Monday, July 07, 2008

Fr. Tom, Bishop Tom, and the Anglican Communion

Through various blogs, I was recently directed to an article by The Rt. Rev. N.T. (Tom) Wright, Bishop of Durham on GAFCON, his initial reactions to it, and the continuing discussions. One of the interesting things I find in his essay is the assertion that, to quote, "...there are huge problems in America, and they are of course reflected here and there in the C of E, but we are NOT AT ALL in the same situation." In the article, he describes the persecution of clergy by so-called "liberal" bishops for teaching traditional Christian doctrine, noting that "I continue to stand where I have always stood, that is, shoulder to shoulder with those in the USA who have suffered much for the sake of their allegiance to this same gospel and standard of behaviour [sic]." What he is saying, in effect, is that while there are isolated incidents of liberalism making inroads into the Church of England, apparently we are much farther gone in the United States.

As a professed centrist with evangelical leanings as well as a priest who passionately loves both God in Jesus Christ as well as the Episcopal Church which nurtured my faith in Christ and as someone in agreement with the so-called 'core doctrines' of the faith as expressed in the Nicene and Apostles Creeds, the implication that clergy with precisely the same centrist outlook as mine are being actively persecuted by their bishops and colleagues for teaching core orthodox Christian doctrines is profoundly troubling to me and verges on the frightening. If he is not overstating the case, and there are truly clergy being persecuted for their teaching (not simply disciplined for schismatic activity) then I would like to know about that and it needs to be addressed immediately.

Bishop Wright goes on to state the following:
"As I look around not only my own diocese but also the larger Church of England, I see many clergy and laity who are not from an ‘evangelical‘ stable but who are cheerfully preaching the gospel, working for God’s kingdom, saying their prayers and living lives of faithful holiness."
As I read that quote, I thought to myself: "I can affirm that here, too!" I interact with clergy in my own diocese and in the Episcopal Church though Gathering the Next Generation (GTNG) and the Church Development Institute (CDI)) and see people "cheerfully preaching the gospel, working for God's kingdom, saying their prayers and living lives of faithful holiness." I think it is a huge mistake to think otherwise based upon news reports, blog entries, or strident statements from official or quasi-official sources.

Not to be too (literally!) parochial, but most of us clergy, I suspect, have enough difficulties dealing with the challenges of leading a congregation in this twenty-first century post-Christian context. We spend our days dealing with anemic parish budgets, both delightful and difficult people, wide-ranging demands on our time and attention, and the myriad of other pastoral care issues and administrivia that fill our days. We do all of this while attempting to see to our spiritual health, keep our families healthy, happy, and not hating or resenting the church for taking up so much of our time, and just generally getting on with the business of living lives as faithful to our Baptismal Covenant and our marriage and ordination vows as possible. Most of us have neither the time nor the energy to pay much attention to the controversies raging across the Anglican Communion. Not only that, but it is often detrimental to our spiritual health to do so!

Finally, I think a myth really needs debunking here. The myth that one cannot be a faithful Christian or priest in a diocese in which the bishop and/or a majority of the clergy hold so-called "heterodox" or "liberal" views is, quite simply, wrong. Having been raised in the Diocese of California, served my early years of ordained ministry in the Diocese of Pennsylvania, and now serving in the Diocese of Oregon, I can confidently say that as a priest I have never, ever, had a conversation with my bishop or other diocesan authority about my theological views, what I preach and teach, or anything remotely resembling what Bishop Wright appears to be saying is happening. While I would characterize my current diocese as decidedly middle-of-the-road, both California and Pennsylvania are hardly bastions of conservatism!

I'm not sure what to expect from the upcoming Lambeth Conference. I am just optimistic enough that I hope that a statement affirming the primacy of relationships over issues or doctrines might emerge. We are unlikely to have a resolution to the questions surrounding homosexuality anytime soon, perhaps not even in my lifetime. Yet if we are to share the love of Jesus Christ we need to discern a way forward though the current strife that honors God and each other.


Nathan Empsall said...

Thank you for this warm reflection. Your comments on being faithful in hostile surroundings reminds me of what Dr. Wililams said in his response to GAFCON:

"I believe that it is wrong to assume we are now so far apart that all those outside the GAFCON network are simply proclaiming another gospel. This is not the case; it is not the experience of millions of faithful and biblically focused Anglicans in every province. What is true is that, on all sides of our controversies, slogans, misrepresentations and caricatures abound. And they need to be challenged in the name of the respect and patience we owe to each other in Jesus Christ."

Tom Sramek, Jr. said...

Nathan: Thanks for responding! I was quite pleased to see Archbishop Rowan's thoughtful response to the GAFCON statement. I will pray earnestly for the bishops gathered at Lambeth Conference and hope and pray that they can find a way to get past the "slogans, misrepresentations and caricatures" that do indeed abound!