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O THOU BETHLEHEM

I must confess that when I read the Bishop of Bethlehem’s gripes about the Archbishop of Canterbury I experienced again the great gulf fixed between American culture and that of my own. Of course I’ve been here nearly 40 years and so should have assimilated I suppose –not a word to the Republicans. However I find it so difficult to pierce through the layers of political and social self-perception and particularity, the cult of the person rather than the office and something which sounds to my ears, but probably isn’t a sort of whiney tone.

Just one example. +Rowan stood against the Global South bishops by making sure that our Primate attends the Dar a Salaam Primates’ Meeting. Yet instead of noting that fact, the Archbishop is damned because he has invited to the same place, although not the same meeting some American bishops, who represent the virtually disenfranchised section of TEC. Had he met them in London a week before perhaps there would be less than a threat?

At this point let me ask a factual question. Has the Archbishop been invited to meet with the American House of Bishops and if so, when, and for what purpose? I think the idea to be good. It would give +Rowan a chance to listen to our bishops and our bishops the chance to hear and perhaps gain further clarity about just how the Archbishop sees the extent and limitation of his authority.

But back the thesis because in a real way it seems to go to the heart of the problem. The Bishop of Bethlehem reminds us all that there was a time when the professorial Dr. Williams suggested a position which seems very close to that of those who advocate same sex unions within our church; the present governing party in our comprehension.

Now for all we know this may well be +Rowan’s present position. It would not surprise me a bit. The problem does not lie in the area of personal conviction but in the matter of the extent to which a Primate, any primate, is free to advocate “prophetic change” in a manner which would make it impossible for such a primate to minister to the whole Communion or National Church. In any case it’s an old political dodge to dig up what someone said at one time and from that compare what he or she says now and damn them for being weak minded. I normally associate the tactic with right wing political pundits.

At a lesser level I think of William Temple and Henley Henson, both of whom had scruples about the doctrine of the Resurrection, who before ordination in the first case and consecration in the second had to decide whether they could or would subscribe to the Catholic Creeds. Both did, and both lived into their subscription perhaps through that act as Temple’s later writings affirm. Any bishop of whatever rank has to live into the Anglican comprehension with its glories and weaknesses. In our own local context our Primate must live into the reality, summed up in a recent poll, which suggests that perhaps 70% of Episcopalians wish that the militants who inhabit the noisy world at both end of our spectrum –or is it a circle in which they meet? – would go into a room and fight it out, so that we could all get on with tackling poverty, lack of health care, our neglected racial minorities, our loss of membership and the urgent call to evangelism. 20/20 disappeared from our map.

It is true that there are monochrome Provinces or Dioceses in the Communion. They were founded by missionary societies which reflected the Catholic or Evangelical strands in the Anglican symbiosis. I know of no Province which has become monochrome after centuries of pluralism and comprehension. I would view the creation in America of either an “evangelical” or “liberal” monochrome ecclesial body as a retrograde and regressive development. The Anglican comprehension is not a coalition of rivals but an interwoven symbiosis of belief and practice, informing the whole and describing and limiting the whole.

Now it may well be that having nearly won the day, those who passionately, honestly, and sometimes courageously affirm that the Holy Spirit has done a new thing through the votes of a majority in General Convention believe that the rest of the Communion should leave us alone and await enlightenment. To my mind that belief all sounds, in process, rather like a mixture of national chauvinism and Mormonism; the first because it seems to say to those in our church and abroad who oppose or haven’t reached clarity on the issue that they are defying the Holy Spirit, perhaps a deadly sin, and that the Holy Spirit doesn’t speak through the synods of most other Provinces; and it posits the question as to what theological and ecclesial foundation there is to justify such a claim by a Provincial synod of a Communion, however legally autonomous.

I would also suggest, and this is an informed opinion, that the American scene must be utterly bewildering to the Archbishop as it is to others. On the one hand, despite the votes in General Convention, it is obvious that no consensus exists in the Episcopal Church on the matter of same-sex unions. I’m not addressing the ordination issue because it is a subject which creates humbugs of those of us who know better!! On the other hand some on the left now seem to champion the schism they abhorred when I was a separated bishop! (I can’t tell you how often diocesan bishops and local clergy dismissed the authenticity of the jurisdiction I served because we were not in communion with Canterbury. It depends whose ox is being gored.)

The right is even more bewildering. On that subject I have blogged before. In the last few days we have the threat of another African led incipient diocese for the South, while we have a Virginian CANA and new parishes scattered around with their own “rent a bishop” from overseas. Of course there’s the Network, which seems to have a hole in it, as distinct from the Windsor compliant bishops, with their own spectrum of characters and levels of resistance to the policies of the present majority in General Convention and even to our own new Primate.

We may grumble that +Rowan speaks to these people and that commissions of the Anglican Communion listen to these people, but who speaks for the non-schismatic traditionalists, hanging on by their teeth and many of our moderate center who faithfully keep our local parishes alive, pay the bills and are seldom, if ever recognized? Most of this constituency doesn’t want a Primatial Vicar or substitute PB here or abroad. They want to be acknowledged and represented. No wonder the long forgotten Zacchaeus Report points to an extraordinary level of congregationalism in our parishes. According to that report most Episcopalians love their local parish; distrust the diocese and either ignore or get annoyed with the National Church. Nothing has changed. Certainly it has been my experience in the parishes I have served since I was received into TEC, and only the first was “conservative” and that fairly mildly: our Primate preached in Trinity, Pine Bluff, Arkansas a couple of Sundays ago.

After attempts by the radical right to interpret the Archbishop of Canterbury’s willingness to make suggestions and listen to them in a manner far beyond the scope of his intentions and now a growing number of schismatic voices on the left, who seem to yearn for a Brigadoon church, the mirror opposite to that desired by the right, no wonder the Archbishop is gun-shy.

Finally, until recent moments, we were constantly reminded that neither the Archbishop of Canterbury, nor the Primates, nor the ACC nor the Lambeth Conference have jurisdiction in this land of America. Now we want the Archbishop of Canterbury to visit our House of Bishops, as if he has the power or authority to fix things for us! We need to start fixing things at home first. Let our leaders decide whether we are to be a comprehensive church in which all who wish to follow the Anglican Way are welcomed, honored, recognized and enabled in ministry, or let us dec
ide to become a church for the enlightened and their followers.

If we decide to remember who we are by taking the first road, we have to create the structure which does not embed permanent minorities but rather provide pastoral leadership and care for all our parishioners, clergy and bishops. It is all very well to remind ourselves of our belief that schism is worse than heresy, but schism is not merely the activity of the honest schismatic, left or right, but of those whose attitude is hostile to the schismatic and who seem to say, “Go away. There’s no place for you here.” Anglicanism as it is now grew out of such a moment. If the Anglican Communion expels us after we have sincerely tried to reach a compromise for the time being, then the blame for schism, all things being equal, will rest there. If a section of our church starts a rival province, then the blame will be upon our intolerance and contempt for comprehension and on those who yearn for a church made in their own image and ambition.

So once again I ask the question, “Who in the Houses of General Convention and particularly the House of Bishops will speak for the loyal traditionalist and moderate?” If such an empowered voice were heard, maybe, even at this desperate time, there would be no need for +Rowan to meet self-appointed leaders, many of whom have taken that role because no one else will. We keep hearing that moderate bishops are meeting. Let’s hear from them.