30 September, 2008

Coming Back to Earth

I believe that it was David Hume, one of my favorite English philosophers, and a great skeptic in his own right (I still think I would have loved being around him!) who once said that he can argue all day long about there being no causal connection between two pool balls colliding and interacting, but when he got too jaded, he just went to his local pub to recoup (apologies to the late Mr. Hume for the loose paraphrase). I am finding something similar to be personally true vis-a-vis myself and the looming schism in Anglicanism. I confess to following it with an almost morbid fascination and getting myself worked into a lather by the antics of Katie the Lawless. In my more cynical moments I often wonder why I stay an Episcopalian. Then I remember that I spent a significant amount of time in schism and saw for myself what it was like and the type of individuals it attracted. In the 1980s, it was a decidedly mixed bag, but in my experience, dominated by overly literally minded, vicious individuals, at least at the leadership level (and particularly in seminary in Kentucky). These were just not individuals I wished to continue being around. In 1987, I resigned my candidacy for ordination and rejoined TEC in the Diocese of Southern Ohio.

So now this mess in the Church. It's no wonder I get worked up over this. I've seen it before and have no desire to go through it all over again. Then something happens that brings me back down to earth and helps restore my sanity. I rolled into work the other night and just when I was getting out, I heard the sound of a small kitten, homeless, hungry and obviously abandoned. This was at 10:00 p.m. A small kitten out on its own at that time of night obviously has no place to go. I couldn't do anything at that time, so I resolved that if it was still there in the morning when I got off duty, I had a new little baby. About 4:30 that morning, I went outside to check, and sure enough, there she was. I got her to come to me and put her in my car and took her home at 6:00.

There's a great homily in here. It would go something like this. This little, barely weened kiten (I'm guessing no more than 10 weeks or so old), was almost surely going to die if someone didn't intervene. She knew it and decided that her only choice was to try to find someone, something, somewhere to save her. As if on cue, here comes a giant figure who calls to her with the promise of a better option. Right at that moment, the decision was hers. She could have chosen to run away in fear or take a chance and trust that help was finally here. That's exactly what she did and she's proceded to steal our hearts over the last couple days she's been with us.

Where's the homily in all this, you might be asking. It's right here. Just like Nipper (our new adddition), we human beings are similarly lost, alone and hopeless on our own without some intervention to bring us to Salvation. This is precisely the type of intervention God offered to us in the coming and resurrection of his Son Jesus. Through Christ, we are no longer the hopeless, helpless and lost creatures we once were, but have the hope not only the life to come, but of the abiding presence of Christ in our lives, the security that comes from knowing that we truly are not alone, that we can overcome those evils that seem to come our way on a daily basis, not just cope with them, but overcome them. We know that we are loved. The choice is ours and ours alone. God has offered us himself and his love, but that offer is meaningless, as if it never had been made if we ourselves will not take him up on it. We have to say yes to God in our lives. The ball is ultimately in our court, and while it is through grace alone that we come to Christ and ultimately to Salvation, it is up to us to respond to the Spirit's proddings.

It is this type of event in our lives that help us keep our sanity, that help us see that we are called to live lives of love and commitment to others and by making those commitments, we are at the same time making and honoring our commitment to our Lord. "A new commandment I give you, that you love one another."

Does this mean that I am suddenly happier with TEC than I was a week ago? No. Does it mean that I am less interested about the comings and goings of those in the process of stealing and destroying our Church, our Anglican Communion? No. What it does mean is that there are more important things in life, like the commitment to love, the commitment to spread God's love for the world. I believe it was the sage Hillel who was once asked to summarize the Law. His response went something like this: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind. This is Torah. The rest is commentary." I couldn't agree more.

27 September, 2008

Good news in the Old Dominion, but...

Much has been written lately about the glaring hypocrisy on display when one compares the actions of the HOB in its recent deposing of conservative bishops (only a majority of those present and voting is necessary) and their lawyers in Northern Virginia insisting that in order to comply with the division statute unique to Virginia, a majority of the membership of the parishes over 18 years of age must vote to leave. While it might be fun to pile on, I will refrain for now. It is time to rejoice, my friends, because the Diocese and 815 are conceding that they are going to lose in court. To quote from their press release:

Though loyal Episcopalians have expressed grave concerns about the validity and fairness of the voting procedures used by the CANA congregations, the Diocese will forgo judicial review of that process to focus on those issues that will most effectively and quickly return Episcopalians to their church homes and result in the overturning of the 57-9 "Division Statute."

The Diocese is preparing to mount a vigorous appeal that addresses the serious legal and religious questions and implications that have arisen from this unfortunate situation. The Diocese will explore fully every option available to restore constitutional and legal protections for all churches in Virginia.

While it is true that this statute is little invoked and even less known, it is highly unlikely in my never humble opinion to be overturned by the courts. Perhaps a better strategy for the Diocese and 815 might be to hire a new team of lawyers, since they have lost at every turn in this case and are now girding their loins for what they surely know will be a losing effort, both in the trial court and on appeal.

Also, the Diocese has reached a settlement agreement with two of the CANA churches in Northern Virginia, though why they were even parties in the lawsuit boggles the mind, since they are mission churches with no real property and meeting in elementary schools.

This is all good news for those of us who feel that TEC has been overreaching of late and "has it coming," but let's not go off the deep end here, folks. The fact is that this ruling (and eventual victory) in Virginia will have little or no significance outside of the Commonwealth because this division statute is apparently unique to Virginia. That I have found, no other state in the Union has anything remotely similar.

On the wider scene, what is 815 likely to do in Pittsburgh, Fort Worth and Quincy, once these dioceses vote to leave, as they almost certainly will? It is my belief that Katie the Lawless (my new moniker for the Presiding Oceanographer) will try to call an "emergency convention" like she did in San Joaquin and enthrone one of her puppets as "provisional bishop." What she and others supporting her fail to realize is that this will certainly come back to bite them in the rump because of the legal question before the court of who is the legitimate Diocese, and it seems to me that the slipshod method of getting rid of the opposition the HOB is currently enamored of certainly will not withstand the scrutiny of a trial court because they simply refuse to follow their own rules! Consider also that the bishops who have voted repeatedly to "depose" their brother bishops (sorry you "inclusive language" aficionados, but name a female bishop who has been deposed, please) are actually doing so at their own peril because Katie the Lawless has made it abundantly clear of late that the price of opposition is an ecclesiastical death sentence. In the psychobabble of the 1980s, they would have been called "enablers." Won't they ever learn? Probably not.

