Wednesday, August 09, 2006

What is to be Done? -- by the Rev. Wm R. Coats

What is to be Done?
(The Rev. William R. Coats)

The Church is now at a strategic crossroads in the struggle to defend itself against the combined forces of Africa/ Global South/ American radical evangelicals/the Conservative wing of the English Church (now completely in league with the Archbishop of Canterbury).

After the radical and vitriolic reaction to the consecration of Gene Robinson, the American Church, through its Presiding Bishop, its House of Bishops, its Executive Council and its General Convention pursued a strategy of conciliation. Each “instrument” in its way expressed regret the consecration had upset others in the Anglican Communion, pledged a limited moratorium on such future consecrations, received positively the Windsor Report, and voluntarily withdrew from official participation in the Anglican Consultative Congress. The strategy of conciliation reached its high water mark when General Convention - under great pressure from English bishops - passed a conciliatory resolution that in general fashion extended the moratorium on further gay and lesbian consecrations. This latter action was greeted positively by a number of moderates within the church who saw it as a means of reconciliation with our adversaries. They maintained that "the center had held," meaning the door was open for some future accommodation

All of this has proved illusory. Indeed, every earlier conciliatory gesture had been dismissed as inadequate when offered. Yet, in the face of this altogether obvious reality, the strange hope arose that General Convention’s concession would somehow be fruitful. Of course matters proved otherwise. The final gesture - General Convention’s resolution on the last day of its meeting - was within six days denounced by the Archbishop of Canterbury as inadequate. Other adversaries overseas and at home quickly joined the chorus of denunciation. Meanwhile our own right-wing radicals, as if following a script, immediately carried out the next stage in their plan: seven dioceses called for “alternative primatial oversight”; one diocese demanded that the Archbishop of Canterbury assume direct charge of its ecclesiastical life. A smaller group of conservative bishops claiming to be "Windsor bishops" gathered in Texas and, with the aid of two conservative English Bishops, proceeded to echo the complaint that the church had not gone far enough.

The strategy of concession seemed to many, particularly our moderates, to make sense. It accorded with long-standing habits of humility, accommodation and cooperation. It also assumed that conciliation would help in the usual Anglican process of open discussion and exchange of views and of allowing latitude to different views on ethical subjects. After all, this had been the traditional Anglican way of resolving disputes in the past. For three years the American Church assumed that those opposed to the consecration of Gene Robinson were civil, generous and tolerant.

All these presumptions were incorrect. The most obvious one was our belief that there were actual forces at home and abroad who wished to engage in conversation or accommodation. That 22 of the 38 primates had broken off all relations with the American church since the consecration of Gene Robinson was simply ignored. This was accompanied by naivete, namely the denial that there were forces intent upon bringing harm to this Church. In reality there were forces that had never been interested in compromise or concession; from first to last they wanted repentance and capitulation - they wanted the consecration of Gene Robinson reversed. And they would harm this church to gain their ends.

The strategy employed by our radicals at home has been clear for some time. It is to establish a parallel church-within-a-church. Their hope is to gain acceptance and legitimacy from the Archbishop of Canterbury thus enabling them to claim to be the "true" Anglican Church in America. Indeed, such recognition will be part of their ongoing campaign to seize the assets of the parishes and dioceses in which they reside. They will then wait for the time when the Episcopal Church is no longer officially recognized by the rest of the Anglican Communion and they can be invited to be the official Church in America. The Archbishop of Canterbury had, of course, encouraged this group from the beginning and there seems little doubt he will in some fashion cater to their wishes. Canterbury has long since ceased to be a neutral arbiter but under the cover provided by the Windsor Report has become an antagonist.

The strategy of the right-wing radicals at home dovetails with the strategy of our adversaries abroad. The key here is the new Anglican Covenant. This document will restructure Anglicanism and outline a set of beliefs and behaviors to which all national Churches will be asked to agree. Those writing the document have so far been and clearly will continue to be the same extreme conservative elements which forged the Windsor Report. The outcome, at least as now envisioned by our adversaries, will curb the autonomy of the American Church and force on us a roll back on the matter of gay and lesbian consecrations (and by implication, ordinations). A somewhat modified evangelical formula will also assume a quasi-legal creedal status. To this we will be asked to agree - or get out. In other words what the domestic and overseas radicals could not get from us at General Convention they will try to obtain through the Anglican Covenant.

Given the powerful array of forces lined up against the American Church, and the almost preternatural fury of their opposition, the Church is now in a struggle for its very life. Without a vigorous defense on our part, in a few years we may, by one means or another, no longer be a full member of the Anglican Communion.

