Wednesday, July 30, 2008

For a Theologically Explicit Covenant Process

Lambeth 08 seems to be lurching toward a covenant process concerned primarily with questions of procedure and procedural fairness, a process in which questions of theology about the nature of God, the nature of Christ, the church, and scripture are shunted to the side. That would be tolerable--it's definitely the liberal thing to do--except for the fact that the Communion's procedure-talk makes reference to theological questions of the type I mentioned as if they were settled in the Communion, as if, say, there were a consensus about the doctrine of the Incarnation.

But is there really such a consensus about dogma? If not, then the talk about procedure is empty: make-believe.

Maybe it would be a good idea to compel our bishops to talk theology at Lambeth in their indaba groups, so that they could render a basic, core theology explicit as part of the Covenant process--at least so we could be sure there really is some theological core to refer to here.

I do not picture anything ostentatious, like flowery churchbabble. Keep it simple. Could they agree:

Jesus Christ is the Lord.
Jesus Christ is the Savior??

And maybe even:

Jesus Christ is both fully human and fully divine.
God is three Persons with one nature.
Christ is one person with two natures??

That would be an awful lot to go on. That might even be enough for Lambeth 08--tears of joy would flow freely throughout the Communion. Indeed: it might calm things down a bit if we could see where the bishops stood.

Maybe some would confess "We do not understand what it means to say God has a nature"--and that would be fine; we would see where the confusion is, and we could also see whether those who would confess the above can defend and explain their confession.

But an admission of confusion is still a far cry from a settled confession to the contrary; it is one thing to say I do not like the word "Lord" and quite another to simply say Jesus Christ is not the Lord--there are others with an equal claim. Still, it would be good to saee how many bishops would choose to affirm contraries to such propositions as those above.

Here's the thing: a process that codifies disciplinary measures to be used against dissenters will be used eventually as a weapon by each side against its opponents, escalating fissiparous pressures rather than soothing them. There is a good chance, it seems, that even if Williams receives the covenant he seems to want, that it will nevertheless be used against the unity of the Communion.

Rather than, as it were, hand feuding parties firearms for settling their dispute, it might be better to let them talk about something substantial at the root of their dispute rather than merely procedural and likely counterproductive. Aren't our bishops capable of doing theology together?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Don't Conflate Anglican Conservatism with Orthodoxy! Here's Why

Some comments I recently made in conversation here seem to have struck a nerve. So let's bring them out into the light; my hypothesis is that affirmations of faith made in the narrative mode are gibberish and nonsense, but relatively benign nonsense for all that. That is:

I would not dare conflate Anglican conservatism with doctrinal orthodoxy, just as I would not wish to conflate Borg-style panentheism with orthodoxy. The elite populating our consvervative Anglican think tanks cannot actually say "God exists" and mean it in the traditional sense, much lass confess Jesus is Lord and Savior. And I mean "cannot" in its strict, logical sense; it is logically impossible, unless they back down from their so-called "orthodox" theology.

Why? Any adherent of Lindbeck or narrative theology relativizes discourse, including especially theological discourse, to a conceptual framework, a way of life, a language game. That is inconsistent with traditional orthodoxy, which made affirmations of faith in an absolute sense, not in a relativized sense. In the traditional mode (a la Aquinas) one simply confesses "Jesus is Lord and Savior" simpliciter; in the narrative mode one confesses "Jesus is Lord and Savior" only relative to some language game. Thus, when a "Lindbeckian" says "Jesus is Lord" what she means cannot be the same as what is required of the faithful. This is a problem indeed: God wishes to be worshipped in Spirit and Truth, and not truth-relative-to-language-game-n.

As a confirmation of the seriousness of the charge, note that Lindbeck himself was compelled to disavow his own theories in First Things, claiming to profess a form of Realism. Ludicrous, yes, but Linbeck seems eventually to have "got it"--many others still seem lost in the dark. Here is Dulles making my point in a relatively innocuous fashion:

If we are to worship, speak, and behave as though the Son of God were himself God (as Lindbeck rightly affirms), is it not because the Son really and ontologically is God, whether anyone believes it or not? By inserting the homoousion in the creed, the Council of Nicaea was indeed laying down a linguistic stipulation; but more importantly, it was declaring an objective truth.

[Full disclosure: I did not realize Polanyi was a metaphysical realist contra Wittgenstein, presuming Dulles' reading in the article is correct. That's a sore point indeed--I've been wrong about Polanyi in the past then, criticizing Harding's recourse to Polanyi, as if that tied Harding to language game relativism. While there is an issue about whether his "participatory realism" is sufficient, it at least seems to be an effort in the right direction.]

Here is Lindbeck's response (scroll down); first he sees Dulles' issue:

He [Dulles] thinks that my stress on their intrasystematically regulative role makes it doubtful that they also function propositionally; or, in more conventional terms, he suggusts that the emphasis I place on truth as coherence with other beliefs obscures the primacy of truth understood as correspondence to objective reality. He concludes that “Lindbeck’s own program concedes too much to postmodern relativism.”

Then he makes the disavowal; first:

This indictment, I shall argue, is a mistake, but as I am in part responsible for the misunderstandings which occasioned it, I shall not blame the Cardinal, but simply seek to clarify the confusions that have led him astray.

That is:

The ontological truth claims of the creedal confession of faith remain existentially foundational and are also chronologically prior to its becoming dogma in 325 and 381.

I love it. And from Lindbeck....Oh well: Wittgenstein defenestrated. Looks like meat's back on the menu:

Cardinal Dulles infers that I am “postmodern” chiefly from my use of Wittgenstein and Geertz. That use, however, was heuristic rather than probative and could be entirely omitted without materially affecting my argument.

What's left of the ruined edifice, i.e. "my [unaffected] argument"? Lindbeck again:

Formally, however, it would be better to say from a doctrine-as-regulative perspective that the linguistic stipulation protected (not “declared”) objectively true affirmations.

"Protected" you say? Wittgenstein and narrative theology were to be deployed the way you'd set out O'Douls Amber for the kiddies at the prom party; or: it's not the full-strength version of Wittgenstein, it's Wittgenstein-changed-into-water. And I did not see Lindbeck spelling out what "protected" should be taken to mean here. Dulles acknowledges the movement Lindbeck has made:

At the end of my review I expressed the hope that George Lindbeck could amend his cultural-linguistic theory to give greater attention to the capacity of religious language to disclose the reality of God. I am gratified to find that in his response he shows a great willingness to move in this direction without forfeiting the strengths of his present position.

Have his Anglican followers made this crucial defenestrating movement as well? Making it seems to "downgrade" Wittgenstein all the way--leaving only, in Lindbeck's terms, cognitivist and expressivist ways of articulating the faith. The "cultural-linguistic" approach, post-movement, seems to be a way of articulating an updated cognitivist/propositional approach, better armed now to battle expressivism. To my knowledge, though, Lindbeck's conservative Anglican admirers have not followed him in his return to the propositional approach.

Thus, it still seems there is a problem for Lindbeck's people. In a sense it is O.K.: their affirmations may be taken as so much inspired babbling in tongues. In this case there is the benefit that everyone already knows what they are trying to say b/c the noises are so similar to genuinely significant speech--thus Paul's strictures on babbling are satisfied.

