Archive for March, 2007

Where have I been?

March 31, 2007

Here. I don’t weigh in on the comments until #142, but readers might want to wade through them anyway. Your call.

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Sectarian? You bet! And proud of it!

March 29, 2007

“Meanwhile, I seriously doubt that the Episcopal Church will overturn previous statements on issues of sexuality. In fact, as most of you know, I hope we do not turn back at all. We still have a long way to go in appreciating the gifts and talents of every member of Christ’s body; and we still have a long way to go in blessing wholesome and holy relationships. These issues will require time and patience before they are finally settled. I have no problem with The Episcopal Church, within Christendom, being in a minority on some issues. In fact, when one includes Roman Catholicism and the Orthodox, it is very much a minority position in Christendom even to ordain women.”

From “Should the Anglican Communion Concern Us?” by the Rev. Sam Candler, Dean of St Philips Cathedral in Atlanta, March 8

And of course, there is no connection between these two issues. Just repeat after me. Nope, none at all. Nada. Zip. Just can’t be, nosiree . . .

The “No” votes are already in.

March 22, 2007

Bishop John Howe had written his diocese following the meeting at Camp Allen. You can read his assessment here.

You can make of his remarks what you will. Their positive tone has caused some puzzlement among commenters on Titusonenine and StandFirm. I have written the following on Titusonenine (with one editorial correction) and repeat it here:

Bishop Howe writes

We were assured that no action would be taken at this meeting regarding the two major requests that were directed to us by the primates’ Communique (no more consents to the elections of partnered gay Bishops, and no more blessings of same-sex relationships).

There has been much discussion of both of these requests, and a number of individual Bishops have very clearly expressed their unwillingness to agree to either of them. But there has been no official action taken by the House as a whole regarding them. The tenor of the discussion makes it clear (to me) that whenever we do address them (presumably in our September meeting), there will be an overwhelming decision to say No.

On the one hand, Bp. Howe is to be commended for reading the handwriting on the wall. On the other, he makes two crucial mistakes.

First, there were not two requests, but three, the third being the Primatial Vicar scheme. This was voted down absolutely, and if the bishops had left it at that, the rest of Bishop Howe’s comments would almost make sense.

However, as to the other two, one need only read this from the statment issued by the House of Bishops:

We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ all God’s children, including women, are full and equal participants in the life of Christ’s Church. We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ all God’s children, including gay and lesbian persons, are full and equal participants in the life of Christ’s Church.

Can anyone doubt that 100% of those bishops who voted in favor of these sentences believe that the first sentence requires the “ordination” of women? And if so, then can anyone doubt the 100% of those bishops who voted in favor of these sentences believe that “gay and lesbian persons” should be ordained and their relationships blessed?

The other two request of the Primates, then, have been addressed, by a clear majority of the H o B, not individually, but collectively. Bishop Howe need not wait to September to get his “official” NO. It has already been given.

The Second Longest Suicide Note in History?

March 21, 2007

The Anglican blogosphere is vibrating with comments on the statement of March 20 from the House of Bishops of TEC meeting at Camp Allen. Comments are piling up rapidly on sites such as Titusonenine and StandFirm (where you can find the full text of the statement), but they are not limited to the heavily trafficked news sites.

The reaction of almost everyone I’ve read is startlingly similar. The House of Bishops actually spoke clearly. (See for example the comments of Matt Kennedy+ at StandFirm. I suspect that, with very little change, almost exactly the same conclusion will be found on those sites that usually take the view opposite of Matt+.) Just as there was much fear in the run-up to Tanzania that a massive fudge was in the works, but general surprise that the Dar es Salaam Communiqué was as clear and assertive as it was; so also most anticipated that the meeting of the House of Bishops this past week would produce some whiny, vague, kick-the-can-down-the-road effort at compromise, but instead received a statement that is surprisingly free of episcobabble.

Many are commenting on this or that aspect or line of thought of the statement: whether the Bishops truthfully represented the situation and events of the last three or four years, et cetera. However, what I find most interesting are the theological assumptions that underly the document. For we have here one of the clearest statements, almost to the point of pithiness, of the New Religion of The Episcopal Church. It is not too strong to say that this religion is not Christianity in any historically recognizable form.

I will quote the best bits, and further highlight parts within those, but to understand this document it is essential to read the entire text and see what was not said. After all, I cannot quote what they did not write, and the omissions are as telling as anything in the statement.

