1/29/2007

The Portent of Absurdity: the Request to the Global South Primates

It has been a day for strange messages flowing from website of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. Perhaps the most bizarre is “The Request to the Global South Primates: Request for Alternative Primatial Oversight and Pastoral Care.”

Today, January 29, the Diocese of Pittsburgh published the text of its request presented to the Global South Primates (actually the Global South Steering Committee) in November 2006. The Daily Episcopalian speculates as to why. You can read the Request HERE. If you want to read what the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Pittsburgh has to say about this request, you can go HERE.

“Alternative Primatial Oversight,” a leaky idea dead in the water the moment it was launched, was trotted out in this request and presented to the Global South Steering Committee. The narrative of this request is filled with retread grievances and worn out slogans. Here are a few:

“…the struggle we are engaged in is a constitutional crisis in which the progressive majority has walked away from its constitutional responsibility to remain as a “constituent member of the Anglican Communion.”

“We also appreciate the call for a bishop representing the orthodox to be present at the next Primates Meeting, and for ‘initial steps toward the creation of…a separate ecclesiastical structure of the Anglican Communion in the USA.’ We pray that the entire Primates gathering in February will come to similar decisions.”

“We cannot be represented in the Communion through the person of the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. Bishop Jefferts Schori teaches a manifestly defective Christology as well as embraces moral actions and teachings directly contrary to the Windsor report.”

“All the roles assigned under our Constitution to the Presiding Bishop need to be carried out among us, but cannot reasonably or impartially be carried out by Bishop Jefferts Schori.”

“We need an antidote to the inherent independence of action that has characterized relations among bishops and diocese in the American Church.”

(This addressed to the Global South Primates) “Convene, when the time is right, an organizing (“constitutional”) convention for the purposes of approving the infrastructure necessary to the permanent Anglican entity in the U.S., and to choose the domestic leader for, and Anglican Communion representative of, that structure.”

This stuff is malarkey… it is humbug…it is a mess of pottage. More, it asks of the Global South Primates that they join the Diocese of Pittsburgh in an effort to establish a replacement body to take the place of the Episcopal Church. That is, it asks the Global South Primates, to join it in a coup d’eglise.

Here it how that coup is supposed to comes down: (i) claim that the Episcopal Church does not desire to be a constituent member of the Anglican Communion, (ii) try to weasel into the Primates Meeting and push to replace the Primate of the Episcopal Church, (iii) claim that the Presiding Bishop is a heretic, (iv) plea for relief, (v) plea for cure, and (vi) get some body to license a new structure and leader.

What is most dangerous about all this is that it is a program of action that we have known about for a long time now and have done very little. But that is changing.

One wonders if the leaders of the Anglican Communion Network must carry these points on a laminated card in their wallets as reminders of the talking points for this coup. Again and again these reappear, sometimes with more, sometimes with less, passionate revelation of pain and suffering.

But what to do? Now I know.

I was taught it is not polite to laugh when someone is speaking with seeming seriousness. And I mostly have been obedient to what my mother taught me. But I also learned that laughter is often the only way to deal with pretension. So the solution to this is to laugh. Laugh at the absurdity of this sorry request.

It is either laugh or cry. I choose laughter. Cry if you want. Either way, lets move beyond this mess.

17 comments:

  1. Bishop Jefferts Schori teaches a manifestly defective Christology.

    I sincerely hope that Bishop Duncan has the courage to say this directly to ++KJS.

    How utterly appalling.

    This is the political strategy of our age: say something false again and again until it has "truthiness."

    And woe to the Primates if they cannot see through this quintessentially ad hominem attack on our new PB, who has scarcely been in office for 7 months, and who will be meeting a good number of the Primates for the very first time.

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  2. christopher+30/1/07 9:37 AM

    "Bishop Jefferts Schori teaches a manifestly defective Christology..."

    Did I miss something? Did the Presiding Bishop renounce the Creeds (or even Chalcedon)? And does one group within the Church have the authority to decide for everyone what is or is not a "defective" Christology, apart from these historical anchors of the faith?

