9/04/2007

IRD's Ralph Webb and the twisting of things.

For starters, I do not find it necessary to read the Institute for Religion and Democracy's (IRD) web site regularly. Thanks to others who do I visited the the site and read Ralph Webb's article titled, "A Tale of Two (Potential) Bishops." Mr. Webb was kind enough to point us to the IRD main site where one can find his biographical statement. He seems a decent enough fellow, having taken some seminary courses from Trinity School for Ministry and serving at Truro Church (the Nigerian Congregation worshiping there). But being a decent fellow is not enough. He is out there twisting matters to fit the IRD strategy that gnaws every bone it can find, hoping that there is marrow somewhere in it. This essay is no exception.

The wind up for the pitch is his observation that Dean Tracy Lind, who is a candidate for bishop in Chicago, wrote an article in The Witness, in which she opined that being part of the Anglican Communion wasn't the be all and end all of faithful Christian living, even for Episcopalians.

Webb asks, "How is Lind's view concerning leaving the Anglican Communion substantially different from the view concerning leaving the Episcopal Church allegedly held by Mark Lawrence at the time of his first election as Bishop of South Carolina -- the view that lead to the smear campaign against Lawrence?"

Well, lets see: (i) No bishop makes a swear to uphold the Constitution and Canons of the Anglican Communion, because there aren't any, (ii) Every bishop elected in this Church makes a swear to uphold the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church by way of the promise "I do solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church."

Now in case Mr. Webb forgot, "the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church" is found in the Constitution, Canons and Prayer Book (and by extension, the Hymnal) of the Episcopal Church.

Bishops are also called upon "with your fellow bishops (to) share in the leadership of the Church throughout the world." But they are never asked to be obedient to the directives, constitution, canons or any other instrument of governance by any agency outside the Episcopal Church. They are required to lead in the confession of the faith, but that of course, is something quite different from obedience to some international church body. That confession pertains to the belief in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, for which all existing churches are but a shadow.

Further, it is perhaps helpful to remind Mr. Webb that the Anglican Communion is not a church and therefore bishops are not ordained in it. They are ordained in The Episcopal Church (or some other church) and are bishops "in the church of God" whose purview one hopes is rather grander than the Anglican Communion. Their ordination is conditional on license and vocation in place - they are ordained for specific ministry and conditional on an oath of conformity.

Opinions as to the efficacy of being part of the Anglican Communion are perfectly in order. Member churches of the Communion quite often include provisos to the effect that they are autonomous in determining their own understandings of faith, order and discipline. I have on other occasions pointed out that the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) has incorporated the same sensibility in its Constitution when it makes the CofN the sole determinate of its own life and order.

Now, Mr. Webb, here is the crux of the matter: Bishop elect Lawrence seemed to have some considerable reservations about the extent to which he could whole-heartedly make the promises required of him. When questioned on it further there continued to be dissatisfaction with his response. Far from there being a "smear campaign," there was a continuing plea that he simply say "yes" and get on with things.

You quote one of his responses, "I shall commit myself to work at least as hard at keeping the Diocese of South Carolina in The Episcopal Church, as my sister and brother bishops work at keeping The Episcopal Church in covenanted relationship with the worldwide Anglican Communion." That is a profoundly equivocal remark. The promise he is required to make is not about keeping the Diocese of South Carolina IN the Episcopal Church. He cannot keep it out. It isn't for him to do, decide or even effect. He brings in "covenanted relationship," an idea whose merits are still in question, as if that was the line in the sand which he would not cross, thereby effectively stating that he might or might not give unreserved assent to the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church.

I believe that Bishop elect Lawrence was being careful in his words and honest to his beliefs. At a time however when member bishops of the Anglican Communion Network have claimed that the promises made at their ordinations are secondary to a higher set of promises, it seemed important to know if Bishop-elect Lawrence was following that line of thinking. There continued to be dissatisfaction with his responses then, and there is now.

