"I'm what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man. And I've failed much more than I've succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, "Where are we going?" And it starts to get better." - Calvin Trager
*A diocese or province will announce it is not accepting money -- even money designated for important, life-saving ministries -- from parts of the Church it believes to be promoting teaching on human sexuality contrary to its understanding of Scripture.
*Those whose money is being rejected (and others who hold similar beliefs to theirs on Scripture's view of human sexuality) deride the primate or bishop for their actions, calling them unChristian, unconscionable and even evil.
*Those who are in the same theological camp of the diocese or province rejecting the money counter this by calling the act of rejection courageous, assert their trust in the power of God to hold, heal and sustain, and deride those whose money is being rejected for trying to use their money to force capitulation to theology contrary to the Gospel.
*Stories -- none officially substantiated but many told very forcefully and believably -- circulate that every dollar denied is being made up for by individual and corporate donors in America who share the rejecting diocese/province's views of Scripture's understanding of human sexuality. Vast conspiracy theories are promulgated, mistrust grows, and the gap between the two sides widens.
*After much sound and fury, the issue dies down until another diocese or province makes a similar announcement and it all begins again.
I find this pattern utterly predictable and entirely unhelpful. It represents an unwillingness or inability on either side to see nuance, to think creatively, and to live lovingly and sacrificially. I think we are all better than this. I know we are all called to be better than this.
First, for the sake of this conversation, let's assume that everyone's motives are the absolute best. Now, I can already hear the cries of naivete, but my experience has always been that the Gospel is always better served by attributing the best to people's motives rather than assuming the worst. There are certainly people on all sides who will use this or any situation for nefarious means ... but just as certainly there are many more people of great faith and integrity on both sides ... and these are the people in whom our hope rests anyway -- so let's just assume that's who we're dealing with!
Second, let's acknowledge that both sides have virtue and vice. Let's also take both sides at their word. That means recognizing that:
-striving to have your actions match your convictions is a laudable thing -- it is a sign of discipleship and it is what living with integrity is all about. Both sides are trying to do this. Those offering the money are trying to live out their call to help those in great need. Those rejecting the money are trying to live out their call to reject what they believe is false and harmful teaching.
-both sides are exhibiting sacrificial living -- a central part of our call to live in Christ. The dioceses offering the money are exhibiting great generosity in a culture that encourages self-aggrandizement. The dioceses rejecting the money are doing so at great personal cost (and anyone who thinks these bishops take lightly the extreme suffering of their people not only are not assuming the best from their motives, they haven't spent any time in these countries or with these bishops).
-both sides believe that feeding the hungry, healing the sick and lifting people out of extreme poverty are central to the Christian call. We share a desire to get this work done. The differences are complex. Among many things, they involve one side having a faith in God's providence that they believe will work outside what they see as an apostate church and the other side believing that God's providence is working through their living out their call and giving and that these people may not be provided for outside of that. This is where we have the impasse.
Third, we need to acknowledge that, whether or not this is the case now, our nation and our church have in the past used money as a hammer. That is part of our legacy. Likewise, we need to acknowledge that our legacy and our current life is much broader and deeper than that, and that there is a deep desire among many, if not most, to move beyond manipulation and paternalism to truly shared life and ministry in Christ.
So how do we approach this productively? A few suggestions:
*Assume the best and acknowledge the goodwill on both sides -- Those rejecting the money should acknowledge that, however vehemently they believe people in these dioceses giving the money are getting it wrong about human sexuality, at the very least a large number of those people are not trying to influence an agenda but are honestly trying to live out their Christian vocation and help those in need. If rejection of funds needs to happen it should be done with sadness and with gratitude and praise to God that, at least in this area of their life, these Christians are getting it right. Conversely, those giving the money should acknowledge that, however vehemently they feel the decision to reject the money is wrong, it is made out of a desire of Christians to live with integrity and is a decision made with great pain and difficulty for all concerned.
*Explore acceptable ways to work together on what we agree on -- Instead of shouting about whether this particular action is justified or not, begin (or continue?) a conversation about what, if any, would be acceptable ways to work together to accomplish the goals that we agree are part of the Christian call (basically, the Millennium Development Goals -- http://www.e4gr.org/mdgs.html). Can we honor each other and still work together? If money cannot change hands ... how else can we help each other?
*Don't let this be a barrier -- For the "givers" ... give the money anyway. Respect the right of those rejecting the funds to live out their faith the best they can -- that's what, at our best, we are all trying to do. But don't let that stop you from doing the same. If those dioceses/provinces won't accept it, find reputable NGOs in the same regions that will -- the resources will get to the same people. What about Anglican Relief and Development? If those giving the money aren't willing to go through ARD when doing so would get the money to those who need it, how are they any different from those refusing the money to begin with? For the "rejecters," redouble your efforts to work for the MDGs, recognizing that the responsibility that comes with your decision to cut off one avenue of help from your people is to discover two other ways that God can accomplish the divine mission of healing and reconciliation.
*Talk with each other. Pray for each other -- Resist the temptation to fall back into our own camps and demonize each other. Be honest about how you feel about each other's actions. Be honest about the sadness and anger the actions on both sides have generated. But always assume the posture of constructive engagement and listening. Continue to assume the best motives and intentions, continue to search for the beams in our own eyes even as we are driven crazy by the motes in each others, strive to live in holiness by living in humility, pray for each other -- not that God will change them to agree with us, but that God will use us in each other's life, will transform us through engagement with each other to mold us all into the image of Christ through which God will draw the entire creation into the divine.
In every moment of conflict there is the potential for destruction and the potential for the birth of a new creation. The difference is in the approach.
| Mike at 6/16/2005 10:21:00 AM
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"Christ's example is being
demeaned by the church if they ignore the new leprosy,
which is AIDS. The church is the sleeping giant here.
If it wakes up to what's really going on in the rest
of the world, it has a real role to play. If it doesn't,
it will be irrelevant."