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DISCOVERY DOCTRINE

A few years before the Reformation began in England the Pope blessed the colonization efforts of Portugal and Spain as those countries “discovered” the New World and claimed sovereignty over lands, peoples and civilizations hitherto unknown. After the Reformation, or its first stage, England muscled in on colonization and in 1607 established a permanent settlement in what was called Virginia. I have written a booklet on the Jamestown Settlement which may be obtained from Forward Movement Publications.

I have seen no evidence to suggest that this small beginning of establishing a “British Empire” relied on any “doctrine” promulgated by the Roman Pontiff. One doubts seriously whether Elizabethan and Jacobean settlers, Anglicans or Puritans invoked or would have dreamed of invoking such a “doctrine”. English settlers in Virginia were inspired by commerical interests: they wanted to make their fortunes. The Puritans sought a place to establish their Godly Commonwealth. Insofar that either group saw it their duty to evangelize the indigenous population, they were inspired by their reading of God’s Word and by a sense of cultural superiority which is not dead today, even in the thinking of “liberals” who believe that they have been uniquely singled out by God to spread their Gospel of inclusion.Settlers or some of them “demonized” the culture of the “natives”. Demonization of cultures and people who do not conform to our “doctrines” is alive and well in our own church and by both extremes.

The impulse to wish to convert others to a more “Godly” way is not an exclusive prerogative of “evangelicals” or colonists. The mixture of religious fervor and cultural imperialism is not merely found among 16t Century Jesuits and Franciscans, 17th Century mercantile Anglicans or Wordly Puritans.

Granted that colonization involved much which is shameful and frightful, it is merely eccentric to damn out of hand the results of colonization. For an assembly of Christians, whose ancestors took land from Indigenous Americans or who have recently arrived on these shores to pass a resolution disassociated themselves from the actions of a Pope and colonists in other places seems to be eccentric at best and self-congratulatory at worst. Lacking time machines, we have no way to go back in time and right wrongs. Blanket condemnation of colonialism handily omits credit to the positive contribution of missionaries and merchants who brought advances in medical care, education and the very elements in what is termed “progress” so lauded in other contexts.

The problems we can and should address today are the residual negative effects of the evil of slavery and the dispossession of Native Americans whose plight remains a condemnation on our civilization and remains where our church exercises mission at this very moment. Go to the “reservations” in South Dakota, where we are closing churches and failing to fund measures to alieviate the medical and economic plight of brave a proud people. We spend so much time concentrating on sex and so little time and money on championing and advancing the lives of Native Americans and Hispanics.

Renouncing a “doctrine” which did not apply to Anglicans or what we did in North America may make us feel better. It is in fact a gesture which does nothing for those who are heir to both the best and the worst of “colonization”. We are Episcopalians because Anglicans landed in Jamestown. Americans for the most part, in law, language, political system and religion are heirs of those settlers. heirs to their hopes and their evils. Should General Convention denounce Jamestown and the impulse which brought English people to these shores? How may they do so without denouncing their identity and their country?  Doctrine of Discovery?  Nonsense.

TIME WARP

I live in a time warp. We are an hour behind South Bend time where the diocesan office is located. I have to remember that when going to see the Bishop. We only use Rite One at Mass here. The High Altar remains firmly in the “eastward” position. La Porte is a small Midwestern community, and large Victorian homes flank the roads around the stone church. My rectory adjoins the church building. I don’t even have to go outside to enter the sacristy. I always preach on the Propers and leave politics to the politicians. I have a good excuse. As I’ve only been in the US for just over forty years I haven’t had time to become a citizen let alone understand its odd form of government. We may have gay parishioners who attend. I don’t ask what people, gay or straight, do in their bedrooms.I have a weak stomach and anyway a gentleman wouldn’t.

Living as someone who believes that one must be in communion with the See of Canterbury as part of the Anglican Communion -communion is a much stronger word than federation and much clearer than “Church” – is for me instinctive and obvious. I have never believed that a “particular” church is omni-competent, not even the Church of England!   I find denominationalism unreasonable, unscriptural and untraditional. I believe that our Prayer Book contains the doctrine of the Church, expressed in the language of rite and in the Catechism.

By natural inclination and not virtue I am not inclined to shun those with whom I disagree, for I actually like people, all sorts and conditions of people and my experience informs my unwillingness to join “starter-churches”. I have many friends among those who have separated from TEC. Many of their clergy are heroic in ministry and could teach us a thing or two about building churches without external funds. I work in a diverse diocese in which we all manage to work together in great harmony, led by a pastoral, kind and orthodox bishop.

It is therefore easy for me to remain in TEC!  My “tolerance” comes at no great price. I am only challenged on line. Even then few vent their spleen in my direction and most who have share my own beliefs! There is an irony there.

