Magazine article The Christian Century

At a Crossroads?

Magazine article The Christian Century

At a Crossroads?

Article excerpt

AFTER THE EVENING service on Ash Wednesday, I was led off for coffee and conversation by a group of seminary students who wanted to air their frustrations about the recent meeting of Anglican primates. The primates had issued a call for the Episcopal Church in the U.S. to declare that it will not authorize same-sex blessings and will not elect another openly gay bishop. If the Episcopal Church refuses to take that step, it impairs its place in the worldwide Anglican Communion.

News about the Anglican Communion has focused on the polarities of the present situation. Reporters and bloggers watch Peter Akinola, archbishop of Nigeria, and Robert Duncan, bishop of Pittsburgh, to see what they might do to thwart the Episcopal Church's moves toward bringing gays fully into the ministry of the church. Or they study Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori's words, and note with whom she sat and talked, to see whether she might be winning leaders over to the idea that the Spirit is at work in the church in the U.S. Or they scrutinize Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams to see whether he will declare himself for one party and against the other.

We have not heard much about the kind of people who gathered for coffee the other night. Everyone at the table would line up as theologically "progressive" by superficial indicators, but no one felt comfortable about being cut off from the rest of the Anglican Communion; no Corinthian ear among us said, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body."

We lingered over the failure of simple invocations of the word justice to resolve the painful discord in the Anglican family. To what temporal wisdom might we turn to ascertain what justice entails? The word justice operates differently in Newark from the way it operates in Kigali, and none of us can so escape our particular convictions as to attain an impartial view of what is truly just.

Indeed, as scripture so persistently reminds us, our own premises about what counts as justice often as not mislead us. The workers in the parable of the vineyard insist on equal pay for equal work, but their master defines justice differently. Likewise, the Prodigal Son's brother protests the unequal generosity his father bestows on the undeserving younger sibling. The Epistle of James identifies mercy as the highest expression of God's just judgment. God's will is not made known to us simply by the preponderance of numbers, whether that preponderance registers in the Episcopal Church's affirmations or the worldwide Anglican Communion's demurrals.

We also heard the voice of Paul reminding us that we do better to be wronged than to engage in the power games by which one party triumphs over another. We wondered how to exercise noncoercive testimony both to our faithfulness to our Anglican identity and to our allegiance to the friends with whom we share full participation in the church's sacramental ministries.

In a certain sense, we recognized Rowan Williams as a representative of this approach. Disappointed as we were that a brilliant theological proponent of the cause of gay Christians had renounced that advocacy in his capacity as archbishop of Canterbury, we could see that he was unwilling to use his power to coerce consciences in a way that would divide the church. …

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