Saturday, June 12, 2010

A (Temporary) Solution for the Anglican Communion

In the recent flare-up of hostilities between the (choose one) conservatives/liberals - reasserters/reappraisers - left/right - traditionalists/(post)modernists
over the Archbishop of Canterbury's summary removal of ECUSA clergy/scholars from the various ecumenical dialogue groups, I began to despair whether there would be any way possible to bridge the widening gap.

For simplicity's sake in what follows, I choose to designate the warring factions arbitrarily as "the left" and "the right". There is no epistemological disparagement or praise intended in these labels; they are simply the shortest ones at hand, and are readily understandable to anyone.

What exactly did the Archbishop do? There are two versions, one coming from the right, and one coming from the left:

The Right says that the Archbishop appointed the people to the various commissions by authority granted when they were established, and so they serve at his pleasure. The power of appointment subtends the power of de-appointment, i.e., of removal. He does not have to give any explanation for his act, but he did, nevertheless: he expressed the very reasonable expectation that those speaking for the Communion be able to represent and articulate what an overwhelming majority of its members believe. (The Episcopal Church [USA] has at best only 2.5% - 3% of the churchgoers in the Anglican Communion -- but it wants to speak its version of the Gospel ["those partnered in same-sex relationships are just as holy in Jesus' sight"] to other faiths as though it were an established doctrine of the Communion. The Archbishop's removal of ECUSA's members from the ecumenical commissions reflects nothing other than that, coming from such a minority church, they present exactly the wrong impression of who speaks for the Communion as a whole, in tune with the frequently expressed wishes of its vast majority. [N.B.: I do not for a moment suggest or insinuate that the individuals whom the Archbishop removed actually espouse ECUSA's view of the Gospel; it is just that they serve in the Episcopal Church, and that is enough. As a member of that same Church, I, too, would not expect to be appointed to a position where I was to appear as speaking for the whole Communion when I belong to a Church that advocates the exact opposite viewpoint, and is haughtily proud of that fact. My national Church shames me, but as I have explained before, my local church still makes me proud to be a member of it.])

The Left is all over the map on this. Some claim that those who were appointed have "tenure" until they choose to resign on their own, and thus the people affected can simply refuse to stand down. Others claim that the power of appointment / removal is lodged elsewhere in the Instruments of Communion, such as with the Anglican Consultative Council, because it is more "democratic." Still others assert that only a Pope could fire anyone from an ecclesiastical position, and they reason that since the Archbishop of Canterbury is no Pope, ipso facto he cannot remove anyone. The bottom line for the left, however, is that the Archbishop has acted arbitrarily / unlawfully, because no matter how small their numbers, they are entitled to just as much respect for their support of same-sex relationships as is anyone else in the Communion. They conclude from this event that if such arbitrary actions are what the proposed Covenant would allow to take place, then they want nothing to do with any Covenant.

I believe this is a fair and objective summary of the opposing views on this subject. The bottom line is that the right recognizes the authority of the Archbishop to act, and is thankful that he finally acted. The left, on the other hand, concedes no such authority to the Archbishop, and regards his action as arbitrary and unlawful -- and what is worse, discriminatory.

Now this discrepancy in views presents a very interesting analytical problem. Let me don my "right-cap", and ask the left: "Although you are a small minority in the Anglican Communion, you are asserting the right to have the bishops whom you decide to elect and ordain be recognized as legitimate bishops throughout all the churches of the Communion. (You were predictably "outraged" when the Archbishop of Canterbury refused to allow Bishop Robinson to participate in the 2008 Lambeth Conference.) So if you claim the right arbitrarily to elect as a bishop whomever you want, a bishop whose orders must be recognized throughout the Communion, why are you so put out when others act arbitrarily (in your view) as well? Is this not a double standard on your part? That is to say: the whole Communion must allow you to do whatever you decide is right, but no one else can do what they decide is right, if it goes against what you believe?"

Or stated another way: is the left saying that the Anglican Communion is a fine organization as long as it allows us to decide who may be one of its bishops, or which of us may speak on its behalf, but it becomes a tyranny / arbitrary magisterium when others decide that those whom we declare to be bishops, or see named to ecumenical councils, are not to be recognized as such in the Communion as a whole? Where is the "fairness" in that? It is a case of "Heads we win, tails you lose."

