Friday, June 25, 2010

Episcopal Church Driven by the "Bush Doctrine"

On several occasions one of my clergy colleagues has said that the Episcopal Church's actions on issues relating to human sexuality over the last several years is a version of the "Bush Doctrine." In terms of foreign policy, one of the central tenets of the "Bush Doctrine" is unilateralism. One on-line site defines "unilateralism" as: "A tendency of nations to conduct their foreign affairs individualistically, characterized by minimal consultation and involvement with other nations, even their allies." The mindset is one which says, "We're going to do X no matter what anybody else thinks about it because we just know we're right." To many, this comes across as recklessly arrogant. Translate such arrogance and absolute certainty into ecclesial terms and you have a situation in which a province of the Anglican Communion does what is right in its own eyes regardless of the consequences or what others think.

On the Internet, I came across an Episcopal priest named Bob Griffith who recently offered very interesting comments on Fr. Mark Harris' blog along these lines. Describing himself as "a gay priest serving in an urban area in a neighborhood and a parish with a lot of gay people," Fr. Griffith argues that our church's current leadership is driven by a unilateralism akin to that which characterized the foreign policy of our former President and his administration. Here's some of what he has to say:

I know most people in TEC leadership have thought long and hard concerning all that has transpired these past 7 years. My opinion is not a particularly popular one, but from where I sit it is becoming more prominent, to the chagrin of some.

I think that too many of us are still unwilling to consider that we could be wrong in the ways we are acting with respect to the rest of the Communion and even with segments within our own American Church. ...

We are getting a time-out because we acting arrogantly and self-servingly. We act as if we are not part of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. We act vaingloriously as if we are so incredibly wise, knowledgeable, and “prophetic” that we don’t need to listen to anyone else.

We are acting as a Church in the same why our State Department and Military leadership acted under George Bush. We can do whatever we want, wherever we want, whenever we want, unilaterally because we are Americans and that makes it right! We claim over and over that we "listen," but we still act like Bushy Americans. Are we so blind that we cannot see that as a Church we are acting like the “ugly Americans,” imperialists, paternalists thinking that we know so much better than all others, particularly those backward Africans? And to add insult to injury, we are actually claiming “colonial victimhood” because the English ABC is beginning to take action - fairly, I might add.

Responding to less than enthusiastic comments about his views, he adds:

Well, here is another problem. Point (i): Our own Church, our own bishops, won’t even abide by our own Canons or Constitution or General Convention. Simply take open communion as an example. We can’t even “faith and order” ourselves within our own institution, and we are to be trusted by the other Provinces, by the ABC, by other Traditions that we as Americans can faithfully represent some sort of coherent Anglican Communion position within ecumenical relationships? I don’t blame anyone for not trust us – heck, I don’t trust us.

Fr. Griffith also writes about this topic on his blog:

We may not lob physical bombs (or money, in our case); we will simply not listen to anyone else, hands over our ears. We will simply not face up to reality and our place in the world Communion. Oh, we want diversity and multiculturalism all right, just so long as they believe just like we do or pretend to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. ...

It isn't that I disagree with women being clergy or LBGT people being members, priests, or bishops of our Anglican Churches. It isn't that I don't think we can or should be advocates of such things around the Communion or the greater Church. What I absolutely disagree with is the way this generation of leadership in our Church has been conducting itself with respect to institutional change and the "controversial" issues. We treat those issues as civil rights causes and make decisions in like manner. This is not the way the Church should handle things.

Now, because our leadership makes decisions in such a political or social manner (they know no other way), we are losing the knowledge of how to make decisions as a the Body of Christ, internationally. And herein lies the problem of trust and "faith and order" as the other provinces attempt to order their lives when they cannot ignore what the Americans' are doing without much regard for their plight.

Read it all.

It would be highly ironic if Fr. Griffith is correct that those driving the progressive agenda in the Episcopal Church are acting like "Bushy Americans." Because I'll bet that most of those progressive Episcopalians loathe the former President, his administration, and the unilateral foreign policies sanctioned by the "Bush Doctrine."


