Bob Duncan, the once and future bishop of Pittsburgh, has been at the forefront of evangelical efforts to turn the Episcopal Church away from so-called revisionist theology. Christianity Today deputy managing editor Tim Morgan spoke with Bishop Duncan, who was removed from office by his fellow bishops in early September just before the Diocese of Pittsburgh voted by strong margins to pull out of the Episcopal Church. In a few weeks, the diocese is expected to meet again and officially reinstall Duncan as its top leader with the oversight of Anglican Archbishop Gregory Venables from Argentina.
Q: What was the mood like at the recent diocesan convention in Pittsburgh during the final vote to pull out of the Episcopal Church?
A: The mood was somber. It was expectant, graceful, if you can be all those things at once. People together were realizing how serious it was, and yet there was a determination that we needed to do this as kindly and gracefully as we could as a witness to the world.
Q: Will the left-leaning Pittsburgh congregations that stay with the Episcopal Church be treated fairly in keeping their church property?
A: We ought to deal with congregations fairly and equitably. The principal stewards and the principal benefactors of most of our congregations are the people in those congregations themselves. In some cases, the diocese has had no investment in the congregation. In other cases, we have had a substantial investment. For a congregation where we have had a substantial investment, we need to work out together what share of our investment needs to be returned to us.
Q: What's your advice to the remnant of evangelicals still in the Episcopal Church about giving up church property?
A: Their property isn't worth their souls' health. While our property is precious and important, if it becomes an overwhelming aim, it's probably good to let go of it. But having said that, the principle thing I would say is that we're very hopeful that the spirit that we've been blessed with here in Pittsburgh will produce a settlement that will [make] a better way forward across the country. We're also hopeful that the Episcopal Church, in losing battle after battle, will finally just decide that these property battles aren't worth fighting.
So three things: First, I hope that the way we go through this will provide a precedent both moral and legal for the way other situations might be settled across the country. Second, I hope that the continued failure of the Episcopal Church in its litigation might help it wake up and cease the litigation. And third, in any place where the property has become an overwhelming issue, it might be better for evangelicals to let go of it. Trust the Lord that he's got the cattle on 10,000 hills. He's able to restore to us what we lost.
Q: Do you have any second thoughts about creation of this new province for conservative Anglicans?
A: No second thoughts about it. I would have hoped that the Anglican Communion might simply recognize us as the legitimate bearers of the Anglican franchise here. But that's not likely to happen in the short run. The significance of the Episcopal Church deposing me is much greater than what most people would assume in this battle for a province. For the worldwide Anglican Communion to see me deposed has been absolutely sobering, and even moderates are shocked and stunned by it.
Q: Some conservatives continue to support an Anglican Covenant and the Windsor continuation process as vehicles for reform. Do you hold out much hope for these initiatives?
A: The covenant is a good concept. Sadly, the form, in which it comes forward, has no great strength to it. A better form of covenant would have been the Thirty-Nine Articles or The Book of Common Prayer. Those have been the things that actually functioned as the covenant for three centuries and more. So the covenant is a useful idea. But as it's being developed it's not [useful]. About the Windsor continuation group, the glacial timetable on which it's working is like every other proposal that's come from the Anglican Communion office, from the Archbishop of Canterbury. They have been too little and far too slow.
Q: How should we best interpret the recent silence of Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams?
A: Sometimes silence is golden. Not so long ago I wrote to him and thanked him for his silence. The silence could suggest two things. It could suggest an indifference, which I don't think is the issue. Or it could suggest a diplomatic response in which it's clear that the sands are shifting. The Archbishop of Canterbury and I have had regular contact, and that will continue. He is redefining his own role by his silence. He redefined the role of the Lambeth Conference. Those redefinitions are necessary in light of the emergence of a global communion. The existing Anglican structures are largely colonial. I acknowledge his authority to exercise his role the way he sees it, actually diminishing his role substantially for the future of the communion.
Q: Is a new center emerging within Anglicanism?
A: A post-colonial Anglicanism with a conciliar structure will emerge. The notion that the Archbishop of Canterbury is first among equals is going to fade away. The 21st-century role of the Archbishop of Canterbury will go through the same metamorphosis that the role of the royal family went through in the 20th century. The British Empire is over, and sadly, so is a British-dominated communion.
Q: How will conservatives negotiate the issues that divide them—women's ordination and related concerns? Is there going to be a theological center?
A: The theological center on first-order issues has deep agreement. Most of us hold the issue of the ordination of women to be a second-order issue. We are committed to working with our partners in the communion as we try to come to some lasting agreement. The way I illustrate that is we are now wise enough to understand that we can't settle the issue of reception of the ordination of women. The reason we can't settle it is that East Africa ordains women and West Africa doesn't. We have got to go through this together, and it's going to take a couple generations to do it. There's a deep commitment to one another across this divide.
Q: Are you confident that there will be a new province for the North American Anglicans a year from now? And are you the most likely person to be the primate of that province?
A: The simple answers are yes and yes. I do believe that the Common Cause partners will put everything in place that we need to put in place by Christmas. The time has come. In terms of my leadership I think I understand, and those who put me in this place understand, that in this particular moment my task, my call has been to bring the partners to a place, to the creation of a province and to the beginning of its life, and then I'll be happy to give it over as soon as it's clear that I'm not called to do it anymore. We will operate in a way in which the primate of the province is a diocesan bishop, will serve for a term, and may be reelected for a term. Then another will take up that primacy.
Q: How do all these events among Anglicans fit into the bigger picture?
A: They need to be read in the context of this great reformation in the Christian West. I thank God that it's come as far as it has. I thank God for the people of Pittsburgh who supported me. I see a new day dawning — and not just for us, but for all our Christian partners. We Anglicans, who don't theologically always get it right, have done something ecclesiologically that might have helped the whole Christian church.
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