On Schism, Community, and Church

September 14, 2007

Yesterday I wrote on the Anglican Communion.

I just watched this wonderful video of Presiding Bishop KJS on the upcoming House of Bishops meeting in New Orleans.  In it, she mentions the reactionary use of the word “schism.”

That got me to thinking that her perspective ties in greatly with what I had to say yesterday about community. Some work really hard to come with very rigid boundaries around community.  In Susan Russell’s words, “feeding on the bread of anxiety.”  I certainly do not hope to feed that hunger.

It is no wonder that for those so insatiable with anxiety the only choice when such a “rigid boundary” of community is violated is to call such a violation “schism.”  One pictures, when using these definitions of Church (ekklesia, democractic assembly, community), that one is bounced outside at the first sign of disagreement with some doctrinal and rigid code.  Some family!  (Feels very much like the kind of family that would bounce you outside the door upon telling them that you are gay…)

Like I said yesterday, we must not fall into the trap of such rigid, dogmatic, and narrow definitions of community, of Church, of family.  Community is much more porous.  It thrives in conversation, in relationship– not in dogma.  Just as with friends whose relationships wax, wane, and wax again over years of common life, community cannot be held to such a non-relational standard.  Such a definition is empirical, scientific, precise, and rational.  Common life lived in the pursuit and love of God is none of these things.  Common life lived by both parties in the pursuit and love of God does not allow for schism.

Some groups have often framed the question as “Communion” versus “Federation”.  Such groups use community as a stick– with logic going something like this:  you should not take an action which is not agreed on by the whole Body of Christ.  Of course, in a smaller context most of us could not have come out of the closet to start with in our own families if we took no action that would cause any other harm.  Such a position discounts the validity of any view which is has not yet processed as “new.”  More importantly, it assumes that multiple views cannot exist in tension.  It devalues difference.

God values difference in unity.  We have a Trinitarian God- a God based in plurality.  Not one monolithic, imperial God, but one triune God– in one of the most confusing doctrines of our faith.  Difference can be confusing!  The Christian God is a God in constant conversation, in constant dialogue, in constant conversation.  What does it say about us if we insist on shutting down our own conversations because we are afraid of having multiple perspectives within the Body of Christ?  Unity does not equate to uniformity.

“Do not speak evil against one another, brothers and sisters.  Whoever speaks evil against another or judges another, speaks evil against the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.  There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy.  So who, then, are you to judge your neighbor?”  James 4:11-12

How much energy has been spent destroying instead of building up?  How much energy could have been doing the gospel instead of judging whether or not others were following it.  With a porous community, we are free to use community not as a judge, not as a mechanism for fear and tyranny, but as a positive reinforcement system– as a place for support, for us to allow our desire for God to be manifest without interference.

Psalms 107 is one of my favorites.  The Psalmist describes a God who redeems peoples of all the nations (inclusively) from each of the four cardinal directions, north, east, south, and west– from the desert, from darkness and gloom, from illness, and from the sea.  The wonderful thing about this story (recently pointed out to me by a professor of mine) is that the way these people experience God is different.  The person saved from the sea experiences the grace and salvation of God differently than the person saved from the desert.  The experience of receiving water from God, for example, would be hugely relieving (I imagine) for the person in the desert– while probably not so much for the person stuck in a storm at sea.

That all leads me to this:  if we get so stuck in our own experience of God that we focus on pushing others out rather than learning what we can from each other, then we run into the problem James warned us about.  Of course there are occassions when we must call for accountability, for justice.  I have written about those many times here.  But when we attempt excommunication without taking such varied experiences of God into account, we are not in the realm of justice but of arrogance– of ego, of self.  And I don’t believe that is a good place to be.



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