Some Reflections on the UU Church Shooting

As Lambeth '08 grinds on and on toward its--so it seems--rather disenchanted but eminently reasonable outcome, little signs percolate to the surface of the news cycle from the mission field. I am not referring to Archbishop Williams' scapegoating Bishop Robinson--I think it is quite apparent that scapegoating him has not worked, and will work even less to secure anything like unity with catharsis in the future. Too many people left and right know better by now, and excluding him presents the Communion to much of the globe as a pathetic parody of itself

I. ....the newspaper in one hand

One of these signs--it seems to me--is a recent mass shooting at a church in TN. It turns out the shooting at a Unitarian Universalist church was not a random, murderous mass shooting, but a hate crime, where the accused gunman acted specifically out a hatred for Liberals and Gays; he identified himself as a "Confederate" and a "believer" in "the Old South". The NYT wrote:

A man who the police say entered a Unitarian church in Knoxville during Sunday services and shot 8 people, killing two, was motivated by a hatred for liberals and homosexuals, Chief Sterling P. Owen IV of the Knoxville Police Department said Monday.

He was shooting up a childrens' play; he planned to keep firing his shotgun until the police took him down. The man is not exactly a poster boy for John Calhoun's malevolent iteration of Jeffersonian agarianism--feeding on shit like "Liberalism is a Mental Health Disorder" by Michael Savage, "Let Freedom Ring" by Sean Hannity, and "The O'Reilly Factor," by Bill O'Reilly, he managed to blame liberals and gays for his being unemployed. It probably did not strike him as noteworthy that any unemployment benefits he enjoyed he owed to the efforts of the political left.

His situation is worth pondering for a moment. He connected (A)his being unemployed with (B)liberals and gays, and then he connected (B) with (C): the UU church--apparently oblivious to the glaring cognitive dissonance implied in those connections. Yet these connections do not seem random; they seem rather to be commonplaces this poor sop picked up from our common culture ready-made when he sought a "reason" why he was without a job. "Common culture" is loose, but the term has to be loose given its a wide extension: print media, TV, movies, the internet, water-cooler conversation, etc.

Oh--perhaps there are people offended by the use of "church" for Unitarian Universalism; I've been in the company of many Christians who use "Universalist" as a term of abuse when they use it at all, an epithet of disdain--presumably for the UU take on the Trinity and Incarnation--like this anonymous poster who wrote (on 7/28):

There is no problem defending the orthodox position if, like myself, you are reasonably orthodox. Nor do North American Anglicans who are in fact unitarians and deists seem to have trouble defending their positions, at least in their opinion....

Instances could be multiplied; I have in mind comments like these made in 9/07, comments which reflect what seems to be a certain type of violent mindset on the right, in the context of conflict between Schori and Episcopalian conservatives:

He was really upset by this –in tears and shaking- and it included deposition, law suits, not allowing him to resign. . . We were quite angry on hearing this and wondered if they realized they were talking to a NM – TX bishop. Their cities may have a lot of urban gang problems; but, they don’t realize most of us have guns, know how to use them and nobody’s gonna mess with our bishops!

It is sad that we have to feel the need to defend ourselves, almost to the point of doing that one thing most of us who have done it, pray we never have; to take up arms to defend our way of life. That is what the reference to Small band of paratroppers was.

I’m already reaching for my pistol…
followed by:
Agreed. However, “reachin’ for my pistol” is an old expression I use around here. No threat is being made.

Interestingly, the saying is misattributed to Goering and Streicher, but is actually taken from Johst's play Schlageter performed for Hitler's birthday in '33:

Wenn ich Kultur höre ... entsichere ich meinen Browning, or: Whenever I hear 'culture'... I remove the safety from my Browning (tr. at link above).

One could reach outside the narrow band of our troubles to refer to such things as Coulter's fun-and-games call for murdering a Justice:

"We need somebody to put rat poisoning in Justice Stevens' creme brulee," Coulter said. "That's just a joke, for you in the media"--

an instance of what David Neiwert at Orcinus has felicitously called an ideology of "eliminationism". Christians, Christians who make a big deal out of how they are following a Christ versus Culture model a la Barth's Bremen Declaration, have absolutely no business playing with our secular culture's tolerance of violence and the cultivation of domestic terrorism.

One might ask: are these violent sentiments worth protecting? Should Lambeth provide any shelter in its institutional arrangements for such sentiments?

This TN incident would not be the first time gays were targeted--recall that the Holocaust targeted gays. And what will we say about Leviticus 20:13?

If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.

Some Christians, including one of GAFCON's major backers, Howard Ahmanson seems to think--still--that stoning gays is permitted; indeed, homosexuality is criminal, and even a crime for which one can be executed, in a number of GAFCON and GAFCON-sympathetic provinces.

Is it OK to live by 20:13 now--is its being OK a matter relative to culture? Was it ever OK to live by 20:13? When "biblical authority" comes up , Lev 20:13 should come up. Lev 20:13 is not alone for brutality in Scripture.

Consider the conquest of Canaan, e.g. the command at Numbers 31:17--even male babies and children carried in the womb are to be slaughtered on divine command. God commands the death of babies in numerous instances, e.g. most famously the mass murder at Exodus 12:29, and the command at I Sam 15:3--which Saul gets in big trouble for disobeying inter alia; God promises to tear pregnant women and their unborn infants apart at Hosea 13:16; God commands the deaths of the infants and childern of Ai in Joshua 8...had enough?

The Bible shows--reveals--to us who God is, the character of God, and we are meant to love God. With that in mind, these savage passages--which only partially represent the blood-soaked pages of Holy Scripture--provide a test for any set of hermeneutical principles with which one might approach Scripture, and especially for their consistency.

Anyhow, my point in closing is twofold: (1)Lambeth should not provide any shelter at all for violent sentiments against gays, or for sentiments tolerating violence; (2)Christians are people of an especially violent book, and in particular a book explicitly promoting violence against gays. In view of (1) and (2) it seems Christians--even those at Lambeth--bear a special burden for disengaging their religious practice from the culture of violence that targets gays. One hopes our bishops will remember this.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Mean Lambeth Quotes

Mouneer, Deng & Wright are not oblivious ninnies; Mouneer knew what he was doing, I should think, when he said:

I do not believe that The Episcopal Church is going to
change its direction. It is not all about sexuality but about biblical interpretation, Ecclesiology and Christology. This reminds me with the position of US administration before and during the war in Iraq. They refused to listen to millions of voices that cried against the war. The North American churches believe that the truth was revealed to them and that the other churches in the Communion need to follow them.

The comparison between the Episcopal Church and the odious Bush Administration is a trope by now--as is the distorted portrayal of the Episcopal Church as if it were going alone. Such tropes identify the speaker with a community within which they are expected, intelligible, normative. Their being false does not matter so much as the mutual recognition such tropes bring--"he really is one of us after all"--and the resulting constitution of the speaker's identity, an effect that requires a crowd.

How important is such recognition and conservative identity? It seems to become more important as such recognition and identity are more thrown into question--and what it means to be a conservative Anglican is very much up for grabs right now. Mouneer, Deng, and Wright seem to be trying to give some definition to the phrase "conservative Anglican," as if they might function as an alternative to GAFCON if they were to be seen by Anglican conservatives as legitimate options.

What does that mean for TEC? Anglican conservatives would not need such rallying if they already held defensible ground--and that is the problem. At the moment they do not hold defensible ground. Rather than "charge" their chaotic position and drive them into an outright rout, it seems the bigwigs of the Communion, including especially a moderate like Williams, want to cede some defensible ground to conservatives, so that they will have some small place. Perhaps such sentiments are behind the push to enact a ban on ordaining gay bishops--who knows?