These powerful forces already suggest a huge shift in Anglicanism. Culturally conservative, biblically fundamentalist or evangelical they have come to despise a Church with a structure which allows such a wide range of theological and ethical positions. They have come to despise a Church which seeks to be inclusive of otherwise excluded elements. They have come to despise a Church which seeks in a conversation with modernity to adopt certain elements of political, social or ethical practice. And they have come to despise a Church which does not have a strict order and a formal and strict theology. In this sense, Anglicanism as we have known it has already died.

We are now in a difficult position. The strategy of concession has failed, but there is as yet no clear alternative strategic way forward for the American Church.

There are two aspects to our difficulties. First, our Church does not possess the means for a concerted national effort to establish policy and strategy. The structural emphasis of the Church has always been the diocese. Our collective instruments are inherently weak. General Convention meets only every three years. The Executive Council meets periodically as does the House of Bishops. Our Presiding Bishop is little more than a figure head. It is hard even to use the word strategy in such a weak institutional arrangement. Given this structural weakness an unofficial nationwide organization designed to defend the Church becomes a necessary instrument in this ongoing struggle

Secondly, our bishops and General Convention have committed themselves to the Windsor process. Given our initial strategy of conciliation this was a natural move - thus, Bishop Frank Griswold early supported the creation of the Eames Commission which eventually gave us the Windsor Report. However, our efforts at being conciliatory blinded us from seeing the menace involved in the Windsor Report. The report itself was manifestly hostile to the US (and the Canadian Diocese of New Westminster) and insisted upon, as a condition of acceptance within Anglicanism, our capitulation in the matter of Gene Robinson. When we did not capitulate fully at General Convention, it became clear our adversaries were out to bring us to heel or simply eliminate us. This accounts for the continual use by our adversaries of Windsor as an instrument by which to attack us. The attack continues now under the guise of the making of an Anglican Covenant. Tragically we are now stuck with supporting a process whose main aim is to cripple the American Church.

Nonetheless, a few opportunities present themselves. Strategically there is a need to define our Church in a more assertive and positive way. It will no longer do to apologize for what we have done; we must speak positively of who and what we are. Some of the opportunities are as follows:

1) A more assertive theological defense of the consecration of Gene Robinson and a more rigorous biblical and theological case for the full inclusion of gays and lesbians.
At the same time we must attack those forces which stand in opposition. This entails, as well, a firm denial that our actions constitute a fall from orthodoxy. The right-wing case rests on the preposterous notion that certain so called "liberal" actions symbolize a complete fall into heresy and apostasy. This conservative mantra is to be attacked at all times.

2) A full defense of our Church’s use of "experience" in doing theology; and the assertion that this is fully compatible with traditional Anglican orthodoxy

3) A full defense of the claim that there is a distinction between core doctrine and certain ethical matters

4) Our firm belief that even those who disagree with our views on the matter of Gene Robinson are still entitled to their views and their full participation in the Church. We still tolerate dissent. But we treat dissent within the context of respectful conversation. We stand for traditional Anglicanism.

5) We support the view of Anglicanism as a big tent. We do not believe that narrowing the Church to strict right-wing evangelicalism is theologically or ecclesiastically correct. Moreover it narrows the Church’s "market" to that small portion of the population which is "evangelically oriented."

6) We must create a very active web-site so as to be able to gather material stating our case.


DOMESTIC STRATEGY

A) To mount a challenge against any and all moves by our right-wing radicals as they attack us and to oppose the notion that an elaborate right-wing evangelicalism is a viable alternative Anglicanism

B) To resist all efforts by the right-wing radicals to withdraw assets from the Church

C) To be open to tactics that either support legal moves to constrict the illegal activities of the right-wing radicals or ask them to leave the church entirely

D) To organize forces for the next General Convention that uphold our theological views

OVERSEAS STRATEGY

A) To challenge the Archbishop of Canterbury

B) To answer rigorously all attacks from forces such as Archbishop Peter Akinola

C) To challenge the Anglican Covenant (the best that can be hoped for is that the document will be watered down and benign).

D) To encourage our Executive Council and our Presiding Bishop to become more aggressive in their defense of the Church - which would mean:
1) a more critical view of the Windsor Report and the Anglican Covenant.
2) a demand that we be seated at the Anglican Consultative Council

E) To establish relations with friendly forces overseas. Efforts should begin immediately to explore the possibility of a separate set of concordats with friendly national Churches

9 Comments:

Blogger GL+ said...

Just a couple of comments:

"A smaller group of conservative bishops claiming to be "Windsor bishops" gathered in Texas and, with the aid of two conservative English Bishops, proceeded to echo the complaint that the church had not gone far enough."

Actually this should read "are going to gather." The meeting is to take place in September. So, they have not "proceeded" to do anything yet.

"a demand that we be seated at the Anglican Consultative Council"

Actually, TEC voluntarily withdrew, so I think "demand that we be seated" misrepresents our actual position in re: the ACC.

