1/13/2006

Campaign Stirrings and a New Offensive Stragegy.

After a very short lull at Christmas the realignment crowd is back in action. I hope their Christmas was peaceful. Mine was.

I had hoped that the Incarnational truce might extend into the New Year, but no such luck. In the past twelve days there have been various stirrings:

It began with the ordination at the Network conference in Pittsburgh in November and a relatively small incident just before Christmas involving a priest of the Diocese of Virginia.

At the time of the ordinations it was pointed out that the ordinations in Pittsburgh were strange indeed, hands having been laid by the bishop of Bolivia on several persons who would serve in areas under the jurisdiction of Episcopal bishops, several of whom objected. But there was not much interest. A new article by Thomas Morgan in the Christianity Today titled, “Global Anglicans Flex Muscle” rightly recalls that event and its importance. His lead sentence was, “On Saturday, November 12, Frank Lyons, the conservative Anglican bishop of Bolivia, performed four ordinations heard round the world.” His article traces that salvo to the increasing thunder of activities by those working for a realignment of the Anglican Communion.

In the new year the Archbishop of Uganda wrote a scathing letter to The Rt. Rev. Peter Lee, Bishop of Virginia concerning Bishop Lee’s determination that The Rev. J. Phillip Ashley was no longer in the ordained ministry of the Episcopal Church. Again, there was a flurry of interest, but then it subsided.

The tone of Archbishop Orombi’s letter was at the very least belligerent. He accused Bishop Lee of misunderstanding the plain English of Mr. Ashley’s letter of resignation just as by implication Bishop Lee and others are involved in “reinventing the plain meaning of Scripture.” He ended his letter by informing Bishop Lee that “We pray for your repentance and the repentance of all the ECUSA leadership, and for your return to the historic faith and communion of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.” Not exactly a friendly bit of interchange!

Archbishop Orombi in his letter to Bishop Lee confused three distinct issues: (i) the indelible character of ordination, (ii) matters of Church discipline in which those ordained are licensed, enrolled as part of the clergy of the Church and practice by oaths of obedience and canons of the church and may not unilaterally end their canonical relationship with the Bishop who has charge over them, and (iii) the principle, ancient in origins and recently affirmed in the Windsor Report and other documents, that within diocesan boundaries it is the bishop of that location that holds the right to issue permission to act in a ministerial capacity.

Archbisho Orombi was right about only the first of these three, and used the truth of that statement to essentially disregard the oaths of obedience Mr. Ashley took at his ordination or the ancient agreement of the Church concerning area authority of bishops. Well, it will all come home. One day Mr. Ashley will decide that Archbishop Orombi or the bishop of Rwenzori Diocese has no hold on him either. How can one trust a person in larger things who cannot keep his word on lesser things?

Mr. Ashley cannot unilaterally determine that he is free from the canonical authority of the Bishop. I have not always been comfortable to be a priest under such a commitment to obedience, but at least I acknowledge the reality of the oath.

Bishop Lee and the Standing Committee of Virginia did Mr. Ashley a service in determining that Mr. Ashley has renounced the ministry of the Episcopal Church. At least then the real issue is clear: Mr. Ashley is not licensed to minister in the Episcopal Church, no matter the validity of his orders. He is operating under license of the Bishop of Rwenzori in the Church of the Province of Uganda and is therefore working in Virginia in contravention of the normal boundaries of ecclesiastical authority. But that becomes his new bishop’s responsibility, not his alone.

This small church fight is an example of the total disregard by the realignment leadership of the boundaries of ecclesiastical authority. It is one of a continuing salvo of fire against the authority of bishops with whom they disagree.

There are now a number of Provincial Archbishops and several bishops that have declared that their churches are out of communion with the Episcopal Church and that they are therefore not bound by the normal boundary rules. Morgan’s article in Christianity Today lists the following: Bolivia, Chile, Southeast Asia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya.

