15 July 2009
One Voice in the Anglican Communion
The Rev. Dr. A. Katherine Grieb is the Professor of New Testament at Virginia Theological (Episcopal) Seminary. She is also a member of the Anglican Communion Covenant Design Group, the Theology Committee of the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church, and the Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission.
In these capacities she has written on the full inclusion of sexual minority Christians in the Anglican Communion and the integrity and survival of the Communion. In We Will With God's Help, Dr. Grieb writes:
One of the early desert fathers, Dorotheus of Gaza, has given us an image for understanding this passage that many of us have found helpful. He describes our human situation as a circle. God is at the very center of the circle, as its focal point, and every human being that God has made is a point on the circumference of that circle.
Dorotheus reminds us that it is false to think we must choose between loving God with everything in us and loving our neighbors as ourselves. We can deduce that it is false by observing that as we move towards the center of the circle, as we approach God more closely, at the same time we also become closer to our brothers and sisters who are, in the same way, being drawn towards the center of the circle by the attractive and attracting love of God. That same love which draws us to itself like a powerful magnet also draws us to love our neighbors as well. These loves are not in competition; rather they come together in the well-ordered spiritual life. God’s gentle but effective centripetal power resists the centrifugal forces within us that are inclined to fractious and schismatic separation from one another.
I have found it useful to meditate on Dorotheus of Gaza’s geometric parable as I think about the pressures on TEC and the Anglican Communion at the moment... If we think of ourselves as points on the circumference of the globe of which God is the center, then it is self-evidently a false choice to be asked to love either our neighbors who are nearby or those who are far away; our neighbors who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, or our neighbors who, for the present at least, oppose their full inclusion in the life of the church.
At this point I am reminded of an African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” It is wise practical advice, a useful strategy. This is entirely appropriate, for once our theological situation is clarified (as we are drawn to love God more and more, we are to relate to each of the points of the Compass Rose, whether near or far, as a neighbor to be loved) then the questions that arise are in fact strategic ones: (1) What does loving our GLBT neighbors, both here and around the Anglican Communion, look like? (2) What does loving our neighbors, both near and far, who for the present oppose their full inclusion in the life of the church look like? (3) How can we act gracefully at the present time in a way that moves the Anglican Communion as a whole to go far by going together?
In the past two years the Episcopal Church has not ordained any bishops whose manner of life presents a challenge to the larger Anglican Communion as we were asked. We have not formalized liturgies to consecrate same gender partnerships as we were asked. Yet the bishops of the Southern Cone have continued their intrusions into the American church, flagrantly flaunting the requests of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the wider Communion. And I fear all that shall be said and remembered about these years is the Episcopal Church's affirmation of the possibility of ordination for all the baptized.
I wish more more people had listened to Dr. Grieb and we were as a Church and as a Communion wrestling with these questions.