Saturday, October 25, 2008

Defending the Faith in the Anglican Communion

Tim Morgan has written an excellent overview (tip of the tinfoil to Sarah Hey at StandFirm) of the current playing field in the Anglican realignment now underway. You can read his entire essay here.

He correctly identifies four groups now in the struggle: The Liberals, the Evangelicals, the Anglo Catholics, and the Institutionalists. Last June I wrote an essay called Smashing the Silos and Tearing Down the Walls. It was based on another essay by Graham Kings as well as a test one could take here (the graph on this page is the Official Political Compass of BabyBlue).

One of the things we may discover are that differences in strategy are also akin to where we are on the political spectrum (which is particularly on the minds of Americans these days) - not only between the Left and the Right, naturally, but perhaps more importantly between Libertarianism and Authoritarianism.

This is helpful when we find we are concentrating solely on our theological outlook and ignore the fact that we engage our theology in practice through our political outlooks as well. The results of this inquiry can be surprising. Tim Morgan writes in his essay, Defending the Faith:

Throughout the next 12 months, conservative Anglicans will face many tests of strength as they attempt to rebuild Anglican identity on the authority of Scripture and Anglicanism's historic creeds and teachings. The biggest division between conservatives concerns strategy. Inside strategists favor using the so-called Windsor Process. Outside strategists support creating new structures to reform Anglicanism.

A key test occurs this month when Episcopal Church bishops are likely to initiate the removal of Robert Duncan as Bishop of Pittsburgh. Along with four other conservative bishops, Duncan is seeking to remove his diocese from the Episcopal Church. Outside strategists hope to create a new orthodox Anglican province for North America. The two-fold goal for conservatives is to preserve orthodoxy within their dioceses and to isolate the Episcopal Left

One of the errors that the Presiding Bishop makes (which was abundantly clear at the Salt Lake City House of Bishops meeting last month) is to reveal not only her profoundly Left-leaning politics and Liberal-leaning theology - but perhaps, most importantly in her role as Presiding Bishop - her authoritarian polity. By embracing a hardliner strategy that discouraged even the conversation of dissent (which is what Bob Duncan was guilty of - he hadn't actually voted to leave TEC yet, but he was talking about it) reveals that this particular liberal - Katharine Jefferts Schori - has high marks on the authoritarian scale.

What happens then is that both the Left and Right who are more libertarian in their polity rebel. We see this happen with both the current Diocesan Bishop of Virginia and the Bishop Coadjutor of the Diocese of Virginia. Bishop Peter James Lee in fact led a coalition of what might be described as liberal loyalists who are near or below the libertarian line who found the authoritarian actions of the Presiding Bishop more troubling than then their own institutional loyalty or their own theological assent. Their polity ruled their theology. With this recognition, Bishop Schori split her own (perhaps rather reluctant) coalition of support.

She makes a second major mistake by underestimating the institutional loyalists on the right who also fall below the libertarian line. They may be loyal to hearth and home when it comes to The Episcopal Church, but when it comes to polity, they too eschew authoritarianism. Like their left leaning loyalist comrades, they are not inclined to buck the system per se, though they are not going to support authoritarian grabs at power either.

And so with the public support of the Bishop of Central Florida and the Bishop of South Carolina as well as others (the Bishop of Northern Indiana comes to mind as well), this group - which has publicly indicated their desire for an "inside" strategy - rebelled against the Presiding Bishop and voted against her resolution to remove an "outside" strategy leader. In the process, the Presiding Bishop alienated another group of "loyalists." Their actions, in fact, built up tremendous good will with those all ready in exile outside the Episcopal Church - a major strategic shift.

For the Common Cause Partnership, this is of great significance, especially as we learn the Presiding Bishop wants to find a weakened CCP partner to parlay with outside the purview of the Common Cause Moderator. Unfortunately, the more tender members of the CCP will not find a sympathetic listener in the Presiding Bishop because obviously she's not of their party and in fact does not hide her obvious disdain (nor do her allies, which alludes to the reason why she was chosen in the first place), an unfortunate strategic move on the part of the Liberal Activists who still are blinded to the fact that their victim-target turns out actually to be who they need for success.

