Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Better Christians

In a succinct statement, the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church today affirmed the House of Bishops' response to the provisions of the Anglican Primates' Dar Es Salaam Communiqué and spoke quite clearly to the heart of the dynamic fomenting the unpleasant climate in the Anglican Communion at the present time:
Assertions of authority met by counter-assertions of polity are not likely to lead to the reconciliation we seek.
I find it compelling to note that all of this comes immediately on the heals of behavior and rhetoric centered around the arrogant assertion made repeatedly by leaders in various places angry with The Episcopal Church. Archbishop Nzimbi of the Anglican Church of Kenya made it pithily in his statement released yesterday regarding the founding of the North American Anglican Coalition (NAAC), the newest addition to the alphabet Anglican network soup in North America:
Tragically, the Episcopal Church has refused to provide adequate care for the faithful who continue steadfastly in "the faith once delivered to the saints."
Pardon me, but we are all Christians here, serious about our devotion to the faith we have received, to taking Holy Scripture seriously, and above all to following Christ. To say or imply knowingly who's faithful here and who isn't is to risk the primordial sin of pride.

The Executive Council tried once again to make this clear with their latest statement. The House of Bishops still has much before them prior to September 30th, including the potential for trying yet again to offer effective pastoral provisions for the disaffected in this Church. Yes, again. There seems much both implied and said on the "other side" that nothing has been attempted and that the Primate's "pastoral scheme" offered in February was the only way forward. That's nonsense. Katharine Jefferts Schori was offering potential structures of alternative oversight only a few months into her term as Presiding Bishop. They were summarily dismissed. I hope this will be made clear to the Archbishop of Canterbury when he visits the House in September. Then, perhaps it has been already.

In a more purely political (but much-needed) move, Executive Council, with Resolution NAC-023, declared toothless the recent removal of accession clauses from a handful of diocesan constitutions:
Any amendment to a diocesan constitution that purports in any way to limit or lessen an unqualified accession to the constitution of The Episcopal Church is null and void, and be it further resolved that the amendments passed to the constitutions of the dioceses of Pittsburgh, Fort Worth, Quincy and San Joaquin, which purport to limit or lessen the unqualified accession to the constitution of The Episcopal Church are accordingly null and void and the constitutions of those dioceses shall be as they were as if such amendments had not been passed.
Our governance as a Church is what it is. There is simply no need to enshrine dissent by posing conflicting local constitutions over and against provincial ones. Heaven knows there's hardly a diocese in the Episcopal Church that follows every canon to the letter. The vast majority of dioceses simply do their best to follow, occasionally objecting strenuously to the provisions they disagree with and trying to change them through the due and prayerful process, however imperfect, our Church uses to discern God's will.

The bishops of the dioceses above are put, in some measure, on notice by this resolution. In a more draconian Church, a number of them would have been issued presentments long ago. Some wish that it were so. The majority of the Church has, thus far, tried to be more generous in its dealing with these dioceses, if for no other reason because canons, of course, are not the be-all and end-all of it. Pursuing purity of canons at any level can risk becoming idolatrous. Canons, at their best, serve in good part to bound our common life in ways that cultivate our remaining in relationship in Christ, particularly in times of conflict and disagreement. Like right now.

So Executive Council hit the nail on the head yet again with this in their statement:
As important as we hold our polity, the questions before us now are fundamentally relational.
There is no room for talk of schism or threats if we are really to settle the questions of how to remain in community, even as Christians who do not (and almost certainly will not) agree on everything.

And this, likewise:
The only thing we really have to offer in that relationship is who we are -- a community of committed Christians seeking God's will for our common life. . .we are, whether we wish it or not, God's gift to each other.
Sadly, reading again the tired accusations and objectification that continues to accumulate around the Anglican blogosphere, it is easy to predict how the Executive Council's statement will be met and derided in some quarters: cynical, hollow, disingenuous, and the like.

So be it. Personally knowing a number of a fine souls and intentions, not to mention diverse perspectives on Executive Council, I cannot believe any of these accusations would be even remotely accurate.

I must confess I yearn for something truly new and life-giving to appear in Anglican blogosphere land over these questions. The time for all of this rancor is passing, if it has not passed already.

It strikes me now that this will all end for each of us as Anglican Christians and as communities of faith in one of two ways:

  • Either we will decide to stop pursuing the specks in each other's eyes and tend to the logs in our own, offering our best selves to each other and articulating what we hope for in the relationships we share: that is the relationships -- flawed, messy, and difficult at times, but intentionally nurtured with all the love we can muster -- that already exist between us in God in Christ;
  • Or we will continue to forward the prideful and sometimes hateful agenda of threats, counter-threats, splintering, and faction building as we pose our own impoverished sense of righteousness against everyone else.

