Thursday, July 23, 2009

Bedford, Texas or Anaheim, California: The City of God vs. the City of Man in Contemporary Anglican Orthodoxy

Wow. Little did I know when I was blogging earlier today about the Christ-vs.-culture debate in the Anglican communion that the Most Reverend Robert William Duncan, Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America, had just upped the ante in this debate. Considerably so. Archbishop Duncan has just written an open letter (H/T to Clerical Whispers) to his Episcopalian brothers and sisters, setting them straight about who owns God. And who doesn’t. Decisively so.

Archbishop Duncan (who leads one of the splinter groups that has developed in the U.S. to resist gay rights in the Anglican communion) makes no bones about it: his group and groups like it represent God. The rest represent, well, hell.

In stark Manichean dichotomies that mistakenly claim Augustinian provenance, the Most Reverend Robert Duncan tells us it all comes down to Bedford, Texas or Anaheim, California. To Jerusalem or Babylon. To received values and behaviors or revolutionary tastes. To the City of God or the City of Man.

To Archbishop Duncan’s Anglican Church in North America or the Episcopal Church USA. To Archbishop Robert Duncan or Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori. To God or the devil. To blessing or curse, life or death.

To church or culture, and to gay exclusion/holding the line or gay inclusion/giving in to godless demonic culture.

And so now we know: it all comes down to Bedford, Texas or Anaheim, California—the whole, tortuous, fascinating, complex course of Christian history—to the absolute, certain, unquestionable identification of Bedford, Texas with the City of God, and Anaheim, California with the headed-for-hell-in-a-handbasket City of Man. Bedford happens to be, you see, where the Anglican Church of North America just met to elect one Robert William Duncan their archbishop.

Who’d a-thunk it was so simple? God and Archbishop Duncan or the devil and Bishop Schori? The City of God incarnate in Texas, the corrupt City of Man skulking about California. Gays in and blessed or out and damned. Christ or culture.

Archbishop Duncan cites St. Augustine as the source for his black and white analysis of things that neatly places God on Archbishop Duncan’s side and against his Episcopalian brothers and sisters. The only problem is, this is not what Augustine said in his City of God. And it’s not the reason he wrote that work.

Augustine was an opponent of the Manicheans, you see, and a critic of their simplistic, black-white worldview that divides everything into good and evil, light and darkness. And allows us to know, short of the final winnowing and judgment that belong to God alone, who fits where.

Just as he was an opponent of the Donatists, with their puffed-up certainty that their little group and theirs alone had captured Christian truth and virtue for all time. In Augustine’s view, they were like frogs sitting around a tiny pond croaking that their little bit of water was the Mediterranean.

In Augustine’s view, only God knows who belongs to the City of God and who to the City of Man, and it’s God’s business and God’s alone to make that judgment. And when God does make it, Augustine maintains, many of us will be mighty surprised at who’s in and who’s out: many of those who are oh so certain they are in the City of God and oh so certain that their enemies are out will find that the opposite is the case, on that final day when sheep and goats are separated.

Bedford or Anaheim. The tiny pond or the big wide sea. Augustine would, I think, be very surprised (and perhaps not entirely amused) to see where the “orthodox” of our day have ended up, while claiming as their authority works he wrote to defend a very different orthodoxy, one far bigger than the one they wish to promote in his name. Having tussled with the Manicheans and the Donatists over precisely the question of separating the sheep from the goats and the tiny pond vs. the big wide sea, he’d perhaps find it terribly ironic that the church has now come to reside in all its countercultural and doctrinal purity only in little old Bedford, Texas in this year of our Lord 2009.