Tregonsee said...

What is truly ironic is that TEC is not functioning in accordance with the real Bush Doctrine, but as it is perceived by the Left, which essentially TEC. As a conservative, I would be delighted if TEC were actually following the real Bush Doctrine.

C. Wingate said...

Perhaps the most galling aspect is the absolute federalism within ECUSA as opposed to the assertions of complete autonomy without it.

Perpetua said...

Hi Tregonsee,
Would you please explain the difference, as you understand it?

Steve Hayes said...

To some outside the USA, it is not the "Bush doctrine" but just "the American way".

We need more "ugly Americans" -- in the book, the ugly American was the good guy, humble, unassuming, helpful.

BillyD said...

With all due respect and affection, Father, this is a bunch of hogwash. Consecrating a lesbian bishop is the analog to bombing another country? The fact that a gay priest wrote this nonsense doesn't make it any less nonsensical.

At no point has ECUSA demanded that the rest of the Communion ordain women, or gay people, or bless gay unions. In my opinion, we haven't even done what we could to demand that other provinces stop treating gay people like pariahs.

BillyD said...

By the way, why is it that ECUSA cannot change its policies on the ordination and consecration of bishops, but the CofE can? Did they ask anybody's permission before they decided - in direct violation of the words of Jesus and the Apostle Paul - to allow divorced and remarried people to become bishops? Don't get me wrong - I think it was probably a good move. But more and more it seems that when the CofE (or Nigeria, for that matter) change the rules to what is, after all, a violation of Christian tradition it's painted as a wise and compassionate pastoral matter, but when ECUSA does it it's gross apostasy and grounds for exclusion? It really does appear to this gay Anglican that there is a huge double standard in the WWAC, both concerning gay people and ECUSA.

Bryan Owen said...

I appreciate your comments and concerns, BillyD. I offer my response in the same spirit of respect and affection for you.

I think that what we as Episcopalians do demand is the right to be a fully participating part of the Anglican Communion at all levels while simultaneously pushing ahead with actions that we know are divisive and offensive for others. We demand the right to have our cake and eat it, too. We talk a good talk about interdependence and Ubuntu, but our actions say that we really value our autonomy more.

I think Fr. Griffith is right to argue that even if what we’re doing is theologically and morally justifiable, the way we’re doing it comes across as an “in your face” affront to others for whom our actions are hurtful and/or deemed a departure from the moral teaching of the Church. Even if we're right to do what we've done, and even if we're right to ask the question, "Why this particular line in the sand?," it seems to me that movers and shakers on the Left don't really seem to care very much about how these actions affect those who disagree. It's somebody else's problem and (as the more strident voices on the Left say) a sure sign that those who disagree or even have concerns or questions are hate-filled homophobes.

I’m reminded of a recent blog posting by Fr. Nathan Humphrey entitled, “You Can Be Right or You Can Be in Relationship.” We seem to have decided that being right is more important than being in relationship, that exercising our autonomy is more important than communion.

Perhaps it would be more honest for us to simply say something like this:

While we value being in relationship with you, we value doing X more than that relationship. We plan to continue doing X. If you still want to be in relationship with us in spite of X, great. If not, well, that's too bad. Because no matter what else happens, we plan to continue doing X.

I don't like saying it, but instead of this kind of honesty, I hear some of our leadership engaging in spin and double-speak as though they are politicians rather than lay and ordained servants of God.

As to the issue of double standards you raise in your second comment, my sense is that if the Anglican blogosphere is an indicator, then pretty much everyone across the theological spectrum complains about double standards that hurt what is important to them. And my sense is that, while not all of the grievances may be legitimate, there have been and are decisions made by both the Left and the Right that are hurtful to others both at home and abroad. We nurse our grievances, cultivating resentment against those whom we perceive as having wronged us, and that further divides us. And in our divided state, we’ve bought hook, line, and sinker that the way to resolve our problems is to further politicize the Church. We seek resolution through legislation in which the voting majority wins and the minority that loses has to either put up or shut up, or leave. (And to make matters more problematic, some on the winning side equate the majority vote with the voice of the Holy Spirit.) Perhaps this is symptomatic of what Fr. Griffith is talking about when he writes that “because our leadership makes decisions in such a political or social manner (they know no other way), we are losing the knowledge of how to make decisions as the Body of Christ, internationally” and at home.

hawk said...