That same article makes it clear that the Bishop of Pittsburgh and Moderator of the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes was not a passive onlooker at the ordinations held in his diocese by the Bishop of Bolivia in November. The Moderator is quoted as saying, “My permission to Anglican bishops to function in my diocese and ordain priests who are under them is totally licit.” That may be so, but for them to be ordained specifically to serve in locations where there already exists a jurisdiction of this church runs counter to the Bishop of Pittsburgh’s sense that he must give permission for the ordinations in the first place. More importantly his approval of these ordinations taking place is legitimate grounds for proposing that the Bishop of Pittsburgh has himself broken communion with the Episcopal Church.

Morgan’s article is a must read. In particular his description of a realigment global strategy is important to understand.

If Morgan is right, the strategy that is now in place puts off the real place of hostile takeover to the Lambeth Conference of 2008. He quotes Stephen Noll as saying, “the Episcopal Church, as it is now constituted, is unreformable.” That being the case, the strategy outlined by Morgan is important for it points directly to Lambeth and does not mention General Convention at all.

But one piece of the strategy is not mentioned, but I believe is certainly assumed: I believe there will be a challenge mounted against the presence of Episcopal Church bishops and an insistence that Lambeth include only those who will renounce the actions of the Episcopal Church. The alliances being made between several Episcopal Church bishops, bishops from several Provinces of the Anglican Communion and a variety of continuing church leaders and members of the Reformed Episcopal Church are all pointing to the same hostile takeover previously written about in terms of a coup by a wide variety of authors on the internet and by Stephen Bates in his book, A Church at War.

What is perhaps of most importance at the moment is that if Mr. Morgan is correct the real place where all this will get settled is not at General Convention this year but at Lambeth in 2008. According to Morgan, at that time demands will be made for a covenant statement that Scripture is supreme “over all church teachings, leaders and institutions.” Morgan speaks of this as an Anglican “covenant.”

This should not be confused with the Anglican Covenant proposed in the Windsor Report. That document proposes something that will require considerable discussion and a long process of adoption. The covenantal statement of the supremacy of Scripture will probably stand alone and get lots of signatures on the basis of the slogan, “the plain meaning of Scripture.” It will be a ruse.

That slogan was used by Archbishop Orombi in his letter to Bishop Lee when he said that ECUSA was “reinventing the plain meaning of Scripture.” In an interestingly scary way the Bishop of Pittsburgh is quoted by Morgan as saying, “it’s (the Anglican church) also worldwide probably the best positioned to say – “No!” – when the culture gets away from the plain revelation of God.”

It is a short step from the “plain meaning of Scripture” to the “plain revelation of God.” The first seems more or less reasonable – proposing that Scripture means what it says - OK, with perhaps some quibble about the offenses for which execution is the required remedy and the details of the creation story and perhaps the massive problem that the New Covenant is not congruent with the Old Covenant. But the second, “the plain revelation of God,” takes us down the path that places the supremacy of Scripture outside the interpretative environment of the Church, with all its quirks, and in the hands of those to whom it has been particularly revealed by God. And just who might those persons be?

This is why the salvos of these past days are of importance. The various incursions into the Episcopal Church have assumed broken communion. They assume to that the Episcopal Church is “unreformable.” Things are moving to a showdown, most likely at Lambeth where a Trojan Horse covenant on Scripture will be presented and then overwhelmed by the claim of “the plain revelation of God.” The end of all this will be a mess of revelation pottage. Having thrown out us revisionists – so-called – they will begin throwing out one another on the basis of the charisma of knowing the “plain revelation of God.” Good luck! And their last state will be worse than their first.

It seems to me the way forward for progressive folk in the Episcopal Church is to continue being part of the Episcopal Church, learning as we go to accept criticism, love the critics, and do a lot of listening. We ought to assume we have an obligation to be part of the Anglican Communion and its instruments of unity. We may or may not be part of the Anglican Communion if it gets redefined by the realignment folk, we may or may not be in communion with the Bishop of Bolivia or the Archbishop of Uganda. But it will all work out alright in the end. God, the great net fisher, will sort it all out. Meanwhile there are people to feed, love, challenge and engage.

