Sunday, December 15, 2013

In a World Where TREC Is Humanity's Only Hope...

Crusty Old Dean recently finished reading the Task for for Reimagining the Episcopal Church's (TREC)  Letter to the Church, which can be found here. Anyone stumbling across this blog for the first time (as COD has repeatedly said, Don't you people have panda cam to watch?  Why are you wasting your time reading this blog?) should know that Crusty has spilled a lot of ink (though no ink actually gets spilled anymore) writing about restructuring and reimagining the church.  Back in the fall of 2011, when TREC stood for the Texas Real
In case you don't believe me.
Estate Commission (google it!) COD was doing this.  So yeah, this is something that Crusty has been pondering.  Since we are nearing the halfway point to the 2015 General Convention (did I just scare you?) COD is pleased that TREC has issued a letter outlining its current thinking.

The letter begins by noting that TREC has "listened" to the church.  We can be sure this is not just lip service, because by listing what they have heard, the sheer breadth of canard and contradiction they note shows that they did, in fact, listen to the church.   

While not surprised by anything TREC "heard", Crusty is still nonetheless troubled, because it reflects some deeply rooted problematic elements of The Episcopal Church.  This is not TREC's fault, to be sure; as Jules said to Vincent in Pulp Fiction, "If my answers frighten you, you should cease asking scary questions."  So what does COD find scary?  For instance, the description of the Book of Common Prayer that TREC "heard" from the Church. What did they hear from the church about the BCP?  The transformational way in which God's grace can be made present in the community gathered to celebrate the sacraments? No, the 
What does a restructured church look like?

 canard that it binds us together. This shows the historical myopia most Anglicans have with some foundational elements of our own history -- job well done, generations of crappy formation.  For example, the notion that the Elizabethan Settlement "settled" anything, and imparted the DNA to Anglicanism to be sanguine, comprehensive, and conciliatory.  (Ask the Irish or the Jesuits how they feel about the Elizabethan Settlement.)  This kind of narrative can be true if one selectively reads history to support that kind of reading.  Similarly with then notion the Prayer Book "binds us together."  You could make a wonderful case that the BCP has been as divisive as it has been unitive.  The first BCP was enforced by the army in the west country of England.  Battles of interpretations of the Prayer Book between Evangelicals and those influenced by the Oxford Movement led to efforts to pass civil legislation in Parliament to set liturgical boundaries, and endless debates in the General Convention of the Episcopal Church on determining what the Prayer Book did or did not permit (see:  most of the 1870s, when, instead of coming up with ways to handle issues of emancipation, the Episcopal Church disbanded its Freedmen's Commission and continued to debate liturgy).  Yes, let's look at how the Prayer Book bound together low church Episcopalians having Morning Prayer with Sermon and Anglo Catholics having a solemn high mass with Benediction afterwards, stretching the same Prayer Book to these different realities.  This is not a critique of TREC; only that we continue to drink the Kool-Aid of self-reinforcing and false narratives in the church.  Similarly with the pride in a church where "you don't need to leave your mind at the door."  This has always struck COD as smacking of intellectual elitism and one of the last hangovers of our destructive establishment entitlement.  Thank GAWD we are not like those VULGAR...fill it in.  Baptists, snakehandlers, Roman Catholics beholden to a foreign power.  It shows an arrogance and elitism because it somehow presumes that other Christians somehow make you check your mind at the door.  This is so shockingly condescending it makes me ashamed to be an Episcopalian sometimes.  Friends, there are lots of Christians who value critical engagement and reflection on the faith.  Get off it.  This is a legacy of the Episcopal Church's sense of entitlement and aloofness, the same church where John Henry Hobart refused to vote, the same church that never took a stand on slavery, and that did not mention the Vietnam War once in GC in the 1960s (but credit where credit is due, also took the lead in many elements of labor movement).  We are still struggling to live into the visions of social justice that an incarnational faith calls us.  The Book of Common Prayer is not just for beauty and mystery and a false sense of unity: like the best of the Christian Socialist and Anglo-Catholic movements, it is how the God who transformed the world in the incarnation makes grace present.  If we continue to think it's what makes us special, then it may not matter what TREC does.

As part of its listening, despite getting contradiction (more social involvement!  less social involvement!) and canard (gosh we so darned awesome and tolerant and smart and always have been), it does find consensus in three areas in its listening to the church, namely, that they have heard

--the Church is calling for us to reduce the bureaucracy and resource-intensity of our Church wide processes.
--The Church wants the work of General Convention and other Church structures to be more relevant and more life-giving to our local parish communities.
--And, the Church wants us to face and grapple with the tough issues and the “elephants in the room” that suck up our resources, time and energy and that block our growth.

I’m terrified that there was not consensus in any sense of mission or purpose as to why the church is here, and that this is all about structure.  Wouldn't it have been nice to hear some missional consensus:  "We have heard the church calling us to be agents of transformation and reconciliation!"  However, COD is keeping his powder dry on that matter; it may be the nature of the process of consultation that TREC has used -- if they didn't structure the listening process to ask those questions, we won't get those answers.  

Anyway, considering the consensus that did emerge, COD finds himself hoping that these are questions which are not just being leveled at churchwide structures.  These three issues are not ones we should solely think pertain only to our churchwide structures; there are ones that have been relevant to every single congregation Crusty has ever been a part of.  How often do great ideas for mission and ministry in a local congregation die the death of spending 18 months going through various committee approval processes (THAT IS A TRUE statement, COD once saw this happen in a congregation)?  Dare we ask how often the structure of our local congregations is “life giving”?  And how many communities have you been a part of that discuss their elephants on the room?  Crusty agrees with this consensus, and would like to call the Episcopal Church to extended reflection on them -- but hopes that this will not degenerate into projecting aspects of our dysfunction on all levels to the denominational level.  COD could barely stifle his laughter sometimes, sitting in the gallery at the House of Bishops at General Convention, where bishops would stand up and lambast 815 or the "national church" when COD knew damn well their own dioceses were unholy dysfunctional messes.  Let's hope TREC doesn't reinforce this glass house mentality, that dioceses and congregations, many of which would never call themselves to task on these issues, project them onto the "national church."