I do think the comparison to the Bush doctrine is illustrative even if it falls short for the reasons stated by others. When Bp. Robinson was consecrated, many celebrated that the church was being honest. We were finally affirming in public we had been doing in private. I witnessed my bishop publicly declare the unsuitability of homosexual persons for ordination and then witness him ordain an openly homosexual person to the sacred order of priests without changing his public pronouncements. Political leaders do this sort of thing all the time.

The challenge came when voices in the communion asked us to stop. We recognized that we might loose something valuable if we didn't appear contrite, but, at the same time, the train had left the station long ago. The majority of the leadership in The Episcopal Church votes for the ordination of a bishop who is gay with an outraged vocal minority declaring foul, while a majority of the leadership in the Anglican Communion vote that homosexuality is in opposition to Holy writ while a outraged vocal minority declare foul.

I don't know how the church resolves this conundrum without moving forward in honesty. It seems we have declared our intentions to the Anglican communion and their response will be their response. I don't think we should disengage from the communion, but I do not think we should be surprised when we don't receive invitations to the best parties.

Jendi said...

Before repeating the charge that Western liberals are patronizing the Africans, let's remember that the African churches only appear to speak with one voice against homosexuality because dissenting voices are silenced by church and state in collusion. In many of those countries, you can lose your job, your liberty, or your life for being gay or even a straight ally. The Americans aren't the only ones putting up obstacles to honest dialogue.

Like BillyD, I'd like to see the Anglican Communion talking about that unChristian situation a lot more than about TEC's behavior, imperfect though our leaders may have been. Prioritize, folks.

Bryan Owen said...

Your points, Jendi, are critically important. Persecuting, imprisoning, murdering (!) persons because of their sexual orientation is criminal and morally vicious. The silence of much of the Anglican Communion on these matters is itself a participation in the viciousness and yet another sign of the Church's failure to genuinely respect the dignity of every human being.

Agreeing with all of that in no way diminishes the validity of the points Fr. Bob Griffith makes.

BillyD said...

"Agreeing with all of that in no way diminishes the validity of the points Fr. Bob Griffith makes"

Actually, Father, it does - the fact that ++Cantaur et al. are swift to condemn and punish those who work for the full inclusion of gay people in the life of the Church, while giving homophobes and interlopers a free pass, effectively gives the lie to the assertion that this is all about the Gospel or doctinal purity. It's not. It's about institutional power. It's not so much "the Anglican Communion" that's upset with ECUSA, so much as a network of bishops within the Anglican Communion who are using the issues for their own agenda; I include ++Cantaur. The supposed outrage in the WWAC over ECUSA actions is, I believe, in great part like the manufactured outrage of the Tea Party - overhyped, misunderstood, and driven by leaders who don't really care about it other than a way of aggrandizing their own power.

Bryan Owen said...

BillyD, I agree that much of our current ecclesial struggles are as much about institutional power and control as they are about moral theology. But that doesn't prove that the points Fr. Griffith makes are refuted as untrue. You would have a stronger case to make if you could show that Fr. Griffith and others who agree with what he's saying in his blog posting are in cahoots with the Akinolas of the
Anglican world, and that what's driving them is "aggrandizing their own power."

plsdeacon said...


Misdirection is a common tactic when debating and I recognize it well. "Look over there! They are worse than we are." does not mean that we are not bad.

The Truth is that TEC does not care what the rest of the Anglican World thinks about its actions. The opinions of over 85% of the Bishops in the Anglican Communion, of the ACC, the Primates, and the Archbishop of Canterbury did not move us one bit from our chosen course. The hubris of TEC's actions regarding the Anglican Communion is actually greater than George Bush's hubris when dealing with Iraq. Bush received permission from Congress for both Afghanistan and Iraq. TEC received only permission from itself to act as it did.

