Saturday, June 28, 2008

On "the Faith Once Delivered to the Saints"

[Note: This post is dedicated to all those who took part in the Global Anglican Future Conference in Jerusalem, in honor of the Statement and Jerusalem Declaration which that Conference has this day produced. I commend that Statement and Declaration to all serious Christians, and offer these thoughts on the task that faces each one of us as we strive to keep on God's path, as well as on the responsibility we each share in faithfully joining together to receive, to live and to hand on to others "the faith once for all entrusted to the saints."]

It has become fashionable among post-modern circles recently to criticize the supposed naïveté of those who cite Jude 1:3, "the faith once for all entrusted to the saints" (in the NET translation, which is closer to the Greek than the KJV quoted in the title), as though the words actually referred to some unchangeable body of historical Church beliefs. Thus, in response to the use of the phrase in a report from the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Ft. Worth, Katie Sherrod posted last week an essay by the Rev. Bruce Coggin which asks:
. . . the statement posits a historical phenomenon—a finite and identifiable configuration of Christian faith and practice—something solid, definable, and presumably superior to other options. Does such a thing in fact exist? Has it ever?
The Rev. Coggin proceeds to demonstrate, along the lines of Professor Bart D. Ehrman's Lost Christianities, that there was not a single monolithic early Christianity, but at least six---count them, six---competing versions in play before Constantine forced the Church fathers at Nicea in 325 A.D. to settle on the Official Version. (Actually, the Arian controversy---and the form of the Nicene Creed---was not settled until the Council of Constantinople in 381, which Father Coggin does not mention. There are other inaccuracies in his account which are noted in this comment on the Sherrod post.) This latter "Christianity" was itself a reaction by Athanasius and his followers against the followers of Arius, and was then later developed more fully by the Cappadocian Fathers, St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory of Nazianzus and St. Gregory of Nyssa, as told in somewhat more detail in Richard E. Rubenstein's When Jesus Became God.

A similar reaction followed Bishop Duncan's use of the phrase in his three-sentence response to a letter sent to him by Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori, warning him that she would institute "appropriate canonical steps" if he continued on his course to have the Diocese of Pittsburgh withdraw from TEC. The protest that the phrase referred to nothing actually extant was led by Bishop Duncan's Pittsburgh opponents, including Lionel Deimel, who wrote:
Bishop Duncan’s implication—the usual implication when “the faith once delivered” is invoked—is that the writer believes what Christians have always believed. Since the writer of Jude does not explicate “the faith,” however, we can only speculate about what he understood by the term. What is clear, however, is that much of the theology that became orthodox Christianity, that is, the consensus that emerged from the Council of Nicaea in the fourth century, was developed only after the Letter of Jude was written. Moreover, to the degree that conservatives insist on an earlier date for the writing of Jude, we know even less of what “the faith” refers to, even if it might be closer to the actual teachings of Jesus or the Apostles.

Of course, Duncan and his followers really don’t care what Jude’s writer meant; they are just latching onto a good sound bite. To them, “the faith [or Faith] once delivered to the saints” simply means what they believe and what they think everybody else should believe. That it includes, among other things, a good deal of medieval accretions and modern anti-Enlightment nonsense is rather beside the point.
The conclusion these writers intend one to reach is that the "faith" we have today is a much-compromised, man-made composite of competing and contradictory versions that flourished in different places at different times, and that it consequently can bear little, if any, relation to the so-called "original," which no longer exists in any form and which no one can describe today with any accuracy. Once granted that conclusion, the post-modernist delivers the coup de grace: "So what's wrong with re-interpreting the Bible as needed today to meet our present-day needs and knowledge? It's just as the Church fathers did in the past."

As with persons, so with doctrines: one knows them by the company they keep. It is not a coincidence that the Rev. Coggin's post on Katie Sherrod's blog has received favorable notice and comment from the following Websites and bloggers, among others: D.C. Toedt's The Questioning Christian, the Rev. Mark Harris' Preludium, Episcopal Cafe's The Lead, and the Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Kaeton, to name just four of the more well-known posters (not to slight the others here, here, here, here, here and here). It was also circulated on the House of Bishops/House of Deputies mailing list. But there was zero mention or comment (that I could find, at any rate) on any of the standard orthodox Websites.

This is not just coincidence: it is evidence, if any were needed by now, that the two sides of the debate excel in talking past each other, in not listening carefully to what the other is saying, and in being too quick with the put-downs, jibes and one-liners. But it is also evidence of a deeper rift. For the pieces by Father Coggin and Mr. Deimel are based on a thoroughly post-modern fallacy that anachronistically projects our 21st-century mindset back into the first or second century. One sees this clearly in the quote from Mr. Deimel above: he holds the writer of Jude to current-day literary standards, saying that since the writer does not explain or define his terms, we today are left to speculate as to what was meant.

Such an approach is akin to breaking into a tomb with a stick of dynamite: you may remove the gravestone, but what remains behind to examine will not be recognizable. Most readers of the Bible today are not aware of the differences that hinder our understanding of what lies behind a first- or second-century text. Let two experienced sociologists, Bruce J. Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh, explain what is involved (their remarks are with respect to the Gospel of John, but the context can be applied to Jude as well, and I have added the bold italics for emphasis):
Ethnocentric and anachronistic readings of the New Testament are quite common in our society. Such readings result from the fact that readers most often use scenarios rooted in their contemporary social experience to envision what they read in the New Testament. That the ensuing misreadings of ancient documents raise few mental eyebrows simply underscores our recognition that reading is a social act. Yet how can contemporary American Bible readers participate in a historically sensitive reading if we have been socialized and shaped by the experience of living in twentieth-century America rather than an alternate society of first-century Palestine? Will we not continue to conjure up reading scenarios that the first readers of John could never have imagined? If we do, of course, the inevitable result is misunderstanding. Too often we simply do not bother to acquire some of the reservoir of experience on which the author of John naturally expected his reader to draw. For better or worse, we read ourselves and our world back into the document in ways we do not suspect.

The important point we are making here . . . can be made in another way. The New Testament was written in what anthropologists call a "high-context" society. People in high-context societies presume a broadly shared, well-understood, or "high", knowledge of the context of anything referred to in conversation or in writing. For example, everyone in ancient Mediterranean villages would have had concrete knowledge of what sowing entailed, largely because the skills involved were shared by most male members of that society. No writer would need to explain it. Thus, writers in high-context societies usually produce sketchy and impressionistic documents, leaving much to the reader's or hearer's imagination. Often they encode information in widely known symbolic or stereotypical statements. In this way they require the reader to fill in large gaps in the "unwritten" portion of the document--- what is between the lines. They expect all readers to know the social context and therefore to understand the references in question.
(Social Science Commentary on the Gospel of John, p. 16; you may read the original here.) Malina and Rohrbaugh stress the obvious point that in addition to writing in a high-context society, the author of John was a member of a church, a select private (and equally high-context) society within the larger Palestinian society. Members of the church would have received instruction in the context of the "symbolic or stereotypical statements" that encoded religious doctrine and knowledge. The particular phrase used by Jude, "the faith once for all entrusted to the saints," indeed reflects this assumed special knowledge received through one-on-one instruction.

What we of the twenty-first century have to be on guard against, in reading and interpreting the language of the New Testament, is that we live in an entirely different type of society, a "low-context" society:
By contrast, "low-context" societies are those that assume "low" knowledge of the context of any communication. They produce highly specific and detailed documents that leave little for the reader to fill in or supply. Since the United States and northern Europe are typical low-context societies, readers from these societies expect writers to give the necessary background when referring to something not shared by all in the society. . . .

A moment's reflection will make clear why modern societies are low context whereas ancient agrarian ones were high context. . . . Life today has complexified into a thousand spheres of experience the general public does not share in common. There are small worlds of experience in every corner of our society that the rest of us know nothing about. . . . This is sharply different from antiquity, where change was slow and where the vast majority of the population had the common experience of farming the land and dealing with family, landlords, traders, merchants and tax collectors. People had more in common, and experience was far less discrepant . . . .

