Sunday, July 22, 2007

Communion Matters

As I have been working with Communion Matters in preparation for a gathering in our congregation, I find myself disheartened. Not only is it confused and confusing, but it seems politically-driven, desiring rank-and-file Episcopalians to concur with special pleading being made by this Anglican province which has run foul the rest of the Anglican Communion. It is designed like a questionnaire whose outcome is already predetermined, and the predetermination is that the Episcopal Church at the very best wants to sit loose to the wider Communion.

The Anglican Communion
The Anglican Communion for 150 years has been a loosely knit global fellowship of churches sharing a common spiritual, ecclesiastical, and doctrinal heritage rooted in the English Reformation. We are catholic in the way we are ordered, and reformed in our theological convictions.

It is as much what Communion Matters does not say, as what it does that offends. It wants us to believe that provinces within the Communion are autonomous and independent, free to develop along lines appropriate to particular culture and biases in a region or country. This is an effort to legitimate actions of the General Conventions of 2003 and 2006 that presuppose a different understanding of human sexuality than has hitherto been held by Anglicans or any other body of Christians ever, for that matter.

Communion Matters totally ignores the consensus reached during the early 1960s that the Communion is mutually responsible and interdependent with one another. This had been the cry until the Episcopal Church began functioning differently.

The Anglican Communion asked the Episcopal Church to step back from this schismatic act. If it believes it is right in its convictions, then first it should set about persuading the whole Communion of the rightness of its approach. So far it has not, nor has it even tried. The Windsor Report of October 2004 laid out a process whereby the Episcopal Church could walk with the Communion or decide to “walk apart,” and we are now well down that road, with a deadline approaching on September 30th.

The Episcopal Church, focused particularly in the March 2007 meeting of the House of Bishops, while asserting the value and importance of the Communion has continued along the walking apart course. Words of praise for the Communion have a hollow ring.

The Via Media
Communion Matters makes particular play of “the via media, the middle way between polarities, as a faithful theological method” (page 5), but then misrepresents what the via media is and how it might be attained. The notion of the Middle Way is rooted in the work of Richard Hooker, the leading Anglican mind of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, but Communion Matters has misperceived Hooker.

I can do no better than quote Frank Limehouse, Dean of the Cathedral of the Advent, Birmingham, AL, who wrote, ‘Hooker’s understanding of via media was never meant to guide Anglicanism to a middle way between God’s revealed truth and any other kind of wisdom, leave alone the prevailing wisdom of the world; it was never meant to guide us to a middle way between those who look to Scripture and those who look to experience. For Hooker, even "reason" and "tradition" were absolutely subordinate to Scripture.’

Communion Matters allows human insights to stand either alongside or in judgment over Scripture. Read this carefully: “Ultimately the ‘mind of Christ’ is perceived in community through prayer and dialogue, as Scripture is studied and interpreted and as reason and tradition inform that interpretation” (page 5). For those leading this process the “community” is the starting point, while Scripture is merely a resource the community can use when seeking to grasp truth.

Anglican Christianity has never taught this of Scripture even though there are those who wish it had. The fountainhead of truth is Scripture as it is plainly understood and interpreted, and a task of Scripture is to be the touchstone against which we measure and test ourselves and ideas – much more than an interesting resource. Until recently this is what the Episcopal Church has believed. In the Catechism it states, “We recognize truths to be taught by the Holy Spirit when they are in accord with the Scriptures” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 853).

Anglican Christianity has always strived for comprehensiveness in understanding the Christian faith, recognizing God’s truth will inevitably be fuller than any one group or individual can grasp. But at the same time there are boundaries and parameters to our believing, and these are set by Scripture, the historic Creeds, the Articles of Religion, and the historic Books of Common Prayer.

The course desired by Communion Matters is far from being a Middle Way but is extreme and beyond legitimate boundaries. Any Middle Way must be grounded in the person and nature of the self-revealing God. The plea for tolerance that we find in Communion Matters is not the traditional Anglican desire for generous comprehensiveness, but is asking us to now tolerate what until now had always been beyond the boundaries of catholic faith and behavior.

In vain I have sought to find any redeeming features in Communion Matters. It says one thing – that it respects and values the Anglican Communion – but it seems to prepared to sacrifice the Communion on the horns of its own insights into what God is like, how God reveals himself to us, what it means to be human, and how we humans should live our lives.

As a faithful priest of the Episcopal Church who has spent much of his ministry working within the wider Anglican Communion, I have to caution that the path desired by this provinces leadership is causing great pain, producing terrible disruption, and can only lead to the disintegration of both the Communion and the Episcopal Church of the USA.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for tracking this document and your very astute and helpful observations. Grace and peace to you.

