Thursday, January 25, 2007

Claiming the Re-visionist Label

This is Part III of a series of posts on Epiphany West 2007: Re-visioning Anglicanism, at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, California.

Today marked the beginning of the conference proper (the last two days were pre-conference classes and discussions).

As a brief personal sidebar, it was another three-bridge day for me. The morning began with dropping Daniel off at his nursery school, tootling up Knob Hill in San Francisco to check in with the Diocesan Office, and then heading over the Golden Gate Bridge to Mill Valley and Church of Our Saviour. In my rush into the church office to knock out some business in preparation for Sunday's Annual Meeting, I left my car lights on, which necessitated a call to AAA to get my car jumped. At one, I was a green streak on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge to Berkeley. The Bay Bridge would wait until after the afternoon conference sessions, following which I would join the traffic headed back into San Francisco.

I'm back at home now. A Three Bridge Day. Phew. So if this post seems a bit googly-eyed (for lack of a better term), I hope you'll understand.

This afternoon, The Rev. Dr. John L. Kater presented the first paper of the conference, Anglicanism Past and Future: Myths, Dreams, and Realities. In addition to covering in more depth some of the salient events of historical Anglicanism in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and beyond, Dr. Kater delved into the concept of "re-visioning" as an integral part of what Peter Toon calls the "Anglican Way."

Perhaps the "revisionist" label is not entirely off the mark, then!

Reflecting on Dr. Kater's presentation:
  • For the Tudor reformers (Cranmer and company), the re-visioning of the Church was, at foundation, a holy task. It meant replacing the centrality of the papacy with the centrality of Scripture, corresponding with the work of reformers in continental Europe.
  • The second period of re-visioning occurred in the Elizabethan Settlement, which of course did not settle matters for everyone. The resulting tensions drove an ongoing re-visioning of what came to be called "Anglicanism" up to the English Civil War and Oliver Cromwell.
  • The Restoration ushered in the third period of re-visioning. Despite calls to draw together Calvinists and those supporting the episcopacy, re-visioning of this period turned to the firm establishment of bishops in the Church of England and the development of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.
  • With the non-juror controversy following the Glorious Revolution of 1688, history sees the first rise of Anglicanism outside the direct jurisdiction of a state government in the Scottish Episcopal Church. The rise of a constitutional monarchy in England also moved the locus of final authority over the Church of England to Parliament. This is remarkable when we pause to remember that for nearly a century and a half, the Church of England had structured its polity around a strong monarchy.
  • We see an equally important period of Anglican re-visioning with the founding of The Episcopal Church in the late eighteenth century. This re-visioning is worth noting, as the polity that came out of it plays heavily into Bonnie Anderson's recent letter to the Panel of Reference:
    • episcopal authority was regulated by constitutional boundaries, and bishops were elected by bodies that included laity
    • no diocese in the newly formed Episcopal Church in the United States held metropolitan authority over another
    • the final arbiter in doctrinal, discipline, and polity matters was a bi-cameral governing body, the General Convention that consisted of bishops, clergy, and laity
    • the church moved towards dependence on voluntary contributions rather than state revenues
    • lay people became significant in the governance of the Church both locally and nationally
  • The first Lambeth Conference in 1867 was also a profound re-visioning of Anglicanism, as demonstrated in the strong opposition by both laity in clergy both inside and outside the Church of England. For better or for worse (as we are seeing now) this re-visioning accorded a new authority and primacy to the Church of England as the "mother church" of the new Communion. It assumed uniformity in core doctrinal matters. This re-visioning process culminated in the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral.
  • Part and parcel with the Lambeth re-visionings were the rise of Victorian value systems, revival movements of the 19th-century and the rise of evangelism movements both in missionary-colonial contexts and within established Churches and, by contrast, the Oxford Movement. Herein is another root of the current controversy: these revival and evangelical movements were in part reactions to the profound questions being posed by scientific discovery, biblical scholarship as an independent discipline, the appearance of evolutionary thought as a new explanation of how life began and develops, and growing mechanization in the West which would only expand into the scientific age of the 20th century (fueling apocalyptic world wars, hyper-industrial secular societies, and economic development dependent on vast resource consumption).
  • In the latter half of the twentieth century, we see at least two parallel developments that set the stage for the current conflicts within Anglicanism:
    • The emergence of increasingly indigenous evangelical churches in post-colonial states; churches with a natural distrust of their former colonizers and the West in general
    • The rise of liberation movements in several forms in different places: Latin America, Africa (as in South Africa), the United States (civil rights), and the ongoing struggles against tyrannical powers and neo-colonial and post-colonial imperialism
Okay, that's more than enough history to defend Dr. Kater's central point: Anglicanism is marked by re-visioning. In fact, this ongoing process of re-visioning to meet the challenges of a changing world may well be the hallmark of Anglicanism. Indeed, Dr. Kater pointed to Ian Douglas' definition of Anglicanism as "the embrace and celebration of apostolic catholicity within the vernacular moment."

