Wednesday, 19 April 2006

A Church Asunder online

The article by Peter J Boyer with this title in The New Yorker magazine, which was mentioned previously is now online at the magazine’s website.
You can read the full text of it here. Only the cartoon is missing.

Hat tip to Jim Naughton for this. His earlier comments are here and here.

A negative view of this article can be found at the blog of John Zahl.

A rather different take on the article is on Political Spaghetti.

titusonenine comments are here.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Wednesday, 19 April 2006 at 7:05am BST | TrackBack
You can make a Permalink to this if you like
Categorised as: ECUSA

This is written from a notable conservative evangelical bias, and it omits entirely the important fact that the plotting between the proto-network and the "Global South" started long before the consecration of Gene Robinson -- at least a year before the last Lambeth conference, in fact. No one reading it would suppose that the whole sexuality resolution was an ambush agreed in caucus meetings long before.

None the less, it is extremely informative, and contains, so far as I can see, no errors of commission except for the assertion that "Christ's substitutionary atonement on the cross" is "The central Christian doctrine". Anyone interested in the schism ought to read it.

Posted by: Andrew Brown on Wednesday, 19 April 2006 at 8:24am BST

But the substitutionary atonement of Christ on the Cross is central doctrine. Without that what is left? Unitarian Universalism in sacramental and liturgical robes?

Posted by: Ian Montgomery on Wednesday, 19 April 2006 at 12:07pm BST

"This is written from a notable conservative evangelical bias, and it omits entirely the important fact that the plotting between the proto-network and the "Global South" started long before the consecration of Gene Robinson -- at least a year before the last Lambeth conference, in fact. No one reading it would suppose that the whole sexuality resolution was an ambush agreed in caucus meetings long before."

I have to say that I didn't detect a 'notable conservative evangelical bias' in the article. I also have to say to Andrew Brown that yours and Stephen Bates conspiracy theories, about how evangelicals planned this all along, fall way short of the truth. The Lambeth 1998 resolution was a 'cock up' of the liberals own making - especially Andrew's pal John Spong.

Posted by: Andrew Carey on Wednesday, 19 April 2006 at 1:53pm BST

RE: Written from a conservative evangelical bias.

That's a very interesting assertion. It could only be made by one who is so biased in the other direction that someone attempting to give both sides an equal chance to present their cases looks far off to the right.

I can make this statement with some authority as I feel inclined to criticize the article for the same reason, but from the opposite direction. Thus, for me to criticize overmuch would be "the pot calling the kettle black". In fact, the aforesaid comment has given me pause--a mirror in which to view myself perhaps.

The end result is that I feel no differently towards the issues, but can at least appreciate a journalist who seeks to present the views of both sides as they would wish to be presented. This is an extremely rare thing in the world of journalism today, where journalistic bias is considered a virtue rather than a vice.


Posted by: steven on Wednesday, 19 April 2006 at 3:42pm BST

At least in ECUSA, precedence for the AAC and ACN stretches back decades; granted, most right-wing dissent is out in the open, but by no means all. For instance, in 1996 Bishops Wantland, Howe and others began to legally incorporate an entity called "The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America Inc." in an effort to set up a parallel province friendly to right-wingers; private investigators were employed to bring this to light.

I'm pretty sure Abelard wasn't a Unitarian.

Posted by: The Anglican Scotist on Wednesday, 19 April 2006 at 3:46pm BST

I've just posted a long blog entry on the New Yorker article at PoliticalSpaghetti, summarizing my perspective on the issue. Some of you might find it interesting.

SS adds: the URL is

Posted by: Matt on Wednesday, 19 April 2006 at 4:48pm BST

The background from which Peter Boyer writes is discernible from the interview with him which is also on the website of The New Yorker, at

Here is a quote:

I came from a long line of church folk—preachers, evangelists. At the inception of this country, they were part of the evangelical wing of the Church of England. They were Wesley followers, who then became Methodists, who then became circuit riders, and so on. Then some of them became Holiness people and, at the beginning of the last century, Pentecostals. So I grew up with a pretty intensely felt fundamentalist orientation. I went to a broad range of churches, but slowly migrated to the church I now attend, which is an Episcopal church. I had no idea that this divide existed, and had no idea that my particular church was part of it until I started doing this story.

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Wednesday, 19 April 2006 at 5:43pm BST


I am not certain whether you are implying that a conservative evangelical background means that the piece is written with a conservative evangelical bias. I still hope that there are journalists (whether lefties or righties) who strive for integrity and lack of bias in their writing. Some, but not many, seem to be able to achieve something close. I believe Mr. Boyer is to be commended for his effort to do so. Not dissed.


PS-I think most were already aware of the background of the author based on the last posting under the heading of "A Church Asunder". /s

Posted by: steven on Wednesday, 19 April 2006 at 6:26pm BST

I perfectly agree with Andrew Carey's view that Lambeth 1.10 is a "cock-up".
Well said Andrew!

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Wednesday, 19 April 2006 at 7:11pm BST

I think that calling Substitutionary atonement "The central Christian doctrine" is evidence of a pretty clear bias. The definite article is a hint here.

