Thursday 18 December 2008

Anglican Schism — Righteous Salami

Ages before the words had quite today’s meaning, they used to say in Yorkshire, “The whole world’s queer save thee and me, and I’ve been wondering about thee recently...” People in every Church have said it, from the Great Papal Schism (1378-1417) to the Marcel Lefebvre movement, or the salami slicing of the Kirk since the Great Disruption of 1843. It happens. Always the righteous minority walk away, claiming that everyone else has constructively dismissed them.

Actually this behaviour transcends religion. The extreme Right Swinton Circle does it. “It’s not the party I joined,” wailed old Labourites in flat caps through the 90’s. And, of course, they were right. Things change, and righteous remnant attitudes lie crouching at all our doors, awaiting their day.

For fun, Bosco Peters has started up his own Real Anglican Communion. Salami slice your way to True Orthodoxy with Mickey Mouse, and you are actually heading towards vanishing point. Bosco’s pulling our legs, but the guy who got consecrated in Kalispell Montana as Pope Pius XIII is deadly serious about being the “true Catholic Church,” following the liberal defection of the other billion odd Roman Catholics in the world. It’s hard to tell where Mickey taking shades into reality. The whole process of rancorous straining at gnats and swallowing camels seems to Bonsai people’s self awareness, as various ecclesiastical costumiers ring up the dollars, to illustrate the grandiose websites.

Cue Dr Ephraim Radner — a deeply grounded and spiritually aware Conservative theologian from Wycliffe College, Toronto. He’s posted his Advent thoughts, What I have learned these past five years, and I commend them to the house as a supremely wise, humble and hopeful resource to everyone on all sides, a blast of human and spiritual reality for us all:

The last few years of struggle within the Episcopal Church (TEC) and within the Anglican Communion have taken their toll on many persons and congregations, and on our common life in a larger way. Every day brings some new report on the impending or already achieved “break-up” of Anglicanism and on the spectacle of “global schism”, even while Anglican leaders insist that this hasn’t happened yet. Many congregations in the United States, and some in Canada, have left their denominations for other forms of Anglican relationship. Even more congregations, including many that have left TEC, have been torn by conflict or bled by tension and malaise, and TEC’s membership has shown a steady and alarming drop in the past three or four years. Declarations affirming something “new” about to begin or demanding something “old” be restored are issued from various groups, and the project of developing “adequate structures” or even canons for this or that ministry, mission, and witness is seen by many as a necessity, even if understood in contradictory ways.

How does one navigate this time as an Anglican Christian? I have a number of friends and colleagues who have decided simply that it is not possible to do so. For various reasons, they have left Anglicanism altogether – becoming Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox (less common), non-denominational evangelical Christians (often) or finally (most frequently) “church drop-outs” altogether. A common theme among these persons has been a sense of exhaustion and spiritual depletion, even as they have discerned elements of doctrine and ecclesial life that they believe, in different ways, are best embodied in other Christian traditions. The ache of inner ailment has stirred up a theological ferment whose outcome has opened up the press for a new direction altogether....

More importantly than the substance of the issue in question, however, I have had to face quite simply the fact that my own views, however carefully constructed and believed in, are not the measure of the church’s life or of anybody else’s. They cannot displace, in time, a whole range of other imperatives to action, relationship, reflection and counsel, witness, and prayer. And once I allow them to do this, I have given way, not to God’s sovereign power and love, but to my own self-regard. I might well ask, “why do the wicked prosper?” and find God staying my heart (cf. Psalm 37); I might remember Paul’s exhortation not to insist on one’s own ways (1 cor. 13:5; Rom. 15:1f.), not for the sake of giving up convictions or of compromise, but simply to give oneself over to God the just judge (1 Pet.2:23); I might also, finally and even better, plead, “I am a worm and no man, have mercy on me” (Ps. 22:6, 19).

