Thursday, September 29, 2005

All Hail the Akinola Communion

Consider the myriad machinations of our Anglican right in the AAC, the ACN, the IRD, etc. Recall their manipulations in darkness, their deceptive fronts, their sustained calculations aimed at achieving a permanent schism within ECUSA—could it all have as its crowning achievement the comic coronation of the very, very, very reverend Akinola? The blind leading the blind. One should prefer Griswold to Akinola, hands down—there is simply no question for any faithful Christian. Just look at the theology of Christian Believing and The Anglican Vision—not perfect by any means, not even my preferred framework, but impressive nonetheless, cogent, Scriptural while being traditional and yet modern, brilliant and faithful. The North American Anglican right, agitating in the shadows for schism while nursing its Precious, its special sense of paranoia and persecution, has finally taken leave of its senses.

It seemed to me a while ago that Kierkegaard’s category of the aesthetic applied well to Bishop Iker’s live performance (see the comments); now it seems to me that it applies much more widely across the North American Anglican right. It will take a miracle to bring them back to the Cross, which is to say, of course, that it is entirely possible though out of our hands.

It seems to me—and I may well be wrong, indeed I hope that I am wrong on this—that large numbers of Anglican wingers have adopted a peculiar hermeneutic, have put in a certain pair of lenses with which to look out at the world—and finally forgotten that the lenses were in. They started playing a game of pretend, and have played it for so long that they have come to take the game for reality.

Almost everything ECUSA’s leadership does, nearly whatever comes out of 815, whenever someone from ECUSA slips up and makes a mistake in word or deed--it is interpreted so as to fit a preconceived narrative, and the apparent experience of “fit” is taken to validate their twisted interpretation. Anglican wingers compile huge and growing lists of outrages from ECUSA, these outrages functioning like bricks enclosing them within high and growing walls, protected from disconfirmation or dissonant interpretations.

Just as Iker knew in his heart—I believe—that ECUSA really was not fascist, and just as Turner knew in his heart that ECUSA’s working theology as preached was not really vacuous, so the Anglican right at some point knew that its hermeneutic distorted what was really going on; reality was more complex, ambiguous, ambivalent. Reality would not be sufficient to motivate an effective schism—and indeed, the Anglican right suffered defeat after defeat in the US, unable to unite for schism or to roll back the left; they grew in desperation. Just as Bush needed the fiction of WMDs for invading Iraq, the Anglican right needs the fiction of ECUSA-in-Apostasy for finally achieving schism. But just as with Bush, it appears the Anglican right has actually started to believe its lies. Their warped hermeneutic became their Precious, the one thing that could, as a means to power, Rule them all and in the Darkness Bind Them. Never mind that they risk morphing from Sméagol to Gollum. In short, I fear it is too late: the right’s long, impassioned intercourse with the Power of the Abyss—there can only be one father of lies—has borne fruit that may soon become visible to all. But we simply must see to it with God’s help that their fornication is and remains vain, that it really turns out to be all for nothing. Let them have the Akinola Communion for which they have worked so hard and so long, provided Anglicanism goes on.

Provided Anglicanism goes on? What do I mean by "Anglicanism"? That is what I am working out by going through Christian Believing and The Anglican Vision; we in ECUSA and (what looks like it will be) the faithful remnant of the Anglican Communion still have an essential contribution to make to Christianity. It is no surprise that so many Anglican wingers prefer the broad and easy path of immoral conformity opened to them by the spirit ruling this age--but despite their numbers (and Truth is not to be settled by a majority or even a supermajority) that spirit and its age are already doomed. Resistance to the everlasting Gospel of Christ is to be expected, both here in the US and from other quarters worldwide. Our task is to remain faithful to the Gospel Christ has revealed and to redouble our commitment to evangelism; by all indications a vast new mission field in crying need of Christ's love is about to open.

