Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Mutual Loyalty and a Definition of the Anglican Communion

The oldest and probably still most widely accepted understanding of the Communion is that offered by the 1930 Lambeth Conference and subsequently quoted in the preamble to TEC’s constitution. It defined the Communion as a “fellowship, within the one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, of those duly constituted dioceses, provinces or regional Churches in communion with the See of Canterbury,” which have in common “the Catholic and Apostolic faith and order as they are generally set forth in the Book of Common Prayer”; that “they are particular [dioceses] or national Churches”; and that “they are bound together not by a central legislative and executive authority, but by mutual loyalty sustained through the common counsel of the bishops in conference.”[From "South Carolina: A Communion Response" over at The Anglican Communion Institute, Inc., here (H/T Covenant: when you come together to eat, wait for one another)] 
That's the best definition I've seen so far. I can see why the Covenant is creating such a stir. It smacks too uncomfortably of "central legislative and executive authority." But I fear "mutual loyalty" is being stretched, even abused, of late.

Authority is given, power is taken. Just so with loyalty. True mutual loyalty must be earned and given out of trust. If I'm going to do what I feel "the Spirit" is calling me to do, even though it is done in a "duly constituted" manner, and even though you and I have never come to consensus on the rightness of the matter through "common counsel" in "conference," and even though I know you think what I'm doing is wrong and contrary to the teaching of Scripture, I am the betrayer of the "mutual loyalty" in our fellowship, not you.

How, then, should I behave when I feel my loyalty has been stretched and betrayed?

I found an uncomfortable answer today. David Lamb teaches Old Testament and writes a blog, Is the God of the Old Testament…?, in which he finishes a short series on Jeremiah 29:11, "everyone's favourite verse in the whole Bible," and also the verse most taken out of context, with this, on what he calls the best verse in Jeremiah 29:
Seek the welfare of the city where I sent you into exile, pray to YHWH on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare (Jer 29:7). 
What? Yes, those brutal, barbarian Babylonians who ravaged your land and enslaved you, you need to love them, bless them and pray for them. That sounds like something Jesus would say (Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you: Matt. 5:44). 
I think it’s wonderful that God has plans to bless me and give me a future and a hope, but according to Jeremiah 29:7 that promise is tied up with me seeking the welfare of my enemy-neighbors. God wants to bless me, and part of the way that he does that is by calling me to be a blessing to others, even people who I could reasonably hate. [From "The plans God has for me? (Jeremiah 29 Part III)" here]
Love, bless, pray for and seek the welfare of my betrayers? That's stretching loyalty too far the other way. Isn't it?

(David, by the way,  has also written a book with the eye-catching title, God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist?)