This week the primates of the Anglican Communion are meeting in Tanzania. This meeting was instigated by various conservative archbishops in order to, frankly, tell The Episcopal Church -Anglicanism's US church - to toe the line regarding homosexuality or be excommunicated.
Once again we find conservatives willing to tear apart the Church in order to satisfy their own desires. This impulse goes all the way back to the Donatist controversy, when conservatives wanted to deny the Church's forgiveness to people who had renounced Christianity under the Diocletian persecution back in the 4th century. St. Augustine was the driving force in refuting this heresy, establishing not only the doctrine of ex opere operato
but also a standard of forgiveness and acceptance for the Church.
And Donatism was a heresy
, which had a meaning far different than the one we use today. Far from simply being a heterodox belief, heresy was understood to be a willingness to divide the church for the sake of a particular belief or scriptural interpretation. On a personal note, this understanding of heresy has caused me no small amount of trouble as my family has switched from a Church of the Nazarene to an Episcopal congregation in the last year. But we have not repudiated the beliefs of our former congregation and have not, in our minds, excluded from the faith those that still attend it. And the old parish system, as it pertains to individuals, has not existed for quite some time and therefore should not be considered binding for individuals
when seeking a congregation.
However, the parish system as it pertains to congregations and dioceses does, or at least should, matter quite a bit. The fact that several formerly Episcopalian congregations have left The Episcopal Church and placed themselves under the leadership of Nigerian Archbishop Akinola shows not only a disregard for the ancient parish system but also the sacramental nature of the bishopry. The bishop, consecrated by the Church, is the incarnation of Christ for the parish. She is the pastor of the whole parish, the one responsible for sacramental ministry in the whole parish. The priests who serve under her are extensions of her and her sacramental ministry. This has been a geographic ministry since the earliest developments of the Church and has survived not only the East-West schism and the Reformation, but also the subsequent division of Protestants into the myriad of denominations that we have today.
But these conservatives, in their hatred and fear of homosexuality, have taken it upon themselves to dispense with 2,000 years of canon law, deciding for themselves, on a congregation-by-congregation basis, who they will follow as Bishop and who they will not. This, it should not be said, is the textbook definition of heresy. Further, Archbishop Akinola and other conservative Bishops have refused to sit at meals with Presiding Bishop Jefforts Schori - apparently possessing a righteousness and purity greater than the original 12 Disciples and even Jesus himself
, who not only was willing to eat with women present but also chose a woman as the first person to see him after his resurrection from the dead.
They're heretics. They can accept someone only insofar as that person rejects the same people they do. They are willing to rend the Church for the sake of their sensibilities, willing to destroy the fabric of American dioceses in order to reassure themselves of their supposed orthodoxy. And by their behavior they wound the Church and deny the Gospel.
And even with all of that, I am still willing to remain in communion with them. Despite their accusations that The Episcopal Church has given in to a secular culture, that it has wandered from the Scripture, despite their heretical behavior and disregard for their brothers and sisters, I am willing to maintain the relationship with them. Why are they so unwilling to remain in relationship with me?