Coal in your Christmas Stocking? One lump or two?

Christmas is coming and the goose is getting cooked. The Anglican goose, that is. It's December 19th where I am, in Chennai, India, India is home to some 900,000,000 Hindus almost all of whom have not the slightest interest in the foolishness going on in the Anglican Communion. They find Christianity an interesting if limited sort of religion and odds and ends of Christmas displays make it into malls and even corner shops. These often lump images of Santa, nativity figures and various depictions of Jesus together with wild abandon. Still, I've not seen the famous Christmas Stocking, hung by the Chimney with Care or otherwise. It's just as well. This year, at least for Anglicans, there are only lumps of coal. No sweets, no toys, nada.

Sitting here looking at the reports coming out on the Anglican Covenant, now no longer a draft but the actual thing, and the Standing Committee's once again of that most paternalistic of phrases which encourages others to "gracious restraint" while saying nothing of extending "gracious restraint," I am left to wonder, is any of this useful, necessary or good for the soul? The answer is NO.

About the Anglican Covenant: Now it is clearer than ever. The ACC authorized the change in nomenclature - the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates and the Anglican Consultative Council is now simply the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion. It has given to this Joint Committee extraordinary powers. The Joint Committee is the one that will monitor the progress and use of the Anglican Covenant and determine conformity to its meaning and intent. The upshot of all this is as expected: The Anglican Covenant continues to be a positive contribution up until the second part of section three. After that it slides downhill rapidly into the organizational deep freeze of deeply compromised vocation.

To the extent that the vocation of the Church concerns Jesus Christ present in the world and in the streets of the city and the homes of the village, the Church must act locally in ways that brings abundance of life. At the same time the Church speaks to the whole world for that abundance (which has different forms in different places)as the birth-right of all humankind.

So the Anglican Communion ought to support, not repress, local conditions in which the universal birth-right takes specific form. The Anglican Communion ought to support life long committed relations between and among people, ought to support sexual expression within such relationships. It ought to promote and encourage baptized members of the Church to consider God's call to them to various ministries in the Church. At the same time the Anglican Communion ought to speak with some clarity about situations that arise locally which would categorically deny basic human rights to individuals in this or that place. In order to do this the Anglican Communion voices - the voices of the "Instruments of Communion" - need to be supple and nimble.

Instead the Anglican Communion, if it adopts this Covenant, will become less supple, less nimble, less able to act locally and think globally, more bloated and without the ability to act swiftly except by employing this new engine, the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion. As seen in its communique several days ago, the Standing Committee has acted swiftly concerning Bishop Elect Glasspool. At the same time it said nothing about the situation in Uganda. What gives?

The temptation will be overwhelming to use the Standing Committee as the preferred instrument of Communion.
The problem with this, of course, is that up until the moment of the Standing Committees creation there were instruments of Communion, but no actual committees of the Anglican Communion APART from the specific instruments of communion. The SC is not described as part of this or that instrument, or a product of joint activity. Rather it is billed as a separate new thing, a Committee of the Communion, as if the Communion is an organizational reality of which the SC is, well, the star chamber.

Which leads to the second lump of coal: The Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion met and (i) passed on the 4th section of the Anglican Covenant and (ii) issued a statement asking The Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of Canada and various unnamed border crossers to cease and desist by way of "gracious restraint."
This lump is enough to make it clear that Christmas this year is devoid of gracious restraint on the part of the brave new Anglican Communion uber-committee.

There are several things very wrong about the Standing Committee's work: (i) The meeting was in private, in secret. The first and only Committee of the Anglican Communion is a star chamber, not an open body. (ii) The Standing Committee has taken the same old line - that someone else (namely TEC and ACoC, and unnamed boundary violators) - should graciously stop doing something. Nowhere is there any sense that what is happening locally may have pastoral, prophetic or even princely power. Nowhere is there any specific accountability requested of specific Churches mucking about in the back yard of other Provinces.
"Gracious restraint" is a terrible proposition. It asks local churches to refrain from actions they have taken without making any provision for gracious engagement on the part of any other Church in the Communion.