The problem is that the promise, which used to be considered an oath of conformity, is to be made without reservations. Well, then was then and now is now. Regarding Fr. Lawrence the question now is have the requests for consents gone out? And if so, what will be the responses? I suspect he will get the required consents. So he will become subject to the same questions that apply to other bishops, including the bishops of Pittsburgh and Fort Worth, concerning their actions.

Mr. Webb confuses two quite different sorts of problems. If he wanted it all to be on the same matter he might do well to ask if Dean Lind, if elected, will engage to conform to "the doctrine, etc, of this Church" without reservation.

Or he could have wondered if asking any bishop-elect if their promises are without reservation is asking for trouble. On that level perhaps there are similarities between honest reservations from two very different places concerning two very different concerns.

But he did not.

What he did was once again to tote out the suffering of the right to "smear campaigns" from the left and then ask,

"If Lind made her comments today, would they lead to strong opposition to her candidacy -- or election, if Chicago chooses her -- the way that Lawrence's statements did? Would the Episcopal Church's much proclaimed desire to stay in the Anglican Communion lead individuals, groups, or diocesan standing committees to raise a major brouhaha concerning Lind or any other potential bishop with a similar viewpoint -- to the point of seriously waylaying the potential bishop's consecration?

I think we all know the answers to those questions."

Well, Mr. Webb what is it you think is the answer to those questions?

Would your predictions have anything to do with your sneaking suspicion that actually the two cases are very different indeed?

5 comments:

  1. Viriato da Silva4/9/07 3:27 PM

    Bravo!!!

    This false parallelism -- attempting to argue that dioceses are to TEC as TEC is to the Communion, and of course Communion trumps TEC -- is a key part of the reconfigurers' strategy.

    Thank you for exposing it as inaccurate and insupportable. There needs to be a strong countermeme put into circulation to combat the meme of false parallels "above" and "below," with "above" (i.e., Communion) always overriding national/provincial Church.

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  2. Is the chuch really the church if it explicitly rejects conciderations of catholicity? It is clear that ignoring catholicity doesn't rise to the same level as acting against the canons of one's church, but I would hesitate to say that it isn't a problem at all.

    Jon

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  3. Well done. I posted a link and excerpt in the corresponding discussion at TitusOneNine.

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  4. What you say about a bishop's commitment is accurate, but lest we forget, as part of the examination, he/she is reminded: " A bishop in
    God’s holy Church is called to be one with the apostles in
    proclaiming Christ’s resurrection and interpreting the Gospel,
    and to testify to Christ’s sovereignty as Lord of lords and
    King of kings.

    You are called to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the
    Church;..... and to be in all
    things a faithful pastor and wholesome example for the
    entire flock of Christ.

    With your fellow bishops you will share in the leadership of
    the Church throughout the world. Your heritage is the faith
    of patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs, and those of
    every generation who have looked to God in hope. "

    And so there are additional ways to understand the commitments a bishop makes by assenting to these truths. What is the "Church" whose faith, unity and discipline the bishop is called to preserve? Since the reference to "Church" in the examination that immediately follows is clearly intended to be more than to just TEC (a calling to join in the leadership of the "Church" thoughout the world), a very reasonable understandg of that commitment is that it is to something more than just the constitution, canons and worship of TEC.
    Likewise, there exists the commitment to stand in the "heritage of the faith of patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs." A very reasonable argument exists that the majority of our bishops have an understanding of that commitment that is at odds with historic Anglican understanding of what it means to a bishop of the Church rather than an elected official of TEC.
    Can Tracy Lind (or Gene Robertson) be a "wholesome example for the
    entire flock of Christ?" Clearly, that is a matter about which there is grave disagreement. If they are a scandalous example to the vast majority of the entire flock of Christ, what does that mean for the Church? How does the "Church" recognize their episcopacy?
    Is it enough to answer the Church by saying, "too bad, get over it. We are independent and we do what we want?"

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