Saturday, August 5, 2017

Crusty's Fake News! for Anglicanism

There's been a lot of ink spilled in the last year or two on "fake news."  It's been interesting to chart the development of the term, which began, originally, as an effort to identify the planting of actual fake news stories, either intentionally (through malicious intent) or unintentionally (through

Seen a lot of sci-fi, but missed this one. 

gnorance) to influence opinion.  In the last several months, "fake news" seems to have morphed into a polemical term to attack anything anyone doesn't particular like or choose to believe.  Though used in different ways currently, both ways are malicious and corrosive.

It can be tempting to see this solely as a political issue, or a byproduct of our increasingly polarized times. But you could argue as well it has deep, deep roots, and that adhering to things that are not true as if they are is something people do by nature.  Psychological studies have shown that when confronted with facts that directly contradict a strongly held belief, people are actually MORE likely to say that they hold to that opinion.

And, naturally, COD is not about to let the church think our s**t don't stink.  That's what Crusty does, and he don't take no vacations from that, even though he's writing this blog post beside the lake at the ancestral family cabin in New Hampshire.  Those in the church shouldn't be so high and mighty as we sneer at the poor rubes who hold to their political "fake news." Crusty would like to add that he is not trying to normalize this whole phenomenon of "fake news" by saying it's ubiquitous, or everyone does it: the opposite.  Crusty is trying to point out ways in which the church is complicit, that it purposefully and/or through ignorance, the church has put forth elements of our history that are not true, largely to support a particular conception of how the church should be, regardless of the underlying reality. So strap in, here's just a small selection of Crusty's top 5 "fake news" elements that he gathers many, if not most, Episcopalians and/or Anglicans hold to.

1.  Hooker's three-legged stool of Scripture, tradition, and reason.  The notion that we, as Episcopalians, cite Hooker as authoritative and definitive in defining our sources of authority: and Hooker spoke of a three-
Sorry, google images, these are both equally abhorrent.
legged stool, so that Anglicans balance Scripture, tradition, and reason.

There's several reasons why this is "fake news."

--Hooker NEVER mentioned a three-legged stool.  He does use a metaphor of plaiting a rope, and layering the strands of Scripture, tradition, and reason, with Scripture, the most important source, as the central cord around which tradition and reason are layered.

--Hooker does not use "reason" in the same sense that we do.  We think of reason as using our brain to make our own choices and decisions about things.  That's not what reason meant in the 16th century.  As heir to the scholastic tradition (in many ways, Hooker could be seen as one of the last scholastic theologians by method), reason is given to us by God to be able to discern God's revelation in the world around us: not to make our own decisions, but to see what God intends.  A subtle, but important, distinction.

--It'd be hard for Hooker strongly to influence Anglicanism when he was pretty much forgotten until about until the 19th century.  Hooker largely faded from Anglican consciousness:  Joseph Butler was far more influential in the late 18th and early 19th centuries than Hooker.  In the first course of study outlined by the Episcopal Church, the Course of Ecclesiastical Studies of 1804, Richard Hooker does not appear as one of the authors required to be read for ordination in the church. It was only in the 19th century his work was republished, and a Hooker renaissance began which rightly continues to this day.  It'd be more accurate to say Hooker has shaped modern Anglicanism's efforts to try to understand itself.

2.   Here's one Crusty has heard on more than one occasion:  "The Episcopal Church was created by the same people that drafted the U.S. Constitution, that's why there are so many similarities."

My God, where to deconstruct this one abomination of hubris?

--First off, the U.S. Constitution was written in 1787, the Episcopal Church constitution was written in 1789.  They weren't even drafted at the same time, and there was no overlap of individuals involved.  Yes, there were drafts of forms of church governance going around in 1787, but they looked
In 2060, people will probably think Hamilton was influenced by 1789 Constitution.
nothing like what was coming out of the Constitutional Convention.

Even though the Episcopal Church Constitution was approved in 1789, two years after the federal Constitution had been completed, had been circulated for approval, and received considerable discussion, the church constitution STILL did not show direct influences from the US Constitution.  Here are some key differences:

--The Episcopal Church created only a legislative body, with no judiciary or executive branch.  The central feature of the U.S. Constitution, of checks and balances, is nowhere to be found.  In the 1789 Constitution, there was bicameral legislative body, to be sure.  But so what?  States created bicameral governing bodies before the 1787 Constitution, so that's not even necessarily a direct influence.

--The Episcopal Church constitution created no chief executive -- the Presiding Bishop presided over the House of Bishops when it was in session once every three years, had hardly any other governance role.  There's nothing resembling a body to adjudicate differences in interpretation like a judiciary; only the legislative body can adjudicate differences by changing canons or the constitution.