The obvious problem this creates for reading the biblical writings today is that low-context readers in the United States frequently mistake the biblical writings for low-context documents. They erroneously assume that the author has provided all the contextual information needed to understand it. Consider, for example, how many U.S. and northern European people believe the Bible is a perfectly adequate and thorough statement of Christian life and behavior! Such people assume they are free to fill in between the lines of the New Testament from their own experience, because if that were not the case, the writers, like any considerate low-context authors, would have provided the unfamiliar background a reader requires. . . .
(Id. at pp. 17-18; emphasis added.) I hope that the problems with Father Coggin's and Lionel Deimel's approach to reading Jude 1:3 are by now clear. The key to approaching the text is to assume that the writer had in mind a highly specific context for what he meant by "the faith once for all entrusted to the saints." Let us try to unpack just what that context was.

The first key to the context was mentioned (to his credit) by Father Coggin: it is the use of the Greek word hapax, an adverb meaning "once only," "once for all". This signifies an action that is fully in the past, over and done with, and is not an ongoing process as the writer speaks. Thus, resisting firmly the temptation to cite the (then) ongoing formation of the New Testament, as Father Coggin and Lionel Deimel do, we must ask: what aspect of "the faith" had been fully delivered, or entrusted, to the disciples by that point?

Since the entrusting was over and done with, it must have been the act of a person who was no longer living to be able to do so, and that tells us Jude must have been referring to the teachings of none other than Jesus, as transmitted to Jude and his contemporaries through Paul and perhaps some of the early Gospels. Jude is telling us that by the time he wrote, the teachings of Jesus had been handed over, and were well enough known and understood that the warning could be issued to the faithful to guard against false teachers.

Note that we have not yet solved the problem: exactly what did Jesus teach and entrust to his disciples? But we have taken a significant step toward its proper solution: we know from the context that Jude was not referring to, say, "gnostic Christianity" as we now use that term, or to "Pauline Christianity," or "Johannine Christianity," or any of the other myriad categories into which modern scholars like to atomize early Christianity for purposes of debate and discussion. The introduction of those categories imposes an anachronistic 21st-century reading onto the text: the very kind of thing Professors Malina and Rohrbaugh warned us against.

No, Jude was referring to what he and his recipients understood perfectly well they had been taught and had received from Jesus through the apostles---perhaps through writings that are no longer even extant, or through oral traditions that have not survived. Our task is to recreate that body of teaching as best we can through the documents and traditions that have survived, and filtering out (to the extent we are able) the specific wrinkles, viewpoints and biases that are peculiar to each subsequent author, to get at the core message beneath. Is it so hard for a post-modern mind to accept, for instance, that Jesus taught the two Great Commandments, that He was the fulfillment of the prophecies in the Old Testament, or that He was indeed the Son of God? Such messages come through all the centuries loud and clear, attested in numerous ways by numerous authors. (For details in any one instance of the best current scholarship, consult the series of books by (now) Bishop N. T. Wright or by John P. Meier. Even the Jesus Seminar is in agreement that there are some authentic sayings of Jesus.)

Thus the point is not that we can read Jude to derive exactly what was "the faith once for all entrusted to the saints": it is that we can read Jude today to know definitely that there was such a faith entrusted! We are in the situation of people who must try to put together again the myriad pieces of a treasured vase that has shattered on the floor. Now assume that years have passed, and that the pieces are further scattered among many different tribes and families. Each piece has a place in making the whole, if it can be recovered, recognized and put in the proper position. Except for the fact that the degree of dispersal of the original message is greater than ever today (which may be offset by the fact that the tools we bring to the task are more capable), we face the same task as Christians have throughout the centuries, namely, to find out as best we can from what is available what the faith so entrusted was---but knowing to a degree of certainty that it was at one time handed down from no less a person than Jesus Himself. The error in what Lionel Deimel or Father Coggin each tells us is that the job is too difficult, or even impossible, because there are too many variables. Those very variables, however, are modern-day academic constructs, designed only to reduce and classify, to distinguish and differentiate: they are not the message itself, either collectively or separately.

Where my analogy to the vase breaks down is that each individual Christian, for the sake of one's own salvation, has in the end to come to a conclusion about what the faith so entrusted was, in all its discoverable ramifications. One can seek and accept guidance from authorities one trusts and respects, but the final decision is the individual's responsibility. Paradoxically, however, this very reality imposes, I would submit, a greater responsibility on each of us as Christians to come together in a common effort to restore that faith, so that it can have the unity it had when Jesus entrusted it. And it places an enormous responsibility on those who, such as our bishops and priests, have been specially trained for and entrusted with the task of guarding the faith for its transmittal to subsequent generations.

But note well: the task is different in the case of interpreting for today something Jesus is reported to have said, as opposed to deriving a rule of conduct based on the absence of any evidence of what He said. And it is precisely in dealing with the absence of evidence of a given teaching that we moderns are most tempted to commit the fallacy of "reading between the lines," as Professors Malina and Rohrbaugh warn in the passage quoted earlier. Those who are comfortable, for example, in asserting that committed, long-term and loving same-sex relationships are not contrary to "the faith once delivered" are doing so on the basis of no evidence of a saying of Jesus to the contrary, while they have to reinterpret several sayings of Paul that many others have concluded are contrary to that practice (and they have to assume as well that Jesus in Mark 10:6-8 and Matthew 19:4-6 did not preempt the field with His theology derived from Genesis, as Professor Robert Gagnon forcefully argues). I stress again: one seeks the best guidance that one can, but the final call is one's own to make, and that is why one should first be certain not to read the Bible anachronistically.

The tools that Professors Malina and Rohrbaugh bring to the reading of first-century biblical texts should receive much wider attention than they have to date. Internet Websites are full of anachronistic readings of 21st-century thoughts and projections back onto the New Testament passages. We can evaluate the merits of these readings by remembering that the New Testament authors always had a highly specific context in mind for the words they used---a context which, unlike those of today, was almost always based in a widely shared and common experience, and which in the case of religious teaching, was based on individual instruction and shared readings. We lack much of that commonly shared context now, but that does not stop many of us from reading between the lines and supplying a context that fits in with our own individual experiences. When doing so, one has to realize that multiple interpretations will inevitably result from multiple readers, and the end-product of so many diverse readings can never---by definition---correspond to the faith that once and for all, long ago, was entrusted to the saints. It is thus our duty, as Christians, to seek all the ways possible to bring together again the scattered pieces of that faith, and to restore the force of what Jude and his readers experienced so strongly in its original context.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Ghost of Bishop Pike

The publicity machines are in full tilt over the Global Anglican Future Conference in Jerusalem (GAFCON). Both sides are cranking out their speeches and articles, and the usual Websites have full coverage and links for anyone interested.

In the midst of all the hoopla, I came across an essay worth considering, which I want to use as a launching pad for my own thoughts on GAFCON and the future of the Anglican Communion. Entitled "The Ghost of Bishop Pike, Revisited", it was authored by the Rt. Rev. Pierre W. Whalon, Bishop-in-Charge of the Convocation of American Churches in Europe, and echoes a piece on the same theme he had written a year earlier. Each invokes "the ghost of Bishop Pike" as a sort of spectral explanation for the inability of the Episcopal Church's House of Bishops to put a halt to the downward slide that is sending the Church slowly but inexorably into the Sea of Irrelevancy. Let Bishop Whalon explain:
A year ago, after the last House of Bishops meeting at Camp Allen, this writer composed a column about the ghost of Bishop James Pike haunting the House of Bishops. It is shorthand for the way in which we bishops in the House deal with each other—or rather, don't. Pike was a brilliant, mediagenic bishop who provocatively raised many difficult doctrinal questions, and then began a slow descent into mental illness. Rather than put him on trial for heresy or attempt to deal with him in a more loving way, he was censured, shoved out of the House, and eventually he went off into the desert of Judea to die.

What his ghost accuses the House of Bishops of is not necessarily the way he died, but rather the way the House decided not to deal with him head-on. Not to be caring about him, when he so obviously needed help. And as he steadfastly refused such help, the House decided not to discipline him, apparently because he threatened to unmask Jesus as a revolutionary zealot on the pages of the New York Times if the bishops tried.
The inability of the House to deal with such problems has been manifest ever since:
In any event, since the Pike affair, the House of Bishops has engaged in a great deal of avoidance behavior. The issues that Pike sought to raise have not gone away, indeed they have come upon all of us: the role of women and gays in the church, sexual morality, the adequacy of doctrinal formulations like the Creeds, and so on. In response, the Episcopal Church as a whole has invested heavily in its legislative processes as a means of dealing with these and other issues.
However, the polity of The Episcopal Church is not well suited for achieving a unified approach:
Furthermore, we are talking about the General Convention. Our system of government looks like the American secular politics we are so familiar with, but in fact, it differs significantly. The Constitution of the United States calls for a strong central government, while the Episcopal Church Constitution explicitly prevents one. We are a confederation of dioceses, essentially the same structure since Bishop William White designed our polity in the 18th century.

