Sunday, September 06, 2009

N.T. Wright and the ACI: General Convention constituted a provisional rejection of the Anglican Covenant

N.T. Wright and the three ACI guys have joined forces and released an in-depth paper that reveals the truth we saw at General Convention. Unless Bishop Schori is about to reinvent the common English language usage we now use with some sort of new metaphorical definitions to suit the latest fads, there is no way that The Episcopal Church will ever sign off on the Anglican Covenant. Bishop Wright, Ephraim Radner, Chris Seitz, and Phil Turner write, "the actions of General Convention repudiating the teaching of the Communion on human sexuality can only be seen as the repudiation of the Covenant itself."

The paper goes on to make the case that:
  • There is a substantial and well-developed body of Anglican thought utilized in expressing the commitments in the Covenant text. This body of precedent includes the articulation of several foundational concepts used in the Covenant, including “shared discernment,” “accountability,” “autonomy,” and the comprehensive term “Communion with autonomy and accountability.”
  • There are specific commitments in the first three sections of the Anglican Covenant and show that they require (i) that there be Communion-wide decisions (“shared discernment”) on issues affecting the unity of the Communion and (ii) that all covenanting churches then recognize the decision reached by the Communion’s shared discernment.
  • There is discernment of the Communion on the issue of human sexuality is unequivocal. All four Instruments of Communion have spoken with one voice for over a decade, both in terms of general teaching and through specific recommendations.
They go on to make the case that while the first three sections "introduce meaningful consequences into the Covenant" and "profound consequences are already entailed by the first three sections," they conclude that "a robust Section 4 is necessary in order to provide agreed procedures that all churches can trust. Without effective procedures in Section 4, others will emerge but they will not be ones that have been accepted in advance by all."

The response has been swift from our friends across the Potomac, inferring that resistance to the New Thing God is Doing is futile. Jim Naughton at The Other Cafe for the Episcopal Diocese of Washington calls one of the great theologians of our day a "shrinking violet," while complaining that anyone who disagrees with the New Thing God is Doing (including the Archbishop of Canterbury himself) is working "to make the Communion safe for the most vicious sort of anti-gay bigots." Now who would that be? He also complains that those who disagree with the actions of The Episcopal Church are "clumsy and transparently self-aggrandizing."

Instead of taking on the content of the paper, this is what happens. Individuals are attacked personally and called vicious names. This pattern is what made so many of us wary during the recent Smile Offensive at General Convention. Those With Whom We Disagree were far too nice. It was all joy and Happy Feet. There is no way one can spit out this type of language and then go around telling people how wonderful they are and oh, by the way, "here's my business card, let's do lunch." It was so Umbridgean and disingenuous and Jim's frustrated rhetoric provides us insight into the reality on the ground.

The Episcopal Church is in a Level Five conflict. It's not getting better, it's getting worse. We continue on this trajectory and the entire communion is affected. The best thing would be for The Episcopal Church to withdraw for a time certain, work through their theological issues, and then come back. Perhaps in that time, the rest of the communion will have worked through and discovered that yes, God is Doing A New Thing and glory hallelujah. Or not. Then The Episcopal Church can decide whether or not it belongs in the Anglican Communion.

Read N.T. Wright and CSI's paper here.

25 comments:

BabyBlue said...

Note, the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia has all ready recognized that TEC is in a Level Five Conflict - and that was four years ago. Here is the description of a Level Five Conflict:

LEVEL FIVE: Intractable
CHARACTERISTICS:


1. ISSUE No longer clear understanding of the issue; personalities have become the issue. Conflict is now unmanageable.
2. EMOTIONS Relentless obsession in accomplishing the objective at all costs. Vindictive. No objectivity or control of emotion.
3. ORIENTATION Sees person(s) as harmful to society, not just to the offended group or person.
4. INFORMATION Information skewed to accomplish the objective at any cost.
5. LANGUAGE Focuses on words that imply the destruction and/or elimination of the other.
6. OBJECTIVE To destroy the offending party/persons; i.e., to see that the fired pastor does not get a job elsewhere.
7. OUTCOME Highly destructive. Use of compulsion to maintain peace. May be necessary to remove one or more parties from the situation. Higher authorities may need to intervene.

