The Second Longest Suicide Note in History?

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.

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