Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Social Justice and the Gospel

What part if any does social justice have in the Gospel?

Surely it is true

The gospel is the promise of right relationship with God by no doing of our own, is peace and joy and fullness in Jesus Christ crucified and raised from the dead, who is present to us and for us here and now in the Word proclaimed in the reading/preaching and received in, with, and under the bread and wine. Jesus Christ himself is the Good News!

That is, the good news is not just a bunch of words and movements--as a promise might be viewed made on its own--but an actual presence"here and now" of God in Christ through the Spirit, or "peace and joy and fullness in Jesus Christ". So we can say the real person of Jesus himself is the Gospel. I hope that much is not controversial.

But then, what follows? Can we--should we--say that social justice is distinct from the Gospel, an effect of it rather than an item contituting it? No.

This is true as well, I should think:

When what is good for the community is not also good for an entire organ thereof, what we have identified as good as such for the community then is also somehow sinful and certainly not the fullness of God's gospel and will.

That is, a dualism between the good of the church and social justice is false; at least this is how I read Christopher.

So, to pick on Derek a little, I think this is off the mark:

But our preaching and our teaching becomes disoriented if somehow the logical corollary becomes the focus and the central thesis from which it proceeds is obscured. The Church’s primary responsibility is the proclamation of the Good News of the Gospel, then the works of mercy that flow from this revelation. To preach the works alone, or to assume that the connection between the faith and the works is obvious and need not be said is to risk corruption of the Gospel with which we have been entrusted.

The primary responsibility of the church is not preaching and proclaiming alone, of course, but sacramental--the very existence of the church is bound up with the Eucharist and Baptism. Works do not merely flow from the sacraments of the church; they constitute them. Without works, there could not be any material signs of grace. This is implied too by the Offering which formally begins the Eucharist, as distinct from the Proclamation of the Word. It is the very works of the congregation, and through these works their very lives, that are sanctified and brought into the real presence of Christ--and the Father more importantly--through the Eucharist. Hence we can speak meaningfully of a sending at the end of the Eucharistic liturgy that has the real presence of Christ continue with us outside the building and in the secular world. Or what is much the same, the church continues to exist throughout the rest of the week. We should see the action of the Eucharist and the rest of our lives as a whole.

But injustice is inconsistent with the real presence of Christ. This is not a matter merely of our moral response to the Gospel. The kerygma/didache distinction is more rational than real;
worship without justice is worthless. Hence we pass the peace before beginning the Eucharist proper, and confess our sins, begging forgiveness. Surely if discerning the body--the presence of God--is a precondition of receiving the Body and Blood of our Savior, and this discernment requires repentance, we should beware of putting injustice out of mind. Receiving in faith--entering into the real presence--is impossible without repentance; presumption to the contrary is sin. Without desiring justice in the liturgy of the Eucharist, there is no actual Eucharist. It is strange then to separate them; it would seem better to see justice as partially constituting the reception of the Eucharist; call it "infused" or "imparted" justice: no matter.

For any sin is social injustice, and any righteousness social justice. In addition to any human or mortal sinned against, we are always in the presence of the Holy, Holy, Holy God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It has been a clear implication of the doctrine of the church from its earliest days that any sin is at least sin among at least four persons, and at least between the sinner and God. Or: sin always affects communion, our being with God in three persons. It is incoherent to see the quality of communion apart from Holy Communion, and thus to see justice as apart from the Gospel.

More From Williams

Does Archbishop Williams' clarification via Lambeth Palace do anything to remove the perception some have that he is holding the Communion up to the fire of a very strange doctrine?

No; the key point he made earlier is left intact here: the diocese is the basic unit of the church, and the province is a convenience of great practical significance, but no necessity. In effect, the clarification underlines his key point by indicating it was not an unintended accident that came out in the letter to Howe, but is instead a settled view held with conviction.

Note this strong language from the clarification; it claims the original letter voiced

a response reiterating [a]a basic presupposition of [b]what the Archbishop believes to be [c]the theology of the Church.

Well, we are right to suspect the letter to Howe draws on his ecclesiology (and his ecclesiology is "the" ecclesiology ?!?); [c] confirms this. Moreover, the letter is based on basic presuppositions (from [a]) of his ecclesiology. Basicality is a slippery notion, but in this context it is not encouraging. That is, one might have thought that Williams might be open to the plausibility of other, contrary views more in the line of normative Anglican tradition; apparently he is not. His judgement here is a settled matter, a matter of basic premises from which one would start.

