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.