification” does not change what the Archbishop of Canterbury said in his letter, which was, in essence, something like this: "In the final theological analysis Provinces are irrelevant, only the Archbishop of Canterbury matters". And, most importantly that it is the diocesan relationship with Canterbury via its Bishop that matters, not the bishop’s or the diocese’s relationship with its province.

Thus this subsequent attempt to finesse The Letter is a classic example of seeking to close the barn door after the horses have bolted.

The "clarification" speaks loudly mostly by what is not said - that provinces not only matter, but the relationship of any clergy within those provinces is to the province first and then to the Communion. AT least, that’s the way Anglicanism has developed. Archbishop Williams is therefore making claims about the nature of the Anglican Communion that are really quite novel!

Novel, but not new. He is really turning back the Anglican clock to a pre-Reformation view of polity.

And that’s not gonna sell in our Province – nor, I would imagine, in plenty of others, including Canterbury and York.


Statement from the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, October 24, 2007
http://www.fwepiscopal.org/news/FW102407.html or http://tinyurl.com/28jjst

Fort Worth welcomes Archbishop’s view on dioceses

We welcome the comments from the Archbishop of Canterbury, contained in a recent letter to the Bishop of Central Florida, where he reminds us that "the organ of union with the wider Church is the Bishop and the Diocese rather than the Provincial structure as such," calling this a "basic conviction of Catholic theology." He goes on to say:

"I should feel a great deal happier, I must say, if those who are most eloquent for a traditionalist view in the United States showed a fuller understanding of the need to regard the Bishop and the Diocese as the primary locus of ecclesial identity rather than the abstract reality of the 'national church'."

Given the current atmosphere and controversies in the life of the Anglican Communion, it is helpful to be reminded that dioceses, not provincial structures, are the basic unit of the catholic church. As is stated in the clarifying note issued by Lambeth Palace on Oct. 23, "The diocese is more than a ‘local branch’ of a national organization." Clearly, provincial alignments are intended for the benefit of the dioceses, and not the reverse.

It is indeed painful when a number of faithful congregations, striving to discern God's will in these days of controversy and seeking to remain faithful to the teachings of Jesus Christ, arrive at a moment of conviction that compels them to separate from their bishop and diocese. It is also difficult for a faithful diocese to reach the collective decision to separate from its national province.

Such congregations and dioceses, however, now feel compelled to take definitive actions to secure their future and to guard the orthodoxy of their faith communities in the decades to come. Affiliation with a heterodox province hampers their mission and witness, just as affiliation with an orthodox province enhances and strengthens it.

As the realignment of the Anglican Communion continues to unfold and take shape in the months ahead, we pray for the continued guidance of the Holy Spirit for all those who seek truth and unity in Jesus Christ, and we urge that such separations as must take place may be accomplished without rancor and litigation.

The Rt. Rev. Jack Leo Iker
Bishop of Fort Worth

The Very Rev. Ryan Reed
President, Standing Committee

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Great Betrayal - Rowan Williams and the end of the Anglican Communion as we know it

At 5:15 p.m. on Sunday, October 21 any respect I have been able to maintain for Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, and any hope for the survival of the Anglican Communion as we currently know it, died.

At 5:15 p.m. I was reading the House of Bishops and Deputies List – a list-serv for members of those two General Convention houses – when I came across a copy of a letter dated October 14, 2007 from Williams to Bishop John Howe of the conservative Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida. Bishop Howe read this letter to the Standing Committee of his diocese last Thursday (October 18), and released this afternoon.

The letter was staggering in its misunderstanding of the polity of the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church and shockingly naive in its understanding of where most Episcopalians stand with regard to any interference in our own affairs by foreign Prelates.

Perhaps more significantly, though, it is the betrayal of beliefs that Williams held dear for so long – right up, in fact, to the point where he became Archbishop of Canterbury, when – he says – unity became his ministry.

It is now clear that Williams is willing to abandon any individual and even whole Provinces of the Anglican Communion in the cause of “unity”.

