Sunday, November 08, 2009

Like A Mighty Army Moves the Church of God: Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh Convention, November 7, 2009

From across southwestern Pennsylvania (and beyond) American Anglicans flocked to their first convention as – explicitly – the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh (a nonprofit corporation bearing that name now exists). St. Stephen’s, Sewickley, may be commodious but, even so, space was at a premium.

Morning Prayer brought an ironic twist, when the second lesson – Revelation 17, no less – was presented by means of an audiovisual Bible series, with interesting special effects and a voiceover read by none other than John Guest. As far as I could tell the sage of Grove Farm was not physically present (though he was at Monroeville in 2008) but to hear that mellifluous English accent recounting the vision of the Whore of Babylon and the Beast with seven heads and ten horns was unusual, to say the least. Coupled with the other assigned passage from Ezra on the sin of the Israelites in intermarrying with the peoples of the land, one couldn’t help but wonder about the way the lectionary can sometimes fall.

The first order of business was to bring before the assembly the new parishes seeking admission. These included Harvest Anglican Fellowship in Homer City, which drew its first members from members of the congregations in Blairsville and Indiana who rejected the latter’s decision not to realign; the largely African-American Church of the Transfiguration in Cleveland, Ohio; St. James in San Jose, California, whose members left St. Edward’s Episcopal this spring and who have a vision to plant a diocese in the San Francisco Bay area (an endeavor, Archbishop Duncan remarked, in which Pittsburghers should be glad to cooperate); and Holy Trinity in Raleigh, North Carolina, launched in 2004 but the fruit of twenty-five years of visioning by Garland Tucker, and now one of the larger parishes in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, with a membership of around 300.

Archbishop Duncan then introduced two visitors from the Province of Tanzania, noting the connection forged by Alfred Stanway as Tanzanian missionary bishop and later as president of Trinity School for Ministry. There was an enduring connection, he said between the East African Revival and the renewal movement in western Pennsylvania. Bishop John Lupaa brought greetings from his Archbishop and from the 100,000 Christians in 263 churches in the Rift Valley. “I love the Lord,” he told delegates, “the Lord is my Savior and I am serving Him.” Bishop Jacob Chimeledya of the Diocese of Mpwapwa (the father of five children aged from 32 to 3½), whose diocese encompasses 500 congregations, described how, at a recent prayer meeting, healing was given to two people suffering from blindness. He praised the formation of ACNA, saying it had encouraged the churches in Africa after they had lost faith in The Episcopal Church.

Canon Missioner Mary Hays then rose to address the issues of “clergy, church planting and confession.” Pittsburgh’s clergy, she said, are a remarkable group of men and women who have made many sacrifices, not least the recent indignity of being “released” from ordained ministry. She quoted a recent e-mail from a clergyperson who wrote: “It is a great honor to serve among these presbyters at this momentous time in the Church.” On church planting, she recalled the words of Bob Logan ten years ago that anyone can plant a church. Today we have begun to recognize that it’s not a case of either preserving small congregations or planting new ones, but that the latter only strengthen the former. Yesterday the Archbishop had called for 1,000 new churches in the United States in five years and everyone had a part to play in this venture, whether in prayer, funding-raising, spiritual gift discernment or something greater. “It’s time for us not to be cozy or comfortable,” she concluded, adding that, from the point of view of “confession,” we needed to acknowledge that “we’re a part of the reason we’re in this mess.” If that were not so, church planting would have been taking place to a much greater degree in the past decade.

As if to reinforce this admonition, there followed introductions of extra-parochial clergy, who included the leader of a student group in Amherst, Massachusetts (who, brave woman, has the Fairfield brothers, Andrew and Leslie, as part of her team); a recently ordained Canadian clergywoman, whose orders are not recognized by the Anglican Church of Canada; Tom Herrick of the Titus Institute for Church Planting, a former employee of the Anglican Communion Network; ACNA’s first VA chaplain, serving in West Virginia and helping families reintegrate after the return of members of the military from active service; the pastor of Cleveland’s Church of the Transfiguration who prayed to God for months to send the congregation a priest only eventually to get the message “I’m trying”; and David Bane, former Bishop of Southern Virginia, who ultimately discovered he was no longer welcome in the church in which both he and his father has served. Perhaps most striking was the testimony of Father Vincent Raj of St. George’s Episcopal Church in Salinas, California. A priest in the Episcopal Diocese of El Camino Real (he just retired from the Board of Trustees) Father Raj was at Plano in 2003 and described how he had struggled to hold on his catholic roots from which TEC had now severed him. He was here to commit to ACNA and Archbishop Duncan. A short while later, Canon Daryl Fenton, just back from a trip to Myanmar, brought greetings from that nation. The challenges we face here, he pointed out, are very small compared to those who have nothing but “faith and guts.”

From such heights we passed to the more prosaic matter of the budget. The major shift, as noted in my pre-convention report, is the adoption of the biblical tithe as the standard for giving by parishes to the diocese (as is already the standard for diocesan giving to the province). This was adopted unanimously, although a priest from Atonement, Carnegie, urged that an absolute biblical tithe (not a tithe based on an average of the past three years’ income) be the norm. Jonathan Millard, rector of Church of the Ascension and member of the Standing Committee, then reported that the “Staying Faithful” fund had just received a $300,000 donation, together with a pledge of $200,000 in matching funds from someone not associated with the diocese. He added that the Standing Committee had consulted widely and prayed and fasted before reaching their decision to appeal Judge James’s decision and had noted the admonition of many of the need to “take a stand” on something that is “manifestly unfair,” citing the possible threat posed by the decision to parish – not just diocesan – property. (Interestingly, two other members of Standing Committee spoke to me privately about my letter regarding the appeal and told me of their conviction that this action was also necessary as a way of giving voice to the rights of those in even less friendly jurisdictions.)

Back in October, I was struck by the presence of Don Green of Christian Associates of Southwestern Pennsylvania (the local ecumenical association) at the TEC diocesan convention and yet today here he was again, with the timely reminder that the past year had not been an easy journey for us or “our sisters and brothers” in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. He commended the fact that the Archbishop continued to attend ecumenical gatherings and contribute to the work of finding ways to give public witness to a common faith. He noted the pending admission of the Church in God in Christ and the Mennonites to Christian Associates next year and the work of the Allegheny Jail Ministry, which had cut recidivism rates from 65% to 16%.

Three resolutions now stood before convention and in the first I took direct personal interest. Entitled “The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh – Who We are in Christ,” it affirmed the Jerusalem Declaration as a summary of the essentials of our faith and pledged submission to the leadership of the GAFCON membership “as we look to our future as an orthodox and missionary movement in world Anglicanism.” On seeing the text, I was struck by the omission of any reference to the Anglican Covenant and so drafted an amendment that read as follows:

And be it further resolved that, in harmony with the resolution of the ACNA Provincial Council of June 22, 2009, we express our continued willingness to subscribe to the un-amended Ridley Cambridge Draft of the Anglican Covenant.

In retrospect, it may be that I overestimated the potential for opposition (especially as the sponsor Geoff Chapman afterwards told me that he would have accepted it as a friendly amendment), but so much of what I have read of late has been phrased as if the Jamaica debacle ended any meaningful possibility of change, so I pitched my advocacy in terms of catholic responsibility and the possibility that the Archbishop who is ultimately responsible for implementing the Covenant may not be the present incumbent. Archbishop Duncan then stated that he had been responsible for the provincial council resolution and that – since the amendment referred to the original Ridley Cambridge Draft (with its disciplinary language) - he would “enthusiastically” support it. In response to a request from the floor for the context of the draft, he gave a very polished account of how events since 2003 had led to the Covenant, noting further that it had originally been conceived among the proposals in "To Mend the Net." The resolution passed unanimously.

A second resolution upholding the sanctity of life was introduced by Becky Spanos, 30 years after the first such resolution was adopted in Pittsburgh. Throughout that period, she said, NOEL had tried to change the culture of the Episcopal Church and failed. While some of the language in the resolution might seem stark, “we can’t abort forty million more babies,” particularly when there are so many resources available for parents in need. Co-sponsor Tara Jernigan added that the resolution was the result of many parochial consultations in which she had been asked for the church teaching on this issue. The resolution passed unanimously.

Finally, a courtesy resolution celebrating the work of last year’s Celebrate 250 organizers and of retiring archivist Lynne Wohleber was adopted, and a standing ovation offered, at the prompting of David Wilson, to long-term diocesan historiographer Father John Leggett.

The final business concerned revisions to Constitution and Canons, many of them simply reflecting the shift from TEC to ACNA, with the significant change that all parish property is to be vested solely in the parish corporation. The only debate came over the wisdom of leaving the shelter of the Southern Cone, as far as Anglican identity was concerned, to which Archbishop Duncan responded that Archbishop Venables had encouraged him to embrace the new ACNA framework, but would keep clergy on the Southern Cone books in a form of “dual citizenship” as a safety measure. As vicar general for Archbishop Venables for North America, the link with Canterbury would be maintained, and he would attend the Synod of the Southern Cone next year for the election of Archbishop Venables’ successor. A motion of thanks to the Southern Cone for their hospitality was approved.

