Living with Divisions

One Sunday last spring I was invited to a parish some distance away to talk about the Anglican way of being a Christian. Weeks went by and a letter came from one of those who was there. He’d been thinking about it and thought it all made very good sense. He had also read my book, Welcome to the Episcopal Church, and thought that made good sense also.

His problem was squaring it with recent developments in the Anglican Communion. “Uniformity,” he wrote, seems to trump unity. Reason has left the stage and selective reading of scripture is heard in loud volume. I understand the roots of hostilities between Islam/Judaism, Irish Catholic/Protestant, Muslim Sunni/Shiite. Now I will try to understand Anglican/Episcopalian hostilities: All very sad.”

I had been pondering the same issue myself and responded with an attempt to put things in perspective for myself as well as for him:

You are right in being mystified by the way Anglicans are tearing themselves apart these days. Howard Nemerov once said, “I like things you can’t explain because you don’t have to.” Nemerov to the contrary notwithstanding, let me suggest some reasons for the irrational behavior we are observing..

In the first place, not everyone is an Anglican because of its traditional balanced appeal to Scripture, Tradition, and Reason. Some are Anglicans because their parents were, or a friend was, or because they like the music, or the pattern of liturgical worship, or because it was the nearest church when they were growing up. But because Anglicanism seeks to be inclusive, they may be fundamentalists or modernists theologically (I knew a man once who came to church regularly because he liked the Prayer Book language although he was a Unitarian). They may also be pro-Choice or pro-Life when it comes to abortion, supply side or demand side when it comes to economics, or pro-Bush or pro-Hillary when it comes to politics. Some of these positions may be inconsistent with the general nature of Anglican theology but many seldom stop to ponder the implications of Anglican theology for those issues. If it becomes clear that their views on one or more of these issues are different from those of the Rector, they may shrug it off or depart in high dudgeon for another Episcopal Church or a different denomination entirely and never ask themselves about Anglican theology.

When the conversation turns to sex, I would suggest we react at a very deep emotional level, especially if we have taken our own views for granted and never examined them logically or theologically. We are likely to react at a gut level and find a way of reading the Bible that will support us. Then, as you say, “Uniformity seems to trump unity. Reason has left the stage and selective reading of Scripture is heard in loud volume.” You speak about the hostilities between Islam and Judaism, Irish Catholic versus Irish Protestant, and so on. More difficult is the current tension between liberal and fundamentalist within Judaism, within Islam, within Christianity, and, I would suggest, within both of our major political parties. Not surprisingly, there are tensions also within a church that set out to include as many perspectives as possible.

Is it the pace of change that makes us so anxious and so angry at each other? Do we need to find someone to blame for our insecurity – and find it easiest to blame those who seem to have removed the comfortable securities with which we grew up?

William White, the first Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church once said, “forbearance and mutual toleration are at least sometimes a shorter way to unity than severity and stiffness.” I think that is the true Anglican tradition. The tragedy is that some seem not to have understood that essential aspect of the Anglican way.

1 Comment

MingJuly 28th, 2007 at 1:29 pm

I read your book reviews in the Connecticut diocesan newspaper and immediately put some of your phrases in the back of my mind for future quoting.

Rather than the books reviewed, I immediately came and read your blog, and put it on my list of daily reads.
apropos of “Living with Divisions”:
Can you (or anyone) “step back” in cool, charitable rationality and say “Look at those people attacking one another! What’s the matter with them?”
Different positions and different people draw the line between tolerance and indifference at different places.
Different points of view have different “bottom lines”.

As an archaic and intransigent Anglo-Catholic, I value respect and willingness to discuss above contempt and rejection, but dialog (for those of views similar to mine) is a means to the end of unity, not a sacrament or numinous event in itself.
And I think that some would agree with me that Unity is more than agreement, but is attenuated to the extent that there is disagreement.

Why do we tear at each other? Because some days our life stinks, and agression, whether overt or covert, looks soooo satisfying.

But we also feud because we love things that are being dismembered and dishonored.
My best friend’s same sex partnership is a theological issue for me, but also an ongoing crucifixion.

“A pox upon both of your houses” sets up a new,third, condescending house.

Oh, dear. I’ve gone on too long, and this really WAS a fan letter to you. Please take it as such.

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