Either way, as Mark Harris points out, we will remain Christians, imperfect and sharing bread, even if not with each other.

But one path appears to me, at least, more fruitful and of the Spirit, and I daresay Christian, than the other.


13 comments:

obadiahslope said...

Richard,
It seems to me that the Primates were attempting an answer to the question "how do we reamin in communion". Your HoB and now Ec have said they do not favour the primate's scheme. That does leave the question the Archbishop of Canterbury, possibly anticipating the EC response, posed recently: if the primates schem is unsatisfactory what is the TEC proposing instead? It is a serious question that deserves better than sumarrising the debate so far, surely.

R said...

Obadiah,

As I said previously (I think this is the third time, at least on this blog), September has not arrived yet, and the House of Bishops hopes to formulate and offer an alternative, at least to the ABC when he visits.

Of course, that all presumes that the dissenting dioceses would want the scheme. They've been offered one before (within the bounds of The Episcopal Church), and they summarily rejected it.

It's no good appealing to the Primates if they try to implement a scheme that a) violates the internal integrity of the Episcopal Church. It's no good for the House of Bishop's to propose a scheme if b) those appealing for "alternative primatial oversight" refuse to negotiate within the boundaries of this Province.

Meanwhile, some Primates are moving ahead with setting up a de facto parallel Province.

Now I ask you, just who is negotiating in bad faith here? I think at best, we can say both sides. But I'm not so sure that's the case. But, then, my biases are plain to see already.

obadiahslope said...

Now that the EC and HoB have spoken definitively about the primates' scheme, I think it is reasonable to ask for an update on alternative.
This is not a petulant demand for answers, rather a simple "well, how is your search going?".
I have not read elsewhere that the Hob has committed to offering an alternative to the ABC? Do you know if this is a firm committment - it would be heartening if it was.
It may be that both the GS and TEC efforts to reach out to each other are doomed to fail, but it is imprtant in light of all you say in your OP that we continue to try.

R said...

I'm not holding out much hope for reconciliation in the near future with the GS. Actions of late have been so aggressive as to amount to an ecclesiastical civil war (thankfully not as physically violent as secular ones). However, there is always a sliver of hope, though it may hinge on some turnover in the Primates first.

Anyway, opinion is always free, right?

I can't cite chapter and verse to you either re: evidence of what members of the HoB are hatching. I can offer you a sense I got from my own bishop that they left Camp Allen in full recognition that they were not done with addressing the Communiqué, and discussions (likely private) were ongoing ahead of the next HoB meeting.

With that in mind, and having some trust in Katharine Jefferts Schori and a number of our key bishops at present, I think they would agree with me that it would be more than rude to meet with the ABC without having some alternative on the table -- not merely for him, of course, but held out to our own who have called for Alternative Primatial Oversight. I will be very surprised if we don't see, as we approach September, glimmers of a counter-proposal.

Of course I am assuming that those calling for AlPO will still be at table, or a number of them at least. What is disheartening to making additional efforts is that a few of the most vocally disgruntled bishops (+Iker and +Schofield) didn't even show up for the HoB meeting in March.

I think the reality is that if there will be acceptance of an internal model by those it will most affect, it will need some substantial buy-in from the ABC and Primates. From that angle, it's easier to understand why the ABC was "discouraged" by our HoB's response.

The flip side is this: as I read the history, whenever the Instruments of Unity have been appealed to in order to settle an intra-provincial issue, they have been appealed to by the whole province not just a handful of dissenters.

This is another key component of the problem right now. Our most disgruntled dioceses and bishops want this matter settled by the Primates and other Instruments of Unity (and to some degree, to hell with the internal leadership of The Episcopal Church). The Episcopal Church has not officially (via General Convention) asked for such intervention. Hence it was rightly viewed as foisted upon us. As Dan Martins posted today, that's a very good way to tickle up an articulation of old American autonomy, for better or for worse. That's what they got.

Anyway, more analysis from my end than you bargained for, I'll say!

obadiahslope said...

Richard,
yes more than I bargained for!
I hope you are right and your HoB works on an alternative care proposal to give to the ABC when he visits them.
I suspect CANA/AMiA etc will become a semi-permanent fact of life like CESA in South Africa. However a very good proposal from the HoB may in time give (some)primates room to reconsider.

Bystander said...

If I were one of the "disgruntled", I certainly wouldn't trust the leaders of TEC to protect and include my beliefs by themselves.
When women's ordination was first allowed, diocese were allowed to refuse, now the rules have been changed so its the law and not a matter of personal understanding. The same will happen with active gays in the priesthood and same sex blessings,and probably everything else the conservatives dislike. In a few years, those who oppose it will have no choice.

