As the Primates of the Anglican Communion meet, I wonder whether it’s possible to acknowledge that we [all] have missed a long line of opportunities to respond with grace to the controversial course that the Episcopal Church has charted. If our charity were not already exhausted, we might put our faith in one another on the line by praying for the Holy Spirit to bring us to unity, and by ordering our institutional lives in ways that would make that possible.
First, we would have to agree that it looks as though our present differences will not immediately be reconciled by mediation or meditation or legislation. Some side or another can force its will on the other — in the name of God, of course — but having come so far in this particular direction, I have a hard time imagining that effecting anything but the violent excision of some part of the Body.
Second, then, we would have to acknowledge that some vital parts of the Body cannot honestly confess their sin if [what they take to be] an entire category of sin be overlooked, excepted, accepted; and by the same token, other vital parts of the Body cannot honestly confess their sin if [what they take to be] not-sin is included as sinful. The imposition of force at this point can only impair the conscience of some of the saints, and that serves no holy purpose.
Third, although God can raise up a Body whole and new from mere bones or dust and ashes, yet we ought not presume to dissolve the Body when that Body is surely stronger if all its sinews, organs, members are working together to their fullest capacities (and especially when it’s always possible that we have erred in our prayerful discernment of what path forward best reflects God’s will for the church). We need, for the sake of all, to do everything we can to sustain the fullest degree of communion possible.
Fourth, we should be looking for ways that hands and feet, eyes and nose can remain together in such ways as permit each the conscientious exposition and embodiment of their divergent understandings of the Body’s well-being. The hands, of their charity, should remain with the feet, at least to bear witness to the holiness and purity they espouse; and feet should, of their charity, remain with the hands, to bear witness to the expansive love and the commitment to covenanted fidelity that they espouse.
Fifth, with mutual charity, all Episcopal dioceses and agencies should develop their political and financial systems with a view toward flexibility (not coercion), toward oversight that strengthens (not erodes). Any office or budget line in the Episcopal Church should be ordered so that it could be administered by a hand or a foot, an ear or an eye, without a revolutionary reversal (so that the Spirit’s conversion can draw us from our entrenched positions without unnecessary resistance rooted in our institutional structures). Congregations of hands might have the oversight of a Hand Bishop, and congregations of feet might be guided by a Foot Bishop, freely and respectfully, without hands or feet pursuing coercive financial or legislative manipulation. We would acknowledge that such oversight reflects a condition of the very thinnest conceivable unity, but that we hope so ardently for the Body’s solidarity that we cling to that thinnest unity as preferable to the violent excision of even one faithful soul. We would have to endure an interval — forty years is a biblical precedent — of recognizing that sisters and brothers in duly ordered ministries, sharers of our tradition, had gone perniciously astray, and yet out of long-suffering and patient love, we all were endeavoring everything we can to prepare for a yet greater degree of harmony.
We might offer one another such accommodations, in the earnest mutual hope that the Spirit would bring clarification to what now is murky, nearly opaque — if our charity were not already exhausted. I pray that we, with no remaining charity to offer one another, not all be found at fault.