Monday, March 5, 2007

There Is Still Time to Reframe

The following was written by: Rev. Joseph F. Duggan, Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles who is doing a doctorate in Theology at the University of Manchester in England. Joe's research is focused on the Anglican Communion 2003 to present and is seeking to develop a political ecclesiological approach to difference in communion.


The Episcopal Church (TEC) still has time to reframe the current conversation by once again standing on historic ground and thereby reclaiming the counter-cultural power of Anglicanism. I have heard every variation of the September 30 choice to comply with the communiqué and for
TEC to separate from the Anglican Communion. I have not heard how TEC can reframe the decision.

It is possible to reframe in such a way that TEC continues and even expands its mission of inclusive justice to GLBT persons while also making a nurturing and abundant space for ideological differences. Then, TEC will demonstrate to the Anglican Communion how extreme difference can peacefully coexist with one another. We can all then claim "wherever one is on their journey of faith", we shall offer the ministerial resources of the church to nurture their faith. Concretely this means continuing to offer and expand the practices of same sex blessings and alternative oversight where they are desired.

Why is this not a more obvious solution to the issues at hand? The irony in TEC is that both minorities in the controversy are fighting for the extinction of the other. Gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender (GLBT) persons and conservatives are both minorities. GLBT persons are part of a society that does not consistently recognize their full humanity and are marginalized by a majority. The conservatives are a minority in TEC and are marginalized by a majority.

The only thing that contemporary liberal and conservative Anglicans seem to share in common is their mutual revulsion for the other. Both have missed the point of Anglicanism. Tolerance of difference is at stake. Not any difference, but the markers of our faith journeys that will always be different. If Anglicanism can no longer hold together GLBT persons and the Scripture literalist, then Anglicans cannot avert a schism.

Majority politics is the historical political choice of Americans, it is the decision-making polity at General Convention but it cannot continue to be an ecclesiological model for how we live with each other. It has been though, and had both conservative and GLBT minorities been affirmed and nurtured, perhaps things might be a little different today. Through my doctoral research I am finding political theory critiques of majority politics that should prove very useful for developing ecclesiological principles for the Anglican Communion, beginning with TEC.

At present TEC is in an untenable position. If it chooses to comply with the Primates' demands, then the inclusive justice mission of TEC will be indefinitely postponed. If it breaks away from the Anglican Communion, it will have lost membership in a diverse worldwide community of Christians.

Liberals say inclusive justice is worth the cost. Conservatives say preserving orthodox belief is worth the cost. Those who say these costs are negligible are naïve.

So what can TEC do?

TEC must lead Anglicans in a radical attitude adjustment.

TEC must let go of seeing difference as temporary until a more perfect unity can be achieved as is suggested in the TEC Bishops' March 23, 2004 letter, "Caring for All The Churches" (available through ENS Archives). Communion is not the same as unity. Difference for Roman Catholics disturbs unity and provokes discipline, while difference for Anglicans must be constitutive of
our communion. Anglicans' lack of clarity about their ecclesiological difference to Roman Catholic ecclesiology has perpetuated a notion that difference is temporary. Anglican ecclesiological principles have been based on unity not on communion. The terms have been carelessly used and falsely interchangeable. This is an issue across the Anglican Communion.

If TEC can recognize difference as more permanent, then ideological differences and sexual orientation must be given the same privileged status of inclusion as race, class and gender. This should be a resolution considered by the next General Convention. Rather than continuing to take sides TEC must stand up for all differences, even the ones that repulse.

TEC must develop an ecclesiological strategy so that all expressions of faith by majorities and minorities may be heard, affirmed and nurtured. This is counter-intuitive to American politics, but TEC must act differently. TEC may seriously consider Jack Miles' suggestion in his article posted recently on HOB/D that a reevaluation of TEC's geographical boundaries is past due.

If TEC continues to see difference as temporary, then temporary accommodations of difference such as conscience clauses and the Church of England's '92 Bishops resolutions for creating two Anglican integrities: those for and against women's priesthood must be continued. While the COE '92 approach has been criticized in and outside of COE, much worked. TEC could build, expand and correct the deficiencies of this innovative approach to foster the coexistence of difference. Like TEC the COE approach is based on a conflated understanding of unity and communion where difference is seen as temporary. Neither TEC nor COE seems to appreciate that these differences are markers of faith and must be responded to with the respect
that they may not change.

What can individual Episcopalians do? Episcopalians should "try-on" these practices:
Discard - the idols that impede dialogue
Doubt - let go of the certitude which privileges personal truth
Pray - for your enemies that you may be in at least an agonistic relation
Respect -ideological differences that represent holy faith in its mystery
Create spaces -for differences to coexist in one church
Nurture - the faith of all especially ideological minorities
Solidarity - stand next to one another in spiritual communion
Listen - deeply to each other across ideological differences
Cherish - as a brother and sister in Christ the one with whom you disagree

Like Jesus on the cross who spoke to the thief, Anglicans must always be humbly prepared to say to the other, "you will be with me in Paradise". TEC must repent, not to the Primates, but to the Communion for forgetting Tudor tolerance. TEC must say that there is absolutely no contradiction between the Scriptural literalist and GLBT activist. Both are faithful Anglicans
who disagree. TEC must say, "we will cherish them and we will nurture their faith". This is Reformation Anglicanism. This is a radical inclusive Gospel that defies political strategies. As Jesus gazed compassionately on Pontius Pilate, TEC must likewise compassionately gaze on the differences of all Anglicans.

Regardless of the decision on September 30, consistent with the human condition, the differences we each find repulsive will follow or re-emerge. Historically astute Anglicans know that communion must be achieved amidst the constant strife of difference and interdependence.
Final Note on Power Analysis:
This strategy to reframe does not mean that TEC ignores the necessary power analysis that has been initiated and must be substantially expanded. The fact is that Canterbury has been steadily morphing its powers and authority by default due to our silence as a church.

The language of the "four instruments of unity" was never challenged with the same passion as our voices are now being heard around the world. The four instruments of unity was initiated as a language in 1987 by Archbishop Robin Eames in his Anglican Consultative Council paper, "What Price Unity?" for the 1987 Singapore meeting, though it did not come into more general use until The Virginia Report.

At an Ecclesiastical Law Society meeting that I attended in Liverpool in January 2007, Dr. Norman Doe gave a lecture, "Jus Commune". Professor Doe described how he was invited by George Carey as the Archbishop of Canterbury to work with the Primates to evaluate and assess how the province member polities relate to the Anglican Communion. The goal since at least Archbishop Runcie has been to develop a more binding relationship between the Anglican Communion and its provinces. As I see it, the controversies of TEC were a grand opportunity to take advantage of our vulnerability and disorder as a church to achieve something Canterbury has wanted and been planning for quite some time.

What has been necessary all along has been to develop ecclesiological principles that foster the relationships outlined in the 1963 "Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in the Body of Christ". Our silence as a church has made us complicit in irrevocably changing Anglicanism forever.

There is still time to reframe such that TEC leads the Anglican Communion in the vision of Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence.

Rev. Joseph F. Duggan

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