A New Vision

In this next section, Crusty kept thinking of the great Don LaFontaine, king of the movie trailer voiceover.  Known for his dramatic, deep-voiced “In a world
Imagine a church where...
where…”, Crusty wishes Don could have narrated this section as “Imagine a world where…”  For a YouTube tribute to some of his greatest voiceovers, go here.

COD has no real problem with with much of this – congregations should be mission focused, we do need to inspire current members and reach out to new generations and populations, etc.  It's not so much what TREC is saying here, but, like with the comment above about the relationship between what we are asking of our churchwide structures and what our reality is in our dioceses and congregations, COD finds himself asking:

Do we really have to imagine this world from scratch?  Aren't there some places doing this?  TREC notes only 30% of congregations could be considered spiritually vibrant and mission-focused.  Instead of wringing our hands, could we say:  "That's awesome!  Let's learn from those 30%!"  One of the core principles of community vitality is that we can only build on our strengths, not our weaknesses.  How we can we learn from places already doing this?  The world we are being asked to imagine is not Mars.  It is earth, and some congregations, dioceses, and other church organizations have been doing some of the very things TREC is calling us to..

Crusty wished the diversity aspect had been clearly emphasized, not buried in our call to reach out to “new populations.”  For one thing, these populations aren't new, they're not even new to us.  Native Americans, after all, have been here for a while.  So have African Americans, which Episcopalians have, at times, simply refused to evangelize with integrity and commitment.  TEC is overwhelmingly white.  Always has been.  We are in a culture which is increasingly majority minority and TEC has to actually live into the diversity it pays lip service to.  This call to reach out to "new populations" is not something which needs to be buried, it needs to be placed at the center.  We have failed to live out the gospel which does not see the distinctions the world creates.

Crusty particularly like the call to "Imagine that the Church wide structure of The Episcopal Church primarily serves to enable and magnify local mission through networked collaboration, as well as to lend its prophetic voice."  Just like we could learn from those places in the church that are already making some significant adaptation, could we also we learn from the past?  “Networked collaboration” could describe how many churches did mission work in the 19th century, for instance, when mission was done not by denominational structures (they didn't exist) but individuals coming together and forming organizations like the Guild of St Matthew and the Evangelical Alliance and the Church Congress and the Board of Missions.

TREC also calls us to "Imagine that each triennium we come together in a “General Mission Convocation” where participants from all over the Church immerse themselves in mission learning, sharing, decision making and celebration.:  Glad that TREC is catching up with COD.  Crusty one point proposed flipping General Convention:  let's make what is the Exhibit Hall, where Episcopalians from all over the church come to network and showcase what they are doing, the center, and make the House of Deputies and House of Bishops where we help bring that church into being.

Realizing the Vision

 Here COD breaks ways with TREC:  "We will have to work through a grieving process as we individually and collectively lose structures that have been critical parts of our lives and even of our identities."  There's a reason COD’s motto is let the dead bury their own dead.  We have become addicted to structure and process, even in some cases making an idol out of it, and Crusty will not
Leave the dragon skin behind, TEC.
grieve over leaving much of it behind.
  To COD, this is like Eustace in Narnia leaving his dragon body behind. Having a dragon body gave Eustace powers he didn't have, like being able to fly and breath fire, but he let Aslan's claws cut into him and rip it off so that he could become what God intended for him.  

Crusty also isn't thrilled with the growth language here:  "At the same time, we will also have to find a way of adopting a new and more hopeful mindset: we will need to believe—truly believe—that The Episcopal Church can, should and must GROW!"  Exclamation point in original.  Heresy alert:  COD doesn't care if the church grows.  Crusty wants a church that is focused on transforming individuals to transform the world to bring about God's reign.  That kind of church will grow, but not because it has growth as its purpose, but bringing about the reign of God.  Does this mindset still echo a survival mentality?   Reorganization cannot be the next church growth fad.

TREC then provides a sneak peek at some of the principles behind the changes they will be proposing (the "they" below refers to "changes"): 

1.     They will “clear the way” for innovation and adaptation, freeing up our time and energy, and speeding up decision making.
2.     They will give the leadership of the Church a bold and holistic agenda of change which, if adopted, will role model the kind of similar bold changes that must occur at every other level of the Church.
3.     They will reinvent the role of Church wide organizations and structures: away from “doing” mission and towards enabling mission; away from setting agendas and assigning resources and towards connecting local communities and individuals for mutual learning, support and collaboration.

COD agrees wholeheartedly. But here he is concerned with a kind of top-down interpretation here.  Just like the critique above that we might be able to learn from places in the church already doing transformative change -- and that could inform TREC's work  – might not the changes TREC proposes reflect, instead of model to, changes that are happening all over the church?

       "Some of these proposals will feel incremental, and many have been debated before. Some will feel bold  and risky. Some of them will go beyond the scope of a narrow interpretation of the resolution that created  our Taskforce (C095). Some of them go even beyond the scope of the authority of General Convention."

Once again, glad that TREC has been reading Crusty.  He was the one in 2012 who thought COO Stacy Sauls proposal for a special generation Convention was too timid, and called for an interim PB to be elected in 2015.  Complex solutions have complex problems, and the debates we are having around structure are part of a sweeping re-creation of Christianity in the West.  Christendom and Constantine are dead.  And thank God they are dead.

TREC begins to wind things down by giving some teaser hints of areas where their proposals will be focused.  They offer five areas where they are developing recommendations:

1.     The role and mechanics of General Convention: Narrowing the legislative agenda and reducing the size of its legislative bodies, while expanding the scope of our get-togethers so that they serve not only as places where key legislation is debated and adopted but also as vibrant, open and inclusive celebratory Mission Convocations—bringing together passionate and active practitioners of every kind of mission going on around the Church.

