The “gay church” label

I have been traveling and so missed out on much of the initial ventilation of outrage in the North Atlantic world in response to Archbishop Justin Welby’s comments linking openness to same-sex relationships in one part of the Anglican Communion with mass graves in other parts.

Not the one Samuel was in, but you get the idea
Not the one Samuel was in, but you get the idea

His comments put me in mind of an encounter I had with a seminary student in South Sudan, who told me during a general conversation about these issues, the personal impact that decisions of the American church had had on him. I tell the story—and several other like it—in my new book, Backpacking through the Anglican Communion:

“Many other churches in Sudan say we are apostate,” says Samuel. “They say we have broken away from the church and have gone very far away from the Bible and that soon we are going to practice here what you are practicing in America. I have heard other people say, ‘Don’t join ECS—that is the gay church.’” Samuel’s question comes from experience. When he was on the bus ride from his home village to come to school for the beginning of the term, a fellow passenger learned he was a member of ECS and accused him of being part of the “gay church.” Samuel argued back and said he would not allow homosexuality in his church. The argument became so heated the driver of the bus threatened to kick them both out unless they changed the topic. Other students are nodding their heads as Samuel speaks and I can tell this is not an isolated incident. It is hard to know what to say in response. The actions Americans take—in church or otherwise—have consequences on people around the world. (p. 57)

To assert that actions in one part of the world have an impact elsewhere in the world is not exactly a startlingly original observation in this day and age. In this regard, the archbishop is entirely correct.

The key issue is how we, as Christians, respond to such situations. The archbishop, I think, takes the wrong approach (and one he has, anyway, backed away from in recent days). But I am still unpacking. More on that in a coming post.

iPhones, Backpacks, and the Best Travel Agency in the World: Mission and Unity in the Anglican Communion

The Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut has kindly posted a video of my keynote address to the diocese’s annual mission conference in early March. It’s adapted from my book, Backpacking through the Anglican Communion.

Some excerpts:

[iPhones are] an honest description of the world we live in. On the one hand, we have globalization, those forces that are drawing us ever more closely together so that distance and time cease to matter in the way they once did. On the other hand, we have the frank recognition that globalization benefits some people more than it does others, that it imposes costs on some people more than others, and that we are a long way from the Biblical model of relationships marked by mutuality, love, and mercy. The very fact that I don’t know where this device came from, that I can only hazard a guess as to who had a role in producing it, is an indication of just how broken these relationships are. St. Paul writes to the Corinthians that they cannot say to one another, “I have no need of you,” but we seem intent of saying something like, “I may have a need of you, but I’m going to do my best to ensure I don’t have to acknowledge that.”…

The way the Christian community shows its distinctiveness and difference is in the quality of relationships within it. Christians are different because we relate to other Christians in a way that is unique in the world….

There’s one more thing to say about the way in which the community of followers of Jesus is different from other communities in the world: we don’t get to choose who else is in the community. God’s love is open to all people and those who respond in baptism become members of this community. Whether we want them or not is, quite frankly, of no concern to God. The community in mission is a community that holds together a lot of difference. People from all different kinds of backgrounds and beliefs are brought together by the gracious love of God. And that’s a good thing, even though it is sometimes painful and difficult, and may make us want to scream at the top of our lungs, “I have no need of you!” Belonging to the church means believing that all other baptized Christians have something to offer us and we to them, no matter how different they may be. This is a truly counter-cultural idea….

Sometimes we hear it said that the church can find unity in mission. But the more accurate thing to say is that unity is mission. Our life together as Christians in a divided world is part of our witness to the world. Does the church model another way of living to a fractured world? Or does it simply mimic the world in its patterns of broken, global relationships?…

At its best and at its strongest, the Anglican Communion is a network of people who share these mutual, life-giving, counter-cultural relationships, people who want to make known the reconciling love of God in Christ. It is our role to seek these people out—to let them seek us out as well—and come to acknowledge the unity in which we are called to live. The unity of the Anglican Communion could be good news to a divided world. 

Does Giles Fraser use an iPhone?

IMG_1085Does Giles Fraser use an iPhone? He’s clearly a Mac user but based on his recent column, you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise.

Writing for The Guardian, Giles Fraser captures a common view of the Anglican Communion:

All this means that the bishops won’t be able to do a damn thing about their clergy having same-sex marriages…. And when this happens, the toys will be thrown from many a Nigerian church pram. The fiction that is the Anglican Communion will be over and we can go back to being the Church of England, rather than the local arm of the empire at prayer. And thank God for that.