I also believe that 815 will continue to tie up the departing dioceses in endless litigation, hoping that their much deeper pockets will eventually cow the rebels into submission. Let's face it, folks, 815 has some of the deepest pockets out there, and it is tough for me to see this strategy as anything less than an attempt to bankrupt their opponents. How Christian!! These are brutal, vicious, ruthless people we are dealing with, folks. Take due notice thereof and govern yourselves accordingly.

17 August, 2008

Prophetic Actions?

A lot has been written on the topic of gay clergy in the Church and there are doubtless millions of trees yet to give their lives for the cause. Much of what has been written by those opposed to it has been written from a fundamentalist (a. k. a. biblical literalist) position which I simply do not share. For me, there are many sound reasons to oppose actively gay clergy other than "God said it, I believe it, that ends it." In a recent post at The Anglican Curmudgeon, I was reminded of how sound biblical exegesis combined with unflinching logic not only suffices, but is ultimately more satisfying. The point made was that in calling a tax collector (Matthew) to be one of the 12, Jesus was doing more than simply "including" one of the social outcasts of his time in his inner circle. He was calling the sinner to renounce his life of sin and dedicate the rest of his life to the service of God. This point is difficult if not impossible to make often or loudly enough in the current debate re: "full inclusion of the LGBT community" in the church's life.

With the admission of one of Britain's most outspoken gay activists that apparently the holy grail of the LGBT community, namely the "gay gene" does not exist, the argument that gays are "hard wired" to be the way they are is now collapsing, but their advocates in TEC certainly aren't going away. If Christ called the sinners into his inner circle, the advocates of gay ordination would say, then doesn't it follow that he would also call the LGBT community into his fellowship and not exclude them? Well, yes, he would, but recall also that the call to follow came with a cost, viz., one's former sinful ways. Make no mistake about it, in the 1st Century C. E., same sex attraction was seen in Jewish circles as definitionally sinful, and Jesus was nothing if not a faithful Jew!

But, you might say, wasn't Jesus also constricted by his times? Wasn't he a man of his times, even if he was God at the same time? Yes, and no. Yes, Jesus lived in a First Century Jewish milieu, with all the preferences, biases and cultural presuppositions that came with the package, but he was also the original bull in the china shop. One doesn't have to read too far in the gospels to find examples -- the cleansing of the temple, the audacity of forgiving sins, mixing with social lepers, and the like. That he angered those of his times by his actions is no surprise at all. Like the prophets before him, he was an uncomfortable person to have in society, a nag and an irritant. Make no mistake about it, the prophets were often despised in their own times, as was Jesus. They were also right, and that is the precise reason we still have their writings today. Israel was not about to allow itself to forget!

But saying that Jesus was a man of his times is not the same as saying that he told his followers to continue in their sin while following him. His was a call to metanoia, to repentance and conversion.

What does this have to do with gay clergy? The answer is that in the absence of any proof that the gay lifestyle is predetermined by one's genetic makeup, the conclusion must be that it is a choice. If it is a choice, then abstinence is also a choice. In fact, in Moral Theology class, the issue of priestly celibacy often came up (this was an RC seminary, remember!), and one day I can recall being told that celibacy is a valid sexual expression for one to choose and if it weren't, it would be immoral to choose it. Chew on those words for a moment. If celibacy were not a valid expression of one's sexuality, choosing it would be immoral. When one opts for celibacy, one is, in effect, sacrificing one of the most intimate, personal and loving dimensions of life for the greater good of serving one's God. Perhaps this is the sticking point for so many of the LGBT advocates. Abstinence = Sacrifice, and if same sex relations can be holy, as the Archbishop of Canterbury was recently quoted as saying, then asking our LGBT brethren and sisters to sacrifice their sexual activity for ordination or consecration is unjust, and justice, as we all know, is a major component of contemporary liberal theological reflection.

One of the problems with this view, especially when the episcopacy is concerned, is the fact that bishops, as part of their function, serve to unify their dioceses as individuals, and as a body, i.e., the House of Bishops, to unify the church, and we can all see what a unifying force the consecration of Bishop Robinson has proved to be! The fact that his consecration has torn TEC and the Anglican Communion apart at the very least should give pause to those who agitate for LGBT inclusion in the ordained ministry, but it doesn't because of the mistaken notion that by doing something outlandish, they are acting like the prophets of old.

The prophets of the Old Testament did in fact engage quite often in what we would call "street theater." When God told Hosea to take a harlot for a wife, for example, does anyone seriously think that he had any delusions that his new wife would be faithful to him or that he had any confidence that any children produced would be his? He was taking her as his wife to make the point that just as his wife could not but cheat on him, Israel had been unfaithful to God as well. It was, open, out there, in your face preaching. Why wouldn't ordaining LGBT people be the same sort of action?

We can start to answer this question by remembering that in the case of the prophets, their message was consistent with what God had been telling his people all along. Very little was new in their message, which almost always was a call to return to their covenant fidelity and live. This point is crucial to properly debunking the notion of "prophetic actions" in TEC. The call of the prophets was a call to return to the relationship God had established with his people, to return to fidelity and to return to obedience to God. Nothing was new except the rebelliousness of God's people. Using outlandish actions to make a point is not the same as being a prophet. It is nothing but outlandish and willful.

