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TEC's Adolescent Dread of Authority

By J. Gary L'Hommedieu

"The emergence of instruments for a magisterium and a patriarchy in the Anglican Communion are contrary to our understandings of our vocation and of union in its 'truest and deepest' sense." (Mark Harris, "Enough: it is time to move on", Jan. 11, 2007;


[The following is Part Two in a series entitled, "Mark Harris' Manifesto for Walking Apart." Part One can be found at:]

Liberal Episcopalians are taking offense that TEC, at long last, is coming under heavy fire for its radical drift of the past several decades. The offense is such that some are thinking the unthinkable -- that "it's time to move on" without the Anglican Communion. More and more are acknowledging that TEC has already, to quote the Windsor Report, "chosen to walk apart". Some are in the throes of denial, but their noisy histrionics are ringing hollow.

Canon Mark Harris of the Diocese of Delaware is more reserved in his role of company man putting on a brave face while the organization makes a stab at a new identity. "Eating crow" is not what Episcopalians are known for. Nor, for that matter, are they known for heartfelt acts of repentance, unless it's for the sins of somebody else in another century. In the life cycle of institutions, it's not yet time for Episcopal leadership to admit they were wrong. Indeed, they can still get plenty of mileage out of insisting everyone else is wrong.

That is Canon Harris' apparent objective in his Jan. 11 blog, which I have dubbed a Manifesto for Walking Apart. In what appears as a quiet, reflective mood, he makes the case that The Episcopal Church, and in particular its hierarchy, are unfortunate victims. Because he makes his case in such thoughtful tones, one does not sense right away that he is playing a "victim card". But he is, of course. He starts right in complaining about "uninvited and unwelcome efforts to pressure The Episcopal Church", which has been woefully "encumbered" by "ecclesiastically 'foreign' intervention". This is not the voice of one buoyed up by the strength of his convictions. This is the voice of someone waking up in a much larger world than he'd dreamed, in which his own place and his own importance are uncertain.

Harris' apologia is symptomatic of the Episcopal Church at a pivotal point in its history. A number of the ideas that have driven recent generations are here on display and worthy of examination. In my first article I commented on the concept of "church" typified in Harris' writing. In this present article I shall comment on the understanding of authority implicit in the same writing.

What is noticeable right away is that the concept of authority does not appear at all except with the connotation of "authoritarian" - that is, as something negative. Authority is something bad in principle. Thus Harris illustrates "the adolescent dread" of authority typical of modern American culture and certainly of the Episcopal Church, the chaplain and cheerleader of that culture. Authority is anything that will tell me what to do; or perhaps -- since overt authority is construed exclusively in the negative - authority is anything that dares tell me I can't do whatever I damn well please. This last description of authority is consistent with the examples and the many complaints in Harris' article.

Since he is not writing about authority per se, Harris does not use the word in his text. Nonetheless from his use of terms like "magisterium", "monarchy", and "patriarchy" a coherent picture of authority emerges. In spite of the controlled demeanor of his writing one detects a slur in his use of these words. Each has a well developed connotation as a negative, inflammatory term, and it is the latter connotation, derived from colloquial usage, that lends coherence to his thought.

For example, in his introduction Harris refers to "organized structures of the Anglican Communion [acting] as if they are the voices of a magisterium or a patriarchy, having powers beyond that of recommendation". He might purportedly be arguing a simple matter of history: there is neither Pope nor Curia dictating policy nor doctrine in the Episcopal Church, nor in any of the Anglican Churches. Our Churches are governed, by contrast, by "powers of recommendation" under "bonds of affection".

But to suggest that TEC's critics are putting on airs of infallibility, or imposing something other than the well known consensus of all the churches in every time and place, is plain distortion. What the "foreigners" are insisting upon is that TEC be accountable for her actions, like any group of adults living in community. It is at this point that TEC cries "foul".

Harris is right about one thing: it is a unique moment in the history of the Anglican Communion. The Communion has never been faced before with one of its member Churches arrogating to itself the power to change doctrine. While TEC has argued that it has not changed "core doctrine" in its recent innovations, member Churches must, for the first time, decide if they agree; and if not, how they will respond. To call such a response "foreign intervention" or "imposing oppressive restrictions" is evidence of paranoia.

