Friday, January 15, 2016

Thoughts on the Primate's Meeting

I spent the majority of this afternoon reflecting and thinking about the Episcopal Church being suspended from the Anglican Communion. What started as a few thoughts turned into something rather lengthy. I needed to start writing and prepare for the beginning semester anyway.
After writing all this out, I do feel better. The initial blow still hurts but I think all U.S Episcopalians will mend in time. In retrospect, what I want most now is to the know that the Anglican Church of Canada and the progressives in the U.K. will stand with the Episcopal Church.

The Anglican Communion is beginning to break. Canterbury, the epicenter of Anglicanism, is now entering the Communions next wave of aftershocks.  On January 14, Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury (ABC) announced that The Episcopal Church (the American branch of the Anglican Communion) will be placed on a 3 year suspension. The announcement follows a week-long meeting of Anglican Primates at Canterbury Cathedral. The meeting was called by Welby in order for the Communion to discuss its future. The end result of the meeting isn’t exactly out of the blue. In 2003, Gene Robinson was consecrated as the first known openly gay bishop in the Anglican Communion. A mandatorum followed which asked TEC not to consecrate any more openly gay persons as bishops. Tensions grew when in 2008 Robinson was asked not to participate in the every 10 year gathering of bishops called the Lambeth Conference. Then ABC Rowen Williams had tried to appease the mostly conservative African Bishops by not inviting Robinson. Most of these bishops ended up boycotting Lambeth for the creation of their own conference. In an effort to promote the unity of the Anglican Communion, Williams suggested in the creation of an Anglican Covenant. Unlike other Christian traditions, the Anglican Communion had never adopted a formal document binding the tradition; the symbols of unity were always the Apostle’s and Nicene Creed, the Book of Common Prayer, and being in Communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury. The document would have implied disciplinary actions indirectly against the Episcopal Church. The Church of England voted the Covenant down, and the idea died. There can’t be a binding Anglican document if English isn’t on board. In 2012, The Episcopal Church passed resolutions formally allowing dioceses to recognize Same-Sex Union Blessings, and Same-Sex Marriage Blessings where it was legal. In the years following, The Episcopal Church was removed from the Communion’s primary council on Ecumenical Relations. In 2013, Welby said that the future of the communion was looking dim. Tensions in the Communion have been mostly over interpreting the Bible in regards to sexual orientation between the West and the Global South. As a result of these tensions, TEC is now suspended from having any votes on Communion matters and its presence will be withdrawn from all committees. While TEC is still a member of the Communion on paper, the message is clear: The Episcopal Church no longer represents the Anglican Communion in America. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss how the Anglican Communion was to continue in “walking together.” Prior to the meeting, Welby had suggested that the future of the Communion might less resemble the Commonwealth and more like a like a federation of loosely associated churches; all in Communion with Canterbury, but not necessarily with each other. In light of the history in recent years, the news shouldn’t be shocking. The fact is that in order for the Communion to “walk together” it looks like the Episcopal Church has to begin walking alone. However, it doesn’t have to be this way. By leveling the playing field for all Anglican Provinces and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable the Communion can be saved, or least further heart break can be spared.

There is something to be said for those who walk alone and there is something to be said for being thrown under the bus. In terms of LGTBQ inclusion, The Episcopal Church has been walking mostly alone for some time. Many of us in The Episcopal Church are hurt by this decision. I am hurt by this decision. As a Christian who has an identity as an Anglo-Catholic, I value the tradition of Canterbury in my spirituality. Canterbury was a symbol of unity. Through Canterbury, you could see the little old lady in her pew reading the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, you can find gays and lesbians having their marriages blessed, you can find Anglicans speaking in old English, Spanish, French, Latin, or tongues. The Anglican Way has had many expressions. The Episcopal Church was thrown under the bus and appears to be on its way to the chopping block. The message is clear: American Anglicans are no longer valued in Anglican variety.

