Monday, July 5, 2010
Communion's Cultural Cleavage Rends Asunder What Man Joined Together
It is difficult to see the Anglican Communion holding together as events unfold around us: the touting of Jeffrey John as bishop (celibate gay man, alleged to be unrepentant for the non-celibate years, proven to teach in favour of non-requirement of celibacy), the resignations of bishops from the AC's Standing Committee and the non-resignations of bishops from the AC's Standing Committee (laid out here in its chaotic detail by the ACI).
Sitting here Down Under, immersed in the Western mode of being Anglican and being human, it is reasonably easy to understand the consistency of ++Rowan Williams one month inhibiting TEC members of certain Communion committees consequential on the consecration of non-celibate Mary Glasspool to be bishop and the next month, apparently, not inhibiting the C of E appointments' process commending celibate Jeffrey John for nomination as bishop. But I am guessing that in some parts of the Communion, both in the Global South, and in churches sympathetic to the Global South (including parishes in Southwark and California), perceptions are different. Insufficient action against TEC, and no action against John amounts to a completely different way of responding to the presence of homosexuality in society and church. An unacceptable way which, in the end, is being driven as much as anything (IMHO) by cultural differences: in both the USA and the UK (and in NZ) our societies have moved very very fast relative to history to embrace homosexuals as normal, ordinary, equitable, indiscriminate citizens. It is not so much that the church is being pressed to conform to an alien culture around it (though this is a factor) but that the culture is challenging the church to welcome 'aliens' in its midst as full, included, insiders. The church has been caught so flat footed in a number of cases that our protestations of our "rights" to determine what is right and wrong appear to bring the gospel into disrepute: how come the community of love is so filled with fear of those who are "different"? In any case, our culture is pressing us to consider that homosexuals are not different, but like us, being our friends and family.
Of these questions and issues, of the nuances being explored, willingly or unwillingly, by the Western church, there seems little evidence of understanding in the minds of African prelates and Asian princes of the church, to say nothing of some of us known as 'conservative' sitting in the very citadels of changing societal attitude. Now time may prove that the understanding of African, Asian, and conservative Western church leaders is full of wisdom from above. (That part at least which refuses to let go of the moral question of same sex sexual relationships. Homophobically driven "kill gays" legislation will not be proven to be wisdom from above). But right now, the difference in understanding, the appreciation of the question of human dignity as represented in the Western world compared to parts of the non-Western world toying with more rather than less repressive anti-homosexuality laws, is so great as to likely constitute a cleavage in the Communion, rending asunder what man - colonial rulers, missionaries, Victorian bishops - joined together, the Church of England and its fledgling children as one incipient global church. Archbishop Rowan may yet preside over his worst case scenario, the clear, un-spinnable break up of the Communion, but not because his own gifts of wisdom and leadership have been less than any other leader could have provided, but because the cultural forces at work have been more like two continents colliding than a train wreck which might have been averted if only the driver had better sight.