But note too that this is acknowledged (in [b]) to be the Archbishop's own opinion, his personal doxa, a private judgement. It is not said to be the opinion of the CoE, the AC, the ACC, the Primates, the Church universal, or any formal, communal eccesial entity. That is in tension, to say the least, with other claims made in the clarification: more on that later.

Recall when he once showed great reluctance to act while taking private and controversial opinions as premises--namely those permissive toward same sex unions. Then he claimed that duty to his office precluded it--as a point of catholic churchmanship even. He distinguished between the offices of a prophet and bishop. Those were the days! Days gone by. Apparently those fine distinctions hold no longer, or else they are being applied with curious--even aggressive--selectivity, as he now is ready to act on a private understanding of the church manifestly contrary to what had been the principal cluster of mainstream Anglican views.

His selectivity with principle is aggressive because in these two statements he adds considerable momentum to the separatist movement by validating their basic strategy. He implies the national church is a convenient, but expendable, abstraction whose dioceses--identity intact--can be reorganized into new provinces or new ecclesial entities as it pleases them and the rest of the Communion. If that isn't a green light to Fort Worth and others, what is?

Thus the clarification notes

The primary point was that – theologically and sacramentally speaking – a priest is related in the first place to his/her bishop directly, not through the structure of the national church; that structure serves the dioceses. The diocese is more than a ‘local branch’ of a national organisation.

There is little common ground here with the notion that dioceses are creatures of the provinces of which they are a part, unable to exist on their own apart from them, or in principle unable to secede with their identity intact. Satisfying "is a member of the Episcopal Church" is neat-o but accidental.

That may come as news to some deacons, priests and bishops, who might think they have some ground for allegiance to the national church over and above the diocese. No; it follows, there is no national church for Williams, except in a secondary and derivative sense.

Again, the clarification notes,

[d] The provincial structure is significant, not least for the administration of a uniform canon law and a range of practical functions; Dr Williams is not encouraging anyone to ignore this, [e] simply to understand the theological priorities which have been articulated in a number of ecumenical agreements, and [f] in the light of this not to increase the level of confusion and fragmentation in the church.

Part [d] reiterates Williams' key point with force. The significance of the province is merely instrumental; it is not a church in itself. It has administrative and practical functions that are important--and that is it. Period.

Thus, what might be meant by "fragmentation of the church" in [f]? On my reading of Williams, "church" there does not refer to "The Episcopal Church". There is no such church according to him. Its primary referent is the communion of dioceses, where communion of provinces is apparently taken merely to supervene on the relationship of the dioceses.

Finally, part [e] worries me. I have said a couple of times now that Williams' understanding of the church is not ours: not in the mainstream of normative Anglican tradition. It is private, I claimed, and suspect enough on that account alone. However, he seems to think it is not private. It is rather, he claims, the position on the nature of the church we have committed ourselves to apart from this controversy in ecumenical conversation. Is that right?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

A Glimpse into Williams' Ecclesiology

This letter from Archbishop Williams to Bishop Howe of Central Florida has been making the rounds recently with good reason--it is quite a remarkable fragment of ecclesiological thinking.

There is absolutely no question that it will serve to foment fragmentation and division, encouraging those dioceses like Pittsburgh and Fort Worth that wish to leave TEC intact to "get a move on". Williams' idea seems to be that Iker could take Fort Worth out of the Episcopal Church and remain in communion with the See of Canterbury, but a mere parish like Christ Church in Georgia or Truro in Virginia could not do so. I presume this explains why he has been reluctant to extend Lambeth invitations to Minns et al--the issue is not Carey's precedent so much as a more theologically substantive point.

Of course I would like to think I share ground with Williams here. Perhaps we agree that there is something fundamentally disordered about a parish without its bishop withdrawing from one diocese to join another; provided the bishop remains a bishop, it is impossible. The parish priest is a priest only at the behest of his or her bishop, and this is a matter of the parish priest being a priest. Thus, while Williams might not have a problem with Minns being a bishop, he might well have a problem with his claim to Lambeth attendance as a bishop of anything. He isn't a bishop of what was Truro parish anyhow. Then what exactly is he a bishop of?

The matter is different when one considers Bishop Iker taking the Diocese of Fort Worth out of the Episcopal Church. Ater all, for the time being Iker remains a bishop of a diocese.

Williams seems to me, in my limited knowledge, to be following Zizioulas here, a la "Being and Communion". The bishop of a diocese is the basic ecclesial unit on which provinces supervene--the provinces being no more than epiphenomena of their diocesan bases. For the bishop is the necessary precondition for the performance of the essential act of Christian being, namely the Eucharist. Thus we can say where the bishop is, there the church is, as if the church were instantiated wherever a bishop presided, and its "where" was the diocese.

