Skip to comments.Nothingham, or, the Crystal Ball
Posted on 07/12/2005 12:24:51 PM PDT by sionnsar
The meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in Nottingham and the resolution passed on June 22nd are already beginning to blur into that already too-long line of meetings and pronouncements - stretching back to the emergency meeting of the primates in October 2003 - that constitute the tiresome milestones of the Anglican crisis.
Oh, I know... it's a huge victory for the orthodox, or at least we're told. Will we look back on it years from now as one of the events that led to the explusion of ECUSA from the communion, or to the breakup of the communion itself? Perhaps. But for now, Nottingham is simply the latest event in a series of events that started with the Windsor Report. Windsor said that ECUSA erred in approving Gene Robinson's consecration and authorizing same-sex blessings, and should make its case before the Anglican Consultative Council. Dromantine was the Primates' official endorsement of Windsor. Nottingham was the ACC saying, We're still not convinced, and you should continue to stand down from the communion's decision-making bodies. But supporters of ECUSA's case were quick to point out that the Council has no real authority, implying that the presentation was made simply as a courtesy, not as an appeal on which the future of its membership in the communion rested.
It should be clear by now that, with few exceptions, the revisionist and orthodox camps of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada are not merely two competing factions within one church, but two entirely different churches vying for control of Anglicanism in North America. The debate around the Anglican blogosphere for the past two years has revealed that we have on the one side those who will not give an inch when it comes to including their notions of social justice in the canons and sacraments of the church; and on the other side people who have no intention whatsoever of giving up any more ground on the role of Scripture in church teaching and policy.
It should also be clear by now that the two positions are simple not reconcilable, despite the wishes, hopes and insistence by many that they are.
The probability that this crisis would ever be resolved painlessly was always low, and it has gotten lower with each passing month, as orthodox clergy have been persecuted by revisionist bishops, orthodox parishioners have drifted away to other denominations, and revisionists in positions of power have flouted the will of the communion by ignoring the clear requests of the church's governing bodies. They have engaged in shameless double-talk about what they're really doing, and, when asked to send a delegation to Nottingham to present their official case, the leaders of the Episcopal Church launched a ridiculous p.r. effort that claimed it didn't, in fact, represent their official position at all.
The orthodox are not free of blame, but if we were keeping score, the number and nature of revisionist actions that defied the spirit and letter of the various requests and resolutions of the communion would dwarf those by the orthodox. They have treated their orthodox brothers and sisters with appalling contempt; they have ignored the repeated pleas to stand still and give the primates, the archbishop, the Lambeth Commission, and the Anglican Consultative Council room in which to work; and they have wasted no opportunity to make a mockery of the bonds of affection upon which the very notion of communion rests. In the process, they have preached inclusiveness while demonizing those who disagree with them, twisted centuries-old understandings of Anglican theology beyond recognition, lionized those who deny the fundamental tenets of our faith, and turned this once-proud church into the laughingstock of the Christian world.
The leadership of the communion bears plenty of blame for the agony this crisis continues to inflict on ordinary church members and the mission they are called to pursue.
I have summarized the Windsor Report as an attempt by a communion that is held together mainly by trust, to deal with a member province it has decided is no longer trustworthy. This is the tacit admission made by the report, and it raises questions the answers to which, so far, are very troubling.
Once the communion at large decided it could no longer trust ECUSA and Canada, it did the right and prudent thing: Notified them of their new status as untrustworthy members, and requested that they make their case for their actions before the appropriate body, in this case the Anglican Consultative Council. But if the provinces don't comply, the only option the communion has, if it wants to rescue a shred of its credibility - to say nothing of simply remaining intact - is to impose appropriate discipline on them. This is where the communion's structure has revealed a weakness it may not be able to overcome, one that threatens to shatter this church into at least two - and perhaps more - parts.
What are the means by which the communion imposes discipline on a member province? What are the means by which the Anglican Communion keeps order? Tragically, there seems to be no definitive answer. Unlike Rome; unlike every nation on earth; unlike - let's be candid - every garden club on earth, the Anglican Communion seems not to know exactly who's in charge, and even if it did, exactly what means are available with which to keep order.
This embarassing state of affairs has been occluded by the saucy controversy surrounding homosexuality, and we can only pray that on top of the humiliation heaped on us by the rest of the Christian world because we seem not to be able to understand the clear teachings of Scripture, it doesn't also notice that we seem to have no clue as to who's in charge around here.
The revisionists naturally recoil at the notion that there should be one authority with the final say on these matters. Deliberative bodies are no good, they'll say, because of the possibility the minority might be tyrannized by the majority. Individuals, appointed or elected, are no good, because that much power should never rest solely with an individual. After all, there's the possibility that the person won't agree with the revisionist position. Or, in the case of Rowan Williams, he may agree (or at least sympathize), but have no good reason to dismember the communion over it.
