Thursday, December 06, 2007

Bishop Schofield's Letter in Reply

Bishop Schofield's irenic tone surprised me, and I found myself wondering whether he, rather than Duncan or Iker, should have been the leader of the Episcopalian separatist movement. He seems like more of a bishop than the others in this letter, exercising what he takes to be the only permissible measure of oversight remaining to him as pastor to the diocese.

Given that I disagree with his position openly and vehemently, I bear a burden of showing where such a leader could have gone wrong. Maybe the place to start is with this bit of hyperbole:

It is true that the House of Bishops has ignored my views for nearly twenty years. [sc. almost since 1987]

That is a very strong claim: his views have been ignored, not discussed or debated or engaged with but simply ignored as if they did not exist. No doubt he feels this way, probably with many others in his diocese, but his claim is nevertheless transparently false. One would think the long historical appendix of To Set our Hope on Christ would be enough to show his claim is in fact an exaggeration.

And then more hyperbole:

The decision to be made by our Annual Convention this Saturday is the culmination of The Episcopal Church’s failure to heed the repeated calls for repentance issued by the Primates of the Anglican Communion and for the cessation of false teaching and sacramental actions explicitly contrary to Scripture.

The teaching of Lambeth 1.10 cannot claim for itself the kind of authority he assumes it carries; moreover, even granting the Primates the kind of authority he presumes they have, he seems to pretend that a manifestly contentious issue--whether the Episcopal Church satisfied the Primates and what it was the Primates wanted exactly--is one around which there is a consensus. In fact, a consensus has not emerged; he seems to have "jumped the gun" in running this particular race.

In fact, by short-circuiting the primates' process of discernment, through which a consensus might have emerged, the good bishop is acting not on the authority he claims, namely as part of

Catholic Faith and Order...shared by the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Churches and by some 60 million faithful Anglicans worldwide

but as a mere faction of the Anglican Communion. He acts not even with the full authority of that fragment of the catholic church which the Communion might be said to represent in its councils, but by something less: hence the claim he is isolated.

And more hyperbole:

For years, I have tried in vain to obtain adequate Primatial oversight to protect the Diocese from an apostate institution that has minted a new religion irreconcilable with the Anglican faith.

In fact, by pursuing separation he has cut off the very process of alternate oversight he claimed to have sincerely pursued without success. Moreover the judgement he levels with claims of apostasy and formation of a new religion are merely propaganda issued from his peculiar faction; they are antithetical to the words of the ABC and were not issued by the Primates. That is an odd episcopal practice, no? To drag the entire diocese out of the church catholic and into a mere faction? For what? An oddly individualistic reading of his ministry of oversight?

My Ordination vows require me to be a faithful steward of God’s holy Word and to defend His truth and "be ready, with all faithful diligence, to banish and drive away from the Church all erroneous and strange doctrines contrary to God’s Word; and to use both public and private monitions and exhortations..." I can do no other.

Rather than act fully within the authority of the councils of the Communion--which would require a certain patience--he chooses to act as a little Luther, doing his own special new thing, out on his own, joining the latest faction. Is it too much to claim the root of this wide-ranging hyperbole in the leaders of the Episcopalian separatist faction is just this odd self-conception, this conviction "I really am just like Luther! I really am!"? We can find the same sort of hyperbole in Iker and Duncan and the same high-profile reference to Luther in Duncan.

Taking a further step: the root of the Luther-self image might be a certain cultivation of inwardness, a certain inward tending passion a la Kierkegaard. It's not that these bishops are really like monks capable of reformation, but that they bear in their ministry a certain tendency to teleological suspension of the ethical, i.e. a certain tendency to disregard the Anglican Communion's Sittlichkeit out of a passion regarded as faith. That makes them interesting, to be sure, and a bit dangerous from the point of view of the negotiator: how can they be moved from their position? These bishops may have already made their move of "infinite resignation"--who knows?


At 6:44 PM, Blogger Fr Andrew Petiprin said...

I think you've put your finger on what may be the separatists' fatal flaw: jumping the gun on identifying their position as the one desired by the primates.

Accordingly, I also agree with you that Luther-esque posturing is precisely not what the ABC and the primates seem to be demanding in order for a bishop to stay in the Communion. I think the ABC's letter to Bishop Howe made that crystal clear.

At 11:08 AM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

thanks; it strikes me as interesting that when the Episcopal left wanted change, its disobedience tended not to schism, and moreover accepted canonical penalties--e.g. with the ordination of women in the '70s.

