30 July 2007

Wisdom from Spain: Jesus is the center

Today's sermon at Trinity, Wall Street featured a report by its rector, James Cooper+, on the recently concluded gathering of bishops from around the Anglican Communion. It's worth listening to the sermon. (I don't think there's a link to full text, just audio/video.)

I won't try to summarize it here, but James joins the chorus of those who are saying that divisions on issues of human sexuality should not prevail over much deeper things we hold in common. He speaks compellingly and vividly of these bishops' time together. You really ought to take the time to hear the whole sermon.

The time in Spain was a fruitful gathering. This will be the salvation of the communion -- if people can respect one another as bearers of God's image and followers of Jesus Christ, then we have a chance to remain together. We need to be together to do these things, which is why I'm hoping for a large turnout at Lambeth next summer and at other gatherings. I hope Trinity will bring together more people, more often.

Anglican without Canterbury?

Mark Harris+ has a great round-up of some recent pronouncements emanating from the right. He notes a growing sense among those favoring realignment that one can be Anglican without being in communion with the See of Canterbury.

He begins:

There was a time, not too many months ago, when the realignment crowd would pull out the Preamble to the Constitution of The Episcopal Church(TEC) and gleefully inform anyone who would listen that if The Episcopal Church were not in Communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury (ABC) it would cease to be Anglican. This was often a prelude to a larger argument that somehow not being in communion with Canterbury would mean that (i) TEC would lose its franchise as the US member of the Anglican Communion, and (ii) TEC's leadership would be in violation of its own Constitution and therefore not TEC at all.

But times change. The realignment community is regrouping. It appears that the ABC is not particularly interested in breaking communion with TEC; It is increasingly clear that the Preamble to the Constitution of TEC is not an item of the Constitution that is proscriptive, but rather descriptive; and, most importantly, there is a growing sense by the realignment crowd that being Anglican and being part of the Anglican Communion are different sorts of things.

Read the whole thing to see his examples. I'm not sure what to make of all this just yet. Over at the Anglican Centrist Greg Jones+ does have a good caution for us progressives: we should not assume that all conservatives, relignment-proponents, etc., are monolithic. But Mark does find enough examples new thought among conservatives with regard to the essence of Anglicanism to suggest a change in the ethos, at least for many people on the right. Maybe, for now, it's enough to note this trend. I for one continue to pray for unity, even amidst all that seems to argue against this hope.

29 July 2007

Finding unity in the Word

Several days ago, Matthew Dutton-Gillett+ posted a thought-provoking and moving essay over at the Episcopal Majority. It's a response to +Henry Orombi's article in First Things entitled "What is Anglicanism?"

I highly encourage you to read Matthew's essay. Here's a sample:
If we are to restore unity amidst our differences, I don't think we will find it in the Bible. After all, the expression of the Word of God par excellence for Christian people is not the Bible. It is, rather, Jesus himself – the Word made flesh. At the heart of our faith, we see Jesus as the most sublime expression of the Word of God, and we are convinced that Jesus as the Christ is not locked into a particular period of history, but is a living presence in the life of the church today and in the life of each of us who seek to be his followers. The Bible is a tool – and an indispensable one – in coming to know the Christ, as are tradition and reason. But the tools can ever only be tools – none of them can ever replace the One whom they help us to find.

St. Paul has been much maligned over the years. He is regarded by many as a misogynistic conservative. But it is closer to the truth, I think, to acknowledge that whatever else St. Paul was or might have been, at heart, he was a mystic whose own conversion to the Christian faith was rooted in an encounter with the Risen Christ that was difficult to put into words. As Paul himself says, when it happened, he couldn't tell whether or not he was in his own body, and after it was over, he had seen things that were impossible to describe. But the result of this encounter with the Risen Christ for Paul was radical transformation – the kind of transformation that made Paul, the observant Jew, able to say – quite astonishingly – that in Christ, there is "neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female." This leads me to conclude that in Christ, there is also neither conservative nor liberal, Global South or Global North, straight or gay. Rather, there are only human beings made in the image of God, baptized into the Body of Christ, each seeking to be transformed through our own encounter with the Risen Christ. Our life in Christ lies exactly there: in Christ. Not in the Bible, nor even in our tradition. And Jesus reminded his followers many times that life in Christ was often an unpredictable and personally crucifying experience.

The parts of Archbishop Orombi's essay that I found most moving were the stories he told of how Ugandan tribal culture was transformed in various ways through encounter with Christ. The archbishop's recognition of this transformation should remind both his Ugandan church and ours that our transformation in Christ is never completed in this life, and thus there is likely more in both his culture and ours that still longs to be touched by the healing and life-changing power of the Risen Christ. It would be a grave error for the archbishop and his church if they were to assume that no further transformation in their lives and in the life of their church and culture were needed. But it would be an equally grave error for me, or for us in the Episcopal Church, to make that same assumption, or to assume that we are somehow advanced beyond the world's other Anglicans in that process of transformation. Jesus is not done with any of us. We are all, in our own ways, incomplete. Perhaps this is where our true unity lies.

Wouldn't it be a remarkable thing if all the Anglican bishops were to gather together at Canterbury next year fully aware of their own incompleteness, and seeking their completion in Christ and in one another? That would be by far the most powerful witness I could imagine, both to the church and to the world.
That seems right on. We won't find the answers to what vexes our church on our own. We need Jesus for that. Imagine what our Communion might be like if all the bishops behaved as if they believed what they preached.

25 July 2007

Global imperative, or legerdemain?

Chris Sugden has written a piece intended to justify the proliferation of parallel jurisdictions now sprouting up in the US. Not counting the so-called "continuing" Anglicans, we're at five overseas-bishop-supported arrangements and counting.