"1) A more assertive theological defense of the consecration of Gene Robinson and a more rigorous biblical and theological case for the full inclusion of gays and lesbians."

Absolutely! This is what the Windsor Report asked for in saying, "Until a further consensus can be reached." And it's what conservatives have been asking for all along. The defenses thus far have been too "experiential" and not very well posed from a Biblical perspective.

8/11/2006 4:57 PM  
Blogger Craig Goodrich said...

... the same extreme conservative elements which forged the Windsor Report.

It is shocking that such extreme conservatives as +Mark Dyer, ++Robin Eames, Dr. Jenny Te Paa, and ++Barry Morgan should be permitted to criticize the prophetic actions of the Church.

... 22 of the 38 primates had broken off all relations with the American church since the consecration of Gene Robinson... in a few years we may, by one means or another, no longer be a full member of the Anglican Communion.

The fact that our full membership has not been recognized by a mojority of the members of the Communion for several years now does not, of course, affect the fact that we really are full members. We really, really are. Really.

We do not believe that narrowing the Church to strict right-wing evangelicalism is theologically or ecclesiastically correct.

Absolutely not! And after all, it's only the most literalist fundamentalist Bible-thumping evangelicals who have any problem at all with ECUSA's reforms -- the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox have been blessing same-sex unions for decades now.

8/11/2006 8:43 PM  
Blogger joe from old OC said...

This is without a doubt the most uncatholic and graceless article on the Anglican crisis that I have seen anywhere - period - all the articles on the subject in the Guardian included.

When your only adversaries in a spiritual battle are those you consider to be traditionalists or conservatives, you are no longer fighting for the Faith, or the Church, but for an ideological agenda.

Since becoming a traditional Anglo-Catholic several years ago, I have seen and experienced many different kinds of public and private heresies across the spectrum of episcopo-religion. Though I will admit that the dox have as much self-examination to do as the mods, it is patently obvious that this struggle is not simply about sexuality, and all the psychological baggage that goes with it. I am convinced that the mods have now taken the struggle to a place where it is essentially a political one, and political movements almost never pause to do self-examination of any kind. It's all tactical now, as this article clearly reveals.

I have two overlapping questions - 1) At what point of stretching the faith to fit all socially acceptable personal feeling would mods ever consider that they might be bordering on heresy? 2) If the Arians had taken over, why would the mods care, or with their ethical and ecclesiological criteria, have any means of standing against it?

8/12/2006 12:13 PM  
Blogger Jake said...

joe,

Those who many of us object to are neither conservative nor traditional. They are a new breed, which defy definition, except that many of them seem to be aligned with the Network.

Your barb "...stretching the faith to fit all socially acceptable personal feeling..." is the kind of generalization that does little except to reveal your own personal agenda. It has no root in the truth.

Comparing those who oppose the Network with the Arians leaves little doubt that your intention is to attack, not to discuss.

Personally, I'm not interested in attacks. Coats' use of that term is one of the problems I have with this essay.

We're discussing other problems with it over at Jake's place, for those who might be interested.

8/14/2006 1:42 PM  
Blogger Esther392 said...

"Culturally conservative, biblically fundamentalist or evangelical they have come to despise a Church with a structure which allows such a wide range of theological and ethical positions. They have come to despise a Church which seeks to be inclusive of otherwise excluded elements. They have come to despise a Church which seeks in a conversation with modernity to adopt certain elements of political, social or ethical practice."

Well - I'd say he has a firm grasp on the obvious. If the goal is to join a group that seeks to adopt "elements of political, social or ethical practice," simply join the Rotarians.

Now if you are looking to be the salt in the world, you need to become a member of the Church that actually believes Jesus Christ to be the only son of God the Father and that Jesus Christ as our Savior and Redeemer is The Way and The Truth. Note use of THE and not A.

Joe - I don't think they are mods. I think they are libs. Notice they admit they apologized for the way we may have felt but not for the action itself.

8/14/2006 4:17 PM  
Blogger J.J. said...

Thanks for this excellent proposal. For the most part I agree with you. We need to be doing more thinking like this. Let's go with it!

8/14/2006 4:55 PM  
Blogger joe from old OC said...

Jake:

Sadly, like most of the mod/progressivists that I blog with, you refuse to deal with anything that I have written at face value, and give yourself the right to continually read between the lines, and pseudo psycho-analyze, pass judgment upon, and re-interpret my post for me.

1st, Rev. Coats uses the word conservative at at least 3 points in his essay to identify those that he is opposed to. If you don't consider his conservatives to be real conservatives, you need to clarify what your classification of them would be and why.

2nd, I never attack anyone in my post. I call Rev. Coats article graceless because he shows no respect whatsoever for the beliefs/positions of those he considers his adversaries within the Church. In addition, the whole nature of his article is to dehumanize them (completely in contradiction to the liberal values I'm sure he claims to espouse) and make them into an enemy that he can proceed against with cold, calculated strategies and tactics. This is almost the definition of graceless.

