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Come Up Higher: A Response to the Report of the Special Commission on the Episcopal Church...
VirtueOnline-News ^ | 4/08/2006 | Ephraim Radner

Posted on 04/09/2006 2:04:21 PM PDT by sionnsar

"One Baptism, One Hope in God's Call: The Report of the Special Commission on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion" is a significant, if quite imperfect step, in the process that ECUSA must follow if this church is to maintain its integrity as both a witness to the Gospel and an existing and thriving institution, and if she is to contribute constructively to the same future for the Anglican Communion. But it is only a step, and if allowed to function as a destination by our General Convention, it will prove not only a disappointment, but an ecclesial quagmire, perhaps even a disaster.

It is important to note two political factors that should limit our understanding of both the actual and intended influence of this Report. First, the Commission that was chosen to write it was extraordinarily unrepresentative of ECUSA (let alone of Communion-oriented members of ECUSA), and highly over-represented by those who favor the decisions of GC 2003 that precipitated the crisis this Commission was designed to address. Second, another committee - a "special legislative committee" - has already been appointed to provide the actual resolutions that will go to the floor at Convention, making use of the Commission's recommendations as they choose. This Special Committee, while still not exactly balanced, is far more representative of both ECUSA and her interests in Communion life. The fact that the Commission came out with the Report it did, especially in its theological orientation (see below) is a cause for thanks, not disdain, and it represents hard work and good faith on the part of members from often opposing viewpoints. But there is obviously much more work and struggle in store.

Therefore, this Report and its proposed resolutions must be read minimally, not maximally: that is, as a starting point, not an ending point in the discussion and decision-making that GC must provide the church and Communion. Revisionists will wish to read this Report maximally - thus far, and no farther! (if that). And those conservatives who have given up on ECUSA will likewise wish to read it maximally - we have reached the end, and there is no more! Some prophecies can be fulfilled by dint of effort and despair together, to be sure. But these maximalist readings of the Report would misconstrue the reality that undergirds it. For, theologically and politically, the Report is a minimalist statement that lays out some foundations that, to be useful, must be built upon; but if left in their present state will resemble the failures of a poverty-stricken mind and will. There is, therefore, both a warning and a hope to be found here. Those concerned with the faithful future of ECUSA and the Communion must work, through organized discussion and persuasion (and prayer!) to encourage the amendment and building up of this Report and its recommendations. We dare not leave it where it is.

What is good about the Report

1. Scripture is used in a foundational sense, especially at the beginning of the Report. Although to some extent this is standard practice in ecumenical and ecclesial committee work, the Report goes beyond this. For, as with the Windsor Report it mainly addresses, the Report has made a genuine attempt to provide a coherent Scriptural picture of the Church's life based in Christ Jesus that would furnish parameters for active self-understanding of Christian responsibilities in the face of challenge. In doing so, it has looked especially to Ephesians 2, Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12.

2. Given these opening Scriptural moorings, the Report has properly stressed the "catholic" realities that undergird and define the Church's (and, again properly speaking, ECUSA's) life. As a result, not only the bare actions of baptism and eucharist, but their deeper meanings as engaging and enacting the communal life of the Spirit are lifted up. Here, the dominant Scriptural focus is in 1 Corinthians 11 and Acts 2. These explications ought to bear significant practical implications for the way churches relate to each other "in communion". In addition, these implications are rooted in the reality of the Cross of Christ, whose practical outworking in ecclesial life is also quite concrete and challenging (cf. the references to Ephesians 2 and Philippians 2, the latter in 8).

3. The Report is able, on this basis, to affirm Sections A and B of the Windsor Report with a degree of enthusiasm ( 32 and Resolution on Interdependence). This provides a far richer view of the Church's and the Communion's, and by direct implication ECUSA's structures of discernment, decision-making, and authority than is usually the case (cf. the reference to the Lambeth 1948 Encyclical in 9). The Report even goes so far as to embrace the traditional "conciliar" principle that "what touches all should be decided by all" ( 45), an acceptance that, however grudging in the tone of the Report, has wide-reaching and immediate implications in the present crisis.

