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RESPONSE TO THE HofB STATEMENT

It will be forty years this summer since I first set foot on American soil. I’ve now lived most of my life in the United States.I think I have had some opportunity to get to know America and Americans. I love the country and its cultures. At the same time as a child of a dying British Empire, brought up during its last gasp, I think I have some insight into contemporary America and can hear what Americans write as those abroad hear such texts.

When I finished reading the Statement of the House of Bishops of March 20th, a rather depressing thought filled me. Given the auto-propaganda instilled in Americans from birth about the “particularity” of America, its foundation, purpose, moral and political superiority, is it really possible for Americans to belong to any international body, political or religious, as an equal and co-dependent party? I again realized that the intensity of such “jingoist” sentiments increases in periods when the “End of Empire” seems a possibility.

The statement is interesting in that it wraps what would seem to be the most altruistic agenda in the bright paper of ecclesial nationalism. One expected that when the text was adopted all pledged allegiance to the TEC Flag and sung the National Anthem. Perhaps this is a bit harsh a judgment, but it is very important that something is said at this point about what I perceive to be the ethical flaws in the statement. I am not referring to the sexual issues, but rather the matter of how Christian values should be applied to the responses made by our leaders and the tone and content of such statements. I’ve also had some rather mischievous thoughts about sending the Statement to a family systems expert who is not an Episcopalian to get some thoughts on the contents and revelations about our collective episcopate!

“We affirm once again the deep longing of our hearts for The Episcopal Church to continue as a part of the Anglican Communion. We have gone so far as to articulate our self-understanding and unceasing desire for relationships with other Anglicans by memorializing the principle in the Preamble of our Constitution. What is important to us is that The Episcopal Church is a constituent member of a family of Churches, all of whom share a common mother in the Church of England. That membership gives us the great privilege and unique opportunity of sharing in the family’s work of alleviating human suffering in all parts of the world. For those of us who are members of The Episcopal Church, we are aware as never before that our Anglican Communion partners are vital to our very integrity as Christians and our wholeness. The witness of their faith, their generosity, their bravery, and their devotion teach us essential elements of gospel-based living that contribute to our
conversion.”

COMMENT: I recognize a deep sincerity in this section. I wish all this had blown up after the Lambeth Conference. I really do believe that interpersonal experiences have a part in shaping international attitudes. So many of our present bishops were not at the last Conference. Granted it was the most difficult meeting for the American Episcopate since Lambeth 1932, but there are experiences, meetings, creations of friendships and contextual realizations about the real lives of other bishops and their situations which foster friendship. Worship in Canterbury Cathedral is a moving experience. Despite the web and email, American bishops are still dreadfully isolated from “abroad.” In many cases, except for vacations, I suspect that many of our bishops have not been challenged by living among other people abroad and permitting their Americanism to be challenged by the values of other cultures.

“We would therefore meet any decision to exclude us from gatherings of all Anglican Churches with great sorrow, but our commitment to our membership in the Anglican Communion as a way to participate in the alleviation of suffering and restoration of God’s creation would remain constant. We have no intention of choosing to withdraw from our commitments, our relationships, or our own recognition of our full communion with the See of Canterbury or any of the other constituent members of the Anglican Communion. Indeed, we will seek to live fully into, and deepen, our relationships with our brothers and sisters in the Communion through companion relationships, the networks of Anglican women, the Anglican Indigenous Network, the Francophone Network, our support for the Anglican Diocese of Cuba, our existing covenant commitments with other provinces and dioceses, including Liberia, Mexico, Central America, Brazil, and the Philippines, our work as The Episcopal Church in many countries around the world, especially in the Caribbean, Latin America, Europe, and Taiwan, and countless informal relationships for mission around the world.“

COMMENT: This is a transitional paragraph from protestations of love to the beginning of the gripe session. There’s a not-too subtle reminder that TEC has also an overseas “communion” now largely absorbed into a single church. Most of it stems from the US’s own colonial period of Manifest Destiny. It was interesting that Mexican bishops attended the House of Bishops meeting despite the fact that the Mexican Church is now autonomous. One may be forgiven for wondering whether this section is a threat or a promise given the known expressed unease that many abroad have for our new title as THE Episcopal Church. There are other “Episcopal” Churches in the Communion including the one which gave us our first bishop and from which we took the title in the first place.

“Since General Convention of 2003, we have responded in good faith to the requests we have received from our Anglican partners. We accepted the invitation of the Lambeth Commission to send individuals characteristic of the theological breadth of our Church to meet with it. We happily did so. Our Executive Council voluntarily acceded to the request of the Primates for our delegates not to attend the 2005 meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in Nottingham. We took our place as listeners rather than participants as an expression of our love and respect for the sensibilities of our brothers and sisters in the Communion even when we believed we had been misunderstood. We accepted the invitation of the Primates to explain ourselves in a presentation to the same meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council. We did so with joy.

At the meeting of our House of Bishops at Camp Allen, Texas in March, 2004 we adopted a proposal called Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight as a means for meeting the pastoral needs of those within our Church who disagreed with actions of the General Convention. Our plan received a favorable response in the Windsor Report. It was not accepted by the Primates. At our meeting in March 2005, we adopted a Covenant Statement as an interim response to the Windsor Report in an attempt to assure the rest of the Communion that we were taking them seriously and, at some
significant cost, refused to consecrate any additional bishops whatsoever as a way that we could be true to our own convictions without running the risk of consecrating some that would offend our brothers and sisters. Our response was not accepted by the Primates. Our General Convention in 2006 struggled mightily and at great cost to many, not the least of whom are our gay and lesbian members, to respond favorably to the requests made of us in the Windsor Report and the Primates’ Dromantine Communiqué of 2005. We received a favorable response from the Joint Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates, which found that our effort had substantially met the concerns of the Windsor Report with the need to clarify our position on the blessing of same sex relationships. Still, our efforts were not accepted by the Primates in the Dar es Salaam Communiqué.

Other Anglican bishops, indeed including some Primates, have violated our provincial boundaries and caused great suffering and contributed immeasurably to our difficulties in solving our problems and in attempting to communicate for ourselves with our Anglican brothers and sisters. We have been repeatedly assured that boundary violations are inappropriate under the most ancient authorities and should cease. The Lambeth Conferences of 1988 and 1998 did so. The Windsor Report did so. The Dromantine Communiqué did so. None of these assurances has been heeded. The Dar es Salaam Communiqué affirms the principle that boundary violations are impermissible, but then sets conditions for ending those violations, conditions that are simply impossible for us to meet without calling a special meeting of our General Convention.”

COMMENT: In a family quarrel this is the point where one partner says to the other, “You can’t judge me like that. Look what you’ve done.” I do think that the Primates should have been very tough on those who have set up shop in TEC territory, very tough indeed, and failure to be even handed has suggested that worry about losing the Akinola Empire is far more pressing than losing Yankee gold. On the other hand, this legitimate complaint might be more ethically sound if not linked to what came before in the text.

In this long section there’s a real attempt to draw a distinction between the Windsor Report and the Dromantine Communiqué and the Primates Communiqué recently issued. I’d merely comment that there is a contextual difference between the two. The Winsor Report sets forth principles and what responses are suggested and the Dromantine Communiqué which was an an affirmation of the Windsor process and of the early between Convention progress TEC was making in coming to terms with Windsor. The Tanzania Communiqué takes us further on to examine the developments in TEC after GC 2006 and in the light of other developments and responses in dioceses and by bishops here.

“It is incumbent upon us as disciples to do our best to follow Jesus in the increasing experience of the leading of the Holy Spirit. We fully understand that others in the Communion believe the same, but we do not believe that Jesus leads us to break our relationships.”