Agree mostly, the COD would prefer not “narrowing” but “focusing”.  Crusty spent most of the fall of 2011 trying to get anyone to care about this stuff.  As an aside, COD has no patience for those that presume changing our current structures is somehow inherently an assault on the principles of the church.  Someone once accused Crusty, in person, face-to-face, that reducing the size of the HOD was "racist, because a smaller HOD would mean fewer people of color."  COD would have none of it.  "Who dioceses elect has nothing to do with the size of General Convention; it is the dioceses that are racist, classist, and age-ist, since they are the ones responsible for whom they elect."  Crusty would be all for having representational requirements, since I don't think the church is willing to do what it takes to live into our diversity.  (Adult communicants are persons over 16.  How often do we put them on Vestries, or as delegates to diocesan Conventions, etc.?)  The ELCA requires 60% of their Assembly be lay persons.  The United Methodist Church has had requirements for representation of under-represented persons -- which one reason why they have people of color and women as bishops and the Episcopal Church continues to elect overwhelmingly white people.  To that suggestion, Crusty's interlocutor retorted, "We can't have quotas in the church, that goes against the Gospel."  COD replied, "So does racism, and GC is overwhelmingly white."  The Episcopal Church has a long history of institutional and structural racism.  Restructuring is not itself inherently racist. 

2.     Roles and accountability of the Presiding Officers and of the Executive Council–particularly as related to Church wide staff: Establishing simple and clear lines of accountability and responsibility, reducing redundancy, clarifying confusions which can inhibit clear decision-making processes, and resizing the Council to function more effectively as a governance board.

Crusty spent much of the spring of 2012 arguing this.  We need to rethink and clarify relations between Presiding officers, Executive Council, and churchwide staff.  We have a structure thoroughly overhauled in 1919 and tweaked repeatedly through accumulated changes.  We need a thorough rethinking of what kind of structure, roles, and accountability we need for this time and place.  COD does continue to be concerned that the TREC train and the Nomination process for the next PB are moving along parallel tracks.  How can TREC propose any kind of changes to governance when we could quite easily lock in no changes by electing someone to a 9-year term as PB under the current canons?  COD has called for electing an interim PB in 2015 to resign in 2018 so a new PB could come in under and revised Constitutional or Canonical changes.  See some of COD's thoughts here.  I mean come on, there's no funding for a TREC gathering in the fall of 2014 but we added another $100,000 to the search process for the Presiding Bishop?

3.     Breadth of CCABs (Committees, Commissions, Agencies and Boards) and the creation of alternative, fresh and creative models for Church wide collaboration: Recasting most of our CCABs into a new model of distributive and accountable collaboration. Creating on-line collaboration models that connect local mission leaders across our Church so that our collective “agenda” can dynamically adapt to local needs, and so that we tap into the greatest asset of our Church—all of us, sitting in the pews, doing great work locally but mostly disconnected from each other and from The Episcopal Church.

Um, yeah.

4.     Number of dioceses: Considering a one-time, objective process for establishing norms for a healthy and viable diocesan size and structure in order to enable mission and reduce the complexity of our organization.

Absolutely, COD can name a half dozen dioceses off the top of his head that aren't viable.  But good luck with that. 

5.     Capacity and leadership development: Establishing effective leadership formation and development approaches for all orders of ministry, grounded in our vows of baptism and ordination, as well as in the particular needs of the 21st century. Calling out the implications for clergy career paths and deployment, as well as the implications and opportunities for seminaries and other current leadership development programs. Encouraging the creation of new “centers of excellence” or other mechanisms for fostering ongoing learning and large-scale capability building, encouraging networking around existing nodes of great work.

COD honestly does not know what this means -- I mean, he knows what the words mean, but how will TREC be doing this?  Do they know that there's lot of people in the church doing this right now?

"It is also clear that there is a deeply felt need to develop some common understandings of how individual dioceses can best make decisions about, and provide the best support for, parish vitality and viability. Given how vastly different the cultural and demographic landscape has become since most of our congregations were founded and buildings constructed, how do we make the most faithful and strategic use of our resources as we make decisions about the number of parishes, locations, consolidations, new plants, etc.?"

COD has been preaching this for years:  let's not let this culture of scarcity infect us like some sort of zombie plague.  We have resources of institutions, people, property, and finances.  Heck, if we closed 815 tomorrow, there are almost $250 million in endowed funds held in trust (granted much of it probably restricted) and a building on 2nd Ave and 43rd St in Manhattan.  That's something to work with.  Likewise how can we make effective use of the resources we have to shape the changes we need to make?  This is going to be incredibly complicated, and we must realize that some congregations, dioceses, seminaries, and even denominations will choose to die rather than change.

TREC then announces its plan for a gathering in Fall of 2014 to present its proposals:

        "In line with our vision to live into new ways to “do Church” in the 21st century, this meeting will be virtual,         so that we can involve as broad and diverse a group as possible, without restricting access to those who        don’t have the financial resources to join an in-person gathering."

Sure, but you could do both, have a virtual and an in-person meeting.

This handicapping of TREC's work by refusing to fund a gathering in Fall of 2014 is something COD continually finds troubling.  We spend three years and over $225,000 to nominate a Presiding Bishop but are unable to fund a gathering for restructuring of the church.  This reinforces one of Crusty's central concerns:  that there are those who derive power, prestige, privilege, and authority from the current structures of the church, and who will be unwilling to give that up.

COD remains hopeful for TREC's work:  the church does need to be engaged and present in this process.  There are smart, faithful, committed people of goodwill on TREC and Crusty continues to pray for them.  It is not TREC that worries COD.  It's our ability in the midst of our scarcity and anxiety to take the steps needed, to which God is calling us in this time and place.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Gift from the Stork: HOB Primer on Governance

Crusty is thankful for many things this Thanksgiving, particularly the gift of peanut oil and his deep fryer, where he will sit and drink beer and watch his turkey cook.  COD is also thankful for unexpected gifts, such as the recently-released "Primer on the government of The Episcopal Church and its underlying theology” offered by the Ecclesiology Committee of the House of Bishops.  A copy of the report itself can be found here.