Anglicans everywhere should keep several things in mind as this crisis plays itself out.
1. It is unlikely that there will be a resolution any time soon.
By all indications, General Convention 2006 will be, like Nottingham, just another tiresome milestone in this saga. Barring any cataclysmic actions by ECUSA's leadership or the communion's governing bodies, the earliest resolution of this crisis now looks to be 2008, at the next primates' meeting. And that could be only the beginning of the resolution, not the end.
2. It is unlikely that any resolution will be clean.
If there is to be a split between ECUSA and the communion, it is unlikely to have the sharp definition of a corporate split, or of a divorce between married people. Expect it to be ill-defined, with no certain start or end date. And if there is to be a split within ECUSA, don't expect it to be any cleaner. Again, barring a cataclysmic event over property that settles the issue one way or another, expect many orthodox parishes that want to keep their churches to be embroiled in ugly lawsuits that drain time, money, and energy from mission.
3. The revisionists will not stop, even temporarily, advancing their agenda.
Again with Drucker's maxim: The best indicator of future performance is past performance. The actions and rhetoric of Bishops Chane, Bruno, Curry, Ingham, et al are all we need to know. Revisionists all see this is a burning matter of social justice, fully interchangeable with - indeed, indistinguishable from - the Gospel of Christ. Any fervor they claim to have for the Gospel, multiply it a hundred-fold to get an idea of their fervor for the gospel of social justice. Many revisionist leaders and their followers are just itching to be the gay movement's Rosa Parks.
4. The Episcopal Church will split.
Correction: The Episcopal Church has split. Whether the split will continue at its slow but steady pace, or accelerate into full-blown schism, only time will tell. There is little reason to believe that "the center will hold," because there is no "center," in the sense that there is an informed, engaged mass of laity with a coherent goal in mind, as there is on the right and left edges. At this point, it appears that if either side is going to "capture the center," it is the left, because the left is all to willing to say what the center wants to hear: "don't worry - be happy."
But I remain convinced that the center as we now define it will never embrace what the left is bound and determined to achieve: Namely, the blessing of gay unions on the altars of Everytown. Don't believe for a second that all the gay movement in the Episcopal Church wants is to be left alone to bestow the sacrament of Holy Matrimony upon gay couples in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, and pockets of liberalism in rural New England. It wants to put it in your face, wherever you are, and the smaller the town the better. After all, as we have seen, for them this is not simply a matter of personal or community preference which you are free to accept or reject. This is a matter of social justice, which means that if you do not accept it, you have committed the greatest sin of all - intolerance - and you must be made to accept it in your most sacred places, lest this injustice go unpunished. Any defiant parish is unconquered ground, and as the revisionists have made clear by their actions, this is not a battle over which they are willing to accept incomplete victory. The orthodox may have overestimated the number of moderates who would tolerate the consecration of a non-celibate gay bishop in New Hampshire, but the revisionists have overestimated by far more the number of moderates who will stick around while gay couples are married on the altars where they, their children and their grandchildren take communion.
What prompts me to make this prediction? I call it the "crystal ball" theory, and it goes like this:
I have found myself over the past year or so in the unfamiliar position of being asked by grownups (those with children and grandchildren, hugely successful careers, and true wisdom, all gained only after the kinds of struggles that lie in my future) how I think it is we got ourselves into this situation with the Episcopal Church, and where I think it's headed.
To be sure, more than one person I've met in the course of this debate has told me I have more opinions than sense. They may well be right, but in this case I have an explanation that has resonated with almost everyone to whom I've given it. The rough outline is buried somewhere deep in the archives of this site, so a few people reading this may vaguely recognize it. It has been the touchstone for many hours-long conversations.
Think of the whole of the Episcopal Church as a pew full of people (yes, Episcopalians, it is possible for a pew to be filled with people... work with me here). The people are arranged, from left to right, in roughly the order of where they fall on the theological spectrum.
Twenty five years ago, someone on the far right of the pew happened to be in possession of a crystal ball. In the swirl of events surrounding women's ordination and a revised Book of Common Prayer, he looked into the crystal ball and saw the future of the Episcopal Church: Five, perhaps ten years down the road. Perhaps he saw the influx of radical feminists using ordination as just another hill to be taken in their secular war on teh church. Perhaps it was a BCP that watered down the confession of sin - indeed, made it optional. Perhaps it was a vision of the proliferation of Spongs and Pikes and Borgs, men who not only deny the basic tenets of the Christian faith, but who have risen to its highest offices and levels of celebrity because of their (un)beliefs.
He voiced his objections to what he saw happening to his church, and some in the pew turned and scowled at him. They couldn't help but notice one thing - that of all the people in the pew, he was the farthest to the right. For more than a few, this became the only thing they noticed about him. For those who didn't know his name, and even for a few who did, he was labelled "the fundamentalist," or "the troublemaker."
