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15 Things That Annoy Me

Scott Gunn of Forward Movement and Tom Ferguson of Bexley Hall have posted their dislike list in recent blogs. I thought I would follow their good examples and with them inherit the crown of glory.

1. Rumperty Tumperty hymns

2. Chasubles adorned with butterflies bearing the text “Kiss me Quick” or words to that effect.

3. Political advertisements

4,Come to think of it politicians

5. Grits

6. Committees, remembering the old saw that God only employed a committee once in creation. He asked the group to design a horse and they came up with a camel.

7. Sit-coms

8. American bacon, and yams and sweet potatoes.

9. Colored clergy shirts, except for black and purple, although I gave up the latter. (grin)

10. Loud and enthusiastic panelists on early morning TV shows.

11. Being asked if I am Australian (grin)

12. Proof texters, and who ever divided the Bible into chapters and verses.

13. Pop music and culture

14. People who demand to be asked to do that which they should do anyway.

15. Lists.

CULTURE AND FAITH

The debate about the influence of what is termed culture on faith lies behind most conflict in the contemporary Western Church. Of course it all depends on how one defines ‘culture’ and how one defines ‘faith’. Too often the debate is termed in simplistic and broad-brushed terms and inevitably in a blog one is inevitably drawn into that simplistic approach. No doubt when it comes to simplistic statements I’m well prepared for such engagement. I will now prove myself guilty.

 

Progressives, by their very title, readily assume that contemporary culture is moving in the right direction. A belief in the necessary triumph of progress assumes an ascent of humanity from darkness into light and justifies such a belief by developments in knowledge in a wide area of disciplines from science to social interaction. Phrases like social enlightenment trip easily off the tongue. Of course a belief in social progress means societal culture in an exclusive manner. To progressives, culture means the cultural norms which shape their opinions and exclude what conservatives mean by cultural norms. Progressives denounce the cultures which shape the thoughts and norms assumed by the Right and of course the religious Right.

 

Over against such a basic world view, religious and social conservatives, particularly in America, the Right asserts its own cultural norms  assumed by conservative faith communities as being both religious and national. One sees this clearly in conflicting views about the right to own weapons. It is obviously well nigh impossible to discuss gun control when one side sees the unlimited right to own weapons as a quasi religious right, enshrined in what is assumed to be a poitical right contained in an article of the Constitution in itself devoutly believed to be to a great extent Christian and enlightened and the other sees such a right to be a manifestation of an out-dated and regressive principle out of tune with progressive thought.

 

In such a debate one witnesses the clash between two cultures, each eager to lay claim to represent enlightenment. Both sides, if they are ‘religious’ assert that their position represents what God has in mind for a world possessed by truth, even if by ‘world’ is meant North American claims to cultural exceptionalism over against the cultures present elsewhere in the world. The debate between Left and Right is parochial and nationalistic. Both tend to rely on an uncritical assessment of the culture embraced, and attribute to their culture a definitive position on religious faith and practice. Oddly both anchor their national views in Enlightenment thought. In short hand, the principles espoused originate in the social and religious philosophies of the followers of John Locke and the primacy of individual conscience over against the doctrines and morals once believed to be the corporate function of the church’s right to   assert a corpus of doctrine and of how those doctrines assert themselves in the manner of life adopted by people of Faith.

 

Christianity developed initially in the lives of those who renounced their former cultures and national identities. Such a renunciation is to discovered formidably in the promises made at Baptism, formulae which included a rigid renunciation of all a convert experienced not only in terms of theology, but in the manner the convert would henceforth live life. To be a Christian involved a drastic abandonment of all the convert held dear. After AD 50, this meant for the Jew expulsion from Judaism, its ceremonial and purification rites and ceremonies. Like it or not, once Christianity obliged the Jew to associate with Gentiles in sacrament and fellowship, the break was final and abrupt and those who continued to attempt to remain Jews and Christians followed a path which led to exclusion, even from the Faith they sought to follow. They lost not only ritual purity but membership in their racial heritage.