As a result, legislation is rarely binding upon all the dioceses. General Convention's resolutions are non-binding, unless they change the constitution or canons, including revising the Prayer Book. Using the General Convention to effect change in the church is an ungainly process at best, not only because the balance of the Houses of Deputies and Bishops is not offset by a strong president and independent judiciary, but also because of the problems inherent to a body of nearly one thousand voting members.
Such problems result inevitably in the rise of warring factions:
And when it comes about, change by legislation creates a division between winners and losers. As a result, following a trend in secular politics, lots of interest groups have formed to influence the Convention in one direction or another. As the decisions of Convention have evolved, so have these groups, clustering together along the political spectrum.

These clusters of groups at either end of the spectrum curiously resemble each other. Their rhetorical style is similar, inventing lexicons of invective like "heterosexist" and "homoerotic." They organize fundraisers to pay for campaigns to lobby Convention. Each, sadly, has invited the other to leave the church. Now since Lambeth 1998, both are involved in a struggle to persuade the larger Communion that theirs has the right to be considered the "real" American Anglican province. Our side must win and the other side must lose, even if we must involve the whole world. In style, at least, they are so similar . . .
Bishop Whalon has seen the effects of this polarization first-hand at the meetings of the House, which continues to be haunted by the ghost of Bishop Pike:
All voting bodies, including the ecumenical councils, create winners and losers. And there is a time for such decisions. But what has been missing for a long time in the Episcopal Church—and I for convenience date it to the bishops' censure of James Pike at a meeting in Wheeling in 1966—is a process for deciding when such votes are necessary, and for putting the church back together following them. And where this lack is most clearly felt is in the House of Bishops. Unlike the Deputies to Convention, who have to be re-elected in order to return to their House, the bishops are in their House for life and meet much more often. So the consequences are felt much more directly.

By trying to avoid the inevitable conflicts that rapid change has forced upon us, we bishops have by and large helped it increase to unmanageable proportions. When Bishops John Spong and John McNaughton nearly came to blows during the 1991 Convention in Phoenix, bringing it virtually to a halt, an annual spring retreat for the bishops was inaugurated for conflict management. And yet, despite earnest attempts at a process to effect reconciliation, the maneuvering of the two groups has continued to make conflict avoidance the easiest way out.
The conflict within became the conflict without:
But unmanaged conflict has to come out somewhere, and so it has appeared in the larger church. While a diocese-by-diocese gradualist approach to the acceptance of women's orders, same-sex unions and ordination of partnered gays has prevailed, there have been abortive attempts to stem the tide from the other end. A proposed resolution to Convention 1994 that would outlaw the opposition [to women's ordination] (designed to [be] voted down and so legitimize dissent) was turned into a committee to investigate how the remaining dioceses who do not ordain women were to comply. Someone made the attempt to trademark the name "PECUSA, Inc.", and so control the name of the church. An assistant bishop who had ordained a gay man to the diaconate was brought up on charges (instead of the diocesan responsible) which the court threw out because there is not and never has been an explicit canon or rubric forbidding such ordinations. These of course only fueled the conflict further.

Then at Lambeth 1998 the conflict spilled over into the Anglican Communion. Serious lobbying for the moral authority of the Conference and eventually the Communion to outflank or confirm the American political process began in earnest. Finally General Convention 2003 made a decision (to consecrate the Bishop of New Hampshire) and passed a resolution (not to authorize the creation of rites of same-sex blessings). There ensued the Windsor Report, the Primates Communiqué ... and now the Covenant.
Writing this essay in March 2005 just after the House of Bishops had voted to suspend all consecrations until General Convention 2006, and not to authorize same-sex blessings (which resolutions he terms a "Covenant"---not to be confused with the proposal for an Anglican Covenant), Bishop Whalon permitted himself a small ray of hope:
Time will tell whether the Covenant marks a beginning of a new style of our leadership as a House, or simply staves off the inevitable schism for a little while. But as the fruit of a spontaneous collaboration of bishops from across the spectrum, it has a freshness to it that I deeply hope is a harbinger of an alternative to the spiral which has a death-grip on us all.
Now, three years later, we see that the basis for optimism has vanished. Led by a purpose-driven (i.e., hell-bent) Presiding Bishop whose election the Rt. Rev. Whalon could not have foreseen in 2005, the House of Bishops is more than ever haunted by the unexorcised ghost of Bishop Pike. The factions in the House have become more and more unequal, as even the once-moderate have been driven to take sides, and a litmus test is applied to all new candidates. The revisionists have gained the upper hand, and in September will most likely rubber-stamp Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori's uncanonical maneuver to throw the Rt. Rev. Robert Duncan out of the Church without a trial. There will follow in quick succession equally uncanonical "depositions" of Bishops Iker and Ackerman, plus any others who are in sympathy with them. By the spring meeting of the House in early 2009, the purge will be complete. The Episcopal Church will be minus four dioceses, and by that same time there will be five major lawsuits pending (including Virginia, which will probably be on appeal by then), in which TEC will be trying---mostly unsuccessfully, I predict---to defend its "hierarchical" polity. The drain on the budget for legal expenses will be enormous. This financial drain will result in the departure of still further thousands from the pews, and may embolden still more dioceses to revolt.

The result will inevitably be that TEC will no longer be in any condition to claim that it has an exclusive franchise on Anglicanism in the United States. If GAFCON results in anything permanent as promised, there will be a new North American "province" by 2010---recognized not officially, perhaps yet, by the Anglican Consultative Council or the Archbishop of Canterbury, but by most of the provinces of the Global South. That "province" will co-exist territorially with TEC despite all the lawsuits, which as I predict, TEC will ultimately lose---ironically, because it is trying to deny to member churches and dioceses the very kind of democracy which it says is at the heart of its polity, and because the courts in the end will take the side of open, democratic processes rather than the side of despotic, rule-flaunting apostates and heresiarchs.

Those are strong (curmudgeonly) words, but the present times do not call for tea and crumpets. Here is Bishop Whalon again, to close with his invocation of the specter of Bishop Pike:
The term "irreconcilable differences" is still floating among us, even though, as the Presiding Bishop pointed out, there is a real faithlessness about it. Nevertheless, the accumulation of decades of unmanaged conflict and point-counterpoint has brought us to the point of total rupture. . . .

It would take years of hard work and lots of good will to develop better conflict management in the House of Bishops and thus finally allow the shade of Bishop Pike to go home. Maybe we have made a little start. Schism must be avoided. It is nothing less than chopping up the Body of Christ, giving the lie to the Gospel we preach, disobeying Jesus' commandment that we love each other as he has loved us, and diminishing the Church far more severely than other ways to deal with conflict and even heresy.

If a schism happens, there will lots more ghosts at future meetings of the House of Bishops. Let us pray that the Spirit will convince us to take another path.
Let us, indeed, pray---now harder than ever. With the close of GAFCON, the future will be upon us, and Lambeth as currently planned will consist of fiddling while Rome burns. Rome went on for hundreds of years after the fire, and so, no doubt, will the Anglican Communion. At the bottom of the slope, however, waits the great Sea of Irrelevancy---to swallow up all that which, on its inexorable downward slide, so desperately seeks to be called "relevant."

Or, to change the metaphor to go with Bishop Whalon's theme, what awaits The Episcopal Church on its current course, led on by the ghost of Bishop Pike, is years of wandering lost in the desert, to perish ultimately for want of spiritual nourishment in some figurative cave by the Dead Sea.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Lambeth at the End of the 20th Century: The Rest of the Story

[UPDATE 07/11/2008: Father Webber has published a revised summary of his history at Timesonline. He corrects some of it in light of criticisms made here and elsewhere, and he brings it up to date with a reference to GAFCON (without, however, mentioning it by name). His overall thesis remains, however, the same: change has occurred, is occurring now, and will occur again; better to be nice and go with the flow than to dig in your heels and oppose it, because you might just be wrong---like those bishops at the early Lambeth Conferences.]