I find Sugden's rationale troubling. First, he cites +Drexel Gomez as warrant for declaring ECUSA to be "apostate." That's alarming on all sorts of levels. One person can now declare a church to be apostate, and then anything goes? I don't think we want to head down that road.

Sugden also cites contemporary business practices in his argument:
But it is no longer possible to subject all state institutions in one geographical area to one jurisdiction. International companies, the internet, international networks such as the European Union are an expression of the globalisation that has rendered boundaries that were set by how far people could conveniently travel obsolete.
This surprises me. Shouldn't he be giving us a biblical view? Isn't we progressives who are accused of being rooted in culture? Most international companies now offer equal treatment to gays and lesbians, so shouldn't the church follow that example too? I happen to be an old-school progressive who believes that the church should not be defined by culture -- and certainly not by the practices of multinational companies.

Geography is no longer the sole consideration when thinking about the space that we occupy. We live in global and universal space which is occupied by networks of people with values and commitments. In the church, we are now experiencing the church as envisaged in Acts 15, where Gentile and Jew ( different races and classes) are engaged closely together.
Fair enough. I agree that geographical boundaries within the church should not be sacred cows. But I also think this is a clever tactic to get us to look the other way, while schism is the goal. Under the current ethos practiced by +Akinola, +Orombi, +Venables, et al, the church should apparently split whenever people can't see eye to eye. So rather than establishing the vision of unity in Acts, we are creating a compartmentalized Christianity of people who are theological clones.

Let's be clear. Anglicanism has had theological diversity since its inception. Christianity itself has had theological diversity since its inception (read Romans and then read James, for example). To insist that Christianity must be uniform is innovation of the worst kind -- it is innovation that drives division. There are certainly limits within which orthodox Christians must stay. The Nicene Creed, or even the Lambeth Quadrilateral, provide excellent boundaries. One can plausibly disagree on all sorts of things and still be an orthodox Christian.

Let's not get distracted by an argument that drags in globalization or the unity of Acts. Sugden is pushing an agenda of division. It is tearing the fabric of the church. We should be spending our energy repairing divisions, not justifying new ones.

(The Lead pointed me to this piece.)

How inclusive is ECUSA?

The Anglican Centrist has some good fodder for pondering, I think. Here's a sample:
One of the things 'centrists' stand for is not necessarily a specific doctrinal stance on all issues -- but a clear desire to be in a 'big tent' communion/church/diocese/parish. As much as I want to be in a church with progressives, I want to be in a church with conservatives. Moreover, I want to be in a church that is truly inclusive -- including all who profess Christ, died, risen and coming again. It really seems quite often in the Episcopal Church that the deck is stacked against anybody who is not dead center or to the left. And, well, that's just not particularly open or inclusive - or honest. Indeed, and I'm skeptical the institutional powers will ever do it -- there really needs to be some humble soul searching in places like 815, some seminaries, diocesan structures, important standing bodies of General Convention -- 'How inclusive are we really?' 'Are we really liberal (i.e. open)?' 'Are we really tolerant?' 'What barriers are there to our truly including everybody, or is there some self-perpetuating bias going on?' There's been a lot of lip service paid to these kinds of questions -- but it's hard to recall the last time 'conservative' Episcopalians or even 'conservative-ish moderates' really defined our leadership at any level -- other than in parishes and some dioceses.

The great strength of Anglicanism and this Episcopal Church for a long time was that we had lots of different groups who didn't all agree on everything but who recognized each other as brothers and sisters in Christ and at worship and mission together.
Those of us on the progressive side of things spend lots of energy-- of real neccessity, I hasten to add--defending the place of GLBT people, women, and others at the margins. Should we also be working to ensure that theologically more conservative people are welcome? I think so. After all, "inclusive" means just that. What do you think?

24 July 2007

"Inclusive" is about more than human sexuality

In all the debates, one might be tempted to lose sight of the goals we're working toward when we talk about an "inclusive church." It means more than ensuring a welcome for people of various sexual orientations. It means ensuring that the Gospel invitation is issued to all, and that all are welcomed into God's church.

Aside from theological inclusion, we need to look at the physical aspect of our churches. Can everyone physically enter your building? Here's a good reminder, courtesy of the Episcopal News Service.

[Canon Victoria] Garvey told ENS that when one considers the signs that point people to Episcopal Church congregations -- the ones that say "The Episcopal Church welcomes you" -- calling for the church to be accessible to all is a "no-brainer." The accessibility is possible in some parts of the church, Garvey said, but it must become the norm "all across the board."

That includes paying attention to what might be called unseen disabilities, she said. For example, someone with a heart condition may appear to be otherwise able but may not be able to climb stairs. Hearing difficulties, which are often not discernable by others, can prevent many people from truly participating in liturgies or program, she added, giving another example.

If part of the reason for the slow progress towards accessibility has to do with consciousness-raising, Garvey acknowledged that cost and the snowballing effect of making changes have been very important also. Given the way the ADA and other building codes work, if a congregation begins to improve its accessibility, it is usually expected to become completely accessible. "You do one thing and then you have to do 16," Garvey said.

"It's complicated," she acknowledged. However, "if we really believe what we say we believe, then we really have to think about our priorities in the coming year and our budget," she said of congregations who are trying to deal with the accessibility challenge.

Look around your building. Or better yet, if you are able to walk, sit in a wheelchair and try to enter your own church. What's that like? The parish I serve is just beginning to grapple with these issues once again. It's expensive and difficult, but if we mean what we say, the effort is an important part of our Christian faith.

When law and Gospel meet

For over two thousand years, followers of Jesus Christ have been struggling with the balance between law and Gospel. The struggle continues today, as evidenced by the present diversity of views on human sexuality. Not only, of course, do we argue about the balance of law and Gospel, but we often wonder, which law and which Gospel do we follow? It's not always clear.