 

Gentile converts faced a similar transformative experience. They became separated from the rituals of hearth and home, of temples, lifestyle and the very manner in which they framed their conduct. One cannot read Acts and the Epistles and the emergence of the Gospels without finding oneself in a world in which Jewish and Gentile converts struggled to belong to something utterly outside their experience. For the Gentile convert this would bring believers into conflict with the Empire. They were persecuted by the Imperial authority not so much because they believed in Jesus the Christ as a personal religion but because their religion was believed to assault the very foundations of Roman/Greek culture. Proclaiming “Jesus is Lord”  whether the convert was Jewish or Gentile was believed to be a rival cultural expression at war with what right-thinking people assumed as axiomatic. One could no longer be regarded as Jew or a Gentile with odd religious beliefs but part of culture.

 

There’s much talk nowadays about the heritage of a post-Constantine church, in which belonging to the prevailing culture and being a Christian merged. Certainly many in the post Constantine Church viewed mass conversions as a betrayal of the uniqueness of Christian Faith. Both the emergence of monasticism, in the Desert Fathers and mothers, and later attempts of the papacy to claim assert authority over Emperors and Kings involved a reaction against the submergence of Christendom to contemporary culture. By 1000AD in most parts of Christendom it was possible to believe that Faith and culture were intimately interlocked. There were, in short, no peoples to be evangelized. Christianity triumphed. The theory of a Christian nation reigned supreme. Baptismal promises, retained from the days of the Church’s emergence, remained embedded in the liturgies, but in practice they came to mean simply a desire to be good and to be good citizens. One sees this clearly in the Catechism devised by the English Church after the Reformation, which spends a great deal of space about honoring and obeying the monarch and a hierarchy of authority figures including not only parents, but teachers, clergy and ‘masters’.

 

The collapse of unitary Christendom in the West called for a new assessment of religious duty. Locke, for instance was formed in the confusion of Cromwellian England with its explosion of sects and a governmental attempt to impose a system of morality over and above the conflicting claims of the sects. Republicanism in England involved a turn from obedience to either Monarch or Church and people like Locke proposed a shift of obedience from King, Church and obedience to religious norms to that of the authority of enlightened personal conscience. At first this challenged the right of the church and its ministers to teach with authority and perform transformative sacramental actions. It did propose the idea that enlightened people were capable of constructing a national form of government, hedged about with guarantees of the liberty of the citizen and the freedom of the citizen to formulate personal belief. Thus the State existed to protect such liberties and to oppose the power of elites, whether national or religious to intrude in personal freedom. Christendom collapsed. Becoming a Christian involved no longer a renunciation of ‘the world, the flesh and the devil” but was rather a personal action of someone to adopt a form of religious life which had no real bearing on society other than a commitment to a voluntary form of living or ‘morality’.

 

If there was to be an Established Church, as in England, this ‘Whig” principle thought of the church as an adjunct of the State, a force for good and moral improvement -18th Century Whigs were much into moral improvement. America is the heir of this enlightened, progressive Whig philosophy, devoid of establishmentarianism, and of a view that enlightened humans, as individuals possess an internal moral compass which needs no assertive or exclusive religious component. The churches had their separate role and were free to frame the ‘religious’ lives and morality of their members as long as they made no claim to possess an authority based on an apostolic authority with exclusive claims on culture and society. Americans still worry that a Roman Catholic, or Muslim or Mormon President might be conflicted in his or her approach to the American Constitution. While this concern is of lesser impact than it was fifty years ago, a demonstration of how deeply the idea that religion is optional and personal and thus of no threat to anyone is now centered, those who voice concerns about the religious views of the Chief Magistrate represent surviving segments of a belief that liberty is described and limited by some form of external religious authority, whether Roman Catholic, Evangelical, Mormon or Muslim.

