Editorial Comments (1st August 2008): Deeply Exercised but Moving On

01/08/2008

I read the Windsor Continuation Group observations, which came in three installments, with a sense of hope. I recalled that this was also the immediate response of most when the Dar Es Salaam Statement was released. There was hope then that the ‘torn fabric’ will be healed.

This hope can be summarised this way: That finally, actions will be taken in response to the actions of those who caused the tear in the first place. Finally, we may be able to move on and get on with the mission of the church. Finally, the actions and ministry of the church will no longer get the attention of our world media (which is a good sign – as the real church work is boring stuff for the public).

It is now 2008, and the gaping wound is still there.  For many, it still feels like the wound broke open yesterday. Through these years, many have been deeply exercised over matters which they have no control. I am one of them, along with many of my colleagues. The web became a forum for such a ‘vexation of spirit’ but after all is said and posted, the decisions still falls into the hands who could make a difference – our Primates, and especially, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

It is both a moral and pastoral responsibility to bring closure to a disciplinary issue for the sake of the flock. The nature, intensity and duration of the disciplinary response can be mitigated by various factors, but to fail to exercise them is a failure of pastoral leadership. Vicars of parishes know this only too well. There can be a lot of listening and pastoral understanding, but the continual viability of a community is dependent on the proper exercise of this moral and pastoral responsibility.

Dar es Salaam held the most promise. It was Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates, speaking in one voice. Or at least, it appeared so initially. How has it been followed through? Kyrie Eleison, repeating the closing words of our dear Archbishop of Uganda’s latest public address. We can’t help but ask, “If that Statement did not do much, what will these WCG observations accomplish?”

We may need to retrace our steps – back to Dar Es Salaam – if there is any hope for healing.

Those who are quick to judge the Lambeth absentees need to know that these very same ones have worked tirelessly to heal the torn fabric these past five years. Leadership means sticking your necks out, being misunderstood and criticised, and this is the price which many of them have paid. Some have felt that they are now relegated to the category of those who ‘are deeply exercised over matters which they have no control.’ And so, they stayed away. For the record, even the Province of Southeast Asia is not fully represented. A bishop and assistant bishop chose to absent themselves to protest that ‘all is not well and it cannot be business as usual.’ After all, the ‘impaired communion’ SEA Province Statement still stands.

In this context, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Second Presidential Address is deeply disappointing. Once again, the crisis is seen as a family squabble. Whatever the background whispers may be and personal insight one may have on the Archbishop of Cantebury’s real intentions (and I have deep admiration for his spiritual commitment, exemplary devotional life and theological wisdom), we can only respond to him based on his public communication and leadership actions.

In the earlier part of this year, I had the privilege of spending time in conversation with a clergy who was Vicar of one of the largest Episcopalian parishes on the West Coast. He had just left his Church recently, and the parting of ways amicably handled with his Bishop. I could sense he was a humble but honest man. He told me that he came to a point where ‘enough was enough.’ TEC has become a different religion and he recount those various Synod occasions where these signs were clearly exhibited and unashamedly.  It came to a point where he needed to walked away and move on. There is only so much one can do (or take) in coping with things which are beyond one’s control. Of what use the presidential address will be for him? How long can one keep listening and empathizing?

For the rest of us, it will not be that easy. We will need to continue to live with that tear (of the 2003 action) and tension (of relating to those of a ‘different religion’ - in Asia, we do this all the time being part of a minority religion…imagine having to face the same thing within the ‘refuge’ of the church!). It has to be managed. New relationships have to be formed (and they are forming), as the wounded body limp along, seeking to move on with the help of others. 

Perhaps all is not doom and gloom. These new friendships and partnerships across the globe may well spell for many of us, a first-hand experience of one of the treasures of being

in

communion. Wounded as we may be, there can be joy in linking with those with whom we can say what we mean, and mean what we say, where our different cultures have no major bearing on our shared orthodoxy.

“I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” – Jesus Christ

Canon Terry Wong is a priest in the Province of Southeast Asia and part of the Editorial Team for Global South Anglican Website.

3 Responses. Comments closed for this entry.

  1. GA/FL Says:

    Well said, Canon Wong. 

    Thank you for speaking out in truth, love, peace, boldness, clarity and with conviction. 

