Justin Welby, almost Archbishop of Canterbury, in a recent interview remarked: “If you look back on some of the arguments we’ve had over the last few months in the Church of England, it is poison to the mind of those who are outside the Church. It anaesthetises them against the gospel.”
He goes on to note that it is not unusual for Christians to disagree, but the tone of that disagreement matters. Of course if one doesn’t care what those outside think of our quarrels, or if one thinks that the justice of the Cause trumps concerns about the thoughts and feelings of others outside the camp, then demonizing those with whom one disagrees doesn’t factor. To liken one’s opponents as terrorists, as our Presiding Bishop seems to have done recently in South Carolina is a case in point. It may have thrilled the group to whom the remarks were aimed. Those to whom the remark was aimed probably expected nothing more. But what of those on the outside reading her words, let alone of those who attend their local parish because it is home, has been home perhaps for generations? I would hazard a guess that a good number of the people who went last Sunday to their local parish, even though it is now “schismatic” are hurt and puzzled.
I’ve now been an Episcopalian for fourteen years. I’ve done my best as an individual to “speak peace to those who are afar off and to those who are near”, to be a reconciler. Yet year by year matters have become worse. Both sides in our conflicts seem to prefer to emulate the political divisions and tactics in secular politics rather than seeking to follow the example of Jesus. “Father forgive them” seems a wimpy response to make to opposition, even when murmured from the Cross.
Recently a group of young clergy and ordinands pleaded for an end to law suits, depositions and hatefulness. Their appeal was to both sides. A few hundred joined them. Some questioned their motives. Others trashed their views. Cromwellian England seems close at hand.
“See how these Christians love one another,” exclaimed many during the persecution of Christians in the early days looks like an exercise in irony to those who would like to embrace Christianity. To those who wish to deride the Faithful for hypocrisy, we provide even more ammunition.
While we consider reforms to structure, it is high time we re-examine our approach to dissent. As Lent approaches it would be salutary for Episcopalians to pray about our new archbishop’s wise words. Our pleas for orthodoxy or justice are utterly compromised when we can’t even respect each other, pray for each other, and make space for each other. Christian conflict can’t be resolved through legislation, majority rule, brilliant responses. God in His time works out His purposes and we are called to be patient and to be faithful as God does his work of grace.
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