I say “unity” in inverted commas because it is not really unity at all, but the bowing of a misguided, naive, and incompetent leader to what one person has described as the “Bullydox” of the Communion: those very narrow “Neo-Puritan” conservatives who wish to reinterpret Anglicanism to be something that is not the “large tent” we are all so familiar with but a prison wherein they alone guard and define what is “acceptable” for others to believe.

It is also clear that, having squeezed our House of Bishops in such a way that a significant part of our own Province has expressed outrage at their apparent abandonment by their own bishops, the Archbishop of Canterbury has pulled the rug from under our Bishops’ feet and invited acts of disobedience by dissidents in any Province of the Communion who disagree with any internal issue of that Province.

In so doing the Archbishop of Canterbury has opened a Pandora’s Box of problems that will almost certainly destroy the Anglican Communion as we know it.

Many progressives – including myself – supported our House of Bishops’ recent New Orleans statement, and cautioned many within our province to control their anger at its apparent abandonment of some of our members. We now owe those members an apology – they were right not to trust Williams, and they were right that our House of Bishops should not have done so either.

The letter makes a number of astonishing assertions, claims, and statements regarding the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church, including:
● He, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in consultation with the Primates of the Communion, has the authority to decide the “status” of the Episcopal Church in the Anglican Communion (only the Anglican Consultative Council has any recognized constitution, and it is questionable if even this constitution can be said to have authority over constituent provinces)
● Provincial structure is irrelevant in the Communion; only the diocesan relationship with the Archbishop of Canterbury through the diocesan bishop matters, as long as the clergy of the dioceses are “loyal” to that bishop (the Baptized are, essentially, “chopped liver” in this polity. Apparently “the head can [now] say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’”).
● By implication, the authority of the Constitution and Canons of our Province are not binding on the dioceses which make up our Province. Dioceses are therefore free, according to the Archbishop, to depart the Episcopal Church with the Archbishop of Canterbury’s blessing.
● Ironically, the Primates cannot have any authority or relevance either – only the bishops in their relationship to Canterbury seem to matter. Of course, this is inconsistent, but then, consider the source!
● Loyalty to the Windsor Report is more important than sacred oaths taken at baptism or ordination. The Windsor Report ceases to be a report and takes on a legal aura, becoming something that has binding authority within the Communion.

The message in all of this is clear – we have no friend in Lambeth Palace; the Archbishop of Canterbury is willing to sacrifice us to his ‘god’ of Unity.

But this is also freeing for us as a Province: we now know what to expect, and can form our response without the need to wonder where the Archbishop will ultimately stand, because it will not be with us.

General Convention in Anaheim is certainly going to be interesting!

© October 27, 2007 Nigel Taber-Hamilton

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Embracing the Tenth Leper: a reflection

As many of you know, ancient Samaria is, today, a part of Israel and the West Bank - a sliver of land running from south of the Galilee region in North-Eastern Israel to about 30 miles north-east of Jerusalem. After the Exile, when the Israelites returned to the Promised Land, they split into two groups, "Judean Jews" who returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the temple there, and "Samaritan Jews" who built a rival temple on Mt. Gerizim, believing that the destruction of Solomon's Temple was a sign of displeasure from God and they should not rebuild there.

Samaritan and Judean Jews hated each other.

Here, then, is a context for the story Luke repeats about Jesus healing ten lepers. (Luke 17:11-19)

These ten lepers were a community where the fact that nine are Judean Jews and one was a Samaritan Jew was less important than the fact that they were lepers. They had that stronger bond of their own sickness, the bond of their outcast status, the bond of their common humanity a bond that forced them to be together.

They were all outcasts from the ordinary and the every day – a minority classified by their sickness and thus spurned by their "cleaner" brothers and sisters.

But notice that Luke finds it noteworthy to mention that there are nine Judeans and only one Samaritan. The Judean/Samaritan split was only less important, not of no importance at all. The Samaritan is, even within this Community of Suffering, a minority. And, no doubt, even within this community he suffered the sort deprivations that are always glaring to a member of a minority but mostly go unnoticed or glossed over by the majority. Just as in normal society the lepers maintained social distinctions and hierarchy even though they had been excluded by their community of origin.

