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?

Nov 152012

In the shambles that used to be The Episcopal Church, a purge is heading to some sort of conclusion.  Changes to the disciplinary rules (they’re called ‘canons’ to make them sound nicer than ‘regulations’) allow anyone to accuse anyone else of anything, at any time, and for the accusation to proceed to disposition and sentence without the impediment of defense or trial (I’m abbreviating, but in practice that is what is happening) or appeal.  These changes were designed to suppress dissent over the direction that the current management wishes to take.  They have very tender ears, and the very mild objections they have heard from some of the officers, crew, and passengers aboard the Ship of Faith has hurt them deeply.

The most recent purgey actions have been the Presiding Bishop (or “Queeg,”) actions to suspend (the ecclesiastical term is “inhibit”) the Bishop of South Carolina for . . . well, that’s hard to say.  Being a Christian, one suspects.  Disagreeing with her, certainly.  This, preparatory to firing him (“depose”).  More recently, she has also dismissed that Diocese’s Standing Committee (think, “cabinet”) and declared the Diocese to be salvage.

In another but similar situation, the Queeg and her minions have taken aim at a number of current and retired Bishops for the unspeakably vile offense of disagreeing with her in public about the nature of her authority.  Bear in mind that for the most part these are bishops who have stuck to the possibly naive opinion that they could maintain an orthodox and faithful Christian witness within The Episcopal Church despite the current climate and the somewhat grand conception of her authority possessed by the Queeg.  Their responses are usually a mild tut-tuttery, blaming the court around the Queeg rather than the Queeg herself.  “She is but misled!”  My oh my.  It’s amusing to consider a counterattack – the Communion Partner bishops could unilaterally declare any see vacant where the incumbent has ever said anything remotely at odds with Nicene Christianity, or declare the Queeg’s office vacant for uncanonical acts and misdemeanors.  But that won’t happen.

The Queeg, however, quite obviously sees herself as the hammer of the faithful, a hammer whose task it is to shatter and sweep away all opposition.  She was elected to her position for that purpose, and embraces it happily.

Sardonic commenters, who realize what is going on, amuse themselves by speculating whether this or that lackey is best likened to Felicks Dzerzhinsky or Genrikh Yagoda, but that amusement only serves to mitigate what is a rather sad scene.

Some informative links; they’ll take you to others to give the full picture of this risible mess.







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 112012

Sad but not surprising news from Virginia, where the Official Diocese of Virginia, a constituent but subordinate part of the hierarchal-without-any-congregational-taint-whatsoever Episcopal Church™ has won the right to turn several large, thriving congregations out of their customary churches.  The fate of properties acquired by the local-and-very-definitely-subordinate-not-at-all-independent-dioceses is has often been unpleasant to consider.  How the Official Diocese of Virginia will resist the opportunity to realize their newly acquired assets  into resorts, conference centers, casinos, nightclubs, and possibly mosques will be an interesting sight. The stewardship of buildings is arguably a less important Christian duty, but it is hard to work out how that minor duty is fulfilled by turning a Christian church into a nightclub, or a mosque.  Both have happened.

Having control of your own space is certainly an asset to a Christian community.  You can just plain do more – more worship, more formation, more outreach. My own community has access to its rented space for only a few hours a week, and that certainly restricts our activity.  But it does seem that God is asking those of us in North American to experience a degree of lessened resource, and I think this will in turn force us to look more carefully at our fundamental commitments and at how we interact with each other.  Anglicans are infamously squabblesome, and it may be that a leaner church will force us towards better care of one another.

I’ve been slowly coming ‘round to the notion that we are given reformations so that we might shrug off cultural accretions. We are, maybe, being asked to think carefully what we are up to, pray continually for clarity about today’s step, and wait patiently upon God.  Without oodles of resources, maybe we won’t run off towards every idea that strikes someone’s fancy.

The Exiles of Virginia (and there’s a neat moniker to go by) will need to keep fresh in their minds that their real communities are intact, and that all will be well.