ENGINEERING TRUTH IS AT HEART OF ANGLICAN COMMUNION TRAGEDY
By David W. Virtue
Whenever two or more bishops are gathered together, there you will find conflict.
The Archbishop of Canterbury called his bishops together this week in England to discuss issues that perplex his Purple Shirts. They met in what was described as an “extraordinary” summit to air their reactions to the Windsor Report, which the Church’s leading evangelical body criticized for failing to address the underlying problems of the homosexuality crisis. They planned the additional summit to allow liberal and evangelical bishops to share their reflections of the report.
One bishop told this newspaper: “It is a chance for us to air things ahead of the House of Bishops’ meeting in January. We want to approach that meeting in a spirit of togetherness so that we are able to have fruitful discussions.”
Recently the ECUSA Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold met with 132 of his bishops in Oregon and this past week another 30 plus orthodox ECUSA bishops met in Houston. In January the ECUSA House of Bishops will all meet again and in February the Primates will meet in Ireland. In June the Anglican Consultative Council will meet in England to receive the Windsor Report.
At the heart of all their discussion is an attempt to find a way for the communion to stay together and move forward united in thought, word and deed. The talk will be about what holds us together, what unifies us and where we are going, if anywhere from here.
In these meetings a range of views are presented from left to right and talks are usually animated, some shouting undoubtedly goes on, a lot of hand wringing and calls for tolerance, inclusivity, diversity and much more.
But what is really going on at the deepest level is an attempt to engineer truth so it can be made to fit the procrustean bed of Anglicanism.
And the chief engineer, the Archbishop of Canterbury is the one who is going to have to make all the parts fit together if the Anglican Communion is going to stay together. As an academic he relishes the give and take I am told, it fits his personality.
The chief document that will be scrutinized to see if that is at all possible will not be Holy Writ, or its guiding light, the Holy Ghost, nor will there necessarily be any reference to Scripture or the third person of the Trinity; it will be the now famous, or infamous, Windsor Report.
The Report will be analyzed, scrutinized, debated, nuanced, turned over and basted, with each side seeing in it something to support its own point of view. It is, without doubt, one of the most cleverly written documents of this new century. However it must be hastily said that it is not in any competition with Martin Luther's 95 theses nor with the 12 absurd theses of Mr. Spong. One is sublime, the other is ridiculous.
One side will see the call for an apology or regret as not being strong enough and full repentance is called for if any progress is to be made. The other side will argue that it is homophobia that is holding back gay acceptance and they should repent of that then we can all move forward together. A Solomonic decision will have to be made. A sword please.
No one will talk about sin of course, that word is found only once in the whole report and then it was abstractly related to its dehumanizing "turning-away-from-God" effects on humanity, not on aberrant behavior. The report was, after all, finagled from the Episcopal Church side by a theologically liberal bishop and seminary professor who made sure that the blame for the church's ills laid with those who crossed diocesan boundaries not with those who defied Holy Scripture on sexual behavior.
The bottom line is that it is all a magnificent effort to engineer truth. It is like taking a variety of engine parts from a Ford, Chevy, Kia and Toyota and stuffing them under the hood of a 2005 BMW and hoping that when the chief engineer (Rowan Williams) turns on the engine it will roar into life and carry them all into the Promised Land.
Most regrettably that will not happen.
You see the truth is that truth itself is not pluriform or plural, it cannot be manufactured or finagled and, most of all, it cannot be engineered. Truth is one, for Christians it is about "sound doctrine" and it will not be subordinate to unity attempts for what is perceived as a higher good. The truth is a person, Jesus Christ, who said "I am the way, the truth, the life. And so the BMW of the Anglican Communion will simply sputter to a halt. Its engine will briefly blow a lot of black smoke (ecclesiastical hot air) and then it will die.
The occupants, some of whom sit on fine Italian leather, while others sit on floor mats, will then look at each other and the horrible truth will dawn on them - the car (read Anglican Communion) is going nowhere. In biblical language, the lamp stand will have been removed, the candle snuffed out and a terrible darkness will slowly descend over the car….and the whole Anglican Communion.
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