We come now in our survey to the last of the Sunday bulletin inserts prepared by Episcopal Life from a longer series (Part IV of which is here, with links to the earlier parts) by the Reverend Christopher Webber which appeared on the former Episcopal Majority Website. In many ways, as we shall see, it is the worst of the lot. [UPDATE 06/25/08: For an entirely different manner of subjecting the bulletin insert to critical analysis, be sure not to miss this post.]

The anonymous reductor(s) have let the prescribed Episcopal Life agenda completely dominate the historical reality of what happened at the 1988 and 1998 Lambeth Conferences. In short, what Episcopal Life is offering churchgoers is not history, but undisguised propaganda.

Look at the very beginning of the June 22 insert:
The Lambeth Conference can recommend but not command. The bishops had said there was a need for careful study of sexual issues at their 1978 meeting, but when they came together again in 1988 the study had not been done and tensions were greater than ever.
This makes it sound as though Lambeth itself was responsible for a supposed failure to have what the anonymous reductor calls "the study" done by 1988. Well, in the first place, Lambeth 1978 did not call for some single, generic study of sexual issues. Here is the relevant portion of the resolution it passed on the subject (with bold print added for emphasis):
While we reaffirm heterosexuality as the scriptural norm, we recognise the need for deep and dispassionate study of the question of homosexuality, which would take seriously both the teaching of Scripture and the results of scientific and medical research. The Church, recognising the need for pastoral concern for those who are homosexual, encourages dialogue with them. (We note with satisfaction that such studies are now proceeding in some member Churches of the Anglican Communion.)
There is no call here for some single, monolithic study, to be ready in time for Lambeth 1988---as the reductor should have noted from his/her own earlier summary, "The Lambeth Conference can recommend, but not command." Instead there is recognition that there is a need for the subject to be studied, and that several individual churches had begun their own studies in the area. The Lambeth Conference had no control over the content or the timing of those studies.

The insert continues:
The bishops found themselves discussing “the present impaired nature of communion.” They said there was a great need for “sensitivity, patience and pastoral care towards all concerned.” But bishops facing intractable divisions were “encouraged to seek continuing dialogue with, and make pastoral provision for, those clergy and congregations whose opinions differ from those of the bishop, in order to maintain the unity of the diocese.” How separate pastoral provision would maintain unity was not explained.
If the bishops could not agree on homosexuality, they did find themselves able to agree to reverse themselves on a stand taken one hundred years earlier and allow the baptism of polygamists if they promise not to marry again and if the local community were agreeable.
There is no attempt at context here. If you believe from this passage that there were already divisions in the Church in 1988 over homosexuality, requiring in some cases the making of alternative pastoral provision in order to maintain unity, you could not be more wrong. The language of the first paragraph is actually quoting from the 1988 Lambeth resolution on the ordination of women to the episcopate! That topic, along with the question of women's ordination in general, was dividing the Anglican Communion in 1988, and led to the break-off of a number of groups from The Episcopal Church (as I have detailed earlier in this account). But the anonymous Episcopal Life reductor (and not, I should emphasize, the Rev. Webber in his post) has seen fit to recast history, by employing a highly misleading introduction to the next paragraph: "If the bishops could not agree on homosexuality . . .", thereby giving the impression that the previous paragraph had been describing that topic. To the contrary---and if you are not yet incensed by such blatant manipulation, well---read on.

Even that last suggestion, that "the bishops in 1988 could not agree on homosexuality," is a bald-faced lie---for the bishops in 1988 reaffirmed what they had said in 1978 on homosexuality. The only disagreement, in 1978 as well as in 1988, came from those who dissented from the respective resolutions adopted by the majority---but the archives do not disclose just how many such dissenters there were.

The remaining body of work accomplished at Lambeth 1988 accounts, of course, for naught in the reductor's agenda. Thus is omitted all that might really be relevant to the reader who might want to put Lambeth 2008 into perspective with prior conferences. For example, the insert neglects to mention, in light of the proposal for a draft Anglican Covenant that will be considered at the 2008 Conference, Resolution 17 of 1988 that "recommends to the Churches in their own particular situations that they progress from mere coexistence through to co-operation, mutual commitment or covenant and on to full visible unity with all their brothers and sisters in Christ." (Italics added; see also the more precise Resolution 19.) Also, it might have been worthy of note that the Conference took a stance on the introduction of shari'a law which is quite at odds with the recent position of the Archbishop of Canterbury. And what about Resolution 18, entitled "The Anglican Communion: Identity and Authority," which included recommendations (1) that "encouragement be given to a developing collegial role for the Primates Meeting under the presidency of the Archbishop of Canterbury, so that the Primates Meeting is able to exercise an enhanced responsibility in offering guidance on doctrinal, moral and pastoral matters"; (2) "that in the appointment of any future Archbishop of Canterbury, the Crown Appointments Commission be asked to bring the Primates of the Communion into the process of consultation"; (3) that while Lambeth Conferences should continue to meet "at appropriate intervals," (4) "regional conferences of the Anglican Communion should meet between Lambeth Conferences as and when the region concerned believes it to be appropriate." In support of these recommendations, the Resolution noted:
We see an enhanced role for the Primates as a key to growth of inter-dependence within the Communion. We do not see any inter-Anglican jurisdiction as possible or desirable; an inter-Anglican synodical structure would be virtually unworkable and highly expensive. A collegial role for the Primates by contrast could easily be developed, and their collective judgement and advice would carry considerable weight.

If this is so, it is neither improper nor out of place to suggest that part of the consultative process prior to the appointment of a future Archbishop of Canterbury should be in consultation with the Primates.

On 3 above: We are convinced that there is considerable value in the bishops of the Anglican Communion meeting as bishops, both in terms of mutual understanding and as an effective agent of interdependence.

On 4 above: Regional issues need regional solutions. Regional conferences can also provide for wider representation.
I cannot of course speak for everyone in TEC, but I for one, at least, would have appreciated being told of these resolutions in light of the issues that will be discussed in 2008 revolving around the much-discussed Covenant. Given Episcopal Life's agenda, that was not to be. No, we are to come away from the bulletin thinking that Lambeth 1988 was all in an uproar over homosexuality, and that the battle lines had been drawn for the Great Confrontation of 1998.

So we come to the bulletin's account of the 1998 Lambeth Conference---a fait accompli, in our anonymous reductor's eyes. In a "building bridges" variation on the famous (and much discredited) "Fried Chicken" attack, he/she recounts:
Before the 1998 Lambeth Conference convened, First World conservatives began building bridges with Third World bishops in preparation for the next gathering. Instead of trying to understand each other, factions were forming in preparation for battle. The result was prolonged and angry debate.
Notice the all-out political rhetoric deployed here: "First World conservative bishops", and "Third World bishops." (What about "Second World bishops"? Didn't they have anything meaningful to contribute to the dialogue? ---And who would they be in this revolutionary scheme of things, anyway? The bishops from the Church of England? Surely not; surely not even Episcopal Life would be guilty of such patent reverse colonialism.) "Prolonged and angry debate"? (Here the reductor is simply using Father Webber's words.) This is a projection of what the liberals felt after being unable to convince African ("Third World") bishops to climb on their bandwagon. Contrast this revisionist account to a contemporary one that characterizes the debate as "solemn and orderly---(with a few exceptions)." Moreover, it is adding insult to injury to suggest that the votes of the African bishops in 1998 were motivated by political or financial (or even culinary!) considerations.

Needless to say, the work of the 1998 Lambeth Conference is once again conflated by our anonymous reductor into just Resolution 1.10, which is described in a very deprecatory tone:
As to homosexuals, the bishops committed themselves “to listen to the experience of homosexual persons” and “assure them that they are loved by God and. . . full members of the Body of Christ,” but homosexual practice was rejected “as incompatible with Scripture.” A resolution referring to homosexuality as a “kind of sexual brokenness” and calling on bishops who ordain homosexual persons to repent was defeated but the bishops found that they could not “advise the legitimising or blessing of same-sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same-gender unions.” They called for a Listening Process, but again many churches failed to take part and others were unwilling even to listen.
"[M]any churches failed to take part and others were unwilling even to listen"---could any tone more propagandistic than this be employed? Churches failed to take part---in what? Was there some organized activity following Lambeth 1998 in which each individual Episcopal parish was invited to participate? Of course not; this is our reductor's intellectual fantasy.

