Schadenfreude is a wonderful German word, meaning to pretend to be saddened by another's misfortune while secretly rejoicing in it. It is a specialty of journalists, among all the rest of us sinners. "Ain't it awful about the Anglican Communion?" has been a headline that a lot of media around the world have been trying to write for some twenty years. I remember at the 2008 Lambeth Conference of bishops (a gathering of the world's Anglican bishops every ten years or so) how the media were salivating in hope of news that the bishops were at each other's throats and that the worldwide Communion would fracture and split apart. They soon slunk away as it became clear that we were not going to do any of that.
Last week's meeting of the 38 heads of the Communion's churches (called "Primates"), chaired by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, was another example of Schadenfreude disappointed. The Washington Post, usually one of the lesser offenders, wrote a seriously wrong report, entitled "Anglican Communion suspends Episcopal Church after years of gay rights debates." The reporter apparently couldn't wait to proclaim the desired result, because had he waited for the final communiqué, entitled "Walking Together in the Service of God in the World", his editors would have stopped that story . The Episcopal Church was not suspended. The gathering of the Primates has no power to "suspend" a member church, in any event.
Already, in 2010, our church was asked not to participate in Anglican Communion commissions that decide doctrine, make agreements with other Christian churches, or in official dialogues with other religions. In other words, not to participate in showing the common face of the worldwide Communion to other partners. The previous Archbishop of Canterbury and Secretary-General of the Communion decided this as a consequence of our having ordained a partnered lesbian to the episcopate when we had been asked to refrain from such actions. The Nigerian and Ugandan churches were also subjected to the same, since they had, for their part, ignored the prohibition on setting up churches in America as an alternative, nay, a replacement, for the Episcopal Church. This state of affairs lasted two years.
So here we are again, this time for three years, as a result of our decision to allow trial use of same-sex marriage rites. And a task force is to be appointed to discuss the state of affairs going forward.
What does this mean? In the great scheme of things, it will have no effect on congregations around the world. I commend to you, Gentle Reader, the statements of our new Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, on these "consequences", and on the meeting as a whole, his first. Also, very much worth reading is the description by Philip Richardson, Archbishop of New Zealand, of the real import of this meeting, also his first.
He writes, "This [meeting] was no clinical or academic exercise. These were stories of real people, usually the poorest of the poor... Every archbishop who spoke was describing communities under their care, people they visit and know." (He also noted the media's frustration.)
So which headline? "Ain't it awful that the Anglicans split, and called each other nasty names"? Or "Despite serious differences, Anglicans decide to stay together across the world"? Clearly, the first one sells headlines. We are all attracted, even in this age of instant and overwhelming amounts of communication, to stories about disasters. Murder, war, natural catastrophes, have always sold newspapers, and now, blogs. People who are commanded to love one another by their deity, but who behave as if they despise each other, is also a story that sells. A lot.
Sorry to disappoint, folks -- hold the Schadenfreude for another day. Rather, savor these words instead:
"...we must claim the high calling of love and faith; love even for those with whom we disagree, and then continue, and that we will do, and we will do it together.
"We are part of the Jesus Movement, and the cause of God's love in this world can never stop and will never be defeated." (The Most Reverend Michel Bruce Curry, Canterbury Cathedral, January 15, 2016)