Thursday, December 21, 2006

Bawer: "Don't Bow to the Bullies"

Bruce Bawer, author of Stealing Jesus, offers some thoughts about our current unpleasantness:

...For years now, antigay Episcopal leaders have been cultivating ties with people like that Nigerian bishop with an eye to eventually jumping ship. Now these two Virginia congregations have taken the plunge, placing themselves under the authority of Archbishop Peter Akinola, primate of the Church of Nigeria - a man who not only opposes gay bishops but enthusiastically supports a proposal by his nation's government to outlaw meetings of homosexuals. In doing so, these parishes - whose histories are wrapped up in the history of the founding of American democracy - have betrayed both their American and their Anglican roots.

For though they beat their breasts over their fealty to "traditional values," these secessionists have demonstrated quite dramatically that they don't know the first thing about Anglican tradition - which from the beginning has called on the faithful to focus on what brings them together, not on what divides them, and whose glory is not a book of discipline but a book of common prayer. They call themselves orthodox, but in an Anglican context they're anything but. They thunder that their denomination has been taken over by gays and their supporters; the fact is that third-world Anglicanism has largely fallen under the sway of reactionary demagogues who have left Anglican traditions and values far behind.

What do the actions of these Virginia churches say about the Episcopal Church's fate? Hard to say. Over the last century, it's declined in influence and relative size, though in recent years attendance figures have actually risen. In a sense, the Episcopal Church is in better shape than other "mainline" US churches - the Methodists, Presbyterians, and Lutherans - which are more evenly split between pro- and anti-gay elements. Additional parishes and even dioceses will likely join the Nigerian exodus, but probably not many, and more than a few liberal Episcopalians are frankly relieved to see them go. They don't represent most Episcopal conservatives - who, though perhaps uneasy about gay bishops, aren't uneasy enough to join forces with the likes of Archbishop Akinola.

There's a challenge in all this, however, for liberal Anglican leaders. They must face the fact that they belong to a worldwide communion dominated largely by people who aren't just reactionaries but outright tyrants - people who don't honor the most basic Anglican obligation to treat their opponents with respect and dignity. Instead of bowing to these bullies, as Griswold did at Lambeth, they must stand up for the Anglican tradition. If this means that the liberal Anglican provinces in America, Britain, and elsewhere end up having to leave the Anglican Communion, so be it. Such a schism would be lamentable, but it would be better than selling out human dignity for the sake of a communion that's no longer truly Anglican.
If the Anglican Communion does end up sanctioning bigotry (which I did not believe was possible only a few years ago, but now I sometimes wonder) I would assume Dr. Williams recognizes that more than a few Episcopalians will shake the dust from their feet and move on. Most likely, if we ever get to that point, we won't have to do anything, as the extremists will announce they have no need of us. The effect will be the same.

As Bruce has said, a schism would be lamentable. My inner Catholic grieves just thinking about it. But, my inner Baptist asks, "So what?" Thank God such decisions are beyond my abilities to decide.

Pray for the Church.


P.S. Maybe for the sake of discussion I need to expand that last bit. Fair warning, the following some will find controversial.

Setting aside the theology for a moment, I know I don't need the Church. I've walked away before, and may do so again. And I certainly don't need the Communion. Being part of those official bodies must be a choice, an act of my free will, or the decision is of little value. Love has little meaning if it is not a choice. That also means having the freedom to end relationships that become unhealthy.

I do need God, and most of the time I recognize the need to be in community, to witness "God with skin on." But I don't think that community has to be defined as an historical institution.

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