Ah, you never knew us, did you? (revised x 2)

One of the difficulties the Anglican Communion faces is the appalling lack understanding or appreciation of differences and similarities among the various people who call themselves Anglican. On many occasions it has been pointed out that some speakers from the “West” make simplistic statements about Anglican belief and thought in various parts of the Global South.

Archbishop Jensen of Sydney, Australia, made remarks published on the Diocesan website concerning both the churches in the Global South and the Episcopal Church. Both were on the shaky road to bad caricature.

About the Global South, the article quoted and summarized the Archbishops thoughts as follows:

“They have a new sense of maturity and independence from the West,” he said.

“They are outward looking, missional and have strong leadership that is very impressive.”

But he added that without good Bible teaching, the Global South, like any church, was only one generation away from disaster.”

So, Sydney to the rescue…good Bible teaching, here it comes. Actually, the Archbishop may be right, maybe the churches of the Global South have not so good bible teaching right now. But I don’t think that is the problem. The problem, it seems to me, is that they (and an awful lot of ‘we’) have all the biblical critical apparatus, but less of the social critical apparatus. That is, they (and often we) were informed by a missionary tradition that did not provide useful ways to move deeper into the texts, particularly as concerns moral and social issues. There are not many liberation theologians to be found among biblical evangelicals.

Maybe this is as much a bad generalization as the Archbishop’s. But I am not the spiritual leader of a Province (not the whole blessed Province, but an internal one, New South Wales - thanks to Jim Naughton for the correction) , so few people will care if I got it right. But we ought to care when he gets it just a little off the mark. The suggestion that they are in need of “good Bible teaching” can only be of interest if there is some question of what they have now. More, it is a self affirming sort of statement. It suggests, “we have something they need.” Well, maybe yes, maybe no.

And just to make sure the Archbishop is even handed in bad generalizations, it was then reported that

“Archbishop Jensen described the Episcopal Church as ‘America’s cultural elite at prayer’ and said that US society’s ‘powerful individualism and triumphalist
belief that it leads the world in civic freedoms has captured the church’.”

(Please note: The article from the Archbishop's own diocese, attributed that statement to the Archbishop. The speech it was lifted from attributed it to Bishop Steenson, of the Diocese of the Rio Grande, as follows:

"He (Steenson) also observed: “For a long time the Episcopal Church has identified itself with H. Richard Niebuhr’s category, the Christ of culture: it sees itself as America’s cultural elite at prayer. Whatever we think of ourselves as progressives or traditionalists, we bring American values and behaviour patterns with us. But that does not always sit well with the rest of our Anglican Communion family…The Anglican Communion is undergoing a remarkable transformation, and I cannot help but think that so many of the attitudes and behaviours we take for granted in the American context will not be welcome in the new communion discipline.’

I think that Bishop Steenson is right. The powerful individualism of American culture, and its triumphalistic belief that it leads the world in civic freedoms has captured the church. The new faith is a missionary religion. America is a missionary country, with its version of human freedom to export throughout the world. What happens in the US will affect every nation and we see here the belief that what has happened in this decade in the US will occur in the next decade in the rest of the world. The difficulty is that as far as much of the West is concerned it has probably already happened."

The actual article by Archbishop Jensen is quite interesting and a bit more evenhanded than the article ABOUT him. Still, the observations in my first posting still stand.)

Well, the Archbishop is wrong on the second part, namely his own observations, and Bishop Steeson is wrong on the first. Steeson's observation is just plain wrong. It is a variation on the old saw, that “The Episcopal Church is the Republican Party at prayer.” I’ve been searching to find where that phrase came from, but to no avail. It is just a truism, and like most truisms not particularly right.

But what is really interesting is the links that are then made: American cultural elite at prayer – powerful individualism – triumphalist belief in America’s leadership in civic freedoms= capture of the Church. It is the charge that the Episcopal Church has been snookered by the nasty Americans in the culture wars.

Well, it ain’t necessarily so. Again, the Archbishop is not all wrong. Reading Peter Burger’s A Rumor of Angles or Gibson Winter’s The Suburban Captivity of the Church is enough to sent us all in the Archbishop’s direction. But the Episcopal Church is not one thing…it is not all leadership from the cultural elite, it is not all individualistic or triumphalistic. The Episcopal Church is many different sorts of people, including many different sorts of leaders. That is why The Episcopal Majority is not a cabal, but a gathering of people who believe we work out a common life in prayer/thanksgiving and meeting both.

This Episcopalian doesn’t like being put in a box that makes his church “America’s cultural elite at prayer” and in need of rescue, any more than one might suppose a Global South biblical scholar would like hearing that “without good Bible teaching, the Global South, like any church, was only one generation away from disaster” – not if the implications were that rescue was necessary.