COMMENT: I did find these two sentences oddly placed together. I am not at all sure what “increasing experience” means. It is odd where the Charismatic Movement’s lost baggage has landed up. Perhaps it is true that from time to time the Church as a whole seems more open to “listening to what the Spirit is saying to the churches” –note the plural – than at other times. For much of the church’s history, institutions of the Church have sought to box up define, legalize and control just how the church will apprehend how the Spirit communicates and through whom or what. The Anglican genius in the past has tended to leave such reception to a non-legislative ad hoc process of enormous untidiness. Thus papal infallibility, but not, oddly for a church which is much more wedded to Apostolic Succession than many other Anglican bodies, to the collective voice of the world episcopate meeting in Conference. But what does the second sentence have to do with the first? Claims that General Convention is omni-competent are extraordinary attempts to legalize and control just how the Spirit speaks to TEC and through TEC to the world.

“We proclaim the Gospel of what God has done and is doing in Christ, of the dignity of every human being, and of justice, compassion, and peace. We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, no male or female, no slave or free. We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ all God’s children, including women, are full and equal participants in the life of Christ’s Church. We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ all God’s children, including gay and lesbian persons, are full and equal participants in the life of Christ’s Church. We proclaim the Gospel that stands against any violence, including violence done to women and children as well as those who are persecuted because of their differences, often in the name of God. The Dar es Salaam Communiqué is distressingly silent on this subject. And, contrary to the way the Anglican Communion Network and the American Anglican Council have represented us, we proclaim a Gospel that welcomes diversity of thought and encourages free and open theological debate as a way of seeking God’s truth. If that means that others reject us and communion with us, as some have already done, we must with great regret and sorrow accept their decision.”

COMMENT: The American Anglican Council an the Anglican Communion Network, although later on in this section relegated to the status of a tiny minority seem to have really got the goat of the bishops. Certainly they have been over the top, gullible, and have made unsubstantiated claims quite often, but on the whole they have merely copied the lobbying efforts of other TEC bodies who have pressed a single agenda on our church, in my mind to the expense of those in our society who live lives of poverty and deprivation. One must factor in here secular political battles between the far right and the far left in our society. Those outside America reading all this really need an American civics course to keep up with underlying contexts.

“With g
reat hope that we will continue to be welcome in the councils of the family of Churches we know as the Anglican Communion, we believe that to participate in the Primates’ Pastoral scheme would be injurious to The Episcopal Church for many reasons.

First, it violates our church law in that it would call for a delegation of primatial authority not permissible under our Canons and a compromise of our autonomy as a Church not permissible under our Constitution.”

COMMENT: There is a valid point here. Had the primates suggested that the PB appoint a “vicar” in consultation with whatever form this DEPO/APO body takes – that “whatever” is the largest factor in all this,- and had non US Anglican members of the oversight body been a minority presence in a Council of Advice it might have been an easier sell. I see nothing in the Canons which prevents the creation of some sort of internal province. The House would have been much wiser to commit itself to explore such a possibility while making its objections known than by seeming to slam the door in a rather emotional and none too objective manner. It sounds like a turf battle. I’ve always thought that there is an irony in the fact that the CofE with real, historical claims to territorial jurisdiction was able to set up flying bishops, while TEC, which is one territorial jurisdiction among many, none with historical authority for such claims, as the Orthodox remember and practice with their layers of multiple ethnic jurisdictions, can’t even think of such a thing.

“Second, it fundamentally changes the character of the Windsor process and the covenant design process in which we thought all the Anglican Churches were participating together.”

COMMENT: How?

“Third, it violates our founding principles as The Episcopal Church following our own liberation from colonialism and the beginning of a life independent of the Church of England.”

COMMENT: Those who liberated themselves from British rule were and remained Colonizers, first here, then in Hawaii, then in the dismembered Spanish Empire, and both church and state continued colonial policies against Native Americans and African Americans. This is a cheap, jingoistic shot and ought to be taken up in our race relations training committees.

“Fourth, it is a very serious departure from our English Reformation heritage. It abandons the generous orthodoxy of our Prayer Book tradition. It sacrifices the emancipation of the laity for the exclusive leadership of high-ranking Bishops. And, for the first time since our separation from the papacy in the 16th century, it replaces the local governance of the Church by its own people with the decisions of a distant and unaccountable group of prelates.”

COMMENT: The word “prelate” is loaded and aimed. The rest of the paragraph is historical nonsense. Are there no church historians around in the House today? I would much rather see Lambeth transformed into a Pan-Anglican Synod of bishops, other clergy and laity with real authority. It was for this idea that the North American bishops and others first campaigned for an Anglican Council in the 1850’s and the substance of Bishop Selwyn’s motion adopted by Lambeth I. I doubt we’d get much support here for that in TEC today.

“Most important of all it is spiritually unsound. The pastoral scheme encourages one of the worst tendencies of our Western culture, which is to break relationships when we find them difficult instead of doing the hard work necessary to repair them and be instruments of reconciliation. The real cultural phenomenon that threatens the spiritual life of our people, including marriage and family life, is the ease with which we choose to break our relationships and the vows that established them rather than seek the transformative power of the Gospel in them. We cannot accept what would be injurious to this Church and could well lead to its permanent division.”

COMMENT: Although there is a certain disingenuous aspect to this paragraph, I tend to agree with its ethical values, a far cry from previous paragraphs in which we find the “you did this so I can do this back” tactics of family dysfunction. As TEC may well refuse to go along with the rest of the Communion worries about permanent division seem curious.

“At the same time, we understand that the present situation requires intentional care for those within our Church who find themselves in conscientious disagreement with the actions of our General Convention. We pledge ourselves to continue to work with them toward a workable arrangement. In truth, the number of those who seek to divide our Church is small, and our Church is marked by encouraging signs of life and hope. The fact that we have among ourselves, and indeed encourage, a diversity of opinion on issues of sexuality should in no way be misunderstood to mean that we are divided, except among a very few, in our love for The Episcopal Church, the integrity of its identity, and the continuance of its life and ministry.”

COMMENT: Here again we have the tyranny of selective statistics. The size of a minority surely doesn’t matter if one is committed to comprehension and minority “rights”? The statistically proven middle ground to which the PB referred at the Executive Council and our statistician at 815 has also alluded, showing that a majority of Episcopalians support neither extreme is not mentioned here at all. So what seems to be said here is something about power and lack of power, and that commitment to minority rights is best used to embrace people who are largely not Episcopalians or at least in the sytem and towards those who have the money, if not the numbers to exercise power. I wish I could take the bishop to the cancer center where I spent two days this week, or to the slums of Hyderabad, where I have been, or to Zimbabwe, where I have been, or the outskirts of most cities in the rural South. We have devalued the word “suffering”, and “marginalization” and devalued the really dreadful aspects of poor people here in America by our single-minded agenda. It is not that we are fighting for general gay rights. Those have been given. TEC’s attitude to the poor here is to embrace them as long as they don’t join as parishioners. They tend to be right wing and fundamentalist. I call it the Grand Duchess syndrome. Throwing coins to the poor as one drives by.

“In anticipation of the traditiona
l renewal of ordination vows in Holy Week we solemnly declare that “we do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation; and we do solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church.” (Book of Common Prayer, page 513)”

COMMENT: Good start! One hopes to see a new commitment in the seminaries to biblical studies which embrace our different methods and traditions in a frair and objective manner and an in depth study of our history and ethos. Of course we might also clue our ordinands into the reality of parish life.

“With this affirmation both of our identity as a Church and our affection and commitment to the Anglican Communion, we find new hope that we can turn our attention to the essence of Christ’s own mission in the world, to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4:18-19). It is to that mission that we now determinedly turn.”

COMMENT: If this Statement had been crafted, read, debated, it might well have permitted everyone to let off steam, perhaps say things a Christian bishop ought not to say, and at the close, thrown it away or had it referred, it might have served a useful purpose. The House might then have written a frank Statement, taking into account the real problems of the Primates’ version of the Primatial Vicar idea originally proposed by our Presiding Bishop (she needs to be “affirmed” and not undermined) with useful suggestions for the way forward. People of all sides and parties and factions have said that the Presiding Bishop was fair, a wonderful chair and has in one meeting empowered the House to be itself again after many years of management and manipulation. The Statement was a lost opportunity. It raised important points which need to be addressed, but in the end it sounded less than dignified, less than that which the Gospel demands and tone deaf to the manner in which non Americans may read the text. No wonder the Archbishop replied with a one-liner.

