Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Bishops in Denial

I already had at least two ideas for a blog post forming in my mind when the news broke that the House of Bishops has issued three very pointed "mind of the house" resolutions. So the more general and conceptual comments I was going to make about how we get along with one another as Anglicans in America will have to wait. What has come out of Camp Allen needs to be processed.

I'm officially disappointed, and even a little bit surprised. Not a lot, but some. Two days ago (most recent post before this) I wrote about the Primatial Vicar scheme being "under the radar." Well, it's now very much on the screen. The bishops have "acquired the target" and fired their missiles. They don't like the PV idea one bit, and they've urged the Executive Council not to cooperate with the scheme in any way.


There we have it.

I've had occasion to visit Camp Allen four times. The food is really quite good, and I didn't notice any problems with the air quality--except, perhaps, around the horse stables. Ah, that must be where the purple shirts have been hanging out, because their cognitive and reasoning abilities seem to be impaired.

The bishops are apparently under the impression that the Primates' plan is a proposal thrown out there for discussion, and subject to amendment. I can be a little obtuse at times, but I've read it, and read it again, and darned if I can't find a way to make it say anything of the sort. The recommendations appended to the Dar es Salaam communique simply describe what the Primates, collectively (and therefore including the primate of the Church-of-General- Convention) will do. It doesn't ask anybody's approval or assent.

One of the key players required to make it work is the Presiding Bishop. She is expected to do two things. The first is to appoint two members of the five-person Pastoral Council. This is the first and great requirement. And the second is like unto it: Delegate her primatial authority over the participating dioceses and congregations to the Primatial Vicar whom the Pastoral Council appoints. (Presumably this would include such things as making canonical visitations, implements disciplinary procedures and presentments against bishops, taking order for the consecration of bishops, and, of course, getting prayed for by name on a regular basis.) On these two requirements hang both the letter and the spirit of what the Primates envision. Now, Dr Jefferts Schori was in Tanzania. She participated in the formulation of the communique. I know the negotiations were tough, and that they didn't exactly go her way, but she did sign the document, and while some might surmise that she has damned it with faint praise, she had not, as far as I can tell, sought to distance herself from it.

I find it somewhat curious that the "mind of the house" resolution regarding the PV plan is addressed to the Executive Council. It should have been addressed to Katharine. The ball is going to be in her court, not Council's. I guess it will be interesting, then, if she now decides to take cover behind these new HOB resolutions, and decline to do her part. It's not impossible, I suppose. but it would permanently eviscerate any credibility she may have in the larger Anglican world.

The other principal actor in the PV scheme is a subset of the HOB--namely, the "Windsor" bishops, a group of 20-25 diocesans who have met together twice and committed themselves to order the life of their dioceses to conform to the Windsor Report. Here is where one would wish to be a fly on the wall in the Camp Allen meeting room where this got debated and voted on. The majority has spoken, but are the minority going to roll over? Or are they going to step up and do the responsible thing for the future of American Anglicanism? To be sure, it will take courage and resolve. Whatever is left of the old clubbishness of the house will be severely compromised by the Windsor group following the lead of the Primates rather than that of their colleagues in the house, who have now spoken formally and unambiguously. That's a hard one.

I am among a dwindling number of conservative ("reasserter") Episcopalians for whom the best case scenario involves everyone who is, or has recently been, formally connected with the Church of General Convention remaining so, in some way. But it order for that to happen, some of those who hold power will have to share it, and some of those who hold authority will have to lay it aside. There is simply no other option. And despite what I can only assume are honorable intentions on the part of bishops and Executive Council members and leaders of the House of Deputies, nobody is loosening their grip. The resolutions passed by the bishops today represent another blown opportunity. This breaks my heart, because the day when I will personally be forced to make an agonizing choice approaches that much more rapidly as a result.

What amazes me about our bishops, speaking of them collectively--but also about others within the power structure of "this church"--is how seemingly out of touch they are with the obvious "on the ground" political environment in which they are operating. They labor on behalf of their convictions and ideals. That is commendable. But they seem clueless about their spatial and temporal environments. Their statement has the chutzpah to say that, regardless of what the Primates or even Rowan himself does, they are confident of their "full communion" with the See of Canterbury. This is pure fantasy. The bishops are in terminal denial. Anything they are proposing is way too little way too late. Some claim that it is only a small minority who are fomenting a spirit of crisis and abetting division. That may once have been true, but it is no longer. The church is disintegrating under their feet, and they are hastening the process.