--The bicameral legislature wasn't even really bicameral:  the original constitution allowed the House of Deputies to overrule the House of Bishops.  If the HOD passed something, and HOB didn't, by a 4/5ths vote, the HOD could override them and pass it anyway.

--There are some similarities.  There's some merit in the notion that anything not specifically outlined in the constitution could be left to individual dioceses.  There's the important sense that the people have a right to be involved in governance.  But a stronger case could be made that the 1787 federal constitution and 1789 Episcopal Church constitution are both drawing from the same influences in American society rather than any direct cause and effect.

This one is simply a hangover from an establishment mentality and a sense of exceptionalism.

3.  The Episcopal Church was always open, welcome, and accepting.  

Actually, for a large portion of its existence, the Episcopal Church was seen as fairly conservative.  We need to be careful of extrapolating back into the past some vision of a progressive Anglicanism.  

--Crusty often has students talk about the Elizabethan "Settlement" of the English Reformation as being perfectly understandable because Anglicanism is by nature open, affirming, and tolerant.  COD usually replies by saying, "Non Church of England marriages weren't recognized as legal until the mid-nineteenth century, and in colonial America non-Anglicans were taxed to support Anglican churches.  There's nothing inherently open and tolerant about Anglicanism."

--It was one the last mainline Protestant denominations (using that as sociological, not theological term, so please no indignant comments about how the Episcopal Church is not "Protestant"; COD wholeheartedly agrees with that ecclesiologically; "mainline Protestant" is a sociological and historical term) to ordain women.  The Methodist Church permitted women to be representatives to General Conference nearly fifty years before women could serve as deputies to General Convention, and women were granted full clergy status twenty years before the approval of the ordination of women in The Episcopal Church.

--The General Convention never issued any resolution of any kind on the war in Vietnam.  

--Yes, the Episcopal Church ordained Absalom Jones as priest in 1804, the first African American to be ordained in a predominantly white church.  But neither Jones nor his congregation were given voice or vote at diocesan conventions, so we could just as easily celebrate this not as an open and affirming gesture, but the establishment of de facto segregation.

--The Episcopal Church had some of the most conservative canons on divorce and remarriage until revisions in the 1960s.

This is not to debate the merit of changing the marriage canons or saying we shouldn't have ordained Jones if we didn't give him equal status, only noting the Episcopal Church took a number of stands, even in the past generation, that would very easily be seen as "conservative." And this is not to deny the Episcopal Church certainly did take some progressive stands, such as moving the 1955 General Convention from Texas to Honolulu when told that African American deputies would not be given equal access due to segregation laws.

The Episcopal Church did get involved in the labor movement, to the extent that a significant number of bishops signed on the Church Association for the Advancement of the Interest of Labor in the 1880s.  Yet this action itself showed how the church was largely understood as a staid, conservative entity.  This was considered so extraordinary a major US newspaper was astounded that the Episcopal Church, the church of power and money and privilege, had gotten behind the labor movement.

4.  The Episcopal Church didn't split over slavery, and came together again after the war seamlessly.

One the one hand, this is technically true.  However...

--The church did split.  There was this thing called the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States of America, PECCSA.  The church split over secession, which was based on slavery (every secession ordinance mentions slavery; the Confederate constitution made slavery the only thing that could never be changed by amendment; and nearly every congressman or Senator mentioned preserving slavery in their resignation speeches from the U.S. Congress).

--The reunion of the church is presented more or less as "the Southern bishops and dioceses returned to the 1865 General Convention and things continued as if they never left."  This is not the case.  Some southern dioceses and bishops did attend the 1865 Convention, on the argument that the PECCSA existed because the
Leonidas Polk, bishop and general, distinct from Leonidas from 300.
CSA existed; now that the CSA no longer existed, they returned to the Episcopal Church.  However, not all southern bishops held to this.  Several bishops and dioceses did not attend on the grounds that they had left the Episcopal Church and formed another church, and could only rejoin the Episcopal Church once the PECCSA was dissolved, which a rump group of southern bishops and dioceses met to dissolve, and only after that rejoined the Episcopal Church.  

Perhaps most importantly....IT'S NOT AS IF NOT SPLITTING OVER SLAVERY IS SOMETHING TO BE PROUD OF.  The reason other churches split over slavery is because they took a stand on slaveholding.  Episcopalians had more important things to take a stand on and to commit the grave sin of schism over, like in 1873 over whether it was OK to have candles on the altar and reserve the sacrament, rather than whether it was OK to own another human being.

