Word has come tonight of sanctions on the Episcopal Church.
This week, primates are gathered for a highly irregular meeting. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby is trying to hold together a divided church. He is failing. And before it began, many knew it was already lost.
Lost, not because it is actually over. It isn’t. Far from it.
Lost in that we long ago stopped behaving like Anglicans.Jesus's teaching on retaliation is don't. Click To Tweet
Not all of us. Just some. Some who were angry. Some who think others of us have lost our way. Some who have chosen to break the communion rather than to stay in communion.
If you don’t know the story, I can hardly catch you up on 40 years of church history and not put you to sleep. I certainly couldn’t even recap the last 13 and do it justice.
I’d rather share a couple of stories with you.
“Do not resist an evildoer.”
One of the most oft-quoted while ill-reflected sayings of Jesus is found in the later part of Matthew’s chapter 5. He says:
But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
These three have served to become familiar phrases. When someone hurts us, we say that we should walk away and “turn the other cheek”. When someone does exceptional work, we say that they have “gone the extra mile.”
Man, do we get these wrong.
These are three examples of standing up to injustice.
- If you are hit on the cheek, offer the other one.
- If someone sues you for your coat, give him your clothes.
- If a soldier forces you to carry his gear, carry it longer than he wants you to.
These are rebellious actions, not docile. But neither are they retaliatory.
These three aren’t mere suggestions. Jesus doesn’t offer these up out of the blue. This is his response to teaching from Hebrew Scripture in the midst of the Sermon on the Mount. The two verses immediately before say:
“You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer.”
Jesus’s teaching on retaliation is don’t. Stand up to the injustice of abuse. Reveal their cruelty. Show who GOD is in the midst of abuse. Don’t feel justified in killing for the sake of a death or maiming for the sake of being maimed.
How might this apply to today?
The Walk Out
The Ugandan Archbishop left the meeting two nights ago, feeling justified.
He wrote to his people:
It seemed that I was being manipulated into participating in a long meeting with the Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Church of Canada without the necessary discipline being upheld.
When he writes “the necessary discipline” he doesn’t mean any formal discipline. There is no means to officially discipline the Episcopal Church or Anglican Church of Canada. Not really. What he means is necessary as he sees it.
He walked out because we in the U.S. and Canada hadn’t been punished.
Punished for coming to a different conclusion on how Jesus views our people and acting on it. No canons or laws were broken. We elected a bishop. We changed our local canons to accommodate a broader sense of the gospel.
No eye was plucked.
But he left because our eyes are intact.
A Liturgical Theology
This is all happening now as I’m teaching a class on Anglicanism.
This weekend we’ll talk theology, so I have these concepts in my brain. Concepts about how Anglicans come to understand the nature of GOD, who GOD is, and how GOD is.
All this was swirling, so I wrote about it. About how we don’t really teach Anglican theology; that it is more like “how Anglicans do theology”. How our great theologian at the time of our Reformation was a man who wrote about church structure.
But then I argued that this is theology. This is how we understand the nature of GOD, who GOD is, and how GOD is. By wrestling, by worshipping, by living in community together.
We make theology by sharing the Eucharist and serving the poor. We make theology when we listen to old stories and bring mittens and blankets and bivy sacks to the homeless.
Because our theology is built on gathering together first rather than after we all agree. This the fundamental concept of our vaunted via media and the big invention of the Elizabethan Settlement. This is the very essence of what it means to be an Anglican and not a Lutheran or a Presbyterian or a Baptist. Anglicanism lives by getting together when we don’t agree.
The Archbishop of Canterbury got us together knowing that we don’t agree. So that we could be Anglicans. So we could make new theology through reconciliation. That we could reveal to the world the nature of GOD, who GOD is, and how GOD is.
No communion, no Communion?
What happens to us when we get mad? Really mad. I-don’t-want-to-look-at-you mad. What do we do?
Usually we walk away. Or bite our tongue. Or only bite it after a few choice words slip out.
Do we remember Jesus’s teaching on the mountain about retaliation? Do we show our disagreement – [no, not simply that] – our outrage at injustice? Do we stand up and say here I stand?
Or do we leave?
My favorite heresy is Donatism. It’s the holier-than-thou heresy. It’s the one in which certain Christians don’t recognize the validity of other Christians. Forget Arianism, Donatism is the heresy with legs.
Donatists were the ones who left the table. The ones who didn’t respect that others have valid theological convictions. The ones who believed the other’s sacraments were inferior and refused to share them. In their own minds, they were the perfect Christians, the true Christians, the real Christians.
Not that anyone would say such a thing today.
I have left the meeting in Canterbury, but I want to make it clear that we are not leaving the Anglican Communion. Together with our fellow GAFCON Provinces and others in the Global South, we are the Anglican Communion; the future is bright. The door is open for all those who seek communion on the basis of a common confession of our historic, Biblical faith for which the Ugandan Martyrs, Archbishop James Hannington, Archbishop Janani Luwum and many others around the world have died. We are part of a global movement of Anglicans who follow the God who “so loved the world that He gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
This certainly is the favorite tactic. And it is totally understandable. If The Most Rev. Stanley Ntagali, Archbishop of Uganda walked into St. Stephen’s right now, I can’t say I’d want to share the table with him.
But I would.
Because I’m an Anglican.
Unfortunately he won’t extend me the same courtesy. Nor anyone from my church.
The official statement from the primates
Today an official statement from the primates was released. Actually, it was released tonight rather than tomorrow because it was leaked.
How trusting. Good thing everybody is working hard to reconcile. Living by the Word, these Primates.
And the only thing I can say is that it could have been worse, I suppose.
The juicy bit that you have to wade your way down to find is this:
It is our unanimous desire to walk together. However given the seriousness of these matters we formally acknowledge this distance by requiring that for a period of three years The Episcopal Church no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.
For the sake of reconciliation, the primates agreed to punish the Episcopal Church (but not the Anglican Church of Canada) by removing our vote and appointment to the instruments of communion for three years. We get to watch while others do our work.
No crime committed. No eyes lost, still one plucked.
We can pretend that unwritten laws were broken, that’s the favorite line. They hurt us, we hear. We’ve heard for 13 years. Doesn’t make it true. Doesn’t mean a law was broken or it is a punishable offense.
Take their eye!
And yet, I keep going back to Matthew 5 and all these teachings about the Law. I think about what Jesus teaches these followers about the Law.
‘You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgement.” But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool”, you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
Then he speaks about adultery, divorce. and oaths. Then retaliation. Don’t.
As Christians, we are called to reconcile with our neighbor. We are called to not lust after our neighbors and force others to commit adultery. We are called to make our word enough – we don’t have to swear an oath to become believable, we must be trustworthy. We are taught to not retaliate or serve injustice for injustice.
I always wonder why we only think the encouragement of Jesus is to be the one to turn our cheeks when we are abused: that we never consider that we might be the ones striking another’s cheek. That Jesus would have us be the ones (all of the “us-es”) to end the cycle of violence.
But Jesus isn’t done with us yet. I’ll let him have the last word.
Chapter 5 ends with love:
‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.