In a recent meeting with our diocesan "clergy dialogue group" we fell to discussing the current state of affairs in the Episcopal Church. "The problem," said one of my self-described "conservative" clergy colleagues "is that the radical conservatives have left … but the radical liberals are still here." "Well there you go!" I said. "Since historically Anglicans don’t leave, I guess that makes us the traditionalists!"
He did not find it a compelling argument.
Yet I am a traditionalist – and so I have great confidence in the history of this church and great faith in its future. I claim the tradition of a biblical faith in the God who does the unexpected ... calls the unworthy ... offers the unimaginable. The promise of descendants more numerable than the stars to Abraham and Sarah comes to mind. So does asking Moses to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt ... along with a baby in a manger and an empty tomb. Ours is a tradition of belonging to this God who seems always to be doing the unexpected ... and yet how often we dare to presume that we know God's mind ... can speak for God ... can understand all of God's ways. "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." [Isaiah 55:8] And yet in the days since September 11th the newspapers and airwaves ... and my email "inbox" ... have been full of those who dogmatically insist they know God's ways and want to explain them to me. Those who believe they have a corner on "the truth" and want to either convince us of it or kill us over it. "Neither are your ways my ways" says God ... and yet, created in God's image, we yearn for the day when our ways become God's ways – or at least more like them!
What gets in the way of our becoming more fully the people of God we are called to be? How can the Church of Tomorrow achieve that goal? I am increasingly convinced that our own tolerance for the intolerant has become our Achilles heel. I believe we must be about the work of building bridges of collaboration between peace seeking people of all denominations, faiths and cultures as we work together to eradicate the scourge of rabid fundamentalism and sectarianism which infects all our traditions at some level. As people of faith we must cease to tolerate those who insist on divine authorization for a demonic agenda – must refuse to allow the reactionary elements of our communities claim for themselves the platform of orthodoxy … of traditionalism ... as an excuse for perpetrating evil.
Imagine if moderate Jews, Christians and Muslims combined in one united, world-wide front to put into practice the basic tenets of their faith ... and combined as well to silence the polemic voices of division and exclusion from the religious radicals who dwell on the fringes of their respective faiths. "Waging Reconciliation" is what our Presiding Bishop has called it. Osama bin Laden wouldn't have a chance. Neither would Jerry Falwell.
The report from the 2020 Task Force asked this question: "Could it be that God is in the process of preparing the Episcopal Church to play a significant role in a moment such as this?" I believe that’s precisely what this God-whose-ways-are-not-our-ways has been doing. I believe the hard work of reconciliation that has been going on within this church has been preparing us to take that work outside this church. No, God is not finished with us yet. We did not wait until we had vanquished the sin of racism before we reached out and participated in ending the injustice of apartheid. Just so, there is work for us to do as people of reconciliation in this present time of trial in the global community – even as we continue to walk in love with those with whom we disagree in our own church.
For even in these most uncertain of times we dwell in the certainty that we belong to a God whose very nature is love ... and who will lead us, if we will follow, to places we may have never imagined we would go. May God give us the grace to imagine the Church of Tomorrow as a force for making manifest God’s reconciling love to all people. And may God give us as well the grace to accomplish it.
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