I love Bluegrass and Oldtime Gospel. I put up a lot of these songs on my facebook page now. This kind of music played a role in my rediscovery of traditional faith as a twenty year old in the early seventies. I had been very religious as a child. I was a devoted altar boy and when I was thirteen I made a 50 mile pilgrimage on foot to a shrine. Like a lot of young people I began to question and my questions were not treated kindly. I also discovered what the famous children’s writer Madeline L’Engle called the perfidy of adults who were my elders in religion. I lost my faith. Years later I studied faith development and found that some researchers in the field spoke of what they called the atheism of the twelve year old. I was stuck in the atheism of the twelve year old until about age 20.
One of the great privileges of recent years was the invitation to participate as a scholarship student in a seminar on the thought of the famous quality expert and managment philosopher W. Edwards Deming. One the instructors was the statistician Gypsie Ranney. Here is a recent reflection of hers on the fate of the Big Three. It is interesting that it was written before the GM Bankruptcy. It doesn’t take much translation to apply some of these insights to the crisis that mainline churches are experiencing.
On the Communion Partners Bishops Statement on the Polity of the Episcopal Church
By The Rev. Dr. Leander S. Harding
With the help of the Anglican Communion Institute the Communion Partners Bishops have produced an extremely important document. It is the most lucid and succinct account yet given of how the polity of the Episcopal Church applies to the current debates about the relationship of the Episcopal Church to the Anglican Communion. I heartily recommend a detailed reading of this important document. The text may be found here http://www.anglicancommunioninstitute.com/?p=391.
The publication of the document was preceded by the release of a series of confidential emails between Dr. Christopher Seitz and other correspondents from among the Communion Partners. The flap about these unguarded communications is an unfortunate diversion and in my view does not detract in any way from the serious and well prepared statement the Communion Partner Bishops have produced. The theme that ties all the emails together is that of a group working hard to show Episcopal Church parishes an option other than knuckling under to non-canonical authority or leaving the Episcopal Church. It is certainly no secret that this is the longstanding public policy of the Anglican Communion Institute.
The document itself is a closely reasoned and fully documented précis of the historical development of the polity of the Episcopal Church. In a painstaking way the statement shows that the General Convention of the Episcopal Church is a creation of the dioceses and that “ordinary” power resides in the dioceses. The office of Presiding Bishop is not that of a metropolitan but of a presiding officer with roles delegated by the constituting dioceses gathered in convention. Neither the General Convention nor the Presiding Bishop has by canon or by custom any governing role within the life of a diocese. The claim that the Episcopal Church is hierarchical in the sense in which this term is normally understood in legal documents is shown to be without foundation in the constitution and canons of the Episcopal Church. The careful historical and theological commentary given in the Bishops Statement shows beyond any reasonable doubt that the lack of hierarchical language in our church’s founding documents is not by oversight or ignorance but is deliberate and intentional and in the face of counter-examples in the contemporary founding documents of other churches in the United States. It is important to note that there is nothing new here. The history and polity described in Bishops Statement is the traditional and standard account in the major histories of the Episcopal Church but it is put forth here in very lucid and comprehensive form. (The Statement quotes Canon Dawley’s work. See also Robert Prichard, A History of The Episcopal Church)
A particular point of interest is the discussion of the vows which Bishops make in their ordination service to “conform to the doctrine, discipline and worship” of the Episcopal Church. The Statement notes that this oath appears in the founding documents of the Episcopal Church as a substitute for the oath of submission to the Monarch and the authority of an archbishop. The Communion Partner Bishops affirm that, “our episcopal vows contain no pledge of obedience to a higher office or body, as do churches with metropolitan hierarchies, but we do hold our apostolic office in trust. We understand our vow to require conformity to the doctrine and worship we hold in trust and to the discipline of The Episcopal Church as set forth in this (Communion Partners) statement.” It is very important and a major contribution that it be remembered that the context of the ordination vows is doctrinal and that the doctrine referred to is the doctrine of the catholic church as received from the Church of England and sustained by communion with the See of Canterbury. The Communion Partners are right to stress that the oath is not an oath of personal loyalty such as a feudal prince might extract but an oath of loyalty to a body of doctrine which is expressed both liturgically and canonically. To conscientiously object to actions by either the Presiding Bishop or the General Convention that subvert this tradition of doctrine, liturgy and canon law could in certain circumstances be exactly what is required by such an oath and this seems to be the position of the Communion Partner Bishops.
