Sunday, April 15, 2007


I have this quixotic obsession with being a facilitator (well...a disciplinarian, actually) of process--particularly, the process of complex communication. Maybe it comes with my INTJ personality profile. It seems like I'm always the one who articulates an emerging consensus in a group discussion, or defines the lack of one. I accept the reality that people are always going to disagree, and that the church is no exception to this rule. I have a passionate commitment to such reconciliation and harmony as may be possible, but I'm pragmatic about my expectations. Yet, if people are going to disagree, I bloody well want to make sure it's for good reasons rather than stupid reasons; i.e. because they actually disagree and not because of misperceptions or a breakdown in...uh...communication.

Anyway, these are tense times in the process of communication between U.S. Anglicans. (Duh!) For whatever it may be worth, I find myself fighting a two-front battle, taking hits from both the right and the left. I claim no virtue for that position; it just is. I'd make a terrible politician. I have no inner demagogue to which I can give free rein. I can usually sympathize with more than one side to a question; though, in the midst of that ambiguity, I can also maintain a commitment to what I believe to be the truth. Many of my liberal opponents see me as less vituperative than other conservatives, for which I am grateful--not, I hope, because I have an inordinate need for acceptance, but because I have a genuine desire to be reasonable, charitable, and irenic. Still, I have taken my share of bile from the left. At various times, I been branded a "bigot," a "nazi," and a "neo-Puritan." (Yes, can you believe this Catholic being called any form of Puritan? That's pretty rich.)

At the same time, and perhaps precisely because not all on the left hate my guts, I'm frequently treated with a degree of suspicion by some of my fellow conservatives. They constantly fear that I've gone squishy, perhaps even as a prelude to defecting. I feel pretty safe in saying that if I'm going to be having any clandestine nocturnal meetings to discuss asylum, it's going to be with representatives of the See of Rome, and not with the avatars of mainstream Episcopalianism. But, to tell you the honest truth, I don't plan on going anywhere!

So, my latest jag on communication--or, more accurately, the abuse thereof--is about self-pandering. Scoring cheap rhetorical points by playing to the home crowd. Letting an ostensible concern for truth or justice mask self-righteousness or self-serving behavior that short-circuits the organic and natural development of events. It happens on both sides.

The favorite catchword of Episcopalian liberals these days is polity. After the Dar es Salaam communique, it was widely argued that the Primates, because they addressed their concerns only to the bishops, just don't understand our polity. The House of Bishops nixed the Pastoral Council/Primatial Vicar scheme because it supposedly conflicts with the polity of the Episcopal Church. This is not only balderdash, it is hypocritical balderdash. Within the constitution and canons of the Episcopal Church, the bishops--both individually and collectively--are entirely capable of responding to the conditions laid out by the Primates, both with respect to the PC/PV plan--which could be fully implemented by scarcely even bending, let along violating, our "polity"--and the requested assurances about episcopal consents and same-sex blessings, about which they have not yet officially spoken. They just don't want to! But rather than simply saying that they don't want to, they hide behind protestations of their hands being tied by polity.

And here's why it's hypocritical: If our constitution and canons are the bases of our polity, then why has not every bishop in whose diocese congregations openly invite unbaptized persons to receive Holy Communion had a presentment filed against them? Why has not every rector who uses the miracle of word processing software to emend Prayer Book texts to fit various regnant ideologies, and all without so much as an asterisk in the service leaflet, been inhibited by his or her bishop? When canons are invoked selectively and prejudicially, then the entire process of canonical enforcement is robbed of its integrity.

I could go on about the staggering level of denial that is rampant regarding the level of damage already caused by conservative defections from TEC, and the ruthless, short-sighted, and simply vicious approach to property disputes exhibited by '815,' but this is enough for one late night.

Of course, I have some friendly fire to direct toward my own side of the divide as well. Here the issue is broad-brush polemic that attempts to justify bailing on the institution of TEC by naming it as rotten to the core, full of heretics and apostates, and in the on-deck circle for the grapes of wrath. Our opponents have efficiently milked the ill-considered language of one individual who appeared on the DVD made from last year's ACN-sponsored "Hope & A Future" conference in Pittsburgh, which stated fairly baldly that the Episcopal Church has forsaken Christ, Christianity, and the gospel, and has, in fact, become a counterfeit of itself. Such rhetoric effectively rallies the troops. The only problem is, it's just not true.

I hold to what hope to think is a fairly traditional position (albeit toward the Catholic end of the spectrum, of course), which is that the teaching of a church is to be judged according to its official formularies, particularly its liturgical formularies. Those of us who are still in TEC use the 1979 BCP, I presume, so we can stipulate--not to its perfection, or perhaps even to its excellence (though I do think it is the most excellent example of its genre)--but to its essential orthodoxy. Of course, in many places, certainly in the dioceses that surround my own, there is widespread emendation of Prayer Book texts at a parochial level in ways that vitiate this orthodoxy. But the clear fact is that such practices are wholly uncanonical, unconstitutional, and therefore a violation of the discipline and worship (to say nothing of the doctrine) of ... what? ... of the Episcopal Church! The ubiquity of invitations to the unbaptized to receive Holy Communion, again, is a categorical and unambiguous breach of the canon law of ... what? ... the Episcopal Church!

We can certainly accuse some (OK, many) of the leaders of TEC of selective and prejudicial enforcement of their own discipline; that much is obvious. But, trust me, I can point you to flat-out liberals ("progressives," as they style themselves) who vocally deplore these same practices as much as I do. For that matter, I can point you to flat-out liberals who are as annoyed as we are by the great majority of what proceeds out of the mouth of John Shelby Spong. I would wager that the majority of the members of Integrity say the Nicene Creed without crossing their fingers, and passionately believe every word of it.

I would invite those who use the rhetoric of division within the Body of Christ--by saying that what we're divorcing from is not really the Body of Christ any longer--to recall Abraham's intercession with Yahweh on behalf of the innocent bystanders who were hapless enough to reside in Sodom, and Yahweh's forbearance: If there were even as few as ten righteous men left in the city, he would desist from destroying it. I am in virtual daily contact with "righteous men" all over the Episcopal Church. Of course, there are hundreds of faithful laity and clergy in the other Network dioceses. But even beyond them, in "mainstream" dioceses, I can give you several places where the triune God is worshiped in spirit and in truth, where souls are fed and disciples are formed. And I can give you the names of real people who live and move and have their being in those places. Some of them (not all, not even most, but some) have what I believe to be mistaken convictions on certain vexed ethical questions, but they profess with their lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in their hearts that God raised him from the dead. These are real people. They are not abstractions. I feel wounded when they are dismissed as "Gomer."

End of rant. For now. Love to everyone.


Chuck Blanchard said...

Father Dan:

Thank you--both for the admonishment directed at my "side" in the current dispute within the TEC, and for the last paragraphs of your post.

I think that one reason that the liberals within the TEC think so highly of you is that you treat us in this debate as fellow Christians and not as neo-Pagans or heretics.

RFSJ said...

Fr. Dan -

Well and thoughtfully said!


Anonymous said...

I am very grateful for your blog, and your voice of reason in this miserable time for our church and our wider communion. Thank you, and God bless you.