Now, it seems, we're having a similar conversation over the recent episcopal elections in South Carolina and Virginia. This story blew up on Sunday, and yours truly wrote about it here. It was much-discussed in blogospheria Anglicana, though little mention was made by liberal bloggers.

Yesterday we got a bit of response from 815, in a blog posting on epiScope. Here's what Jan Nunley+ had to say:
At the same time, Virginia did use a shorter consent form instead of the full, exact language in Canon III.11.4.b. But the shorter form made it very clear to what and to whom the standing committees were consenting; the majority sent in their consents; and what's most important, individual signatures of the individual committee members were affixed.

Signatures are very important to lawyers. You may, while dying, scrawl on a piece of paper, "I leave all my money to my dog," and if your signature is attached, there is a good chance Phydeaux will be rolling in dough (if not smellier things) very shortly thereafter. You may, however, draw up a perfectly iron-clad testament and if you have not signed it, it means nothing. Nada.

That is the issue here. Not the precise wording, but the presence or absence of individual signatures received before the deadline, determined whether or not a consent could be counted as valid.

I very much want to find a way to agree with what seems to be a different application of canons, depending on the situation. But I'm not quite there yet.

The canons specify both the wording and the means of showing approval. You get the precise words to use (there is no "short form") and the precise manner in which approval is to be shown (written approval, signed). It's all black-letter law, right in Title III (PDF). Check it out.

In her posting, Jan says that there are "90 possible" elections affected by defective consents. Let's suppose in the past it didn't matter so much, because our church was in a difference place. But in the Lawrence debacle, we were all quoted chapter and verse on why the canons matter. Frankly, I agree with this rigid canonical adherence, but it has to be the same, in all cases, no matter what. It's only fair. It's only just.

Now we're told it was about signatures. Of course, it's hard to see why we insist on the signature portion of the canons, but we look past the textual requirements. I'm also not sure the claim on the importance of signatures is valid. These days, electronic "signatures" in lots of forms are considered equivalent with ink signatures, in lots of situations. The Living Church is reporting that South Carolina was told not to use the "short form" in its consents. Fine. But why wasn't Virginia told the same thing?

In all elections since the South Carolina election, it seems to me that it is important to ensure that there is adherence to the canons. If we're tossing out one election because of defects, I think we need to toss out others as well. I am not saying that Virginia's election should be tossed out, or that the ordination was irregular. I am saying that an "oops" should emanate from 815, and in the future we should follow the canons precisely. If the canons are no longer deemed adequate, there's a little project to work on before GC 2009.

It seems to me that we heard "law, law" in the case of South Carolina. And we've heard "Gospel, Gospel" in other cases. Let's have law and Gospel in all cases, balanced appropriately. Why am I writing about this budding controversy? Well, I think how we handle these conversations has to do with how we'll handle other, more difficult issues. When the response from church leadership to all this is, "Let's don't and say we did, shall we?" it hardly seems to respect the dignity of those who find this situation challenging. Much better would be a straightforward, official explanation of why canons are applied particular ways at particular times. I'd like this problem to go away. And I'd like to avoid this particular conversation in the future.

So let's do, and let's talk about it. Let's figure this one out. It will help us in conversations about other episcopal elections, in conversations about sexuality, in conversations on any other subject. As we on the progressive side demand that the conservatives listen to us, let's make sure we listen to those who have (very valid) concerns.

An inclusive church is not just a church for liberals. An inclusive church is a church for everyone.

UPDATE: In addition to an update over at epiScope (see the comments to this posting for details and a response), the Diocese of Virginia has issued a statement. It reads, in part:
The process of requesting and receiving consents is governed by the Office of the Presiding Bishop through various administrative departments. The process of obtaining consents for the ordination and consecration of Bishop Shannon Johnston followed by the Standing Committee of The Diocese of Virginia was approved and confirmed by the general Church. The procedures we followed have been in widespread use throughout the Church for at least a decade. We received over 80 signed consent forms, and our process was confirmed by the act of consecration in a joy-filled service presided over by the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church.
OK, fine. No one wants to un-consecrate Bishop Johnston and no one think's this is Virginia's fault. At least I don't. Rather, I think Lionel Diemel's solution is about right. Let's admit procedures weren't followed, here and in other consent processes. And then let's ensure that all future consents conform precisely to canons. That will fix the problem and make this story go away. (Thanks to BabyBlue for noticing the Virginia release.)

23 July 2007

Ekklesia: Re-writing history

Savi Hensman has written a thorough paper on our present situation in the Anglican Communion. I posted Savi's good writing on "false certainty" last week, and I am delighted that she has done this work.

It's been covered already in the blogosphere, but I am posting it here because I think it's well worth reading and pondering what she's written. Here's the summary:

1. Because The Episcopal Church (USA and other regions) is more accepting than most provinces of lesbians and gay people, including those in loving partnerships, it has been accused of failing to act in accord with the clear teaching of the Bible and the agreed position of the Communion, being too heavily influenced by the dominant culture and acting in an imperialist manner. Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference is often mentioned: though its position on homosexuality was not binding, TEC has been condemned for breaching 'bonds of affection' by not conforming.

2. However it is unjust to punish TEC when senior clergy in certain other provinces have to a far greater extent failed to act in line with Scripture and Anglican consensus, to examine their own cultures critically and to oppose imperialism. These include the primate and bishops of the Church of Nigeria, who have acted in ways contrary to key Biblical teachings, the 1998 Lambeth Resolution on homosexuality and over thirty resolutions agreed by Lambeth or the Anglican Consultative Council, as well as several recommendations of the Windsor Report.