NOTE: It is generally acknowledged that at this level no reconciliation is possible.


From here: http://www.uucr.org/LEADERSHIP_FOLDER/LevelsOfConflict.htm

bb

Anonymous said...

While no doubt the crux of what BB says here might focus upon the matter of conflict and its severity, and while most of the ACI post is extremely thorough and detailed in its analysis especially historically, we should not miss the serious but small inclusion at the bottom of page 21 and over into 22 - that nothing is fixed in concrete absolutely and long term (well; excluding the Lambeth Quad and all that!):

In articulating the mind of the bishops at the 2008 Lambeth Conference, the Archbishop acknowledged that Resolution 1.10 “remains where our Communion as a global community stands.”58 This past July, the Archbishop noted that any change to this teaching “would have to be based on the most painstaking biblical exegesis and on a wide acceptance of the results within the Communion, with due account taken of the teachings of ecumenical partners also. A major change naturally needs a strong level of consensus and solid theological grounding.59"

But sadly such subtleties are missed by those bent on total conflict, level 5 style.

Celinda Scott said...

In reading Bishop Wright's response, I only see a reference to the human sexuality issues. The Christological issues have also been mentioned as a part of the problem. Surely TEC's response to the Forrester consecration request, especially the theological responses of Bishops Marshall and Breidenthal, indicate there is much agreement on important issues in the communion. Is it part of Level 5 conflict to ignore areas of agreement? --Also: Level 5 conflict is not considered hopeless, if that is indeed where we are; there is a list of suggested actions when that is the case.

Anonymous said...

If Level 5 is not hopeless, then ECUSA vs Jesus is at level 6.

Celinda Scott said...

Anonymous--is the sexuality issue the only important one for you? Have you read the Marshall and Breidenthal statements on the Christological and salvation issues in the Forrester case?

Tregonsee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tregonsee said...

I was struck by one component of the description: "No longer clear understanding of the issue..." It seems to me that is, in terms of time progression, only somewhat true.

Progressives have seen this as a simple issue of fairness, but recently a few have started to understand the larger dimension, though usually with disagreement. Likewise, Traditionalist have usually seen this in terms of obedience to biblical teaching and understanding, and have only recently become aware of how much socio-political factors drive Progressives. Probably far to late, the issues are becoming clarified rather than lost.

BabyBlue said...

At Level Five, "It is generally acknowledged that at this level no reconciliation is possible. The consultant's purpose is to minimize the damage of the conflict and enable the person/group/institution to function again." No reconciliation is possible. That is so true and it takes a while for the parties to come to grip with this truth. As long as the Level Five conflict exists, no reconciliation is possible.

Leaders of both sides rise up, discover the depth of the conflict and eventually come to the same conclusion - the march out of TEC has been going on for a long, long time. The most recent group to assemble to see Canterbury is the latest group to rise through the levels of conflict and recognize that at this point, the conflict is too great and too deep for reconciliation.

It is astonishing that someone like Tom Wright would come to the conclusion that TEC cannot, in its present trajectory, sign the Anglican Covenant - even without Section IV. It is a vastly watered down version to the original and still, in its present trajectory out of General Convention, TEC in its majority cannot in conscience sign the covenant.

As Christians, we are not inclined, in fact, we are required by our faith to have hope. Our hope is set in Christ, our Redeemer whom not even the grave could contain.

Our hope in Virginia was to find a way - some way - to stay in as close a communion as possible. We, the Diocese of Virginia, recognized four years ago that we had reached a Level Five Conflict, that it was becoming toxic and destructive. Our desire was to find a way, some way, to stay in as a close a communion as possible. We weren't spinning off to start a new denomination or go independent. We were separating, in an orderly transparent way. It was a community effort that included the bishop, who was in tremendous grief. At that level, to put together the Virginia Protocol was extraordinary. It took an enormous effort on all sides, even as the pain was intensifying. Even the Circuit Court judge could see that something catastrophic was happening that would cause thousands - thousands of church members to vote to separate - not divorce - separate from The Episcopal Church.

It finally spun out of control. The orderly manner which a Level Five conflict requires to even begin to bring the conflict level down was lost. It's still lost as far as the relationship between many in TEC and those who have separated. There seems little desire to even attempt reconciliation on the national level - though there are little pops of hope on the local level so we should not stop our prayers of intercession and lose sight that our hope is set not on institutions but in Christ.

bb

Anonymous said...

