Not Ready For Prime Time

Since I didn’t really have a “side” going into the recent General Convention, I can’t really feel as though my side won or lost. At the end, it looks like everyone lost — to the extent that “liberals” won most votes until the end, when they wound up passing a resolution that contradicts the legislation and actions they had been taking so far; either they didn’t really mean all those votes for the first week of the convention, or they didn’t mean the conciliatory note they tried to strike on the last day (and the “Statement of Conscience” by a number of bishops demonstrates the flimsiness of the Episcopal Church’s affirmation of Windsor Report’s expectations). “Conservatives” elicited a reluctant expression of apparent apology, but obviously they lost the vast preponderance of the particular motions and elections; the convention’s proceedings rejected everything that would have pleased “conservatives.”

I expect all sorts of unpleasant fallout from this. I doubt Canterbury wants parallel jurisdictions in the U.S., so I suppose that they may recognize the authority of U.S. bishops, but exclude them from participation in the life of the Anglican Communion unless they repudiate the Episcopal Church’s recent actions — and then to allow parishes that want to remain in communion with Canterbury to affiliate with like-minded bishops, as near to local as possible. That would leave room for U.S. dioceses and parishes to pursue their own ends, but would definitively relegate U.S. (and Canadian and, eventually, U.K. and some other) “liberal” bishops and clergy in a twilight zone where they’re acknowledged as para-Anglican, but not acknowledged as holding any juridical authority relative to the church at large. But I expect that everyone wants a more decisive outcome than that, so many will press to have U.S. Episcopalians cut off, and plenty of U.S. Episcopalians don’t want to be accountable to a world church that disagrees with them.

If I weren’t aware of how partial my insight is, I’d suggest that very many of the most prominent spokespeople on the present miasma have lost touch with two facts. Fact One is that, however homophobic some people may be, there are very sound theological reasons for conservatives to resist the consecration of lesbigay bishops, and the blessing of same-sex relationships. I don’t hold to those ideas — I don’t think they’ll hold up in the long run — but that doesn’t make them nugatory, or bigoted, or uninformed, or illogical. The people whom I think wrong have a very strong case.

Fact Two is that pious, faithful, learned, spiritually profound theologians hold that there should be no ecclesiastical impediment to these consecrations and blessings. However problematic those sacramental gestures seem to some observers, and however many weak reasons that some proponents advance, a significant constituency of responsible Anglican theologians thinks that hetero- or homosexuality ought not determine full participation in church life.

If we were taking seriously both these facts, I imagine the Episcopal Church’s last two weeks would have run rather differently — but it’s easier, and more practically effective, to trade in straw adversaries and overblown polemical misrepresentations. Presumably the partisans expect that their protestations of “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out opponents in your name, and enact many deeds of power in your name?” will be met with a hearty, “You bet!” I wonder whether there might not be another possible answer to that question.

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5 Responses to Not Ready For Prime Time

  1. Stuart says:

    The Church of England already has ‘alterantive Episcopal Oversight’ or flying bishops. Parishes are able to pass resolutions allowing them to exclude the diocesan bishop and except the oversight of the ‘provincial visitor’ commonly called flying bishops.

    In the diocese of Wakefield the clergy of such parishes form their own deanery separate from their geographical deaneries and have in the past held seperate clergy conferences from the rest.

    It is a form of Anglican compromise that is the least worst of the options that wree considered at the time.

  2. Chris Jones says:

    AKMA,

    I have been very curious to know your reaction to GC06, and you do not disappoint. This is a gracious post, and exemplifies why you remain my favorite liberal theologian. (Although if you have read my latest fiery comment at Kendall’s you may not want that distinction.)

    I think your “two facts” do need to be kept in mind, although as a traditionalist I am a little bit skeptical about fact two. Not so much that the “pious, faithful, learned, spiritually profound theologians” that you speak of do not exist, but that they are not much heard from in the tumult.

