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March 22, 2009

A Response to Walker Morrow #1

Further down in this blog you will see a post titled "Why I Remain An Anglican." Today I received a thoughtful and challenging response to this post which the author posted in the comment section under "Why I Remain An Anglican." As I began to respond to Walker Morrow, I realized that my "comment" on his response had become a post in its own right. So I am posting it here as "A Response to Walker Morrow."

Dear Walker

Thank you for forwarding to me your thoughtful and challenging reflections on the Anglican Church. I do not perceive your words to be in any way “confrontational.”

I will not respond here in detail to your specific allegations against the leadership of the Anglican Church. If you wish to pursue these details, I would be happy to discuss them if contact me personally.

In general I have three responses to your thoughts and one conclusion.
1. It is always easier to be a perfect leader from outside than when one is actually in the position of having to be the leader. In my own parish ministry I know there have been times when my parishioners have wrung their hands at my bumbling efforts to fulfill my function as their rector. I can only say I have always tried to exercise my leadership to the best of my ability and to conduct myself with integrity. It remains my conviction that those who are in leadership in the Anglican Church are genuinely seeking to serve Christ and to exercise their leadership in the best interests of the church as a whole.

It is fascinating to watch Barack Obama’s shiny image begin to become a little bit dulled as he gets into the incredibly challenging business of actually trying to find his way through the complexities and intricacies of the US government.

The issues facing the Anglican Church at this time are terribly complex, profoundly sensitive and deeply challenging. The conversation in which we are presently engaged is a difficult conversation. It is not easy to conduct such a conversation. All sides in any conversation bear some responsibility when the conversation falters. If we walk away from every conversation that stumbles, soon we will have only ourselves to talk to.

2. Every human organization has some hierarchy. The hierarchy in the Anglican Church may be more noticeable than in some other organizations but the fact that we acknowledge our hierarchical leadership makes it less threatening than those organizations that attempt to pretend they operate without hierarchy.

The hierarchy in the Anglican Church has many checks and balances that exist in an attempt to diminish the harm it can do. The hierarchy in the Anglican Church is not imposed; it is elected, hopefully with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. As in any form of elected governance, the electors get the leadership they deserve. The healthy response to a perception of inadequacy in leadership is to work to provide better leadership.

In fact hierarchy in the church has existed from the beginning and has been the vessel that has conveyed to us the traditions and teachings of our faith. Without some kind of structure the light and truth of the gospel would have been dissipated and lost in the shadows of history. Christianity would have vanished as simply one more strange momentary religious sect that flashed upon the scene and then evaporated. You may think this would have been just as well. But from my perspective it would have meant the loss of a profoundly rich and deep religious heritage that, for all its failings, has contributed enormously to the well-being of the human community.

The church is a human organization. Like any human organization it has many flaws. But the church continues to carry the light of Christ and, at the moment, I am not aware of a better container from within which to nurture and support that light.

3. Finally, with all due respect, whether you acknowledge it or not you are “part of a whole.” We all stand upon the shoulders and are deeply beholden to those who have gone ahead of us. There is deep and profound wisdom that has been passed down through the ages. We are deeply impoverished if we are not willing to acknowledge our debt to those who have carried the faith and wisdom of the ages before us. We are all connected. The human community is not a collection of distinct individuals, each one their “own person.” The well-being of the world requires that we acknowledge, affirm and celebrate our deep inter-connectedness.

We belong to one another. The church is one of the places where we attempt to incarnate that reality and give form to our belonging. In the church we celebrate the reality of our human connection that exists not because we always agree or look or behave alike but because we acknowledge that all human beings are created in the image of God and therefore deserve to be honoured and valued as bearers of that image. The world is a frightening and troubling place when we surrender to the absolute autonomy of every individual and forsake any acknowledgement of the deep realities that bind us together as one human organism.


I share your sense of frustration that this conversation in the Anglican Church has dragged on for so long. We have allowed ourselves to be sidetracked over a particular issue. Although the issue may be important, it is not the central issue of the church. The church exists to point people beyond the visible tangible manifestations of church to the hidden, mysterious, invisible reality of God’s Spirit at work in our lives.

Paul says, “we have this treasure in clay jars.” (2 Corinthians 4:7) We are all “clay jars.” The church is a “clay jar.” The clay jar is cracked and broken but it still contains “this treasure.” It is deeply tragic if we allow our pain at the cracks in the clay jar to cause us to miss the treasure. If we can look carefully and open our hearts deeply, we will begin to discover that, in fact, it is through the cracks that the light of the treasure within can be seen.

I pray that you may continue to know God’s guidance on your journey. I pray you may find a community in which you can discern the outline of God’s work enough to make it possible for you to participate in and contribute towards supporting and nurturing the work of God in the world through that community. God bless and keep you.


Rob H said...

AS I have aged in Christ nnd life perhaps it is myself wanting to listen and find a way to understand complex situations and or each persons take on their view of Christinity as in Jeasys words to us.
What I have realized is as an organization the Anglican Church will stumble in it day to day grasp of what Christ would want us to do.
To do I now believe we live the breath of each day given us a a precious one so that my frineds and family will see Christ in me , hopefully.
I cannot leave a place I will part of even though I do not know everyone but a small part of me makes them comfortable or at least to bear with me as we al travel the road.