Crusty agrees with many elements of this Primer, but is also astounded by some of its claims, and stunned by some of its straightforward errors of fact.  Perhaps it is best to take things section by section, and offer some concluding remarks.

Introduction/In the Beginning

The first section sets out some basic principles, and makes an effort to ground what will be some components of Anglican ecclesiology in the early church.

The “Primer” is here to tell us “how and why” The Episcopal Church came to be.  Thank goodness, since many of us regret having "that talk" with Episcopalians.  As one who is a veteran of those uncomfortable conversations telling Episcopalians actually how their church got here, now we can explain how this wonderful, mysterious gift of the Episcopal Church arrived on our doorstep!
In Hebrew, "hesed" and "hasidah" [stork] share the same root.
This Thanksgiving, COD is thankful for this gift from the Stork than can help alleviate that anxiety and tell us how we came to be.

COD has no issue with the central motif of adaptation to local context and dating the Church all the way back to Antioch.  This process of adaptation to particular contexts is something which is integral to Christianity; the key is that this is something inherent to Anglicanism as well, and, in Crusty’s thinking, its treatment here one of the areas he finds problematic in the Primer.  This process of adaptation is not something linear, from the Church of England to the Episcopal Church, and not particular to Episcopal Church; but rather part of broader understandings of adaptation fundamental to Christianity itself.  This tends to get lost, at times, with the repeated leitmotif in the report on comparing and contrasting the Episcopal Church and the Church of England.  Both entities are emblematic of processes of adaptation to context in Christianity, not descendants.

Elsewhere in the introduction: COD does not approve of speaking “branches” of church – in part because such language often presumes there is “a” church.  Thus Roman Catholics believe the church “subsists” in the Catholic Church; Anglicans have at times presumed there are “three” “valid” branches of the church (namely Anglicanism, the Catholic Church, and the Orthodox Church), etc. 

There are also some strange historical turns in the introduction, specifically with regards to Christianity in the British Isles. What’s up with the Joseph of Arimathea reference to English Christianity?  Are we also supposed to believe in the myths surrounding St Nicholas?  That George Washington cut down a
Perhaps Arthur's Round Table influenced General Convention?
cherry tree and could not tell a lie?  
Is Marion Zimmer Bradley or Dan Brown a consultant on this? This is such an utterly ahistorical and fanciful legend that it is just strange to have it mentioned here. Similarly, in terms of actual evidence of British Christianity, we have record of  British bishops at the Council of Arles in 314.  Evidence of British bishops at Nicaea is disputed. 

The Primer then tackles the issue of the mission of Augustine of Canterbury and its relation to Celtic Christianity. 

Crusty is frankly confused by the efforts to compare the Celtic and Benedictine forms of Christianity as they mingled in England.  The Primer notes that “Roman ways” eventually would win out in the overlap between Celtic and Roman practices, but then suddenly starts contrasting Celtic and Benedictine traditions.  It seems to argue that a “hierarchical but participatory” sense of governance where the “abbot makes the decisions” is part of the Benedictine influence of Augustine’s mission.  Yet the first time Crusty ready this, he thought it was referencing the Celtic Church – which was marked in the 6th and 7th centuries by a church organized around monasteries, where abbots often had more power than bishops in the church.   What, apparently, is being used to describe the “Benedictine” influence of Augustine – a hierarchical model where the abbot makes decisions – actually describes Celtic Christianity as well.  If anything, what was perhaps most influential was the formation of a tradition bishop-diocese relationship instead of the Celtic system centered more around monasteries.

COD also takes issue with the term “re-founding the Christian Church in England.”  The Primer itself notes there were already Christians present when Augustine’s mission arrived.  Rather, a different kind of church structure was introduced, rather than Christianity itself being re-established.

Crusty agrees with the general efforts to set Henry VIII in his context; monarchs attempting to assert more control over the church in their areas was common in the medieval period.  The monarchs in France and especially Spain had perhaps as much if not more control over the church in their kingdoms as the English monarch, and they didn’t need to split with the papacy to get it.

It is important to contrast the changes under Henry with those under Edward and Elizabeth.    Yet, as written, the Primer seems to place the Elizabethan Settlement as coming into being after Elizabeth’s excommunication in 1570 by Pius V: "After Pope Pius V excommunicated her in 1570, having failed to have her dislodged from the throne by force, Elizabeth laid the foundation of the modern Church of England, with the Archbishop of Canterbury as spiritual head and the Crown as the governor of the church’s temporal existence."  The situation is far more complex; many building blocks of what is called the “Elizabethan Settlement” were in place well before 1570, yet none are mentioned (the 1559 BCP, Act of Supremacy, etc).  How is 1570 a dividing line?  This is not adequately explained or put in any kind of context, only asserting that the Settlement places “Archbishop of Canterbury as spiritual head” and “Crown as supreme governor of church’s temporal affairs.”  What is meant by spiritual and temporal?  The church had plenty of authority in what we might call temporal – there were ecclesiasl courts which had a role in probate of wills, for instance – and the Crown and Parliament had authority in what we might call spiritual, such as being able to authorize liturgies for the church.  This division is not as neat as what the Primer is asserting, and, as we shall see, this truncated understanding of the Settlement will be extended to the American context.

The Primer then amazingly skips all the way to Cromwell, leaving much that could be said about the period between 1570 and the 1640s.  One could challenge the notion that the Settlement didn’t really “settle” anything but in fact birthed the Puritan movement which would be enormously influential for English-speaking British and American Christianity.  One could also argue the ways in which the early 17th century was in some ways more foundational to a thing called ‘Anglicanism’ than the ‘Settlement’ of the 1550s; things like Hooker’s theology, or the role of the Caroline Divines, or, really, anything.   The historical narrative here is confusing and problematic.  Cromwell and the Commonwealth are called the “zenith of Presbyterian experiment in the church of England.”  This is simply inaccurate.  Cromwell was an Independent (what we could call a Congregationalist) and actually introduced religious toleration.  Under Cromwell, elements of the  Act of Uniformity were repealed, so while there was technically a Presbyterian state church, no one was required to subscribe to it. The Book of Common Prayer and episcopacy had been proscribed, but this was done by the Rump Parliament before Cromwell made himself Lord Protector.
Cromwell was a d**k, but not Presbyterian.