Even in their community of outcasts lepers would quite naturally have treated some of their number as outcasts.

In Jesus' story the ten lepers are really metaphors for the way “Community” worked and always works. His choice of lepers is revealing, therefore – there's another message for us – that we are all in need of healing, and some more than others. But we're often surprised by which ones need it more.

How does that sort of prejudice and discrimination work out today, I wonder? Well, like this: on the whole, when I've been stopped by a policeman, I haven't ever worried about there being a question of who owned the vehicle I was driving. If I owned a Mercedes or even a Rolls Royce, I still wouldn't have to worry about any assumptions around the ownership of my car!

But the same isn't true for an African American driving an expensive car. There's a telling phrase sometimes used as an ironic description of the supposed “offense” committed that causes African Americans to be stopped by the police: "Driving while Black". It's testimony to the consequences of having minority status within our culture.

Any minority person will tell you this. It doesn't matter if they're African-American, Hispanic-American, Native-American, Muslim-American or any other qualified American - because that's what it is, isn't it?! A qualified identity – a subscribed membership – an associate status that can be revoked at any time.

It means, ultimately, to be treated as less than a human being.

And how does it feel, as a minority, when you're treated as less than a human being? I don't know. In this culture I'm doubly privileged: I'm white, and I'm a man. And, in the Church, you can add two more privileges: I'm a priest, and I'm English. I really can't say that I have had a first-hand experience of what it means to be a minority, of what it means to be discriminated against.
I can only know, only get a brief glimpse, based on what people I respect and love have to say about that experience. What we take for granted is something that they notice.

Samaritans knew what it meant to be treated as less than a human being. Our Samaritan leper was no exception and so he immediately noticed when that didn't happen....when Jesus treated him as fully human, and fully equal – when Jesus 'included him in'. Not as a leper. Not as an outcast. Not as a Samaritan. Not as a 'thing' incapable of being a part of a community.

As a human being.

As a result, while the other nine ran off he did something different: he returned to give thanks!
Again the realism of the story comes through. What the other nine did was to run to the Priest, who could declare them healed, and thus give them their ticket back into the Community of the Pure. You bet they were happy. And they were only doing what Jesus told them to do, after all to show themselves to the priest. But because they'd had status before, because they'd been part of the majority, because they'd not known what it was like to be part of a minority, always sensitive to how they were among a dangerous majority....because of all these things it never occurred to them how truly profound and great was the debt of gratitude they owed Jesus. For these nine, thanksgiving was for later, in the Temple, not here, with this weirdo preacher.

But the Samaritan did understand, did "get it". And his first response? "Thank you, Jesus".
Thank you.

Once again, the outcast, the minority, the "less-than-human" teaches us all a lesson in grace, humility, and faith. And notice what Jesus says. The others are healed of their outward sickness. Only the tenth leper is made whole.

So here's a question: how do we overcome our own innate discrimination?

I think it's a journey for us, and we're all at different places on that journey. I want to tell you about one congregation that's on that journey.

I visited this congregation in 1999, as a candidate for rector in its search process. The congregation is on the East Coast south of the old Civil War border between North and South, and some way inland.

It didn't take long to figure out that, in this fairly conservative community, the congregation was finding the issue of homosexuality challenging. No surprise, really; if we all look back we can all say that it has become a challenging and divisive topic for our whole denomination.

This congregation’s organist – I'll call him Frank – was a gay man in a committed relationship. And everyone there knew it.

He was clearly loved and embraced by the congregation, as was his partner. When I gently asked how this could be I was told: "Oh, but this is different! We know Frank and Mark".

I suppose you could say that Frank and Mark were being treated as honorary "straights" and accepted into the club. But I think it was much deeper than that, and much more important. Frank and Mark being gay was overlooked because the relationships that existed between the members of that congregation – with each other and with them – were more important than any ideology.
Now perhaps that's less than we hope for – we who proclaim that we will respect the dignity of every human being. But no one is perfect. Those Episcopalians out East are on a journey, and one day, perhaps, they'll get there.

