Friday, June 11, 2010

The Perils of Episcopalianism

I haven't commented much on the current tensions between the Episcopal Church and the Archbishop of Canterbury, mostly because far greater minds than mine have covered this ground much more thoroughly. The best place to go for a round up of really thoughtful commentary on the crisis is at Thinking Anglicans, not here. TA recently posted excerpts and links to 2 excellent and thoughtful commentaries, one from Andrew McGowan in Australia and the other from Father Jake. There is another long comment by Bill Caroll in the comment thread of Father Jake's piece that is well worth reading.

I am not in favor of unilaterally leaving the Anglican Communion. I think such a move would only hand our enemies an easy and undeserved victory. We would abandon friends and those such as women and LGBTs in Africa and Asia who really need us. I do not favor financial boycotts. Perhaps we should not be expected to bankroll lavish primatial get-togethers intended to scorn us, but those are only small portions of our contributions to the Communion. We were founders of the Communion. We have always had an interest in the success of the Communion. I see no reason to abandon it now, even if so much of the Communion leadership is in thrall to right-wing (and American) power and money.

At the same time, I see no reason to alter our character and constitution as a church to preserve the Communion. I see no reason to allow those who would replace the Creeds with a stand on homosexuality as the litmus test of Anglicanism and Christianity to dominate the international forum. I'm not willing to sacrifice any part of the membership of this church to preserve our place in the Communion. We should only leave if we are kicked out. If there really is a move to remove us from the Communion, then that is something beyond our control.

I support our Presiding Bishop in her response to Canterbury. I think her stance is the right one. The Communion matters to us as Episcopalians. We value our international ties. We support the work of the Communion. However, we are an independent church, and we intend to remain so. Our positions on matters of sexuality and gender equality are not some momentary whim. They are the end result of almost 50 years worth of argument and discernment. While not all Episcopalians are agreed on these issues, there is an emerging consensus in our church. Our church remains intact. The expected tidal wave of defections over women's ordination and Gene Robinson's consecration never happened. We are being singled out unjustly, and we will not meekly acquiesce.

I doubt that we ever will be forcibly ejected from the Communion. Beyond the Central African churches, I don't think there is much stomach for it. I don't think it is entirely a matter of money. There are too many small informal local ties between our church and other churches around the world. No one wants to see those broken. Expelling us from the Communion would be extremely divisive. I could see other churches splitting apart over the decision. It would also set a very bad precedent and call into question the whole ecumenical mission of the original Communion declarations.

Christianity is dying in Western Europe, even in Spain and Ireland. It is not exactly in robust health in the United States either with church membership and attendance declining across the board, especially among the young. The moral authority that Christianity once enjoyed among non-Christians eroded away long ago by scandal, hypocrisy, and identification with right wing reactionary politics (just ask the Spanish Catholics). Though Africa now has the embattled convert's fervor, it is not unreasonable to think that the same process of decline could happen there too.
There are times when I think the Christian religion should die in order that the Christian faith might continue. But, a lot of babies would be lost with that bath water, perhaps too many to make the sacrifice worthwhile.

Churches are worldly and political institutions. Like all worldly and political institutions, churches are compelled by the grim logic of success versus failure and must play to win. The Church may well be the mystical Body of Christ on Earth, but as Saint Theresa of Avila reminds us, we with all our flaws act as Christ's eyes and limbs in this world. As another priest I know once reminded her congregation, the Body of Christ on Earth is not exactly buff and athletic. It is our mortal and vulnerable bodies together. Sadly, our individual flaws become compounded when we come together. Christ's work in this world gets done though us as the Church, but more often than not, it gets done despite us.


Leonard said...

Emerging seems like it is resurrection from much´s hard to stand up but not impossible because TRUTH=REALITY is strong and there are fewer and fewer places for the cowardly of spirit to hide.

James said...

Well stated!

davis said...

A very good post, Doug.

JayV said...

I agree with James and davis.

Your essay has an eloquence I cannot even come close to having. Thanks.

Lapinbizarre said...

I think that in hindsight this will be seen as a watershed week - Kearon, Canada, Scotland, KJS in the UK, and the Virginia ruling. McGowan's excellent piece - at last something good from the excellence that is in the Australian Church - is a first swallow in the broad realization in the Communion at large of what is at stake in Williams' moves to marginalize TEC.

In spite of the criticisms of the Canadian Church's faint-heartedness, the resolution it adopted stating that it "will consider a formal decision to adopt the proposed Anglican Covenant after the Church of England has formally adopted it." is a formula that I hope that other churches, TEC included, will adopt. It flings the issue firmly back where it belongs - in Rowan's own front yard.

The Religious Pícaro said...

This is the best reasoned comment I think I've read on the matter.