But doesn't the Church believe that the Spirit will lead her "into all truth?" Isn't failing to heed the "gospel imperative" to include the LGBT community fully in the church's leadership going against the Spirit? Jesus did in fact say that the Spirit would lead the Church into all truth. What he did not say is that the church would necessarily follow. To equate one's desires or motivations with those of the Spirit of God smacks at the very least of the sin of pride. If you want to know what God would have us do, follow me! It is hard for me to imagine words any scarier. Yet, our church has been hijacked by those who would not only utter those words, but also oust those who refuse to follow the lead of the newly minted prophets. Their rejection only emboldens them because after all, the prophets of the Old Testament were also rejected in their own times and among their own peoples. Doesn't that prove that we're right -- the very fact that the people of God are so roiled by what we're telling them? Just remember the reactions typical of those called to the prophetic office when we have a record of their commissioning by God -- SEND SOMEONE ELSE! When Moses was told to go to the people of Israel, his first reaction was to ask God to send someone else because he had a speech defect! God said "alright, I'll talk to you and your brother Aaron will be your prophet." Jonah, we are told, when God told him to go to Nineveh, ran away rather than take the job. As often as not, however, there is no account of God calling the prophet to his work. The book simply opens with the initial message the prophet was to deliver. The book of Hosea opens with God's commission of the prophet, not his asking God for the gift of prophecy. None of the writing prophets asked God for their preaching mission. In fact, it's a safe assumption that they would have preferred their previously uneventful lives to have continued as such. Of course they didn't, and we are the better for it, but the point remains. Search as one might, there is no record in either testament I have ever found of one asking to be sent as a prophet. That someone or some institution would arrogate that role to themselves says all one needs to know about the message they bring and whom it is from. Remember, a prophet is someone who speaks for another (in this case, God's spokesman). When one assumes the role of modern day prophet, he is saying that God is speaking through him. Can the suspicious and incredulous be blamed, especially when the message goes against what has been believed and taught for centuries? It seems that the burden of proof in this case is insurmountably onerous for our liberal friends, but after all, they are on a mission from God, at least so they say.

14 August, 2008

My Crystal Ball

There appears a certain cynicism about the future of the Anglican Communion's remaining in one piece, and truth to tell, in my darker moments, I have been known to share in many of them. Our friends at virtue online, for example, appear to have pronounced the communion dead and called for the undertaker. While there is reason for great concern, especially in light of the strains on the communion caused by TEC in particular, I believe that the rumors of the communion's death are slightly premature. The question is, in my opinion, what shape it will take in the next few years, not whether it will continue to exist, nor even whether TEC will continue as a part of the Anglican Communion. It simply cannot if the communion is to hold together. Nor can the Anglican Communion's ecumenical efforts toward Rome survive beyond mutual goodwill and cooperation. The days when healing the schism with Rome was a possibility are forever gone due to the Church of England's recent approval of female bishops. Things have indeed gone terribly awry.

We read, for example, that in the Diocese of Fort Worth, several priests recently approached the local RC bishop apparently with an eye toward corporate union. Bishop Iker insists that there is no plan for the Diocese to unite with Rome, but rather to realign with an "orthodox province" of the Anglican Communion, leaving the impression that the priests who were granted the meeting did so with an eye toward taking their parishes into the RC Church. In fact, one Ugandan writer suggests that this is the ultimate solution to the crisis in Anglicanism. Where he goes awry, however, is in his characterization of the party lines as "fundamentalist" vs. "liberal." I am certainly no fundamentalist. One cannot be trained in an RC seminary and emerge as one. I am, however, doggedly conservative in my politics and when it comes to my faith, and I certainly do not believe that 815 and like minded bishops are taking TEC down a road with many similarities to what I was brought up in or taught. Is there reason to hope? What is likely to happen next?

Looking into my crystal ball, I see little hope that if the Anglican Communion manages to hold together, that TEC will be a part of the communion in 10 years. The Global South will not allow that to happen, and Canterbury certainly doesn't relish the prospect of losing well over half of the membership of the Anglican Communion. On the other hand, it doesn't really want to forfeit the financial contributions that TEC makes to the communion worldwide. However heterodox the leadership might be, as a church we are nothing if not generous. The Global South also will not stomach the prospects of a female Archbishop of Canterbury any more than they will a gay bishop. The only answer, then is that the Global South will secede from the Anglican Communion. With the Common Cause churches consisting both of Anglican Communion bodies and "continuing Anglican" churches, the safest assumption, it seems to me, is that the Global South as a whole will unite with the Common Cause churches and form a real "continuing Anglican communion," one with unquestionably valid Orders, succession, adequate financing, long established seminaries for those aspiring to Orders and absolutely no prospect of female clergy. This may well be the only way forward with Rome if the prospect of healing the schism with Rome is the goal.

But what of the proposed Anglican Covenant, you ask? While I am strongly in favor of a Covenant uniting the communion, I sincerely doubt that there will be any appetite for it, especially if it defines who is and is not part of the communion, much less if it contains any provisions for expelling a church from the communion. We want unity, but not if it means limits on what we can do! It would also, if it is worth having, put a halt to so-called "prophetic actions" on the part of constituent churches, again anathema to 815. Bottom line, 815 may talk a good game, but when the rubber meets the road and it is time to opt in or out of the covenant, I see no chance at all that TEC will opt into it. Apparently, neither does Bishop John W. Howe.

This leads naturally to the question of whether it is important at all to be in The Anglican Communion. On the one hand, it is a huge part of our identity as Episcopalians, and the defining trait of being an Anglican. Anglicans by definition are in communion with the See of Canterbury. On the other hand, is simply being in communion with Canterbury necessary to be authentically Anglican? The bodies of the "continuing church" continuum would certainly deny that it is. They after all have maintained the polity and liturgy that predate TEC's lapse into heterodoxy. After all, they would argue (and I know, having been in one of these bodies for years), that it is the faith and praxis that defines Anglicanism, not simply a relationship with His Grace of Canterbury. The problem is, however, that the alphabet soup that is the continuing church movement has developed largely out of power struggles and ego clashes. Fortunately, this seems to be slowly resolving itself, but the majority of these bodies are not a realistic option if one wants to be able to move to a new city and find a parish of the church he left in his previous hometown. We humans are social animals. We need to be connected to one another, especially in our faith. Even in the free church movement, we find institutions like the Church of Christ (Pentecostal), Southern and American (northern) Baptist Conventions, to name but a few. Communion equals connectedness and we need it. This is perhaps the strongest argument for preserving the Anglican Communion. It is also one of the chief arguments for its demise, because connectedness for its own sake is not enough. It is necessary for those we are connected with to share at least an irreducible minimum of core beliefs, and the Global South is saying that that is no longer the case. If push comes to shove, and I believe it will in the next few years, the Global South will take their ball (and people) and find another arena for their faithful.