Hawk asked what TEC could do "to move forward in honest." Here is what it could do:
1. Withdraw from all international Anglican organizations. Recognize that we have decided to walk apart from the communion. Declare that we no longer consider the moral arguments of Holy Scripture to be binding if we can find a reason around them or construct a special case for them.
2. Stop funding the communion directly. If we are not a full member of the Communion then the we should not fund it.
3. Let those dioceses and parishes that wish to leave TEC to stay part of the Anglican Communion leave without paying a penalty. Transfer Letters Dimissory to whom ever will receive them.
4. Cease all the TEC and/or Diocesan instigated lawsuits to retain propert to which TEC does not have clear title.

BillyD said...

"2. Stop funding the communion directly. If we are not a full member of the Communion then the we should not fund it."

I can only imagine the exultation that would issue from reactionary Anglicans if this happened: "See? They're trying to use their contribution to WWAC finances as leverage for their own devilish agenda! They've taken their ball and gone home!"

plsdeacon said...


While I appreciate your comment and I speak from a conservative/reasserter perspective, I don't think that we should have to fund what we are not members of.

However, I do find it somewhat ironic that there are those on the progressive end who are calling for TEC to cancel its funding of the ACO (and other Communion activities) because of the "discipline" that the ABC has imposed while they deplore parishes or dioceses withholding funding from 815.

Phil Snyder

Bob G+ said...

BillyD - As I said in my blog, and I think on Fr. Harris' blog, my concern is not how we believe, but how we are acting with respect to the other provinces. Right now, we are acting very “American” (even as “ugly Americans,” as the world understands that term) rather than “Christian.” I have no problem with the American or Canadian Churches being strong advocates for the full inclusion of LGBT people on the Anglican world stage. I obviously benefit from that, even as other Provinces act hypocritically within themselves and toward us. But, we need a world stage in order to be that kind of advocate. If our actions do nothing but isolate us, then we are simply talking to ourselves. We lose any positive influence within the whole Communion. Some are fine with that, thinking we should be our own singular denomination and even our own world church. To me, that is absolutely in opposition with the idea that Anglicans/Episcopalians are part of the One, Holy, and Apostolic Church (even if we are considered to be a black sheep by the other Churches Catholic or Provinces). Even as it is wrong for Nigeria to believe that they can “lop off a hand” (us), so to is it wrong to think that we can do without a foot (them), no matter how much we despise their actions or they ours.

As a Christian, I am told to love my neighbor as I love myself. I am compelled to consider the needs of the “least of these” before I consider my own needs. I am compelled to consider how I want to be treated so that I treat others in like manner. I am to love even my enemy. I am told that a true friend might well die for the other. Are we LGBT Anglicans in the U.S. true friends of the LGBT Christians in Nigeria or Uganda? Perhaps that is an unfair question. As a gay person in America, priest or not, how can I look at the horrific experiences of LGTB people in Nigeria, Uganda, Rwanda, etc., and not be so profoundly moved by their plight that I act for their best interests before I act for my own relatively pampered interest?

I don’t seek to appease brutes and demigods, but as we are now removed from the Councils of the Communion and our influence erased (justifiably so or not, fairly so or not), I fear for the health and lives of our sisters and brothers in those notorious countries. Me, well, I guess I will go on with my nice apartment (for NYC), modest car, overly indulgent meals, pension, rich healthcare policy, too many clothes, new computer, perhaps a relationship, and yep, another partnered, gay bishop (and I have nothing personal against our new bishop!). Woohoo for me! …as they are tortured, killed, denied employment, spat upon, jailed, disowned by families, put into prison, live in despair… Of course, I could be all wrong.

Bryan Owen said...

Welcome to Creedal Christian, Bob+, and thank you for weighing in. I appreciate your willingness to publicly voice your perspective on Fr. Mark's blog and on your own. Given how unpopular such views are, I think your willingness to say it anyway is, quite frankly, courageous.