by Elizabeth Kaeton
“The communion is a gift from God. It is a treasure. We cannot divide it. We should treasure it even though we may have our differences.”
So said the Rt. Rev. Daniel Sarfo, bishop of the diocese of Kumasi in Ghana, after the third Consultation of Anglican Bishops in Dialogue, recently hosted by the Anglican Church of Canada at a Jesuit retreat center near Toronto.
I'm seeing this phrase "gift of/from God" more and more frequently applied to the Anglican Communion. Frankly, it makes me uncomfortable.
Don't get me wrong, I treasure the Anglican Communion. It is a very precious gift. I love the depth and breath of our diversity. Although not well practiced of late, I love the "Big Tent" of the Anglican ideals of Tolerance and Accommodation. And yes, I can sing "all good gifts around us are sent from heaven above" with the rest of the congregation and not have to cross my fingers, but ...well.....here's what is disconcerting about it for me.
I would imagine that many Roman Catholics feel that their denomination is a gift from God. So, too, the Orthodox. I've heard Jews speak this way of Torah, and Muslims speak of Koran as a divine gift. Certainly, Christians - including Episcopalians - speak of the divinely inspired gift of scripture, but I've not heard any other denomination speak of their religion as a "gift of God". Not that this is a bad thing, necessarily, as long as we admit that ours is not the only gift. God is certainly a God of abundance, entirely capable of bestowing many gifts to many groups of people.
I must say that I cringe when I hear some refer to America as a "Christian nation" . While our country may have been founded on Judeo-Christian principles, the assertion that we are a Christian nation is not only untrue, it smacks of Christian triumphalism, which is disquieting to my soul precisely because triumphalism is so antithetical to true Christianity.
I also admit to growing more and more uncomfortable with the theistic idea of a God who is in control of everything. I remember seeing pictures of the after effects of a fire in California. There was one house standing amidst the rubble of other houses that had burned to the ground. The home owner had put a sign outside the house which read, "Thank you, God." I thought to myself, "I wonder how the other home owners feel about that sign. Was this really an "act of God" or just the random pattern of the wind? Was it a manifestation of Divine intervention or a cruel trick of nature?"
What does it mean when bad things happen to good people, or good things happen to bad people? Is God always involved or does stuff happen sometimes that defies human knowledge and comprehension and logic?
I remember a January 2009 Oprah program when guest, Ed Bacon, rector of All Saints, Pasadena, said, "Being gay is a gift from God." The audience exploded in gasps followed by a smattering of enthusiastic applause which grew louder and more sustained. Oprah was clearly startled and laughed as she said, "I ain't never heard no reverend say THAT before."
If we say that "human sexuality is a divine gift", then does it not follow that all expressions of sexual orientation are God's gift - even if some might think it a curse? Does the fact that some do not value a particular sexual orientation diminish the value - or the divine origination - of that gift?
What are we saying - what does it mean, exactly- when we say that the Anglican Communion is a "gift of God"? Especially when Bishop Sarfo adds, "We cannot divide it. We should treasure it even though we may have our differences.”
I note that the Anglican Province of West Africa, of which the Diocese of Kumasi, Ghana, is a part, has not yet weighed in on the Anglican Covenant. However, the Primate of West Africa - at least until September - is Bishop Justice Akrofi, a decidedly "orthodox" Anglican who is a member of the GAFCON primate's council and was appointed alternate representative from Africa to the Primates Standing Committee before resigning in protest last year.
Which leads me to raise a left eyebrow in suspicion about Bishop Sarfo's comment - especially appearing, as it does, in the Anglican Journal. Does he mean that the Anglican Covenant would be an "instrument of unity"? Is he signaling his support of the Anglican Covenant? Is it a political sign, designed to send a message about what kind of Primate he would be, if elected?
I agree with the bishop that the Anglican Communion should be treasured and not divided, but I happen to see the Anglican Covenant running contrary to that goal - perhaps in the same way that those who support the Anglican Covenant do not necessarily consider that "being gay is a gift from God".
I expect that, as we move closer to the appointment of a new Archbishop of Canterbury, we shall see this language about the Anglican Communion being a "gift of God" resurface again and again. I also expect to see it as an overture or a prelude to an attempt to try and re-kindle support for the Anglican Covenant.
I happen to think the Anglican Communion is a gift - divinely inspired. I pray we will always use it - and all good gifts around us - as God intended. We cannot divide it. We should treasure it, even though we may have our differences - like good Christians who are Anglican.
The Rev'd Dr. Elizabeth Kaeton is an Episcopal priest who loves Jesus unconditionally and struggles with the institutional church continually. She is currently a member of and assists at All Saints Rehoboth Beach and St George's Chapel, Harbeson, DE and has a private pastoral counseling and consulting practice. She blogs at Telling Secrets.