What will this look like in the United States? For one thing, it would eliminate the "border crossing bishops" problem. If the "invading" bishops are no longer part of the same communion, how would they be any different from a Methodist bishop entering into negotiations with a parish or diocese, or a "continuing church" bishop, for that matter? It would no longer be a question of parallel jurisdictions, all owing allegiance to Canterbury. It would be two distinct bodies altogether.

We would also see the continuing spectacle of entire dioceses taking their leave of TEC, and 815 continuing its endless litigation against those departing. I believe that only when 815 starts to feel the financial burden it is imposing upon itself by this litigation will it voluntarily stop the intimidation through litigation process it has embarked upon. Unfortunately for all, 815's pockets are deep indeed.

So what, if I am right, happens to the Anglican Communion? If the Global South defects as it surely must once there is a female Archbishop of Canterbury, then we are left with the churches of the British Empire, Canada, TEC and the churches in Europe in communion with Canterbury. It will still be the Anglican Communion, but drastically pared down and a mere shadow of its former self. It will survive, to be sure, but its glory days will be forever gone.

Can this be averted? Ah, that's the question. The answer is, of course, that it can, but I don't believe it will because it would take genuine metanoia on the part of TEC, Canada and even the Church of England to bring it about and there are too many egos at play and a sense of certitude that they are right. As Bishop Howe states in the article linked above:

My sense is that the Archbishop totally underestimates how myopically focused the American House of Bishops is on "the full inclusion of LGBT persons” as a "Gospel imperative." This is not just a significant PART of the Gospel for most of our Bishops; this IS the Gospel - it is THE great issue of our time: as abolition and civil rights and women's rights were in their times.

Can you say hubris? This is dangerous stuff. They are willing to take the church over the precipice in the name of "inclusion" and pat themselves on the back all the while. Be afraid. Be very afraid, and while you're at it, pray without ceasing for the Anglican Communion to find a way out of this mess.

01 August, 2008

Chicago Lambeth -- Could it pass today?

Adopted by the House of Bishops Chicago, 1886

We, Bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, in Council assembled as Bishops in the Church of God, do hereby solemnly declare to all whom it may concern, and especially to our fellow-Christians of the different Communions in this land, who, in their several spheres, have contended for the religion of Christ:

1. Our earnest desire that the Savior's prayer, "That we all may be one," may, in its deepest and truest sense, be speedily fulfilled;

2. That we believe that all who have been duly baptized with water, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, are members of the Holy Catholic Church.

3. That in all things of human ordering or human choice, relating to modes of worship and discipline, or to traditional customs, this Church is ready in the spirit of love and humility to forego all preferences of her own;

4. That this Church does not seek to absorb other Communions, but rather, co-operating with them on the basis of a common Faith and Order, to discountenance schism, to heal the wounds of the Body of Christ, and to promote the charity which is the chief of Christian graces and the visible manifestation of Christ to the world.

But furthermore, we do hereby affirm that the Christian unity...can be restored only by the return of all Christian communions to the principles of unity exemplified by the undivided Catholic Church during the first ages of its existence; which principles we believe to be the substantial deposit of Christian Faith and Order committed by Christ and his Apostles to the Church unto the end of the world, and therefore incapable of compromise or surrender by those who have been ordained to be its stewards and trustees for the common and equal benefit of all men.

As inherent parts of this sacred deposit, and therefore as essential to the restoration of unity among the divided branches of Christendom, we account the following, to wit:

1. The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the revealed Word of God.

2. The Nicene Creed as the sufficient statement of the Christian Faith.

3. The two Sacraments,--Baptism and the Supper of the Lord,--ministered with unfailing use of Christ's words of institution and of the elements ordained by Him.

4. The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of His Church.

Furthermore, Deeply grieved by the sad divisions which affect the Christian Church in own own land, we hereby declare our desire and readiness, so soon as there shall be any authorized response to this Declaration, to enter into brotherly conference with all or any Christian Bodies seeking the restoration of the organic unity of the Church, with a view to the earnest study of the conditions under which so priceless a blessing might happily be brought to pass.

With the news earlier today that Rome has finally given up on the idea of ever recognizing Anglican Orders as valid, in large part because of the trend in the Communion toward female bishops, I started to wonder just how seriously these days the Episcopal Church takes the Chicago Lambeth Quadrilateral cited in full above. When I was in the American Episcopal Church (now the Anglican Province of America), my bishop pointed out to me that in the 1979 BCP , it was relegated to a section called "historic documents," along with the 39 Articles and others. For him, this meant that while it had been a significant statement in generations past, the church considered it largely irrelevant today. I sort of nodded and went on my way. Now I have to sit back and think "was he really on to something?" Let's take a look at this statement and compare the position of the church at the height of the Oxford Movement to where it is today and see if there is anything instructive.

  • Our earnest desire that the Savior's prayer, "That we all may be one," may, in its deepest and truest sense be speedily fulfilled

The church has in fact, over the years, engaged in serious dialog with other Christian denominations with an eye toward reunion. In the mid 20th Century, for example, there was a liturgy authorized for use in both the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church that was transitional in nature because the two churches were moving toward entering into communion with each other. As we all know, these plans came to naught, but as late as the mid 1980s, this particular liturgy was still being used in Lexington, KY by one of my seminary professors at his parish.

A few years ago the Episcopal Church entered into full communion with the Lutheran Church, the culmination of reflections and dialog extending over several decades.

