Thus far, I’ve refrained from commenting much on what’s happened in the Church of England over the past few weeks. And by ‘refrained’, I’m excluding a Facebook status, and a ranting session to my friend in Montana.
If you’d like, Episcopal Cafe has done a very good job covering everything as it unfolded here.
Basically, if you’ll recall, in the summer of 2003, as The Episcopal Church here was getting excited over the election of V.Gene Robinson, the Church of England leaked the news that someone had nominated Jeffery John, a celibate gay man in a long-standing partnership, to be bishop of Southwark. Chaos ensued, and finally, the +Archbishop of Canterbury stepped in and asked that he withdraw his name from consideration, “for the unity of the church,” which is what happened. Anger was expressed at the time over the leak, because unlike in the American church, English bishops are appointed in absolute secrecy, or, at least, they are supposed to be.
Now, the late dean of Southwark cathedral’s family has released a memo detailing his take on what happened that summer. And it reads like a 21st century version of Anthony Trollope. You can read the memo for yourself at the link above, and I won’t repeat it here, but suffice it to say, no one comes out looking particularly pleasant, ++Rowan least of all. Suddenly, his motivation shifts from church unity to looking like something much more upsetting.
In today’s Episcopal Cafe, Jim Naughton has an excellent piece meditating on the differences between what appears to have happened in Southwark and what’s currently happening in the walkabouts in Washington DC’s bishop election. It raises several things that I’ve been pondering, now that I’ve gotten over my initial impulse to stage a cleansing re-enactment of the Battle of Yorktown.
So messiness will ensue whenever broken humanity is involved. The question is, do you want to acknowledge this openly? Or do you want to try to deny this and wait until it festers and breaks out in some horrific, even worse form?
Our Episcopal method of electing bishops might be political, but it is overtly political. Everyone has a voice, and everyone gets to raise their voice to the rafters and make their case, even if (and I cop to this willingly) I heartily disagree with many of these voices and many of these arguments. At no point, do we, as a church, expect the Holy Spirit to squeeze herself into a tiny back room filled with cigar smoke. That’s a pretty tall order, and I, for one, don’t like to order around any portion of the Trinity.
So we argue and wrestle with stuff. It’s unseemly, you might say. But it’s also a sign of trust. Trust in each other, trust in the Spirit, and trust that we will be led into the truth eventually, because God is still with us. We don’t have to have all the answers right now. (Herein the difference between a living faith and a stoic one, perhaps?)
If Jesus wrote fortune cookies, one of the better one-liners would have been “There is nothing hidden that won’t be revealed. There is nothing secret that won’t be shouted from the rooftops.” And man, he wasn’t kidding. Generally, I’ve heard this interpreted to be something about how, at the Day of Judgement, everything we’ve ever done will be revealed to God. Which, ok, that works. But let’s give the 1st century rabbi some credit–this is also pretty pragmatic advice.
If you’re living an inauthentic life, it’s going to come up, at some point. It’s going to wreak some havoc. It just will. ::Insert pointed look at politician of your choice here:: Hypocrisy doesn’t work in the long run for humanity. It hurts our brains. We get bent into weird shapes and we get confused. And humans are nothing if not easily confused. We dearly love consistency. Saying one thing and doing another is just hard to keep up for decades on end. It has to come to an end at some point. Someone is going to call you on it. Whether it’s a single person being hypocritical, or an entire institution. Or an entire planet.
Eventually, someone points it out.
And blessed are those people. For, though they frequently get shouted down, cursed at, and run out of town on rails, they are doing the work of the Spirit.