Recent Culture11 Posts

On the throwdown in the Anglican Communion.

On the Assyrian Church of the East and the forgotten histories of Asian Christianities.

George Will on Episcopal Church

Will writes:

It is not the secessionists such as Duncan who are, as critics charge, obsessed with homosexuality. The Episcopal Church’s leadership is latitudinarian — tolerant to the point of incoherence, Duncan and kindred spirits think — about clergy who deviate from traditional church teachings concerning such core doctrines as the divinity of Christ, the authority of scripture and the path to salvation. But the national church insists on the ordination of openly gay clergy and on blessing same-sex unions.

First of latitudinarian does not mean tolerant to the point of incoherence.  It means giving “latitude”–giving too much latitude to the point of incoherence is in fact no latitude at all but going plunging over the edge.  Now it can be argued whether or not such an event took place by ordaining Gene Robinson, but if one holds that it was in fact a heretical act, than latitude was not the issue.

Sidenote:  This deletrious mixing is what generally happens when you have somebody not well versed in a Church’s positions writing on the subject.  Latitudinarianism is in fact one of the three so-called stools of the Anglican leg:  tradition, reason, and Scripture–represented by the three flavors of Anglicanism, Anglo-Catholic, Liberal (Broad/Latitudinarian), and Evangelical respectively.  Liberal here means liberal in the classical Enlightenment sense–pushing for freedom, use of rationality, etc.  Will’s gloss on Robert Duncan’s comment is confusing Liberal in the modern/classical liberal sense with liberal in the post 60s sense.  Obviously the latter is something Will is not a huge fan of to put it mildly.  But it’s unfortunately bringing in US culture war categories to this debate, which is very unhelpful to the discussion.

Second and more importantly, notice the shift from the question about ordaining an openly gay man to “clergy who deviate from traditional church teachings concerning such core doctrines as the divinity of Christ, the authority of scripture and the path to salvation”. As if the two were somehow synonymous or at least of the same piece.  As if supporting blessings for same sex unions or ordaining openly gay (in committed relationship) bishops automatically meant one denies the Divinity of Christ.  I tire of this charge blithely thrown about by people who do not know about what they are talking (either inside or outside the Anglican Communion).  I can tell you Gene Robinson is as orthodox a believer in the Divinty of Christ as you will find.

It would also help immensely if one were to elaborate/definte exactly what is meant by “authority of Scripture.”

On that note it is important to point out that the Lambeth Quadrilateral a document meant to provide the basics of Anglicanism, the non-negotiables in ecumenical dialog, states the following:

1. The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the revealed Word of God.

2. The Nicene Creed as the sufficient statement of the Christian Faith.

The US Church as a National Body holds the Quadrilateral.  And you will search in vain in the Nicene Creed for discussion of gays and lesbians. The Anglican tradition holds that always the three stools are together–Scripture as interpreted through tradition and reason.

Professing the OT and NT are the revealed Word of God says quite a lot and actually very little.  Until of course one hashes out what “revealed” means and whether one has to hold not just to the article of belief in a confessional mode (I believe the Scriptures to be revealed by God–almost poetically, mythically) or whether one has to hold not just that but also a specific theory as to how the Scriptures are Revealed.

The latter point is representative of the Evangelical-Puritan movement, growing out of Calvin’s thought.  e.g. Namely that as the Westminster Confession an Evangelical document states (my emphasis):

VII. All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all:[15] yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.[16]

And again:

IX. The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.[23]

That has not been the historic teaching of the Anglican faith.  This is both the genius and the inevitable frustration that is being an Anglican.  It is built around common liturgical praxis and common creeds, not common enforced understanding of how Creeds are to be understood.  And yet not everything goes. This is at the root of the worldwide Anglican struggles since there is (rightly) no body that can enforce top-down like say the Vatican conformity on these matters.  They are always to be discussed, debated–the hermeneutic circle is in fact a circle, it never begins or ends.  We simply find ourselves in relationship and have to live with its joys and sorrows.

The Evangelical position I would argue begs the hermeneutical question because it leaves unanswered what are the exegetical criteria for deciding which other passages in Scripture are used to interpret otherwise unclear passagse in Scripture.  Also it begins with an assumption that the meaning of Scripture is one and then always finds such oneness in the text–and if the text is unclear or perhaps contradictory, the oneness is read through the offending text.