Is it true the powers that be frown upon(or is it ban)the use of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer? Why, if the church is still the same church with the same "faith once delivered"?
Conservative priests are refused votes on becoming bishops and issued presentaments against them for crossing state lines, but Bishops Spong has denied major parts of the faith(Christ is not devine, didn't rise, etc.) and not been punished and Bennison knew of his brothers actions with a minor and did nothing and isn't being punished for that, just money. I wouldn't trust TEC to be fair to me if I were them. I'm not personally involved in this fight, but I'm not surprised they reached for help from outside. They already know how the game is played here.

R said...

Dear bystander,

Long response, but you raise important questions.

I do think some clarification is in order here.

First, no bishop is obliged to ordain anyone. That is a matter of pastoral discretion. What the canons do say is that no one can be denied discernment for Holy Orders a priori on the basis of race, age (within certain limits), gender, or sexual orientation. Bishops are still at liberty as far as the canons go to deny ordination to gays or lesbians living in relationships. They are also at liberty to deny ordination to, quite frankly, anyone they wish.

Here is the exact language:

No person shall be denied access to the discernment process for any
ministry, lay or ordained, in this Church because of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, disabilities
or age, except as otherwise provided by these Canons. No right to licensing, ordination, or election is hereby established.


(III.1.2)

Two things: note that this canon governs discernment only, and with that also note especially the last sentence. Holy Orders are not a right for anyone in this Church.

In finding a way to live with this canon, it is my understanding that, at least prior to recent schismatic actions, the Diocese of Fort Worth had the "Dallas Plan" which involved sending women who were interested in discerning for ordained ministry to the Diocese of Dallas right next door. I disagree with this notion because it seems to me that it treats women as second-class Christians, but I also am uncomfortable with legislating against conscience.

A better argument for your concerns might be made using Canon III.9.6:

No Priest shall preach, minister the Sacraments, or hold any public
service, within the limits of any Diocese other than the Diocese in which the Priest is canonically resident for more than two months without a license from the Ecclesiastical Authority of the Diocese in which the Priest desires to so officiate. No Priest shall be denied such a license on account of the Priest's race, color, ethnic origin, sex, national origin, marital status,sexual orientation, disabilities, or age, except as otherwise provided in these canons. Upon expiration or withdrawal of a license, a priest shall cease immediately to officiate.


(emphasis added)

One could read this if, for example, a woman priest entered a diocese opposed to the ordination of women, the bishop, barring no other reason, would be obliged to license her.

Again, as I understand it in Fort Worth, part of the "Dallas Plan" or a related policy was that in these cases -- or when women clergy were called by a particular parish -- they would exercise their ministry under the authority of another Bishop. So pastoral provision was made without giving up the principle. An Anglican compromise, again not one I entirely like, but that's me. There's room for it in The Episcopal Church.

As for the 1928 Book of Common Prayer I can think of at least one parish in this diocese that uses it with the pastoral understanding of the bishop.

The 1979 prayer book was adopted after years of trial use across the Church. It did not happen, nor was it "imposed" over night. In the canons, it is called the "standard Prayer Book of this Church." Other canons articulate it as the "authority" of the Church -- that is, it constitutes the standard theological and liturgical authority of the broader church. There is no explicit prohibition of the 1928 BCP or any other liturgical text, hence they can conceivably (and are) used by various communities at various times under pastoral provision.

I will grant that there probably have been draconian policies dispensed by bishops on occasion (both "liberal" and "conservative.") My central point is that these are pastoral questions more than canonical ones.

I suppose you can invoke unusual cases like Spong and Bennison and accuse TEC of hypocrisy. Fair enough. I know both cases are more complex than how you depict them here, and matters of money and property are always easier (being concrete and mathematically measurable) to deal with when it comes to misconduct. Also, the bar for presentment in the Church is quite high, both financially and as a matter of discernment involving the House of Bishops. Unlike Roman Catholicism, the order of a senior bishop to depose another is not possible in our Church.

Put more simply, if you are expecting a perfectly consistent Church, you won't find it here. Sorry.

Finally -- on the point of the "faith once delivered," there is a deeper categorical difference in understanding what that means. My sense of some in the Church -- possibly including a number of the most disgruntled at the present time -- is that this means a series of assertions codified, quite frankly, in no particular location, but including various passages of Scriptures, the Creeds, and Church teachings over the centuries.

I find this, quite frankly, a most untenable definition for the simple reason it involves a peculiar reading of history and claims consistency of our Catholic tradition that simply does not exist.

Anglicanism has, historically, kept such articulations of faith very simple. At most, the provisions of the Nicene Creed, and a general assertion that demands constant discernment in the community: that Holy Scriptures contain everything necessary for salvation. The Book of Common Prayer is the primary source of unity, as much as a resource of unified worship as a doctrinal document.

