Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Baltimore Declaration Revisited

In the current unpleasantness afflicting the Anglican Communion, it is all too easy to interpret opponents as having no strong points to make at all, as being roughly analogous to the Amakelites from whom the nascent Israelites were to take no goods or prisoners whatsoever. That brutal attitude fits with the profusion of Eliminationist Rhetoric, an easy temptation as lines harden and form walls. So, I figured it might be a good idea to pause and look over one of the Anglican right's earlier attempts to address what it saw as serious trouble in the Episcopal Church: the Baltimore Declartation (1991). Of its signers, I only recognize the name of Alvin Kimel, who is no longer Episcopalian and used to run the Pontifications site. However, the document was an occasion for other reflections, namely those of Reclaiming Faith (1993), a collection of essays penned by more familiar players: Radner, Seitz, Turner, Reno, Sumner, Yeago, Charry, et al.

I. What We Have in Common
How much common ground do I have with the Baltimore Declaration? Well, I find it hard to see exactly why it was controversial. I must be missing something.

It seems to me that most Epipscopalians who are willing to go along with GC2003 would approve of most if not all of the Baltimore Declaration. The only sense I can make of its being controversial is that its authors were in fact engaging with a very vocal minority in high positions around the Episcopal Church. In their minds, that vocal minority may have included people who would sympathize with Spong or Pike and were ready to use their institutional power to spread Spong or Pike-like positions wider in the Episcopal Church, making them normative in time. So it did not matter if in fact the targets of the Declaration were at the time just a minority; the worry was that this minority would surely become a ruling majority, making its noxious brand of unorthodoxy dominant. From such a perspective, GC2003 would have confirmed the worry: a terminal endpoint had been reached.

For instance, I agree with these parts of the Declaration, going from the summaries in boldface at the end of each numbered section:

I (Jesus "definitively and uniquely" reveals God, whom should not stop referring to as Father, Son, an Holy Spirit--and we should not apply titles of our own making to God)
II (monism and deism are false)
IV (humanity needs the salvation that comes uniquely from the Cross and Resurrection)
VII (one should not replace Scriptural content with secular, let historical criticism/the Jesus Seminar tell the Church who Jesus is and what he wants from us, or forbid the Church from a messianic reading of the OT)

Yes, even (I) has a feminist-friendly reading, and does not rule out Scriptural titles and images(like "Mother" or "Creator" and "Sustainer"). (IV) is soft enough to admit inclusivism. (VII) does not actually reject historical criticism.

I, II, IV, and VII need no significant modification in my view. Minor modifications are needed in these following articles, but their drift apart from the gaffes is right in my opinion:

VI (misogyny is wrong and anti-Biblical, and it is false that the Father as "Father" is inaccessible/unavailable to women)
V (anti-Semitism is wrong and anti-Biblical, but Jews still need Jesus and need to have jesus preached to them)

The failings of V and VI are similar, in that they are relatively ahistorical, failing to take account of certain ugly facts on the ground. V does not say enough about how the Gospel should be preached given the history of Christian anti-Semitism with a Biblical foundation: we should at least acknowledge and take responsibility for the fact Scripture and Christian tradition has lent itself to misinterpretation along anti-Semitic lines. Moreover, I wonder if the drift of V means to rule out inclusivism.

Likewise, VI does not seem to acknowledge that women may not be able to approach God as Father, even if logically it remains legitimate and called for in the Church for God to be named Father, etc. VI thus contians a weird a priori principle singling out women (might men have a similar problem?) and ruling out the possibility of human weakness or affliction among them around the issus of how we refer to God. On the face of it, VI seems perilously close to self-contradiction.

The only article that seems to me totally wrong is III, which says Jesus is the whole revelation of God and there is no other revelation of God from which we may gain knowledge of him. That seems unintentionally to rule out the OT being a revelation from God to Israel that gave them knowledge of God; surely it is just such a revelation.

Moreover, it seems intentionally to rule out natural theology altogether, in effect elevating submission to Barth's methodology as a condition of faith. That's just silly. III needs to be qualified at least to permit the OT's being a revelation prior to Christ and to permit natural theology.

Still, a solid core of the declaration (I, II, IV, VII) seems to survive intact, and other bits (V, VI) need only small modifcations. That is alot of common ground. Of course I may be wrong, but I bet most of the Episcopal Church is with me on this. You might think in spite of GC2003, we should be able to get along. Why not?

