Division and debate — it’s what Anglicans do best

02 November 2006

ANGLICANS ought to be celebrating. Far from hand-wringing, the latest threat of the worldwide Anglican split over the same-sex issue should be met with a chorus of “Hurray! We did it. Cigars and sherry for all!” We could become downright giddy with our achievement . . . that is, if we are prepared to pull back from the heat, and take a long look at what is going on.

For the past 50 years, the Anglican Church, like many parts of Western society, has been trying — with varying degrees of success — to level the playing-field and address multiculturalism. We are neither Jew nor Greek, Filipino nor Nigerian.

Finally, the non-Western voice of the Global South is being heard, and, even more significantly, having to be reckoned with. This is a landmark achievement that needs to be noted. But perhaps we don’t like what we are hearing. It seems that efforts at diversity and liberal tolerance are valuable so long as they spice up the otherwise bland mother-culture meal occasionally — but we don’t want to let them change the menu permanently.

At the Lambeth Conference in 1998, I had the privilege of attending a service. I was utterly taken aback by the colours, cultures, and languages that make up my Church. Perhaps I had expected a synod made up predominantly of white Anglo-Saxon North Torontonians. For the first time, I realised I am part of something more like the United Nations.

In my amazement, I turned to a Canadian liturgist sitting next to me and said: “This Church doesn’t need a theologian. It needs an anthropologist to manage this diversity.” He agreed. The magnitude of the cultural diversity we now house is going to require more than a love for all things English to keep it together. We need new rules of engagement and disengagement, because the old ones won’t hold us together any longer — if being together is what we want.

THE WAY will not be easy, because there isn’t a simple road map to follow. Secular society has not yet found the answer: most Western efforts at multiculturalism are still at the food-and-festival level at best, or motivated by opportunism, power, and greed at worst. Perhaps a way to begin would be to ponder these two perspectives.

Global North colleagues: we broke the tacitly agreed-to rules of engagement, and we need to face that. The English way has always been to tolerate great diversity . . . unofficially. Same-sex blessings have been going on for some time, but not using diocesan-sanctioned, synodically approved ceremonies.

How would we have responded to the African Church if one of its dioceses had proposed an official, synodically sanctioned blessing of a polygamous marriage, or a pre-pubescent arranged marriage? These issues are not directly comparable to homosexuality, but the emotional-cultural reaction to them is.

Global North, this does not mean we sublimate our voices, but, if we want everyone participating, we will have to do much more theological explaining, and much more listening.

Global South colleagues: this issue is coming from the concern for social justice that is at the core of the gospel for many Global North Christians. As it was for many of you over apartheid, this perspective trumps all other individual doctrinal and scriptural directives, because it is the ultimate Christian litmus test. Ironically, this challenge of social justice for our faith is what moved our historically dominant culture to the point of seeing itself as an oppressor that silenced voices other than its own.

Global South, if you want to continue to live together — with us and with each other — you will also need to engage with this question, and see whether there is a social-justice issue for you in it.

So, well done. Now we are squabbling, and that is far better than silent coercion. We are growing up into something new and richer because of our diversity. Can we live together? Of course we can, but only as equal partners of the gospel, and only if we do what we do best: witness and renew.

Canon Dawn Davis is director of ministry resources for the diocese of Toronto, and has oversight of ethnic ministries and congregational development.

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