A note should here be given of the “multiplication minutes” – short presentations of innovative types of ministry that serve to build up the Body of Christ – that occurred throughout regular business. From St. Philip’s, Moon Township, came news of the new “mission-shaped communities” (MSC) composed of roughly 40 members (small enough for clear vision and large enough for action). An outgrowth of Alpha, they provided the first opportunity for service for many new Christians and in Moon had chosen to focus on reaching children and young adults with physical and emotional needs. From St. Christopher’s, Cranberry, came word of how a congregation with around eighty members had discerned its calling to plant in an area of rapid population increase not one church of 500 people but five churches of 100. From the conveners of the ecumenical Kairos Ministry came news of cursillo adapted to a prison context and the urge to “plant” a church within a penitentiary. After four years, other country jails had observed the results and were asking Kairos teams to come in. Take your best men’s cursillo, one of the priests involved (who testified to conversion from ten years of intravenous drug use) attested and multiply that by one hundred. Their converts included several Muslims and even one follower of Wicca. Finally, from Grace Anglican in Slippery Rock, news of raising up almost a dozen future priests, all but one under twenty-five. “There’s nothing more powerful,” declared the rector Ethan Magness, “than when anthropology and Christology connect with Calvary.”

I have been writing these accounts of Pittsburgh diocesan conventions since 2006. I rather suspect this will be my last for now. I trust that all you who have followed my progress have enjoyed my selections and have been appropriately edified. For this historian it has been a truly remarkable ride.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

A Man of His Time? Rowan Williams and the Crisis of Anglican Order

Review: Rupert Shortt, Rowan’s Rule: The Biography of the Archbishop. (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2008).

“Rowan’s room for manoeuvre on the national stage was always going to be limited in important respects. For example, it is hard to defend an establishment institution in decline, particularly when you have a reputation for being anti-establishment. It is hard to defend English culture, of which the Church is a part, when you are committed to multiculturalism . . . And it is hard to avoid compromising yourself by taking conservative views into account, whether Evangelical or Roman Catholic, when you are committed to ecumenism and mutual respect.” (279)

When Randall Thomas Davidson was enthroned Archbishop of Canterbury in 1903, the relationship of the Church of England to the nation state, both at home and in the colonies, was paramount in Anglican identity. The next twenty years formed the cusp of the ecumenical movement, marked by such noteworthy events as the Edinburgh Missionary Conference (1910), the Patriarch of Constantinople’s appeal for Christian unity (1920), the Anglican-Catholic Malines conversations (1921-1927), and the Lausanne World Conference on Faith and Order (1927). By contrast, Anglicanism’s search for denominational identity and authority remained at low ebb, not least because Anglican establishment provided all the glue necessary to bind Anglicans throughout the empire together.

A century later, and the relative importance of these elements – erastianism, ecumenism and conciliarism – had been almost completely reversed. The Church of England’s ties to the state looked remarkably threadbare; as Lady Bracknell might have remarked, establishment had “ceased to be either a profit or a pleasure. It gives one position, and prevents one from keeping it up.” Ecumenical dialogue, though in some ways more structured than at the beginning of the 20th century, had also lost much of the fiery optimism that had governed the earlier conversations, as the prospects of organic unity receded, the failure of Anglican-Methodist unity talks under Michael Ramsey during the 1970s being an obvious case in point. Conciliarism, by contrast, had assumed center stage as rapidly growing national churches in the Global South achieved provincial independence and long-established national churches in the Global North pushed the limits of Anglican diversity. While all of Michael Ramsey’s successors experienced pressure to redefine Canterbury’s status as primus inter pares, it was only with the primacy of Rowan Williams that this issue took on an urgency that could not be gainsaid.

One of the great Anglican “what ifs” of the 21st century will surely be the course of the Anglican Communion had Richard Chartres or Michael Nazir-Ali succeeded George Carey in 2002. One may argue that the then Bishops of London and Rochester would have been obliged to moderate their forceful rhetoric once they filled the chair of St. Augustine and that the role of Archbishop of Canterbury has always been limited. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that Rowan Williams has put his stamp on the course of events that stretches from the Windsor Report of 2004 to the Dromantine and Dar-es-Salaam meetings and the 2008 Lambeth Conference. The question inevitably arises as to what drives the present Archbishop of Canterbury to act as he has done. Rupert Shortt’s biography provides some excellent insights into the world of the man on whose watch the Anglican consensus finally began to crumble.

This is a sympathetic though not uncritical account of an ecclesiastic generally acknowledged to be one of the great minds of Anglican theology in the second half of the twentieth century. Of the three archbishops who in the last hundred years had a claim to original theological scholarship, Shortt ranks Williams considerably higher than William Temple or Michael Ramsey, although he admits that such intellectual mastery is not always contiguous with clarity, noting theologian Oliver O’Donovan’s verdict that Rowan wishes to “make Christianity difficult – reversing the strategy of the apologist who wants to purge religion of its bewildering aspects – but then making a missionary opportunity out of the resulting sense of dislocation.” (13) He also cites a passage from Williams’ Lost Icons, in which the latter warns of ‘all kinds of difficulty about appealing as a moral sanction to the danger of diminishing the solidity of the self by ignoring the perceptions of others,’ which Shortt helpfully translates as “talking in a diffuse way about the danger of selfishness.” (224)

Conservative Anglicans may well feel that while Shortt exposes the exaggerations and oversimplifications of all the archbishop’s critics, he has much less sympathy with those on the theological ‘right.’ Writing of the 1998 Lambeth Conference, he describes many African bishops as displaying a double standard on sexuality, having appealed only a decade earlier for tolerance on the issue of polygamy, even though the latter question had been concerned less with permitting already converted Christians to have additional wives as with the procedures to be followed with an already polygamous household that converted to Christianity. (205) While Stephen Noll would probably have no problem being described as “stridently conservative” (227) Andrew Goddard may bridle at being referred to as an “outspoken hardliner,” and the allusion to the “squadron” of Oxford-based Evangelicals who mobilized to oppose Jeffrey John’s appointment conjures up some wonderful images (268). Much of this is, of course, in the eye of the beholder. Shortt may not like the more conservative Evangelicals, but he lets them speak and also demonstrates how much they still have in common with Williams. Moreover, anyone who believes that stridency in orthodox circles invariably (as opposed to generally) correlates with a passion for truth obviously needs to read a little more widely.

In his account of Williams’ early life, Shortt draws particular attention to the former’s reputation as an intellectual high-flyer and his early emergence as a critic of the prevailing liberal theological consensus at both Oxford and Cambridge. The procession of teachers who were soon obliged to admit that they had nothing more to teach him becomes annoyingly repetitive. More singular was Williams’ dissent from the presumptions of such works as John Robinson’s Honest to God (1962) or the essays in Soundings: Essays Concerning Christian Understanding (1963). His rejection of the notion of Jesus solely as a moral mentor and conviction of the basic truth of the Gospels foreshadowed a counter-cultural stance that sits ill with today’s perception of him as an apologist for unbridled modernism. His early interest in both Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy are well documented – not least his doctoral dissertation on Vladimir Lossky – and his fascination with the writings of Early Church Fathers would endure. Nevertheless, his was not a straightforward conservatism:

In the theological scheme to which Rowan felt increasingly drawn, liberals tended to err through saying too little, while many conservatives overlooked the dangers of saying too much. The most credible stance was based on a balance between two sorts of awareness – that religious truth (as opposed to truth revealed in a test tube) can never be simple or slick, because it lies at a depth where things are often murky; but the burrowing process must be engaged with unflagging commitment nonetheless. (98)

Williams’ subsequent academic career at Cambridge (chaplain at Wescott House and Clare College) and Oxford (Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity) demonstrates certain character traits that remain with him to this day, including a predisposition toward conflict avoidance and a profound sympathy with the underdog. (108) It also witnessed his first engagement with the issue of homosexuality and the Church’s response to it, perhaps most notably in The Body’s Grace, a 1989 lecture that affirmed his basic conviction that changes in the theology of sexuality could not be made by reference to prevailing social mores but must be informed by scriptural principles. (143-146) This was not, as Shortt makes clear, the sole – or even principal – preoccupation of these years. Williams’ prodigious literary output revealed a deeply grounded Trinitarian faith and conviction of a God active in human history, though Shortt treats Williams’ exploration of the Church’s role in the political sphere as insufficiently nuanced.