And, AC, if you didn't notice what was going on at Lambeth 98, you're not a very attentive journalist. Or perhaps you weren't there. But the meeting at Plano in 97 has been extensively covered, and I spoke myself to bishops who had been flown out of Africa to attend it.

Posted by: Andrew Brown on Wednesday, 19 April 2006 at 7:34pm BST


To be less intellectually cute than the Scotist, there have been at least three distinct understandings of atonement. The substitutionary theory is one. So is the "Christus Victor" theory: that Christ once and for all time conquered sin and death in a quasi-miliatary conquest of hell. Abelard's is a third. None of the five is perfect; none of the five (as far as I know) has ever been denied (or for that matter specified) in the Anglican tradition. That Christ's death atoned and reconciled is a central Christian doctrine; any specific understanding of it is not.

That isn't so strange. We believe that Christ's Real Presence (both physical and spiritual) in the elements of bread and wine is a central Christian doctrine. (I don't know exactly what that says about conversations with Methodists.) No specific explanation of how God accomplishes this (as, for example, the Aristotelian physics of transubstantiation) is. So, historically we have concurred with Luther in consubstantiation: that God acts, and God's means in acting is a mystery, known in faith and not in scientific inquiry.

Posted by: Marshall Scott on Wednesday, 19 April 2006 at 8:17pm BST

Andrew Brown, the meeting in Dallas produced a statement I was well aware of (I didn't know that it took place in Plano - I had thought that was the 2003 meeting). Surely you don't think for a moment that it was decisive? The immediate preceding events of Lambeth 1998 and the conference itself were the decisive factors in bringing forward Resolution 1.10 - the major part of which hadn't even been tabled the night before. If you are saying that a number of conservatives wanted Lambeth to say something strong against the acceptance of homosexual practice by the Church and organised themselves to that purpose then I would agree with you (I don't see anything sinister or surprising in that). My view is that the 'gay lobby' at Lambeth and people like Spong were as responsible for creating the resolution as anyone else.

Posted by: Andrew Carey on Wednesday, 19 April 2006 at 10:13pm BST

"a journalist who seeks to present the views of both sides as they would wish to be presented."

I believe there is a word for this in English also.

We call it text-reklam.

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Wednesday, 19 April 2006 at 10:46pm BST

Thank you Marshall for not being "cute." Re the substitutionary atonement my beginning is the Scriptures and their use of propitiation, expiation or atonement. Then of course Articles II and XV are to the point. I was ordained at a time in the UK, when subscription to the Articles was required even to get into theological college.

Re the real presence there is a spectrum of ambiguity from the Zwinglian to the very Catholic. This means that I do not believe that the real presence is a central doctrine though the necessity of eucharistic participation is as essential as baptism, and is central doctrine, being the two dominical sacraments. The grace is actually received without specification of how - beyond obedient and faithful reception. In the US TEC has sought to be much more defining on the real presence that most of Anglicanism either requires or expects. Eucharistic doctrine is not creedal doctrine. In practice some of these things are a splendid fudge.

I am a conservative evangelical whose colleague is high Catholic and we each serve the other according to the other's spirituality. This is how we view the via media in its best manifestation. Neither of us are willing to compromise however on core doctrine and for us the substitutionary atonement is one such.

This forum is beginning to be much more fun as the polemic seems to have lessened.

Posted by: Ian Montgomery on Wednesday, 19 April 2006 at 11:49pm BST

I predict that this marriage of convenience between African Anglican bishops and conservative American Episcopalians will not last, even if they do succeed in their ambition to lovingly frog march the gays into prisons and mental hospitals to be "cured", and to see liberals walk the plank and perish.
The African bishops will discover to their dismay that the most enthusiatic constituency for the neo-imperial agenda of the current American presidency is conservative white evangelical Christians. I can only imagine their reaction when they see their friends here in the USA cheerfully endorsing policies that treat their countries as nothing but vast pools of cheap oil and cheap labor for the American market.
The African Anglicans may see Western acceptance of gays as an albatross about their necks as they race with the Muslims to evangelize Africa, but American conservatives may find the recent Nigerian legislation (enthusiastically backed by ++Akinola) that goes so far as to prohibit even the positive discussion of homosexuality to be a growing albatross around their necks; so alien is such a law to Western sensibilities.

Posted by: Counterlight on Thursday, 20 April 2006 at 12:21am BST

My provision of the quote about Boyer's background was merely intended to be helpful to readers. I am certainly not dissing his article, which I think is excellent.

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Thursday, 20 April 2006 at 8:49am BST

"propitiation, expiation or atonement" are in the Bible?

No, they are Latin words.

A post 16th century Calvinist take on Anselm's substitutionary "atonement" is "core doctrine" but not the Eucharist????

Why not Mel Gibson?

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Thursday, 20 April 2006 at 9:11am BST

The proposed Nigerian legislation threats the Constitutional rights of a l l Nigerians.

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Thursday, 20 April 2006 at 9:13am BST

The politicalspaghetti article also deals with Nigeria. Please, if you wish to comment on that part of the politicalspaghetti article, do it on the post titled Nigeria: latest developments. Let's focus this thread on the New Yorker article and responses to it.

