Saturday, July 11, 2009

TEC General Convention: Two Paths to Mission

The ACC's Phil Ashey writes of his experience of General Convention so far, via email:
I am writing you from Anaheim, California, where the staff of the American Anglican Council is providing daily worship and pastoral care to orthodox bishops and deputies to General Convention 2009. Our mission here is "supporting and reporting." We are posting daily reports from GC 2009, which you can find on our website In addition, we are also partnering with other reporters and bloggers to make sure that the unvarnished truth is reported to the world-and not "Anglican fudge."

At this General Convention, the number of orthodox willing to stand against the tide of TEC's agenda is vastly reduced from previous conventions. During the hearings this week on developing rites for same sex blessings and conforming the marriage canons to civil law, 50 speakers testified in favor and only 6 orthodox could be found to speak against. During the open hearings on whether to move beyond resolution BO33 and permit the consecration of LGBT candidates for bishop (in violation of the Windsor Report moratoria), 25 speakers testified in favor of moving beyond B033, and only 5 orthodox could be found to speak against.

With such a numerically diminished opposition, TEC leaders have a free hand to draft and pass virtually any legislation they like.

Resolutions advocating rites for same sex blessings, equal access to ordination for any baptized person regardless of gender identity and expression, inter-religious dialogue, abolition of torture, and peace in the Middle East are what the Presiding Bishop described as the heartbeat of the Church, its mission. Some of these resolutions are worthy of praise such as a just peace in the Middle East and addressing poverty and hunger. Others will further tear the Anglican Communion to shreds - such as the development of rites for same sex blessings and the repeal of Resolution B033. In any case, enormous amounts of time, energy and money are being expended to discuss, debate, amend and put to vote the overwhelming number of resolutions that define the mission of the Episcopal Church.

By contrast, Jesus Christ seems to have found a very different path to mission. In yesterday's reading from the lectionary, from Luke 24:36-52, Jesus delivers the mission to his Church - to you and to me - without many committee meetings, and in four definite steps.

First, Jesus addresses our need for "peace": "Jesus himself stood among them and said 'Peace be with you.'" (Luke 24:36) In John's post-Easter account, Jesus declares this peace three times (John 20:19, 21, 26). The peace Jesus brings is not only an answer to our fears, it is shalom: wholeness and holiness of life. It involves the healing of what is sick and sin-filled in our lives.

How remarkable that our Lord should love us so much that he wants us to experience such peace and shalom before he sends us out on mission! How very different from the conversations I have listened to this week, half full with declarations that God is love, God loves me, God made me the way I am and God doesn't make mistakes - and utterly missing any discussion of personal sin, rebellion and our own responsibility for the warpedness of our choices and the consequences that follow. How can there be genuine peace and shalom when there is no will to engage the call to holiness of life that speaks from every page of the Bible?

In the midst of the freedom to enact resolutions that will permit, bless and commend to church leadership almost any expression of sexuality, there is an undercurrent of anger and angst at this General Convention. Could this be the witness that beyond sexual freedom there is an awful emptiness that only the peace of Jesus will ever be able to satisfy?

Secondly, Jesus Christ, risen and alive, is the reason and ground for mission: Jesus said, "Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have." (Luke 24:39) The reasons for mission are not the needs that cry out to us. Neither is the ground for our mission Martin Buber's "I and thou" cited by the Presiding Bishop in her opening address. Rather, it is all about Jesus. Jesus made it absolutely clear that He himself is the reason and ground for the church's mission. He is the message. His physical, bodily resurrection is the reason we have any hope to offer people at all. Every act of compassion and every deed of justice flows out of this hope, and points people back to Jesus.

And that is precisely why the Presiding Bishop's condemnation of confessional Christianity as a heresy is so shocking. The reduction of Calvary to a "way point" and not the "end point" removes the very hope for transformed lives from the inside out that can only come through Jesus Christ's resurrection life and love. The intentional diminishing of the uniqueness and universality of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of all ultimately reduces the mission of the church to social service with a liturgical veneer.

Thirdly, Jesus calls us to understand mission within the framework of Holy Scripture: "Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures." (Luke 24:45) Jesus went on explain how his suffering death and resurrection on the third day fulfilled what is written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets. He placed the call to repentance and forgiveness of sins within the Biblical testimony of God's plan for humanity (Luke 24:47). Out of this understanding he called them, and us, to mission: to be witnesses of these things, in word and deed.

For generations, the authority of the Scriptures has been questioned and diminished by so many Episcopal bishops and theologians that most Episcopalians believe it is simply one of three equal authorities along with tradition and reason that must be weighed equally in the balance. This was never the intent or the teaching of Anglican theologians such as Richard Hooker (so often cited for the "three legged stool"). Holy Scripture has always been the ultimate authority, even over tradition and reason. But in the upside-down world of TEC, changes in the canons or "traditions" of the church, driven by "reasons" of culture, have now caused the church to move beyond the plain words of Scripture. Without the authority of scripture, there will be no anchor like Micah 6:8 for doing justice, and loving mercy. Like Esau, the Episcopal Church is selling its birthright in God's unchanging word for the pottage of political and cultural expediency.

Finally, Jesus calls us to wait for the power of the Holy Spirit to equip us for mission: Jesus said, "I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high." (Luke 24:49) Jesus made good on this promise in Acts, chapter 2, at Pentecost. With the power of the Holy Spirit from on high, the Church exploded in mission so that the "Acts of the Apostles" should really be called "The Acts of the Holy Spirit."

Of all the things I feel missing this week here in Anaheim, it is the absence of any waiting - prayerful or otherwise - for power from on high, for the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit. We are waiting for decisions from the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies. People are waiting with hand-wringing for the budget cuts. People are waiting for the response of the rest of the Anglican Communion to the decisions that will be made here over the next week. But where is the waiting for power from on high?

None can predict the outcomes of the legislation. But one thing we can predict. This week will clarify the choices that Episcopalians will have to make in the months ahead. There will be two paths to mission. Which one will faithful Episcopalians walk?


Jan said...

Amen. When scholars and ego (or should I say Pharisees) supersede the Word and Power of God, only darkness remains. Jesus was never soft or kind toward those who led the lambs astray. A house divided shall not stand.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm... the first thing that popped into my mind when I saw the upper picture was "I am the Great and Powerful OZ!"