Response to the HOB Sept. 25 Statement

My primary reaction to the HOB document is that the majority of the bishops do not understand the gravity of the situation in the communion and the fragility of the communion at this moment. The premise of this document is that a promise not to give consent for another bishop in a same-sex relationship before the next Lambeth and a promise not to change the formularies and authorize “public rites” for same sex blessings will buy a place at the Anglican table and enable the American church to participate in communion synods as advocate for the gay agenda by pushing the listening process. The fundamental dishonesty of the situation with regard to same sex blessings where the permission is given not to ask for permission has not been lost on the press. It is hard to understand why the HOB thinks the rest of the communion should not feel that this is simple insincerity. The provision of a separate paragraph for pushing to have Gene Robinson included in the Lambeth meeting is a stunning bit of denial. Clearly if Gene Robinson is present at Lambeth in any kind of official capacity the attendance of Global South bishops will be dramatically reduced. If Rowan Williams allows his name to be invoked with impunity as the sponsor of that effort it will be another and perhaps final blow to his credibility.

Especially disappointing is the refusal to consult with the dissenting bishops to arrive at a scheme for alternative oversight that would be acceptable to them. Rather than offering another take or leave it plan an invitation to the dissenting dioceses to put forward a plan of their own would have communicated some Christian charity. The majority in the HOB seems to perfect the art of being poor winners.

The resolution does empower the presiding bishop to consult with the primates on a plan but there is no good faith gesture in the report that gives ground for hope of a real negotiation. I am very sorry that Bishop Howe’s plan was not given greater consideration.

The HOB has clarified that it commits itself not to give consents to another election like Gene Robinson. It continues to claim that encouraging local option for same sex blessings shouldn’t be communion breaking as long as “public rites” are not authorized. This seems to me to be a claim that we should be able to violate our own rules as long as we do it quietly. I can’t imagine the primates buying it.

In sum the document brings the communion closer to schism. If Rowan Williams does not now disassociate himself from the American church leadership and its intransigence he will become irrelevant as a force for keeping the communion together and the break between the Global South and the rest of the communion will be accelerated.

Response to the Lawyer/Bishops

Response to

The Constitutional Crisis, 2007

A Statement to the House of Bishops, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Honored Visitors

Six retired bishops of the house of bishops of the Episcopal Church have produced a lengthy document for the crucial upcoming meeting in New Orleans where the Archbishop of Canterbury and other international representatives will meet with the American house of bishops to hear their response to challenges presented to the American church by the Anglican Primates meeting in Tanzania.

The paper is presented in the form of a legal brief. I have read to date the summary and offer these initial reactions. The premise of the paper is that persons with legal training are practiced in identifying correctly according to a proven methodology the active issues in a dispute. The argument is that if the issues are incorrectly identified then it is not possible to arrive at a fair and just adjudication of issues. The six present themselves as uniquely trained to identify “the most important factor in any scrutiny. . .together with. . . the elimination of wrong, irrelevant, or improperly formulated issues. If the issues are identified correctly, then all else can and should follow to the proper result” (page 3). The authors identify the issue as the issue of the violation of “an unwritten and unenforceable but clearly recognized anciently respected Anglican Constitution.” (page 8). They propose that the acceptance of an Anglican Covenant would be an unwarranted constitutional revolution.

The authors are proposing the methodology of advocates in the Anglo-Saxon tradition of jurisprudence as the preferred means for adjudicating the disputes in the Anglican Communion. I will be interested to hear what other lawyers who are churchman make of this assertion. I believe that this methodology is a method which has been developed with the assumption that the primary business of the courts is to apply existing statues in a way that is fair and equitable. In other words, to try the case in terms of the laws that apply. It must be said here that aims of such a method are very limited. This is a system and methodology that is designed to restrain crime and punish wrong doing. Reconciliation and healing are not in view here and certainly not in view is a vision of building up the one body of Christ. In response to the assertion that the authors are uniquely equipped to address the crisis in the Anglican world because of their training, I ask “but does this method really fit and does the method invoked have among its aims properly theological and properly ecclesiological aims?” Can the method of the civil law developed to work within a well-defined system of statues and precedents really be the answer to a profound theological and ecclesiological crisis? Is not a more likely analogy the analogy of ecumenical negotiation around agreed statements of faith, order and mission such as the National Council of Churches document on Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry which the authors oddly invoke to bolster their case. I say oddly because the whole purpose of this ecumenical document was to be a prelude to growing ecumenical covenant.

