Proceed with caution. Read this only if you can cope with sweeping generalizations, oversimplifications, and one side of the story.
Christine asks why The Episcopal Church in the States is so much more exercised by the ‘big divisive issues’ in the Anglican Communion than we are in the SEC. By which I assume she means ‘why are they talking about it, thinking about it, acting on it while we tuck our heads hoping that trouble will pass us by?’
‘It’, by the way, can be variously interpreted as ‘a Christian understanding of homosexuality’ or ‘the apparent crumbling of the Anglican Communion.’
I suspect that the variation in response reflects a basic difference of temperament between the churches. And this is where the sweeping generalizations start. For those of you familiar with Myers-Brigs, the American Church is predominantly Extrovert and Feeling. They sort out what matters most to them by talking about how it feels.
Britain, on the other hand, is Introvert –Thinking. They like to think through what they believe for themselves, and would generally prefer root canal to having to speak about it in public.
When we apply that to the current issues (of human sexuality and the nature of the Anglican Communion) it results in the following…
(1) American Episcopalians have been talking about human sexuality for years. Gay people have spoken of what it feels like to be excluded and rejected, and have spoken too of the redemptive experience of coming to believe that God loves them in all their particularity – sexuality and all. The wider church has not only heard these stories, but learned from them. Gay people’s experience of God has opened windows on the gospel in the same way that the experience of other historically silenced people has.
Scottish Episcopalians have been talking about the ‘listening process’ for years. But, since the dominant cultural pattern has been that it’s fine to be gay in the church so long as one does not talk about it, we often find that we are listening to deafening silence. I think we mustn’t underestimate how hard it is for those schooled in silence to be asked now to speak.
So – our churches are at a different stage of the process.
(2) There is a difference, too, in the role that social justice issues play in the church. The American church is a ‘doing’ church. It is very easy to gather people to run soup kitchens, volunteer at an AIDS hospice, or hold a blueberry festival to raise money for a local charity. There’s a widely accepted belief that involvement in social justice is a natural (and not optional) expression of faith.
Britain, in contrast, tends to be quieter in its execution of faith. ‘Love thy neighbour’ rather than ‘run thy soup-kitchen’.
It is natural, therefore, that the way gay people have been accepted in the SEC has often been through gentle silence and domestic hospitality. In TEC, hospitality is shown more publicly through communal action and by advertising a gay-spirituality group as openly as mums-and-tots.
(3) The temperamental differences also feed into perceptions of what it means to be Anglican.
In the socially liberal churches in the States, to be Anglican means to be able to think critically, discuss freely, disagree vehemently, and all share in the same table. Freedom of thought, responsiveness to changing cultural situations, and learning from Christ in the world is simply assumed as the Anglican Way.
Therefore, when other parts of the church claim that Anglicanism resides in the unchanging revelation of scripture and criticize The Episcopal Church for departing from the true faith, they are met simply with bewilderment. I believe TEC wants to be part of the Anglican Communion. But they want to be part of the communion that they believed existed – not this unfamiliar communion that is shouting ‘sola scriptura’ and shoring up identity by trying to exclude.
Scotland, I suspect, is going through a similar process. But we are doing it quietly – over tea, or with a glass of wine — asking each other: what do you think will happen?
And no one seems to know.