The narrative then jumps to the 19th century and the work of William Reed Huntington, bracketing the American church’s development to a later section.  The Primer makes what is perhaps one of the most significant errors, noting that the four components of the Chicago Lambeth Quadrilateral are “essential features of an Anglican Church.”  This is simply not the case.  The Quadrilateral, as formulated, was the distillation or summary of the faith and order of the church of the undivided first centuries into four essential points, not an attempt to delineate markers of what makes an "Anglican" church.  

As this section of the full text of the memorial adopted by the House of Bishops puts it,

But furthermore, we do hereby affirm that the Christian unity . . .can be restored only by 
the return of all Christian communions to the principles of unity exemplified by the undivided Catholic Church during the first ages of its existence; which principles we believe to be the substantial deposit of Christian Faith and Order committed by Christ and his Apostles to the Church unto the end of the world, and therefore incapable of compromise or surrender by those who have been ordained to be its stewards and trustees for the common and equal benefit of all men.

As inherent parts of this sacred deposit, and therefore as essential to the restoration of unity among the divided branches of Christendom, we account the following, to wit:

And then the famous four points follow.

These are not the features of an Anglican Church; rather, if anything, Anglicanism reflects these elements which are part of the legacy of the ancient church.  It is a much, much later development that Anglicans redefined the Quadrilateral as part of what holds Anglicans together from what was meant to be a ground upon which to reunite Christians on the basis of the faith and order of the undivided church.

English Colonies become the United States of America

The next section jumps back from the 1870s and its misinterpretation of Huntington to look at the development of Anglicanism in the colonial period. 

Crusty considers it a reach to say the churches formed in the colonies could be seen as under “one diocese” given the ways in which other forms of organization and authority were involved.  In some colonies, the legislature played a role in defining parish boundaries; missionaries were selected and vetted and served at the discretion of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel; there were varying rules behind who was able to induct a rector into a congregation; and the ways other clergy were under contract directly to congregations.  While technically true that clergy in the colonies were under the bishop of London, saying they were “one diocese” is an ecclesiological stretch.  It is also astonishing that there is no mention of the Vestry system, perhaps the single biggest development of colonial Anglicanism and the role it gave to lay persons in governance of the church.  In fact,  the opposition of some Anglicans to a bishop in the colonies was precisely because of concerns this would lessen the role of lay persons.  It is simply unbelievable that a Primer on ecclesiology and governance does not mention the ways in which the Vestry system developed in the colonial period in some colonies.

Keeping the Faith…and Order

The next section looks at the formation of The Episcopal Church following the American Revolution.

No argument from COD on the first basic point of consensus:  that there be as much continuity with the Church of England as possible, Episcopal governance, and a balancing of clerical and lay authority in any church to be formed.

Yet there is the continued fetishization of the Settlement that was never actually or accurately described in this Primer – it notes “Episcopalians translated Queen Elizabeth’s Settlement.”  There is a linearity expressed here that obscures what Crusty thinks is really going on – namely, that Episcopalians went through a process of adaptation of the form of Christianity they received to their context, just as Christians did in Antioch, and just as English Christianity did in the 1500s.  The Settlement was not translated by Episcopalians.  Episcopalians in the 1780s and the Church of England in the 1550s were both doing what Christians in Antioch did in the 50s.  There is not so much causality, but examples of the same phenomenon occurring.

The continued ignoring of the Vestry system comes back to haunt the Primer here, as it claims this governance was expressed in “Parliamentary” terms.  White and others looked to the Vestry system, local state Conventions, and committees of correspondence that were aspects of ecclesial and political governance in the colonial period – they were not self-consciously translating any Settlement, but instead took the models of governance they had and adapted them.

In this section Crusty is also utterly perplexed at the assertion that clergy were “still in charge of spiritual matters, the laity still in charge of temporal matters.”  The first draft Constitution produced by The Episcopal Church was for a unicameral body, and, while a bicameral General Convention was adopted, clergy and lay deputies still sat together in the House of Deputies and voted on all matters, whether spiritual or temporal.  What is the point of making this tendentious distinction?

Success At Last

The next section lays out the development of the Episcopal Church following its formation in 1789.  Language here is confusing at times as well.  It notes the church would have bishops ordained in ancient succession (Crusty wonders why the term “historic succession” as defined in Called to Common Mission is not used, as it has been part of the Episcopal Church’s formal understanding for about 25 years) “elected by diocesan conventions, and approved for consecration by the General Convention (as was the rule at first).”  This is confusing because the “rule” being referenced is the fact that consent needed to be given by the General Convention to persons chosen as bishop – the election by diocesan conventions is not part of this at all, since the Constitution has never set any prescribed way that bishops were to be chosen.  Election by diocesan conventions has become the standard, but that was by diocesan choice; a diocese could choose a bishop by tossing darts or casting lots.

The Primer seems unable to contain its fetishization of the Elizabethan Settlement, noting that while Queen Elizabeth II “has only a formal role in governing her [sic] Church…the original balance of her great ancestor’s Settlement has been a key element of Anglican provinces around the world, including the Episcopal Church.”  It is simply odd to set the formation of the governance of The Episcopal Church as following from the Elizabethan Settlement.  This reduces the Settlement purely to issues of governance, when theology (the 39 Articles), ecclesiology (the work of Matthew Parker, John Jewel, and Richard Hooker), and liturgy (the 1559 Book of Common Prayer) are integral elements that go into the formation of the Church of England under her reign.  It also does not do justice to immediate factors going into the formation of the Episcopal Church’s governance – local adaptations already in place, like Vestries, and the overall influence of democratic and representative ideals.  Yes, the balance of bishops and clergy on the one hand, and laity on the other, is an aspect of Anglicanism.  But there are many other factors involved in the way these adaptations take place.  Nathan Hatch’s Democratization of American Christianity is simply crucial here.