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Thursday, 20 April 2006 at 9:49am BST


Well, I see what you're saying about the background you bring to the discussion of understanding the work of Christ. I would have thought on that that Articles II and XXXI would have been pertinent; but neither specifies one understanding of how atonment happens. At the same time, Article XXVIII seems to me to specify real presence, while explicitly denying the specifics of Aristotelian physics in transubstantiation. At any rate, we have enough in common to speak.

Regarding the Boyer article: it seemed a typical article for The New Yorker, written for a well educated (in the cultural and academic sense), thoughtful audience; but not for one specifically or even particularly Anglican/Episcopal. It is, for that reason, very focussed on examining the persons involved, but not particularly focussed on examining the issues. For that audience, 98% of whom aren't us (based on the statistics that Episcopalians and those who were once Episcopalians are about 2% of the population, and pretty evenly distributed) it might offer an interesting overview - limited, but interesting. For us, I think it's essentially an artifact, that doesn't particularly bring anything new to either perspective. It might educate us somewhat more about the people - I learned things about all of Robinson, Duncan, and Griswold - but it doesn't really add much to the discussion either way.

Posted by: Marshall Scott on Thursday, 20 April 2006 at 8:49pm BST

Regarding the Boyer article in the 17 April issue of The New Yorker, Michael Scott is right on target when he writes: "It might educate us somewhat more about the people - I learned things about all of Robinson, Duncan, and Griswold - but it doesn't really add much to the discussion either way."

Ian Montgomery seems to be fixated on the 'substitutionary atonement' as a litmus test of true orthodoxy, as are many of the 'reasserters'. I wonder what he would make of the pertinent chapter in Anthony Hanson and Richard P.C. Hanson's Reasonable Belief: A Survey of the Christian Faith (OUP, 1981)? In it the two 'evangelical' theologians point out that "nobody produced a theological treatise on the subject during the first thousand years of the Church's existence" (p.107). This is indeed a curious fact, not often remarked upon.

Anselm's book Cur Deus Homo was a strange innovation in which the theory was advanced that Christ by his death was in some way persuading or enabling God to forgive us, God having to be reconciled to man rather than man to God. Whichever theory of the atonement through the 19th century one looks at, they all involve the offering of a sacrifice, or of some sacrificial gift or act, to the Father by the Son in order to achieve reconciliation. They all represent the atonement as primarily a movement from man, represented by Christ, to God. They all suffer from one fatal defect: the Son does the Father's dirty work for Him. Inevitably, if we adopt a theory of this type, we will separate the Father from the Son: we will find ourselves regarding the Son as a more approachable person than the Father. It makes a mockery of the trinitarian doctrine as espoused by the Eastern Church.

RCP Hanson, a brilliant patristic scholar whose opus magnum, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God: The Arian Controversy, 318-381, has just been reissued with accolades from ++Rowan Cantuar, is really on to something when he questions the theories of the atonement. He just isn't a carbon copy of Jack Spong, the poster-boy of so much abuse by the 'reasserters'.

Posted by: John Henry on Friday, 21 April 2006 at 1:38am BST

Marshall you are right to add Article XXXI to the case I am making.

The word propitiation is latin and one of the commenters seems to object to foreign words. Such is the genius of the English language. I studied latin from the age of 7-21 as in those days it was an academic requirement. I rejoice greatly that these words continue to be used in Bible translation so as to give us English speakers the advantage of a rich vocabulary.

I note that the other word under discussion is Eucharist which is Greek. It seems very popular to use that word now to describe holy communion/ the Lord's supper to the point of complete assimilation without significant understanding in the pew. It is now "Episcopal speak" under the 1979 BCP reinterpretation of common prayer norms and doctrines. Americans love to take foreign words and make them sound sophisticated. It reminds me of being asked if I would like some "au jus" in a restaurant! Apalling! At least to me as I also had to take French from the age of six.

Meanwhile back to the real presence and Article XXVIII. The Article seems to me to speak of reception and faith as to the effect rather than as to the substance. This is part of the ambiguity about the real presence in the Anglican formularies. There is no question as to Eucharistic participation - it is central doctrine, as is the real blessing received. The real presence is not however a central doctrine as such.

I found the Boyer article informative and have passed it on to many. The New Yorker is usually left of center in its political opinions and I found this therefore helpfully objective in its analysis as many outside our Church have got lost amidst the polemic and subjectivity of much of the discussion. Actually much discussion is not discussion at all but accusation and recrimination. Posturing rather than engaging.


Posted by: Ian Montgomery on Friday, 21 April 2006 at 4:23am BST

Ian Montgomery

There are very few, if indeed any, Latin words in the Bible.
2nd Millennium theological terms are not Biblical in any sense.

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Friday, 21 April 2006 at 11:28am BST

Apropos, today (April 21) is the Feast of Anselm in the American Church. You can find one historian's discussion of him at

Posted by: Marshall Scott on Friday, 21 April 2006 at 3:01pm BST

Mea culpa - justus simul peccator

Posted by: Ian Montgomery on Saturday, 22 April 2006 at 3:31am BST
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