And "unwilling even to listen"? Listen to what, specifically? There was no single position statement following Lambeth 1998 prepared by homosexual activists; the refrain of "being unwilling even to listen" is again a modern-day projection read onto the "solemn and orderly" debates in 1998 as described by Stephen Noll in the article cited earlier. "Listening," incidentally, is a two-way process, calling for giving as well as getting. One cannot listen for long to a monotonic harping that never acknowledges there may be two sides to the debate, and which itself does not model any "listening" for others to emulate.

So the work of the 1998 Lambeth Conference, including its acceptance of the Virginia Report (a predecessor to the Windsor Report) and the work of the Eames Commission on women's ordination, including the endorsement of a period for reception and discernment, is passed over in favor of stressing its reaffirmation of a 1988 Resolution calling for bishops to respect diocesan boundaries---one that had particular reference to TEC's continuing projection of its presence into Europe, where the boundaries were particularly unclear. Once again, the point rings as one-sided without the full perspective of what the Conference was actually addressing in its resolutions.

The bulletin series concludes with a peroration that is condensed from that of Father Webber's series. It is instructive to compare the two, for then one sees exactly the editorial bias of the anonymous Episcopal Life reductor(s). The conclusion begins with the deprecatory note sounded by Father Webber (this is taken over relatively intact; I have indicated deletions from his text with brackets, and bolded the additions):
A summary of such a tumultuous history is all too likely to reflect the concerns of the moment and the point of view[point] of the individual historian. This review has focused on two central issues: changing understandings of gender and sexuality, and the balance between diversity and unity. [In recent years the emergence of new “instruments of unity” has raised new questions as to the relative significance of Lambeth, primates, and the Consultative Council with a critical underlying issue of the relative power of clergy and lay people.] In regard to the concerns of the moment, the initial hesitancy [of the bishops meeting at Lambeth] to pronounce on anything at all rapidly had shifted [until,] in the latter part of the 20th century, when  there were few things on which the conference did not have an opinion. The initial insistence on dispersed authority left a vacuum which the [primates] Primates Meetings now seem determined to fill. In regard to gender and sexuality, earlier positions taken on polygamy, birth control, and remarriage after divorce have been reversed.  
(The last sentence condenses an entire paragraph of Fr. Webber's text.) One sees how editing the original text has changed the overall motif and theme. As I noted at the outset of this series, the theme of the Episcopal Life inserts was not Father Webber's original theme of "unity in diversity," but rather "Change: It's Healthy, Necessary, and Inevitable"---and specifically, changes in attitudes about gender and sexuality. The proper title for the Episcopal Life series should have been "A Quick Survey of Birth Control, Polygamy and Homosexuality at the Lambeth Conferences." Certainly, having finished the four parts, a reader might be forgiven for coming to that conclusion---but then, such a title would hardly be suitable for the Sunday bulletin, would it?

In the final paragraphs we see the reductor(s) plainly at work to change the tone and emphasis. Once again, I have put brackets around deletions from, and have bolded additions to, Father Webber's original text:
All this seems to raise again the central question of [the] Anglican life [ethos]: Can a Christian community exist without a central authority and narrow definitions of doctrine? [For centuries, royal authority and unquestioned cultural traditions enabled Anglicanism to survive and even thrive without such authority and definition. A world-wide community, existing in widely different cultures, no longer has these built-in supports. This might be an advantage if Anglicans were prepared to accept the variety of styles, theologies, liturgies, and polities that have resulted. One might imagine a community in which Christians were willing to accept strong episcopal authority in some places and strong lay leadership in others, narrow interpretation of the Bible in some societies and a more liberal interpretation in others. Why should African bishops have to dress like Victorian prelates and Japanese Christians be required to worship in Gothic buildings? Yet these cultural trappings have been accepted and the more significant differences that might reflect a truly encultured gospel have left us badly divided and on the verge of dissolution.] One proposed answer is an Anglican covenant, which some see as a hopeful way forward, but others reject it as changing the focus of Anglican life from communion to laws.

A careful review of our history, even one narrowly focused on some aspects of the Lambeth Conference, might lead us to be less sure of ourselves, [more ready]readier to listen, and more willing to leave a generous room for difference. If so many definitive statements of Lambeth have proved [so] subject to change, how sure should we be of our own current pronouncements? Might it be better to recognize that we might be wrong again; that sexual attitudes may be culturally conditioned; [and that we have yet to succeed in striking a proper balance between Biblical authority and cultural conditioning? Is it possible] that we [serve God’s church] do best when we do least to divide ourselves and do most to center our [common] life on a pattern of worship that draws us closer to the redeeming love of God? This year's conference will seek to provide guidance on these questions. It will need our prayers.

I rest my case.

[A printable version of this post may be found here.]

Monday, June 16, 2008

More Skulduggery in San Joaquin

It would seem that the Rt. Rev. Jerry Lamb and his newly constituted Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin are not content simply to file a lawsuit and seek redress in the courts---they also want to take the law into their own hands. The actions described on the official blog site of the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin---holding a secret meeting with members of a mission, without proper notice to the rest of the congregation, at which a "vote" was taken to disaffiliate and join with TEC, and then moving in aggressively to fire the existing Priest and Senior Warden, and change the locks---are tactics unworthy of one who professes the Christian faith. But they are of a piece with the Constitutional and canonical violations by which Bishop Lamb assumed his "office" in the first place. (There are more facts about the situation disclosed in the comments to this story, which is based on the official account.)

The contrast here could not be plainer: Bishop Schofield has set into place procedures by which any parish or mission in his diocese could go through a period of discernment to decide with which church they wanted to affiliate. No pressure or compulsion; just democratic procedures, announced in advance and easy to follow. But Bishop Lamb sees nothing wrong in trying to force the issue with a sneak attack that leaves more than half of the mission (counting the priest in charge) now locked out of their building, and the priest in charge out of a job, without having gone through any democratic procedure whatsoever. If this is part of his program of "reconciliation," it is hard to see how that program will achieve its objective by the use of such scofflaw tactics.

[UPDATE (06/17/2008): News from a third source has added some nuances to the picture, but has not changed the basic outline. It appears that the priest in charge had lost the confidence of those members of the mission who had decided to go with Bishop Lamb, and that they changed the locks in an effort to keep him from accessing church files and records, fearing that he planned to remove them. Also, there may be support for the move from more than half of the congregation, although whether it is informed support, or just a case of follow-the-leader, remains to be seen, because no noticed meeting to discuss the options was ever called or held. What remains beyond dispute is that Bishop Lamb moved aggressively to exploit the situation by presuming to fire the priest and the senior warden, and that Bishop Schofield's democratic procedures to determine the parish's true wishes in the matter were never followed.] 

I am also informed that Bishop Lamb and his Diocese, having succeeded in persuading Merrill Lynch to freeze various funds that had been held in the name of Bishop Schofield's corporation sole and of his diocesan trust, are resisting the return of certain of those funds to the control of the individual churches and missions for whose benefit they were held. That is, even though the funds were not funds of the diocese, but rather held in trust for the individual churches and missions to whom they belonged, and from whom the funds had come in the first instance, Bishop Lamb is not willing to release the funds back to those churches and missions without controls in place that would give him veto power over any expenditures beyond those needed for routine payroll, utilities, and so forth. This would give him powers with regard to those churches and missions that Bishop Schofield had already relinquished (to at least one of the parishes in question). It signals the new kind of authority that TEC's leadership wants in place over anywhere that might have a few restless natives among the population. It also is a foretaste of the kind of centralized authority that will be created under the canonical changes that could be adopted by GC 2009.

These actions will eventually get sorted out in court, when Bishop Lamb will be unable to prove that he is the duly constituted and installed Ecclesiastical Authority of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin. Until that time, it looks as though those in the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin had better batten down the hatches and be on the guard against further sneak attacks.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Lambeth from 1958 to 1978: The Rest of the Story

The Episcopal Life Sunday bulletin insert for June 15 has its agenda clearly marked all over it: its theme is nothing less than "How the Bishops at Lambeth Grew in Wisdom and Came to Love Birth Control." To achieve its end, it does not shrink from misquoting and mischaracterizing resolutions, and distorting the work and accomplishments, of the three decennial Conferences of 1958, 1968 and 1978. Unlike the first two inserts in the series, this agenda has been taken over more or less intact from the portions of the longer series by Father Webber that deal with these Conferences. Let's have a closer look, beginning with the work of the 1958 Conference.