Even then, intellectual assent to these seems an unmeasurable quantity in anyone else other than myself. And defining belief this way strikes me as two-dimensional and very ungraceful. It rules out grace for those who cannot give intellectual assent, ranging from those wrestling with various matters at times to those who simply cannot offer assent because of disability, age, or other factors.

A more vibrant definition of "the faith once delivered," strikes me as living in relationship with the Word: Jesus Christ. He is the faith once delivered, the Way for Christians to emulate and follow. All else is secondary.

That leaves lots of wiggle room, I know. But it leaves room for those who wish to literalize the Creed as well as those who quiestion and wrestle with some of its provisions and for all of them to remain in community as the Body of Christ around the dominical sacraments, the hearing of our common Scripture, and praying out of our rich tradition.

Faith, it seems to me, has so much more to do with relationship and matters of the heart than mere intellectual assent.

obadiahslope said...

Richard,
Bystander raised the Spong issue. Bishop Spong is shortly to visit my diocese, for the fifth or sixth time, preach at a wordship service without being licensed to do so. As you said above, TEC is somewhat hypocritical in allowing this to happen while complaining about border crossing. Spong will issue the normal barbed comments making it clear that people should not stay in the local branch of the communion that made him a bishop. sigh.

R said...

Obadiah,

First to canonical matters:

Took down my initial response. Based on what you've said here, yes, if he didn't gain the permission of the local ecclesiastical authority (i.e. the local bishop) to preach, this is a violation of our canons (III.18.2)

Has your bishop filed a complaint with our Presiding Bishop?

For what it's worth, I have no defense to offer for this kind of behavior. Canons or no canons, it's disrespectful. I don't want to downplay your accusation of hypocrisy on our end either, except to point out as a practical matter that bringing presentment against a high-profile like Spong might, except in the most egregious violations, be more trouble and expense than it's worth.

So then to pastoral matters. I would assume (I hope correctly) that the faith in your Diocese is strong enough to take a few barbs now and again. And maybe the real pastoral issue your bishop is tackling is with the local parish that invites Spong to preach (without appropriate reference) in the first place.

Canons notwithstanding, it strikes me that there is a substantial ethical difference between a bishop preaching occasionally in another diocese with or without permission and one who takes over canonical and pastoral jurisdiction in a congregation without the consent of the local ecclesiastical authority.

Also, slightly tongue-in-cheek, I'd just like to point out that we are providing further evidence for the Anglican version of Godwin's Law here. That is, most conversations in the Anglican blogosphere will end up on the subject of Jack Spong if they continue long enough. . .

Gee, we give him a lot of power, don't we?

obadiahslope said...

For the record, not with any desire to prolong our Godwin type lapse, Bp Spong will be preaching at a Uniting Church. Spong is well aware he is not licensed in this diocese. On his last visit he criss -crossed Australia where only one diocese (Brisbane) had licensed him.
Personally I think that the horse has bolted on bishop's boundary crossings. But please remember who did it first. (It wasn't the conservatives).

R said...

Obadiah,

I think we are comparing apples and oranges here. I submit that the type of "boundary crossing" you've outlined here is of an entirely different order than the one we've experienced with Primates taking over the jurisdiction of parishes in this country.

That Spong is preaching in a church not under the jurisdiction of the local Anglican diocese puts the canonical violation back into some doubt.

And, please forgive me, but we surely are beyond eye for an eye ethics as Christians, yes?

obadiahslope said...

You've puzzled me. If a Anglican primate was to preach in a baptist church, would that be a problem to TEC or not. From what you said, I am not sure.
I agree that the intervention by other provinces in TEC is of a different order that preaching the odd sermon.
But note that my diocese has been asked by North American parishes to provide oversight, and we have declined saying that it is preferable to solve local problems locally.
(Which is why i have asked you if your PB or HoB will follow through with their alternative to the primates' plan. The latest is that your PB is talking about "informal overtures" - i wonder if you know what she means.)
So perhaps you can understand that in having exercised forbearance towards TEC, your statement that what Spong is doing in Sydney "puts the canonical violation in doubt" as he is using a Uniting church, makes me wonder if intercontinental bishops are unstoppable

R said...

If a Anglican primate was to preach in a baptist church, would that be a problem to TEC or not.

From a technical standpoint, I'm honestly not sure, either. I don't know of any canonical procedure or disciplinary action that could be used against such action. Frankly, I have my doubts, in this church at least, as to whether it would be fodder for an "Anglican Incident" beyond a bit of irritation. But this kind of behavior is not the question that has many in The Episcopal Church concerned right now about jurisdictional matters.


I'm not exactly sure what the PB meant by "informal overtures," either, having watched the interview with Jan Nunley twice. My impression is that she meant discussing alternatives to the pastoral scheme put forth by the Primates was still an open possibility, but such arrangements could not be formalized until a later time.