    It seems like this sweeping pronouncement on the part of Bishop Duncan and his diocese is again about differing approaches to selected biblical texts. As regards non-core issues of doctrine, discipline and liturgical practice, different biblical-interpretive schools of thought have always existed side-by-side (and often in tension) within the same Anglican/Episcopal churches - and will continue to do so. This, after all, is the very nature of Anglicanism.

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  3. "This stuff is malarkey… it is humbug…it is a mess of pottage." Well that seems to be a fairly rational dismissal of the network and what they are trying to achieve.
    From my perspective, (and sometimes it helps to stand back to distinguish the forest from the trees) it seems to me that
    i. while ECUSA may desire to still be part of the Anglican Communion it doesn't seem to care whether or not she shares the same theology, doctrine and practices of the rest of the AC, and yet still pleads for unity - but only on her terms, not on the terms of the orthodox majority that make up the world wide AC

    ii. this accusation of weasling into the Primate's meeting to try to displace ECUSA is a very dubious claim - any hard evidence for it? Perhaps your language could be a bit less pejorative and show a little more tolerance. Do you really believe that the senior prelates of the Ac would be easily fooled? Please be more gracious to them and their intelligence.

    iii. this seems to be a reasonable claim given the statements she has made concerning the nature and gender of Jesus Christ and the path of salvation, and the mission of the church, completely rejecting or ignoring what Jesus commissioned his disciples to do in Matt 28:19-20 and instead going for an agenda of the UN.

    iv and v. given the rough time being handed out to many orthodox clergy and vestries by heterodox bishops for refusing to go along with the progressive agenda of ECUSA and instead remain faithful to the orthodox faith, doctrine and practices handed down this seems to be a reasonable plea.

    faithfully yours, Brian

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  4. Quick correction:

    ++KJS has been in office for barely three months. . .elected for a scant seven.

    Must be sure my rants are accurate! :)

    I'll take your counsel Mark, and laugh.

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  5. Richard III30/1/07 12:19 PM

    Mark,

    Does this rise to the level of abandoning communion with TEC and violating his vows as a Bishop by
    Bishop Bob and his cohorts in the ACN?

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  6. brian:

    1. You presume a conformity of theology that not only has not existed within the Anglican Communion, but has not existed in the Christian tradition. Repeat it as often as they might, they are simply inaccurate who proclaim am unambiguous confessional position within Anglicanism.

    2. While Mark doesn't cite things specifically, that's because there have been so many, cited and discussed widely previously. The Chapman Letter, and Bishop Schofield's reports of his last meeting with some foreign Primates recently are cases in point.

    3. Whether Bishop Jefferts Schori's rhetorical efforts are intended as systematic statements could, I suppose, be debated; but her rhetorical choices are well established in Christian tradition. I have not seen her anywhere reject any clause of any of three Creeds. As for the MDG's: perhaps we could consider whether we should "make disciples," and not care about them until that decision, and/or not care about them afterward. But the Anglican tradition is one of a "lively" faith, one where faith results in actions, as James calls for. The MDG's are good actions, and choosing to use that list allows us easily to partner with others who might not share other perspectives with us. These were also raised by the Primates in one of their meetings.

    4 and 5: Certainly, I would question your characterization of "heterodox" bishops. Second, I would question your characterization of "many" dissatisfied clergy and congregations. True, a high percentage of that small group have come to difficulties; but largely because they chose it themselves. In Dioceses of Kansas and Olympia, and even in Virginia, those who sought negotiation rather than confrontation, have been able to achieve it. At the same time, in the Diocese of Florida those clergy and congregations who have left have done so despite their acknowledged "orthodox" bishop - guilty by association because he would not refuse to participate in the House of Bishops.

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  7. christopher+30/1/07 3:21 PM

    We should stop abusing the word "orthodox." The notion of "correct belief" - orthodoxy - as it applies to the essentials of the faith is not relevant to intra-Anglican disputes about the interpretation and application of selected biblical texts above and beyond those reflected in the Creeds. It is far too easy to call those who disagree with one's non-core biblical interpretations "heterodox" or "unorthodox."

