As always, Maggi Dawn has provided a helpful and provocative response to the Archbishop of Canterbury‘s response to the TEC 2009 General Convention’s response to the sexuality questions currently anguishing the Anglican Communion. Tom Wright has also responded fully and clearly, but it is Maggi who expresses some of the emotional exhaustion many people are experiencing about these vexed matters. She writes:
Like many others who belong to the Church of England, I’ve oscillated between making a thoughtful response and throwing in the towel altogether over the impossibility of finding a solution to this mess. I’m dismayed at the number of excellent, hardworking, moderate-thinking ordained people who have called me this week and spoken about the possibility of resigning over this. People are utterly weary at the way this one issue seems to stick our feet to the ground when day to day mission and ministry is about the whole of life.
Jane Shaw has written with clarity about the inner workings of the Episcopal Church, and rightly points out that the issue of inclusion is vital to Mission. The Episcopal Church, she points out, “…is not going grey in the pews. It is a Church that has young people engaged and involved at all levels. It is, therefore, a Church that will thrive and grow into the future — and that cannot necessarily be said of other Churches in the West. And those young people have an enormous passion for mission… And, for the vast majority of that younger generation, the full inclusion of gay and lesbian people is a no-brainer, a non-issue. To go against full inclusion would be to offend their sense of the gospel — God’s good news to all people — and affect their Church’s capacity for mission. Me? I don’t think the covenant is a good idea, yet I hesitate to criticize Rowan’s proposal when I can’t come up with anything better myself…
Basically, my church is sleepwalking into disaster. We are going to die because we are so damn polite and we don’t like offending people… Whether you agree with the covenant or not, ++Rowan is to be applauded for making a sincere attempt to move forward in an impossible situation. But we shouldn’t just leave it to “the people in charge” – ordinary people who are concerned about the future of the Church should not assume they can do nothing. We all need to think and pray and speak up in an attempt to help create a solution that works.
I think it is unlikely that Maggi would find anyone who is not exhausted by all this – other than Chris Sugden (& co) who has made it his life’s work to break the Communion apart and, I think, gets energised by conflict. Yet the complexity she recognises is more complex still – hence the problem. Many of us would like to walk away from it, but that doesn’t solve anything for the world the Church is there to serve. It is the ecumenical element that most imposes itself on my own consciousness.
There are essentially three historic Christian blocs in the world: Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Anglican. I know this ignores free churches and Pentecostals (for which I apologise, but time is short), but in ecumenical terms these are the big players. Deal with politicians internationally (as I have to, from time to time) and these are the three that appear on their (albeit sometimes limited) horizons. For the Anglican Communion to fall apart, be dismantled or neutered might not have any impact on the particular provinces involved, but it would remove from the worldwide ecumenical table a Communion (rather than a federation of similar but autonomous churches). This would deprive the world of those uniquely Anglican perspectives and experiences that no other Church will bring.
This is not special pleading. The Anglican Communion commands massive respect around the world precisely because of its ability to hold together a disparate group of churches from disparate cultures and with disparate histories together in one Church. And, as Bishop Kallistos Ware observed during the Lambeth Conference, the struggles being endured by the Anglican Communion are not simply those of the Anglican Communion – we are doing them on behalf of others who are watching.
I don’t believe in the proposed Anglican Covenant. I don’t think we should need one nor have one. The relationships that hold us together as a Communion should suffice. But, my own sensibilities aside, I don’t see any other show in town to help us remain together for the sake of the world (which has always been the vocation of the Church). We don’t live in an ideal world and we certainly don’t live in an ideal church. But our decisions should be taken in consideration of the Church’s witness to the world and its engagement in matters of politics, economics, culture and values at levels (and in ways) that will be detrimentally affected by the collapse or further fragmentation of the Communion. And I say that fully cognisant of the fact that people ‘on the ground’ suffer the consequences – and that is always very uncomfortable.
Whereas I share the frustration and exhaustion of those clergy who have spoken to Maggi about resigning, I think that to do so would be self-indulgent and achieve nothing. Their voice would no longer be heard and their perspective weakened. I hope that, like many of us, they will stay and pray and struggle on. Sex is not the only (or, even, the most important) challenge facing the world and we still need to be focusing on those others: climate change, poverty, injustice, health (including the western world’s shameful waste and obesity…), etc.
Tomorrow I go to Zimbabwe where there are more pressing matters than the internal struggles of the Anglican Communion – and I say that even in the light of the Church’s internal struggles there. This is the real world…