This grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. (Eph 3:8–10)
Church fights are necessary, but dangerous. When the faith is threatened, any aspect of it, those tasked with teaching the faith must contend for the truth of Christianity as they understand it. Those who are taught the faith must make sure that the things that they have been taught are true. We all have our responsibilities.
I was not blessed to come into the church, at least the Anglican branch of it, during a time of peace. Two fights have defined my time as an Anglican. There is the worldwide Anglican debate about the nature of marriage, and there is the smaller fight in the United States for space for people of color in orthodox Anglican settings. I didn’t choose either battle; they chose me. Both battles come from my reading of Scripture. The same Bible that from Genesis to Revelation sees marriage an union between a man and woman as something reflective of God’s own love for Israel and later Christ’s love for church also speaks of the vision of the varied ethnicities of the world worshipping around the throne of the Messiah. Both views have brought criticism and alienation from different sectors of the church. They have also brought real spiritual danger.
Self-righteousness lurks around every corner. There is the temptation to believe that I have the perfect mix of biblical faithfulness and social justice while my opponents on the left and right do not read the Bible correctly. More than that it is bitterness that crouches at the doorway. The cost that we bear as people of color in the ACNA is the unseen wound bleeding on the floor of North American Anglicanism. Ask the black bishops. Ask the clergy. Then there is the work. The unending feeling of responsibility to be both prophetic and responsible. Push, but not too hard. We get tired.
The danger, then, in the battles for North American Anglicanism is that one might lose the beauty of what drew us here in the attempt to protect or reform it. I had a vision of Anglicanism that I never experienced, a hypothesis of diversity and orthodoxy in one fellowship. It was a warm comfort on cold nights, a blanket to shield me from the chill of disappointment. That vision become flesh during GAFCON 2018. I walked into the lobby of the conference center and it was so gloriously black and brown that I almost wept.
I noticed first the women first. The Nigerian, Ugandan, Rwandan, and Kenyan women arrived draped in a dignified parade of color that made my heart smile. It felt like a Christian Wakanda. Then came the bishops and the men in African dress, especially the choir. So much swagger; so much pride. Have you ever finally sat down to eat and realized how hungry you were? Have you ever ended a run feeling good, until the fatigue washed over you, and you realized that you had pushed your body too far? I did not know how tired this battle for a diverse and orthodox Anglicanism had made me until I got a taste of it. I wished that they would have canceled the plenary talks and let the choir sing as long as the Lord tarried.
Years ago, I sat in an Episcopal chapel in Sewanee, Tennessee thinking that this liturgy is beautiful. If only they could add some soul to it, then it would become the eschaton anticipated. The worship of GAFCON 2018 had that soul.
I am grateful for the Nigerians, Kenyans, Ugandans, Australians, and Malawians gathered in Jerusalem for helping me remember that our struggle isn’t just against something. It is for something beautiful. When I became an Anglican, I was told that there was this global fellowship of believers from every tribe, tongue, and nation, but it was a concept, an idea. Now I have witnessed the nations gathered.
I know this week in Jerusalem is but a respite, that I’ll return to my country and province. I know that the same struggles will be awaiting me there. But true worship is an encounter with the living God. This encounter changes us and infuses us with sufficient hope to help us carry on a little further. So, will return and I will continue to struggle, but I will do so with joy because I have seen it. A diverse orthodox Anglicanism, isn’t just coming; it’s here.