If that is the case, at the very least TEC and its friends should be sure to get a clear condemnation of cross-border poaching as well--a condemnation which by implication would condemn GAFCON as it stands.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Curious Rise of Cosmological Dualism?

There is no need, one hopes, to argue for the centrality of the Shema to Christian faith:

שמע ישראל יהוה אלהינו יהוה אחד

or, read with appropriate deference to the holiness of the Tetragrammaton:

Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad;

or in the LXX:

ἄκουε Ισραηλ κύριος ὁ θεὸς ἡμῶν κύριος εἷς ἐστιν;

in other words:

Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God! The LORD is One!

Across languages, across the vagaries of translation, the cry of the Shema has endured the passing of time, the rise and fall of empires and princes: an essential point of reference, if anything can be.

Eventually, in the course of Israel's long love affair with the Lord, the elements of henotheism that might have attended initial use of the Shema drained out, leaving a committed monotheism in its place--so far as I can tell. And that shift toward monotheism is, I should think, extremely significant, even decisive for any contemporary canonical reading of Scripture.

So, for instance, it is difficult not to read the P creation story as carrying implicit, tacit criticism of Babylonian creation mythology. The Lord had no need to slay a Dragon in order to fashion the world of our acquaintance; the earth passively awaited his mere word in obediential potency. Such was his power, a type of power apparently beyond the comprehension of pagan myth. I take it we should see the P creation myth, in its scriptural context, as establishing a trajectory in Israel's knowledge of God, so that although the P story does not actually teach creation ex nihilo, later Jews encountering Greek metaphysics during the intertestamental period will look on the doctrine as coherent and complementary to their story's prior articulation. The one Lord God comes to be understood as a Creator God whose power is of such extraordinary magnitude, he not only need not slay a dragon--he needs no dragon at all: no co-eternal sludge from which to work.

There are not two principles of creation, God and something else--a primordial sludge, say, awaiting his word. And a fortiriori there are not two opposed, contending principles of creation, God and an anti-God, a principle of Good and a principle of Evil, fighting it out on the cosmic stage. That would be a cosmology reminiscent of Manichaeism, a faith of the third century persian Mani whose teaching so famously tempted Augustine. I do not mean to contend that Augustine's temptation is ours, that Manichaeism has returned to tempt the unwary away from the Shema's canonical monotheism. Rather, I mean to point out the general doctrine of which Manicaeism is merely a species has returned to tempt us into revision: what I will call cosmological dualism, the idea that God must compete with another principle, personal or otherwise, an idea implying the wrongheadedness of the Shema's devotion. Maybe I am just plain wrong, blowing minor indications up out of proportion, but if I am right, I hope you will agree we have a problem indeed.

Contemporary Judeo-Christian theology has largely given up the traditional notion of divine apatheia, or impassibility, generally under the impression that "only the suffering God can help"--and not merely suffering in terms of Christ's human nature, as Aquinas might have parsed the phrase. After the horrors of Hiroshima, the Holocaust, the traumas of Nazism and Stalinism, the genocides and atrocities of the twentieth century, it is thought surely God suffers with us--and in particular the Father, or God in his divinity. Consider a quick survey of the literature: Nicolas Berdyaev in The Meaning of History, Miguel de Unamuno in The Tragic Sense of Life, Emil Brunner in The Christian Doctrine of God: Dogmatics I, Karl Barth in Jungel's The Doctrine of the Trinity: God's Being is in Becoming & Barth in Church Dogmatics IV/2, Moltmann in The Crucified God and The Trinity and the Kingdom of God, Bonhoeffer in his Letters and Papers from Prison, Abraham Heschel in The Prophets--is there any sense in revisiting the revision of the Doctrine of God with a who's-who list like this favoring passibility? Oh yes--the Anglican Communion started playing with passibility early on, with JK Mozley's The Impassibility of God, commissioned by the CoE, from the '20s. And I should mention the contemporary evangelical open theism movement, with a list of books in favor here, and against here; do not forget process theology--see the lists here and here.

What worries me about the move toward accepting passibility in our concept of God is the danger of losing our grip on the canonical monotheism developed so slowly and painfully through the OT/Hebrew Scripture. In effect, we seem to run a risk of falling away from the devotion properly expressed by the Shema into something henotheistic, or dualist--I want to say "pagan" but that would not be quite right, inasmuch as early henotheistic Israelites would not have counted as pagan; it is better to say that we should--with more than a milennium of Christian theology behind us--be more circumspect. We should know better.

Implied in giving up the notion of apatheia is a revision of the notion of God--and Christ--Pantocrator, and the concomitant creedal profession of faith. Omnipotence or being all powerful had been thought to go with God alone, who had no rivals, no obstacles, who could do whatever was possible. But to say God suffers is to subject God to the flux, to succession, and to imperfection: there are some things God cannot overcome with Power, which he must--being Love--suffer along with us. For instance, it might be thought he cannot overcome the human capacity to misuse freedom for sin by his mere power alone. A divinity who could not share our pain would be somehow deficient--especially seeing that he could not overcome it by an exercise of his power--and a divinity that could but would not share our pain would not be a loving divinity, or so it might be thought.

I disagree with such sentiments, and they seem to me to lead to a costly revision of our concept of God--a costly one, inasmuch as a revision here implies across-the-board revision. That is, if we revise our understanding of God to accept passibility into the concept, then we shall have to revise our understanding of the Incarnation, and with that the Atonement, the Doctrine of the Trinity, and that of the Church, and so on, as each of these makes use of the notion "God". At each point, we shall have to--it seems--move from a traditional teaching to a contrary teaching, inasmuch as passibility and impassibility are contradictories--or at least contraries.

What does all this have to do with cosmological dualism? On the face of it, when passibility is introduced into the concept of God, it is done so for the reason that God faces an obstacle that could not be overcome by power alone--or knowledge and goodness alone. The obstacle puts a limit on what God could accomplish given his power, knowledge, and goodness, and coming up against that limit, being a God of love, God cannot remain indifferent: he suffers, or so it is thought. It seems to me that such an understanding opposes an obstacle to God; there is something, X, over and against God, which he cannot rule and overcome alone. The X may be the human capacity for free choice, say, or something else. Whatever it is, this X explains the crappy state of things in the world; God would prefer things be better, but given X, this is the best that can be done. In opposing God's preferences, X functions in this scheme like a principle of evil, a reason for evil, and as a consequence we muct understand the world to feature a struggle between God and X--whatever X may be, even if it is impersonal like a human capacity of some sort. The schema "God vs. X" is a type of cosmological dualism--not Manichaeism exactly, nor mere paganism, but a dualism nevertheless related to the teaching of Mani by resemblance.

My criticism is all too brief; I admit it. But I hope the intent is clear enough. Let us reconsider, and at least pause, at the introduction of passibility into our understanding of God. It seems to introduce a tension into our faith, as it seems to be incompatible with the canonical reading of the Shema evident in Scripture and tradition, and that incompatibility should be like a red flag, an indication that the new revised version of God bears an especially great burden of proof, as it asks so much of us in asking that we back away from the profession of the Shema:

Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God! The LORD is One!

An Interview with Naughton

It seems to me Jim's responses in this brief interview are worth reading if you have a moment; they succeed in summarizing the state of things in the Anglican Communion while providing a larger socio-political context--a context which I have neglected in the past--in which our conflict is intelligible.