A NORTH AMERICAN IDEA

The move towards an Anglican Communion was a North American idea. It may be said that the popularization of the word “Anglican” was also American. While it appears in the works of Dr. Fell, the High Church Bishop of Oxford in the 17th Century, John Henry Hobart did much to expand the use of the term. The term “Anglican Communion” seems to have originated in the United States.

Between the establishment of PECUSA and the first Lambeth Conference, much was done to give some formality to the relationship which existed between the newly emerging Anglican churches around the world. The legal disabilities which impaired communion between the Church of England and the Scottish Episcopal and American Episcopal Church were gradually dismantled. John Henry Hopkins, Bishop of Vermont advocated a pan-Anglican synod and his son became a vocal proponent. Canadian bishops joined in the chorus. Granted the move was furthered by the desire of High Church bishops to counter the new claims promulgated by the papacy about the Blessed Virgin Mary and later the infallibility of the Pope. It is also true that most American Evangelicals – and remember that they formed a substantial “party” in our church then –distrusted structural plans which might advance structure above the substance of Scripture.

In 1851 the great celebration of the Jubilee of the foundation of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in the United States and England thrust forward the notion of Anglican unity and mutual accountability. Alan Stephenson notes that those who advocated an Anglican Council saw as its purpose, other than anti Romanism, the following points:

“1 The formation of a new canon law for the whole communion
2 The settling of doctrinal disputes.
3 The easing of inter-communion between the various branches of the Anglican Communion.
4 The voicing of the Church’s conscience on social issues.
5 Co-operation in literary publication.”[1]

The steam went out of the movement in the 1860’s in the US, as the church grappled with its split during the Civil War but continued to vent in South Africa and Canada. A new Archbishop of Canterbury, Longley was much more sympathetic to the idea than his predecessor. Yet Longley had to keep an eye on his brother at York who wasn’t happy with Canterbury doing anything much without his consent.

Bishop Fulford of Montreal, preaching at an ordination at Oxford, who claimed to have founded the Anglican Communion, saw an Anglican Council as an instrument of union between Anglicans, “Nonconformists”, Orthodoxy, Scandinavian Lutheranism and even the Church of Rome. He argued that unless Anglicans achieved a substantial form of unity, it would have no influence on the other Christian Churches at all.

The matter was taken up officially in the Church of England. This time it was the Broad Church party which opposed the idea! Our liberals have their ancestors.

Finally despite the objections of many Northern bishops in the Church of England and the rather odd objections of Dean Stanley of Westminster Abbey, the first pan-Anglican meeting of bishops occurred in the library of Lambeth Palace in 1878. Its scope and authority was nowhere near the dreams of the Canadian and American bishops and yet it was a start and not a finish. It should be noted however that Lambeth 1 did adopt the following resolution proposed by Bishop Selwyn, who, fifty or so years after our creation of General Convention, founded the first Provincial Synod in New Zealand.

“That in the opinion of this conference unity of faith and discipline will be best maintained among the several branches of the Anglican Communion by due and canonical subordination of the synods of the several branches to the higher authority of a synod or synods above them.”

Nothing happened on that front. At the first Lambeth, John Henry Hopkins Jr, the American Presiding Bishop associated himself with those bishops, a majority, who supported the Bishop of Cape Town’s deposition of Colenso of Natal. Hopkins hadn’t forgotten his enthusiasm for a pan Anglican Synod, including laity, to which would be given extra Provincial authority.

As a footnote it should be noted that unhappiness on the part of the American and some of the Canadian bishops with Lambeth and its proceedings was noted after the 1930 Conference. Archbishop Lang was the culprit. A dour Scot, patriarchal and snobbish, he treated the Americans and Canadians with ill concealed contempt and excluding them from most of the important committees. It was not until after the war that those relations again improved. Archbishop Fisher became a close friend of the soon to be American Presiding Bishop, Henry Knox Sherrill. They were both Broad of Church and broad of mind managers. Fisher came to the American General Convention of 1946. He was the first Archbishop to attend General Convention since Davidson’s visit in 1904 Fisher’s chaplain wrote:

“This lengthy tour really broke the ice with the Americans. They had always had a great love and affection for the Mother Church, but somehow or other. I don’t think they thought that they really belonged, that they were an integral part of it. From that moment onwards, however, they knew they were, and his (Fisher’s) speeches and sermons were of first rate importance in preparing for the spirit of the Lambeth Conference of 1948.

What conclusions, gentle reader, you deduce from all this, I can’t determine. But I would remind the bishops that the Anglican Communion was in great measure a North American idea, and that many of the Covenant proposals now before us originate in the 1850s at a time when our church was walking back into a closer relationship with its roots and heritage. I doubt greatly whether Archbishop Williams can “do a Fisher” for us, particularly in the light of the rather churlishly worded invitation to him to meet with the House of Bishops including the rather gauche offer to pay the bill.

One can only wish that the House of Bishops had better script writers and had deferred saying No until a meeting with +Rowan and other primates could be arranged.

Didn’t anyone remember that the idea of an Episcopal Visitor was our Primates’ idea?

[1] Alan M.G. Stephenson, Anglicanism and the Lambeth Conference, SPCK

A TEXAS DECISION

I was fascinated to read the papers Ephraim Radner and Katherine Grieb gave to the House of Bishops the other day. I have to confess that I haven’t read anything Dr. Grieb has written before reading her address. Fr. Radner, whom I greatly respect, is perhaps the only writer I know who makes the Archbishop of Canterbury’s writing style read like journalism. He was much less difficult to read this time for which I am grateful. I’m sure our bishops were similarly pleased.

Again reading these papers back to back was almost like reading something from older theological texts and contemporary theological literature all at once. As someone brought upon Gore and Temple, Ramsey and Austin Ferrar, I read Radner with a quicker understanding than I do Grieb. That may be prejudice or just the fact that I’m getting ancient. Do note that I said “read” and not “agree.”

One understands that both these people were present and active at creation as the first draft of the Covenant proposal was produced and agreed upon. It’s perhaps no accident that they represent two of our “parties” within TEC. However, once again, as far as I know, no report was given by someone who represents the middle way. Certainly there must have been someone on the Covenant committee, admittedly not an American, who represents the wider tradition of Anglicanism? There must be a scholar in America – if foreigners were disqualified –who could have approached the Covenant idea and language from the center and talked to the bishops?

Once again we are presented by the spectacle of two people arguing for their position. One supposes we are still wed to the idea of thesis, antithesis and synthesis, an 18th Century notion, at least seminally, probably culled from cricket and still practiced in modern legislative bodies and at football matches. Neither activity has much practical use and seems to corrupt the souls of participants.

Perhaps in the sacred halls of Rationalism, peopled by gentlepersons of breeding, property and sound learning, such a method may work. No one gets upset, no voice is raised and at the end, all adjourn for port and a cigar.

We are well past that. Over the past four decades we have learnt to fight, to draw blood, to win. Much we have fought for was timely and right. However war scars the victor and well as the vanquished. One can’t just say, “We won the vote” and that is that. Isn’t this particularly so when we claim to be Christians? None of us is without guilt. We have embraced the secular divisions in our midst and blessed without question their method and intent. Some of us have learnt to hate well.

Some of us want to take the war further. They want to retreat into an American religion, proclaim that the American Church is different, Holy Spirit guided in a particular manner, uncontaminated by foreign influence. I suggest that there’s more than a tinge of American folk religion, Mormanism, Christian Science, Adventism in all this. That it flies in the face of the New Testament witness, ignores the dreadful history of schism in the history of the Church and drives a dart into the heart of the Ecumenical Movement seems to matter little. That it would create the schism some –not Fr. Radner –traditionalists dream about seems not to matter. What matters is winning. I do not doubt the sincerity of those who champion gay rights, but I also believe that obsession has entered in and a good dose of hubris. What else could convict liberals to wrap themselves in the flag and advocate isolationism? Rush Limbaugh Episcopalianism.