The chapter on Williams’ translation to the Diocese of Monmouth throws further light on his pastoral development. Shortt does not spare his subject in noting his failure to implement needful but drastic administrative reforms or his willingness to accept people for ordination out of sympathy for their personal story rather than conviction of their call. What does emerge, however, is a picture of a pastoral bishop desirous of being accessible to his flock. Equally revealing are the facts that he was the only Welsh bishop to support an evangelistic initiative known as Good News in Wales and was an active promoter of church plants (something that might come as a surprise to many Evangelicals). Among other formative experiences, Shortt devotes significant space to the lasting impact of being present at Ground Zero on September 11, 2001. (212-222)

Williams’ elevation to Canterbury was received with enthusiasm by a wide spectrum of opinion, a sentiment that would hardly last the year. Citing Oliver O’Donovan’s prescient confidential letter of July 4, 2002, Shortt draws attention to the telling phrase that “the efforts of the harder elements [of the Global South], initially intended to focus on you, are to be directed more constructively, to the general question of accountability and authority within the Anglican Communion,” (243) even as Williams’ record on the presenting issue of homosexuality – on which both sides drew for encouragement – was recognized to be “a highly forthright lecture, an open-handed pastoral policy, and a declaration of deference to the collective mind of the Church.” (244)

It is clear that until 2003, the Archbishop continued to hew to the view that better communication rather than enhanced central authority was the cure for the Communion’s ills. The Jeffrey John affair, which Shortt describes in detail (264-277), demonstrated both Williams’ commitment to the mind of the Church in overseeing his own province and the vast gulf between his critics on left and right. It also revealed his dangerous ability to see all sides of the argument and rarely to convey to anyone in personal conversation that he disagreed with them (less helpful in a bishop than an academic). That said, the aftermath of John’s rejection and Vicki Gene Robinson’s consecration as Bishop of New Hampshire saw an incremental shift in his thinking toward the more structured model for the Anglican Communion envisaged in the Virginia Report. Shortt has little time for conservative critics like Peter Jensen or Bob Duncan – he uses the phrase “purporting to be on a golfing holiday” to describe Duncan’s presence at the 2005 Dromantine meeting (312) – but he recognizes their impact and he refrains from expressing a personal view of the famous meeting of 2004 at which, supposedly, archepiscopal approval for the Anglican Communion Network was given. (288-289).

By the spring of 2006, it was evident that the actual choices to be made reposed not in England but in Africa and the United States. The aftermath of the 2006 General Convention of the Episcopal Church, the appeal for alternative primatial oversight, the election of Martyn Minns as a Nigerian missionary bishop and the subsequent vote of the Northern Virginia parishes all testified to something very different from the two-tier Communion that Williams had proposed. Shortt’s account of the Dar-es-Salaam meeting (367-369) is a little one-sided, since it is presented as a defeat for the principle of a separate American province sought by Peter Akinola, rather than as an acceptance of the principle of the need for external oversight, something later rejected by the Episcopal Church.

What is harder to discern, as one moves into the account of GAFCON and the Lambeth Conference of 2008, is how Shortt understands Rowan Williams’ current view of authority. At home, the Archbishop undoubtedly is as aware of the post-erastian reality of English Anglicanism (which Shortt regards as the underlying point of his much-debated sharia address) as many of his critics. What is not clear is how he wishes to apply these principles elsewhere. The failure to exclude the consecrators of Bishop Robinson as well as Robinson himself from the Lambeth Conference, surely laid him open to the charge that it was Robinson’s character not the principle of breaking the bonds of Communion that was at issue. Shortt also notes the positive comments of Williams on the GAFCON meeting, even as he disagreed with its structural solution (409-410), something that would be consistent with earlier statements that he had made, but calculated to perplex his liberal admirers.

Williams’ later remarks on the tone of the debate on women bishops in the Church of England testify to recognition on his part that, ultimately, holding everything together may prove to be a bridge too far. It is noteworthy that this biography was published prior to the contentious February 2009 meeting of General Synod that rejected statutory protections for Anglo Catholics and the even more embarrassing debacle at the Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Jamaica that witnessed the gutting of Clause Four of the Anglican Covenant, without which it is debatable if any meaningful confessional identity for the Anglican Communion could be assured. To read this biography is to understand better what shapes the mind of the present Archbishop of Canterbury but it fails to explain why one so passionately convinced of the importance of organic unity and so evidently committed to historic Christology has shied from articulating an overt defense of those who have sought to do the same. Given his clear recognition of the declining importance of the national church, it would surely not have gone beyond his brief to offer more than nominal moral support to like-minded Anglicans in other provinces. By his deference to the leadership of other national churches, Rowan Williams may ultimately have precipitated the eventuality that one feels he always wished to avoid.

Friday, October 30, 2009

An Open Letter to the Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (Anglican Church in North America)

October 30, 2009

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Having recently expressed my concerns to the leadership of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (The Episcopal Church) regarding their stance on Judge James’s decision, I feel it only consistent to note my opposition to the intent of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (Anglican Church in North America), as reported in today’s Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, to appeal that decision.

Over the five years that I have been in Pittsburgh, I have taken as a given that the embrace of “miraculous expectation and missionary grace” was a sincere one, even as I learned – as one might reasonably expect – that perfect behavior in all things is for the Church Triumphant rather than the Church Militant. So often have I heard the wise advice to trust in God’s Providence and to refrain from fretting about the future. Concurrently, however, engagement in the legal process, employing the same types of legal argument concerning ultimate jurisdiction and property law as invoked by lawyers for The Episcopal Church, has continued.

Ultimately, at least from this historian’s perspective, there is no way to prove the original intent of Episcopal Church structures, not least because the first generation of church leaders carefully refrained from a single explicit declaration of the corporate nature of the church. All we have are moral claims, which are precisely those upon which the secular courts are unwilling to render an opinion.

It has been frequently asserted that the ACNA diocese has always been willing to negotiate in good faith and that defending against aggressive motions does not contravene the scriptural imperative against lawsuits among Christians. This seems to me like special pleading. If ACNA does indeed have a special purpose in God’s design, then it seems equally plausible that an initial failure in the courts is either a way of telling us that we must “let goods and kindred go” without complaint, or, alternatively, that God is providing an occasion for grace on the part of The Episcopal Church to reach an Overland Park-style resolution. If we are intended to be a new post-millennial, post-institutional body, then among the patterns of behavior that we must set aside is an American understanding of property of which many of us have been only recent stewards.

The future mode of ACNA is apparently to be a decentralized federation of churches (I’m still not sure how we reconcile the model Geoff Chapman described at the Sewickley pre-convention meeting with a catholic ecclesiology, but at least I can understand the reasons why it might be desired). Fighting so fervently on behalf of a lingering diocesan authority that we do not intend to retain in the future is not, to my way of thinking, compatible with that.

While I realize that my perspective is probably a minority one, in retrospect I do think it unfortunate that we never had separate votes – as was done in Virginia – on realignment as a principle and, separately, on recourse to the courts as part of the realignment strategy. Those opposed to court action and who make diocesan pledges to ACNA – as I do – are thus as obliged to see our money being used for a purpose of which we disapprove as are conservatives still in TEC.

I would ask that you carefully reflect and solicit views from a spectrum of people within the diocese before proceeding down the road currently contemplated. A future historian of ACNA would, I feel sure, much prefer to recount a story of a formative church beneath the trees than of one locked in courtroom conflict.

Sincerely, Jeremy Bonner, PhD, Trinity Cathedral

Saturday, October 10, 2009

An Open Letter to the Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh

October 10, 2009

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I write to express my concern about the tone of the recent letter released on the diocesan website. While I have always accepted that, at least from a purely legal point of view, both diocesan entities could make a reasonable claim to the endowment, I had hoped that a spirit of pragmatism would enter into any proceedings concerning parish ownership. A generous reading of the aforementioned letter suggests that a mediated process might lead to a transfer of parish property, but it is so hedged about with reservations that it might almost be better to have said outright that nothing short of a return to the Episcopal Church would enable realigned conservatives to remain in their property.

I am one of probably a rather small number who believes that ACNA's participation in the present legal case was unwise, not because realignment could not legally occur - I happen to believe that it could - but because getting involved in the first place has served only to distract attention from what ACNA claims to be about and prolong the bitterness. That said, the language of reconciliation employed here simply does not comport with reality. If you simply wish to reclaim all parish buildings, then say so. If you wish to extract a "fair market value," then say that.

While I recognize that the Standing Committee embraces a wide spectrum of theological opinion, those of you actively involved in the work of the pre-realignment diocese understand what drove realignment, even if you disagreed with the strategy.To say that "you do not wish to punish" is frankly patronizing (I fear there is no other word), particularly given the fact that such reassurance should be entirely unnecessary if you are simply carrying out a "fiduciary duty." More to the point, you know that for many in Pittsburgh the time for the accomplishment of "fruitful things" has long since passed. It may perhaps be achievable by the right people at the right place and time, but members of the realigned diocese are not the right people and this is not the right place and time for them.

Some of us had hoped to be able to create a framework in which there could continue to be relationships across the Episcopal/Anglican divide, perhaps the only place in the United States where conditions favored such a strategy. The severing of bonds between clergy who have worked together for years is particularly sad. I will not claim that there have been no statements or actions from the other side that have accentuated the present unpleasantness, but I confidently predict that a letter of this sort will formalize the divide in perpetuity. For some on Standing Committee that may be no great loss, but not, I suspect, for all.

Sincerely, Jeremy Bonner, PhD, Trinity Cathedral

Friday, October 09, 2009

"Force is not the Means by which We Lead or Govern"

Yesterday, in accordance with my duties as Trinity Cathedral delegate to two diocesan conventions (yes, dear reader, two; I suspect it must be some sort of record to be an accredited delegate to two rival conventions under such circumstances), I followed up my visit to Calvary Church for the TEC pre-convention meeting with a trip out to Sewickley for the ACNA pre-convention meeting at St. Stephen's Church. Of the Calvary meeting, I will say only that it was generally unremarkable (Judge James's ruling having yet to be delivered) and most of the discussion dealt with budgetary issues and revisions of the canons to bring them back into accord with the national church. For those intrigued by the emerging shape of the new province, however, I suspect some who were not there might find the matters discussed at the ACNA pre-convention to be of interest.