3rd, my statement regarding "socially acceptable personal feeling" is not a barb, but virtually a statement of fact. Simply read the resolutions of GC2006 - the episcopalian leadership consistently endorsed any politically-correct sentiment, and rejected any expression of fidelity to traditional Christian faith. These sentiments are all about the collective personal feelings of certain sub-groups of Americans, and they have been allowed to influence our expressions of even the identity of God Himself.

4th, you fail to address the questions that I ask and only pre-judge my intentions for asking them. In your knee-jerk reaction to strong language, you completely misread my reference to the Arian crisis of the 4th century. I am not equating mods with Arians, but asking if mods can deal with the subtleties of language that heretics use to get in the door. There were once several varieties of Arians, some of whom sounded very much like the faithful. True Christian leadership guides the Church to make the difficult distinction between those who accept the historic Christ taught by the Apostles and preserved in the apostolic Scriptures and liturgies, and those who want to add their own ideological gloss to the catholic faith. While we clearly have many within episcopalianism who express heretical ideas on a daily basis, Rev. Coats only concern in his strategic analysis/strategic intelligence paper is to eradicate the "right-wing radicals" whom he never really defines theologically. If he is so concerned about the survival of the American church over against the worldwide Anglican Communion (a strangely nationalistic notion for a mod/liberal), then he might consider looking at what the theological practices of episcopalians actually are.

As an ex-fundamentalist, I can tell you with confidence that nearly all of those evangelical Anglicans that you and your fellow mods/progressivists label as fundamentalist and right wing are far from it. They may sound alot like some hard-line Baptists and Reformed from time to time, but the same can be said of the language of moderate and fundamentalist Muslims. Or Democrats and Republicans.

8/16/2006 6:21 AM  
Blogger joe from old OC said...

Jake (Fr. Jake, I presume):

I actually found the tone of the post on your blog regarding Rev. Coats article very encouraging. I disagree with virtually all of your conclusions, but of course, we knew that already.

8/16/2006 6:30 AM  
Blogger Atrium said...

The Episcopal Church is going through a gut wrenching changes. The Church seems to be on the path of those institutions that have gradually faded away because they are broken and no longer work. Nobody wants to hear the “chicken little” view, but let’s face it; membership is half of what it was 20 years ago. There are 2+ million Episcopalians in the U.S. Our Church has become miniscule. There are more than 5 million AME members and 60+ million Catholics. Most Episcopal Churches are less than half full on a Sunday. If you do the math, recognize the trends and patterns, it is not encouraging.

The Episcopal Church seems to be going through a change which involves bringing the “outside in” but at the expense of driving the “inside out”. I know there is more to being an Episcopalian than internecine battles over sexuality; however, the polarization seems to be very durable and not capable of being resolved.

If you view the body as a family, you acknowledge that you have many differences, but you find a way to get along and move along. If the Episcopal Church is a family, it is extremely dysfunctional. We all know what happens to families in which Mom and Dad find themselves hating each other. I fear our Church has reached a critical juncture. If the different factions do not find a way to resolve differences and agree to work together, it is all over.

I am probably fairly typical. I have spent the last 20 some years working within the Church. I tithed. I served on the Vestry for four of these years, three of which as Senior Warden. In five years we doubled pledges, paid off debt, and increased attendance only to see it all fall away over the usual squabbles over sexuality and day school issues. I have gone from spending up to 20 hours a week on Church activities to next to nothing. I attend about 3 times a year and find myself wondering why. I have stopped pledging, and I have eliminated the Church from my will. I have moved on to working with other worthy organizations.

To me being a Christian is all about loving God AND loving your neighbor as yourself. The Episcopal Church is still good at all the ritualistic loving of God, but it fails the loving the neighbor test. If you can’t buy into the Sermon on the Mount, I don’t care how much you pray or go to Church. It is the old bit about loving mankind, but not loving your neighbor or fellow parishioner. If you can’t treat your fellow with kindness and compassion, then it is broke and just does not work.

What amazes me is the “fundies” as I call them have got the program down. They have a unified vision, and they work with and for each other. I was shocked when I had a conversation with two women from Texas who told me how their Church had 20,000 plus members, 5,000+ on a Sunday, and 625 in the choir -- they were choir members. Of course it was a fundie Baptist Church. I will not bore you with all the good things they were doing in the outreach area. It puts us to shame.

You tell me what we are doing wrong.

Now just in case you are wondering, I am not anything close to a fundie. I am a Vietnam vet. I detest our beloved Prez, George W. I am ashamed by many things that our country does, and I am ashamed of our Church.

8/21/2006 1:28 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home