These (and no doubt other examples that could be cited) point toward the church taking seriously the first point of the statement, but it is significant that in both cases, Presbyterian and Lutheran, these represent Protestant bodies whom we engaged, one of which actually came to fruition. I am also reminded that in the mid 20th Century, the Episcopal Church in particular and the Anglican Communion in general was engaging in serious discussions with Rome with an eye toward healing the schism that was the independence of the Church of England from Rome. What became of that is the topic of this article, although it is perhaps instructive that Rome is in serious discussions with one of the "continuing Anglican" bodies, regarding entering into full communion if not organic union. So perhaps it is only the Anglican Orders of the Anglican Communion that are suspect from Rome's point of view.

  • That we believe that all who have been duly baptized with water, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, are members of the Holy Catholic Church.

This is foundational Christian dogma from which even the Episcopal Church has not (yet) seen fit to demur.

  • That in all things of human ordering or human choice, relating to modes of worship and discipline, or to traditional customs, this Church is ready in the spirit of love and humility to forego all preferences of her own;

Here we start to get at the crux of the matter. "in all things of human ordering or human choice, relating to modes of worship and discipline." Is the Sacrament of Holy Orders a matter of church discipline (i. e., subject to human preferences) or is it a matter of divine law? I recall many years ago having a discussion with a priest friend of mine who came to The Episcopal Church having been laicised from RC Orders about this very subject. His contention was that ordination is a matter of discipline, therefore, female ordinations are perfectly okay. Needless to say, Rome disagrees.

Whether Orders comes under the rubric of discipline or divine law is a discussion for another day. Suffice to say that in the opinion of The Episcopal Church, it comes under the rubric of discipline (things of human ordering), which is one of the myriad of ways it defends the practice of ordaining and consecrating women. Under the terms of Chicago Lambeth, the church is willing to forego its own preferences in the interests of organic unity with other Christian bodies (presumably including Rome). Recent actions, such as the approval by the COE of female bishops and the reality already on the ground in the United States and other provinces, however, seem to indicate that at least this part of Chicago Lambeth is no longer of any meaningful significance to much of the Anglican Communion.

  • That this Church does not seek to absorb other Communions, but rather, cooperating with them on the basis of a common Faith and Order, to discountenance schism, to heal the wounds of the Body of Christ, and to promote the charity which is the chief of Christian graces and the visible manifestation of Christ to the world.

It is almost impossible to know where to begin here, this passage being so pregnant with contemporary counter examples. True, we have never absorbed another communion or denomination, so the first section passes without notice. We then come to "discountenance schism, to heal the wounds of the Body of Christ, and to promote...charity..." It can be argued, in my opinion, quite successfully, that the direction the Episcopal Church has chosen for itself leads directly in the direction of schism, schism from the rest of the Anglican Communion, a continuation of the schism in the final break from Rome under Elizabeth I, and the exodus of entire dioceses from the church. Schism is almost always sinful, although Fr. Mark Clavier wants to differentiate between schism and lawful separation.

Schism represents not an individual, but a corporate body in effect saying "I don't recognize you as validly Christian any more and rather than endanger my salvation, I am forced to take my leave of you." These are powerful words. Of course, while it is doubtful that any but the most strident Protestant Reformers would have stated their positions in quite that language, that was in fact their message. True, in the case of Elizabeth I, the cause of the final rift was more political than theological. Her first duty as queen, of course, was to preserve her royal status! When the Spanish armada was defeated in their attempt to enforce the Pope's edict that England return to the fold, could Elizabeth have seen anything but the hand of God at work? But I digress.

The bishops of Lambeth recently spoke about being able to see church in one another. What this seems to mean is largely what I was just discussing, that the churches of the Anglican Communion need to recognize in each other the fullness of the Faith handed down over the centuries and millennia . Implicit in this statement is the notion that in at least some cases, this fullness of faith is not visible, or at least obscured. Again, we come back to the words of Chicago Lambeth "to discountenance schism..heal the wounds of the Body of Christ." From any and all accounts (except 815, of course)
a schism is in the works! Only the sin of pride can explain why this fact is not obvious to our bishops.

  • to promote the charity which is the chief of Christian graces and the visible manifestation of Christ to the world.

Again, we come back to the Anglican Exodus of the 21st Century now unfolding before our eyes and the spectacle of the Presiding Bishop forcing litigation against those exiting, not to mention stretching the canons of the church to and beyond the breaking point in her purge of traditionalist bishops. Perhaps 815's notion of charity is limited to the United Thank Offering or funding overseas projects. It certainly does not seem to involve amicable internal relations. It also offers a poor witness to the rest of the world if the objective is to represent the love of God in Christ for all of creation.

But furthermore, we do hereby affirm that the Christian unity...can be restored only by the return of all Christian communions to the principles of unity exemplified by the undivided Catholic Church during the first ages of its existence; which principles we believe to be the substantial deposit of Christian Faith and Order committed by Christ and his Apostles to the Church unto the end of the world, and therefore incapable of compromise or surrender by those who have been ordained to be its stewards and trustees for the common and equal benefit of all men.
  • "The principles of unity exemplified by the undivided Catholic Church..."

Here again, we come to the question of Christian unity, which Chicago Lambeth seeks and is willing to pay a substantial price for. Today's primates might agree that Christian unity is a worthy goal, but ask "unity at what cost?" Does it mean that we will have to cease ordaining and consecrating women? Does it mean that our agenda to include any and all "sexual minorities" in our leadership positions will have to come to an end? Does it mean that we will have to return to a consideration and reading of church history and biblical scholarship that is not agenda driven? If so, our bishops seem to say, that's too high a cost; these issues are questions of "justice" which we cannot abandon.