And what I would see in people like Duncan as Neo-Puritan in that sense.  In charity I can understand the desire for clarity and if you really believed that everyone else has gone heretical, the leadership itself, then of course you have to leave and stick to what you believe to be true.  But that side needs to own up to the fact that it is in fact the innovators in this scenario–on the Church polity front–whatever ther charges about the liberals having invented some new gospel/doctrine.

Will again:

Every 10 years there is a Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops, presided over by the archbishop of Canterbury. This year only 650 of the nearly 900 bishops attended — 150 of them representing only the tiny U.S communion. The bishops from three of the Anglican communion’s five largest provinces — Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya — boycotted.

As a matter of fact, some bishops from Kenya did go to the conference.  One of whom had to leave early because his family’s life was threatened for his attendance at the Conference.  Not to mention that there were bishops from Nigeria and Uganda who word is wanted to attend but were threatened with deposition (i.e. having their position as bishop stripped from them) for attending.  i.e. The authoritarian imposition of oneness “conformity” in the negative sense upon them by another.  Which is a break with the traditional Anglican and nay the entire Protestant heritage:  the freedom of the individual before God.  That is why I’m calling it a Neo-Puritanism.

Also from every bishop I’ve heard describe the gathering who attended (so far I’ve heard personal reflections from 3, read a few others), they all described it as a time of great grace and fellowship–in the midst of continued disagreement obviously over the current struggles in the Church.  But they focused first on their common beliefs (like faith in Jesus Christ), common struggles in pastoral leadership, as well as heard and tried to see the world from the eyes of one on a different side of these questions.

See what it is like to hear that positions about gay inclusion cause churches to be burned in places around the world.  Or have Bishop’s lives threatened.  And for them to hear what it is to live in a situation where civil gay marriage is already law (as here in Canada) and people come to your church already married.  Is the Church going to be in the business of breaking up marriages?  That wouldn’t exactly be pro-family now would it?   Scripture, reason, and tradition, all three always take place within a certain space and time.  A context.  Jesus was Incarnated in the 1st century Palestine as a Jewish man.  That matters. So does where and when and how we find ourselves today called to work in the Lord’s vineyard.

Episcopal Son of God-edness

Joe P. points me to this article at Episcopal Cafe on the never-ending psychodrama that is our the Anglican Communion.

The Episcopal Cafe article links to this NyTimes article over the recent fallout in the Diocese of Pittsburgh.  The backstory is that the former Episcopal Bishop of Pittsburgh, Robert Duncan had been deposed (stripped of his title and office) by the National Church for linking up with other dioceses around in the world.  In the Anglican word, each national church is the head body.  Duncan believes the Episcopal Church has become heretical and therefore he is duty bound to secede from it (and has called on his diocese to do so).  Which they will likely do in a vote on Saturday.

In other words, his deposition was sound AND given what he believes (which I think is wrong), Duncan is right (from within the parameters of his own world) to call for secession.  [And it was bound to happen in any way in my mind, so the sooner the better imo].

So back to the Lead from Episcopal Cafe.

Andrew Gerns refers to the NyTimes article as an otherwise fair one and then quotes the following section from the NyTimes piece:

“The dispute includes complaints that the national church allows open debate on whether Jesus is the Son of God, or that the only way to God is through Jesus — tenets of faith that conservatives find indisputable.”


To our knowledge, there is no debate in our church over whether Jesus is the Son of God…The teaching of the Episcopal Church on this point is clearly stated in the Prayer Book over and over again, itself a document of General Convention.

So the NyTimes piece unfortunately is giving too much to the conservative side right?  Well….except for the following sentence in the NyTimes piece:

But an opponent of secession, the Rev. Jay Geisler of St. Stephens Church in McKeesport, Pa., pointed out that those tenets are in the Book of Common Prayer, which guides the church.

So I’d say that’s pretty fair and even handed.  The way Gerns cites the NyTimes piece gives it a one-sided impression.

Gerns then quotes from Jim Naughton (also of Episcopal Cafe):

To suggest that we do not believe that Jesus is the Son of God is to call the integrity of our faith into question for political ends. Bishop Duncan and his followers want readers to believe that the controversy in the Episcopal Church isn’t “about” homosexuality, but some greater intellectual and spiritual division.