4.  The Episcopal Church isn't "evangelical."

Here we are dealing with particular baggage from our American context.  The word "evangelical" has a complex history in the Christian world, and even more so in the United States.  The evangelical revival of the and the Great Awakening had tremendous influence on global Christianity and American Christianity, summed up in historian Martin Marty's quip that "in America, everyone is at least a little bit Baptist."  However, in the 20th century the term "evangelical" has gone through more phases and mutations than the membership of Fleetwood Mac; it weaves in and out of fundamentalism, Pentecostalism, neo-evangelicalism, and classic evangelicalism, with a healthy dose of involvement in reform and renewal movements.  "Evangelical" now seems to mean, roughly, "conservative Christian."  The term has become so amorphous and so divorced from its history some persons are declining to call themselves evangelicals; Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Church, certainly no liberal, has written that "Many of those who tell pollsters they are “evangelical” may well be drunk right now, and haven’t been into a church since someone invited them to Vacation Bible School sometime back when Seinfeld was in first-run episodes."

Students in my classes are often shocked, sometimes horrified, one student notably offended, when I tell them that in the 19th century the Episcopal Church had a large and influential evangelical party.  I
Bad at theology and math both apparently.
tell them about Alexander Viets Griswold, who was a bishop as well as a parish Rector in the days when bishops had day jobs, who would have altar calls where he would then administer confirmation to those who came forward.  I then trace the decline of the evangelical party, which never really went away entirely, and the development of the low church movement.  I remember one person saying "Well thank God for that."  I asked why, and the student replied, "Because it wasn't really Anglican was it?"  My response was, "Tell that the vast numbers of evangelicals in the Anglican world."  Sometimes the response is, "Yes, I know there are evangelicals in Africa."  Yet the Church of England, Church of Ireland, and Anglican Church in Australia (among others) all have prominent evangelical wings.  There's a seminary of the Episcopal Church rooted firmly in the evangelical party of the Anglican world.  There are churches in Africa and Asia that are not predominantly evangelical, and in fact have significant high church components.

The problem with the ignorance of the evangelical movement in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican world is twofold.

--First, it feeds into a narrative that presumes our current incarnation of The Episcopal Church is somehow eternal and normative.  Therefore, the 19th century evangelical party must have been an aberration because it is unlike our current experience.  Well, our current incarnation of Anglicanism will probably look like an aberration in a hundred years; there has always been significant development.  We only started having the Eucharist as the norm for weekly worship in the past generation.  We cannot presume any incarnation of Anglicanism is normative, only see how it is part of a broader development of a tradition over a thousand years old, and how it preserves a continuity of worship and belief while adapting to context.

--Ignorance of the Episcopal Church's evangelical past increasingly puts us at odds with the broader Anglican world, which has vibrant and diverse evangelical movements.  If we take the baggage of our American context, ignorance of our own past history, and project that onto the broader diversity of global Christianity, we run the risk of a slow drift of inability to understand one another, like the Eastern and Western churches did after the collapse of the eastern Roman Empire.  The schism of 1054 was not so much a rupture as the result of hundreds of years of slow, gradual drifting apart through lack of contacts and inability to understand one another.  I fear we are doing the same in the Anglican world.

5.   That anything has been the way it currently is for more than a generation or so.  Let me be clear, there are some things that do have continuity throughout the history of Christianity and held by the vast majority of Christians: divinity of Jesus, two sacraments established by Christ, an ordered ministry (note: this is not an exhaustive list).  And within what we call Anglican Christianity, there's a threefold ordering of ministry, an authorized liturgy, communion with the see of Canterbury (note: not an attempt as an exhaustive list).  When I speak of change and development in the church, Crusty is not saying we throw everything out every generation.  Not at all.  But all too often our ignorance of our past makes us think that somehow the way things are is the way things always have been.

COD could give dozens upon dozens of examples.  Here's one: back when he was not Crusty, just a humble layperson, Crusty was attending a congregation where he served on the worship committee.  The discussion was about finding Sunday supply during the rector's sabbatical.  Crusty mentioned, "Well maybe we could do Morning Prayer on fifth Sundays as a way to ease the scheduling burden."  COD was informed "That's not really church, here we do the Eucharist on Sunday mornings.  That's UCC."  Crusty said, "It wasn't until 1986 that this church had weekly communion, it did Eucharist first, third, and fifth Sundays and Morning Prayer with sermon on second and fourth Sundays."  The conversation was taking place in 1994.  The person speaking was not a newcomer, and had been attending for 20 years.  Now, one can discuss all you want as to whether it's wise or proper or even good theology, but the one thing, in that context, that could not be argued, is that the parish had never done it before.  

You may ask, Why is this all important?  Why are you so worked up, Crusty?  Well, this fake news matters for several reasons.

--The myths we cling to often tell us more about ourselves and our current context than the supposed historical events.  