18 comments:

  1. You refer to "the principle, ancient in origins and recently affirmed in the Windsor Report and other documents, that within diocesan boundaries it is the bishop of that location that holds the right to issue permission to act in a ministerial capacity." Does this not presuppose that the bishops are part of the same church body? For example, there is a RC bishop in the diocese in which you minister, yet you are not under his authority and you need not obtain his permission to act in a ministerial capacity. Doesn't Archbishop Orombi's action reflect the same reality? Implicit in his action is the premise that he and Bishop Lee are not members of the same church and that those received as clergy in the Anglcian Church of Uganda and who minister in Virginia or elsewhere, are not under the jurisdiction of the Episcopal Church's Diocesan. But even assuming it to be a breach of the principle to which you refer, a decision has been made that the pastoral needs of such congregations are more important than the principle. Kind of like saving the ass from the pit on the Sabbath. Why does the rule/principle exist? Is that reason more important to God's people than their need for Godly oversight? I suspect we might well answer that question differently.

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  2. "a decision has been made that the pastoral needs of such congregations are more important than the principle"

    What sort of "pastoral needs" are you referring to, Anonymous? A "need" for schism and Donatism? (Speaking of asses---well, No Comment! ;-p)

    "Doesn't Archbishop Orombi's action reflect the same reality? Implicit in his action is the premise that he and Bishop Lee are not members of the same church"

    The issue is whether ++Orombi is qualified to make the determination that +Lee and he---both looking to Canterbury as their locus of unity---are not members (bishops) in the same church.

    I don't envy +++Rowan. He's getting closer and closer to having to make a "which side am I on" type of decision.

    I pray (and trust) he will decide for those bishops (and national churches) who have not been holding him up to personal inquisition!

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  3. "The first seems more or less reasonable – proposing that Scripture means what it says"

    Proposing that Scripture (always in the plural ;=) means what the current t r a n s l a t i o n s claim it says...

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  4. Mark:

    I'm convinced that "a lot of listening" still hasn't happened. Your essay, unfortunately, seems to demonstrate this.

    The Anglican Communion said at Lambeth 1998 that homosexual practice is incompatible with Scripture. The other branches of the one, holy, catholic apostolic church (e.g Roman Catholic, Russian Orthodox, etc.) have said that homosexual practice is incompatible with Scripture. For the last 2000 years (excepting perhaps the most recent 50), the entire Church has said that homosexual practice is incompatible with Scripture. The Windsor Report notes: "The overwhelming response from other Christians both inside and outside the Anglican family has been to regard these developments as departures from genuine, apostolic Christian faith." So I find the claim preposterous that those who say that homosexual practice is incompatible with Scripture are "placing the supremacy of Scripture outside the interpretative environment of the Church." They are well in line with what the Church has asserted. Any casual objective observer would immediately see that the Episcopal Church is out of touch with what the Church has asserted, not the conservative dissidents. It appears to me that ECUSA is hoping to change the Church's mind, and it will not help to pretend the Church never had an opinion on the subject.

    I am at an utter loss to understand how a church plant leaving the Diocese of Virginia for the Anglican Church of Uganda can be construed as a "hostile takeover." No one commits a hostile takeover by leaving. Sorry, I believe you are utterly mistaken about this. If you are really committed to listening, perhaps you should let the vast global conservative Anglican conspiracy theory go. Perhaps you should listen to the conservatives themselves, rather than the opinions of Stephen Bates; I have yet to see any evangelical say that he has portrayed them fairly and accurately. The goal of the conservative dissidents (at least in America) is a realignment, not a hostile takeover. The terms are not at all synonymous. No one is planning to come to your church, change your locks, and force on you a rector you don't want. There are no plans to depose and force out liberal bishops and rectors, and take over the property of liberal parishes. No such plans are outlined in the Chapman memo; none of the conservative dissident groups have made any such attempt. There are other groups who employ such tactics and are making similar plans, but not the conservative dissidents within the Episcopal Church. They know full well their minority status, and the futility of such an endeavor. Frankly, it may be that if this paranoia continues in the Episcopal Church, the conservatives are actually better off separating themselves and coming under the jurisdiction of other Anglican churches, since those who stay and try to find a place for themselves don't fare so well. The irrational fear of a hostile takeover is in fact pushing forward the realignment agenda.