Therein lies the danger of Dr.Grieb’s proposal, one culled from the modern divorce court rather than from Holy Scripture or the life and experience of the Christian Church. Separation from the Communion for five years is an invitation to schism, particularly during a period which will include the next Lambeth Conference and probably the launching of the Covenant process. A five year separation is merely a kind way of lessening the pain of a final divorce. Yet when we decided to stress the covenant area of baptismal theology we forsook the way of division and schism. We grasped a powerful ecumenical vision, one which Anglicanism demonstrates daily.

I am all for getting the House of Bishops’ Theological Commission back to work so that we can understand, for instance, what our church believes the word “blessing” means and how it differs from “marriage”. As far as I can see the whole idea of blessing objects, animals and some people emerged from the Anglo-Catholic movement and took on, finally emerging in what was called “The Book of Offices” commended by a very low church PB who was Bishop of Virginia. I love these ironies. I have read nothing official which tells us much about what we think we do when we bless Sarah’s tadpoles. I’m sure that what ever we do to these incipient frogs isn’t what we mean to do in a same-sex blessing service. The ad hoc liturgies in use look and sound and read a great deal like a wedding services to me.

So how can we go to the length of courting external and internal schism when we haven’t defined our terms, done our theology or even considered the pastoral responsibilities and consequences associated with developing a unique pastoral ministry to blessed couples? Sure, some people may have suggestions. But this isn’t the same thing as recognizing that women have been denied equal opportunities or that non-Whites were and still are not always welcomed and valued. The issue isn’t about gays, it’s about the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. It isn’t about sexually active gay clergy in relationships with people of their own gender, or of the opposite sex for that matter, it’s about the nature of Ordination and its witness. Why must we must both individualize and then corporatize everything in that order? That very practice is unchristian.

At this moment in time our Canons do not allow the ordination of persons living in sexually active unmarried relationships. There is no sanction for the blessing of same-sex couples. Thems the rules. How ironic that we are being invited to rend the Body of Christ on issues we haven’t yet decided. I’ll grant you that in Anglicanism one knows the battle is lost when Canons are quoted, but that’s an area which makes TEC distinct. Its legalism is its own invention and has no biblical justification, at least since the time of St. Paul. When I was a lad the Church of England’s Canons had hardly been touched since 1603/4 and contained lovely regulations about the night attire of the clergy. Then +Geoffrey Fisher, the organizer in chief got to mischief and a new set of Canons emerged. They haven’t done much good; perhaps not much harm either, but most Anglicans abroad are less than captivated by Canon Law. After all we’ve been practicing Anglicanism for four hundred years. Maybe that’s one of the misunderstanding in the Tower of Babel we have created in the Communion?

I believe that there can be no justice-in-mercy while we practice schism internally or externally. Schism is a denial of our baptismal covenant and vows. Nothing would be better for our church and ourselves than to bow the knee, recognize our mutual dependency and trust that in unity, mutual submission and positive engagement God’s will will be done. I have a feeling that such an act of corporate submission would initiate a revival in our midst, drawing back from the abandonment of our tradition and temperament and learning anew the virtues of charity and tolerance which once, along with the learning of the clergy proclaimed our church to be “stupor mundi.”

SCHISM

Schism is a nasty sounding word, particularly when it is pronounced SKism. It’s an ugly word for an ugly action. It matters not whether it is used to describe those who set up a rival church or those expelled from the church. The result is tragic. We crucify Christ again. Of course if one believes in the church merely as a discrete political entity, schism seems less dreadful or even a form of blissful liberation.

Whatever one thinks about the Windsor Report, its section on ecclesiology is hard to assail. Yet almost daily it is assailed by proponents of ecclesiastical nationalism who seem to place notions about the revolutionary origins of TEC above Scripture, Tradition and Reason. How anyone may look at the composition and mind set of those patricians who, in the days before the present American Constitution, created General Convention as a paragon of republican democracy and swoon with admiration is beyond me. Of course I may be wrong, but since when has secular rationalistic political theory been the entire well-spring of ecclesiastical polity?

It is oft stated, without any evidence that I have seen, that our church is superior because abroad Provinces are ruled as dictatorships at worst, or “papal” like prelates, who have no business in the affairs of the American church. This sounds like a political ploy to lessen the impact of that which the rest of the Communion asks of us.

Many writers, among them not a few of our bishops now argue that bishops can’t speak for TEC when they meet as a House. The Ordinal seems to think otherwise. In any case, if our House of Bishops can’t speak what it was doing when it issued what we call the “Chicago Lambeth Quadrilateral?” If bishops can’t speak in matters of faith and order, then what have they become? Bishops who deny Episcopal authority sound much like the French aristocrats who joined ranks with the Revolutionaries on the tennis court at Versailles.

Mind you our revolutionary bishops don’t act in a particularly egalitarian manner when in their dioceses, nor did they get synodical approval before writing their letters advocating defiance towards the Primates. Some openly defy the Presiding Bishop’s call for patience. Other writers seem to relish the idea of schism.

When it comes to their theology of the Church, many are to the right of those who organized American Anglicans after the Revolution and hold hands with those who opposed the calling of the first Lambeth Conference, despite the fact that it was a plan of the American and Canadian bishops who wanted a more beefed up Communion than Archbishop Longley was prepared to grant. Irony.

Those on the right have no more theology to rest on. Anglicans are not in the schism business. How ever bad things may be, there’s no reformation if there’s no church to reform. If the church is merely invisible, as some reformers taught; if it’s just every person with a Bible, and no outward and visible entity with authority to teach that which the Bible “proves”, then there is no Incarnation in any practical form. While our first Reformers agreed with Luther about the personal perspicuity of Scripture they soon had to modify such a position faced with sectarians whose interpretation was aimed at unchurching the Church.

Because post-Reformation Protestantism became denominational its only means of settling problems was schism. Having no real manner to test private judgment, the only final resource was for a party to gain control of a Council and for others to leave or be expelled. This was the democratic way. What would St. Paul think of our church page in the local newspaper? Schism is a constitutional right. Is that why so many of us seem to take the prospect of schism lightly? It seems that TEC with its new emphasis on General Convention being our “papacy” is becoming ironically thoroughly Protestant. (see my essay entitled The General Convention Church, at Anglicans Online.

The questions facing TEC are not basically about sex. We seem obsessed with the subject. In a nation beset by institutional corruption, abuse of power, millions without basic medical health, many living in sub standard housing on minimum wages, a probably unjust war, we are seen to think of nothing but with whom God wants Episcopalians to have sex and where. The basic questions we need to ask ourselves are about the nature of authority, the nature of the Church and the churches, Law and Gospel, the possible need to reform our institutions, the devolution of authority to our internal provinces, the nature of Anglican Comprehension, the adequate training of clergy for varied ministries, and our real ministry for justice. Why are we content to be a largely white, wealthy, liberal association? Just how “catholic” is that?

The news now in about the South Carolina consents is heart-breaking. It sends a chilling message to the rest of the Communion and to ourselves. It demonstrates the level of intolerance we have reached in the name of liberality. If it hastens schism those who rejected Mark Lawrence will be guilty of aiding and abetting schism. It used to be strict Protestant groups or the papacy who dealt thus. Isn’t that the irony? The more we shift to the ends of our narrowing spectrum the less loving we become. I hope and pray that those bishops committed to the real Via Media (not the organization!!) will have the courage to speak for Anglicanism this weekend. The far left will accuse such bishops of aiding the right. Doing the right thing is far more important.

