Sunday, July 1, 2007

Sadness and Regret

The current copy of Episcopal Life arrived in the mail, just yesterday. It includes some interesting articles about the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, a mission in Uganda for orphans and a group of scholars, including my New Testament professor from General Seminary, Deidre Good, discussing the Gospel of Judas. All that aside, I am still thinking about a letter on the final page of the publication. It is an opinion piece by the retired bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of California, Bishop Swing.

Swing speaks about Martyn Minns and Peter Akinola, two of the primary leaders in the “Anglican” movement opposing and threatening ECUSA- “Their aim is not to reform the Episcopal Church or to set up a permanent parallel authority. They intend to become the sole authorized Anglican presence in North America. The other side of the coin is that they intend for the Episcopal Church to be cut off from the Anglican Communion and set aside.”

This assessment by Bishop Swing is not his analysis. He is clearly repeating what the Minns and Akinola crowd have said themselves. This forces me to think about content and politics.

There are certainly real issues that lead people of faith to disagree. Some of these issues, particularly those around human sexuality, are especially difficult. Some find the scriptures to be very clear on these issues. Some argue that the overarching message of the Bible seems in conflict with a few particular passages. On all fronts, some argue that the Bible alone is the sole authority, and others seek a mediated dialogue with the scriptures. Some seek a definitive type of authority in the governance of the Church, and some are tolerant of more ambiguity.

These are all developing edges for the Episcopal Church, and we are not alone, as Christians, in this. The point is that the Minns and Akinola crowd are not seeking resolution or reconciliation. They are seeking to leave with as much of the property of ECUSA as they can take with them, and replace the existing church.

The word reform implies, rightly, that the Church could always be more faithful. The Church could always live closer to the foot of the cross of Christ. At various points in history, the Church has erred grievously, and most certainly will again. The Church has endured, because people of faith have worked to reform her. We can’t just dispose of an historic expression of the faith, because we disagree.

Historians and biographers of Martin Luther have detected a certain melancholy in some of his writings as an older man. Scholars argue that the reformation itself fractured the Church, beyond Luther’s wildest expectations. A similar melancholy has been pointed to in Cardinal John Henry Newman, who swam the Tiber for Rome. Some biographers postulate, later in his life, Newman missed the generosity of Anglicanism.

As an old man, I do not want to miss an Anglicanism that no longer exists.

No comments: