(I post it unaltered but it is from the long queue of will-post-when-I-can stuff and you can tell it was originally written in the second week of November–KSH)
Last weekend deputies to Pittsburgh’s Diocesan Convention voted to take a first step in disaffiliating with the national Episcopal Church in order to realign with another, overseas, Anglican jurisdiction. That process will take at least a year to complete.
Subsequently a colleague asked me (Dennett): “So, how are you feeling?”
My answer was: “Sad. I don’t dislike people on the other side; but I do think they’re wrong and it’s reached the point where, however much I may like them, I can’t keep on going the same direction they’re going.”
As I think about my answer, I reflect on our innate propensity to self-justify. I say “our,” because in my own comment I see the same propensity at work. The line of reasoning starts with my remark, or words to similar effect, that we have run out of options: we’re realigning because we just can’t do anything else, or go forward any other way. To assert simply that we have no other options sounds to me suspiciously like despair and is moreover simply not accurate. The reality is, there are other ways. We could choose to remain in the Episcopal Church and do nothing. We could choose to leave altogether and affiliate with some other denomination or none. There are other ways forward, but these are ways we are simply not choosing to go. We are choosing to go the way of realignment.
Our choice may be a good choice or a bad choice; it may prove to be the right choice or the wrong choice; but it is a choice. In making this choice and in attending to the consequences, it is important that we maintain a certain humility. We are acting because we believe obedience to God””as best our limited capacity can understand
it””demands this response.
That obedience to God demands response, however, does not in itself make us right in offering the response. We remain fallible people living in a fallen world. And even were it not for those two limiting factors we are also constrained in our ability to anticipate and evaluate the future before it happens.
In prayer leading up to Convention, the Scripture that kept running through my mind was the part of I Peter 3:21 which says: “”Baptism . . .now saves you also–not the removal of dirt from the body, but the pledge of a good conscience toward God.” My heart cry to the Father has been for a clear conscience toward him. I’m not sensible of having a troubledconscience; just that the sense of clear conscience that I have would be truly that and not deceived. As Paul wrote, “my conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.” (I Cor.4:4)
Our choice to realign may be a good choice, or it may be a bad choice. In the longer run God may vindicate our choice and it may be established that our theology and ethics were well-grounded in him””or not. We cannot be concerned about any of those things. We choose realignment not because we are right in doing so (even if we are) but because we have come to believe God requires us to make this choice. Others, evidently equally believing they are called by God, are choosing differently. Some,
at least, of us will be proven wrong on the merits. Clear conscience or not, right or wrong as we may be, our “right” does not ultimately depend on how well or poorly we’ve done at discerning and responding to God’s leading in regard to alignment””but on the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ at the Cross. Our “right”-ness is not “realignment and Jesus” or “not-realigning and Jesus”””but simply him, and him alone.
–The Rev Dr Dennett Buettner is a priest in the diocese of Pittsburgh