Griffiss’ Anglican Vision, Ch. 5: “Anglican Believing”

At the Eucharist, we say the Nicene Creed, and in both the Offices and the Baptismal Covenant, the Apostles’ Creed. In so doing, we are making a “fundamental commitment” to God that will determine our way of life. That commitment does not require that the propositions of the Creeds be true. Their propositional content is tentative, as most of our language about God must be, and is even open to being proven false and replaced. Our commitment to God does not require that we know what God is, or how the Incarnation takes place, as our commitment is an act relating us to a reality that exceeds the descriptive power of our language. The relating act does not require the truth of the description employed. Such a relating act of commitment is belief in, rather than belief about; such belief in, rather than belief about, goes into constituting the Church, making it a “community of faith.”

The propositional content of the Creeds is not otiose—it has a role to play. The propositional content of the Creeds is an “integral” part of the Church’s storytelling about God: something the Church is obligated to do in the world. That content in its sharpness exceeds what is required to get the point across: namely, Christ is both fully human and genuinely God. The Church makes a God known to the world who became human in Christ, despite the fact that we lack good answers about how this union of divinity and humanity in Christ came about. Answers are not required for our being a community of faith—God is with us nevertheless, continuing to transform us as he wills in the tension of our imperfect understanding and practice.

In his life Christ did not give us propositional answers about the nature of the Incarnation to pass on in the Church, but showed us what God is like as a person. We are given a life that models God in relation to us, to our very humanity. Why is this significant?

Griffiss claims we are split apart in our lives here below, on the one hand desiring God, and yet on the other hand idolizing ourselves. This fragmentation is self-defeating; we intend unity, and the only way that can occur is in a union of love with God. He implies we cannot cease desiring God—it is part of our nature, such that unified personhood cannot come by dropping desire for God and falling into mere self-idolatry.

Christ’s life is given over in obedience to the Father: it is not just (a) an Incarnate life, but (b) a human life in which the will of God is transparent, such that God’s will shines through his life. It is a life lived without self-idolatry, in loving union with God. While we cannot emulate Christ’s being the Word Incarnate, we can emulate the transparency of his life to God’s will, entailing a dethronement of the idolized self. To be transparent to God’s will is to live in a union of love with God; paradoxically, for me to be so transparent is for my self, my person, to come to fruition in its natural unity.

While other humans have modeled a life lived in transparent obedience to God, such as Mary the mother of Jesus, they did not do so to the degree that Jesus did. However, that fact might be merely accidental—perhaps there have been, for instance, martyrs who suffered much more in similar obedience.

Even so, no other life lived in such obedience was a life of a human also genuinely divine. The fact Christ was God Incarnate lends authority to that kind of life; one could not take that kind of life as having ultimate significance for us if he were not fully divine. And yet if we were unable to worship him, his life would not have ultimate meaning for us—it would not be the final word on how we should live. That is, we would be wrong to make a fundamental commitment in reciting the Creeds if the Creeds were wrong about Christ’s divinity. Our belief in God as revealed in the life of Christ is a matter of identity for Anglicans: ceasing to believe in that revealed God is to cease to be the Church.

Yet, the showing formulated in the Creed was non-propositional. There is little of substitutionary atonement in Griffiss’ account-=-and that will no doubt give fits to right-wing Anglicans. Rather, it seems to me Griffiss is saying that Christ’s life obligates us to worshipful emulation—and it could not have so obligated us were his life not one of a human also genuinely divine.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Griffiss' Anglican Vision, Ch. 4 (Draft)

Griffiss, The Anglican Vision, Ch. 4 [Draft in Progress]
The Anglican Communion
Once upon a time what grew into the AC was seeded by English colonists throughout the world where England claimed territories as parts of its empire—the CoE naturally enough following to minister to those administrating
and settling. The resulting presence of the CoE in foreign parts developed into an extension of the CoE at home—a bit of transplanted English
culture retaining its distinctive “Englishness”: music, liturgy, BCP, and episcopate. Elsewhere evangelists from within the intrinsically diverse CoE preached the Gospel to natives with something different from a merely
transplanted CoE resulting: an “indigenous Anglicanism.”

