25 April 2010

A slight acna problem

One of the tasks I will face in my move to Pittsburgh will be finding a church to worship at. Sadly, this is proving a fairly difficult task - my preference is to worship at a church which combines high liturgy with a progressive theology which owes more to John Newman than to John Calvin. Sadly, the Anglo-Catholic community closest to Pittsburgh is, ironically enough, not a member of the Anglican Communion, having broken off its ties with the rightful province of the Church (to wit, the Episcopal Church) and cast in their lot with ACNA.

I can certainly understand some of the concerns which led the founding members of ACNA to question their relationship with the Episcopal Church, and I think they may even have some merit. The Episcopal Church does not exist in a vacuum: we are, in a real sense, answerable to the broader Communion for the actions we undertake in the name of our mission, and we cannot assume for ourselves (as evangelical and Calvinistic church bodies do routinely) that our actions, having justification in our own view of Scripture, are thereby rendered automatically proper and correct without the need for affirmation by the wider Church body.

Let me be clear: I think that the doctrinal impediments to appointing women as bishops are on very shaky theological ground when considered against the full weight of the Scriptures (particularly the Gospels, which showed women to be more faithful witnesses to and teachers of the Christian mission than men on various occasions) and the traditions of the Church (given that for our Church's survival and unity we owe a great debt to one remarkable woman - Her Majesty Elizabeth I Tudor, and we have had numerous female Supreme Governors of the Church since), not to mention the proper application of reason and experience in cases where women have, very successfully, taken on the responsibilities of ministry within the Church. I also think the Scriptural dictates against homosexuality have been overstated to the point of heresy by conservative churches; whether or not homosexuality is a sin, it is nevertheless our calling to love them as Christ would have, not to cast them out from full participation in our table fellowship and certainly not to condemn them to death (as may happen in Uganda). At the same time, the way the Episcopal Church has chosen to act in its mission has been understandably troubling: it could very well seem in the broader Church as though we are imposing our own mores imperialistically on the rest of the body politic, and it would be a fatal mistake to assume that no one outside our Province should have noticed or cared what we did when the Rt Revd Mary Douglas Glasspool was appointed Bishop in Los Angeles. Though I applaud her appointment, though I think it is timely and though our authorities may take her to be the best-qualified person for the job, we nevertheless have an urgent obligation to discuss the issue as Church, rather than as agents of secular ideologies.

That said, the actions of ACNA are an existential betrayal of these legitimate concerns. If what they wanted truly was to challenge the Episcopal Church to assume greater responsibility for its actions in the eyes of the broader church, to have unilaterally broken communion with us and with the wider Church over these political issues has a certain hubristic irony. What distinguishes our Church from the rest of the Reformed traditions is that we hold each other to account through the sacraments and through the apostolic succession, and that in them we take ourselves to be members incorporate of the greater living Body of Christ. Having severed themselves from that Body and having posited themselves a rival province of the Church in North America, and further having placed responsibility for their schismatic behaviour on the Episcopal Church, their actions show that their interest in holding themselves accountable to their brothers and sisters in the Communion comes a distant second to playing the politics of the day, as is done in the secular world.

This leaves us in a very uncomfortable position - and perhaps rightly so. It may have been a smooth move on the behalf of our leadership in the Communion to acknowledge the desire of ACNA to join the Communion while not in fact allowing them to do so, but putting off frank discussion of the issues (both political and theological) underlying the split until a later date will not solve the problems at hand. We should have a Church that welcomes into communion and upholds the dignities of women and homosexuals, as Jesus welcomed into communion and upheld the dignities of women and social outcasts in his own time. But more, I pray this day will come without a full-blown Communion-wide schism.

In the meantime, I will continue my search in Pittsburgh for a church to attend during my graduate study, and continue to think and pray on the decision before me.

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