Saturday, March 29, 2008

The gift of Communion

There is much distress in Anglicanland as we approach the 2008 Lambeth Conference.

The "conservative" faction are upset that the Communion has not exercised non-existent powers to "discipline" the American and Canadian churches. As a result, the leading "conservatives" are boycotting the conference. Instead of coming, they will rudely impose themselves upon the unwilling hospitality of the Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem at GAFCON.

Certain "liberals" are wishing an end to the Communion and saying that no American bishop should attend Lambeth because the Bishop of New Hampshire has not been invited.

In between, 99% of the world's Anglicans wish that the childish troublemakers on either side would simply be quiet.

Authentic conservatives are planning to attend Lambeth despite their objections to certain North American developments.

Authentic liberals are following Bishop Robinson's sage advice:
Some of you have indicated that if I am not invited, you won't go either. I want to say loud and clear - you must go. You must find your voice. And somehow you have to find my voice and the voices of all the gay and lesbian people in your diocese who, for now, don't have a voice in this setting. I'd much rather be talked to than talked about. But you must go and tell the stories of your people, faithful members of your flock who happen to be lesbian and gay.
I've spent some significant portion of my life involved in secular politics at a variety of levels. One of the important things I've learned is that decisions are made by those who turn up. Boycotting a meeting, while giving the illusion of dignified satisfaction, is virtually always the stupidest possible choice.

In that same speech, Bishop Robinson said, "the worst sin is leaving the table."

He's right. Leaving the table is schism.

It is ironic, of course, that those who thought to have others expelled from the Anglican Communion are now in the process of expelling themselves. GAFCON represents surrender and retreat for the most extreme of the "conservatives." GAFCON is the "conservative" faction declaring victory when they have not won. All they are missing is the flight suit and the aircraft carrier.

Part of me (and not the nicest part of me) is tempted to say to Archbishops Akinola, Orombi and Jensen, Presiding Bishop Venables and the rest of the schismatics, "here's your mitre, what's your hurry?"

The better part of me wants them to repent of schism, and will seek to leave the door open for their eventual return.

In the meantime, I believe in the Anglican Communion. I believe that the place to hash out our differences is the Anglican Communion. I believe the place for us to advocate and argue is the Anglican Communion. I believe the place for us to fight and to yell and to get royally pi$$ed is the Anglican Communion.

I commend to my few readers the new Gift of Communion website. An initiative of Inclusive Church, the site upholds a traditional Anglican comprehensiveness.
As Christians, we believe that all people have been made in the image of God. We believe that God loves each and every person with an infinite, never-ending, unconditional love.

As members of the body of Christ, we acknowledge each person’s unique and valuable contribution as we seek together to build up that body in love.

As members of the Anglican Communion, we celebrate the gift of our diversity and are committed to being a broad Church that accepts and welcomes difference. We acknowledge our need of God's forgiveness for the sins and failings which harm our shared witness in the world. We believe our unity is rooted in our baptism in Christ, and we will seek to maintain that unity through the grace of the Holy Spirit who lives and works in each one of us.
The backers of this initiative are very deliberately seeking the support of parish councils and vestries - and NOT the endorsement of individuals.

If you feel you can support this statement, please refer the matter to your local parish council or vestry.

And now, a mere one-seventh of the way through the Feast of Feasts, let us return to the important business of proclaiming the risen Lord.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Ever since one particular Easter Vigil some years ago - when our son was being confirmed - my dear wife has associated the Easter Vigil with this Mr. Bean sketch from Rowan Atkinson.

The sketch includes, in addition to the always wonderful Atkinson, the marvellous English comic actor Richard Briers, who among other film and television credits, played the Rev'd Philip Lambe in the series All in Good Faith.

It's the Beanian "Alleluia" in Lasst uns erfreuen that moves my sweetheart to gales of laughter - and causes her to associate the sketch with the Easter Vigil.

Five young people from the parish were confirmed this evening - all of them quite fetching in their "We're on a mission from God" bunnyhugs.

The bunnyhugs (that's what we call them around here) are via Sarah Laughed and Cafe Press. The front depicts Abraham and Sarah entertaining angels unawares - except that the angels are all decked out in Blues Brothers style hats and sunglasses. On the back we find the Anglican Communion's Five Marks of Mission.

Our five young confirmands are, like Jake and Elwood Blues, "on a mission from God." They have been sent into the world - along with the rest of us - to proclaim the Good News of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Christos Voskres!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

"The worst sin is leaving the table."

Last week, Lambeth Palace made it official: The Archbishop of Canterbury refuses to invite the canonical Bishop of New Hampshire to the 2008 Lambeth Conference.

