This is too long, but in my “thinking out loud,” brevity isn’t easy. I am very thankful that this Church makes a place for those who wrestle with doubt. I am very glad that those who find this Faith very difficult to manage are given a place to struggle. Our Tradition dictates that we make a way for those with whom we disagree, for those we may find it difficult to engage, and that we can find our strength and balance in having a wide theological and pietistic berth. It is a strength of our Anglican Tradition.
I love the fact that within this Church we have Charismatic Anglican-Evangelicals and Anglo-Papists, and all the theological and pietistic diversity that comes into play as a result. What a positive witness to the world of a way of being that is so peculiar within the prevailing worldly systems. Yet, our Tradition calls us to put aside all these differences and come to the Eucharist and receive the Bread and the Wine together, to common prayer and worship, from a unifying Book of Common Prayer. We are witnessing the reality that common worship and prayer and means of maintaining diversity are not possible when we all decide to do our own thing – province to province, diocese to diocese, parish to parish, and individual to individual.
As I’ve ruminated before, discipline is very important in this kind of environment, else we end up with chaos and disunity. Benevolent ecclesiastical discipline is a necessity, theological rigor is vital, honesty and good will must be maintained, else we fly apart, we demonize our opponents, we act very unchristian in front of a world that seeks something, someone, someplace that can offer hope beyond what they find with these world systems. We fail them and the cause of Christ when some of us in the aggregate insist on acting the way we have been in this Church and this Communion over the past 5 years specifically and really building over the last 20+ years, perhaps more. The fault and blame lie squarely at the feet of people who claim both conservatism and liberalism, but with the intent of imposing their own ideology on the rest of us. Social and political ideology have become more important than our unity. Looks just like our polarized civil government, doesn’t it?
Over the years, I’ve noticed a shift in part of the ethos of this Church – perhaps only in the leadership (bishops, priests, theologians), perhaps within its very fiber – away from something that sounds like, “The Church teaches, even as I struggle to understand…” to something that sounds more like, “This is what I want to believe, regardless of what the Church teachers.” We continue to move down the path of self and hyper-individualism in belief and action over the Common good – this is a weakness, a proclivity that has and continues to hinder us in our proclamation of the Cause of Christ in word and deed.
Is this Church more like the Unitarian Universalists, that believe that each person can cobble together their own belief system in good faith or is it more like the Southern Baptists that believe it is imperative that all must agree on every jot and tittle, else they be expelled from fellowship? After all, what does light have to do with darkness.
One group shouts, “Hurray! We are moving to the enlightened position of the Unitarian Universalists and we are remaking this Church just like we want it to be!” Even as we lose members and become irrelevant to the larger society. Another groups shouts, “We must stop this heresy and re-impose the faith that has been handed down unchanging since the time of Jesus, else we cannot ourselves believe.” Even as we no longer provide a space for those who doubt or have a hard time believing or are looking for an example of a place where people can get along despite important differences. Most of all the rest of us just want to be Anglicans, as the Tradition reveals.
What have we done with “Doubt,” the twin of faith and necessary for the Faith to be realized, IMHO? One side has elevated doubt into a virtue to be extolled and emulated. Another side has condemned it to be antithetical to a Christian life. Right now, the side that extols doubt to the point of virtue is on the ascendancy. Couple that with our rampant individualism and you have a recipe for chaos and disaster. This is where were we are living. It can’t last. The world isn’t seeking chaos, a place that has no real identity, or a people that have no clue what they believe in common. For the rest of us, we just want to be Anglicans, as the Tradition reveals.
This may be an exaggeration of the real condition of the parishes across the Church. Jason has reminded me that to get caught up in generalities can be problematic, and I tend to. I tend to look at trends – I don’t see the forest for the trees, at times. Yet, I can’t take a broad look across this Church and think that we are going in good direction on the whole. The statistics, and I have the statistics, show that we continue to decline – and that means our positive influence over the powers-that-be politically, socially, and financially for the good of all continues to decline. The path this Church has gone down and continues down – elevating doubt to a virtue, allowing hyper-individualism to overwhelm our Common experience, and putting aside our discipline – works counter to the very things the leadership has proclaimed it be important. We pass resolutions that no longer impact anyone.
As I’ve said before, the clergy take vows to maintain the discipline of this Church through which we received our Holy Orders and are licensed to fulfill our priestly office; we vow to maintain the Church’s teaching in its Canons and the Book of Common Prayer as we act pastorally, prophetically, sacramentally. We are failing the people; we are failing the nation; we are failing Anglicanism, as the Tradition reveals – in the aggregate.