A couple quotes jumped out:

...the idea that you would harness the people of Uganda who live with incredible ethnic strife and widespread disease and just crushing poverty, you would harness their numbers to advance the cause of people living in the richest suburbs in the United States is obscene, but that's what's happened.

That strikes me as absolutely right. Another important point:

I mean I think one of the things that GAFCON has done is demonstrate that whatever concessions you make to these folks, they will want more. I mean the notion that we all need to go back to the 1662 Prayer Book and the 39 Articles of Religion from Elizabethan times is kind of whacky, yet that's at the core of their movement. So we can't give up enough to please them, and yet retain any kind of identity.

Feel free to take a look for yourself.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

optimus prime on the GAFCON critique of the Covenant

Whoever optimus prime may be, he seems to have a good critical grasp of GAFCON's latest bit; here is the bit from GAFCON dismissing the Anglican Communion's Covenant project, and here I quote optimus prime's point-by-point response:

I will begin with the most obvious critique: the drafters of this response have clearly missed the mandate of the Covenant Agreement (CA). The CA is not intended to address current issues; rather it is intended to provide a framework for establishing definitions of what it means to be in a relationship that is faithful to that which has already been given to us by God in Christ.
Next, the responders critique of the CA document as something “defective and not correctable by piecemeal amendment because they [its defects] are fundamental,” which is “theologically incoherent and its proposals unworkable,” is itself rather incoherent given the vague, broad brushed criticism provided and its already noted lack of understanding of the intention of the CA itself.
Now my critique by points: 1. This point is irrelevant. As discussed above, addressing current issues is not, nor has it ever been, the intended purpose of the document.

2. This issue of autonomy in communion is addressed throughout the document but in particular, it is addressed in the following section 3.2 and in the appendix: [deleted by me]

3. I have no idea what statement 3 is meaning to say. “The entire document, and particularly the statement concerning ‘the inheritance of faith’ in paragraph 1, is detached from the Scriptural narrative of salvation and redemption from sin, which Churches in the Communion have seen realised.” What exactly have the Churches in the Communion “seen realized?” “The unity of Christians flows out of the redeeming work of Christ and the incorporative ministry of the Spirit.” The introduction of the CA establishes this; although it could (and as responses have thus far suggested) be articulated more strongly. The entire document is attempting to argue that any structure we develop is based on the prior determinative reality of what God has done in Christ.

4. No any doctrine of the Church presupposes a doctrine of God. The first two sentences in the response are both misguided. The document has begun with a doctrine of God. These first two statements are liberal hog wash. The remainder of this paragraph is a rather obvious statement and I don’t see its value.

5. “Its preoccupation with institutional processes is at the expense of a proper sense of our corporate and individual accountability to God on the Last Day for proper custodianship of the deposit of Faith.” How does one purport to shape and form a corporate sense of accountability without developing a structure capable of accounting for our still sinful nature. How are we to move forward without institutional process? I would however agree that more should be included in the CA that speaks of our sin and God’s judgment. I would be particularly happy to see more that acknowledges our continual division and self proclaimed righteousness as the sin it is and that God is indeed judging our divided churches; both the liberals and conservatives for our lack of humility and charity.

6. Obedience to the Word of God. What does that mean? Liberals claim they are being obedient to the Word of God and that conservatives are not and vice versa. I am not going to argue that there are not biblical truths that we must obey: I believe there are. But this response provides a vacuous statement; the type the CA has sought to avoid by presenting a framework for the means of discerning the Word of God. Being obedient to the Word of God necessitates being obedient to its discernment within the body divinely given. It cannot mean individual interpretation: that is what has gotten us into this quagmire in the first place. It also cannot mean a propositional set of statements of faith: that does not account for the living dynamic between history, humanity and God.

7. Neither truth nor unity can be pursued in a mutually exclusive fashion as this response seems to imply. They go hand-in-hand. This response is absolutely vacuous in and of itself. It takes no account of nearly 100 years of ecumenical discussion concerning this issue of truth and unity, most particularly discussions at Malines, ARCIC, Ut Unum Sint, BEM. Without unity, the truth is simply obscured by our own shadow.

To summarize: This response is lacking in background, research, and coherent biblical and theological argument. It is clearly driven by a mistaken assumption of the intent of the CA document itself and a desire to set its writers in opposition to the “weeds” of the Church. Look out I say, for that log, it seems dangerously close to poking this group in the eyes. Where I ask, are the suggestions for amendments? Or is this simply a statement to justify a movement toward yet another division in Protestant Christianity? Shall we discuss this sin?

Not bad, though considerably to the right of my own position; this guy should be promoted to "Canon" somewhere. He goes on:

Actually jamesw, it is not; and I have that on good authority. Furthermore, it is evident by its very nature that it is not meant to address present issues but rather has grown out of an obvious and particular recognition of the challenges that lay ahead.

It is of course a document that will enable us to handle Communion controversies; however, its intention is not aimed at addressing crises, rather it is aimed at articulating the manner in which we engage one another in relationship.

Why should the issues be dealt with ahead of time? The Covenant is defining the requirements for living together in mutually accountable relationships that enable the discernment of the Word of God across time. If the extreme right or the extreme left choose not to enter into a relationship that demands charity and humility in articulating (speaking and living) their faith, then no Covenant can force people into this relationship.

Could the Covenant, were it in place 25 years ago, have addressed this issue? That is an interesting question. I would venture to say that it most certainly would. We must remember though, that this document is still in draft stages. To walk away from it is simply shutting the door to the opportunity it presents; it is a response of fear and protection rather than a response of courage and trust. Rather than walk, let us gird up with the faith that has been so graciously given to us, take courage and respond to the document as conservatives so that the Covenant Design Group cannot help but hear a constructive and humble plea for a polity grounded in Scripture and tradition (not an arrogant liberal dismissal - you should hear their arguments against the draft).

If we walk away and simply criticize the document, we will either end up with the route proposed by GAFCON which if you have read or have read commentaries on, is short on substance and practical means of ordering or we will end up with a rather liberal shaped Church. Either way we will shatter into many sects; not a fruitful or faithful way forward.

He writes clearer prose than anyone currently defending the Covenant process at ACI--though for all I know he has already been hired by them. There is more:

Hi Stephen+
[from Stephen]
That being the case, however, it raises the question of whether the covenant is a wise idea right now. A covenant presupposes trustworthiness and commitment on the covenanting parties. That is both the blessing and the deficiency of the covenant as it takes the stage now. It can’t do all that is needed in the communion today.

[from op] Actually I would suggest that this is in fact the genius of the Covenant; that is, the Covenant itself should not be ‘doing’ anything but giving us a Scripturally derived (one that still requires some work Scripturally) framework for what it means to be in relationship. We must then in faith, willingly enter into relationship in which all sides, liberal, conservative and in between must submit to God’s shaping of our discernment process across time. This structure has divine integrity (allows us to be shaped by God) by the fact that it leaves time and space for God to work. The players (all of us) have been limited in our ability to forge ahead with our own ‘vision;’ our power has been necessarily limited as Nicholas of Cusa ("The Catholic Concordance"), a conciliarist theologian of the late medieval Church argued was necessary to allow God to shape us. The Covenant, in following this vision (or so I believe), is attempting to equal the playing field to limit power and yet to also require a humility and self giving in discernment in decision-making.