Have a care, good Archbishop. We might wonder if you ever knew us, or cared.


  1. Can anyone explain to me exactly in what way those radical Calvinists in Sydney are Anglicans?

    I have asked this question a number of times and never gotten a satisfactory answer to it.

  2. In my travels around the world, I have had occasion to meet a number of people from around the Anglican Communion. There is one thing in particular that I have heard about the Episcopal Church which fascinates me, and which tends to surprise people back here in the United States. This is that some Anglicans (and others) in many parts of the world see no different between, for example, the Bush administration's invasion of Iraq and the election of Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire. To them, both are simply proof of the same attitude of American imperialism and egotism.

  3. obadiahslope24/10/06 11:34 PM

    I have spoken to the author of the article about Peter Jensen on the Sydney Anglican site and he has promised to attribute the quote to Bishop Steenson as it should have been originally. I am sorry that it was misleading.

    Here in Sydney we hold to the theology of the 39 articles. These and the other foundation documents of anglicanism provide ample evidence that Anglicans with similar convictions to us were [present at the beguinnings of Anglicanism. And we have persisted ever since. We are admittedly thin on the ground in the US, but most of the larger provinces of the Anglican Communion are evangelical too.

  4. anonymous...even if "radical Calvinists" they are Anglicans if they and we are willing to eat at the same table, which is why I think we are as Anglicans more interested in practicing hospitality and more interested in communion than in covenant issues. But that's a guess. Meanwhile, I think a read of the Archbishop of Sydney's actual letter gives a sense of why even across the divide of theological viewpoints he still has much to say.

    Jamie...I am sorry to say that you may be right. That identification is made easier when they do not see much in the way of protest of US actions by our church leaders. That easy identification of the one with the other, vis a vis American imperialism and egotism, is not helpful. If people want to criticise the imperialism and egotism of our national leaders, be my guest. I join them. But Bishop Robinson is someone we were persuaded was a person validly elected and for good reasons, having to do with faithfulness and manner of living, as well as having to do with skills and genuine care for the people of the Diocese. We were not thumbing our noses at the world, we were giving consent to a person well chosen.

    Obadiahslope...thanks. It confused me and I hope my correction made sense.

    Anonymous 2...there are plenty of evangelicals in the US Church, of course. My sense is that most Episcopalians in the US do not assume that the 39 Articles represent the definitive theology on the matters they address, but rather that they are important theological statements for their time, and worth our consideration in our time. Some of them continue to be of central value...some are restatements of Creedal formulations... and some are prejudices of their own times. (Sort of like all other thological compendiums.)

    We of course are plagued with folk (not necessarily in the church0 who have taken the word Evangelical and applied it to a set of political stances that have little or nothing to do with either biblical faith or Christian principles. I consider them a plague on the market.

    Anglican Evangelicals have a central role to play in the ballance of things in the Episcopal Church and I read and listen to them all the time, even when I don't agree.

    What I am concerned with are not Evangelicals, but those who would attempt to overthrow the way we make decisions in the Episcopal Church. There may be good arguments to the effect that we are making bad decisions, but the way to deal with that from within is to turn the tide of leadership by electing more Evangelical bishops, raising up Evangelical clergy, electing Deputies more to Evangelical liking, etc. Deciding that the decisions made are so bad that they are heretical is of course the right of anyone in the church, but that doesn't mean we all have to agree and simply recend the decisions made.

    I for one refuse to give up having Evangelical friends and the occasional Evangelical twinge myself simply because we may disagree. I hope we can eat at the same table, and have the conversation take us to a higher place.

    But I must say eat first, theology after.

    Thanks to each of you for writing.

  5. >>>Anglicans with similar convictions to us were [present at the beguinnings of Anglicanism.

    They're the ones who killed the king, set up a religious dictatorship, and committed genocide against the Irish, right?

  6. obadiahslope25/10/06 8:35 PM

    You mean the congregationalists (who by and large I believe were not Anglicans - they did not favour bishops) who were the foreunners of the American revolution?
    Geoffrey Robertson's "The Tyranicide Brief" is a great read if you want to immerse yourself in the details of that period. The the freedoms won during that period
    include the right of an accused to cross examine his accusers.

  7. obadiahslope25/10/06 8:39 PM

    However it must be said that Peter jensen traces his theological beginnings to Cranmer and NOT the puritans....

  8. Mark,

    I'm intrigued that you think that "radical Calvinism" is somehow unAnglican. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Even a brief read of the 39 Articles reveals a radically Calvinist theology. In terms of Anglican heritage, then, this "radical Calvinism" is nothing more than authentic original Anglicanism.


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.