The Bishops assert that they are “committed to remaining faithful members of The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.” But they reserve their right the right of their dioceses to participate in and eventually sign the Anglican Covenant. The Statement notes that the constitution of The Episcopal Church “identifies constituent membership in the Anglican Communion as one of the fundamental conditions on which our governing agreement is based.” In other words the General Convention of The Episcopal Church was created and is sustained by the dioceses on the basis of a common commitment to continue as constituent members of the Anglican Communion. Actions which bring into jeopardy the continuing membership of The Episcopal Church in the Anglican Communion create a constitutional crisis for The Episcopal Church. As the statement forthrightly puts it, “It is an elementary principle of law that agreements can be terminated in the event of material breach or repudiation by another party or by fundamental changes of circumstances.” The Statement continues, “Failure to sign the proposed covenant would be decisive in this respect. And were The Episcopal Church to attempt to change its constitutional governance to restrict diocesan autonomy, particularly in the case of an Anglican covenant, it would constitute a material breach or repudiation of its “basic” governing agreement.” Finally, “We must speak plainly here. Any attempt to prevent willing dioceses from signing the covenant would be unconstitutional and thereby void.”
This is a very forthright document by Bishops who are trying to keep The Episcopal Church together but are not willing to do so at the price of cutting themselves off from the Anglican Communion or acquiescing to novel interpretations of the constitution and canons of The Episcopal Church. They are in effect insisting that The Episcopal Church be The Episcopal Church and act in accord with its own law and traditions. This is precisely what Bishops ought to do when they intend to be faithful to their vows.
There are a lot of questions raised here for future discussion. I am completely convinced that the Statement is an accurate description of the polity of The Episcopal Church as it has ever been and as it now stands. Our polity is indeed unique but not for the reasons usually put forward about the participation of the different orders in decision making but rather because it envisions a provincial structure with a level of diocesan autonomy unparalleled in most other Anglican jurisdictions. Unlike most provinces we have no archiepiscopal order. It remains to be seen how this order can be integrated into a true communion of churches. The proposed Anglican Covenant is a step in that direction and would represent for Communion Partner Bishops and their dioceses a willing surrender of some aspects of their present autonomy for the sake of the ongoing unity and communion of the church.
There is also the very pertinent question of how the instruments of unity in a church whether they be the instruments of unity of the Anglican Communion or of a local diocesan synod or convention are actually and practically in the service of unity in faith, witness and mission. In the American scene there have been countless actions including the election of Gene Robinson which have been arguably legal and canonical but which have undermined unity and have not been the result of patiently building up the mind of the church over time at all levels including at the congregational level. There has grown up in the American church a penchant for extra-canonical legislation in the form of policies for ordination and the clergy calling process among other things which are simply promulgated by Bishops and various committees and commissions without any sort of canonical process and which ride roughshod over the prerogatives of local congregations. There has grown up a style across the theological spectrum of outfoxing the folks and slipping things through the convention when no one is looking. As we work our way out of this particular crisis of authority in the church it will be important that we abide by the full measure of our constitution and canons and that we do so with a genuinely Christian spirit of charity and mutual submission truly seeking the mind of Christ in His church and not narrow political victories. Polities can be more or less susceptible to subversion by the unscrupulous but there is no Christian polity which can succeed in its purposes without the ongoing conversion of its constituents.
Bishop John Chane and Imperial Pluralism
The Rev. Leander S. Harding, Ph.D.
“I think it’s really very dangerous when someone stands up and says: ‘I have the way and I have the truth and I know how to interpret holy scripture and you are following what is the right way,'” he said “It’s really very, very dangerous and I think it’s demonic.” Bishop of Washington, John Chane as quoted in the English newspaper The Guardian.
This is from an interview in which the bishop of Washington was commenting on the crisis in the Anglican Communion and the charge by Anglican traditionalists that many bishops in The Episcopal Church have simply departed from the Apostolic faith.