    As I have told you before, I haven’t seen the arguments for the “progressive” side of things that are firmly grounded in Catholic orthodoxy and the Apostolic Tradition. I didn’t see them in the WO controversies of the 1970s, and I don’t see them now.

    That does not mean that they do not exist.

  3. AKMA says:

    Chris, I’m not at all surprised that you feel doubts about the second (just as I’m uncomfortable about admitting the first) — and the point is not to convince you that you’re flat-out wrong.

    The point concerns whether we’re actually dealing candidly with the full scope of the problem that besets us, or whether we’re trying to win at all costs. I have to admit the possibility that my more “conservative” sisters and brothers may truly have discerned the mind of Christ, and I have to be prepared to submit to their prevalence and beg their forgiveness, if I in turn want to uphold the possibility that they might have erred. Anyone who says that it’s possible that I’m wrong, but not that they are, has very little purchase on my attention and less on my respect.

    If on the other hand, we can sit down together and try to figure out what to make of the situation framed by the two facts I propose, without stipulating in advance the terms on which we emerge, I think we might be putting ourselves at the disposal of the Holy Spirit (rather than just invoking the Holy Spirit as the divine emblem for a side we’ve chosen on our own, as our own).

  4. Many on the top who oppose blessing SSUs and ordaining sexually actively gay bishops seem to have abandoned appropriate second-order epistemic humility: they believe they possess plainly evident absolute truth. That epistemic hubris contradicts ECUSA’s secondary theology e.g. in Christian Believing and The Anglican Vision, and it seems salient in the AAC’s push for re-alignment. Your choice of words, “very strong case” and “very sound theological reasons” ellides this reality with what might be your own rather different and partial view.

    That is, the conflict in ECUSA is not over issues per accidens, as you seem to think, but over issues essential–is the pragmatic comprehension you seem to call for safe when parties to the Communion have rejected its very conditions of discourse?

  5. Alan Jacobs says:

    This is very well said, AKMA. I’m going to try to respond briefly to one of your points, though it seems to me to raise deep questions that deserve deep reflection. Here’s the comment: “However problematic those sacramental gestures seem to some observers, and however many weak reasons that some proponents advance, a significant constituency of responsible Anglican theologians thinks that hetero- or homosexuality ought not determine full participation in church life.” What I am trying to understand is the significance of the “weak reasons” for the communal life of the church. That is, whatever “responsible Anglican theologians” might affirm, their arguments have had little effect in shaping the conversation within TEC. For instance, as a “reasserter” (I guess) I do not agree with the arguments developed by, say, Gene Rogers — but I recognize them as genuinely Biblical and seriously theological arguments, in the highest degree “responsible.” So however strenuous my disagreement, I recognize Rogers as operating within the scope of orthodox and historic Christianity, and therefore I see him as someone with whom it makes sense for me to be in communion. But when I listen to the way that Frank Griswold or Susan Russell or (worst of all) Gene Robinson articulate their positions — on the basis of a pneumatic unitarianism at least as hubristic (pace the Scotist) as any reasserter — their assertions (rarely do they take the form of arguments) are simply not recognizable to me as emerging from a Christian frame of thought and practice. But assertions of that kind, rather than the careful arguments of a Gene Rogers, have set the course for TEC; and it is for that reason that I am no longer an Episcopalian. That is, a church that makes its decisions in that way is not a church with which it makes sense for someone like me to be in communion: regardless of which “side” is right, the conceptions of Christianity are so divergent that a church simply cannot function — cannot set a course for ministry — unless one of them rules and the other is powerless. So for me the problem was not so much the theological or exegetical conclusions reached — though those do matter to me — as the means by which they were reached. If TEC made its decisions on Rogers-like grounds, I would probably still be a member — in a posture of opposition, but loyal opposition. As things stand, I couldn’t see a reason for remaining, since I learned that every argument I made and every concern I raised met with the same rote reply: “The Spirit is doing a new thing.”

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