The Archbishop of Canterbury: Two Ways of Relating as Anglicans Possible

From the Living Church:

In a 2,800-word reflection on The Episcopal Church’s relationship to the broader Anglican Communion, the Archbishop of Canterbury on Monday again emphasized that the Communion may follow a two-track model in its future structure.

Archbishop Rowan Williams twice described the blessing of same-sex couples as involving a chosen lifestyle, and mentioned blessings’ possible ill effects on ecumenical relations, or decreased involvement in such dialogues.

In the archbishop’s description, one Communion track favors the proposed Anglican Covenant as a way of uniting Anglicans, while a second track may decide that local autonomy must prevail.

“If those who elect this model do not take official roles in the ecumenical interchanges and processes in which the ‘covenanted’ body participates, this is simply because within these processes there has to be clarity about who has the authority to speak for whom,” the archbishop wrote.

For those Anglicans who do not favor a covenant, “there is no threat of being cast into outer darkness—existing relationships will not be destroyed that easily,” he wrote. “But it means that there is at least the possibility of a twofold ecclesial reality in view in the middle distance: that is, a ‘covenanted’ Anglican global body, fully sharing certain aspects of a vision of how the church should be and behave, able to take part as a body in ecumenical and interfaith dialogue; and, related to this body, but in less formal ways with fewer formal expectations, there may be associated local churches in various kinds of mutual partnership and solidarity with one another and with ‘covenanted’ provinces.”

Archbishop Williams renewed his often-expressed hope that all provinces of the Anglican Communion ultimately will support the covenant, which faces a new round of possible revision.

The entire paper can be found here.

I’ll be leading a summary discussion on General Convention and the Archbishop’s paper at the adult forum at Holy Comforter this coming Sunday (11:15).

Virginia Bishops Write The Diocese

The Diocese of Virginia has released letters from its three bishops.  Our Bishop Coadjutor, Shannon Johnston will become the Diocesan Bishop in October.  Below is his letter.  All three letters can be read here.n668806496_1129110_456

A Letter from Bishop Johnston

Dear Diocesan Family,

With the conclusion of General Convention, the beginning of my time as your diocesan bishop fast approaches. Having just returned to the Diocese from the Convention, I want to express to you my thoughts on the two resolutions from the Convention which are garnering the most attention in the media. The first speaks to the current state of our Church’s relationship to the Anglican Communion (D025) and the second addresses same-gender unions (C056 substitute).

Resolution D025 strongly affirms not only the Episcopal Church’s commitment to its relationship with the Anglican Communion but also our Church’s appreciation and support of the roles that gay and lesbian people have in the ministry of our Church—including all levels of ordination. This resolution passed with a 2-1 majority. I voted against it. As I said during the floor debate, I absolutely agree with every word of the resolution itself. Even so, I was convinced that the actual effect of D025 across the Anglican world would be to weaken the bonds of our worldwide Church and, more importantly, to compromise our international mission and ministry in the very places that need us so very badly—and we so need them. The problem for me with D025 was how it would be seen in its implications rather than being understood for what it actually says. Such is the nature of legislative reality, and this is the very reason why I do not believe the legislative process is the best process to address these issues. Still, I have great hopes that the Communion will recognize the resolution as it stands—a statement of where we really are as a Church at this time, all the while hoping to build upon and strengthen our ties with the larger Communion.

Resolution C056 calls for gathering theological and liturgical resources with respect to offering the Church’s blessing for same-gender unions, which will be brought to the next General Convention in 2012 for study and consideration. The fact is that several states have legalized gay and lesbian unions, and others will likely follow suit. This resolution responds to that reality. It also allows bishops the exercise of personal discretion in providing for a “generous pastoral response” for gay and lesbian persons in the Church. I voted in favor of this resolution because I am convinced that it is both realistic and right. Monogamous same-gender unions are now a reality, and we should provide for the Church’s response, with blessing or without. The resolution allows for either. Bishops must also have the ability to respond to what is actually true in all the various locales and contexts in which this Church ministers. It is important to remember, however, that no official rites of blessing that wholly sanction same-gender unions have been approved for the Church. In fact, it would take years to develop such rites.

It is not so much the actual content of these two resolutions that may be problematic. The potential for difficulty follows from interpretation of the resolutions. The plain reality is that very little is actually changed by either one of the resolutions in themselves. Both statements address what is already true in the life and witness of the Episcopal Church. The Convention is overwhelmingly of the mind that the Episcopal Church will be the stronger for the realistic and clear perspective of these resolutions.

Just how that will be so is now put to each diocese. Together, you and I will explore what these resolutions mean more precisely for the Diocese of Virginia. I look forward to the way ahead, and I welcome your input. Most importantly, I treasure your company in the worship of our Lord Jesus Christ. I remain,