3. Yet they have not been treated nearly as severely as TEC. Indeed, internationally agreed Anglican positions on a range of matters are frequently disregarded by bishops and archbishops.

4. What is more, TEC was placed in a difficult position because of apparently contradictory principles widely held in international Anglican circles, and the persistent refusal of leaders of several other provinces to promote serious study of human sexuality and listen attentively to lesbians and gays, despite repeated conference resolutions.

5. Traditionally Anglicanism's broad nature, and careful attention to Scripture, tradition and reason in responding to complex issues, had enabled the church to revise its position radically on various matters over the past couple of centuries, including ethnicity, gender and sexuality, while staying true to its heritage.

6. Recently, however, some senior clergy have demanded that their own opinions on specific matters be treated worldwide as core truths, like those in the Creeds, and refused to consider any evidence to the contrary.

7. With the hope of adequate international dialogue fading, members of TEC were faced with the pastoral realities of a diverse society and the strength of the theological case for full inclusion of lesbians and gays. It seemed to many that, by postponing justice decade after decade, they were failing to seek and serve Christ in all persons and love their neighbour as themselves, and this was damaging ministry and mission. In becoming less discriminatory, TEC was acting in a reasonable manner.

8. For associating too closely with those often facing rejection and contempt, TEC has been targeted, and has become a scapegoat for wider divisions, based partly on different responses to social issues and the determination of some bishops elsewhere to transform the nature of the Communion.

9. Respect for the dignity of all people, encouragement of thoughtful study of the Bible, appreciation of advances in science, participation of the laity at all levels of decision-making and catholicity based on acceptance of provincial autonomy and diversity have long been valued by Anglicans, but are now under threat. What is of value to the church and world in the Anglican heritage should not be lightly discarded.

I encourage you to read the whole paper (PDF). Thanks to The Lead for the link.

York states the obvious

The Archbishop of York, in an interview with The Telegraph, states the obvious:
"Anglicanism has its roots through Canterbury," he said. "If you sever that link you are severing yourself from the Communion. There is no doubt about it."
And more:
Conservative leaders are now planning an alternative summit, which would destroy Dr Williams's efforts to hold the factions together. Speaking to The Daily Telegraph, Dr Sentamu told the conservatives that there could not be a meaningful alternative to the official conference...."If that goes and they think they can then say they are Anglicans, that is very questionable," he said. "Whatever you set up, I don't think it could ever be called the Anglican Communion."
Read the whole article. I am glad senior leaders are being clear about our tragic situation. I pray that the Body of Christ does not suffer another division.

(In what might be a first for the InclusiveChurch blog, a tip of the hat to VirtueOnline!)

Justice and consent, form and intent

Dan Martins+ -- who writes a most excellent blog, always worth reading -- appears to have broken a significant story today. It seems that the consent forms for the recently-consecrated Bishop of Virginia may have been defective. Ordinarily, one might expect to look past a few changes in wording on documents like this, but these are not ordinary times. You may recall that a few months ago, the election of Mark Lawrence as Bishop of South Carolina was overturned due to defects in some of the consents from standing committees.

For readers of this blog outside the US: a diocese elects its bishop. Then (unless the election occurs near the time of General Convention) a majority of diocesan standing committees and diocesan bishops must consent to the election within a specified time for it to be considered valid.

In the case of South Carolina, it seems that sufficient standing committees had the intent to consent to the election, but their forms did not follow that clearly specified in the canons. Citing those very specific canons, Bishop Katharine declared the election "null and void." Here's what she said then:
"In the past, when consents to episcopal elections have been so closely contested, the diocese has been diligent in seeking to have canonically adequate ballots submitted, asking Standing Committees to resubmit their ballots when necessary," she added. "It is certainly my hope that in future any diocese seeking consent to an election will use all possible effort to ensure that ballots are received in an appropriate form and in a timely manner." (emphasis mine)
Was a different standard used in the case of Virginia's election? As Dan's post makes clear, the wording of the Virginia consent form is clearly not the same as the wording in the canons. If the intent to consent were all that mattered, then there would be no problem with this election. But a few months ago, we were told that form matters too, not just intent.

If the facts as presented in Dan's blog posting -- and the letter it quotes from San Joaquin -- are true, then we have a serious problem indeed. I'll reserve further comment until we hear more, as I am sure we will. "Sarah", who I believe is Sarah Hey from Stand Firm, has posted a comment at T19 suggesting that we all wait and see what this means and listen for an explanation. That's right -- we shouldn't leap to conclusions, but this is cause for concern.

I am an enormous fan of Bishop Katharine and her leadership. When I say "815" I do it with fondness most of the time. Let us hope there is an obvious explanation for all this, and that we are not seeing the double-standard that those on the right often perceive. In these critical times in our church, it is vital for all leadership -- parish, diocesan, and church-wide -- to be absolutely fair, just, and transparent. If those of us on the progressive side of things are going to demand justice, we can do no less in our own ministry and leadership.

21 July 2007

Hear the voice of LGBT Nigeria

There are thousands of gay and lesbian Anglicans in Nigeria. In all the furor of the last few years, we've heard precious little from them. Much ink has been spilled about the pastoral care of conservatives in the US, but almost nothing has been said about the pastoral care of GLBT Nigerians -- despite clear calls for this care in the Windsor Report.

Davis Mac-Iyalla recently toured the US to tell the story of the church in Nigeria. Thanks to St. Thomas' Parish in Washington, DC, you can hear a recording of Davis's talk. Listen to this man, who speaks compellingly of the struggle GLBT Anglicans in Nigeria face. +Peter Akinola must be frightened, because he has repeatedly launched a smear campaign against Davis and his allies. I got to know Davis when we were both in Dar es Salaam. He is a faithful witness of the Gospel.