Right now since I retired parttime I've spent more time withmedical issues then on vacation but I see a love in my family and my [pastor better than prior.
I'm scared at times but lift up others and really unless you want to shoot a person I will bend with Christ and follow in my Anglican Church pew.


Rob H said...

pardon my spelling blips,was rushing, should have verified but at least I know i'm forgiven.
tc all

Anonymous said...

Hi Christopher,

Thanks for responding to what I had to say, and in your usual gracious way. As before, I'll try and make my case, although I may not be quite as elegant in my attempt. Sorry it took me so long to put together a response to your response.

I think you're quite right in point no. 1. It is far easier to criticise the person in charge than to actually be the person in charge. But at the same time, that doesn't mean that one should not criticize leadership at the appropriate time. Perhaps I'm wrong in my criticism, in which case I'll have to stand to be corrected, but unfortunately it's often hard to tell who's in the right or the wrong until after the fact. And so I suppose my position is that one shouldn't be afraid to pass judgment, but one should also always be ready to admit when they're wrong. I'm sure there are many within the Anglican church leadership who conduct themselves quite well, and to the best of their abilities, and I think they ought to be applauded for that. And it's certainly not an easy job. There will always be people who are unhappy. ( Barack Obama's presidency is a very good example ). But unfortunately, from what I've seen in my experience within the Anglican Church of Canada, there have been errors in judgment, and in action and leadership, without the follow-up criticism that makes a decision-making body so much healthier. In a way, I would almost that the leadership take too much criticism, so that it can learn to deal with unhappiness, and both how to stay above the emotions and vitriol of the people being led, and how to take the advice of the people being led as well.

And yes, I agree. The debates within the Anglican Church are very complex. And I think they ought to be had. But again, a lot of the discussion which I saw was not, I guess, as I would have liked or hoped. I'll give you an example, although I can't remember all of the exact details. In the church which I went to, there was a sort of Saturday-afternoon church meeting/facilitated discussion, mainly to do with same-sex blessings. This was done before Synod, I think partly ( or even mainly ) so that the Synod delegates could get a feel for how their church felt on the issues which would be brought before Synod ( same-sex blessings being the main topic of contention ). In order to help facilitate this discussion was a film, narrated by Bruce Bryant-Scott, and otherwise put together by the Diocesan leadership. It was a good idea, really. Put a film together to explore the issue.

But I actually found myself feeling as if the film was rather biased. In a sort of mock-roundtable discussion on the same-sex blessing issue staged within the film, the only person really opposed to same-sex blessings was a rather pale, sallow-faced young man, who almost seemed rather confused about what it was that he was opposed to - as if all that was needed was for the issue to be explained to him, so that he could think about it and come up with the answer that same-sex blessings are indeed, the right way to go. Meanwhile, the people who were for same-sex blessings were middle-aged, friendly-faced, and very patient people who it seemed were only happy to take the time to explain the issue to the young sallow-faced man.

Personally, I'm kind of ambiguous on the same-sex blessings debate. I could go either way. But at the time it struck me how this 'discussion' material really was. Perhaps I'm making too big a deal of it, or perhaps time has made the film a bit more extreme than it actually was, but I think you get the idea of what I'm saying, anyway. I'm all for a discussion, but I'd like to make sure that it remains impartial, and oriented toward making a decision after the issue has been mulled over for a time.

In response to point no. 2, I don't really disagree at all. I guess I just find that the hierarchy within the Anglican Church is a bit more pronounced than in some religious organizations. But I think I would find a lot of the same hierarchical problems would arise no matter which church I might be a part of, so I can't really blame the Anglican Church of Canada for having the structure which it has. I think I've found at times though, that this hierarchy is given more importance than it really deserves. As if the Canons and the Bishop are more important than the Church, if that makes sense.

In regards to point no. 3, I think it was G.K. Chesterton who remarked that to take notice of the people who have gone before us, and to follow in their footsteps, is actually a very democratic thing to do. We would take the time to listen to someone sitting right next to us ( usually ), so why not take the time to listen to the people who have already tried the things which we are trying? I would say that doing that sort of thing is probably quite healthy in the pursuit of religion, although it shouldn't be followed for its own sake.

That being said, I'm afraid I remain a kind of dogmatic individualist. I think as a society, we depend on our interactions with one another to make decisions, and to build up our behavior. But at the same time, I think that we are individuals first, and a part of the whole second. I think that our inter-connectedness ought to be acknowledged, but at the same time, I think most decisions, and most things in our lives are dependent upon our own selves, individually. I don't know if I'm making a good enough case for my position, but I hope you get the gist of it.

And it is entirely possible that it is that belief of mine which will put me at odds with the Christian faith over the years. I'm willing to accept that - I'll get to the right answer eventually.

And in response to your conclusion, I think all that I will say is that I wish the same to you. We may disagree on what exactly is the right path, but I think as long as we all strive to find the truth, we'll be alright.I appreciate your taking the time to respond, and I sincerely hope that your time in the Anglican Church is long, happy, and fruitful.