Thursday, June 14, 2007

Staying on the Canterbury Trail

This has been a newsier-than-usual day in the Anglipalian universe:

A. The Primate of Kenya announced the impending consecration of yet another American priest to serve as an expatriate (expatriate from Kenya, that is) bishop for American Anglicans disaffected from the Episcopal Church. Who's going to be next to add more letters to the increasingly thick alphabet soup? Uganda? Rwanda? Southeast Asia?

B. A British journalist (one with a reputation in some quarters for not always getting the details right, and drawing misleading inferences from such details as he has) broke a story about a nascent proto-province in North America that might encompass some (not all) the dioceses of the Network, possibly along with the AMiA, CANA, and some of the other "common cause partners," including, curiously, the Reformed Episcopal Church, which broke off from TEC some 135 years ago, primarily over the doctrine of baptismal regeneration (they were against it), which was and is strongly implied in the Prayer Book baptismal rites.

C. These two developments, of course, occur against the backdrop of the regular meeting of TEC's Executive Council, taking place in Parsipinnay, New Jersey (which, appropriately enough, is located within the bounds of the Diocese of Newark). They are working on responses to both the draft Anglican Covenant that is floating around and the February Primate's Communique that was hammered out in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. May I yet again--and yet again to no avail--question why they are answering somebody else's mail? The DeS communique was addressed to the House of Bishops, and to the House of Bishops only. In any case, the heads of the council members are, by all accounts that I have seen, still firmly planted in their accustomed position--that is, deeply in the sand.

I have neither the energy nor the acumen to parse all these events right now. Whatever I say would probably be rendered obsolete by tomorrow's news. I will only flag my deep concern over a trend that I see emerging, a trend that I find more troubling than anything else that has come down the road in my 30+ years as an Anglican. It's the rise of a "Who needs Canterbury?" attitude.

It is an attitude that is alive and well among the liberal Episcopal majority. Ever since the runup to last year's General Convention, there has been an unrelenting, if occasionally subtle, effort to position TEC, for PR purposes, as at the center of its own "international" communion. From bloggers to bishops, the intention has been expressed that, should the choice come down to continued full communion with the See of Canterbury by "throwing our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters under the bus," or doing without Canterbury, they will choose the latter. This attitude typifies the crux of the Anglican conflict between autonomy and interdependence. As a result of the American penchant for autonomy, the rest of the communion is being forced to more clearly define the nature of interdependence. They are doing so in ways that Americans tend to find annoying.

But today's events remind us that conservatives can play the same game. There seems to be an inexorable drive to circumvent the organic processes of the Anglican Communion, regulated--albeit informally and, one could say, haphazardly--by the Instruments of Unity, and confect a solution to our conflicts that the "instruments"--most palpably the Archbishop of Canterbury--will be asked to simply accept. Or not, as it may be. In which case--and here's where I break out into a cold sweat--there will effectively be civil war in the Anglican Communion, a schism that may not have the repercussions of the Great Schism of 1054, but which will be no minor tremor. We will be left with Canterburian and non-Canterburian Anglican churches. Only...will the latter actually be Anglican? Isn't communion with Canterbury of the esse of Anglican identity? Or is it only the bene esse...or, perhaps the plene esse?

Frankly, I find such a spectacle horrific in the extreme. The prospect of choosing between a Canterburian Anglicanism that is "ecclesiologically correct" but otherwise theologically and spiritually vacuous, and a non-Canterburian Anglicanism that is creedally orthodox and spiritually vital, but, lacking an organic continuity with a See that, if not apostolic, is at least ancient, and founded by the bishop of an apostolic See--and therefore essentially just one more Protestant denomination--well...this choice is too terrible to contemplate.

I feel like I have an Anglican soul, but it is a Canterburian Anglican soul. To be bereft of that vital organic link would be to surrender the very core of Anglican identity. I would urge my "reasserter" colleagues to exercise more patience. But I know that too many of them are way beyond the point of listening to such a plea.


bls said...

Perhaps it would help if you didn't think of, and talk about, "Canterburian Anglicanism" as "theologically and spiritually vacuous"?

I don't think TEC is a "spiritually vacuous" church; I don't think I'd spend any time in such an organization. I also don't think anyone would describe the ABC as "theologically and spiritually vacuous."