Thus, there is no fundamental block to a province cobbled together of dioceses from England, the US, and Canada; there is no fundamental incoherence in a province continually changing its diocesan membership. The province is simply not necessary for the being of the diocese, and the Archbishop or Presiding Bishop is not at all to the provincial bishop as the bisho pis to the priest and deacon.

This is a very high ecclesiology, I think, and it portends a good deal of near-term chaos--if not long-term anarchy--but to his credit Williams appears ready to take a stand and let the dioceses fall where they may while watching provinces simply evaporate and reform like steam on a window. I had thought Williams was led by a need to keep the Church of England together; it seems I was wrong, as the CoE is just another epiphenomenal province. Consistency would require acknowledging that dioceses of the CoE could form provinces with dioceses of TEC. What might stop them? Tradition, legal problems, potential disestablishment perhaps: who knows?

Property issues are quite beside the point when we are talking the being of bishops and their dioceses. If Iker or Duncan were to leave TEC without property, it would be irrelevant to their standing as bishops of dioceses in communion with Canterbury.

Taking all this into consideration, it is clear what the Episcopal Church should do. It is clear that Bishop Iker cannot just take Fort Worth out of TEC ad hoc; he must, by his diocese's own rules, follow a process that takes time. When the process is completed--legitimately completed--there is no serious theological bar to his leaving TEC with Fort Worth--and of course remaining Anglican in good standing. If his fellow Episcopalian bishops do not like this prospect, there seems to be just one option. Secular law will not help. They will have to remove him and others like him from their positions as bishops of their respective dioceses. And they had better get moving; that process will take time to complete as well. Deposed, Iker and the others would have the status of a Minns: hovering in an ecclesial limbo. And faithful Episcopalians in Fort Worth and elsewhere will be safe.

Friday, October 12, 2007

More Encouraging News

This report from Edgar Ruddock about CAPA is good and quite suggestive; The Lead has excerpts.

The issue has become like poisonous tar--touch it and it will not shake free, and in the meantime it will prove lethal.

For instance, the CAPA meeting was full of interesting stuff, but what conversational implicature gets carries in by this tiny, relatively modest tidbit:

We are united in our conviction that the Lord of the Church is calling upon Africa once again to contend for the ‘faith once and for all delivered to the saints’.

That's political churchbabble, where a good, prima facie biblical thought gets twisted out of recognition to do duty in the service of something else difficult to discern having to do with property, the IRD, and American neoconservatism/ fundamentalism.

And then you wonder if that was the real point and living heart of the CAPA document, for which all the other stuff is just window dressing; i.e. all the energy and eros truly suffuses the property and poltical questions.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Big Push?

Is this the beginning, or the high-water mark, of the pressure being put on Williams and the Anglican Communion to change course and do something severe to the Episcopal Church?

We have Bishop Nazir Ali applying pressure by threatening not to attend Lambeth, Archbishop Jensen calling for a new Anglican communion, Archbishop Orombi chiming in, and the CAPA provinces issuing their own condemnation--all this admidst similarly placed conservative voices and other lesser lights like David Anderson raising their voices too. That's alot of noise.

But note a few things that might be significant:

(1) These big guns are employing big hyperbole unhelpful to any effort to calm the situation, get parties back to the table, and work anything out. The hyperbole--in many cases obviously false but inflammatory stuff like the claims TEC is abandoning the AC or is ignoring the Primates--signals (a) that what is actually the case needs to be inflated and exaggerated if the Separatist cause is to maintain momentum--the truth is not enough, and (b) these big guns are set in their path, and are interested in moving full-steam ahead somewhere special. They aren't interested any longer in the Windsor Process. Having lost control of its vector, they are ready to try something new.

(2) The new thing that the Spirit is working (I say this with conscious irony) among the Separatists is going forward regardless of whether a split can be engineered in the Church of England. Things are in the works that will not be unwrought; they could be unwrought, efforts could be recalled of course. But they will not be. For instance, Fort Worth is signalling now, apart from any credible threat of fracture in the CoE, that it is abandoning the communion of the Episcopal Church as soon as it can--at least it will give it a sincere try. And we may well see "Global South" provinces trying to poach Episcopal provinces. Duncan is going ahead with his CCCP scheme. It is all very risky, in that they may find themselves out in the cold, having merely enlarged the unhappy Anglican continuum. Part of the Global South gospel, however, is that it is worth the risk. That's news.

