Tuesday, July 1, 2008

We Have a Problem . . .

In this post, I want to compare and contrast certain words spoken and written by our Presiding Bishop, the Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori.

Here she is at her most recent, reacting to the Statement issued at the end of GAFCON:
Much of the Anglican world must be lamenting the latest emission from GAFCON. Anglicanism has always been broader than some find comfortable. This statement does not represent the end of Anglicanism, merely another chapter in a centuries-old struggle for dominance by those who consider themselves the only true believers. Anglicans will continue to worship God in their churches, serve the hungry and needy in their communities, and build missional relationships with others across the globe, despite the desire of a few leaders to narrow the influence of the gospel. We look forward to the opportunities of the Lambeth Conference for constructive conversation, inspired prayer, and relational encounters.
Many others have commented on the insulting, demeaning tone signaled by the deliberate reference to the GAFCON Statement as an "emission." For now, just look at what she said in a statement issued on New Year's Day 2007:
Part of our evangelical task is making our worshiping communities welcoming in a deep, human, relational sense. The gospel is about radical hospitality, after all, and that is what we are meant to model.

The other side of this challenge is how we might speak good news in language and forms that people uneducated in Christianity can understand and welcome. If our language engenders fear, it is likely to drive people away. If it welcomes and invites, the possibility can be quite different.

This may not be seen in many places in the Episcopal Church, but consider your own reaction to “If you don’t believe the way we do, you’re going to hell.” Not only does hell not have much reality for the unchurched, there is an arrogance in that approach that many find repellent.
"Listening" was again her theme in a talk she gave just after the Primates' Meeting two months later in Tanzania:
Much has been said about the listening process urged by the last three Lambeth conferences. . . . I would like to encourage us as a church to consider how we ourselves might listen more carefully to those with whom we most vehemently disagree. Can we, in a focused way, pay attention to the grief and suffering, and the love for God and neighbor, in those in other places on the theological and rhetorical spectrum? If we gain nothing else from the coming months, that would be a great gift.

I have been in conversation already with the President of the House of Deputies about ways in which we can call the whole church to the kind of faithful listening that will be necessary before we make any decision. . . .

If we can lower the emotional reactivity in the midst of this current controversy we just might be able to find a way to live together. That was the genius behind the Elizabethan Settlement. A non-violent response to this situation will need space and time to operate, and perhaps an unexpected or even humorous response. While these issues are of major importance, it is our very intensity about them that is preventing a life-giving resolution.

Finally, as Lent continues, I ask you to continue to fast from ascribing motives to others, to seek Christ in the stranger, and to ask God to quiet your fears. May we continue to work and pray for those who die daily from hunger, lack of medical care, war, and oppression. Pray especially for those who suffer because of their minority status, whether sexual or theological, for in Christ we are all a minority. And, finally, give thanks to God who has created us in all our variety. As frustrating and annoying as that variety may be, it is the image of God.
This is a very interesting perspective: just who are the ones in the "theological minority"? According to her most recent statement quoted above, it is those who produced the Statement at GAFCON.

So The Episcopal Church has two faces. First, the one it presents to nonbelievers, of a warm, open and welcoming gathering of those who do not claim to have the unique answer to anything (we will just have to put up with the degree of upset this approach engenders among our own):
I have had the remarkable gift and opportunity in recent months to speak to people who don’t know much at all about the Episcopal Church or Christianity. Those opportunities have come through the secular media. Those interviews intentionally have avoided the language of Christian insiders for the reasons above.

The unfortunate result in some places has been anger when Episcopalians don’t recognize their own familiar language. Let me suggest a challenging exercise: How would you tell the great truths of our faith without using overtly theological language? How would you tell a new neighbor that God loves him or her without measure, and invite him or her to learn more? If we are going to hear that person’s story with grace, we have to leave the door open for a while.
And then, once you have been taken in by this approach, you may in time meet the other face of the Church, the one reserved for "insiders," that says: "Either go along with the program, or get out. And if you don't leave voluntarily (or maybe even if you do), we'll kick you out!"

Does anyone else see a problem here?

[P.S.: I am not sure that Father Tobias Haller's suggestion would be good for us to follow just now.]


  1. See the problem, feel it, taste it, hear it and smell it.

    TEO has grown less and less "diverse" and less and less "inclusive" as the advocates of those words have gained control of leadership structures.

  2. "The gospel is about radical hospitality, after all, and that is what we are meant to model." KSJ
    The image of radical hospitality is seen differently from my perspective. I have the image of the Lord dining with tax collectors, and other nefarious sinners, but at the same time teaching them and transforming their lives. I do not see the image of the Lord agreeing to and participating in their sins as a means of evangelism.
    KSJ lost her cool with her response to the GAFCON statement, and she has not spread a welcome table for those who agree with the GAFCON statement. Simple pew folk are underinformed and therefore confused by the news reports. They are easy prey for tender motherly advice such as "...making our worshiping communities welcoming in a deep, human, relational sense." We don't want to be asked to speak up and describe to others the Truth as revealed in scripture, and forget about praying for God's help in changing someone's ways.