I think that the only thing that will create (and should create) trust is faith and prayer. I think the Covenant enables us to enter with faith if we are courageous enough to accept. If TEC and the ACoC want to sign onto the CA, they will need to abide by its call to mutual accountability and to not acting according to their own ideologies. Because you’re right, we cannot force relationships (not only does it not work, it borders on Pelagianism). We must enter with trust and I think the CA creates the conditions necessary by limiting power and autonomy while giving us over through time and space, to God’s shaping.

I certainly understand the ‘suffering’ that forms your third paragraph. It is very agonizing. And I do indeed fear you may be right. This is why I so passionately hope and pray that we, as conservatives, might offer response to this document to help strengthen it and amend some sections that definitely need amendment. But to walk away or write it off is to turn our backs both on one another and on God.

And finally:

Allen - The critique, in its lack of offering constructive proposals for amendments, has indeed simply dismissed the Covenant.
Further the critique has erred in identifying what the “task” of the Covenant is. The problem is, predicated upon this faulty understanding, the subsequent critique lacks substantive merit.
But where is the section which deals with the case where a Province does not deal in good faith?
(3.2.5.d) to be willing to receive from the Instruments of Communion a request to adopt a particular course of action in respect of the matter under dispute. While the Instruments of Communion have no legislative, executive or judicial authority in our Provinces, except where provided in their own laws, we recognise them as those bodies by which our common life in Christ is articulated and sustained, and which therefore carry a moral authority which commands our respect.
(3.2.5.e) Any such request would not be binding on a Church unless recognised as such by that Church. However, commitment to this covenant entails an acknowledgement that in the most extreme circumstances, where a Church chooses not to adopt the request of the Instruments of Communion, that decision may be understood by the Church itself, or by the resolution of the Instruments of Communion, as a relinquishment by that Church of the force and meaning of the covenant’s purpose, until they re-establish their covenant relationship with other member Churches.
In addition to the appendix which provides the ‘teeth’ you are seeking; the ‘juridical force.’
There is also a background assumption that the Anglican Communon somehow represents the Church Catholic to the extent that a “general consensus” is enough for it to change the definition of “the faith once delivered.” I do not believe that the Anglican Communion can arrogate that status to itself.Nor do I believe that this is a status that the AC can arrogate to itself. Before I comment further, could you please explain how you are using the term “general consensus?” and what you mean by a “definition of the faith once delivered” (i.e. the Kerygma, etc).
If you are concerned that the Covenant would enable a Church subject to the social whims of its members with no conviction of biblical/theological truth, I would ask if you believe then, that the Spirit has abandoned the Church? Scripture tells us that God will keep us in the truth; but does this mean at all times and places? Perhaps the Spirit has abandoned us; but which parts? Just the ones we think are all liberal, but what if there is just one who has faith in those churches, would God abandoned even one of his flock? Perhaps in our divided state, we have all been left to God’s judgment, to suffer the humiliation of our arrogance and sinful division, stuck in a quagmire of unrepentant and continuous division. Perhaps when we’ve divided to the point where we recognize we’re not right but broken, we’ll be open again to hearing his Word and receiving his guidance. Perhaps that is what the Covenant agreement opens us to; recognition that all of us are so devoid of the truth that we are willing to submit not to being shaped by human structures, held back by human structure yes, but held back so we might be in a posture of receipt.

It does not sound like Radner or Seitz--is it Uffman? Who knows?

One oddity in all this is how GAFCON seems intent on splitting Communion conservatives; the GAFCON critique of the Covenant process seems aimed at undermining the efforts of Gomez, Radner et al and prying away institutional support for the Covenant such as may come from Howe and maybe Stanton et al.

But, as optimus shows, if that is the intent, the critique should have been a little more cogent. GAFCON was a gamble borne out of the growing weakness of a fading faction that had insisted on cutting off its own legs by overreaching, a bold attempt to seize lost initiative and change the flow of momentum. I think it is evident the GAFCON effort--so far--has failed. Maybe these documents were part of a continuing effort to assert some cognitive relevance in the Communion, but GAFCON's Primates have succeeded only in marginalizing themselves and their viewpoint, weakening its representation at the level of the Communion--and documents like these critiques of the Covenant process are so weak as to risk rendering GAFCON's viewpoint a laughingstock for anyone with the patience to read them through.

At this point, all that GAFCON has going for it is the power of its numbers, a power that does not depend on the articulation of a coherent and convincing theology for its efficacity. Thus, Williams and others will have to hold their tongues in check, lest the beast be roused to even greater wrath. As far as a credible conservative response to the Covenant process, it seems now that the ACI and Gomez' camp is the only remaining game in town. One must wish them well, seeing that--for some reason--GAFCON seems intent on burying them.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Harding v Chane

One wants to hear more from Harding about "imperial pluralism," as it seems his piece criticizing Chane succeeds in engaging the Episcopal Church's current leading theology. Sure, the article is a bit polemical, but that is to be expected given the state of our community.

Chane's Move
Bishop Chane was quoted as saying:
I think it’s really very dangerous when someone stands up and says: ‘I have the way and I have the truth and I know how to interpret holy scripture and you are following what is the right way. It’s really very, very dangerous and I think it’s demonic.

Perhaps a poor choice of words; I suppose Chane should have done more to parse "demonic"--certainly an incendiary choice of words for a bishop at Lambeth. But maybe the article omits whatever nuances he managed to add. Regardless, Chane's basic point is not idiosyncratic, but expresses what--for around thirty years by my fallible reckoning--the Episcopal Church has adopted as its theology of choice. The category of the demonic applies to a created person's attempts to "seal" him- or herself off from God, as if effort could achieve the aseity proper to divinity. Chane could be picking the category up from Kierkegaard, or perhaps Tillich; who knows?

The Episcopal Church's leading theology, expressed in Holmes, Westerhoff, Griffiss, et al, extols the virtue of epistemic humility as the necessary mark of a finite person in relation to God. God, being radically free and unconstrained in his absolute power, is beyond finite comprehension--even in the event of beatification. In our relationship with God the Father, we must ever stand ready to respond in obedience to God's will for us, and never presume we comprehend the whole of what he has ordained. Thus, take a passage of Holy Scripture S and a period of time, t. Suppose God wills from eternity that the church understand S at t to mean XYZ; that is consistent with God willing from eternity that the church understand S at t' (later than t) as ABC--where "ABC" is contrary to "XYZ." For the church to complain How will we be able to tell? is understandable, but God--being omnipotent--is able to communicate with the church. The church's role is to listen and obey, listen and obey.

OK--so there is a sketch of the leading Episcopalian theology. Chane seems to be worried that someone claiming to know with certainty that S simply means XYZ not only infringes on the absolute power of God to ordain that S mean whatever he pleases it to mean (and only that can be Scripture's literal meaning), but also attempts to seal him- or herself off from God's commands. That attempt would count as demonic.

Harding's Counter
He writes,

John Chane charges the traditionalists with the crime of certainty. This is a commonplace. It is a corollary of the reigning intellectual culture among the intellectual elites of the West....

and that sounds right though a touch polemical; he then goes on to add:

[i]t is a consequence of the dogmas of post-modernism.

That is debatable--unless one wishes to date Postmodernism to the Early Modern period and include people like Bayle--the trope of uncertainty, and in particular uncertainty as applied to revelation, predates the likes of Lyotard and Derrida. Worse: one could follow the likes of Quine and other assorted analytic philosophers, and come away with a cogent general skepticism about ontology and moral value--but this would not be at all postmodern. He goes on:

It is based on the conviction that there is very little that can be known with certainty, perhaps just a very few “facts” of science, perhaps not even them. The dogma at work here is the ironic post-modern dogma of the certainty of uncertainty. Consequently according to this post-modern dogma, to claim certainty in the area of beliefs and values is immoral and especially so given the huge variety of religious and philosophical options....