The insert notes in a summary that the 1958 Conference produced 131 resolutions, "carefully organized under 8 headings . . .". (There are actually only seven major headings, but who is going to quibble over that kind of inaccuracy? There are lots of bigger fish to fry.) Then it proceeds to focus on just two of the twenty resolutions dealing with "The Family in Contemporary Society," and in quoting them, says:
Marriage, they said, is a "vocation to holiness" and the idea of the family is "rooted in the Godhead." Consequently, the bishops agreed, "all problems of sex relations, the procreation of children, and the organisation of family life must be related, consciously and directly, to the creative, redemptive, and sanctifying power of God.”
. . .
To say, as they now did, that family planning is “a right and important factor in Christian family life” is to admit either that they had been wrong in 1920 or that the times had changed—perhaps both were true. It was the first of several issues on which the bishops would reverse earlier stands in the last half of the 20th century.
These quotations attempt to show a conflict with a resolution the Bishops passed in 1920, but the conflict is just not there in the originals. Here is the resolution adopted in 1920:
Resolution 68

Problems of Marriage and Sexual Morality

The Conference, while declining to lay down rules which will meet the needs of every abnormal case, regards with grave concern the spread in modern society of theories and practices hostile to the family. We utter an emphatic warning against the use of unnatural means for the avoidance of conception, together with the grave dangers - physical, moral and religious - thereby incurred, and against the evils with which the extension of such use threatens the race. In opposition to the teaching which, under the name of science and religion, encourages married people in the deliberate cultivation of sexual union as an end in itself, we steadfastly uphold what must always be regarded as the governing considerations of Christian marriage. One is the primary purpose for which marriage exists, namely the continuation of the race through the gift and heritage of children; the other is the paramount importance in married life of deliberate and thoughtful self-control.

We desire solemnly to commend what we have said to Christian people and to all who will hear.
In Resolutions 69 and 70 from the same Conference, the Bishops explained that they viewed the use of prophylactics to prevent infection, and the sale of contraceptives, to constitute "an invitation to vice." So in the language of Resolution 68 just quoted, they emphasized "the paramount importance in married life of deliberate and thoughtful self-control" as the principal means of family planning. Now take a look at this Resolution adopted at the 1958 Conference:
Resolution 113

The Family in Contemporary Society - Marriage

The Conference affirms that marriage is a vocation to holiness, through which men and women share in the love and creative purpose of God. The sins of self-indulgence and sensuality, born of selfishness and a refusal to accept marriage as a divine vocation, destroy its true nature and depth, and the right fullness and balance of the relationship between men and women. Christians need always to remember that sexual love is not an end in itself nor a means to self-gratification, and that self-discipline and restraint are essential conditions of the freedom of marriage and family planning.
So in 1920 the Bishops called for "deliberate and thoughtful self-control," and in 1958 they used the words "self-discipline and restraint". This is an admission that in 1920 they were wrong? To the contrary---the Bishops were being consistent, and it is the bulletin insert that has it wrong. It is true they did not repeat their earlier condemnation of artificial methods of birth control as being conducive to vice, but the repetition of "self-discipline and restraint" as "essential conditions of . . . family planning" is hardly an endorsement of such methods.

Having set up the false conflict, the bulletin insert now passes immediately to the Lambeth Conference of 1968, where it will continue its theme. In doing so, it fails to discuss any of the significant work of the 1958 Conference in the areas of acknowledging the accomplishments of scholars in publishing (in 1952) the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, of encouraging further ecumenical discussions with a wide variety of denominations, including the Presbyterian Church, the Methodist Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church, as well as the calling of an international ecumenical conference; its continued call for the formation of what would become the Anglican Consultative Council (not as yet, however, envisioned with the participation of the laity); on Prayer Book revision; its warnings about "wandering Bishops," or episcopi vagantes; and on the causes of international disarmament and world peace. Such topics do not fit the prescribed agenda, so the reader will not be told of them.

The Conference in 1968 passed a resolution that took issue with the Pope's recent encyclical banning all forms of artificial birth control. However, in doing so, the Resolution quoted the resolutions from 1958 discussed above, including the one calling for "discipline and self-restraint." Rather than saying they were wrong about the contraceptives available in 1920, the Bishops seemed to be saying that newer and more modern methods of birth control could be considered "in the light of the continuing sociological and scientific developments of the past decades." But the bulletin's reductor (see my first post about this term)---and Father Webber, too, cannot pass up the opportunity to take a jibe at the Bishops for "changing their mind."

The remaining summary of the work of the 1968 Conference is fair in calling attention to the establishment of the Anglican Consultative Council, with the full participation of both laity and clergy, and the decision to refer to it the knotty question of women's ordination. Nevertheless, it still omits to mention the passage of Resolution 67, entitled "The Role of the Anglican Communion - Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence", with language foreshadowing that of the Windsor Report nearly forty years later:
(a) The Conference records its gratitude for the concept of mutual responsibility and interdependence in the Body of Christ, and for the renewed sense of responsibility for each other which it has created within our Communion.

(b) The Conference believes that a developing MRI has a vital contribution to make to our relationships within the whole Church of God. It therefore summons our Churches to a deeper commitment to Christ's mission through a wide partnership of prayer, by sharing sacrificially and effectively their manpower and money, and by a readiness to learn from each other. . . .
Nor is there any mention of the Conference's recommending that subscription to the Thirty-Nine Articles no longer be required of ordinands.

Next the bulletin insert turns to the 1978 Conference, but barely mentions its work. The reason is that this was the Conference that noted the practice of ordaining women to the priesthood had already begun, and that the ordination of women to the episcopate could not be far behind. It also was the first Conference to call for "deep and dispassionate study of the question of homosexuality," while reaffirming "heterosexuality as the scriptural norm." The anonymous reductor, you see, is setting up the "failure" of Lambeth to deal with the problems that plague the Church today, by showing us its supposed failures and reversals on other issues in the past. Nothing could be more unfair to the serious work accomplished at the 1978 Lambeth Conference. Unlike its recent predecessors, this Conference was more concerned with substance and quality, rather than sheer quantity: it produced just 37 resolutions, most of which are still worth looking at today. The very first resolution, entitled "Today's World," is too long to quote here, but contains a number of memorable observations which are still of value, and it was followed by a second resolution that deals with the implementation of the first one---so it was not just an espousal of fine-sounding platitudes, but a call to action. There was also a resolution endorsing the recommendation of the newly-created Anglican Consultative Council to create an "inter-Anglican theological and doctrinal advisory commission." Although the Advisory Commission has met several times since its establishment, and produced some reports, it seems as though it has yet to find its place as a potentially unifying force within the wider Anglican Communion, and its activities to date did not dissuade the Lambeth Commission in its Windsor Report from calling for the creation of a Communion-wide Covenant.

It is indeed a shame that the editors at Episcopal Life could not find it in themselves to give the Sunday reader more of a true perspective on the work of these three Conferences. What I believe they illustrate is that a ten-year period between meetings was becoming too long in light of the gradually accelerating pace of social change. The collective spirit and consensus embodied in the various resolutions began to dissipate as the individual bishops returned to their sees and had to cope with local problems and conflicts, and in the gap, the synods (assemblies) of the individual national churches began to move to the front and assume the primary responsibility for staking out positions that were not always in harmony with what had been voted at Lambeth. As we shall see in the final installment next week, these nationalistic pressures eventually became too much to contain within the framework of a decennial gathering.

[A printable version of this post is here.]

Friday, June 13, 2008

Showdown in Salt Lake City

The Diocese of Pittsburgh has just raised the stakes in the coming showdown that will take place at the fall meeting of the House of Bishops from September 17 to 19 at Salt Lake City. At that meeting, as I have explained in an earlier post, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori intends to bring a resolution to the floor to depose the Rt. Rev. Robert Duncan, diocesan of Pittsburgh, from his see on charges that he has "abandoned the communion of this Church" under Canon IV.9.

The problem with her doing this is that she is violating the plain language of the Canon: it provides (with italics added for emphasis) that "the inhibited Bishop . . . shall be liable to deposition," and the Presiding Bishop did not receive the required consents to inhibit Bishop Duncan. Canon IV.9 therefore cannot lawfully be used to depose him, but that fact apparently gives no pause to Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori or to her Chancellor, David Booth Beers.