This view sees the Anglican Communion as a distraction from the real business of being the Church of England. If only, the argument seems to be, we could stop concerning ourselves with the views of those Nigerian bishops, then we could really be the church we’re meant to be. It doesn’t matter how many toys are thrown “from many a Nigerian church pram.” We need to distance ourselves from global relationships.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where we can’t ignore global relationships. Our iPhones embody this. The next time Giles Fraser uses his smartphone, perhaps he can consider the global relationships it represents, from the rare minerals that are mined in distant corners of the world to make its capacitors function to the Chinese factory workers who assemble it. When you get dressed in the morning or tap out your next tweet, think about all of the people around the world who have touched your clothes and phone before you. Whether we like it nor, in the twenty-first century we are enmeshed in global relationships. And many of these relationships are a long way from the model of mutual, trusting, and truthful relationships set forth in the Bible.

But there’s another possible view here. What if instead of seeing the Anglican Communion as a distraction, we saw it as an asset to our mission to the world? What if the Anglican Communion could present to the world a model of relationship that is different from the world around us, a model that emphasizes wholeness and relatedness, rather than brokenness and fracture? Don’t you think if the world church was offering this kind of model, people might look at it and say, “Hey, look at what they have going on over there. I want to be part of that!”

Anglicans are, of course, singularly failing to grasp this opportunity at the moment. In part, our failure is a result of the poverty of the Communion’s discourse, a discourse that has been defined by a very small group of men (many of them bishops) who are very successful at making their voices heard, issues statements, and denouncing various actions.

The trouble is, of course, most Anglicans are neither bishops, nor men, nor specialize in making their voices heard. It is this reality that prompted me to write Backpacking through the Anglican Communion, a book that tries to give voice to those at the local level of the church around the world. When you move beyond the men who dominate the current conversation, you find many voices offering a variety of opinions on issues of sexuality, gender, and a whole lot else—and this as true in Nigeria as anywhere else. The Anglican Communion is a lot more complex than our discourse makes it out to be.

So the right thing to do is not to turn our backs on our sister and brother Anglicans. The right thing to do is to start listening to those voices which have not yet been heard and moving towards the rich, global relationships to which God is calling us.

 

On Tilley hats and the Anglican Communion

4405hats_hdLast year, my father was going on a lengthy trip and asked to borrow my broad-brimmed hat. This is a Tilley hat so it was with some reluctance that I let him have it. It is “made with real Canadian persnicketiness,” after all.

My reluctance was justified. He lost it. Some months later for my birthday, my gift from him was… a new Tilley hat.

What a great idea! Take something away from someone, then get them a replacement but call it a gift. My Christmas shopping woes are solved!

I thought of that when I read the news this week that the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church approved an increase in the amount of money that the church gives to the Anglican Communion Office (ACO), the central coordinating body for the Communion in London.

I’ve written about this before but a brief recap: at General Convention in 2012, the budget for the church allotted far less to the ACO than the church was asked to give. Since then, given what is apparently an improving budget picture, Executive Council has gradually added some of that money back. As it is, however, the amount the Episcopal Church will give the ACO in this three-year budget cycle is still far less than the ACO asked for. (How much less is not quite clear.)

When I read the news about Executive Council this week, I felt about the same as I did when I opened up my replacement Tilley hat—wait, shouldn’t I already have this? It’s made worse by the fact that the presiding bishop apparently framed the move as being “in recognition of greatly improved relations with the Communion, but also as a gesture of support for some very beneficial work, such as the continuing Indaba project and reconciliation work.” (At least my father had the good grace to apologize to me.) Many dioceses of the Episcopal Church have argued something similar, only in the negative: they won’t give money to the national church because they don’t support its projects. To be meaningful, financial support can’t be contingent.

I should note that our news for this move comes from indefatigable executive council member Susan Snook. And her report of the presiding bishop’s framing has sparked an interesting interpretation from several conservative Anglicans—interesting for being totally wrong. Kendall Harmon claims that these are “large sums” of money (hardly) that the Episcopal Church is using to buy influence. (The presiding bishop’s framing of this as a contingent decision does—with a real long stretch—lend itself to this interpretation.) Commenters compare this to Judas’ 30 pieces of silver. Another blogger speculates that this is why Justin Welby praised the presiding bishop when she was recently granted a honorary doctorate from Oxford: a quid pro quo.

