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.


At 7:51 PM, Blogger bls said...

It's interesting, too, Scotist, that "Anglo-Catholic" seems to have a totally different meaning to most people TEC than it does in, say, the CofE.

I don't think they realize there that the definition of "Anglo-Catholic" is changing now, and moving more towards "Affirming AC."

I agree that it's becoming clear, too, that the world is starting to see recognize the attempt to smear and marginalize TEC for what it is: a mere tactic in a power struggle. They are still attacking Pike and Spong, after all, both of whom have been out of the picture for many years. (Pike's been dead since the late 60s, and his name invariably comes up in discussing TEC's "apostasy."

I always wondered whether people actually believed the things they said; I'm still not sure, in some cases. I guess a lot of people believed what others told them.

In any case, it's been a very bizarre few years. I hope this is a little light at the end of the tunnel....)

At 8:14 PM, Blogger Frair John said...

There *is* a reason why I avoid the term "Anglo-Catholic." chiefly because it is becoming a useless term.

Am I the only one getting tired of the "HELP! HELP! I'm being Oppressed!" line that comes out any time the "conservatives" don't get exactly what they wanted?

I a tad sick of it from the left as well, but a better case can be made.

At 9:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a member of the Anglican right, this post is another example of why the right should embrace outright schism (regardless of the consequences of loss of property, etc.). This intracommunal squabbling between factions who are as far apart as the Arians and Athanasius is ridiculous. Communion with Rome and/or the Eastern Orthodox is more plausible than communion with Western liberalism.

At 10:51 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...


Just one request--if you are going at all, please seek a port with a credible claim to internal consistency.

Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy have a stronger claim to internal coherence than GAFCON at the moment, or--it seems--any particular players in GAFCON. That makes Rome and Constantinople live options for anyone seeking traditionalist Christianity.

At 10:53 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

The safest thing to do until the dust settles is probably just to worship contritely.

At 11:52 PM, Blogger Christopher said...

It's nice to see someone else (the Primus) take on overly simplistic Trinitarian readings into ecclesiology. To-date, I only knew of Volf who had done such as had the catechetical primers by the ACof C in a more thought/question format, so this is also an interesting take as you say,

At 2:23 PM, Blogger JimB said...

It appears to me that the great problem for the FOCA / GafCon people is that the conference was guilty of massive strategic over-reach. Did you notice this?

"The point of the Jerusalem Declaration is not merely to provide support for parishes and dioceses within heretical jurisdictions, but to transform the Communion as a whole from one in which provinces are bound together by and through the whimsical invitational decisions of one somewhat confused man to one bound by and set under a commonly professed faith governed by a primatial council."

Rev. Matt Kennedy on Stand Firm
"Responding to Bishop NT Wright part 2: Paternalistic Nonchalance" Para 2

That is the language of power, not faith. It expresses a need for conformity, not liberty, and it is both a precise summation from a GafCon / FOCA partisan and a statement of the problem. There are I think, a lot of conservatives not happy with the progressives and affirming catholics who do not see themselves 'governed by a primatial council.

You have commented on my blog on the apparent incoherence of the Jerusalem statement. I note there and elsewhere that one cannot build a church on a negative and that the conference was guilty of significant strategic over-reach. I suspect we are both correct.

The conference is being spun as a new and exciting thing by those who think of themselves as potentially powerful within its eventual progeny. In fact, it failed.

Jim's blog

At 9:08 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Thanks for the link to Kennedy's piece. I had completely missed his spin, which would seem like an attempt to parry criticism such as mine.

You are right to say that his vision is quite radical--one would hope the Covenant does not morph into some circuitous institutionalization of such a Primatial Council. What a seismic shift in Anglican ecclesiology that would be.

Regardless, I think it is important to note the Jer Dec definitely does not do what Kennedy envisions--it does not bind the Communion to a primatial council.

He is mixed up about reality: a handful of Communion extremists declared themselves the final (mundane) arbiters of orthodoxy in the Communion. That is a far cry from the Communion being bound by a primatial council. he is mixed up, inasmuch as in reality this handful staged no coup, and in reality the rest of the Communion did not sign on to the Jer Dec scheme--and is unlikely ever to do so, in my opinion.

It is thus hard to understand how Kennedy could have come to think what he does, except as teh projection of some deeply felt convictions--but please, let's not wade into one rector's psychodrama.

At 9:30 AM, Blogger JimB said...

I think his comment is particullarly revealing because in it you we see the vision. Such a change in Anglican polity is precisely what he and a good many others seek. The steps are:

1) define the correct set of beliefs

2) codify them in the 'covenant'

3) institute a new governing process to enforce the standard of belief.

It might be easier to work for the election of an extremely Calvinist pope. All the infrastructure is available in Rome. ;-)

I do not know what to call this program, but it is not Anglican as I understand it, and I would certainly have to go elsewhere if it were instituted.

I think it is also a vision that explains why the whole covenant idea ia a bad one. Instituting as the covenant writers suggest a set of defined beliefs and an expulsion process is the road to the inquisition. We might as well call the covenant the 'deposit of faith.'


At 5:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"GAFCON makes the main issue to be Scriptural authority, on which it does not have a coherent and principled position."

Is there an implication that, in contrast, the TEC does have a coherent and principled position on scriptural authority ?

Really ?

If you get the opportunity, I sure would appreciate it if you could point me to a brief summary of that position, as well as to the full-blown statement of the TEC's approach to scriptural authority.

Thank You.


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