I think I understand +Rowan's reasoning, and I suppose I don't really see how he could have given in on that point without adding to his already well-established (though not entirely deserved) reputation as a spineless blunderer.

That said, the suggestion that Gene Robinson should set up shop in the Marketplace attached to the conference went well beyond appalling stupid. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a more offensive suggestion. "We won't let you pray with us, but we can put you on display in a circus tent if you like."

Frankly, Gene Robinson has responded with far more grace than I would have. His comments at a meeting of the American House of Bishops can be found in their entirety here.

There is one passage in particular that stands out to me - the passage in which Bishop Robinson describes why he keeps putting up with the pain.

I want to acknowledge that I am not the first or last person to be in pain at a House of Bishops meeting. My own pain was sufficient enough that for 36 hours I felt the compelling urge to run, to flee. My inspiration for staying came from my conservative brothers in this house. I have seen John Howe and Ed Salmon and others show up for years when there was a lot of pain for them. I see Bill Love and Mark Lawrence, and I know it is a very difficult thing for them to be here right now. For me, the worst sin is leaving the table. And that is what I was on the verge of doing. But, largely because of you, I stayed. Thank you for that.

If you aren't a close follower of the current internecine unpleasantness in Anglicanism, those four names might not mean anything to you. They are the names of four of the leading conservatives in the American House of Bishops. John Howe is the Bishop of Central Florida, Ed Salmon the retired Bishop of South Carolina, Bill Love the Bishop of Albany New York, Mark Lawrence the current Bishop of South Carolina.

I find Bishop Robinson's remarks, particularly this one section as remarkably graceful. He treats those on the other side of the current unpleasantness with decency, respect and even admiration. Contrast this with the way John Howe or conservative theologian Michael Poon are often treated in the "conservative" Anglican blogosphere when they dissent from certain extremist positions.

Fr. Dan Martins, who turns out to be a seminary classmate of my bishop, makes some remarkably insightful comments about how unhelpful the broad brush is as we approach these issues. I share one small excerpt, but the whole thing is worth a read.

Let's put the broad brushes away. Conservatives would do well to quit automatically unchurching anyone who holds "reappraiser" views, not just because it really pisses them off, but because it's just wrong to do. Somebody can hold a mistaken view on the sexuality questions without being lumped together with John Spong and Markus Borg--or Katharine Jefferts Schori, for that matter. Liberals would do well to quit assuming anyone who holds "reasserter" views does so out of either ignorance, selfishness, or mere power-hungry churlishness. A person can hold a traditional view of sexual morality without being lumped together with Pat Robertson and Fred Phelps.
Sadly for me, I had been part of the increasingly angry exchange in the comments section of an earlier post which led Fr. Dan to post this reflection. Ironically, my first comment had been to decry precisely that sort of broad brush - I objected to the suggestion that "my" side of the divide "loathed" Christianity. Unfortunately, I allowed myself to get drawn into an ongoing flame war. Mea culpa.

Of course, Gene Robinson has seen John Howe face to face - and Ed Salmon, and Bill Love, and Mark Lawrence. It is hard (though not impossible) to have a flame war with real people. It is really, really easy to have a flame war with a quasi-anonymous blog profiles.

This is why I object to the current strategy of the "conservatives" - hiving off bits of the Church to be out of communion with their neighbours and "canonically" attached to a like-minded prelate across the globe. Such an arrangement removes any necessity of engaging with my neighbour, of experiencing my neighbour's humanity, of understanding my neighbour as a child of God.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Peter Akinola needs better media training

This month's Atlantic Magazine includes a feature article about the clash of Christianity and Islam in Nigeria. Like most articles in the Atlantic, this one is though-provoking and well worth the read.

Much of the article is disturbing, in particular, the description of religious attacks in the town of Yelwa - about the size of Prince Albert or Moose Jaw in Saskatchewan.