Griffiss is strangely tender here, claiming only that “[t]he change and growth was so varied” that a “general pattern” did not emerge until after WWII, when the empire finally gave way to sovereign nations. What he might have said, to be clearer, is that British imperialism retained its grip over indigenous Anglicanism until—amazingly to us now—the middle
of the twentieth century. One might have then inferred that the relationship between indigenous Anglicans and English Anglicans could carry over something from whatever animosity the long reign of British imperialism yielded. Indeed, one might have even taken the additional step of inferring that evangelicalism, inherited as a pattern of religious praxis from
those initial missionaries, could serve as a convenient vehicle for delivering that animosity—and in my opinion, one would have then been well on one’s way toward understanding the current travail of the AC.

A welter of sovereign national churches emerged in the wake of the empire’s dissolution, and these met every ten years from 1867 at ABC’s Lambeth Palace to discuss and issue resolutions without binding force—the Lambeth
Conferences having “no legislative power for the national churches.” Still, Griffiss says the gathering “is not an accidental coming together of like-minded people, but a community or fellowship that we have in Christ that
transcends our differences.” Even without a single authority holding power over the national churches, they can still retain koinonia or communion. Koinoinia is primarily a relationship “Christians have in Christ and through Christ with God” and through this primary relationship, constituted on our end by belief in Christ and the Gospel, Christians are united with one another. An ecclesiastical structure is unnecessary, or at least not primarily effective.

Each national Anglican church works out its own practice and hearing of the Gospel, resulting in religious diversity: ECUSA ordains women as priests and bishops, while some African churches reject the practice. Some African bishops consider permitting polygamy, which ECUSA rejects.“No one…” Griffiss says, “really knows what the practical implications of our communion with one another may yet be” in the area of how practice and interpretation of the Gospel are worked out within the various national churches. Well, I’d wager
those implications are a mite bit clearer now amidst the AC’s current disarray.

Whereas Anglos from England, Canada and the US, New Zealand, and Australia once were the effective voices behind Lambeth resolutions, now bishops from other national churches “are beginning to push for a more comprehensive agenda”—more comprehensive indeed. Alas, their ascendancy brings with it the ascendancy of evangelicalism in its reactionary form, a virulent and activist evangelicalism making common cause with evangelicals and other reactionaries within the older Anglo national churches. The result seems to be a new agenda has emerged: the old and weaker Anglo churches will consent to permit their reactionary resolutions through an expansion of Lambeth’s power, or the AC will be broken up by schism, a wide-ranging schism possibly extending
into the old Anglo national churches themselves. Koinonia were it to hold would have indeed manifested the Incarnation within the AC—but this new development manifests division borne of the pursuit of power.

The concrete theological basis for koinonia at least within the AC has been evident for some time now: the famous Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, first set out by W.R. Huntington in The Church Idea in 1870 and adopted in
ECUSA’s House of Bishops in 1886; the Lambeth Conference accepted it in 1888. Huntington thought,
rather optimistically, that ECUSA should become the American church, as it was just the sort of church with which Christians
from any denomination could unite. Four simple principles essential to Anglicanism’s continuing, and, in the view of the AC, originating from the apostolic church, are just right as a common denominator sufficient to unite
all Christians: (1)Scripture is revealed by God and provides the standard for faith; (2)the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds state the faith; (3)the sacraments instituted by Christ, baptism and the eucharist, are to be kept;
(4)the episcopate is to be locally adapted.

In ecumenical negotiations, (4) was the sticking point, implying on one reading that the orders of non-episcopal churches are invalid. There is division within Anglican tradition on the point. On the one hand, many Anglicans
have viewed a continuous line of succession of bishops from the apostles as essential for, or at least a sign of the validity of, the one, true Church. But on the other hand, even Hooker admitted ministers ordained outside the apostolic succession were genuinely ordained, insisting merely that their
ordination was “irregular”—being within the apostolic succession not being essential.