The only part to take issue with is the formulation "the ironic post-modern dogma of the certainty of uncertainty." One might well pin this on, say, middle & late period Derrida, but I do not think it fits the Episcopal Church's position well. It's leading theology may look defensive: a modest core set of beliefs that are held with certainty are surrounded by beliefs and positions held without absolute certainty--but the core is there. Recall the Righter trial's verdict: Righter didn't violate the core, not that there was no core at all. A conservative might say in response:

(A) the core is absurdly thin, and missing necessary elements,

or maybe even

(B) the distinction between core and periphery is not defensible;

and the conservative may well contend

(C) the days of positivism are over--there is no need to be so defensive;

but the complaint

(D) there is no core--all is up for grabs,

seems mistaken as applied to TEC.

When Harding goes on to say "[t]his protest against certainty claims the moral high ground and sounds on the surface as though it is based on a generous tolerance" I strain to recall any theological defense of tolerance by any near-current, leading Episocopalian theologian.

The notion of tolerance--running from Locke up to today--presumes inter alia one side is convinced it knows the truth and the other side is thought to be mistaken in an especially morally troubling way, but that the side thinking it has the truth restrains itself from suppressing the others by whom they are troubled. Thus, tolerance is a virtue for those without a case of epistemic wobblies. For instance, if Nigeria's Akinola--certain in his interpretation of Scripture on homosexuality--were to decide nevertheless to rub shoulders with TEC's pro-GC2003 bishops at the Altar, that would exhibit tolerance in the relevant sense.

"Tolerance" seems to be the wrong word for what Harding is getting at; he might have spoken of the ancient skeptic's virtue instead: epoche, a la Pyrrho, or suspension of judgement. For it seems that Harding thinks of TEC, in my view misreading TEC's leading theology, along postmodern lines as skeptical about the ancient faith once delivered.

It would be wrong in my view to speak of "Episcopalian epoche" as if TEC's leading theology were a form of dressed-up Pyrrhonianism. Epistemic humility of the sort defended by TEC is consistent with having to take sides, make judgements, formulate definite interpretations with definite content, etc all stepping away from mere nomos, as TEC has done of late, whereas for an exponent of epoche, these things would be inconsistent--and there would be no core doctrine at all, however slim, for the skeptic.

The essential point about the Episcopal Church seems to be that when it takes those stands, it does not take them thinking itself to be infallible, to be closed off from correction by God's will. The actions TEC takes in disciplining a bishop, passing a resolution or condoning a type of action are ever taken to be defeasible. That is to say, the choice between absolute certainty and postmodern skepticism sets up a false dichotomy; pace Harding, there is terrain between the extremes.

But Harding has an ace:

It [TEC's leading position] is saying, in effect, "before we talk you must agree that your beliefs and values are the sort of thing that I say they are and I say they can never be more than one opinion among others. If we are to talk, you must give up all your truth claims before you come to the table. With regard to the rules of the table, I will be the final referee.”

That's mistaken, Harding thinks; he quotes Newbigin:

“In a pluralist society such as ours. . .any claim to announce the truth about God and his purpose for the world, is liable to be dismissed as ignorant, arrogant, dogmatic. We have no reason to be frightened of this accusation. It itself rests on assumptions which are open to radical criticisms, but which are not criticized because they are part of the reigning plausibility structure.”

That might work against a postmodernist or a theological pluralist. But TEC's position is--not yet at least--pluralist or postmodernist. Notice Newbigin's "any" in the quote. That word covers alot of ground--too much ground for TEC. The Episcopal Church has core doctrine, though maybe not enough for Harding; that is not to say it has no core at all.

Thus, it is not clear that TEC's leading theology demands all comers to the table first give up their unqualified truth claims, claims made with certainty. TEC might be better portaryed as saying something like "Your position is substantive and goes beyond our core doctrine; you better have a really good argument." And in a sense we have come face to face with our chief problem: a paucity of good theology. In our disputes, neither side seems capable of making a case with really good arguments--indeed, the structure of the arguments given is scarcely discernible. However, that does not mean there is no good argument to be made, or that with practice we would remain unable to speak for ourselves.

The polemical bit from Harding I spoke of above is here:

Bishop Chane’s protest sounds high minded and tolerant but it is in reality the rhetoric of the despot who is beyond rebuke.

Oh dear--this comes perilously close to calling Chane a despot outright, though Harding is merely accusing Chane of talking like a despot. I suppose it will entertain at least a few readers who need some good news in this Lambeth season: a utilitarian justification, alas.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Rot in the 39 Articles

It is well that Article XXI, present in 1571 and 1662, is omitted in the 1801 version (my brackets):

Of the Authority of General Councils. [A] General Councils may not be gathered together without the commandment and will of Princes. [B] And when they be gathered together, (forasmuch as they be an assembly of men, whereof all be not governed with the Spirit and Word of God,) they may err, and sometimes have erred, even in things pertaining unto God. Wherefore things ordained by them as necessary to salvation have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of holy Scripture.

Recall the Jerusalem Declaration's points (4) and (6):

(4)We uphold the Thirty-nine Articles as containing the true doctrine of the Church agreeing
with God’s Word and as authoritative for Anglicans today.

(6) We rejoice in our Anglican sacramental and liturgical heritage as an expression of the gospel, and we uphold the 1662 Book of Common Prayer as a true and authoritative standard of worship and prayer, to be translated and locally adapted for each culture.

If I were a gambling man, I would bet point [A] in Art. XXI will be selectively "read out" of the 1662 BCP and the 39 Articles. But how far will GAFCON engage in selective reading? Should the whole of Art. XXI be omitted? If it were excised, that would seem sufficient to establish the legitimacy of critical reading in confronting formularies: formularies need not simply be taken as authoritative on their face. That is, we would agree excision in principle is permitted, and then we might argue about what is to be cut and what kept. However, the Jerusalem Declaration is silent about any such practice, giving the impression that all will be kept intact--I suspect a thoroughly misleading impression.

On the One Hand
Anyhow, the serious trouble in Art. XXI surfaces in part [B]--it is this bit which leads me to speak of the Articles qua part of the Anglican formularies as rotten. Presumably, the Articles were not found ready-made on golden tablets, and were not dictated by angels; they were produced by an assembly of men. It follows that Article XXI is self-referential in a certain sense. That is, in speaking of assemblies of men, it speaks of the assembly that produced the 39 Articles, and in particular Article XXI. Thus, Article XXI implies that it may be wrong--in effect, that the assembly of men that produced Art. XXI might be wrong about Art. XXI. That is roughly equivalent to admitting that there may in fact be an infallible magesterium or assembly. I am not sure such an admission was intended when the Articles were produced, or is intended now when the Articles are cited as authoritative. Nevertheless, it is logically implied. That is quite a remarkable implication, in my opinion, inasmuch as it had seemed to me at least that the 39 Articles expressed a moderate Calvinist take on the faith. For the admission of the possibility of an infallible magisterium would seem to commit anyone accepting the Articles to a view of ecclesial authority consistent with that of the Roman Catholic Church.