Bishop Duncan and his attorney have already objected to the Presiding Bishop's plans to ask the House of Bishops for consent to Bishop Duncan's deposition without a trial, and an objection is certain to be raised from the floor. The parliamentarian for the House of Bishops, the Rt. Rev. John Clark Buchanan (retired diocesan of West Missouri), has not been presented with the question before, because it was not raised during the similar "deposition without inhibition" of the Rt. Rev. William J. Cox at the House of Bishop's meeting at Camp Allen in March 2008. (The discussion about the actions taken at that meeting has primarily focused on the fact that the required "majority of the whole number of Bishops entitled to vote" was not present, and so the vote to depose failed to carry.) How will he rule in the face of the plain language of the canon? If he advises against proceeding under Canon IV.9, will the Presiding Bishop refuse his advice and proceed anyway? And if her ruling to proceed is challenged on the floor, will there be a sufficient majority to overrule her? The applicable Rule of the House is Rule XV of its General Rules:

XV All questions of order shall be decided by the Chair without debate, but appeal may be taken from such decision. The decision of the Chair shall stand unless overruled by a two-thirds vote of those present and voting. On such appeal, no member shall speak more than once without express leave of the House.
Note that the number here is expressly described as two-thirds "of those present and voting" (emphasis added). So we have yet another instance of language from the canons and rules that discredits those who contend that "a majority of the whole number of Bishops entitled to vote" means the same as "a majority of those present." (The phrase "the whole number of" never appears in the Constitution and Canons as a means of describing just those who are present at a meeting.)

Thus if the Presiding Bishop is determined to break the law, and if the Bishops present at the meeting are not inclined to stop her, the odds are overwhelming that those same Bishops will join her unlawfulness in voting to depose Bishop Duncan. This will set the stage for the showdown with the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

Bishop Duncan, in consultation with his Standing Committee, has announced that the date of the Annual Convention this year has been moved forward to October 4 in anticipation that the House of Bishops will (illegally) vote to depose him on September 19. At the Convention, the deputies will be asked to vote on three resolutions that together will have the effect of putting the Diocese under the jurisdiction of the Province of the Southern Cone, and removing it from the jurisdiction of The Episcopal Church.

By moving the date forward, the Diocese of Pittsburgh has ensured there will not be sufficient time for TEC to make any moves to take over the Diocesan machinery following its claim to have "deposed" Bishop Duncan. In the first place, there will be an obvious question as to the validity of any vote to depose, and so just as in San Joaquin, there will remain an uncertainty as to whether Bishop Duncan has been removed from his position or not. (Can't the Presiding Bishop understand that by proceeding in defiance of Canon IV.9, she makes it impossible to claim that TEC has followed its established procedures? Once again, she is hobbling her ability to argue that the Diocese is acting unlawfully, when she is acting just as unlawfully herself.) And should the Presiding Bishop try to repeat her actions in San Joaquin, by declaring that she "does not recognize" the diocesan Standing Committee as the Ecclesiastical Authority in the place of Bishop Duncan, there will be insufficient time to call a rump convention of the dissenters before the group following Bishop Duncan will have taken their vote. So it will be San Joaquin all over again: the Diocese will change its Constitution and Canons, the Presiding Bishop will attempt to "derecognize" the Ecclesiastical Authority and, with the cooperation of the dissenters, call a convention to appoint a provisional bishop. Once such a bishop is in place, he or she will be the figurehead in a lawsuit to recover the churches and their property from those who have left.

Now, before addressing metaphysical arguments about it being impossible for a diocese to remove itself from TEC, and about acts of thievery, let me emphasize the obvious: there are those, already organizing themselves, who as I say will not go along with the ones who vote for the resolutions, and who will remain a part of The Episcopal Church. Thus there will still be enough dissenters left to call themselves a Diocese of Pittsburgh within TEC, and it will be entirely possible to organize them without the necessity of disregarding the canons, as was done in San Joaquin. (For details, see this earlier post.)

The real issue at stake is whether, under the First Amendment's freedom of association guaranteed to us all, a group of people within the territorial area of The Episcopal Church have the freedom to disassociate from it and associate themselves as a group under the jurisdiction of a different church within the Anglican Communion. Stated in that way, the answer appears obvious, does it not? Not even TEC can place limits on the freedom of its members to associate with other churches; all it can constitutionally do (under the United States Constitution) is pronounce such persons (and churches, and dioceses!) no longer constituent members.

People can associate in different legal ways: they can form a partnership, a corporation, or an unincorporated association, to state just a few possibilities. (According to the complaint filed in San Joaquin, TEC is itself an unincorporated association organized under the laws of New York.) I assume the Diocese of Pittsburgh is also an unincorporated association, but in the final analysis it does not matter. As long as it follows Pennsylvania laws in amending its Constitution and Canons, at a duly called meeting of its deputies at which a defined quorum is present, the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees that it has the right to do so, and the Constitution of TEC can have nothing to say about the matter. For if GC2009, or some other General Convention, were to try to adopt an amendment to TEC's Constitution saying that "no diocese of this Church shall have the power to amend its Constitution or Canons so as to deaccede from the Constitution of this Church," such an amendment could not be enforced without violating the First Amendment's freedom of association guarantee. That Amendment has long been read to mean that neither the federal government nor any State can dictate how people shall organize themselves, and thus---just as in the cases involving racial covenants--- TEC would not be able to get a State court to order a diocese to "unamend" its Constitution and Canons. The most you can constitutionally do (and TEC has done this), is to specify how people have to organize themselves if they want to be part of your organization.

So I really do not care to entertain arguments about how "a diocese (or parish) cannot leave this Church": they can, indeed, and TEC cannot constitutionally prevent them. But as a practical matter, there will always be dissenters left behind to pick up the pieces and carry on as the diocese (or parish) in question, so in the end there will be no outward change---except in the numbers, and in the properties. (Ah, the properties! A complex subject, because there are so many different State laws and precedents, and deserving of several posts---here's one, for starters. Suffice it for now to say that accusations of theft and stealing are grossly over-exaggerated, as well as ridiculously oversimplified.)

Reduced to its bottom line, then, what we will see in Salt Lake City is whether TEC is prepared to follow and observe its own canons, or whether it will make up, on the spot, law to suit its temporary ends. If it takes the latter step, its lawlessness will be plain for all to see. It will also serve as its own kind of justification for the actions that will be taken two weeks later at Pittsburgh. (What seeker of justice has to remain part of a Church that cannot follow its own laws?)

At that point, I can safely predict that a 21st-century Reign of Terror will begin in TEC, with the remaining orthodox Bishops deposed in short order. It will be done with or without inhibiting them, for what will it matter to the lawless ones at that point? Nor will it matter whether there is a sufficient majority to vote for the depositions; they will be pronounced as having carried (by a voice vote), and none will challenge the chair. Mr. Beers will have his associates busy filing new suits in Pennsylvania, Texas and Illinois, and instead of calling it The Episcopal Church, people will be entitled to call it "The Ejecting Church", or maybe "The Eroding Church," or even more simply, "The Plaintiff Church."

This is where a scorched-earth policy will take TEC. Is that what the assembled Bishops in September really want? Maybe they haven't thought about it---but now I've spelled it out, and it's not all that difficult to see. There is still time for an alternative track to be explored, which would involve a serious (and substantive) implementation of Alternative Episcopal Oversight, with guarantees to file no more lawsuits, and to dismiss those now pending. Can they come together to discuss this at Lambeth? It's a perfect opportunity, since both the Presiding Bishop and Bishop Duncan will be there.

I have to admit that the likelihood of any such discussion taking place is vanishingly small. And that is what strikes me about the inevitability of the coming destruction. It's as though the Presiding Bishop and her cohorts are truly deaf to cautions that they should not proceed any further down this road. Is it a case of "hardening her heart," as happened long ago with Pharaoh and his resistance to the Israelites' attempts to leave his country? The consequences for TEC may be less devastating than they were for Egypt, but they will be just as bleak: years and years of lawsuits, gazillions in legal fees, and a highly uncertain outcome. The Bishops gathered at Salt Lake might want to reflect before they choose such a future.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Lambeth Between Wars: the Rest of the Story

The Sunday bulletin insert produced by Episcopal Life for June 8 covers the Lambeth Conferences held before and after World War I and World War II---the Conferences of 1908, 1920, 1930 and 1948. The Conference twice had to be postponed due to the impossibility of gathering during a time of war. At the same time, when they did manage to assemble, it was during a time of great social and political upheaval, particularly in the aftermath of the destruction that had been caused, and the rebuilding made necessary. These were not easy times for those whose faith was vulnerable to testing, and the consistency of doctrine reflected in the resolutions adopted by the wartime Conferences is a testament to the firmness of the moral compass provided by the bishops of the Anglican Communion during these years.