Now, scholarly consensus denies the fact of such a succession, making an external understanding of (4) rather moot, one would think. Griffiss thus suggests taking apostolic succession not in an external, but in a doctrinal sense.
That is, apostolic ministry, established by “standing in the teaching and fellowship of the apostles” is the desideratum; ECUSA adopted this modified understanding of the Quadrilateral in 1982, in part contributing
to a unity of communion with the ELCA (Lutherans).

While Huntington’s hopes for the Quadrilateral in its original form were naïve, his basic idea still should intrigue, and ECUSA’s success with the ELCA should give us hope. He seems to have had a genuine insight about
the means and potential for Christian unity. Note how minimal the Quadrilateral is—it really isn’t sufficiently sharp for polemical use. Conservatives have only (1) to work with, and though Scripture lends itself
to demagoguery, it is exceedingly hard to pin down in scholarly dialogue. I think the Quadrilateral’s modesty is essential to its function. If only the same koinonia could be received abroad in the AC.

The Social Order
The key term in Ch. 4, and really Ch. 3 as well, is “communion” or koinonia, and I believe it is no accident that the notion is thrown around so much in our current polemics. Conservative Anglicans seem to me to tend to forget that
our communion with each other is founded in our relationship with Christ, not the other way around. That is, if person A is suitably related to Christ and person B (not the same as A, of course) is also suitably related, they are in communion with each other, even if they are unaware of each other. Their relations to Christ are a sufficient condition for their koinonia. Communion with God should have implications in practice which lead us into communion with each other, and which
lead us to alter the framework of our society where it is incompatible—hence our concern with social justice.

Communion, at root our being drawn into the relationship of the Persons of the Trinity, comes to us through the Incarnation. We are drawn to God through the Person of Jesus, and indeed our relationship with him is at the root of our relationship with each other as Christians, and of our efforts to reform the social order.

Griffiss' Anglican Vision, Ch.s 2-3, Pt. II

Griffiss’ The Anglican Vision, Ch. s 2-3: Movements Within Anglicanism

Although preceded by the imposing figure of Richard Hooker, movements within Anglicanism do not and in fact need not regard him as a doctor or founder of the Church; in our tradition he is not on par with Aquinas for Roman Catholics, Luther for Lutherans or Calvin for Presbyterians. For us, theological plurality is easier to come by—and not as a matter of mere comprehensiveness. Whatever the merit of comprehensiveness as a virtue of sorts, plurality in Anglicanism has not gone hand in hand with brotherly tolerance. These movements were given to competition, to schism, to choking one another off at least in polemic and vitriol. Taking a historical view, there is ample precedent for the current unpleasantness in ECUSA and the AC: more of the same, just closer to us and larger-scale. While that does not make such animosity or antipathy morally permissible, it may make it easier to understand.

A Host of Movements Within Anglicanism
The eighteenth century birthed twins who continue even today in fierce competition with each other: Deism and the Evangelical Movement. Deism grew out of a reaction to attacks on human reason from powerful Catholic thinkers advocating a bifurcation between Roman Catholicism and skepticism: the success of Newtonian mechanics especially lent credibility to a middle ground between those extremes dominated by secular reason. For deists, Anglicanism was to be “an enlightened moralism which had little room for religious emotion” and a body in which authority rested on “reasoned consent” rather than, say, something historically dubious like apostolic succession. Preaching was to serve the inculcation of obedience to this rational moralism; sacraments were de-emphasized. Being completely governed by laws, nature had no room for miracles, revelations, and divine intervention: the doctrine of the Incarnation was neglected.

The contemporary descendent of deism in the Anglican Communion, Anglican Modernism, grew in reaction to another more recent wave of scientific success. In particular, science in the nineteenth century challenged the authority of Scripture. Darwinism overturned a certain reading of “Genesis” and offended sensibilities convinced that evolution was inconsistent with our being in the image of God. German higher criticism challenged the traditional understanding of how the OT was inspired; it uncovered layers of history in its composition, inaccuracies, and multiple authors involved in a process of editing stretching over centuries. This criticism extended to the NT challenged the historicity of Jesus’ miracles, and even of his resurrection. While some (I am tempted to say “descendents of the Evangelicals”) simply reasserted the older views in the teeth of this newer criticism, modernists or the Broad Church movement, which opened with Essays and Reviews in 1860, accepted both the new science and the new biblical criticism. The truth of God must incorporate all human truth; Christianity should de-emphasize its traditional historical foundation and become more “spiritual”.