ANGLICAN COMMUNION

Lecture given in St. Mary’s Church, Eugene, Oregon, October 11, 2003 by the Rev. Tony Clavier

THE ANGLICAN COMMUNION IN THE 21st CENTURY

I was asked to come to Eugene nearly a year ago to join with you as you celebrate 150 years of an Anglican presence in Eugene. My theme was to be the Anglican ethos. As we gradually worked on a program it was decided that I would try and cover briefly, this evening, the subject of the Anglican Communion in the 21st Century. What seemed to be, and may seem still to be a pretty boring subject for a Saturday evening has become a hot topic since August.

In normal times, if there are any nowadays, the Anglican Communion is a rather “out there” entity, brought to mind when our bishops fly across the ditch for the decadal Lambeth Conferences of bishops. No doubt if you go to diocesan headquarters you will discover a photograph on the wall showing a multitude of purple glad men and women smiling – or frowning – into a camera. The faces on these pictures have become smaller and smaller and the photographs longer and longer over the last century and a half in an attempt to crowd in more and more people. From a small beginning, when bishops sat together in the library of Lambeth Palace, the ancient London home of the Archbishops of Canterbury, the conference has bloomed into a meeting of hundreds of bishops meeting on the campus of a university just outside Canterbury.

It is estimated that there are about 77,000,000 Anglicans scattered around the globe, which puts us in the big league of Christian churches. The Episcopal Church is one of the smaller member churches. Our perhaps 2,000,000 members set us well behind, for instance, the Nigerian Church which numbers over 17,000,000 folk and is growing rapidly. Well over half of all Anglicans now live in Africa. This fact has become lately obvious to us over here! Anglicanism is fast becoming a 3rd world phenomenon. To Americans, used to exporting our culture and dominating the world as THE super-power it comes as quite a shock to find us out-numbered and marginalized. In the 3rd world new converts are added daily. In our world the very thought of evangelism sends some of us into culture shock. The Episcopal Church has become smaller and perhaps less diverse than at any time in our recent history. In the 3rd world the church, often amidst persecution, civil war, disease and famine, finds itself to be counter-cultural. In the US we are deeply affected by our national culture, or cultures, and often view the church as an appendage to our life in the world.

In the 3rd world the average Anglican is poor and disadvantaged. In our world, Episcopalians are, by and large, a pretty well heeled bunch. While the average parish is quite small, diverse, with a fair share of “blue collar” members, General Convention’s make-up doesn’t reflect this at all. 75% of deputies to General Convention belong to parishes with a membership of 500 or more. The cost of one General Convention would probably keep most 3rd world Anglican dioceses in clover for years. Come to think of it that is true of my own diocese of South Dakota where we face a crippling financial crisis and can’t even afford a clergy conference this year. 51% of our people, the Lakota/Dakota live in extreme poverty. The 3rd world is among us all.

In short the Anglican Communion is developing into a 3rd world Communion to which is appended the smaller Westernized churches from which the Communion grew originally. This would seem to be a cause for celebration. What we exported has taken root in the most extraordinary fashion.

Historians argue about whether our exporting Christianity to the rest of the world was a good or bad thing. To some, it was the natural outcome of the Great Commission:
Go into the entire world and preach, baptize, make disciples.
So ordered Jesus. We are sitting here tonight as Christians because that happened.

To others, missionary work is allied to imperialism and colonialism, by which the West was enriched. Western missionaries, like the Romans legions, placed a statue of the King- Emperor in each new colony and attempted to keep universal peace by promoting its Christian-God. Mercifully I’m not here to discuss that subject tonight. But perhaps we should remember that Christianity also came to Britain on the heels of the Roman legions.

The Anglican Communion is a fact. It is also an accidental fact. Right from the time of the Reformation, Anglicans have tended to do things first and find some kind of a rationale to justify what has been done later. We are an untidy, muddle-through lot! Anglicans from the British Isles started to move out within about 80 years of our separation from Rome. They took their Prayer Books with them. No thought was given to how these folks might continue to be CofE once abroad. They had to make shift for themselves. For about two hundred years American Anglicans managed without bishops and without Conventions. There are those who look back to those days with certain nostalgia!

Given the controversies of the moment, it is ironic that the notion of a worldwide Anglican Communion, well except for the Irish and Scottish churches -a big exception, began in North America. The American Revolution, about which I shall say as little as I can, created a revolution in Anglicanism –although that term was largely unknown at the time. No religious group in the Colonies was more affected by the Revolution. Many, perhaps most Anglicans sided with the Crown. Many left or were run out when Independence was unilaterally declared. Most of the clergy were loyalists rather than “patriots.” When representatives from Anglicans in each State met to consider what to do, they decided swiftly to become an independent church. This was the first instance of American Anglicans going it alone! The bemused bishops of the English Church reluctantly agreed to consecrate bishops – no I haven’t forgotten Seabury – but it was made clear in the text of the Act of Parliament that American bishops and clergy weren’t welcome to minister in England. Impaired Communion had arrived.

The Canadians got a better deal, for they were still within the family. During the next 80 years overseas Anglicanism spread and gradually dioceses were formed in what was then the British Empire. Some American bishops, among them the great John Henry Hobart of New York, yearned for formal ties linking the Anglican world. Other Episcopalians were less sure. Some worked for some form of centralized authority with power in matters of doctrine and discipline. Others were prepared, grudgingly, for some form of links, as long as the Episcopal Church was free, within the bounds of its own doctrine, discipline and worship, to fend for itself. It was pressure from the US and Canada which created the Anglican Communion. They wanted more than they were able to get in terms of its authority.

Finally, Archbishop Longley settled the matter by inviting, by personal invitation, all the Anglican bishops from around the world to a conference in his home. He resisted calls for his being recognized as an Anglican patriarch. He was already in enough trouble from his colleague, the Archbishop of York, for presuming to call a meeting, on his own authority.

Only the American bishops were not English by birth. They didn’t always fit in well. The rest attended the same sort of boarding schools and went to either Oxford or Cambridge. Whether they worked in London or Calcutta, Toronto or Hong Kong, they had the same roots and culture. They took for granted that the sun never set on the Empire. In short they had more in common, at a cultural level, than they had differences. It is true that the advent of the Anglo-Catholic party created enormous tension. Before the 1830s, whether High or Low Church, Anglicans knew that they were Protestants. What they meant by that term differed, but they knew that they were children of the Reformation, a Protestant Re
formation haunted by a Catholic past. Anglo-Catholicism changed all that. Indeed in the US, within five years of the first Lambeth Conference, evangelical Episcopalians met together in New York and organized a rival Reformed Episcopal Church which exists today and is growing again.

Re-reading the polemics of those days, one realizes that passions ran as high then, as they seem to at this moment. On the other hand, right from the beginning, our church had sought to include people of seemingly mutually opposed beliefs and practices. We’d had time to live together if not to love together always!

The first Lambeth Conference met in large part to try and solve a potential schism in South Africa. That would not be the last time that it became involved in the “internal” affairs of member provinces.

Every ten years after 1868, bishops met at Lambeth, except in the war years. Bishops discussed everything from ecumenism, to birth control, to liturgy, theological education, the plight of the poor and much else. No one asked whether the decisions made at Lambeth Conferences had authority. Authority was a given, even in the US. One didn’t have to define it. One didn’t even have to ask how it happened. Yes emerging Provinces were autonomous. Yes no one could force a constituent church to listen to what the Lambeth bishops said. But rarely if ever were such questions posed. If American bishops were sometimes unhappy, it was because they felt a bit lost in a club for British chaps! The pre-Second World War years were ones in which, at least for our church, settled order prevailed.

After the Second World War, great changes occurred in the Communion. More and more bishops were homegrown rather than sent out to the colonies and dominions of the Empire. As countries gained their independence, their bishops and people sensed a growing need for local expressions and a beefed up local autonomy. The United States had emerged as a dominant world power, wealthy and self-assured. England was broke and so was its National Church. The Episcopal Church, typifying the generosity of Americans, stepped in to assist the new churches of Africa and Asia. The Episcopal Church grew its own mini-Communion in the Philippines, parts of Japan and China, in Central and parts of South America. Among all the Anglican churches, the Episcopal Church gradually assumed an influence second only to that of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Perhaps it is not too strong a thing to state that ECUSA went through its own revolution in the 60s. What had seemed to some to be the conservative party at prayer, over many years had become involved in liberal causes in American culture and politics. For perhaps sixty years, since the beginning of the 20th Century, social concerns loomed larger in our thinking. Many saw the mission of the church in advancing cultural changes, in championing the poor, workers, and opposing big business and corporate greed. The term “justice” was more heard among us.

