Catholicity and Culture

Justin Welby, Bernie Sanders, and working toward Reconciliation.

The Most. Rev. Welby shook the Anglican world this week. Showing exactly how little it takes to shake the Anglican world.

I was more than a little surprised by the response. We’ve either been scoffing at the prospect of Covenant, or being (rightly) irate at the positions of Bishops on either side. The worst parts of our political culture are creeping their way into the way that the Church looks at itself. Diatribe over dialogue. Contrast over connection.

Don’t think I’m saying we can’t call each other out. We have to be able to stand up to Bishops in Central Africa who support laws that criminalize homosexuality. We have to be able to say that its wrong, and we have to mean it. But we also have to recognize the qualitative difference between those who would criminalize LGBT persons, and those who believe that ordaining LGBT people is wrong.

The Episcopal Church has seen the power of dialogue. General Convention this year was case in point. We’ve been able to come from the Schism of 2003 to the well-stated and generous response of the Communion Partners. In twelve years we’ve gone from an all out ecclesial brawl to “we respectfully disagree.” That means something. Its nothing less than a marked victory of the Catholic vision and we need to celebrate it. 

My news feed exploded this week with quotes of Bernie Sander’s speech at Liberty university, and rightfully so. We are living in a world where talking with the other side is a news-worthy event. It wasn’t only astonishing for its novelty, but for Sen. Sander’s approach. He stood up to speak, identified the points on which they disagreed, laid out the positions on which they did agree, and then pressed forward on common ground. He did something that the mainline Church needs to desperately learn from, he spoke sincerely with Evangelicals about the scriptural witness to justice. Not as a jab at their misplaced priorities. Not as an homage to his own moral superiority. He sincerely spoke to him about what a text that they both hold dear has to say about treating their neighbors.

Bernie knows something we can’t seem to grasp: When, not if, but when Evangelicals wake up to issues of Economic Justice, it will be a cataclysmic shift in the American political landscape. One which the Republican party, as it stands today, will not survive.

I’m not sure the Mainline will survive it either. We’ve made justice issues our sine qua non, at the expense of a comprehensive theological vision to back it up. When Evangelicals start to get on board they will do it better than we do, and no amount of liturgical Millenials will be enough to make us compelling.

What will make us compelling is the same thing that made ++Welby’s statement, and Sen. Sander’s speech compelling, reaching out in love to those with whom we vehemently disagree.

There’s an offertory sentence in the BCP that doesn’t get nearly enough play on Sunday mornings. Its from Matthew 5; “If you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Sometimes we have to step away from communion for a bit in order that we can come back and more fully participate together. The Gospel does not abide us using our separation as a sign of inherent superiority. (See also: The Prayer of the Pharisee)

Much as I bristle anytime I see “The Episcopal Church welcomes you.” I’m starting to get my hackles up anytime I hear “It doesn’t matter how you believe, only how we pray.”

No. The Creed is a claim, not just of our belief, but of the truth of the reality of the Triune God, and the Church that serves that God. The central claim that we make is that God crossed the infinite gap between Godself and us, and became like us in order to save us.

That’s the God we serve. That’s the God we attempt to emulate. And that might mean sitting down at the Table with the GAFCON primates. That might mean calling Ugandan bishops to repentance. That might mean sitting down with Evangelicals for the sake of millions of people in this country who are crushed under the weight of working for poverty wages.

Reconciliation is at the heart of the mission of the Church. At a time when efforts at reconciliation are rare enough to be newsworthy, we would do well to live into it.

Standard