Faithfully yours,

The Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston
Bishop Coadjutor

The Real Decline of Churches

Three news stories in recent days point to significant change in the landscape of North American religion.  For decades now, the conventional wisdom about church growth has been that only conservative churches–those that take the Bible literally and embrace conservative politics–could grow.  But it appears that conventional wisdom is being seriously questioned.
Take a look at these stories:
1.     The Southern Baptist Convention–the largest and most conservative Protestant denomination in the USA–records a continued decline in baptisms and an increasingly aging membership.  The oft-reported number of 18 million members has declined in the last decade to just over 16 million.  And, according to journalist Christine Wicker (see her book, The Fall of Evangelical Nation), the internal number of active members may well be around 5 million people.
2.     The Anglican Church of North America, the umbrella group for conservative Episcopalians who have left their denomination over women’s ordination and full inclusion of gay and lesbian persons, has long claimed over 100,000 members.  Recently, they admitted that only 69,000 persons in 650 churches in the USA and Canada have joined their association. There are 2.2 million Episcopalians in the United States and approximately 1 million in Canada.  Thus, the conservative group–the one that has garnered so much media attention in recent years is a very small percentage of the entire North American Anglican membership–some 2% of the total.  And with their rigid opposition to women’s ordination, it is hard to imagine that this group will find much appeal with young North Americans.
3.     President Jimmy Carter last week publicly explained why he renounced his life-long affiliation with the Southern Baptists in an opinion piece appearing in The Age.  He denounced the Convention’s leaders statement that women are inferior to men (created “second”) and responsible for original sin as inherently discriminatory and that Southern Baptist views on gender were contrary to both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the teachings of Jesus.

From Diana Butler Bass on Beliefnet:

Three news stories in recent days point to significant change in the landscape of North American religion.  For decades now, the conventional wisdom about church growth has been that only conservative churches–those that take the Bible literally and embrace conservative politics–could grow.  But it appears that conventional wisdom is being seriously questioned.  Take a look at these stories:

1.     The Southern Baptist Convention–the largest and most conservative Protestant denomination in the USA–records a continued decline in baptisms and an increasingly aging membership.  The oft-reported number of 18 million members has declined in the last decade to just over 16 million.  And, according to journalist Christine Wicker (see her book, The Fall of Evangelical Nation), the internal number of active members may well be around 5 million people.

2.     The Anglican Church of North America, the umbrella group for conservative Episcopalians who have left their denomination over women’s ordination and full inclusion of gay and lesbian persons, has long claimed over 100,000 members.  Recently, they admitted that only 69,000 persons in 650 churches in the USA and Canada have joined their association. There are 2.2 million Episcopalians in the United States and approximately 1 million in Canada.  Thus, the conservative group–the one that has garnered so much media attention in recent years is a very small percentage of the entire North American Anglican membership–some 2% of the total.  And with their rigid opposition to women’s ordination, it is hard to imagine that this group will find much appeal with young North Americans.

3.     President Jimmy Carter last week publicly explained why he renounced his life-long affiliation with the Southern Baptists in an opinion piece appearing in The Age.  He denounced the Convention’s leaders statement that women are inferior to men (created “second”) and responsible for original sin as inherently discriminatory and that Southern Baptist views on gender were contrary to both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the teachings of Jesus.

Be sure to read the entire article here.

Leveraging an Institution

ELO_071609_mclaren_mdThough I’ve attended the triennial General Convention of the Episcopal Church almost as long as I’ve been a priest, this is the first time that I have watched from afar, and with the development of live webcasts and Twitter feeds such as those found at the TEC Media Hub, one can certainly feel as though they are virtually present.

As usual, the lion’s share of media attention has focused on the passage of Resolution D025, an honest statement of support for full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the church and a strong insistence of our commitment to the wider Anglican Communion.  In addition, Resolution C056, passed by the House of Bishops, and currently on the floor of the House of Deputies, acknowledges the changing circumstances in the United States and in other nations, with regard to legislation for and against same-gender unions.  The Resolution calls for a renewed pastoral response from the Church and for an open process for the consideration of theological and liturgical resources and liturgies for the blessing of same gender relationships.

Many fear that in approving these resolutions, we are taking a step apart from the wider Anglican Communion (see Philip Jenkins Op-Ed in today’s WSJ).  It’s important to emphasize that this may be true with regard to our transparency about where we actually are in our discernment and response to issues of human sexuality.  But in many more important and urgent matters such as mission, evangelism, reconciliation, and justice, we have not “stepped apart” with the wider Communion at all.  It does break my heart to see the strain our actions cause for some within the Anglican Communion, particularly those who view sexuality issues as determinative for constitutive membership in the Communion.

One of the moments I most anticipated at the Convention this week was Brian McLaren’s sermon at the Daily Eucharist that took place yesterday.  Brian and I have a friendship that goes back to the early 1980’s when we worshiped at the same parish together.  In his sermon, based on 2 Corinthians 5:15-21, Brian called those gathered to rediscover the good and true essence of evangelism, to live and call others to a new way of life, to plead with people to rethink everything, be reconciled to God, and follow the way of Jesus.  Can we see the words Episcopal and Evangelistic as a holy union joined together by God, something God has joined together and no one should put asunder?

Brian outlined three obstacles or distractions that must be overcome if this is to happen, if we are to seize this moment of Episcopal crisis and opportunity.  Those obstacles are institutional conflict; institutional identity; and institutional rigidity. With reference to institutional identity Brian said:

People like you in these times of institutional conflict and stress could easily be tempted to lodge your identity in the saving of a beloved institution. But here we encounter, I believe, a great spiritual paradox. To recall Jesus’ words, what if those who try to save their institutions will lose them? What if the best way to save an institution is to focus on saving something else, something bigger? What if the point isn’t saving the institution but rather leveraging the institution in the saving of the world, the world God so loves, according to John 3:16? In your simultaneous commitment to the Millennium Development Goals and to true and deep evangelism, you are in the process of choosing this outward, missional focus–leveraging your institution for God’s mission in today’s world.  So much depends on this.

These are thoughtful and important words, especially for one who has given almost 30 years of his life to serving this “beloved institution,” and who yearns to stay focused on the urgent task of inviting people to find purpose and hope in the way of Jesus Christ.  We have a Gospel to live and proclaim!

A PDF of Brian’s sermon text can be found here.