Feb 212013

Justin Welby has gotten his tenure as Archbishop of Canterbury off to a rollicking start with the appointment of “Director of Reconciliation,” whose job, it seems, will be to keep the bickering Anglican fragments talking to each other.  The action, and its somewhat Orwellian title, has been greeted with a certain amount of mockery, but it is not surprising.  This sort of thing is part of the inheritance of the Church of England, though not necessarily that of the Anglican offspring.

The Church of England was always viewed by the English Establishment as an instrument of national unity, and the various Actions of Uniformity made participation in the worship fo the Church of England necessary for full participation in the political and economic life of the nation.  This was a prescription for hypocrisy, of course, and also for constant blurring of the borders of the Church’s teaching.  In recent times, Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple – who is still greatly revered in Britain – made a specialty of what he called “synthesis,” the art of talking to make opposing sides come to some sort of agreement.  We’d call that “reconciliation.” Michael Ramsey tells an anecdote somewhere about Temple coming out of a meeting, rubbing his hands with some degree of eager anticipation, saying, “Well, we have a lot of synthesizing to do.”  Incessant palaver is just a part of the Church of England’s nature.

There are limits to this of course. Much of the current tension is between those who think that the God of Christianity is a self revealing God, who it is our job to listen to, understand, and perceive on His terms, and those who think that somehow we define God.  As Tom Wright has sagely pointed out, the latter group is inevitably going to become enthralled by the old gods of our fallen nature, Sex, Greed, and Force, or, to give them their ancient names, Aphrodite, Hades, and Ares  – and how insightful of the ancients to make Aphrodite and Ares lovers.  The leadership of The Episcopal Church is almost entirely dominated by this decrepit trinity.  The domination by Aphrodite is obvious, but it is also greedy for property, and will use the force of law to obtain it.

How Christians generally, Anglican Christians especially (from my point of view), conduct their witness and their lives in the modern (post modern, post post modern) culture is a vital question.  Ministry and witness to those who have fallen away is also important, and conversation may be a part of that.  I doubt that it can be done in the sort of formalized chat sessions envisioned here.  The manifestations of disagreement may or may not be of great importance, but the underlying problems are not really susceptible to discussion.

Jan 282013

The Presiding Bishop of The Protestant Episcopal Gay-Straight Alliance, Wine Appreciation, Handfasting, and Swanning About Society, Inc (A Hierarchal Church, you better believe it), recently visited South Carolina to lend encouragement to those who, not happy with a nice, orthodox Anglican diocese, are setting up their own.  This visit is not itself very interesting, since it’s what she does, after all.  But her little speech – not quite a sermon, though she seems to have been vested, but certainly an oration – was remarkable.  I wasted a couple of hours dissecting the dissimulations, outright deceits, outrageous theology, and general vapidity, before throwing it up (that comes too close to a metaphor) as hopeless.  Some sort of award should be forthcoming.

The outstanding image from her speech (read the whole thing here, if you dare; it’s quite short) avers that folks who make judgements contrary to GroupThink are not that far off from the thought processes of terrorists and homicidal maniacs:

Somebody decides he knows the law, and oversteps whatever authority he may have to dictate the fate of others who may in fact be obeying the law, and often a law for which this local tyrant is not the judge.  It’s not too far from that kind of attitude to citizens’ militias deciding to patrol their towns or the Mexican border for unwelcome visitors.  It’s not terribly far from the state of mind evidenced in school shootings, or in those who want to arm school children, or the terrorism that takes oil workers hostage.

It’s this passage that has gotten most attention, but the truly subtle deceit comes in her interpretation of the meaning of the first Council at Jerusalem, the one that largely freed Gentile Christians from observing the minutiae of Jewish Law.  Of course, this Council, it’s meaning and application, are still matters of robust discussion today. That’s not her point.  Her point is to raise the possibility that the debate about homosexual behaviors is pretty much the same as debating the application of the dietary law to Gentiles. That is genuinely  – well.  I don’t know.  It’s possible she’s created a need for a new noun.

But that she says things like this isn’t especially interesting, new, or even diverting anymore.  There are other things to do than gape at this sort of thing.  But I wonder about her role, a bit.  After all, we all serve God, will we or nil we.  Perhaps her role is that of a smoke (fire-and-brimstone?) detector, or radiation dosimeter, for those genuinely faithful Christians who remain in The Protestant Episcopal Gay-Straight Alliance, Wine Appreciation, Handfasting, and Swanning About Society, Inc (A Hierarchal Church, you better believe it).  A hardy bunch, they are, determined to stick it out to the end.  They have an endless supply of last ditches.  Perhaps the Peeb’s function is to make it clear that she will fill every last one of those ditches with fire.