Hardly. The sad, sorry truth is that the Episcopal Church is behind in its payments to the ACO. By attempting to put a positive spin on this debt, the presiding bishop gave conservative bloggers—who will twist any piece of information to suit their purposes—further ammunition to attack the church.

And in all this, the importance of the work of the ACO is lost. At least since the late 1950s, Anglicans have believed that they need some sort of central body to coordinate their life together. This is not some giant bureaucratic apparatus. The ACO and its predecessors has never been much more than a smallish group of people led by a secretary-general, who bring us things like the Continuing Indaba Project, the Bible in the Life of the Church, companion diocese relationships, the Anglican Cycle of Prayer, and much, much more. They are a good and important group of people and I believe their work is significant for the Communion as a whole.

It sets a poor example when the church fails to adequately fund this work. Parishes give a portion of their money to their diocese. Dioceses give a portion of their money to the national church. For a church that takes as central to its identity its membership in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church, I can’t see why this flow of small amounts of money should stop “at the water’s edge,” as it were.

But at least I can conclude by noting that I am very happy with my replacement hat!

Thinking about context in Nigeria, Uganda, and elsewhere

Last week, a flurry of church leaders opined about legislation in Nigeria and Uganda that (further) criminalizes same-sex relationships. In particular, I am drawn to the article by Gay Jennings, president of the Episcopal Church’s House of Deputies.

What appeals to me about this letter is the way in which it tries to set the current legislation in its historical context. She looks at the way in which the legacy of the mission period shapes some of these debates:

Europeans and North Americans bear much of the historical responsibility for this sad state of affairs. As Zimbabwean biblical scholar Masiiwa Ragies Gunda has written, it is “far-fetched to look beyond the activities of Western missionaries” when considering the role of the Bible in Africa.

Not all missionaries were evangelical Anglicans in the mould of the Church Missionary Society and its more conservative offshoots, but she is right in judging that some missionaries and colonial officials brought with them a particular approach to the Bible—as well as a Victorian-era sensibility about sexuality—that has had an enduring impact.

So one message that I take away from the Gay Jennings’ article is an obvious one: context matters. Understanding a church’s background and the environment in which they minister might help us understand the actions of its leaders today.

But Jennings hasn’t gone far enough. There’s a lot more to the context in Nigeria, Uganda, and elsewhere, in particular the challenging religious environment confronting Anglicans today.

One dominant feature of African Christianity today is the rapid growth and spread of pentecostalism. Pentecostalism is a fascinating and complex phenomenon but one thing we can say about it is that many Anglican church leaders are threatened by its growth. I provide numerous examples of this in my new book, Backpacking through the Anglican Communion, but you can also find examples online, such as this article from the recently-deceased archbishop of West Africa, who last year lamented how his church was losing younger worshippers.

Jennings notes in her article that Anglican leaders in Nigeria and Uganda have been “enthusiastic supporters” of the anti-gay legislation. But they are not the only ones. Pentecostal church leaders in these countries are pressing equally as hard—if not harder—for the legislation to be passed. That is a piece of the context I have not yet heard reported in Anglican/Episcopal media.

We don’t often think of it like this but decisions to go to church are much like a market: the consumer is on the look-out for the best purchase and vendors are competing to offer it. When the consumer finds something he or she likes, another vendor can say, “Wait, I can match that price!” Or, “My product is just as nice as theirs!” Many Africans are making the decision that pentecostal churches are preferable to Anglican and other historic mission denominations. It is a competitive religious marketplace. Time and again, I have heard from African Anglicans about how other denominational leaders call them the “gay church” and use that as a reason why people should not go to Anglican churches. So Anglicans and others are put in a position in which in order to maintain “market share” they have to speak out against homosexuality.

(One conclusion we can draw from this is that African Anglicans might want to begin to think about ecclesiology: what does it mean to be an Anglican but not enjoy the quasi-Established status some African Anglican churches have long enjoyed? Are there resources that we in the Euro-Atlantic world might have to contribute to this conversation?)

That is the very short version of a much longer and more complex argument. I have written at length about the influence of pentecostalism on Nigerian Anglicanism not only in Backpacking through the Anglican Communion but also in an article in the Journal of Anglican Studies (which you can read for free). But understanding pentecostalism is crucial, I believe, to understanding the shape of African Anglicanism today.

