It is very confusing making sense of most marriage break ups since there are often two quite different narratives at play about who did and said what in the rundown to splitting up. We are seeing this played out in the media in the case of Charles Saatchi and Nigella Lawson. Photos of him clutching her by the throat seem to be an illustrated narrative of his contribution to separation. But now he has announced through a newspaper that he will divorce her because she did not stick up for him. Good luck with making sense of that!
If GAFCON II later this year becomes the moment when all sides agree that the Communion is irrevocably split I suggest it is going to be very confusing trying to make sense of how, in fact, we will have come to this position. Sure, it could be said that 'they misinterpreted the Bible and taught a false gospel' and that 'they excluded people from the church on the basis of misunderstanding human sexuality and refusing to act justly.' If it is as neat as that, then we have an open and shut case for blaming one side (or both!) and sheeting home responsibility for ecclesial tragedy to a bunch of renegades.
It is not as neat as that, I submit. We have a few months to push the PAUSE button on this tragic movie being played out before our eyes and ask whether we might just clear up a few misunderstandings. Should we hit that button, here are some starters for reflection.
Engagement with society
I would like bishops and theologians around the Communion to acknowledge that every Anglican church is engaged with their own local society and the course of that society. A bishop in Nigeria looks in askance at how the C of E is responding to changes in legislation regarding civil partnerships and gay marriage. A theologian in the States looks in askance at a bunch of bishops in Uganda cheering on legislation repressive of openly gay and lesbian Ugandan citizens. In each case the local church is engaged with local issues, working out how best to respond to the direction their own society is heading in. It is easy, is it not, to blast from far away the actions of others. It is harder to pause, reflect, and imagine one's way into what it means to work out the gospel in England, in the States, in Uganda and in Nigeria. But to do so might be to gather up some crumbs of sympathy for the dilemmas of others. When we are sympathetic to others we can find the will to walk an extra mile with them, rather than run away from them.
Understanding the Bible
It would be quite good if we could all work harder at understanding the Bible. Too often, it seems, we work hard at understanding one part of the Bible and then use that understanding to talk past each other.
Thus the Bible is a revelation of God teaching the importance of justice, human dignity and respect for one another while promoting values of fidelity, sacrificial love and stable family life. With that understanding we can talk past those who miss (or downplay) that understanding in favour of the Bible as a revelation of God teaching the importance of holiness, sexual discipline, the importance of marriage between a man and a woman as the cornerstone of society while promoting a gospel which both invites all to enter God's kingdom and announces God's judgment on those who refuse to repent and believe in Christ.
Such understandings potentially could lead to a conversation about what the whole of the Bible says to the church today. Unfortunately that potential is not being reached because ... well, there is quite a question to consider, is there not? We Anglicans love the Bible (we say). We read Scripture together (we say). Scripture is paramount in our life (cf. the Thirty-Nine Articles, our various constitutions, Lambeth resolutions). Yet somehow we are not reaching a common understanding about the Bible, about what God is saying through Scripture to the church today.
Nothing is easy here, just as generally any marriage heading for the rocks is a hard, complicated and difficult situation to reverse.
Could we give ourselves one last shot at reconciliation?
For a contrasting if not contrary view, head to Anglican Curmudgeon.