    The statement "we may or may not be in communion with the Bishop of Bolivia or the Archbishop of Uganda" suggests that perhaps you haven't started listening yet. We are not in communion with Bolivia or Uganda. It is as simple as that. Communion is a two-way thing. If Bolivia and Uganda say they are not in communion with us, they are not in communion with us, and we are not in communion with them. Neither we nor the Archbishop of Canterbury can say otherwise. These provinces and their primates have every right in the world to declare this. If they are working under the older Anglican ordinal, vowing "to banish and drive away from the Church all erroneous and strange doctrine contrary to God's Word," and if they believe that our actions promote "erroneous and strange doctrine," they may have a responsibility to declare this. It is no good to question whether they have the right to determine that; if they don't have that right, they cannot fulfill this vow. I think we must respect their ordination vows if we call on our priests to respect their own.

    I am not convinced your charge against this rector of forsaking his ordination vows is fair, nor does it acknowledge his and others' dilemma. The bishop asks the candidate, "Will you be loyal to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as this Church has received them? And will you, in accordance with the canons of this Church, obey your bishop and other ministers who may have authority over you and your work?" What does the priest do if he or she perceives a conflict between the two questions? What if they perceive that the bishop and the diocese is no longer "loyal to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as this Church has received them?" What then? Should they bring charges against the bishop? That is a very lengthy and expensive process (financially and professionally), and has almost no chance of succeeding. Their options appear to me to be limited and ugly, especially as they "undertake to be a faithful pastor" (as they undersatnd it, not you) and I doubt you have any business judging them, or can even begin to understand their dilemma.

    I grieve that the schism now seems inevitable. I only hope that the Episcopal Church will understand why it happened when it does. Perhaps the Episcopal Church is meant to serve a very specific purpose in the divine plan.

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  5. R.B. wrote, "No one is planning to come to your church, change your locks, and force on you a rector you don't want."

    Well, in our diocese this is certainly happening. A large, historic parish just north of Dallas has been searching for a new rector for ages. Yet every, single candidate they have found has been disapproved by our AAC/"Network" bishop.

    It's becoming increasingly obvious that our bishop is fighting tooth and nail to pack the clergy here with AAC-supporting, Trinity graduates. Heck, he doesn't even care if he's being obvious about it anymore...

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  6. rb,
    As you well know, Lambeth '98's 1.10 merely says the AC "cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions" and does not actually attempt to forbid anything ECUSA did at GC2003; nor would Lambeth resolutions have normative power, even if the resolution had been worded to prohibit and forbid rather than merely advise.

    You are simply making things up when you state "The Anglican Communion said at Lambeth 1998 that homosexual practice is incompatible with Scripture." That claim is nowhere made in 1.10--can you read?

    As you know from reading it, the WR explicitly prescinds from issuing a judgement on the acts of GC2003--when it states "The overwhelming response from other Christians both inside and outside the Anglican family has been to regard these developments as departures from genuine, apostolic Christian faith," it is describing a fact about how Christians regard things--and definitely not saying that those Christians are right about their perception of what God requires. Or do you see something else, something that is not there?

    You are out of touch with reality when you claim that "It appears to me that ECUSA is hoping to change the Church's mind, and it will not help to pretend the Church never had an opinion on the subject." ECUSA does not pretend most of the rest of the Church (not simply 'the Church' as you claim) does not oppose its theology at GC2003.

    Again, you show yourself out of touch with reality when you deny Anglican wingers are co-ordinating their efforts on a global scale. There is no need to posit a conspiracy--they are doing it openly, both within the US and within the wider AC. Your rhetoric is out of date: upgrade!

