Wednesday, February 17, 2016
What will it finally take. . .
Once there was a split coming between the Anglo-Catholic wing (high church) and the evangelical and broad church wings. But somehow or other the conflict did not divide the Anglican Communion as it should have. Instead the trusty old Brits and their colonial counterparts figured out a way to drink some tea or sherry and calm things down. To those of us outside Anglicanism, the high church vs. broad and low church wings were not merely liturgically at odds but differed at the very core of their faith and confession. It seems no one seems to pay much attention to the 39 Articles but if they did perhaps they might have been forced to decide whether the Anglican tradition is more catholic or more evangelical. But this did not happen.
When the GLBT issues came calling, Anglicanism again tried to tread water. While the Archbishop of Canterbury may have had a personal affection for one side or another, his main job is plugging the leaks and keeping the good ship afloat. There were many voices from within that insisted the Anglican Communion could not exist when the tension was stressed this far but most of those who objected were viewed as over reactive people who did not realize that the Anglican Communion was not much about faith after all.
Apparently it did not matter that the Africans objected. After all, to most Northern Europeans and Americans, Africa is often treated as a child who must be tolerated rather than a legitimate voice and representative presence of the Church. The Africans, some smugly suggested, were not fully informed, unsophisticated, and naive -- send them some cash to buy their silence. But the African voice of Anglicanism refused to be silent or to be bought off. God bless them!
Now that the Anglican Communion has noticed that the Episcopal Church is itself bleeding off members and congregations (even a whole diocese!), some of the upper crust have also become leery of tolerating the most liberal voice of mostly very liberal churches. In the end it seems a toothless lion and the punishment is less about substance than it is about face saving -- the Episcopal Church saves face by solidifying its liberal social stance and refuses to give in while the conservatives save face by appearing to actually having done something to stem the tide.
While we are at it, we might mention an Episcopal partner church where the same stuff has gone on... The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has itself followed the siren call of nearly every liberal social cause and there are many, too many, good people in that church who have buried their heads in the sand and remained when they should have walked. It is impossible for a church body to maintain an objective unity when its own people neither agree nor can they stand each other. First it was the issue of women's ordination and then it was the stacked deck of the quota system designed to denigrate the local congregation and even the bishops who hesitated against the liberal agenda. But as long as it is not in my backyard, these people have stayed when they should have walked. Otherwise the ELCA would have dropped another million or so members.
The denominations that the ELCA has spun off are themselves problematic. The Lutheran Churches in Mission for Christ is a hodge podge of semi-Lutheran evangelical wannabes in which congregationalism is extreme and church body is minimal -- thus attracting different folks who only agree on not having any kind of centralize bureaucratic structure or overarching confessional identity. The North American Lutheran Church seems to have proven that it never was about being Lutheran but about sex. Most of the folks in the NALC only wanted to turn back the clock a bit and hardly any of them really desired to build up a new church body that was anything but the ELCA before 2009 and minus some of the strangoids (Her Church, anyone?).
So you can see I am somewhat bitter... well, mostly bitter. I had many good friends and solid priestly men in the Episcopal Church at one time. I grieve for them and for the death of their church. I had many good friends and solid pastoral men in the ELCA as well. I grieve for them and for the implosion of their church. I fear that any church body could suffer the same fate and so I am insistent upon my own church coming to terms with those who refuse to live within our confessional identity and take seriously what we say we confessed and what we still confess still. I believe in a hermeneutic of continuity. For those who want to insist upon a Lutheranism that began with Walther or one taught only by Pieper, I respectfully remind them that Lutheranism's claim is neither new nor sectarian but catholic faith and catholic practice. We cannot afford to do or be anything less -- not Lutheran Lite nor Lutheran substance and Evangelical practice.