Let's face it: the Presiding Bishop of ECUSA wants to claim the sole power to decide who is a bishop in ECUSA, and the House of Bishops has been her willing enabler. At the same time, however, she wants all the other provinces to respect the decisions she makes in that regard. And it is that expectation which gives rise to the problem, because both she and the majority of Episcopal bishops steadfastly refuse to follow their own Canons in confirming and in removing their colleagues.

Electing and ordaining a bishop, through the historical tradition of apostolic succession, is not an act that one denomination in the church catholic may declare on its own to be sacramental. The authority of the sacrament comes from the fact that it is nothing less than an "outward sign instituted by Christ to bestow grace." The grace conferred by the sacrament can come only from Christ, and not from any bishops participating in the ceremony.

It follows that no unilateral act of consecration by "The Episcopal Church" (USA) can confer the grace of Christ on an elected bishop, unless that grace come from Christ himself. And the Episcopal Church (USA) has no exclusive agency from Christ to bestow His grace: it is a partner, in fellowship with the other churches of the Anglican Communion.

Herein lies ECUSA's fallacy (not that the left will recognize it as such): it arrogates to itself, in the name of abstract goals of "peace and justice", the right to bestow Christ's grace on any persons it pleases to regard as called to the episcopate, regardless of that person's "sexual orientation", because its democratically adopted Canon III.1.2 declares it so:
No person shall be denied access to the discernment process for any ministry, lay or ordained, in this Church because of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, disabilities or age, except as otherwise provided by these Canons. . . .
[Historical Note: This version of Canon III.1.2 was finally adopted by General Convention Resolution 1994-D007, after unsuccessful attempts to add such language beginning with GC 1985, and continuing regularly every three years thereafter. (The left is nothing, if not persistent.) Of significance is the fact that all such attempts, including the final one in 1994, originated with the Committee on Ministry of the House of Bishops. Its passage came only after the debacle of the Righter trial, the Koinonia Statement, and a major confrontation at Indianapolis over the discretion of dioceses to decline to ordain women.]

The left absolutely relies upon this Canon (as well as upon the 1979 BCP's baptismal covenant) to confer the authority to bestow holy orders upon those in same-sex relationships. What I want to do in this post is to remind the left of certain inconvenient facts on the ground.

In the first place, the claim for what Canon III.1.2 authorizes is bogus. The left treats "access to the discernment process" as a right to be ordained, regardless of one's "sexual orientation." But that is precisely what the Canon does not say -- in fact, thanks to the perspicacity of an amendment originally offered by Bishop MacNaughton of West Texas in 1988, it declares the exact opposite in its very next sentence (emphasis added):
No right to licensing, ordination, or election is hereby established.
Thank goodness for that sentence -- it recognizes that neither ECUSA, nor any other branch of the church catholic, has the power to confer, or to recognize, any right to ordination, or even to election. When one speaks of a sacrament conferred by the grace of Christ, it is nonsense to speak of any "right" to receive that sacrament.

But the left obstinately refuses to recognize that limitation on the church's authority. For the Presiding Bishop and her supporters, all that is necessary for her to arrange for the conferment of episcopal orders is a valid election in accordance with the canons of the diocese carrying out the election, and a confirmation of that election in accordance with ECUSA's own canons. The "right" to be ordained thereby ensues, regardless of what the rest of the Communion may think. Indeed, she has pled, as a justification for the consecration of Canon Mary Glasspool at which she officiated, the "polity of ECUSA", in which all of its canons regarding election of a bishop were scrupulously observed. For her, that ends the discussion.

And that is just what ails the Communion today. The left will travel no other road but its own; it refuses to concede any authority to those on the right to decline to recognize the orders it confers. At the same time, however, note that the left insists on its right to declare as "renounced" the orders of any clergy who should elect to go elsewhere in the Communion without having had the decency to make a voluntary renunciation of those orders first.