The Evangelical Movement responded first to Deism, and then to Modernism. It began with the Wesleys, who led a revival in England and America across denominations, ethnicities, and races, “emphasizing personal conversion through the atoning work of Christ’s death on the cross and insisting on the importance of biblical preaching.” Evangelicals appealed to the heart, inculcating a personal moral discipline in believers, and preaching the Gospel with the aim of converting as many as possible. The leadership of the Anglican church in England and America unfortunately resisted the evangelicals, leading to the formation or growth of large splinter groups, the Baptists and Methodists.

Both of these streams of practice and thought in Anglicanism continue, and despite their grave differences, they share emphases on preaching a word, whether primarily rational or primarily biblical; both move away from church-centered authority and away from sacramentalism, favoring instead the authority and perspective individual, whether rational or emotional. Both aim to bring a certain moral discipline through the word they preach, though they preach different words for different disciplines. In short, both streams carry debris from the eighteenth century, and perhaps before, the Reformation: a kind of favor for individuals at the expense of the Church community of faith.

The Catholic Revival, or Tractarian movement, starting in earnest in England with Tracts for the Times but preceded by a less articulate High Church tradition in America, redressed the growing influence of individualism from both camps. Anglicans, said the tractarians, should return to ancient, patristic church practice and belief, in effect returning to a program favored by Hooker. The Church is “a divine society” answering to Christ, not the state—indeed, not even the Pope. It is governed here below by successors to the apostles, namely the bishops, whose succession from the foundation of the Church by Christ secures the legitimacy of their authority.

As a divine society, the Church carries on “a sacramental relationship to God expressed primarily through baptism and the eucharist,” following from its very being as the Church. In this “apostolic community” through the “grace of the Incarnation” we enter the family of God. Anglicanism, in all this close to Hooker, is thus a reformed Roman Catholicism claiming faithful catholicity as both “making universal claims” and continuing apostolic doctrine. Anglicans stepped away from both continental reformers and deists as well.

Mere Tractarianism became reactionary in the face of modernity.

Guess who is Missing
Where are the Anglican radicals in Griffiss’ story? Missing—completely missing. And not just the extreme “death of God” crowd, either: J.A.T. Robinson, John Hicks, Harvey Cox, Jack Spong all go without mention. We are missing a movement if you will: Anglican Radicalism. And that is surely a shame, inasmuch as the current quakes reverberating throughout the AC are traced, in the eyes of numerous conservatives, to just these radicals and their influence. How are we to grasp our peculiar communion as it stands without reflecting on their radicalism and its place in the Church? Radicalism has not simply been rejected, and ECUSA at least has not simply moved on with, say, Liberal Catholicism. Indeed, various conservatives might say the problem with the AC is that Liberal Catholicism cannot keep itself from falling into Radicalism. Moreover, bringing up the radicals might cause readers to consider comprehensiveness very carefully, as it implies these radicals should have a place in the Church. What sort of content is there to Anglicanism in itself if it is committed to comprehensiveness? Griffiss missed an opportunity here to bring home what being Anglican really means.

My Two-cents
It seems clear Griffiss’ sympathies are with Liberal Catholicism; so are mine. It strikes me after reading him that Liberal Catholicism is as near to an official teaching in ECUSA as we can get. The whole CTS exudes sympathy with it that is denied even to Modernism. Still, being an Episcopalian in my case, as I am a liberal catholic, means not just tolerating modernists, radicals, right-wing Anglo-catholics, and evangelicals; it means loving them with the love of Christ. Our comprehensiveness obligates me not only to Christian love, but also never to say “I do not need you.” I wonder whether we liberal catholics in ECUSA have fulfilled that obligation; indeed, in recent practice it may have paled, falling under the shadow of our obligation to worship God in justice.