    What is correct and true and orthodox is worked out in the life and ongoing dialogue of the Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, as it has been since our forebears in the faith first began trying to make sense of what they had experienced in and through Christ. This becomes that much more difficult if we do not remain in dialogue and fellowship. We need each other; we do not need to call each other names meant to dismiss our respective views. If it is important for some to be in a community in which everyone must agree in all matters, the Anglican Communion is not a great choice, because Anglicanism does not - and will not - work that way.

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  8. From my perspective, Bishop Schori has gone against traditional mainstream interpretations as of the Nicene Creed. As a member of an Episcopal Church in Delaware, that has been extremely disturbing to me.

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  9. christopher+31/1/07 5:54 PM

    "From my perspective, Bishop Schori has gone against traditional mainstream interpretations...of the Nicene Creed."

    Yawner,

    Your concerns are to be taken seriously, of course. Could you be more precise about what you mean, though? That is, what did the Presiding Bishop say - precisely - that went against the Nicene Creed, from your perspective?

    I am personally unaware of anything of this sort, as other posters of comments here appear to be as well. Generally, any concerns that arise seem to relate more to differing approaches to selected biblical texts, rather than to the core doctrines reflected in the Creeds. We must, however, always be ready to hear the concerns of others. Your further clarification would be a step in that direction for everyone - a contribution to the ongoing dialogue we all need. Many thanks in advance.

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  10. Marshall, thankyou for your considered and rational response. I am in agreement with you on your first point - there has indeed been room for various theological positions that we have been happy to live with in the past in the church - the nature of inspiration of Scripture, the model of the atonement through Christ's death, the nature of Christ's presence in the Lord's Supper are 3 examples; but while we may have held different understandings on those matters, we have all been agreed on the fundamentals of the Christian faith - for example the triune nature of God, the two natures of Christ and his sinless perfection, the exclusiveness of Christ's death as the only way to eternal life, since he is truly God incarnate. The maleness of Christ has never before been called into question. These fundamentals have been held to be true by all Christians from every tradition - whether Roman, Protestant or Orthodox. Which brings to me my disagreement with you on your 3rd point.

    PB Schori's rhetorical choices are neither wise nor well established in Christian tradition. They were not wise because surely she would be aware of the controversy she would raise by doing so, and it becomes another focal point for disunity, when there are many other things she could have said about Christ that would have given us comfort. Her reference to our Mother Christ is nowhere supported in Scripture. As far as I am aware, there was only one early reference to our "Mother" Christ in church history, and this was not from any of the early Church Fathers, nor from any of the significant theologians of the Roman church or from the Reformation. The argument seems to have been that since someone in times past made this reference then it is acceptable for us to repeat it. What if the first utterance was wrong, which many believe it to have been. One footnote in history does not establish true doctrine. I wonder why does Schori use such an obscure and unsafe reference in her first sermon as PB - is it just rhetoric? or does this really give us a window into her theology. She portrays a view of Christ - both as mother, and giving us birth that is not supported by Scripture and has not been even remotely accepted into the Christian tradition.

    Further, when she was asked a direct question and given an opportunity to affirm the uniqueness of Christ as the Saviour for all humanity, she has fudged on whether Christ is the only way to eternal life - as if He is insufficient and his atoning death is not perfect and once for all. That clearly says to me that she does have a defective Christology.

    Surely it behoves our bishops to be clear, especially when given such a precious opportunity by the secular media, to proclaim the gospel. Why is she incapable of doing so? Is she ashamed of the gospel or does she not understand it?

    It seems as if the boundaries of what is acceptable in variations on Christian theology are being pushed ever further out, to the extent that we can believe whatever we like about Our Lord Jesus Christ and still claim to be Christian.

    I don't dispute that the MDG's are worthy goals, but there are any number of secular organisations that can work on these. Only the church is equipped with the gospel to bring salvation to people from every culture and creed. Only the church has the unique privilege of being able to connect the love of God in the gospel with the good works of the MDG's. Let's not neglect the gospel while pursuing the MDG's.

    May God have mercy on us all, Brian

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  11. She portrays a view of Christ - both as mother, and giving us birth that is not supported by Scripture and has not been even remotely accepted into the Christian tradition.

