Skip to comments.A Democratic Church? [TEC]
Posted on 07/14/2006 6:08:59 PM PDT by sionnsar
A Democratic Church?
One of the things that apologists for the election of Gene Robinson often say is that one must understand that the Episcopal Church is, unlike some other Anglican provinces, a democratic church and that lay people have a more influential role than in some other parts of the communion.
I have long thought just the opposite. I believe that one of the things that has characterized the ethos of the Episcopal Church in the twenty five plus years that I have been a parish priest has been an anti-democratic and high-handed sense of entitlement in the central bureaucracy of the church. There is at the least a heavy irony in the close proximity of boasts that The Episcopal Church is democratic in one moment and then in the next patient explanations that the deputies to General Convention should not be expected to be accountable to their constituencies because they are to vote their own consciences. We are of course set up in a republican and not strictly democratic sort of way. But the absolute pride about being indifferent to the sentiment of the folks in the pews belies the claim to being a church animated by a democratic spirit.
Dr. Michael Poon has made the point in a recent article, Gathering The One Holy and Apostolic Church Around Jesus Christ: A Response To General Convention 2006, that decision making processes that favor those with leisure and with the education and access that come with social privilege have a doubtful claim to being in a meaningful way democratic.
Who can truly share in the various Anglican processes? Lets face it. Most of them are professionals who can afford leave of absence from their employment; they have the necessary travel documents; they are highly educated; they write and speak in English. How can the instruments and commissions be effective if the executives are mostly based in Lambeth and Saint Andrews House?
This is a serious point for a global church and one that deserves a thoughtful response. The point that Dr. Poon is making applies locally as well as globally.
The further away one gets from the parish level the more unlikely it is that a gathering in The Episcopal Church is representative of the people in the pews in any meaningful way and for reasons very similar to the ones Dr. Poon has identified at work in international gatherings. Ordinary people, the people who come to the services and say their prayers and pay the bills of the local parish church simply do not have the time or leisure to attend meeting after meeting and often a great distances from home and hearth. Attending my first General Convention in Columbus I was overwhelmed by the distance in point of view and rhetoric between any parish I have ever served and the conversation on the floor of convention. There is a major disconnect between the General Convention of The Episcopal Church and the laity of many, if not most of our parishes that is inherently anti-democratic. To some degree this represents the blindness of upper middle class leaders, including the clergy, to issues of class privilege and an unwillingness to forgo privilege in the interest of genuine Christian mutual submission. The fundamental way to forgo this privilege would be by patient and methodical consultation. It would take real imagination to create a process and an environment in which it would be safe and inviting for most lay people to share their thoughts and convictions with our leaders.
Beyond these structural problems there is the simple fact that the forces of innovation in the church have finessed the stated decision making process of the church. I have served in three dioceses and in each one candidates have been presented for ordination whose manner of life would have been widely controversial if it were known. Sometimes these were people living in covenanted relationships and sometimes persons whose manner of life was more free flowing. One is tempted to think that the facts were purposefully hidden but the reality is probably a more unconscious avoidance of the painful conversations which would have been the result of full disclosure. Surely the consecration of Gene Robinson before there exists any recognized category for the relationship he is in presents the church and especially its laity with yet another decision by finesse and fait de compli.
Another problem which parishes face is that they cannot call clergy who reflect the priorities of the parish. The fact that a parish can choose whomsoever it will is of no avail if there are not orthodox clergy to choose from. For many years the disproportion in graduates between those committed to a traditionalist theology and those committed to the revisionist agenda taught in many seminaries has left parishes with little real choice. In recent years the tradition of letting parishes choose clergy in accord with the theological tradition of the parish has been overturned by the bishops in many places. That Trinity graduates are prohibited from serving in many dioceses is a case in point.
In all of this there is little reason to boast of being a democratic church.
I do not propose that the decision making process in the church should be strictly democratic. I think our constitution and canons wholesome and good when used in line with their original intent. They often are not. The use and abuse of the abandonment of communion canon is a case in point.
We should not be changing the faith of the Apostles by vote and the ministries of the church are not strictly equal. All should take part in the councils of the church according to their order. As the Windsor Report helpfully reminds us, decisions that affect all should be made by all. Decision making in the church should be genuinely consultative and councilliar. Now is the time for all to foreswear cleverness in manipulating and finessing our opponents. Now is the time to recommit to deep and methodical consultation and transparent decision making and especially consultation that includes the laity and not just the laity that can afford the time and expense of lengthy meetings. Perhaps an every member poll on the critical issues facing the church by the Episcopal Church Foundation might be a good conversation opener.
A final qualifier: Christian decision making must be made in a community formed by scripture and prayer. For many congregations and dioceses for the decision making to have integrity there is a need for an immersion course in biblical literacy and basic Christian doctrines.
The Episcopalian priests I have met have all been very odd. But I must admit that I've only met a few... as in three.
Get even... meet a fourth. (/math humor)
I appreciate your faithfulness; posting here all of the difficult issues...
Many of your kindred in the Lord at FR are stirred to fervent prayer by the insights and info.
Thanks for keeping me on your ping list Well done... (continuous tense...)
A Planned Parenthood Abortion Clinic In Boston.
I think that qualfies as a Democrat Church, don't you?
Yes, I do! I think this was what Ann Coulter was getting at in her book.
BTW, I think the term "democratic church" is an oxymoron
I became disillusioned with the democratic nature of ECUSA way before Gene Robinson came along. Despite the rhetoric, the Episcopal Church is slanted towards the upper-income, professional people and the inherited-money crowd. That makes the mantra about the Millennium Development goals seem shallow and insincere. If you really think that the eradication of world poverty is important and all Christians should then tithe directly to an organization that deals directly with that. Funneling your hard-earned dollars through multiple layers of well-paid Episcopal bureaucrats will not do that much to provide food or medical care to a starving child in the 3rd World. About all that will be accomplished will be providing jobs for 815 hacks to travel around the world doing "PR" about how wonderful ECUSA is b/c they are supposedly dedicated to these goals.
These nut jobs in ECUSA/TEC, most notably the Presiding Bishop elect Kate Schori, are disengenuous by half! In her "Time" interview, she says a focus of the church will be helping to find a cure for AIDS. Puh...lease! How about working on PREVENTING AIDS by preaching abstinance & not promoting promiscuous homosexual & heterosexual behavior????
The idea of a democratic church is ridiculous anyway. Even assuming none of the stuff Harding says applies what you have is a committee or convention made up of professionals (clergy together with lay pros and semipros) together with some well-meaning amateurs who don't have much experience and put most of their time and attention into other things. The professionals will always get their way, and the amateurs will enable them to say that it was all the people's choice adopted after maximum participation etc.
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