Two small items cannot go un-remarked on: Reason #3 for rejecting the PV plan talks about "our own liberation from colonialism" that led to the formation of the PECUSA. What? A liberation from colonialism usually has to do with an indigenous people taking back control of their destiny from a society that has roots in foreign invasion or conquest. If the Iriquois Nation had sent those who had immigrated from Britain, along with their descendants, back to the old country, that would have been liberation from colonialism. But nothing of the sort happened. And Reason #4 talks about the "emancipation of the laity" being threatened? What the heck is that about? When were the laity ever enslaved? These are just two very strange ingredients in an already very strange recipe.


Anonymous said...


You wrote, "The resolutions passed by the bishops today represent another blown opportunity. This breaks my heart, because the day when I will personally be forced to make an agonizing choice approaches that much more rapidly as a result."

Thank you for putting into words my unspoken emotions.

Anonymous said...

All I can say in response to this well-reasoned analysis is:



Anonymous said...

The time is NOW.

Today is the Acceptable day - indeed, today is the last day.

Chose Now whom you will serve: Christ or ECUSA.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Martins,

With respect to "our own liberation from colonialism": Without any further discussion on the part of the authors, I do not see how it can be interpreted as anything other than an expression of how politicized the authors of the resolution have become. It is reminiscent of the sort of pap that is routinely spoken by Marxists, and other left-leaning intellectuals, who appear to be: first, completely divorced from, and misguided about, the reality of daily life, and, second, thoroughly indoctrinated into a form of nominalism--such that by naming something (whether good or evil) they make it so.

Thank you for sharing your analysis.

Frair John said...

So sorry the Bishops didn't place TEC's neck out to be steped on.

They stood up to another set of unreasonable demands. For once they put the ball right where it belongs: With the boundery crossing Donatist Archbishop of Abuja.

Anonymous said...

Well said, Frair [sic] John! I mean, if you don't build the Episcopal version of the Berlin Wall, some of those bigoted orthodox might take up with the uppity Nigerians!

Then you have to ask yourself (or rather, you would if you weren't a Piskie bishop insulated from reality), why do all of those people want to leave TEC?


Unknown said...

Dan thank you for your solid analysis!! My heart breaks as well.

Frair John said...


I see people joining TEC.
And people want to leave because God's Own Country Club isn't what they thought it was.
BTW - I resent your implication of racism. My feeling twords +Akinola aren't based on race, they are based on a Donatist claiming to be "orthodox."

Anonymous said...

Um, I don't see why you think that the HOB failed to understand the primates' plan. They understood it all right, and they simply rejected it.

Let's not get into the liberal trap of thinking that those who disagree with us must fail to understand our position (so that more "listening" will always lead to agreement). There's a real disagreement here, both sides have stated their positions quite clearly, and both will have to act on their own positions.

As for colonialism, I assume that was referring to our decision to have SS consecrated in Scotland, because we weren't willing to have our new bishop take an oath of allegiance to the King.

Marshall Scott said...


I might agree with your view of both the Tanzania and Dromantine communiques if the issues of other issues had been addressed first - say, ecclesiology (the appropriate balance of participation of bishops and laity in the life of the Church) or Scripture (the proposed Communion-wide discussion of hermeneutics) - on a Communion-wide basis, or if the Covenant process had been followed first. The position taken in the communiques, that regardless what "respect" may be due to provincial differences, one province has been singled out for immediate "remediation."

I disagree with your perspective that the bishops are in denial. Just as I hva come to believe the Primates do indeed understand our polity (and are convinced it needs to be changed), I believe the bishops do know the environment, and have realistic expectations. They expressed a desire and a willingness to continue in the Communion, but acknowledged that they don't control the responses of others. I think they are also believe clearly that there is no accommodation that they can accept that will also be acceptable to the Steering Committee of the Global South Primates. They are not denying the consequences; they are willing to accept them.

I hope you are not forced to make an agonizing choice. The Lord has called us, you and I, when and where we are now. Some things I expect we agree on, and on some I expect we disagree. I hope we can still find a way to come together to the Lord's Table, neither ignoring or denying our disagreements, but recognizing that the Lord's call means more than those disagreements.

Marshall Scott said...

Martial Artist on "colonialism:"

The language of rejecting colonialism came first and several years ago from Archbishop Akinola. Perhaps at the time it might have been an opportunity to reflect together on similarities and differences in the histories of various provinces. Perhaps; but that has long since been lost.

The response of Anonymous on "colonialism" is, I think, correct, but significantly understated. The view of the Church of England in the early Episcopal Church in its first generations would not, I think, have been described as "bonds of affection." We grew back together, but it took a while, even after English bishops were legally permitted to ordain American bishops.