Thus far, I think I can say that I have quick and frustrated (if not angry) reactions to hypocrisy and inconsistency, particularly toward those who claim the title “conservative” or “liberal” but who do not act according to the principles of those terms. For example, when conservatives promote policies that only increase the government’s intrusion into our personal lives. Another example: when liberals claim to want to be diverse and include all people in the conversation or at the table, but in fact will not consider including conservatives – only those who are willing to be as “open minded” and “accepting” as they obviously are.
For aspects of the Church, examples might include: when conservatives are more about imposing a specific theological bent or practice rather than being about passing down the traditions (practice and belief) to the next generation or when liberals rather than promoting space for honest questioning and inquiry are more intent on imposing positions of identity politics, political correctness, or skewed notions of diversity.
I probably do not perceive correctly my own failures in these areas, and that is why I need the fellowship of people from all different perspectives who will keep me honest!
With all the acrimony that runs through this Church these days, and considering the knee-jerk reactions from various sides coming out of the General Convention, we must begin to revive the traditional Anglican way of seeking a common or middle way that carries the Church though rough times and the strong pull of the polarizing extremes. Heck, we need a revival of Hookerâ€™s ideals of what the Church of England and now Anglicanism can truly be. We could call ourselves â€œreviversâ€ or â€œrekindlersâ€ or â€œreawakenersâ€ after the â€œconservativeâ€™sâ€ term for themselves as â€œreassertersâ€ or the â€œliberalâ€™sâ€ term for themselves as â€œreappraisers.â€
Now is the day to begin rebuilding Anglicanism in the United States.
The polarization resulting from the American Culture Wars (from both the conservative and liberals sides) has infiltrated The Episcopal Church. The two extremes in this Church have polarized the membership, perhaps intentionally, in order to achieve their goals that result in the imposition of particular perspectives and practices over and above the middle or opposite-extreme positions. There are good and faithful Episcopalians from all sides that do wish to remain together and to forge an honest way forward so that the balance and richness that results from different sides staying in conversation, debate, and inquiry can be maintained. The result is a solidly balanced way to understand our faith in the 21st century and Godâ€™s call to us to influence the world.
Dean Alan Jones from Grace Cathedral in San Francisco in his new book entitled, Common Prayer on Common Ground: A Vision of Anglican Orthodoxy, attempts to articulate an Anglicanism based squarely on Via Media – the middle way which encompasses the vast majority of the common folk in the Episcopal Church. He writes about the “Conservative and Liberal Perspectives” in one small section of the book. I want to quote from it because I think he does a similar thing that The Very Rev. George Back did with his essay written in 1991 detailing the positive aspects of conservatism and liberalism in the Church and our need for both. I read Backâ€™s essay for the first time in The Anglican Digest July, 2003.
â€œThis highlights the weakness of liberalism. It is an effort â€“ sometimes noble and heroic â€“ to dispense with tradition and ancient ways of believing. [Houston] Smith writes, â€˜Liberals are at their worst in not recognizing how much an absolute can contribute to life, and in assuming that absolutes can be held only dogmatically, which is not the case. Absolutism and dogmatism lie on different axes. The first relates to belief, whereas the second is a charter disorder. The opposite of absolutism is not open-mindedness but relativism, and the opposite of dogmatism is not relativism but open-mindedness. There can be, and are dogmatic relativists and open-minded absolutists.â€™
â€œBut he goes on, â€˜liberals [are] better than conservatives at recognizing the dangers of fanaticism and the virtues of tolerance, and conservatives [are] better as perceiving the dangers of nihilism and the virtues of a sense of certaintyâ€¦ Both the strengths and dangers of liberalism pertain to lifeâ€™s horizontal dimension, which encompass[es] human relationships â€“ whereas those of conservatives pertains to the vertical, asymmetrical God-person relationships.â€™ [Houston Smith, The Soul of Christianity, HarperSanFrancisco: 2005, p.211]
â€œLiberals need to learn that the vertical relation is more important. It seems to me that the conservative diagnosis is often right but its remedy (charging back into an idealized and imagined past) is both unworkable and disastrous. The liberal is often a poor diagnostician but, at least, has an inkling of freedom in Godâ€¦
â€œâ€¦Of course, as an Anglican, Iâ€™d say that both statements are true! Itâ€™s a matter of emphasis. Polarization is a form of indulgence and is both unnecessary and harmful. The world is in both a state of sin and a state of grace. Human beings are both fallen and free.â€
Alan Jones, Common Prayer on Common Ground, Morehouse Publishing, 2006, pp31-32.