What is most challenging about this understanding is that this it questions the romantic notion that we are the inheritors of an "unchanging faith."

Seeing the Heart of the Matter

A return to essential theology and ecclesiology illuminates the current controversy in a very helpful way, and when Dr. Kater made this point this afternoon, there was an audible response of comprehension from the crowd gathered in the CDSP Refectory:

The rise of the ecumenical movement in the West in the 1960's pushed a new re-visioning of Anglicanism in parts of the Communion. Namely, this was the development (I would say recovery) of a baptismal ecclesiology closely tied with the growing human rights movements of the same period.

With baptismal ecclesiology as a renewed foundation, we see the locus of power and authority move from ordination towards a more egalitarian and lay-empowered church community.

This both clashed and overlapped with the burgeoning evangelical churches elsewhere in the Communion. There was certainly some resonance with the empowerment of the individual in scriptural literacy and conversion. But the Lambeth Conferences of the 1990's were riddled with increasing tensions over issues of episcopal authority, the place of confirmation as a cornerstone of Christian formation, and the conflict between longstanding biblical and ecclesiastical traditions with parts of the human rights movements (i.e. the place of women, the nature of marriage, and the proper moral boundaries of human sexual expression.)

In response, we are seeing a "counter" re-visioning from more traditionalist and evangelical parts of the Communion. At the heart of this counter re-visioning is increasing authority being accorded to the four Instruments of Unity of Communion and a growing "Anglican" identity where local churches are seeking an external or overarching Anglican authority that will supersede provincial identity. This helps explain the power being afforded in some quarters to the Windsor Report, the clear desire for some kind of covenental structure, and the increasing authority being ceded to the Primates.

But another piece of this counter re-visioning includes a seemingly contradictory rejection of the centrality of the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Communion (quite possibly rooted in part in post-colonial resistance.) ++Peter Akinola's statement that the church "did not start in Canterbury" is an articulation of this re-visioning, as are Michael Poon's perspectives.

It seems then, we are approaching a critical juncture. Which re-visioning will take hold as the paradigm for the Anglican Communion in the 21st Century? Or will we, as some have suggested, ending up with two communions, whether through schism, a two-tiered Anglicanism, or a long period of impaired relationship that perpetuates the current impasse. . .or something else all together?

Seeking a Way Forward

Dr. Kater posed that common ground to move forward might be found in a common sense of mission, asserting that "the only Communion that matters is the communion of common mission in service to the One Lord."

I certainly agree with him on this. As the recent test of the relationship of the Diocese of New York with the Diocese of Tanganika demonstrates, common mission can trump theological disagreement, enough even to give, in this case, a local bishop the courage to buck reactionary ecclesiology, even at some personal risk.

But the question of what "mission" means came up this afternoon. The Rev. Dr. Ephraim Radner, who speaks tomorrow (and who is also serving on the Anglican Covenant Design Committee) responded to Dr. Kater's paper by posing that "mission" might mean something very different to, say, an Anglican evangelical in Nigeria (where mission is centered in converting others) than the average American Episcopalian (where mission might mean meeting the needs of the local community outside the church without direct reference to conversion to Christianity.)

I don't see these two understandings as mutually exclusive, but they do point to the need for the word "mission" to be contextualized before fruitful discussion around it can move the Communion forward.

Other thoughts of the Day

The last hour of the afternoon was spent in break-out sessions, and I joined one making a presentation about the on-the-ground realities in our neighboring Diocese of San Joaquin.

I have two words: Oh dear.

Room for dialogue is hard to find, and those desiring to remain in the Episcopal Church are uncertain as to what their standing will be should the diocese proceed in the impending final vote to secede from The Episcopal Church. (It appears quite likely that this will be the case).

It should be noted that California law affords San Joaquin fairly unique protections in the United States from litigation imposed by the greater Episcopal Church. Still, if that is the route taken, the fate of parishes, property, and members will potentially hang in the balance of legal wrangling for years.

All that grim prognostication on the table, the people of St. John's, Lodi (one of the parishes dissenting from the recent vote towards secession) along with Remain Episcopal have invited Bonnie Anderson to engage in dialog with members of the diocese and are now working to get as many San Joaquin folk to come to the event as possible.

Spread the word about this as our brothers and sisters continue to seek a life-giving way forward.

And pray for them. Please pray. They are looking over the edge of a very nasty mess.

* * *

My goodness. Dr. Kater is right. Never has Epiphany West been so timely.

We may well be on the edge of a major transition in the history of Anglicanism.

Part I: Anglican Romanticism
Part II: A Mess of History

1 comment:

June Butler said...

Richard, thank you, thank you, thank you.

Indeed, "We may well be on the edge of a major transition in the history of Anglicanism."