But more, gracious restraint recommended by the Standing Committee is paternalistic in the worse way.

So - two lumps of coal, no presents. Some Christmas.
Perhaps the billion or so Hindus who find our God too small will smile, if they pay any attention at all. Not only is our God too small, they might say, Anglicans are to stiff and without delight in the abundance of life to get it. We are not saved by disallowing all but approved behavior. We are saved by God's abundant grace and our desire to love God and our neighbor, and God will cover the distance between our efforts and God's hope.

Well, who knows. God does not deliver lumps of coal, even if the Anglican Communion does. Christmas comes and with it the reminder of the greatest gift there is - the light of God that comes into the world.

May that light fill our hearts and assure us of God's abundant grace and love. These were stockings left by a grumpy uncle.

Look again, there are real joys under the tree, and in the homes of friends and strangers, and plenty of love to go around.


  1. Hi Mark
    I would like to applaud your piece and to commiserate with you finding lumps of coal in your stocking. But I find it raises too many questions for me. To be Christian is, in some way, to be distinctive, to know that humankind has no abundance of life without Christ, and the abundance of life with Christ is through the cross on which Christ died because of our sin. From the perspective of the cross a number of things about life look different , one of which is that life is abundant when lived according to God's will as revealed through Scripture. Of this perspective I find nothing in your post yet this is a perspective shared by millions of Anglicans. Yet to us you give a whole lot of 'oughts' - what the Anglican Communion ought to do etc - without (as far as I can detect) any Christian theological undergirding rooted in Scripture convincingly articulated.

    Understandably you are impatient with many of us Anglicans who do not see things in quite the way you do. But do you understand that we require something more than you offer if we are to do what you think we ought to do?

  2. Fr. Mark,

    These were stockings left by a grumpy uncle.

    Absolutely correct. When the Archbishop stayed publicly mum on Uganda, but then fired off a terse public "concern" about the election of a lesbian woman in Los Angeles (and never offered congratulations to any of the other people elected bishop or bishop suffragan that day!) I stopped worrying about "the grumpy uncle".
    My heart and my mind tell me that the light that is entering the world shines as brightly on me as it does on anyone who wishes to stand in that light with their head up.
    As for the "limited religion" of Christianity, I don't agree that Christianity is limited. The people practicing Christianity tend to limit it. It's just too bad that those who prefer to keep Christ crucified get all the press. It can be a very freeing and liberating religion... if we just let it do that!

  3. I can't speak Mr Carrell's remarks, since it is obvious that what he sees as required by the view from the Cross are quite different from what I see -- though probably based on pretty much the same texts. Given that, discussion is not possible.
    That aside, I have a short comment on the logic of the whole mess at fharrystowe.blogspot.com/2009/12/what-of-what-says-what.html

  4. Fr.(?) Carrell,

    I wouldn't presume to speak for Mark, but I can tell you and your "millions of Anglicans" that many of us God-awing Episcopalians are well beyond "impatient" with the duplicitous ++Rowan and his Central Committee.If you and yours cannot detect "Christian theological undergirding rooted in (capital-s) scripture" in the ways the Spirit is leading North American Anglicans as we struggle to follow Gospel imperatives, then we may just need to move on. To Hell with this unholy covenant(sic).
    And when did numbers equate to orthpraxy? Crowds saw the cross; precious few the empty tomb.

  5. Methinks a few more than 900,000 Hindus live in India.

    I'm not a Christian but I suspect "He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant--not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life" is apropos.

    There may only be coals in the thin air of bishops' committees but what is on in individual congregations? Some coals, some lit candles.

  6. From the perspective of atheists/agnostics, the whole thing looks stupid, if we bother to look at all.
    Rowan Williams is Exhibit #1 for the case for disestablishing the church.

  7. Erp...thanks... missed a set of zeros. it is 900,000,000. Be glad I don't run the treasury.

    Peter Carrell...Thanks for the comment. Life is abundant because God in Christ brings it. Where precisely does Jesus say that that abundance is when "lived according to God's will as revealed through Scripture"?