On Wednesday, delegates gathered in the shadow of the court decision. Archbishop Duncan was in sunny mood, however, a disposition no doubt enhanced by the knowledge that his audience was comprised of the faithful. Discussion of the budget - now dependent on assessment income alone - involved the proposal to move the diocese from mandatory assessments to a voluntary tithe. The latter is a plank of ACNA thinking on stewardship, embracing the biblical norm of giving, and Pittsburgh has set as a goal the giving of 10 percent of its income to the new province (leaders of the province have in turn promised to offer significant financial support to underwrite the office of the archbishop). As a first step, redirected giving by parishes - instituted in 1996 to allow congregations to refrain from giving to TEC - will be ended and parishes (and individuals) strongly encouraged to make the tithe the standard of giving. Next year's convention will then institute first reading of a change to the constitution that will make all giving voluntary. Sewickley rector Geoff Chapman commended these moves as helping to build mutual trust and greater interdependence and yet, as the archbishop acknowledged, this is obviously a step of faith for the leadership. Assessment income is down from a 2009 budget figure of $1,549,088 to $931,491 in 2010 (or $870,172 if every parish went with the tithe, since several large parishes are currently assessed at 11 percent). Later, in a discussion on elections to the new board of trustees, the archbishop cheerfully responded to a question on their function in a post-endowment world, by stating that they would be responsible for "the many things that will be given us."

Also reviewed were new guidelines for clergy compensation, including maternity and paternity leave (Jonathan Millard inquired if this was to be retroactive). The loss of access to the Church Pension Fund, Archbishop Duncan admitted, was a sore blow, given its defined benefits, especially for disabled clergy. Any new pension scheme will only reflect the level of contributions. At present the search is on for good disability insurance that will provide some degree of protection to clergy just beginning their careers.

Perhaps most fascinating was the report from Canon Hays on the admission of new non-geographic parishes. Present were a group from Church of the Transfiguration in Cleveland, OH, who together with Harvest Anglican in Homer City, PA; St. James, San Jose, CA, and Holy Trinity, Raleigh, NC, will be admitted into union at convention. The news provoked a question from Dennett Buettner as to why a parish in San Jose had not joined San Joaquin, to which Canon Hays responded that they had female candidates for ordination and that, after examining all the new dioceses, they considered Pittsburgh to be the best fit. A Silicon Valley-based congregation they had, she said, a desire to plant a new diocese in the Bay area! Tina Lockett then rose to ask the archbishop whether it in fact the case that "we're still not tied to geography" and that the possibility existed that even a Pittsburgh-based congregation could elect to seek union with another jurisdiction. Archbishop Duncan responded that while it had been agreed among the bishops that both must agree on transfers - San Joaquin had concurred in the San Jose initiative - he doubted if any ACNA bishop would seek to restrain a congregation that wished to "move" elsewhere. Something upon which to ponder!

Resolutions setting the Jerusalem Declaration as the standard of belief and upholding the sanctity of human life were reviewed in short order, before a march began through proposed changes to constitution and canons. While many simply involved deletion of references to TEC, there were some more substantive alterations. Canon 1 sees a shift from membership in the Province of the Southern Cone to membership in the Anglican Church in North America, prompting they question of whether membership in the Anglican Communion continued to be assured by the fact that all ACNA bishops had seats in the house of bishops of other provinces. Archbishop Duncan confirmed this, at the same time noting with a twinkle that the Archbishop of Canterbury's letter acknowledging the formation of ACNA (addressed to the Most Reverend Robert Duncan) had managed to convey the impression that this was an ingenious arrangement to retain membership. Of course, the archbishop added, "he'll never say that publicly." Elsewhere, the Array (the court of ecclesiastical discipline) is to be reconfigured to provide a review committee and identify responsibilities and powers; parishes given more freedom to set up in close proximity (in case of eviction); the requirement to maintain full-time clergy for parish status is eliminated; and all parish property is now to be vested in the parish. Geoff Chapman here intervened to ask if every parish will have the ultimate right of disassociation from ACNA and was informed that the necessary change will be made next year.

The emphasis on subsidiarity was all to evident throughout the meeting. As the quote from Archbishop Duncan that heads this report clearly demonstrates, ACNA will in some measure revert to the model found in TEC throughout much of the 19th century. The test will come in a few years when a measure of stability has been achieved. It will also be interesting to see how it meshes with leadership models among ACNA's African allies and whether it will even come to shape behaviors across the theological divide. Congregational it undoubtedly is, but will its Anglican roots make it something more than that?

By the end of the meeting the archbishop was in upbeat mood. We've proved, he said, we can live without the endowments, so even if we choose not to appeal, we are secure. He pledged that even this year's convention will be different, with alternates and observers free to sit among the delegates. We may do some things according to legislative procedures, he concluded, but we're not a legislative body but a family. And in a sense he's right. Comradeship in adversity has welded together the inner circle of those who have worked with Bob Duncan since he first came to Pittsburgh and the wider body of believers in Pittsburgh who belong to ACNA. It's interesting for me that while I still identify with ACNA as much as I do with any institution, at neither pre-convention meeting did I feel myself to be wholly there. Perhaps I've just spent too long writing about a pre-realignment diocese. There are just too many missing faces (everywhere) for me to feel entirely comfortable. "We have the future," the archbishop insisted, while those in TEC "have only the past." What sort of future, I wonder.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The Agony of Possession

For some while I have contemplated an articulation of my thoughts on the war for diocesan and parish property currently being waged in my home diocese and across the United States between the Episcopal Church (TEC) and the newly formed Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). Yesterday, Judge James’s decision burst on the scene, broadly supporting the position of the TEC diocese that they are entitled to the entirety of the diocesan endowment (parish property is not addressed under this ruling). While some on the conservative side are no doubt gearing up for an appeal (the fact that there appear to be conflicting bases for recent decisions against ACNA in Pittsburgh and Fort Worth even suggest that appeals could ultimately end up in the Supreme Court), I find myself wondering what such legal contortions have to do with the mission of ACNA itself.

I should perhaps preface my remarks with some explanation on my own experience of being an Anglican. In the course of thirty-eight years, I have been a member of four parishes: the middle-of-the-road Church of England parish of St. Cuthbert’s. Durham (1970-1992); the gaudily extrovert Anglo Catholic bastion of St. Paul’s, K Street in Washington DC (1992-2003); the equally high, but more down-to-earth foundation of Mount Calvary, Baltimore (2003-2004); and the utterly un-categorizable Trinity Cathedral in Pittsburgh (2004-2009). All have contributed to my understanding of what it means to be first a Christian and secondly an Anglican.

In the course of my seventeen years in the United States (more or less the same period of time that Archbishop Robert Duncan has served in Pittsburgh in a variety of guises), the configuration of Anglicanism – both in the United States and worldwide – has been transformed. Parallel jurisdictions, heavily influenced by a strongly countercultural brand of Evangelicalism, exist throughout the English-speaking world, filling a void created, at least in part, by the failure of successive Archbishops of Canterbury to articulate a vision of mutually dependent provinces that minimizes dramatic shifts in doctrinal belief and practice at a provincial level. In the United States, the pace of theological innovation – of which Bishop Gene Robinson is a symptom not the cause – has precipitated an alternative body for conservative Anglicans (ACNA) that currently occupies an uncertain position within the structures of global Anglicanism. All of this is amply documented, but would attract little attention in the secular world but for two factors: the prominent part that the debate over human sexuality has played in the conflict between liberal and conservative Christians and the struggle for ecclesiastical assets. It is the latter that concerns me here.

My experience of the property conflict is shaped by my five years in Pittsburgh, as much an observer of how the recent past has shaped the present as a player in the world of diocesan politics. I have no great stake in diocesan institutions one way or the other, although I have developed a number of spiritual associations and friendships for which I am devoutly grateful. There are others who stand to lose far more than I in terms of long-standing family connections to particular parishes or significant contributions to diocesan projects and endowment funds. That said, the following arguments have been advanced in favor of an aggressive legal strategy by the conservative side:

1. Preservation of parish property for the active worshipping community, which has sustained it with minimal input from the diocese and practically none from the national church.

The appeal to the rights of property holders is, of course, deeply buried in the American psyche. Practical congregationalism has very much been the norm in American religious life since colonial days, and while national church bodies emerged during the 19th century, they tended to be comparatively weak (a state of affairs heightened by the internecine strife that erupted in many Protestant denominations over the Fundamentalist Controversy in the 1910s). The Episcopal Church was no exception to this tendency, with a weak national structure that only began to solidify during the late 1950s (ironically about the same time that denominational numbers began their precipitate decline). The last thing that the Episcopal Church’s bishops desired was direct responsibility for the running of the parishes in their care. Bishops were responsible for missions (whose incumbents they could appoint or remove at will), but incorporated parishes stood very much on their rights. A bishop’s power was ultimately negative (a refusal to perform episcopal acts, such as Confirmation) and a refusal to license clergy from outside the diocese. Once a clergyman was canonically resident, however, an incorporated parish could call him even in the face of the bishop’s disapproval, as Pittsburgh Bishop Cortlandt Whitehead
discovered to his cost in 1912.A form of congregationalism upon which was superimposed an episcopal polity was thus the working norm.

