Walking the other day in a beautiful forest (Hanmer, for Cantabrian locals) I was reminded of the difficulty of seeing the wood for the trees. Over yonder, in TEC land, the same difficulty may be occurring. The trees are the technicalia of canons, constitutions (TEC, South Carolina) and conventions. Perhaps +Mark will be found by due canonical process to have infringed the rules and regulations of TEC. But the wood is the nature of Anglican life in the 21st century. How wide is this life to which some of the world's Christians have committed themselves? In the bigger scheme of things a pertinent question from this side of the Pacific is, has TEC (un)intentionally committed itself to a narrow vision of Anglican life by agreeing through its General Conventions to a series of rules which, sooner or later, were bound to 'catch' a +Mark Lawrence, and may yet catch other conservative bishops in a drive, a pogrom even, to purge itself of dissent?
In part, my defence of +Mark and the Diocese of South Carolina is a defence of conservative Anglicans right to presume that the evolution of Anglicanism as an ecclesial phenomenon marked by diversity more than by unity is an evolution which includes us as a species of Anglican rather than excludes us. Railing as some Episcopal commentators are doing about +Mark lying and so forth is focusing on the trees rather than the wood. A lot has changed since +Mark took office in a Diocese of such strong conservatism that it resolved not once but twice to have him as their bishop. But what has changed has not improved the welcome accorded those who conservatively disagree with the liberally evolving line of successive General Conventions. Accordingly, South Carolina has taken steps to carve its own wide space to breathe in when TEC has done nothing for it. Instead of berating +Mark, a little inspection of itself might do TEC a world of gospel good - speck meet log, log meet speck.
The question of width v. narrowness of Anglican life is well canvassed at Conciliar Anglican with a nice pic to go with it. Slow train crash coming, indeed!
That there should be some width to Anglican life is a point implicit in two posts on the sacraments. John Richardson at The Ugley Vicar offers a reflection on an evangelical understanding of the sacraments and catholicity and covenant takes John's post up and stretches it further with some astute criticism. The mystery of the sacraments, much explored but not yet exhausted, reminds us that Anglican width is based on recognition that on important matters the last word has not yet been said and space for continuing conversation should be provided.