    As to the "ought" language... I will work on that. there are two problems with "ought" language: (i) there is a possible arrogance in it, and (ii) it assumes a context for moral and theological engagement. I could be charged with the first and lax on the second.

    So, I will work on it. My assumptions about the context does indeed root itself in Scripture, but its tap root is God's presence among us in Jesus Christ, kind of an incarnational tap root.

    More later.

  8. Hi Mark
    I am offering "lived according to God's will as revealed through Scripture" as a summary of discipleship according to Christ in the gospel. (I acknowledge that others are going to summarise the gospel/discipleship/abundant life differently).

    I appreciate that the tap root of your theology is to God in Christ, but others reading what you said and/or asking why should we follow these particular "oughts" might want to see the tap root!

    To one or two others: "millions of Anglicans" is not about whether significant numbers believing something makes it true but about whether we wish to be a world communion or not. If we do then millions are not yet persuaded of certain things. But at least one comment here makes me wonder how strong the desire is to be a world communion!

  9. Fr. Carrell,
    Way back when I was taking newcomer's classes with (then) Father Bob Duncan, he taught us that the Anglican branch of Christianity practiced and prayed an incarnational theology that sees God choosing to become flesh and dwell among God's own creation as one of that creation as the ground of all our understanding. I rejoiced in this because, with a family of Southern Methodists and hellfire Baptists, I had grown up sick of the self-centeredness of their escathological obsessions. While I do not deny the importance of the view from the Cross, I have found, over the years, that it is a view that can focus too much on sin and not enough on light. It seems to me that the views from the Manger and the Empty Tomb are the views on which we should focus--the unthinkable generosity of the Manger and the inconceivable transcendence of the Empty Tomb. The suffering and death, agonizing and heartbreaking and enormous though they are the purpose of the Manger, but do you truly believe they were the only purposes of the manger? And do you truly believe that Scripture, which evolved over thousands of years and the evolution of which was immensely complex did not at any point involve God choosing carefully to speak to Creation in the words that humans at their particular stages would/could understand and live into and that that God would not continue to speak to us differently as we grow in understanding (slavery being a vivid case in point)?

    But, to focus on the view from the Cross, do you really think that that view would be focused more on the election of Mary Glasspool than on what's going on in Uganda? Maybe Mark and the rest of liberals are a little too prone to "oughts" and a bit arrogant thereby. But I do not understand the urge that "many of us Anglicans who do not see things in quite the way you do" seem to have to limit God to some point in the third century and the words of a group of blessed but inevitably fallible scribes. Why would you think that an infinite God would deal in finite revelation?

    Devon Miller-Duggan

  10. Oh, Peter. Some of us millions of Anglicans actually didn't freeze at the suffering, agony, and punishment of the cross.

    We actually went on to experience the rebirth with Jesus from the tomb and embraced the pouring out of the Spirit which made us new creations. That is what we see as the "distinctive" joy of Anglican Christianity -- and the true source of abundance in life through Christ.

    Someday I hope you will try looking out on the glorious sunrise of Easter morning instead of gazing through the dark and stormy tears and blood of the crucifixion. It is an amazing perspective! Through God ALL things are possible!

    I fear that this is part of the deep, deep divide, what I call the "suffering-focused" Christians who want strong, black and white print in the bible authority over an out of bounds creation and "resurrection-focused" Christians who want to renew and ever-changing creation through shades of gray and all the colors of God's rainbow.

    Without regard to either, I wish you and all here at Preludium a blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year!

  11. Hi Devon
    That God might be continually revealing truth to the world in general and to the church in particular is possible. If so, then the question is how we know that truth. One answer within the context of the church is that a claim that God has revealed X is universally received as true by the church. Another answer is that one designated leader or group of leaders determines it to be so.

    For the Anglican Communion we are determined not to pursue the latter (associated, e.g., with the Roman Catholic church). It is not clear whether we are pursuing the former. But if we are, then, on certain matters, we are far from universally agreed.