I feel very sad at the five points highlighted here..In particular i feel that . NT Wright is a brilliant writer and scholar with a real understanding of the importance of Theology and Christianity celebrated with the communion..
However I wonder is he as experienced in the world of Child abuse and violence towards women and children,or the vulnerable for i feel if he were fully aware of the emotinal and psychological consequences of bullying and emotional violence, he would not use the words vindictive..Often in these situations people have been deeply hurt sometimes to the point where it affects there ability to function..The accusatory term of vindictive is inappropriate so as to cause harm..I feel that demonising victims is not very helpful..Of course i accept that sometimes people are in plain language horrible for the sake of being horrible,Vindictive however is usually used to describe serious offenders often with murderous or sexually abusive intent.These five points actually simply manipulate the reader as the ultimate aim is for the reader to come to the conclusion that standing up for your rights is wrong..
This description of characteristics is the one that is used to defend abusive people who have more power than the person they are harming..Child abusers should not be in the pulpit and it is right they should be prevented from being there..so that level 5 does not turn to level 10

Celinda Scott said...

Tregonsee, I don't think it's too late--although I'm constantly puzzled by the failure, everywhere I see on my limited blog reading, to see any response at all to the theological responses of Bishops Breidenthal and Marshall on the Forrester issue. They are bright points of light that are consistently ignored in the concentration on the sexual issues. Anonymous--I guess the two comments signed that way are by the same person--I see from your second comment that I misunderstood your first on the "level" descriptions. I thought you were blaming TEC but perhaps you weren't--anyway, it does seem as though some on both sides are making it very difficult to talk. And it does seem as though the sexuality issue is driving the whole thing, since comments like those of +Breidenthal and +Marhall on the theology of salvation are completely ignored or discounted.

Celinda Scott said...

From the source Baby Blue, I think, provided for the conflict level characteristics: skills required for level 5 conflict resolution include "1. All skills required for other levels, plus...2. Adequate personal support system and strong inner resources. (In my opinion, a lot of the psalms help with this and usually the whole lectionary. ALSO the support of other people--for me, "No Plan B" (an association of Episcopal Evangelicals meeting at VTS Sept. 11-12 is going to be helpful, I think)..3. Careful adherence to institutional rules, boundaries, legal restrictions, authority structures, etc." Ouch, ouch ouch for #3, which in our situation could have been written by a sadist. So much of the argument lies there as to who is in the position of "calling the shots." The basic argument against the covenant, for instance, seems to be fear on the part of some in TEC that TEC would be made subservient to certain instruments of the Anglican Communion developed over the past decade. One of the authors of the Windsor Report, for instance, formally apologized at GC 2009 for misunderstanding TEC's polity.

Allen said...

Perhaps Jim Naughton can only attack that which is vague, undecided, or, in this case, something over which he knows that he has no control. It's a great diversion from failures at home in Washington.

One would think that he should spend more time on why his diocese is limping, why Nat Cat spent over $1 million on its 100th birthday, and why the Cathedral College had to close.

It's apparent that Naughton and Chane are impotent to rise to the occasion to rescue their own diocese from themselves and they are willfully blind to their role in its increasing demise.

So....what to do? Attack somebody else over issues that they will never win, just so long as they seem to be holding to their loud constituents' viewpoints.

Maybe instead they ought to turn inwardly on their own diocese and cathedral chapter for being so poor a steward and so unreliable in their responsibilities.

Anonymous said...

Celinda

I have only written once my first post was 9-51 so i have changed my sign in to anonymous1 I have experienced what i talk about it does not come from study..

Anonymous1

Anonymous said...

I know that seeking peace does not harm anyone on the way..I also know i am not perfect. In the same way as I know no-one should ever be called vindictive and manipulative over a theological point..No leader is worth their salt if the only way they can operate is by the exclusion of vulnerable people..It is a contradiction in terms..Some clergy torment their congregation from the pulpit by making blatant accusations in the knowledge of whom they are speaking to and then hide behind thier collar and status so as not to have to deal with the consequences..Some clergy are kept in well paid positions whilst their victims are never able to work again..Sometimes their victims are their own family..How can they ever judge anyones sexuality..I am a straight talking straight person..