Rowan The Dog said...

You know, Dickie, I started a reply to you but there is just so much blibbidy-blabbidy in this post that I can't possibly respond to that shear quantity of the inanity. It's too much, even for a blabber mouth like me.

Linda McMillan
Austin, Texas

Richard Kew said...

I hazard that this last response either reflects the inability or the unwillingness of those who are driving us down this disastrous course to answer a carefully argued statement based upon demonstrable facts. In such circumstances ridicule becomes the only means of defense.

It has persistently been my observation that the "left" either cannot or will not or does not believe it is important to respond to the theological points being made by those who consider them to be amiss.

izzy israel said...

A few things that stick with me because of their simplicity are that the Holy Spirit in us is much like drinking water from a garden hose.... You always taste a bit of the hose in the water.

That context is needed for understanding.

The best way to judge a tree is by its fruit. We typically act out of what we believe.

And that we should be willing to give a reason for why we believe what we believe.

That being said, it would seem that in this life it will not be possible for us to ever be truly objective in our knowledge of Christ, scripture, reason and tradition. It is what freely accepting and then working out our salvation is about I believe.

There is no question you are a faithful priest to the Episcopal Church and submitted to its authority, and that at least in part gives reason to some choices you have made and will continue to make.

It also explains, at least in part, the consequences, both good and bad, of some of the choices you have made.

In your faithfulness to the Episcopal Church, again at least in part, a portion of your previous congregation was left with a dishonest leader and disenfranchisement.

Craig Goodrich said...

For those who may not already have a copy, Communion Matters is available here.

Echoing the appreciation here and (principally) on other blogs for your insightful articles.

As to the Left, I have found over the years that whether the controversy is theological, economic, or political, they simply refuse to engage in rational discussion. The only possible explanation is that no rational or empirical defense of their position on any given issue is possible. (Yes, this is a sweeping generalization. Yes, I have found it to be overwhelmingly true.)

Milton said...

Don't worry about Linda McMillan's flip comment. She has been leaving such drivel in comments in any reasserter Anglican blog she can find and giving non-answers whenever she is challenged on facts, as you point out so well in your reply to her.

bls said...

Read this carefully: “Ultimately the ‘mind of Christ’ is perceived in community through prayer and dialogue, as Scripture is studied and interpreted and as reason and tradition inform that interpretation” (page 5). For those leading this process the “community” is the starting point, while Scripture is merely a resource the community can use when seeking to grasp truth.

Wow. That is quite an amazing reading of a quite simple idea expressed here - namely that the Bible doesn't interpret itself.

Scripture is not presented as "a resource" but the resource that's being read, prayed over, discussed, and interpreted. Are you reading it this way because the word "Scripture" occurs the second clause in the sentence?

All this says is that Scripture must be interpreted in the community; I don't think that's a very radical idea.

As far as "persuading the whole Communion of the rightness of its approach"? TEC did put out "To Set Our Hope in Christ," which I notice you don't mention here. Anyway, how can that TEC go about this when the rest of the Communion essentially has its fingers in its ears? Many of the bishops of the Global South certainly seem unwilling to listen; Peter Akinola tried to get a law passed that would jail gay people for even mentioning the fact.

Are we really supposed to talk with him, and others like him, about this? What should we do - force them into a room someplace and forbid them to leave until they've paid attention? Perhaps they could for once fulfill their end of Lambeth 1.10, to wit: start treating homosexual people in their congregations with respect and pastoral care?

How many times do people have to say these things before it's considered a response to "the theological points being made by those who consider them to be amiss"?

bls said...

(And BTW, quite a few churches are already persuaded. Canada is, since it has just said that same-sex relationships do not conflict with its core doctrine. England alllows - must allow - its priests to register for civil unions.

There are gay priests in every Anglican province, I'd wager; there are of course gay parishioners everywhere. Is it really such a crime to recognize a fact of life, and to stop acting in a hypocritical manner about it? The Truth will set us free, after all. That's John 8:32.

It also makes me wonder why all the focus is on TEC, and why we're in "crisis" when others are not. That's an interesting avenue to explore, I'd say. Politics, anyone?

Faithful gay partnerships are not harmful to anyone, particularly to the people involved in them. I'd think it's rather for people who think than they are to explain why they think so.)

Robert Dedmon said...

Excellant analysis, Richard. I
see only clarity and no blibbity
in it at all. Well done! You are
right. Over the next three months
we will continue to be in a disorienting fog.