anglican, sectarian

Oh come on. Now I understand what they mean by Sectarian.

I just saw this on the BBC:

A Californian diocese has voted to become the first to break away from the US Episcopal Church in protest at its support for gays in the Church.

Now I’m not an Anglican, but there are quite a few Anglicans that I do talk to – not to mention that this schism problem is a problem everyone is dealing with, its just that the Anglicans are being open about it.

The “liberal” side of the Anglican communion made concessions earlier this year if I remember right (this is a bad phrase, “liberal,” particularly for this subject, but I’ll just run with it for this post). But, apparently the way it is right now is still not okay. This is to say, for me, very disappointing and frustrating. If the Anglican communion can’t hold together, lets just face it, we’re all screwed. They’ve got the most flexible set up; for crying out loud, their understandings of themselves, ever since Elizabeth I actually, is encapsulated in their phrase “via media” (the middle way).

Sexual theology aside, this is troubling on another fundamental level – the “conservatives” are giving up the denominations now. This is exactly how “liberals” got the seminaries and divinity schools less than two centuries ago. Read Dorrien’s trilogy for more details (vol 1, vol 2, vol 3 – especially vol 1 for this subject), but I’ll give a very brief overview: Conservatives got frustrated that liberals and unitarians made their way into Yale, Andover-Newton and Harvard (particularly in faculty positions and as visiting lecturers), so they either left or got nudged out and started up their own schools like Princeton Seminary (and then Princeton went too “liberal” for some). The liberalizing of Union was related, but also included entirely different issues as well, like historical criticism. Over all, some conservatives were clearly nudged out, but quite a few were very dogmatic on a plethora of issues and could not stand to stay. As time went on, the conservatives generally kept moving more and more to the margins.

Now it is no surprise to me that since conservatives gave up the schools, they’re now having problems staying in their denominations. However, to make that connection is the subject of a very large book and I am not prepared to write that now. I am also not advocating for “conservatives” to stay in and wrestle control from the “liberals,” rather that they should stay put. Do. Not. Leave.

When I hear the charge of sectarianism against people like my conservative undergrad or Hauerwas or some other theological position, I am very suspicious of that. Sectarians are isolationists, which my undergrad or Hauerwas is not – they’re just highly critical, nevertheless, they are still engaging. However, to leave the communion like this is to cease engagement with our community. That strikes me as sectarian. This sort of thing will continue the polarization of American Christianity and that is bad enough already. I do not think I can say this any stronger: Do not leave.

This idea of getting up and leaving is not Christian; this idea of movement despite breaking relationships is fairly American in actuality. To assume we can just simply get up and leave without maintaining ties is capitalism telling us that our job is more important than the community you’re already in. “You have to go where the company sends you or you don’t have a job” is something I’ve heard before. I didn’t like it then and I like it even less now. We have to follow jobs because we don’t have a sense of responsibility to our community and because we don’t have a community to begin with; we’re alone and subject to company power because our anthropology given by the state and the market privatizes and commodifies us. I’m becoming more and more convinced that this American incarnation of sectarianism as such is not Christian, instead it is the forces of the state and the market subverting our community. If our community of the church meant more to us than always being right, but to instead to live together, I think that this rash of schisms would not be quite as bad as it currently is.

This isn’t divorce court. Stay together.


8 thoughts on “Oh come on. Now I understand what they mean by Sectarian.

  1. I am very sympathetic to the call “Do not leave,” but I am also sympathetic to those who do. As nice as it would be to be able to keep denominations together by sheer force of will and determination, I don’t think its realistic. It would only be realistic if one had a moderate hierarchy – or even a vocal moderate majority who seemed capable of setting the agenda – but this doesn’t seem to be the case. The denominations were doomed as soon as polarization set in, and that goes back a long way.

    Sorry that I don’t have more optimism, but I sometimes am tempted with the thought that instead of fighting tooth and nail over every inch of ground in a loosing battle, why not perform a tactical retreat that would provide for reorganization and consolidation?

  2. d. w. horstkoetter says:

    I wish I had optimism as well. Personally I am a the-glass-is-half-empty kind of person — unless its scotch or a good beer and then I’m wondering why its only half empty in the first place.