    Brian, may I please address this point? A number of Medieval mystics spoke of Christ as "mother," particularly Meister Eckhart and Julian of Norwich.

    See this essay for starters.

    While ++KJS was speaking, in part, out of the mystical tradition (as opposed to, say, the Church Fathers), she was not talking from outside the Christian tradition.

    She was also referring to imagery by St. Anselm (hardly a heretic):

    "But you, Jesus, good lord, are you not also a mother? Are you not that mother who, like a hen, collects her chickens under her wings? Truly, master, you are a mother" (Prayer 10 to St Paul).

    Moreover, Jesus, in Scripture, uses female imagery to describe himself, as in his metaphorical self-reference as a hen in his lament over Jerusalem:

    ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you, desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” ’ Matthew 23:37-39.

    So I must submit that ++KJS's metaphor was neither outside the Christian tradition nor unbiblical. That it was a still relatively unusual metaphor for Jesus I will admit, but I note she used it once in a sermon that was otherwise filled with masculine imagery.

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  12. Christopher,

    These comment boxes are somewhat unwieldy, but here goes with a brief example:

    See said (verbatim) in her interview with the Arkansas-Democrat Gazette (which I know was dealt with at Fr. Jake’s and possibly here): “But not in the narrow sense, that people can only come to relationship with God through consciously believing in Jesus.” This goes against Jesus’ saying “No one comes to the Father except through me” Now, she has left a loophole with the word “consciously”. This loophole, however, would seem to apply only to non-Christians. And yet she says, of the full scriptural passage ("I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me."): “If you cannot repeat this statement, then you’re not a faithful Christian”. Well, if you proclaim to be a Christian, and cannot proclaim that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, then I would argue that is defective Christology, to use the word of an earlier poster. She is, in this case, saying that Christians (who believe) need not proclaim that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. The Creed says Jesus “is one being with the Father,” “one Lord, Jesus Christ,” “true God from true God.” Christians proclaim in the Creed that Jesus is the one God. It appears to me that she has said this is optional.

    Another: in that same interview, she argues that Jesus must much more concerned with the heavenly kingdom in this life (than in the afterlife) and “that’s not a question that concerns me day in and day out.” In other words, heavenly salvation, she says, concerns her much less than justice in this life. The full text of the interview is here: http://www.biblebeltblogger.com/biblebelt/2007/01/presiding_bisho.html

    The Creed says “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” She has said that does not concern her on a daily basis. I think that is strongly against what we profess.

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  13. Yawner,

    If I may join the conversation, I must disagree with your interpretation of ++Katherine Jefferts Schori's words. For Christians, I understand her saying, Jesus is indeed "the Way, the Truth, and the Life." She also appears to me to be saying that Christ may work beyond the Christian community in ways that we do not understand, even through other faith traditions.

    This is where things get a bit delegate, because it might be offensive to have Christ imposed on, say, a practicing Buddhist or Muslim.

    But her position is none other than a position that has been espoused by Roman Catholicism and other Catholic faiths -- that God in Christ works beyond the boundaries of the Christian community.

    As for the concern about the kingdom of God, she was making clear allusion to such well-known biblical passages as, Mark 1:15, Luke 10:9-11, Matthew 25:35-45. . .and that is just for starters. For Jesus in the Gospel, the kingdom of heaven is not only an eschatalogical (end of time) vision, but an imminent one (it has come very near, in the person of Christ.) That then the church came to see itself as the Body of Christ, we are called to help manifest, by God's grace, the kingdom of heaven, or as some put it, the Reign of God.

    These are not mutually exclusive, and neither violate the Creed, it seems to me. We are part of the Communion of Saints both imminent and present, as well as eschatalogical -- beyond time. This strikes me as standard catholic teaching, very much within the bounds of standard "orthodoxy," and very much part of biblical tradition.

    As a creed professing Christian in the Episcopal tradition (and a priest, for that matter), I see nothing in what ++Kathern Jefferts Schori has said that is outside the bounds of our credal faith.

