On July 11, the final day of General Synod, a brackish editorial in the National Post suggested the Anglican church had “met its Waterloo” in Waterloo, Ont. It suggested the impending bankruptcy of several dioceses, and the threat of bankruptcy of General Synod itself, were caused by our bad management, and that at the heart of that bad management was the primate’s 1993 apology to natives who suffered abuse in our residential schools.
There are many who considered this move a terrible, tactical mistake, one that opened the doors for the lawsuits against the church. After all, what corporate body in its right mind ever goes public with an admission of guilt even before charges have been laid and the litigators have set their clocks? Any corporate body with its head screwed on right knows that when an accusation is made the correct responses include denial, a call for another study, and a call to the lawyers – especially when there’s some truth to the accusation. Loss of face and loss of corporate assets are among the greatest sins on earth.
So, why did the Anglican church put its face and assets at risk? Are we, as the editorial suggested, poor and naive managers with some kind of corporate death wish? Or do we have a different perspective on these things? Maybe, just maybe, the church dances to a different drum, one seldom heard in boardrooms, a drum that keeps time to a tune called by a higher source.
In the 10th chapter of Luke’s gospel, Jesus tells the story of the good Samaritan. We know it well. It is told as a story about men, but it can also be interpreted as a story about churches and how they react to a neighbour in need.
The priest and the Levite represent the hierarchy of one faith community. Their hands in their pockets, tightly clutching their corporate assets, they pass by the beaten, robbed man lying half dead on the side of the road. Why should they stop? They weren’t responsible for the beating; no court would hold them culpable, so why would they risk their own welfare? They could be robbed blind themselves if they get too close, or get involved.
The Samaritan represents another faith community. He sees the man in need, has compassion, takes the risk. He binds the man’s wounds even though he doesn’t have a pair of plastic gloves, takes him to a local B&B, stays until the man is out of danger, and then he really goes nuts. He goes to the front desk and says: “Look after him. Whatever it takes, I will pay.” Can you see the risk here? I mean, five years down the road the victim could still be at the B&B claiming he’s “not quite healed.” Compassion is a risky business.
Two churches identify a desperate need. One plays it safe, holds tightly to its assets. The other takes the risks, shows compassion, dances to a different drum.
The good Samaritan, the good neighbour, the good church – recognized the victim as a neighbour.
In 1993 the primate apologized to aboriginal victims of abuse in residential schools who were robbed of their identity, left half dead and marginalized on the side of the road. They were not strangers, they were neighbours. About 12 per cent of the parishes of the Anglican Church of Canada are aboriginal; we have more than 100 aboriginal clergy and four aboriginal bishops. The church, through the primate, apologized to our fellow Anglicans, sisters and brothers in Christ.
Jesus asked, “Who was the neighbour to the one who fell among the thieves?” That is God’s eternal question to those of us who call ourselves Christians. He doesn’t ask how well we protected our assets, how successful we are in court or if we are bankrupt. He asks if we were neighbours to those who fell among thieves. He asks if the church recognizes victims along the road, gets off its high horse, bends down and has compassion.
It was that God-put question that our church answered with the primate’s apology.
The question that will judge us for eternity, the question that will define the Anglican church for the next 25 years is not: Did we keep our assets safe and avoid bankruptcy? The question that will judge us for eternity is: Were we neighbours to those who fell among the thieves? William Hockin is Bishop of Fredericton. This article first appeared in the New Brunswick Anglican.