GlobalView from Bishop Bill Atwood
Some years ago, I remember a Russian friend sharing one of his favorite Russian jokes. Those of you who have seen “Fiddler on the Roof” are familiar with this kind of humor. It is genuinely funny, but has an element of pathos. It is like the blessing Tevye offers: “God Bless the Tzar, and keep him…far away from us!”
My Russian friend tells the story of the American visitor who said, “Unlike you Ruskies, we Americans have free speech. I can even stand in front of the White House at noon and say, ‘Ronald Regan is an idiot!’ and nothing would happen to me!”
“We have free speech, too,” my Russian friend said he told the guy. “I can stand in the middle of Red Square at noon and say ‘Ronald Regan is an idiot!’ and nothing would happen to me either!”
Part of what makes Russian humor funny is the way that it expresses the sadness of the surrounding circumstances, and does it in a way that is winsome and certainly funny. Another part of Russian humor is what is called “framing.” It expresses something that has one meaning in one context and an entirely different meaning in another greater context. That greater context is where the painful reality is.
These days, there are many things going on in the Anglican Communion that could use a dose of humor, Russian, or otherwise. Sadly, in the wake of the Primates’ Meeting, the Anglican Consultative Council has met in Lusaka. The things that transpired at the Lusaka meeting were utterly clear. Sadly, there are people who are saying that all was sweetness and light in Lusaka, and that the Primates’ resolution was “received.” In Anglican Communion bureaucratic speak, saying that the Primates’ Council resolution disciplining the Episcopal Church (TEC) was “received,” is like saying, “That is quite a tie!” or “Now, that’s a baby!”
When a report is just “received” and not “approved,” it is just a recognition that those who have submitted the report have the right to say something. It does not comment on whether the report is good, bad, or indifferent. It certainly does not mean that those who received the report consider themselves to be under the authority of the Primates. For the ACC to “Receive” the Primates Resolution disciplining TEC is to yawn and go about their business.
Now, like a bad re-run from Fantasy Island, a number of Anglican Communion leaders are falling all over themselves trying to say that the ACC meeting embraced and fulfilled the letter and the spirit of the Primates’ resolution. It is clear that the Episcopal Church representatives fully participated in discussions and decisions about doctrine and polity, even moving and seconding resolutions, why would some people insist that the Episcopal Church followed the direction of the Primates’ disciplinary resolution? Very simply, it is because they cannot face embracing the alternative. Since the Primates called for TEC to be disciplined by an overwhelming majority, having the ACC fail to follow the lead of their Primatial leaders would mean that the already dysfunctional instruments of unity have descended into even more chaos; that there would be (and are) divisions, and worst of all, it could mean that there are people who, by their actions, have separated themselves not only from the Body, but also from Christ.
When the Primates met and spoke with such an overwhelming majority voice, it looked like the Communion might finally be getting things right and that there was finally a possibility for the church to begin to work itself out of its dysfunction. With the ACC ignoring the Primates—and along the way more than a few people associated with the ACC offering rude things to say about how the Primates lack authority—the chance that the good ship Anglicana can right itself in the water has faded almost out of sight.
There are two ways to look at this. The way that the progressive part of the church sees things, it is very important to be in sync with the culture so that people will feel good. The imposition of standards that hold people accountable is anathema. It means that there are dividing lines, something that Paganism hates and denies.
For those of us with a paradigm of Biblical authority, the concern is what Scripture says about same-sex sexual intimacy. Because it is proscribed in Scripture unambiguously, we are concerned that those who depart from Biblical norms about marriage and sexual intimacy will find that they are separating themselves from the redeeming love of Jesus Christ. That is no laughing matter, nor is it a small thing. Being eternally separated from Christ is truly, absolutely the worst thing that can happen in a person’s life. Because we care what happens to people, we urge them to live within Biblical norms. When they don’t, we call them to return. That is not being judgmental, it is being loving—at least it can be if we are genuine and express it well.
Conservative Christians cannot overlook the problems that are created by the church attempting to bless that which God says must be redeemed. It does not help to describe the situation in less grave terms than actually exist. Rather than calming things down, it is actually a disservice. Those who are straying so far off the track that they are endangering their spiritual lives and those of others, need to be lovingly called to repentance.
The unity of the Anglican Communion is not preserved by pretending that all is well. Unity can only be a function of truth. Actually, real unity can only result when there is accountability and consequence. It is meaningless to claim institutional unity when it doesn’t actually exist. Right now, the Anglican Communion is simultaneously going in two different directions. The only possibilities are that either there will be a change of direction by one of the groups, or eventually there will be a separation. Right now, we are living with the awful tension where pretty much all we share is a logo. The faiths of the two bodies are entirely different. They have utterly different trajectories. There is no joy in that. There is, however, an even worse possibility than eventually having a separation. It would be worse if the whole Communion were to turn away from the redeeming love of Christ. That way everyone would be lost. Having Biblically faithful people in the Communion means that there is a faithful witness to which others can be called to return. That is our hope and would be a cause for great celebration.
Denying the gravity of the situation does not bring peace. The only thing that will bring peace is the truth of Christ, shared with the love of Christ. It is toward that which we must move.
The Rt. Rev. Bill Atwood is Bishop of the ACNA International Diocese.