Pray for the Church!

The Rev. R. William Carroll
School of Theology
The University of the South

May God give you peace!

Indulge me, if you will, in a little foolishness. I hope that it's the kind that makes us fools for Christ. But I may be wrong. I may just be a fool. Anyway, I'll risk it and say what I have to say. I wish, frankly, that the Lambeth Commission's Windsor report looked a little more like today's epistle, which forms a cornerstone in the liturgy of Holy Baptism. Baptism unites us with Jesus in his death and resurrection. Baptismal unity precedes and grounds all other forms of unity in the Church. Baptismal grace is the ultimate basis for our communion. This grace makes us members of the Body of Christ, living stones in the temple of the Spirit, and missionaries of the risen Lord. In today's epistle, Paul -- or someone writing in his name -- is not afraid to beg:

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Now, I may be a fool, but it strikes me that begging, asking, and exhorting are closer to Gospel forms of authority -- and to those of normative Anglicanism -- than the Windsor report's rather narrow focus on legal norms and institutions. Now, I'm not against those things per se. After all, we already have them, and I've promised to obey them. But the Windsor report, despite its protests to the contrary, strikes me as rather Roman. Apparently, we can no longer be united by "bonds of affection" but must rely instead on what we have never had before -- in essence, a global code of canon law. How sad for us! How sad for the Gospel!

I fear that we may sacrifice the distinctive character of Anglicanism on the altar of conformity. Our desire, understandable as it is, to bring order out of the present chaos may lead us to hasty and excessive attempts to impose control. The Windsor report counsels unity at practically any cost, and it reinterprets priceless notions of conscience, provincial autonomy, and subsidiarity in highly questionable ways. In my own view, its proposals should not be accepted in their present form.

Ultimately, the challenge we face is not institutional in character. Rather, it consists in a rupture in the bonds of affection. It involves a massive breakdown in the kinds of Christian virtues that Paul begs us to display in our life together. Try as we might, we cannot enforce these virtues. It is the Holy Spirit, the living breath of God, who unites us. The Holy Spirit is the bond of peace. Communion is a gift from God. And we cannot force God's hand. To be fair to the authors of the report, they are careful to present their findings as recommendations. Nothing more. To do otherwise would be to exceed their authority. They have the first word, not the last. The last word is up to all of us together, and our faithfulness over the next several years will determine the success or failure of the efforts to repair the breach in our communion.

I do wish that the members of the commission had spent more time exhorting us to the virtues that Paul lists in today's epistle: humility, gentleness, patience, and mutual forbearance. Together with justice and honesty, these virtues are the heart of genuine reconciliation. They create the necessary climate to hear what God is telling us through our sisters and brothers in the Global South, who are often persecuted and martyred for their faith -- and who are impoverished, excluded, and murdered by the forces of globalization and empire that have enriched many of us. But these virtues also open our ears and hearts to what God is telling us through many gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in our midst, who are still silenced, excluded, oppressed, and murdered. These same virtues frame our conversation about how best to respond to the report's advice--and to heal the Church we all love.

My brothers and sisters, I too beg you to lead lives worthy of your calling. Be humble; be patient; be gentle. Bear with one another in love. Strive for unity in the Spirit, who binds us together in peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as we have been called to a single hope -- the Reign of God and the resurrection of the dead. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God -- the Father and Mother of us all. Therefore, we are one whether we like it or not. Whether we act like it or not.

Whether we succeed or fail in reconciling the divisions in our small portion of the Church, God will prevail. Communion is God's gift of God's own love. It is our participation in the life of the Trinity. And no human deed, however wise or foolish, can break this communion. We cannot annul God's covenant -- sealed as it is with the precious blood of JESUS.

Pray for his Church. Amen.

October 22, 2004

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