Episcopal Life is reporting on the House of Bishops Meeting, and my friend Canon Harmon has posted links to this enabling folks to comment on what they have read.
Those of you who regularly read my blog know that I have personally experienced a reconciliation event led by Brian Cox. He is an orthodox Anglican, let me assure everyone. However, some folks seem disappointed, angry, unhappy, or are assuming that he is a closet liberal because of the topics described for the reconciliation seminar. I think many folks don’t really know what topics the seminar is covering, but are working from the titles of some of the talks.
I’m going to supply my brief take on what these topics are based on the talks I’ve heard and read. I also have to confess that I was to serve on a team with Cox to present a reconciliation seminar that got rescheduled recently, and so I believe generally in the good of his work. One has to approach it much like a Cursillo and not ask for more than the Cursillo can give. If a simple seminar could solve all our problems in the Anglican Communion, we would have done these seminars a long time ago.
Here are the topics; I will address each in turn: pluralism; inclusion; peacemaking; social justice; forgiveness; healing; sovereignty; and atonement.
Pluralism: Reconciliation has to be begin with an acknowledgment of differences, and of the fact that these differences are not all bad. Moreover, reconciliation involves building bridges among people and groups of people. For those that would think pluralism is a bad thing right out of the box, I would note that the conservative movement in the Episcopal Church is made up of High Church Catholics and Low Church Evangelicals; it also includes all points in between. It is this type of vision that guides groups like the Louisiana Interchurch Council – it forms bridges between various churches, even though there is substantial disagreement on numerous issues. Kairos Prison Ministry is another example of an organization that builds bridges between Episcopalians, Methodists, Baptists, Pentecostals, you name it. When we minister in prison, we set aside things like the Eucharist, Marian theology, and we do not baptize people, although we all agree Baptism is necessary and leave it to the prison chaplain to handle such matters. At first blush, one might think we are going to far in setting aside our own personal beliefs about the Eucharist, or how to pray, or are missing the boat if we aren’t baptizing people. But, these are things on which Christians disagree, and for us to minister effectively, we have to be pluralistic in our vision. When Paul talks about not doing things that would make another brother stumble, he is talking about pluralism and inclusion, and the sacrifices necessary to build the Body of Christ.
Inclusion: I recently attended a Kiwanis conference where one of the speakers talked about communities that are inclusive being places where wonderful things can happen. I realized that once I heard this particular word – inclusion – my stomach immediately goes on edge because of how many times I have heard it uttered from liberal Episcopal leaders who are anything but inclusive. It is said that the work has taken on such a terrible connotation in our hearts and minds.
But, if you can think about what inclusion really means for a second, I think we can all see it is a Gospel value. The phrase that Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners also has a negative connotation for me, because it means for so many in the Episcopal Church that morality is now an anything goes proposition which cuts out huge portions of Jesus’ message and the overall message of the Bible. However, that connotation does not change the phrase into an untruth. Jesus was inclusive – he reached out to Samaritans, tax collectors, sinners. His message was as much for them as it was for the faithful of Israel. We have to hold fast to the total message of Jesus Christ, which includes inclusion. The other side of inclusion is the cessation of hostilities. Part of that is the acknowledgment of the sins committed against us. Part of that is acknowledging the sins we have committed against others – things done and left undone. In the current controversies of the day, whether it be the Episcopal Church or any conflict of which you can think, offenses is given and received by all sides. Inclusiveness involves getting rid of the previous hostilities. I would describe it also as forgiveness. Forgiveness does not mean that you forget who the other person is or what they have done to you, although God does give us that kind of forgiveness. Forgiveness means acting towards that other person in a manner where they don’t owe you anything for what they did to you before. That is what the Lord’s Prayer is talking about when it talks about forgiveness.