It’s a matter of intense amusement that on the website linked above, the first and most laudatory comment (“Brilliant! As always. . .”) comes from Bishop-in-Waiting Albert Cutié (oh, look him up if you’ve forgotten).  And it’s also worthy of note that this speech may mark the final abandonment of “pluriform truth” (whatever that meant) in favor of an elaborate doublethink combined with a cult of personality.

Nov 292012

The learned gentleman of the Anglican Communion Institute have provided a handy guide to the malicious machinations of the Presiding Queeg and her minions in the matter of the Diocese of South Carolina.  It is replete with informers, agitators, Star Chamber proceedings, duplicity, and downright sneakiness.  Sad as it all is, the summary should be useful for anyone whose friends and relations retain illusions about the, ahem, lower management of The Episcopal Church.

It is piquant that under the newish disciplinary canon (effected in 2009, to wit, Title IV, Canon 14) we have this gem:

Clergy who have voluntarily sought and accepted
ordination in this Church have given their express consent and
subjected themselves to the discipline of this Church and may not
claim in proceedings under this Title constitutional guarantees
afforded to citizens in other contexts.

It seems that TEC is using this rather broadly, and it is a sort of mirror image of the “benefit of clergy” controversy that was not the least important impetus to reform in England in the late Middle Ages.  Briefly, the Church claimed jurisdiction over anyone in Holy Orders, no matter how serious the crime might be.  The Ecclesiastical Courts were prone to impose little or no punishment on the clergy, and the scandal of ‘criminous clerks’ irritated by victims and kings for hundreds of years.  Since in order to claim the “benefit of clergy” one need only be able to read, abuse was rampant.   Henry II tried to resolve the problem (with notable lack of success) in 1164.  The problem never really went away until after the English Reformation, after it sort of petered out.  “Benefit of clergy” became a method of providing lighter punishment for lesser crimes for first time offenders, and was even extended to women, who were, at that time, manifestly not clergy but who were allowed to claim benefit of clergy . . .  hmm.

Now, however, we find TEC creating a different sort of ecclesiastical court to which the ordained clergy are subject without recourse to secular appeal, and retroactively, at that.  A man or woman ordained before 2009 now discovers that they surrendered their (unspecified) constitutional guarantees.  One is curious to see if eventually this Canon is used to assail those who committed offenses before 2009 – with this crew in charge, it’s possible to entertain the conjecture.  All this is at least as mind-bending as quantum entanglement, which can be proven experimentally.  TEC rather enjoys this sort of retroactive reach, having mostly gotten away with the notorious Dennis Canon which claimed to create a trust interest in parishes’ real property without putting the parish through the inconvenience of actually creating a trust.

Rather in the same class of recurring phenomena, it appears that the soon to be retired Bishop of New Hampshire, who, in case you have not heard, is gay, has settled on a place of quiet reflection and withdrawal from society for his retirement: Washington, D. C., and has raised a pretty penny for his new parish, St.  Thomas, Dupont Circle.  Where there will be a chapel named after him.  Which he hopes will be a pilgrimage destination.  The mind boggles.  In more modest times, it was customary to wait for death, and perhaps a miracle or two, before establishing a shrine and place of pilgrimage.  The architects’ work is available here, if you need proof that this is actually occurring.

All of this gives rise to the thought that a New Anglican Reformation needs  – Thomas Cromwell.  Any applicants?

Jun 302012

Deny it as they might, there’s a quality of the (self-defined) progressive mind that admires strong-arm leadership, dislikes dissent, and is uncomfortable with the chaotic haggling and discussions of democracy.  Since it is, to them, self-evident that what they want is right, absolutely right, discussion or dissent or questioning is not merely a waste of time, it is nearly treasonous.

As a part of it’s litigation to secure the property of various dioceses unhappy with the Manifest Progressive Destiny of The Episcopal Church (TEC), TEC has claimed that it is a “hierarchal” church to a degree that makes the Roman Catholic Church look like an especially boisterous commonwealth.  This assertion, if accepted by the various courts in which TEC is litigating, would give it certain advantages.  It is, however, a somewhat novel assertion, and one with which not everyone would agree.  The alternative understanding, that TEC is a union of equal partners over which the Presiding Bishop presides but does not rule, has probably prevailed historically, but it is inconvenient for the purposes of the current litigation.  Yet it is a position which has historic roots, and can be held with integrity.

Until today, it seems.  Someone, as yet unknown officially, has lodged complaints against ten count them ten bishops of TEC for agreeing with an amicus curiae brief filed in connection with TEC’s litigation against the Diocese of Quincy.  This brief argued the position that TEC is not nearly so hierarchal.  This seems to have miffed someone immensely, so immensely as to file charges (I’m betting on something to do with “abandoning the Doctrine and Discipline of this Church”) on the eve of TEC’s General Convention.  The investigation and show trial will proceed accordingly.  If we are very, very lucky, the term “breaker” will appear in the prosecution.