 

This development in culture and its norms presents extraordinary dilemmas for Christians. Is ‘culture’ the primary locus of progress? In what manner does being a Christian demand a renunciation of the world views and ways of life practiced in general in contemporary culture? In a post Christian world, at least in the West, where does a Christian locate primary allegiance and at what cost? These questions and many more lie at the root of our internal Christian conflict. It is clear that the religious Right and Left are both in their own way formed and shaped by Locke’s philosophy and a Whig approach to human conscience and behavior. Perhaps Right and Left in the church would benefit from a common study of their roots and a re-evaluation of the otherness of the church placed firmly in the world but not of the world.

GENERAL CONVENTION: A RETROSPECT

The three-yearly jamboree we term “General Convention” is now history until next time. Interestingly the blogosphere seems more interested on whether TEC is in terminal decline, ready for hospice care, or whether a further injection of “progressivism” will produce a miraculous cure than on what General Convention actually accomplished. As someone else has remarked, most of us resemble cheer leaders for one side or the other. For overseas readers, cheerleaders are athletic women and sometimes men, who entertain the crowd during those interminable intervals during a sports event, and scream and yell unqualified approval for their team during the moments when something is actually happening. Very little written has actually addressed what General Convention actually did. I would address these achievements in three main categories: Sexual ethics, Structural Renewal, Social Commentary. I have no idea what proportion of the time available was devoted to the latter consideration of hundreds of resolutions commenting on issues of special import in an election year. It is assumed that these solemn proclamations will influence presidents, prime ministers, and elected officials and inspire the electorate. In truth, they remind one of the old rhyme, “I shot an arrow in the air. It came to ground I know not where.”

 

For the truth is that none of those for whom our messages are aimed, take the slightest bit of notice of the collective wisdom of bishops, other clergy and laity  assembled in General Convention. The old days when Episcopalians were among the rich and powerful are long gone. I also suspect that there is also some inkling that our chief synod  is neither “general” nor a “convention”: that is to say it is not representative and it doesn’t come together, but rather it demonstrates our fractured nature. Certainly it is more of a coming together than was true a decade ago, when traditionalists were a larger minority. However the Episcopal Church in its parishes is not nearly as progressive as its representatives to General Convention. In that sense General Convention isn’t “general” at all and it does not bring together accurately the beliefs and practices of its constituents.

 

The rapid decline in at least counted parishioners and the accompanying loss of revenue has finally been noted. Even four years ago apologists were still observing that “numbers” weren’t everything, or that the losses of the preceding decade were a temporary hiccup and that numbers would increase now that those previously excluded from the church began to avail themselves of a Christian body friendly to their self-identity and lifestyle. Perhaps it would be expected that a church body so caught up in its competence to effect change for itself, a church enamored by human capability rather than Divine sovereignty, would finally become aware of its plight as it comprehended its economic problems. Few parishes and missions have not been affected by loss of revenue, a loss partly caused by the recession, but also caused by a dwindling active constituency. It is perhaps at parish level that the crisis is seen in its full dimensions. So many congregations live off their dead, and the resources left by the dead are being used up at an alarming rate. If a congregation can raise the money to pay a priest, provide medical insurance to the family and a pension, it is more and more likely that the effort will take a good deal more than half the available income from all sources. Add to that the upkeep of moldering Victorian piles or concrete horrors swiftly constructed in the sixties, and little of nothing remains for program and outreach. Congregations turn in on themselves in a desperate bid to survive. People drop away, tired of constant canvasses to entice them to give more than they already do. The very fact that parishes have to put on yearly “dog and pony” shows to get people to do what they know they should be doing, speaks to a spiritual exhaustion. Of course the plight of the parishes affects dioceses, dioceses struggling with fewer congregations and often attempting to provide services to a collective membership throughout smaller than that found in a Southern Baptist Sunday School. Thus the risks trickle up to what is termed “the national church”. This past General Convention has decided to form a Task Force to address this real crisis. It may perhaps be true to reflect that upon its success lies the future of the Episcopal Church as we have known in. No essentially spiritual problem – and the crisis of morale is a spiritual problem – may be resolved by structural tinkering. A leaner and stream-lined structure won’t be of much use unless it is a vehicle for what we used to term revival and revival is an act of God and not of strategic planning.