A fair reading of the historical record, therefore, would seem to imply the virtue of a pragmatic distribution of parish properties according to the majority sentiment of their congregations, when serious doctrinal divisions arise, with the goal, as far as possible, of continuing an effective worshipping community in the sacred space. Rarely are decisions of this sort as overwhelming as they were in Northern Virginia in 2006, however. What does one do, for example, in the case of a 60%-40% split, especially if the 40% provide a greater proportion of the parochial income? What obligations do the “winners” have to the “losers” in such a scenario, if, as seems more and more to be the case, there is little appetite for negotiating a compromise? Should those with long attachment to the parish be granted rights to marry and bury and to hold periodic services in the church?

It’s dangerously easy to dismiss the gripes of the minority as those of “sore losers” but if we accept that the Church is not, in its essence, a democracy, then we should avoid putting too much faith in the democratic process as infallibly revealing God’s will. That sort of language has been all too evident at recent sessions of General Convention and it is not a positive development. Those looking to “come out and be separate” then, if they wish to make a claim to property, need to start with an assessment of the needs of those who will reject such a course, which usually includes both those who share their views but reject their strategy and those who fundamentally disagree with their views. A building and even a diocesan endowment fund are fleeting assets, as compared with the income secured from consistent and dedicated pledgers. More to the point, the notion that “they’re trying to steal our property” is now as rife on the conservative side as on the liberal one, even though the “property,” if we have our priorities right, is God’s to dispose of as He sees fit. This does not mean that one should be entirely passive in such matters, but it should make the legal approach (and that, at least to me, includes defending against a suit as well as initiating it) one into which you enter at great personal risk.

2. Preventing the exploitation of buildings or other assets by those who would use them to propound a “false Gospel.

A rationale now much in vogue in conservative circles is to ensure that monies currently under their control do not fall into the hands of heretics. Successive legal battles deplete the national church’s financial reserves until a point is reached at which TEC will have no choice but to capitulate and reach an agreement with their opponents. Again, providing the legal points being contested are genuine, this would seem to be a legitimate legal strategy.

But is it what the Christian life calls us to pursue? Although there is a fair degree of liberal commentary that describes ACNA as an “un-Anglican” body, it still largely remains the preserve of conservatives to describe their opponents as “non-Christians.” Frankly, I find it hard to accept this as a blanket designation. There is plenty of non-Christian behavior evident, but unfortunately that’s not unheard of in orthodox circles (even here in Pittsburgh). Within TEC, there is a worldview whose concessions to the prevailing culture have compromised its ability to proclaim the Gospel – and have brought us to the pass of realignment – but that doesn’t necessarily translate into assured destruction for all in the TEC camp. It is at least arguable whether preventing corporate (not individual) monies from the affected dioceses to pass in any form to TEC and its subsidiaries is something to be ensured by any and all means. Some TEC programs funded – especially at the diocesan level – will be positive or, at any rate, innocuous, while some, of course, will not, but there is a distinct difference between redirecting funds (as was the case in the early years of the Anglican Communion Network) and calculated asset-stripping.

3. Bringing public attention to bear on constitutional abuses of the polity of the Episcopal Church, most notably the infamous Dennis Canon, and forcing ultimate acknowledgment of the essentially congregational nature of TEC in matters of property.

We now come to the crux of the matter, namely that actions taken by TEC in recent months run counter to the very Constitution and Canons they have in place, the deposition of Bishop Duncan being a case in point. The voluminous writings of such legal observers as the
Anglican Curmudgeon provide extensive commentary on this point. It seems fairly clear that TEC is, in large measure, willing (in a paraphrase of the old moniker about the Supreme Court) to make the Constitution and Canons what the Presiding Bishop and the Executive Council say it is. That is undeniable; it is also not ACNA’s problem. It is a very real problem for conservatives within TEC and one with which they will have to wrestle in the years ahead, but for ACNA conservatives to huff and puff about the illegality of TEC practices seems misplaced. After all many have written – and continue to write – as if this was only to be expected, so surprise and outrage seem a little contrived.

More to the point, the whole basis of the new post-Constantinean model of “doing Church” has been predicated on ending any state interest in the affairs of ecclesiastical bodies. The present recourse to the courts is essentially an appeal to the state to resolve issues that the latter cannot begin fully to understand. We really need good divorce lawyers handling these cases, not experts in Canon Law. None of this is to say that I think TEC has a particularly good
moral claim to property (after all, while most of the 19th century men and women who helped create the major endowments wouldn’t have got on very well with the present ACNA leadership, they would have had even less time for today's liberal revisionists) but it does call into question whether a courtroom confrontation is the best venue for fighting such a battle. Property is becoming an encumbrance as people are distracted by litigation from doing the work of mission that ACNA’s leaders proclaimed at Bedford.

I close with another little Tolkien paradigm that seems apposite, just after Frodo has offered Galadriel the Ring and she has refused it. “I wish,” Sam Gamgee tells her, “you’d take his Ring. You’d put things to rights. You’d stop them digging up the gaffer and turning him adrift. You’d make some folk pay for their dirty work.” “I would,” Galadriel responds. “That is how it would begin. But it would not stop with that, alas!”

Are we listening?

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The End of a Chapter

Yesterday, 220 years after its constitutional documents were adopted, The Episcopal Church (TEC) at its triennial assembly (the General Convention) in Anaheim arguably brought to an end its ambiguous double-life as both Anglican and Episcopalian. To put it another way, it finally conceded the logic of American denominational identity, which most of its mainline Protestant neighbors have long accepted, that it is a national church, bound by historical bonds of affection to other churches in the Anglican tradition but in no way obligated to look beyond the concerns of its members in discerning the future direction of its mission and ministry.

There have been other more bitter conventions. One can think of the harsh words exchanged between Evangelicals and Anglo Catholics in the 1870s, the "change of name" controversy at the beginning of the twentieth century, the struggle over "fundamentalism" in the early 1920s, the fractious debates over civil rights in the 1960s and female ordination in the 1970s. Sometimes there have been departures - the Reformed Episcopal Church in the 1870s or the Continuing Churches in the 1970s - but they were always on a small scale and did not ruffle relations with the Church of England. The year 2009, the culmination of events that began with Gene Robinson's election as Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003, looks set to be different. At both the global level and within the Church of England, there now stands the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, whose members subscribe to the Jerusalem Declaration issued by the Global Anglican Future Conference in 2008. Furthermore, a motion now looks likely to be presented at the Church of England's General Synod later this month to debate the future relationship of the Church of England to the newly formed Anglican Church in North America (ACNA).

Many observers will naturally argue, as indeed did Bishop Stacy Sauls, that the resolution in question (DO25) sought merely to reassert TEC's right to discern priestly vocation in its own cultural context and that it does not overturn a moratorium on the election on noncelibate homosexual clergy to the episcopate passed in 2006 (BO33). Those passionately demanding repeal of BO33 present at Anaheim, including The Reverend Susan Russell of All Saints, Pasadena, clearly do not see it that way.

There are plenty of well-informed sites now digesting the immediate consequences (as the links above testify) but the historical implications are equally fascinating. The whole pattern of schism (which is part and parcel of the American religious experience) has played out very differently in an Episcopal and Anglican context than anywhere else. Dual identity (one foot trapped in its English roots and one firmly planted on American soil) for years kept Episcopalians locked in a religious holding pattern that precluded formal separation (the fact that it was the only denomination to reunite almost immediately after the Civil War, where other Protestant groups endured as much as 100 years apart testifies to this). The institutionalist mentality - reflecting the state church status of its English parent - permitted a considerable diversity of opinion, while ensuring the election of bishops of generally conservative outlook but tolerant of clerical and lay dissent short of open defiance. Heresy trials were few, contentious issues generally shelved and congregational independence accepted de facto if not de jure.

The change that has come since the 1960s has followed both upon a change in the composition of the episcopal order and the decline of its standing as primus inter pares in church government. The prophetic mantle assumed by many bishops since Presiding Bishop John Hines - commendably - took it upon himself openly to challenge Southern segregation has undermined the corporate witness and collegiality of the House of Bishops. The upper house of General Convention seems increasingly to be viewed merely as a kind of religious Senate, which, despite the election of its members by the people of their dioceses, does not properly represent the popular will in the way that members of the House of Deputies do. It is interesting, given Bishop Robinson's expressed fears before the vote that he doubted the commitment of his colleagues to DO25, that it passed by much the same margin as his election in Minneapolis in 2003.

The other dimension is the global one. View them as interfering African schismatics or traditional Anglicans who cannot see a warrant for recent innovations, Global South leaders are now engaged with the process and closely associated with the new congregations of ACNA. Even at the height of its missionary activity (mostly in the Philippines and China), TEC never had the sense of identification with other Anglicans that many members of ACNA now do. Some of that is force of circumstance - especially for those communities who for a while relied on an African bishop for oversight - but it would be absurd to talk as if that was all there was to the relationship (it would be wrong, incidentally, to suggest that there are no deep transnational relationships, between members of TEC and Third World provinces, but in the current context they cannot be the same).

Schism Anglican Style. As (Arch)Bishop Duncan remarked to me a few years ago, there are many dissertations in the making. Let's hope there will soon be the seminaries to hire their authors.

