Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Thomas Elton Brown reflects on The Road to Renewal

Dr. Brown wrote the pioneering study Bible Belt Catholicism: A History of the Roman Catholic Church in Oklahoma, 1905-1945. He was kind enough to permit me to share his personal impressions of my biography of Victor Reed.

I was raised a Catholic in Oklahoma during Victor Reed’s episcopacy. My family was a member of Christ the King parish in Oklahoma City while the then Monsignor Buswell was pastor and the then Father James Halpine was the assistant pastor. Long before Mother Denise was removed from her position as the head of the convent in Tulsa, she taught me second grade at Christ the King elementary school. And I graduated from McGuinness High School in 1964. So much of your monograph was a narrative of my youth. Since I attended McGuinness from 1960 to 1964, you can figure out the events I remembered and the participants I personally knew. It was a first for me as a trained historian to read a scholarly study that both was a narrative in which I would be a primary source and was an analysis about which I had produced a secondary source. I was somewhat schizophrentic in my reading. I would be checking footnotes to identify sources and mulling over the conclusions of each chapter in light of the narrative. Only then I would swing to my personal recollections – “Oh yes, I remember that.” Or “Wow, I didn’t know that.” Or “Oh no, that’s not how it happened” [Or at least, “That’s not how I remember it.”]

In sum, then, I just wanted to let you know that I thoroughly enjoyed reading it – both as an historian of the subject and as a reader with a personal involvement. As I initially wrote, I found it to be well researched and well written – both in a flowing writing style and a readily understandable structure. I thought you did an admirable job of placing Oklahoma within the broader context of the changes occurring simultaneously in other parts of the country. Some reviewers will often conclude a laudatory review by stating the monograph is a model for future studies or breaks new historiographical ground. Being so close personally to the topic and being so far away from active historical scholarship, I am not in position to make such a statement. But I can confidently state that it is as outstanding biography that captured a personality that truly wrestled with a range of issues as he struggled to do the right thing.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Duncan Deposition

Teaching has kept me from posting over the past month yet it would be remiss to pass over this day without noting the news from Salt Lake City. It would seem that the House of Bishops has now taken its stand by not waiting for the diocesan vote on realignment. Looking back on +Bob Duncan's period in office (13 years and counting), it's interesting to reflect how the persona of a secessionist has been projected on the Bishop of Pittsburgh by his critics back before his consecration. The historical record (of recorded statements at least) does not reflect that. While it's always easy to think how things might have been managed "better" had "we" had the handling of them, it's hard to see a way it could have been avoided. It was always too little and too late. As J. Gresham Machen concluded almost a century ago, Liberal Christianity and its Traditional (Conservative) rival will ultimately come to a parting of the ways. It may be amicable or bloody but in the end it will come. What is important is how one handles the fragments.

For the orthodox (especially the ardent proponents of realignment) this is but an incident on the road to a brighter future; it merely confirms their view of the majority of members of the House of Bishops. The damage done to institutional Anglicanism in America, I suspect, is mortal. According to David Virtue, dissenters at the meeting included the bishops of East Tennessee, Easton, Milwaukee, Montana, New Jersey, Northwest Texas,Oklahoma, Rhode Island and Virginia, none of them known for their conservatism. Perhaps they suspect the reckoning that must follow.

And so the legacy of the Episcopal Church passes into history. May the new future be all that its proponents believe it to be. I would that I had their confidence and yet at present I feel nothing so much as a sense of a fading vision. What awaits us beyond October 4 for me still has most uncertain contours.

For the Virtue report, see: http://www.virtueonline.org/portal/modules/news/article.php?storyid=9024

And here's a downloadable spreadsheet indicating how the bishops voted, courtesy of TitusOneNine: http://kendallharmon.net/t19/media/Duncan_Deposition_Vote.xls