Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Listening toward Reconciliation: A Conversation Initiative in Today's Anglican Alienations

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Listening toward Reconciliation: A Conversation Initiative in Today's Anglican Alienations

Article excerpt

Reconciliation among differing groups in the Anglican Communion requires vulnerable conversation and attentive listening. In mid-2004, a group of US Episcopalians undertook such conversation with bishops and other leaders of the Anglican provinces of Rwanda, Burundi, and Kenya in East Africa. This account of that venture sheds light on the personal and social dimensions of the listening that is needed in the midst of current controversies. In order to define the role of listening in the reconciliation projected by many in the Communion, this study first identifies the specifically relational aspects of current Anglican tensions. It then recounts major features of the listening journey undertaken in East Africa. It concludes by analyzing the importance of listening as a critically important preparation in the process of reconciliation.

Many relationships between provinces of the Anglican Communion-and between people of differing views within provinces-have been affected negatively by disagreements about human sexuality, especially in connection with decisions of the 2003 and 2006 General Conventions of the Episcopal Church. Such effects are by no means universal, for many relationships have continued to be cordial and collaborative, and some relationships have been deepened by shared reflection on the issues raised.

Yet the data of relational damage in the controversies are voluminous, particularly since early 2003. The phrase "relational damage" here refers not to tension and controversy, which need not be damaging in themselves, but to identifiable changes in relationship. These include changes from trust to suspicion, from cordiality to alienation, from friendship to hostility, from collaboration to isolation, and, metaphorically, from closeness to distance.1 Such changes are verbally evident in declarations made in the public record, many of them available electronically, including statements of commissions, dioceses, provinces, interest groups, and bishops in response to ongoing developments. Relational damage is evident in congregational and diocesan publications, in journal articles and in books, and in unrecorded sermons and discussions among Anglicans around the world. Many particular acts of disassociation and realignment have impaired the unity that strengthens the church's ability to carry out God's mission in the world.2

The gravest recent event was the decision of the February 2007 Primates Meeting in Tanzania to request a response by September 30, 2007 to its request that the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church USA commit that bishops will not authorize rites for same-sex unions or consent to elections to the episcopate of persons living in same-sex unions. The consequences of non-compliance were put in relational terms: "If the reassurances requested of the House of Bishops cannot in good conscience be given, the relationship between the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion as a whole remains damaged at best, and this has consequences for the full participation of the Church in the Communion.3

Abounding in the turmoil are negative descriptions of others' actions, of the feelings of oneself or one's group, and of effects on relationships. People on various sides of the controversies have characterized the actions of those who differ with them as, for example, disrespectful, arrogant, unilateral, rebellious, radical, careless, contemptuous, reactive, reactionary, ignorant, coercive, threatening, and dangerous. People have described their own resulting feelings as, for example, shocked, hurt, wounded, devalued, abused, angry, distrustful, fearful, and despairing. Correlatively, relationships between differing individuals, groups, and provinces in the Communion have been described as threatened, stressed, strained, alienated, estranged, injured, impaired, faltering, suspended, discontinued, and (most severely) out of communion.

The relational characterizations are collateral to discussion of substantive disagreements of many kinds: biblical and historical; theological, ethical and pastoral; cultural, political and economic; psychological, sociological, biological, genetic and human developmental. …

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