Update: Statement of Kendall Harmon on Resolution D025

The passage of Resolution D025 by the General Convention of 2009 is a repudiation of Holy Scripture as the church has received and understood it ecumenically in the East and West. It is also a clear rejection of the mutual responsibility and interdependence to which we are called as Anglicans. That it is also a snub to the Archbishop of Canterbury this week while General Synod is occurring in York only adds insult to injury.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the BBC, the New York Times and Integrity all see what is being done here. There are now some participants in the 76th General Convention who are trying to pretend that a yes to D025 is NOT a no to B033. Jesus’ statement about letting your yes be yes and your no be no is apt here. These types of attempted obfuscations are utterly unconvincing. The Bishop of Arizona rightly noted in his blog that D025 was "a defacto repudiation of" B033.

The presuppositions of Resolution D025 are revealing. For a whole series of recent General Conventions resolutions have been passed which are thought to be descriptive by some, but understood to be prescriptive by others. The 2007 Primates Communique spoke to this tendency when they stated “they deeply regret a lack of clarity”on the part of the 75th General Convention.

What is particularly noteworthy, however, is that Episcopal Church Resolutions and claimed stances said to be descriptive at one time are more and more interpreted to be prescriptive thereafter. Now, in Resolution D025, the descriptive and the prescriptive have merged. You could hear this clearly in the floor debates in the two Houses where speakers insisted “This is who we are!”

Those involved in pastoral care know that when a relationship is deeply frayed when one or other party insists “this is who I am” the outcome will be disastrous. The same will be the case with D025, both inside the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.

D025 is the proud assertion of a church of self-authentication and radical autonomy.

It is a particularly ugly sight.


Monday, May 18, 2009

Covenant, Consequence and Intent: A Second Exchange with Father Jim Stockton

Another discussion that began with a House of Bishops and Deputies posting by Father Stockton of Church of the Resurrection, Austin, Texas. Father Stockton gave his permission for these to appear.

The original post:

Still no reason for a covenant -

He has made himself abundantly clear: the Archbishop of Canterbury is intent on imposing a covenant upon the Churches of the Anglican Communion. One can only wonder why he is intent on this end, for he has offered no real purpose for it. The sum of all his apologetic is that a covenant is an end that justifies itself. He fails to offer a genuine and theological purpose for it. On the one hand he notes that the Churches do function and serve in effective partnership with one another. On the other hand, he implies that without a covenant the Churches will not be able to continue to do so. His reliance upon a false and implied logic exemplifies a plain truth of the matter: neither he nor anyone one has yet offered a serious reason for pursuing a covenant. Many have offered justifications for the concept of covenant per se, but no one has offered anything that approaches a compelling inspiration for this particular effort. This effort was initiated bureaucratically through the Windsor Report (even though the Primates themselves meeting at Dromantine expressed reservations toward the pursuit of a covenant) which was itself a response to the use of parliamentary bullying and the socio-politcally 'conservative' propaganda by emerging-world primates who were then and are still being funded and manipulated by hard-right American money. The Archbishop of Canterbury, apparently possessed of a curious notion of his role as somehow the head of a single global Church, now seems intent upon imposing this view of his own rights and privileges upon the wider Anglican Communion.

His address to the recent meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council help exemplify his position. "The Anglican Communion has never called itself 'a church' in its official documents and yet as a world-wide communion -- not just a federation -- it has claimed for itself and claimed particularly in relation to its ecumenical partners that it is precisely more than just an assembly of local churches that happen to belong to the same bureaucracy. It has tried to behave in a church-like way: recognizing ordained ministry, sharing sacraments, sharing teaching and to a large extent doctrinal formulations and canonical positions" (ENS May 5, 2009). Reality contradicts the Archbishop's claims. In fact, the Churches do not belong to the same bureaucracy. In fact, the Churches have not "tried to behave in a church-like way;" unless such behavior equates to the efforts of autonomous and autocephalous Churches working cooperatively on specific goals and ministries. If this is the case, then where lies the need, much less the inspiration, for a covenant? Further, it is a fact that the Churches of the Communion do not universally 'recognize ordained ministry, share sacraments, teaching, and doctrinal formulations and canonical positions' any more than, for instance, the Episcopal Church and the Lutheran Church. An American clergy person's ordination does not automatically translate to ordination in the Church of England; he or she is not an English priest and is not allowed to function as such without application for license to do so. As is true respectively for each Church of the Communion, the Episcopal Church in the United States ordains clergy in and only for the Episcopal Church in the United States. Any exception to the rule is exactly that, an exception. It may be that the Church of England, or just the Archbishop of Canterbury, would prefer it to be otherwise. Nevertheless, we are not a Roman Catholic style Church. The reality simply is not what the Archbishop describes in his remarks. In fact, the reality of the Anglican Communion is ecumenical in the sense of the ancient Church. Rather than trying to change this to recreate the Anglican Communion in the image of jolly old England or of the Roman Church, we should be celebrating the distinctive gifts that this venerable model offers the world.

It is, I think, manipulative and unkind of the ABC to imply that Churches who may not look favorably upon a covenant are somehow lesser in their faithfulness to Christ-like fellowship and ministry. Yet he does exactly this when he declares "that provinces of the communion that choose to adopt the proposed Anglican covenant when it is made available will be showing that they 'want to create a more intense relationship between them -- a fuller and freer exchange between them.'" (ENS May 12, 2009). He goes on to suggest that once a covenant is in place, then more will need to be added: "Others," he says, "are not choosing that (i.e. "to adopt the proposed covenant") and the difficult question is: what is the best and most constructive relationship between those who do choose and those who do not" (ibid.). He declares that with some Churches signing on and "others" not doing so, what will be needed then is "some other kind of structure with 'groups of Anglicans associated for different purposes in different ways'" (ibid.). Again, he implies something that simply isn't true. He implies that if all the Churches, rather than only some, will adopt a covenant, then all will be well. I suggest, to the contrary, that whether the adoption is partial or wholly Communion-wide, any adoption of "the covenant." will require a new structure. And, I suggest, the ABC fully anticipates exactly this.

The ABC's remarks strike me as a thinly veiled warning to those Churches that would dare consider non-compliance. Despite the fact that the Church of England, bound by its status as a national institution, is well ahead of TEC on recognizing same-sex civil unions, the Archbishop of Canterbury is singling out the Episcopal Church in the United States as an example of those likely "others" among the Churches. He suggests that we of TEC had best not dare to set aside B033 of our last General Convention and return to observing our democratically established canons forbidding discrimination around sexual orientation in discernment of a person's fitness for and call to Holy Orders. He claims that "'holding back' on the episcopal ordination of people living in same-gender relationships 'ought not to be seen as a denial of the place of lesbian and gay people in the life of Christ's body'" (ENS May 12, 2009). This twisted logic may make some illusory rhetorical sense. However, it denies the reality that 'holding back' is an autocratic assignment of a particularly and amorally defined group of people to a remnant margin. The Archbishop of Canterbury is issuing an official call for the Churches of the Anglican Communion to continue participating in official discrimination, and he does so for reasons that are purely and pathetically political.

Yet, he suggests that, should TEC ignore his endorsement of the moratoria, we will be demonstrating our choice "not to go down the route of closer structural bonds and [of] that particular kind of mutual responsibility" (ibid.). Does anyone see anything 'mutually responsible' about the ABC's circumvention of the Anglican Consultative Council's decision not to forward to the Churches the proposed covenant? For my part, I pray that TEC chooses exactly as the ABC uncharitably characterizes he fears we will do. The Archbishop's description of 'some other kind of structure' sounds very much like the one that is now being demanded by the self-anointed 'Anglican Church in North America' and their boundary-crossing foreign prelates. It also sounds like one that the ABC will be able successfully to sell to the English Parliament and the Queen. With "the covenant" as the fulcrum and the Archbishop of Canterbury (and thus the English monarchy) firmly in place as authoritative head of this new covenanted global Church, the new structure will resonate well with hard-dying English imperialistic impulses.

Watch for it. The ABC will continue to impose upon our conversations about a covenant his own vocabulary, speaking more frequently and plainly of the Anglican Communion as a 'Church.' I anticipate that he will use these terms purposefully, hoping that, after having repeated them long enough and often enough, he will have succeeded in creating a new perception of reality, replacing fact with fantasy, reason with dogma. Undoubtedly, the Archbishop will continue to tell us that the Anglican Communion is not 'just a federation', not merely 'an assembly of local churches,' hoping to train us to assume that there is more and that we should want it. He will then begin more overtly defining for us what that 'more' is. My guess is that he will soon begin to imply, and then overtly to tell us in no uncertain terms, that we 'are' already and 'historically have been' a Church, albeit in a unique way. We will continue to hear and see the same from all those whose sense of institutional inadequacy drives them similarly to try create an Anglican imitation of Rome.

My prayer is that the Episcopal Church in the United States and the Anglican Church of Canada, along with some of our fellow "others" of the Anglican Communion Churches, will not succumb. Institutionally, structurally, no Church of the Anglican Communion is an appendage of a global "Anglican Church". However, organically, spiritually, ministerially, and missionally, we are already united one to another, and with no further covenant that the historic creeds of the Church catholic. We are united not by virtue of our Anglicanism, which is secondary at best, but by our kinship in Christ. TEC and our fellow "others" need to lead the way in listening past the increasingly shrill demand for a covenant. We need to reject the use of rhetoric that includes talk of 'The Covenant,' as though such a thing is already established. We will, I pray, not be misled to assume that it is an accomplished fact. It is not. There is no such thing as 'The Covenant.' It does not exist, and language that speaks of it as though it does is inaccurate at best and deceptive at worst. There is only 'a' proposed covenant. And it is a proposal without any express inspiration. It is a proposal awash in desperation. It is merely a proposed covenant. And I pray that we will reject it as a conceptual artifact.

