Are We Anglican?
On January 15, 2016, the Anglican Primates gathered in Canterbury and by a majority vote comprehensively sanctioned the Episcopal Church because of our actions in 2015 approving same-sex marriage.
They said in their statement: “Recent developments in The Episcopal Church with respect to a change in their Canon on marriage represent a fundamental departure from the faith and teaching held by the majority of our Provinces on the doctrine of marriage… Such actions further impair our communion and create a deeper mistrust between us. This results in significant distance between us… given the seriousness of these matters we formally acknowledge this distance by requiring that for a period of three years The Episcopal Church no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.”
That’s pretty heavy duty stuff.
We’ve been told to sit out and stay at home for three years due to our stance for love and justice.
It’s painful to think that we’ve been separated from the Communion that birthed us, with whom we’ve been in fellowship these hundreds of years.
It hurts to think that Thomas Cranmer’s church no longer considers us worthy of being at the table of the Councils of the Church with them.
This has been building since Bishop Gene Robinson, our first openly gay bishop, was consecrated in 2003, but having weathered the storms of controversy for the last thirteen years without breaking up, I for one never thought they’d actually kick us out.
And they didn’t. We’re not exactly kicked out.
But we’re definitely not really in either.
We’ve become what one online commentator called “second-class Anglicans.”
As Lucinda (a St. Luke’s parishioner) said, “That awkward moment when your church is benched for three years by the Anglican Communion.”
Our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, who’s been in office for less than six months, rose to the occasion with incredible integrity and grace.
He spoke of the very real pain with which this was greeted by American Episcopalians, and our commitment to move forward until such time as we could be reunited.
These seem like very modern problems, the church breaking apart over same-sex marriage and openly gay clergy, but Paul was dealing with it as far back as the church in Corinth.
Although the presenting issues change—same-sex marriage, women’s ordination, the authority of the Pope, the wording of the Nicene Creed, all the way back to Peter and Paul themselves fighting over whether Gentile converts had to follow Jewish customs—it’s always the same fight.
We all think we’re right, we all want to be right, and we can’t tolerate anyone else calling themselves by our name unless they think exactly like us.
“Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and we were all made to drink of one Spirit,” Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians today.
People always seem so surprised to find out that members of the Body of Christ are not clones, that we don’t all think the same, that in fact it’s better that we don’t all think the same.
As I have preached here before, I think the reason we have gotten into such a mess is that we are missing the other half of the doctrine of Christian unity.
Christianity is a religion of paradox.
We find deep spiritual harmony in seemingly contradictory ideas coexisting.
God is one and God is three. Death and resurrection. Sin and redemption.
Where would any of those ideas be without its partner?
Christian unity has been missing its partner all these years, its other half that gives it depth and meaning and roots it in God: Christian diversity.
So rather than our differences causing us to fight each other and accuse each other of being wrong, I think we should utilize our differences to minister to different kinds of people.
“We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us,” Paul says.
You notice the same principle in nature.
What is the unifying principle of the natural world? Diversity.
Bio-diversity is a marker of the strength of an ecosystem.
Trying to force everything to be the same is a recipe for decay and death leading to extinction.
And so I think we need to hold Christian unity and Christian diversity as one of the great paradoxes of our faith, a both-and rather than an either-or.
Part of the reason this is so important is because learning to live in and celebrate Christian diversity, which is to say to quit using Christian unity as an excuse for violence in words or actions, is a witness desperately needed by our hurting world.
When the Body of Christ tries to forces itself to be only one thing, it cannot survive.
The Body of Christ cannot be all noses or all pancreatic cells.
We actually have to be different to make a complete Body of Christ.
We need our differences because our differences bring gifts that make us flourish.
God has given each of our communities a little piece of the truth, but none of us has the whole truth.
We need each other, and we need to be different.
“For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.”
We as the American Episcopal Church are not going to give up our belief that all of God’s children are worthy and valued and vitally important to the building up of the Kingdom, most especially those groups who have been traditionally pushed to the background: women, people of color, and the LGBT community.
No group of primates can force us to deviate from our understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
But you know what else? No group of primates can tell us that we’re not Anglican, either.
How do we know?
Paul tells us in our lesson today: “The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect.”
Sometimes taking the prophetic stance is a lonely and persecuted place to be.
But our responsibility as the Episcopal Church is to not strike back at the Anglican Communion out of our own very understandable hurt and anger.
We have to stay in relationship with our brothers and sisters.
We do not have to compromise our beliefs about justice and love for all people, but we do have to carry them out with everyone, even and especially the primates who gathered at Canterbury to tell us we were wrong and destructive.
Those primates at Canterbury. They seem to have decided they’ve got a handle on what it means to be Anglican, so much so that they can exclude and cut out an entire nation worth of the faithful if we don’t toe the line to their doctrinal standards.
But I think they’re forgetting a few important things.
I think they’re forgetting what it actually means to be an Anglican. We have never, in all our 500 year plus history, been united by any doctrinal statement other than the Nicene Creed.
We don’t have a binding Book of Discipline or Westminster Confession or a catechism that you have to sign before you join.
We are a people bound by common prayer.
It’s our founding text and our founding practice.
Whatever our differences have been over the centuries, and they have been many, we have found our way through them by gathering together and praying with one voice and one heart, all around the world.
So if the primates would like a lesson and reminder on what it means to be an Anglican, I would suggest they come to a little place on the Shelby-Johnson County border in Indiana.
There they will find two little churches.
Those two churches don’t have a huge amount going for them in terms of money or power, but they have members who care for each other and for the world and who want to follow Jesus.
But here’s what makes those churches a good lesson for the primates.
St. Luke’s and St. Thomas are in a Shared Ministry partnership. And they do not agree on every issue.
In fact, they are in large part on different pages altogether when it comes to the very issue of human sexuality.
But you know what? No matter what points of doctrinal difference we have, no matter how far apart we are on the political spectrum, no matter how differently we approach things—we stick together.
We hang in there with each other through thick and thin, and we pray together, and we love each other.
That’s what it means to be an Anglican.
That’s the Via Media, the Middle Way, the spiritual gift of the Anglican way of life to the entire world.
It is alive right here in Shelbyville and Franklin, no matter what labels the primates or anyone else try to put on or take away from the Episcopal Church.
We’re going to allow ourselves half an hour of righteous indignation about being summarily kicked to the curb by the Anglican Communion, and then we’re going to go right back to scripture and right back to being Anglican and doing good Anglican work.
We’ll start with Paul’s words to us today: “But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.”
We will not abandon our brothers and sisters in the Anglican Communion, even if they’d rather we did.
We will love them and believe that underneath their defensive words they love us.
We will suffer together and we will rejoice together.
Because no words on a page can break the bonds of the heart, and being an Anglican is so much deeper than rigid doctrine.
Because the deepest truth about all of us is that we are followers of Jesus Christ, and if we keep our eyes fixed on him, we will find that all our diverging roads lead home to him in the end.
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