First, Muslims had attacked Christians one Sunday morning, resulting in the deaths of about 70 people:
As the worshippers finished their prayers, they heard gunshots and a call from the loudspeakers of the mosque next door: “Allahu Akhbar, let us go for jihad.” “We were terrified,” recalled Pastor Sunday, who had been standing outside the gate as the churchyard swarmed with strangers. He stayed near the church gate, but many other people fled toward the road behind the church. There, men dressed in military fatigues reassured them that they were safe and herded them back to the church. Then the men opened fire. Pastor Sunday fled; that’s why he survived. The attackers—who were not, in fact, Nigerian soldiers—set the church on fire and killed everyone who tried to escape. They chased the head of the church, Pastor Sampson Bukar, to his house next door and ran him through with cutlasses. They set fire to the nursery school and the pastor’s house.
Two months later came a revenge attack by Christians:
Christian men and boys surrounded Yelwa. Many were bare-chested; others wore shirts on which they’d reportedly pinned white name tags identifying them as members of the Christian Association of Nigeria, an umbrella organization founded in the 1970s to give Christians a collective and unified voice as strong as that of Muslims. Each tag had a number instead of a name: a code, it seemed, for identification. They attacked the town. According to Human Rights Watch, 660 Muslims were massacred over the course of the next two days, including the patients in the Al-Amin clinic. Twelve mosques and 300 houses went up in flames. Young girls were marched to a nearby Christian town and forced to eat pork and drink alcohol. Many were raped, and 50 were killed.
But perhaps even more disturbing in some ways is this description of Griswold's encounter with Archbishop Peter Akinola, Primate of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) and, at the time, President of the Christian Association of Nigeria.

At the time of the massacre, Archbishop Peter Akinola was the president of the Christian Association of  Nigeria, whose membership was implicated in the killings. He has since lost his bid for another term but, as primate of the Anglican Church of Nigeria, he is still the leader of 18 million Anglicans. He is a colleague of my father, who was the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in America from 1997 to 2006. But the American Episcopals’ election of an openly homosexual bishop in 2003, which Archbishop Akinola denounced as “satanic,” created distance between them. When I arrived in 2006 in the capital of Abuja to see the archbishop, his office door was locked. Its complicated buzzing-in system was malfunctioning, and he was trapped inside. Finally, after several minutes, the angry buzzes stopped and I could hear a man behind the door rise and come across the floor. The archbishop, in a pale-blue pantsuit and a darker-blue crushed-velvet hat, opened the door.

“My views on Islam are well known: I have nothing more to say,” he said, as we sat down. Archbishop Akinola has repeatedly spoken critically about Islam and liberal Western Protestants, and he was understandably wary of my motives for asking his thoughts. For Akinola, the relationship between liberal Protestants and Islam is straightforward: if Western Christians abandon conservative morals, then the global Church will be weakened in its struggle against Islam. “When you have this attack on Christians in Yelwa, and there are no arrests, Christians become dhimmi, the vocabulary within Islam that allows Christians and Jews to be seen as second-class citizens. You are subject to the Muslims. You have no rights.”

When asked if those wearing name tags that read “Christian Association of Nigeria” had been sent to the Muslim part of Yelwa, the archbishop grinned. “No comment,” he said. “No Christian would pray for violence, but it would be utterly naive to sweep this issue of Islam under the carpet.” He went on, “I’m not out to combat anybody. I’m only doing what the Holy Spirit tells me to do. I’m living my faith, practicing and preaching that Jesus Christ is the one and only way to God, and they respect me for it. They know where we stand. I’ve said before: let no Muslim think they have the monopoly on violence.”

At best, Archbishop Akinola's comments are unhelpful. Many of his critics have interpreted them as a tacit endorsement of the violence at Yelwa. One blogger has gone so far as to raise the possibility of referring Archbishop Akinola's potential involvement to the International Criminal Court.

I hold no brief for Archbishop Akinola. I find his public comments on a range of issues consistently unhelpful, contentious and mean-spirited. But as unsettling as his comments here are, they do not constitute the proverbial "smoking gun."

That said, in my secular life I am a public relations practitioner. I frequently deal with the media, and I have often trained other people in dealing with the media. One of my consistent pieces of advice is that no one should ever use the phrase "no comment," even if they have no comment to make. While the person saying "no comment" may well mean "I have nothing to say," it will inevitably be interpreted as "I have something to hide."

What did the "no comment" mean? That's the question

Perhaps it meant, "I don't want to comment because I have no clue how those men came to be wearing Christian Association of Nigeria shirts and nametags." That's the best interpretation I can give it. If so, better he had said that.

Perhaps it meant, "I didn't send those men, but I'm concerned they may have acted based on misinterpreting comments I made." Sort of the Henry II defence, if you will/ "Will no one rid me of these insolent Muslims?" Certainly not guilt-free - but still something less than direct implication in genocide.

Unfortunately for Archbishop Akinola, it is inevitable that this "no comment" comes across as "of course I bloody sent them, but I'm not going to admit that to you."

Strikes me, at the very least, that Archbishop Akinola needs better PR counsel - and some serious media relations training. If he wasn't inciting or condoning genocidal slaughter (and I'd really prefer to believe he wasn;t), then he is at least guilty of a major communications blunder that brings scandal on the Body of Christ.