Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Unchanging Faith?

Unity in diversity is a wonderful thing, and we can often find it in suprising places, as I did while traveling before Christmas, in the interfaith chapel at D/FW airport. I had time to kill before my connecting flight and happened upon the chapel during my wanderings. It was about evening prayer time, so I stepped in, and found two men kneeling and praying facing Mecca. I sat in a back row seat and prayed, and then wished them a happy Eid as they left. They wished me a happy Christmas. It was really lovely.

Unfortunately, unity in diversity is often more difficult. I'm an Episcopalian, a priest in the American Christian denomination that finds its roots in the Church of England and is a part of the world wide Anglican Communion. (See links at right for more information.) This communion is in disarray right now. We've having trouble maintaining our unity in diversity, as you may have heard. Here in the Diocese of San Joaquin, the bishop has left this church to become a part of the Anglican Church that is located in the Southern Cone of Latin America. The bishop isn't actually moving to the Southern Cone, he just wants to head an outpost of that body here in California. He's trying to force the priests in his former diocese to do the same. And he's not alone. There are others, like him, who are upset that the Episcopal Church ordains women, like me, to the priesthood (and has been since 1977) and that we now are honestly acknowledging the holy and priestly ministry of gay and lesbian people in our body who serve as bishops, priests, deacons, and lay people. Notice that I didn't say we've "begun to ordain" gay and lesbian people. We've been ordaining them all along. We're just finally being honest about that and allowing them to be honest about who they are. Sounds like a move toward authenticity to me.

But not to everyone. And that's okay. We don't all have to agree on this issue. I think the church has to be honest and that we are called to be radically and wildly inclusive of all people. But not everyone is ready for that, yet. Not everyone was when Jesus said it about Samaritans, either, or women or tax collectors. That didn't stop him from saying it, and it didn't stop him from sharing meals with those who disagreed with him. That's unity in diversity.

But then, as now, those who disagree often separate themselves from the community. Few Pharisees chose to follow Jesus. And now those who are angry with the Episcopal Church are separating themselves. They're even planning a conference in Jerusalem to show their opposition to those who will be gathering in London for the Archbishop of Canterbury's Lambeth conference, held every ten years for all bishops in the Anglican Communion. Episcopal Life Online has a good story about it here.

In this article Presiding Bishop Gregory Venables, of the Southern Cone, is quoted as saying, "Our pastoral responsibility to the people that we lead is now to provide the opportunity to come together around the central and unchanging tenets of the central and unchanging historic Anglican faith."

This is odd to me, because our faith is anything but 'unchanging.' GOD is unchanging! Our faith hardly is. And I don't just mean the wanderings of faith and doubt that most of us experience; I mean what the church has taught throughout time, and more specifically, what the Anglican Church has taught. At one time, battles were fought over whether or not candles should be used in worship! There were battles over more significant things, too, like the Divine Right of Kings, and the faithfulness of the Roman Catholic Church. John and Charles Wesley began an evangelical movement in the Church of England which became the Methodist Church after their deaths. We disagree about the role and responsibility of bishops, the nature of ordination, the understanding of our central sacrament of Eucharist, or Holy Communion.

Faith isn't static. Our understanding of God is incomplete and so we're always growing, always re-assessing, always discovering new life in Christ. To suggest that our faith is "unchanging" is Pharisaical. It's holding on to some past definition of who we are and who God is and it shutters ourselves against any new movement of the Holy Spirit. I'm a part of a dynamic, ever-changing church which, at its best, is continually seeking greater understanding of Scripture, God, ourselves, God's mission in the world, and our role in that mission. May we be always more - not less - open to the change of God's transforming reign!


Joseph P. Mathews, OSL said...


eric said...

Hey there, I came across your blog from the Facebook group and must say I have enjoyed looking through it :) Hope you don't mind that I've added you to my blogroll! Pax +