Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Finding Common Ground

There's an interesting blog posting by Episcopal priest Scott Gunn over at "Seven Whole Days" entitled "815 can't have it both ways." Sparked by the ongoing lawsuits and depositions within The Episcopal Church, Scott (noting what The Anglican Curmudgeon has to say) cites problems with The Episcopal Church's recent canonical and legal arguments. Among other possible examples, the September 18 deposition of the Rt. Rev. Robert Duncan, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, is surely foremost in Scott's mind.

Given my own diatribes against clergy who violate their ordination vows with impunity (not to mention my thoughts on communing the unbaptized) , I was particularly struck when Scott wrote this:

We should be very firm in disciplining clergy who violate their ordination vows. Period. Once someone has violated them (as opposed to talking about it), we should precisely follow the canons and deal with the matter quickly and justly. This, by the way, should include people who disregard the worship of the church, not just those who reject our polity. To name one example, “open communion” is expressly forbidden by General Convention and canon. Yet it goes on undisciplined, all the time. (I’m conflicted on this one, but until the canons are changed, I must follow them.)

Phil Snyder (who blogs at "The Deacon's Slant") made this comment in response to Scott's posting:

... we have lost a common faith and common discipline. The HoB [House of Bishops] no longer cares what you believe, unless you act on a “conservative” belief. The only discipline left is power. To quote Voldemort: “There is not good or evil. There is only power….” The HoB had the power and the will to depose Duncan. They do not have the will to depose or discipline anyone on the progressive side for actions contrary to either the C&C (such as allowing or participating in Communion without Baptism) or the expressed will of the Church (as stated in either resolutions of General Convention or Lambeth or the ACC or the Primates’ meetings). While resolutions do not have enforcement measures, they do have moral authority and should be followed - particularly when the unity of the Church is at stake.

Thank you for standing up for the rule of law rather than the rule of power.

While I'm not 100% comfortable with the labels (such rhetoric always tends to obscure as much as it reveals), some would characterize Scott as a "progressive" and Phil as a "traditionalist." No doubt, there's much on which they disagree. And no doubt, there are many issues on which I disagree with each of them.

And yet, it is precisely for that reason that I take heart from this example of how Phil finds common ground with Scott on the norms of The Episcopal Church. To my mind, this exemplifies what it means to speak of "Anglican Centrism" and "Generous Orthodoxy."

I believe that it's exactly this kind of common ground we need to highlight, celebrate, and nurture. For without such common ground, we doom ourselves to endless partisan bickering, turf wars, unjust interpretation/application of canon law, and the undermining of the primary reason why we exist in the first place: to "make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that [Jesus has] commanded" (Matthew 28:19-20 NRSV).


thomas bushnell, bsg said...

i take issue with one thing Phil said. note that he speaks of the "expressed positions of the church". the Episcopal Church does not require clergy not to disagree with such positions--at least not the ones Phil is speaking of--and i would venture that Phil also disagrees with some of them, and likely does so publicly.

it is this which i most lament. the substitution of the rules-as-i-want-them for the rules-as-they-are. Phil here elevates things which are *not* binding rules to the status of other things which *are*.

Bryan Owen said...

Your point is well taken, Thomas. There's always the danger of substituting our own preferences for the norms of the Church. All the more reason for why we need each other - in all of our diverse theological perspectives and convictions - to hold each other accountable to what we do, in fact, share in common.

Of course, part of the problem is that we don't always agree on what exactly it is that we do share in common (or ought to share in common, depending on how one reads Scripture, the Prayer Book, the Canons, etc.).

Anonymous said...

I have felt for about twenty years that it is not a question of orthodox episcopalians leaving on our own volition--but I have slowly had the feeling that the church wants us to leave. Signing with the cross became an activity that drew contemptuous stares from some in our former parish. Yet, a priest gives communion to a todler who has no idea what it is about and who takes it out of his mouth and drops it and no one does anything about the consecrated/desecrated host on the floor. And the straw for me has been actually seeing the creed being brought under discusion in Episcopal Life Magazine. I have realized that ECUSA considers herself unobligated to Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. We have become something other than a branch of The One Holy Catholic Church. I have converted to Eastern Orthodoxy and that has been hard--I love and miss the Anglican way---but knowing What the Trinity is, who Christ God is, what the infuence of Satan means, and seeing the resurgence of the same heresies in history as are today all over the place has to outweigh any attachment to ECUSA I have. ECUSA is a stumbling block, an eye to be gouged out, a right hand to be cut off (the Lord's metaphor). Because there can be no church without the one who made it. Even though our Eastern Church has a Western, Anglican usage Divine Liturgy in some places, I choose to let go. I miss Healy Willan, I miss Anglican hymnody, and Organ elaboration....but a greater good is here---and I must follow in the way that is true. Maria

Bryan Owen said...

Dear Maria,

I wish you well as you journey more deeply into the riches of the Eastern Orthodox tradition.

At the same time, please remember that no Church is perfect (my brother, who converted to Orthodoxy, can name many things about Orthodoxy that don't sit well with him), and also that there are many, many faithful, generously orthodox Episcopalians who decry the lapses into anomie and heresy that afflict parts of The Episcopal Church. And that those parts do not represent the whole.

Christ's peace,

Joe Rawls said...

My prayers and sympathies are with Maria. I myself have been tempted to swim the Bosphorus, but remain Anglican because I have these "centrist" and "generous orthodox" streaks that just won't go away. My loyalty to the Episcopal Church, such as it is, is repaid by the vapid pronouncements of the ecclesiocrats at 815 and other places whose main preoccupation is the survival of the church as an institution, seemingly without much of a notion of why the church is there in the first place.