Recently, fellow blogger and friend Mark Harris responded to a comment I made at his blog, writing, “So in some settled future if you are in a different sort of church thingy and I am in this church thingy, how are we to walk in some ecumenical way that respects the great creative genius that is the Spirit active in the body of Christ.” It was a very gracious thing to say, but there was one word that broke out of the pack that has stayed with me since.
The word is ecumenical. It has troubled me since I read it because it denotes a sense that we belong to two different denomination, not one denomination that is in a family crisis of division.
This is contrary to what the court found in Virginia – that were overwhelming evidence of division within the denomination. It was the only way to satisfy the statute – it had to be within the denomination and the evidence, when you read the decision, is overwhelming. We are not experiencing ecumenical division – this is a division within the same denomination, within the same family.
For whatever reason – the denial continues. We deal with the old adversaries, Fight and Flight. Perhaps it is the lawyers that are advising their clients to speak this way in public – to talk about ecumenicalism as though we were, as the term is used, “predominantly by and with reference to Christian denominations and Christian Churches separated by doctrine, history, and practice.” This is certainly not the case in the divisions facing The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. We are not separated by history or practice – we are all of the same history (until 2003 at least) and we are of the same practice (we use the same Prayer Book) – but it is at the point of doctrine that we are dividing.
The other night I went to a party where they were showing the classic film sequel, The Empire Strikes Back. There is a scene in that film where Yoda sends Luke Skywalker into the cave where he battles with what he thinks is his enemy, only to discover that the major battle he must first win is with himself. This is an illustration of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. We are all going into the cave and when we battle what we think is some outside invader (you pick your choice what that outside invader is, the choices are many on both sides of the divide) our real battle is within ourselves, as a people, as a Church.
Our problem is not an ecumenical problem, it’s a family problem and it will take a family solution – just as it did with that young Jedi apprentice. Until we can face up to the fact that the division is real, that it’s not going away, that it’s getting worse, that lawsuits and threats are not the answer, to quit the PR campaigns and pointing fingers and calling each other names and finally just grow up – our family feud will grow worse.
What do we do? We do what families do when they are in crisis. Do we really need to ask?
* Step 1 – We admit we are powerless over our division – that our church-wide relationships are unmanageable.
* Step 2 – We believe that a Power greater than ourselves can restore us and our Church to sanity.
* Step 3 – We decide to turn our wills and our lives over to the care of God.
* Step 4 – We make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves and our Church.
* Step 5 – We admit to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs as a Church
* Step 6 – We’re entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
* Step 7 – We humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings (which means we admit that we have them)
* Step 8 – We make a list of all persons we harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
* Step 9 – We direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others
* Step 10 – We continue to take personal inventory and when we are wrong promptly admitted it.
* Step 11 – We seek through prayer and worship to improve our conscious contact with God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.
* Step 12 – Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we try to carry this message to others, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
What if all litigation and public relation trips and statements ceased and we took this road instead? It’s not pointing the finger at someone else and say, “you do it, it’s your fault.” It means we all agree to do it, ourselves. This isn’t a Communique or a Covenant. These are major steps toward repentance and – God willing – revival. Come, Holy Spirit.