What they do know, even if they don't know it in their heads, is that Christian faith is not, in the end, about legalisms, not about any ideology that trumps human identity and belonging.

What they – and we all – know on some level is that it isn't even that relationships matter as part of our faith. It's that they're the only thing that, in the end matters. Our faith is relationships and their quality – with God, with each other, with self.

St. Paul says that how we love is, in the end, the final arbiter and definer of who we are as human beings. It is only when we embrace each other as children of God – only when we stop seeing difference as about our greater worth opposed to the lesser worth of others and start seeing other human beings also in need of god's healing touch – it is only then that we truly enter into the fullest meaning of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

Thus does Jesus give us the charge, in this story, to continue the struggle for the inclusion of all people into God’s reign. And he even gives us a title for it: “Embracing the tenth leper.”

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Nuanced Bishops’ statement speaks to several audiences

When the House of Bishops gathered in New Orleans September 20-25 it was faced with some challenging questions. How, with integrity, could it address the concerns of a significant part of the Anglican Communion’s Primates while also maintaining a forward direction toward the Baptismal Covenant’s vision of full inclusion? And how could it do these things while also acknowledging that “bishops alone do not a Church make”?

The varied responses to the product of our bishops’ deliberations suggests that middle ground is often also a “no-mans’ land” surrounded by minefields, and some of those mines produced spectacular verbal explosions from both sides of the divide in the days immediately following their meeting.

However, understanding why the bishops said what they did requires recognizing both who their target audiences were and what parts of the Statement were addressed to which audiences.

The address was voiced for at least four audiences; 1). the Anglican Communion’s Primates, 2). Conservatives, 3). Progressives (including gays and lesbians), and 4). every baptized person in The Episcopal Church.

To the Primates – the primary audience – our bishops said: “yes, we confirm that there is a moratorium is in place on gay bishops; and, no, we won’t officially authorize public rites for the blessing of same sex unions.” But they also made it clear by their comments that Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson is a bishop-in-good-standing of the Episcopal Church, that individual bishops can continue a policy of non-interference with regard to the blessing of same sex unions locally, and (most importantly) that the Primates should not be fooled into thinking that there is some sort of theological retreat from full inclusion in the Episcopal Church. Our bishops made it crystal clear directly to the Primates that gays and lesbians are full and equal members of the Episcopal Church. Our bishops also reiterated their rejection of the “pastoral scheme” for alternative oversight proposed by the Primates at their February 2007 Dar es Salaam meeting, offering an all but unanimous alternative.

To Conservatives our bishops said: “yes, we value our membership in the Anglican Communion and we hear your concerns that making our Anglican theological continuity clear and acting with caution and consultation are important values”.

To Progressives, including Gays and Lesbians our Bishops said: “Remember this is a response to the Primates – see what we said to them about ‘full and equal.’” It is very important to understand that the words regarding full inclusion were targeted at the Primates of our Communion and not gays and lesbians – if this were otherwise then the statement would indeed be contradictory. Our bishops were clear that they are not backing down on the journey to full inclusion.

To The Baptized: Our bishops said “we are very conscious that we are only a part of the Baptized, and that only General Convention represents the fullness of the Body of Christ as our Church understands it”. Consequently our bishops rested heavily on General Convention resolution B033 as the official G.C. standard in place between Conventions. It will be up to the 2009 General Convention, gathered in Anaheim, to go beyond B033.

If there is to be a split in the Anglican Communion the blame can no longer be laid at the feet of our province.

The statement from this House of Bishop’s meeting was not as clear-cut as that from the March meeting. In its expansiveness and near-unanimity, however, it is a remarkable document. Whether we like all of it or not we should still thank our episocopal brothers and sisters for their hard and diligent work on our behalf, not the least because they continue to emphasize the importance of our common journey toward the full inclusion of all people into Christ’s body.

© 2007 Nigel J. Taber-Hamilton