This summer I’m catching up on some reading and came across this book from 2010 by Bishop Todd Hunter. In 2009, the Anglican Mission in America consecrated the former National Director of the Association of Vineyard Churches as their Bishop for Church Planting. The consecration might seem unlikely, which Hunter hints at in his title “The Accidental Anglican.” How could such a committed Evangelical find his way into a purple clergy shirt, in an incense filled church, standing behind the altar? Hunter’s answer: God’s call. God wants to build the Anglican movement in North America, Hunter believes.
In January of the year Hunter was consecrated, another evangelical leader spoke in Washington National Cathedral to a crowd of clergy and lay people. Brian McLaren titled his talk “The Episcopal Moment” and spoke of how our world was hungry for Christianity with ancient wisdom, symbolic depth, and theological balance. Anglicanism has these treasures in spades. Our church should be growing rapidly, McLaren argued. Hunter agrees. He names the Liturgy, the Lectionary, and what he calls “Sweet Reasonableness” as Anglicanism’s principal resources for reframing Christianity in our post-secular world.
I found Hunter’s narrative limited in scope. Hunter’s vision of Anglicanism has been shaped by a lot of white men. He dedicates whole chapters to John Stott, N.T. Wright, and J.I. Packer. Only the shortest of these “influences” chapters focuses on people of color. He dedicates three pages to bishops Kolini and Rucyahana of Rwanda, who helped to form the break-away denomination that consecrated him bishop. Hunter does not go into any depth about the African leaders’ accomplishments, as he does with his English and North American Anglican heroes. Hunter’s highest praise is reserved for John Stott, who he describes as his model for “how to lovingly proclaim the gospel to the world’s power brokers and the middle class.” Questions of privilege are unexamined in The Accidental Anglican.
Hunter also ignores the divisions that split his denomination from The Episcopal Church. Same-sex relationships and women’s ordination are not broached in the book. Todd Hunter often writes that “social justice” is one of the fruits expected of the churches in his “Diocese of Churches for the Sake Others,” but he never names what this fruit might look like. Does Todd Hunter’s “social justice” include justice for people of all races, genders, and sexual orientations?
For the sake of full disclosure: I come to Hunter’s book with my own bias. As a priest in The Episcopal Church personally invested in the decisions to name the blessing of same-sex relationships and ordain women, I have a bit of chip on my shoulder toward his corner of our tradition. Still, Hunter’s book and his ministry challenge me. I agree with him (and McLaren) that our tradition has deep treasures to offer. I wonder: “Is The Episcopal Church squandering our ‘moment?'”
We have a way of following Jesus that resonates in today’s fragmented world. More than that, our particular church has been lifting up the Christian leadership of women, people of color, and the LGBTQ+ community. We are in a place to talk about “comprehensiveness” in a way that resonates today. The Episcopal Church should be investing, like our more conservative cousins, in starting new communities of disciples. We should be planting and re-planting, rather than shutting and selling churches. We should relax about our internal squabbles, and focus our energies on those outside our walls. I believe we should make this investment, not because we should be competing, but because I believe in the power of the Gospel. I believe God’s message of love and reconciliation is for ALL people. More than anything Todd Hunter makes me ask: “Where is The Episcopal Church’s Bishop for Church Planting?”