My first response:

You and I have differed before as to the nature of the Communion relationship and neither of us are likely to change. I would ask, though, that you reconsider the use of the term "funded and manipulated by hard-right American money." In the first place, it is demeaning to the Global South episcopate, implying their inability to discern motive and willingness to surrender principle for filthy lucre. Even a scholar like Miranda Hassett (a fellow presbyter of yours and with progressive credentials) concluded from her researches that conservatives (North and South) adopted their theological stance out of principle (and took seriously their own moral deficiencies).

The simple truth is that there are many "money trails," both liberal (the "new" listening process) and conservative. Isn't a simpler explanation that people committed to their faith are willing to put their money where their mouth is? When one thinks of those cases of the 1990s when people stole from the national church for personal benefit, it seems sad that things like Anglican Relief and Development (which, at some level, sought to provide alternative sources of revenue to Global South provinces that had refused TEC help) should be viewed in the same way.

Naturally you reject the "theological dogmatism" of ACNA and the disloyal opposition (if I may so put it) but you don't have to reduce it merely to power politics. If you read any economic article that Kendall Harmon posts on T19, you'll immediately see a lot of economic liberals come out of the woodwork; it's unusual to find a corresponding rush of economic conservatives on liberal sites (though there must be some).

Can we not just assume that there are two visions and that both are assumed out of a conviction of what the Gospel message implies? That's certainly how I view the progressive approach. It has its own logic; I just can't reconcile some of the premises with my understanding of Scripture.

Father Stockton's response:

The hard-right sources of American money are fully open that they are after political power. I don't underestimate the several Primates of African Churches and those of the Southern Cone. I have every expectation that they, too, know exactly what they are doing. If it were about anything truly more than power politics, then, pray tell, why are they adamant about the property? I'm quite sure that people on all sides are using the Gospel to convince themselves of the righteousness of their nefarious behavior. I'm just not sure that God is convinced. I'm quite that I am not.

My second response:

As far as the property is concerned (and while I think it perfectly legal, it wouldn't be my approach) I think we've inherited the Episcopal predilection with institutionalism - that property is one of the defining marks of church. Perhaps it's naivete on my part, but I suspect that if there had been greater willingness to concede Anglican identity to those departing we would have seen less resort to the courts (even if that meant abandonment of property), but the Presiding Bishop apparently didn't want that.

How is it that conservative money (and behavior) is always "nefarious" and liberal money (and behavior) never is? Miranda was in a perfect position to write a stinging expose of the "conservative conspiracy" (and when I saw the title of her book I thought she had), but did not. There are liberal projects funded (I lived in the Diocese of Washington for some years, so my money ended up going to things of which I did not approve) and liberal coalitions organized for General Convention and yet these always seem to be described as "principled." Surely you're not saying that majority sentiment is the ultimate arbiter of moral correctness?

I suppose if one reaches the point of seeing things in Manichean terms, then any language used to describe the "other" is acceptable, but most people I know in Pittsburgh are much more "gray" (as are, I suspect, most of the Primates). Shouldn't our objective be to find a solution acceptable to all, even if it involves accommodating the failings of those with whom we differ?

Many people on HOBD seem to assume that now the renegades have withdrawn, there's no cost in exacting whatever penalties can be imposed. Some of my liberal acquaintances would beg to differ. At our last chapter meeting, Lynn Edwards - PEP chaplain and one of the Pittsburgh pioneers of care for those suffering from AIDS - remarked that God had put on his heart to write Bob Duncan a letter of encouragement, even though he was no longer his bishop. Lynn is an unsual presbyter but I thought he caught the sense of ambiguity in our diocesan communities remarkably well.

Father Stockton's response:

By 'acceptable to all' would you mean that the Church would have done better to have found a way to tolerate both slavery and abolition? Should the Church have found a way to accommodate both inclusion of women in clerical orders and clerical discrimination against women at the same time?

And if you'll take a moment to catch your breath, perhaps you'll notice that in my response, which you've copied below, my comment is that "I'm quite sure that people on all sides are using the Gospel to convince themselves of the righteousness of their nefarious behavior." It seems you missed it, so let me emphasize my point that the operative word is "all." However, I'm willing to accept your implication that it is "conservative money (and behavior) [that is] always 'nefarious.'"

In addition, simply 'conceding Anglican identity' is not how truth and fact works. By that logic, why don't we simply call ourselves Roman? Why use the term Anglican at all? But the fact of distinction, and the nature of the particular distinction do in fact matter. Simply conceding that someone is what they wish to claim that they are, does not make it so; not to mention the fact that this approach is equivalent to delusional. What does real identity matter as long as we can all just claim to be what we wish? The Church as an institution AND as an organic community bears responsibility to those who have given to it in the past, those who give to it now, and those who may give to it in the future. People gave their donations of time and money to the Episcopal Church. Yes, they gave in large part to particular congregations, but they were congregations of the Episcopal Church, not of the Lutheran Church or some invented church yet to be named. Those people are owed faithful fiduciary practice by we who follow, we who have built upon and enjoyed the fruits of their giving. And if we now blithely give away Church property to the group that whines the loudest, dare we hope, much less expect, people to give to the Church now? Why would they? They would have glaring evidence before them of our unwillingness to treat their giving responsibly, and in accord with our own canons.

In conclusion, I note that it was he self-proclaimed 'conservatives' who enjoyed dominant influence when Gentiles were told by the infant Church that they were second-class members of God's Kingdom. The 'conservatives' in the Episcopal Church held dominance when slavery was in fact tolerated (remember: it was the Methodist Church, not the Episcopal, who came out during the Civil War and declared itself official opposed to slavery), when bigotry against black Americans was not only tolerated but also part official policy, when women who dared claim that God was calling them to Holy Orders were ridiculed into silence and departure, when people who had been divorced were rendered unworthy of full access to the sacraments, and until a few decades ago, when fags and queers were officially condemned. Certainly you are able to set forward specific examples of incidents of abuses of power by so-called 'liberals.' I challenge you to find an historic thread through the entire history of the Church that can be assigned to 'liberalism' and has caused the massive harm, in Christ's Name no less, that 'conservatism' has inflicted. You'll understand, perhaps, why I'm skeptical now of 'conservatives' cries of injury and offense just because they no longer get to dictate according to their self-serving prejudices.

Gray is fine, but it is only recognizable as such, because the black and white to which it is compared still exist. I don't think truth is measured by popularity. Jesus asked people to make a choice and follow him at a call. I give God thanks the he didn't waste his time trying to find a alternative that was 'acceptable to all,' even though those 'all' in his day believed themselves faithful to God.

My third response:

We could, of course, continue these exchanges indefinitely without convincing the other, so we'll have to draw a line at some point. However, since you raise a couple of interesting issues.

I did not mean by "acceptable to all" (a phrase I don't think I used) to refer to theological positions held, but rather an effort to find a means to recognize incompatibility and deal with it. With all due respect, you know that analogies with slavery and female ordination miss the point. After all, the Episcopal antislavery movement was birthed among those pesky moralizing Evangelicals who were determined to be countercultural. As to women's ordination, again about half the renewal movement (including those contrarian Pittsburghers) are on board with it.

The presenting issue - warped and distorted by all the wrangling - reflects a debate not confined to proof texts but embracing an understanding of sexuality and a theology of the body within the context of heterosexual marriage and procreation and most of the people I'm acquainted with believe that. Of course, there are frequent failures (mine included) but there is a sincere desire to try to practice what we preach.

I note that people like Louie Crewe have questioned whether most heterosexual conservatives actually lived up to their principles before they were married. Well I can't speak for anyone but myself, but I was married five years ago at the age of 34 and I was a virgin then. I don't hold this up as a great virtue (perhaps it was just lack of opportunity) but I certainly had to exercise restraint on occasion while engaged. That by the way.

The real issue is that of two widely diverging understandings of what is involved, whose proponents are much more consistent than the institutionalists in the middle. And, ultimately, one must be right and one must be wrong. The trouble is that there seems to be no easy way to cut the Gordian knot. If conservatives are right in their reading, then to accuse them of a lack of compassion misses the mark; if liberals are right, then to deny sacramental access (Marriage not the Eucharist) is erroneous.

If it is wrong to deny the local majority for innovation, it is equally wrong to deny the majority view across the Anglican Communion and the Church Catholic (at least I so believe). But even if you don't share that view, there is still an argument for a negotiated settlement in that there are many people - even perhaps in Fort Worth - who currently have friendships across the theological divide that will be poisoned and that could have consequences down the road (especially if your argument ultimately carries the day beyond North America). We can't turn back the clock but only deal with the consequences as best we may. The theological stances must remain, but we have it in our power to stop the legal juggernaut. Remember the "Barnburner" sobriquet applied to the extreme political abolitionists - they wanted to burn down the barn to get rid of the rats. Can't you see that unfolding in the here and now?

I did note your phrase about using the Gospel, but to me that was way removed from any sense of mutual recognition; more a sense of progressives "applying" the Gospel and conservatives "using" it as justification. My point was that both sides are using it consistently and in as principled a fashion as they can (with some exceptions on both sides). That was not what I inferred from your communication.

