Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The Connecticut Six and an Interesting Coincidence

As many of you know, Andrew Smith, Bishop of Connecticut, has been involved for a while now in a stand-off with six faithful biblical priests in his diocese. I would hazard that as the months have passed lines have hardened, and from Smith's statement it appears to be an issue of authority.

"I reminded the rectors of the six parishes of their ordination vows in this church, that they would serve "together with [their] bishop." Communion with the bishop is a precursor to consider other matters that are before us. By leaving the meeting tonight without acknowledging my authority as their bishop they have placed themselves under threat of inhibition by refusing to live within their vows. I regret that we were unable to reach accord this evening. I shall continue to pray for them."

Obviously, I don't know what happened at that meeting and I don't know the detailed ins and outs of this conflict, but there is something tragic about a bishop whining that clergy in his diocese will not accept his authority -- ecclesial authority is earned as much as it is given. There also must be something very significant going on for these individuals, some of whom I know, to refuse to function as Smith
requires. Thus, he uses as Canon that was conceived for very different reasons, to persecute them.

Earlier in his statement before the paragraph I have quoted above, Smith says,

"The fundamental organization for mission and life within the Episcopal Church is a geographical area called a diocese, whose head is its bishop. That principle was established at the first ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. The historic ministry of the bishop is to be shepherd of a diocese. The shepherd's staff that the bishop carries in worship symbolizes the bishop's care, in the name of Jesus, for everyone in the diocese. The relationship to the whole diocese is fundamental for
the Episcopal Church, no matter what the time or situation or issue. For the past 11 months, six rectors of the Diocese of Connecticut, together with the leadership of the parishes they serve, have refused to accept their relationship with their bishop."

Now I find it interesting that Nicaea is being used as precedent for this situation by the bishop because it is clear that the actions taken by ECUSA of which he is party stand in firm opposition to the doctrinal teaching of Nicaean Christianity. I would say to Bishop Smith that you can't pick and choose from the history of the church what teachings suit you. If you want geographical dioceses using the precedent of Nicaea as your support, then you have to hang with Nicaean doctrine and theology. This means an acceptance of the canonical books of Scripture and what
they teach.

Bishop Smith diverged from Scriptural doctrine and the historic tradition of the church but still demands obedience to Nicaean structures. He seems to want it both ways, and that is not consistent. He is, in effect, saying, "I want to be a heretic when it comes to theology and ethics, but I want to be orthodox when it comes to historic structures, because it is from these historic structures that I derive my authority. I want to have bishops in the church who have geographical dioceses who are living in an immoral relationship, but I will not accept Nicaean Christians in my geographical diocese who oppose such a compromise with a fallen culture with heart, soul, mind, and strength. I want tolerance, but I define tolerance MY way."

Meanwhile, and here's the coincidence, the Anglican Communion News Service sent out today a story about the Church of Aortearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia, who are celebrating a new bishop, a Pacific Islander, who works in New Zealand with people of his own ethnicity.

"Pacific Islanders gathered at Holy Trinity Cathedral in Parnell last night (Sunday, April 17) to celebrate their first locally-based Anglican bishop. The Rt Revd Dr Winston Halapua, who was born in Tonga, but a Fiji citizen, has been installed as the first Bishop for the Diocese of Polynesia in New Zealand. He was inducted by Bishop Jabez Bryce, the Suva-based Diocesan Bishop of Polynesia, supported by a number of local Anglican bishops - and welcomed by a congregation of about 500, many of whom were decked out in traditional Polynesian finery."

Here we see Anglicans who have faithfully followed the guidelines of the Lambeth-Chicaco Quadrilateral, and who have adapted the historic episcopate to the needs of the 21st Century. In this area of the Pacific, and specifically in New Zealand there are three Anglican structures overlaid upon one another, and function in such a manner that white settlers, Maori, and Polynesians are ministered to in culturally
appropriate manners. Even in the Episcopal Church we accept the validity of this need with a non-geographical Diocese of Navajoland, but while it would be politically incorrect and pastorally insensitive to question this arrangement, we will bring the whole force of the law against priests who find it intolerable working with a bishop who has abandoned Nicaea.

Structural flexibility is possible when there is a will to unity, but I do not see a will to unity among those who hold heterodox theologies in ECUSA. Have the Connecticut Six handled themselves well? I don't know. I suspect there are things they might have wished they had done differently, but now they have painted themselves (or been painted) into a corner. The bishop has done the same thing. Without protracted external intervention this is only going to end in tears -- and worse. We can only hope that the Archbishop of Canterbury and the wider
Communion involves itself in this situation and seeks to bring about relief.

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