John Chane charges the traditionalists with the crime of certainty. This is a commonplace. It is a corollary of the reigning intellectual culture among the intellectual elites of the West. It is a consequence of the dogmas of post-modernism. It is based on the conviction that there is very little that can be known with certainty, perhaps just a very few “facts” of science, perhaps not even them. The dogma at work here is the ironic post-modern dogma of the certainty of uncertainty. Consequently according to this post-modern dogma, to claim certainty in the area of beliefs and values is immoral and especially so given the huge variety of religious and philosophical options. The high dudgeon of the well educated university grad schooled in the dogmas of post-modernism is reserved for anyone who has the audacity to claim certainty in the area of religion, morals and beliefs. This is seen by people such as John Chane as an example of immorality and trying to force your beliefs on others. People who are morally and religiously certain create alarm. They are in Bishop Chane’s words, dangerous.
This protest against certainty claims the moral high ground and sounds on the surface as though it is based on a generous tolerance. This supposed moral protest in the name of tolerance needs to be unmasked as exactly the opposite, the dismissive and marginalizing rhetoric of the powerful who seek to protect their own agenda from critique on the grounds of any transcendent authority. It is precisely an attempt to force your beliefs on others before any argument is engaged by virtue of the way in which the rules of discussion are established. It is saying, in effect, ” before we talk you must agree that your beliefs and values are the sort of thing that I say they are and I say they can never be more than one opinion among others. If we are to talk, you must give up all your truth claims before you come to the table. With regard to the rules of the table, I will be the final referee.”
Lesslie Newbigin has brought forward a devastating critique of this pretended stance of tolerance. Newbigin identifies one of the foundational myths of contemporary pluralism in the parable of the blind men and the elephant. A group of blind men so the story goes are exploring an elephant by touch. One feels the tail and says the elephant is like a rope and one feels the leg and says the elephant is like a tree and one feels the ear and says the elephant is like a large leaf. Each has a piece of the truth. No one of them has it all. To apply the parable to our current controversy, many in The Episcopal Church see the protest of traditionalist Anglicans as an attempt by one of the blind men to make his perspective the one authoritative perspective and thus a power play and an immoral case of over-reaching. Lesslie Newbigin points out that there is a problem with this parable. The parable is told from the point of view of the King and his courtiers who take in the whole scene. The parable is told from the point of view of a supposedly neutral observer who is able to see the partial and limited nature of all other perspectives from the vantage point of the one perspective which is not subject to any critique. The parable is told from the imperial point of view. The teller of the parable adopts the pose of tolerance but this is surface camouflage behind which the King asserts the right to relativize and marginalize all other claims to truth but his own. Of this Newbigin says, “In a pluralist society such as ours. . .any claim to announce the truth about God and his purpose for the world, is liable to be dismissed as ignorant, arrogant, dogmatic. We have no reason to be frightened of this accusation. It itself rests on assumptions which are open to radical criticisms, but which are not criticized because they are part of the reigning plausibility structure.” (Gospel in a Pluralist Society, page 10.)
Bishop Chane’s protest sounds high minded and tolerant but it is in reality the rhetoric of the despot who is beyond rebuke. I do not ascribe a calculating mentality to the bishop in this but the words quoted in the Guardian are nonetheless words which express an imperial pluralism. Having once dismissed his opponents, Bishop Chane will immediately turn and announce his agenda for revision of the inherited moral teaching of the church as a “Gospel imperative.”
Now the question is this: to whom shall we turn when issues are disputed; to the whole Christian dogmatic and moral tradition of the last 2000 years or to the dogmas of skepticism and nihilism of the current Western intellectual elites?
Here is a copy of the remarks that I gave at the recent election in Dallas.
Election of a Bishop Suffragan
Diocese of Dallas
My name is Leander Harding. I am in my 27th year of ordained ministry. For most of that time I have been a parish priest. For the last three years I have been teaching Sacramental Theology, Pastoral Leadership and Pastoral Care at a seminary. I am also Head of Chapel and on Sunday I help out at one of the local parishes.
