Finding common, holy ground
Madeleine Bunting, writing for the Guardian, reminds us that Anglicanism was once characterized by a desire to find a common center on many controversial issues. Take Eucharistic theology, for example. Anglicans managed to contain both those who insisted that Christ was literally present in the consecrated bread and those who insisted with equal vigor that the bread was a symbol and a call to faith.
The whole article is worth reading, but here I give you her conclusion:
What’s in short supply in some quarters are those much-prized Anglican virtues of patience, forbearance and tolerance. They have been strikingly absent in one small US diocese, New Hampshire, and in the dioceses of Nigeria and Sydney; each side mirrors the other’s disregard for how commitment to an institution brings a collective responsibility to each other and for each other. No one has the monopoly on truth or virtue; understandings of intimacy and sexuality are far too complex across cultures to be reduced to the western claims of superiority, maintained two gay Anglican priests separately to me. In the UK we may have achieved a welcome end to legal discrimination, but homophobia is still rife – while in other cultures there may be more tolerance than we care to acknowledge within the privacy afforded to sexuality.
Williams has been unfortunate to arrive for a torrid shift in Canterbury. Global communications are disrupting all religious traditions, traumatising identity and fuelling a literalist fundamentalism; the result is a gross simplifying of the complexity and paradox that is part of human experience. While Anglicanism’s travails are laid bare for the bloggers to pour scorn on, the Catholic church has become a parody of its own past, a ruthlessly centralised authoritarian structure in which all the debates troubling Lambeth are simply being postponed. As one priest put it to me, that is also a massive risk.
Williams has remarkably managed to instil dignity and warmth – as anyone in York Minster for his sermon before General Synod will testify – into proceedings, which gives plenty of room to hope that his Lambeth conference will pass smoothly and that those bishops prepared to turn up will find in the face-to-face encounter beyond lurid headlines that it is possible to find a way to accommodate difference. And, as Hooker would say: ‘Charity in all matters’.
Americans like to talk about the need to compromise, but that usually translates to “make them agree with us.” Let us pray that the Holy Spirit will inflame all the bishops to a spirit of charity, grace, and comprehension.