Wednesday, 19 March 2008
Schism is not the greatest evil
Paul Gibson has written an essay Why I am not afraid of schism which appears on the Anglican Church of Canada website.
Posted by Simon Sarmiento on
Wednesday, 19 March 2008 at 2:13pm GMT
The bishops of the Anglican Church of Canada were recently reported to be “alarmed” by the prospect of schism in the Anglican Communion (Anglican Journal, December 2007). The current controversy in the Communion over issues related to homosexuality appears to have created a mood or atmosphere of anxiety and fear, as though schism were the greatest evil that could befall the church and which should be avoided at all cost.
In the remarks which follow I will propose that schism is far from being a catastrophic situation, let alone the most desperate condition that may overtake a church, and that, in the words of President F.D. Roosevelt, there is nothing to fear but fear itself.
First, let us go to the biblical background…
You can make a Permalink to this if you like
This is a worthy paper.
One major potential schism I did not see mentioned is the whole question of Paul (nee Saul) himself.
Here is a soul that is struck blind by Jesus in his glory on the road to Damascus, where he was going to persecute and murder Christians. Yet, after being struck blind, he arrives to be healed and annointed by one of Jesus' followers (Acts 9:1-19).
Paul goes on to become one of Christianity's great founding leaders. However, the anointment of Paul was so controversial that the disciples did not accept him and left sent him back to his home town of Tarsus (Acts 9:26-30). My understanding is that Paul was not parked in Tarsus for a few weeks, but he was left there for seven years.
So in the big picture of Christianity, the most prolific New Testament author was actually shunted aside for seven years. Paul, who re-advocated on behalf of the Gentiles and convinced Peter that Gentiles could be accepted as Gentiles and did not have to become circumsized Jews.
Just as now we advocate in kind that GLBTs and women do not have to become heterosexual pure males to be accepted as Jesus' followers or bequeathed gifts of the Spirit.
As someone who supports the full inclusion of all persons at all levels of the church, I have to say that I'm singularly unimpressed with this article. Whether or not schism is unavoidable is open to debate, but there is no reason to view schism as anything but a highly undesirable outcome per se. I'm sorry - I can't see schism as good, even though I see inclusion as good.
If there is so little regard for the church as the Body of Christ, why should I not just be entirely on my own and cultivate my personal relationship with Jesus? No need to worry about people disagreeing with me then!
I really liked Gibson's remarks. Makes me think that Canada, too, is getting ready to slowly but surely move on from all the over-heated conservative believer preoccupations with the obvious fact that a range of discernments and methods is available with no single, clear, absolutely comprehensive high intellectual or moral winner available who takes all and is entitled to do so in ethics or doctrine or theology.
From any number of non-conservative angles, this historic Anglican leeway still appears viable, fair-minded, and tilted towards peace across our hot button differences.
If so, let us move on to keep on, as well as we can manage in modern daily life and work and church life. Whenever possible we can leave a light on, just in case anybody decides after all that rubbing shoulders across believer differences is good, not bad, not terrible. PS, if/when you leave in whatever mood for whatever reasons, the money or property held in national trust across the generations also stays behind.
Interesting, too, to read the follow up posts on the essay page. Have these conservative believers never, ever met a common sensically competent and good queer citizen who leads anything close to the sort of daily life we would all immediately recognize and applaud, if a straight person were seen to be acting/living thus? Guess not.
The Episcopal Church avoided schism in the American Civil War, unlike the Presbyterian, Methodist, and Baptist churches. It did so by saying nothing about the burning issue of the day, slavery. This was NOT a proud moment in our Church's history.
I agree with Paul Gibson that institutional integrity is not an end in itself, nor the greatest good.
_why should I not just be entirely on my own_
It is rarely the case - it depends on what your principles are. There is usually some group or inheritance that is near (until a new set of problems arises).
Anglicans have principles that separate them from Romans and Orthodox and Methodists and Lutherans... Some of them may be such old arguments that they fade away. It is just that, at the same time as old arguments die, something like two Anglicanisms becomes more sensible - perhaps.
Sometimes separation may enable the Gospel to be God glorified and preached more widely. When I am tempted to fear separation I remember that if the vision that resulted in Methodism had remained confined within Anglicanism it could never have flourished. Just as clumps of lilies and other plants become more vigorous when broken apart, so it may be for all human groups, including us.
When Henry VIII, of blessed memory, wanted unjustly to get rid of his wife, he was king of a small, weak, politically unstable kingdom. The superpowers of the day were far more powerful the him, and loyal to Rome to boot. Yet he broke with Rome anyway, and dishonoured the king of the most powerful nation at the time in the bargain. He then proceeded to rub everyone's noses in it by murdering two wives and divorcing two more. Yet the Anglican Church, which owes its existence as a separate entity in Western Christianity to this shining example of the sexual morality we are now tearing ourselves apart trying to defend, seems to have done pretty good, by and large. God can bring good out of schism.