Wednesday, February 9, 2011

There is no equilibrium between unity and diversity

Many years ago an older Christian said to me that in our commitment to Christ we are either going forwards or backwards. There is no standing still. I have a hypothesis that something similar is the case in respect of unity and diversity (or, if you will 'unity-and-diversity'): there is no equilibrium (this side of Glory) between unity and diversity. We are either becoming more unified or more diversified.

You can probably guess where I am going with this. Global Anglicanism is definitely on a pathway of increasing diversity (and its converse, decreasing unity). Over the past decades, just when we might have sought to stem the tide of diversity, we have habitually refused from doing so (the recent Primates' Meeting being the latest refusal).

If we think of global Anglicanism as a wheel, then in recent decades everything has moved away from the axle to the rim. Unsurprisingly, as the wheel has spun faster, somethings have fallen off: congregations and even dioceses have come off the Anglican wheel, bishops and even primates have spun off.

Over time we may find a natural reverse occurring (I hope we do), a yearning for unity which leads to action rather than inaction towards finding our common mind in Christ. But I am guessing that for a long time to come, perhaps for ever, we will see no lessening of the penchant for diversity. The key word defining Anglican churches in relation to each other is and will be 'independent', unmodified by qualifying phrases about 'common faith and practice'.

In terms of the aspirations of this blog - looking for signs of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church among Christians identifying themselves as Anglican - things will be forlorn. We are not one (either institutionally or organically), if we are 'holy' then a whole lot of other Christians are marching to a different understanding of holiness, 'catholic' is questionable as a descriptor of any Anglican entity claiming global connectedness between Anglican Christians, and as for 'apostolic', well, we argue furiously with each other about the content of apostolic teaching relevant for today as foundation and definition of whatever passes for shared theology among Anglicans, and we have varied approaches to understanding the ways in which we are (or are not) in continuity with the ancient apostolic church.

Whether God is bothered to save us from ourselves, I do not know.

What I do know is that there is no Christian body dominated by liberal or progressive theology which has flourished. (NZ readers might like to ask themselves about the non-existence of the NCC-become-CCANZ here). If (as I suspect) the recent Primates' Meeting represents a decisive step in which the entity known as the Anglican Communion has yielded itself to domination by liberal or progressive theology (i.e. rather than ensuring a balanced theology in lively tension between liberalism and conservatism), then there is no reason to think that anything other than decline awaits that entity - measured both by decreasing numbers being represented by those who meet in the name of the Communion, and by further fragmentation of the common life of those who continue to meet.

For those peeling off from the entity known as the Anglican Communion (i.e. peeling off from the actuality of Communion meetings, I acknowledge that no member churches have formally left the institution), the future is not necessarily less bleak. History suggests that those disengaging from a liberal or progessive Christian institution likely themselves will further divide; and there are signs in North America that unity is hard to find among those who have left TEC and ACCan.

I remain ever hopeful that the church of God, represented in churches of many names throughout the world, will flourish. Whether global Anglicanism will flourish as a once, holy, catholic, apostolic communion is unknown to me!

But there are worse problems being faced by Christians. Pray for the Coptic Church!


Father Ron Smith said...

"there is no equilibrium (this side of Glory) between unity and diversity. We are either becoming more unified or more diversified"

In saying this, Peter, you are definitely going against the grain of desired consensus within Anglicanism. We have hitherto prided ourselves on being able to keep the obvious plurality that exists within the different Provinces of the Communion within the bounds of mutual respect.

It is only lately, with the emergence of a new burst for inclusiveness within the Western Provinces of our Communion, that the more conservative Provinces have backed off and declared their inability to live with the challenge that this presents to relationships within the Communion.

Nevertheless, this diversity is quite consonant with the Gospel ethic of there being no difference in God's sight - and in the opinion of St.Paul - between Greek and Jew, male and female, etc. What has now been added to that mix of diversities is the modern understanbding of gender and sexuality. And this, it seems, has proved to be the stumbling block that prevents the further understanding and acceptance of a gender and sexual diversity (that really already naturally exists) compatible with the unity that Christ requires of us in His Church.

God's Creation is infinitely variable. Just because we may want to limit the diversities that happen to be progressivly revealed to us through science and technology, that does not mean to say that God does not require of us an openness to new understandings of God's continuing revelation of 'new truths'.