But if we—all of us—are serious about being Anglican, and we are not allowed to do evil as a means to good, we must not merely tolerate other factions, but see them positively, and not merely as beloved but as performing vital functions in the body of Christ. But what would that mean in practice?

Consider two cases: (1) suppose first that group X insists that the practice of ordaining women is unbiblical and indeed morally wrong. Suppose also that most of the rest of ECUSA is convinced of just the opposite; moreover, for them it is a justice issue. That is, they see denying women as an injustice vitiating the worship of ECUSA in God’s eyes. Should group X be tolerated in its resistance to ordaining women? Should it be tolerated except on this issue, where it must be compelled to accept ordaining women? Should X be suppressed altogether? Comprehensiveness implies the third option is forbidden; ECUSA’s action is limited to one of the first two options. X performs a vital function at least in that the majority might be wrong about ordaining women; surely they are convinced otherwise, but even so, we should maintain epistemic humility. We cannot know for certain, and so X performs the service of keeping the issue alive so that the majority might have an occasion to learn of its error.

On the other hand, (2) group Y protests by disrupting worship so that it cannot go forward. Here, the liturgy is obstructed. Y clearly goes beyond maintaining a difference of opinion, and clearly goes beyond even asking for an opportunity to practice worship as it sees fit. Group Y ought to be suppressed altogether. Insofar as it disrupts the liturgy, it violates a condition of comprehensiveness, namely that we should come before God together in love.

So what might this tell us about being Anglican? We should maintain a constant tension among ourselves in how our congregations receive and articulate the minimal core of faith in worship: evangelicals, right wing Anglo-catholics, liberal catholics, modernists, and radicals should all be able to worship together in communion with each other. True—one must descend to particulars, and conscience should lead—hence we take our factions seriously with sincere conviction. Although one need not consciously decide on one of these styles and might hold off for “mere Christianity,” that choice if popular enough would in itself become just another style or slip into one already settled. However, our choice of style is made under the shadow of epistemic humility—we cannot now know with certainty whether our style is exclusively correct in its particulars. We are obligated not only to accept and cultivate this humility, but also to tolerate and love Anglicans from competing styles, even if they reject, as radicals seem to, our minimal core dogma.

Griffiss' Anglican Vision, Ch.s 2-3, Pt. I

Griffiss, The Anglican Vision , Ch. 2-3: Roots in the English Reformation

Compared with Holmes and Westerhoff’s CB, where Christianity remains a bit of an abstraction, Griffiss’ AV is laudable for its attention to the concrete detail of Anglicanism’s history in England and our side of the pond. It is hard for me to summarize the history Griffiss presents without mere paraphrase that leaves the reader asking “So what?” Where is the significance beyond satisfying antiquarian curiosity? Well, we see glimmerings here of Anglicanism’s claim to apostolicity, being a Church that carries on the teaching and evangelical effort that Christ and his apostles began. The emphasis of the claim is subtle; it is not at all that Anglicanism claims to exhaust that effort, but rather that it claims to carry the effort of Christ and the apostles on even now among others. In particular, it is not any less faithful to that effort than the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches. We also see the origins of the Anglican via media between Roman Catholicism and Puritanism in terms of rejecting their claims to infallibility. More needs to be said here—the genius of it is not so much in its pragmatic spirit of compromise, despite the state’s motives, but rather the more substantial acceptance of the task of rendering Christian orthodoxy consistent with the limits of human knowing and subsequent epistemic humility. No small task, and one all too often misunderstood as a total quietism acquiescing even in religious pluralism. Finally, we see that touchstone of Anglican thought, the Thomist theologian Richard Hooker who compellingly rendered the already achieved via media intelligible and cogent. He comes off as our classical theologian, to whom we may return in dark times for refreshment and inspiration.

A Narrative on the Origins of Anglicanism
The sixteenth century English reformers for the most part claimed they were not forming a new church. Nor did they see themselves as establishing in their actions principles for the diachronic identity of the Church catholic, though in fact they were doing this. When they broke with the Roman Catholic Church and its papacy, they appealed to the primitive church of Scripture and early councils, as did the continental reformers, to argue that they were continuing in the one Church of the apostolic past, the catholic, though not Roman Catholic, Church.

