Monday, January 28, 2008

"The Work Of The Devil"

Last night, Mary-Jo and I attended a reception at St. Barnabas Church here in Irvington, New York, to learn about The Carpenter's Kids. This is a partnership program between the Episcopal Diocese of New York and the Diocese of Central Tanganyika, which provides funding to enable some of the millions of AIDS orphans in that African country to attend school. Amazingly, a gift of fifty dollars per year is enough to pay all the expenses a child needs covered in order to enjoy an education--a uniform, shoes, school supplies, and so on.

As you can imagine, it was pretty inspiring to hear from Catherine S. Roskam, our Suffragan Bishop, about the history of The Carpenter's Kids and to see photos illustrating the results--children whose lives have been changed by this small gesture. But the most impressive moment of the evening came early on, when Bishop Roskam was describing her first conversation with Bishop Mdimi Mhogolo of Tanzania about the concept.

Bishop Mdimi told Bishop Roskam (I'm paraphrasing here), "Please understand, we don't want to be your 'project.' We want to be your partners, to be in community with you."

Bishop Roskam replied, "Well, that sounds good. But I'm surprised. Not that many people want to be in community with us right now."

She was referring, of course, to the controversy over gay rights, which is leading a handful of Episcopal churches where right-wing antigay members have taken power to break away from the national church. Some of these parishes have petitioned to be linked with African dioceses rather than American ones, since some Anglican churches in Africa share their rather harsh antigay position. And they are working with the most extreme of their African allies to try to marginalize the mainstream US church and even have it, in effect, expelled from the worldwide Anglican communion.

Under the circumstances, I suppose Bishop Roskam was a bit surprised to have Bishop Mdimi reach out in fellowship to a "left-wing" church--in New York, no less!--in the name of community.

Bishop Mdimi understood exactly what she was referring to (as this link makes abundantly clear). And I love his response to Bishop Roskam. "We disagree with you about some issues. But we think the division is the work of the devil, to prevent the church from ministering to a world in need."

We rarely speak so pungently here in the US about the nature of the conflicts that some of our self-proclaimed "culture warriors" delight in fomenting. But Bishop Mdimi has it exactly right.

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