Whatever he saw - in the crystal ball, down the pew - it was enough to make him want to get up and leave. The decision was difficult. His family had been Episcopalian for five generations, his great-grandparents had been charter members of the grand old church where he grew up, where both of his children were married. He became Presbyterian, or Methodist, or perhaps Roman Catholic, or joined a fledgling Anglical splinter church. He may have stopped going to church altogether. But before he left, he handed the crystal ball to the lady on his immediate left.
She was sad to see him go. She shared many of his misgivings about the direction in which the church was headed, but she preferred sitting tight to rocking the boat. She hoped that the spasms of radicalism in her beloved church were temporary, and would eventually pass like a fad.
A funny thing about the crystal ball: If you're the one holding it, there are times when you can't look away. You are transfixed by what you see in it. Sometimes you catch a glimpse of yourself, or your children, or the grandchildren who haven't yet been born. Sometimes, long after you've looked away, what you saw in it haunts you.
Soon, the lady noticed that the Episcopal Church was playing fast and loose with the rules and traditions of ordinations to the priesthood. She noticed more unmarried priests who were also clearly - sometimes proudly - in non-celibate relationships. An increasing number of these were also gay. Here and there, in news reports and stories related at diocesan councils and such, she learned of Episcopal priests who lent the imprimatur of their position to the cause of abortion. They marched in protests with the banner of the Episcopal Church held high.
Another funny thing about the crystal ball: It doesn't always show you the future. What did it show the lady sitting at the end of the pew? Hard to say. Perhaps it was a troubled pregnancy, or an out-of-wedlock birth, or the countless moments of fear and doubt that were overcome through prayer. Perhaps it made her think that the sacred miracle of life was being mocked by those in whom her church had bestowed the trust of spiritual leadership. Whatever it was, it was enough to make her want to get up and leave, but this time instead of sitting tight, she spoke up. Surely the rest of the folks on the pew - the ones with whom she had been through so much over the years - would understand. Surely they would demand that the line be finally - firmly - drawn.
She wasn't prepared for the reaction. Were her friends, just two or three seats down, really calling her "old-fashioned," and a "Bible-thumper"? Did they really say that if she was that far off to the right, maybe she would be happier if she left for another church? Did the look on some of their faces really mean that they might be happier too if she left?
The decision was difficult. After years of searching, she had finally found a church home, one that didn't stigmatize her for her past, but offered salvation and redemption through the Christ's atoning sacrifice. It was a place where oen was free to doubt while strengthening one's faith, but now she feared that the gospel of doubt had begun to replace the Gospel of Christ.
So when she finally stood up to leave, she handed the ball to the man immediately to her left.
I now find myself as the one farthest on the right of the pew - incidentally, not where I was when I first got here - and staring into the crystal ball.
Without even looking into it, I see a diocese (in this case, Mississippi, although you could substitute any of a few dozen) populated mainly by center-left and far-left clerics. In our case, many were ordained by a previous bishop who seems to have been much further out on the fringe than most lay people suspected or noticed.
Many of these priests strongly support the actions of General Convention, but their refusal to preach this support from their pulpits - while expecting our support from the pews - reveals a lack of courage and a special type of dishonesty I doubt many of us would tolerate in ourselves or our children.
Our current bishop writes that he doesn't see "same gender relationships affirmed or blessed in ways that are now being discussed," but that his "own in-depth reading of scripture does not find the condemnation of homosexuality that others see." He voted "yes" on same-sex blessings at General Convention 2003, yet he has pledged not to allow same-sex blessings in this diocese. Does this make him simply a dreamer? Or something worse?
I see a shameful attempt by many leading clerics in this diocese to ignore this issue, to hope it will go away if only no one talks about it openly. And if they insist on talking about it openly, that they be branded as crackpots, malcontents, and "fundamentalists." Rarely have I seen a group of people - who insist they're committed to openness and tolerance - more hostile to simply talking about the issue.
I see pews gradually getting emptier, as orthodox Christians decide the Episcopal Church - as manifested in parish after parish around this diocese and around this country - no longer offers them or their families a sound spiritual home.
One glance into the crystal ball reveals an even bleaker future. Barring a change of heart that would border on the miraculous, our bishop very obviously plans to go down with the ECUSA ship. He is supported by a majority of his clergy and the leaders of the diocese's various decision-making bodies such as the standing committee and the resolutions committee. After a promising start with his sessions on the Windsor Report, he has since done a dismal job of acknowledging - and impressing upon the laity - the increasing likelihood that as a result of its refusal to abide by the requests of the Anglican Communion, the Episcopal Church will be expelled from it. Or that the communion itself may disintegrate. The Diocese of Mississippi, along with many others, appears doomed either to be part of an Epicopal Church that for the first time will find itself out of communion with its mother church; or in communion with a mother church that is reduced to a million or so westerners who have uncoupled themselves from Scripture.
God help us all.
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