The right's approach is worlds different, inasmuch as it is designed from its nature to exclude as far as possible the left--and anyone that might disagree--rather than include them even in a polity altered to suit the right. The right is unwilling to work within structures not ginned to procedurally accomodate its contentious substantive notions of the good.

At 11:23 AM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

More to the point: if the relevant separatist spirituality really is Kierkegaardian in flavor, any harmony between it and a covenant or canonical system can only be contingent, a matter of chance. There is something afoot antithetical to episcope, and any effort to achieve peace through a covenant structure seems wrong-headed from the start. Why, faced with this type of Christian spirituality, would one sacrifice anything for the covenant process?

At 1:39 PM, Blogger Fr Andrew Petiprin said...

I think you make several good points here. This part is so important:

"The right's approach is worlds different, inasmuch as it is designed from its nature to exclude as far as possible the left--and anyone that might disagree--rather than include them even in a polity altered to suit the right. The right is unwilling to work within structures not ginned to procedurally accomodate its contentious substantive notions of the good."

In this light, I agree that the idea of a covenant is absurd. But I must say that I am nonetheless quite uncomfortable with the idea that the Episcopal Church could be out of full sacramental union with the Church of England. If a covenant preserves that union, then I am for it and I think we should sacrifice to achieve it. But then another good point challenges me on that notion: if what the conservatives are all about is antithetical to episcope anyway, there really may not be any point to a covenant.

Man, it's hard to figure out how to proceed.

At 4:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

First Apostle,

I agree, it is difficult to imagine being out of communion with the CofE--more so than to imagine being out of communion with the ELCA parish down the street, or with the Anglican Church of Australia. In England, I can worship in the same building in which my ancestors worshiped for seven centuries that I know of. Hence my comments on another blog about our emotional ties to the Anglican Communion and +Rowan's failure to articulate what, other than sentiment, makes our relation with him different from any other full communion relation. All that being said, however, +Paul Marshal of Bethlehem would remind us that after the revolution, even after the consecration of Madison so that there was a fully CofE sequence of bishops with no dependence on Seabury's Non-Juror orders, after the Archbishops' comments of the draft BCP, and even, iirc, well into the 19th c., PECUSA and the CofE were not in full communion, in that American priests could not act as such in England. I guess that's the standard historian's move ("what you think is the tradition is simply a function of your limited historical background"), but it is still (assuming +Paul's research is as reliable as usual) true: full communion with the CofE is of the bene esse, not the esse, of our nature as a national church--and it was actions of the mother church which showed from the beginning that that was so.

At 5:40 PM, Blogger Fr Andrew Petiprin said...

I certainly understand that being in full communion with the C of E is not of the esse of ECUSA. But it is of the esse of my practice of faith. I came to Anglicanism in England and I am only an Episcopalian because it is the branch of Anglicanism in the USA. I suppose your point is that if I had been an American in times past, there is no way I could have been in communion with Canterbury unless I actually lived in England. I suppose that makes me very thankful for worldwide Anglicanism, and despite my liberal leanings, if the ABC recognized some other body as being in communion with Canterbury, I would have to belong to that body. But I really don't see that happening.

At 6:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find much of interest in Scotist's post and the responses to it, but it concerns me that several of the responses seem to be built on a premise that is factually wrong.

Is the Church of England likely to break communion with TEC in the near future? Nothing I know of supports this assumption. In fact, everything I know militates against it. Bishop Packer of Ripon and Leeds gave an Advent address worth meditating on in this context:

"The Primates" are certainly not a monolithic group; twelve of those who responded to the ACC recently supported us, some with very strong expressions of support. Two gave mixed responses; one was not ready to respond. Only the ten members of the "Solid Global South" rejected our efforts to respond to the demands made of us in the Dar es Salaam Communique. The rest of the Primates did not respond at all.

The Anglican Covenant is also very clearly still in the negotiation phase. I have no reason to think that the draft authored by +Drexel Gomez's committee is about to be adopted by the Communion. Indeed, a number of Primates (Scotland, Ireland, Canada) have already stated their unwillingness to accept the Gomez Draft, and the Church of Ireland has proposed an alternative. Do we know that the final version of the Covenant will be a doctrinal, confessional statement to which churches must subscribe or be excluded? Again, nothing I know of supports that conclusion.

The situation is not as dire as some in this Diocese may think it is, or wish to paint it as being.