Let us not forget those who suffer most as we seek a church that where all people are fully welcomed into the Body of Christ. If we in the US and Canada pull away from the Communion, because of the cost to GLBT people here, we must also know that GLBT people in the rest of the Communion will pay a terrible price -- perhaps life itself.

Pray for Davis and his work. Pray for Peter Akinola. Pray for us all. If you are able, pray with your wallet. Changing Attitude needs your money in their work.

Thanks to The Lead for the link to Davis's talk.

Questions for the "Global South"

As I indicated in an earlier post, the so-called Global South group has issued a statement at their recently-concluded meeting in London. My general reaction is in that posting, but I thought I might make some more specific comments and pose a few questions. I was tempted to do a BabyBlue-style analysis of the whole statement, but I'll hold myself to just a few comments here.
We reaffirm our dedication to the vision of the church that has a passion to reach all those who have not yet come to a saving knowledge of Christ and one that is truly good news for the poor and freedom for those who are oppressed.
If that is the case, then why has the agenda of every gathering of Anglicans for the last 10 years been dominated by your obsession with human sexuality? Why is there never time to talk about evangelism and mission? If these values are so critical, then shouldn't they be first on the agenda, with the remaining time devoted to doctrinal differences?
We urge them, once again, to reconsider their position because it is their rejection of the clear teaching of the Church and their continuing intransigence that have divided the Church and has brought our beloved Communion to the breaking point.
Interesting. As far as I can see, +Gene Robinson has not jeopardized church unity much, except for some Episcopalians in New Hampshire who don't like their bishop. On the other hand, there are now five (yes, five) irregular parallel jurisdictions operating within ECUSA. I think that would qualify as dividing the church. To put this another way, unless you live in New Hampshire, how is Gene Robinson bringing your church to the breaking point? If you are concerned about dividing the church, then how about if you stop dividing it? And, while we're on the subject, why is it exactly that we need five parallel jurisdictions to support conservatives? A cynic might suspect money as the answer, but surely there is a Biblical reason for this? I'd like to know the answer to that one.
We have also been pained to hear of the continuing and growing resort to civil litigation by The Episcopal Church against congregations and individuals which wish to remain Anglican but are unable to do so within TEC. This is in defiance of the urgent plea agreed to by all of the Primates in the Dar es Salaam Communiqué. This approach to use power and coercion to resolve our current dispute is both enormously costly and doomed to failure and again, we urge the immediate suspension of all such activities and a return to biblical practices of prayer, reconciliation and mediation.
OK, let's explore this. I test a bicycle in a shop. I'd like to keep riding it, but I don't want to pay for it. I ride out of the store. I get arrested for shoplifting. When you take things that aren't yours, even if you really, really want them, that does not make them yours.

It has been clear for many years that in our church, church property does not belong to congregations. I agree that too many bishops have not been willing to negotiate in good faith, but that does not make theft OK. I would hope that more bishops would follow the example of my bishop (+Geralyn Wolf), who worked out an amicable and fair settlement, without lawsuits, for the one congregation in Rhode Island that left the Episcopal Church. Now both sides feel that they have done well. That's what charity, prayer, and bona fide negotiation get us.

Now, on the subject of "biblical practices of prayer, reconciliation and mediation." It seems to be that forgiveness, charity, and an open heart are the basis for biblical reconciliation. Conversation would be a good start. And yes, the Windsor Report's Listening Process has never begun. How can the so-called Global South be so sure they're right and others are wrong, if they've never even listened? As my mother used to say, "you don't have to eat the vegetables, but you at least have to try them." Shouldn't that be true when it comes to people's lives? Shouldn't we at least listen before we condemn the views of others?
Because of the categorical rejection of the unanimously agreed Pastoral Scheme and the urgent needs of the growing number of congregations now linked to various Provinces in the Global South, we have had no choice but to provide additional episcopal oversight from the concerned Provinces. We believe that failure to do so would have resulted in many individuals and congregations lost to the Anglican Communion.
You have had a choice. Please do not use phrases like you "had no choice." While it is absolutely true that ECUSA has often failed to be accountable for its part in this mess, it would also be helpful if you Global South leaders could acknowledge honestly your complicity in the sinful division of the church. You are choosing division. Why can't you admit your part in this?

Then there is that last phrase, "lost to the Anglican Communion." Shouldn't we be concerned with being lost to the saving power of Jesus Christ? And if we are primarily concerned with the Anglican Communion, how does creating irregular jurisdictions (out of Communion with Canterbury) accomplish that goal?
We are aware of the anticipated visit by the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates and the ACC to the September meeting of the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church USA. Sadly we are convinced that this decision, made jointly by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Chair of the ACC, undermines the integrity of the Dar es Salaam Communiqué. We believe that the Primates Meeting, which initiated the request to the TEC House of Bishops, must make any determination as to the adequacy of their response. We strongly urge the scheduling of a Primates’ Meeting for this purpose at the earliest possible moment.
Fair enough. It is indeed the primates who should determine if their requests have been fulfilled. But what's the hurry? Wouldn't it be wise to wait until Lambeth happens?

