Like all people, I am susceptible to the occasional situational depression. Along life’s journey, it is inevitable that we will encounter disappointment, suffering and hardship. It is natural to be emotionally impacted by painful things. But apart from the ordinary ebbs and flows of life, I am by nature an optimist. Like the old farmer who was asked if he could explain the theology of the Book of Revelation, the simple answer God wins is a sufficiently adequate response for most of life’s persistent questions. For that reason, I certainly take church “politics” and General Convention shenanigans seriously, but I don’t think that I allow them to dwell oppressively in my heart. My friend Keith Lackey, having endured decades of watching the futility of Georgia Tech football, remarked to me not too long ago, I have reached the stage in my life where I do not allow 19 year olds to ruin my weekend. We Gamecock fans have not reached that point of maturity and spiritual growth, but I am delighted for Dr. Lackey! And if I can borrow his phraseology, I have reached the point where I will not allow General Convention to ruin my faith! I do not believe that it is simplistic to believe that God still plans great things for his church. Jesus wins and indeed has won. The Church of the Holy Communion is an exciting and vibrant place to worship, serve, and proclaim the Gospel, and it will continue to be so. You may all be comforted and assured of that.
Having stated my cheery optimism in our ultimate destination let me say just a word or two about the present situation. First, it is important to declare that our disagreements are not primarily about human sexuality. Have you watched the little television interview with Bishop Lawrence I sent via e-mail? If not, please do so. It is excellent. His diagnosis is that the Christian Church is losing the culture wars because we have often spoken against certain behaviors as if they occurred in isolation. The divorce rate among Christians is not statistically different from the divorce rate among non-Christians. The same goes for the percentage of abortions, infidelities, etc. etc. So when one group of Christians seeks “acceptance and accommodation” for their own behavior while denying such acceptance for the behavior of others, is it any wonder that our tone sounds preachy and hypocritical? On that front, we will never gain an inch of ground until we are honest about the reality of sin, our own compromises with Christian moral standards, and the grace of God alone which can heal. Then, and only then will our witness to the Biblical and theological principles that undergird our understanding of human sexuality make any sense to a hurting and broken world.
So, if sex isn’t precisely the problem, what is? The answer: Authority and Ecclesiology. What is the Church? Where does it get its authority? That is where the fault line actually is to be found. Do you remember the complaint and criticism of American foreign policy a few years ago (at the beginning of the war in Iraq)? You Americans have imposed your will without consideration of the thoughts and feelings of the rest of us! I think it is fair to say that whether one agrees or disagrees with the strategy, we would all have to admit that the perception was that Americans had acted unilaterally and with arrogance. Whether or not that is actually the case, I will leave to your private opinion and History to determine. But if you will, I would like to suggest that the same potentially problematic methodology is in play here. In politics, it was generally those with left-of center sympathies who were the loudest critics of unilateralism. But in church affairs, those with a decidedly left-of-center emphasis have employed precisely the same tactics that once outraged them”¦and may I say, with disastrous consequences.
Protestant Congregationalists can have all the diversity they please, because there is no “higher” authority than each local congregation. Catholic Christians are “Catholics” precisely because they believe in a Catholic or universal and common faith held by all people, at all times in all places. The American Church cannot have it both ways. We cannot claim to be a part of the world-wide Anglican Communion, and at the same time reject with callous impunity the feelings and sensibilities of the vast majority of the family”¦ or if we do, we should not be surprised if there are consequences.
So what next? A response from the Archbishop of Canterbury will surely follow. When? I could not say. +++Rowan, like God and St. Peter does not count slowness as some count slowness. But even the parousia is still expected.
Secondly, Bishop Lawrence will meet with the Deans and Standing Committee.
Thirdly, he will meet with all the Clergy on August 13 (even vacation will not prevent me from attending that!)
And finally, I am calling a Congregational Meeting for September 20 (after 10:30 Mass) so that we all may share our hopes, concerns and opinions.
In the meantime, we shall do as we ever do, celebrate the Holy Mysteries, preach the Word urgently, in season and out, love God with all our heart”¦ and try as very best we can, to love all our neighbors as ourselves.
With prayers, love and blessings,
–The Rev. Dow Sanderson is rector, Church of the Holy Communion, Charleston, South Carolina