The following are some revised remarks I gave at The Living Church reception at General Convention this year. They’re been published in the Dec. 13th issue of The Living Church. See what you think:
In times of change and conflict it is unsurprising that voices arise to point out the inevitable failure of this or that institution or program. We’re all familiar with this phenomenon in the political realm; during George W. Bush’s presidency, some who opposed his policies did so with the conviction that he was charting a path of destruction for the nation. A quick survey of talk radio reveals plenty of people who believe the same about President Obama’s leadership.
As in secular politics, there are passionate people within the church who allow their strong feelings to lead them into making pronouncements that seem based more on fear or frustration than fact. In the case of the Anglican Communion, the voices crying out that the Anglican experiment is over may be one example. Anglicanism as an institution is certainly under strain, but does that void the entire tradition? The accusation that the Anglican experiment is over should motivate us to reflect upon what that experiment (if it’s right to use that term) has been, and what it — what we — have to offer to the broader church catholic.
Last June 29 marked the end of the Year of St. Paul. At the time I found myself reflecting on the Apostle and his ministry quite a bit. Specifically, as I considered the current conflict in the Anglican Communion, I recalled Paul’s words to the Corinthians:
I have become all things to all people, so that I might by any means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings (1 Cor. 9:19-23).
We don’t often hear the phrase “all things to all people” in a virtuous light today. When it is used, it is often presented as a critique or an accusation that someone is trying too hard to please others. While Paul was speaking specifically of presenting the gospel, Anglicanism has taken upon itself a similar calling in the service of Christian unity, which is a gospel imperative.
There have always been plenty of voices within and outside of Anglicanism that have accused it of an ill-conceived attempt to be all things to all people, and thus of being impure, haphazard, or uncommitted. “Complete the Reformation and do away with the vestiges of papist idolatry,” some would say. “Reject the inherently heretical and schismatic nature of Protestantism,” others would admonish, “and return to full fidelity to the ancient churches of Rome and Constantinople.” Anglicans must choose, according to these critics, past and present. In the words of Walter Cardinal Kasper during the runup to last year’s Lambeth Conference:
Does [Anglicanism] belong more to the churches of the first millennium — Catholic and Orthodox — or does it belong more to the Protestant churches of the 16th century? At the moment it is somewhere in between, but it must clarify its identity now and that will not be possible without certain difficult decisions (The Catholic Herald [London], May 6, 2008).