After all, when Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit's coming to reveal The Truth; I'm pretty sure he wasn't limiting that revelation to the Day of Pentecost only. He meant that the Holy Spirit would continue to reveal aspects of the Truth - as we are able and willing to bear them ("You could not bear them now"). Perhaps the time has come for us all to accept that diversity is God's provision for us to continue in the godly struggle to keep 'the Unity of the Spirit in the bonds of Peace

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron,
A movement towards greater unity rather than greater diversity is not a cessation of diversity nor a negation of it.

We could have a long discussion about what constitutes part of the variety of God's creation and what constitutes humanity varying the order of creation, etc. My focus here is a little different: as we experience diversity in creation, as we experience difference in the church (whether (say) difference in gender or difference in liturgy), are we working on finding and refinding what is common, what unifies us, what draws us into greater oneness with God, or are we entranced by ever greater differences being discovered, even having a perpetual fascination with what is new?

I humbly suggest that the Anglican Communion has lost sight of 'unity' in its passionate affair with 'diversity.'

Brother David said...

I think that where you are in error Peter is in the converse of diversity. It is not unity, it is uniformity.

As Paul eluded, you can have diversity with unity when he liked the Church to a human body, an organism of many diversified parts. What does not work is a lack of diversity, if the whole Church/organism were just an eye, or a left butt cheek or if the left butt cheek is trying to assert that it is more important than the eye.

Anonymous said...

Peter I do not think you can have unity between the holders of two antithetical gospels.

I think you'll have unity amongst the Global South -- most of 'em -- and I think you'll have unity amongst the provinces currently led by revisionist leaders.

Particularly since I don't think either side will leave the overall organization.

I personally feel pretty unified!

And I think you'll see Bishops Howe, Lawrence, and the various other TEC bishops who believe the Gospel be invited to the Global South meetings as unified equals. And you'll see various other bishops who believe the TEC gospel be invited to their gatherings.

I think we're in for stasis for quite a time now -- and I find that refreshing. This will all shake out into two -- or three -- fairly unified bodies.


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Sarah,
I am trying not to be naive about '(ultimate) unity': where two antithetical gospels are involved within one Christian entity then that unity is not possible. What I am suggesting is possible is that (a) it is possible to work on unity as a goal, rather than diversity (i.e. Anglicanism in the last 50 years or so); (b) such a goal is reasonable as two or more gospels have been at work in Anglicanism in past times when unity has been greater.

Yes, after a while the 'two gospels' problem would need to be overcome to make yet further progress towards unity.

Father Ron Smith said...

"What I am suggesting is possible is that (a) it is possible to work on unity as a goal, rather than diversity (i.e. Anglicanism in the last 50 years or so" - Peter Carrell -

Peter, in my humble opinion, we do not need to 'work on' diversity, we already have it. As David so rightly remarks: Paul has already pointed us to the fact of different parts of the body (each with their own unique characteristics and value) being necessary for the efficiency of the total body - none being more valued (important) than any other - but all working together for the common good,

Sarah talks about 2 antithteical Gospels, but is that not trying to compare the usefulness of the foot with the hand? both are necessary. There is only one Gospel, but there are different ways of proclaiming it. What we have to do is ensure that it really is 'Good News' to all people, not just the ritually pure - "I came, not to save to well but the sick"

ACNA has a more puritsnical (Scribal) ethic; whereas TEC and the A.C.of C. find it necessary to 'Open up the Kingdom of Heaven to ALL believers' - of whatever race, culture, ethnicity, gender or sexual-orientation.

Each Church has its own context of missionary engagement. In the Global South, there are still problems with slavery; female circumcision and subordination; endemic corruption and homophobia. In the West, we have sexism, recism, secularism, misogyny and homophobia.

In both contexts, there is a fear of militant Islam - the type which still lives in the dark ages of sexual and gender discrimination - where women are denied their common human rights.

In an enlightened world, we have come to the realisation that religious fundamentalism - of any type - can be a threat to everyone who submits to its subtle influences. Therefore, whatever we can do to remove the culture of ignorance in matters of human relationships, the more possible it will be for the Gospel ethic of 'Love one another' to take root and grow.

In other words, what the world needs is less religious fundamentalist and judgementalism, and more openness to the Good News that Jesus Christ came to bring. Remember, his greatest problems in his own day were - not with sinners, but the ostentatiously religious.

UNITY does not require uniformity. What it required is to think no-one less worthy of redemption than one's-self. To acknowledge one's own capacity for sin and waywardnees is the first step towards reconcilation of ALL to God.