04 September 2007

Schism, revolution, or treason?

Chris Sugden+ has written a provocative piece over at Anglican Mainstream. In it, he attempts to recast the behavior of the secessionists as "revolution" rather than "schism." This piece seems to be a justification for Anglicans to ignore their ordination vows and align with extra-provincial bodies.

The piece ends on a quaint note: "The Communion will remain, but the form and the leadership will change just as the 13 American colonies remained, but their form and leadership changed." Who could argue with that? Isn't that the story? A band of idealistically pure leaders freed people from tyranny? Revolutions are not always so simple. Looking back from this vantage point, it would be possible to dismiss the flip side of revolutions. When they succeed, their leaders become revolutionary heroes. But when they fail, or when a coup plot is defeated, there are no heroes -- only traitors.

(Ordinarily, I would refrain from using inflammatory language like this. But Sugden's invocation of political metaphor invites a reply, and this reply seems to warrant the same metaphor.)

Let's look at a few bits of his argument. He begins:
Revolution in common parlance is an overthrow of the existing order. But when a wheel has completed one revolution, a point on its circumference has returned to its point of origin. And a revolution is a return to the beginning, a restoration.
Well, yes, I suppose. But the problem is that restoration depends on one's perspective. Progressives, for example, point to the "authentic" Gospel and say that their inclusion of all people is a return to faithful obedience to Christ's call. Mormons claim to have restored the true Christian church. What bits are we restoring, and what bits aren't we restoring? No, this "wheel" language is a red herring. We're really talking about an overthrow of the existing order. Anything else is an attempt to candy-coat what's happening.
Archbishop Orombi of Uganda has said "However we come to understand the current crisis in Anglicanism, this much is apparent: The younger churches of Anglican Christianity will shape what it means to be Anglican. The long season of British hegemony is over."
Ah, yes, another favorite trope of the conservatives. The problem is that most of the money and many of the ideas are coming from the West. Looking at many of the photos of the "new missionaries," it's hard to see the end to Western hegemony. This "crisis" is as much an extension of American entitlement as it is a rejection of British imperialism.
In other words, the future is to be found in returning to the key Reformation and evangelical principles that are the strength and core of the Anglican expression of Christian faith.
Here again some unexamined ideas are trotted out and paraded as logical arguments. What are the essentials of Anglicanism dating from the Reformation? To be sure, I think many progressives greatly misunderstand the via media. But it's also true that conservatives fail to emulate the Elizabethan comprehension. First evidence: the proliferation of jurisdictions in the US, making a mockery of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. The English Reformation ushered in ideas of a church that would be catholic and reformed, informed by human reason and Holy Scripture. Mostly the English Reformation ushered in the idea that there would be one church, avoiding the then-understood excess of Rome and extreme of Geneva.
In other words, since the Archbishop of Canterbury has not provided for the safe oversight of the orthodox in the United States, he has forfeited his role as the one who gathers the Communion. This has become further obvious with the refusal of the invitation to the Lambeth Conference by the leaders of over half the Anglicans in the world and the questioning by some English bishops as to whether they will attend.
This is insulting to actual victims of all kinds. No "orthodox" person in the US is "unsafe." Uncomfortable, perhaps, but not unsafe. That distinction belongs to gay and lesbian people, to name one class, who are under threat of death and physical violence around the world, even within the US. Despite calls from the Windsor Report to shun violence and to provide pastoral care for gay and lesbian Christians, the conservative movement has stood by while people are beaten and killed, sometimes in Christ's name. So, please, do not claim that you're unsafe. It demeans victims, and it demeans you.

And what about the refusal "by the leaders of over half the Anglicans in the world" to attend Lambeth? Well, I wouldn't recommend that the conservatives count their proverbial chickens until they're hatched. +Akinola and +Orombi might stay home -- or attend a shadow conference in London -- but some of their bishops will be at the Lambeth Conference.

I continue to be baffled at the conservative insistence on preaching numbers as a measure of truth. Let's look at a few examples. The dioceses of Fort Worth, Quincy, and Pittsburgh (I picked three at random) are not exactly booming, as you might expect them to be, given the conservative love of citing statistics. For that matter, if they want to be on the "winning team," then it seems to me they'd need to become Roman Catholic, or Muslim, or even Mormon. Those groups have more impressive numbers than the Anglican Communion in terms of size or growth. Of course, the conservatives need to use those particular numbers because it's not so impressive to talk about the number of provinces who will actually shun Lambeth. We haven't seen that number yet, but it will be in the single digits.
So are we seeing a schism or a revolution? A long overdue development is taking place, namely that significant and meaningful leadership is now being given in the Anglican Communion by Christians from Africa and Asia. This is being expressed in the very practical issues of first determining to stand by the teaching of the Communion; secondly refusing to attend a dumbed-down Lambeth Conference which will not address this issue decisively and which will include those who have deliberately defied that teaching; and thirdly by providing the orthodox oversight that orthodox Anglicans are requesting.
I'll agree that leadership from outside Europe and North America is desperately needed and long overdue. I welcome the increased global engagement that this "crisis" has planted. But what about the rest? What is the "teaching of the Communion?" If the reference is to Lambeth 1.10 from 1998, then surely one must also look at previous Lambeth resolutions to note that the "teaching of the Communion" has changed on all manner of issues. There simply is no tradition of establishing settled teaching at Lambeth, as much as that must frustrate some people. Even on the issue of human sexuality, one can see a change from 1978 through 1988 to 1998.

As for a "dumbed-down" conference, I'll remind anyone to read history. While previous Lambeth Conferences have passed resolutions, the presenting crisis for the very first Lambeth Conference in 1867 was not the primary topic of its resolutions. Instead, the bishops mostly focused on their common interests and beliefs. The 2008 Lambeth Conference may not spend most of its time focusing on legislation or on the topic at hand, but that practice would be a return to its origins, the activity of the wheel of revolution, of which you are so fond. Finally, the notion that orthodox Anglicans have not had adequate oversight suggests only that adherents to this idea do not grasp the catholicity of the church. The day we begin to establish a new see every time we don't like our bishop is the day we have utterly lost our catholicity. And that, my friends, would be a real revolution.

I return to Sugden's political metaphor. Is this "schism" or "revolution" or "treason"? Time will tell. I can say only that bishops, priests, and deacons throughout the Anglican Communion have taken ordination vows, often to uphold the disciple of the church. To go about setting up innovative parallel jurisdictions, and to fan the flames of crisis with those who merely want to worship in their congregations on Sundays is to ignore the discipline (the unity, the rule of law) of the church. To imagine that it's OK to walk away from the church and take its property is to contemplate the idea that whatever I give to the church still belongs to me, and that is not only a misunderstanding of catholic Christianity, it's poor stewardship.

When you're busy undermining the structures of the church, ignoring solemn vows, and scheming to remove property, I invite you to at least contemplate the possibility that there is another side to every story, including revolutions. That said, I do not think that Chris Sugden is a traitor. I imagine that he is acting in good faith, trying to reform the church that he must love dearly. But just as I am certain he is not a traitor, I am also certain he is not a heroic revolutionary leader.

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