Perhaps what hurts me even more is that fact that politics are allowed to be played and The Episcopal Church has to play at unfair disadvantages. For one, it isn’t particularly fair that Archbishop Folley of the Anglican Church of North America was invited to the conference. The ACNA is new movement comprised of mostly break-away Episcopal Church diocese and congregations. Many of the Communion’s more conservative provinces have declared that they are in full communion with the ACNA.  The ACNA is not in Communion with Canterbury. At the moment, there are currently a number of legal disputes between TEC and ANCA over church properties. I understand that Welby was using Folley as an anchor to persuade the Global South bishops to not boycott this meeting. However, until the ACNA is in Communion with Canterbury, Folley has no business in these matters. The situation is like this: imagine a Father trying to settle a dispute between his children, two brothers, and the father invites the ex-spouse of one of the brothers to come and take the side of other brother. Folley did not have a vote and to which extent he participated in the discussions I’m not sure. But his presence at the meeting likely had an impact on the conservative bishops. In any case, his invitation to the meeting should have signaled a red flag indicated where Welby is actually on the issue.

It isn’t particularly fair either that the Anglican Church of Canada has gotten a pass out of jail. The fact is the Canadians started blessing Same-Sex Unions before the Americans.  It isn’t fair that while the Americans are being penalized for their stance of inclusion toward LGTBQ people Anglican Provinces in the Global South support the criminalization of gays and lesbians.

It’s unlikely that anything will change in the next few years. The Episcopal Church won’t budge on that issue. After the decision, Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church said, “For so many who are committed to following Jesus in the way of love and being a church that lives that love, this decision will bring real pain” and  that “Our commitment to be an inclusive church is not based on a social theory or capitulation to the ways of the culture, but on our belief that the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross are a sign of the very love of God reaching out to us all.” Lesbian and Gay Episcopalians are committed to the church as the church is to them. This is our experience of Jesus, an experience which is unfathomable to those who apparently disagree with us.

The day after the decision was announced, in response to a number of Africans protesting outside Canterbury Cathedral against the Primate’s decision, Welby expressed that he acknowledged that many Anglican LGTBQ people have been hurt by the Anglican Communion. He said, “It is for me a constant source of deep sadness that people are persecuted for their sexuality…I want to take this opportunity personally to say how sorry I am for the hurt and pain in the past and present that the church has caused” and that the Primates are committed to reaffirm “their rejection of criminal sanctions against same-sex attracted people.” I suspect these protestors are from Anglican Provinces were the Church and LGTBQ Anglicans are in need of reconciliation. While I agree that Welby’s words are necessary and comforting, the words are empty unless these particular Primates promise to condemn the criminalization of LGTBQ people are held accountable like TEC is.

The biggest problem about politics in religion is that religion is used to back up one’s personal beliefs and convictions rather than letting the Spirituality which comes from true religion penetrate hearts and minds and align our convictions with the mission which comes from above. Here, religion is used as a weapon toward the opponent instead of a reconciling force. Jesus becomes divided: my Jesus is better than yours. It’s natural though, isn’t it? When we are placed in vulnerable positions we reach for the ultimate thing we know to defend us: God. In the context of social issues, we use God to protect us for the things we don’t know nor understand. It’s evolutionary. It’s fight-or-flight. It’s how nations and wars are started. It really isn’t anything new. The challenge presented might be summed up in Jesus’ commandment to love one another. When we love each other, we allow ourselves to be vulnerable. When we love each other, we have to acknowledge that the other party might be right, or that we both share two sides of whatever it means to be on the “correct” side. This is counter-evolutionary. When we love one another and acknowledge the vulnerability of our hearts we learn to trust. I have no doubt in my heart and mind that those in the Global South sincerely feel that LGTBQ imprisonment is the right thing for the benefit of both God and Country. I also know for certain that those of us in The Episcopal Church are sincere when we bless same-sex unions and marriages