Unfortunately, there is little sense of any such moral integrity to be gained from the deprecatory tone of the bulletin insert. The text starts off neutrally enough:
When the Lambeth Conference met in 1908 the bishops were entering a new century and facing new issues. Their focus in 16 resolutions was, appropriately, on education and training both for ministry and lay people. There was a greater interest as well in ecumenical relationships, especially with the Orthodox, the Old Catholic Churches, and the Presbyterians. The conference condemned the opium trade and deplored the growing "disregard of the sanctity of marriage." Those who were divorced, they said, could not be remarried in the Church, though the "innocent party" might be readmitted to communion after a civil marriage. Birth control and abortion were condemned.

Ironically, the bishops, while "frankly acknowledging the moral gains sometimes won by war," rejoiced in the "increasing willingness to settle difficulties among nations by peaceful methods." The outbreak of World War I caused the postponement of their next meeting.
This is all fine, as far as it goes. There were 241 bishops attending the 1908 Conference; it was by far the largest Conference to date, and it adopted in all some 78 resolutions on a wide range of topics. The Episcopal Life account mentions the resolutions prohibiting divorced persons, even "innocent parties" in cases of adultery, from being remarried in the Church; it does not note that the latter prohibition carried by a bare majority of 87 to 84. Thus it is not correct to imply that the mind of the Church was monolithic on this point.

But it is the apparent purpose of the Episcopal Life series to show, as I said in my first post, that change is not only healthy and necessary, but inevitable. Thus the assembled Anglican bishops in the war years are not to be singled out for their moral leadership in a troubled era, but rather for their antiquated obstinacy in facing the winds of change. The insert takes on a somewhat mocking tone as it continues:
Meeting in 1920, the bishops had nothing to say about any "moral gains" that might have been won but did commend the League of Nations to the people of the world. Americans rejected that advice. The most revolutionary statement they made was to advise that women (who had just been given the right to vote in America) could be admitted to any office in which a layman might serve. It took nearly 50 years for the American Church to catch up with that and allow women to serve on vestries and as deputies to General Convention. In a more conservative mood, they continued to condemn birth control and linked it with prostitution in calling on governments to end “the open or secret sale of contraceptives, and the continued existence of brothels.”

Women’s ministry was a major concern, but the restoration of the order of deaconesses was all they could recommend.
It is difficult to know what to make of the overall message here, because the unknown reductor apparently cannot make up his or her mind: were the Americans correct to reject the League of Nations, and advanced in allowing women the right to vote? Maybe the reductor is unaware that Britain had given women the right to vote two years before America did, and Finland, Australia and New Zealand years before that. And what are we to make of the jibe at the American Church for taking another 50 years to follow England's example of allowing women to be deputies to General Convention? It is instructive to compare to the passage I have just quoted the following paragraphs on the same topic:
The First World War made it necessary to postpone the next Lambeth Conference until 1920, and the war had begun to change settled views on a number of issues. Women, said the 1920 conference, should be admitted to all councils in the church in which lay men served. Here the conference was, indeed, staking out new territory. It took the Episcopal Church in the U.S. another fifty years to get itself in line with Lambeth and admit women as deputies to its General Convention.

On other matters of gender, however, the bishops at Lambeth were much more hesitant. The use of contraception was seen as a “grave danger - physical, moral and religious,” and the distribution of prophylactics was seen as “an invitation to vice.” The bishops believed that the use of such materials “threatens the race.” An echo of this viewpoint might be found in the response of the Church in Nigeria to the request of the 1998 Lambeth Conference that the Communion should listen to homosexuals as the Nigerian Church stated that such practice “threatens . . . the continuation of the race.” The bishops called on Christians everywhere to bring pressure on governments to end “the open or secret sale of contraceptives, and the continued existence of brothels.”
Here at least we have a consistent viewpoint: it is the familiar one of today, where the 1920's are ancient history, the opinions of that time are hopelessly antiquated, and a supercilious parallel is drawn between the anti-homosexual stance of the Church in Nigeria today (with no awareness of its doctrinal struggle against militant Islam, whose followers do not proselytize among gays) and the anti-contraceptive stance of the 1920 Lambeth Conference. (Unlike present-day TEC, the bishops at Lambeth had more on their minds than the author credits them with in this passage; for an example of their broader thinking, see this resolution, and view this list of the eighty in all that were adopted in 1920.) The bias here is unabashed, and not confused at all, as in the reduced version. The author of the second passage just quoted is, of course, Father Webber, from whose article on the topic Episcopal Life has condensed its June 8 Sunday bulletin. All of which just goes to show that the analogy that I drew at the outset of this series---the quality of the condensed product turns on the material one starts with---is incomplete. It needs to add: "and it depends on the skills of the cook." I find it fascinating to see how the post-modern TEC outlook finds it necessary, in order to reach the masses in the pew, to tinker with an essay that is already biased heavily toward its own point of view. It appears to be another example of a chef who cannot leave the broth alone!

The Sunday insert sums up the entire work of the 1930 Lambeth Conference, comprising 75 resolutions in all, in just two words: "birth control," and the Episcopal Life message is an attack on the doctrine (expressed first in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer) that marriage is instituted primarily for procreation. The agenda here is to prepare the reader for the current TEC views on same-sex marriages and their blessing in church. That means, of course, that the insert cannot quote the first of the Conference's resolutions on marriage:
The Conference believes that the conditions of modern life call for a fresh statement from the Christian Church on the subject of sex. It declares that the functions of sex as a God-given factor in human life are essentially noble and creative. Responsibility in regard to their right use needs the greater emphasis in view of widespread laxity of thought and conduct in all these matters.
No, that would not fit at all with the current agenda. Nor would the next resolution:
The Conference believes that in the exalted view of marriage taught by our Lord is to be found the solution of the problems with which we are faced. His teaching is reinforced by certain elements which have found a new emphasis in modern life, particularly the sacredness of personality, the more equal partnership of men and women, and the biological importance of monogamy.
And least of all, this resolution:
The Conference affirms:

the duty of parenthood as the glory of married life;

the benefit of a family as a joy in itself, as a vital contribution to the nation's welfare, and as a means of character-building for both parents and children;

the privilege of discipline and sacrifice to this end.
Even though I am a curmudgeon, I still find it striking that the Sunday bulletin reader not only is not told about these resolutions defining high goals for Christian marriages, but also that at the end of the bulletin one finds this extraordinary statement: "Not until 1958 would the Bishops begin to construct a positive theology of marriage . . ." (italics added). What in the world does Father Webber (for as we shall see, this is his own view of the matter) think the Bishops were saying in 1930?

I could go on at considerable length about the accomplishments of the 1930 Lambeth Conference, in the areas of race relations and discrimination, women's equality and ministry, Church provincial structure, the Communion itself, and more. Anyone interested is invited to follow this link to the resolutions organized by topic, and to browse among any topic of interest to determine for oneself whether the dismissal of all this work with the words "birth control" is as outrageous as I have tried to suggest.

The bulletin insert gives a little more space to the 1948 Conference, but continues to manifest a sardonic tone. The Bishops can "do little more than repeat themselves" on the tired subject of marriage, and they did not begin to work on a "positive theology of marriage" until the next Lambeth Conference, in 1958. Nothing is mentioned of the tremendous dislocations which the Church was trying to cope with after the War; of how the entire structure of parish-based charity, and care and visitations of the sick and elderly, had been dismantled in the crisis; and of how the bishops at Lambeth took the epochal step of agreeing that primary responsibility for welfare would be transferred from the Church to the State. Recognition of this shift came with the nationalization of health and welfare services in that same year, when the Government takeover of private hospitals amounted to the largest seizure of property in England since Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries. Thus started a trend in Britain that gradually undermined the role and the authority of the Church of England in social life---for, as one wag put it, "What was the point in worshiping in Westminster Abbey when Jesus had departed for Whitehall?" Note that a consequence of this trend is making the headlines in Britain today: the Government has marginalized the ability of the Church to play any significant role in social welfare.

Well, that was quite a history lesson. I didn't know when I started that there would be so much to touch upon which the Episcopal Life insert either twisted, or omitted entirely. Next week I shall take a critical look at Part III of their series, and I have no doubt but that there will be much more to discover.

[A printable version of this post is here.]