Yesterday I wrote a long-ish comment on Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams’s recent response to General Convention. I didn’t post it, because I didn’t do a good enough job of clarifying the difference between how I feel about the current state of things (on one hand) and what seems practicable, honest, viable, and in keeping with demonstrated trajectories of thought and behavior.

The short answer is that his statement reminds me vividly of the legend of Thomas a Becket. I stress “the legend,” because my point doesn’t depend on what the historical Thomas was really like (or was he married to Mary Magdalene in the South of France by Leonardo da Vinci); the legend, however, simplifies Becket to the man who placed a higher emphasis on his sense of the office of Archbishop than on his friendship with Henry and his roistering temperament. I read Williams as a theologian serving the office of Archbishop as best he understands, over and above his personal inclinations. I respect that a lot, even when I wish it led to different outcomes.

If I were to place his response on a spectrum that extends from “my ideal plausible response” (omitting, that is, mass miraculous conversions of the heart) to “oh, my heavens, I can’t endure that” (and omitting “the renewal of Dioceltianic persecution), this sounds closer to “pretty good” than “pretty bad.” Whether U.S. church leaders are right or not, the whole of the Anglican Communion is not on board with their understanding of the gospel, and I can7’t see a sound theological basis for requiring that the rest of the church to let us have whatever we want and remain in strong ecclesiastical communion with them. (By the way, I wholeheartedly agree with what Alan Jacobs wrote here a few days ago: I’m sick and tired of hearing that “the Spirit is doing a new thing,” without the rich, respectful theological argumentation that might confirm people’s identification of the Spirit’s activity in recent developments.)Granted that the U.S. church isn’t about to repent, Williams’s picture of a two-tiered communion that grants the Episcopal Church use of the Anglican tag, but excludes it from doctrinal and policy decision-making just plain makes sense.

I wish we hadn’t come to this place, but I don’t see Williams making a more congenial response to where we’ve been taken.

3 thoughts on “ABC

  1. Fr Adam,

    I wish we hadn’t come to this place, but I don’t see Williams making a more congenial response to where we’ve been taken.

    This is a very curious thing to say, expressed in a very curious manner. You say where we’ve been taken; exactly who or what is it that has taken you to the place where you have been taken? And when you say I wish we hadn’t come to this place, it suggests that you have been taken to this place against your will. By what means have you been forced to be taken to this place against your will?

    You are a free man. You can choose to embrace and hold fast the apostolic and catholic faith (which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly) or not. Your brothers and sisters in the Anglican Communion have put you on notice that the Episcopal Church has departed from that faith, and they have backed that up with the threat (and soon the reality) of excommunication. Either they are right, or they are wrong. They have chosen; so must you. But no one “takes you there”.

    I know that you think that there is rich, respectful theological argumentation that can show that the Episcopal Church’s course is the right one based on Catholic orthodoxy. But it has become clear that the leaders of the denomination have no use for such argumentation (or, perhaps, that they are incapable of it). Your own embrace of Catholic fulness is laudable; but do your leaders share that commitment? and what does it mean if they do not?

  2. It’s hard to talk about these topics without seeming to cast blame on others, or without my stipulating that some of my sisters and brothers (but not I) bear the responsibility of enduring discrimination and obloquy while the Spirit sorts out the present situation.

    I’ve said before that I wish the U.S. church had devoted more time and resources to fuller interaction with other churches in the Anglican Communion. If, for instance, we had a far-reaching program of faculty interchange among teaching institutions, everyone involved would understand better what the stakes are for those other Anglicans, and it might have been possible for us all to make progress toward mutual respect in a way that obviated, or miniimized, the stress many of us now feel.

    Here’s a short way to think about my frustration: I don’t see a simple choice between what’s right (on one hand) and unity (on the other) — true unity issues in and sustains “rightness,” and “rightness” unites us with one another. To the extent that cultural and ecclesiastical forces set people at winning a conflict, we all have failed of unity and rightness (I think that’s part of ++Williams’s point). Somehow, disciples of Jesus who want to glorify God and integrate their faith harmoniously with their sisters and brothers in Christ need to find something to do other than alienating those with whom they disagree — or, at worst, to reach a clear and deep sense of exactly what shape the disagreement takes.

    For instance, don’t scold me (not to suggest that you, Chris, accuse me of these things) for shallow invocations of the Spirit’novelty-mongering, for wanting to drive “conservatives” out of the church, for not caring about the worldwide church, and above all for abandoning creedal orthodoxy; though I may be wrong, I defend fiercely the faith for which the saints gave their energies. My error, if it be error, is more subtle and complicated than that.

    And I won’t accuse others of homophobia, misogyny, pig-headedness, nostalgia for an illusory past, and other unedifying charges.

    Perhaps my wish runs this way: that we all situate our efforts so as to learn how we might be wrong, rather than to shore up our determination that we prevail.

  3. For me, the argument that the Holy Ghost is doing something new was utterly dispelled by a reread of Newman’s Apologia. Securus judicat orbis terrarum. Admittedly, the whole world is not of one mind against ECUSA, but (at least from my limited perspective) most of catholicity is. I don’t believe the Spirit operates through schism or by putting communion asunder. If ECUSA is going to be the trailblazer of new ecclesiastical practice in the Communion, well, then bully for it. But it can’t keep throwing up the ever more transparent non-argument of Paracletic [is that a word?] Imperative. One may begin to wonder whether we are channeling the Holy Spirit, or rather Montanus, himself when we do this.
    That is not to say that those who support ECUSA’s current direction are theologically void. There is a respectable amount of good writing and thinking out there. I worry that rather than using this available theology to persuade, proponents (on both sides) are taking legislative and unilateral action in order to foist their beliefs upon others. It may be three years of David Cunningham talking now, but it seems to me that the Holy Spirit has always been an agent of conversion rather than coercion.

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