It has been very hard through the years of her presiding to praise ++Katharine Jefferts Schori. She has an ability to not quite get things right, or even to get things quite wrong. So, as the life of the Anglican church in South Carolina unfolds, we find her doing little to preside over a church which desires to include the Diocese of South Carolina in its polity. Now we find her mistaking the life of the Diocese of South Carolina for the projection of a single Mad, Murderous, Dictator. Despite that Diocese recently working out corporately and conventionally that its faithfulness to Anglican Christianity was best pursued through legal separation from The Episcopal Church, in remarks made at the weekend, ++KJS assesses the situation as being driven by one man (who can only be Bishop Mark Lawrence) whom she sees as not too far from being a mad dictatorial mass murderer ...
"I tell you that story because it’s indicative of attitudes we’ve seen here and in many other places. Somebody decides he knows the law, and oversteps whatever authority he may have to dictate the fate of others who may in fact be obeying the law, and often a law for which this local tyrant is not the judge. It’s not too far from that kind of attitude to citizens’ militias deciding to patrol their towns or the Mexican border for unwelcome visitors. It’s not terribly far from the state of mind evidenced in school shootings, or in those who want to arm school children, or the terrorism that takes oil workers hostage.
Most human communities, from churches to governments to families, function more effectively in response to shared decision-making. Most of us don’t live in a world where one person is the ultimate Decider – because, over and over again, we’ve discovered that better decisions are made when they’re made in communities with appropriate checks and balances. Power assumed by one authority figure alone is often a recipe for abuse, tyranny, and corruption. That’s why Jesus challenges us to think about how the shepherd acts. The authentic ones don’t sneak over the wall in the dead of night. They operate transparently, and they work cooperatively with the gate-keeper himself."
The source for this transcript is impeccable so we can take it for granted that she did utter these words. There is a savage irony at work in her words because ++KJS herself has not been beyond deciding what the canons of TEC mean as she has denounced and renounced various of its clergy, including bishops over the years. If I were living in South Carolina I would be glad to be part of the Diocese rather than part of a church whose leadership can say things such as cited above. For a masterful outline of the South Carolingian/TEC situation and the absurdities within it, read A.S. Haley.
All this is not thousands of miles from the life of our own church. On Thursday I fly to Auckland to be part of the fourth and final Hermeneutical Hui on the Bible and human sexuality. This hui is part of the journey out church is on in respect of being an Anglican church in a modern Western liberal democracy. We will connect with another part of that journey, the Ma Whaea commission. One of the questions in the air for us as a church is whether and how we will conclude our journey on these matters together.
It is fundamental to being Christian that we love one another even in strong disagreement. Thus the incumbent obligation on any church as an institution is to explore every avenue in disagreement for remaining together. On the matter of human sexuality it matters that we ensure that every element of God's justice and love through the order, rites and offices of the church is available to all its members.
It equally matters that where we disagree on how God's justice and love is expressed in the life of the church that we ensure that we remain together in our disagreement: after all, we are united in being a people who have received God's justice and love through Jesus Christ and we are united in being a people who earnestly desire to spread that justice and love in our faith community and into the world beyond us.
++KJS has perhaps served a useful purpose in our life Down Under by reminding us that a church can get it wrong (as I believe TEC has done by making itself unwelcome to the Diocese of South Carolina and other dioceses) and a leadership can descend to an inane level of analysis of the situation. A question for ACANZP then as we proceed on our journey, which now includes electing a new pakeha archbishop, is whether we are determined to remain together and be well-led by our bishops and archbishops.
While hopeful (as always!), I am not complacent about our future!