The Primates' Meeting statements of 2005 and 2007, and the Windsor Report itself all use language that suggests a "new consensus" might emerge in the Communion. I remind the Global South leaders that the Communion consensus has changed on slavery, on women's ordination, on polygamy, and may change on other matters as well. How will we know if this happens if we don't look to the Lambeth Conference?
In regards to the proposed Lambeth Conference in 2008, we are concerned that the publicly stated expectations for participation have changed its character and function. It is now difficult to see it either as an instrument of unity or communion. At a time when the world needs a vision of reconciliation and unity, our failure to restore the ‘torn fabric’ of our Communion threatens to show the world a contrary example.
Let me get this right. The way to repair "torn fabric" is to walk apart? That seems to be an unlikely solution to a vexing problem.
It is impossible for us to see how, without discipline in the Communion and without the reconciliation that we urge, we can participate in the proposed conference; to be present but unable to participate in sacramental fellowship would all the more painfully demonstrate our brokenness. The polarization surrounding the Lambeth meeting has been exacerbated because we are also unable to take part in an event from which a number of our own bishops have been arbitrarily excluded while those whose actions have precipitated our current crisis are included.
Here the Global South once again demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of Anglican communion--that is, Communion for Anglicans. Any casual reading of Anglican history will reveal a view, established liturgically since the Elizabethan Comprehension and theologically since Richard Hooker, in which doctrinal unanimity is not required at the altar rail. People are of course to free to absent themselves from the Eucharist, but the presence of sinners should not be blamed. We are all, of course, sinners.
We have received requests from around the Communion to call a gathering of Anglican Communion leaders. We expect to call a Fourth Global South Encounter to bring together faithful Anglican leaders across the Communion to renew our focus on the apostolic faith and our common mission.
I shudder to imagine the resources that have been consumed in this fight to keep GLBT people out of the full participation in the church. What would our Communion be like if we had spent all that time and energy on evangelism and mission? What would our Communion be like if we had actual conversations (as opposed to shouting matches) with those with whom we disagree?

In all this, I do not excuse the American church. We have displayed a typically American hubris too often in all this, and sometimes the willful ignorance of the global perspective is shameful. When I was growing up, I learned that two wrongs do not make a right. That works both ways. Bad American behavior does not justify bad "Global South" behavior, and vice versa. Instead, the Gospel commands us to be loving, always. What if that were our ideal?

That's a good question with which to end this posting. What if God's love were our ideal?

"Global South" now just 25% Anglican

The so-called Global South leaders (meeting in London, oddly), have issued a statement. For the most part it's what one would expect: ECUSA and Canada are naughty, and so the Truth-bearers will continue to meddle and eventually intend to separate from the not-Anglican-enough Anglican Communion.

Some will take issue with my statement that they intend to separate from the Anglican Communion, preferring instead to imagine that they seek to implement the True Anglican Communion. However, +Rowan Williams is still the Focus of Unity, as far as I can see. Some of these bishops have publicly refused to receive Holy Communion when the Archbishop of Canterbury was presider. If you will not share communion with someone, then you have quite literally excommunicated yourself. Most of these dissident bishops do not intend to participate in the Lambeth Conference, and I predict they will also shun the ACC once their takeover plan (the Primates want to put their thrones around the ACC table, it seems) is rejected.

So, that makes the Anglican Communion scorecard read thusly for these dissident bishops:
  • Archbishop of Canterbury -- NO, suspicious and possibly liberal
  • Lambeth Conference -- NO, too much danger of conversation with progressives
  • ACC -- NO, too many lay people, too democratic, and too independent-minded
  • Primates' Meeting -- YES, nice and cozy consolidated power center
That's 75% no and 25% yes. I hope they'll find a path to come back. Any separation within the Body of Christ is tragic. But let us make no mistakes about who is Anglican and who is walking apart. Where Canterbury is, there is Anglicanism. Ipso facto.

18 July 2007

Commitments, Covenants, and teeth

Greg Jones+, over at the Anglican Centrist, says that a Covenant won't solve our problems. It would just treat the symptoms.
[A] valid question has been raised -- which says, "the existing instruments of unity and the way the Anglican Communion did its thing are good enough; why do we need new forms and structures?" The answer is -- because the Episcopal Church and various provinces in the Global South have not abided by them. I am sorry -- but the reason why we are in this mess today is because for many years some bishops and dioceses have simply not abided by the existing agreements and statements and affirmations they have committed to abide by. I am not suggesting that Lambeth Resolutions or Primates statements are 'juridically binding' , but I am suggesting that our leaders have in fact breached their word over the years. Consider, Jack Spong's theological works have been largely unrepudiated in any official capacity for many decades -- and yet they essentially undermine every theological affirmation he has vowed to uphold in his capacity as a bishop. Consider, Presiding Bishop Griswold agreed with the Primates in 2003 that the time was not right to move forward with new teachings and actions in the area of human sexuality -- and yet within the year he was consecrating Bishop Gene Robinson. Consider, the Global South coalition claim to be for Windsor, but they've been critical of it from the beginning, and have effectively repudiated it the entire time. Consider, within the Episcopal Church at present a significant number of clergy sworn to uphold the faith and order of the Episcopal Church flout various aspects of that faith and order every single Sunday (communion for the unbaptised for example) with no disciplinary action taken. Within the Episcopal Church are numerous clergy who simply do not respect the authority of their bishops, and do whatever they wish -- and little is done. In other words, for a long time, and across the spectrum, there have been a lot of folks essentially doing what was right in their own eyes regardless of vows, affirmations and commitments they have made.

So why would a new covenant do anything to stop that? It only could do so if it came with a set of teeth that would actually bring force to bear on those that go against the covenant terms.

The problem with sets of teeth that bite -- is that they can often take on their own purposes -- and assume a role both counter to their first purpose and perhaps, eventually, at odds with the very Spirit of Christ.

Perhaps what we need is not a new set of teeth, but a return to the idea that we already have made commitments and vows, and that for those who openly flout them, non-coercive but strong admonishment ought to be expected and forthcoming.
Is the Centrist correct? Do we need more admonishment? More clarity? Or is a Covenant a necessary part of the solution?

I for one think that we do need more accountability and more clarity in the Episcopal Church. That could take lots of forms, but the charges that we are often muddled and undisciplined have some merit. I'm not suggesting that Title IV prosecutions or a Covenant are the right answer, but let's at least admit that some tightening up here and there wouldn't hurt.