    Funnily enough I think Anglicans are more united on condemning the proposed draconian law in Uganda (but, following advice, our leaders are condemning it behind the scenes rather than with TV news sound bites) than we are on accepting Mary Glasspool's election.

    Do you have a proposal for assisting the Anglican Communion to be agreed as a whole body on matters of present disagreement?

  12. Mark, how wonderful for you to write from Chennai! And, as always, your words are well taken.

    Reading the comments, they demonstrate in a microcosm part of the origins of the current unpleasantness: does one focus primarily on the cross or on the empty tomb? I go with the empty tomb, Easter, resurrection, incarnation, rather than Good Friday. Though I hardly deny the importance of Good Friday, the gospel narrative did not end there but continued onto Easter. I think one's starting point then further informs one's theological anthropology -- the goodness or depravity of humankind.

  13. I just don't see where/how/why/when the +++ABC thinks he has jurisdiction, authority, or anything else outside his See. Except to meet and talk with other Bishops who have agreed to do so.

    I grieve for a church who meets and makes decision in secret.... it is like the priests and Temple authorities meeting in the dark of night.... and the cross of death is their invention, not God's. Incarnation, Resurrection, eternal life, forgiveness of all sin --these are the things of God. I don't see any of these things of God in this so-called Covenant....

  14. ...about whether we wish to be a world communion or not.

    I find that I care less and less about being part of the world communion that the present Archbishop of Canterbury envisions. Which is the Gospel imperative that calls for a lumbering bureaucracy to engage in near-endless discussions over possible consequences, whenever a province of the Communion decides to move forward in an initiative that the rest of the Communion may not approve?

  15. Those who are opposed to adoption of the Covenant, as you seem to be, believe it is imperative to follow Truth to the very end of the road, even where the road from Unity diverges off in another direction. That is certainly a defensible position, and it seems to me like the dominant ethos of TEC. For some of us, however, Truth and Unity are one and the same. This seems to be what the ABC has been saying all along, and this sort of theology is enshrined in the Covenant. It's not about giving anybody a lump of coal for Christmas. You seem committed to living out your faith as an Anglican in a different way from those who wish to continue living it out as if Truth and Unity really were intertwined. You and those who hold such views have TEC. Merry Christmas.

  16. I was disappointed not to have the changes in section 4 marked by pink flamingos :(
    I nearly stole the concept myself - but resisted the temptation. I will be interested to follow the discussion - I think that (similar to the great noise made about Anglican Ordinariates) this will be a lot of noise about ultimately very little:

  17. nice posting. very good work. thank you. :)


  18. I think Uganda may torpedo Rowan's covenant.

  19. I find it interesting that the people here responding to Peter Carrell don't actually adress the cross but put it in opposition to the incarnation or the empty tomb. For Christians, there is no putting these in opposition as if one were choosing the vegetable over the meat of a meal. All are indespensible to the salvation Christ has wrought and therefore indispensible to abundant life. And yet Mark and those here seem to want to dispense with the cross, but to do so is to skip the meal entirely.


  20. Happy Christmas Eve, Peter,

    I can't give a clear answer. I have tended to feel (not so much "see") light when I am going in God's direction. Obviously the problem comes when my "light" pushes me one one direction and yours pushes you in another.I don't mean to set up any sort of relativist argument. But neither do I presume to understand the mind of God or think it is limited, ever, to a single expression. My attraction to the Anglican tradition has always been based in its ability to live in uncertainty and complexity. I also love the essential courtesy of the Anglican theological tradition. What I do believe in is my clear sense that, even if clumsily, TEC is walking in that Light. I am probably theologically more conservative than +KJS, probably more liberal than you, but hardly a radical. Since Gene Robinson was elected I have heard in the back of my head a Swahili hymn we taught our kids on a mission trip years ago that says "We are marching in the light of God..." I wouldn't necessarily claim that the musical score in my particular head constitutes divine revelation--but I do think that song is an expression of my unconscious awareness of some sort of rightness. This, however, is institutionally useless.