I am here because three of your clergy were at a conference where I was the chaplain. They heard me give a homily on the Christian virtue of patience and stopped me on the way out of the service to ask me if they could put my name forward for this election. I don’t think they walked into the church that evening thinking to ask me that question and it certainly hit me as a great surprise. We had dinner and talked and I promised to read the profile, talk with my wife and pray. Ultimately the whole thing, the profile, the words of your bishop and the way this request came to me in an atmosphere of prayer, touched my heart and made me wonder if it might be the Lord and I thought I had better do my part to find out. So thank you for the great privilege of being part of this moment of discernment.
I want to tell you something of my understanding of the ministry of a bishop. I believe the bishop is first and foremost a teacher of the faith. I have a personal mission statement which is to speak of the basic things of the Christian faith in a simple way. I see persistent, consistent teaching of the basics of the apostolic faith as the essence of the episcopacy. The bishops certainly do this in their preaching and teaching ministry in the course of the normal visitations. I hope it might be possible from time to time to gather together the clergy and people in a part of the diocese and have a time for building each other up in the faith. The bishops could teach, the clergy could teach, lay people with a gift of teaching could teach and we could share stories of what God has done in our lives. Some of these might be quite spectacular and some more humble and simple but no less a witness to the work of God in His people. This would be the kind of thing that could encourage us all and to which we could bring people who were curious about the faith with confidence that they would find grace, a gentle spirit and a winsome introduction to life in Christ.
I think a bishop is a pastor to the clergy and to the families of the clergy. I hope the suffragan could put a lot of focus here and really be a backstop for the diocesan. With a diocesan and suffragan I hope that this could be a truly personal and pastoral ministry. I hope it might be possible to meet with the clergy in groups small enough to have real conversation and often enough to build real community. I hope we might read the Bible together, share our faith and hope, pray and in this context deal together with the shared challenges of parish ministry and the life of the diocese and wider church.
I know that a particular challenge for the new suffragan is the care of the rural parishes. I spent the first ten years of my ordained ministry in small and struggling parishes. I have a soft spot for this kind of ministry. There are a lot of things that look different from the inside looking out than they do from the outside looking in and rural ministry and small church ministry is one of them. It would be a joy for me to get to know the people and clergy of these parishes one by one and work with them one by one to find the way forward for their ministries.
Let me close by saying one of the things that I am not good at. I am not good at finding someone to blame. Often when the ministry is not going smoothly our natural instinct is to find someone to blame. It’s the rector or the vicar or the vestry or the bishop or the national church. Surely we all make mistakes and there are certainly from time to time very serious incidents which require enforcing the discipline of the church. But more often when there is a problem and things are not working well my prejudice is that 85% has to do with the way we have set things up, with our system and method and our process. I am very interested in understanding the set up and working with others to make it less a burden, more workable, more likely to support success and effectiveness. That will usually take care of 85% of problem. For the other 15%, what a wonderful opportunity to practice Christian forbearance and charity.
You know that hymn text, “Oh to grace how great a debtor daily I constrained to be.” This is what I want to be a daily witness to the undeserved grace and love of God which has been made known to us in Jesus Christ.” Thank you for letting me make my witness here tonight.
I have been nominated for bishop in the Diocese of The Rio Grande. Here are some thoughts about the episcopal office that I wrote some time ago.
The Rev. Leander S. Harding, Ph.D.
In what follows I am going to take it as established that the historic episcopacy is a continuation of the apostolic ministry which has evolved in the church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and that therefore an episcopacy which has integrity and authenticity will be self-consciously seeking an ever greater conformity with the ministry of the first Apostles. One way of speaking about godliness in the episcopacy would be to enumerate all the virtues that would go into a truly consecrated character. So we would speak of prayerfulness, learning, humility, the spirit of service, zeal for souls and so on. But how might a bishop find a way into these virtues? How can the motivation to grow in real godliness be sustained? I think by dwelling on the originating encounter with the crucified and risen Lord which propels the Apostles into their ministry. Essential to the ministry of the first Apostles is that they are witnesses to the resurrection and it is in the resurrection encounters that we should expect to find the distinctive shape and power of the apostolic ministry
Three locations dominate my thinking, meditation and prayer about the apostolic office. First there is John 20:19-23. The apostles are really cowering behind closed doors and the crucified and risen one appears to them. He shows them his hands and his side. They are glad when they see the Lord and he then says to them, “Peace be with you, As the Father has sent me even so I send you.” Then the Lord breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” To be an Apostle is to be one who is sent. Jesus is the Apostle of the Father and in his turn the crucified and risen one sends out his own apostles whose mission is to create by their witness a community of witness to the crucified and risen Lord and to the presence of his Spirit. At the heart of this witness is the extension of the reconciliation which has been offered to them. That the Apostles are given the authority to proclaim the reality of reconciliation and to distinguish false from true reconciliation is not some arbitrary power but a personal authority and knowledge that comes from their own actual personal redemption and what they have learned from welcoming and embracing the one who comes to breathe into them God’s peace.