As a starting point, we could at the very least focus on mission and evangelism as if we believed the words we say every Sunday. We could follow the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer and the canons of the church, as all ordained persons have promised.

Building a vibrant, inclusive church will require many things. I don't think it requires a Covenant. I do think it requires more clarity than we often see today.

Biblical morality -- are we certain?

Writing for Ekklesia, Savi Hensman reflects on the Dallas Statement and its aftermath. Remember the Dallas Statement from 1997, with its focus on Christian moral reasoning and sexual morality? It was a strong statement. Here's the bottom line: "It is not acceptable for a pro-gay agenda to be smuggled into the church's programme or foisted upon our people and we will not permit it."

Hensman wonders if perhaps the Dallas Statement (and conservatives since then) might be filled with "false certainty." Might it be that the Bible itself is more nuanced that some have allowed? Here's a sample:

But where in Genesis are the generational families which set an example of how healthy human relationships are formed? Presumably Adam, Eve, Cain and Abel do not fit the bill? Indeed, how many such family units are there? Is not care of the widow, orphan and stranger – those outside the protection of the usual family structures – repeatedly emphasised?

While men and women both contribute to society, does this imply that everyone should be in a heterosexual relationship, and if so why? Does this apply to Jesus? What of those who are ‘eunuchs’ for the sake of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19.10-12)?

Indeed, I would have thought the Gospels would be shocking to anyone who puts too much value on advancing the interests of their family (nuclear or extended). Might it not seem irresponsible to abandon home, family and fields (Mark 10.28-31)? Does not following Christ involve ‘hating’ one’s family and taking up the cross (Luke 14.25-27)? Presumable Jesus’ own crucifixion did not exactly advance his nieces’ and nephews’ prospects of socially and economically advantageous marriage!

What may seem obvious to some Christians may seem far from obvious to others. Difficult though I may sometimes find it to be in a church with people whose views are very different from mine on a number of matters, I can benefit from having to think more deeply; likewise they may gain something too.

There are grave risks in imposing a framework for discipline based on the ‘clear’ teaching of the Bible which may not be so clear to many people! Uncertainty may be hard for some to bear, but a false certainty may be worse.

This is a good exercise, and we progressives need to open our Bibles more frequently as we're talking with conservatives. Too often we've retreated to the safe ground of "justice" and "rights" and "the Holy Spirit." I think those grounds are well and good, but we should also be willing to engage in a scriptural conversation.

Who among us will admit to the possibility of false certainty? Before we progressives demand this relaxation from conservatives, are we ourselves ready to enter the conversation openly -- also prepared to admit the possibility that we might be wrong on dearly held principles?

(Thanks to not too much for the link.)

16 July 2007

Show me the money

Four retired ECUSA bishops have written an open letter to the Executive Council, asking to see an accounting of the cost of litigation related to property disputes. This is important, these bishops say, "especially in view of the fact that the program budget is being reduced because insufficient funds are being received from dioceses."

If you get past the bitter language of the letter, the point seems fair. It is important to know the extent to which ECUSA resources are being used in this struggle, and the source of the funding. I hope the Executive Council or folks at 815 will answer the request.

The open letter was sent to the HOB/D email list, and then posted all over the blogosphere. Since I don't read the HOB/D list, I don't know how the discussion has gone. My hope is that this is an easy question to answer, and that someone will answer it quickly.

On this blog, I regularly point out the extent to which this "crisis" is driven by clergy -- usually on the conservative side of things. The conservative folks often claim that 815 is acting in a draconian manner, especially toward those who are leaving the Episcopal Church. Is this primarily a diocesan struggle? A local struggle? A national struggle? Getting the facts out there will dispel anxiety. I suspect that not much money has been spent at 815 on this, but it would be good to know that, if it's true.

Keeping England...Anglican?

The usual justification for creating parallel jurisdictions in the US is that ECUSA has deviated from "authentic" Anglicanism, and the poor downtrodden faithful must be protected by authentic bishops from authentic provinces in the Communion.

In that context, I heard an interesting rumor recently. According to my source, one of the so-called Global South primates is about to set up shop in England. Apparently, the Church of England isn't Anglican enough now -- despite having a cadre of pure, flying bishops. Moreover, the first of these new bishops, with Authentic Global South Anglican Truth (tm) is to be Chris Sugden.

A few things are worth noting here. First, I don't think +Rowan Williams is going to like it much when these people invade his home turf. He already seems annoyed with +Peter Akinola's US incursion, and an ordination in London will not go over well, I predict. Second, this reveals the absurdity of labeling some province un-Anglican. I remind everyone that the very definion of the Anglican Communion is communion with the See of Canterbury. So if we're going to have irregular ordinations to care for people in Canterbury's back yard, because... Well, the mind starts to ache. Third, I think Chris should wear the magenta-purple, not just the plain purple. Having met him in Dar es Salaam, I think that shade will look better on him.

Is this rumor true? Time will tell. If it is, remember that the story broke here, in this remote outpost of blogospheria Anglicana. The very fact that this is even a (somewhat) credible rumor speaks volumes about where we are as a Communion. Notice again, it is not really the progressives who are imperiling the unity of the Communion. We're at five parallel jurisdictions and counting in the US, and we could be on the way to who-knows-how-many in England (plus flying bishops). Despite all the claims, almost everyone on the left side of the church is happy for the other side of the aisle to be full too. I just don't think the right side of the aisle wants to sit in the same church with us, so they're going to make a new one. And a new one. And another new one...

If this keeps up, the Mad Priest will have trouble satirizing episcopal hijinks.