4. Thus, the Report provides a clear recognition of the Christian reality of ecclesial interdependence upon which the Anglican Communion is at least meant to be founded, and devotes an entire section to this reality (Sec. III). Furthermore, this recognition comes with the embrace of fundamental practical consequences in the life of the Communion, expressed here in terms of mission as essentially bound up with unity (pointing to John 17), and referring at several points to this central concern as explicated in the Primates' Dromantine Communiqué (25, 27,31). Similarly, the fact that true "interdependence" demands a life of "radical" holiness, as the Windsor Report stressed up front, is acknowledged (26). One practical consequence to this orientation is that, for example, the contentious issue of jurisdictional boundary crossing is couched in terms of a rather demanding Scriptural injunction, Galatians 6:2, that could become the touchstone for far more accountable behavior in this regard than has been hitherto observable. The Resolution on Interdependence provides a fairly clear and straightforward expression of this outlook.

5. The Report recognizes that there is something called a "standard Christian teaching" in the Communion regarding sexuality i.e. Lambeth I.10, at least as expressed by the Primates and reiterated at Dromantine and the ACC (16 and 18). They also accept the fact that this teaching is in "tension" with GC 2003 (27).

6. The Report recognizes the need for ECUSA to change behavior. This is bound up to the very nature of "repentance", a recently much contested code-word in the church debate, but which the Report embraces clearly ( 34 to 36), and which involves "actions" and not just words. In this light, the Report speaks positively of "moratoria" on certain actions as appropriate to repentance (38), and castigates ECUSA for an "arrogance" that has had destructive consequences around the world cf. 39-40). 7. The Report commends the Millennium goals ( 60-61) for support by richer churches of poorer ones, a move encouraged by the Primates among others.

8. The Report commends ECUSA's engagement with and support of the process to formulate and adopt an Anglican Covenant (Sec. VI), basing its positive views here on a theological and historical understanding of the essential force of covenantal life in the Christian vocation. This support represents, in the context of the matters upheld above by the Report, a radical redirection of ECUSA's decision-making and Communion accountability in the future.

What is inadequate about the Report

1. For all the appropriate and helpful Scriptural foundations that are laid at the front end of the Report, with respect to the Church's unity, and later, with respect to the essential relationship between unity and mission, Scripture is nonetheless applied in too limited a way in the Report. It does not obviously inform questions of teaching and discipline, for instance, which is precisely where the proposed resolutions fall short. And it is because of this, and the falling away of Scripture's informing presence in the bulk of the Report, that the appearance of the Quadrilateral towards the end of the Report is so unclarifying (cf. 66): is Scripture in fact a focus and directive, or is it simply an abstract principle? One is left hanging about this, especially when, in the almost gratuitous resolution regarding the Quadrilateral, it does not appear as if Scripture's authority could ever be a defining force, but would rather be used as an instrument by which to dismantle standards and discernment.

2. Likewise, with respect to the emphasis in the Report upon unity, unity is left only vaguely dependent on eucharistic sharing (surely essential), but is left inappropriately uninformed by the Scriptural reality of and vocation to a "unity of faith". After all, the full reality of "discerning the body" (1 Cor. 11) involves the Body's life in "one mind" and "one faith" (Phil. 2 and Eph. 4). That, too, is an essential part of the "one baptism" which the Report makes central to the Christian Church. As a result of ignoring this aspect, the Report leaves the reader uncertain as to why there is a crisis at all in the Communion. This is not terribly illuminating, and is in fact distracting from the real matters at issue, that do indeed involve disputes over "faith".