II. Deeper Differences
The Baltimore Declaration did not put down the most important principles governing separatist opposition to GC2003; it tells only part of the story. Among the most important of the missing:

Christians are obligated to break communion with material heretics, i.e. those sincerely mistaken about the faith.

Sometimes I wonder whether this is among them:

There is no distinction between material and formal heresy; any mistake about the faith is sin implying broken communion.

There is no room for an error in the new Anglican Communion of the separatists. The fact that GC2003 acted bona fide, sincerely, to the best of its ability and knowledge, having discharged epistemic responsibilities is of no importance. I think those principles are false; the Scriptural evidence for them is insufficient--and I think much of the Episcopal Church recognizes their falsehood.

Of course, those rules are impossible for the Church to live by. The separatist camp includes factions with incompatible accounts of the faith who have agreed to put aside their differences for pragmatic ends. In reality, then, the principes should be something like:

Christians are obligated to break communion with material heretics only if they are from the Episcopal Church and against separation; any mistake about the faith is a sin only for an Episcopalian against separation.

Of course, viewed in the light that way, these principles are ridiculous. The separatist movement afoot in the Anglican Communion seems not rooted in the faith of the Creeds and catholic Christianity, but a morally indefensible mean-spritedness incompatible with Scripture. Am I wrong? As I said before, I must be missing something. No?


At 9:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're not wrong about separation: The facts (about God, Jesus, etc.) are what they are, not what one or another faction insists they must be. The church ought to be a big tent for all who try to follow the Summary of the Law while admitting that they don't know everything, and that what they think they know could be wrong.

(Substantively, of course, I would have to disagree with nearly all of the Baltimore Declaration.)

At 11:26 PM, Blogger Bob Schneider said...


At 10:23 AM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...


FWIW, I think one might well disagree with all of the declaration, provided the dissenter was not dogmatic about the disagreement, making new opinions a criterion of being Christian.

That is, one could disagree and say Panentheism--which might be viewed as a kind of monism--is true. So far, fine: Marcus Borg seems to do something like that. That's fine as long as one does not call believers in God's transcendence and immutability vicious unbelievers who really are no longer Christian.

Or: advocates of GC2003 would be out of line calling opponents maliciouslyt phony Christians.

The flip side, of course, is that when the Church takes a stand, say, in favor of transcendence, it should acknowledge its fallibility: in effect inviting debate or discussion.

And, to take it to its logical conclusion (as odious as it sounds): we should have conscience clauses for those maintaining older stands of the Church now discarded, even if that means not bringing a Bishop to trial who thought women should not be ordained.

For instance, we should have found a way to openly put up with Fort Worth's Bishop Iker and not threatened his position.

That is not to deny some beliefs are culpable and beyond toleration. But that red line itself will have to be open for debate; the church should acknowledge its fallibility even here.

At 9:58 PM, Blogger bls said...

Scotist, you are making a lot of very good sense these days. (Not that you aren't in other days.) I only hope people are paying attention.

(The amazing thing is that all you are really talking about is ordinary, standard, run-of-the-mill Anglicanism - which somehow seems so incredibly radical an idea in these strange days....)

At 11:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oddly, I pretty much agreed with the Baltimore Declaration at the time -- or rather, I would have, if it were possible to read it in a straightforward manner -- but actually, it is all code words (the "right" seems to be always like that -- maybe the left as well)

FWIW, thew Jesus Seminar bores me to tears, but I think that Borg & Crossan have some important things to say.

At 12:30 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...


Sure, let's hear from the Jesus Seminar--for instance, there is much of value in the social picture of Jesus gleaned from Crossan or Borg, say. But let's hear more besides, no? E.g. let's hear from L. T. Johnson and Wright as well.

I have never understood why the countercultural prophet of the Kingdom could not also be the only Son of God, one person fully human and fully divine. In fact, how could his Kingdon preaching have any ultimate import at all unless it carried the Finality that can only come from the messenger being the Son, bringing something directly from the Father?

At 12:32 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

As for the ambiguity of the declaration's various points, why not affirm the points and let the conservatives do the screaming afterwards about the hidden meanings and secret connotations?

At 3:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well done, Scotist. I had pretty much the same reaction when I read this for the first time.

Also, I should point out that the most famous member of the group who signed that document, next to Al Kimmel, is Gary Matthewes-Green who has since become a priest in the Antiochian Orthodox Church and taken the name "Fr. Gregory." His fame comes at least partially by association though. His wife, Frederica Matthewes-Green, is a well known writer and speaker.


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