Those who have been most vocally proclaiming the inadequacy, evil, “walking apart” and impending deportation of the Episcopal Church from the Anglican Communion are having a hard week. The stew they have been brewing has been stirred so long that the results are reduced to paste. While the realignment community has been boiling up their brew, oddly normal things have been going on.
It turns out the canonical system works, at least sometimes. The Bishop of San Joaquin, who had charges brought against him by several bishops, has had them dropped by the Review Committee. As the Living Church reported, “the Review Committee met and had voted unanimously to drop all charges against Bishop Schofield. The Review Committee also found that the use of Canon IV.9 (abandonment of communion) was an inappropriate use of canon law, according to a brief statement posted on the diocesan website.”
It turns out that the system of electing of a bishop still works reasonably well. It goes as it will, with electors exercising their vote in ways that continue to satisfy not everyone, but at least the electors. The Diocese of Newark elected a bishop, who by all accounts is a fine person likely to give the Diocese the sort of leadership it needs. After all the pressure brought to draw out their vote either for or against the one candidate who is in a same sex partnered relationship, etc, etc, the electors seemed to have pretty well done what they wanted. No one exerting pressure claimed victory or defeat, but many in the diocese claimed satisfaction with the results.
It turns out that the Episcopal Church is still governed in a reasonably inclusive way, (meaning by that by bishops, clergy and lay persons) so that the cogitations of bishops, who after all are our spiritual leaders, do not happen in a vacuum. A vacuum, for example, like the meeting in Texas of twenty bishops, willing to pass the test for meeting together, or the meeting in New York of twelve bishops representing the actual Episcopal Church and realignment bishops representing an attempt to become the “constituent” member of the Anglican Communion in the US. The person consistently reminding us of this fact is the President of the House of Deputies, Ms. Bonnie Anderson. Her latest contribution to this reminder concerned the meetings in Texas and Kigali.
It turns out that not all of the Global South stands against the Episcopal Church (I didn’t think so.) We do indeed have friends in the world, including some who went or sent representatives to the Global South Primates meeting in Kigali. Once there were twenty who were claimed to have joined in the petition, now there are eighteen. There is no indication that anyone “signed off” on the Communiqué, but the repeat of the problems of the last letter from the Global South is taking place. Shall we wait for the leadership of the Global South group to apologize for twice doing this and dismiss whoever it is who thinks that public statements can be made on the basis of Provinces “representing” seventy percent of the worlds Anglicans without securing at least the signatures of the Primate representatives?
It turns out that invented possibilities, never before seen in the actual workings of any Anglican agent, remain just that – inventions. “Alternative Primatial Oversight” is a made up idea, as is “constituent” as opposed to “associate” member of the Anglican Communion, as is “Windsor Compliant bishop, diocese, parish, organization, etc. It is becoming clear that these inventions have become particles in the stew, and the stew is overdone.
But one thing remains the same: the work of the American Anglican Council, the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes (aka the ACN or the “Network”) and all its many subsidiary efforts stay the same. The core official documents of this effort are the Theological Charter and the Charter for the Network.
In January 2004 I wrote an article for the Witness Magazine, titled Contending with Anglican Realignment . I would hope you might read it again.
I am surprised to see that it continues to be relevant today. I had harsh words to say about the efforts of the Network, which efforts I viewed, and continue to view, as directed to the conformity to a view of Christian life and doctrine that is in no way essential or even relevant to the Gospel of Jesus Christ or the witness of the saints. I was soundly criticized for suggesting that this insistence on conformity was a form of fascism in the classical sense embraced by both state and church at various times in the last century. The suggestion still stands.
I was also charged with saying so in uncharitable ways. That charge has merit in that the term fascism is now so loaded that it too easily becomes name calling. I have never called any individual a fascist. I do call the effort to return us to a mythical faith ‘once delivered to the saints’ a myth meant to “bundle” us all together not with the bonds of affection but the bonds of human invention. It is that bundling that is too much like the bundlings of the past.
In that paper I said this about the Theological Charter and The Network Charter:
“Two statements -- the Theological Charter and the Charter for the Network -- constitute the front edge of what has become the struggle by those wishing "realignment" to cut away the sorry lot of us -- regular paid-up Episcopalians who are in their eyes the sick majority. If they can, they will take what is possible, but for sure they will attempt to take the "slot" in the Anglican Communion for a U.S. church. All the pretense of naming themselves "Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes" works to this end, as does a Charter that under cover actually allows what it seems not to allow in its protestations of "operating in good faith within the Constitution of The Episcopal Church" – a blatant disregard for the leadership of the Episcopal Church, the governance of this Church and the honoring of diocesan boundaries. (Section underlined added for clarity.)
“The problem does not lie with the decisions made, but with the time at hand.
