Thursday, January 29, 2009

Keeping the big picture the big picture

"In the long run, neither embrace nor ghetto can solve for Christians the problem of the modern world."

These are Benedict XVI's words, cited by Ruth Gledhill in the course of a piece on the public relations disaster which is the Vatican recommunicating four excommunicated bishops, one of whom is a Holocaust denier. The actual context of the sentence is something Benedict wrote on the reception of the conclusions of the Second Vatican Council rather than the specific context of reasons for recommunication of the bishops.

Several observations spring to mind.

First that the great issue in the Anglican Communion is 'the problem of the modern world' and the two disastrous solutions noted by Benedict are being actively pursued in some parts of the Communion, 'embrace' (e.g. TEC) or 'ghetto' (e.g. some proposals by conservative Anglicans for separation). This blog stands for finding a way between 'embrace' and 'ghetto'. In one sentence Benedict captures the big picture of what is going on and of where disaster lies.

Secondly that notwithstanding the great wisdom and insight of Benedict represented in this brilliant sentence it is nevertheless possible, as the public relations disaster shows, for a great church leader to make mistakes. Just because we have the big picture clearly in mind we are not guaranteed to get everything right! Yet without the big picture in mind, could a leader get anything right? (Benedict, of course, has another big picture in mind with this recommunication, that of Christian unity).

Thirdly, almost an incidental point: in some of our discussions we have an Anglican-flavoured recoil at the thought that some action, such as implementing a Covenant, could lead to a decisive response such as excommunication of Covenant rebels. Have we too easily equated 'excommunication' with 'annihilation of relationship'. Whatever the merits of this particular recommunication of Benedict's, it is a reminder that excommunication is not the end of relationship between believers. Recommunication following revision, reversal or repentance of whatever led to excommunication is possible.

Finally, we might note that to be a Christian intent on rational engagement with the world is to be part of a fellowship which includes some nutty people. Holocaust denial is a particularly abhorrent form of nuttiness. But it is not the only form of it around!

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