6/16/2006

The Linch Pin

Thursday, with very little fanfare or great debate, the House of Deputies passed resolution A159, Commitment to Interdependence in the Anglican Communion.

This resolution is the linch pin holding together the deliberations on the other resolutions concerning the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. It passed overwhelmingly, drawing votes from both the realignment and progressive deputies.

There are many ways to divide the house on these matters: conservative and liberal, orthodox and revisionist, those who argue for realignment and those who argue for progressive action, and on and on. This may be the only vote on which these various parties agree, for the overwhelming sentiment of the deputies and bishops at General Convention is indeed to commit this church to interdependence in the Anglican Communion.

The problem, of course, is that some see interdependence as a matter of autonomous bodies of their own free will acting interdependently and others see interdependence as defining the range of autonomous action. Issues long forgotten will be dusted off and make their appearance, and among them will be the historical circumstances that gave rise to the first of the instruments of communion, namely the Lambeth Conference. Were these autonomous churches that came together by invitation, or already autonomous-in-communion churches?

To hear the Windsor Report writers, you would think that they forgot that at that conference several genuinely autonomous churches joined the Church of England and its several jurisdictions or that at least some of the church leaders of England refused to attend, most notably the Archbishop of York. Autonomy was expressed in several fairly serious ways. The Windsor Report is excellent in many respects, but it is deficient in its historical memory on several matters, this being one.

On Wednesday night at the open hearing on the matters of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, the Bishop of Pittsburgh and Moderator of the Network, had this to say:

“I believe, with the greatest of heartbreak and sadness, that the day has arrived where those who have chosen the Episcopal Church because of its catholic and evangelical reliability, and those who have chosen the Episcopal Church for its revolutionary character, can no longer be held together. For which Episcopal Church will the Committee, and then this Convention, decide? The future in Communion rests only with the former of the two. It cannot be both ways into the future.”

Included in this observation is the less obvious implication that until recently the catholic and evangelical emphasis and the revolutionary emphasis have in fact held. That is, the Episcopal Church has been in the past a mix of elements: catholic, evangelical and revolutionary. What is it that has held the church together that is now missing?

Perhaps it is that until recently many of us could hope that being catholic and evangelical might indeed be possible while being as well progressive and revolutionary. As a church we have resisted condemnation of clergy who were snake belly low or spiky high, given to the excesses of the spirit and the dryness of academia, wildly contemporary or madly eccentric, prophetic and pastoral. We have in other words lived with the quirkiness of our fellow Episcopal and Anglican friends in the sure and certain hope that one day they would retire or die and life would go on.

What was holding the church together was the tolerant middle, willing to live with the edges biting at them. The linch pins that string together this strange entourage of ecclesial wagons was primarily reflection on scripture and the saying of prayers, both set in the context of Common Prayer. And those prayers are profoundly about the incarnational presence of Christ in the world, and thus about mission and presence.

Evangelicals, Catholics, and Progressives are all committed to mission, and the mission activities are in fact quite often of very similar sorts, for in an incarnational way all have drawn the world into Christ present in those who are members of the body. As far as I can tell, neither the Lord Jesus or the suffering world has cared two wits whether the instrument of the Lord’s presence was of one or the other group, but only that God’s love was present in them.

So A159 concerns interdependence FOR something, as well as interdependence OF something. We are interdependent for the life of the world, and are interdependent so that the Lord Jesus, til he comes again, has a body in the world. We are not interdependent because the Anglican Communion is the answer to the question, “What is the Church?” We are interdependent because as the body of Christ (as believers) we are constantly working to make incarnate the witness to the Resurrection.

The way out of the mess we are in is not to get too riled up about the split between the catholic and evangelical on the one side and the progressive or “revolutionary” on the other, but rather to keep our eyes on the prize: The way out is to draw all people to Himself by being those who draw in the world’s sufferings and joys and transfigure them.

So, on one level, the linch pin of interdependence is something most parties in the Episcopal Church have been willing to give assent. We will of course have to continue the discussion about just what it means, but looking to Mission first, perhaps the discussion will be more muted since we know it will all work out in God’s good time.

In our time, however, here at Convention, we face a problem. The resolutions coming up are likely to generate a great deal of debate, some of it quite heated. People on the conservative and progressive sides both will dislike some of the proposals, for reasons quite different from one another. But they will might find themselves standing in the same line, arguing against this or that resolution for being either too stringent or too soft, for bending the knee too much to Windsor, or not conforming sufficiently.

