Saturday, February 03, 2007

Various Contemporary Reflections

I wonder if secessionist Episcopalian parishoners saying, in effect, "We paid for it, we built it, the parish is ours", have really thought about what they are saying.

Granted: in some states the law in fact may be on their side--but in any case it is very hard to tell ahead of time where lawsuits will end up, even with knowledge of state-level property law. Pursuing lawsuits seems to leave the matter of who will eventually own parish property rather up in the air until the cases run their course. This goes to show in a very practical way that a Bishop should not end up in the position of having to rely on the state to enforce episcopal polity.

It may well be that some--even some bishops--do not fancy episcopal polity a thing worth defending seriously. I suppose they think it a thing ultimately indifferent to the Faith, or even a thing positively hindering the contemporary growth and preaching of the Faith. This is what I hear Episcopalians saying when they claim to own a piece of parish property primarily because they paid for it themselves, that they are the trustees in charge of keeping it up, etc. They take it for granted that of course they were never doing any of these things for the larger church embodied in the diocese of their bishop, or in the province of the Presiding Bishop and General Convention--such notions of belonging, such directionality or intentionality in their stewardship seems to have been completely missing. As if had someone told them Episcopalians are not congregationalists or baptists in their polity, and that all their effort and treasure is going toward something belonging not merely to themselves but to a larger entity altogether, they would not have lifted a blessed finger, they would not have spent a single dime.

For my part, our peculiar episcopal arrangement is something worth defending seriously. Resisting the profoundly anti-Anglican antics of the muddled congregations in Truro, Falls Church and elsewhere involves our church in a costly rear-guard action to be sure, even a lamentable necessity, but one we are called to despite our inclinations to simply live and let live.

If it is indeed so important to defend episcopal polity as, to be unduly modest, a causally accessible possibility in our republic, our Bishops et al should not have left that defense to the expedient of secular law. What? I mean this, for instance: Bishop Lee should have inhibited Father Minns long before he became Bishop Minns, and brought the parish of Truro under a vicar. If the canons national or diocesan precluded it--which I for the record scarcely believe--he should have taken the risk anyhow, throwing himself in effect at the mercy of his fellow bishops, clergy, and the larger body of Episcopalian laity.

Remember the Connecticut Six and all that? I have great respect for Bishop Smith's wisdom and courage; I think he did the right thing and should have done more of it. This should be relatively clear in retrospect to any following current events in Virginia. You want to keep from depending on the unreliable hands of secular, state power? You recognize that legal right does not always line up with what is right? You want to defend the exercise of episcopal polity among our people? Well and good: you have to exercise clear and strong discipline among your ordained. I expect, and hope, our bishops in the future will take a good deal more seriously membership in even potentially schismatic organizations.

11 Comments:

At 12:00 PM, Anonymous D. C. said...

Bravo Scotist!

 
At 10:34 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Thank you d.c.....

Alas, I seem to be growing in appreciation for Archbishop Laud!

 
At 7:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Would the arrangement reached in Overland KS be a bad thing in your universe Anglican Scotist?

 
At 7:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are you sure you have thought this thing through? It seems to me that your analysis is contingent upon America being both the field of enquiry and the frame of reference.

That is to ignore the fact that this all takes place within a greater dissatisfaction with TEC/ECUSA, within the Anglican communion. It seems to me that if you adjust your frame of reference to the communion level, then for the sake of consistency you must surely be inviting the non-American primates to say "should we not have taken our Anglican polity more seriously and inhibited TEC long ago?"

I would also suggest that any analysis involving polity must needs look at the boundary conditions - where internal matters have to interface with externalities - and that seems missing entirely from all such discussions I have read (not just this one). It is as if polity is a thing in itself to which the rest of the world must reconfigure itself. That's just American Exceptionalism redux.

As it is, this approach generates documents that read more like suicide notes to me. (Speaking as a non-American.)

Ian

 
At 6:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was going to reply, but Ian made my points so much more politely. ;-)

Re: the CT6, there seems to be some confusion. According to Smith, he inhibited the one priest for irregular sabbatical practices, not for any kind of action against the bishop. I suppose he may have lied, if that's what you're trying to suggest. Doesn't explain his behavior regarding the vestry or parishioners, either. But perhaps your idea of espicopal authority is unquestioned power?

~ Connecticutian

 
At 10:03 AM, Blogger The Patriarch of the West said...

I appreciate your desire for action on the part of the bishops, but I have some questions.

My own frustration with the Episcopacy (What do they do with their time???) is long standing. But I worry that bishops operating with their own sense of authority are as likely to be loose cannons as not. The Jacks on either end of the Episcopal balance, Iker and Spong, each have acted based on their own sense of their authority and the dictates of their consciences, as have many others.