 

The third area of achievement for this past General Convention was in the area of Sexual Ethics. During the past half century society has gleefully created categories of tribes of human beings, defined by their sexual preference. These groupings are to be treated as inclusive ‘types’ of human beings, as distinct from other groupings as tribes were once distinct. Each group is afforded a sexual ethic. Thus individuals approach the subject of sexual behavior not as individuals but as members of a self-assigned group which has created for itself sets of acceptable and unacceptable behavior. At the same time these groups have campaigned to get institutions like the church and the state to accept the reality of each group and to further accept its group ethic. In a sense there is nothing new in all this. The rub comes when words and the concepts such words denote are apprehended and re-defined in a manner which obscures definitions previously agreed upon.

 

Two such groups came before General Convention and asked the church to validate its authenticity based on its own self-description and provide avenues for members of these groups to employ descriptions which at present have formal and very ancient definitions . So General Convention decided that transgendered people should enjoy the same right to serve the church as ordained or lay leaders as all others. On a personal note I would add that it must be very hard for a person who has come to believe that their physical  form doesn’t portray who they believe themselves to be. I gather that a transgendered person isn’t in essence what is termed a cross-dresser, someone who likes to wear the clothes of the opposite sex. Indeed some post-operation transgendered people have had their bodies re-framed to correspond to the gender they believe they ought to have had from birth. It is obviously a complex issue, and medical science and ethics struggles to keep up with developments. I very much doubt whether the bishops and deputies at General Convention were prepared intellectually or spiritually to address the matter.

 

The other major excursion into including groups of people who self-identify as  a kind or type of human being, was the adoption of legislation to provisionally permit bishops to allow the use of a service of “Blessing” by which persons of the same-sex or gender may agree to enter a life-long, faithful, monogamous relationship. The provisional rite permitted contains elements hitherto associated with marriage itself, such as the use and exchange or rings, vows taken “until death”, a blessing by a member of the clergy all usually in the context of the Eucharist. To differentiate such a rite from the marriage rite it has been necessary to construct a definition and justification which most observers may be excused if they find it opaque. Despite the fact that diocesan bishops may refuse to permit the provisional use of such a rite, as may parish priests and or vestries, there now emerges a group of people in our midst whose    status is acknowledged not because of its general or common nature, but precisely because this group is different.

 

One of the problems which arises from the acknowledgement of a group ethos distinct but recognized is that the basic Christian tenet that we are both one Body and also individual ‘members’ thereof is overtaken by a theory of self-describing group adherence, in which that which is different plays as important part as what is the same. When St. Paul insisted that there was no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free person, male or female he was proclaiming our individual equality through baptism by which we have died to the old and emerged as members of the Body, each, true, with individual charisms, but no longer dominated by what we once were.

 

How would the church have responded to individual transgendered people before it recognized a group category? How would the church have responded to two people of the same-sex who lived together all their lives before such people became a group? Perhaps the creation of groups, like unions, is a necessary political act, one which the larger community should permit and encourage. To my mind the problem changes when the larger community, in our case, the church decides to incorporate the group as a necessary and laudable, if distinct ‘tribe’ within the wider community. As Anglicanism has experienced to its great loss, when parties, self-describing distinct associations of Christians regard their identity and theologies and ethics as something over and apart from the whole, the church, the Body further divides. To my mind General Convention is defining and establishing such groups, based on sexual desire and preference in a manner never afforded for instance to Anglo-Catholics or Evangelicals. Divisions divide. Try as I may, protest my oneness with my African-American friends, while I at the same time live into a self-description of my whiteness, my oneness with a Black neighbor is limited. Driven by the laudable and Christian impulse to include, as a church we are creating division by admitting the existence of people who describe themselves as different. What we fail to understand is that the mission of the Church is to gather all ‘nations’ into unity, a unity in which our common identity “in Christ” transcends gender, race, class, language or national origin. Our desire to be only accepted by other Anglicans on the basis of our self-identity and ethos is one of a piece with our willingness to bless and authenticate group self-definition and corporate autonomy. In short the uniqueness of a group is not in what it can offer in unity with the whole, but rather in what it can distinctly claim for itself, difference overcomes sameness. We collectively lament the divisions in society while at the same time encouraging the creation of distinct divisions of people in our own fellowship.