In a world of inceasing individualism and single issue fanaticism, the gentleman is right, and his point, of course, cuts all ways. He draws attention to eleven particular action learning points:

  1. You can’t always get what you want, even if you are right
  2. Parishes are mixed, and require building up by non-conflictive teaching, not transformation into battlegrounds
  3. So is the whole Communion, and it has the same need
  4. Legal complexity cuts both ways
  5. The impact of global culture on Christian life needs to be understood carefully and accurately
  6. We cannot avoid repeating the mistakes of the past
  7. There is no magic bullet solution, to be brought about by cataclysmic change
  8. No one person or group is in a position to bring about such a solution
  9. There is no credit in failing to defend the integrity of adversaries, or remaining silent in the face of indefensible behaviour by allies
  10. Spiritual Malice remains Spiritual Malice, to be avoided at all costs
  11. Israel, wait on the Lord
    What I seek to do – through God’s mercy and grace — is to retain the faith, hope, and love that will permit constancy in testimony, perseverance in learning, willingness in encounter, and the wisdom through such persistence to persuade in trust and service. The great gifts of Anglicanism have always turned in this direction – for we were ever sinful, were we not? — so that our mission has triumphed over our internal tensions...

I spent Tuesday in a day’s personal growth, learning and reflection with senior Christian leaders in Buckinghamshire, Baptist, Methodist, Savation Army, United Reformed, Roman Catholic. As we shared openly together what God has been showing us, very much in the spirit of Dr Radner, a tremendous sense emerged of the importance for our common life of integrating the ways God sees us, and the ways the world sees us, and the ways we see each other and ourselves. Ditto at yesterday’s wonderful Diocesan senior staff meeting. We only get one Advent this year, during which we pray
O wisdom that proceeds from the mouth of the most high, reaching powerfully from end to end, sweetly (elegantly, smoothly, gently) ordering everything: Come teach us the way of good judgment.

Let’s not waste it this year...


Erp said...

One could always go back to the post-Vatican I schisms. The Old Catholics are still around and well established, but, there are the smaller much more unusual groups like the "Old Roman Catholic Church of North America" and the "Liberal Catholic Church".

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Anonymous said...

Religious salami? The "new province" is actually a reverse religious salami, attempting to bringing together a number of separate groups, one over a hundred years old.
Whether one thinks this new group should or could be an anglican province or not, we should applaud christian groups/churches joining together.
There's too much religious salami: this move represents some slices joining back into a sausage!


Anonymous said...

I'm a member of an Anglican Church that has left the Anglican Church of Canada, and therefore I guess a sliver of righteous salami. I think it's only fair to let your readers know that many of the considerations you raise in your blog post have been thought and prayed about at length by those at the helm of these "breakaway" congregations and dioceses.

I'm not a cradle Anglican, having gone to an Anglican church for just over a decade, and it sometimes makes me insane when it takes Anglican bureaucracies so LONG to make any decision or carry anything into action. Committees, commisions, task forces, endless dialogue and negotiation...

Now, six years after this long road began in our diocese, I see the wisdom of much of this, the value of exhausting every avenue of reconciliation, which I believe has been done. Even now the diocese we left refuses to come to the table and talk to us about an amicable settlement re.propery,. but chooses instead to drag us into the secular courts.

No matter how much counselling you take, at some point, sometimes, the marriage is over. It's never good, and we should never be happy about it, but sometimes it's the best you can do.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thanks, to all, especially PtheD and OSlope for your thoughtful perspectives. Let's hope that's how it works out, though to a certain extent the experience with "traditionalists" over here is that there are fundamental fault lines, for example between those who support the Prayer Book and those who are "Western Use" and anti-women's ordination. The Scots experience is that it is very difficult to bring back together these kinds of groups. The Methodists managed in the UK in the early 1930's, even reconciling Prims and Wesleyans, so it can be done, but it ain't easy.

I'm also told there was a move in the eighties to outflank the General Convention over women's ordination by bringing in reserves from the third world.

I quite understand that where you end up has to be the best you feel, under God, you can do, rather than some perfect place that doesn't exist.

Erika Baker said...

Dear Bishop Alan

(this is not for posting on your blog unless you want to. But it is the only way I know how to contact you. I don’t know whether it will be too long to fit into one post, so apologies if I have to split it into several and appear to flood your inbox).

I have read this post when you first put it up, and it has been working away inside me all that time. I have been hit by the casual reference to increasing individualism and single issue fanaticism and that you cannot always get what you want even if you’re right.