Their break was intended to accomplish a “purification” of that apostolic Church. The English repudiated the authority of the Pope, the celibacy of clergy, masses for the dead, indulgences, and the invocation of saints. In place of papal authority, they elevated the authority of Scripture: “whatever could not be justified in Scripture could not be required of Christians.” The primacy of Scripture powered the repudiation of clerical celibacy et al, as well as a new emphasis on preaching and translation of the Bible into the vernacular, English. Moreover, repudiation of papal authority came with clear and deliberate elevation of the monarch and Parliament’s authority over the Church in England; the Pope was seen as a wielding an invasive, foreign governing power, reaching across boundaries into England and the Church in it—usurping political power rightfully belonging to Crown and Parliament.

But the sum of these purifying reforms did not go so far as did the reforms on the continent of Luther, Calvin, et al. The English Church was to be the same apostolic Church that had functioned there since ancient times, including the period when it functioned under Rome’s authority: that church retained the threefold ministry of bishops, priests, and deacons; it retained a liturgy with an older, Roman, “sacramental” shape emphasizing Holy Baptism and Eucharist in a BCP too much like older Roman books of prayer; it retained the ancient creeds (Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian) as setting out the substance of the ancient faith of that apostolic Church; its 39 Articles stated a doctrine for the CoE decidedly eclectic and accommodating in its studied ambiguity; it claimed its bishops continued a line of succession stretching back to the apostles. Indeed, it must have seemed the CoE deliberately set itself apart from the continental reformers while it set itself apart from Rome.

In conflict with puritans who wished to see it go further in the direction of reform, the CoE found its theological champion in Richard Hooker, whose Laws decisively articulated a defense for what the actions of the English reformers had already only tentatively accomplished. Anglicanism was to be a via media between two paths each claiming sure and certain authority. One path, that of the Roman Catholics in England, followed the authority of the pope and would achieve an independence from English political authority by following that of a foreign prince. Another, that of the puritans, followed the authority of the Bible received by the reader’s conscience, and would achieve an individualism incompatible with the unity and authority of the apostolic Church. The Pope did not have authority to make matters not justified from Scripture dogmatic; yet the Bible was not the only source of Christian belief and practice.

While the Bible contains fundamental truths, those necessary to our salvation, there is much in it that is not fundamental and which may be variously interpreted by the Church apostolic in light of reason informed by experience and Christian tradition. Hooker leaves aside aspirations to construct a system of dogmatic Christian belief, and is content to live with a measure of uncertainty and epistemic humility short of outright skepticism.

Griffiss, using Michael Ramsey, notes that Hooker founded his theology on faith in the Incarnation: “through the union of God with our humanity in the Incarnation we human beings are called into the life of God.” In particular, by means of Baptism and Communion we share in the divine life; by these “means of grace” we grow into a familial relationship with God. This sharing and growth sanctifies our “whole being,” our full personhood, including our inward human reason and conscience. These within the sacramental life are fit for the Church’s use, even if it cannot achieve infallibility with them. Thus our inward personhood with its reason, conscience, et al retains a connection with outward material things made sacred as sacraments effective for the Christian life. Hooker yields up a method to Anglicanism to come, of doing theology while both “maintaining continuity with the tradition the church has received” and accommodating “the changes new situations require,” a method in which authority rests not merely with Scripture, but Scripture interpretation is informed by tradition and human reason.

Of course this is debatable: Hooker may have yielded up a method for doing theology in our church, but (A) has it been applied? I mean have those who would claim Hooker’s mantle for their theology actually maintained continuity with the early church’s received tradition? ECUSA’s conservatives might claim accommodations have overcome continuity—Hooker’s balanced method has not actually been applied. Or (B) does Hooker have a method that retains a balance between continuity and accommodation? Perhaps there is not such a method within Anglicanism; someone might claim that herein lies our problem.