Yet it was in the 60s that many who would become leaders in ECUSA underwent what one may only term a conversion experience. In the turmoil of the 60s, of the Viet Nam War, the Civil Rights Movement, the sexual revolution, a new “party” exploded in our midst pledged to a Gospel of social justice. To these new converts Christianity was all about changing society: rooting out injustice and prejudice. Converts to the “new liberalism” came from all segments of the church and included leadership. Impressed by the power of political legislation, of lobbies and pressure groups, they transformed General Convention into an engine of change. At no time since the Reformation had such radical change come to an Anglican Church in such a short time. Women were admitted to the diaconate and priesthood and to all offices in the church. Blacks and other minorities were granted full inclusion. A new Prayer Book was adopted. Divorcees were permitted to marry in church. More recently gay and lesbian folk were admitted to full membership and a few weeks ago a gay, living in a committed relationship with another man was confirmed as bishop-elect of New Hampshire. It might be said that pre Second World War concerns about the stability of society were now replaced by a concern for personal and group freedom.

These changes excited and renewed many Episcopalians. Others were bemused. Still others were alienated. In former days Anglicans changed things in a muddled sort of way. New ideas arose at grass roots. Some were in fact very old ideas, as with Anglo-Catholicism and the Evangelical Revivals. Others’ like Christian Socialism and its heir, The Social Gospel Movement, were new to the scene. Whether such views took on, were amended, or rejected, happened in an ad hoc manner. Synods and Conventions were thought of meetings to adopt budgets, make statements and hold things together. People quarreled, wrote books and pamphlets, let off steam, but no authoritarian body tried to make them adopt things which they opposed. That was the Anglican way.

From the 60s onwards, all that changed. For better or worse, General Convention became the engine of change, enforcing changes by legislative acts. Those opposed to change became more and more marginalized and more and more unhappy. The old compact, which held together people of radically opposing views, seemed to collapse.

Perhaps a shift also occurred in our views on where authority lies within an Anglican Church. Anglicans have looked to Scripture, the Creeds, the Catechism and above all the Liturgy as centers of authority. The episcopate has also been thought of as something essential, a part of “authority.” General Convention was thought to be a center of authority but not THE center of authority. However, in every case except that of bishops and General Convention, these differing forms of authority are “powerless.” I am not suggesting that Scripture, the Creeds, the Catechism and the Liturgy have no power, of course they do, but that power is not of the same order as the power of a person, or the power of a legislature.

It is true that, in the 1970s, the decisions of the American and Canadian Churches to ordain women caused a good deal of unhappiness in parts of the Anglican Communion. Lambeth 1978 came on the heels of these actions and managed to keep the lid on things. The Eames Commission, named after the then primate of the Church of Ireland, proposed a solution involving two ideas. The first was the idea of reception. By reception was meant a period of time during which the ordination of women could be tried out, as an experiment if you will, while continued theological discussion and practical experimentation went on. The second concept was that of “impaired communion.” Although Anglican Provinces that did not ordain women were not forced so to do, ties between the constituent churches were to remain intact. Each church was advised to work this out in its own way.

Then came sex! I think it not too strong a statement to make when I suggest that a majority of American bishops came back from Lambeth 1998 in a state of shock. It seemed to many that the 3rd world bishops had bitten the hands that fed them. By a very large majority the Lambeth bishops determined that gay and lesbian sexual activity was sinful. They also determined that a learning process of dialog with gays and lesbians,with scholarly research and scriptural teaching be encouraged. What now changed, for good or ill, was that gay and lesbians were to be addressed as a “class” rather than as baptized people within the oneness of the church.

Of course there isn’t such a thing as an American culture. This truism is demonstrated in our politics, lifestyles and much else. During the last half a century American society has become polarized and more ideological. It is perhaps true to say that this development has affected the Episcopal Church enormously. As we have noted, the New Liberal Movement has provided leadership in General Convention, the dioceses and many p
rominent parishes for about 40 years. In short the political divide in American society is replicated in ECUSA. For many reasons, those attuned to political and religious liberalism predominate, at least in terms of power. ECUSA has become a church for liberals. It has chosen a class of people as its “market” and abandoned its identity as a comprehensive church.

The Lambeth decision on human sexuality, at least the part everyone stressed, shocked the Episcopal Church leadership. For the first time, at least in any significant manner, Episcopalians began to discuss the actual authority of the Lambeth Conference. It is certainly true that the old order, in which the Archbishop of Canterbury and the English Church were held in great esteem, passed away after World War 2. If you will, “divine” right began to be challenged by “legal right” and even legal right by charismatic authenticity.

Let me unpack this shorthand. There was a time, not too long ago, when episcopacy was honored greatly and the collective episcopacy more so. After all, Anglicanism is “episcopal.” Many Anglicans believed that bishops were “new apostles” among us. Those who didn’t still believed episcopacy to be an historic and ancient form of church order. Thus when all the bishops met and made decisions, their findings were treated with reverence. The collective episcopacy exercised a moral but not coercive authority.

Now all that has changed. The nature of spiritual authority is challenged by legal right. Thus it is pointed out that legal authority rests in each church of the Communion and not in any instrument of unity such as the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primates’ Meeting, the Lambeth Conference or the Anglican Consultative Council. There are those who advance the idea that each church in the Communion is an entity in and unto itself and that its governing council, by whatever name, is supreme. Even further it is now often suggested that group action, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, even if illegal, is to be recognized and honored.

In the old Humpty Dumpty world of Anglicanism, most would have shrugged and murmured, “All shall win and all shall take the prize.” In those days an Anglican ethos lived. What does that mean? It can mean many things. At worst it was a stuffy conformity to cultural norms perhaps nicely expressed in that children’s hymn, “All things bright and beautiful.”

In a verse not to be found in American editions, Mrs. Alexander wrote:
“The rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate; God made them high and lowly, each in their own estate.”

The Anglican ethos may also mean a style of liberality. Within the confines of certain mutually accepted principles, widely interpreted, rests a freedom to think, explore, and propose.

Anglicanism may also be thought of in terms of an extraordinary and accidental experiment in which people of radically different views nevertheless find common and harmonious space. Ambiguity becomes a cardinal virtue

The Anglican ethos may be engaged in terms of deep scholarship and spirituality, a symbiosis of things ancient and things modern, things Catholic and things Reformed, woven together into a comprehensive and comprehensible whole.

Let me be more precise. There was a time when it was possible to heed the advice and counsel of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the collective episcopate, function as autonomous churches and give space for the resurrection of things old and the birth of things new.

Indeed, to take the last point first, every movement of significance in our history has started at grass roots, and has, more often than not, involved doing things contrary to Canon Law. The Evangelicals gleefully crossed diocesan and parochial lines to preach. They left out bits of the liturgy and incorporated rumperty tumperty “clap happy” songs! Anglo-Catholics performed rites and ceremonies which were not in the Prayer Book, and which were illegal. Their little manuals containing lists of shocking sins to be repented infuriated good Protestant folk who believed that these Romanists were corrupting morals. There’s nothing new about people and groups blithely ignoring authority and claiming to do so under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It’s an Anglican thing to do!

There’s nothing new about the concept of Provincial autonomy. Each member church in our communion takes it for granted that it is self-governing. We have seen that Archbishop Longley refused to encourage a move towards some pan-Anglican jurisdiction.