 

I don’t expect the loss of  a huge number of parishioners as a result of General Convention. Most have already left, a wider group clings to its self-description as Episcopalian but seldom if ever attend church and those of us who think the church has gone stray who stay in make shift for our survival. I don’t expect a large influx of progressive people either. Losses or gains will not command the narrative. Our ability to reform our structures may help some. It is what God is about that will matter and that remains to be seen.

HANGING ON

I firmy believe that yesterday the bishops of the Episcopal Church walked through a door which leads their church into unknown territory. That door is at the end of a long passage way down which they have been strolling for some years. The passage way was adorned with appealing and enticing pictures and murals depicting views of a new world, exciting, transforming, a veritable Eden. Finally, yesterday they unlocked the door and strolled out.

 

One may suppose that they wandered into the passage way at the beginning of the 1960s. Fifty years later, now much older , grayer, arm in arm with younger disciples they have reached their Promised Land. As the dean of Wycliffe Seminary remarked at the end of a ’round table’ discuss hosted by the Living Church magazine, “The Episcopal Church is now a liberal church.” There it is. Of course to believe that there is such a thing as a liberal church one must first be a denominationalist, someone who believes there is nothing at all odd about Christians living in exclusively brand name fellowships and further that there is nothing odd about describing such groupings as Churches with a capital C, and in believing that such groupings are free to construct and develop themselves in any way they please.

 

Denominationalism is a fairly modern variety of Christian expression. Its origins may be found in the religious revolution we call the Reformation. At least in the case of Anglicanism this was not an intended destination. Our Reformers intended to reform, clean up, the Church in England. Yet the seeds of denominationalism were already there. In formulating, making clear, adherence to definitions of aspects of Christianity, rather than affirming matters common to Christian belief in general, they propounded theories which automatically differentiated themselves not only from non-Christians but also in distinction with other Christians. They were not Roman Catholics. But soon they were not radical Protestants either. Those who didn’t agree set up rival bodies which stressed their distance from what would become Anglicans. Intending to be other than ‘Roman” Catholics, they opened the door to a religious world inhabited by a growing number of bodies which were unlike Anglicans, and unlike each other.

 

Now to be fair, Anglicanism did its best to be inclusive, to permit a fairly wide breadth of internal dissent in order, if possible to comprehend as many non-Roman Catholics as possible. Yet the very effort to comprehend diversity disgusted those who wanted a pure church. Comprehension not only united. It divided. Nor were Anglicans consistent in their comprehension. Notoriously in 1662 Anglicanism drew a line, and created the age of denominationalism as those ejected from the national church set up church for themselves. Yet even within the limits created in 1662, a form of liberality continued and often blossomed. Our tradition didn’t achieve such liberality by conscious policy, by adopting and incorporating officially the tenets espoused by movements such as Latitudinarianism, or Evangelicalism, or Anglo Catholicism. The reverse was true. Anglicanism retained its descriptive tenets. It just shied away from officially defining controversial opinions . There developed a tradition by which the official organs of the church took care not to impose measures and theological opinions which might break the consciences and hearts of those who were loyal participants in Anglican life and worship.We were proud to state that we were a broad church and safeguarded our breadth by permitting variety. Of course we were free to challenge and dissent from those within our fellowship who advanced and practiced beliefs and practices with which we disagreed. We often did so with gusto. This led to great untidiness of the variety abhorrent to those who needed clarity or demanded uniformity. Others thought comprehension was our greatest weakness and suggested we advanced the concept of unity above doctrinal and liturgical coherence. While many came to us because of our liberality, others left us because they couldn’t abide our diversity.

