While its viewership won't come close to that other famous British drama Downton Abbey, we are about to begin a new season of the real life soap opera we've come to think of As the Anglican World Turns.
The new season is being launched with the January 11-16 meeting of the Anglican Primates -- an unfortunate term for the heads of the 38 autonomous churches that make up the Anglican Communion. The Archbishop of Canterbury has called the meeting to bring together leaders from around the world-wide communion to prayerfully consider critical issues including religiously motivated violence, the protection of children and vulnerable adults, the environment, and human sexuality.
And therein -- as they say -- lies the rub.
A recurring theme in the ongoing storyline of As the Anglican World Turns has been threats by some members of the wider Anglican family not to show up at events if other members of the family are on the guest list -- in particular the gay members, the lesbian members and the transgender members: or any members who support the full inclusion of any of the above in the Body of Christ.
As Andrew Brown described it in his January 8th feature in The Guardian:
The hardline African churches preparing to walk out of next week's meeting are disproportionately involved in wars and in immense civilian suffering. In northern Nigeria and northern Kenya, the fighting is with Islamist militias; in South Sudan and Congo the truly dreadful civil war is fought between largely Christian ethnic groupings. In Rwanda, the war is over, but the genocide was committed by Christians against other Christians, and Uganda, while itself at peace, is involved in both Rwanda and Congo.
Yet for the leaders of all these churches, it is apparently more important to make a stand against American sexual liberalism than to accept such help as the supposedly decadent north can offer. It's an extraordinary spectacle.
Extraordinary, perhaps -- but sadly familiar to long time viewers of As the Anglican World Turns who have become all too accustomed to the threats of schism that have loomed over the Anglican Communion since -- to quote Andrew Brown again:
The conservatives overplayed their hand in the early part of this century when they were faced with a weak archbishop of Canterbury in Rowan Williams. They tried to force the complete expulsion of the American church, and when it turned out that there was actually no organisation from which it could be expelled, Williams tried to invent one in order to make sense of the situation.
What he "tried to invent" bore very little resemblance to the historic communion of autonomous national churches held together by their common DNA in the Church of England and bonds of mutual affection. Instead, it devolved into a repeated pattern of reducing the lives and vocations of LGBT Anglicans into bargaining chips in a game of global Anglican politics: what Cape Town Archbishop Tabo Makoba named last week as "Anglicans in other Provinces [using] African Christians as proxies in their own culture wars."
However, as we look forward to the new season of As the Anglican World Turns there are some indications this unfortunate plot line may have finally run its course.
One encouraging plot twist came this weekend with the release of an open letter -- initially signed by over one hundred prominent Anglican leaders with the numbers still growing -- calling on the Church of England to "repent of its 'second class treatment' of Christians over issues of sexuality" including:
•Acknowledgement that we, the Church, have failed in our duty of care to LGBTI members of the Body of Christ around the world. We have not loved them as we should, and have treated them as a problem to be solved rather than as brothers and sisters in Christ to be embraced and celebrated. We have made them feel second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God, often abandoned and alone.
•Repentance for accepting and promoting discrimination on the grounds of sexuality, and for the pain and rejection that this has caused. We, the Church, need to apologise for our part in perpetuating rather than challenging ill-informed beliefs about LGBTI people, such as the slanderous view that homosexuals have a predisposition to prey on the young.
The letter was coordinated by Jayne Ozanne, who wrote:
In 1998 the worldwide Anglican Church committed itself to minister pastorally and sensitively to all, irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals. Despite this commitment the plight of many LGBTI Christians around the world has got worse. The consequence is that we are now increasingly perceived as irredeemably "anti-gay" by an increasing number of people who simply don't understand why the church continues to discriminate, nor why it is allowed to do so. Until we repent of our treatment of our LGBTI brothers and sisters, attempts by those within the worldwide Church to conduct meaningful "conversations" will risk appearing hollow and insincere.
Rabbi Abraham Heschel famously said the prophet has a two-fold job description: to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. These prophetic words out of the Church of England this weekend have the power to do both: to comfort those afflicted by the impact of homophobia and to afflict those who have misused the power of the church to oppress and marginalize God's beloved LGBT people.
Whether you're a long time viewer or new this season, do tune in next week for the next series of episodes of As the Anglican World Turns. It won't be dull.