Ah, justice. In recent decades, this has been one of the primary pleas of the liberals in our church to advance the causes they so dearly believe in and wish to implement. Mind you, justice is a goal for a good society, to be sure, but it is not, I repeat, not, a theological component, nor should it be because a sound theology, i.e., good systematics, produces results based on the love of God for his creation, respects the dignity of every human being and is internally coherent. The addition of "justice" or any other agenda to the mix simply determines in advance how the argument will end, based upon how one defines the term. The classic example, in my mind, centered around the ordination of women to the priesthood, something I have still to come to terms with, nor do I believe I ever will completely. It was sold as a matter of "justice," among other things. It is simply unjust that one half of God's creation is barred from fully participating in the life of his church. This despite almost two thousand years of experience in the life of the church to the contrary, and the univocal voice of the churches of the catholic tradition on the subject (one of the very few examples of unanimity in Christianity since the Great Schism in 1054 -- we might disagree on a lot else, but at least we agreed on this!).

It is also "unjust" to exclude sexual minorities -- the "LGBT" community from full inclusion because they are part of God's creation too, and he presumably loves them as well, so why can't they be priests and bishops? Don't they have gifts and talents God can use in his church? If so, it's not right to exclude them.

And so it goes. It has almost gotten to the point, in my opinion, where you can simply say "fill in the blank" with your favorite grievance group or cause celeb and come up with a "theology of inclusion" that features your cause or group. Does this do anything to promote the cause of Christian unity or is it destructive of that end? The word "catholic" means universal. We are baptized into the one holy, catholic (universal) church. If Christian unity is the goal, surely it means more than having had the common experience of having some water sprinkled on us at one time or another. It must entail a common heritage, a common belief system, a common goal beyond "getting our tickets punched for the heaven express."

It is axiomatic that the RC churches in this country are on the cutting edge of liberalism in the Roman communion. Still, in matters of faith, of praxis , or teaching, they are one with the Roman church around the world. When the topic of female ordinations was still a hot topic in the RC church, those in this country were in the forefront of the movement, agitating to make it a reality. In 1994, however, John Paul II ended the discussion and spoke ex cathedra, stating in the link above, that Rome will have none of it. Period. Of course, there were some defections, largely to the Episcopal Church because we do in fact ordain women, and a female friend of mine in Cincinnati actually was ordained to the Episcopal priesthood several years later, having come over from Rome. In the end, however, the American branch of the RC church fell in line, grudgingly, I grant, but they fell in line and exhibited that unity spoken of in Chicago Lambeth , and that we fail to exhibit in our intramural food fight unfolding before our eyes. Why? Because to do anything less would compromise their identity as Roman Catholics, which is ultimately more important than advancing a social agenda, no matter how deeply and sincerely held. In this regard, even the liberal wing of the RC church provided an example of that Christian unity that Chicago Lambeth speaks of and that we would do well to emulate.

which principles we believe to be the substantial deposit of Christian Faith and Order committed by Christ and his Apostles to the Church unto the end of the world, and therefore incapable of compromise or surrender by those who have been ordained to be its stewards and trustees for the common and equal benefit of all men.
Here again, much comment seems unnecessary, except to point out that to many in leadership positions in the Episcopal Church, unity seems to mean unity with them on their terms, not the unity exhibited by the earliest church. Perhaps one reason for this unity was the persecution the early church experienced. Persecuted communities tend to hang together lest they hang separately. Since the edict of Constantine recognizing Christianity, there was little persecution of the Christians, at least in the Roman empire and its successors. Perhaps the freedom to simply exist as the church provided the church with something it had longed for but did not fully know how to handle. It was free to start squabbling. The first such family feud came in the Great Schism we mentioned earlier. Again, that unity Christ prayed for was lost in a dispute over whether the Spirit proceeds from the Father alone (Eastern Church) or from both the Father and the Son (Western Church). Other factors played a role, to be sure, but this is the one sticking point that still divides East and West. We haven't had organic unity in Christianity for almost 1000 years. Isn't it silly to think that we can heal the wounds now? Isn't it a fool's errand? Perhaps, but it is what we are called to do, what our Father and our Savior want, and even if we are destined not to see it come to fruition, we still labor for that day when it will happen. I have often thought that the greatest expression of hope is for a man to plant a fruit tree. It takes years for the tree to mature to the point where it is producing a crop every year and the man who planted it may well not live to eat from it, yet he plants it, in part so that his sons and daughters might. This is the mission we are or should be on as we work toward healing the schisms that have afflicted us over the centuries and why it is so disappointing to see our Anglican Communion walking away from its calling to help reunite the Church.

We come now to what the authors of Chicago Lambeth considered the deposit of faith, viz.,

1. The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the revealed Word of God.

2. The Nicene Creed as the sufficient statement of the Christian Faith.

3. The two Sacraments,--Baptism and the Supper of the Lord,--ministered with unfailing use of Christ's words of institution and of the elements ordained by Him.

4. The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of His Church.

It is only when we come to this last point that serious issues concerning Christian unity arise, at least among churches of the catholic tradition, because it is this last issue, the episcopate, that Rome has cited as the definitive stumbling block in what was our mutual quest for reconciliation. While there is no serious debate about whether our episcopate is substantially the same in form and function as that of Rome, it is the question of women in the episcopate that Rome simply cannot abide, as well as a number of our sister provinces in the Communion. Divergent theological opinions are one thing, and Anglican comprehensiveness certainly embraces virtually every stripe of churchmanship, but for Rome, the Orthodox and others, the very presence of female leadership is a deal breaker. Is this "the historic episcopate," and if it is, is it a valid local adaptation of it? Anglicanism is divided on the issue, but is trending toward an answer in the affirmative.

Again, we come back to the question of our willingness to abandon our own preferences if it will facilitate union with other like minded Christian bodies. Are we still willing? Apparently not.

We now come to the end of this discussion. Could Chicago Lambeth pass today as it was originally written? I suspect not, and one major reason for this suspicion on my part is the virtually absolute autonomy the provinces of the Anglican Communion enjoy and are so reluctant to give up. There is no central teaching authority in Anglicanism as there is in the RC church. The very term "Anglican theology" is a misnomer. There is no such thing. There is simply an Anglican approach, and that itself is not entirely unique to Anglicanism.

