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A series of essays toward General Convention 2003 and beyond

Bridging the Chasm

Bridging the Chasm

By the Rev. Elizabeth M. Kaeton

I believe that the enormous chasm which divides us is not between culture and faith. I believe that the "culture/faith" dichotomy is neither helpful nor accurate. It's a bit like the "flesh/spirit" Pauline duality. The flesh can be an important vehicle for the spirit, just as there's a great deal in the culture to edify ones faith. Of course, the reverse is also true, but that's what discernment is all about.

In Anglicanism, it's not either/or but both/and.

My experience (and, it's just my experience) of the "enormous chasm" is the difference between what I'm going to call "Anglican Evangelicals" and "Fundamental Evangelicals."

Let me hasten to add that I do not mean Fundamental in the pejorative way it has come to mean -- so much so that I think the term revisionist has been devised to be lobbed back as a grenade in this 'war of words' in which we seem intractably engaged. It's Fundamentalist with a capital 'F' -- not fundamentalist as in "Muslim fundamentalists," or "fundamentalist Jewish sect."

I mean it in terms of the theological position of "the Fundamentals of the faith." It is a particular strain of Evangelicalism which has its heritage in the writings of John Stott, and Billy Graham, to name just two.

I know that won't provide the appeasement I intend, so risk it all and get right to the point: I believe 'Fundamental Evangelicalism" is antithetical to the Spirit of Anglicanism. I believe it is the cause of "the enormous chasm" of difference which now divides us.

Personally, the foundations of my religious life rest on the solid rock of Anglo-Catholicism. To be sure, there are conservative, traditional, liberal and progressive Anglo-Catholics, but running through them all is a mother lode of Petrine spirituality which calls us to the dynamism between the richness of the liturgical experience and the impulse to feed the hungry and clothe the naked in the world. The Eucharistic experience is not only a mystical, liturgical act but a summons to justice in the world. I am deeply indebted to this heritage of religion, faith and spirituality for all it has given me - and continues to provide.

The Anglican Evangelicals I have known come at this a bit differently but end up in the same place - although, I hear less talk of "justice" and more of "mission." To be sure, there are conservative, traditional, liberal and progressive Anglican Evangelicals. Never mind. It's about all of the best of Pauline theology of being justified by faith but faith being empty without works. It's about passion for the gospel of Jesus Christ and bringing that faith into the world as "a light to enlighten the nations." I am deeply indebted to this heritage of religion and spirituality for all it has given me - and continues to provide.

So, for me (without being overly simplistic) it is in the ancient scriptural tension of Peter and Paul that Anglicanism has come to forge "the via media." I'm always fascinated to read in the accounts of how Peter and Paul faced similar controversies and came to the same conclusion but by completely different methods.

Peter "dreamed" his way to an answer (Acts 10 - concluding in, vs. 34, "Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.") and Paul "reasoned" his way to a solution (Romans 3-6 - concluding in Romans 3:10-11 "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God.").

Thus, the tensions of the best of Anglicanism, from my perspective, are set. We live in the tensions between the mystical and the reasoned. The paradox of truth ancient and new, known and sought. The ambiguity of that which has been revealed and ongoing revelation. Not either/or but both/and.

This is "The Way" of Anglicanism. It is our core and our compass. At least, as I have come to understand it and know it and live it.

What I am perceiving (and, again, it is just my experience) in the more "Fundamental" strain of Evangelicalism which is becoming more and more prevalent here and abroad, is that it does not follow this particular "way." Indeed, it will have nothing to do with it.

Scripture is the inerrant word of God. If you don't "get it" - especially as it is described to you - then one of several things might be wrong with you: You are "stubborn." Your faith is not strong enough. You have "itchy ears" for the easy way out. You love the world more than God. You are apostate and revisionist.

There is no on-gong revelation. There is only "the faith first received from the fathers.'

There is no paradox. There is "faith and order."

There is no "Via Media." It's "my way or the high way."

I saw a bumper sticker once which proclaimed, "God said it. I believe it. That settles it." And, that just about sums up my experience of "Fundamental Evangelicalism."

That's more a critique than a criticism. God knows, this particular theological perspective has helped thousands, yea, millions of people. It has, no doubt, saved lives. I have a deep respect and admiration for the work and ministry they do and the mission they carry out in the name of Jesus.

And, it doesn't mean that Fundamental Evangelicals are not able to think or reason, which is why, I'm certain, the term is anathema to many Evangelical Episcopalians. They do think, and quite well, thank you very much. It's just that the "reasoned path" they follow is not the one I choose to take.

But, it is that particular path which leads to a very different perspective of the world - and, the church's role in that world. So, what some see as the tension between the world (or culture) and faith, I see as the result of the tensions brought on by the particular strain of Fundamental Evangelicalism which has become more and more prevalent in Anglicanism. The more prevalent, the wider the chasm.

At least, that's how I see it.

So, to the question: How to we work together as limbs within Christ's body, as a Communion and a church, essential to each other?"

My answer: Reason and Mystery.

I think it begins with a careful analysis of where we are, and why we are where we are, and being clear about that. I think we've been struggling to do that in General Convention and in our discussion group. It's been difficult and tedious, but I think that's the work we've been about these past few weeks since George Werner closed General Convention with "sine die" - which roughly means that we continue the conversation and the work until the next time we meet in convention.

It's important work, it's God-awful work, but it's essential. Some of us have done it with grace and style and others, well, have not. The important thing is that we do the work, and then, we take it to prayer. Then, we turn it over to God.

I am convinced that God is doing a new thing and our challenge is to rise to it, embrace it, and take our rightful place as co-creators with God.

That's going to take enormous tolerance for ambiguity and paradox. And, that's going to take an enormous amount of humility.

The conservative/orthodox/traditionalist/evangelicals are going to have to ask themselves the same questions the liberal/moderate/progressives are going to have to ask: "What is God trying to reveal in the midst of this chaos and confusion? I know what I want, but what might God want? What is the mind of Christ?"

That's going to take enormous creativity. And, creativity can only flourish when we suspend judgment, still our minds, take a deep breath, and begin to dream.

Can we dream a dream of a new church?

I think it's time. I think it's time to end the war of words, or at least call a moratorium to it, and begin to dream a dream of us that God dreams - the dream God had of us before we had shape and form and came into being.

If we, together, can begin to dream a dream of a new church, I think we can "work together to be faithful limbs within Christ's body, as a Communion and a church, essential to each other."

At least, that's what I think. Indeed, it is my deepest desire and my strongest hope.

(the Rev'd) Elizabeth Kaeton
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
200 Main Street
Chatham, NJ 07928
973 635 8085

"Spiritual maturity is an acceptance of life in relationships." Jack Kornfield

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