 

In opposition to our vision of a comprehensive church, there arose that extraordinary phenomenon called the denomination, groupings of Christians who embraced conformity to a Cause, often the ideas of founders formulated in confessional documents. Throughout the Western world and formidably in the United States a veritable shopping mall of religious bodies arose, subdivided, occasionally came together with others. Each peddled its wares and attempted to attract new people to its fellowship. This was a throughly consumerist version of Christianity. Each sold its product, maintained brand loyalty and survived or declined on the basis of market share. I have written elsewhere about how this pattern of religious competition is in swift decline. Fewer and fewer people exist in contemporary America who are floating Christians in search of a religious body in which they may fit in.

 

During the past century and more formidably in the past fifty years the Episcopal Church has abandoned notions of comprehension, of mutual respect for difference, as it has set its sight on becoming a denomination, a brand name termed “progressive”. It has become liberal but not in the older sense of liberality. And so the Dean of Wycliffe Hall states that the Episcopal Church is now a “Liberal Church” and wonders whether there is now space for those who are excluded by the official actions of our governing body. Another seminary Dean, Dr Ian Markham, asks the same question in an excellent blog posted yesterday: http://centeraisle.net/2012/07/09/from-todays-issue-general-convention-needs-genuine-diversity/.

 

I don’t want to write here about the specifics of the issues which now make some of us, a small minority, “provisional Episcopalians” except to say that at least for me this is not a matter of  inclusion. The church is for all the baptized. I heed Archbishop Ramey’s warning that if we begin to exclude people because we think they are sinners, we should be excluded for indulging in the deadliest of sins, that of pride. A pure church this side of the grave is an empty church.

 

There are, of course, measures which could be taken to encourage those of us who are now on the margins of what was once a generous Catholicity. They would be radical, newfangled, untidy, would break traditions of jurisdiction and authority, but such problems haven’t deterred us from the revisions we have adopted during the past half century. Inclusion means more than a minimal tolerance for those deemed intolerably unenlightened. Inclusion means encouragement, it means refusing to erect barriers to growth and survival.

 

I would also note that all our efforts to reverse our decline, to stream line our governance, will ultimately fail if we, by our denominationalism, alienate that large proportion of the population which is not in tune with our ‘progressive activism’. In an age divided by ideology, by class, by wealth versus poverty, by the atomizing of the family and the community we have chosen to be the designer church of the few. That was never the Anglican dream.

NINE BISHOPS ACCUSED

By now it’s generally known that complaints have been brought against nine bishops of the Episcopal Church and that these bishops, including three diocesans and one suffragan are being investigated. It is not clear whether these investigations are being conducted by a person or persons unknown, or by persons selected by the committee charged with reviewing such complaints and making the decision whether the complaints rise to a level where the bishops should be formally accused and brought to trial in an ecclesiastical court. Thus it is not only a matter of nine members of the House of Bishops being complained against. Two other aspects are of note. No one knows for sure who has brought their complaints to the “input officer”, Bishop Clay Matthews. Secondly this is the second time this new process has been invoked and it is obviously therefore a test of the efficacy of the system adopted in 2009 by General Convention in its sweeping reform of  the disciplinary Canons (laws). It is not unreasonable to suggest that in addition to the nine bishops, the very process itself is now brought to the fore and tested.

The level of discretion which may be exercised by the Intake Officer seems unclear. May this officer decide not to investigate complaints, or must he -in this case it is a “he” –  decide to ignore a complaint? The purpose of permitting any Episcopalian to bring a formal complaint against another while covering her or himself under a cloak of anonymity was to provide protection to people who complain that they have been abused in some sense. Obviously in cases of alleged abuse, some protection ought to be afforded. However the nine bishops are not accused of abusing a person or persons unknown. If indeed the Intake Officer has minimal discretion and the complainants protected as to their identity, obvious abuse of the system seems inevitable even in a Christian church! As there seem to be no sanctions available to be brought against malicious or frivolous complaints, nothing prevents the misuse of the system. The ‘accused’ face public exposure of themselves to suspicion while the accusers remain secure in their anonymity unless they go public.