    With all blessings in Jesus Christ,
    Georgia Smith
    Tallahassee, FL

  2. Bryden Black Says:

    Many thanks indeed Canon Wong for your considered “editorial comments”, notably their mixture of hope and realism.  My response might be a little long, but it tries to recognise that how we have reached our present plight is complex.

    While the final Reflections document is said to offer a generalised, accumulation-of-all-voices “snapshot” (John Howe) of what has percolated up from the bishops’ Indaba Groups during 20 hours of face to face engagement, for all the world outside how will it not be business-as-usual in the weeks and months ahead?  How will the ‘Good Ship Anglicana’ not strike that iceberg?  In other words, what might be the long term legacy of this, Rowan Williams’ Lambeth?

    Robert Jenson, in his admirable review (Pro Ecclesia XI/3 2002, pp.367-9) of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s collection of essays, On Christian Theology (2000), asked this: “Is it really the chief proper use of dogma and other theology ‘to keep the essential questions alive’ (p.92)?”  He continues by pointing out that “God is indeed a mystery, but between honour for the biblical God’s specific mystery and the kind of endless semi-Socratic dialectic Williams often seems to commend, there is, I would have thought, some considerable difference.”

    Now; Williams’ seminal work on Arius (Arius: Heresy and Tradition, DLT, 1987/Eerdmans, 2nd ed. 2002) itself both upholds “the biblical God’s specific mystery” and also dares, necessarily in the light of God’s own “exegesis” (John 1:18), and after extensive subtle qualifications, to foreclose on certain key options for understanding deity derived from the classical culture of the day, despite their traditional legitimacy.  So; there is not only space for some clear differences after all, in the light of God’s specific revelation and its ecclesial interpretation, but the need for upholding such distinctive claims in a Church that would be “one holy catholic and apostolic”.  Followers of Arius and his ilk are clearly seen to be on the ‘outer’ by these means.

    If the Church has felt it necessary to anathematise certain G/gospels derived from non Nicene understandings of deity, then mutatis mutandis why should the Anglican Communion be predisposed to endless debate - “keeping the questions alive” - regarding the significance of human being created in the image of the triune God?  For surely, when it comes to “essential questions”, an aspect of God’s mercy and kindness is that we humans have neither been kept in the dark nor “as orphans” (Jn 14), but God has come among us with sufficient “perspicuity”.  True; to “the crowds” much remains in parable and riddles (Mark 4, Matt 13).  Yet for those who have been gathered around Jesus, a community of acknowledged insight and faithful interpretation has grown and developed.  Surely therefore the onus of proof is ever on those who seek to legitimise new beliefs and practices contrary to these traditions of learned discernment.

    My concluding comment to both the Archbishop of Canterbury and other bishops at Lambeth is this.  “Holding paradoxes in appropriate tension” - which is the call from Lambeth 2008 - may be a useful process in certain domains.  Our understanding of the behaviour of light in contemporary physics is one such.  But to ask Athanasius or the Cappadocians of the 4th C, and now the Anglican Communion of the 21st C, to stay in formal fellowship with those whose beliefs and practices are “essentially” contradictory and not merely complementary (as are the two contemporary models regarding light) is itself anathema - as many a Church Council canon has affirmed.  At root, the traditional logic that undergirded the idea of comprehensiveness is no longer the contemporary logic that is driving the call for inclusivity, in all manner of spheres.  It is therefore a “catastrophic failure of leadership” (Nelson Mandela), I submit, to permit, let alone to foster, the continuation of such an incoherent form of Communion as is now the result of Lambeth 2008.

    This comment is not born of frustration or fear.  Nor does it try to preempt what may or may not happen at the next ACC meeting in May 2009 re the proposed Covenant, nor the extended probable scenarios beforehand via the Primates or thereafter via all the provinces.  On the contrary, it has grown itself from a fellowship that is quintessentially Anglican, a process of broad conversation and engagement, pastoral and intellectual, local and international, with the living and the dead, over 25 years, coram Deo.  It comes, as with Archbishop Orombi, out of “love [of] the Lord Jesus Christ, and ... love [of] the Anglican Communion”.  Such love comes too with a final concern: “For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Luke 23:31).

  3. Alice C. Linsley Says:

    Be of good cheer! There is light after the darkness. God will not be mocked. A simple word betrays the darkness in the hearts of TEC’s leaders.

    http://college-ethics.blogspot.com/2008/08/bishop-schoris-most-revealing-statement.html