The following is a post that I wrote a little less than a week ago. I wanted to give myself some time to reflect on the content before publishing. I hope you enjoy it. – Jon
At the bottom of this post you’ll find a picture of me, several of my friends, and the current Episcopal Church (TEC) Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts-Schori. We snapped this photo op with her at the recent 77th general convention (GC77) of TEC. Much has been made of this meeting within the mainstream media in the past few days.
Of particular note to me was an editorial written by fellow Episcopalian Jay Akasie. Mr. Akasie’s piece entitled What Ails the Episcopalians ran in the Wall Street Journal on July 12, 2012. Here’s a link to his article:
Jay Akasie’s Wall Street Journal Article
Reading his article, I couldn’t help but pick up on the frustrations Mr. Akasie feels towards the direction in which TEC has moved over the last quarter century. I was bothered a bit by what I felt were a few misperceptions he had regarding this most recent convention. More profoundly, however, I was very discouraged by his sense of fatalism regarding TEC. I sat down the next day and began drafting a response to Mr. Akasie’s assessment.
Saturday morning found me still working through my own response when I happened upon an article from GetReligion.org. My fellow Arkansan and Anglican (though not Episcopalian) Pat Lynch tweeted a link to the post written by blogger geoconger. The piece pretty much summed up all of my points of contention with Mr. Akasie’s earlier editorial. Here’s a link to the GetReligion response:
I especially liked the second to last paragraph in geoconger’s piece:
However, the problem with the Episcopal Church is not cocktail swilling bishops or a power-mad gargoyles peering down at the church from a penthouse in Manhattan. Problems with alcohol and homosexuality, money and power are derivative issues that arise from the divide over the interpretation of Scripture and an understanding of the person of Jesus Christ. The fight may take the form over secondary issues such as morality of homosexual behavior or the role of women in the leadership of the church, but it is based upon a division over who Jesus Christ is and how Christians read, interpret and live out the teachings of the Bible.
I would go a step further and say that fundamentally the issue at hand is a question of identity. What was the church? What is the church? What is the church becoming?
This is a very important point. A major theme that played out at GC77 was resurrection. The almost unanimous consensus was that the church needs to be re-envisioned to face the new reality of the world as-is, not the world as-was. I believe, however, that what it means to re-envision the church will continue to be a major point of contention in the future. geoconger is right to note the role biblical exegesis has played in divisions up to this point. I fear TEC’s issues are more complex than that now; and biblical interpretation is no one-sided issue.
We millennials see the world in radically different ways from our forbearers. I could delineate out for days the differences I myself perceive. Suffice it to say at this point that when we talk of re-envisioning, whether in the church, the political arena, or the society at-large, we are fundamentally talking about a re-envisioning that is starkly different from our baby-boomer predecessors.
In the generation before us, one can easily see the hallmarks of the deconstructionist, post-structuralist influence. In an age when structures were systems of oppression, the baby boomers reacted by tearing the walls down to the foundation. It has been left to the millennials to reconstruct systems of identity that bind us together. This is our re-envisioning.
This is why PB Katherine rocks. She may not be the best administrator, best orator, best people-person; but, fundamentally I believe she is exactly what TEC needs right now. She is novel. She is helping to tear down those last remaining vestiges of the old oppressive structures while at the same time upholding and giving voice to this process of rebirth. This is important as we re-envision the church for the future.
I may get into some hot water here, but I do think Mr. Akasie is correct in one aspect of his assessment. I think that if the church were to get mired in a continual state of deconstruction it would eventually die. Deconstruction needs resurrection to survive.
I am convinced more than ever that TEC is attempting a Christ-centered engagement with the world. Are there places for improvement? Is there need for reflection and repentance? Can we do more towards reconciliation? Yes, Yes, Yes. Further deconstruction is needed. We must tear down ALL systems of oppression that have for so long held the church back in its prophetic engagement with the world. BUT, we must always look to resurrection. What is the church to be after it is reconciled with Christ and cleansed of its impurities?
This process is a bumpy road. TEC will continue to struggle with disagreement and discord. I believe, though, that if we prayerfully listen and talk, learn and teach, repent and forgive, and above all learn to walk ever more humbly with God, we will survive, we will grow, and we will live out our Christ-like identity in the world.