Friday, July 20, 2007

The Way Forward: Confrontation or Collaboration?

Our Thursday night class is currently studying Louis Weil's A Theology of Worship. There was one quote that jumped out at me during our last class:

...A person cannot be a Christian "in general." We are baptized in a specific place at a specific time, so that although we are baptized members of the universal church, our membership is always experienced within a specific ecclesial context, in a specific parish or mission church made up of a particular group of people. We live out this membership within the social and cultural realities of one particular community or many different communities over the course of a lifetime...
In other words, one size does not fit all, which identifies the problem with so many church "programs." I think an essential piece of engaging those in our immediate vicinity is to identify the "social and cultural realities" in our own backyards.

These different cultural realities are also one of the factors in the current tension within the Anglican Communion. Its not a matter of having two different religions. It is a matter of responding to many different cultural settings.

My personal reaction to a different culture is often, at a minimum, a feeling of discomfort. Sometimes that discomfort can grow into frustration, or even fear, because of my own lack of understanding. "How can 'they' that way? Why can't they just be normal, like us?"

Such a reaction can often lead to confrontation. For instance, consider this statement from eight Anglican Primates who refer to themselves as the Global South Steering Committee. They are quite upset; one might even say confrontational. Their frustration in regards to how the Episcopal Church is responding to our own cultural realities seems to continue to grow. Here is Episcopal Life's report on this statement. What follows is a few excerpts from that report:

...In a statement dated July 18, the group claimed they had "no choice" but to exercise oversight for dissident Episcopalians in place of their American bishops, because the Episcopal Church's House of Bishops failed to embrace a "pastoral scheme" that would have provided dissident dioceses with an alternative to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori...

...Both the 1988 and 1998 Lambeth Conferences, the 2004 Windsor Report, and the 2005 Primates Meeting Communiqué from Dromantine all stated that boundary crossings contradict ancient precedent in the Christian Church and are unacceptable behavior in the Anglican Communion, as did the Dar es Salaam statement...
Note that four of the eight Primates who made this statement are engaged in claiming Episcopal congregations as their own. It is obvious that they are much more than objective bystanders.

There's nothing really new in the statement. A repeat of the various accusations made against TEC. A shot at Canterbury. A threat to invade Canada next unless they shape up. Lots of threats. Lots of anger.

It might be helpful to these Primates if they took a little time to understand American culture. One thing that most people recognize is that normally Americans do not respond well to threats. That tends to make us just get more stubborn.

That is my personal first inclination when reading this statement. I don't understand it, as it is springing from another cultural reality. But what I do understand I find quite offensive. I want to tell all eight of them to just go jump in the lake. That might make me feel better for a few minutes. But, I have to ask myself, is that really the best response? More to the point, is that a Christian response?

I don't think it is. So, is there another option? Perhaps. Just maybe, when confronted with a different cultural reality, our response might be a prayer, specifically, to borrow some words attributed to St. Francis; ...Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love...

Maybe what we need to do is seek to understand this different culture before we allow our outrage to find its full voice and so bring this confrontation to the point of no return?

I think it is worth a try. Apparently, others think it is as well. Episcopal Life also brings us this story about the effort to strengthen mission partnerships with some of the bishops from the Global South:

... Trinity Wall Street is convening a group of bishops from Anglican Communion provinces in Africa and their companions in the Episcopal Church "for a consultation to strengthen relationships, develop mission partnerships, and to discover new opportunities to bear witness to the Gospel," according to a Trinity news release.

Hosted by Iglesia Episcopal Reformada de España, "Walking to Emmaus: Discovering New Mission Perspectives in Changing Times" will be held in El Escorial, Spain July 21 through July 26.

The consultation will be rooted in prayer and breaking bread together; using different liturgies from the provinces of the Anglican Communion to enrich the experience of the participants, the release said.

"Mission flourishes best through collaboration," said the Rev. Canon James G. Callaway, Jr., deputy for faith formation and development at Trinity Church. "This gathering provides an opportunity for people of shared faith and mutual responsibility to come together to further develop partnerships that address important needs in the world."

The Rev. Dr. James H. Cooper, the rector of Trinity Church-St. Paul's Chapel, noted that Trinity Church is an "active partner in the global south, especially strengthening the church in Africa by facilitating the ability of its leaders to take control of factors that influence their lives."

"Diocesan partnerships are a vital route to achieving important goals both locally and globally," he said. "We look forward this week to challenging conversations, inspired thinking, and renewed commitments to partnership and mission"...
In an interview, Ian Douglas, Angus Dun Professor of Mission and World Christianity at the Episcopal Divinity School, further explains the role of these mission partnerships. Douglas (ID) is being inteviewed by site editor Nathan Brockman (NB) :

...NB: The success of the 19th-century missions has something to do with the current conflict over human sexuality in the Anglican Communion, correct?

ID: Oh, absolutely. But I don't see it necessarily as a conflict.

NB: Why not?

ID: Well, there are indeed conflicts with respect to the particular differences over human sexuality. But the real question has to do with the plurality cultural contexts in which Anglicanism is now located. I tend to see our present situation as the logical outgrowth of the work of the Holy Spirit. The Anglican Communion is moving from a historically mono-cultural, Christian experience of a North Atlantic Alliance, to a radically multi-cultural, diverse family of churches.

NB: Does controversy in the Communion right now affect every-day life in the pews?

ID: God works in mysterious ways. I would say the attention being paid to such matters has in some ways been a positive force for furthering the cause of mission in the Anglican Communion. Today more Episcopalians are knowledgeable about and committed to the life of the Anglican Communion than ever before in our history. A few years ago, if we had 25 people at a legislative committee meeting on world mission at the General Convention, we would've felt we're making headway. At the last General Convention we had over 2,000 people attending the legislative committee hearing on The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion...

...NB: Have you seen people who fundamentally disagree about certain things working together?

ID: Happens all the time. At the level of primatial politics, the Diocese of Massachusetts and dioceses in East Africa are not supposed to be talking to each other. Yet in common action together, particularly in response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, mission relationships have been nurtured and gone into very deep places of mutuality, while not compromising beliefs...

...NB: Let's say you have a magic wand that you can wave and have a single wish for the Communion fulfilled.

ID: I would wish for us all to say, "Get thee behind me Satan." I believe so much in the possibility of this incredibly diverse and plural global family of churches called the Anglican communion. The Devil is going to spend more time trying to rent division or bring about division because the Anglican Communion, in all our plurality, has never been better poised to serve God's mission. There's nothing the Evil One wants more than for us to get concerned with matters of the Church and thus neglect matters of God's mission of reconciliation and restoration in the wider world.
Seeking to understand our cultural differences, at least to the point that we can work together towards common goals, is much more difficult than confrontation. But, in the end, I think it just might be worth the extra effort.


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