Comparing and Contrasting

Now that the Primer has brought us to speed on the formation of The Episcopal Church, this next section compares and contrasts the governance of the Episcopal Church with that of the Church of England.  Here the Primer makes the very important point that we need to be wary of caricatures or prejudices regarding one or the other, rightly noting the Episcopal Church is more hierarchical than English Anglicans often believe, and the Church of England is more democratic than many Episcopalians believe.  While often lamenting or bewailing that other provinces of the Communion just don’t understand us, how many Episcopalians can describe how the Church of England is governed, let alone any other provinces of the Communion?  Similarly, while condescendingly huffing that Americans don't understand the complexity of the Church of England's governance, many of the responses to Gene Robinson's consecration revealed just how little many members of the Church of England understand about the polity of the Episcopal Church.

In beginning this section, however, the Primer again repeats its problematic understanding of the Quadrilateral: it notes that “The Episcopal Church succeeded in faithfully translating the four elements of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral into American life.”  A neat trick for Episcopalians in 1789 to adapt points from a document produced in 1886 and which is intended to describe the ways in which Christians can form a single, national Protestant church based on a distillation of the essential elements of the undivided church.  The Quadrilateral is not a marker of Anglican identity.  Anglicans made it into one.  The Primer then anachronistically and cart-before-the-horsely reads the formation of the Episcopal Church as an adaptation of the Quadrilateral.  Huh?

COD is thrilled that the Primer continues to put nails in the coffin of another historical legend (the Primer thereby proving, unlike its bizarre referencing of the Joseph of Arimathea myth, that it does not believe everything it is told): any supposed overlap between the Constitution of the Episcopal Church and the US Constitution.  This myth is one of the more noxious self-congratulatory legacies of establishmentarian thought, and the more that can be done to dispel it, the better.

On the other hand, the Primer then repeats the oversimplified understanding of the Episcopal Church regarding the Civil War.  It notes that the General Convention “refused to recognize the absences of the dioceses of the Confederate states” and after the war “they were reintegrated as if nothing had happened.”  The reality is more complex.  The documents of the PECCSA (Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States of America) do point out that the formation of a separate church was the result of secession and the establishment of a new nation, not because of any differences of faith and order.  Yet the reintegration was not as neat as the Primer states.  Some bishops did come to the 1865 General Convention, on the basis of their understanding that the PECCSA ceased to exist with the defeat of the Confederacy.  Yet other southern dioceses did not come, and later met formally to dissolve the PECCSA before rejoining the Episcopal Church.  Likewise in a footnote the Primer asserts the General Convention “did not recognize any of its [the PECCSA] acts”, when in fact Bishop Richard Hooker Wilmer, the only bishop consecrated by the PECCSA and who did not receive the consent of the General Convention, was seated in the House of Bishops.  This whole section, in addition, also perpetuates one of the great historical self-congratulatory canards of the Episcopal Church -- namely, that we did not divide over slavery.  Well, one of the reasons other denominations divided over slavery is because there was significant difference of opinion over slavery expressed, and because churches took stands based on conviction and principle.  For instance, the Methodist Episcopal Church divided because the church took a stand by suspending one of its bishops for owning slaves.  By refusing to condemn slavery (one of the foremost apologists for slavery in the Episcopal Church would later serve as Presiding Bishop, John Henry Hopkins), it is true the Episcopal Church did not split, but sacrificed any sense of moral integrity on the altar of a false unity that faded away as soon as hostilities commenced and a split occurred.

In general, though, Crusty agrees with the substance of these comparisons in this section; it is true the Episcopal Church consciously has not sought to create an Archbishop with metrpolitical authority, and that final authority has been vested in the General Convention as a whole.

A major exception is the mention again of the simply bizarre concept that the ordained are to tend to spiritual affairs, and laity to temporal.  It notes that the House of Bishops and House of Deputies “work together.”  More accurately, both must agree to pass any legislation or make any decision, whether spiritual or temporal.  The “traditional division” whereby the House of Bishops considers spiritual matters first and the House of Deputies considers temporal matters first is just that – a matter of agreed-upon procedure that appears nowhere in the Constitution.  Just like the Filibuster is not part of the US Constitution, the fact that the House of Bishops votes on matters of doctrine first and then sends them to deputies, and deputies vote on other matters first before sending it to bishops, is nowhere in the Constitution but a way in which the General Convention has chosen to order its business.  The Primer doth protest too much by seeing this as revealing how the Episcopal Church has made some sort of division between clergy and laity in dealing with matters temporal and spiritual.  BOTH clergy and laity deal with matters spiritual and temporal.  The primer than goes on to assert that clergy “assist the whole church by accepting responsibility for worship, the Church’s principal act; the faithful proclamation of the Gospel, the teaching of the Faith, and the administration of the sacraments.  The laypeople take responsibility for finances, and for maintaining the properties of the congregation for use by the recto for ministry.  More importantly, they do the work of God’s mission in the world.” 

Efforts to create ordained and lay shtetls, where clergy are defined by responsibility for doctrine, teaching, and sacraments, and lay persons for finances and property, is simply incomprehensible to Crusty.  It flies in the face of our actual governance – where clergy and lay people have equal say at the General Convention in all decisions, whether spiritual or teomporal – and of our baptismal ecclesiology, where in baptism we all share in Christ’s eternal priesthood – and of our ordination rites, where the ministry of deacons, priests, and bishops is grounded in the ministry of the church as a whole.

Of all the elements in the Primer, this effort to argue that clergy should be primarily responsible for spiritual matters, and laity for temporal matters, is not only historically untenable, but an affront to our actual polity.

What does this all mean?

The closing section begins with exactly the question Crusty had:  what does this all mean?