Whether you personally meant to include me in this I don’t know, but because the current crisis in the church has to do with sexuality, I believe the single issue fanaticism you refer to is about people like me. Even if your post wasn’t about me, it has crystallised my thoughts more than anything else recently.

The implication is clear – if you’re on the extremes of the church, you just have to shut up because even if you’re right you must accept that the moral middle ground majority has the right to dismiss you.

The truly extreme thing I wanted was to be a full member of Christ’s church. And your post has finally made me realise that this cannot be possible. That my wish to be as accepted as you are will always considered to be extreme and therefore dismissible, and that dismissing it will always be considered to be perfectly reasonable.

And so I will now complete a process that started 2 years ago and finally leave the church.

I will leave you with a “letter from an extremist”, a letter I wrote to a friend some 18 months ago. Things have moved on. But it still describes this extremist better than anything else I have written since.

Goodbye. I have enjoyed reading your blog, but I shall not miss it. Just as I have loved this church but am now truly ready to accept its verdict on my life and to leave for something better.

I shall take my deep and ever lasting faith with me.

Have a blessed Christmas.
And thank you for the conversations we have had on this blog.


Letter of July 2007

Dear Jane

How are you? You asked me today after I’d been rejoicing with you at your ordination and at that wonderful first post-ordination sermon you preached, and after you’d seen me cry at the altar rail during communion.
“And Susan?”
Nothing alright there, then!

As a friend, and maybe also in your new role as Deacon in the benefice, you deserve a better answer.
But how to talk to someone so flushed with excitement at being allowed to serve God in his church about how this church has taken away so much from me?

Last week you promised to give the bishop the respect he is due and to obey him.
This is the man who let it be known that I am the unacceptable face of his church and will not be allowed to take on any official role in it.

This is a church that is completely divided over one issue only – same sex relationships. They have become the one doctrinal matter that separates the sheep from the goats. Nothing else matters. The Americans may be expelled, General Synod is debating a covenant that reads more like divorce rules in case someone has the cheek to have a different view. Foreign primates are allowed to call us abominations worse than animals, and going by the Christian blogs on the web, about half of the people in our church agree that we have to either repent and accept their particular view of what God likes and doesn’t like, or we have to leave.

I hear the Bishop talk about Changing Lives, and a constant voice rings out in the back of my mind: this doesn’t mean you, this doesn’t mean you, this doesn’t mean you.

I hear people preach God’s all encompassing and inclusive love, and the caveat roars through my body: not for you, not for you, not for you.

I hear people exhort us to find our own calling and to serve Christ in his church, and the subtext is: you in the back row, don’t even think I’m speaking to you!

Locally, too... there is tremendous support, total acceptance, incredible encouragement. But there is also dissent, people staring with a hatred I had barely believed possible from folk who’ve known me for 6 years.

The “purity laws” officially only apply to the clergy, it’s up to the individual bishop whether they also apply to Readers. Here, they even apply to something as mundane as the PCC. I stayed away from the APCM so the Christians of the village could debate openly whether I was allowed to join the PCC again as Secretary. Whether I’m fit to take notes of their deliberations about the toilet was a matter of heated, and close, debate. I suppose I’m meant to be overjoyed that I scraped through.

It’s completely destroyed Susan who has all but left the church.
She had never had much self confidence, it wasn’t something her family was particularly good at instilling in their children. She was saved from deep depression in her early twenties by the sound of bells calling for Evensong, and by hearing about this God who loves each and every one of us unconditionally.
The church gave her the space to grow. Grow as a person, grow in faith, grow in confidence.
For her, God and his church have always been very much one and the same. Learning, praying, reading and growing culminated in her becoming a Reader and serving God in his church. Service in the community has always been what faith is all about. Now she won’t be re-licensed.

In many respects, the criteria for Readers are even harder than those for priests, because when a priest comes out he cannot be defrocked, but when a Reader lives openly in a same sex relationship she can be kicked out, just like that.

Susan’s marriage failed not least because her husband shared none of that faith, had nothing but boredom and later even contempt for it.
In many respects, mine did too.

So we could not serve God to the full while we were both married, because our partners could never be a part of it. We’ve both felt called to be priests at one or the other points in our journey, but that was completely impossible, living with men who hated everything about the church.

