Responding to comments on her article in God’s Politics: a blog by Jim Wallis and Friends on BeliefNet, Diana Butler Bass writes about her love for the Episcopal Church and its ability to engage tough questions.
I don’t often jump into the comments, but my church–The Episcopal Church–does NOT thumb its nose at non-western brothers and sisters on matters of faith. The Episcopal Church has been greatly enriched by a willingness over the years to learn from our global friends, an opennesss to non-western theologies and political expressions of the Gospel.
In Episcopal pews (not the desks of the evangelical seminary from which I graduated, one that was relentlessly Euro-centric–even to to point of ridiculing the rest of the world), I first learned various African, South American, and Asian theologies, heard the voices of African and Asian preachers, prayed the liturgies of Native New Zealanders, Native Americans, South Africans, and Indians. As a church we weren’t always historically very sensitive–and too often outright oppressive–but, overall, we learned from our mistakes and have been moving toward a much more generous theological vision, one that includes the insights, perspectives, struggles, and hopes of the God’s beautifully diverse world.
That said, the Episcopal Church is struggling with SOME African, South American, and Asian church leaders at the moment over one issue: What is a deeply Christian understanding of sexual identity? (Although we probably should be struggling over the roles of women and children, the sex trade, poverty, and political oppression, too–if we were as faithful as we should be). That one issue, and the myriad of cultures in which the question is being addressed, should in no way obscure what has been, over the last half century, an increasing open, charitable, and mutually beneficial relationship between members of a great communion of Christians across the West and well beyond.
If we were just snubbing the non-western churches, this all wouldn’t hurt so much. And, if you doubt me, ask any Episcopalian–even the most theologically liberal, pro-gay ordination one you can find–and ask how terribly painful, conscience-stirring, and prayerful this all has been. Nothing that has happened in the last six years has been done in the trivial, dismissive way your post suggests.
But pain doesn’t go away by ceasing to be one’s authentic self in God in order to please other people and make conflict disappear. Diversity, and true openness to diversity, will always cause conflict and tension because we are all different–even if we all live into the baptism acclamation that Jesus is Lord. Indeed, conflict suggests that people take one another more seriously than not (I fight with my husband more than anyone else!) and suggests that, as a church, the Episcopal Church has genuinely opened itself to being a true partner in global Christianity. We are trying to find ourselves in ubuntu theology–the theology expressed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu–that “I am a person insofar as you are a person.” In mutual humanity, we find wonder, love, and God.
As we have opened to others and their voices and visions of God, we have also found God in new ways in our own midst–with our unique voice, history, and perspective. Indeed, being able to listen to people from the rest of world taught me how to listen to my closest neighbors–including my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. To communicate the biblical passions of the American Episcopal Church, our historical experience, spiritual insights, and the pain of our prayers is our vocation in the midst of all this global change. It is a noble task, even if we don’t always get it just right.
And the struggle makes it a great time to be an Episcopalian. You can’t avoid tough questions, you have to know what you believe, you have to delve into God’s embracing heart of love and justice. Frankly, as churches go, it is a really pretty good one (How’s that for a church sign? “The Really Pretty Good Church”). You just wouldn’t know that from the partisan blogosphere or from reading the New York Times.
Diana Butler Bass, Homepage, 05.30.07 – 4:13 pm | #