More of the Same
Is the Episcopal Church especially antinomian, such that it takes the individual person, and especially the individual conscience as the measure of moral obligation? So Michael Liccione claimed, writing in the course of criticizing a piece by John Wilkins that
"the 'liberal' gospel, 'supports and undergirds the ideologies of relativism, pluralism, and multiculturalism that now dominate our culture.' How does it do that? Inter alia, by ensconsing ever more firmly in revealed religion an account of the primacy of conscience that JH Newman rightly rejected."
"That is because, given the “Protestant principle,” [calling Paul Tillich? -Scotist] Protestant churches cannot conceive their authority along the same lines as the Catholic (or Orthodox) and thus cannot, with any consistency, limit the role of conscience in the way Newman does. And that is why, in the final analysis, 'conservative' Protestant churches have no more resources to prevent what is happening in the 'liberal' ones than the latter do. It’s only a matter of time."
Interesting. However, Liccione's line of criticism is essentially McGrath and Turner's: ECUSA has turned away from the traditional--and only genuine--Gospel handed down to the apostolic Church by adopting a novel, inauthentic "gospel" of merely inclusive love, rendering it in a fell swoop both in harmony with similar secular trends toward yet more permissiveness, and unable to draw and keep firm moral lines defining right and wrong. Listen closely and you'll hear: "A formula for disaster--just recall the days of Christian churches capitulating in their liberal theology-induced haze to advances from Nazism; it's inevitable." Oh boy.
This picture of ECUSA ignores Anglican liberalism's successes while it elides current left-wing Anglicanism with Weimar liberal Christianity. Left-wing Anglicanism is pluriformed, a veritable rainbow of diversity, including Anglo-catholics, Modernists, and Radicals, each with a body of theological thought, in some cases very imposing, behind it. Prima facie it simply won't do to tar them all with the "inclusive gospel" brush and leave it at that. That's too easy; there's more.
At worst the pluriform "rainbow coalition" of left-wing Anglicanism finally dragged Episcopalians into the vineyard to do the work of the Lord--this was a church that did nothing to split over slavery in the Civil War: a notable achievement for a mainline church. It was a church with parallel diocesan conventions especially for blacks: how fortunate for them. It was a church that could not throw itself 110% behind protest to end the Vietnam War: prescient, given the slow-motion trainwreck in Iraq. And it went into convulsions over losing the '28 Prayer Book, after having to be dragged screaming into the ordination of women.
Sure--to take just one of these large issues for a moment--reasonable people can disagree over ordaining women, but to be honest, whatever the theological merits of the traditional case, even reasonable people should agree that Christian tradition on the point did little to disambiguate its resistance to ordaining women with secular society's general oppression of women--in fact, there seemed to be a steady mutual reinforcement between the Christian Church and secular society on the point of keeping women in their second-class place.
Just to take one instance from many: Ask yourself how many conservative Episcopalians agitate, or have ever in their lives agitated, for a nation-wide system of enforcement finally to make sure absent fathers paid legally due support for their children? Where is the paper trail of GC and diocesan documentation from the Anglican right? Surely that would be the sort of thing right Anglo-catholics should have long-ago pulled together to accomplish.
What, "tu quoque" you say? To answer that way is to concede what a conservative institution ECUSA has been in the bad sense, conserving what ought not to have been conserved--and how much in need it is of a move to the left: right praxis is more important than right theology. In Biblical terms, right praxis is a necessary foundation for acceptable worship--right praxis being justice--and it provides matter in the community for reflection so that the community can eventually achieve right theology.
As if each of the Ten Commandments is not relational, presuming community. Which violation is merely individual? A sin is in every case between at least four persons, and in no case less--in fact, there is no real possibility for a sin that involves just one person.
That at root is why ECUSA is right in emphasizing social justice--you are always in community; your sins at the very least are against God, all three persons. When you vitiate your relationship with God by breaking his law, it is simply obtuse to focus on the law rather than the community. What after all is a commandment or law? A Platonic Form? An abstractum obtaining ab aeterno? Think again: a commandment is not phusis at all; it's all nomos.
It may take ECUSA a while to work all this out, but it is clear at least that they are heading in the right direction, naysayers to the contrary. It would not be the first time the Church has been led to act as God pleased before understanding why. And that is perfectly consistent with Christianity returning to small numbers--as I've said before, the wide way of secular culture is the easy way, the way of the world under the sway of doomed Powers, in the grip of the mystery of evil and Babylon. It is the way tread by too many for too long, the way ECUSA finally turned its back on. ECUSA is making formidible demands on its members by pushing an enormously unpopular debate on gay marriage forward--it is our shame only to be outdone (again!) by the UCC.
It is not that ECUSA is antinomian, but that the law it pushes forward is not the law its critics recognize. Their individualism is a form of putting the creature in the place of God: abstracting themselves from their relational dependence on God, assigning to themselves a measure of independence sufficient to ground merely individual action--the necessary (but false) ontological foundation for their emphasis on the individualistic notion of sin.