I wish that were truly only literally, but, alas, there are signs that it is true in many ways metaphorically as well. On the eve of a meeting of the Anglican Primates that will certainly turn out to be important, even if it doesn't qualify as "historic," many Anglicans are in a binary frame of mind. There is only '0' and '1', nothing or something. Either the Primates will accept Katharine Jefferts Schori as a peer or they will send her packing. Either they will pronounce the Episcopal Church in good standing or impose severe discipline. Either they will hang the ACN dioceses and parishes out to dry, or create the makings of an alternative American province.
More fundamentally--and this is nothing new--there are many on the starboard side of the boat (which is to say, my side) who openly state that there are "two religions" in the Episcopal Church. The "orthodox" (conservatives) believe in the authority of scripture, the uniqueness of Christ, the bodily resurrection, and, among several other things, an ethic that recognizes (intentionally) lifelong heterosexual marriage as the only context for sexual intercourse that is not inherently sinful. Christian mission consists of calling people to repentance, faith, and discipleship in the fellowship of the Church. The "revisionists" (liberals) believe that scripture is understood best as a human document, Jesus is one of several ways to God, the Virgin Birth is poetic metaphor rather than an actual fact, Christ is "risen" but his body never actually came out of the grave, and in an ethic that sees sexual orientation not merely as a fact but as a creative divine gift, and therefore makes room for the formation of intimate homosexual bonds when both partners are oriented that way. Christian mission consists of social ministry and political advocacy to create a "just society."
Are there Episcopalians whose views are described by one of these two positions? Certainly. Can all Episcopalians be described by one category or the other? Certainly not. "Base two" cannot account for the theological views of all, or even most, of the members of the Episcopal Church.
The rhetoric of "two religions" is of understandable etiology. Decisions within the church are made, more or less, according to political processes. Political processes are by nature binary. You vote Yes or No on the proposition. You vote for the Democrat or the Republican. (Cut me some slack here; I know there are other parties, but let's be real.) The motion carries or the motion is defeated. (We don't call them "resolutions" for nothing; they resolve a question one way or another.) In times of church conflict, we lean more and more heavily on political processes, so we are all the more susceptible to binary thinking.
Binary thinking, and the binary rhetoric that flows from it, serves a political end by taking questions that are complex, as questions worth fighting about invariably are, and giving them simple answers. Everybody, of every political persuasion, does it; given enough time and energy I could cite numerous examples from both ends of the spectrum within TEC. Then, when those who generate the rhetoric start to believe their own propaganda, that things are actually that simple, as invariably happens, we get entrenched positions and intractable conflict. The polemics become veritably cosmic, with the forces of Good arrayed against the forces of Evil on the plain of Armageddon.
But there's a small problem with binary thinking. It very seldom is an accurate representation of the truth. Sometimes it's a helpful construct for the purpose of analysis and discussion and strategizing, but it is at best a crude model of actual reality. OK, that isn't such a small problem after all. It's kind of a big problem. Because not fully representing the truth is to actually purvey falsehood. And when the corporeal integrity of the Body of Christ is at stake, we need to have a fairly low tolerance for falsehood.
We can perhaps say that there is one religion in the Episcopal Church and still make a plausible case for being truthful. If the proverbial "man from Mars" and his cloned siblings were to visit every parish in TEC on a given Sunday, and then get together to compare notes, they would, in the midst of all the differences they witness, find plenty that is in common. No rational person can deny that. Or, conversely, we might say that there are many religions ("Let me count the ways") in the Episcopal Church and credibly contend to be telling the truth. The one thing we cannot truthfully say is that there are two--one on the side of the angels and the other in league with the legions of Hell.
If any find this disappointing, I'm first in line. There's an immensely gratifying feeling of righteousness that accompanies armoring up to smite the enemies of the Lord. I am dismayed and wearied by the need to constantly contend for even the most basic elements of Christian faith and practice within my own household of faith. That we should even be having to discuss most of what comes up at General Convention, for example, is beyond exasperating. It makes me want to weep and gnash my teeth. But the problem is, we work up a much more impressive lather at the prospect of crossing swords with our opponents within the Body of Christ than we do by the vision of combat with the real enemies of the Lord--the spiritual forces of wickedness the rebel against God, the evil powers of this world that corrupt and destroy the creatures of God, and the sinful desires that draw us from the love of God.
I wrestle daily with the temptation to surrender to binary thinking. It is very appealing. But I also pray daily for the grace not to give in. Something I wrote to my parishioners last June, right after returning from General Convention seem apposite here:
I recognize that Christians in good faith, desiring to serve the same Lord Jesus Christ whom I desire to serve, disagree with me. These people are not my enemies. Many of them are my friends. I do not think of them as “heretics” or “apostate.” Should the course of events place us on different paths—and I think there is a very good chance of that—I will grieve. The life of whatever church I’m in will be impoverished by not having them in it.I hope it is not thought either perverse or exploitative to say that I "need" liberals in my church. In a different, but analogous context, Edward Oakes, SJ observes,
When the Western Church fissiparated in the sixteenth century, the Reformers took a portion of the essential patrimony of the Church with them, and they thereby left both the Roman Church and themselves the poorer for it.I'm not happy about liberals in the Episcopal Church holding the reins of power, but if they disappeared, it would be a loss--a loss for them and a loss for me. I need to be intellectually challenged. I need to have my social conscience pricked. If the end game in the coming Anglican realignment creates circumstances in which they feel the need to exclude themselves, I will be sorry.
In the meantime, I embrace the discipline of not losing sight of all the fractions between '0' and '1' in the universe of the Episcopal Church. I do so in vicarious solidarity with those who cannot or will not see those fractions.