Of course, the influence of pentecostalism is just one aspect of the religious context. There is much more to learn. And no amount of context makes the legislation any less reprehensible or the actions of Anglican bishops any less subject to reproach and challenge. Context does not help us defend actions which are indefensible. But it might help us explain and understand how these actions have come about in the first place. And that, for me, has always been a good place to start.

Well, that was fast… or, how Anglican communiques become cudgels

John+Sentamu+Justin+Welby+Annual+Church+England+PakUd_nqZ32lOn Wednesday, the archbishops of Canterbury and York wrote a letter in which they “recalled the common mind” of the Primates of the Anglican Communion to say that it wasn’t right to support anti-gay legislation in places like Nigeria and Uganda.

It’s hard to argue with the message, but it is interesting how they chose to phrase it—pointing back to a communique from a meeting of the leaders of the Anglican Communion in 2005. In the years immediately after the consecration of Gene Robinson, there were a fair number of these communiques. When I read the letter from the archbishops on Wednesday, I wondered on Twitter how long it would be before someone quoted from another one of those communiques or some other “common mind” Anglican document to make a different argument.

Not long, it turns out.

Yesterday, the archbishop of Uganda, Stanley Ntagali, responded to the Wednesday letter by reaching for the granddaddy of them all, Resolution 1.10 from Lambeth 1998:

We would further like to remind them, as they lead their own church through the “facilitated conversations” recommended by the Pilling Report, that the teaching of the Anglican Communion from the 1998 Lambeth Conference, from Resolution 1.10, still stands. It states that “homosexual practice is incompatible with Scripture,” and the conference “cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions.”

It was the Episcopal Church USA (TEC) and the Anglican Church of Canada’s violations of Lambeth 1.10 which caused the Church of Uganda to break communion with those Provinces more than ten years ago. We sincerely hope the Archbishops and governing bodies of the Church of England will step back from the path they have set themselves on so the Church of Uganda will be able to maintain communion with our own Mother Church.

Then today, the archbishop of Kenya responded by quoting Lambeth 1.10 and a different Primates’ communique, this one from 2007. You can read his whole text here.

It’s worthwhile looking back at the history here for just a minute. The 1998 Lambeth Conference was a fraught affair—one bishop publicly tried to exorcise a gay activist—and Resolution 1.10 was one result of that atmosphere. The resolution says a number of things, though the phrase that is most commonly quoted is “rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture.” (Then again, so is eating a cheeseburger.) Throughout its history, the Anglican Communion has had trouble figuring out what weight to accord to the voice of bishops assembled in Lambeth. So some Anglicans point to 1.10 as the final, definitive answer; others do not.

You might note that Archbishop Ntagali slightly misquotes the resolution. The actual text is “rejecting homosexual practice as” and not “is incompatible.” I point this out because it means that this most-commonly quoted phrase is actually a subordinate clause in a larger sentence. And that larger sentence? I’m so glad you asked:

[This Conference] while rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture, calls on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals, violence within marriage and any trivialisation and commercialisation of sex;

The “irrational fear of homosexuals”: does that sound familiar to anyone? Oddly, it is not mentioned in any letter I have yet seen.

We are quickly getting lost in the weeds here. Resolutions and communiques, rather than serving as unifying documents that express a common mind, quickly become cudgels which we start selectively (mis-)quoting to beat our opponents over the head with. Frankly, it’s not very fun.

A couple of conclusions, then:

First, responding by saying, “Yeah, but they did it first” is not very effective.

Second, perhaps it is actually time for Anglicans to think seriously about the weight we accord the voices of our bishops and how we integrate that voice into our life of faith. In this context, it is no surprise that the conversation is between (arch)bishops quoting documents written solely by (arch)bishops.

Third, rather than reaching for the nearest cudgel, maybe in the future we can reach for a slightly more constructive instrument and come back to the verb that is at the centre of Resolution 1.10: listen

We commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and we wish to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ.

A time for talking and a time for not talking—or do we all just need more time?

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In February of my final year of university, the faculty went on strike. The dispute had been brewing for the entire academic year and provoked plenty of fodder for debate. I have always remembered how discussions seemed to continually circle back to one question: when do you decided that dialogue has failed and opt for other strategies? In other words, when do you walk away from the negotiating table?

I can remember rehearsing the various answers. On the one hand, how can anyone be opposed to something as reasonable as dialogue and negotiation? On the other hand, it is clear that there are ways in which dialogue can be used to perpetuate an unjust status quo and in which at some point one party is justified in declaring that it no longer makes sense to continue in the conversation.