At 8:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Charlotte, I think you're quite right, I don't imagine that the CofE is at all ready to break communion with TEC; I guess I'm arguing with those people who seem to hypothesize that if it did do so, that would somehow be the end of the legitimacy of TEC (or, indeed, those people who like it do so in order to end the legitimacy of TEC). Against that hypothetical position, my answer (which people are probably tired of hearing) is that PECUSA was already, on perfectly Anglican grounds, a valid independent church before the Anglican Communion existed. We wouldn't be any less legitimate if we left the Anglican Communion, just as the US wouldn't be any less legitimate if it left the UN, as my neighbor's bumper sticker suggests we should.

But we would somehow be less (which is where I really do sympathize with First Apostle). I spent three days at the retreat center in Canterbury summer before last, and there is something uniquely valuable to me about being there, that I don't think I would feel at the Vatican.

The difficulty (well, a difficulty) for me is that no-one seems to be trying to define that "lessness" except those people who want to define it in juridical / curial / even "covenantal" language. And in those terms, they have nothing to bring to the table--those sorts of dimensions are the ones in which the (on Anglican terms) necessary sovereignty of each national Church is fundamental. In the terms in which the Draft Covenant is presented, it fails as a Covenant precisely because it has nothing to offer that a signatory doesn't already have before signing.

There is something special that makes us want, even yearn, to be tied to Canterbury, but coming up with some new version of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council not only fails to express it, but perversely attempts to substitute for it something antithetical to the whole tradition.

At 9:19 PM, Blogger deacon jim said...

is -john-david really gay? i keep hearing that he is but no one seems to know for sure. has anyone ever asked him directly?

At 10:39 PM, Blogger Marshall Scott said...

Back to the letter itself: I would hardly call it irenic, at least after the first paragraph. He certainly starts out that way. But then he goes on to call the Episcopal Church "apostate" and the Presiding Bishop a liar. In my opinion, Bishop Schofield has set for himself two alternatives, depending on how the diocesan vote comes out. Neither would be easy, but neither is truly honorable.

At 7:10 AM, Blogger cryptogram said...

I cannot see how the CofE could break communion with the Episcopal Church. If a decree went forth from Lambeth and Bishopthorpe it would be ignored except by the swivel-eyed evangelical constituency which is both very small and not overgiven to celebration of the Lord's Supper - and which is also inclined to use the standard evangelical formula of invting "all who love the Lord" to receive. I can't see even them adding "Except for members of ECUSA and ACoC"

At 12:40 AM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...


I guess you are right to say 90% of the letter fails being irenic, but I was surprised to see him say anything nice at all. Duncan and Iker--so far as I can tell--had even less to say that could be construed as irenic.

The rhetoric Schofield employed has lost its sting. Charges of apostasy, new religion, etc from him and the other likely suspects, are probably by now empty soundings. Does he notice his hyperbole anymore? Does he bother worrying about whether it's true?

It is as if he has nothing of content to contribute.

At 12:48 AM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...


You're probably right to say the CoE will resist excluding the Episcopal Church--the evangelical wing does not seem to be making quite enough noise to force Williams' hand.

And if the evangelicals cannot muster the outrage to force Williams' hand, then it seems Rwanda, Nigeria, the Southern Cone etc will have possession of these North American parishes for much longer than many might now be thinking.

At 10:37 AM, Blogger toujoursdan said...

Rather than act fully within the authority of the councils of the Communion--which would require a certain patience--he chooses to act as a little Luther, doing his own special new thing, out on his own, joining the latest faction. Is it too much to claim the root of this wide-ranging hyperbole in the leaders of the Episcopalian separatist faction is just this odd self-conception, this conviction "I really am just like Luther! I really am!"?

It's important to remember that Martin Luther never voluntarily left the Roman Catholic Church. He was excommunicated.

At 8:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If ++Rowan were to issue a statement about the status of TEC in the WWAC would anyone be able to figure out what it meant?

deacon jim --
lisa fox blogged on Bishop Schofield's lauding the ex-gay ministry (Oasis?) -- by all accounts, when he was a curate in London he was not "ex-" -- if he does feel that his orientation was changed that will undoubtedly affect his POV

Mark Chapman's book, "A Very Brief History of Anglicanism" states that PECUSA & the C of E were not in full communion until the 1840s & that Bishop Wilberforce was important in making that happen -- of course "the colonial clergy act" did not allow American clergy to function in the C of E without jumping through more hoops

Were the C of E officially to decide that it was not in communion with TEC (which I really can't see happening) I would be sorry that the C of E put itself in the wrong (& many C of E clergy would agree with me)


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