The conclusion then offers one of the few parallels COD can wholeheartedly support with the Elizabethan Settlement:  that in the adaptation of the Christianity we received from the Church of England to our own context, Episcopalians excluded people.  The so-called “Elizabethan Settlement” did so as well, executing over 300 persons for religious reasons, fining people for not attending worship, and refusing any kind of compromise with the Puritan movement that contributed to an eventual civil war.  Crusty doesn’t agree with a lot of the parallels between the formation of the Episcopal Church and the “Elizabethan Settlement” as described in the Primer, but he does with this one.

Crusty wishes the Primer as a whole did not see the Anglican ecclesiological world as some kind of binary dance between The Episcopal Church and the Church of England.  The Church of England and Episcopal Church are not like Thor and Loki or Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu or N Sync and Backstreet Boys or the two suns of Tatooine.  The Communion, while shaped by The Episcopal Church and the Church of England, are not solely defined by it.   For example, the Primer notes that “one quarter of the thirty eight provinces of the Anglican Communion owe their existence to The Episcopal Church.”  Wonderful.  But what about the Nippon Sei Ko Kai, which was formed with both Episcopal Church and Church of England missions combined?  What about places which owe their existence to the Church of England but which consciously adopted aspects of the Episcopal Church in its governance, like when George Selwyn specifically looked to the Episcopal Church’s form of goverance in drafting the first Constitution for the Church in New Zealand?  What about Haiti, which The Episcopal Church officially wanted to have nothing to do with (Theodore Holly was not formally sponsored by the Episcopal Church or its missionary organizations) and later admitted? 
Crusty wants it that way.

So in the end, why was this Primer written?  Perhaps because “at a time when many voices are calling for changes in The Episcopal Church’s governance, it is good to recall where we come from.”  Perhaps, but there are so many areas of this Primer which are problematic – from its efforts to see its particular interpretation of The Elizabethan Settlement as influencing lay and clerical divisions of authority, to separating clerical and lay spheres of governance, to its misinterpretation of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral – that Crusty is not sure if it would be helpful in those discussions.  For anyone who has read this blog, you probably can see that COD would argue that looking at our past, if anything, will reinforce that we need changes to our governance:  Anglicanism has constantly adapted structures of organization and governance to political, cultural, religious, and social changes.  Crusty firmly believes we are to be as bold and faithful in our own time as the founders of the Episcopal Church were, or those who shaped Anglican Christianity in the Reformation period.  The past did not just make us “who we are today,” it can also point us to where God is calling us to go.

As a coda, COD also needs to point out the several errors of fact in the Timeline appended to the Primer:

--as noted, British representation at Nicaea is disputed
--Queen Mary ascended to the throne in 1553, not 1552
--the Book of Common Prayer was issued in 1559, not 1558
--Oliver Cromwell did not make the Church of England “puritan”; he in fact decreed religious toleration and repealed the Act of Uniformity
--the reintegration of the southern dioceses is more complex than laid out here
--the first African American suffragan bishops, Demby and Delany, were consecrated in 1918, not 1919.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Cold November Rain: The Sin of Division

Many years ago, Crusty went to a lecture by an unnamed person in an unnamed diocese.  This was a person whose theological views were diametrically opposed to COD's; there was very little we saw eye-to-eye on; and, frankly, Crusty thought the person in question was a bit of a jerk.  To be frank, the person thought the same of Crusty:  we had had a couple of testy exchanges at previously scholarly
I know that you can't love me, GAFCON, when there's no one left to blame.
gatherings, and we all know there's nothing scarier than a couple of academics being passive aggressive and smarmy with one another.  After the lecture, COD ran an errand in the town where the lecture had been held, and then headed from drugstore to the highway to drive home, when he noticed the person who had given the lecture walking, in the rain, down the street.  COD assumed he was walking to the nearest public transportation hub, which was a mile and a half away.

Crusty was then horrified at the feeling of glee that surged in him.  God help me, but to be honest, Crusty initially thought, "Where are all your conservative friends now?  None of them thought to give you a lift?  Now you have to walk a mile in the rain to the nearest stop?"  In the cold November rain.

This thought was instantly followed by Crusty feeling disgusted with himself for indulging such thoughts:  while perhaps understandable, schadenfreude is one of the basest emotions any of us can countenance.  Crusty turned the car around, doubled back, and pulled over.  When the window rolled down, the person gave a start to see that it was COD in the car.  "It's raining," Crusty said, "let me give you a lift."

COD ended up being 10-15 minutes later getting home than he told CODW (Crusty Old Dean's Wife), and, when CODW asked him if the rain slowed him down, Crusty told her the story.  "I had to pick him up," Crusty said, "even though I honestly wonder if he would do the same for me.  Maybe because he wouldn't do the same for me."

The Second Global Anglican Futures Conference (or GAFCON II: Electric Boogaloo) ended last week in Nairobi, Kenya.  To bring folks up to speed, GAFCON I: The Phantom Menace met in 2008 and gathered bishops, clergy, and lay persons from around the Anglican Communion, and issued a final communique, which it named The Jerusalem Declaration.  In the Declaration, they spoke of a "false gospel" being spread in other parts of the Anglican Communion.  It specifically states that this false gospel  "promotes a variety of sexual
You know, that's actually an apt motto for GAFCON.
preferences and immoral behaviour as a universal human right. It claims God’s blessing for same-sex unions over against the biblical teaching on holy matrimony. In 2003 this false gospel led to the consecration of a bishop living in a homosexual relationship."  GAFCON
 reaffirmed the 39 Articles, Holy Scriptures, 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and the first Four Ecumenical Councils (among others) as authorities in the church.  It created a Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans to carry forth the work of GAFCON, while at the same time clearly stating "Our fellowship is not breaking away from the Anglican Communion."  Many of the GAFCON bishops, however, declined to attend the 2008 Lambeth Conference of Bishops which was held later that summer.  

