Sneak preview

In the upcoming issue of Washington Window , the Rev. Dr. George Clifford, III spells out an agenda for Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori’s tenure as presiding bishop. The issue won’t be arriving in mailboxes until this weekend at the earliest, but you can read the Rev. Clifford’s piece by clicking on “continue reading.”

An Anglican Agenda

By George M. Clifford

What agenda should the Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori adopt for her term as Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church? Daring to answer that question may appear presumptuous, yet the question invites our prayerful consideration as the Episcopal Church has reached a fork in the road.

One road involves continuing efforts to placate those who contend that views about the compatibility of same sex unions with Christianity constitute a litmus test of Christian identity. Tragically, this road only leads to growing frustration and animosity. Those who would make sexual ethics a litmus test have drawn a line in concrete, unwilling to change and unwilling to accept big tent Anglicanism. No middle ground on which to find reconciliation currently exists. Denying the inevitability of a split within Anglicanism will not prevent that division but will seriously dissipate the precious gifts and energies of Episcopalian Christians.

The other road regretfully acknowledges the futility of the first road and then allows the church to move forward. If the Church takes this second road, it will need leadership characterized by fidelity to three classical Anglican emphases: the pastoral, the incarnational, and the via media.

First, Bishop Jefferts Schori should emphasize what it means to be the church. She should draw upon our rich Anglican pastoral heritage of inclusivity and openness, welcoming all who seek to live out their faith in this part of the body of Christ. In practical terms, this means that relationships count for more than structure or theology (an insight of feminist theology!). She should minimize legislation, which tends to be divisive or focused on institutional maintenance. Instead, she should promote caring for and loving one another.

The one significant problem that requires legislative remedy involves dysfunctional relationships between a diocese and its bishop. Recent history (e.g., in the dioceses of New Jersey and El Camino Real), underscore the need for such a process, one concerned with the health and well-being of both bishop and diocese.

With painful regret, prayer and hope that Christ will some day shatter current, irreconcilable differences and restore unity, the Church should release those who choose to belong to another part of the body of Christ. The truly gracious among those who depart will follow the example of Christ Church in Plano, Texas (Diocese of Dallas), and honor their obligations as an Episcopal parish, paying the diocese for the property the parish has held in trust for the Church. For the less gracious who depart, the Church must recognize that protracted legal battles over property sets a poor example for those who claim to follow a Lord who had no place to lay his head, further hardens animosity, and truly benefits only the attorneys. The Episcopal Church has always recognized that it is but one branch of Christ’s body; those who wish to live out their faith elsewhere remain part of that body in spite of trying to distance themselves from us. Relationship with Christ, not theology or structure, is the basis of Christian identity and unity.

Second, Bishop Jefferts Schori should lead boldly, passionately and with vision. Drawing upon Anglican incarnational theology, the new Presiding Bishop should leave the details of institutional management to others and instead be an icon of whom we might become. In this age of celebrities, a highly visible Presiding Bishop, globally prominent as well as present in as many dioceses and parishes as possible, can lead in a way impossible for any other Episcopalian. Again relying on insights from feminist theology, she should de-emphasize structure and hierarchical authority. Instead, through emanations – emphasis, suggestions and presence – she can exercise greater influence, proclaiming the good news of God’s love for a broken world and calling people together into a community of reconciliation.

Building relationships internationally and nationally among Anglicans and others who accept and cherish the Episcopal Church as part of the body of Christ will be an important step in continuing the ecumenical movements begun in the 20th century. Christianity does not advance by means of threats. Succumbing to implicit threats about invitations to important Anglican events (such as Lambeth 2008) being withheld tears at the fabric of unity and incites behavior at odds with Gospel imperatives.

Third, Bishop Jefferts Schori should maintain a consistent focus on growth. Drawing upon our Anglican tradition of the via media, the Episcopal Church will seek to bridge the secular and the sacred. Old distinctions between Catholic and Protestant, liberal and conservative, are increasingly meaningless. Scientist and cleric, Bishop Jefferts Schori models a new via media, a living embodiment of hope in a high tech world that is desperately searching for genuine spirituality. Focusing on attaining the Millennium Development Goals, encouraging nascent initiatives to revitalize existing congregations and supporting efforts to plant new ones in this post-Christian era will redirect energy from destructive, futile conflict into life-giving, Christ-like ministries.

In a church that has suffered through decades of numerical decline and deep controversy, an effective, iconic leader who brings a positive outlook will celebrate victories achieved along the way. Even in the midst of turmoil, the Episcopal Church has continued to serve Christ with vibrant and vital ministries. Those ministries need a cheerleader who incarnates the Christ.

Christ with open arms reaches to embrace a broken world from his agony on the cross. We need a leader who, like Christ, will in the heat of current controversies see beyond the clamoring crowd to the multitudes literally and figuratively dying for want of living water. Christ journeyed beyond the uncertainty of Good Friday into Easter. We need a leader who, like Christ, will live fully into the future as the Church continues to discover the meaning of resurrection and new life.

Leadership for this journey of mission – pastoral, incarnational, and with a new sense of via media – should define the Rt. Rev. Jefferts Schori’s agenda for her tenure as Presiding Bishop. Surely, God has sent her to us for such a time as this.

The Rev. Dr. George M. Clifford, III, is a writer and Episcopal priest who lives in Raleigh, NC.

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