Tuesday, December 02, 2008

On Doing the Wrong Thing Well

One cannot practice the Christian faith both long and deeply without somehow coming to terms with its paradoxical nature: God is one and God is three, Jesus is divine and Jesus is human, humans bears God's image and humans are fallen sinners, law is good and grace is good, faith and works are both key to salvation, etc. etc. The contradictory pairs keep on coming.

It is somewhat in that spirit that I take on what is by any estimation a big event in the development of Anglican Christianity. Tomorrow, in Wheaton, Illinois (part of the greater territory of my old childhood stomping grounds), representatives of a variety of ecclesial structures populated overwhelmingly by former Episcopalians and Canadian Anglicans will assemble and constitute themselves as a church--one with a unified structure, a constitution and canons, liturgical formularies (one presumes), and methods of discipline; in short, all the institutional paraphernalia of a church. In Anglican parlance, they will style themselves a "province." Their undisguised intention is, in time, to effectively replace the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada as the holder of the Anglican "franchise" in North America.

I will not be there, even though I'm only some 150 miles away. I am, for the foreseeable future, an Episcopalian, and this is a decision I have made for reasons that range from the sublime to the mundane, from the principled to the practical. For me, this is the path of obedience. Moreover, I wish they were not doing what they are doing. As one who says the creeds enthusiastically without crossing his fingers and who does not believe any church is at liberty to recast the vision of marriage that "was established by God in creation" (Book of Common Prayer, p. 423), I continue to believe that it was a mistake, both theologically and strategically, for those who will form the new province tomorrow to have left the Episcopal Church. If I were in a position to wave a wand and dictate my will, they would all return.

But among those who gather in Wheaton (or who at least will be represented by those who gather), many are my friends. Per the Psalmist, "we took sweet counsel together, and walked with the throng in the house of God." (55:15) These are people with whom I have labored side by side in a number of contexts for the sake of the gospel. And my own vision of that gospel generally accords much more closely with theirs than it does with the that of the regnant leadership of my own church/province. So I am experiencing what I learned in my Psych 1 course nearly four decades ago to call "cognitive dissonance." I may as well come out with it: Even though in my mind I am persuaded of what I wrote in the above paragraph, there is no small part of my heart that is envious of those who are part of the new province. I won't bother to catalog the reasons for my envy; just stating the fact is sufficiently cathartic. (Aside to MBTI-philes: The fact that I am an INTJ explains why my head trumps my heart in this and just about every other matter.)

So, even though I would have it some other way if I could, the fact remains that I cannot, and that being the case, I find it in my mind (and my heart, truth to tell) to offer a valediction of sorts to the "Council of Wheaton." I have hopes for their project, even while I am not part of it:

  • I hope that will find a way to emphasize the joys and the truths that they are affirming, and minimize any rhetoric about the sorrows and falsehoods they believe themselves to be leaving behind.
  • I hope they will not surrender a commitment to communion with the See of Canterbury as a determinitive mark of Anglican identity.
  • I hope they will not lose sight of the traditional Anglican value of comprehensiveness and diversity within the bounds of creedal orthodoxy.
  • I hope they will maintain a spirit of respect and fraternal love toward those whose call is to maintain a witness within the Episcopal Church.
  • I hope they will open themselves to the notion that those who are mistaken on certain questions of sexual morality are not thereby necessarily heretical and/or apostate, but simply wrong.
  • I hope they will quickly overcome the differences between the divergent ecclesial cultures that have grown up even during the short time that extra-mural North American Anglicans have sought refuge in a number of different ports.
  • I hope they will embrace humility and gentleness of spirit with such abandon that the hearts of any detractors will melt in the face of such resistless love. 
My friends, in the words attributed to Luther, "sin boldly." If you are going to indeed do what you have evidently put your minds to, do it well. If it turns out you are wholly wrong (and the Spirit will make that clear over time), I will personally leave the light on for you here. If it turns out I'm the one who's whistling in the dark, save me a spot.


Undergroundpewster said...

I hope thay will start a "Radio Free Episcopaldom" to those of us living behind the oven mitt curtain.

plsdeacon said...

I think the current situation between "inside" and "outside" conservatives is like a messy divorce. We both love the Episcopal Church and are saddened to the point of anger over what has our beloved has done to herself. Some of us want to leave right now and never see her again. Some of us hope beyone hope that she will come to herself and say "Father, I have sinned...."

As for me, I am with Hosea in the wilderness. My beloved Church is playing the harlot with God but I am still to remain faithful. God will lead her to the desert again and there speak words to her and, with His grace, she will repent and return to faithfulness.

Phil Snyder

Anonymous said...

Dear Fr. Dan:

I so appreciate both your intellectual honesty and your emotional honesty on this matter. I personally promise to "save a spot" for you, should the Holy Spirit rend a change in your mindset.

Grace and Peace!

Deacon Francie

TL said...

Fr. Dan,
How can you see this New Province as sinning boldly? I would say that TEc is and continues to "sin boldly" and those that are a part of this New Province have left the sin to continue to boldly proclaim the Good News of the Gospel once delivered for all! Something I fear TEc is not doing...save those small few like yourself who have chosen to stay in a body that "sins boldly!"
TL Dillon

Anonymous said...

Fr. Dan, thank you for your gracious comments.Keep your end of the bridge open as long as you can, and I'll wedge open mine.
40 yrs ago, already a postulant, I sang in Chicago with the UTS Men's Choir as the EUB's voted to be swallowed by the MC whale.

The cancer of revisionism swallowed the PECUSA where I made my vows to God in the Dio. of Chicago in '69.

Last night in Chicagoland, by the grace of God, great medical care and better living through chemistry, I sang every song to His glory and with tears in my eyes signed the Jerusalem Statement along with hundreds of brothers and sisters in Christ. We are the ACNA.

Thank you Lord Jesus for this new start to your old call. Use me wherever, whenever and however you will. Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.

Your servant, Bob +

. . . still ridin' for the brand, but no longer on a dead horse!

Anonymous said...

Fr. Dan,

How can you ask for a spirit of love and respect from the leavers when the title of your article disrespects what we are doing as leavers? Only time will tell if it is the wrong thing. The same is true of stayers.

Dcn. Dale

Bob G+ said...

One thing to consider when looking forward is that the current leadership of TEC will be gone in another 10-15 years. All indications suggest that the next generations will not be as "radical" or as questioning-leaning-towards-heterodoxy than their formers. As a matter of fact, several younger seminarians that I know are and say their cohort is much more conservative than current leadership. It isn't the same kind of "conservative" as one might have found in the 1950's or even among current American-Evangelicals of a certain generation. But, much more honestly creedal, nonetheless.

It may take a generation, but TEC will be a very different church in 25 years, and I predict that it will be far more a Church that doesn't cross its collective fingers when saying the creeds. We may be much smaller for a time and all the money may be gone, but frankly that doesn't bother me, for God has all things in His hands - including TEC even in its wondering in the wilderness.

What will come of this new denomination, I can't predict. Having a common enemy doesn't necessarily present a lasting reason to remain together, particularly when some members will refuse to take communion from other members. American Church history (particularly Evangelical history) doesn't seem to give very many examples of this kind of thing succeeding in the long run. We shall see.