The premise of the brief by these lawyers is that the method of legal argument which is appropriate to a system of settled statutes and case law is the best method to adjudicate what they identify as a constitutional crisis over a constitution that is unwritten and unenforceable. It appears to this non-lawyer that their method has quickly led them to a problem for which their method is in the nature of the case inadequate. The phrase “an unwritten and unenforceable but clearly recognized and anciently respected Anglican Constitution” seems on first reading an oxymoron. It is an enforceable constitution in the American case and an unwritten but enforceable constitution in the British case (nevertheless discernable through the tradition of common law) that makes the jurisprudential method the six bishops propose workable in its normal context. That the Anglican Communion is not able to enforce the most minimal communal discipline is exactly the crisis in front of us. To propose as a solution something that is unenforceable does not appear as a positive contribution to the crisis. Would not a status quo which enables radical and communion-breaking provincial autonomy be a kind of enforcement? The conclusion of the paper seems to contradict the method that is being invoked.

As the six bishops proceed with their argument they become more and more Orwellian. Traditionalists are “constitutional revolutionaries” and those who propose radical innovations in faith and morals and are breaking with the witness of the majority of the world’s Christians are somehow in the tradition of Vatican II and part of a coming “Ecumenical Reformation” and wish “to leave Anglicanism the way it is.” The tone of the paper is high-handed in the extreme and the actors are identified in a stereotypical way as conservatives who “unapologetically seek the utter defeat of the other” and want to “undo the use of reason in the interpretation of scripture” and who are part of a growing “fundamentalism” as opposed to those who “have rediscovered the church’s ancient baptismal theology” and seek to reform the church according to this theology and in a way that will finally make the church relevant to the society and culture it serves. This kind of rhetoric is very disappointing. One discipline that ought to prevail in these attempts at dialogue is the discipline to describe the position of the other side in terms that they can accept. To accuse your opponent of rejecting the role of reason in biblical interpretation while all the while you refuse to engage his careful exegetical arguments (for example N.T. Wright or Robert Gagnon or on the purely scientific front the NARTH researchers) is simply false witness.

The bishops propose as ingredients in the unwritten Anglican Constitution seven “interlocking traditions concerning Anglican Comprehensiveness, the Via Media and Lex Orandi Lex Credendi.” (page 11-12) They are listed below with my comments.

(1) The interlocking traditions concerning Anglican Comprehensiveness, the Via Media, and Lex Orandi Lex Credendi.

If the Anglican Communion reduces its comprehensiveness to a conforming set of confessional doctrines, and discounts the uniting force of worship, it will be a different church.

My comment: Posing the issue in this way represents a simplistic and reductionistic understanding of the relationship between doctrine and worship. The esteemed liturgist Geoffrey Wainwright has documented the complex relationship between the development of doctrine and the development of liturgy in his book Doxology. Sometimes liturgy governs the development of doctrine and sometimes doctrine liturgy. The original BCP is a revision of the received tradition along doctrinal lines. Famously Urban Holmes the former dean at Sewanee confessed that in his role in liturgical revision in the work on the 1979 American BCP his aim was to replace the “Tudor God.” This history of a church that has been held together by worship and not doctrine is an invented history that opposes doctrine and worship in ways that are not supportable either theologically or in terms of the explicit and documented aims of the Episcopal Church’s own councils.

(2) The authority of Scripture, Reason, and Tradition. If the Anglican Communion decides to read scripture literally or impose conformity to a single interpretation without attempting objective regard for critical scholarship, it will be a different church.

My comment: The charge of having no objective regard for critical scholarship fits far better the revisors in this dispute. There is very little dispute about what the texts in question say even using the best historical and critical tools. The dispute is over application not interpretation. The idea that Anglicans have been free to read the Bible in the way that for instance Southern Baptists do with the “soul sufficiency” of the individual reader being the trump in all disputes is pure invention. The quoting of Lambeth statements on biblical interpretation is simply bizarre.

(3) Episcopal Oversight. If bishops are increasingly used in the church as a sign of division, or of conformity, rather than a sign of unity, it will be a different church.

My comment: How can meaningful unity be divorced from agreement in the faith? Is not the mission of the bishops to steward the apostolic doctrine, to keep us united to the rest of the Christian world and to the tradition? The bishop is the one who says, “ That is not what old Polycarp told me that St. John said.” Gene Robinson is exactly a sign both of division and enforced conformity for by his office he excommunicates those who in conscience cannot sign-on to the new theology.

(4) Baptismal Bonds and Community as Communion. If the Anglican Communion decides to allow Christians to refuse to worship and share communion with fellow baptized Christians, including collegial bishops, it will be a different church.

My comment: This begs the question of what it means to be baptized and to be in communion. It presents a rather magical view of the sacrament. The water and the ceremony appear enough without any regard to the confession of faith that should attend membership in the body of Christ. The idea that Anglicanism is doctrinally indifferent is gross revisionist history. An Anglican Church which viewed the sacraments as proposed here would be a different church.