In fact, there is more. As Art. XXI implies the assembly producing the Articles may be mistaken, logically, given Art. XXI, the Articles as a whole may be read so as to be mistaken on all points. It follows, so far as the Articles are concerned, there may be an infallible magisterium, and such a magisterium would not be bound--ceteris paribus--to any point of doctrine expressed elsewhere in the Articles. That would mean strict adherence to the Articles is consistent with--indeed logically requires--accepting the possibility that other interpretations of the faith inconsistent with the Articles are true. That is, the Articles provide a foundation for epistemic humility--but is that the intention of GAFCON in taking them as authoritative? I think not. Of course, if one rejects epistemic humility, it may seem instead that as the Articles stand in the BCP 1662, they are radically self-defeating.

On the Other Hand
Most likely the assembly that produced the Articles did not intend to undermine itself and make a super-subtle endorsement of the Roman See--or of epistemic humility. Far from it.

I take it they simply did not notice the self-reference in XXI and the trouble it causes. Nevertheless, that instance of blindness to scope is not innocent, inasmuch as they probably intended the article to have a wide scope, enveloping assemblies of men in general, and at least those beyond the early ecumenical councils. To try and limit the scope to some assemblies but not others would be troublesome: what criterion could be accepted as plausible and cogent--and yield a non-empty set that excluded what probably were seen as tendentious Roman Catholic assemblies to whose authority the authors of the Articles did not want to be tied?

I do not know, but as a consequence of the incoherence in the Articles, it follows the problem of authority in Anglicanism remained open: i.e. mandating allegiance to an inconsistent set of propositions is not a solution. It probably also may be said in consequence that whatever authority was--and is--exercised in Anglicanism cannot have the Articles as a proper and sufficient foundation. That is, when someone quotes the Articles as an authority carrying some definite content, there is prima facie reason to think that there is a confusion: anything at all follows from a contradiction, e.g. the Law of Duns Scotus: from Q, it follows that if not Q then R--where R can be any proposition at all. Normally, it might be thought that citing Q and not Q--i.e. the Articles--as authority for accepting R--any proposition in contention--is suspect.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Bishop Robinson at St. Mary's, Putney

It seems Robinson delivered the goods at St. Mary's; I had not heard much from him in the past in terms of preaching or theology, but it seems he does them well:

We should not be fearful for the church, for the church is not ours to win or lose. It is God's gift to us.

My homosexuality is not my sin - but I am just as frail and self-absorbed as the next person. I am not unworthy - I am made good by Jesus Christ.

Right here, in St Mary's church, Putney, I am going to divulge the homosexual agenda. It is Jesus!

Hints of a theology of the Cross, an evangelical sensibility, no? With a hint of eschatological inclusivism:

Peter Akinola and I are brothers in Christ, and one day we will be in heaven together. And we will get along, because God wouldn't have it any other way."

Here's +Fraser's take, which seems right to me:

What makes this person so interesting is that he has lost any sense that he is able to support himself spiritually through his own effort alone. His recognition of his "failure" to cope is precisely his strength. The theology is pure Luther: only when you recognise that you are unable to make yourself acceptable to God under your own steam can you collapse back upon God as the sole source of salvation. Later in the sermon, he described going from a meeting of the US House of Bishops to a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, and being relieved that, at this second meeting, he could at last speak about God.

One thing: if Robinson can keep doing this, with God's help, the opposition to his ordination will seem incredible. It makes sense that in spite of everything the Episcopal Church would want him out front; the very fact of his presence--where he does things like this--does terminal damage to the efforts of GAFCON and the sour machinations of Radner. Indeed: Robinson doing this creates an audience for a critical reading of Scripture.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Anarchy in the UK?

OK, not quite anarchy in the UK, but at least an eruption of sorts.That simmering pot of ecclesial stew--uncomfortably spicy but dependably stable--has simmered over its edges and spilled over its bounds. Or: the contents Williams managed to repress for so long have been emphatically expressed.

First, Father Dudley blessed a SSU between two ostensibly active gay priests; he was duly reprimanded by the relevant authorities, but to some conservatives it seemed Dudley had been merely slapped on the wrist. Moreover, it seems Dudley had not been the first (last paragraph in the linked article): blessing SSUs a covert practice already established in the Church of England? Then, following GAFCON, foreign bishops Venables, Orombi and Jensen crossed the Church of England's borders in an effort to woo parishes, clergy, laity, etc away from the Sees of Canterbury and York, prompting condemnation from Williams and Sentamu--and even several lashings from Wright. Finally, the CoE has committed itself to ordaining women as bishops, prompting worries that traditionalists will split to Rome or effect schism.

From the Anglican Communion Institute

It seems events have overtaken the old TEC (and Canada!) vs the rest of the Anglican Communion drama. Consider the latest emission (thanks, Katherine) from the ACI, here: the thing is dead on arrival. E.g.:

A second issue that requires immediate attention is the vulnerable state of those Anglo Catholic dioceses and parishes in TEC that do not believe that the ordination of women is in accord with catholic tradition.

Oh dear. And those within the Church of England? It gets better, believe me:

Though the issue is a disputed one, it is nonetheless the case that the Communion has judged this practice a matter of “reception” rather than "right". Within TEC, however, the ordination of women is no longer treated as a matter of reception.

Now that's rich. Shall we say "Within the CoE, however, the ordination of women is no longer treated as a matter of reception"? I think we shall. Finally:

If no remedy is provided them, two results will follow—the splintering of TEC and the Communion will continue unabated and the counsel of the Communion to treat the ordination of women as a matter of reception will have been rebuffed in a way that further weakens the claim of Anglicans to belong to a communion rather than a federation of churches.

Shall we say the same counsel applies to the Church of England? I think we shall; the CoE apparently has rebuffed the counsel of the Communion. Hey, by the way, did "the counsel of the Communion" come up during the debates at Synod, and if so, did the notion "have legs"? Or shall we say the notion is significant primarily in the minds of Seitz, Radner and Turner, who seemed to need it as a cudgel with which to bludgeon the Episcopal Church and Canada--will they now turn their rhetorical weapons against the Church of England? Will the Church of England have to join the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada among the banned in covenant proceedings? My, what would that look like?

After all, one could make a case that the ACI's initial item,

First and foremost among these is the already announced intention of a significant number of bishops within TEC to allow clergy within their dioceses to bless unions between members of the same gender,

is so broad that it snags or at least soon shall snag the Church of England. The key weasel word is "allow": if Dudley is not disciplined, then he should count as having been allowed by the bishops of the CoE to bless a SSU in their jurisdiction--just what TEC is accused of tolerating. Moreover, given the rather radical motions passed by Synod over ordaining women, is ACI still confident the CoE can be counted on to hold the line on blessing gay SSUs or ordaining actively gay bishops? Has not the CoE's position already demonstrably eroded with its toleration of gay civil unions?

Finally, notice how in their zeal to isolate the Episcopal Church, the authors conveniently leave out the Anglican Church of Canada--an innocent oversight? They also make no mention of other bishops in the Communion who seem willing to move in the Episcopal Church and Canada's direction on homosexuality: the Church of Ireland is ready to move our way, and is considering whether to allow gay unions. Scotland has long been close to TEC on the question of ordaining active gays--their Primate has an interesting theology--and recent comments from Primus Jones--as well as from the Archbishop of Mexico--call for tolerance on homosexuality. We can count on New Zealand, Brazil, South Africa, and much of Australia to be at least sympathetic. The ACI sweeps this support for the Episcopal Church "under the rug" without mention--why? It could be intellectual laziness or dishonesty, but it seems more likely that the covenant process under Gomez and the ACI's leadership needs the fiction of the Episcopal Church as a radical loner in its Communion narrative in order to get the covenant it wants in the end, namely--in their words--

a covenant that “is in line with our common classical Anglican heritage of biblical, historical and reformed formularies of faith and ecclesiology,”

presumably one that institutionalizes opposition to ordaining actively gay bishops, blessing SSUs, and that provides special arrangements for those opposed to ordaining women.

