Thursday, February 08, 2007

Bad Moon Rising

I see the bad moon arising.
I see trouble on the way.

I see earthquakes and lightnin.

I see bad times today.

I was never a Creedence Clearwater fan, but their music was ubiquitous in my college environment (in the neighborhood of 35 years ago), so I imprinted on it. For some reason, as I survey the state of things Anglican today, this song came to mind. It doesn't so much describe my own mood as the collective angst that is out there less than a week ahead of next meeting of the 38 Anglican Primates.

It's been a fairly active news day. Lord Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury and immediate predecessor to the incumbent, spoke yesterday at Duke University. He is realistic about the challenges that confront Anglicanism, and cognizant of the very real possibility that things will shortly spin completely out of control, and for this reason counsels perseverance in staying connected: "The duty of leaders is to stay at the table, contributing to the debate as long as it takes. The imperative of unity in fact requires all Anglican leaders to desist from threats to withdraw, or refusing to talk to others."

The Bishop of Winchester--fifth in seniority in the English hierarchy, a personal friend of Rowan Cantuar, and a sort of archepiscopal legate to the first meeting of the "Camp Allen bishops" last September--weighed in with his own advice to the Primates:

I hope that the ABC and at least a clear majority of his colleagues will recognise and support the Windsor-compliant bishops and dioceses of the TEC as a “college” of bishops, still formally within TEC but commissioned by the Primates both to hold together their own life (including by appropriate means that of the three Forward in Faith dioceses currently threatened with extinction by TEC) and to offer episcopal ministry to “Windsor-compliant” parishes in Dioceses whose bishops are unsympathetic to them.

This is not earth-shattering, and it isn't something we haven't heard before, but to have it be reiterated at this point in the development of events is significant.

Then came the news that the Church of Nigeria held a one-day synod, and issued a statement confirming their commitment to the position articulated some months ago by CAPA, the caucus of African Primates--a position that is not inclined to compromise at all with the regnant leadership of the Episcopal Church.

Lower on the food chain, blogster Sarah Hey of Stand Firm offered a grimly bleak assessment of the Anglican future in response to Lord Carey's remarks. And lower still, a posting your humble servant made to his diocesan blogsite Surrounded two days ago caught a good gust of wind and drew some fire--both hostile and friendly--all day yesterday.

This whole process continues to challenge and refine my thinking. The result is that I find myself drawn more and more into the core of those verities that Michael Ramsey of blessed memory, the 99th Archbishop of Canterbury (Dr Williams is the 103rd, Lord Carey the 102nd), explicated so beautifully in his classic The Gospel and the Catholic Church. Some 75 or so years later, it continues to be a compelling and imaginative sythesis of the Evangelical and Catholic pillars of Anglican faith and practice, demonstrating how the "Catholic truths" of order and sacrament are not in tension with but arise organically from the "Evangelical truths" of grace and faith.

Unfortunately, even though Ramsey was able to reconcile the two streams, latter day Anglicans are having to settle for holding them in an uneasy tension. In recent years, Evangelicals and Catholics have effectively made common cause in the face of the onslaught of the degradation of theological integrity in many of the first-world Anglican provinces, especially the Episcopal Church. I dare say, however, that Evangelicals are having the more difficult time in this present darkness because, as I have said before, their ecclesiology is not up to the task.

At the risk of over-generalizing, Evangelicals understand the institutional church as an assenbly of like-minded individuals who each have a personal relationship with God in Christ and come together for worship and mutual support and encouragement. It is a voluntary association. When that association fails to meet the needs of the individuals, for whatever reason, there is very little to hold it together. This is how Sarah Hey puts it at the end of her elegy to Anglicanism:

As a matter of integrity, of course one should not be a member of an organization, entity, religious institution, or body if that body holds core, foundational beliefs antithetical to one's own.

From one perspective, there is some element of truth in her statement, but the terms she uses are telling:'s own. This is a very "private" view of the Church. It cannot sustain the stress emanating from a situation in which an entire church--the Episcopal Church--has been taken over by internal forces that are antithetical to its own nature. In my post on Surrounded I used the image of a kidnapping or hijacking victim. Upon further reflection, perhaps cancer is a more appropriate metaphor because it attacks from within. The Episcopal Church has a tumor, and that tumor is rapidly metastasizing. In an Evangelical ecclesiological paradigm, surgery is the only option. But the disease is clearly inoperable. Time to put the patient on hospice care.

But this is not, I hope, the only way of looking at what faces us. Most cancer victims will tell you that they get irritated when other people define them by their disease. "I am who I am. I may have cancer, but cancer does not have me!" they might say. Well, the Episcopal Church is not Katharine Jefferts Schori and her impoverished soteriology and christology. The Episcopal Church is not the theological and liturgical nonsense of Enriching Our Worship and the other atrocities of the SCLM. The Episcopal Church is not Gene Robinson or John Spong or Integrity. The Episcopal Church is my parish, and hundreds of others like it, where God is worshiped in a straight Prayer Book liturgy, the gospel is preached and taught in its scandalous fullness, community is formed and resources galvanized for bearing witness is word and deed to the inbreaking Kingdom of God.

Why should we define the body by the disease that it has?

A Catholic ecclesiology can more resiliently respond to the stresses of contemporary Anglicanism because it has an organic--somatic, actually--understanding of what the Church is. It is a family into which one is born, not an organization which one joins. In this view, there is much less of a rush to get out of Dodge just because the crazy wing of the family is running the town presently. The parable of the wheat and the tares is taken seriously. Harvest time approaches. God will do the separating. On this general theme, I highly recommend a careful read of this interview with Ephraim Radner. It is long, but worth the investment of time and energy.

Of course--getting back to the cancer analogy--the patient may die. If that happens, we will need to find a new "body." Or perhaps we can clone one from the DNA of the old one--free of the disease that killed it. In the meantime, putting the Episcopal Church on DNR status is one thing. Active ecclesiastical euthanasia in another.

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