The myth of the Episcopal Church Constitution being hand-in-glove with the US Constitution is a fantasy spun by an Episcopal Church with delusions of establishment grandeur.  

The myth that the Episcopal Church didn't split over slavery takes this exceptionalism and joins it with our unwillingness to look at our own complicity with structures of racism and oppression.

And we could go on.  

--Ignorance of our past will only compound our problems.  Because of its American context, the Episcopal Church already has strong impulses towards localism; as a church born out of the American Revolution, we have devolved considerable governance and authority to dioceses and congregations.  Combining an impetus towards localism with an inability to see how things have been different can cause us to lose significant portions of our own tradition.  Some more examples...

The Episcopal Church used to start, close, and merge dioceses all the time.  Western Nebraska, Duluth, Western Colorado, COD could go on and on.  We now seem to think our number of dioceses were written down in the Torah, and talk of merger or realignment routinely goes nowhere.  We have a number of dioceses that are simply not viable.  We need to realign, combine, reconfigure.  We used to do this.  

We used to start and close congregations all the time, on a large scale as recently as the 1950s.  Within a generation we seem to have lost the ability to do this, though thankfully there are signs of rebirth in many corners.

Taking our failure of nerve and undergirding it with an ignorance of our past robs us of tools we have used in the past to be more missionally focused

So where did this fake news come from?  

There's lots of reasons for the preponderance of fake news.  

--There's a failure to take adult catechesis seriously in any way, shape or form.  When COD was a college chaplain, a handful of students came to him and said, "Could you do a confirmation class for us, like an overview of the basics of Christianity and the Episcopal Church?" Sure, I replied, and said I'd get in touch with the bishop's office to see when the next confirmation was.  "No," they replied, "We're already confirmed."  Some of them had only one session of Confirmation prep.  Several had absolutely none.  This is an extreme example, to be sure, and there are notable exceptions, but in many ways we have simply failed in any kind of adult formation or catechesis, throwing in the towel when we don't get the numbers we want at the bible study held in between services instead of trying to find other ways.

--Crusty has taught in the seminary world for 15 years now and the number of courses in history and theology has shrunk.  COD took four entry level, introductory courses in history and/or theology that were required for the MDiv all the way back in 1993.  It's common in many programs to have two, in some just one single course covering an overview of history and theology.  To be sure, there's good reason for this:  we have broadened the curriculum to include lots of other important training, with increased emphasis on praxis and leadership.  But Crusty knows someone who graduated from seminary who took three required liturgy courses and only two required history courses.  Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

--We make this fake news an excuse for our failure of nerve.  Instead of clinging to this fake news,
A new three-legged stool?
we should be looking at the elements which made us believe in it in the first place.  We cannot account for the systems of racism and oppression in the church unless we take an honest look at our own past.  We cannot figure out how to respond to this missional context unless we can learn from how we have done so, repeatedly, in the past.  Otherwise we run the danger of becoming like the Ministry of Truth in Orwell's 1984, constantly rewriting our understanding of history to reflect and uphold our present.


  1. Regarding merging dicoese, you might be interested in my proposal here,

    1. MAKE IT SO CUTHBERT. I'd only add I'd prefer "Diocese of Delmarva" to Delaware-Maryland diocese.

  2. Love the various sizes of the text. Also, one of your best posts. Really well done.

    1. I think Geocities circa 1997 was the pinnacle of web design, which is why I stay with blogspot instead of wordpress. Also, I wrote this blog post on a lake cabin with crappy internet so cut and pasted from a Word document when I went into town to buy liquor at the state liquor store with Wifi.

  3. For those of us who would like to know more about theology and church history, but are not likely to attend seminary: may I recommended one of the "Great Courses" - The History of Christian Theology, by Professor Phillip Cary. I ordered the CD set and listen to the lectures on long car drives. A total of about 18 hours, and it is engaging. Of course, it's nothing like being in a class with the ability to question the professor, but it's still pretty thorough, and -due to the subject matter - the lack of visuals isn't a problem.

    1. Here's the thing -- yes, there are lots of wonderful resources. Simon Schama's history of Britain DVDs. Diarmaid MacCullouch's History of Christianity book and DVDs. What the Iona Institute does. We can have all the resources in the world, but we have to use them. Thanks for this.

  4. Very helpful, thought-provoking post, Crusty! Thank you.

  5. I'm so glad you wrote this. I've heard too many priests talk about the correspondence of the US Constitution and the Episcopal Church's structure, and quietly gagged.

    Anita Williams

  6. We need to pay more attention to the Yale Converts of 1722 or so. Their reaction to the arid Calvinism of Connecticut left the Colonial New England Church of England a legacy of myth that has continued to our own time.


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