Harris will recognize as legitimate only "powers of recommendation", which is to say only those "powers" which wield no real power at all. Such "powers" are strictly symbolic without any expectation of holding real people accountable. When questions are pressed beyond mere "matters for our deepest consideration" and become "mandates requiring our acquiescence", someone is "imposing oppressive restrictions" or "exercising lordship over others".

And yet quiescence is precisely what Harris deems appropriate for others. Feeling betrayed he asks, why are the member Churches of the Anglican world speaking up now? TEC's affected radicalism is nothing new. Harris traces the present wave of controversy to the crisis surrounding women's ordination in the mid-70's.

Here is where Harris' real belief in authority comes to light - the principle of "moral urgency". Harris defends TEC's unilateral action in ordaining women in an offhanded manner, as if the merit of the Church's action were self-evident: "Our decision to ordain women [was] a decision taken as a matter of moral urgency in our own church." When a matter is deemed "urgent", then the action taken in response is self-authenticating. Such decisions are unassailable, or at least nobody else's business.

What emerges is a coherent Baby Boomer doctrine of good and bad authority. "Bad authority" is anyone who wants to tell me what to do or hold me accountable for what I've done. "Good authority", by contrast, is what presses me "urgently" to keep in step with the pulse of the times and thereby assures me of my moral legitimacy, or at least my relevance.

For the record I am aware that Mark Harris is not technically a Baby Boomer, having been born in 1940. The Baby Boomers represent a generation raised in a permissive affluent society. Two distinctions set them apart from earlier generations: first, money in their pockets, and second, time on their hands. Campus radicalism and popular culture came of age with this generation and assumed its name. Many who preceded the Boomers, including some of their parents, jumped on the cultural bandwagon that rolled out of this formative period. The Episcopal Church as a whole experienced its own cultural revival at this time.

In Part Three of this series I will reflect on Mark Harris' gospel of deliverance from American shame and point out how such a gospel necessitates the Church as an adversarial society.

---The Rev. Canon J. Gary L'Hommedieu is Canon for Pastoral Care at the Cathedral Church of Saint Luke, Orlando, Florida. He is a regular VOL columnist.
1 posted on 01/20/2007 6:12:12 PM PST by sionnsar
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To: All
The following is Part Three in a series on walking apart

The Adversarial Utopia of The Episcopal Church

by J. Gary L'Hommedieu

"As a Church we entered late into the struggle for equal rights for all citizens and in particular for women and for people of color. In the Church we began to address those changes in a significant way with the increasing inclusion of women in the governance of the Church and with the growing (but not yet perfected) effort to break down the power of racism in our lives and in our society.... We have set ourselves on a course to grow as a community of believers no longer separated by our prejudices, origins or social status." (From "Enough: it is time to move on", by the Rev. Canon Mark Harris,


[The following is Part Two in a series entitled, "Mark Harris' Manifesto for Walking Apart." Parts One can be found at; and Part Two at]

I recently wrote two articles in response Canon Mark Harris from the Diocese of Delaware, whose blog piece on Jan. 11 I have called a Manifesto for Walking Apart, echoing the terminology of the Windsor Report. Whether consciously or not, Harris is prognosticating the separation of The Episcopal Church from the Anglican Communion. What follows is the final of three articles in response, unpacking some of the seminal principles driving the culture wars in The Episcopal Church.

In my first article I commented on Harris' misuse of the word "church", which he seems to understand as a concept from sociology, and hence, theologically, as something strictly human. He has a narcissistic reading of the Episcopal Church's history. Ours is a church with its own unique vocation from God, which no other "church" has a right to challenge, other than in the most inconsequential terms. The church catholic, standing outside of space and time, is itself just another unit in the same cosmic democracy, and as are the member churches of the Anglican Communion.

In a follow-up article I observed that Canon Harris articulated a vision of authority - a vision both grandiose and paranoid, where nobody can tell us what to do, and those that do are in league with the archvillains of history. At the same time Harris cites the authority of "moral urgency" issuing from the righteous indignation of individuals. This is the adolescent spirit that came to public notice with the Baby Boomer generation, defying injustice and wickedness with the virulence of a teenager staying out after curfew.

In this final section I would like to point out the real gospel of TEC as Harris presents it, and then briefly characterize the world that envisions such a gospel. After that I resign from the role of critic of the celebrated Canon from Delaware.