GAFCON II: Electric Boogaloo also issued a communique at the end of its recent gathering, which seems to indicate a shift in direction for the group.  GAFCON II: Electric Boogaloo likewise named a false gospel that "sought to mask sinful behaviour with the language of human rights. It promoted homosexual practice as consistent with holiness, despite the fact that the Bible clearly identifies it as sinful." GAFCON II's statement, however, seems to indicate a change in direction for the organization.  In essence, it looks formally to become a global Anglican "franchise" alongside the "official" Anglican Communion.  The communique describes new initiatives for the movement, which look like the kind of things a global communion does, such as

--supporting a network of theological colleges

-- discerning the need for new provinces, dioceses and churches — and then authenticating their ministries and orders as Anglican
--organise around a Primates’ Council, a Board of Trustees, an Executive Committee and regional liaison officers
--invite provinces, dioceses, mission agencies, local congregations and individuals formally to become contributing members of the GFCA...we ask provinces to reconsider their support for those Anglican structures that are used to undermine biblical faithfulness and contribute instead, or additionally, to the financing of the GFCA’s on-going needs 

GAFCON is calling for developing a network of theological education and training; creating new provinces, dioceses, and churches; establishing structures for governance, like a Primates' Council and Executive Council; and raising funds to support those and other initiatives, directly asking Anglicans to stop supporting the Anglican Communion and support the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (GFCA).  Looks pretty much like the establishment of another Anglican Communion along conservative lines.  Other communions have these -- for instance there is the World Alliance of Reformed Church and the World Reformed Fellowship in the Presbyterian/Reformed tradition; the Lutheran World Federation and the International Lutheran Council.

That these steps have been taken is not surprising.  Some of the differences in the Anglican Communion run deep, both in terms of theology, ethics, praxis, culture, and context.

What Crusty has found surprising is the schadenfreude and don't-let-the-door-hit-your-ass-on-the-way-outism in some corners of the Anglican world.    Andrew Brown's column in The Guardian sneered at the low turnout for a press conference in England announcing the GAFCON initiatives; other blogs crowed about predicting this years before; others offered short, curt dismissals of GAFCON II (maybe they're waiting for GAFCON III: The Search for Spock).

To be clear:  Crusty is not on the same page of many elements of the GFCA.   Some -- but by no means all -- of the actions and rhetoric of conservative Anglicans needs to be called for what it is:  efforts by some to manipulate issues of sexuality in a quest for power and influence; and, at times, bordering if not explicitly homophobic. While disagreeing with the GFCA, COD also laments this division in the Anglican world.  Division is a sin.  COD would much rather prefer we stay in relationship and in dialogue, even if he disagrees with others.

As COD has mentioned, he studies history.  And if history teaches us one thing with regard to division, it is this:

Divisions take a lot, lot longer to put back together than they do to start.  The divisions over slavery in the 1840s in the Presbyterian Church were not mended until 1983.  The Reformed Episcopal Church broke away from the Episcopal Church in 1873 over many issues which are no longer relevant.  The Non-Chalcedonian/Oriental Orthodox Churches broke with the Eastern Orthodox Churches in 451 and while they now agree that there are no major theological divisions between them they are no closer to reunion.

One side needs to be willing to be open to reconciliation and dialogue, even if it is not reciprocated.  In 2010, representatives of The Episcopal Church were removed from international ecumenical dialogues and reduced to observer status on others.  As ecumenical officer at the time, COD scheduled a conference call for bishops and others persons involved in ecumenical work.  In that call, Crusty acknowledged people might be feeling hurt, betrayed, and/or angry (one participant was dumped after 17 years on one dialogue and just before the last, and final meeting, where the dialogue team was going to adopt a statement this person had helped to draft).  But COD also asked for patience and magnaminity: "The day will come," Crusty said, "when we will be invited back.  Let's keep our reactions to a minimum, stay engaged as we can, so that we will be able to rejoin these conversations in a spirit of charity and graciousness, without regretting things we might say in the heat of the moment."

Another time COD got a call where his caller ID read "Scranton, PA."  The only people Crusty knows in Scranton are the good people from Dunder Mifflin and the Polish National Catholic Church.  Either way, COD was taking that call.  It was the Prime Bishop of the Polish National Catholic Church (PNCC).  The PNCC broke away from the Roman Catholic Church in the early 1900s over the question of using Polish language in schools, appointing Polish priests to parishes, and over local ownership of church property.  It affiliated with the Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht, who broke from the Catholic Church over Vatican I (and linked up with the Old Catholic Church in the Netherlands, which had been independent of Rome since the 1700s), and in 1931 came into full communion with The Episcopal Church.  In 1978, the PNCC declared it was no longer in full communion with The Episcopal Church over the ordination of women.  The Episcopal Church, however, never took similar action; we never suspended our agreement of full communion with the PNCC.

"How can I held you, Prime Bishop?" Crusty asked, ever helpful.

"You can change the language in your Episcopal Church Annual!" he replied, clearly irate. "I'm looking at the new copy, and in the ecumenical relations section, you list us as a church in full communion!  We suspended full communion with you in 1978!"

Crusty pondered the fact that anyone, let alone the Prime Bishop of the PNCC, read the Episcopal Church Annual that carefully.

"Yes, but we didn't suspend full communion with you," COD replied.

"You need to change this language!"

"With all due respect, Prime Bishop," COD replied, (trying to work in "Prime Bishop" as much as possible because, come on, how often do you get to call someone that?), "but you don't get to tell us how to define full communion.  You're free to describe the relationship from your perspective in your own church annual.  We would welcome renewing our dialogue."

"Not likely very soon," he said, and the call ended soon afterwards.

Crusty believes it is incumbent for a partner to be open to dialogue and reconciliation, and that dialogue does not mean approval or agreement of everything a dialogue partner says or does.   

Or, as Paul writes, "As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it."  If we truly believe the church is the body of Christ, and not just a series of human-made denominations, then we must take our call to unity and reconciliation seriously. Risibly sniggering ecclesial equivalents of "Go f** yourself, I told you so," diminishes the speaker.  

COD does not agree with the GFCA.  But he would stop and give them a ride in the cold November rain, even if they wouldn't do the same for him.