(3) I would have thought the news that whole provinces were wagering their full being as church on a risky scheme was big news, and that there was no way they would even have put such a process in motion considering the stakes unless the fix was in and in their favor. But I am willing to bet while the fix is indeed in, it runs against them. Reform's call for a split in the CoE was a dud. If it had not been a dud, things would look very good for the Separatist project. But so far, a split in the CoE looks remote. Sure, there are very unhappy Extremists in the CoE in rather high places who would have happily gone with a split, but for the moment more reasonable voices have held the line. As a result, the note of unity has prevailed--for the moment--and there is no credible threat of a split in the CoE.

As long as there is no credible threat of a split in the CoE, a split in the AC is tolerable. One could say a split in the AC was inevitable anyway, with TEC or else some of the GS being removed in time. Given that fact, the question was which party? The parting of some of the GS has the profound advantage that it can be engineered by the GS itself--they seem all too happy to follow Jensen's advice.

They may waffle; we may see them fail to leave, and there may be more wrangling over whether their American novelties count as Anglican in the normal sense or in some diminished sense. That would be an even better outcome for TEC I think, though the wrangling might be unpleasant. Given how the GS has gummed up the Windsor Process, they are unlikely to be credible partners in how it goes forward even if they stay. For there will always remain a question, given what they have said already about leaving: should we give them what they want in this process, given that they are not serious about the process and they very well may leave instead of seeing it through? That is, there is a good case to be made now that ANY compromise with the GS is stupidly self-defeating, given that they have let all know near and far that they are Quitters at heart relative to the Windsor Process.

Thus, whether they leave soon for a new communion of their own devising, or waffle and wrangle some more--and it seems to me this type of pressure will continue as long as it can be ginned up by the usual suspects--this is the high-water mark. The big bombs yet to fall--Fort Worth and others trying to leave--will not yield the hoped for results, separation and replacement, because there isn't sufficient support in the CoE, as that would require being willing to split the CoE: the quitters becoming disestablished. The big bombs will fall in all likelihood, and there will be a big crash, but that will not qualitatively shift the situation.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

On "God as Father"

Here is a brief piece brought to my attention in a prior comment that might represent a common evangelical view; it criticizes use of "Mother" to refer to God the Father.

Some of her points are astute enough; who would disagree with these?

Because God is not literally a father (i.e., a man who procreates), God is, therefore, a father in a metaphorical sense.

It should also be noted that God’s fatherhood is not about gender. The divine nature is not sexual or gendered in any sense. Although the human nature of Jesus is gendered, the divine nature is not. The fatherhood of God is not tantamount to the inherent masculinity of God.

Because the name “Father” is metaphorical and not literal, it does not speak literally of God’s having a male or masculine nature.

We have a broad base of agreement here, where I would say so far she is exactly right. But then she goes on to say:

The New Testament view is unmistakable: God is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and Mary was his (merely human) mother. And God is not only Jesus’ Father, God is “Our Father.” We have been adopted to “sonship” and are heirs of God, coheirs with Christ. This is the picture and terminology that the Bible uses to present the family relationship of believers to God and Christ. There is no place in this picture for a Mother God alongside or instead of a Father God.

I've put what seems to me to be her main point in a bold font. I presume what she means to say in the last sentence goes further than what she says elsewhere:

The picture of God as a mother is also present in Scripture, such as when Jesus describes himself as a mother hen. However, to make this observation is not to imply that the “father” metaphor is on a par with the “hen” metaphor.

After all, "not being on a par" might be taken to mean "being different". Surely the NT uses fatherhood metaphors for adoption with much greater emphasis than any motherhood metaphors--there is an unmistakable difference in emphasis.

But she wants to draw attention to more than difference in emphasis; maybe she means the fatherhood metaphor has a certain aptness that the motherhood metaphor does not? This even though she readily admits

...it is abundantly clear, especially in the Old Testament, that God is both mother and father to his people. This is rightly understood in a metaphorical sense, pure and simple. God is to us like a mother and like a father.

It comes down to this: "Father" is both a metaphorical descriptor and a metaphorical name, while "Mother" is merely a metaphorical descriptor. Hence:

However, God as the Father of Jesus Christ—as the first person of the triune Godhead—is not “Father” merely in the sense of a simple metaphorical descriptor. Here “Father” serves as a metaphorical name. (A metaphorical name is to be distinguished from a simple metaphor, a figure of speech used to describe one or more attributes of someone or something)....Although the Bible speaks of God in metaphorical imagery that is motherly and feminine, “Mother” is never used in Scripture as a name for God.