The first half of Harris' article is, in effect, the construction of a mythic past for the new Episcopal Church. This mythology is empty of live concepts. There are no giants and no divine rescues. The real redemption history of TEC begins with the acknowledgement of shame during the era of slavery. This particular history is the defining reality for the Episcopal Church, and the lens through which TEC recasts its former history. It is replicated in all the liberation movements of the twentieth century, in particular "the struggle for equal rights for all citizens and in particular for women and for people of color". Gay liberation fits neatly into this same pattern. As Dr. Schori told interviewers recently, there will be others. The Episcopal Church is now in the liberation business. All of the church's rituals have been subsumed under this one promise: not salvation from sin before God, but salvation from shame before men and women - or at least from the ones who matter.

For all its faults and failings the historic church has a solution to the problem of shame: repent of the sin you're ashamed of, and go on. Amend your life, make restitution to those you have wronged, and go on. The community of the redeemed is a society where people forgive and accept forgiveness, knowing they will sin again and will rely upon the brethren for forgiveness. Sin is a terrible, haunting reality that disrupts and threatens the human community. It won't go away until Jesus comes back. Even the Christian promise of forgiveness has an awful, bittersweet quality.

While traditional Christians will always need to be forgiven, they don't need the reality of sin in order to maintain their community. They are not addicted to the feeling of forgiveness, except in some evangelical circles where being "born again" is repeated with a ritualistic regularity.

The Episcopal Church has become a different sort of society. It is no longer a society of the redeemed, however imperfect. It is a society of the suspicious, the aggrieved - in short, an adversarial society - a society not of equals, but of victims trading sideward glances, never secure in each other's company, and not really saved from anything. TEC has styled herself a revolutionary workshop where adversarial relations must be maintained in order that ritual acts of liberation can be endlessly enacted.

There are striking ironies in this brave new Episcopal world. For example, a female priest in the West must be an icon of the adversarial movement that brought her ordination to the "urgent" attention of the Episcopal Church. There are many women priests who embrace the orthodox religion of the historic Church and reject the confrontational character of the women's movement. They are naïve in thinking they can rise above or somehow sidestep the movement which made their holy orders an "urgent" necessity.

Similarly Christians have "winked" at homosexual clergy for centuries and gratefully received ministry from them, acknowledging not their sexuality but their humanity, and Christ's likeness in it. Now that our public consciousness has been raised, there is no such thing as a priest who "happens to be gay", any more than a woman who just preaches the historic gospel. History has stamped the identity of a moment on these unwitting souls, and none of us has the power to wish it away.

One of the messages of Canon Mark Harris is the recognition that the die is cast for The Episcopal Church. It must go forward on its present course for better or for worse. The new faith has its own true believers, and many more hangers on who cling to the known rather than journey into the unknown. There's irony for you - the Church of revolution-for-its-own-sake has become the inert Establishment. Some who burnt flags in 1968 are wrapping themselves in a different flag forty year years later.

There are more terrible ironies for the present generation of Episcopal true believers. Their greatest critics are not the dissenters from within, but those from colonial Asia and Africa who have been liberated by the "conservative" religion of the Bible. This is not the liberation of a leisure class who can choose whether or not to identify with an aggrieved party, or just as easily choose not to, once the profile of the victim no longer meets some deeper psychological need. I think of the bishop from Uganda who literally dodged bullets to come to the United States and address our Diocesan Convention back in the late 1980's. His message: "Preach Christ." I recall the utter lack of comprehension on the part of that roomful of liberators.

The Episcopal Church has recently found herself spinning off from the critical mass of a burgeoning Anglican Communion. To her shock and dismay, the former colonies now call her the spiritual successor to the old imperialism. Not through overt acts of enslavement and oppression, but through the moralistic posturing with which she imposes her social improvements on these "primitive" cultures. It is the White Man's Burden all over again. The old patrician self-assurance returns in a new patronizing condescension, with the same feeling of being born to rule.

This is a terrible moment of reckoning for a proclaimed liberator.

---The Rev. Canon J. Gary L'Hommedieu is Canon for Pastoral Care at the Cathedral Church of Saint Luke, Orlando, Florida. He is a regular VOL columnist.
2 posted on 01/20/2007 6:13:24 PM PST by sionnsar (††|Iran Azadi| 5yst3m 0wn3d - it's N0t Y0ur5 (SONY) | UN: Useless Nations)
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