Today’s Episcopal Church:  Where Dissent is Cause for Dismissal.

Jan 182012

I cannot for the life of me understand why those bishops of The Episcopal Church who by litigation obtain the right to control parish churches for which they have, by and large, paid nothing, cannot find the generosity of heart of then sell the property to the congregations who have cherished and maintained them for many years.  The diocese is unlikely to be able to fill the church, after all.  And the departing congregation and TEC are by and large not in any business sense, rivals.  A mystery, that is.

This story came to my attention because my wife grew up near Bay Village and if we should visit her hometown again it would be at Christ Church that we would worship.  The Bishop of Cleveland felt moved to say (and I don’t know why they do these things.  It seems to be reflexive and automatic)

there is a range of understanding as to whether Jesus is the only way to salvation.

In our belief that God is generous . . . many of us suspect that in striving for intimacy with all human beings, God can achieve it through varying faith experiences and traditions.

This has caused a certain amount of merriment, often along the lines of ‘of course they want to get away from you, you impecunious post modernist.’  The comment itself and those like it should probably replace the Creeds in the next version of TEC’s Book of Common Prayer.  Just for fun, and as a sort of exercise, let’s look at the layers of content in this 46 words.

First off, a lay person does not need to hear a bishop provide reasons not to be a Christian.  We can come up with those on our own.  You are a Christian Bishop, and part of your job is to come up with good reasons to be Christian.

Second, avoiding the whole “I am the way, the truth, and the life” thing plays into the hands of those who like to portray Christians, especially anything like traditional Christians, as chuckleheads whose stock in trade is repression, dictatorial dogma, and narrow-mindedness.  It’s always a mistake to address the straw men.

Going a little deeper, you really have to ask “what do you mean, salvation?  Salvation from what, and why?  And, now that I think of it, ‘Who do you say Jesus is?’ ” If you believe that Jesus is fully man and fully God, in whom the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity became incarnate in the world for the sake of all humankind, then it might be wise not to be so hasty to minimize His mission.  If you do not believe that, well, then say so.  And get honest work.

On the third or fourth hand (I’m losing track), it’s quite sufficient to say that the salvation of those who are not Christians is in God’s hands, but that it is clear from the Gospel that judgment occurs.  It’s the business of Christians and their churches to be witnesses to the saving actions of Jesus, rather than minimizing their importance. And the slight, common, personalization of it all by saying, “God can achieve it (intimacy with all human beings) through varying faith experiences,” makes salvation (whatever Bishop Hollingsworth means by that) more a matter of what one feels from moment to moment rather than something done by God.  And then there’s the icky drippiness of “intimacy with all human beings.”  That sounds more like something coming out of Playboy Mansion West rather than from a bishop of the line of John Jewel, Thomas Cranmer, and Lancelot Andrewes.

And that is the whole sad story in a nutshell.

Jan 122012

Valuable reports from the Winter Conference of the Anglican Mission, here.

I have no trouble seeing The Episcopal Church as essentially bankrupt in the important ways. Or that there is much mission work, in the sense of Gospel-proclaiming, Christian-forming, Worshiping, to be done in North America

I have no trouble seeing that there is need for similar work, by someone, throughout Western Europe.

I have no trouble seeing the Anglican Communion as currently rudderless and dismasted, though I think this is a bit of Our Lord’s creative destruction.

But I cannot for the life of me see a need for an independent, global, Anglican missionary society whose leadership has already shown a tendency to be heedless of the authority.  This is heading for toe-stomping territory.  There are Anglican provinces throughout the world, some lively, some less so (the greater TEC’s influence, the more moribund).  In some places, let us say, China, missionary work must be done with care and circumspection; in others, in South America for example, there are already Anglican missionary efforts.  In places like Egypt, Anglican efforts are real but delicately balanced.  A new, global, independent, and unaccountable missionary society makes little sense to me.

Maybe I am hopelessly parochial.  I wait to be persuaded.

Jan 032012

The Anglican Mission (in America) began as a bold and imaginative response to the increasingly bizarre Episcopal Church.  By going to an overseas jurisdiction, the Mission was able to circumvent the problems of bizarre bishops, co-opted committees, and General Convention Happy Parties that were killing TEC.  But I think that the Mission also suffered from some of TEC’s problems of identity.  What is Anglicanism outside of the Church of England?  What is it here, in America?  The controversies that have detonated within the Mission lately seem to me to be mostly due to an ad hoc quality to governance and worship.  If the TEC expression of Anglican Christianity was confused and contradictory (and, really, once it jettisoned the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, what could you accurately was unique about it?), it was probable that the Mission would have some of the same problems.