Well, that does not do the trick for me. It's interesting, but the problem I have is simply that it is too easy to turn a metaphorical description into a metaphorical name. "Ball and chain" or "dragon" for instance can do duty as a metaphorical decriptor, and then be used to refer as a metaphorical name. There is no special logical barrier to using descriptions as proper names.

Maybe the emphasis of her argument however falls on the phrase "used in Scripture." That is, we should only use those names for God used in Scripture. In that case, the real work in her case is supposed to be done via what seems to me to be a very dubious principle: if it is not done in Scripture it should not be done. In which case I ought not to address God as "God" or "Father"--these names being translations of what appears in Scripture properly speaking. Or I should not drive a car, type, or brush my teeth.

That brings me back to the question: how is "Father" apt, and "Mother" unapt, in such a way that "Mother" should not be used?

Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Case of Christ Church, Savannah

I know a bit of Christ Church from having attended a Eucharist there a couple years back while fleeing to Savannah with my then very pregnant wife from a formidible swarm of hurricanes that had left our little central Florida city bruised and without power for some time.

What struck me, aside from the general beauty of Savannah and the considerable beauty of the church building itself, was how vibrant and broad-based the congregation seemed. Even then, however, it was clear the congregation was devoted to separation; we recall how the entire sermon we heard--a Sunday sermon--was devoted to getting ready and getting the courage up to separate. We were taken aback by the commitment of their clergy to the separatist cause; their situation, from what little we could tell, seemed to be pretty well homogenized behind the cause. Of course, that did not keep us from going back around there if only to be in the vicinity of such a marvelous building where we could wonder what if?

What if they really do actually secede? Well, it seems that they have, or have at lest committed themselves to secession even if some formalities remain. A shame, everyone might agree. But those performing the very act itself would no doubt claim they were obligated to take action; not to do so would have been a grave sin of some sort. Is that right?

Why did they do this again? What's the argument exactly?

I. The Argument
Surely there must be a very good argument giving Christ Church secure warrant, such that there are--at least--no outstanding publicly accessible defeaters. It's just the very defeasibility of reasons here that makes secession in general a thing of such awful gravity. This sort of thing can after all be reversed in instances, but it is really quite tough to pull off, and in this case I would say it's very unlikely. People have become disposed to this type of action there; if they have become disposed and the action itself is wrong--or this type of action in this type of situation--that's pretty much just too bad.

Here's Gavin Dunbar on the recent HoB reply to Tanzania; I think the key bit is here:

The House has not renounced the imagined right of the Episcopal Church to do as it pleases, unconstrained by the teaching of the Bible, the historic Faith, or the Communion’s “bonds of affection”.

This seems to be at least a key premise in any justification the rector would give for making the break now rather than later or even earlier. What would make now so special, after all? Well, the HoB's reply is what is special. It should have renounced the "right" to do as it pleases, etc. by now and has not. Presumably he would say something like Tanzania gave the HoB one last opportunity to make the required renunciation; i.e. in spite of Archbishop Williams' declaration to the contrary, Tanzania really was an ultimatum; Tanzania created a kairos moment for the Epipscopal Church in a very strong sense. I can't make sense of the rector's comments in any other way--am I wrong about how he must have seen Tanzania? Their senior warden stated

We have witnessed how The Episcopal Church (TEC) has separated itself from the historic Christian faith over the last few decades. In February 2007 TEC received a final call from the Anglican Communion to return to the central tenets of Christianity, and TEC failed to comply with the request by the September 30 deadline. Therefore, TEC has abandoned the communion previously existing between TEC (including the Diocese of Georgia) and Christ Church.

They likely thought something like this:

A line in the case of the Episcopal Church has to be drawn somewhere, and the obligation to draw the line cannot be deferred again and again--such deferrals are irresponsible, even reprehensible given how much--the very health or even final destiny of souls--is at stake.

That's what he seems to have in mind as part of the background of this statement (same doc):

But the obligations of “constituent” membership in the “larger church” run both ways. The constitutional obligations of the Episcopal Church - to uphold the Bible’s teaching, the Church’s historic Faith and Order, and membership in the Communion – are the covenantal basis of its canonical claims to parochial real property. If it cannot fulfil the former, then the moral basis for the latter disappears.

