On Flaws, Consensus and Reality

The Living Church had an article in its online edition this week on the Bishop of Pittsburgh’s talks to the Diocese of Fort Worth, with the interesting title, "Prepare for Crucifixion.” In it the following is attributed to the Bishop:

“The lack of a truly common Book of Common Prayer, due to revisions in several provinces over the last quarter century, and the tradition of allowing a secular government to select the Archbishops of Canterbury, have destabilized the Communion, according to Bishop Duncan. It is remarkable, he noted, that the latter has worked as well as it has for so long, but the mechanism is inherently flawed. He predicted that future leadership of the Communion will shift to the Global South.”

So now the argument of the Network Moderator turns to embrace the Prayer Book Society on the one hand and the Global South on the other. The one saying its all the trouble of revisions of the prayer book, the other saying that the Archbishop of Canterbury is an office flawed by secularization, and that leadership will go to the South.

Well, its time to embrace whoever, because the day draws nearer when the cards will have to be put on the table. It is hard to see how the Network can hold that the Episcopal Church must submit to the Windsor Report and then say, “except of course for that bit about the Archbishop of Canterbury as the focus of unity.” To bad the ABC's office is flawed.

It is hard to see how the Network can grind the ax of the Prayer Book Society so strongly when a large preponderance of all bishops and clergy ordained, all persons baptized, all persons married, etc, etc, in the Episcopal Church have been so ordered under the current Book of Common Prayer, the one used in the Episcopal Church. Does our using a book different from the "old" mean we are all flawed by that fact?

I suppose if we all had one Prayer Book things might be easier, but the 1662 book of the Church of England? Is the Network now embracing through its moderator the notion held by the Church of Nigeria that it is the 1662 book that is operant, provided it is always interpreted by the Nigerian church itself? But the implication is clear: the Book(s) of Common Prayer (as we have it, and as many other churches have it) are flawed.

And then of course there is the essay, “Reflections on the question of ordaining women to episcopal office in the Church of England.” By Cardinal Walter Kasper. In this the Cardinal said:

“Should we not therefore also be in a position to say together: the decision for the ordination of women to the episcopal office can only be made with an overwhelming consensus, and must not in any way involve a conflict between the majority and the minority. It would be desirable that this decision would be made with the consensus of the ancient churches of the East and West. If on the contrary the consecration of a bishop becomes the cause of a schism or blocks the way to full unity, then what occurs is something intrinsically contradictory. It should then not take place, or should be postponed until a broader consensus can be reached.”

There it is again, the theme of broader consensus. Well if the Church of England picks up on this the impaired communion between the Episcopal Church and the Church of England will be a matter of fact having absolutely nothing to do with the current snit-fit over the ordination of Bishop Robinson. The Cardinal says about the ordination of women to the Episcopate that it is a schismatic idea, that is it is flawed, and therefore not to be entered into, even solemnly and advisedly. It is to be rejected until some other time.

Maybe the Church of England thingk in its best moments, with whispers in far corners of the room, that reunion with Rome is possible, although Anglican orders are still flawed, the Anglican Communion in ruins because the Americans, Canadians and New Zealanders have women bishops, and women priests are everywhere. But let’s get real. The Roman Catholic Church can caution broader consensus all it wants, but what it means is, “no union until you stop doing it.”

The Network wants us to believe the flaws are everywhere. The Roman Catholic Church wants us to believe the flaws are everywhere. Even the Windsor Report wants us to believe the flaws are everywhere. Each point to a different thing: prayer book, secularization, women bishops (and priests), gay bishops, etc. But there are surely flaws and more flaws.

Why then is the Episcopal Church, the Church of England, or the Anglican Communion considered such a pearl of great price? Why does either the Network or the Roman Catholic Church give a damn? If we are so flawed, why not just let us float off into the distance?

The answer, friends, is that Anglicans are part of the answer to the puzzle of moving from this damnable age we live in to some next age, for the very provisionality and poetic sensibility that makes us so difficult and flawed also makes it possible for us to experiment with the future.

Perhaps it is appropriate to remind the Cardinal that we Anglicans have a 400 year head start on his church in trying to make the language of liturgy and the language of real people match. Perhaps it is appropriate to remind the Network that the liveliness of their minority view, and the seriousness with which it is taken is a product of two hundred and fifty years of working at a sense of toleration. We don’t propose to step back from the ordination of either the Bishop of New Hampshire or the Bishop of Pittsburgh. In some earlier times, in which Archbishops exercised, let us say, a more meaningful oversight of the Church, someone’s head would roll. But we contend that we ought to try living with one another, not beating each other with ecclesial bats. But let us put away such mutterings of “flawed” and “broader consensus.”

Let’s go with what we’ve got to do: Of course our work will be flawed. That’s why it is provisional. Of course broader consensus is a hope, but in the real moment perhaps a working majority in our own faith community will have to do.

It’s time to go to General Convention, a place where an oddly secular idea meshes with a profoundly spiritual one: It is a place where something approaching civil discourse about matters of faith, complete with legislating and voting and politicking, is understood to be a venue for the workings of the Holy Spirit. No one can rightly claim that the Holy Spirit will indeed be guiding all we do, but we can all pray that the Holy Spirit is present in all we do.


  1. Sorry, but if I wanted to be reunited with Rome, there's a Catholic church three blocks from my house that I could join.

    Why do so many assume that we all secretly want to be Romanists?

  2. Mark, thank you. If Bishop Duncan truly believes he has more in common with RC clergy than with those of the Episcopal Church, he has an option. A provision exists for Anglican clergy to be reordained to the presbyteral ministry of the Roman Catholic Church, even if they are married.

    I know of one priest who has done this. I'm sure Rome would be more than happy to knock Bishop Duncan back down to diaconal orders. We should be glad to let them do so. It would be no great loss to Anglicanism.

    It's time for you to leave for General Convention; it's time for me to just leave. I fly on Monday in the opposite direction from you!

  3. Wendy wrote, "I'm sure Rome would be more than happy to knock Bishop Duncan back down to diaconal orders."

    Since +Duncan has no intention of doing this, it illustrates the real point quite nicely. The machinations of the AAC/Network have precious little to do with humble, selfless devotion to the faith, and whole lot to do with a cynical power grab.

  4. David, that is quite true. I know at firsthand how much personal ambition the Moderator has (I was a member of the last parish where he was Rector), and saw the fallout of his utter mediocrity (that's on the better days). I don't doubt that all this hot air has a lot to do with realizing his own aspirations to be leader of *the* recognized expression of Anglican Christianity in North America.

    "Chief pastor" of the flock? I would say this man isn't fit to be shepherd at a petting zoo.

  5. Wendi,

    The idea of +Network as a Roman deacon leads to an moral issue. Is it appropriate to pray for something that enhances our communion at the cost of harming Rome? Benedict i6 seems like such a nice man.


  6. Wendy, Jim,

    I'm always wary of snide comments, even from those I agree with, but in this case...


  7. Chike, the Nigerian commenter on Fr. Jake, has said many things that suggest that a rigorous use of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer is actually harmful to the mission of the Church of Nigeria. I argued to him that flexibility with that Prayer Book probably was the best course at present.

    [Snark redacted]

  8. Jim, I did not say I was praying for +Duncan to take a swim across the Tiber. I did my doctorate at a fine Jesuit university, and would not wish that on such good people. I only said that if +Duncan wanted to do so, I am sure they would be most happy to welcome him on the provision that he submit to the doctrine, discipline and worship of that church. And that of course would mean a bit of a demotion.

    And a bit of demotion might be the desire of the Almighty....


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with comment moderation but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.