As far as fiduciary duty is concerned, what does that mean? Of course we honor the Church Expectant, but we also recognize that the church has evolved and grown over time (liberals even more than conservatives). So our fidelity is simply to the fact that they gave money to a body carrying the same name (actually, of course, not the same, since most gave to the Protestant Episcopal Church). Historic Anglo Catholic and Evangelical identities have vanished from those churches in which they were first manifested, while southern parishes, whose former members believed devoutly in social and religious segregation, now campaign for civil rights, and parishes that opposed the ordination of women to the presbyterate now have female incumbents. Most of the dead would never have given money to the Episcopal Church as currently constituted. That's fine, things change, but it's hardly an argument for keeping the property merely to comply with the wishes of the dead.

Why should one give in to the "most shrill" voices at this time? Because this time, unlike any other, there are facts on the ground - in the US and abroad - that promise a substantive jurisdiction in the Americas with or without Episcopal consent and because the issue under debate is fundamental - and acknowledged by liberal and conservative alike to be so. This wasn't true for the REC (most Evangelicals had either left prior to the rupture or chose to stay - the best analogy would be with AMIA).

You ask whether liberalism or conservatism has done more damage. Surely that in itself is a loaded question, predicated on one's theological perspective? Or, to put it another way, it depends on who is "right" in a transcendent sense.

I've always had a fondness for the Social Gospelers (countercultural to a man) and I can applaud those who led the civil rights protests (though I think John Allin got a raw deal). I do think Pike and Spong did great damage to doctrinal teaching of the church, but what I resent most is less their speculation than the Episcopal Church's surrender to prevailing cultural mores both on divorce (and conservatives have to answer for that too) and on abortion. As the author of a recent history of this diocese, I can tell you that what jumpstarted the renewal movement here were moves at several conventions during the 1970s to take a more pro-abortion stance. It is interesting that some of the more prominent advocates of same-sex inclusion (in its broadest sense) are also promoters of pro-choice perspectives. It does point to a rather selective view of human dignity where the rights of the most vulnerable are neglected (and yes, I know the counter-arguments).

If your position is that many conservatives are judgmental, self-righteous and frequently unwilling to dialogue, I would answer that this may well be true. The problem is that (a) the same holds good for many liberals and (b) when people talk of deeply held convictions they are apt to "sound" that way to the unconvinced. No doubt you resent your former bishop far more than Lynn Edwards resents Bob Duncan (and perhaps you have reason), but then I think of Andrew Smith's "raid" on St. John's, Bristol, several years ago and suspect that there are also conservatives with good cause to resent (or worse). History is not going to deal kindly with this period of our common life and how much better a legacy it would be if people like me could document a resolution that conceded nothing in essentials but recognized the good faith of all parties. None of us would be the poorer for that.

Father Stockton's response:

You are, I think quite right, that we are not to convince one another to change our respective opinions on inclusion of gay people and gay couples in the life and ministry of the Church. For instance, I believe that analogies with slavery and "female ordination"(?) are exactly to the point. With respect, to you and to Louis Crewe, whether or not you, he, or gay or straight persons anywhere at anytime have lived up to vows of fidelity matters not at all to the moral and spiritual right or wrong of a particular view. Just because someone does or doesn't keep his of her marriage vows, this has nothing to do with whether or not the concept of said vows is morally good and spiritually responsive to God. If practice trumps ideals, then let's quite prescribing behavior and just describe instead. I think Louie's point is that the self-proclaimed 'conservatives' (what they really are is for God to discern) are naming gay people and lesbians as intrinsically immoral, and that they would do well to challenge their own immorality before levying that charge against someone else. But again, practices hypocrisy does not nullify the verity or morality of a position per se.

As for your argument about fiduciary responsibility, let's suppose we extend that argument beyond merely TEC. By you logic, we should now turn over all property of the Church of England to the citizenry at large for their use as they determine, since the absence of most of Britain from Church life indicates clearly that the C of E is largely irrelevant in their lives. Now let's apply this logic to the Roman Church. The institutional Church holds title to the properties. The Church isn't simply invention our of thin air its duty to go to court and retain property that it owns. What's the mystery in this? If we want to go with squatters' rights are regards material property, we'd better be careful, since we'll be surrender the protection that the courts offer us in keeping what belongs to us. There are in place already, via civil law, processes for the selling of real estate. Dioceses and the Church as a whole need to pay attention to these. If a bishop decides that it would be prudent to sell a piece of property to a dissenting congregation, then let that bishop consult with the title-holder, the TEC holding a determinative share of that title, and with the proposed purchasers. I'd suggest also that the property be put up on the open market, as well, in order to secure a fair price. However, cries of injustice from those who wish to leave TEC but take TEC's property with them have no grounds in reality. One can sympathize with their emotional grief or resentment, but ignorance of the canons is no excuse for them to claim property that does not belong to them. Once donations are made to the Church, they belong to the Church. If people are doubtful about that, then they need to offer loans instead of gifts, and then not take the take credit for their donations.

As I did earlier, I do here again, concede that you can always find example of misuse of power and authority by so-called 'liberals.' You have done so again. However, I note that you offer no counterpoint to my proposition that the propagation of bigotry and groundless discriminations that pepper world and Church history stem from self-identified 'conservative' defenders of the faith. Yes, rejection of the Gentiles by the early Church, the horrors of the Inquisition, slavery, racial segregation, ordination of clergy who are women, and now official discrimination against gay people and anyone else whose manner of life might offend someone else are all examples of the influence of misuse of power by 'conservatives.' You will, perhaps, recall, that I've also challenged the self-serving hypocrisy of those calling themselves 'liberals' who are joining the call for waiting, for validating the bigotry of the Communion's bigots by TEC's participation in "the Covenant." These are the folks who themselves enjoy a place at the table, but somehow persuade themselves that it is conscionable to turn to those forced to remain outside and tell them, 'Hey, I'm on your side.' However, as loathsome a creature as he or she may be, the well-intentioned arm-chair liberal is merely a passive enabler of the aggressive bigotries of 'conservative,' bigotries that have plagued civilized societies and the Church through history.

I encourage you to re-read Martin Luther King, Jr.'s essay 'Why We Can't Wait.' He, like Ghandi before him, like Oscar Romero after him, understood that bigotry harms all, the bigot as much as the object of the bigotry. Knowing this, I find it unconscionable to label as Christian a position, like that of the Archbishop of Canterbury, that urges continued moratoria on offering the option of blessing of same-sex and on denying the constitutional consideration of someone for election to serve as bishop simply because that person's 'manner of life' may, possibly, perhaps, could, be offensive to someone overseas in another Church. Every major argument, i.e. tradition, scripture, historical precedent, social norm, and majority opinion, being offered now to justify continued bigotry and prejudice against gay people has been used formerly to justify similar discrimination against people of color, people of lower social status, enslaved persons, and people who are women. Aside from adjustments of the specific examples offered to suit the specific prejudice being defended, I suggest that there is very little you can do to deny that this is true.

Finally, I believe that, if you go back and re-read your previous message, you'll find that you mentioned seeking a resolution to the discord that is 'acceptable to all.' My response is intended to encourage you and others recognize that insofar as both sides, i.e. the Church and the departers, are claiming ownership physical property there is no solution that is acceptable to all. One will win this one, and one will lose. This is as it should be when it comes to intransigence born of and fueled by bigotry, don't' you think? It's past time for TEC to grow up and grow a conscience.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Out of the Mouths of Babes

I got this in a paper from one of my religious history students describing one of the consequences of Billy Graham's English crusades of the 1950s (I trust the sage of Grove Farm will appreciate it).

"John Guest was an Anglican who converted to Christianity."

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Timely Words from Bishop Mark Lawrence

No matter how pressured we feel by the events around us, (and they are there to be sure—as individual priests and deacons, as a Church, as a diocese—within and without—and in each of our parishes); no matter how buffeted we have been by our calling—the weariness of our ministry; the hours of silent toil; those weeks when the Word seems silent; those Saturday nights when sermon work and study have yielded what seems like only a thin broth (we’ve all been there), and you plead with a seemingly cold heaven for a word to give to your people; when the faithful in your flock seem to have no patience with solid food and itchy ears for whatever is new; when you are heartsick from your own sin; parched and dry throated in your own personal spiritual desert—it is then you dare not forget that this ministry is given to you by the mercy of God. That is, your calling is not only rooted in the mercy of God, it has been given to you as God’s mercy—to you. And remember this: it is not only given to us who are ordained; it is the case for all who have been called into relationship with Jesus Christ—who have come to know his saving grace—the forgiveness of sins. We all have this ministry by the mercy of God. It is only the wonder of this mercy that can sustain us when we are tempted to neglect our duty, or grow weary in our work.

Certainly if you are an academic you can preach powerfully with an academic bent. If you are a poet you can preach with a poetic grace. God will honor what he has made. But you cannot seek to create a favorable opinion of yourself and at the same time preach the gospel. To be truthful with God’s word is to let the truth of Jesus Christ—his cross, his resurrection, his Lordship—take center stage. You see, we each face a decision. We can put ourselves on the center stage of our ministry and we will bring people to ourselves, perhaps for a season; or we can put Jesus Christ on the center stage of ministry and bring people to him for all eternity. But we cannot do both. They are mutually exclusive. We know well enough self will feed neither ourselves nor those we are called to serve.

Read it all at