I give the Dunbar credit for giving clear reasons; not much problem there at all. He seems to have in mind something at least this strong:

If Christ Church is morally obliged to remain in the Episcopal Church, then the Episcopal Church must remain able to
(1)uphold the Bible's teaching, and
(2) uphold the Church's faith and order, and
(3) retain its membership in the Anglican Communion.

And a Savannah editorial seems to have backed up the idea that this is a large part of the motivation here; the editorial notes

they focus on the greater Episcopal Church's unwillingness to unequivocally back such basic tenets as the authority of scripture, the divinity of Christ and the availability of salvation through Christ's sacrifice.

The way Dunbar speaks, failing on any one of (1)-(3) negates Christ Church's obligation to remain part of TEC. That would--if (P) is indeed true--give Christ Church permission to leave TEC, but that alone would not obligate them to leave. That's not much of a problem prima facie; maybe he'd rewrite (P) as (Q), changing it to read "If Christ Church is morally permitted to remain...." or he'd add to (P) the considerations about the health of souls and so on I mentioned above. Either way he might have argued to completion for an obligation to leave TEC.

II. An Episcopal Service
The Bishop responded:

It is important to clarify the ecclesiastical structure of our denomination. Parishes in our church are not separate congregations but are integral and constituent parts of a diocese and of the larger church. Should some individuals in a parish decide they can no longer be Episcopalians, that in no way changes the fact that Christ Church is and will remain a parish of the Episcopal Church in this diocese and will continue to occupy its present facilities.

Oh my--I bet that didn't persuade anyone. In fact, the Bishop's response was framed by the media and many others as a question merely about who gets the building, i.e. a legal question:

But now that they've left, the only question remaining is: Who gets the property?
According to attorneys with experience in church property laws, the odds are stacked against Christ Church.
However, church leaders say historical and current documents clearly list the wardens and vestry as its owners.
The Episcopal Church claims ownership to all church properties. The denomination considers individual parishes to be held in trust by the congregation.

And I bet the secular arm of the law will decide for one side or another. That may leave partisans of both parties thinking that indeed, the question comes down to property.

Wingers will think the Bishop only cares about the building, and lefties will think the secessionists are cynically interested in getting away like brigands with as much as they possibly can. Indeed, the congregation is not the building it meets in, and the argument over who gets the building is not going to be settled by anything the rector or vestry have said up to this point; the property issue is separate from the theological issue. And one might wonder at the chasm between an obligation to leave, and permission to take property--the latter going with permission to leave it be (I'd really like to see an argument that the congregation is obligated to take its property).

Anyhow, however fascinating the property thing might be, I think both sides would have missed the Bishop's point--which has something more to it. In fact, the Bishop is doing us a service by bringing up the issue: ecclesiology.

The Bishop is NOT saying, in effect, the congregation cannot leave the Episcopal Church, but rather that the congregation cannot leave the Episcopal Church on its own. The congregation might have left with the Bishop's OK. But the congregation alone is not omnicompetent--as all sides would agree--and in particular, it is not competent to leave one communion for another. The congregation does not have that kind of authority; that is analytic to belonging to an episcopal church. However early the congregation of Christ Church claims to be, it was always episocopal, and never properly anyway had the power to make such a decision on its own.

Why is that? The real reason, I think, is that to be an episcopal church--something written into their identity one would have thought--they need a bishop. This is non-negotiable; it is a matter of being, not a matter of election or something to be settled by votes. When they voted without a bishop and against their bishop, they did not vote as a congregation; their action was not an action of the church. It was not merely irregular, but invalid. If they vote were they to vote without a bishop, but with their priest, he could not validly act to preside over such an occasion--a priest by definition presides only at the behest of a bishop.

Private persons on their own cannot just constitute a church by fiat, much less an episcopal one. Being a church is a matter of grace, and is not simply within our power as creatures.

Let us hope they acknowledge the gravity of such an error. That would be the beginning of a better and safer path for them to travel. Communion cuts right to the being of persons as such.

On the other hand, it seems to me in contrast, the Bishop led properly by making his statement. He did not uselessly raise temperatures by arguing the Bible or deeper matters of theology with them on that occasion. They would not have credited any other contrary interpretation different from their own--that would have constituted an outstanding defeater, and such contrary interpretations have long been public. And having made such an elementary error about ecclesiology, how could he have expected them to listen to theology?

But he could have reasonably expected them to heed the call to be the kind of church they ever had professed to truly being--an episcopal church. For whatever else they contended against, they had never contended against the episcopacy, and could have been expected to retain a principled consistency. I suppose it is only the modesty of their Bishop that kept him from being explicit about the frightening gravity of their error.

