August 26, 2013

The Anglican State: On the Edge, or Wandering?

Thinking Anglicans reports on reactions to a sermon by the Archbishop of Canterbury in Mexico. In it, he pictured the state of the Anglican Communion as,

...a narrow path we walk as Anglicans at present. On one side is the steep fall into an absence of any core beliefs, a chasm where we lose touch with God, and thus we rely only on ourselves and our own message. On the other side there is a vast fall into a ravine of intolerance and cruel exclusion. It is for those who claim all truth, and exclude any who question. When we fall into this place, we lose touch with human beings and create a small church, or rather many small churches – divided, ineffective in serving the poor, the hungry and the suffering, incapable of living with each other, and incomprehensible to those outside the church…
For what it’s worth, my concern is not that there is a narrow ridge with obvious precipices to either side, but that the Communion offers a fairly wide path that slopes to each side so gently that one can stray to the extreme without realizing it. That is where I sense the real danger, not in the catastrophic bang, but the subtle whimper; the danger we might just “drift apart” if we lose sight of Jesus; who will, I trust, as the true Shepherd and Bishop of our souls, still seek out those who have wandered afar, whichever way we stray.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

9 comments:

Erika Baker said...

I agree, Tobias. Too many groups within the Anglican Communion seem to have stopped to focus on God and instead focus on each other, highlighting and exaggerating their differences. I don't know why this happens. Is it the easier path? Does it make each group feel more righteous and secure?

I particularly dislike the tendency to claim that only "we" are proper Christians whereas "they" are abusing Scripture or not believing basic Christian tenets.

To that extent the Archbishop is right about our tendency to create a small church but falls right into his own trap by claiming that we? some of us? fall into an absence of any (sic!) core belief.

While he's thinking that he is part of the problem not of the solution.

Tobias Haller said...

Thanks, Erika. I'm not sure this phenomenon is at all new. Seems that part of what Jesus had to face from the scribes was a similar, "if you bend the rules you might as well break them" kind of rigorism.

To be fair, some non-Christians (maybe even some Christians) on the progressive side have strayed a bit far from the path; but I also find that those on the reactionary side often say things I find it very hard indeed to imagine Jesus saying, in his own day or - mutatis mutandis - today.

JCF said...

"a chasm where we lose touch with God, and thus we rely only on ourselves and our own message. On the other side there is a vast fall into a ravine of intolerance and cruel exclusion"

Talk about a false dichotomy! The "ravine of intolerance and cruel exclusion" *IS* the "chasm where we lose touch with God, and thus we rely only on ourselves and our own message". I can think of no bigger blasphemy than to imply that intolerance and cruel exclusion come from being in-touch w/ God.

Erika Baker said...

There will always be individuals who move further and further away from core beliefs. That's part of faith journeys.
But we can leave it up to God to judge whether they really are not "Christians" or whether it matters.

The astonishing thing here is that it should be a Communion breaking event.

I can see why the scribes thought Jesus was redefining everything they knew. He was giving things such a different interpretation that it would take centuries to see the commonality with what went on before, and even now some Christians struggle to see our connectedness with Judaism.

What I do struggle with is that one or two single issues are elevated to having breaking point status and that people dismiss everything about the faith of the others on that basis.

Many of those casually dismissed as libruls who only please themselves and have abandoned all belief in anything credal are theologically more conservative than I am but no-one listens to what they actually say about their faith.

This is not what the ABC means, but he must know that this is the context into which he speaks, and by repeating the canard that falling away from a narrow path means abandoning all core beliefs he fawns the wrong flames. That is precisely the language we do not need. Reconciliation only works if you draw people in, not if you define a narrow path and exclude those who don't toe the line.

Tobias Haller said...

Again, quite true, Erika. It may simply be that +Justin is falling into the rhetoric of division because that has become the only way in which people frame the state of things. As with saying that a liberal is not "a Christian" -- I think being a Christian is indelible, and comes with baptism! -- it may just be a case of paradigm paralysis.

My preference for the Communion is to declare that "division" is off the table. We are together like it or not -- and we can manage our disagreements to the best of our ability, but there is no option for "divorce." The ill-fated Covenant was an effort to provide for trial separation, with the possibility of divorce in the end, but as I noted this was an inherent flaw from the beginning.

It is a terrible thing when paradigms or metaphors become the driving force, rather than engagement with reality. This is what has happened throughout the marriage debate, and it has rubbed off on the ecclesiastical debate, too.

Grandmère Mimi said...

How is the metaphor of the narrow path with chasm on one side and ravine on the other at all helpful?

Am I completely out of line to read into the message a hint that favoring equality and justice for all could lead to an absence of core beliefs and a loss of faith? If not, what is the archbishop saying?

I don't advocate separation, and my beliefs are quite orthodox. Best to keep our eyes on Jesus, as you say, Tobias.

Tobias Haller said...

Mimi, it's a lousy metaphor in part because of the false dichotomy (one could find self-styled 'orthodox' who are just as self-centered, if not more so, then wifty liberals) but also because of the suggestion that there isn't a wide middle way -- which is the traditional Anglican answer. And, were it to come to it, I think Jesus would be more pleased with the folks who lacked core beliefs but served the poor, the hungry and the suffering; rather than the 'orthodox' who failed in that work due to their desire to remain 'pure' in their truth.

But there's a wide range between those extremes, not a narrow perilous balancing act. This is irresponsible rhetoric.

John-Julian Swanson, OJN said...

Also you may note in the ABC's Mexico sermon that he speaks—yet again—of the "worldwide Anglican Church", that non-exisitant fictional entity. It is the same myopia of his predecessor, and that has a big impact in how one views "differences". "Variety" makes sense if one speaks of an Anglican Communion of many Provinces—but not if one sees it as a "worldwide Anglican Church" in which case, variety is intolerable.

Now I wait for his next comments about how TEC "appoints" bishops.

Tobias Haller said...

Spot on as always, Fr J-J. This longing for an international institution is so very foreign to the Anglican ethos. It is a thesis which if applied logically would insist on reunion with Rome -- including the submission of the Eastern churches. Not going to happen, nor should it. The church is One in Christ, not via the Curia!