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OF PRIMATES and the VIA MEDIA

We live in a democratic country. I realize that purists will dispute such a description of the republic, but there we are. Hardly a day goes by without our being bombarded with “news” about the next general election. In the meantime candidates and those waiting in the wings damn each other with faint praise. I suppose then that it is inevitable that our church is similarly engaged in “politics” with its groups and parties, lobbies and blogs.

As we get closer to the Primates’ Meeting in Tanzania the rhetoric gets more shrill and the predictions dire. +Katharine will be expelled or treated badly. The proposed Covenant will enslave TEC and bind the Holy Spirit. There’s little notice of the letter or spirit found in today’s reading from St. Mark 9: 30 – 41. Modern disciples still dispute who will be greatest in the Kingdom. “Greatest” means control. Who will really have God’s ear? Will we be enslaved by Canterbury or have the power to have our own way? Have we been given the power to teach others the new truths we have received?

It looks very much to me that those who want to harshly discipline TEC and those who are unlikely to want to do much more than give us a slap on the wrist are evenly divided. That leaves about six Provinces whose primate may go one way or the other, but probably wouldn’t support the blustering of the Archbishop of Nigeria. Indeed it is not at all clear that the Global South leaders are as pleased with +Peter Nigeria as they once were. Those who have set up shop in the United States are equally liable to receive a purple hued boot in their archiepiscopal posteriors. Whats sauce for the goose…

Nor do I see any evidence that a proposed Covenant is going to be adopted unless it is able to pass muster in Provinces like Ireland or Australia let alone Canada and the US.

Certainly our primate is going to have to explain why our Canons seem to repudiate Eames 1, why it is that we are so organized that no real answer to questions may be forthcoming unless debated by General Convention in the atmosphere of secular legislation and a winner take all system. It is because we can’t represent our whole constituency when asked to answer questions posed to us that minority bishops have to be invited to a Primates’ Meeting. Our politics make us state our case based on the winners’ vote, rather than our being honest and saying that we are divided on these issues. Politics make us dishonest and “parties” which exercise power for years are naturally prone to arrogance.

Hyperbole is a great weapon for politicians. It is easy to damn the rest of the Provinces in the Communion for being less “democratic” than we are. I have a feeling that consciously or not, the charge suggests that African Primates are prone to be dictators and that summons up visions of Mugabe or Idi Amin. I bumped in to the Primate of the Congo at 815 the other day. He didn’t look or sound like a Prince Bishop. I haven’t met an aristocratic bishop in England for years. But their titles sound undemocratic. We are not in Victorian times and today, as then, bishops and archbishops are as limited in authority as our own, and some of our own get away with forms of idiosyncratic and personal power no English bishop would dare to attempt. I dare say that those who damn preletical Provinces don’t really know much at all about their systems of government. At any rate the “dog and pony show”of pre-election hype we now use in the run up to choosing a bishop has to go.

I would love to read a theological and ecclesial defence of the proposition that the church is a democracy. In our church we may elect bishops but once that’s done who pastors and guides and limits our bishops? We’ve been so busy demolishing our traditions and precedents that little is left to describe and limit episcopal function except for “systems” theory, a discipline whose times has left.

And that brings me to truth in advertising. If the group called Via Media is really an association of middle of the road Anglicans then where do the other 70% of Episcopalians fit in? This group needs to justify its title and cite historical, theological and ecclesiological precedent to explain how its shrill rhetoric, so like that of conservative extremists, is at all moderate and reasonable. OK one doesn’t approve of +Bob Duncan, +Jack Iker or +James Stanton if one is in the Pittsburgh or Dallas/Fort Worth dioceses. Fine. Term oneself “Liberals United Against Networks”. But Via Media? Come off it. I don’t doubt that we need some sort of an organization for people of the via media and if founded it would be a sane, patient, moderate and thoroughly boring institution! Lovely. I’m all for some patient boredom in our church.

I don’t expect any real news from the Primates’ Meeting. Maybe Akinola will walk out. Maybe not. Maybe we will be asked to inform and hold discussions with the Communion before we adopt extremely controversial measures like giving communion to the unbaptized: a thoroughly generous, sentimental and theological nonsensical idea. Maybe the test for us all will be the language of the proposed Covenant if and when it emerges to be discussed at Lambeth?

In the meantime it’s useless to ask people to be calm, but it might be splendid if we all pray for all the Primates, how ever elected or whatever their power or positions might be?

6 Responses

  1. Systems Theory. Tell us more. The bishop-elect of Virginia subscribes to Family Systems Theory.

    http://churchman.blogspot.com/2007/02/stand-firm-interviews-bishop-elect-of.html

  2. Father Clavier,
    As I read your comments in this blog entry, I found myself largely agreeing with you (except for your comments about democracy and episcopal powers–a difference born out of my study of the early history of The Episcopal Church). Our agreement suggests we both are really part of that vast middle of the church. That is, we WERE in agreement until you decided to criticize Via Media, USA. It is especially puzzling because VMUSA has issued no public statements recently. Furthermore its mission statement (found at http://viamediausa.org/mission.html) is consonant with your published statements on the ethos of Anglicanism. Some of the allied group members of the VMUSA alliance have issued statements responding to local events. When we do so, as Progressive Episcopalians did recently, we do not speak for anyone but the individual group.