    I suspect that when the assorted bishops of Uganda and wherever claim they are not in communion with ECUSA, they do not know what they are talking about--listening does not seem to help, as they do not argue, much less take care to explain what they mean in referring to koinonia. It is primarily a relationship between communities and God, and from this follows a relation between the respective communities. Thus, sad as it may seem to you and them, we are not at liberty to unilaterally declare the nonexistence of genuine koinonia--the bishops, on a charitable hearing, are simply equivocating.

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  7. PS
    Yes, you may be tempted to cite 1.10 (d), but that says less than you need.

    For instance, it does not imply ruling out the civil unions for gay couples of the variety that CoE is contemplating; it does not even imply prohibiting the blessing of gay unions. ECUSA can do all that, and still not contradict 1.10 (e).

    GC 2003 is strictly speaking consistent with 98. GC2003 is being used as an excuse for what wingers have long imagined in their hearts--a kingdom of their own, in their own image.

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  8. Then what about Lambeth 1.10(B) in which it appears, rather unambiguously "in view of the teaching of Scripture, [the Conference]upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage." So marriage is only for a man and woman, and those not called to marriage should be abstinent. How then can the church bless civil unions or even accept them?

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  9. Fisher asks "What sort of "pastoral needs" are you referring to, Anonymous? A "need" for schism and Donatism? (Speaking of asses---well, No Comment! ;-p)
    Notwithstanding the sarcasm and ad hominem attack, the question deserves a response -- The same pastoral needs every congregation has (or thinks it has) for episcopal oversight/care. Perhaps the whole "schism" thing could have been avoided had the HOB accepted real alternate oversight instead of offering DEPO. Having chosen to prefer episcopal prerogatives over pastoral concerns, they have only themselves to blame for congregations reaching out to Anglican bishops who share their views on what the faith once delivered really means.
    Why not a separate, orthodox province within ECUSA so as to preserve the possibility of future reconciliation? Answer - no bishop will give up a parish or its assets. I for one don't give a hoot who the bishop of my diocese is. I don't need his/her ministry to grow in relationship with the Lord or with my nighbors. For those who do need that ministry, I sympathize that instead of Godly witness, they give you power politics.

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  10. Mark Harris said, "It is a short step from the “plain meaning of Scripture” to the “plain revelation of God.” The first seems more or less reasonable – proposing that Scripture means what it says - OK, with perhaps some quibble about the offenses for which execution is the required remedy and the details of the creation story and perhaps the massive problem that the New Covenant is not congruent with the Old Covenant."

    I am a bit confused, Mark, as Scripture seems to have pronounced the sentence for all sin. We see that sentence/judgment quite clearly on the cross. We do not stone sinners (or any other executions) because Christ bore that penalty for our sakes. I have not heard anyone even from the far right (as opposed to the 'regular' right--lol) claim otherwise. And to what incongruity between the Testaments are you referring? Jesus sees Himself, as the NT writers attest, as the focus of all the Old Testament. Or are you proposing that Christ was plan "C" or "D" or whatever in God's redemptive plan?

    Peace,
    JB

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  11. The Anglican Scotist commented, "GC2003 is being used as an excuse for what wingers have long imagined in their hearts--a kingdom of their own, in their own image."

    And that, as I commented in the Scotist's recent blog entry, is the heart of the matter. It's not about an honest theological position, as their "position" is not consistent or even minimally defensible - it's about an extremist neo-con political position in religious drag.

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  12. JB said, "And to what incongruity between the Testaments are you referring? Jesus sees Himself, as the NT writers attest, as the focus of all the Old Testament. Or are you proposing that Christ was plan "C" or "D" or whatever in God's redemptive plan?"

    I agree that Jesus, and certainly those who wrote about him, saw him as the fulfillment of the promises made to the community that produced the Hebrew Scriptures. Still, the beginning of the Gospel of John...which I love BTW...posits a very different understanding of the creation, or if not that, of the creator than the beginning of Genesis. The primary difference, of course, is wrapped up in the Incarnation. The Word is a different way of thinking about God and of course it gets us into difficut conversations with the community that produced what we come to call the Old Testament. More later.

