Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Caveat emptor: Is The Episcopal Church remaking The Anglican Communion over in its own image?

Dr. Philip Turner has written a masterful essay on what went wrong at the recent meeting of the new "Standing Committee" of the Anglican Communion.  In The Way TEC Does Business: Let The Buyer Beware!, Dr. Turner unpacks the TEC strategy to wear down opposition and impose the new progressive innovations onto the worldwide Anglican Communion.

As we have noted here, the use of dialogue is a political strategy to wear down opposition over time. It is a method, "one inch at a time," as the former president of Integrity describes it. The "Standing Committee" has embraced this strategy as Dr. Turner notes:

Since the Standing Committee has decided that, in so far as it is concerned, TEC’s position in the Communion is to be decided through an indefinite period of dialogue, it is essential to understand just how TEC understands this process. TEC’s recent history makes one thing perfectly clear. Dialogue, for TEC, is not a process of disciplined argument designed to clarify issues, expose false reasoning, and arrive at a truth both parties can hold. It is not even a process of critical examination that occurs before taking a disputed action. Rather it is an aggressive form of self-promotion built around “talking points” rather than disciplined argument—talking points that are meant to beat down opposition to a disputed action already taken. In short, the decision made by the Standing Committee is in reality a decision to allow TEC more time to gain acceptance for its actions. It is not, in TEC’s mind, a time to subject those actions to “consequences” or to critical examination.

Dr. Turner then lays out exactly how this strategy has been employed for the past three decades in the Episcopal Church. The Presiding Bishop did not hide this strategic direction when she returned from the Tanzania Primates meeting and told her staff this is what they would do (that audio is now removed from the TEC website). He gives the first example where we see this strategy implemented starting in 1974. Like Dr. Turner, I do believe that men and women may be called to ordination and consecration, but like Dr. Turner I also believe that the Episcopal Church's method in implementing the ordination of women was simply atrocious and paved out the direction of how such major changes would be projected onto the church. Dr. Turner writes:

Go back to the year 1974. The General Convention of The Episcopal Church (then ECUSA) had twice refused (by a narrow vote) to approve the ordination of women to the priesthood. After the second refusal, three retired bishops ordained 11 female deacons as priests. The bishops said they broke the rules as an “obedient” and “prophetic” protest against oppression and an act of solidarity with those who are oppressed.

What were the consequences of breaking the rules? There was an attempt to bring the bishops to trial, but it failed despite committee advice to the contrary. The House of Bishops did decry the action of their colleagues and went on to pass a motion of censure; but since the bishops were all retired, the motion was of little effect. It was of so little effect that the following year Bishop George Barrett, yet another retired bishop, ordained four more women to the priesthood. Once again, no meaningful consequences followed. On their part, the women involved said that they consented to this action because to wait for another General Convention was to affirm in principle the concept that discrimination against ordaining women to the priesthood may be practiced in the church until the majority changes its mind and votes. It probably does not need saying, but in case the point is missed, very similar reasons are given by TEC for its recent breach of the moratoria in the case of Mary Glasspool’s ordination as Suffragan Bishop of Los Angeles.

The basic point, however, is that a pattern was established. There was a prohibition by TEC’s governing body of a proposed course of action. The action was undertaken anyway as a “prophetic witness.” There followed assertions that those who acted against the rules ought to be free from consequences because of the righteousness of their actions. The consequences that ensued were indeed minimal. Continuing conversation was substituted for ecclesial discipline. A new way of effecting change had been established. If the constitutional and canonical processes do not go your way, act anyway, deny the applicability of consequences, and then call for conversation.

Dr. Turner is absolutely correct - Integrity has not hidden their street-politics methods. There was certainly an attempt to use the same methods at the last Lambeth Conference, but those methods backfired in that setting, revealing more of what may be a global anti-American bias (and something the Americans should think long and hard about as they count up their allies).

He goes on to describe the same process that was used to now sanction same sex marriages in The Episcopal Church as well as the ordination and consecration of individuals in same-gender relationships. Dr. Turner writes:

Within TEC prohibited actions (of a progressive sort at any rate) are not to be subject to meaningful consequences. Within TEC, just as women’s ordination was losing its status as a matter of reception and becoming a requirement, the question of ordaining persons engaged in same gender sexual relations was becoming what the ordination of women once had been–a matter of “local option” (open to local choice by each diocese). The consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire, despite universal opposition by the Instruments of Communion (including resolution 1:10 of the Lambeth Conference of Bishops), had now become for TEC

And the Standing Committee wonders why they came out of the recent London meetings with no credibility? Attention now shifts to the meeting of the Primates, slated for January. There are some pre-meetings coming up in Uganda which will be of great interest. But no one should be fooled that this tried-and-true political strategy, used so effectively in a weakened TEC system, will be used full force in an equally weakened Anglican Communion.

Dr. Turner observes:

The Standing Committee has apparently acceded to TEC’s way of doing business. Though TEC has taken actions contrary to established Anglican teaching and against the counsel of all four Instruments of Communion, no “consequences” appear to follow. A bishop of The Episcopal Church, who allows for gay blessings in his diocese has been seated on the Standing Committee, though ineligible for other reasons as well. The Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church also remains a member. Further, that very same Standing Committee has determined that TEC’s status in the communion must be determined not by its adherence to established Anglican teaching but by an indefinite period of dialogue. “Consequences,” they opine, must be avoided because that would stifle dialogue on a number of important communion issues.

Further, as reported in the Standing Committee Bulletin of Day 3, when Dato’ Stanley Isaacs proposed that TEC’s place on the Standing Committee and in the ACC be withdrawn when matters of faith and order are under discussion, Archbishop Philip Aspinall (an opponent of Section Four) stated falsely that the Standing Committee did not have power to exclude in this way. Nevertheless, contrary to Archbishop Aspinall’s assertion, under the new articles the Standing Committee had just adopted, the committee is given power “to regulate their meetings as they see fit.” The Standing Committee, that, under the old articles, had denied a seat to a Uganda representative at the Jamaica meeting of the ACC, is also given power under the new articles to remove people from membership without cause by a two-thirds vote.

His article is a must-read by Anglican Communion leaders around the world. No one should walk into this type of engagement with the wool set firmly over their eyes and wondering why it got so dark. As we say in America, Caveat emptor.

Read Philip Turner's essay in full here. Now.


Bryan Owen said...

In addition to this essay, it's worth re-reading Turner's 2005 essay entitled, "An Unworkable Theology."

Anonymous said...

they may succeed in taking over the structures of the inch at a time.....but as in the US, most of the people will leave and they will be left with a tiny, irrelevant really doesn't matter if revisionists succeed, people will find natural spiritual homes: nobody comes along to hear about ubuntu in the US...or Canada or anywhere else....

Anonymous said...

This is a real problem for Rowan Williams. A charitable view of his actions is that he is avoiding coercive action because he prays that Spirit inspired discussion will produce a common mind and because people on either side of the table threaten to walk away. This approach is unworkable if there are no coordinate actions to prevent those discussions from being used as a stalling tactic. Fulcrum stated in March that "Actions have consequences". I'd be interested to hear what those consequences will be.