I can only think of two precedents in Anglican history where such a multitude of bishops were singled out for discipline for defying authority, for that is what the nature of the charges seem to imply. Elizabeth I deposed almost all of the sitting diocesan bishops when they refused to consecrate her nominee to be Archbishop of Canterbury. James II attempted to depose seven bishops including the Archbishop of Canterbury because they refused to permit their clergy to read from their pulpits a Declaration of Indulgence permitting Roman Catholics to serve as officers in the army and in the ancient universities. The seven were brought to trial, found not guilty and shortly thereafter the King was deposed. Charging nine bishops with violating  their ordination oaths to uphold the discipline of the Episcopal Church is thus an extraordinary event, unprecedented in the history of the Episcopal Church.

What complaint has been brought? In the territory of two dioceses of this church, where a majority of parishes have sought to withdraw from the church, those who remain loyal to TEC are fighting in the courts to retain the property of those who have departed. The accused bishops signed “friends of the court” briefs in which they stated that they do not believe that the national church is legally competent to possess the real property and assets of the seceding parishes and dioceses. The brief they signed is limited to the matter of whether the Canons of General Convention are able to claim such property. Indeed the bishops opined that these dioceses and parishes should not leave TEC. The complainants seem to be arguing that this is an issue in which dissent is not permitted and if expressed formally, such an expression constitutes what might be termed an act of rebellion against TEC, a violation of the vows taken at ordination.

What is being suggested is that open opposition to the rules adopted by General Convention in the form of canonical amendments is of the same order as an open and formal renunciation, for instance of core doctrine. One of the proposals before General Convention involves persons dissenting from the established doctrine of Christian marriage contained in the Prayer Book and Canons. Thus one may conclude that doctrinal dissent is of a lesser order than structural dissent. Indeed there is a resolution to be debated at General Convention which would require that duly elected bishops be examined as to their doctrinal purity as to the ownership of property. Such bishops are not to be grilled about whether they may break Canon Law about communicating the unbaptized, a clear violation of the canons.

Now mercifully I’m not in a position to have to decide whether I support local ownership of property over national ownership of property. And of course underlying the issue is not a property dispute but the question of what is the appropriate response of a Christian body in which a majority adopts measures that violate the consciences of a minority, a minority which happens to cleave to that which the church has taught up until the time when a majority changes the rules. If it is not permissible for bishops to dissent over the ownership of property on the basis that it was not ever thus, whether their opinion is correct or wrong-headed then surely the right of persons, even bishops to dissent from existing doctrine, discipline or forms of worship should be equally inadmissible?

One may hope, for the sake of all, that an investigation will conclude that the nine bishops have not abandoned their oaths. If these bishops are formally charged and brought to trial any hope of reconciliation will disappear and that at a time when our passions ought to be centered on institutional reform and evangelism. It will be interesting to see in what manner the bishops assembling in Indianapolis this week react to nine of their colleagues being exposed to investigation, their loyalty to this church brought into question. Our bishops and deputies ought to be concerned about the lack of transparency the Title 4 canons invoke. It is all very well to suggest,as some now do, that this is a tempest in a coffee pot because the complaints will fail. I am not so sanguine that we may easily restore things to the status quo ante. The act of taking these complaints forward, of suggesting that there may be a case to be heard, indicates the collapse of comprehension, one of the hallmarks of the Anglican Tradition.

I should make it clear that I do not write this piece as an unaffected person. My bishop is among the accused. Just over a year into his episcopate he is restoring diocesan morale and challenging us to mission. He is greatly admired. I am reminded of something an old Scottish atheist said to me when I was a young cleric. “Beware of principled persons” he said, “They are often unprincipled about their principles” Those involved in these complaints seem so obsessed with what they believe they have suffered that they are quite prepared to permit loyal Episcopalians whose pastors are being dragged into the glare of publicity to undergo months of insecurity in order to make a point. This may be good politics, but it’s wretched Christianity.