3. The Report's focus upon baptism as the defining basis of the Church's common life is proper (cf. 4). Furthermore, baptism is properly linked with the call to receive the fruits of Jesus' death on the Cross as well as to imitate these fruits ( 8, using Ephesians 5:1f. and the famous hymn from Philippians 2). But there is a fundamental conditionality attached to baptism here that is never worked out, except in the realm of unity, viz. that baptism makes the Christian accountable to certain commitments and ways of life and witness that include far more than unity simply expressed. "Repentance" is one of the major components, with its entire realm of implicated changes of life and conviction (cf. Jesus' own preaching, after John, in Mark 1:14ff.). Just as importantly, baptism's grace can be cast aside, and not only because of sins against the Church's unity in a general and abstract sense (cf. Heb. 6:1ff; 10:26ff.). In other words, the Report leaves the misleading impression that baptism provides a status and establishes a reality whose permanence overwhelms the flagrant flouting of our faith. It is the fact that we are "brothers and sisters" in Christ that the Report uses to evaluate actions, rather than also uncovering the actions that permit us to remain so.

4. In particular, this focus on baptismal unity can tend to dilute the responsibilities we are given to seek and be held accountable to, not only a common faith, but a true one. It was not the Commission's brief to define and resolve the theological arguments over sexuality that have divided the Church. But it certainly was her duty to acknowledge that our failure to resolve these arguments on their own terms, and not simply as a reflection of experienced unity, is itself a reality for which we need to repent. To this degree, the Report is a step backward from the Primates' own Communiqué at Dromantine. There is the danger, given the exclusive framework of baptismal unity used by the Report, that expedience in overt agreement will be grasped at over the necessity of deeper agreement in faith and morals, the lack of which is the cause of our current crisis.

5. The Report, as a result, seems content to let fizzle any clear and practical drawing out of the logic of some of its foundational commitments. For instance, having noted the focal tension of Lambeth '98 Resolution I.10, and promising to address this in Section V, it fails to mention it again. Likewise, having approved of the usefulness of "moratoria" as a concrete expression of active repentance, the Report fails to uphold such clarity in its practical recommendations regarding, e.g. consecration of partnered gay candidates for the episcopacy. 6. Likewise, the Report seems to tolerate an expansive vagueness of response in the face of hard choices that have, in fact, been presented clearly by instruments of the Communion. For instance, although the Primates in their Communiqué from Dromantine made clear that there were significant and negative limitations to the way that DEPO had been administered in many individual cases, the Report avoids this challenge and a discussion of it altogether (cf. 41). Similarly, as in the resolution (and its related section in the Report) regarding the nomination, election, consent, and consecration of partnered gay candidates to the episcopacy, there is no effort to clarify the very matter addressed to ECUSA by Windsor and its subsequent Communion interpreters: a moratorium.

7. There is given, and in an expanding dynamic in the course of the Report, a series of mixed messages, especially in tone. Is the Report seeking "repentance" and a way forward on that track for ECUSA, or is it seeking to outline a justification of ECUSA's actions in 2003? The two outlooks seem to coexist at times. This is especially true in Section V. For instance, in 48 the Report expresses "gratitude" for the attitudes of other Provinces that uphold an inclusivity and diversity at odds with the Communion similar to ECUSA's. Again, in 52, there is an emphasis on the "diversity" of views regarding sexuality in the Communion, and the lack of "consensus" on the matter. These kinds of observations, scattered throughout the Report make it unclear to the reader as to the actual intent of the Report's hopes. The final recommended resolutions regarding access to the ministry and gay rights, nowhere discussed in the Report itself and hence extraneous to the Report's arguments, underline this confusion of tone in a rather serious manner.

What is unacceptable-i.e. false -- about the Report

1. The Report contains some major theological and political misreadings of fact. These occur most egregiously in Section V (by far the weakest in the Report). For instance, 53 "expressly denies" that Resolution C051 in 2003 "authorized" rites for same-sex blessings. The drafters of the Report may believe this, but many in the church, including those who voted for that Resolution, do not, and the actual wording of the resolution, cited in the Report, does nothing to convince readers accustomed to the normal usage of the English language to think otherwise. That the drafters of the Report believe they are in a position to "expressly deny" the intent and reasoned analysis of many in the church seems to be an overreach. 52, in another instance, makes use of the category of "consensus" in a way not only at odds with the Report's previous usage, but with the Church's general application of the term to the conciliar process as a whole. It is simply not true that "consensus" represents the quantifiable unanimity of actors within the Church, as opposed to the consent of the conciliar process, and to imply such (as in this case) is to attempt to confuse and self-justify even while trying to outline a way forward of purported "repentance". This raises serious questions regarding the Report's intent.

