The origin of Agony Aunts or 'Dear Abby' advice columns is lost in time, but in various forms, they still persist.* The New York Times hosts a snappy spin-off called 'Social Qs', and the plucky editor proffers common sense advice for all manner of puzzling situations.
A more serious column in the same paper is entitled 'The Ethicist', tackling the moral and ethical undercurrents of reader-submitted situations. An example? 'Bad Driving, Airline Delays, and Vigorous Exercise: Choosing between a bad driver and a drunken driver; keeping compensation from an airline; and questioning the safety of vigorous activity'.
We've been brooding about the need for such a Q&A venue for Anglicans. We're well aware that various Anglican blogs and websites flirt with this sort of thing in the occasional essay or reader comment. Ship of Fools probably comes closest in some of its email forums. But as far as we know, there's no one place in the Anglican world where one can ask an Anglican-related question ranging from systematic theology and behaviour in the pews to the origin of the tippet and what saintly figure perished whilst walking near Ballachulish.
We wish there were such a venue. For recently we've been bothered by what could be called an Anglican ethics question — in so far as situations, behaviours, and issue within Christianity can be isolated as 'Anglican'. (The easy answer to that: If the issue arises between or amongst Anglicans, it's an Anglican issue!) To be less oracular, we'll describe a hypothetical as if writing to an Anglican Agony Aunt.
Sans advice from an Anglican Aunt, we've examined our conscience and tried to justify the ways of our colleague to our own more retiring Anglican self. 'It's fine,' we've argued, 'if she's voluble about her faith and her certainty that God is overseeing and engineering everything is her life. Perhaps we're too reticent, too Anglican, to speak openly and assertively about our faith. Perhaps Betty Bowman is in fact behaving more as Christians should.
But somehow our gentle high-church Anglican persona shrinks from such assertions. Whether God helps someone find lost car keys or acts through intervention on an organizational chart is not for us to say.** And that's just it: We don't say that to someone's face. Dear Anglican Agony Aunt, is that right? Or wrong?
Whether right or wrong, we can say without hesitation that it's distinctly irritating. We should just conclude that for us, Betty Bowman is an occasion of sin — as the old expression has it — and do our best to avoid personal encounters at the office water cooler.
1) Is there a need for an Anglican Agony Aunt, an Episcopal Ethicist, or a Dear Miss Maniple? and
2) What would you do about a colleague of distinctly muscular Christianity?
See you next week.
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