The apostolic ministry originates in a personal encounter with the saviour. There is no way for these original witnesses to claim their vocation without looking upon the one whom they have betrayed and abandoned. They cannot be reconciled to him who holds out his wounded and glorified hands without embracing their own faithlessness and sinfulness. This dynamic is portrayed even more starkly in the encounter between Jesus and Peter on the beach in the twenty first chapter of St. John’s Gospel. Peter rushes to the beach where the Lord meets him over a charcoal fire and asks those excruciating questions, “Peter, do you love me?” There by that charcoal fire Peter must think of another interrogation and of his betrayal of the Lord. Peter can only answer the call to go and gather and feed the sheep by embracing the fire of his own sin. The connection between a personal confession of sin and the reception of the call to gather in and feed the flock of Christ that is being driven home to Peter on the beach in Galilee is there as well behind those closed doors in Jerusalem. The reception of the crucified and risen one’s commission to go and tell the nations begins necessarily with a personal sense of sinfulness and failure which is provoked by the sudden breaking in of the undeserved forgiveness of God. I am not speaking so much of a particular type of conversion experience but of the reality of knowing oneself as a betrayer and crucifier of the Lord and knowing oneself as the recipient of an undeserved and costly forgiveness. There is a place where shame and joy grow together, where a growing consciousness of the enormity of human sin and rebellion and a consciousness of the astonishing goodness of the seeking, searching, sacrificial love of God grow together. In this place which is at once a place of deep humiliation and deep peace, the words of the Lord “even so I send you,” can be rightly heard and when heard are an irresistible invitation to return love for love. Here the human race is being remade by a new genesis, a new inspiration of God’s Spirit. From this place the forgiveness of sins can be declared and the lost sheep of the Father gathered in. Here is the wellspring of godliness in the ministry of bishop and shepherd. The way into this place is the way of humility, of lowliness and of deepening repentance.
The third scriptural location I propose is suggested to me by Lesslie Newbigin. It is Paul’s encounter with the crucified and risen Lord on the road to Damascus, recorded in Acts 9. Paul is a persecutor of the church of God and is thrown from his horse by his encounter with the Lord. Lying in the dust he hears the Lord say to him, “Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Here we have the same revelation of sinfulness and of utterly undeserved love and forgiveness which strips Paul of any righteousness of his own. The disciples in Jerusalem, Peter on the beach and Paul on the road all share in the same humiliation which is at once an exaltation, in the same death which is at once life. In Paul’s circumstance an aspect of this originating apostolic encounter is made especially clear. In order to embrace his call to be an apostle, Paul must not only confess himself as God’s enemy but in order to grasp the wounded and glorified hand stretched out to him, Paul must also grasp the hands of those he has persecuted. Paul must recognize the nascent church as the body of Christ. Paul cannot be reconciled to God without being reconciled to God’s people. Paul recognizes that God is building a new people which shall be marked off not by the works of the law but by faith in the crucified and risen Messiah. Paul recognizes that God’s promise to recreate humanity, to reconcile the nations in a renewed Israel is coming true in and through Jesus. In Paul’s call we learn that to be a witness to the resurrection is to be at one and the same time a witness to the reality of the new Israel which is the body of the Christ.
Just these few encounters we have considered point us to elements that are at the heart of the ministry of episcopacy and which if they are held fast set a person on the same road toward holiness and godliness trod by the first Apostles. We learn that the apostolic ministry begins with a deep and personal apprehension of the forgiveness of sins by the crucified and risen Lord. That included in this forgiveness and reconciliation with God is the fact of the church and the body of Christ and that the new human life that comes in this encounter by the gift of the Spirit propels one into the life of mission, evangelization and witness.
