From its inception, The Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) has tread carefully and selectively on political matters. Its bishops have taken clear stands on marriage and on abortion and have participated in the annual March for Life in Washington, D. C. But one would have to look hard to find political stands by ACNA bishops on other issues.
But even with this general restraint, the politics of immigration is testing peace and unity in ACNA. And that even though Archbishop Foley Beach’s main statement on refugee and immigration policy early last year was careful and balanced, particularly in stating:
In our province we also have lawmakers who face a different, but related set of challenging moral issues. As public servants, they are called to carefully discern how best to respond to the global humanitarian need while also maintaining the appropriate role of government in protecting its citizens. There are no easy answers to how our nations should balance these priorities, and our leaders need your prayers.
But the Anglican Multiethnic Network (AMEN) has not been so balanced, explicitly calling for “a path to citizenship” for “DREAMers,” those brought to the U. S. illegally by their parents. One could say AMEN is just a marginal segment of ACNA, except that their statement was posted on ACNA’s website and twitter feed.
“We join together at this time to express our love and concern for those who are affected by the recent revocation of DACA.” https://t.co/wu2tEL8S2b
— ACNA (@The_ACNA) September 13, 2017
More recently, the ACNA Bishop of the Upper Midwest, Stewart Ruch, signed an open letter by World Relief on “Dreamers,” refugees, and family reunification. “Anglican Church in North America” was under his signature. Although it emphasizes amnesty rather than enforcement, the letter if read in a very “literal and grammatical sense” is not very objectionable (although I do object, but moving along…). Yet on ACNA’s Facebook page, there was much objection and heated argument over the letter and Ruch’s signature.
Here I should give some disclaimers. For better and for worse, I was provoked into participating in that argument. And I not only support enforcing immigration law and want to “build the wall,” I want the wall to be big and scary. But I would consider it inappropriate for ACNA to promote my viewpoint on the subject. Nor should I use ACNA or my diocese or parish to promote my viewpoint. Even I have that much humility and respect for Anglicans on the other side of these issues. Do they have that much respect for Anglicans like me?
Continuing, it should be noted and appreciated that these issues are close to the heart of Bishop Ruch, and he has put forth far more than just words to assist immigrants and refugees. His Church of the Resurrection has had ministries to these for years.
Nonetheless, the unhappiness stirred up by his signature to World Relief’s open letter should serve as an object lesson. For ACNA’s sake, it must serve as an object lesson – ACNA, its bishops, and other clergy, must exercise the greatest restraint in involving ACNA’s name in political issues.
As mentioned, ACNA has exercised restraint for the most part. But said restraint is now lacking on immigration issues – exactly the sort of area in which ACNA should not be taking political stands. Not only are immigration issues highly controversial, but, unlike with abortion and marriage issues, there is not a consensus among orthodox Anglican faithful. Faithful and informed Christians can and do very much disagree on immigration.
So when a bishop, with the ACNA name attached, signs an open letter taking sides on immigration issues or when the ACNA website and twitter feed promotes a statement asking citizenship for a large segment of illegal aliens, it harms the unity of ACNA far more than it helps the cause of immigrants and refugees.
There are a number of factors behind the precipitous decline of The Episcopal Church and other once mainline denominations, apostasy surely being the largest. But left-of-center political pontificating is also among these factors. As a young man too long ago, I became discontent with the Presbyterian Church of my childhood and youth when I saw my denomination again and again take political stands diametrically opposed to my own. Not only did I eventually wipe the dust off my feet and leave for that and other reasons, but I determined never again to join a church that so presumed to take liberal/left political stands in the name of the church. In other words, “Not in my name!”
A multitude have similar experiences. Many in ACNA have unpleasant memories of the habitual Leftist political grandstanding of The Episcopal Church. Do we want these to think, “Here we go again”? Today there are still many fleeing denominations prone to the gospel of “social justice.” Does ACNA want to attract these fleeing sheep and be a haven to them? Or do we want them to look at ACNA and think, “More political pontificating? Been there. Don’t want to go there again. No thanks.” Most such people won’t raise a stink; they will just quietly go elsewhere, scarcely detected by church statistics. Those already in ACNA may have their trust and enthusiasm dampened as, to be honest, mine already has. Statistics are not much help in detecting that either.
To be fair, ACNA is much more restrained and sane about politics than The Episcopal Church and the like. So perhaps I am being alarmist. But a little leaven can affect the whole loaf. Unwise habits of political pronouncements in the name of ACNA can get worse. Cracks in the unity of the household of God can too easily grow. Trust can be eroded bit by bit.
The Anglican Church of North America has rightly focused on witness, church growth, and unity. Importing America’s political divisions into ACNA’s witness serves none of these well. Yes, we are politically very diverse in ACNA, and our Christian convictions will lead us as individuals and groups to take different actions in the political sphere. Such diversity and Christian freedom in the church is as it should be and must be respected. To instead take sides and use the name of the Anglican Church in North America for political activism in areas on which faithful Anglicans differ crosses the line from united Christian witness into divisive presumption that disrespects our differences. We as a church need to agree not to cross that line.
Now it is highly unlikely that political issues only will ever split ACNA. But stressed by divisions over women in Holy Orders and by wildly divergent churchmanship, we do not need further unnecessary strains on our unity. For the sake of unity, growth, and witness, ACNA must exercise more reserve in political pronouncement, especially on immigration.
Mark Marshall is the author of Pilot Point and of Stupid People in the Bible, a book in progress. His prolonged studies include stints at the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Oxford and Cranmer House, Houston. A Lay Reader in the Reformed Episcopal Church, he wishes it to be made clear that the opinions expressed here are his own only.