    There is one other point I would like to make. Conscious assent to provisions of our faith, while important, is not the ultimate measure of our Christianity. It may be normative, but not essential. For instance, if we have members in our community who have mental disability or suffer from a degenerative disease, such as "Alzheimers," I hope you would agree that we would not decide their Christian identity (or God's grace through the sacraments they receive and the prayers offered on their behalf) is nullified by their inability to consciously profess and article of our faith.

    Rather, we are ultimately in the hands of God's grace. I would argue all the discomfort over some of ++Katharine Jefferts Schori's statements says more about us and our tastes that it does about her, and certainly far less about the gracious love of God.

    I offer that to you as one Christian (I hope) to another.

    God's peace.

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  14. Mark at all,

    Apologies for the all the typos in that last comment. Katharine JS, "that" instead of "that". . .etc.

    And just to clarify to Yawner, my hope about being Christian was meant for myself, not anyone else!

    God's peace.

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  15. christopher+1/2/07 8:26 PM

    Yawner,

    First, let me agree completely that these comment boxes can indeed be unwieldy at times.

    More to the point, though, I would agree with the observations made by "r" - and add this. In John's Gospel (10:16), Jesus says, "And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd." Although this statement is not corroborated in the Synoptic Gospels, I find it a most compelling invitation to extreme humility in our very human attempts to define who is of Christ's fold and who is not - and what this means practically in the here and now. (In its original setting, it is possible the statement refers to the Gentiles, by all counts unlikely recipients of God's grace and favor -according to tradition at the time.)

    The thrust of the preceding and following passages of John's Gospel reflects the close - even intimate - identity between sheep and shepherd, between Jesus and his flock. That Jesus would even hint that there are others "not of this fold" suggests that we should be cautious in our judgments - and I believe this is the spirit in which the Presiding Bishop often speaks.

    Now, this by no means takes away from the utter singularity of God in Christ, but neither does it discount workings of God the Holy Spirit that might be beyond our grasp, as, for example, some contemporary Roman Catholc scholarship on inter-faith relations argues.

    If we agree - as we do - that we only come to God the Father through Jesus (the) Christ, God the Son, this does not mean that we have explained HOW all come to the Father through Christ. Indeed, John's Jesus says of this, "I must bring them also," emphasizing that it shall be the work of Christ - and not necessarily our own, though perhaps through us in part - to assemble all into one flock.

    Again, I believe we are called by the biblical witness to geat and even generous humility in discerning the workings of the "divine economy" as they apply to those around us - as they apply to Christ's other sheep, whoever they might be. I say this as a firm adherent of the faith once received and defined in the Creeds - as I believe our Presiding Bishop to be as well, even if she spares the secular media an in-depth soteriological/theological conversation they would most likely bypass anyway in the eternal search for attention-grabbing headlines.

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  16. Richard, thanks for weighing in. Your references are very helpful, and I'm glad you've had time to include them.

    Brian, Yawner, I think it is debatable whether the Presiding Bishop's phrases, which I take as "rhetorical flourishes," were wise. I was present for her first sermon as Presiding Bishop at General Convention. In that context, it never occured to me that she was questioning the sex of the Incarnate Jesus. She was using a powerful image (and, as Richard has indicated, not a new one, if a somewhat unusual one) of Christ's willingness to suffer that we might be Children of God.

    Indeed, I have not heard anyone questioning that Jesus was male. I have heard great question as to whether that fact was accidental to his humanity or essential to his divinity. I have read the latter expressed; but when I have read it I have been led to question how the writer could say that without somehow losing "the image and likeness of God" for all women.

    As for God's capacity to transcend our categories: substitutionary atonement received by believing (expressed by conscious assent) is only one orthodox understanding of how God was bringing salvation in Christ. Older is the tradition of Christus Victor, in which Christ's victory over death is accomplished regardless of our acceptance or even knowledge. Thus, we are saved by grace, apprehended through faith (as charism), and not by our own efforts (including belief as work). So, in John 10:16 Jesus could say, "I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd." If "this fold" applies to his hearers, the Disciples, and to their spiritual descendants (us), then those who "do not belong to this fold" but are part of Christ's flock are so by his grace, and not by sharing in the faith as we have received it.

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  17. Re: Laughter - Calvin on afterlife. Thanks to Prior Aelred.

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