David Ould has posted some interesting questions here on the topic of women bishops, but particularly on the topic of “how innovations are foisted upon a Province.” I pondered a bit, especially as someone who supports men and women called by God in all roles in the Church. It seems those are presenting issues, but they sometimes conceal the even deeper divisions with our Anglican community – we might win all the battles but still lose the war. Ask the Japanese. Here’s what I wrote this evening. I’ admit, I’ve never thought of bishops as a “genre” before, but there we are. Genres are defined as “vague categories with no fixed boundaries. Genres are formed by sets of conventions, and many works cross into multiple genres by way of borrowing and recombining these conventions.” Well, here’s the essay:
If the bishops would pull their heads of the sand, it’s their job to find the balance between autonomy and interdependence. But bishops as a genre are ill-equipped to focus on such issues and because of the perceived structural weaknesses, the church is vulnerable to invasion by any innovation that comes down the Pike. The crisis of division in the Anglican Communion is an example of colossal failed leadership on an international scale.
Now, before we get too high on our horse, Archbishop Orombi came to Truro not long ago and talked about the mandate of the laity to keep the bishops accountable. He said if the bishops – no matter which side of the aisle they are on – become unaccountable for their actions, he point blank said we should stop following them. Period.
For all of these issues, be they ones that some of us may agree on, or may they be what most of us may not agree on – still, the underlying issue has to do with authority and revelation. How do we discern God’s work in our communities today?
The American Church has taken the political route – using street activism tactics to push through innovations first and then gain acceptance of those innovations later. What can at first look like a bold step, later looks like a tantrum. Americans are at risk perhaps more than other nations because we still believe that as Americans we have a direct pipeline into God. We may not say it in polite company (oh, but so often we do) – but our international friends know this better than we do. We assume we have God’s favor and work from there.
But pride, as they say, goeth before fall and such boldness can quickly turn into tantrums. “These boots are meant for walking,” Nancy Sinatra once sang, “And that’s just what they’ll do. One of these days these boots are going to walk all over you.”
Well, that’s pretty much has been the attitude in practice as the American church has pushed forward with innovations, rather than do the work of theological study and debate and building on consensus. For some reason, we act as though time seems to be running out but it’s because we are staring at our own timetable, and not God’s. He keeps His own timetable and is often reluctant to share specifics, lest we slip and fall. Even in the Garden, Jesus pleaded for His Father to change His timetable and God said no.
What are our alternatives, especially at this late hour? There are times when I wonder if it is too late. As someone who believes that “headship” means first (like first in line, like at the head of the line to get on the bus) and not “chief” (as in “boss”), I have no problems with men or women being called by God to serve in any capacity in the Church. For me the problem is that the clerical ranks are filled with those who are unequipped for ministry and it would behoove the church no end if they would just go out and work at the Post Office for five years before they even dream of taking a church.
Be that as it may, I also recognize that the way the Episcopal Church walked into this ministry was a travesty. Even today we can see what a mess it has made of the clerical orders for in fact – at least here in Virginia – if you are an ordained evangelical woman you are a pariah, an outcast, and if you show up for the annual “women clergy” breakfast at Diocesan Council you are glared at until you back out of the room and go to Starbucks instead. At least they’ll smile at you there.
So would I be willing to stand down? Well, that’s a good question. Within the tares there is wheat and should we throw away the wheat to get at the tares? I am not confident that is the way to go either.
Be that as it may, the point still remains – how we get to a destination is sometimes more important than the actual arrival, wonderful as that may be, will be. Over and over again in literature, we see the journey as the focus of so many stories – from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales to Kerouac’s One the Road. Journey builds or breaks character – and so how we get there is very important.
But character is also built on the point of destination. You can have a fine and robust journey, but what is the point if it leads you over a cliff?
The Anglican Communion is breaking apart because there is no consensus on the journey. We are not even in agreement on the destination. For much of the West the journey leads to Self, not Jesus. Th e word “Christ” as been redefined as “Self.” And so what road we get on, though paved with the best of intentions, can lead us far from where we ought to go and directly to where we want to go, often with disastrous results.
This is true no matter what our core theology is. This has more to do with character then if we have all our theological ducks in order. We can say all the right things and still end up in the Slough of Despond. We can do all the wrong things, and yet find ourselves at the feet of Jesus. King David is a prime example – having screwed up in more ways than one, God looked at his heart. And the heart is the one thing we do not have the privilege to know – about our friends or about our foes, and sometimes even about ourselves.
There are times when I believe that what needs to be done is a Project of Repentance – that the Anglican Communion enter into a significant period of Repentance. And perhaps the best way to see that happen is not to wait for some pronouncement from Lambeth – or even GAFCON – but at the local level, where local communities lay down their arms, call a truce and enter into a year, five-year, ten-year period of repentance. Perhaps to the next Lambeth. This is the sort of thing that would be painful and difficult, a time of admitting that we are wrong, that we have followed our own way – even with the best of intentions – but the evidence shows (as a judge of Jewish faith could see for himself in Virginia) that we have gone our own way and have failed. No one escapes that judgment, and I mean no one.
Then we plead for the mercy of Jesus and wait for Him.
Now how do we write a resolution about that? I’m not sure that can be done. I think this is a time of pleading for the Lord to pour out His Spirit on us wretched sinners whom He loves so much, not because we’ve earned it or deserve it or we’ve been victims, or we’ve had our feelings hurt, or we’ve been betrayed, or we are just – as the PB describes it – upset. We get real, we throw off our toxic garments and we pray to be clothed in joy. But until the time comes, we put down our arms, we think about others needs and not our own, and we ask the Lord to provide for what we need – and not what we want.
Come, Holy Spirit. Come, Holy Spirit. Come, Holy Spirit.