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.