    You have the luxury of being in a sane diocese. Things look a little different when viewed from Pittsburgh, where Bishop Duncan has set a policy that at worship services where he is present, the prayers of the people shall not mention Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori either by name or title; where the Pittsburgh Standing Committee has rejected parish by-laws as failing the “Canonicity test” because the by-laws specified that the parish would follow the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church if the diocesan constitution and canons conflicted with those of the whole church; where the diocese has unilaterally tried to remove itself from Province III; and where the Standing Committee has issued an appeal to four Global South Archbishops outlining steps that, if implemented, would remove us from The Episcopal Church. What we wish for fervently is a reaffirmation of The Episcopal Church as a church tolerant of a range of theology, inclusive in worship and willing to work within its own polity. That’s a position I believe that you share.

  3. Dear Fr. Clavier,

    I was about to leave a comment that you wouldn’t be saying this if you had to live in a diocese like that of Pittsburgh. However, my good friend Joan Gundersen has said it in better terms than I could. So I will just affirm everything she said and you should know that for laypeople in our diocese, the actions of our Bishop have created daily angst, fear and uncertainty. It is getting harder every day to remain Episcopalian here with a clear conscience because of our Bishop and his Network.

    Sue Boulden (bovinesue)

  4. I’ve always suffered from being marginally (or more) conservative than my bishops. Just for once I would love to be subversive in a conservative Diocese – write pamphlets that needed to be circulated privately – extend ministry to those who the church has cast out in its righteous indignation – visit notorious sinners and offer comfort rather than condemnation. You Pittsburgh moderates don’t know how lucky you are! Courage!

  5. Another fine commentary from Yorkshire-on-the Monongahela! On church and democracy, while TEC has tried to combine the political ideas that formed its secular context in 1785, no one until recently has thought the church is actually a democracy. Now it seems all the rage, perhaps because of a certain epistemological relativism that has infected most Westerners’ education. In other words, “all truth is relative” is the byword of the age, ignoring that the aphorism is self-contradictory and therefore perfect nonsense. In our case, the vote of General Convention becomes, if and when one chooses to accept it, the Voice of God (or else just something you can safely ignore—YMMV). However, the “faith once delivered to the saints” is not something to be decided upon by lobbying, party caucuses, and getting out the vote. Unless of course the Scriptures have left out something in their descriptions of the Holy Trinity and the heavenly hosts…

    It would seem fitting at this time to begin to preach and write about the sin of party spirit, so often denounced by St Paul. You would know better than I, Tony, how much has been done on the topic in the past. But it is certainly very much needed today!

  6. I have read this blog as well those preceeding it and am inclined to agree with much of it. As one who was raised in the Episcopal Church – my father was a priest and I almost made it to seminary myself – and made it through the 1979 schism of ACNA (as I recall the acronym) before becoming unchurched in the 80’s, I find it disconcerting that as I now approach the church to try to find my way back, that it is embroiled in controversy and bickering. I am emerging from 15 years or more of major depression and am now experiencing what can only be described as an “awakening” (not to mention an almost miraculous healing) and I can assure you that a great deal of what seems to so critical to all these men and women of faith is trivial and petty against the true issues. Perhaps if they could know the loneliness and despair of separation from God they would realize that the tenets or beliefs over which they struggle are insignificant and human in origin. Like the retired priest in an earlier comment, I too must consider turning to the Roman church. I’m not sure if the “gymnastics” required to find entry there are any less than what I see unfolding here. I never thought the CHurch could change so much.

    On a different track, if the church were truly democratic, it would have a means to allow the “people” to impeach their “leaders” – I don’t believe there are any means to remove a bishop (I could be wrong) but one assume that Pittsburgh would remove its current problem if so empowered.

    Were it not for my personal experiences of late and my fledggling faith’s sense that I must seek out community for growth, witness and works, I fear I might look upon the current siuation and decide simply to turn around and retreat into the rather uncaring and unfeeling world of depression. I will, however, continue to seek community, and right-minded folks who can look past these issues to what is important. I would urge others to reflect upon what is there, what God has given us, and how foolish we must appear if we pursue these bickerings. For me, from my newcomers perspective, our faith and what God calls us to do is so much more simple than what we tend to make it out to be. (And I do know something of this, as a religious studies major and life-long student, I complicated matters to the point where reason only supported doubt and disbelief).

    THis may be a bit off the mark, and it certainly is not a “learned” response to some very cogent thoughts, but if I can help some to find a different focus and to find some peace in the turmoil, I will have achieved my purpose.

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