Another thought comes to mind when I think of inclusiveness in a good way. When I was at my first summer at Episcopal Church camp, the adopted son of an Episcopal priest was in my cabin. On the first day there, we broke up into Cabin groups to get to know each other. In any event, this person (I won’t use his name even though I remember it) was from Southeast Asia. One of the other boys in the cabin asked him where he was from, and before an answer could be given, I said he was an American. I felt in fourth grade after being raised in a Christian family that was the right thing to do. The boy who had asked the question I think realized the truth of what I was saying even at 9 years old. We needed to be inclusive, and it was the right and Christian thing to do. I think we can be true to that and not sell out all other core values of right and wrong, of Jesus Christ, his sacrifice for us on the cross for the remission of our sins, and the Biblical model for marriage between a man and a woman.
Conflict Resolution/Peacemaking: I want to emphasize that this does not involve selling out of core values. It does involve forgiveness, however. It also involves the practice of unconditional love towards one another. These are core Christian values – I don’t think this point is debatable.
Social Justice: Here we have another word that has taken on a bad connotation for conservatives, much as the phrase in our Baptismal covenant where we promise to respect the dignity of every human being. This is now connoted for extreme liberalism and normalization of same sex relationships in the church. However, Social Justice does not include either by definition. It does, however, require that we look at issues like economic fairness, social fairness, and political fairness. It requires us to seek the common good over our own individual good. This is a principle upon which Jesus preached time and time again, when he talked about bringing Good News to the poor, when he instructed us to care for the sick, the widowed, the orphan, the hungry, the naked, and those in prison.
Forgiveness: I’ve already written a good bit about forgiveness already in this piece. Is there anyone out there that doesn’t think forgiveness is a core Christian value? If so, email me offline and we’ll have a chat about forgiveness. I would reiterate what I said above regarding forgiveness – it doesn’t mean ignoring the past, it is simply to act as if the forgiven person doesn’t owe you anything.
Healing: Healing is a complimentary process to forgiveness. Healing is what can happen when we acknowledge that pain and hurt we have caused others. Sometime it involves making amends. Sometimes it involves asking for forgiveness from someone else. In a larger group based perspective, it has involved things like the truth and reconciliation commission in South Africa after apartheid. Truth has to precede healing in the reconciliation process. Without this truth, the relationship will remain a broken one, even if one party has forgiven another.
Sovereignty: Acknowledging God’s sovereignty is the key to faith based reconciliation – it provides the faith to undergird the process, and without which the process will not work. It also involves submission to God, and His will. I think this is a core Christian value which we should all be able to acknowledge. Perhaps where conservatives might recoil at inclusion or social justice, this is the part of the seminar that always gets some liberal recoil, because it often ultimately involves submission to what Scriptures says over what we think Scripture ought to say. I feel confident that this is something our House of Bishops needs to hear and is something with which those who constantly cry “autonomy” will have to struggle when confronted with the fact that God wills community. In any event, one of the things that sets Jesus apart from all others was his submission to God’s will, unto death.
Atonement: Well, liberals always recoil at this topic too, because it involves that part of Christ’s ministry they just wish didn’t happen. He died for all our sins, and it was necessary that He die for our sins. This is Gospel, no doubt. But, it did not stop with mere forgiveness – okay, we don’t owe God anything anymore – but was a full restoration of relationship. A reconciliation of man to God. It involves healing – an acknowledgment of our sins before God and an asking for forgiveness because we cannot make amends. It requires submission to God. The benefit of all this is a right relationship with God. That is what the Christian journey is all about – a right relationship with God.
So, when you put all these things together and shake them up, what do you have? The reconciliation seminar is an inherently Christian message. It is, in fact, Christ’s message.
I, and, I’m sure, Brian Cox, are not naive enough to think that everything will be hunky dory after this House of Bishops meeting. However, this is probably the best thing for the Bishops. At least they will be hearing an inherently Christian message, rather than something else. I think those that say that Cox’s work with the Bishops is an act of futility may have a point. But, Jesus gave his life for the sins of the whole world, and I’m sure that would seem like an act of futility to many folks.
Those that are saying that Cox is selling out, a closet liberal, is not preaching or teaching Christ’s Gospel, or is acting to just keep the dissenters in line, are just plain wrong. There is no other way to say it.