III. Deconstructing Rector Dunbar
Once the ecclesial problem emerges, it becomes clear, I think, that the entire case for Christ Church collapses. For their case is inconsistent on its own grounds.

When the Dunbar judged the Episcopal Church, he claimed it lost legitimate authority once it failed any one of these:

(1)upholding the Bible's teaching;
(2)upholding the church's faith and order;
(3)retaining membership in the Anglican Communion.

See the problem?

It is very difficult to see how secession, and in particular the very act of secession that the congregation attempted, upholds the faith and order of the church. In fact, it seems pretty clear it does not--and that is hardly a matter of breaking the polity of the Episocpal Church alone, but it is a matter of breaking episocopal polity, period. They have assumed powers as a congregation that imply in practice they are congregational, and that their identity as episcopal is just pretend-- a matter Aesthetic and not Religious, to use Kierkegaard's categories. By that failure alone, the rector would have lost his legitimacy as rector and shepherd of this congregation--going by his own principles. Judge him as he judges--and you shall see.

But then you might wonder: how is this priest competent to make the argument he has made? Is a priest competent to decide as an individual priest what the necessary conditions of his allegiance to his bishop are? Is an individual congregation? Shouldn't these have been decided at a higher level, like GC or at the level of the Anglican Communion (to whom I suppose this rector would say, risibly, his congregation owes its being as church)?

Indeed, note how he implies he has a unilateral competence to decide the nature of the Tanzania communique, even over against the decision of Archbishop Williams who
claimed it was not an ultimatum. Well, this rector says it is--and that settles it? What? At the very least, even if he disagreed with Williams, he should have respected the episcopacy enough to let the Bishops or primates decide. Again--overreaching his competence. Again--making a mockery of the very faith and order of the church whose respect he claims is necessary for legitimate claims of authority. Again--a failure of reason, an embrace of sheer irrationality: it is because I say it is; I am because I will it to be. Sound like anyone?

It reminds me of this passage:

13You said in your heart,
‘I will ascend to heaven;I will raise my throne above the stars of God;
I will sit on the mount of assembly on the heights of Zaphon;*
14I will ascend to the tops of the clouds,
I will make myself like the Most High.’

This ugly bit of the secession sounds to me like the same type of thing first Isaiah was talking about--though I suppose I might be wrong.

Some odds and ends: If the episcopacy is part of Biblical teaching--and there is a good case for it--then he has broken (1) in the very act of attempting to secede without a bishop. And if honoring the authority of the elders of the church, which here and in every episcopal church happen to be bishops, is part of Biblical teaching--the rector et al lose legitimacy on that point as well.

Even (3) is dicey considering how the Lambeth invitations turned out so far. If the rector really were so concerned about (3), wouldn't he have waited at least until he and the others could be sure that in leaving TEC they would still be in the Communion? Is his fiat enough even to make his group a member of the AC? Or even the fiat of his Primate? The issue seems up in the air, a matter still in contention, still being discerned and worked out. At the very least this kind of precipitous leadership looks risky, given the rector's professed values; indeed, it looks reprehensible given his values. How can he claim to uphold any of them while criticizing the Episocpal Church? He should have had his eyes examined--and so should others.

One might be forgiven for thinking something else must be at stake, that he and the others were not really serious about (3)--or about (1) and especially about (2). That is, one might be forgiven--I hope--for wondering if this bunch really has any respect at all for anything more than a selective, convenient, private reading of Scripture, a selective, convenient, private allegiance to the faith and order of the church, and a selective, convenient, and private understanding of what makes for membership in the Communion. What's really going on here?

An Emerging Mainstream Consensus?

The remarkable, and incoherent, Joint Standing Committee report of the ACC seems to indicate and confirm movement away from service to the Separatist agenda among the "instruments" leading the Anglican Communion.

The report, like the HoB document, embodies an unresolved, destabilizing tension: commitment to moral principle essential to Christian life is combined with an acquiescence to failure about implementing the moral principle in the life of the church. Commitment to inclusion and civil advocacy for homosexuals already places them in a class apart from the reprobate and criminals; such normalization implicitly recognizes no sound reason for keeping homosexuals apart from the life of the church. When, in the next breath, these reports go on to promise to keep homosexuals apart, they set up the relevant tension so many have noticed, left and right. How can the promise be kept--given the moral commitment to inclusion? It seems inevitable that in time the promise will finally dissolve.

