I am writing this on the day that Gene Robinson is being consecrated as Bishop of New Hampshire. He will be making history as the first open and active gay man to be made bishop in the Anglican Church. His election and consecration has threatened to cause division not only in his own Episcopal Church of the United States, but across the entire Anglican Communion.
For some faithful Anglicans, today marks the painful end of an agreed understanding of how we should order our lives and our churches. They feel distraught and anxious about the future of our Communion and the future of the Christian faith as it has been taught and handed down over the centuries.
For others, today heralds a time when we step out of the shadows of hypocrisy into the light of Christ’s love for and acceptance of all his followers, including that small minority who are attracted to their own sex. For these believers, the Church has just made a bold and positive stand which will enhance its mission and ministry to the world.
Last month the Anglican Primates gathered at Lambeth Palace at the invitation of Archbishop Rowan Williams, largely in response to Gene Robinson’s election. What they achieved was remarkable: no one walked out and everyone pledged to stay faithful to the process, even though they acknowledged that there would be repercussions when Gene Robinson was made bishop. As in politics, what happens now will have, at least in part, to do with the art of the possible: we are not starting in an ideal world, nor are we starting in a vacuum.
Right before he allowed himself to be arrested, Jesus prayed a powerful prayer for our unity – not albeit denominational, but for all his followers: … “that they may be one as we are one – I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity.” (John 17:23 TNIV) This unity was for a purpose, so that “the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me”.
I believe that Anglican unity is a prize worth fighting for, but that unity exists within the context of a greater unity – the unity of all believers in Christ. Even if the nature of Anglican unity changes over the weeks and months to come, we can still claim and stand on that greater unity, which, if we truly believe in the life, saving death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and in the ongoing infilling of the Holy Spirit, remains unshaken. We can disagree with one another, we can even declare ourselves out of communion with one another, whatever that means, but let’s not lose sight of the nature and purpose of the deeper unity that we have in the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord. There can be nothing more important than that.