Saturday, November 11, 2006

What Can a Layman Do?

Now that Katharine Jefferst Schori has been seated as the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, the tone of recent comments regarding her and the direction of the church really hasn't changed much. Although many folks -- from the rectors of individual parishes to the Archbishop of Canterbury -- continue to speak of reconciliation, there are still some pretty venemous quotes being thrown out in the media (which, sadly, seems to be the default arena in which to wage war over religion, politics, and just about anything else).

One comment I read today struck me as particulary distressing, since it was spoken by the director of the Institute for Religion and Democracy. (Sidebar -- politics AND religion in the same name of an organization? End sidebar.) According to Jim Tonkowich with IRD, "'The new Presiding Bishop’s embrace of universalist language and progressive policies like gay ordination proved unsuccessful at attracting Nevada’s booming population. There is little indication they will meet with warmer reception nationwide.'

"IRD’s Anglican Action Director, Ralph Webb, commented: 'While the bishop is meant to be a symbol of unity for the entire church, Bishop Jefferts Schori has continually made comments that make orthodox Anglicans feel less and less a part of TEC.'

"He added that her controversial comments concerning ‘Mother Jesus’ and her conviction that Jesus Christ is only one of many ways to salvation, as well as her use of progressive social justice terminology in communicating her vision of the mission of the church has 'not helped heal a rapidly splintering church.'

"The TEC 'is bleeding profusely from a self-inflicted wound that has spread to impact the Anglican Communion worldwide,' he warned."

Okay, fine -- this group, just like many others, has identified the obvious problem. And again, like so many others, they focus on the problem rather than on offering ways to mend fences and bring the communion back together. The idea of keeping the church whole has been on my mind a great deal lately, as have questions about what I as a layman can do to help things along. I decided I would e-mail my questions to someone who knows more about reconciliation than just about anyone alive -- Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Not only did Tutu survive the horrors of apartheid in South Africa and help to foster a new life and a new national identity for that country, he also chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that brought those responsible for apartheid forward to acknowledge their part in the old regime. I found his response to me both fascinating and inspiring.....

My original e-mail:

Dear Archbishop Tutu:

I know that you have devoted a great deal of your life to the concept of reconciliation, and I wanted to take a moment to share a concern I have about the direction of our church. As a lifelong Episcopalian, I remember (with a clearer memory of some more than others) some of the more important changes in the Church in the past three decades -- the ordination of women, and the ordination of openly gay and lesbian priests, among others. Regardless of the circumstances, it seemed that the larger faith community was strong and unified enough to survive the challenges these actions presented.

However, with the consecration of Gene Robinson (an action which I supported) and the election of Katharine Jefferts Schori as our next presiding bishop, it seems that we are now headed down a path which must almost certainly end with a sizeable division in the Anglican communion.

I am currently going through the discernment process for possible entrance into the seminary myself, and I know that -- should my own path lead me there -- I will be in a position where I must more directly address these challenges. However, as a father of a small daughter (with a second on the way in February), I am concerned about the type of church my children will inherit -- and I am struggling to find what I as a layman can do now to help with reconciliation in the church that I love.

Along with dialogue with individual members of my faith community, do you have any suggestions on what I can do in my role as a congregant at Christ Church to ensure that the Episcopal church my daughters inherit is as strong and inclusive as possible?

Again, my thanks for taking the time to consider my comments. Please know that you have my family's continuing prayers for improved health and for many more years of sharing your wonderful gifts, insight, and faith with the world.

And his response:

Dear friend,

Please forgive me for my dilatoriness. I’ve been celebrating my 75th and enjoying very much being spoiled.

Yes our Anglican communion not just your episcopal Church faces some difficult times. We used to boast that the most distinctive thing about us was our comprehensiveness, that our church was wide enough to accommodate the widest range of diverse views. Now we seem to have grown impatient and far more eager to excommunicate one another than to say even though we may differ even fundamentally we belong in the same family. It is so sad that our Church should be obsessed with this particular issue when God’s children out there are being devastated by poverty, disease, corruption and conflict. God must be weeping.

But we should also remember it is God’s church which has survived some turbulent times ... just think of the controversies right from the beginning of its life; eg should Gentiles be circumcised? Is Jesus really and truly God or a super human? So we have been there and pulled back from the abyss. There is no reason to think we are terminal now.

So your role is to be a good disciple of our Lord seeking to reflect the character of your Lord and Master being Jesus in this and every situation, and remembering that everyone even your worst adversary is in fact precious in God’s sight, for they too are God’s beloved children.

God bless you and yours even the one to be,

+Desmond Tutu.


Yzerfontein said...

It amazes me the energy Desmond Tutu has, to become involved in such a variety of issues all over the show.

ipanema said...

Reading Archbishop Desmond Tutu's reply is indeed enlightening. Nice blog you have here.

Matt said...

Yzerfontein: I agree. That's one of the things that amazes me so much about him -- that he can focus on so many individual issues, but never lose his focus on the problems facing us globally.

Ipanema: Thanks so much for coming by again -- and for the nice comment. I've enjoyed blogging and always enjoy seeing other great ones like yours.

Anonymous said...

Wow. That was great insight from Desmond Tutu. I love that he truly took the time to give u that insight. I love the last paragraph.

Thanks for stopping by my blog.

Ron said...

That man is a living Saint... you are blessed to have gotten such a great response from him!