Griffiss' Anglican Vision, Ch. 1

Griffiss: The Anglican Vision, Ch. 1: The Big Picture

The Episcopal Church might puzzle more than a few people, not least among them Episcopalians. Why the fuss? What is the leadership out to accomplish with its concern for homosexuality? With this post, I hope to continue with my original project of clarifying ECUSA's theology. Griffiss doesn’t discuss that particular issue, but what he does say sets out a clear context for understanding the leadership—which includes, for anyone unfamiliar with ECUSA’s polity, both clergy and laity. ECUSA, on Griffiss’ account, found it necessary for reasons especially of social justice to make a break with certain elements its own past.

Before and After
According to Griffiss, ECUSA once had been the church of choice for America’s wealthy and politically powerful elite, a bulwark of assurance and stability for them in the flux of a hostile world, validating the American status quo, and helping instill sociopolitical conformity in line with widely accepted American mores. For instance, earlier on the issue of slavery, and later on racial segregation, on questions over investing in slums and the place of women in the clergy, a general Episcopal pattern was clear: “let us not make waves.”

ECUSA thereby generally confused Christianity with middle-class morality—and too many ECUSAns were ready to go along without a peep of misgiving. The church, nostalgic for a “Christian” America, looked at itself as having a cultural role in upholding the status quo, and cultivated within itself a medieval spirituality, seemingly a brand of Anglo-Catholicism, withdrawn from radical political engagement in the name of social justice. Nevertheless, some prophetic voices within ECUSA discovered that American society was not “OK” in its socioeconomic mores; they began to “make waves” and eventually succeeded in changing the moral orientation of the church.

The apostolic, catholic Church, and ECUSA as a part of that Church, Griffiss rightly says, exists to proclaim the Gospel, that God is reconciling the world to him in Christ; this is ECUSA’s essential faith and reason for being. The church’s recent change in moral orientation is a matter of “returning” to this core Gospel faith, in the sense of being true to the gospel witness. In ECUSA after the change in moral orientation, one receives God’s grace to hear and be shaped by the Gospel—implying among other things (1)learning what sin is, and that it includes social injustice of the sort ECUSA had ignored or condoned, and (2) confessing sin, including social injustice, being forgiven, and healing.

Both churches and individuals have been caught up in our society’s socioeconomic injustices—some especially in sinning, some in being wounded, etc. ECUSA is a place where they can all come to repent and be reconciled to God. Griffiss targets these people explicitly: believers hurt and alienated, questioning and revolting. Thus, ECUSA not only works to change the world; it does so while remaining rooted in the ancient Gospel preaching and Spirit inspired praxis of the early Christian Church, becoming a force for liberation here and now. That is the distinctive “Anglican vision” of ECUSA.

Nota Bene
Christian tradition on Griffiss’ view, as it will turn out, is especially received through the liturgy—the worship practice of the early Church—and the Gospel we receive from that Church. The latter is not so peculiar—ECUSA would not be the first church to claim a mandate for social justice from the Gospel of Christ. Rather, the peculiar Episcopalian strain is in the significance of liturgy; it is not a matter of metaphysics, dogma, or personal worship so much as a corporate commitment with moral implications. As liturgy spills outside of the church walls into ordinary life, activism cannot help but follow. The culpable moral complacency Griffiss laments from ECUSA’s earlier days cannot help but evaporate in the heat of living liturgy true to the praxis of early Christianity.

By implication, earlier ECUSA had not properly instilled the necessity of social justice for worship in its members: it emphasized personal holiness, and let American mores, by and large, take care of social commitments. Conservative backlash against ECUSA’s recent reforms, especially but not exclusively that connected with homosexuality at GC2003, looks on Griffiss’ account like reprehensible obstinacy carried over from the older order—more and meaner nostalgia.
Still, current Episcopalian conservatives might claim his account is one-sided for giving dogma short-shrift at the expense of liturgy and praxis. For instance, his summary of the core of the Gospel is thin, and a conservative might well worry if it is sufficient to rule out historical heresies.