I find myself in a weird position here because if I had to choose sides in this I’m clearly on the Gerns/Naughton side (versus Duncan & Crew), but I actually find their reasoning suspect on multiple fronts. So in terms of stylistic debating points, I actually think the Duncan crew wins but that their rhetoric/logic is penned to an ultimately incorrect (or rather less developed, so below) vision.

Contra Naughton, the fight is ultimately not about homosexuality.  It is in fact about a greater spiritual and intellectual division.  Liberals ought to embrace that fight and call the other side out. If Naughton cedes that ground (representing the liberal camp) then they have nowhere to stand against their opponents.  The argument is about the Bible.  Whether you will be someone who accepts science and rationality and its ability to critique the Bible or not.  Give up that ground and you lose the ability to argue that the liberal version is actually a more developed form of faith.**  Of course liberals always believe that but because there are also hemmed in by their dumb egalitarian anti-hierarchical pov (which is itself a hierarchial development) they can’t say and cut themselves down at the knees.  Or intellectually and spiritually castrate themselves more graphically.

Of course there is brute politics and bigotry (in Naughton’s words) but to not admit that there is more than that going on is either on Naughton’s part A)blind stupidity or B)cynical potrayal of the events when he knows better.

Naughton again:

On the second point, whether Episcopalians believe that the only way to God is through Jesus there are leaders in the Episcopal Church who believe that an intellectual assent to Christian doctrine isn’t necessary to be saved. This is more or less than position of the Roman Catholic Church; it can hardly be classified as outside the Christian mainstream.

More dissembling on Naughton’s part and frankly I expect better from him.  The point of contention in the NyTimes article (which again I think is accurate on this point) is whether Jesus is the only way to God, i.e. salvation. Naughton brings up the Roman Catholic teaching of anonymous Christians which looks smart but actually doesn’t answer the question.  Or rather answers it in a way that undercuts Naughton’s own point.  The idea that one doesn’t have to believe in Jesus to be saved is not the same as saying that there are multiple avenues to salvation. This latter point is typically called religious pluralism.

The Roman Catholic position is still that one is only saved through Jesus Christ.  It is as non-pluralist as you can get.  It’s just that one can be a Christian without self-consciously realiizing it (according to this theory).  Which not only makes it exclusivist (i.e. non-pluralist) but arrogant to boot (we know better you better than you know yourself).

As a bonus, it’s more than just Jesus Christ in a RC position–you have to be a member of the Church.  “Extra ecclesia nulla salus”:  Outside the Church there is no salvation.  This teaching still holds; it simply means that the Church can be and is broader than the actual institutional RC Church (although again in RC theology the Roman Catholic Church is obviously the surest way to get there.  It’s the safest bet as it were).

The argument is whether one can saved other than through Jesus and there are (and Naughton knows this) Episcopal leaders who believe that–they ought to have the guts to say it.  This is related to the earlier point about the Son of God.  Saying that one believes Jesus is the Son of God by itself is not a big deal really.  What does being the son of God mean (or is it Son of God?–there’s a huge difference in interpretation with just a change in one letter already)?

Naughton writes:

I don’t know whether everyone who finds his or her way into a church on Sunday believes it, but it isn’t as though the issue is open to dispute in any serious way. We proclaim that Jesus is the Son of God in our Prayer Book. This understanding infuses our hymns. We profess it every Sunday as part of our Creed. We teach it in our seminaries. There is absolutely no movement to change this bedrock element of our faith.

Again I think Naughton would be on stronger footing in the history of Anglicanism by saying that we profess it and pray it (The Rule of Belief is the Rule of Prayer) and state that our tradition is one in which the meaning of such a statement is not to be enforced.  e.g. Stating one believes that Jesus is the Son of God is sufficient and the Anglican Church would not enforce a certain understanding of that that doctrine.  Just as in theories of redemption, the Anglican Church (as opposed to say the Calvinist tradition) does not enforce one to believe how said salvation through the Cross is achieved.  It is Christus Victor model or Substitutionary Atonement?

That would be a better way to argue imo than to state that the Son of God claim is never questioned.  The traditional interpretation of that claim certainly is (and I think at points correctly).  The question being whether the traditional interpretation of the claim is identical with the claim itself?  The same basic fight is there again in just a different manner.