The Anthropology major in me begs me to take a step back and look at the situation objectively. In my field of study, I am asked to look at cultures in their own context and understanding. Anthropology is a tool for humanity’s survival. It is a tool for preservation. It forces to me ask how a culture in their own context can be truly wrong. This frequently brings me to be conflicted. As a Christian in the Anglican way, and as an openly gay male, I have rage for my fellow LGTBQ brothers and sisters who experience government sponsored persecution. I have sympathy for the parents of these brothers and sisters who have to watch their children suffer. I empathize for those who do not have the support of the church as I do here in America. However, as a student of Anthropology, I have to remind myself that their experience of Jesus is different from mine. Their cultural context is much different from mine; to what extent can I judge what happens in their own framework? The job of an Anthropologist is to study and listen objectively and portray a culture in a way which can be properly understood by another. For all I know, the aculurated undertones which make people homophobic in the United States might be a completely different for the homophobic behaviors in other countries (I’ll just be blunt: imprisoning a person for being gay or lesbian is just that. It’s homophobic). Nigierian Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon said, “If the Western world would just leave Africans within our various cultures, we know how to live together with our various differences … The primates have made it very clear that we have always made room for pastoral care and concern for those who have different sexual orientation. When we begin to make everybody, irrespective of their sexual orientation, feel a part of the family we will have some respite.” Part of me has to agree with him. Western liberals cannot expect African conservatives to be on the same level playing field, especially in regards to sexual orientation. To be honest, I’m not sure if the word “gay” translates evenly into those cultures.  However, I should think that Welby can see this far into the bigger picture. I’ll admit, I don’t want his job nor would I claim to be better at it. But, I would expect Welby to look objectively at the situation and treat all parties fairly. In this case, being fair would look like some task force be formed which would gear certain provinces toward being more tolerant of LGTBQ people.

I would call on Welby and the Primates to do the following: add the Anglican Church of Canada to the suspension and appoint a task force which would oversee reconciliation the relationship between African LGTBQ people and their respective Anglican Province. This way there would be no one ganging up on the other, and Welby would appear to be less biased. Otherwise the Primates should have stuck with the original plan: make the Communion a federation. It’s already happening, isn’t it? Traditionally, being Anglican has been defined as being a byproduct of the Church of England, or being a tradition which was admitted into Communion with Canterbury. Now, with the creation of ANCA which claims Anglican identity but is no in Communion with Canterbury, being Anglican isn’t about who you are in relationship with but what you do on Sundays. In my opinion, however, should we let the Communion go we have just become another Protestant church and lose part of our catholicy. In any case, the way the Primates voted and handled the meeting was completely unpastoral toward The Episcopal Church.

I’m left to wonder what Canterbury will mean for us in the Episcopal Church should we be exiled from the Anglican Communion. Some Episcopal congregations claim St. Augustine of Canterbury as their patron. Many Episcopal campus ministries take the name of “Canterbury Club.” I used to look to Canterbury as a symbol of what unites us, a symbol of Jesus’ words “that they all may be one.” In 2014, I went to Canterbury and received a Pilgrim’s Blessing at the Cathedral, one of the most profound spiritual experiences of my life. I converted into this tradition and being able prayer in the epicenter of this tradition allowed me to come full circle. Somehow, my blessing in the place where it all began symbolized a closing chapter of my life. Now, when I look to Canterbury I feel offended that my tradition in America hasn’t been validated by the wider church. St. Augustine of Canterbury is my chosen patron. I think many can relate to his story. He was chosen by Pope Gregory to evangelize the British isles. On his way he and his men began to turn back due being afraid of the barbarians that inhabited the island. The Pope encouraged them on. He was successful at converting the pagans, but it is said that he did not offer enough respect to the Christians that were already there. He reminds us that success is relative. While he failed in some areas, he still followed God’s call and by doing so I am in the tradition that I am in today.  All of us in the Anglican Communion want to respond and follow to that call. All of us won’t be successful. But, if we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and love and trust each other, the success of Christ in our communion will be apparent to the world around us.

Pray: pray for the Communion. Pray for the situations of poverty which many Archbishops are returning to. Pray for the poverty experienced here in the West. Pray for healing and reconciliation for all Christians. Pray for those who have to suffer for their sexuality. And let that prayer bring us to that place where we can truly say “thy will be done” whether or not our will coincides with God’s.