We would therefore meet any decision to exclude us from gatherings of all Anglican Churches with great sorrow, but our commitment to our membership in the Anglican Communion as a way to participate in the alleviation of suffering and restoration of God’s creation would remain constant.

It is incumbent upon us as disciples to do our best to follow Jesus in the increasing experience of the leading of the Holy Spirit. We fully understand that others in the Communion believe the same, but we do not believe that Jesus leads us to break our relationships. We proclaim the Gospel of what God has done and is doing in Christ, of the dignity of every human being, and of justice, compassion, and peace. We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, no male or female, no slave or free. We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ all God’s children, including women, are full and equal participants in the life of Christ’s Church. We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ all God’s children, including gay and lesbian persons, are full and equal participants in the life of Christ’s Church. We proclaim the Gospel that stands against any violence, including violence done to women and children as well as those who are persecuted because of their differences, often in the name of God. The Dar es Salaam Communiqué is distressingly silent on this subject. And, contrary to the way the Anglican Communion Network and the American Anglican Council have represented us, we proclaim a Gospel that welcomes diversity of thought and encourages free and open theological debate as a way of seeking God’s truth. If that means that others reject us and communion with us, as some have already done, we must with great regret and sorrow accept their decision.

With this affirmation both of our identity as a Church and our affection and commitment to the Anglican Communion, we find new hope that we can turn our attention to the essence of Christ’s own mission in the world, to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4:18-19). It is to that mission that we now determinedly turn.

Really, this is so clear as to require little comment. It is a religion in which experience trumps revelation, good works trump penitence, asking questions trumps getting answers, and identities are either erased or affirmed (depending on your preference), but never transformed.

One other point: I find this comment on the Pastoral Council and Primatial Vicar proposed in Dar es Salaam especially rich.

Most important of all it is spiritually unsound. The pastoral scheme encourages one of the worst tendencies of our Western culture, which is to break relationships when we find them difficult instead of doing the hard work necessary to repair them and be instruments of reconciliation. The real cultural phenomenon that threatens the spiritual life of our people, including marriage and family life, is the ease with which we choose to break our relationships and the vows that established them rather than seek the transformative power of the Gospel in them. We cannot accept what would be injurious to this Church and could well lead to its permanent division.

This from the House of Bishops that led the way in the Anglican Communion in normalizing divorce to the point where, with its thrice-married “bishops,” serial monogamy is an episcopal commonplace.

In 1983, Gerald Kaufman dubbed the British Labour Party’s Manifesto for the parliamentary election that year “the longest suicide note in history.” It is tempting to say that this statement from Camp Allen is the second longest. However, I do not think so, quite. The Labour Party, after all, transformed itself into a powerful political force just a few years later. That TEC will not so transform itself I have no doubt; the incentive is just not there. Not one of the bishops who voted in favor of this “Mind of the House Resolution” will suffer either financially or socially for their decision.

Instead, I predict that TEC will limp on, hemorrhaging members, until it levels off at an “official” number of somewhere between one and two million, and pretty much go on as before, slowly becoming ever more eccentric, living off of the dead men’s money found in its trusts and the slow but steady sale of its assets. Not many people will attend its services. Why should they? There is nothing in this statement offered to any individual that cannot be satisfied by contributing to Habitat for Humanity and Medecins Sans Frontières except possibly a gooey, New Agey sort of feel-good spirituality, and even that you can get a pretty good dose of on cable these days. But so what? Someone once calculated the Roman Catholic Church in Italy has sufficient corporate wealth that it could maintain itself at its present level for over a century without receiving a penny from a single communicant. Given the size of the Pension Fund, I am sure that TEC can do at least as well.

As for me . . . well, I thank the House of Bishops for making my own path just a bit clearer. I do not know what my own parish will do, if anything, and God alone knows how the Anglican Communion will handle this. However, I know that whatever happens, while it is possible that I may (may, may, may) be some sort of Anglican in the future, before this year is out I will no longer be an Episcopalian. When the majority of your bishops not only vote repeatedly for heresy, but also spurn correction and communion, it is time to find the exit door.

Has Defeat Been Hidden in the Heart of Victory?

March 14, 2007

The latest (March) issue of New Directions is now available online in its HTML form—for some reason the PDF file is not yet ready. In it, Fr Geoffrey Kirk raises a very good point about the potential poison pill hidden in the Dar Es Salaam Communique, the same Communique that conservative Anglicans are in general hailing as a great victory. (The same article by Fr Kirk was already posted on the Prayer Book Society’s website a short while ago).

