Tuesday, February 21, 2006

On the Cost of Believing in Reconciliation

I have been reading the Thinking Anglicans web site. Sometimes it makes me sad, but it’s the best discussion site on the current troubles in the Anglican Communion with predominantly progressive participants; and even the traditionalist participants are, by and large, thoughtful and respectful. It is largely English in its perspective. I only wish there were an American site with the same level of participation.

So, today while I was reading about the debate within the Church of England regarding women bishops, I was struck by the sense from conservative voices that there was no possibility of reconciliation. This was particularly so in two articles linked from the discussion. However, the more I thought about the rhetoric I had been hearing, the more it seemed an accurate reflection of the what’s been said in so many places.

It seems to me that the reason is that for the extremists, shouted especially loudly by the traditionalist extremists, reconciliation is capitulation. That is, this is an either/or matter. There is no room for living together with the issue, because they see nowhere to live. I think it’s largely projection, but this is how I think they see it: 1. We are right, and the only truly right position is the one we espouse. 2. If anyone wants to be right, he has to take our position; and we would certainly enforce conformity. 3. We can only expect those we disagree with to expect to enforce conformity to their position; after all, it’s what we would do. 4. Therefore, either way, it’s all or nothing.

I caught this when I read the following comment in an article by a Church of England bishop, one who opposes women in the episcopate. In reflecting on proposed “Transferred Episcopal Arrangements,” he said, “But my real sadness is this. The rejection of any ‘separate’ provision, by Guildford and many others, as nigh on schism seems less to do with the heartbreak it would cause to either party (though it jolly well should) than the mostly unspoken but widely hoped for view that this is a temporary problem that needs a temporary solution.” (By “separate provision” he means a third province in England [parallel to Canterbury and York], or similar structural provision, that would totally exclude women as bishops, and probably as priests.)

Now, this is not a strident shout of, “Never, never, never. I shall hold my breath until I turn blue.” That is not the tone of the article. However, he captures something profound. TEA is intended, I think, as a temporary solution; just as Designated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight (DEPO) is explicitly intended as a temporary solution. Not to hold up these solutions as temporary is to reject the possibility of reconciliation. If we are to believe we might somehow be reconciled, not in the sense of capitulation but in the sense of finding common, shareable, if uncomfortable ground, then any solution we choose now must be temporary.

Suddenly today I have a new sense of what has been going on at Canterbury and at 815. I am among those who have wondered why neither ++Rowan nor ++Frank have come down more strongly in response to those who seem determined to tear apart the Communion, and several of its constituent national churches. The traditionalists have proclaimed, “Either we get our way or we tear the house down.” To respond with the same level of rhetoric is to reject any possibility of reconciliation. If we believe that ultimately we are called to live together, we must understand these circumstances as temporary, and continue to not only hope but work for reconciliation.

I’m not sure ++Rowan and ++Frank are correct in their decision. Reconciliation isn’t possible if we have no partner. But if we believe (and I do believe) we are called to seek reconciliation, even if we have to suffer for it (isn’t there something Biblical about that?), then we have to continue to see this situation as temporary. At the very least we cannot be the ones who make it permanent.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

An excellent analysis, I think, of where we're at. I do wish we could all just tone down the righteous anger a bit and try to see Jesus in each other. But everyone seems hell bent on seeing a solution right now. It took the early Church centuries to unwind debates over christology, pneumatology, and even basic morality. What makes us think we're going to figure out human sexuality in three years?