Friday, May 12, 2006

This Anglican Family

In preparation for the General Convention, we’re presenting open forums (fora?) to discuss issues, to inform parishioners, and to invite questions. We’re also doing some preparatory reading, and especially the Fall 2005 edition (volume 87, number 4) of the Anglican Theological Review. This edition is specifically a collection of articles in response to The Windsor Report. These articles were written by theologians, academics, bishops, and parish clergy from the Episcopal Church, the Church of England, and the Anglican Church of Canada. Some I agreed with and some I didn’t. Some were more persuasive and some less. Events may have overtaken the value of the collection, but I don’t think that’s happened yet. I can certainly recommend reading it.

The article I found most persuasive and useful was the article “An Opportunity for Grace in the Anglican Communion” from Bishop William Gregg of Eastern Oregon (abstract here). Unlike most of the other articles, Bishop Gregg did not look at the causes of the current controversy so much as at the way the controversy is being lived and acted out. His was not an examination of an issue at debate. It was instead an analysis of the way we are working this out using the family systems theory of Murray Bowen and Edwin Friedman. Friedman is especially well known for his efforts to apply family systems theory to congregational life, and Bishop Gregg is using these tools in the same sense here.

I found in most helpful precisely because it doesn’t try to assert a position within the controversy as much as it suggests how we might understand our own behavior in the controversy and take a step back. Other articles examine what koinonia might mean for us theologically. This article looks at how we might try to live koinonia functionally. Other articles asserted that one issue or another was most important, or that one position or another was most worth arguing. They were all interesting, but none offered me much of a sense of hope. This was the one article that I found could encourage me that this argument was worth seeing through for the opportunity to stay in relationship. (Perhaps the editors of ATR agreed with me on this. This was placed as the last article in the collection.)

At the same time, that position certainly reflects some bias on my part, and something of a peculiarly Euro-American mindset. The article looks at the Communion as a family in function, and not simply in metaphor. In that light the miscommunication and arguments are evidence of dysfunction. The dysfunction can be addressed directly, respecting all individuals and relationships in the family, with changes to more appropriate, healthy behavior – all of which is clinical language which means much the same as the instruction from my childhood, “We can all get together if everybody will just act right!”

And that, of course, brings us back to all the other articles. So many voices out there, so many opinions, aren’t interested in better communication. They aren’t interested in hearing others better or respecting other opinions. That isn’t the sin of one party alone: both poles of this debate have demonstrated this failing. “I’ll know we have better communication when you find my position compelling,” doesn’t really get us any farther.

In addition, the therapeutic framework used may not be of interest to those in the Global South. I’m not suggesting they can’t understand it; I’m sure they can. I wonder, though, whether it’s familiar to them. I wonder, more, whether it’s useful to them, in the sense of offering a tool, a mindset, that will be applicable in those settings. We have asserted widely, and The Windsor Report itself notes, that we live this faith in very different contexts. I have been taught to appreciate the therapeutic approach in this context. I cannot assume it will readily translate into another.

Still, it is, as I said, the one article that gives me hope, or at least some encouragement to stick the argument out. It seems to me of all the articles the one most in the true spirit of Windsor, interested in how we can maintain the highest level of communion even with all of our differences. It’s worth the time to read (use the library, or interlibrary loan, because I can’t seem to find it available on line), and to consider. Other articles see this current controversy as an opportunity to clarify one issue or another. This article sees this controversy as an opportunity to build healthy relationships, the sorts of relationships that can give real substance to our experiences of communion.

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