The model for authority and action within the American Church seems to me to be conciliar rather than strictly heierarchical; the power of vestries, diocesan and national conventions in the US may be unique in the communion. But I don't know if we have taken that conciliar government seriously enough. All of the diocesan conventions(28 or so across province IV) and the one General Convention ('06) I have attended seem to be designed to frustrate actual conversation and debate in favor of working an agenda. Admittedly, two days of diocesan convention is scarcely time to get folks together to do any work, and the same applies to the telephone book sized "Blue Book" and the eight days of GC. It would certainly call for a greater commitment on the part of lay delegate/deputies to have real "councils of the church."

Another concern is the nature of Episcopal authority as a lived reality. In order to exercise authority the bishops need to possess, and this authority has both a juridical component as well as a personal one They may well be entitled to call for a full scale attack on a perceived enemy, but if no one follows, then it will have little effect (the experience of Bedford Forrest at the end of the Battle of Shiloh is instructive here). If they are to exercise the authority you envision, the bishops may need to work more on building relationships within their dioceses than in the HOB.

 
At 2:13 PM, Blogger Joseph+ said...

Amen. We have mechanisms for discipline for good reason. If a priest like Fr. Minns (now Bishop) no longer thinks it necessary to keep his ordination vow to obey his Bishop, he should be inhibited by his Bishop and then deposed if after a time it is clear that reconciliation is impossible. That is really all there is to it. No concerns of the Anglican Communion situation, or the fact that he is joined by other clergy in VA or elsewhere, or what the Primates of other provinces think, or what his favorite theologian said matter at all. The decision to become clergy means that you are accountable to the Bishop of your diocese.

Discipline is also sorely lacking in the House of Bishops. +Iker, +Duncan, and the other network Bishops act like spoiled princes accountable to no one. I think its time to make PB Jefferts Schori, Archbishop Jefferts Schori. As in other provinces of the Anglican Communion, all TEC Bishops would declare their obedience to her, and like Bishops over their priests, she would have the responsibility to discipline her Bishops when necessary, like when they don't show up to a HoB meeting without a good excuse or when they start signing documents pledging their allegiance to another primate they like better.

Ian, there is no such thing as the primates inhibiting a province of the Communion. The only person who has any sort of power to discipline TEC is the ABC. If he wanted to, he could not recognize us as part of the Anglican Communion or withhold our invitations to Communion functions. That's his prerogative. But the relationship between him and a province is different that that of a Bishop and her priest. A priest takes very clear vows to be be “loyal to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ at this Church has received them…” and “in accordance with the canons of this Church, obey [his] bishop and other ministers who may have authority over [him] and [his] work.” (Book of Common Prayer, p.526) There is no vow of obedience that a province takes to the ABC, and he has no legal authority in provinces like the Pope does in the Roman Church.

 
At 4:08 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

anon,
I don't really know enough about the Kansas settlement to say. Alot depends on the persons involved--the Bishop, rector, vestry, et al, and whether they retain trust or at least respect among themselves in spite of their disagreement.

Ian,
Polity at the level of the Anglican Communion is not like polity at the level of the province of the Episcopal Church. For instance, nobody at the level of the AC outside the Episcopal Church has the power to inhibit, much less bring to trial, anyone within the Episcopal Church. You seem to have missed that rather obvious fact, to the detriment of your case.

 
At 4:19 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Connecticutian,
Right, I suppose: Bishop Smith inhibited a priest for reasons taken strictly in themselves having nothing to do with the priest's involvement in the ACN and AAC.

Still, the priest's involvement with such groups is not irrelevant to the bishop's action, I wager; they provided a context coloring the priest's actions.

As to limits to the power of bishops, any bishop can be inhibited and brought to trial at any time, and the process cab begin among disaffected priests and laity. As you well know, something like such a process was almost started against Bishop Smith. Thus, it seems to me the fantasy of autocratic bishops is without sufficient foundation in reality to serve as a general objection.

 
At 4:28 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

patriarch,
Your concerns about our conciliar decision making are well founded in my opinion. They might nonetheless be ameliorated; e.g. coming out with a blue book earlier, fostering moderated internet debate forums on the blue book prior to the convention, etc. We could do better with a little thought without having to abandon the concilar model.

And your points about the lived authority of bishops also seem astute to me. I presume no bishop would survive in office making an exercise of authority of the kind I envision without having the confidence of a supermajority of his priests and laity, and perhaps fellow bishops too.

My point would, I guess, have to be that people like Smith and Lee possess that backing already, and have had it for some time.

 
At 4:29 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

joseph+,
The notion of making the Presiding Bishop an Archbishop is awfully interesting. Offhand, I cannot say why not: indeed, nihil obstat.

 

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