Saturday, 2 October 2004

The Archbishop and the Network

This week’s Church Times press column by Andrew Brown has further comment on this matter.

After reviewing at length the earlier events all reported here and in earlier entries under the same title, he has the following comment.

The only thing we can conclude from this for certain is that somebody is lying. It’s not just a question of who suggested the term “confessing church”. The contorted passive voice of the ACNS statement is perfectly compatible with the story that it was Dr Williams. I rang Jonathan Jennings at the Lambeth press office again, and asked whether the Archbishop had or had not suggested the phrase. He replied: “I wouldn’t go that far,” which is illuminating, but not of the question I wanted answered.

Beyond the phrase itself are the implications. Mr Minns has stated in print and repeated that Dr Williams made explicit the link with Bonhoeffer; Lambeth has now denied it. There were three people in the room; so at least one, it seems to me, must be lying. I don’t know that it’s particularly blameworthy. This kind of social or diplomatic untruth is told all the time to all sorts of journalists: provoking it is a measure of our success in finding interesting stories. But it is only religious journalists whose job consists, in a large part, of ringing up Christians so that they can tell us lies.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Saturday, 2 October 2004 at 5:16 PM GMT | TrackBack
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Comments

The sharing and open imaginings of three people kicking around ideas and possibilities as they meet in a room remain just that. The fact thet afterward everyone remembers something a little different, remains also rather commonplace. The only fault in here is the ABC’s lack of a considerable and far-sighted tact. We keep this up on Williams, and he will soon learn the Anglican ability to speak for paragraphs and paragraphs, and say nothing.

In the end, it is the Primates together, or perthaps the General Synod of the CofE (as the ABC has said already), or maybe even the next Lambeth Conference of Bishops who will say who is in communion; who is out. The Americans created this problem (especially the reckless liberal ECUSA establishment) and Williams should not be faulted for (1) trying to keep his options open; (2) trying to defer to the real deciision-makers on such questions (in spite of the American love for focusing on personalities and leaders); and (3) offering pastoral advice and sharing exploration with various groups.

As for “lying” let’s remember the deeper meaning of the commandment to not bear false witness. That’s being broken by many more people than whoever we want to designate as the “liar” in this particular exercise of 20/20 hindsight.

Posted by: Chris McMullen at October 3, 2004 09:45 PM

It is telling, C McMullen, that you say “Americans created this problem (especially the reckless liberal ECUSA establishment)” and “American love for focusing on personalities and leaders.” You don’t like (presumably, U.S. of) Americans: I get it. Heck, I am one, and I don’t particularly care for us either.

But unpack the phrase “ECUSA establishment” and you’ve got a direct contradiction of the second (about the love of “personalities and leaders”). The only “establishment” in ECUSA, is one that has come about—-over the past 200 years—-through democracy: the opposite of a “focus on personalities.”

When the Primates went ballistic a year ago, there you saw the personalities: pontiffs like +Akinola, who expect the entire Episcopal Church to ask “how far”, when +Frank Griswold was ordered to jump.

But that’s not how ECUSA works! The Primates (indeed the entire AC episcopacy) may not like it, but the fact remains, that by our time-tested canons, each and every decision at the level of the national church, has to be weighed by the entire church, through the vehicle of our triennial General Convention.

A openly gay bishop being elected in our Church has been on the radar screen for 30 years now. It’s not some kind of “sneak a Communion-wide revolution covertly through” conspiracy, but just a transparent part of our process (+Gene was not the first openly-gay candidate for an ECUSA episcopate).

If ECUSA’s democratic polity was unacceptable to the Communion at-large, Lambeth could have said so for decades (and established a controlling authority at the level of the AC). To now say that the results of this polity—-again, which has been open and transparent all along—-is now “reckless,” just because (the episcopal majority of) the AC does not agree with where the democratic process has taken ECUSA, is nothing short of hypocrisy.

Conservatives’ “focus on personalities” (like +Robert Duncan) and reckless manipulation (like the invention of non-local so-called “confessing” church-within-churches) cannot obscure their contempt for the (democratic) body of the Episcopal faithful.

Posted by: J. C. Fisher at October 4, 2004 12:21 AM

Dear J.C. Fisher,
Please forgive me for implying that Americans are unlikeable. That is certainly not what I meant to suggest.

Though to say it’s all the fault of personalities like Akinola, Duncan, etc., and not the “democratic” vote at the last Lambeth, or the consistent discipline of Christians across the centuries, or the issue of making a credible case based on scripture, tradition and reason (as opposed to the great witness that Robinson is, after all, such a nice personality)… well, I think I rest my case.

Posted by: Chris McMullen at October 4, 2004 02:28 AM

Lambeth democratic? Yes, to the extent of “one vote, one bishop.” But that ignores 1) the varying methods in the AC by which one becomes a bishop, 2) that Lambeth only represents bishops (and not clergy and laity, as in ECUSA’s GC, or the Ang. Consultative Council), and most of all 3) that Lambeth has never been more than advisory in its authority.

As far as “the consistent discipline of Christians across the centuries, or the issue of making a credible case based on scripture, tradition and reason,” I can only respond w/ the (likeable?) Americanism, “sez you.” As was said in our (U.S.) recent Presidential debate, “It’s one thing to be certain. It’s another to be certain, and wrong.”

