Monday, June 7, 2010

The Anglican Smack Down

Last Sunday's reading in Episcopal Churches across the nations was John 16:12, "I still have many things to tell you, but you cannot bear them now..." This is the pivotal scripture which supports the "God is Still Speaking" campaign of the United Church of Christ. It also is the pivotal scripture against the concept of a fundamentalist literal interpretation of the Bible and for a broader look at what the Bible and Jesus says to us now in 2010. (Something to do with "Love one another")

This has been the Pentecost of Dueling Anglicans and the gloves are off. If you are not of the Anglican persuasion, trust me, this is a wild as we ever get in public. In one corner we have the Archbishop of Canterbury, trying his damnedest to slow the progress of any news flashes from the Holy Spirit, whose appearance, after all, is the reason we celebrate Pentecost, and the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, trying her damnedest to speed up progress without falling apart.

Diane Butler Bass accurately and eloquently describes the formal fisticuffs in The Huffington Post:
Unless you've been sleeping in a cave, you are probably aware that the Episcopal Church (of which I am a member) has been arguing about the role of LGBT persons in the church. Along with the Anglican Church of Canada, the Episcopal Church has opened itself toward full inclusion of gay and lesbian Christians. Here in North America, this has caused some defections (fewer than at first predicted), some legal suits (most have been settled in favor of the Episcopal Church), monetary fallout (hard to separate from general economic downturn), and bad feelings (which, sadly enough, remain). But what is most surprising -- and I regularly hear this from bishops, clergy, and congregational lay leaders -- is that things are much less tense in the Episcopal Church now than they have been in recent years. Folks are moving ahead in their local parishes doing the sorts of things that Episcopalians are pretty good at doing -- creating beautiful worship, praying together, and feeding hungry people.

Despite the fact that the Episcopalians are bumpily journeying into a renewed future, some other Anglicans -- mostly in Africa -- are pretty mad that we've included our gay and lesbian friends and relatives in our churches. Large communities of Anglicans in places like Uganda (the same Uganda that recently tried to pass a death-penalty law for gay people) and Malawi (the same Malawi that recently sentenced a gay couple who wanted to marry to 14 years of hard labor) are seriously unhappy with American Episcopalians and Canadian Anglicans.

And this leads us to the Pentecost pastoral letters.

While (somewhat ironically) attending a conference in Washington, DC entitled "Building Bridges," Rowan Williams sent out his Pentecost letter to Anglicans worldwide, which, after saying a lot of nice things about missions and diversity, pulls rank and proclaimed that he's going to kick people off important committees whose national churches have violated a controversial guidelines laid out in documents called the Windsor Report and the Anglican Covenant. This includes the Canadians (who let gay Christians get married) and the Americans (who recently ordained a lesbian bishop in Los Angeles) and some Africans (who ordained some Americans who were splitting churches in places like Virginia and Pennsylvania).

In response, Katharine Jefferts Schori essentially accused Williams -- in a nice sort of Anglican way -- of being a theological dictator. As she says in understated fashion, "Unitary control does not characterize Anglicanism." For non-Anglicans, trust me, those are fightin' words.

This is not a conservative/liberal argument (both Rowan Williams and Katharine Jefferts Schori are theologically liberal). This is a fight between rival versions of Anglicanism, a quarrel extending to the beginning of Anglicanism that has replayed itself periodically through the centuries down to our own time.

Read it all here....

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