If these forces prevail, and we are unable to perfect the resolutions on the floor to a point where agreement can be reached we could end up not passing the legislation at all. Those who believe, as the Moderator seems to believe, that the game is over will use the failure to reach agreement as a sign, perhaps THE sign, that the Episcopal Church has failed to stay connected to the Communion.

We will need our friends in the communion to point out two things to the contrary:
  1. A “no” vote on some of these resolutions does not necessarily imply the lack of desire to take the Windsor Report or the Communion seriously, but only that we are unable to find a way forward given the particulars of the legislation before us.

  2. The assessment of the Moderator, that the game is over, that the several forces in the Church cannot be held together, is not a universally held belief, and the decision by the Network that it is finished is not the decision of the whole of the Episcopal Church.

We need our friends to know that we are working as hard as we can to honor our commitment to life in the Anglican Communion and to cut us some slack. And the sign of our commitment is our focus on mission, on the hurting world, on being the presence of Christ in that world. Everything else will work its way forward, where we will know and recognize our fellow Anglicans around the world as friends in Christ.

Off to work. It is Friday, a full day of legislative work, and its work serves in one way or another the living Lord.

On an entirely separate matter, I was overjoyed to be with a bunch of former and current Episcopal College Chaplains last night for dinner. These people have been my mentors, friends, and companions through the years, and they don’t let up. It was wonderful.

15 comments:

  1. (Dave)
    Could you really say, with a straight face, that you are working as hard as you can to maintain interdependence within the AC? The AC has told our church that the way forward is the WR and for several years, all we have heard is how wrong are its conclusions and how no one should expect TEC to adopt measures unanimously agreed by the authors (representing many different views) as the minimum required to preserve communion.

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  2. Dave,

    I am not sure how we can get from wherever we are to wherever we think we want to be doing really bad history. Not one province has unconditionally accepted the Windsor madness. That would include Nigeria. In fact the statement of ++Akinola the day of its release can only be described as furious.

    What is happening is that people, and provinces are cherry picking. ++Akinola wants the parts that make it not OK for ECUSA and ACCanada to act as he disaproves. He wants the covenant as he thinks it should be written. He does not want to hear about staying in his own space.

    I do not blame, or even criticize ++A for that.

    ++Frank wants the part about staying in our own spaces, does not want to hear about moritoria or absenting one's self. He wants to be in the process of drafting the covenant so it is acceptible to him and his supporters.

    Is anyone surprised?

    Windsor represnts the single worst piece of historical writing +Tom Wright ever published. Its description of "reception" as it relates to women in orders would be hilarious if it were not a tragic error. The leap from "reception" to required prior consent is unteniable and amazingly bad logic. The draft covenant is a lawyer's full employment act with an adminestrators staff enlargement feature that can only thrill the empire builders.

    I am dissapointed that any of the special commission to exclude non-costal provinces passed. It was my hope, that the conservatives and excluded West and Midwest centrists could defeat them all. The only positive I can see is making the point to the eletes that our votes and voices might actually matter!

    FWIW
    jimB
    eternally lurking in Chicago

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  3. (Dave)
    I have no problem with TEC rejecting the WR. I would prefer to see it implemented, but to the extent that GC refuses, let it do so clearly and without pretense. I can respect that position. I won't stay in TEC nor agree that it is a "faithful" response, but I would respect that the decision reflected the deeply held beliefs of those elected to make the decisions. I am tired of the pretense. I am tired of listening to vague and intentionally misleading statements by ++Frank that are designed to pay lip service to interdependence while thumbing their noses at catholic teaching and tradition.

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  4. Jim,

    While I've certainly disagreed with things you've written here in the past (and will probably continue to do so ;) - that paragraph of yours which begins "Windsor represnts the single worst piece of historical writing +Tom Wright ever published." is just golden :)

    Loved it so much I had to put a quote and link about it in my own blog today. Good show!

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  5. I won't stay in TEC...

    :-0 (Not to mention :-( )

    Anon/D, why should we Episcopalians, y'know, care what you say, after the above?

    (FWIW, Anon/D, I'm much rather have your presence, w/o your respect, than your respect w/o your presence. By the standard of the Jesus and his righteousness, there ain't *one* of us "respectable" . . . yet he loves us anyway. The same way we should love, even if we can't respect)

    I'm for a Revolutionary Catholicism, that truly brings Good News! (ergo, it's Evangelical). The idea that one must needs be separated from the others is a false dichotomy, IMO.

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  6. Bill Carroll16/6/06 10:35 PM

    The fundamental thesis of the Windsor Report is "Communion is the fundamental limit to autonomy."

