The conservative wing of the Anglican blogsphere has been all atwitter for the past few days [once again, I haven’t mastered the embedded hyperlink thing yet, but google “Stand Firm” if you’re curious] over whether the effect of the Camp Allen meeting is positive, neutral, or negative with respect to the future of Anglican Christianity in this country. I’ve already weighed in on the subject (see the post before last): I think it’s positive. It’s a small but solidly significant step in the direction of a reinvented Anglicanism that I think I’ll like better than the current version.
As a “Camp Allen Optimist,” trying to read the “Camp Allen Pessimists,” I note that one of the anxiety-riddled themes that comes up repeatedly is a disgust with the prospect of any involvement with the institutional structures of the Episcopal Church for one second longer than is absolutely necessary. Whether the impetus for disassociation comes at a diocesan level, as in my own diocese of San Joaquin and our still-standing request for Alternate Primatial Oversight, or at a more local level, as in the case of Windsor-sympathetic parishes in Windsor-resistant dioceses, there is a pervasive sense that there will be no “winning back” the Episcopal Church through the regular constitutional and canonical processes. Consequently, why prolong the agony? Why do anything that will retard the process of initiating the new incarnation of American Anglicanism, leaving the Church-of-General-Convention to continue to wither into the statistically insignificant liberal protestant sect that seems to be its destiny?
I think there are some good reasons to put the brakes on any headlong rush to abandon the institutional structures of TEC. (Yes, the ability of the Church Pension Fund to make astonishing amounts of money no matter what the market conditions are, funds that eventually inure to the benefit of the clergy, is on my list of reasons, but pretty near the bottom.) But first, let me stipulate to the point that there is no long-term hope in TEC for American Anglicans who wish to be full constituent partners in the worldwide Anglican Communion. I hold no such expectation.
Nonetheless, I hope to remain an Episcopalian for a good long while yet, probably several years. My reasons fall into two broad categories: First, I want to let the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primates’ Meeting, the Lambeth Conference, and, in time, even the Anglican Consultative Council (yes, remember them? the Instruments of Unity?) take the lead and light the way for us. I’m not saying we should be totally passive and let others do everything on our behalf. It’s a delicate dance, and we have to take our part. But I get a little nervous when we act preemptively, or try to force someone’s hand. Those sorts of bold moves sometimes work, and sometimes they come back to bite us. This is a pretty high-stakes poker game we’re in here—a game, I might add, that seems to be trending in favor of those who take a traditional theological and moral stance—and we can’t afford too many wrong moves. When the Instruments of Unity give the word to jump ship, I’ll be in the water with everyone else. But I don’t want to get wet too soon. I want to make sure there’s a rescue vessel real close, and that it’s going to take me where I want to go, namely, a vibrant Catholic Anglicanism that is in full communion with the ancient See that is our ancestral connection to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship. In the meantime, I am willing, and believe it prudent, to tolerate some of the anomalies of life in our denomination until the kairos of God is fully evident.
Second, the same word from the Lord that chastened the prophet Elijah when he was all morose and self-pitying and wanted to die is, I think, a word to us as well. There are plenty of Episcopalians who have not bowed the knee to Baal. They’re all over the country, in every diocese. Some of them are naïve, and perhaps even misled, and are unaware of the dire straits the larger institution itself is in. Others have come to a good faith conclusion that the traditional sexual ethic needs to be revisited. I think they are profoundly mistaken, but I am not prepared to write them off as heretics and apostates. They are not my enemies; they are my friends. Most of them say the Creed enthusiastically without crossing their fingers. It is a mistake to tar them all with the broad brush of John Spong and Markus Borg and company. They honestly intend to be disciples of the same bodily-risen-from-the-dead Jesus whose disciple I endeavor to be. Many of them have extraordinarily disciplined devotional lives, and are exemplary in worship, service, and stewardship. Again, while I believe them to be in serious error, I have no reason to question their sincerity in any of this. They are brothers and sisters in Christ, baptized in the same water that gave me new birth, formed by the same sacred scriptures that shape my soul, and partaking regularly of the same sacred Body and Blood that are my spiritual sustenance. In the end, some will no doubt choose to remain on a sinking ship even as it goes down. For that I will grieve. But I cannot blithely turn my back on them in the meantime. Not if I believe what the Prayer Book says about the bond that God establishes in baptism being indissoluble.
So I pray for the virtues of patience and prudence, for myself and for others. One could surely do worse than to aspire to such things.