Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Real Instruments of Unity

I have a suggestion to the Anglican Covenant folks: Let's replace the Four Instruments of Unity (99.033% of which are bishops) with Four that make sense for a loosely confederated world wide Body like the Anglican Communion.

The first three have been around since Richard Hooker, the greatest Anglican theologian.

1. Scripture
2. Tradition
3. Reason

Those have always been the tools of unity in the Anglican Church. They bind us together in a way human beings cannot. Each one of the 'legs' of that 'three legged stool' contribute to and provide checks and balances to, not only the Communion as a whole, but to each Province within the church and each individual member of each Province.

Scripture is basic, read in the context of tradition and reasonableness. Tradition is priceless, so long as it is held up to the light of Scripture and the scrutiny of Reason. Reason allows for diversity--since 'reason' dictates different things in different contexts and cultures--so long as Reason does not leave behind the checks and balances of Scripture and Tradition. Each of the three is meant not only to 'check' the other two but to be formed in the insights and truths of the other two.

I'd add a fourth Instrument of Unity for Anglicans. I'd call it Experience/Imagination.

The forge of Experience should be held accountable to Scripture/Reason/Tradition, however, the experience of Anglicans in different cultures is different. So, what can be 'imagined' as possible within the disciplines of Tradition/Scripture/Reason might differ from culture to culture in greater and lesser ways.

Take, for example, the issue that provoked the Covenant process to begin with--Human Sexuality. The common understanding of the nature of human sexuality within the Western World and those Anglican churches solidly inside that culture, is much different that what that understanding might be in Nigeria or Columbia or South-east Asia. Just as, culturally, people of faith do not agree on the role of women in the church, there is even less agreement on the full inclusion of GLBT folks.

However, just as the experience and imagination of some Provinces of the Communion has allowed for the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate, the experience and imagination of other Provinces does not, at this time, allow for that step to be taken. In both cases, I would argue that either All People are fully Children of God or our experience and imagination has not yet allowed for that truth to be reasonable, in keeping with traditions and consistent with the reasonable understanding of scripture. But there is the reality that cultures are different and so are cultural experiences and the imagination possible in each culture.

So, we need instruments of unity that allow for vast diversity. Otherwise cultural situations where the full inclusion of women and GLBT folks in the life and governance of the church are held hostage to those cultures where such inclusion is not possible at this time. Jesus came to bring abundance of life not enforced restrictions on that abundance.

I'd settle for the first three as the official Instruments of Unity for Anglicans, but I'd lobby for the inclusion of the fourth.

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some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.