The passage in the Communique that bothers Fr Kirk is this:

In particular, the Primates request, through the Presiding Bishop, that the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church 1. make an unequivocal common covenant that the bishops will not authorise any Rite of Blessing for same-sex unions in their dioceses or through General Convention (cf TWR, §143, 144); and 2. confirm that the passing of Resolution B033 of the 75th General Convention means that a candidate for episcopal orders living in a same-sex union shall not receive the necessary consent (cf TWR, §134); unless some new consensus on these matters emerges across the Communion (cf TWR, §134).

Please read all of Fr Kirk’s reaction. His central point is

What the Communique has done, couched as it is in the language of the revisionists themselves, is merely to draw another line in the sand. The Primates have requested, through the presiding bishop, that the House of Bishops of TEC make an unequivocal common covenant that they will not authorize any rite of blessing for same-sex unions in their dioceses or through General Convention, and confirm that a candidate for episcopal orders living in a same-sex union shall not receive the necessary consent, unless some new consensus on these matters emerges across the communion.

The deadline for the answer is 30 September 2007. ‘If the reassurances requested of the House of Bishops cannot in good conscience be given, the relationship between The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion as a whole remains damaged at best, and this has consequences for the full participation of the Church in the life of the Communion.’

No one could reasonably suppose that such undertakings will be given, or that the failure to give them will result in any specific action by any of the ‘Instruments of Unity’. But that is hardly the point. The heart of the statement is not in the requests, but in the terms in which they are made: unless some new consensus on these matters emerges across the communion. With that proviso the game is up for the traditionalists.

For the grounds upon which traditionalists oppose gay bishops and same-sex unions is not that they go against previous Anglican practice, but that they contravene the plain teaching of Scripture, which applies in all times and cultures, and which neither individual provinces nor the Communion as a whole is competent to change.

By signing the Communique traditionalist bishops have conceded the very point they were striving to uphold. Having initially refused to sit at the same table as Katherine Schori, and shunned her at the Lord’s Table, they have signed a document which endorses her position and effectively outlaws their own – and elected her to their Standing Committee! To this observer it looks uncommonly like suicide.

I take it that, for Fr Kirk, a “new consensus” that could “emerge” in the Anglican Communion sounds suspiciously like that very “Spirit doing a new thing” that traditional Anglicans are so much up in arms about—and I think he has a point.

However, I do not entirely agree with Fr Kirk—I think the clause he is worried about can, and in fact should, be read, not as an implicit endorsement of the problematic notion of “reception,” but as simply descriptive of potential reality. After all, one can imagine the Roman Catholic Church declaring one day that the Pope is infallible in matters of faith and morals when he speaks ex cathedra, then changing its mind the next. (That the RCC presently declares such an about face an impossibility is not the point.) Similarly, one can read the troublesome clause regarding the possible emergence of a new consensus as simply meaning that we will be orthodox until we become heretics (see Article XIX of the Thirty-nine Articles), just as we are alive until we are dead.

But Fr Kirk does point up what I am attempting to get at in addressing the question of authority, viz., that in Anglicanism there is not, and cannot by the very nature of Anglicanism be, any such thing as a “new consensus” or “development” of doctrine. For if Anglicanism claims to hold only what has been received at all times, everywhere, and by all; if by doctrine we mean “a teaching of the Church which ought to be received by all Christians”; and if the Anglican Communion is, as it has always said, only a part of the whole Church Catholic; then the Anglican Communion has no catholic authority in itself to develop doctrine, regardless of any “new consensus” that emerges purely within the Anglican Communion.

This is why the Windsor Report had to tie itself in knots to somehow justify the “ordination” of women and yet declare that consecrating Gene Robinson and blessing same-sex “unions” were out of bounds. (See “Gone With the Windsor Report Part one” and “Part Two”). The uncomfortable truth, the truth that so many either cannot or will not see, is that both sets of innovations rise and fall together, since both are enabled—the one in reality, the other in potential—by the very notion of “reception,” by the appeal to wait for an emerging new Anglican consensus, and both are equally dismissive of any truly catholic authority.

Thus the very power which we denied to Rome in the 16th century we have arrogated to ourselves in the matter of the “ordination” of women in the 20th, and we hold out the potential to continue to do so in the matter of same-sex blessings in the 21st, even on the terms set out in the Dar Es Salaam Communique—that is, unless (as I wrote above) the clause that so troubles Fr Kirk is read as a simple statement of fact and not a prescription for “reception” or “development.”

What say ye?