UPDATE: As I just wrote in a comment on another blog: "For the record, a few people have contacted me to say that this rumor appears to be just that, after have done some digging. My point remains: our attendance at the Theatre of the Anglican Absurd is confirmed by the fact that people actually had to make phone calls to check on the possibility that Africans might be invading Cantuar's turf. Sigh."

And the church goes on...

I've been almost silent on this blog for around a month. At the beginning of June, I began a new cure, and the parish I'm now serving has been consuming most of my waking hours -- getting to know people, solving immediate problems, and attending to all the joys and sorrows of life for a parish community.

During this time, much has happened in the Anglican Communion. A couple more parallel jurisdictions have emerged in the US, and there are to be (yet) more bishops here. The Canadian synod met, and they sent messages that some interpreted as contradictory, but which made sense to this observer (Paraphrase: "We think this sexuality stuff is not core doctrine, but we're not quite ready officially to leap ahead of most Anglicans on the issue."). +Peter Akinola gave Ruth Gledhill an interview full of astonishingly revealing statements. Rwanda says it's not going to Lambeth. The ECUSA Executive Council met and gave more indications that the US will not be managed by a council of foreign prelates.

Much more than that happened. This was just a sample to prove that I missed out on commenting on all manner of "important" things. I had been feeling some guilt about neglecting this blog, having been so busy with the parish. But then I realized there's a lesson in all this.

For all the talk about a massive crisis in the church, the goings-on of the Anglican Communion are simply not as important as the every day struggles of faithful people, trying to lead faithful lives. When a grieving family contacts the church, they don't care what +Henry Orombi thinks about Anglicanism or whether CANA and the ACN will patch things up. When I met with parents to talk about baptism for their child, not one person asked me for my views on same-sex blessings. People expect me to climb into the pulpit every week and proclaim the Good News. They don't really want to hear a polity lesson or a rehearsal of the "bad news."

So the next time I hear someone say this or that is tearing apart the church, I'm going to be more irritated than usual. I'll ask, "Exactly how is it that +Gene Robinson is tearing the fabric f the Communion?" "How can it be that +Martyn Minns is ruining the church?" There is a crisis only in the minds of a few overly anxious people, in the pens of reporters eager to sell newspapers, in the keystrokes of some obsessed bloggers (yours truly among them, sometimes), and in the preaching of some clergy who might benefit from being a bigger fish in a smaller pond. But to most people, most of the time, there is just the church.

We owe it to our members to get back to being the church. We owe it to the world to start worrying more about salvation than about polity, more about evangelism than about fear. We could do well to remember the Gospel reading for today (at least here in the US). Jesus reminds us that following him is really about two things. We should love God with our whole being, and we should love everyone here on earth. When we start working on that, there won't be much time left over for this "crisis."

05 July 2007

Covenant proposals and extra-Provincial Bishops

The growing number of bishops created by African provinces for “pastoral oversight” in North America (and potentially in other provinces), the attempts to create a Covenant that defines Anglican doctrine and ethics, and the apparent intention to organise an alternative to the Lambeth Conference in London next year all point towards one thing. The strategy to destabilise the Anglican Communion is moving into another phase.

The creation by the provinces of Uganda, Kenya and Nigeria of extra-provincial Bishops is against the expressed wish of the Windsor Report and the post Lambeth ’98 process of listening and reconciliation. It is more evidence that the Primates of those provinces and their supporters in the US and Britain profoundly misunderstand the nature of the Communion. We very much regret that the Chair of the Covenant Design Group, the Archbishop of the West Indies, has welcomed these appointments.

Inclusive Church’s aim is to support and celebrate the traditional breadth and generosity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as it has been received and passed on through Anglican history and lived out in the Communion. This creates challenges when there are fundamental disagreements. But the way to respond to disagreements is not to walk apart, nor to create separate structures, nor to seek to impose one particular point of view on the Communion. It is to engage, to communicate, to speak, to listen and to learn.

Clearly there are outstanding issues over how the Communion should respond to the reality that many Provinces include lesbian and gay Christians who live with partners in loving, faithful relationships. But the extraordinary way in which this issue has been allowed to dominate the life of the Communion over the past ten years is not coincidence.

There can be little doubt that the issue is being used by some, mainly conservative, Christians as a lever to try to change the Communion into something it is not; from a conciliar church into a confessional one. From a praxis-based Communion where the bonds between us are the bonds of fellowship and love to a codified Communion where exclusions are legally determined and legally enforced, and where the Communion defines itself not by who it includes but by who it excludes.

The Covenant process has been moved, by this group, away from its original intention which was to affirm the bonds of fellowship which exist. The way in which the draft was received by some at the Primates meeting in Tanzania is indication that, whatever the intention, it will be used to enforce a particular interpretation of the Scriptures to the detriment of the life of the Communion. We do not need a Curia, and the process of drafting a Covenant is already giving more power to the Primates than is justified by our history, by our life and by some of their actions to date.

Hard cases make bad laws. We wish to see, urgently, greater understanding between provinces, and we can see the value of a Covenant which enables this to happen . But the proposed draft before us is likely to be an instrument of further division, not unification. Some of our structures may need reform – but it is already clear that this Covenant process is unlikely to help.

The suggestion of an alternative “not the Lambeth Conference” is, simply, sad. Those who suggest it are walking away from the possibility of dialogue. The suggestion has little to do with dealing with our post-imperial past, and little to do with ensuring that particular voices are heard. It has a great deal to do with power; and with the location of power in the Communion.

We call on those supporting these actions to recognise that there is more than one answer to the questions which face us. Resolution will be achieved only through mutual respect and communication, and an acknowledgement that different views are sincerely held by faithful and loyal members of the Communion.

Inclusive Church is deeply committed to continuing the debate over these questions.
The Anglican Communon has faced problems before and moved through them. With God’s help, we will again.

Giles Goddard Chair, IC

5th July 2007