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If being a shepherd was easy, then everybody would do it

Like Chris, I had high hopes for Crazy Archbishop Rowan. He seems like a nice guy. His heart is in the right place. And I know I’m not an Anglican (I’m not a Christian, for that matter), but many of my closest friends attend Episcopal services, are active in their churches, and are being affected by the Schism. And I want them to be in communion with their fellow worshippers; that communion is important to them, and kind of mysterious and moving to me.

It seems to me that the Beardy Primate (to give him his full title) is all about communion. There are different things that appeal to different Archbishops at different times, but it happens that Crazy Archbishop Rowan, at this moment of Schism, is focused on keeping things together. That’s the highest priority, that’s both the ends and the means, that’s what is in the magic touch with which he will lay his hands on the next Archbishop of Canterbury. A Worldwide Anglican Communion.

Now, I think all Anglicans probably agree that the Worldwide Anglican Communion is a Good Thing, and that on the whole, they would prefer to be in communion with their fellows in Lagos, Los Angeles, Lima, Lahore and Lambeth. But that’s not everybody’s number one. Some people would rather have schism than deny equal rights and equal rites and equal access to all people. Some people would rather have schism than condone immorality (or what they consider immorality). Some would rather have schism than deny a word of Scripture (or at least their reading of Scripture). Some would rather have schism than give up their old favorite prayerbook. Some would rather have schism than lose their own power and authority. It’s not that these people want schism; they just want other things that will come with schism, and if schism is part of the price, then it is.

But not Beardy Primate. And I know, he’s the Archbishop of Fucking Canterbury, he’s the C of E Pope; he’s got more to lose from Schism than anybody. But I think it’s more than that; I think he became the Archbishop in large part because he believes so profoundly in the communion, and that he sees himself, largely correctly, as Horatius at the bridge. Except that’s wrong, because he’s not standing still and defending. He’s a moving target.

Which is why I so frequently find his writings moving and frustrating. Yesterday’s Advent Letter is yet another remarkable example. He regretfully but sincerely deplores the ECUSA’s actions, not (and this is very carefully written) because he disagrees with their stance, but because they diminish communion. “Insofar as there is currently any consensus in the Communion about [the episcopal ordination of a person in a same-sex union or a claim to the freedom to make liturgical declarations about the character of same-sex unions], it is not in favour of change in our discipline or our interpretation of the Bible.” A nice phrasing. “And because what one local church says is naturally taken as representative of what others might say, we have the painful situation of some communities being associated with views and actions which they deplore or which they simply have not considered.” What is problematic is that ECUSA has placed other churches in a painful situation.

As for the other side, Beardy Primate’s language is almost plain. Intervention, which is what they have been up to, is a Bad Thing. “On the ground, it creates rivalry and confusion. It opens the door to complex and unedifying legal wrangles in civil courts.” It is “not to be sanctioned.” Notice, please, because the letter is written very carefully indeed, that whereas the consequences “on the ground” of the ECUSA’s actions are alluded to only vaguely, the consequences of their rival’s actions are described in detail. I don’t think that any close reading of this letter, or of last February’s Report of the Communion Subgroup, can leave any doubt that whereas Crazy Archbishop Rowan is troubled by the actions of ECUSA, he is outraged by the actions of the so-called Conservatives who are intervening. Which is not to say that he won’t go along with them, ultimately. And, in part, that’s because the American way, which for all its acknowledgement of his Primacy and of the Worldwide Anglican Communion, is largely willing to let the congregants lead their Church in their direction, rather than stubbornly insisting that the bishops should hold out the Keys to the Kingdom like a mechanical rabbit in front of a greyhound. That’s a dangerous matter, probably in the long run more dangerous to the communion than a few gay bishops and marriage ceremonies. There’s a reason a Bishop carries a stick with a hook on one end and a point on the other. I mean, except the Eastern Bishops, who carry a totally different kind of crozier, three weeks later.

Anyway. One of the things I find fascinating about the rhetoric of all this (other than that the whole matter has been laid out in a series of incredibly formal papers, which is interesting in itself and provides lots of grounds for fun close reading) is that neither side wants to be responsible for the schism when (and if) it happens. So there are the Americans, doing what they do and claiming that it doesn’t constitute Schism, and saying your turn. There are the Nigerians (who I have been trying to avoid using as schenectady for the ... well, you know who I mean) saying that the Americans are violating communion, and have to stop and recant, your turn. And then the Americans say that they are very sorry, but they don’t think that what they are doing consistutes Schism, your turn. And the Nigerians say that they are going to steal away some of the churches from those American Schismatics, your turn. And the Americans ask them politely not to do that anymore, your turn. And in with all of this, there’s Beardy Primate, like a man playing twister on a bongo board on a ship in a storm, trying to keep everything in balance by making sure that everyone moves v e r y s l o w l y indeed.

Which may be in the end the wrong way to go about it. I mean, I know that communion is both the means and the end, but I have a sneaking suspicion that like with Bishop Barbara in 1989, telling the Nigerians to just shut up and walk with her may be the best way to achieve communion, even if it means that they take their sticks (with the pointy end and the hook end) and go home for a few years. They came back, and they will come back. Or so I think. Easy for me to encourage other people to take risks with their communion.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.

Comments

Schi-SUM! Schi-SUM! Schi-SUM!

CLAST those icons, baby! Clast 'em good!

peace
Your Resident Iconoclast


Well put. Perhaps it isn't fair that I see him as the guy trying to arbitrate between the arsonists and the fire department, and saying that he can see both points of view, but it gets frustrating.

When I read Bishop Spong's autobiography, he had a decidedly dim view of Rowan. I read that book shortly after Rowan's elevation to Archbishop, and thought Spong was being unnecessarily negative. In retrospect, it looks like Spong called it right.


I didn't realize that Rowan Atkinson had been elevated to Archbishop. Explains a few things.

I don't understand the tolerance for intolerance, the wanting to join together with those who wish to tear asunder, the desire to equate compromise with capitulation, the endless proclamations that other views are worth respecting but ours are not.


Like I said, Michael,

Schi-SUM! Schi-SUM! Schi-SUM!

Oh, and the Atkinson thing? Hi-LAR-ious. Also weirdly comic (to me, anyway) is the fact that the former Archbishop was apparently named Spong. Anyone here ever hear the Spong Joke?

I mean, other than Chris, who has.

Rowan Atkinson should tell the Spong Joke, except that it's really best, I think, told in the voice of the American Raconteur, whose art, sadly, has faded in our history.


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