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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

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.”


“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.

2 Responses

  1. Dear Fr Tony,

    Thank-you for this eloquent, historically and theologically rich, bracingly realistic and pastorally wise analysis of the recent HoB Statement (with your characteristic touch of humor). The Statement does indeed have an occasional good point; it is hard to draw these out, however, for the distraction of facile liberationist rhetoric, historical simplicities, and theological–especially ecclesiological, hence ecumenical–blunders. Its emotionalism is troublingly indulgent, as well.

    I have just read your piece after reading the Bp of Dallas’s more canonical and argumentative response to the Statement, which I also commend (along with +Steenson’s).

    God bless,

    Christopher Wells

  2. Interesting comments. I think you characterize all non-USA audiences as rather more monolithic in their hearing than they will probably be. Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, Scotland may well hear or infer meanings and resonances from the statement that, say, Nigeria does not.

    For those of us who are conscientiously realignment refusniks, the statement sounds like a good enough start on refusing the presuppositional terms and frameworks within which so much has lately been foisted upon us, including all the false witness of the whole scandal and walking apart narratives.

    Among institutional churches, Anglican have long been known for their abilities to be a big tent, within which people could come together without agreeing on more than the typical minimums of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, and that in service of quite different details and views. Beyond the big tent, Anglicans were almost surely known for their abilities to study something and eventually change their minds. Windsor started gingerly telling us we had precipitously changed our minds without sufficient consultation, as if it had been TEC that was designated by three successive Lambeth’s to high-handedly lead a listening process otherwise avoided and neglected by the other provinces.

    Turning right around to tag the HoB’s stepping up to speak clearly as nothing but another round of failed and raggedy colonialism, while neglecting the colonial overtures of Nigeria and the Southern Cone and Uganda, is spin, and not very clever spin at that.

    First and foremost, the HoB was speaking internally to TEC, as transparently as possible. Of course other provinces will overhear the statement, and that is ultimately to the good for surely it is not rocket science to imagine that Canada is next on the Primates’ punishment lists, coming right after TEC is dispensed?

    Now we will have TEC study and conversation for several months, hopefully as locally as possible across our differences and varieties of internal church life, and then hopefully all that will feed back into the HoB meeting in September. Realignment folks can sign up as Nigerian Anglican clones if they think that is best for the, but I still think the rest of us should hold out a bit longer, in hopes of remaining our big tent selves in big tent communities.

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