    As I've argued in print, this sees the problem the wrong way. True communion and true interdependence increase autonomy, which properly understood is theonomy. Communion and autonomy vary in direct proportion rather than inverse proportion. Like grace and freedom (according to Karl Rahner). Of course freedom is limited by the kinds of loving relationships taught and embodied by Jesus. He is the criterion and basis for our freedom. But true communion ought to increase the autonomy of those persons and Church bodies that are in communion.

    Why can't we distinguish between an obligation to consult and an obligation to obey and be done with it? There seems to be some very shoddy thinking that is confusing the former with the latter. Perhaps we could have consulted more. I think 30 years is enough, especially when the other side shows no interest in fulfilling its commitment to dialogue with lgbt Christians. But perhaps we could have consulted more. But after one consults, one is under no obligation to obey, at least if these words retain anything like their ordinary meaning.

    Windsor has consistently tried to redefine the English language (see its treatment of autonomy) in such a way as to grab power for small groups of bishops, at the expense of the more democratic churches within the Anglican Communion.

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  7. My humbly offered recipe:

    (1) far, far, far fewer words all round.
    (2) devote 3/4 of the Convention time to worship and prayer, much of it silent, 1/4 to discussion, and none to debate.
    (3) get some decisive prophetic leadership.
    If it is not clear that the Spirit is speaking, be willing to conclude that the Spirit is silent and go home.

    Naive? Of course. A little naivete may be a good idea.

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  8. I just want to refute the bishop and claim my right to the catholic, if not the evangelical, historical and traditional Episcopal Church--as well as its progressiveness! NOBODY has the right to deprive me of my right to love my church by their words, by making sweeping statements that preclude me from those rights and claiming those beliefs only for themselves.

    I am so sick of it! His statements are false!

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  9. (Dave) Mr. Fischer: You need not care in the slightest whether I stay or go. Jesus told his disciples, if they reject you, turn, leave and wipe your sandals of the dust of their village. And as the song says, "and when wicked men insult and hate you all because of me, blessed, blessed are you!" I feel honored and affirmed in my faith that I am not wanted in TEC. I wear that as a badge of honor.
    Nevertheless, I will still choose to love you and to pray for you - just not with you.

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  10. Mark states "What is it that has held the church together that is now missing?" I think the answer, from my admittedly warped and naive perspective, would be the cross of Christ is that which is missing. The Eucharist bore that out this morning (no confession/no Creed), the tone of discussions on both sides testify to that fact, and the simple statement that we have "evolved" in any way (theological or otherwise)witnesses to the fact that what once held us together is no longer essential to a large part of the church.

    Peace,
    JB

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  11. DF in Massachusetts18/6/06 12:59 PM

    Anonymous,

    Regarding the Eucharist at GC not including the creed, didn't the earliest Christians celebrate the Eucharist without a creed for, oh, hundreds of years?

    And wasn't the cross a symbol that also didn't take hold until after centuries of Christian worship?

    It the cross and the creed are "essential", as you state, why weren't they essential during the first few centuries of Christianity?

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  12. df states "It the cross and the creed are "essential", as you state, why weren't they essential during the first few centuries of Christianity?"--Thanks for demonstrating my point so eloquently. One of the interesting things to study is the development of our three creeds and how they resemble so many of the diocesan creeds of the first and second century. While we are left with basically the Roman (diocese), Apostles, and Athanasius versions, all share an understanding of the Incarnation, His death, and His resurrection. As to the argument that the cross was unimportant to the early church, just how many times did Paul remind the early church's that the Gospel was the crucified Christ?

    As a side note, it was actually refreshing to hear a confession in a GC Eucharist today. One would think with all the bickering, such would have been the norm and not the exception.

    Peace,
    JB

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  13. JB,

    How, then, do you explain the original Nicene Creed not even mentioning the crucifiction and resurrection of Jesus?

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  14. Anon:

    My guess is that those assembled were so concerned about addressing the co-eternal nature of the Son against the Arians, that little thought was paid to the individual roles of the Trinity. Of course, it could be that the church realised its earlier mistake when developing the final form we have today and simply chose to articulate the individual roles of the Trinity in the process of salvation.

    What's interestinging to me is that in an age where travel was not nearly so fast nor communication as easy as today, so many of the early diocesan creeds grew to resemble one another.

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  15. I am not sure, Anon. As I am away from my study, I would have to guess that maybe in their efforts to deal with the Arians, the did not feel it necessary. Maybe it was simply a mistake of the council, which was corrected at the next one. There are a few city/diocesan creeds which do not mention specifically that he died for our sins, or suffered for us, or some other reference, but they seem to be the exception rather than the rule.

    Peace,
    JB

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