(5) Jurisdiction and the Diocese as the basic and local unit of the Church in relation to congregations, the Province, and the Anglican Communion. If the Anglican Communion creates jurisdictions that cross provincial and diocesan boundaries in order to satisfy those within a given jurisdiction who disagree with the episcopal authority and the majority decisions of the duly constituted decision-making bodies of that jurisdiction,

or if it allows extra-jurisdictional episcopal authority to be exercised at personal whim, it will be a different church.

My comment: This is a pertinent observation. It begs the question of how theological lawlessness and whimsical exercise of episcopal authority by sitting bishops of TEC have provoked the mess we find ourselves in. However, bishops are bishops of the whole church with inter-Anglican and ecumenical responsibilities. The ethos of provincial autonomy on basic issues of faith and morals of TEC is not according to Anglican ethos. If the set up of competing jurisdictions in response to the current pastoral emergency cannot be resolved into a coherent Anglican Communion structure, the agents of reform will have likewise abandoned something crucial to Anglican identity.

(6) Provincial Autonomy. If the Anglican Communion creates a Communion-wide teaching office (magisterium) requiring and perhaps enforcing doctrinal conformity without regard to cultural and experiential differences among provinces, enabling it to overrule decisions duly made by a province, it will be a different church.

My comment: The lack of recognized magisterial structures is one of the main ingredients in the continuing fracture of the Reformation Churches. Anglicanism has had a workable magesterium in its prayer books. As the prayer books of the member churches have begun to diverge the need for a more well-defined teaching office has emerged. The proposed Anglican Covenant includes a vision of a synodical teaching office with checks and balances between the provinces and the instruments of communion. There is always some sort of magesterium at work. General Convention makes unapologetic claims for itself as the ultimate source of teaching. If we want to be truly members of a world wide church this is not enough. It is really the vision of extreme provincial authority in fundamental matters of faith and doctrine that is the innovation.

(7) The Mission of the Church, especially in terms of justice. If Anglicanism separates love of God from love of neighbor, separates spirituality, religious observance, and doctrinal adherence from the mission for justice, and separates vocation to creation from vocation to kingdom, it will be a different church.

My comment: There is an awful lot of code here for a revisionist theological agenda but at the least this argument goes in both directions. Understanding the mission of the church as primarily a search for justice separated from questions of doctrinal truth, spirituality and religious observation would clearly be the invention of a new religion that could claim no Anglican provenance.

Primates Communique

The whole thing is here. [Editor’s note: this link broken. We apologize for the inconvenience.]

The Primates have endorsed the Windsor Report including the call for stregthening the instruments of unity and the establsihment of an Anglican Covenant which they advise will be take a process of its own. They have pretty clearly opted for N.T. Wright’s fireproofing of the house. This is a very hopeful sign.

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Blessed St. Edwin

Ed Friedman is probably the most comprehensively worshipped authority in the Episcopal Church. Rabbi Friedman was famous for applying the Family Systems Theory of Dr. Murray Bowen to congregational life and leadership. Liberals and Conservatives, Reappraisers and Reasserters may share little else but a reverence for Ed Friedman.

A central concept in Friedman’s opus was “leadership by differentiation of self.” This leadership posture was contrasted by Friedman to leadership by force of personality and persusasion, which he thought produced overdependent followers and a cult like ethos, or leadership through consensus, which he thought empowered the “emotional terrorists” and tended to produce “peace mongers.” (The vintage Friedman terms remind me of the wonderful combination of Sigmund Freud and Henny Youngman that the Rabbi was in person. He wowed his audiences including the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church.)

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An Open Letter To Bishops Who Support The Decisions Of General Convention 2003

I am trying to understand what you are professing and teaching both explicitly and implicitly by your votes at the General Convention, by your public statements and by your participation in the consecration in New Hampshire.

1. It appears to me that you are teaching more than a strategy of pastoral care of homosexual persons by making exceptions to the church’s received norms. It appears to me that you are teaching that homosexuality is part of God’s original plan and order for the creation on the order of God’s creation of humanity as male and female and that this “gift of God” should be celebrated in the sacraments of the church.

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Homosexuality And The American Religion

This was originally published on Titusonenine and picked up and excerpted by both First Things and Christianity Today.

