First Things: Alignments of Interest with Evil Powers

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The current (August / September) issue of First Things magazine contains a letter to the editor that I wrote related to Ephraim Radner’s article “Anglicanism on its Knees.” 1)I mentioned this article in an earlier post. It also includes a couple letters from fellow Anglicans who defend GAFCON and cannot imagine what Radner is on about.

Radner eloquently replies to the letters, pointing out that (1) moral relativism related to Africa is wrong, (2) Anglicans are all about some moral concerns {sexual ethics} while totally ignoring others {murder, tyranny, torture} and (3) Anglicans, “…have been and remain prone to alignments of interest with, frankly, evil powers.” One prime example of this is the silence and complicity of Rwandan Anglicans with their evil regime. Fortunately, despite the attempts of PEAR USA to whitewash and ignore these concerns, the truth is still on the march. Radner’s response follows:

The purpose of my essay was to highlight some of the moral pressures and dilemmas that Anglicans around the world now face. These have arisen in the wake of the tremendous turmoil brought on by especially Western cultural transformations over how to understand and enact our sexual lives. This turmoil has, in turn, drawn in churches and cultures from outside the West. Anglicans are no different from other Christians in having to make serious choices in the face of these dynamics. My argument was that a failure to take these choices seriously will lead-and has already led-otherwise faithful people into moral commitments and alliances that are simply wrong. My remarks about Anglicanism today, then, represented both a case study for all Christians, as well as a particular plea for prayer on all our behalf.

I am disappointed and surprised that some readers chose to avoid the issues I raised, and thereby gave testimony to my argument about a growing moral obtuseness in our midst. There is absolutely nothing that can justify what happened in Rwanda in 1994-neither events before that time nor events subsequent to them. But there is nothing, morally or theologically, to justify what has happened in the Eastern Congo in the past twenty years, either. Lilice Wickman seems to confuse these matters. The Rwandan army, whatever its virtues past or present, has been and is involved in unconscionable activities, even atrocities. There is no “rock and a hard place” set of choices here for Christians, nor is there any in Nigeria and Uganda on the front of basic human rights that Christians themselves helped define and defend: We are called to speak the truth in love, to oppose what is wrong, and to do so whether or not it is culturally comfortable or politically secure. Period. To start calculating the relative moral weights of political partners and worrying about misperceived moral equivalencies, while inevitable, cannot form the basis of evangelical witness and ecclesial policy.

Surely the Church has learned this clearly over the past centuries, whatever the temptations. It is hard to believe that Christians are willing to claim some great moral victory in having tepidly expressed discomfort with executing homosexuals (Uganda), while doing nothing to publicly oppose their long-term incarceration. However, it is not a matter of tabulating comparative shame: There is more than enough to go around in a world where Christians-in this specific case, Anglicans-have made some moral concerns the basis for ignoring others of comparable evangelical urgency.

Emery Gerhardt imagines, furthermore, that conservative American Anglicans who have left the Episcopal Church have some­ how progressed beyond having to debate these moral subtleties, and are now happily engaged in the real business of the Church. I suggest he look at the fine work of Joel Wilhelm, who has been chronicling some troubling immoral complicities that deeply compromise Gerhardt’s version of Anglicanism come of age. Wilhelm’s letter rightly emphasizes how mutual accountability is one of the great casualties of our politicized Church. And this is a loss that injures both conservatives and liberals.

But just because of this, what is at stake also goes beyond Anglicanism, as I tried to suggest. Fr. John Hodgins has nothing to apologize for in joining the Roman Catholic Church, and I for one certainly do not dismiss such a decision on the part of some Anglicans. I will leave aside whether or not this is a particularly helpful Anglican option-personally, I think it has little to do with “preserving what is best” in Anglicanism, nor should it. More important, the choice to be a part of the Roman Catholic Church does nothing to solve the underlying dilemma of corrupting partnerships into which the pressures of, say, secularization often push Christians. I hope I made that clear.

On this score, Christopher Wells is more attuned to my concerns, when he notes that the U.S. Anglican-Roman Catholic Consultation’s recent statement on “Ecclesiology and Moral Discernment” properly called on each Church to “share” in the moral struggles of the other, rather than to use them as clubs with which to beat the other. One reason for such an exhortation is that Catholics and Anglicans both, each in their own way, have been and remain prone to alignments of interest with, frankly, evil powers. At this time, at least, I believe that we strengthen our resistance in part through common accountabilities to which we can and must hold each other in our imperfect unity and witness. This may prove a better pedagogy for our growth in unity than other paths.

In any case, I am sorry that some have taken my request for prayer on behalf of Anglicans-and indirectly, thus, for all of us-as a recruitment tool, a strategy that a few apologists for the Anglican Ordinariate seem to have adopted on the web. As Wells indicates, this strategy may well miss a divine opportunity.

References   [ + ]

1. I mentioned this article in an earlier post.

2 thoughts on “First Things: Alignments of Interest with Evil Powers”

  1. Congrats on the shout out!

    It reads as if Dr. Radner+ is aware of A Living Text and your work with the way he wrote: “I suggest he look at the fine work of Joel Wilhelm, who has been chronicling some troubling immoral complicities that deeply compromise Gerhardt’s version of Anglicanism come of age.” I hope so, because it’s very lonely blowing a trumpet and having so many “disappointments” though after this long, I sure neither of you are very “surprised” by it anymore. Jesus sent them out in two for a reason, always nice not to be alone with difficult tasks.

    By necessity, I have to disagree with Dr Radner+ on the strategy of Anglican renewal, and suspect many of the reactions could be knee-jerk because of his position with ACI, favoring an “inside” approach. I earnestly believe he is called by God to this approach, just as I earnestly believe I’m called to fighting the good fight in a ACNA related context. However, as he rightly points out, Americans Anglicans can agree with African church in one area of ethics does not mean they should turn a blind eye to another area, just a logically there is no reason why D. Radner+ and I can’t disagree on Anglican ecclesiology but agree that what’s happening in the Eastern Congo. There seems a misguided notion that things have to be monolithic [this is happening culturally wide in America at the moment, so there are few Democrats who are Pro-Life now, at least not at national level but there were few Republicans that were critical of “enhanced interrogation techniques” or are for gun control] This can drag the discussion off topic quickly, so let me restate my point as today the voices we hear in American tend to simplify worldviews into binary positions, with an ‘agnostic’ middle ground, not complex interactions. I think that is a shame, for Dr. Radner+ being a faith Christian, in a very unenviable calling has a vantage point to see some of our weaknesses and is providing a mirror so we can see into our blind spots.

    ===

    On a side note, I am very jealous at how well he writes and handles his detractors with grace. I am thankful my paycheck comes from numbers and not letters, but appreciate the God-given skill when I see them practiced.

    1. Yes, I have written back and forth with him and he is aware of what is going on here. I was surprised to find out that he knew about Rwanda years ago and had written about it. Along with Phil Cantrell, he is the only person I know talking about this from inside the Church. There are probably others.
      I also disagree with him on things, but I will accept allies from a broad spectrum in this case. It could be devastating to the Church when Kagame finally is gone and all hell breaks out (potentially).

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