Presiding Over Crisis--and Maybe Schism
The Presiding Bishop sees the denomination's current path as the only way--because it's 'truthful.'
BY: Interview by Deborah Caldwell
I visited with Archbishop Akinola a couple years ago, and I gave a retreat for the bishops there. He knew I had divergent points of view, and when I arrived he said to his bishops, "Some of you have real questions about this person, but nonetheless I've invited him."
The issue is not simply a particular view of Scripture; in a number of places in Africa, such as northern Nigeria, there is a great deal of violence against Christians. In that situation, because the Islamic community is absolute in its views, the only way to survive if you're a Christian is to be equally resolute in your theology. So when another province of the Anglican Communion appears more broad in how scripture is interpreted that becomes highly problematic. The church in Nigeria and other places is absolutely obliged, as far as I can see, to take a firm line and say "We find this aberrant and contrary to how we understand tradition and scripture."
Have you and Archbishop Akinola or any of the other protesting bishops been in touch with each other?
I have deep respect and affection for Archibishop Akinola. He's dealing with his own issues in his own context, and he's obliged to say certain things. It's not that it's not genuine, because it is. But among the primates there is a whole other level of communication. I got a letter today from a primate from another province that has been very fierce in its opposition to the Episcopal Church, and his letter simply reminds me that.
Can you say who it is?
It would be best not to. But the letter says, "We love you, we have to say what we have to say, and please know how much we appreciate the various ways in which we can work together." It's somewhat paradoxical, but it's real.
Our intention is to keep the relationships between the provinces as strong as possible. Because the issues in other provinces are death, disease, millions of orphans--and all we can do is talk about sex. I feel guilty that the Episcopal Church's have been foisted off onto Anglicans worldwide. And the energy that ought to go into the relief of poverty and disease and caring for aids orphans all over Africa goes into protecting the Episcopal Church from some kind of a "blemish" or "impurity."
We're very aware of the disproportionate power of the United States because of its wealth. And then often the Episcopal Church ends up being a U.S. entity and is associated with U.S. power. And we do have resources--as a church we are immensely blessed. But how can we take our place in the world as genuine partners and not try to foist an agenda on people or use our money or resources to get some kind of conformity to our views in the rest of the world?
I was in Spain a couple weeks ago, and learned that the entire ordination service for Gene Robinson was telecast in Europe. And I know European television makes its way into other parts of the world. In the past someone might read about what happened "over there" in the United States, but by virtue of television, suddenly it was happening in people's living rooms where the culture was completely different, where the conception of the church was completely different. It wasn't "over there" anymore--it was as you were eating dinner, the Bishop of New Hampshire was being ordained at your dining room table.
What effect does that kind of communication have? You could have people saying "that's really cool" and others saying "get it away from me."
I've had a number of communications with people from other provinces who are formally rather condemning of us but quietly saying "Thank you so much for doing this." Again, there are all these levels of communication.