A question for the left: why on earth do you suppose that any clergy transferring to another province of the Communion would wish to "renounce" their holy orders in the church catholic, into which they were ordained? You may well wish to document that they are no longer licensed to officiate in ECUSA, but that is already accomplished by Canon III.9.6, which provides that no minister may function as such in any diocese of the Church without a license:
No Priest shall preach, minister the Sacraments, or hold any public service, within the limits of any Diocese other than the Diocese in which the Priest is canonically resident for more than two months without a license from the Ecclesiastical Authority of the Diocese in which the Priest desires to so officiate.
Rather than require a transferring clergy member to renounce his Ministry in ECUSA, therefore, all that would be necessary is a requirement that he/she surrender the license theretofore given by the Ecclesiastical Authority. But that is not what the renunciation Canon says -- the Canon in question (III.9.8) makes it abundantly clear that a person so doing is not simply surrendering his or her license to preach in ECUSA:
If any Priest of this Church not subject to the provisions of Canon IV.8 shall declare, in writing, to the Bishop of the Diocese in which such Priest is canonically resident, a renunciation of the ordained Ministry of this Church, and a desire to be removed therefrom, it shall be the duty of the Bishop to record the declaration and request so made. The Bishop, being satisfied that the person so declaring is . . .acting voluntarily and for causes, assigned or known, which do not affect the Priest's moral character, shall lay the matter before the clerical members of the Standing Committee, and with the advice and consent of a majority of such members the Bishop may pronounce that such renunciation is accepted, and that the Priest is released from the obligations of the Ministerial office, and is deprived of the right to exercise the gifts and spiritual authority as a Minister of God's Word and Sacraments conferred in Ordination. . . .
It starts off mildly enough, with language about renouncing the ordained Ministry "of this Church" (i.e., ECUSA), but then it goes on to proclaim something far more sweeping: "the Priest is released from the obligations of the Ministerial office, and is deprived of the right to exercise the gifts and spiritual authority as a Minister of God's Word and Sacraments conferred in Ordination." (Emphasis added.) Since the minister was ordained into the church catholic, and not just into ECUSA, treating him or her as having renounced those same holy orders "conferred in Ordination" means, literally, that he/she could not thereafter minister as a priest anywhere in the Anglican Communion.

The left in ECUSA engineered a comprehensive revision to the Canons at GC 2009, but it left unchanged the language of Canon III.9.8. I conclude that the left must want things this way: it gets to decide just what is a sufficient act of disobedience to count as a "renunciation of holy orders" under Canon III.9.8. And of course, another attraction of that Canon is that it does not impose any requirement for a trial of the facts constituting "renunciation." As the quotation above shows, all that is required is the consent of the local Standing Committee. Thus the left can use the Canon, and has in fact used the Canon, to depose clergy summarily, without any hearing, fact-finding, or trial -- just on the Presiding Bishop's say-so.

Is the left correct that it is entitled to determine entirely on its own who shall be acceptable as a bishop for the whole Anglican Communion? I would argue that they cannot take that position and be consistent with their own Book of Common Prayer, which contains this passage in the rubrics for ordination (not just of bishops, but of deacons and priests as well):
It is also recognized and affirmed that the threefold ministry is not the exclusive property of this portion of Christ's catholic Church, but is a gift from God for the nurture of his people and the proclamation of his Gospel everywhere. Accordingly, the manner of ordaining in this Church is to be such as has been, and is, most generally recognized by Christian people as suitable for the conferring of the sacred orders of bishops, priest, and deacon.
(From the "Preface to the Ordination Rites," p. 510, BCP [emphasis added].)

It has never been recognized, anywhere in the church catholic, that a denomination in communion with others has a unilateral right to make its standard for ordinations at odds with those of everyone else. To "be in communion" with other denominations means to be of a common mind with them. It is of the essence of communion that the offices of one denomination are of equal worth in the eyes of the church with the offices of every other denomination in communion with it. That is what the BCP says, and as a matter of canon law, the rubrics of the BCP trump anything to the contrary in the Canons.

What, then, is to be done with the left's claim to dictate ordination standards for the entire Communion? Simply this: the rest of the Communion, once and for all, must refuse all such dictation, as many provinces have already been doing. The mixed messages from the Instruments of Unity (such as granting to Bishop Jefferts Schori a license to preach tomorrow at Southwark Cathedral in the Church of England) must stop. Recognition of orders in ECUSA by the rest of the Communion must be refused until such time as ECUSA brings its standards of ordination back into line with those of the Communion as a whole.