There is a supreme irony in that we now both live in the most fulfilling, most God focused and most Christian relationship we’ve ever known. And now the church is saying – sorry, you’re out.
Did we ever say unconditional love? Ha! You misunderstood! That wasn’t meant for you! Not while you’re an unrepentant sinner!
Did we ever say follow God’s voice and he will guide you to wholeness?
Oh dear, but you’ve gone down a route that we don’t approve of, and we know what God accepts and what he rejects, so you’re out, I’m afraid.

While we were both living in un-Christian marriages, the church was falling over backwards to encourage us to serve within its framework.
Now that we’re in the most committed and faith-filled relationship, we’re just possibly fit to eat the crumbs under the church’s table, but only if we keep quiet, don’t make a noise and wear dark clothes.

I’ve never allowed anyone to define me by one single issue. I wasn’t defined by the fact that I am a woman, and I wasn’t going to allow anyone to define me by my sexuality. How naive!
The world, the Anglican world, insists on defining me by sexuality and sexuality alone. Any sin is forgiven in our modern church, with the exception of paedophilia and of not being straight.

When I first told Penny about Susan and me, she said that maybe God was calling me to minister to “them”, i.e. this so called gay community, in the future. Oh no, not me! I am still Erika, in all my complexity. I’m not a single issue, and I won’t take on single issues!

How wrong I was. I’ve joined Changing Attitude, an organisation within the church that tries to change opinions from within. I’ve become contact person for our Diocese. And Susan and I have “adopted” a Nigerian brother, Davis Mac-Iyalla, who has been outed as gay in Nigeria and has since suffered a smear campaign from his church, has lost his job, his family have been put under pressure to disown him, and he is living in exile in another African country. Davis has just returned from a speaking tour of the US and is now at General Synod. He’ll be spending 3 days with us at the end of this month, and I want him to have a real family holiday, a breathing space, a place where he can just be, be accepted, be loved. Without having to speak about himself all the time, explain himself, make himself vulnerable to judgement, turn his sexuality into the only thing that matters about him.

Supporting Davis has been the most amazing spiritual journey I’ve been on. But it has also been one that has drawn me deeper and deeper into the centre of the conflict that’s tearing our church apart.
Davis, Susan, I – we’re issues, we’re no longer individual people but we’re being torn apart in a debate in which both sides claim us for themselves, as sinners or as victims.
Who we are, how we live, how we love, our relationship with those around us and with God – none of that matters. The sole focus is on sex.

Can you imagine living a life in which everyone sees you in terms of your sex life and nothing else?
When the church tested your vocation, many many things about you were looked at, investigated and affirmed.
When the church looks at me, it sees only that the person I’m with has the wrong genitals.

How I hate it! But I’m absolutely powerless and cannot do anything about it. It feels like a huge part of me has been completely obliterated.

I should be able to brush it off, to laugh about those who post to a Christian blog that “You seem to be under the impression that it is alright for homosexuals to be alive and that it is possible for them to be Christian”. But the onslaught is relentless, the prejudice rife wherever you look. Some supporters who believe they’re being particularly helpful state that our sexuality is part of God’s great diversity and serves to show human fallibility. With friends like these!

So, what now?
I wish I knew!
Susan has “left” the church and will only come occasionally.
She is completely lost, not really having a concept of God that doesn’t include the church.
The church that has built her up and given her a sense of value and self-worth has now told her that, hey, it was all a mistake. You’re no longer the good girl we wanted you to be. Sorry. No hard feelings, ok?
She’s depressed again, drifting. And for once, I have nothing to say to her that could help.

For, where can we go?
Oh yes, there are the Quakers, there are the Unitarians.... but when church is first and foremost bound up with serving your local community....then these don’t seem like the right options. They’re only half of what Christ wants from and for us.

Locally, we’re allowed to sit in the pews. Thanks!

But my life is difficult right now. My daughter is still ill, although she’s doing very well, and we won’t know for another 6 years whether she’s cured or whether she’ll relapse.
My business has folded during the 18 months I’ve spent looking after her and I’m not sure that I can build it all up again. The building work is going through a difficult stage, and Susan especially is finding it hard.

Where is God calling us? What path are we to take in the future?
In the past I would have gone to church to discover that. But increasingly, being in church is more painful than healing. It used to be the place where I could just be, just let God, just let go.
Now it’s the place where every joy is tinged with sadness, every resolve to stay a battle cry rather than a true resting in God’s healing love.