That strategy of isolating TEC, long pursued by ACI and other critics of the Episcopal Church, seems to have come undone with GAFCON expanding its efforts to target the Church of England: much of what animates GAFCON to deny TEC's authority will animate it to deny the CoE's authority--but why stop there? The ACI's latest missive would tolerate the formation of factions like GAFCON in the Communion commited to crossing boundaries to poach people, prelates and property: this is sublimated in their rhetoric:

as the recent GAFCON conference has shown, the sort of face-to-face conversation for which the upcoming conference is designed can, despite internal divisions, produce real results

"Real results" indeed; we may well see GAFCON "deny the authority" of Ireland, Scotland, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Mexico, Brazil, and on and on without end, as GAFCON's super-special Primates see fit: GAFCON as a machine geared up to destroy the remnants of catholic authority in the Anglican Communion.

The ACI means to resist schism, one supposes, by working the covenant into an instrument to appease conservative tastes: communion, maybe even more particularly communion with the Sees of Canterbury and York, means something or other to them: just what, in the wake of GAFCON's ecclesiology? Whatever: this missive, by catching the Church of England, Canada--and who knows how many other provinces in the short term--in a net designed to entangle the Episcopal Church alone aids GAFCON's efforts to sow division at the very same time it seems to weaken the covenant process by all but openly inviting factions to make it an instrument to their particular struggles. GAFCON has no monopoly on inept theology. Aren't there any adults left in the Communion interested in brushing these ninnies aside so that serious, cogent work on the covenant might get done?

Why the Sudden Rout of the Anglican Right?

Not long ago it seemed the fortunes of the Anglican right were waxing, and that TEC would indeed be isolated or expelled from the AC while being quartered by foreign efforts to poach parishes and dioceses. That seems like a long time ago, though of course Anglicanism's right wing will continue poaching because, having defined itself negatively, it only knows how to keep doing the unsuccessful things it has already done: failure sublimated again and again as "Renewal" will not rouse evangelical suspicion. The right overreached in its border crossing in the US, pace Wright's dismaying equivocations--but the right failed to learn from that, and now Canada and England are victims of right-wing aggression, an aggression that cannot see itself as it is, that cannot limit its lusts, an aggression incapable of moderation.

I have already noted the incoherence in GAFCON's program. At root the incoherence comes from another absurdity, so far as I can tell: wanting biblical authority to stand while wanting biblical authority to fall. Let me explain. GAFCON and its sympathizers make a point of the need to obey biblical authority: let the Scripture's plain sense reign on the issue of homosexuality. In this sense they wish biblical authority to stand, and will claim this authority is at stake. But, as duly noted on the Anglican Continuum, GAFCON et al obstinately refuse to acknowledge plain-sense Scriptural condemnations of divorce and ordaining women--and maybe even of abortion. In that sense they want bibllical authority--as they conceived it in treating homosexuality--to fall. And that is no accident--their integrity depends on holding together groups whose self-serving, selective reading of Scripture gives them their identity. In short, GAFCON makes the main issue to be Scriptural authority, on which it does not have a coherent and principled position. Logically speaking, anything follows from a contradiction. What would you like to "infer" from an incoherent stand on Scripture? Whatever you really, really want to infer: like a power to deny the authority of the catholic church (Jerusalem Declaration, #6 & #13).

Maybe--finally--parties throughout the Communion outside the Episcopal Church are waking up to what the Anglican right has unleashed. Even if they do not see it in quite the way I do, they may nevertheless sense that with GAFCON, the limits that should be there are not there, that something has gone off the rails, something is missing. That recognition is late, but welcome.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Criticizing GAFCON's Theology from the Right

Logical consistency on theological issues is always difficult to achieve, especially if first principles are not in view. Thus, it came as no surprise to see Continuum published a piece by the Archbishop of the Anglican Catholic Church on GAFCON pointing out the Jerusalem Declaration's inconsistency from another angle. There is no doubt that Archbishop Haverland would find TEC's current positions in an even greater and more dangerous state of error--but that is not my point. Rather, with Haverland's writing in view, it seems clear even GAFCON's touted conservatism is merely an ersatz conservatism--going not quite far enough to achieve internal coherence from a staunchly conservative/traditionalist point of view.

That is to say, what kind of genuine Christian traditionalism could GAFCON actually intend to promulgate when

(1) it maintains "its silence concerning the ordination of women to the diaconate, priesthood, and episcopate"--for "all three Holy Orders are male in character,"
(2) contrary to the Jerusalem Declaration, "there are Seven Ecumenical Councils, not merely Four,"
(3) the document continues tolerance of divorce among its supporters when "valid Christian marriage establishes an indissoluble sacramental bond which cannot be broken save by death,"
(4) it declined to comment at all on abortion depite the fact "human life is sacred from the moment of conception to natural death, and directly willed abortion always is gravely sinful" ?

Moreover, the Declaration's reference to uniquely authoritative formularies is erroneous as well. He writes:

...all Anglican formularies, practices, and beliefs properly are subject to evaluation and interpretation in the light of the central Tradition. If both the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches reject something that some Anglicans believe, then that something probably is false, particularly if it concerns a matter of importance. Our security lies in the authority of Scripture as interpreted by the universal Tradition and by the living consensus of the great Churches, not in peculiarly Anglican notions.

Not bad stuff. There is more:

...while the 1662 Prayer Book has many strengths, it also has some notable weaknesses, including a truncated Eucharistic Canon, which the 1928 American, 1954 South African, and other later Prayer Books have corrected.

Which is not to say he supports use of the BCP 1979:

the 1979 Episcopalian Prayer Book, and many other contemporary language books at use in the official Anglican Communion, are radically flawed and are often subject to grave theological objection...

What is at stake here? How we should read Scripture and respond to Christian tradition: without clarity on Scripture and tradition, we are unlikely to be able to reason well on theological issues. GAFCON seems to read Scripture and tradition with an expedient,
selective conservatism:

actively gay bishops are a problem, but not female clergy,
blessing SSUs is a problem, but not divorce and apparently not abortion,
inventing a new gospel is a problem, but not gerrymandering authoritative councils and formularies.

That is, the reading of Scripture and tradition that enables dismissal of prohibitions on female ordination, divorce and perhaps abortion, and that engenders a "shop as you go" mentality toward authority in the church--namely GAFCON's reading--also enables dismissal of prohibitions on ordaining actively gay bishops and blessing SSUs. It's the same style of reading, the same type of treatment of tradition. In effect, GAFCON exhibits another inconsistency: if it were truly principled--that is, if it applied its way of handling Scripture and tradition consistently--it would tolerate the Episcopal Church and Canada; but of course it does not.

Of course, one might turn this around on Haverland: what about his reading of Scripture and tradition on slavery and usury? Note, the Roman See has never come out--to my very fallible knowledge, ready here to be utterly refuted--and said slavery was an absolute moral wrong. Would Haverland agree, given his criterion for sound doctrine--agreement with the Roman and Orthodox Sees--quoted above? I do not know; that is perhaps an argument for another time. Regardless of how he would respond personally, it seems GAFCON still has a problem.