What the Anglican Centrist Noticed
In a recent post, the Anglican Centrist noticed an oddity about the various para-Anglican groups coming together in the upcoming Common Cause meeting to be led, presumably, by Bp. Duncan:
The odd thing is that this group will be overwhelmingly dominated by evangelicals of the Richard Turnbull definition, whose defining doctrinal marks are still based on three calvinist slogans: sola scriptura, substitutionary atonement, certainty of hell for those who do not profess Christ. I say this is odd not because I'm surprised that the conservative evangelicals are dominant, but because they are going to be dominant in an organization which will still uphold the 1662 Prayer Book, 39 Articles, and a powerful episcopate. Historically, conservative evangelicals in the Anglican tradition have had lots and lots of problems with those three foundational elements of Anglicanism -- for they have a pronounced 'catholic' bent to them.
And I think Rev. Jones is right: this combination of conservative evangelicals (a) cut adrift from the Anglican Communion and (b) swearing allegiance to Stuart high-church formularies is extremely odd: I would go further and say "incoherent". They are the very formularies that the evangelicals of Stuart England revolted--and revolted violently--against. Now, on the eve of Lambeth '08, we are on the cusp of another evangelical revolt--this one thankfully nonviolent--this time in favor of Stuart formularies. History as farce? Well no; there is reason and coherence in all this.
Stuart formularies are of importance not so much for what they say and contain, as concern with all that would threaten the integrity of Turnbull's PCA-style calvinism. Rather they are important inasmuch as they provide a set of emotionally charged signifiers constituting a symbolic order. The intent of that symbolic order--at least in part--is to reign in potentially chaotic and (from their perspective) heretical imaginary notions about atonement, Scripture, the Christ, et cetera. Remember conservative high and low church parties have been stung by changes in doctrine and lax discipline over decades--from the mid-'60s at least, and longer for the REC. A charged symbolic order cannot just be made up on the spot; it has to already be invested with power if it is to serve effectively.
As to the symbolic order's content, I bet submission to the authority of the Common Cause episcopate will be of great importance. I predict there will be tendency among the Common Cause partners to move sharply away from what will be seen as the extreme of TEC's General Convention governance to a centralization of power away from laity and to clergy & especially bishops. The formularies--including the BCP 1662 and Scripture--will mean, in effect, whatever the bishops say they mean, period: dissent=formal heresy, and persistent dissent=apostasy. E.g. one might have thought that if--if--the Common Cause bishops were serious about invoking the Stuart episcopate, they would not be undermining the episcopate in forming CANA and calling for congrgations and rectors to defy their bishops. That implies not just a formal violation of catholic principle, but the development of a concrete disposition antithetical to episcopal authority. But coherence is not the priority; centralization is.
Will it work? Does father really know best? I.e. Has the old symbolic order enough juice to bring the Common Cause group together under the banner of a new evangelical Anglican communion? We'll see.
Say what you want about the attempt to deploy the old symbolic order; there is something admirable or even courageous about it all, even if I take a dim view of its prospects. If it works, wouldn't we wish it success? American evangelicalism might well be ripe for change in tone. And it provides a more inspiring and edifying spectacle than Rowan Williams' recent attempts to forge unity.
For Williams, it seems in practice Christian unity in the AC is to be grounded on reference to the sacrifice of one man. And the man to be sacrificed for the church's unity? Why Bishop Robinson, of course. You see, it's not an issue that is divisive, and needs to be driven off into the wilderness; it's not a vice or type of moral failure; it's not a bunch of unruly Primates and others in their angry arguments back and forth; it's a human being, and a particular one at that. If he can be named, if he can be singled out, if attention can be focused on him and his all too human failures, if he can receive the dreaded, shameful bad treatment and finally stay buried and for a time at least forgotten, then just maybe the rest can function together in the great institution. Now, even if Williams' ploy works, is there anything admirable or courageous about it? Do you discern the Gospel or genuine catholicity in it? And do you wish this particular rite Williams is improvising on your behalf, this burial, success?
Well, there you have two spectacles where fractious bands try to pull together and achieve some kind of more perfect union in which they might be able to better function. Which is closer to the Christian rule?
I know what I say in reply; there is no doubt in my mind: Bishop Duncan and the Common Cause, where somehow they know, at least most of the time, that one human sacrifice is enough: the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. No evangelical I have read or heard called for Robinson to be singled out this way. Carey came closest to the best of my knowledge, singling Robinson out. But even Carey did not call on Robinson to bear the brunt alone. As I recall, they want the whole American HoB who supported his ordination to get kicked out, and that would have been a qualitatively different kind of response. And oddly enough they are right; that would have been better. One hopes those in the HoB who stand with Robinson would concur, even vocally and visibly, with the conservative evangelicals--and by that fellowship transform Williams' rite of Spring into something of which we need not be ashamed.