People who choose to worship in ECUSA are stuck with what they have for now; they should take care, if their beliefs are orthodox and traditional, to attend a church in which those beliefs will be respected and upheld. If they cannot find any such church within a reasonable distance, they should find another denomination that is more in line with their own beliefs. And for those in ECUSA who go to other provinces of the Communion, they cannot insist that ECUSA's ways trump the traditional standards of ordination, and that all priests and bishops ordained in ECUSA are ipso facto entitled to recognition elsewhere.

I came across an image recently which helps make what I am saying clear. It is a picture of a bridge recently designed to go between Hong Kong and mainland China. You see, because of its British heritage, drivers in Hong Kong drive on the left. Drivers in mainland China, however, drive on the right. So the engineering problem was: how does one design a bridge that will let drivers passing from one region to the other make the transition smoothly? For answer, take a look at the model's picture below:

The illustration (H/T: Gizmodo) clearly shows how drivers coming from the mainland (at the right of the picture), who are in the right lanes, are in going over the bridge shifted to the left lanes as they exit the bridge into Hong Kong, and how drivers from Hong Kong, in the left lanes, are shifted to the right lanes as they exit onto the mainland.

A similar solution (albeit, I hope, a temporary one) is what is needed to bridge our current troubles in the Anglican Communion.


  1. Nicely done summary as usual. I would expect nothing less from you. I even agree that the mixed messages must stop. However, i disagree with this statement.

    "Recognition of orders in ECUSA by the rest of the Communion must be refused until such time as ECUSA brings its standards of ordination back into line with those of the Communion as a whole."

    Remember there are those faithful priests and bishops in ECUSA who are still recognized by others in the AC. I would hate to have a blanket statement such as that taking literally. Would not that mean that NO faithful priests or bishops exist in TECUSA today ?? We both know that number of faithful clergy is small but they are here today. Fortunately the Global South will continue to recognize such bishops as Howe and Lawrence and their faithful clergy DESPITE the machinations of TECUSA.

    Just my thoughts as usual.

  2. The bridge is ingenious as well as attractive.
    I wonder how the same problem was handled on the Chunnel between England and mainland Europe.

  3. Alexi, not to worry. Bishops overseas are free to announce a policy in response to ECUSA, but then to make individual exceptions based on particular circumstances. My point was simply that for the rest of the Communion to fail to react to ECUSA's arrogance would send the wrong message back to 815. Let the overseas bishops sort out the candidates for ministry in their provinces; they will know who the orthodox are (and there are really not that many from ECUSA in any given year). But let them send a strong signal back to ECUSA that its ordinations no longer carry any presumed validity -- just as ECUSA has signaled that judgment to the rest of the Communion.

  4. To mdblocher - its very simple really, all vehicles travel on a train, entering on one side of it and exiting on the other thus crossing from left to right or right to left!

  5. I think it is clear that once one part's ordinations are not recognized by the other parts, those bodies are not in communion with one another.

    Those faithful bishops wishing to be in communion despite being members of the offending body are out of luck and out of communion unless you set an arbitrary date such as 2003 with ordinations done prior to that year being "grandfathered in."

  6. "Canon III.1.2 declares it so:
    No person shall be denied access to the discernment process for any ministry, lay or ordained, in this Church because of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, disabilities or age, except as otherwise provided by these Canons. . . ."

    I do not know for sure, but I strongly suspect that sexual orientation was able to pass with moderates since it speaks only of orientation, but not of action. I think that many moderates and conservatives would have said that same-sex attraction was not in itself disqualifying, but rather simply a condition that some people have, and that such people can, with the empowering of the Holy Spirit, live a chaste life.

    The "left," however, meant to use that as the camel's nose to bring in those who were engaged in same-sex sexual activities. If that is their desire, they have a right to have their version of "family" as much as those with heterosexual attractions.

    The "left" as is typical sold the moderates and the "right" a bill of goods. many of those who supported Canon III.2.1 are or would be appalled to see how it is applied. They had no intention of allowing flagrant sinners into ordained ministry.