Thursday, September 14, 2006

Anglicanism: Time for a Quantum Leap?

September is the "month of meetings" for Anglicans. This week it was a select group of bishops convened in New York at the behest of the Archbishop of Canterbury to see if they can get on the same page with respect to Alternate Primatial Oversight (APO, or "ALPO" if you wish to mock the notion). Next week it's a group of "Windsor-friendly" (i.e. conservative on the sex issues) bishops convened by the Bishop of Texas at his conference center near Navasota (Camp Allen), to see if they can speak with a united voice to the wider Anglican Communion, with the hope that they will be included in that communion, no matter what happens formally and institutionally to the Episcopal Church. After that, attention shifts offshore to a conclave of Global South primates, who are holding some pretty high cards in this ecclesiastical poker game. They seem to be running the table at the moment.

The New York meeting, by all accounts, failed. This would seem to raise the stakes for the Camp Allen meeting, and give the Global South primates even more aces to play.

I'm not smart enough to play the speculation game, but here's what I think is going on at a macro level: Anglican Christianity is in a state of unprecedented flux. We (I may as well own the fact that I am one) are in a constitutional crisis. And it's nothing new. We've been slowly but inexorably moving toward this moment virtually since Bloody Mary assumed room temperature and Elizabeth I acceded to the throne. The Elizabethan Settlement was inherently unstable, sort of like the early versions of Windows. Now we're into a system crash, XP doesn't seem to have the answer, and Vista hasn't been released yet.

The reason it feels like everything is crashing down on us suddenly is because the evolution of communication technology reached critical mass. The internet changed everything. The distribution of information has been democratized. That's a good thing. But it has also made us much more impatient, which is not so good. The classic virtue of Prudence, I fear, is in short supply. Another result of technology, of course, is globalization. We are now more aware of our differences, and more invested in a certain degree of uniformity. There has always been tremendous theological and spiritual diversity among Anglicans. We're just more aware of it now because it's more visible. So it bothers us more, which only ratchets up the general level of anxiety.

Liberals in the Episcopal Church, who have held the reins of power for several decades now, are loudly protesting the efforts of groups like the Anglican Communion Network (ACN), accusing them of subverting good order. They are marshalling resources with which to litigate over property as a steady stream of parishes depart TEC for other Anglican environs. "Long live the Constitution & Canons" is their battle cry.

They are simultaneously correct and clueless. (If I knew how to say that in Latin, I surely would!) Yes, good order is being subverted. Duh! To stretch an overworked metaphor, Shall we take a vote by orders before we rearrange the deck chairs? A new thing is emerging, and order gets subverted when major change--yea, a seismic shift--is in process. Anglicanism is reinventing itself. (If I weren't so well-schooled in Anglican humble understatement, I might be tempted to say that God is reinventing Anglicanism.) The Elizabethan Settlement has frayed past the point of being restitched. We need--and will, I believe, get, and sooner than we might think--a new constitutional basis. Not all who call themselves Anglicans today will like what emerges. It will be different than the informal bonds of affection that, along with Wippel's, have held us together in the past. It won't feel like our grandparents' Anglicanism. There will be more uniformity of faith and practice. Provincial autonomy will not trump interdependence. Structures of authority will be clearer.

In the meantime, we wait, sometimes patiently and sometimes with great anxiety. It's like watching a sculptor chip away at a block of marble. We trust that there's a work of art in there somewhere, but we can't see it yet, and that makes us really, really nervous because we desperately want to know what it's going to look like.

7 comments:

Donald R. Perschall+ said...

Hello Dan+

Congrats on the 'Blog' - looking forward to reading your work.

I believe you are quite right in saying that the 'sex-with-whoever-you-wish' crowd are clueless - and their leadership hasn't even gotten to the rearrangment of the deck chairs yet - they sre still busy arguing over 'shaken or stirred' - and they are are not going to understand until such time as TEC becomes another MCC in 'pretty clothes' and no one to pay for their folly.

Blessings. Don+

Anonymous said...

The New York meeting, by all accounts, failed.

Dan,
When a problem is discovered with an airplane during a preflight inspection, the plane fails...not the inspection. While I agree the NY meeting did not produce what many of us wanted [some final paper, agreement]it did show the depths of division in our part of the Anglican world. This may have been known to us in TEC looking for recognition...but now is known to ABC.
My best to your blog.

rowan said...

The Elizabethan Settlement and informal bonds of affection which you say are in some kind of free-fall seemed to work just fine until the conservatives didn't get their own way anymore. Real Anglicans would do what real Anglicans have done all along: They would leave GC and go home and pray and work towards different outcomes the next time around. That is what Anglicans do. Bishop-only meetings and end-runs around GC is not part of our polity. So, if you want to be in the Anglican Communion, I think all you have to do is show up. If you don't agree with the decisions of GC, then go home and pray and work for what you think is right. Surly even a bunch of bishops could grasp that. It seems pretty simple to me.
Linda McMillan
Austin, Texas

Dominick said...

Una rectus et ignarus...Together right and ignorant.

My declensions are probably way off, but I only took one year of Latin...and that was during my junior year in high school.

anyway, my little contribution to the blogosphere.

Dan Martins said...

Thank-you, Dominick. I think I'm going to amend your "Una" to "Simul" for the sake of parity with Luther's famous aphorism "Simul justus et peccatur" (simultaneously justified and sinful"). So liberal Episcopalians who are indignant about the disorder of current events are "Simil rectus et ignarus." Works for me. Will that fly, Latinists?

Jon said...

I am inclined to disagree with the guess that the Elizabethan Settlement has frayed past the point of being restitched, but I don't see that either the liberal or conservative camps have the tools necessary to do the stitching. This is because both sides don't seem to me to do a good enough job at letting the other people in the discussion really be Other. This isn't to deny that we have quite a bit in common as Christians, but the task of patching up the bonds of affection will probably be impossible if we don't take both connections and the otherness equally seriously.

Jon

Father Stephen Powers, SSC said...

Father Dan,

I hope you will let me use part of your blog, with attribution of course, in my forthcoming newsletter. I think You strike a faithful and reasoned balance.

With regard to the respondent (sorry, I can't remember the name) who suggested that we all play by the rules and try to influence the actions of General Convention.

The revisionists in TEC loudly tout that we are a representative organisation. Well, that's partly true.

Here's the other side of the story.

Here, in the Diocese of Southern Virginia, the estimates are that we are 60% revisionists (I don't call them liberals anymore) and about 40% conservatists or 'orthodox'. Yet, we elect 100% liberal deputations.

All you need is 50.1% majority to send a 100% deputation.

Therefore, as the Canons are set up, we are not a real representative legislative body.

Our Canons ensure that a minority viewpoint will NOT be expressed at General Convention. Is is any wonder that there is such a disconnect between what goes on at GC and the local parish; or that revisionists desperately wish to impose the rulings of GC by force?

Fr RSP+