"The strange, small and somewhat tortuous trail of statements, declarations, organizations, networks, convocations, etc., that began well before Lambeth 1998 have gotten us to this point where a fraction of the people of the Episcopal Church are unhappy enough to want to revise, restructure and realign this church in ways other than the normal canonical processes. The problems pointed to in the complaints concern recent actions of the General Convention, ordinations, celebrations of same-sex relationships, but the issues are deeper.
“The complaints play into the hands of persons who believe they know how to fix things: by restoring ancient well-loved answers, and by taking over leadership of the "real" Anglican presence in the United States. But they are doomed to failure over time, for the problem is not in the decisions made in the recent past, but in the end of a time in which the story of faithful pilgrimage in Jesus Christ has only one telling.
“The western world was brought kicking and screaming into modernity, and parts of the church never got over it. To some extent the missionary efforts of the western churches gave voice to faithful people who found modernity difficult. In new places the old worldview could still be voiced without the need to make science and religion mesh. And now, as modernity is undergoing a transformation into we know not what -- that is, as we enter the post-modern period -- the church is kicking and screaming again. And now the discontented are both the holders of a classical or pre-modern worldview and those who took on modernity in all its complexity. Those opposed to what the Episcopal Church is doing represent a cloud of witnesses from increasingly un-useful worldviews, and it is no wonder these brothers and sisters are often at odds with one another as well as with the actions of General Convention.
“And with all that, the opponents to the decisions of ECUSA's General Convention are nonetheless our brothers and sisters in the faith. We may, however, all need to find new ways of living in conflict. We must still learn to live with those who find what the Episcopal Church has done to be in error. Perhaps "living with them" means separation. Perhaps it means living together but not talking very easily with one another.
“We live in a fractured world and we must find ways to live together anyway. I am convinced, however, that the way forward is not represented by the Theological Charter or by the Charter for the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes or by the American Anglican Council.
Those efforts look back to a time whose goals have now expired. History is passing them by.”
It is becoming increasingly clear that the Episcopal Church leadership, particularly that of the new Presiding Bishop and the new President of the House of Deputies, are taking seriously the words and actions of the realignment folk of the Network and the Provinces that have openly declared that they are not in communion with the Episcopal Church. The Network trumpeted that at General Convention their prayers for clarity were answered. Now it appears that clarity is coming to the Episcopal Church as well.
It has taken some time for the leadership of the Episcopal Church and the majority of folk in this church who are willing to work in the context of its forms of governance to gain that clarity, but we can hope for greater clarity yet. The reaction to the disrespect shown our Presiding Bishop elect offers a case in point:
The Kiglai Communiqué was soundly criticized by President Anderson in her comment, “I note with sadness that the Kigali communiqué does not extend the courtesy of referring to Bishop Jefferts Schori as a bishop, where everyone else is referred to with titles. It adds a low note that is not worthy of the faith espoused in the document.” That Communique also stated that some could not recognize Bishop Jefferts Schori as a Primate. That may be true, but nevertheless, she IS. It may also note that of the several Network Bishops asking for an Alternative Primate there is at least one bishop who plainly does not believe that Bishop Jefferts Schori can be a priest, much less a bishop.
Bishop Barbara Harris said this in her powerful article in the Witness, She Will Not Be Alone
“Some Primates, egged on by disaffected U.S. bishops who fomented strife and dissention in 2003 over the election, consent and consecration of Bishop V. Gene Robinson and who have continued to work for a church or denomination of their own that would be recognized by Cantebury and other Provinces of the Communion, and especially those from Provinces that do not ordain or recognize the orders of women, will probably be demeaning, disrepectful of, or openly hostile toward her.”
It appears that Bishop Harris’ words were prophetic, or baring that obvious. But she then said, “Presiding Bishop-elect Jefferts Schori can take it, but she will not be alone. Women bishops of the Episcopal Church have pledged that she will never be unescorted, unprotected and unsupported wherever she goes in the Anglican Communion and in the ecumenical or interfaith community.”
It becomes increasingly clear that the majority of Episcopalians, and the voice of such new gatherings of voices from that community as The Episcopal Majority , are gathering the strength to reclaim the Episcopal Church as their own, its place in the Communion as legitimate, and its leadership deserving of the respect do their positions.
But the clarity will come in other ways as well. In spite of all the talk about “walking apart,” the Episcopal Church will remain in communion with those Provinces willing to do so, even those Provinces that clearly disagree with our decisions, and will continue the bonds of affection when at all possible. It is those who are profoundly unhappy and suffering by their inclusion in the Episcopal Church who may need to depart. We will all be the less for it.
But it is also becoming increasingly clear that the effort by Networks here and other Provinces not in communion with the Episcopal Church to establish an alternative Anglican body here that will be part of the Anglican Communion is a distraction. We need not cooperate with that effort. We need to content for our continued place in the Anglican Communion as the Province in this place.
But in the end, if the Anglican Communion through its various instruments determines that we are not part of the Anglican Communion then it will have its way. But if so, its efforts will have become, like the ACN, CANA, AMiA, etc, etc, efforts that “look back to a time whose goals have now expired.”