Friday, June 18, 2010

Primus Contra Pares?

It has been a very rude couple of weeks in Anglican Land, indications that there is a level of desperate grasping settling into some quarters: a quest for control rather than honest engagement.

What took the cake -- er, mitre -- was the pressure placed on our Presiding Bishop by the Archbishop of Canterbury's office to provide documentation of her ordination status and to refrain from wearing the symbols of her office while visiting Southwark Cathedral in the Church of England. This suddenly and inexplicably had become "policy" for our Primate following her numerous similar visits (and those of her predecessors) with no such requirements. True to form, Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori was courteous about the whole thing. But the discourtesy directed at her appears to many on both sides of the pond either a petty, misogynistic display of power or else a diplomatic blunder of the first order. Lots of coverage on this over at Episcopal Café.

Update: A solid five days after the media coverage began, an "official" explanation from Lambeth Palace is made public. What an embarrassment this has caused the ABC.

Then came Canon Kenneth Kearon's visit with the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church within the past 24 hours, where he was confronted with insightful, direct questions about all the recent efforts to marginalize The Episcopal Church in various bodies of the Anglican Communion. Lelanda Lee posted tweets on the discussion that ensued, while Lee Crawford offered to these questions the kind of embodied witness true understanding demands.

Update: Katie Sherrod, a member of Executive Council, offers a vivid, telling account of the conversation with Canon Kearon.

I don't know what kind of advice The Archbishop of Canterbury is receiving these days -- but if it's advice to generally irritate The Episcopal Church and make himself look petty, then it's working. The best that can be surmised is that his office is under considerable stress while the Church of England is trying yet again to settle the matter of women in the episcopate and where attempts to control the behavior of other provinces of the Anglican Communion is proving (rightly in my view) elusive. Oddly enough, I imagine most of the de facto members of the Church of England could hardly care less -- either about women bishops in their own Church or who gets consecrated in other churches of the Communion. While they live in the twenty-first century, the hierarchy of their established church seems stuck in retrograde -- perhaps moving back towards the nineteenth.

So much for Primus inter Pares (first among equals). This whole effort appears to style The Archbishop of Canterbury's office as some kind of impoverished magisterium. And, to paraphrase Bishop Marc Andrus, impoverished magisteriums (or Empires, or what have you) tend to attempt to control what they can, even if it is the inconsequential and ridiculous. Perhaps the new mode of the Archbishop of Canterbury in relationship with the Communion is "Primus contra Pares." It would better encapsulate the increasingly overt conflict between hierarchy and equality that we are now witnessing. And -- in no small irony -- it echoes the confrontation between divisive imperial social structures and the unifying Gospel to which Paul (of all the apostles!) points in this week's reading from Galatians.

The test for us is to remain dignified in the face of less-than-Christian behavior. Kudos to both our Presiding Bishop and our Executive Council on this score in the days of the World Cup:

TEC: 1
ABC: nil


James said...

Very well stated. And from my experience this part is particularly true:

While they live in the twenty-first century, the hierarchy of their established church seems stuck in retrograde -- perhaps moving back towards the nineteenth.

Almost all of my English friends have stated in one way or another that when they go to church they check the 21st century at the coat closet by the front door only to reclaim it after spending 90 minutes in a time warp.

R said...


Thanks for the comment. All of us in church are in danger of becoming museum pieces right now if we're not careful. It's the hierarchy of the C of E right now that most concerns me. . . somewhat like the Vatican, it is the head that is becoming rather disconnected from the body. I assume (I believe correctly) that there are some really dynamic parishes and churches in the C of E where folk don't have to "check" the real world at the door!