One of the chief themes of my book How to Think is the vital importance of characterizing the arguments of those you disagree fairly — ideally, in terms that they themselves would recognize as valid. It’s good for them and it’s good for you: it strengthens your intellectual muscles to contend, as my buddy Robin Sloan has put it, not with straw men but rather with steel men.
⚠️ Warning: Intra-Anglican disputes ahead! ⚠️
I thought about all this recently as I was reading Alex Wilgus’s response to a post by Hannah King arguing that the various Anglican bodies now at odds with one another should begin to seek reconciliation. Here’s how Wilgus characterizes King’s argument:
Rev. King has decided that the 14 year distance between the schism of ‘04 opens an opportunity for Anglicans on both sides to reunite in some way around a desire for friendship, or at least a shared dislike of division. She seems to favor gatherings that heal by giving people the opportunity to “lament” publicly.
So Wilgus would have us believe that King’s post is motivated by a mere “desire for friendship” or a “dislike of division” — as though it were an inclination or preference. But if you read King’s post you’ll find something very different:
As Americans, this politics of polarization is in our bones. We sort and divide and sensationalize without even realizing there is another way. One only needs to follow the news for a few days to realize that our respective political parties no longer speak to each other; instead, they speak about each other. Yet as Christians, as those who adhere to a different polis — one not of this world — we must search and pray for another way. Even if it seems mysterious or impossible to us, we can ask God, for whom all things are possible. We can pray for the prophetic imagination to participate with him in the healing of his Church.
I believe God called me to be a priest in the ACNA. But that doesn’t mean I disparage the Episcopal Church. I am less interested in who is “right” and who is “wrong” than I am in where God is asking us to go from here. None of us has the road map for this; but we do know the Guide. He has given himself to us fully and freely. Indeed, his body was broken for us — and it remains broken while his Church is broken. He has absorbed our separation in his own flesh, holding us together at his expense. As we feed on him and follow him, nourished by his very life, may we find ourselves put back together: reconciled to God and each other, one Body on earth and in Heaven.
So it’s clear that King is not indulging a preference, but rather asking what obedience to a Lord who prays that we will be one as he and the Father are one (John 17:21), and is at work reconciling all things to himself (Col. 1:20), might look like in this case. I’d like to see someone respond to a steel version of King’s argument, not one of straw.
King says that she need not disparage the Episcopal Church. Wilgus thinks he must do exactly that, because “the very existence of the ACNA contradicts the ministry of TEC,” and insists moreover that the choice faced by Anglican clergy is strictly binary: “We as clergy are still presented the same choice as those who went before us, to lead our flocks into worship in Spirit and Truth, or to fall back into old habits of approving of sin and error.” Would that it were so simple. It is, alas, perfectly possible to avoid some habits of sin and error while plunging headfirst into others, including, possibly, the habit of taking satisfaction in our divisions rather than prayerfully seeking to overcome them. Hannah King says that “It would be naïve to suggest that such activity is a simple road to reunification; but it would be jaded to deny that it could be a starting point.” Alex Wilgus’s post sounds jaded to me.
I should declare an interest here. There is a faithful and flourishing ACNA parish here in Waco, Christ Church, which I attended for a while. I still miss the people there, clergy and laypeople alike, but the fact of the matter is that Christ Church is very much Anglo-Catholic and I am very much not. So I now attend a faithful and flourishing Episcopal parish, St. Alban’s. The primary reason both churches are growing is simply this: they preach the same Gospel. And that ought to count for something. That ought to be a starting point, as Hannah King says, in our prayers for reunion, for oneness, and (yes) lamentation over our current severances. And I pray every day for that oneness, because I believe that the very same Lord preached in both of those churches is the one before whom, ultimately, every knee will bow, and whose Lordship every tongue will confess.