Nor is there anything new about honor for the collective wisdom of the gathered worldwide episcopate. It is only now that an archbishop of Canterbury finds it necessary to ask whether we remain a Communion, or have devolved into a federation? In short from 1868 until perhaps 1998 it was possible for all to win and all to gain the prize. Experts often stated that we had diffused authority, located in many “instruments.” Like most elements of the Anglican Communion, if any single aspect of our instruments of unity were pressed above the rest, the whole structure weakens.

Let me return to the subject of “culture” again. In most parts of the Western world where Anglicanism exists, the church has taken for granted that it ministers within a Christian culture. In short it has been easy to live as a Christian in what at least seemed to be a Christian world. In fact, for more than a century now, it has been assumed that to be a Christian is a personal and private choice, an elective appendage if you will. For well over a thousand years it could be assumed that being a Christian and being a citizen involved no dichotomy. During the last century there has been a steady drift towards the concept that the individual right of a citizen to hold whatever belief he or she desires and to live whatever lifestyle chosen trumps all else. Many Christians now doubt whether it is appropriate to attempt to share the Faith with others. Separation of church and state, whether formal as in the US, or informal in the UK means that Christians have withdrawn into themselves and into their buildings. Faith has become “spiritual” while daily living has become “real.”

It is difficult, therefore, for Western Anglicans to walk a mile with their sisters and brothers to whom local culture is alien and perhaps threatening. To be a Christian in the Sudan, in Uganda, in Rwanda, means to live apart from culture and to view culture as something to be changed and transformed by the Gospel at whatever cost. In short most 3rd world Anglicans believe it their duty to convert culture and people and to transform society. Such people are at home in the world of St. Paul. Many of us in the West find the world of St. Paul remote, dead and gone, and rather shocking.

The world of St. Paul, as we meet it in those troubling Epistles pitted a tiny group of new converts against a hostile world. Christians thought of themselves as being “the first harvest of a new creation.” The church was the preview of God’s purpose for the whole world and for all people. Like all previews, or trailers, the picture was muddled by human weakness, and yet it faithfully pointed the way forward. Christians were different and compromise with the world, with “culture”, impossible.

To my mind we won’t be able to understand the crisis in Anglicanism unless we take seriously these two differing views. In our own church, the usual view is that we are to engage our culture and promote its evolution into a just community. We still think ourselves to be very much part of the history, social life and ideals of our own country. The task of the church, for many, is to tinker with society and make it better.

In Africa, for instance, the role of the church is to call people out of the prevailing culture into what they might term the Kingdom of God. While social justice, political freedom disease and famine are part and parcel of wi
tness evangelism comes first. At base, the issue of human sexuality involves a collision of religious experiences, a clash of cultures. If this is so across the Communion, it is also true of ECUSA. Some view America as being in a post-Christian period in which the church is called back into roughly the same mission as that proposed and furthered by most 3rd World Anglicans. However it should also be noted that Anglican conservatives in America are deeply invested in our second culture, in the world of political and social conservatism. In a real way the divisions in our church reflect that there are Episcopalians culled from both cultures, cultures which are more and more at war with each other.

Mercifully I am not a prophet or the son of a prophet. I can’t look forward and see whether, at the moment Anglicanism has reached its greatest worldwide strength, it is about to implode into at least two segments. Yet I am convinced that if we enter conversations on the basis of which side will win, of self-justification we will all lose.

I want to suggest that our older ethos still contains within itself the means for us all to remain one, and to prosper as a worldwide Communion and as a local national church. While I sympathize with some, perhaps many of the causes espoused by ECUSA during the last forty years, I have to say that the politicizing of our church has done unintended but dreadful harm. General Convention, an element in authority, has become THE element of authority. The older process by which we were open to change – and to the insights of the past made new – has been replaced by the ethos of secular government. We change now in a process whereby an ascendant party “wins” by majoritarianism. The older comprehension, whereby mutually opposed constituencies were given space to prosper or decline, under the judgment of Gamaliel, has been replaced by a comprehension with a permanent under-class.

The old social compact by which no one party was given the power to alienate the consciences of others has gone. In short unity, once the obsession of Anglicans, has been replaced by a struggle for hegemony. Nor may I say that I think matters would be any different if conservatives, traditionalists, by whatever name, were the predominant force in General Convention.

Anglicanism has always been a difficult space for crusaders. The very fact that we are so different placed limits on just how adventurous the institutional church, might be at a given moment. That is not to say that “prophets” have not always been known among us. Anglicanism has been peculiarly open to movements and developments. Yet in the past the force or otherwise of reformers among us has not been politicized.

Ironically, the distress among the leaders of our church after the last Lambeth Conference was in part occasioned because a majority of bishops from across the globe challenged them. Majoritarianism is catching!

During the centuries since the Reformation, Anglicans have been confronted by strong movements of change, some pointing to things new, some to things old and neglected. A process existed; perhaps a form of authority, by which space was given to prophets to proclaim their passions. Their insights have in some case been accepted, sometimes rejected and often amended and incorporated into our common life. This does not mean that the process was always peaceful or the result salutary. We lost the Methodists because we could not adapt. On the other hand our worship was enriched by the Anglo-Catholics and our church rescued from extinction and our slaves freed by the Evangelicals.

To be blunt, I attribute much of our present dilemma to the fact that we have lost our past. I began by saying that to many of us, the Anglican Communion is something we barely think about and about which we know little. Certainly Episcopalians know less and less about themselves. Faced with the puzzle about how we can at once, honor and value pan-Anglican institutions, assert our own authority, and give space for movements old and new, we are ill-equipped to engage in our older work of discovering authority in all three elements.

If the sea of faith is withdrawing in this country, as it has in most parts of the Western world, the time will come when the question of our own identity and mission will loom larger. We don’t face the sort of persecution which is the daily experience of many 3rd world Anglicans. And yet as our society advances into secularism, the time is coming when even American Anglicans will feel less and less free and less and less at home in the prevailing culture.

The world is getting smaller and smaller. What we do and how we live is no longer merely “local.” America is the dominant world power. Abroad it is understood through the lenses of global politics, economics and exported “culture.” Once the British were resented, often misunderstood and often understood only too well. Now it’s America’s turn.

It is unavoidable that the actions of our church, viewed globally will meet the same reaction. We may well shrug our shoulders, grumble about ingratitude, wrap ourselves in the flags of the US and ECUSA and do our own thing. That attitude gets us nowhere because it is xenophobic and fundamentally pagan.

Yes as Christians we are our brother’s and sister’s keeper. How may ECUSA lead the way in re-discovering the peculiar ethos of Anglicanism as we adapt to things new, and contribute to the strength, vision and mission of Anglicanism worldwide? The future of Anglicanism as we have known it depends on how we answer that question. I used the word “lead” deliberately. At the moment we seem to be reacting rather than leading. Neither justifying what we did a few months ago in Minneapolis nor denouncing what we did gets us very far at all. What we say may ormay not be true. Whtehr it promotes the Gospelmay be quite another thing. I dare say that the process of leadership must begin at home, in our deeply divided church. The Anglican world waits to see just how we continue to be committed to comprehension and unity at home. If we opt to divide into two narrower, less comprehensive groups we may be happier. We will not be Anglican. If we can’t adjust here, we have nothing to say elsewhere.

BEING THE CHURCH

+Michael Ramsey’s book, “The Gospel and the Catholic Church” caught my imagination when I was a teen and continues to inform my theology and ecclesiology to this day. I recommend it. Much of the chatter about evangelism, the nature of the church,and its mission, receive a thorough treatment by Ramsey. It may be dated, but so is the Gospel and so is the Church.

Perhaps it is too much to say that the “Evangelical Way” is about evangelism in a stark manner. “Have you been saved?” Our way, and largely has ever been, the concept that belonging to Jesus is first a corporate matter, and an individual one in that we live, move and have our being in the corporate Body of Christ. That is one of the reasons why Anglicans have such a horror of schism. We went through that and discovered just how wretched the way becomes in isolation. The schismatic church is open to the whims of its present members. Corporate schism is just personalized religion “write large.”