I don't think you're seeing the reality of what's out there. But surely you read the blogs; if not, I'd recommend it, because as many of us remark, some of the best theology is being done there. Just because people disagree with you on the gay issue doesn't mean they are "spiritually and theologically vacuous."

It's true that TEC itself isn't as strong as it could be in theology, but it's not "theologically vacuous." And it's not "spiritually vacuous" in any sense.

R said...


If I may take the liberty of speaking for "liberal" brothers and sisters -- well I probably shouldn't. We're a diverse group, clearly.

My sense is that a few have, yes indeed, raised the question of parting with Canterbury, but more of subtle push you've detected seems to me an expression of frustration -- the annoyance of American autonomy threatened, as you say. I would be dishonest to say there isn't a healthy dose of that at work. . .on all sides.

But I will stress this, the House of Bishops as a whole have made it clear they wish to remain in Communion. They did invite Canterbury to visit, after all.

More to the point, I have it on good authority that calls for boycotts of Lambeth notwithstanding, our more (or most) liberal bishops are seeking a way to register protest and solidarity with +Gene Robinson short of not showing up.

Granted, there are many months to go, but that's my take, for what it's worth.

Drew Collins said...

You wrote:

. . . including, curiously, the Reformed Episcopal Church, which broke off from TEC some 135 years ago, primarily over the doctrine of baptismal regeneration (they were against it), which was and is strongly implied in the Prayer Book baptismal rites.

Not entirely accurate. Umbridge over what the BCP meant by regenerative language was certainly a concern (particularly by Charles Edward Chenney, the man who was to be consecrated the first Bishop within the Reformed Episcopal Church), but it was not the primary concern of George David Cummins, the Assistant Bishop of Kentucky who led the split. His concern was the exclusivism that he saw developing within the Protestant Episcopal Church.

It is true that a watered down version of the Prayer Book Baptismal Office was adopted. It is no longer the doctrinal standard, having been replaced with a service that can be viewed here. It is based on the 1662 BCP.

On the other hand, a comparision of the Baptismal services in the 1928 and 1979 BCP will reveal an interesting shift in focus in the latter version and a watering down of theology. Some of that is understandable when one considers that the 1979 office was largely influence by a then-priest from Richmond Virginia, one John Shelby Spong.

The REC has in recent years recovered its Anglican identity, so things aren't as curious as you imply!

Anonymous said...

There seems to be an inexorable drive to circumvent the organic processes of the Anglican Communion

For example, the Archbishop of Canterbury trying to circumvent the work of the Primates. That isn't the fault of conservatives.

Anonymous said...

The idea of instruments of unity or of Anglican unity, for that matter, is relatively new. PECUSA didn't give a fig about the ABC when we sent our first Bishops-elect across the pond, and he didn't give a fig about us.

We were highly skeptical when the first Lambeth Conference was called, afraid that it would be a council, and we have maintained that distinction between a collegial conference and a doctrinal council with careful attention.

As this crisis has been brewing (10,20,30 years?) some have turned to the ABC with hope, but we have never given him or anyone else the power to help us, we have kept it for ourselves and now we are powerless to discipline ourselves. A man, a family, or a church without discipline is a brute and unpredictable beast. A fitting reminder for Father's Day. May we discipline with love!

bls said...

Discipline? Because a diocese elected an openly gay man (rather than a closeted one) to lead them? A man that they had known for almost 20 years, and who's been, by all accounts, an excellent priest in the church for over 30?

We should be disciplined for that? Bizarre. Is that the "crisis" you're talking about?

The only crisis that exists is a manufactured one. There's no crisis in my parish, for instance. Nothing's changed at all; we still worship every Sunday, and give money to people who need it, and care for one another, and sing beautiful songs.

Nobody's buying the "crisis" thing any longer, I hate to say.

bls said...

(If the election of Gene Robinson came as a shock to anyone, it only goes to show that they haven't been paying attention. This topic has been on the Anglican agenda for 30+ years, and even the "authority" in question, Lambeth 1.10, asks that member Churches listen to their gay membership. Obviously that hasn't happened.

This shouldn't have been any sort of surprise in particular in the United States, where public acceptance of homosexual people has been steadily rising for all that time.

Like I said, this is a manufactured "crisis"....)