2. The Report provides several loopholes in self-restraint for ECUSA that are subversive of Windsor's and the Report's own stated goals. The recommendation ( 51 and related resolution) that the church "exercise very considerable caution" in the nomination, election, consent and consecration of partnered gay candidates to the episcopacy falls far short of the clear moratorium on such discipline asked for by the Windsor Report and subsequent instruments of unity, and this has been noted already in public (including by the Archbishop of Canterbury's representative to the recent House of Bishops' meeting) now for several weeks. The fact that the Report has articulated all the elements of ecclesiological self-understanding necessary to adopt such a moratorium makes the actual recommendation, devoid as it is of any justification for its pull-back, seem deliberately inviting of diverse interpretation. Why did the Commission choose this vague and subjectively defined form of recommended restraint unless its intent was to avoid an actual moratorium as requested by the Communion? This verges on defiance. 54, as following on the astonishingly (and unbelievably) forceful claim of 53, cannot be read in any other way than as an invitation to local option for same-sex blessings that take place with the permission, if not the outright "authorization", of the local bishop. If the Commission wanted readers to interpret this more stringently, they had every opportunity to do so, but they chose not to. This too represents a considerable failure in defining self-restraint. That the Report chose to avoid addressing directly the implications of Lambeth I.10, which has been upheld by the successive Instruments of Unity, goes beyond avoidance to seeming rejection.

3. All of this injects a note of disingenuousness in these practical portions of the Report. For instance, if 54 upholds the "instruments of unity" and their requests, why does 52 seek to undermine the united voice with which they speak? Likewise, why does 48 do the same, by seeking to show off dissenting (and, as the case actually is, very limited) voices in seeming opposition to the "standard teaching" of the Communion that these Instruments have now unanimously upheld? Not only is this all quite dissonant rhetorically, but the effect is to undercut the arguments for repentance in a significant way.

4. The danger in all of this - already apparent in immediate responses to the Report - is that further offense will be given to the offended, rather than "heaping burning coals" of love upon their heads, as Paul suggests (Rom. 12:20).

What must be done with the Report

1. Members of the church and the Special Legislative Committee and General Convention must think through the Report's theological foundations more fully and with a more Scripturally expansive perspective, in ways noted above at least. There is much in the opening sections of the Report to commend and to be used fruitfully and faithfully to direct ECUSA's response to the Communion's requests, the local church's needs, and God's desires.

2. In particular, the practical consequences that derive from these theological and more robust Scriptural foundations need to be spelled out more clearly and forcefully. The Commission has opted to pull back in these implications rather than follow them through. This represents a theological timidity that must be galvanized by a new courage. The resolutions that go to the floor of Convention must, at a minimum, be those that accurately reflect the concerns and requests of the Communion, especially since the Report has clearly explained, in its opening sections, why these requests and concerns deserve our positive response. Who's afraid of a true "moratorium"?

3. This means biting the bullet on hard choices, which is really a way of saying being more honest about the realities of the actual situation that confronts ECUSA and the Communion: fragmentation and "obscured" Christian witness, or the willingness to engage a common mind and mission according to the Scriptures as the wider Church has received them together. The Report dodges these choices. The rest of us cannot.

-The Rev'd Dr Ephraim Radner is a Senior Fellow of the Anglican Communion Institute and a priest in the Diocese of Colorado

TOPICS: Mainline Protestant

1 posted on 04/09/2006 2:04:26 PM PDT by sionnsar
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2 posted on 04/09/2006 2:05:16 PM PDT by sionnsar (†† | Iran Azadi 2006 | 5yst3m 0wn3d - it's N0t YOurs (SONY))
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