On Religious Community Self-Definition

A healthy society hinges upon the freedom of communities to have and to express their take on the most contested dimensions of human identity and morality. And in our brighter moments as a species we have shown that that doesn’t have to involve inflicting harm on members of communities who have reached different conclusions.

This is from James Mumford, via Peter Leithart, writing about British reactions to recent events within the Anglican communion. It seems that quite a few folks are upset about Anglicans continuing to hold ostensibly outdated moral positions that have deep roots within the church’s scripture and tradition.

Mumford adds,

The conviction that organisations and communities cannot determine their own distinct ethos, their own rules for membership and their own criteria for leadership imperils the very survival of a pluralistic society. What is the point of institutions if they don’t have the freedom to organise themselves in the way they see fit?

And while the topic of the discussion is the Anglican communion, Mumford’s comments bear on the current situation in the United Methodist Church as well. It seems to me that it is both the right and the duty of each church body to establish its own identity and to live within the boundaries that it has set for itself. Being who you are as a religious institution is not itself an obstacle to either catholicity within the Church or neighborliness within the world community.

One thought on “On Religious Community Self-Definition”

  1. There’s a fair amount of irony around this most recent meeting considering that at the 1888 Lambeth Conference, the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral was introduced as the marker of Anglican identity: belief in Scripture, the Creeds, the two Sacraments, and the historic episcopate. Why did the ’88 Lambeth Conference need to establish Anglican identity? Because there was a question regarding the role of marriage and family in society. That is, the newly-consercrated African bishops were unwilling to exclude polygamous Christians from their provinces.

    It’s deeply upsetting that certain African bishops are unwilling to extend the same grace that their predecessors received in accommodating Anglican Christians with differing views around Holy Matrimony. Instead, the GAFCON affiliates have infringed upon the authority of resident bishops, calling into question their commitment to one of the four pillars of Anglican identity.


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