The dividing line is not answered by references to the Prayer Book.  The charge is that the liberals do not profess what they believe (which is quite often true, sadly imo, but there it is).  It’s an emotional, relational charge being lobbed out there and intellectual responses to the letter of the law do not suffice.

**More developed does not mean more faithful and/or holier per se.

Rowan Williams: The Body of Grace (Gay and Straight)

While this might come as something of a shocker to those who only know about this story via the media, for anyone who has followed Williams (extremely impressive and profound) theological career/writings this was abundantly clear:

However, in an exchange of letters with an evangelical Christian, written eight years ago when he was Archbishop of Wales, he described his belief that biblical passages criticising homosexual sex were not aimed at people who were gay by nature.

He argued that scriptural prohibitions were addressed to heterosexuals looking for sexual variety. He wrote: “I concluded that an active sexual relationship between two people of the same sex might therefore reflect the love of God in a way comparable to marriage, if and only if it had about it the same character of absolute covenanted faithfulness.” Dr Williams described his view as his “definitive conclusion” reached after 20 years of study and prayer.

Williams is one of a very small handful (less than 5) of the most theologically learned and subtle to ever hold the chair of the Archbishopric of Canterbury.  He clearly sees his role as Archbishop as to upheld the traditional teaching against homosexuality while clearly himself thinks otherwise.  Among the many shames and sadnesses of this whole whatever going on in the Anglican Communion is that Williams’ depth is lost.  He is busy putting out fires and being a ecclesial bureaucrat and its a loss to the whole Communion particularly in its difficulties in articulating a clear interpretation of the gospel fro a postmodern pluralistic world. 

[And yes if you get the picture on your computer right you are seeing a picture of the spiritual head of the Anglican Communion and Paris Hilton in adjoning posts].

Published in: on August 6, 2008 at 8:46 pm  Comments (3)  
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Church of England next Episcopal Church?

Story here from London Times.

The Church of England is facing rifts comparable to those that have split the US Church after hundreds of leading evangelical clergy were told to take “courageous action” and invite bishops from outside their own dioceses to do “irregular” ordinations. Members of the influential Reform grouping were told at their conference in London today that they must not be afraid to opt out of the care of their own diocesan bishop if he was a liberal or was refusing to ordain conservative evangelical clergy for their parishes. The advice mirrors practice in the US, where conservatives have even had their own bishops ordained by evangelical Archbishops from Global South provinces such as Uganda. English evangelicals are not as yet prepared to go that far, but the 1,700 Reform members were told by new chairman, the Rev Rod Thomas, that they must prepare to be courageous in the face of the Church of England’s “increasingly liberal agenda.” Mr Thomas also called on the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, to recall invitations to next year’s Lambeth Conference issued to pro-gay US bishops, warning that “failure to do this will seal the division of the Communion.” Increasing numbers of Church leaders, including the Primate of Nigeria, Dr Peter Akinola and the Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, are threatening to boycott the ten-yearly conference if Dr Williams does not act more decisively against The Episcopal Church of the US. Mr Thomas warned that without action from Dr Williams, his role would be left “in tatters” and fractures would spread rapidly through the Church of England.

The break-up of the Anglican Communion becomes clearer and clearer.  The last Protestant church to hold off the tendency towards sectarianism within Protestantism, facing splits upon splits.

The Roman Catholic Church stays together only with the imposition of an authoritarian Vatican (a sociological survey once carried out showed the closest human political parallel to the Vatican/Curia was Stalinist Soviet Russia).  The Orthodox Churches have all splintered along ethnic lines, with racism and prejudice souring the relationships.

Williams is not going to rescind invitations to every American Bishop who voted for Gene Robinson’s consecration.  Ludicrous.  They know it won’t happen.  It creates a nice excuse for doing what they clearly want to do—get out from under episcopal control.  Why not frankly?  The institutions within the Anglican Church and other traditions more broadly, are not built for the information age, as we see from the current miasma in the Communion.

Like the fake state of Iraq, federalize the fake Communion that is Anglicanism.  Let the thing break apart.  The path of least resistance I feel would strengthen all the groups in the medium-long term (however painful and it will be painful the further splitting/breaking apart will be).

Published in: on October 18, 2007 at 10:36 am  Leave a Comment  
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