In one way or another, I have had these debates in my head ever since that strike. These issues about the importance of dialogue, conversation, and negotiation have deeply influenced me. Indeed, my reflection on them is a critical part of my new book, Backpacking through the Anglican Communion.

I thought of all these issues again recently when I read two competing essays on the topic. On the one hand, there is Phil Groves, of the Anglican Communion Office, who reflects on the case of Euodia and Syntyche to conclude that

We also need to remember that when disunity appears facilitated conversations are the Biblical way forwards.

For someone who leads the Continuing Indaba project, this is perhaps, not a surprising conclusion.

In response, comes a much lengthier article from Phil Ashey of the American Anglican Council who—never one to shy away from hyperbole—says Ashey “misses the mark by a longshot.” He then proceeds to call reconciliation—a central Biblical concept—some kind of “new religion.” You can read these articles and make up your own mind.

But what neither of these articles addresses is the question of time. “Time all heals all wounds,” it is often (wrongly) said. How does the question of time influence our understanding of conflict transformation?

We might first note that Jesus was not afraid of taking time—it took him thirty years on earth before he began his ministry. So when people start making claims about how much time has elapsed as a reason for determining that dialogue no longer is an option, we can all stop, take a deep breath, and remember that God’s time is not our time.

The other thing is that Jesus invested a lot of his time in people that others thought were hopeless or lost causes. My favourite example of this is Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. Jesus takes a break at a well in the middle of the day, meets a woman who has been pretty comprehensively cast out of her society (that’s why she was getting her water in the heat of the day when no one else would be there), and engages her in conversation, even though, as John tells us, “Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.” (4:9)

I’m not sure if this qualifies as a “facilitated conversation”—there doesn’t seem to be a facilitator at the well—but it does seem to me to be a pretty dramatic example of the fruits of patient engagement with difference. The woman’s life in transformed and she becomes one of the first evangelists, running into town to tell everyone about what she has learned.

When I think about conflicts in the world, whether in the Anglican Communion or beyond, I often think about this story about Jesus and the Samaritan woman. I find myself asking a question. What would happen if we did what Jesus did? Show up where no one expects us to be and taking the time to talk to people who are different than us?

UPDATE: Corrected mistaken reference to Phil Ashey which came out as Phil Groves. A case of too many Phils!

Connection to the outside world

Justin Welby is on a flight to Juba, South Sudan.

(Well not directly. I yearn for the days when you can fly from Heathrow to Juba direct.)

It is easy to underestimate the power of archiepiscopal visits. At least in England, people are used to seeing the archbishop pop up all over the place—preaching at this college, visiting that church, giving an interview to this reporter—that we can get inured to the significance of his presence. Moreover, some people—especially in the media—want action they can report. Think of the headline: “Archbishop brings peace to South Sudan.” But that’s not what the archbishop is going for. In his pre-trip interview with the BBC, he says that the purpose of the trip is, essentially, to be with people.

There is ample precedent for archiepiscopal visitation to what is now South Sudan. George Carey, archbishop in the 1990s, made two visits to Sudan during his tenure. These are vividly remembered by Christians, even today, twenty years later. On one visit, he spent time in Dhiaukuei, a remote community that had become a safe haven for Christians and a centre of learning and evangelism for them. One woman there, remembering his visit, told me that when he came, “We thought, ‘OK, if part of our body from a different part of the world came to visit us, then the message of Jesus Christ which said, “We are all parts of the same body,” is true.’”

Carey’s successor, Rowan Williams, visited South Sudan in 2006. He spent time in Malakal, a town that has been the news recently because it has been one focus of the recent violence. When I was in Malakal in September, people unpromptedly told me about his visit and how everyone—Anglicans and non-Anglicans alike—turned out for his events.

Given all that South Sudan has been through in the last six weeks, I imagine that Archbishop Welby will have a similar welcome—if he allows himself public events—and his visit will have similar significance.

Later in this visit, Archbishop Welby plans to visit the church in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The DRC has its own complex problems of violence and societal fracture. I recently read this from a bishop of the church in the DRC:

The poor infrastructure and lack of communication systems ensure that the church is internally disconnected and lacks sustained contact with the Anglican Communion… [The church] has felt proud to be part of the Anglican Communion but feels unable to fully contribute to the communion or to understand entirely its debates. Many of the problems of poverty, war, hunger, and sickness that are so pressing for the Congolese nation do not appear to be prominent in inter-communion discussions.