So the problems now arising should not be unexpected.  Perhaps part of our task over decades is to rediscover what Anglican Christianity might be.

Dec 052011

Anglicans love to argue about what Anglicanism might be.  In the absence of a formalized Confession of Faith (which Anglicans would ignore), or given the failure of the unlamented Anglican Covenant, it seems harder than ever to define Anglican Christianity.  It seems to me that one approach might be to consider with some care classic Anglican liturgical formulations.  After all, for a few hundred years, it was Anglican Liturgy that defined it to the world.  This will be an occasional series, arising haphazardly, and certainly pursued without predetermined conclusion.

There are times that it seems that the liturgical reformers of the 1970s were motivated partly by a resentment of the weight of influence of Cranmer’s prayer book, its cultural influence, maybe the resonance it had in English-speaking cultures.  Maybe they felt a certain dead weight that they felt a need to escape.  Who knows?

As a case in point, the Collect for the Second Sunday of Advent.

The first English Prayer Book gives us this:

BLESSED lord, which hast caused all holy Scriptures to bee written for our learnyng; graunte us that we maye in suche wise heare them, read, marke, learne, and inwardly digeste them; that by pacience, and coumfort of thy holy woorde, we may embrace, and ever holde fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast geven us in our saviour Jesus Christe.

This Prayer entered into common usage, with its vivid metaphor of “read, marke, learne, and inwardly digeste.”  The prayer was largely unchanged through the 1928 American Book, which gives

BLESSED Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The 1979 American Book moves this preface out of Advent to a couple of weeks before, in this form:

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The Collect for 2 Advent is now

Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Certainly a worthy prayer, and in many ways especially appropriate words to our culture.  But different in emphasis.  Advent is a season of repentance, reconsideration, and preparation, and the focus on the Bible was very typical of the Reformation Anglicanism of Jewel and Cranmer.  A revived Anglicanism probably involves lots and lots of repentance, reconsideration, and preparation, and a restored place of honor for Scripture.  The dominant secularized Episcopal Church deemphasizes Scripture at the same time that it claims prophetic stature, so its not too surprising that this Collect got moved into the end of the year clutter.


Nov 182011

The Psalm appointed for a few weeks ago, Psalm 107, hit home powerfully.

The Psalm begins with proclamation and instruction: The Lord is good!  Thank Him!

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
For his steadfast love endures forever

O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is gracious, and his
mercy endureth for ever.

This proclamation hammered on many of concerns.  My small Anglican community is struggling; my family is in a difficult situation.  The challenges consume a lot of time and effort, and their resolution is beyond my vision.  Nor is my situation unique.  There are times when it seems we live under a rain of impacts, so frequent and so loudly demanding that it is difficult to rank them, to assess the demands much less act upon them.  Trouble with our children, concern about health, worries about friends, making the payroll, making space for your church to be free of an oppressor – rain down fiercely.  Who hasn’t been there?

His steadfast love endures forever.

The Psalm reminds us that the Lord is not remote or distant, a sort of God the Mechanic, but active in our own lives and history.  It recalls great acts of the Lord both national and individual – it’s quite a list, and strangely personal.

Some were fools through their sinful ways,
and because of their iniquities suffered affliction;
they loathed any kind of food,
and they drew near to the gates of death.
Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
He sent out his word and healed them,
and delivered them from their destruction.
(Psalm 107:17-20 ESV)

And it recalls merchant ships saved from storms at sea:

They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths;
their courage melted away in their evil plight;
they reeled and staggered like drunken men
and were at their wits’ end.
Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
He made the storm be still,
and the waves of the sea were hushed.
Then they were glad that the waters were quiet,
and he brought them to their desired haven.
(Psalm 107:26-30 ESV)

Notice the repetition:

Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.

The Psalm repeats the formula 4 times in different situations, all demonstrating that

His steadfast love endures forever.

The dangers of calm and prosperity are notorious, highlighted by Jesus in Luke 12:15, but the dangers of crisis are as severe.  The danger of calm seems to be self-satisfaction, indolence, forgetfulness, unthankfulness.  The danger of crisis seems to be resentment, impatience, fear, distrust.  In prosperity, we say, “I’ll pray tomorrow.  Tonight I’ll enjoy the sunset and this glass of wine.”  In crisis we say, “I don’t deserve this misery.”  In prosperity and calm, we forget that it’s the Lord who brings it; in crisis, that it is the Lord who reverses and heals.

Psalm 107 also seems to connect emotionally with another reading from a couple of weeks earlier.  More about that next week, maybe.