    If we are all more or less in agreement on the matter of Uganda, then why hasn't +Rowan done more about it?

    Why is everyone so wigged out about Mary Glasspool? You can't tell me that she's the only bishop ever to be elected about whom folks had reservations? But mostly we acknowledge the right of dioceses to elect. If the issue is that she's a lesbian, then I would argue that either folks are fully human and subject to the same ethical standards as other humans (as hard as it can be to agree on those), or they're not. And if folks are fully human, then they are entitled to serve God to the limits of their capacities. ACNA is trying to sing the old song in claiming to believe all of us are fully human, but some are less suited to one or another form of service, and it's still an ugly song. For me, the fact that the only time we see Jesus even in the neighborhood of a discussion of the issue (the Roman soldier who wants Jesus to heal his catamite), Jesus doesn't address it and only, as is His wont, addresses the matter of the Roman soldier's faith, trumps Paul's knee-jerk greco-judeo condemnation. I should admit that I find Paul an inconsistent transmitter (I'm pretty sure God's understanding of Love is more complex and realistic than 1 Corinthians:13, for instance, which may start a whole new fire and make anything else I say ignorable for many who read here).

    My proposal for the present is that we offer each other our blessings and stay or leave as we are called to. What should be a matter of Christian courtesy has turned itself into a kerfluffle about the acquisition of earthly authority and possessions. Waste of time and both human and spiritual capital. Free Will and the variety of human minds and experiences mean that we will walk different paths toward the same Light. Some of us will get it wrong, some of us will walk backwards, some of us will walk squiggly paths. One of the few things I am sure of is that God draws straight with all sorts of lines and it is not my business to tell anyone else what sort of line they're supposed be. So what I think we ought to do is keep going to church, keep giving of ourselves and our treasure, keep modeling the extraordinary love of God in Christ to every part of creation we can touch, and keep trying to follow the Light as if we were all sunflowers. ACNA and The Southern Cone only make sense if the folks following them are looking for a sense of being especially saved/privileged/beloved. But if they need to go, then let them go in peace. And if Canterbury wants to favor one of its children over another, then there is very little we can do about it except speak the truth we experience. What is the "more" you speak of needing?

    pax, Devon

  21. Hi Devon
    Thank you for your response which offers much food for thought.

    I would like to make this observation as a general response: woven through your paragraphs is an attractive vision for many different ad hoc ways of being Anglican lived out according to how individuals and groups best see fit. Perhaps that is all we can do!

    But, in my view, that is not what being an 'Anglican Communion' is about, for intrinsic to 'Communion' is being a fellowship of believers holding things in common. Perhaps for Anglicans in the 21st century that is unachievable! But I am trying to give it my best shot.

    Merry Christmas - belatedly!

  22. I know I'm just an ol' atheist, and all, but really, reading this, some of you folks seem to elevate the non-essential to core doctrine.

    What's the essential? Nicene creed, Christ is died/risen/will come again, right? Isn't that what matters?

    Isn't the issue of GLBT bishops a merest blip of a gnat's eyelash compared to that?

    Honestly....Peter...what beliefs re meaningfully DIFFERENT? that prevent you from being fellowship of believers holding things in common.


  23. I know I'm just an ol' atheist....

    IT, your "ol' atheist" voice is one that I very much look forward to hearing. You always make a good deal of sense to me.

    WV: "flued". I hope the flu bug has not infected Preludium.

  24. As an Australian priest I value family of the Anglican Communion,headed informally by the Archbishop of Canterbury, but the plain fact is that the Anglican Church of Australia is an autonomous Church with a Constitution that I cannot see being changed to allow, for example, for ANY kind of Anglican Covenant. (It does state that we are in communion with "the Church of England" unless that Church changed drastically.) What we can do as a Church - or as a parish or a community - or as individuals - is simply by God's grace to seek to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace in whatever way we think best.


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, 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.