I really feel for clergy and laity whose lot is not as fortunate as my own, who daily work in hostile environments, liberal or conservative and who must struggle against resentment and disillusion and often subtle and not so subtle persecution. I wish we could do something about this result of the narrowing of our comprehension and of our minds. I am sure that one of the real tests of just how Anglican our leadership really is will be demonstrated by whether provisions are now made to foster and safeguard the faith and ministry of Christians within TEC who do not find themselves able to receive the policies adopted at jurisdictional level, whether National Church or diocese. There was a time when our bishops thought it part of their job description to respect parochial integrity and tradition.

If, as I suspect, the Anglican Communion generally moves towards the adoption of a Covenant a way must be found for our “minority” to retain its full Anglican status and koinonia. Seven bishops will meet with the Archbishop of Canterbury shortly to discuss the plight of those of us who are hopelessly antediluvian. As I remember the last time seven bishops bucked the Establishment they were incarcerated in the Tower of London. Perhaps room is being prepared in a part of 815 for these new seven bishops!  Pray for them.

WHILE I WAS AWAY

I managed to be out of the country for most of the time General Convention met and for that period of reflection which came after the bishops and deputies returned to the reality of their respective homes and jobs. Of course even at a safe distance, in Yorkshire, Scotland and then County Durham, I heard and read of the decisions our leaders made for us. Mercifully not one of my relatives, well except for my older son, and he in passing, had the slightest interest in what TEC was up to in California. I was thus not drawn into the emotions surrounding TEC’s convoluted decisions to go it’s own way, wrapped in the mantle of exceptionalism and prophecy.
Towards the end of my stay in Durham, I did meet it’s Bishop a few times, unaware during our brief conversations that he exhibits megalomania ( as English Liberals in Changing Attitudes proclaim.)  Indeed Bishop Wright was approachable, humorous and very kind. But then I am an unashamed fan of his biblical writings and admire his integrity and purpose. It is not +Tom Wright who suggests that he is a prophet with a special message from God.
(My son Mark is now a priest in the Diocese of Durham, a lecturer at Cranmer Hall seminary and in the history department at the University there, as he reads for his doctorate and helps out in local parishes: the energy of youth!)
Again I am in the minority over here when I welcome the Archbishop of Canterbury’s measured and charitable response to the actions of General Convention on the ordination of partnered, sexually expressive persons of the same gender or the blessing, aka marriage, of same sex couples. I was amazed to read that some people didn’t understand what he was saying and that others thought he said too much. If one reads much of +Rowan’s work, the ideas of patience and civility come over with gentle firmness. The Archbishop obviously doesn’t think that drawing damning conclusions about behavior, however duplicitous, furthers conversation. He is not adopting the role of a Victorian father and ordering TEC and the Canadians from hearth and home, never to darken the doors of Lambeth Palace again. What he does say, again firmly and gently, is that actions have consequences and that those consequences cannot be evaded by equivocal or contradictory interpretations or an appeal to what were once described as “situation ethics.”  The consequence of going it alone is obviously a measure of disassociation, particularly if a Covenant is adopted by most of the Communion and rejected by General Convention.
American Episcopalians should not resent the fact that people overseas do not accept on face value claims that TEC has been uniquely singled out to teach the rest of the Communion God’s alleged new line on ethics. I remember being in Westminster Abbey as a young man. I was walking with a cleric of the Abbey when we saw a young fellow standing on a chair and addressing a group of bystanders. Michael approached the young man, who obviously was not a tour guide, and asked him who he was and what he was doing. He replied that he was a Latter Day Saint and was talking to his followers. Michael replied, “Stuff and nonsense!  If God had wanted to give a new revelation in the 19th. Century it would have been to an Englishman.”  Quite so.
Prophecy, we are informed by Scripture, is to be tested. At this moment most of the Communion, in varying degrees, is not convinced that what TEC prophesies is the authentic Word of God. TEC on the other hand, and its Canadian Anglican friends are convinced that the majority voice of a General Convention is an authentic expression of the will of the Holy Spirit. I suppose one might conclude that this theory is a sort of collectivized version of the Doctrine of Papal Infallibility, despite the fact that Anglicans have always held that the Church is indefectible but not infallible and that Councils do err, even ones which meet in California. One would be much happier if a trace of humility accompanied claims to Pneumatic Inspiration. But as with the matter of Health Care in the US, temperate reason has left our discourse, and partisans to the right of us and those to the left fire salvos at each other, shots which rarely hit home, but fly off over heads to hit those caught in a battle not of their making.
In a sense I am relieved that TEC has now charted its course. It is perhaps alarming to realize that one now belongs to a tiny minority in a largely monochrome church. It would be ironic if I found myself, once again, in a body out of communion with the wider Anglican world, a church whose leaders once chided me for being an Anglican in a “continuing church.”. God does have a sense of humor. In the meantime we must hope and pray that the Communion Partners Bishops take strength and require that faithful Anglicans in TEC be given a way to remain in communion with the See of Canterbury and space to get on with the task of talking about Jesus the Saviour.  We shall see. My son Mark believes that we should refrain from being distracted by issues and, emulating the Evangelicals and Tractarians who began to call the church back to mission as small groups of dedicated people without power or influence, get on with the work of evangelism.