Saturday, November 17, 2007

Same Tune; Second Verse

A few months ago, I cobbled together this brief post (well, brief for me, anyway):

In light of the coming "deadline" in September, and all the rhetoric bouncing around the Anglican/Episcopal world, I was moved to recall the refrain of an old country song (Written by Don Rollins; made famous by George Jones, and covered by, among others, the Grateful Dead):

Now the race is on and here comes pride up the back stretch
Heartaches are going to the inside

My tears are holding back, trying not to fall

My heart's out of the running

True love's scratched for another's sake

The race is on and it looks like heartaches

And the winner loses all

In light of the recent offer from the Province of the Southern Cone to take in any Separatist diocesan bishop and party (remembering that a diocese per se can’t leave a province), the song came back to me again. It does seem, doesn’t it, that the race is on?

Southern Cone is angling for Separatist bishops, clergy, and parishioners. So far that’s been mostly in the West and Southwest (since Fort Worth is thinking about this even now). Nigeria through its CANA initiative is working, largely in the Midatlantic states, and perhaps in the Northeast. Kenya has consolidated a collection of congregations, most of them never Episcopal but filled with Separatist former Episcopalians, and largely in the Southeast and Midsouth. Rwanda, sponsoring AMiA, and Uganda have a wider distribution, less geographically defined. At the same time, there’s plenty to contest in the Midwest and Intermountain regions of the country. The Separatists in Kansas went with Uganda. The Separatists in Colorado Springs have gone with Nigeria. We wait to see what happens with Separatists in Illinois, and with the undecided centered in Pittsburgh.

And so, the race appears to be on. Somehow, it reminds me of Africa, and for that matter of North America, in the 19th Century. One of the things we don’t talk about as much in history of world missions is the competition, often bitter competition, that showed itself between different but arguably connected missionary societies. A blunt example, perhaps, is earlier: the displacement in Asia of Jesuit missionaries by Franciscans. It was a difference of internal culture that was visible in how each related to the surrounding culture. To paint broadly, Jesuits were looking for ways to express Christianity within the context of the local culture, while Franciscans were looking to introduce European culture, to their minds not only superior but necessary, to change the local culture. The Jesuits got to the Japanese and Chinese, and made some slow progress. The Franciscans got to the Pope, and got the Jesuits recalled; and China and Japan closed their borders to Christians without, and suppressed Christians within.

Similar competition between missionary bodies took place in the 19th Century in North America and in Africa, as well. And let’s remember that these conflicts were also sometimes bloody. There were a number of incidents in relations between Latter Day Saints and orthodox Christians, with blood on both sides. And even if the conflict was more visible in social conflict than in violence, it was certainly there. We tend to forget that two generations ago a marriage between a Roman Catholic and a Protestant was considered every bit as mixed, and was every bit as vulnerable to social stigma, as a marriage between an African American and a Caucasian American.

And so in this new “mission field,” trying to “rescue” Separatist Episcopalians from the dreaded forces of the Episcopal majority, we can expect there to be competition. Up to this point, it’s been congregation by congregation, with new “diocesan” structures being assembled as needed. However, the plucky folks from Southern Cone think big, for all their small numbers, and they’re looking to take in diocesan structures wholesale. It’s an ambitious step, but it’s one they’ve tried before (can you spell “Recife?” I knew you could!). Perhaps they hope it will work better this time.

I am convinced we will soon have on wider display something that’s really been happening in the United States for a generation. Since 1976 or thereabouts there have been numerous ecclesial bodies claiming the Anglican tradition, with one of them far and away bigger and firm in its historic connection to Canterbury. Soon, there will be fewer, but probably larger ecclesial bodies arguing both Anglican tradition and clearer connection to, if not necessarily communion with, Canterbury. The Episcopal Church will still be larger, and still in communion with Canterbury, although her communion to Canterbury and other Anglican provinces may be somewhat strained. We already have what Archbishop Williams prayed to avoid: divisions like those of the Eastern Orthodox churches, with so much in common and with some cultural and practical differences just important enough to maintain division. We’ve had it for some time, but now it will be harder to ignore.

And so the race is on, with every foreign province interested in supporting Separatists looking for their edge in the new “mission field.” They have so much in common, and yet enough little things and enough personal agendas that competition seems already in play. And all of us are wise to remember the last lines of the refrain:

The race is on and it looks like heartaches
And the winner loses all.

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