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(These are some comments I made about the Communion Partners Rectors’ meeting held at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, Houston last weekend.)

I was pleased with the tone and content of our meeting. As you now know I have been around the scene for some forty years and have witnessed successive waves of disaffection within TEC in their various manifestations and know most of the leading figures who have popped up during this time. I am not making any claims to special wisdom. While some say “older means wiser” others retort “there’s no fool like an old fool.”

I sounded the warning about the pitfalls of the past not out of pique, but with a concern that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past and that we understand that Anglican leaders abroad, even when sympathetic, do not always hear us without caution. I have said as much to almost every new manifestation of principled dissent which has arisen, usually without much effect!

My main observations concern what one might term the structural and political aspects of principled and loyal dissent. In the mid 70’ies when the first significant opposition to official TEC policies began to emerge, an organization was formed called “Evangelical and Catholic Mission”: FiFNA is its present heir. It was an excellent title. Unfortunately those involved did not live up to the description provided. The emphasis which emerged was not on mission or formation, but all about structure, tactics and obstruction. Anger and resentment were encouraged and justified by the actions of those deemed the enemy. Granted those who held sway in TEC then – and now – replied in kind.

Principled dissent was not viewed as a vocation or a mission to revive and restore, but rather as a mechanism to use overseas Provinces and indeed archbishops of Canterbury as levers to exert pressure on General Convention and its leaders. The emphasis was on tactics and political means. The liberals in General Convention were much better at that game and won. I do not believe that Christ’s truth is usually won in ecclesiastical legislative assemblies.

As membership in dissenting groups dwindled, and groups fragmented, that sort of leverage became less and less effective. By 2003 even granted a new wave of those dissenting from TEC policy, the ability of principled dissenters to influence General Convention or a majority of bishops had diminished significantly. To a majority of Episcopalians dissenters within TEC had all the appearance of grumpy, bigoted and negative old people. Perhaps we have seen a similar dynamic in the recent election?

It therefore became inevitable that the main engines of dissent would become schismatic. Gone was any evidence of the original claim to be an Evangelical and Catholic mission to the church and to the world. Instead the strategy became the creation of a defensive fortress, separated from TEC but acknowledged by overseas Provinces. In a word we exported our divisions to the rest of the Communion and Gafcon is the result.

I have great hope that we will return to the original vocation of principled dissent. I see our vocation, for that I believe it is, to be that of encouragement, a sort of Barnabas mission. We may encourage by fellowship here particularly those who are isolated and young potential leaders and Anglicans abroad, by clearly proclaiming Christ and Him Crucified in a winsome manner, by providing instruction and apologetics using the best and most modern tools at our disposal, and by winning over moderate opinion among bishops and other clergy in our church who have been frightened into reluctant alliance with the left because we have been deemed extreme and rather nasty. In short our mission is of the same order as that which inspired the earlier Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics to win back the church for Christ while speaking in mission to the world: the ordinary mission of every Christian.

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