The Church is Meant to be Broken

On occasion I write about parallels that occur when things I'm reading online and offline coincide.  Today's edition is about organic evolution or organic revolution.

Offline, Kester Brewin's book Signs of Emergence, contains this nugget about change via evolution or revolution:

There are...two possible modes of change: revolution or evolution.  Revolution is about divide and rule.  It is top down and heavily dependent on hierarchies and centralized power.  Evolution...tries to bring about change from within.  It is about empowerment.  It is bottom-up and dependent on distributed knowledge...In Christ, we see God modeling a bottom-up emergent system that can transform us in this new way and calling us onto this path of spiritual evolution as we seek higher places. (Signs of Emergence, 188)
In short, Brewin posits that instead of God using revolutionary ways to transform the world (flood, imposed rules via 10 commandments, participation in conquest/battle), God used an organic approach in Jesus Christ, calling the entire followers of God into the Body of Christ that transforms the world through decentralized aggregate power. 

Cool, huh?  But what happens when the church fights?  When conflicts are more about structural intertia versus relevance?  What are we called to do in the face of such a bureaucratic juggernaut?  How would the Christ, who calls all to his broken body, want us to live?

Online, Canon Jim Naughton writes in an op-ed to the Guardian about the Episcopal Church's struggle with schism and this very topic of conflict:
Wright is among those who assert that the Episcopal Church's desire to move toward ecclesial equality for gay Christians increases the strain in the Anglican communion, in this case, to the breaking point. But this formulation assumes that gays and lesbians are not themselves part of the communion and that the rejection and demonising they have endured at Anglican hands somehow doesn't count.

Our church has not sought to increase the strain in the communion, but to redistribute it. The suffering on all sides of the debate over homosexuality must be borne by the entire church.
Canon Naughton's perspective is that the pain experienced by sexual minorities as outcasts is now transformed into turmoil for everyone in the body who feels passionately about the dilemma.  I doubt many minorities would agree: the pain probably feels the same!

However, the concept of inviting in broken people into a "perfected" system so that all may share in the pain of living...that's an interesting concept.

At first glance, in light of Brewin's reading, perhaps then as the Body of Christ (the church in all its forms) we are to participate in this decentralization as well, inviting others without power into the body where their sins, their troubles, their brokenness becomes our brokenness.

Christians and denominations do not agree on all issues, this is true.  But perhaps we can agree that it is in embodying the tension, in moving from outright rejection to careful consideration, in moving from full exclusion to experimental inclusion, in praying for our sisters in brothers in hierarchical conflict, perhaps then we will be the body of Christ, broken indeed, flawed indeed, fragmented indeed, but the body of Christ nonetheless.


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Creed Pogue,  July 18, 2009 at 11:28 PM  

If Brewin is right, then why have denominations at all? Just let each local church handle its own thing. If the churches want to join together, that's fine. If they don't, that's fine. But, I do not believe that works in a connectional way on the many missional tasks where collaboration is more productive than autonomy.

The main problem the UMC has in allowing openly gay clergy is guaranteed appointment. If no one is guaranteed an appointment, then we can ordain whomever. If they get a position, fine. If not, fine. But, we don't operate that way. All too often in these discussions there is the desire to cherry-pick the parts that someone likes while leaving the rest when it is all part of a whole.

Stephen Lingwood July 19, 2009 at 8:03 AM  

A lot of talk is about the Episcopal Church in the US threatening "unity" but what people fail to realise is that such unity is also threatened by GLBT Christians feeling excluded by a homophobic church. I'm an example of this as someone who left the Church of England as I felt no compulsion to belong to a homophobic institution (sure there were other reasons too, but that was a large part of it). "Unity" may be maintained formally by retaining traditional teaching on sexuality, but there will be plenty of "broken communion" as GLBT and liberally minded Christians leave in their droves.

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