There is no central authority, virtually no means of maintaining discipline across the Communion. We like it that way. Who wouldn't? Until we resolve the issues of teaching authority and authority to maintain Communion wide discipline, these disputes are sure to arise time and again, increasing the threat to the unity of the Communion and imperiling our ecumenical efforts. We have already destroyed any chances of reconciliation with Rome and are in the process of self destructing, or at least falling apart, as demonstrated by the departure of an entire Diocese (San Joaquin, with Pittsburgh poised to go next and others to follow), massive defections and litigation in Virginia and losses in membership numbering in the hundreds of thousands. The time has come for us to embrace the original message we sent to the world in 1886 and return to the humility and openness it took to craft such a gem of Christian literature. No, Chicago Lambeth would not pass today without modifications that would render it unrecognizable. That is the tragedy of our times and how far we have come in the 122 years since.

31 July, 2008

A Modern Donatism?

Many, in discussing the trials and tribulations of Anglicanism in the 21st Century have compared those exiting The Episcopal Church to the Donatists of the 4th Century, and not without cause or justification. A little history here will suffice.

About a.d. 303, the emperor Diocletian embarked upon a systematic persecution of the Christians, at first demanding that they surrender their bibles, and then demanding that they offer incense to him, both intolerable to the faithful. A number of Christians, however, did in fact offer up the books, turn in other Christians and offer incense to the emperor in an effort to save their own lives. Some avoided having to make the difficult choices and simply fled for their lives. In the year 311, many who had not succumbed to the pressures of the pagan emperor were outraged that a bishop,
Felix of Aptunga, had consecrated Caecilian as Bishop of Carthage. They felt that Felix, by having bowed to the pressures to save his own life, had become apostate and therefore unworthy of his episcopal ministry. A schism ensued which lasted for the better part of a century.

Sound familiar? Many of the themes that played themselves out in the Donatist schism are at work in Anglicanism today, and unfortunately, those of us on the "reasserter" side of the argument are all too open to the siren song of our ancient brethren who, rather than accept the fallenness of their brethren simply wandered off and established their own jurisdiction.

Let's see where this can take us. Are there substantial differences between the Donatist schismatics 800 years ago and now? If so, what are they?

We can start with the fact that those who came to be labeled "tradators," those who offered up the books and incense, did so out of a genuine fear for their lives. Books are replaceable, my life isn't, they seem to have reasoned. In all honesty, while it is easy for us to sit back and judge their actions harshly, who among us cannot understand their impulses, their fear and their very human response? Would we have done any differently? Would we be willing to offer up our lives for a book which would be destroyed after our demise anyway? Are we that brave? Many were. Some weren't. This was the dilemma facing the Church in the wake of the Donatist schism.

The Donatists not only refused to keep company with the tradators, they required that anyone baptized by them undergo a re-baptism because the Church they came from had lost any and all rights to administer the Sacraments by their apostasy. Only the pure church had that right, and the Donatists represented that Church! This was and is problematic on many levels. First, it is not the righteousness of the celebrant of the Sacrament that ensures its efficacy. If it were, then it is difficult to see how any Sacraments could have been validly administered in the history of the Church! It is God in Christ acting through the Sacraments to administer His grace to us. The Sacraments convey grace ex opere operato -- by virtue of the work done. The worthiness or attitude of the minister celebrating or administering the Sacrament matters not (as long as certain conditions are met, of course. A layman cannot validly ordain or celebrate Mass, for example). This, of course means, much to the chagrin of many conservative Anglicans, that even those baptized, confirmed or ordained by Gene Robinson or Jack Spong are recipients of valid Sacraments! Sorry, but that's the way it works out.

This, of course, has echoes in our own Articles of Religion. Article 26 reads in part as follows:

Although in the visible Church the evil be ever mingled with the good, and sometimes the evil have chief authority in the Ministration of the Word and Sacraments, yet forasmuch as they do not the same in their own name, but in Christ's and do minister by his commission and authority, we may use their Ministry, both in hearing the Word of God, and in receiving the Sacraments. neither is the effect of Christ's ordinance taken away by their wickedness, nor the grace of God's gifts diminished from such as by faith, and rightly do receive the Sacraments ministered unto them, which be effectual, because of Christ's institution and promise, although they be ministered by evil men.

While I would certainly refrain from characterizing Bishops Spong or Robinson as "evil men," I certainly have problems with their theologies as expressed in print. Nevertheless, even our own historic Anglican faith allows them a place at the table, as does the history of the undivided Church, but with some caveats.

We will recall that Augustine's first response was to reason with his Donatist brethren, figuring that there was something reasonable in them that he could address, something that could convince them to return to the fold peaceably and amicably. It was not to be because their position was too firmly entrenched. A pox on your house! But what of the tradators? What was their status to be in the renewed, post - persecution Church? Augustine reasoned that the clergy who had given up the books, fled or offered incense were to be allowed back into the Church after a time of penance. The Church, he reasoned, is a hospital for sinners, not an ark for saints.

How does this all too brief history lesson relate to Anglicanism today? Many of the parallels are too obvious for me to point out. Some, however, may be a bit more subtle.

In the first place, even those who accuse the Episcopal Church of apostasy on the scale of the tratadors cannot draw an exact parallel because no one in this country is in danger of losing his or her life because of their religious beliefs (Branch Davidians excepted, and then under a previous administration). The same cannot, however, be said of the Church in Uganda, for example, where the faithful have given their very lives for their faith in Christ. Whatever error the Episcopal Church has slipped into has been entirely voluntary, and not because of any threat to the lives of individual parishioners or clergy. The causes of said errors are a subject for another day and discussion, but suffice to say that whatever errors and however grave they may be, they do not affect the efficacy of the Sacraments administered by those in Episcopal Orders, no matter how grave our disagreements with them might be or how comforting it might be to sit back and hurl invective at those liberal heretics! Christ can even work through them -- or us!

