As many know who know me or read this blog, I am an Anglican. I was raised in the United Church of Canada, left there when I was around 15 and chose to return to church and become an Anglican about 15 years ago after having been absent from any faith life for about 18 years. One reason Anglicanism drew me in, besides the rich liturgical tradition, was that it is a church that prides itself on the ‘middle way’.
Within the Anglican tent a range of Christian beliefs have managed to get along and walk together in diversity. I have the freedom to explore, raise and discuss faith views across a wide spectrum without breaking the ‘dogma’ of the church. That appealed to my seeking ways, I didn’t want to be confined to being told what my interpretation of faith and the bible was. I wanted to be able to seek, learn and draw my own conclusions. Conclusions that would either strengthen my faith or send me away from it, but they would be my convictions.
Some don’t want that. They don’t want to view the bible as a book rich in meaning, wisdom and depth that can be viewed across the generations from the perspective of the generation in which we’re living. They want the bible to be rigid and narrow in interpretation. They seek legalisms that decide who is or isn’t in the Christian tent and more specifically, the Anglican tent. That rigidity is hard on the ones holding the views and hard on those who challenge that need in others when they attempt to imposed it on those who don’t hold to that need.
The world, its peoples, its cultures are constantly evolving. Change is as inevitable as the march of the seasons each year. What was right and normal for one culture, one generation, one country is not always what remains right for ever. Yet those who cling to the bible in a legalistic way consider that the bible remains static and only their interpretation is that ‘faith delivered’.
Those who do not embrace their mindset are labelled as ‘revisionists’, ‘heretics’ and a range of other names. Then the name calling starts from the labelled until after a while, nobody really knows who labelled who first and it really doesn’t matter.
That type of conflict is divisive in any church. When it enters the Anglican tent it leaves many who embrace and celebrate the unity in diversity image of Anglicanism in confusion and dismay. Confused about what is so hard to tolerate that it becomes necessary to threaten to rip the tent asunder.
This is what has been happening in the Anglican communion in the last several years. When the ordination of women took place some 30 years ago there were threats of schism in the communion as some provinces held to refusing to recognize the validity of holy orders for women. That issue has never really gone away but has reached a point where raising it as a cause celebre just doesn’t fly with any large numbers of Anglicans.
So, now at the turn of the 21st century, a group of Anglican primates (that would be heads of Anglican provinces, not apes who have converted) have drawn the line in the sand over the full participation of gays in the church. These primates are largely from Africa where their culture and society is largely anti-gay, they are also among some of the fastest growing provinces in the Anglican communion. Emerging from these provinces has been one particular primate who clearly desires power, he has no interest in anything except complete capitulation by the rest of the communion to his demands.
Some parts of the communion, most notably North America, are part of cultures that has increasingly come to realize that being gay is not a choice. It is who the person was born to be. There are those in our society and church who don’t yet recognize this and continue to cling to largely Old Testament dogma to declare being gay to be sinful. Well, actually, they split hairs. You can be gay without being sinful but if you act on your nature (which they consider to be a choice) then you’re sinful. And don’t dare become a priest and enter into a committed loving relationship with a same sex partner.
Sometimes it seems as though outside of the little church I attend the church is obsessed with the gay question. I have to admit to growing weary of it. I’m thankful that in this little church here in the local area, the question doesn’t come up, it really doesn’t matter what the priest does in personal time. It matters about the ministry he/she is called to bring to us and how that ministry is played out in the parish and the community.
I wonder sometimes if the wider church has become so wrapped up in the issues of sexuality they start to lose sight of what we are called to be as Christians. The example that Christ lived out in his ministry. This week in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania the primates of the Anglican Communion have gathered. Of course, high on the agenda is discussion of sexuality. At least that is the issue the world press is watching.
Yesterday on a blog for young Canadian Anglicans, Andrew Hutchison, the Canadian Primate reflected on the issues which were scheduled to be discussed at these meetings and the sharp contrast of the abject poverty he observed as he travelled along the road to the meetings. How that poverty and issues like them should be taking up the time of the primates not wrangling over who is in and who is out of the tent. I found the post thoughtful.
Not everyone agreed. I came across a blog called David’s Journal – the liberals still don’t get it in which he characterizes the Primate’s post as misrepresenting the ‘orthodox’ and writing nonsense. The Primate wrote in his posting “I am going to a meeting with a gospel of hope and a preferential option for the poor” David’s entry zeroed in on this claiming “Simply put, the “gospel of hope” in the Bible is nothing to do with alleviation of poverty” he attempts to obliquely lay out what the Bible is saying in his entry.
In the comments section a poster gently but firmly challenges David on his assertions. It is in the process of reading the comments that David becomes clearer on what he feels the gospels tell us “my main complaint here is that men like Hutchison have completely sidelined what the Bible says the gospel is: saving people from the wrath of God.”
If Christian faith is all about running in fear from the wrath of God. I think I start to understand those who have left the faith, or at least actively practicing the faith. Thankfully, faith is not about avoiding the wrath of God, it is knowing that God loves us even when we falter.
As someone pointed out to me not long ago, if the Communion splits, it is God’s church and God will drive what happens after that.