The witness and authority of the original Apostles is intensely personal. They stand before the world as men personally convicted and personally redeemed by their encounters with the crucified and risen Lord. It is possible for us to distinguish between the evangelical concern for personal faith and the catholic concern for the body of Christ and for the apostolic ministry as a vital organ in the body of Christ, but these elements are encountered in the Bible always simultaneously as inextricably intertwined. The first Apostles are living proof and a sacramental sign of the forgiveness of sins, the reconciliation with God and the reality of the one body dependent on its one head, by their very presence. The message authenticates the person and the person authenticates the message.( It is of course possible for those who succeed in this office for this relationship between person and message to be impaired and this is perhaps the source of ungodliness in episcopal ministry.)
We come to our encounter with the crucified and risen one through the testimony of these original witnesses as that testimony is transmitted to us through the Word of God and through the succession of apostolic teaching and witness. The challenge for the contemporary bishop who wishes to stand in the shoes of the original Apostles is to dwell in and upon the Word of God in such a way that this originating apostolic encounter becomes real and personal and having once found this originating moment of encounter to return to it again and again and let it be the engine of the bishop’s teaching, preaching and witness. This call to return again and again to epicenter of the apostolic earthquake is a call to prayer and contemplation. It is a call to a life of study of the Bible and of the faithful teachers who by God’s grace make a faithful succession to the Apostles possible. It is call to mission, to evangelization, to invite others into this encounter (which is bound to come in different ways for different people) with the crucified and risen Lord.
This call is also a call to guarding the unity of the church. The new life with God which the saviour comes to bring us at so great a price is a new life with each other no less than with God. It is the restoration of God’s plan that he should be our Father and we should be his children and loving brothers and sisters of each other. At the center of the apostolic experience of forgiveness is the reality of the one people of God and the body of Christ. The Apostles witness to the reality of the forgiveness of sins not just as an idea, as a teaching of the master, but as something which he has accomplished by his costly work and which has now through the power of the resurrection and the gift of the Spirit appeared. The unity of the college of the apostles in witness and in love is part of the Gospel which they proclaim. The Bible already tells the sad story that this testimony can be marred by a lack of unity and by attempts to find the center of the church in anything other than the forgiveness of sins brought by the death and resurrection of the Lord. If the secret of godliness in the episcopacy is dwelling upon the personal invitation to confession and the personal offer of redemption given by the outstretched, wounded and glorified hand of the risen one, then the bishop seeking godliness will want to lead the whole church back to this one cornerstone that it might be built up in unity and by the Spirit of love which is breathed by Christ into his church at just this point. There must be an impatience with anything which would seek to define the church on any other basis and there must be a resolute resistance to any attempt to draw the church away from utter dependence on the actual death and resurrection of her Lord. A godly bishop is one who stands in the center of the church as an authentic and personal sign of the reality of forgiveness and new life with God and among people which comes through the utter dependence of the whole church upon its one head and upon the actual events of the death and resurrection of the Lord.
This is the third in the series of meditations given to the clergy of the Diocese of Albany.
In many of our churches there are more people in the basement attending 12 Step meetings during the week than there are attending the worship of the church on Sunday. If you attend these meetings you discern a feeling, a sense of things that is absent from many of our churches. People come to the 12 Step meetings because they are in a life or death struggle with what they call “a crippling disease.” Sometimes this disease is given a personality. It is referred to as a “canny disease.” “You can’t outsmart it.” Hope lies in attending the meetings and sharing in the faith, hope and encouragement that is there. Hope lies in attending to a teaching, a doctrine, the 12 Steps which are a matter of life and death and the only practical means of salvation from certain, sure and complete destruction. (The seriousness with which this teaching is taken is shown in the prohibition against the discussion of literature which is not “conference approved.”) But if destruction apart from the “program” is sure, inevitable and complete, with the “program” there is a confident promise of recovery, healing and new life. Meetings regularly include testimonies by people who have been saved by following the Steps and returned to sobriety and sanity. The contrast between the old life and the new life is dramatic and affecting. Often people express their gratitude for the disease which propelled them on a search which has led to a far better life than they would have otherwise had.