Friday, July 31, 2009

Brief Thoughts about the Archbishop of Canterbury's Statement

The blogosphere is flooded with postings across the theological spectrum about the Archbishop of Canterbury's recent statement in response to the 76th General Convention of the Episcopal Church. Many on both the Left and the Right are either howling about different parts of it, or writing it off as yet another disappointment from the ABC. I'm still processing what it does and does not mean and what I do or do not like about it. But on the whole, I find myself agreeing with Bishop Christopher Epting that it is "thoughtful, measured, and generally pastoral." I suppose that's my centrism coming out.

I also commend a posting on the ABC's statement by Fr. Michael Nation, one of my clergy colleagues here in the Diocese of Mississippi, who has recently launched a blog called "A Nation in Exile." Fr. Michael's take on how the ABC's liberal Anglo-Catholicism surfaces in this statement is interesting:

It has been said that Dr Williams is a liberal anglo-catholic. There certainly was evidence of that in his letter. As an anglo-catholic he appealed, not to the teachings of the Bible as an Evangelical would, but to the teachings of the Church. He understands the Church is independent institution as Keble, Pusey and Newman argued. He reminded us that we are a part of an even wider church, and not only do we have responsibilities to our ecumenical partners, but he also admitted the possibility that the teachings of other churches should inform this conversation. However his liberal leanings evidenced themselves in that while calling prejudicial behavior toward gays sinful, (and his strongest admonitions were reserved for those who had shown prejudice and contempt toward homosexuals) he stopped short of calling homosexual behavior sinful; he simply said that they are not in accord with church's teaching. Does he envision a time in the future when that teaching will change? Maybe. Does he hope for a time when those teachings will change? Maybe so. However he does not admit to either.

I also find much to agree with in Fr. Greg Jones' reflections about all of this over at "The Anglican Centrist":

I think The Episcopal Church and the Church of Canada need the Communion more than the Communion needs us. I am not talking finances here -- or control -- or domination. We need to be in full communion with people who do not live in the contexts we live in. That's what catholicity means.

If they will not have us, because of our choice to do what we think the Spirit is calling for us to do anyway, then this is very sad. I do not think we are to be blamed or need to accept full responsibility for the loss of communion, but we ought to recognize and lament this loss.

I think we need to find a way forward that seeks the maximum degree of Christian unity possible -- not a way that makes possible and comfortable lesser such relationships.

Fr. Greg continues by noting our pressing need for "a bit more cohesiveness and discipline" when it comes to conforming to the Episcopal Church's doctrine, discipline, and worship (and yes, that includes things like rubrics and Prayer Book language), more teaching about what our Church's core doctrine is with respect to baptism, salvation, Jesus Christ, etc., and the crisis of shrinking membership with its wake-up call to get serious about evangelism and mission.

One conservative Episcopal priest recently said to me that the fight we're having right now between the Left and the Right is distracting us from the matters flagged by Fr. Jones. "This fight is a maintenance fight and is about maintaining the status quo," he told me. It's certainly true that the Episcopal Church is hemorrhaging members and money. We desperately need to move from maintenance to mission if we are going to survive, much less flourish.

But, of course, for some, the fight is about the mission of the Church. And if that's the case, it's hard to see how, in the long run, we can maintain the kind of "maximum degree of unity possible" that Fr. Jones and many of us hope for.

1 comment:

plsdeacon said...

I've read the letter several times. This is the closest +Cantuar has ever come to saying that discipline will be forthcoming - whether it is in time to save the communion from continuing to splinter or not remains to be seen.

For me, the major point of the letter is that those who desire to lead the Church should teach what the Church teaches and not make it up or change the teaching to fit their new understandings. Aside from scale, what is the difference between those priests and bishops who have written and performed liturgies to bless same sex unions and Thew-Forrester who designed his own baptismal liturgy or those priests who decide that the canons on CWOB don't really apply because they know Jesus' mind much better than the Church catholic? The number of people involved in discernment may be greater in SSBs than in CWOB or "do it yourself Baptismal/Eucharistic liturgies" but it is the same desire to have it your way rather than the Church's way that drives them all.

As clergy, we promised to be loyal to the "doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as this Church has received them - not as General Convention or you or I or some clergy conference or political activists group may construe the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ.

That is not to say that doctrine and discipline do not change or develop. But, shouldn't we wait until the doctrine or discipline has changed before we start to act as if it had?

Phil Snyder