June 26, 2008

Between Rochester and a Hard Place

Bishop Nazir-Ali of Rochester is reported as repeating his reading of the Windsor Report, that those bishops who disagree with (and have acted in opposition to) the decisions of Lambeth 1998 should absent themselves from Lambeth 2008. Whether or not this is an accurate understanding of the Windsor Report’s recommendation that bishops in this category should refrain from “representative functions” in the Anglican Communion is a matter of separate debate on a number of grounds, from the “authority” of the Windsor Report itself to the question of whether Lambeth is a “representative” body or a conference of bishops.

My chief concern here is the extent to which Bishop Nazir-Ali’s reading makes sense in the context of a more important document, the Gospel, and in the more prosaic context of how people get along in dealing with disagreement in a day-to-day world of varying contexts, points of view, perspectives, and — yes — beliefs.

It seems to me that the Rochester Position assumes that the majority is always right; and by exiling those who disagree with or act in opposition to the majority, effectively puts an end to the dialogue which has not only been called for, but which represents the only real possibility for engagement and change, if either the majority or the minority is in error.

The ministry of prophet often consists primarily in being a round peg in a square hole — whether the pigeonhole of irrelevancy in which dissenting voices are often placed, or the literal cistern into which the unwanted Jeremiah is often deposited. Nazir-Ali of Rochester is taking the role of Amaziah of Bethel, who told Amos to keep away from the temple and the court, to take his unwanted prophecies and shove them. Amos, of course, humbly deferred the title, though he believed in the work and the words, and did his duty.

On that more prosaic level, banning the opposition from the assembly may buy peace, or the appearance of peace. But Jesus did not promise such peace, the peace which comes from attrition rather than the hard work of engagement with those with whom we most ardently disagree.

At the same time, I recognize that Rochester himself has stated he will not go to Lambeth, even though he represents what his colleagues continue to assert is the majority opinion. As his confrere of Abuja is fond of saying, “Can two walk together unless they agree?” This is, of course, more from Amos (3:3) — though unfortunately in the flawed KJV. For the real significance of the text isn’t about “agreement” over the content of belief, but as to the meeting itself, that is, “Can two walk together unless they meet first?” So the issue is, once again, the importance of meeting, not of withholding one’s presence from a meeting — and certainly not demanding that all agree before they can assemble to come to some agreement — and then walk together.

As to the Gospel, it is in how we relate to those with whom we disagree that we reveal our likeness to Christ, who came to us and was among us while we were yet sinners, who was in fact most commonly found meeting with the sinners as opposed to the righteous. The “mind of Christ” which we are called to have in and among ourselves was the mind that brought him to us empty of glory, in order to save. Christ himself did not delay his coming to us until we were suitably redeemed: the whole point of his coming among us, while we were at odds with God, was to bring us what we lacked — unity in him, and forgiveness. It is not the healthy that need a physician, nor is it the unanimous who require a meeting.

Tobias Haller BSG


bls said...

Thanks for the thing about Amos 3:3; it's a reminder that it's always necessary to go back to the source and examine premises.

That there is already a misunderstanding about the translation and meaning of this passage, in fact, actually demonstrates the very basis of some of our current problems and "disagrements."

I really hope that this fact might be a way to start a real conversation; this misunderstanding is actually central and crucially important, IMO.

Fran said...

That is interesting about Amos and a reminder of deepening our study.

As for the exile, this is where and how that hits me Tobias...

Right now I am deep into some study of John's Gospel and having been spending a lot of time in Chapter 4 at the well at noontime.

I am immersed in how the Samaritans - themselves in exile if you will, are the ones that Jesus was able to reveal himself to so readily.

No this is not a suggestion that being exiled from your community is a good thing... but it may not be a bad thing either.

I watch this all unfold with a troubled heart and reflect that if we actually acknowledged things out loud in my denomination, who knows where we would be.

Erika Baker said...

I fear you're being too optimistic. People in the position of those at GAFCON don't admit to any possibility of translation errors, because it would open up a huge can of worms.

The general idea seems to be that not only are Scriptures inerrant, but all translators throughout the ages have also been guided by God who is certain to ensure that his message is passed on intact.

Sometimes it makes me want to cry.

bls said...

I would agree with you, Erika - except that we are Anglicans. And Anglicans haven't ever, in the usual course of things, avoided reality - or having to change course when an error is pointed out. That's one of our strengths, I think - and the can of worms has to be opened at some point; Anglicans usually wouldn't fail to recognize that, either.

For me, the more I learn about things like this, the deeper my faith becomes; it makes much more sense to me, especially something like this.

But you may be right. Well, there are many other things to worry about anyway.

Doorman-Priest said...

Perhaps the good Bishop is on his way to Rome.
Who said "Good Riddance"?

Anonymous said...

I just have to say--and I'm sure you know it--that you are one fabulous writer.

Anonymous said...

Of course, Christ also told His disciples to shake the dust off their feet as a testimony against those who would not listen to them.

The Gospel is not in as much accordance with modern secular liberal piety as you would have us think.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Phil, who is "not listening" or "not welcoming" in the present case? As I see it, the GAFCON folks are preaching a false gospel of works-righteousness and salvation-through-asceticism -- certainly not the Gospel of Christ. Still, I'm always willing to listen and engage and receive them with a warm welcome -- it's just that they won't come to the party. When it comes to more moderate (and more well-centered in the Gospel) folk, I've had very good conversations with the head of CMS, and with the Archbishop of the Sudan. They've felt no need to do any dust-shaking, nor have I.

The problem is with those who think they are in a position to shake dust against other Christians, who have already accepted the full Gospel, but whom they want to abide by further restrictions from the Law. Even so, they've been warmly invited to Lambeth (though some refuse to go) so I don't think your proof-text applies at all in this case, unless it applies to the Global Southerners who refuse to listen to anyone with whom they disagree. Fortunately, the refusers represent a smaller and smaller portion even of the Global South, and the larger church will continue to proclaim salvation in and through Christ.

Daniel Weir said...

Thank you for putting into better words than mine the mandate we have to meet together in spite of - or, perhaps, because of - our differences. I have included a link to this along with a few comments on my blog The Gospel in ToyTown(http://frdanweir.blogspot.com/