I can’t not go – too many have been truly and wholly supportive and loving. I cannot let them down, cannot let them go out of my life. They are still truly God’s face in the church, they are those carrying the light that shines in the world.

Where else could I find people like that? A community like that?
Where do people go who are disillusioned, hurt, cast out?
Where do people go who still need God’s love and God’s healing, but who find that his church is no longer the place where they can find that?

I can’t just sit in the pews for the rest of my life waiting for the church to decide whether I’m acceptable to the righteous sinners within.
God is calling me to service – I have no idea where or what that might be.
God still has a place where I can be healed and grow – I have no idea where that might be.

But I’m living in a free society in a free country, where I won’t be imprisoned for living with a woman, but where I can even “marry” her. I’m worshiping in a church were many have shone Christ’s light into my life and are continuing to hold his candle high. My daughter is getting better, I will soon be able to start working again. I will have a lovely house in the middle of a beautiful village, a place in which to welcome all those God sends. Those who need to rest, to be affirmed, to be loved and held, just for being who they are.
So, you see – I’m alright.
Susan is alright.

Thanks for asking.
Thanks for listening.

Love and prayers

Bishop Alan Wilson said...


Thank you so much for your very full and deeply personal response, and for being willing to share it. I've very much enjoyed your comments through the year — I'll miss you!

In fairness to the gentleman who originated the phrase about not always having what you want even if you're right, he was of course, coming from a diametrically opposite direction to yourself.

I don't really follow your "obvious implication." I've always been intrigued by Charles Simeon's statement that the truth does not lie in the middle but in both extremes; and often that turns out to be the case. I realise that it is lonely being on the extreme of anything; and here I am, inevitably the middle you may say, trying to listen carefully to everyone who has commented on this story; along with all sorts of voices, gay and straight, including very countercoultural ones. Perhaps that's what can't be done...

Thanks, above all, for presenting so clearly how all this has impacted you personally.

Love and prayers

as ever


Bishop Alan Wilson said...


Thank you so much for your very full and deeply personal response, and for being willing to share it. I've very much enjoyed your comments through the year — I'll miss you!

In fairness to the gentleman who originated the phrase about not always having what you want even if you're right, he was of course, coming from a diametrically opposite direction to yourself.

I don't really follow your "obvious implication." I've always been intrigued by Charles Simeon's statement that the truth does not lie in the middle but in both extremes; and often that turns out to be the case. I realise that it is lonely being on the extreme of anything; and here I am, inevitably the middle you may say, trying to listen carefully to everyone who has commented on this story; along with all sorts of voices, gay and straight, including very countercultural ones. Perhaps that's what can't be done...

Thanks, above all, for presenting so clearly how all this has impacted you personally.

Love and prayers

as ever


Erika Baker said...

Thank you for your lovely response.

Yes, I know the gentleman you quote (and I LOVE the quote itself!) is on the diametrically opposed side to mine. But you also say:
"and I commend them to the house as a supremely wise, humble and hopeful resource to everyone on all sides"

Which is were my "obvious" implication comes into it. If something is suspect while only those at the extremes support it vociferously, then both extremes are judged by the silent majority as... extreme!

You're saying that you're trying to listen to everyone and that maybe it can't be done.
Hmm... it CAN be done. But listening has to be in aid of something. Deeper understanding of both sides - yes. But also, ultimately, a personal choice.

It's fine to remain agnostic about mere theological issues. Whether it is truly possible to remain agnostic about deciding whether a particular group of people is "in" or "out" is something I cannot comment on. Maybe it's something that needs to be taken into Spiritual Direction.

My position, as someone directly affected by your views to an extent you will never be affected by mine is clearer. I cannot be agnostic about myself. And the question is how long I can be expected to wait until the majority has given up its agnosticism about me and come to a conclusion.

Anyway, my personal decision has been made. I no longer have what it takes to fight that which for most of you is a nice thorny theoretical problem, but which to me is about my very own life.
But how difficult to have to leave behind conversations like this one!

Well... if you're ever near here, do get in touch. You find my contact details on my website

And again - thank you.


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