    Mark Harris

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  13. I am perhaps less fond of John than you, but none-the-less, I think it clear that something critical happened in the understanding of the scriptures.

    The Jewish claim that Christianity is a new thing and not the worship of their messiah actually makes a lot of sense. Nothing in the OT clearly suggests incarnation. Oh, we infer it, but that is our looking backwards reading.

    I am not suggesting that the incarnation is wrong, far from it. I am suggesting that Jesus did in fact make all things new. Including the promise.

    FWIW
    jimB

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  14. Mark writes "the beginning of the Gospel of John...which I love BTW...posits a very different understanding of the creation, or if not that, of the creator than the beginning of Genesis."

    I agree wholeheartedly, but the two books seem to be addressing two different questions. Genesis seems to be addressing how the world came to be (creation act of God). John simply looks at how the creation was accomplished (as you note, through the Incarnation). Perhaps I have had way too much math, but incongruent connotes differences, as in "not approximate to". We express that with a curvy "equals sign with a line slash through it) What Genesis proposes, John expounds, so the accounts would seem to be more congruent (curvy equal sign) than incongruent. Have a great weekend!

    Peace,
    JB

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  15. To the "Anonymous" responding to me (Fisher):

    Your post introduced the word "ass", and I got carried away: I'm sorry.

    That said, I still think we have a fundamental disagreement on the concept of "pastoral needs"---leading to a disagreement on "episcopal oversight".

    I see pastoral needs---in the area of a parish's "pastoral needs" of a bishop, as concrete acts. The parish has persons needing confirmation, and the bishop, pastorally supplies his (or her!) hands.

    To question what's going on in said bishop's head (beyond reciting the Confirmation liturgy out of the BCP) is, plain and simple, Donatism. And to peremptorarily refuse your bishop his/her episcopal offices and perogatives, because you judge "what's going on in the bishop's head" as lacking (in "the Faith once delivered...") is schism.

    Both are heresies.

    As Americans, anyone has a right such heretical beliefs, of course.

    But they are inconsistent w/ the orthodox Anglican faith (just so we're clear that ECUSA stands for orthodoxy: that the democratic-minority, failing to get their way, would demand an "orthodox" sub-province, being the height of chutzpah!).

    rb said:

    We are not in communion with Bolivia or Uganda. It is as simple as that. Communion is a two-way thing. If Bolivia and Uganda say they are not in communion with us, they are not in communion with us, and we are not in communion with them. Neither we nor the Archbishop of Canterbury can say otherwise.

    I disagree.

    ECUSA is in communion w/ all who would come and share Christ's Body and Blood with us.

    If some refuse, then it is they who have broken communion w/ us. Not we w/ them.

    (In the same way that I consider the AC to be in communion w/ Rome, even if they are not w/ us. We rejected the Bishop of Rome's rule, not his fellowship/com-pan-ionship.)

    Communion isn't a "two-party contract".

    It's Christ's indissoluble Body---to which Christ invites ALL of us to share---and of which we may choose to partake (and ECUSA so chooses).

    For those who don't: pity. :-(

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  16. Anonymous said, "Nothing in the OT clearly suggests incarnation. Oh, we infer it, but that is our looking backwards reading. "

    Isn't that one of the great things about God, how He confounds and surprises?

    You seem surprised that God might do something or be capable of something, you didn't think about or see coming?

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  17. Thanks for the apology. I don't care one way or the other who the bishop is. I have no need for the bishop;'s ministy so to me, it is irrelevant. But to some, it is extremely important. Not just for confirmation, but his/her teaching/leadership ministry. My wife is a priest. Her bishop is her pastor and the authority to whom she owes obedience. In her position, I would quit being a priest in this diocese but she makes her own decisions.

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  18. The fact that people are even discussing a schism is shameful. How can such crass politics be of Christ? The Spirit of Jesus surely is more concerned about faith and love than such things as diocesan boundaries, Anglican "doctrine", and the power of bishops and archbishops.

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