I sometimes get the impression, that Episcopalians, being less Anglo-philic than some of our brethren in the Communion (and who are sometimes pleased to elect bishops who have “nice personalities”—-as opposed to a Here’s Talking Down at You imperium), are supposed to be cowed by our more tut-tut “betters.” Golly gee, sumbuddy speakin’ da Queen’s English sez dey got’s da ‘consistent discipline of Christians across the centuries’ on thez side, whaddo I, ‘merkin rube, know ‘bout dat?

How else can I say this, C McM? You do not persuade me. I very much doubt that there’s any “fact,” any line of argumentation (from your versions of “Scripture, Tradition and Reason”) that I haven’t heard before, and found wanting in terms of “making a credible case.”

Now, it’s easy enough for you to say “back atcha!” (if you’ve heard all my arguments before: maybe you haven’t, maybe you have). But assuming we have not persuaded each other, does that mean we are to say “I have no need of you? I cannot share Bread and Cup with you?”

I do not say that of you, C McM. And, for the love of Christ, I honestly do not understand why you should say that of me. Why it is that we should find ourselves in the circumstance of you finding me unrepentant in practicing homosexuality, while I find you unrepentant in practicing homophobia, is a mystery. But I believe that, with Christ, all things are possible. We can get through these, our crosses, together: if we both but keep our eyes on our Crucified Lord.

Posted by: J. C. Fisher at October 4, 2004 07:21 AM

My goodness, my dear J.C., I pray I will be always honoured to kneel at the rail and receive Christ’s redeeming humanity with you. I am so sorry I implied anything otherwise.

I do not think, however, that democracy is an infallible way of discerning God’s will. That’s why the Church has overseers and elders (episkopoi and presbyteroi). Perhaps the least inneffective way of choosing them is by prayer and ballot. But then, I assume, we defer to their maturity and wisdom, unless they start doing things that suggest they are exalting themselves over and against all of their episcopal and presbyterial peers, or the very sources of authority that give them their mandate for leadership in the first place. I honestly don’t want to have “MY scripture, tradition and reason” vs. “yours”. I only want to discern “our” (or God’s) “scripture, reason and tradition”. I don’t think that all we can do is agree to disagree.

Perhaps that’s the real issue. Is classical Christian “critical realism” dead? (I am biased; you are biased; but there is real truth out there and with some work and humility we may arrive at an ever closer approximation of it.) Or is it now but everything is relative (except relativity itself, which is absolute) and “majority rules” (quickly becoming “might is right” in getting my side to that majority)?

This Sunday I will prayerfully receive Christ’s body and blood in communion with J.C. I pray that it may always be so possible.

Posted by: Chris McMullen at October 4, 2004 01:14 PM

Well, you know what they (Winston Churchill, IIRC?) say: “democracy is the worst form of governance . . . except for all the others.”

I am not familiar with the construction “classical Christian “critical realism (I am biased; you are biased; but there is real truth out there and with some work and humility we may arrive at an ever closer approximation of it.)” It sounds good to me.

Tell me though: how does it functionally differ from “everything is relative (except relativity itself, which is absolute),” except that the former is noble, and the latter is pejorative? (Noble means/goals which we always aggrandize to ourselves, while imputing ignoble ones to The Other?). It would seem to me that the first aim of a “critical realism,” is to be realistically critical of ourselves (e.g. that I am queer, yet find my queer sexuality Biblically acceptable—-subject to the same restrictions as heterosexuals, of course—-is distinctly in my own interest. Which does not mean I am necessary wrong . . . but would seem to require the additional testimony of “disinterested witnesses.”)

The decision to remain (or, for that matter, join) communion with another is, ultimately, a personal one (like the mature decision to accept Christ in Confirmation). At the same time, there legitimately are other factors: what happens if your bishop does not accept mine, or vice-versa? It’s a difficult conundrum, but to me, the “economy of grace” would tend to lead me towards an expansive definition of “communion.” Jesus said “the one who is not against me, if for me,” and I can only reply Amen!

Therefore, Chris, as long as you “hold fast to the faith” (as embodied in the Creeds)—-and I do too, natch’—-the “possibility” of my remaining in communion with you is as sure as the Lord’s Grace: Absolute. I pray you see it the same.

God’s peace to you. :-)

Posted by: J. C. Fisher at October 5, 2004 04:00 AM

Dear J.C.,
Your comments have given me lots to think about. Like you, I tend to see the “economy of grace” thing as most important, especially where issues beyond the Nicene Creed, Jesus is Lord, etc., go, like the subtleties of appropriate Christian lifestyles.

You’re right that if our bishops are not “in communion” with each other, this complicates things; especially for me since I’m an ordained minister. I tend to encourage the laity to exerise what I call our “evangelical liberty” in this regard, and receive communion wherever Jesus is offering himself through his ministers (even if I disagree with them on a few points Jesus would probably hardly even recognize). But as an ordered minister I feel I am under some discipine in this regard. Double standard? I suppose so; think its inevitablly part of a leadership responsibility. The bottom line on all of this is “God have mercy on us all” and the remembrance that we’re talking about real people, not just dogmas and Bible verses.

May God’s peace be also with you.

Posted by: Chris Mcmullen at October 6, 2004 01:36 AM
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