Thursday, 11 February 2010

Three dimensions

I’m not very good at being fair about those with whom I disagree. This was brought home again when reading the Presidential Address which the Archbishop of Canterbury has just given to the General Synod.

There is much more to his argument and leadership than these extracts cover, but the early part of the address includes:

Questions are not best addressed in the megaphone tones we are all too used to hearing... They require a three-dimensional approach.

The debate over the status and vocational possibilities of LGBT people in the Church is not helped by ignoring the existing facts, which include many regular worshippers of gay or lesbian orientation and many sacrificial and exemplary priests who share this orientation....

Equally, there are ways of speaking about the assisted suicide debate that treat its proponents as universally enthusiasts for eugenics and forced euthanasia, and its opponents as heartless sadists, sacrificing ordinary human pity to ideological purity...

Our job is... to find ways of deciding such contested issues that do not simply write off the others in the debate as negligible, morally or spiritually unserious or without moral claims.

Something of that tragic awareness is hard to avoid when we look at the decisions that face us in our church... [such as] the ordination of women as bishops...

For both many women in the debate and most if not all traditionalists, there is a strong feeling that the church overall is not listening to how they are defining for themselves the position they occupy, the standards to which they hold themselves accountable. What they hear is the rest of the church saying, "Of course we want you – but exclusively on our terms, not yours"; which translates in the ears of many as '"We don't actually want you at all."

Later in the address he gave these examples:

The week before last, I spent a morning in the parish of St Ann's, south Bronx, in New York, one of the most violent and impoverished communities in the city. I watched them feeding several hundred people, I was taken to the after-school club where local children learn the literacy and other skills they don't get in their public schools. I spoke with an astonishing Hispanic woman who has single-handedly created a campaign against gun crime in the Bronx that seeks to bring a million women on to the streets, and I saw how prayer unobtrusively shaped every aspect of this work and how people were introduced to Jesus Christ. And I was reminded of another parish in New Orleans that I visited a couple of years ago – a local church planted as a result of the relief work of the Diocese, when local people begged for a church to be opened because they had seen the love of Christ in the work done with and for them. Three-dimensionality in the Episcopal church which some are tempted to dismiss as no more than a liberal talking shop. I've no doubt similar stories could be told of parishes in the ACNA.

And then I think of a telephone conversation in December with the Archbishop of Uganda, discussing what was being done by Ugandan Anglicans in the devastated north of the country – in the rehabilitation of child soldiers and the continuing, intensely demanding work with all victims of trauma in that appalling situation, work that no one else is doing or is trusted to do; and the ongoing work of care for those with HIV, where the Uganda church was in the forefront of African responses to that crisis. Three-dimensionality in a church that has been caricatured as passionately homophobic and obsessed with narrow Biblicism.

The picture is of the recently restored Romanesque frieze on the west front of Lincoln Cathedral.

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