    Christianity seems to me inherently idealistic. At Union I’ve come across a lot of “Christian Realism,” particularly of the R. Niebuhr variety. I’m not trying to group you in with Niebuhr, but I think my answer is rather similar: realistically, Christianity is eschatological. Embodiment of the basileia is an odd thing. As the basileia is both here and not yet here, the church reflects this tension in a number of ways. On one hand, the church seems broken and often incapable, but on the other hand, the church belongs to Christ and therefore the church is redeemed and potentially capable. It is also from this standpoint that the church can be judged – whether or not it stands up to its calling, to itself being the mission of the kingdom. There is a great deal of complexity in all this, I agree, but the beauty is that we’re still the body. I suppose the question to answer becomes, “When is the relationship between us dead?”

    Part of me wants to say death doesn’t set in until there is the split. Then again, perhaps the process of death starts sooner and we didn’t see it. Yet, still, redemption seems possible, for God is the healer of relationships and the resurrector. This is Christian hope that drives us forward and I do not think the hope can be realized if we’re looking at this in terms of battle. Each side is serious, each side cares. Perhaps I am somewhat naive, but learning to co-exist, despite how hard it is, is us living the basileia.

    Ironically, the vocal majority in the Anglican communion is the conservatives and the average congregant is an African woman, in Africa which has a reputation right now for its conservatism. This is another reason why I find it so odd that conservatives are leaving. Worldwide they have the majority.

    All in all, especially with the concessions made by the liberals in New Orleans earlier this year, I do not think it is too much too hope for that they stay together.

  3. I don’t want to claim either of the Niebuhrs!

    Should we, and to what extent should we, distinguish between the church and the kingdom? I think that is an important question here.

    I don’t know the ins and outs of the politics in the Anglican communion or TEC. But, from experience, I wish that sometime somewhere moderates would get a whack at holding the reigns of ‘power,’ in whatever form it may take. Group discourse is so often driven from the margins.

  4. Halden says:

    Travis, if Episcopalians are doing the best thing by leaving (which I certainly would sympathize with), where should they go? To Rome like R.R. Reno? I can’t imagine you’d like that alternative.

  5. d. w. horstkoetter says:

    Difference between the church and the kingdom? Well thats hard to say, and I think justifiably so – distinguishing the church out of the kingdom isn’t something that should be done in my mind. I go with Metz on this one, the church is the mission of the kingdom. Therefore the entire identity of the church is wrapped up inside the kingdom.

    I could also say that the church doesn’t act very kingdomly, but it nevertheless is still part of the community of the kingdom. Even when the church screws up (which is often, if not constantly), the relationship between the church and the kingdom is dialogical. Even when we understand the church negatively, it is because the church is not rightly reflecting/being/acting/etc. the kingdom.

    I suppose one could say that the church is immanent, attempting to enact the future kingdom that seems transcendent, but I still think that is too clean. The Bible does talk about dead saints crying out in Revelation, and Paul talks about running the race while being cheered on by those who have come before us. And as for the kingdom, God’s reign did exist, does exist and will continue to exist on earth – Christ was here, Christ is here in us and Christ will come again. Jesus said something about the gates of hell not prevailing against this rock. No matter how you interpret it, it is an offensive statement about the kingdom. So even temporally I think it is difficult to make distinctions between the kingdom and the church. At least how I see it.

  6. Just briefly on the topic of church and kingdom: Jesus = kingdom, church = those who are awakened to faith and a life of witness to the kingdom (Jesus).

    Halden, you are correct! By ‘tactical retreat’ I didn’t mean a retreat into another camp. One ought not to jump out of the frying pan and into the fire (not that I think Catholics aren’t ‘saved’…just to be clear).

  7. d. w. horstkoetter says:

    I think I could move towards saying that the kingdom is God and God’s established rule, which is inherently personal and geographical. And the church is inside this rule, actualizing the rule through the power of God (Holy Spirit) within the world. This definition distinguishes a little bit more between church and kingdom, but still understands itself through the relationship between the two. I don’t want to pigeon hole you WTM, but your language seemed a little too reformed for me.

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