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."