How much time? It seems the restraint of the HoB and ACC is pragmatic, a measure meant to achieve an end: keeping the CoE together and TEC in the AC. As a corollary, with that dual end achieved, work will continue toward implementing the moral obligation of inclusion. But again, how much longer? This sounds like opponents of Jim Crow (or slavery) who did not want to agitate but promised in time segregation (or slavery) would vanish from the South. Of course, slavery went on and on, just as segregation went on and on. And this cognitive dissonance between moral principle--what too many in the Communion already know is right--and failure to live out the moral principle could go on and on as well.

Easy objection: when the Separatists separate, the Communion will be able to live with moral consitency and integrity. I will concede the point. The Communion then will not have this Sword of Damocles over its head, and consequently will not feel obliged to accomodate its religious extremists and assorted fanatics. Thus, from a Communion-centered point of view, it makes perfect sense to cheer Duncan and Iker on--and whoever wishes to march behind them--to wherever they are going, provided they are going outside the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. And it makes sense to cheer each and every ill-timed African ordination of a dissident cleric into some foreign province--especially if those foreign provinces gather together under some new banner somewhere else. In fact, one would hope for perfect efficiency here--a really big tent that could gather each and every mumbling, grumbling, fissiparous separatist. It could be better for them in the long run, and better for their Gospel witness--not to say ours as well. God bless!

But what are the chances of actual separation? Especially one clean enough to gather all and only the vehemently fissiparous? They are not that good. In fact, the JSC and HoB are set against such a clean break; these documents aim at prying modertate conservatives away from radical conservatives. Thus, even if there is another grand southern secession, it is unlikely to spread far enough to bring the desired peace. And we will have to live with, and live out, the tension embodied in these documents in some way that will bring integrity to the life of the Communion.

The good news in this is the widespread tacit acknowledgement of the very moral principle which can lead to blessing SSUs etc. There is a consensus around that--and a consensus too that a split so violent as to break apart the CoE should be avoided now as unnecessary. Surely the hope is that in time the split will lose force. Here, as before, the church is content to see its moral principles gradually implemented by the secular state before the church gets around to adopting them in earnest: Cyrus anointed to show us the way home all over again, again and again. So be it.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

“Not even worth the bullet”

These recent comments have compelled me to speak. Had left-wing bloggers attributed the views expressed in those statements to the right before I saw those statements, I would have thought it impossible, mere inflammatory hyperbole. Make no mistake about it, the spirit behind those comments is in my opinion clearly demonic, a spirit of hate worthy only of the father of lies.

No context could render comments suggesting murder humorous, playful, or worthy of anyone claiming to follow Christ and to show his path to fellow wayfarers.

“Not even….”
The author seems to presume to judge—on behalf of God?—that: the Presiding Bishop, despite her Being in the image of God, is worth less than the chunk of matter needed to assassinate her.

What a failure of moral vision, to be unable to discern that her human life has an inherent dignity and value bestowed by God—who took on such flesh as our presiding Bishop’s to dwell among us.

Joining these blasphemous statements with the many disparaging remarks about women, one has strong grounds to suspect the authors view the mere fact of being a woman to be a sign of being inferior. This smacks dangerously of the Gnostic heresy rendering one part of creation good and the other evil, and the rightly uncanonical Gospel of Thomas, which similarly implied women were inferior—in the “gospel’s” case such that women would have to be made into men in order to be saved. Thanks be to God such ignorance ran aground on the shoals of the Blessed Mother and venerable Christian devotion to her witness.
Surely any Christian claiming orthodoxy cannot share with these men the vicious insinuation that women are an inherently defective creation. Such a view both disparages God as Creator and insults the Godhead, inasmuch as God transcends male/female and yet is their source eminently including them in his nature. If being female implies a defect in nature, God in nature would be defective—absurd. One would have hoped at least that among those clinging to the notion of male/female complimentarity, an intellectual sensitivity to such blasphemy would have prevailed—or perhaps the blasphemy against God’s nature gives the lie to purported devotion to complementarity.

The feeling women are an inferior creation is indeed a sentiment worthy of docetists, who so disparaged humanity in general that they could not admit Jesus Christ was fully human—and was really born of anything like a woman’s body. One wonders if the authors share the sentiment that being carried in a woman’s body brings some taint.

In their call for a return to a church where “men could be men” one hears echoes of the Gnostics, the Gospel of Thomas, and the docetists all wrapped in one, a vision where Christ never bore truly human flesh or was born of a defective vessel, where power in the form of a bullet silences all who resist the flexing of male power, and heaven will be populated by men alone. And we will know that they are real Christian men by their hate.