Anonymous1

Anonymous said...

I must be missing something - Has the Anglican Covenant been published in it's final form? Please link to it so I can see how far it is from TEC's stance. If not, then is not this all a bit premature? Schadenfreudish to be creative with the language and all that.

Virgil said...

Having read Wright's piece, I still don't see why the ECUSA can't sign the Covenant, with some reservations about Section IV. I personally am in favor of both the Covenant (with some reservations about Section IV) and gay clergy and same-sex marriage liturgies in the BCP (again, with a couple of reservations). I'm still unclear how these positions are inconsistent. His argument seems simply to be that some conservative elements think it means something that would necessarily exclude the ECUSA, but I'm pretty sure it can be read the way I read it also. And really, if we're all going to go into this together, we have to be OK with the idea that perhaps moral suasion can eventually result in votes that hold to positions like (1) laity have to have a role in governance (contra the high-church ecclesiology of some Anglican churches); (2) polygamy and female circumcision are not OK (contra the positions of some Anglican churches); or (3) women and homosexuals have callings to serve God as well as men. Quelle horreur!

Celinda Scott said...

Thanks to Baby Blue for the e-mail calling my attention to this ongoing thread. I am still amazed that NO ONE (especially that no conservative) has commented on the very theologically orthodox powerfully written statements by Bishops Breidenthal and Marshall on their reasons for refusing to give consent to the consecration of the Rev. Thew Forrester. Are many conservative leaders deaf, dumb, and blind to any issues other than the sexual ones? It really must be Level 5 when strong areas of AGREEMENT are completely ignored (frequently said to be important) because of a particular area of disagreement. But I don't want to believe that.

BabyBlue said...

Frankly, Celinda, I think you are hitting on a very good point. We have been experiencing a Level Five conflict, at least in the Diocese of Virginia. The separation has actually helped me to listen in ways that were hard (and at times are still hard) now that we have some space. That had been the point of the separation, so that we could find a safe place to get healthy again and be in a place to listen.

I did think it was interesting to hear the theology from surprising quarters over Thew Forrester. I have also found that I am far more "liberal" on some views than I might have known had I remained where I was.

This process of litigation is not working and we will not have agreement until we stand down from the litigious route we are now on. There are so many other ways to address the issues than taking steps that strengthen the Level Five Conflict, that is if we are still interested in rebuilding relationships and not just with thinking we are right and everyone else is wrong. I mean that for us all. We are no where near that right now and it's only getting worse. N.T. Wright is now coming to understand that.

bb

Celinda Scott said...

Baby Blue, thanks so much for this. I was in Virginia recently--Sept. 11,12 at VTS--for the Evangelical Episcopal Assembly. I was the only woman and one of only two lay people. I wish you had been there! A number of evangelical clergy from the Diocese of Pittsburgh were there. It wasn't a mountain top experience so much as a feet firmly on the floor one. So exciting to have that solid ground under one's feet. Speakers included Archdeacon Michael Lawrence of the C of E--he was raised Jewish, but is a very committed Christian and Anglican now and extremely articulate about the faith--and also has a ministry to the Dalits (Untouchables) in India. Also Dr. Robert Prichard, who teaches church history at VTS (and would like to see more Evangelicals who can talk, like N.T. Wright, to the "academy"). Also Mario Gonzalez+, who has learned through some difficult experiences how to express his faith graciously to those coming from different theological perspectives. Also Chuck
Alley+, who emphasized "raising the level of dialogue." The group has an excellent website, in my opinion. "No Plan B" or "Barnabas Fellowship" (a new name being considered) or "Episcopal Evangelical Fellowship" can get it for you if you Google. Philip Wainwright+, an EEF ("Episcopal Evangelical Fellowship) priest from Pittsburgh is the website coordinator, I think. I'll try to get the URL
(is that the correct term?) if you need it.

Virgil said...