(That’s from the chapter by Bishop Titre Ande and Emma Wild-Wood in the new Wiley-Blackwell Companion to the Anglican Communion.)

For many Anglicans, the archbishop of Canterbury is important for what he embodies—connection to and concern from the outside world. This is what many people in conflict zones are yearning for, the assurance that someone, somewhere out there is thinking about them. By simply showing up and listening to the real concerns of real people, the archbishop of Canterbury performs a hugely important ministry.

That’s hard for reporters (and others) to grasp. But the lesson of history is that is hugely significant for the people on the ground. And in the end, that’s probably what matters.

Minority Report: Anglican Communion edition

Some years ago, Tom Cruise starred in a movie called Minority Report. The plot revolves around three human “pre-cogs” who can tell when a murder is about to happen. Cruise and company swoop in, arrest the murderer before he or she can commit his crime, and save the day. Things begin to unravel when—to give away the ending—it turns out that three pre-cogs are not always in unanimous agreement but that the dissenting, minority reports are suppressed.

The phrase “minority report” has been stuck in my head lately—but in the context of the church in 2013, not Tom Cruise in 2054. A clear majority of Anglicans are female—yet three weeks worth of reporting in The Church Times about the GAFCON II conference in Nairobi quoted precisely one woman and allotted her one word: an unnamed Ugandan priest was to said have voted “No” on the final communique.

This is not to pick on either GAFCON or The Church Times. The four Anglican Instruments of Communion—the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primates Meetings, the Lambeth Conference, and the Anglican Consultative Council—are all dominated by men. (In part, this is because they are dominated by bishops, who tend to be male.) The people who are the primary drivers about debates about global Anglican futures tend to be male as well.

Anglicans have been led to believe that there are two sides in debates about our future: the liberals and the conservatives, each presenting unified and diametrically opposing views. But just as Cruise et al. had to learn that the unanimity of their pre-cogs was not what it seemed, so too Anglicans have to learn that we are dealing with more diversity than we may have imagined. Part of the purpose of my writing a book about the Anglican Communion that tries to move beyond bishops and describe life at the grassroots level in different parts of the world was to demonstrate that the loudest voices in the Communion are rarely the most representative—no matter how strenuously they claim they are.

All of this is to say something obvious: the church has a long way to go before we start reflecting the reality of the body of Christ in which we are joined.

This is not to say that the wounds of the Anglican Communion would be healed if we put women in charge. As I show in Backpacking through the Anglican Communion, my experience does not show that women somehow believe in unity and reconciliation in a way that men do not. But it is to say that the model of communion that has been put forth in the last several years has been one that has privileged a handful of voices and disregarded (suppressed?) a huge number of others.

So when we read reports foretelling the death of the Anglican Communion that are authored solely by men, we should label those minority reports—for that is precisely what they are.

“I’m not dead yet.” -The Anglican Communion

I have been staying up late several nights this week finishing the proofs of my new book about the Anglican Communion. It is a book that argues that not only is unity in a world communion possible, it is a vital part of that communion’s witness to the world.

Then I woke up this morning to read that Andrew Brown (“England’s most sanctimonious atheist,” in the words of one Church Times letter to the editor) thinks the Anglican Communion is dead.

Wow. Poor timing on my behalf.

But then I started reading the article and wondered just what grounds Brown had for making his case.

We might notice that his article commits more or less all the errors I outlined in a previous post about writing about the Anglican Communion—he doesn’t travel anywhere, he relies mostly on bishops and men as sources, etc., etc.

He writes, for instance of the Church of Nigeria, that it doesn’t matter how “many Anglicans there are there and however sincerely they seem to hate gay people.” I read that and I think, “Has he ever actually been to Nigeria? Are we talking about the same church?” Were people who write about the Anglican Communion to start moving from behind their computers and instead spend their time and money visiting with Anglicans, I think the story they would find is different. Instead, everyone sits comfortably in their prejudices and certainties and shows little desire to change that situation.

On the other hand, perhaps the Anglican Communion is dead. Perhaps the days when our understanding of the Communion was constituted almost solely by what bishops and other men had to say are coming to an end. Perhaps we can now start listening to the voices of the young, the female, the non-ordained and see that they are hardly in lockstep agreement with what their bishops have to say.

The core of my faith is the belief that death is not the end. Maybe we can pray that the death of our current forms of relationship will lead to a resurrection in newness and fullness of life.

Maybe.

But it’s going to take a willingness to move beyond the same old ways of doing business.