Back in England, Rowan Williams knows this and takes great pains to attempt to hold that faction together, a faction with whom he shares a formal structural inclination, if not their own theological traditionalism. In fact, he is no doubt on the left, but appears also to fall below the libertarian line as well - which ironically aligns him as kin with those Anglicans below the libertarian line in - and outside - TEC.

One of the most remarkable things I witnessed at Lambeth was the extraordinary coalition between the "outside" strategists and the "inside" strategists. While Gene Robinson and the TEC liberal activists were performing for the media outside the Lambeth gates, there was an extraordinary meeting of both the inside leaders and the outside leaders and that meeting produced an unexpected challenge to Lambeth from a surprising quarter - aimed squarely at The Episcopal Church - from the Church in the Sudan, the very Church that TEC had try to pacify and failed.

Now with the Presiding Bishop announcing her plans to block the Anglican Covenant from consideration at the next General Convention she has in fact stuck another knife into the back of the instutituional loyalists who, if you scratch them, bleed blue. The romantic connection between The Episcopal Church and the Archbishop of Canterbury continues unfettered no matter who is in Augustine's Seat. It's still Augustine's Seat. And that connection goes back centuries and it matters, for better or worse, it matters, especially in the South.

Also, by now publicly aligning herself and her allies in opposition to the Anglican Covenant, she alienates again a core group she needs to retain for any semblance of power, the Windsor Bishops.

Which causes us to turn our eyes homeward. There are times when I have explosions of hope, even with all the litigation, with all the harsh words, the accusations, the broken trust, the tears. There is a lot more for us to win in Virginia besides the property. There are possibilities - even at this late hour - where we may still be able to build a coalition of hope based on affinity for ecclesiastical simplicity combined with our aversion to authoritarianism and expressed through rebuilding relationships based on our shared love and experience in the Anglican tradition and polity.

That is not enough, of course, to build a church - indeed - we are and continue to be (as I saw last Sunday at Christ Church Alexandria) deeply, even profoundly estranged in theology and conviction. That has not changed.

However, the Diocese of Virginia Protocol recognized that we needed separation for the health of our congregations - on both sides. The goal was never to embrace a separatist ideology, but in fact, to find and explore ways in the future that might bring us closer toward reconciliation.

The Protocol was born not only of a year of negotiations in Bishop Lee's handpicked group chaired by his chancellor, Russ Palmore, as well as another year before that of intentional Council-directed fact-finding research in the Diocese of Virginia's Reconciliation Commission - but also, in fact, seven years of deep conversation through the work of the landmark Diocesan Council-mandated R-7 Group. Since it was all much more of a more "libertarian" model, that goal seems to have been lost on the authoritarian-minded leadership that holds the reigns of the institutional Episcopal Church, with tragic results.

That being said, the § 57-9 Division Statute is a remarkable piece of legislation that was born in the aftermath of America's greatest tragedy. It wisely states that certain actions could be taken in an orderly and lawful way when a division occurred. Nothing can quite compare to a church division with its penchant for acrimony while bitterly assigning blame. But the goal for this law was certainly to retain as much goodwill and trust as could be mustered in very difficult and painful circumstances. The wisdom was that by not destroying the parties involved through bloodletting on the battlefield of litigation, there would be retained a foundation on which to rebuild.

Before the end of this year, we will hear the final ruling of Judge Randy Bellows in this historic property case, the largest property case in Episcopal Church history. Whatever happens, the steps taken after the ruling will indicate whether in our hearts we truly desire to love one another, be we enemy or friend, and in doing so - pull the protocol off the now-dusty shelf and begin again. For indeed, we will have the opportunity to take the new steps toward reaching out to those who are in TEC and those who are in Common Cause here at home.

Will the opposition find its voice among those who hold the reigns of power on Second Street in Manhattan? We're told over and over again, it's about the steeples, not the people. But as we used to say as children:

Here's the church and
here's the steeple,

open the doors and
where're the people?


Whitestone said...

This is your very finest among many fine analyses.

Athanasius Returns said...

I second Whitestone's statement and am recommending all my Anglican friends read it.