Three things:

Breidenthal and Marshall seem to focus very deeply on the doctrine of forensic justification. I (and a lot of other Episcopalians) have a problem with this. Stated simply, the doctrine is that Jesus prevents God's just judgment upon us by sort of hiding us in the folds of his robes and sneaking us into Heaven. Although this is an important strand in Calvinist (and, to be fair, a certain type of Anglican) thought, it gives me the fantods because it so broadly ignores the doctrine sanctification. If I were a wag, I'd suggest maybe he picked it up from those Presbyterians at Princeton =). I tend to think that God wants us to grow into holiness, so that at the end of time we can be drawn up into the Trinitarian economy, as God's son and Jesus's brother, and join in celebration of the whole with the Holy Spirit. Forrester definitely also gives me the fantods, but people of his ilk are in my mind no more problematic than Breidenthal and Marshall are capable of being, and certainly much better than Bishop Lawrence of South Carolina.

Second, the focus is ultimately on sexual issues because that's what the debate is all about. We can try to transmogrify it into a debate about hemeneutics or Trinitarian theology or ecclesiology, but ultimately everyone from Parishioners to Primates are making decisions that are wildly inconsistent on any line of analysis other than sexuality (and to some extent blind ambition for a silly hat).

Finally, recourse to the legal process is the only responsible thing for Virginia Diocesan leadership to do. If I'm the manager of a local Walmart, I can't just have everyone vote to leave the corporation and then keep the building. I've got to take my folks and leave and start a new store someplace else with a different name. The issue here is more complex than that (I'm an attorney and well realize this), but it's not all that different. Letting the property go would be poor stewardship of the resources the Church has built up over centuries.

Celinda Scott said...

Virgil, you bring up some interesting issues but it's way less complicated than you make it. Breidenthal and Marshall were talking about the theology of the Book of Common Prayer. Maybe you have an argument with Thomas Cranmer--that's fine (although I don't think I'd like a new Book of Common Prayer written contra Cranmer). But Bishop Duncan and others have said over and over again that it's NOT just the sexual issues, it's the Christological issues that are driving us apart. And by that they meant the divinity of Christ, the Creeds, as a bottom line, and the theology of the BCP. That's what we kept hearing in the Diocese of Pittsburgh and on the Midwestern Blog, etc., etc. Now all of a sudden the Christological issues have vaporized into nothing. It seems like hypocrisy to me (saying they are no longer important, or carrying the arguments onto new ground as you are doing) as a way to continue to try to push us apart.

Virgil said...

What I said in my first point is virtually a quotation of Rowan Williams, who takes it from Patristics. Without my books I'm having trouble remembering, but I believe it's Nazienzen, and to some degree middle-period Augustine. And it's quite in line with Hooker -- who was a lot smarter than Cranmer anyway ;-). If it's new to the debate, that's because no one asked me before.

I want to point out that my first reaction to Forrester was also "good grief." But my point is that Breidenthal's reasoning is just as bad from my standpoint.

I keep hearing that we want to heal the rift (from people on both sides). At some point, we've all got to admit that it happened and get on with life. The CANA (or ACNA or whatever it is now) need to decide whether they're Baptists, Papists, or Episcopalians, and the rest of us need to recommit to the Bible, the BCP, and the Creeds, and get on with life, with them if possible, without them if need be.

Celinda Scott said...

Virgil--if what you're talking about is recommitment to the Bible, the creeds, and the BCP, that's where I am too. Let those who leave do their own sorting out, but I'm still annoyed when conservatives don't credit other strong believers in and arguers for the Creeds and the BCP. ASIDE: Nazanzius is great, I just discovered him this year in Andrew Purves' _Pastoral Theology in the Classical Tradition_, but Cranmer is also a hero of mine. One of the things you mentioned--whether we grow closer to Christ as we learn how to behave better (I think that's what you said or implied) or whether it's grace which saves us was an ongoing debate Cranmer had with Henry VIII of all people (see Diarmaid MacCullogh's biography of Cranmer, a prizewinner in 2006, I think). Henry VIII held the former view (we get closer to salvation as we behave better).

Virgil said...

Note, however, that improved behavior isn't the key, it's a result of spiritual improvement through grace. In other words, if you look at it this way you both avoid Pelagianism and you avoid Calvin's issue of a Heaven full of evil people that Jesus snuck in. In Reformation terms, it's sanctification by grace rather than justification by grace.

BabyBlue said...

You guys are fantastic.

bb