Several of the African primates might take issue with some of the above. "After all," they might reason, "our people have died for their faith, which you Americans and Canadians have simply walked away from in favor of the liberal social cause d' jour. What makes you think that you can be on a par with these Anglican martyrs of the 20th Century? What arrogance!" To a large degree, I would almost have to agree. Again, however, their argument misses the point somewhat. Setting aside for the moment the issue of female ordinations and consecrations (an entirely different can of worms), if the worthiness of the minister of the Sacraments does not, as we have seen, affect the efficacy of the Sacraments he administers, can we avoid indictment for the sin of pride when we issue mutual condemnations?

Perhaps avoiding schism over these issues is too much to expect or hope for, failing direct divine intervention. The cynic in me says that it is, that both sides of this debate are hell bent for leather and that nothing short of unconditional surrender will satisfy either side. This seems to be the case. Maybe we are in fact headed for a century long schism like the 4th Century Church was forced to endure. I pray not. The tragedy, and the truth, is that both sides are wrong in this tragedy. Both sides are anxious to excommunicate the other, to declare their opponents apostate, heretical, and either behind the curve or not even in the ball park. Can the Episcopal Church survive? It will in one form or another. Will it be part of the Anglican Communion in 10 or 20 years? We'll find out together. Does it matter to the Episcopal Church? Ah, that's the question.

30 July, 2008

An introductory musing

The other day, I was reading a journal that I started in the late 80s. I had resigned my candidacy for ordination in what was then the American Episcopal Church (now the Anglican Province of America) and was musing that perhaps God was calling me back into the Episcopal Church. After all, it is axiomatic, at least to me, that God speaks to us not only through Scripture, but also through the situations we find ourselves in, if we will only listen and pray about it. That was 1987. 21 years later, I find myself still in the Episcopal Church, but deeply troubled by recent developments.

The Episcopal Church, by any reckoning, has chosen to "walk apart" from the rest of the Anglican Communion and chosen so-called "prophetic actions" as its vehicle of choice, e.g., female ordinations, ordinations and consecrations of openly gay individuals, an approach to Scripture that seems at best tortured to justify their actions, and the like. We have the spectacle of entire dioceses choosing to leave the church for the safer confines of southern jurisdictions, the phenomena of African churches establishing beachheads in the Episcopal Church's back yard and episcopal depositions that, quite frankly, seem to defy the church's own canons. What is a faithful Episcopalian to make of this mess?

Is the exodus to southern and African climes a repeat of the Donatist heresy that Augustine of Hippo battled against [The Church is a hospital for sinners and not an ark for the saints] or is it the natural consequence of an institution gone so far afield that it has forfeited any claim to be recognizably Christian? Certainly those in the "continuing Anglican churches" have answered this last question loudly and decisively. Does this mean that they are right or is there another way?

These are the questions I wrestle with and some of the demons that have beset the Episcopal Church in recent years. As for me, while I am not a fundamentalist (recognizing all the while the contradiction that Anglo Catholicism is a fundamentalism of its own), there are certain biblical teachings that we hold onto for dear life and simply cannot compromise: Trinity, the Incarnation and Resurrection, the authority of Scripture (not to be confused with inerrancy or infallibility), to name just a few. There are others too numerous to list, of course.

Let me start out by saying on the topic of sexuality and ordination that it is too obvious to need explanation that homosexuality has existed ever since memory runneth not to the contrary and it is simply "winking at reality" to posit the notion that gay clergy are a recent phenomenon. While no records I am aware of can tell us reliably how far back in Church history we have to look for gay clergy, I believe we can say with a fair amount of certainty that the phenomenon is centuries old, at least. Does this justify the actions of The Episcopal Church in consecrating the Bishop of New Hampshire? No. It simply means that the issue has been brought to the fore in recent times by the fact that Gene Robinson is the first openly gay bishop in the history of the Episcopal Church. Other gay clergy, at least had the grace and discretion to remain closeted and keep the issue from becoming a hot button topic. The snake is on the table now, and there is no way to avoid dealing with it. How are we to come to a theology of human sexuality that both is faithful to the biblical witness and speaks to us in the 21st Century?

Catholic sexual morality, we were told in Moral Theology, can be explained in one sentence: If you're not married, don't. This is true and I certainly believe it even today, especially when it comes to the subject of ordination. It makes little difference whether one is gay or straight, in the absence of Holy Matrimony, the standard of the Church for aspirants to Orders is or should be celibacy. What about someone seeking Orders with homosexual tendencies? Celibacy is the norm outside of Holy Matrimony. Furthermore, we have the instructions of the Apostle Paul:

This is a faithful saying: if a man seeks the office of an overseer, he desires a good work. 3:2 The overseer therefore must be without reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, modest, hospitable, good at teaching; 3:3 not a drinker, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; 3:4 one who rules his own house well, having children in subjection with all reverence; 3:5 (but if a man doesn’t know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the assembly of God?) 3:6 not a new convert, lest being puffed up he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. 3:7 Moreover he must have good testimony from those who are outside, to avoid falling into reproach and the snare of the devil.

How do we reconcile this apostolic requirement with the modern desire to "honor" the LGBT community by conferring Orders upon them? In my opinion, the two simply cannot be reconciled, because if we agree that the New Testament is the founding document of the Church in the same sense that the Constitution of the U. S. is the foundation of our civic government, i.e., the rules we all have to live by, then how does it not do violence to the notion of the authority of Scripture to engage in acts clearly prohibited in the founding documents, especially in light of the requirement Paul lays down that a bishop must be the husband of one wife? Perhaps it is not a booming voice from Sinai, but to give the founder of the mission to the Gentiles a lesser significance
than our own modern sensibilities seems to me to be somewhat problematic at the very least. True, the Bible is not inerrant, but in the New Testament, we have the record of the original ordering of the Church, the authentic record of the first Church Council in the Book of Acts and accounts of the earliest controversies to plague the Church and how they were dealt with. In other words, we have a blueprint. All the contextualizing and nuancing in the world cannot change that fact. Organisms and organizations grow, develop, evolve over time. This is natural, but authentic growth and development almost never involves an abandonment of first principles. I don't believe that it is fundamentalism to insist that even The Episcopal Church return to the first principles of the early Church, listen to the biblical witness and admonition and learn that it is perfectly okay to utter the word "oops."