It is in baptism that we are saved and come into the presence of Jesus. Salvation isn’t some personal bargain between God and me, by which I surrender and get the prize of eternal life. What a selfish transaction that would be. Rather, in baptism God acts towards us, by and through the community we call the Church, the Body of Christ. It is God’s body. It is NOT our body, to create, or destroy. In the local manifestation of the Body, the parish church, we are nurtured into holiness. By “holiness” we mean “set apartness.” We are set apart not because we are good, but because we have a mission. We have been called to Israel’s old mission.

Puritans have a practical streak in them. Seeing that so many don’t seem to be “saved” after baptism, in a most unbiblical manner, they reject baptism as a salvic action and prefer to judge individuals based on their “goodness.” Scripture tells us that the status of the baptised isn’t for us to judge. Our job is to care and to restore those whose conduct and commitment hamper the work of the church and thereby harm those who “err and stray” and those with whom they associate. The way we act is never personal.

Word and Sacraments sustain our corporation, and feed us in order that we may grow into the fullness of the statue of Christ. In the church locally we learn to know Christ in worship and in each other. We learn tolerance in mutual submission, based not on opinion but on our common baptized status. We are united in order that through our mutual mission and self oblation we may efficiently show forth Christ until he returns. The Church may present no stumbling block save that of Christ, who is always the scandal. We show Christ forth by seeking to be, together, his very Presence. No single person may show forth Christ alone. It is the Body which shows the Body.

The task of the parish church is to be open to grace in its breadth and depth and height. It is not efficiency, nor program which enables this to happen. That is why outward and visible signs are not magic, but rather openings to the Divine activity. Certainly what the vestry or parson dream up is, in the long run, neither here nor there, thank God. Both have come and gone through the years, but the Church remains. Worship, and our intentional participation therein provides the avenue whereby we grow into the Trinity and are used by the Trinity.

As an aside it is vital to note that our Elizabethan ancestors saw the Word not so much in terms of preaching as in the Word heard in the public readings, the lectionary, the Propers for the Christian Year and the words of the Liturgy. Our bishops then had much trouble with parsons who ignored the Christian Year, the lectionary and the Liturgy and preached their own narrow interests. Nothing changes.

Programs and “systems” may be helpful or not. They may well be the modern equivalent of the Puritan’s”rantings:”, divisive and intolerant versions of the Faith. But they are not the Gospel and not the Church. Campaigns and projects may or may not be helpful, but they are not, in themselves, the Gospel and the Church. We may and ought to feed and heal, but always remembering that Jesus did the same and they howled “Crucify”. The road of love is never the road to success, at least until the Cross and cross-bearing become our experience. Why did Jerusalem kill the prophets? Largely because “Jerusalem” substituted an easy going amorality for God’s will and commandments. We prefer a tolerant God who treats us as individuals to whom has been given a tailor made faith. Turkish Delight!

The most effective work of education and evangelism the local church does is to make it possible for us to learn how to pray together. The second is to get us to understand that our personal salvation flows from our corporate salvation and not the other way round. +Tom Wright is good on this and I’d recommend most of his popular books on the subject. The good works God has vouchsafed for us to us to walk in are the results of grace and not their cause. The Prayer of Thanksgiving on page 339 gets it right. Oh that’s in Rite One. Sorry.

Issues, even the MDG are not the Gospel but if blessed flow from the Gospel and the Catholic Church. Political parties have programs and platforms which are all important But we are the Church in time and eternity, Our task is to be the Church, the embodiment corporately of the Living Christ. We make the church too small because we have politicized and programmed it to death.

No wonder so many young people,who can get their politics more efficiently on line, seek something and Someone beyond our Issues and denominational idolatry. I am not aware of any grace bestowed in baptism or ordination which grants us unique political wisdom. We may and should seek to apply the Gospel to our politics as citizens. We may never demand that other Christians, attempting in faith to reach conclusions with which we differ, be marginalized. But the trick is applying the Gospel to politics, ecclesial and secular through the obstacles of “denominationalism”, nationalism and state-worship, through the prejudices with which we have been shaped and molded. I am aware that the Gospel enlightens us to love in self sacrifice. I am also aware that only when the Church demonstrates that self-oblation internally may the watching world see the Presence of Christ in action. It is only when the church is international that it may be Catholic. We have no choice about our commitment to catholicism. We believe the Creeds. We do not believe in TEC except as a convenient historical accident and an efficient vehicle for the Gospel and the Catholic Faith.

CONSEQUENCES

The standing committee of the Diocese of South Carolina has been very naughty. It has told all who are interested that a majority of bishops with jurisdiction have consented to the election of Fr. Mark Lawrence as bishop of South Carolina, one of the “First Dioceses” of our church. We have also been informed which Standing Committees have given their consent. According to my friend Louie Crew they do not yet form a majority and the time is drawing nigh to close the matter. Unless there are some swift changes of corporate minds the election will be annulled. This revelation is naughty because, I’m told, the consent process is supposed to be secret, even a secret kept from those who elect the standing committees and are represented by them. Democracy?

It’s only a few moments ago in time when we were being told that the consent process was merely a formality, attesting to the legality of the election process. Indeed I recently heard that there had been a deficiency in the actual election process. The matter was so grave that I have forgotten what it was alleged to be. I think it was something to do with the nomination process being closed in an arbitrary fashion.

Now by the most convoluted interpretation of the rules we set ourselves at the last General Convention about not consenting to the ratification of the election of bishops whose lifestyles are, shall we say, non-canonical, justification is made to reject the duly elected choice of a mature diocese. If it’s not mature it’s certainly been around for long enough. I have herad no startling revelations about Mark Lawrence’s lifestyle.

Looking back the few weeks of time which has elapsed since the election we may well note how the invention of the blog and the email have changed things. When the confirmation process began, we were in declared war,with threats of schism from both sides and a continued far-left triumphalism is full fanfare, opposed by the war drums of the right. “Those who live by the sword shall perish by the sword.”

Almost days later the Primates Communique is at hand, our Primate has called us to a season of prayer, repentance and self-sacrificial love,and our Executive Council tells us that we are all welcome in TEC. Certainly the rejection of the South Carolina election will only serve to revive the former spirit to which both ends of the spectrum contributed mightily. One hopes that if Mark Lawrence is rejected they will either elect him again or wait to see what happens if a separate yet included “province” is established when,one presumes, South Carolina may have it’sbishop. Schism isn’t the answer.

The consent process, as it has emerged now looks mean-spirited. How many instances are there in our history of standing committees successfully rejecting elections? Who were the rejected bishops-elect? What were the consequences? Upon what grounds were they rejected? (I think of DeKoven.) In the meantime, saving their Lordships’ grace, we have consented to some mightily odd bishops with extraordinary views, lifestyles and levels of incompetence in our history. And,of course some holy and able people to boot.

If bishops-elect are to be tested as to their faith and loyalty, is this to continue as an ad hoc process conducted by email, telephone, and perhaps letter, the questions formulated by who knows whom? Will there emerge a new body among us; The National Union of Standing Committees? Will such questions apply to all,and if not, on what grounds will the victims be selected. (I don’t think the Bishop Coadjutor of Tennessee underwent this process?)

There is time, just time, to reverse this looming tragedy. If the test for South Carolina is the determination of whether it intended deliberately to elect a person who defies the doctrine, discipline and worship of TEC as contained in the Constitution and Canons and the Book of Common Prayer openly, then, in justice the same test would be applied to all elections. Indeed there are many now consecrated bishops who should come clean and confess their own defiance. What should be or might be, however laudable is no defence. At the moment, if our claims to democracy are true, we are where we are. We have promised to “conform”.

And as we are keen to assert that the Holy Spirit works assuredly in Conventions, did the Holy Spirit take the day off when Mark Lawrence was so convincingly chosen to be the Chief Pastor of the Diocese of South Carolina? Apparantly the Holy Spirit was on duty in New Hamphire willing to overthrow our Canons. What is sauce for the goose… I stand for genuine and demonstrable comprehension.