Harold Bloom, an iconoclastic literary critic at Yale, wrote a book published in 1992, with the title “The American Religion.” Using an argument developed by Msgr. Ronald Knox in his magisterial work on “Enthusiasm” and by the Presbyterian theologian Phillip Lee in his book “Against The Protestant Gnostics” Bloom makes a convincing case that the real American Religion that is the unofficial but actual spiritual mythos which gives shape to the American worldview and energy to the American religious quest is some form of Gnosticism. The Gnostics, ancient and contemporary, teach that the true and deepest self is a spark of divinity which has become lost and imprisoned in a corrupt world. The drama of salvation is the drama of rediscovering this secret self and reuniting this spark with the divine one. This is accomplished by access to a secret knowledge or “gnosis” which is unavailable to the uninitiated. Gnostic versions of Christianity have been a problem for the church from the earliest times. The struggle with Gnosticism caused St. Irenaeus (130-200 A.D.) to write his chief work “Adversus omnes Haereses.” Gnosticism is hard to kill and has many contemporary fans including the scholars of the Jesus Seminar who champion the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas.

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Phillip Turner On The Windsor Report

Nevertheless, it must be noted that many on both the left and the right do not begin their ecclesiological discussions here. Many on the left begin with the church as a prophetic vanguard commissioned to fight within various political systems for the rights of those who are disadvantaged by those systems. Many on the right view the church primarily as the guardian of certain saving truths contained in Holy Scripture and in various creedal or confessional statements. These perspectives, different thought they are, lead those who hold them to similar visions of themselves; namely, as advocates and/or guardians who must, before all else, hold to principle.The authors of WR, though they care mightily about truth and justice, see both as contained within and witnessed to by something more basic; namely, a form of common life that is a sign of God’s will for the entire creation. Thus, they see unity, communion, and holiness of life as providing something like a circle of grace within which sinful people who have been brought into a new form of life by incorporation into Christ can struggle within the conditions of finitude and sin to bring about a faithful witness to God’s purposes for the world. Thus, unity, communion, and holiness of life are constitutive of the calling of the church. Truth and justice (along with love) are the fruits that arise within this circle of grace and so give light to the world. For the authors of WR, the matter of primary importance is for the church within its common life to be characterized by these three distinctive marks. Apart from them, the church loses its assigned character and so fails in its vocation.

Read the whole of this very helpful piece here. [Editor’s note: this link is broken. We apologize for the inconvenience.]

Bishop Tom Wright On Just About Everything

Tonight, in the first of a new series of ‘Belief’, I’m in conversation with the Right Reverend Tom Wright who since 2003 has been Bishop of Durham. Before that, he was successively Dean of Lichfield and Canon Theologian of Westminster Abbey. But well before that, he spent the first 20 years of his ordained life in academic positions, including 5 years at McGill University in Canada. He’s written over 30 books, most recently ‘The Resurrection of the Son of God’. Primarily, his scholarly reputation rests on a sustained study of the 2 figures at the heart of the Christian Gospel – Jesus and Paul. He’s a conservative in matters of doctrine, and regarded as the most senior Anglican Evangelical. At a time of much division around the subject of homosexual clergy, he’s had a place on the Eames Commission, deputed by the Archbishop of Canterbury to find a way of reconciling the warring factions within the Anglican communion.

BBC News, Joan Bakewell talks with Bishop Tom Wright.

Brian Cox On The Windsor Report

“I want to start a revolution in the Anglican Communion of conservatives, liberals and moderates who love Jesus, are willing to surrender to God and be transformed, and who are willing to pay the awful price of being reconcilers. It’s time to stand up and be counted. The Windsor Report is the shofar calling us to report for duty.”From an editorial in the current issue of the Living Church. Not currently up on their website.

The Rev. Brian Cox is an Episcopal Priest who is a trained mediator and has been active in a grass roots movement called The New Commandment Taskforce aiming to bring reconciliation to the Episcopal Church.

Summary of the Windsor Report

What follows is my summary of the Windsor Report. Thanks to T19 for putting this up when I first wrote it. I have now read the report three times and my appreciation for the work of the commission has grown with each reading. It is not the chastisement and punishment for which so many hoped, nor is it the vindication of the autonomy of national churches cherished by innovators. It is not a completely adequate theological analysis of the state of the Anglican Communion. It is a document that draws boundaries, makes challenges and clearly articulates the consequences of choices. It is an exercise in theologically informed church diplomacy. The Windsor Report is offered in such a way that it has the possibility of changing the terms of the discussion from a question of civil and ecclesiastical rights for a persecuted minority to the question of the meaning of communion and the proper theological criteria and ecclesiastical process for settling disputed issues. As I watch the responses to the Report, I believe I am seeing a new coalition emerging which includes many people who are variously minded on the gay agenda but don’t want to see their church further damaged by the controversy. It is at least possible that the necessity of responding to this report could allow new voices and new leadership to emerge in the Episcopal Church which while still sympathetic to the gay agenda would not wish to make same sex blessings a church defining or church dividing issue. This I take it is the position of Rowan Willams.

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