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‘+Welby and being a people of peace

If you haven’t taken the time to watch this video interview of the soon-to-be AB of C, Justin Welby, please do. It’s all worthwhile, but if you’re pressed for time skip through to about halfway through, where he starts in on a short talk about his vision for the future of the Church of England. He comes across as a very good communicator, humble yet confident, and as a man whose hope and vision comes from one person: Jesus. I’ve been told by someone who knows him well that he spends more time in prayer and Bible study than any priest she’s ever known.

Here’s what stuck with me most, in relation to our own church across the pond. In a violent world full of suspicion and fear, +Welby says, we the church must be a people of peace. Being a people of peace won’t “mean we all agree, [but] it means we love each other when we don’t agree.” “If you look back at some of arguments we’ve had over the last few weeks and months here in the Church of England,” he continues, “it is poison to the mind of those who are outside the church. It anesthetizes them against the Gospel.”

Substitute the C of E over the last few months for the Episcopal Church over the past many years, and I couldn’t think of a more apt description over where we are as a church today. Karl Marx once said that history always repeats itself, as it were, twice — the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. That line’s occurred to me often while reading the news about the secession of the South Carolina diocese, and the looming black cloud of yet more lawsuits on top of the $22 million or so we’ve already spent, against a diocese that was one of the only growth spots in the entire church, which probably wouldn’t have left if we hadn’t pushed them out the door. This again? Must we keep repeating ourselves until there’s nothing left but a pile of old empty buildings?

I wish to God it weren’t so, but apparently it is. Our presiding bishop gave a sermon in one of the continuing SC parishes last Saturday, and she began with a story about a local man who not long ago made the mistake of flying his glider too close to a nuclear power plant. It was an honest mistake, but for his sins the local constabulary decided to put this septuagenarian in a tiny and crowded jail cell for over a day. Understandably, he was upset, and so were the feds — the police didn’t have any right to treat the guy like that, but as of yet there’s been no apology.

See the analogy yet? Well, here it is — real subtle-like:

“I tell you that story because it’s indicative of attitudes we’ve seen here and in many other places. Somebody decides he knows the law, and oversteps whatever authority he may have to dictate the fate of others who may in fact be obeying the law, and often a law for which this local tyrant is not the judge. It’s not too far from that kind of attitude to citizens’ militias deciding to patrol their towns or the Mexican border for unwelcome visitors. It’s not terribly far from the state of mind evidenced in school shootings, or in those who want to arm school children, or the terrorism that takes oil workers hostage.”

Yes, she went there. Our presiding bishop saw fit to call Bishop Lawrence a “local tyrant” and compared him with backwoods militia, terrorists, and the murderers of children in schools.

Really? Must we treat one another this way? This is what +Welby calls “poison” to people outside; this is what anesthetizes people against the Gospel. Yes, there are important disagreements and issues at stake. Yes, there’s enough blame to go around. But let’s not compare each other to terrorists and schoolchildren-murderers. Let’s at least start there.

In this vein, a few of us intermittent Covenant bloggers helped put together this petition about South Carolina. We think, basically, that if we’re going to start loving each other as a church across our many divisions, a good place to start would be by not suing one another. We also think (or at least, I think) that the House of Bishops has the opportunity at its March meeting to start changing course. Why must our entire church be hijacked by this? Anyhow, if you agree, please sign and spread the word. It’s at about 200 signatures now, including many from left, right, and center such as the Rev. Fleming Rutledge, the Rev. Robert Hendrickson, the Rev. Dr. Jo Bailey Wells, the Rev. Russell Levenson, the Rev. Dr. Ephraim Radner, and the Rev. Tobias Haller.

One comment from a signee that stuck out to me, from Ms. Sarah Raven from Connecticut: “I am deeply committed to the full inclusion of LGBT people in the Church. Not just because it is morally right but also because I am a bisexual woman. That being said, just because I may disagree with some of the thoughts and feelings of some of the folks in the Diocese of South Carolina, I still love them as my brothers and sisters in Christ and it deeply pains me that we may forever break our bonds of affection.”

Hear, hear. First comes Christian charity. After that comes everything else. Let’s be a people of peace.


  1. Thanks for this article, Jordan. I had not heard of our primate’s sermon. I agree it is most unfortunate. I don’t know that a comparison between CoE and TEC with regard to peace really works historically due to our radically different trajectories going back to the founding of the colonies. ++Welby’s words were heard by a church who has for centuries developed a culture of comprehension strengthened by the recognition that they are an established church – one’s opponents can’t simply move on without a very high cost. We on the other hand have the sectarian option wired into our DNA from the first Calvinist refugees. We have a culture of stridency and division reinforced by the reality that moving on is a relatively cheap option. There is less (apparent) need for restraint because it really is not necessary that we stick together – the other guy can always leave without those in power being seen as destroying the fabric of society. That premise of low-cost division pervades all of American culture.

    Peaceful living requires charity, but charity is more likely when there is a sense of ‘going on together.’ I don’t observe that those who hold the power in TEC have that sense with respect to the politically vanquished. Rather, we witness the style of engagement of a military cleanup operation, power deployed without restraint, comfort with the migration of dissenters to other territories if they are unable to embrace the victorious ideology. A sense of going on together is not evident. Therefore I don’t see cause for optimism that the habits of thought conducive to peace will suddenly sprout with respect to the division between progressive and conservative.


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