Monday, April 23, 2007

The Archbishop's Lament (Stockton)

The Reverend James V. Stockton is Rector of The Episcopal Church of the Resurrection (pictured here) in Austin (Diocese of Texas).

In this essay, he provides a context for a reaffirmation of traditional Anglican values in which "the Communion will find the beginnings of its liberation from this overly complicated, overly politicized discord, and its return to mutual mission and ministry."

Anglicanism's Answers to the Archbishop's Lament
(by the Rev. James V. Stockton)

Recent press coverage of the visit of the Archbishop of Canterbury to Canada brings to light some important considerations for the meeting of our House of Bishops with the Archbishop now forecast for September. On April 16, Canada's The Anglican Journal reported:
At the Toronto news conference, Archbishop Williams said he intends to go to the September conference with several members of the standing committee of the Anglican Consultative Council, an internationally representative group. He said he also hoped to understand, from the meeting, the problems the primates' request is causing for the American church, under its constitution. "I'm still waiting to see what the Episcopal Church will come up with as an alternative. The reaction was a very strongly worded protest against what they see as interference, but if not that, then what? I've spoken privately to people in the United States and am waiting to see," he said.
It would seem, then, that the Archbishop of Canterbury does not view "interference" as "interference." But then, again, he does see it as precisely such when he asks, "...if not that (i.e., interference), then what?" Of course it's interference – a.k.a. control, power. The alternative the Archbishop of Canterbury seems not to perceive is that fine old Anglican tradition of provincial autonomy. Why is it that he seems to need the Episcopal Church to reiterate this cornerstone of Anglicanism's global polity? It may be that he finds it personally advantageous for the U.S. to do so, in order to allow him to forestall for as long as possible the inevitable political consequences of actually taking a principled position. But why, in heaven's name, is he speaking again "privately to people in the United States"? And to whom? One wonders if this attempt to divide and conquer will never end.

If the problem were actually as the article describes it – namely, that "Anglican churches in other areas of the world, particularly in the southern hemisphere, are vehemently against liberalizing attitudes toward homosexuality, believing it contrary to Scripture" – then the titular leader of the Anglican Communion would need only remind one and all that the policies of the U.S. and Canadian churches do not, cannot, and need not affect the policies of any other province of the Communion. In fact, a strength and virtue of the Anglican form of Christian faith is that we have regional autonomy for the sake of both fidelity to the Gospel and effective local communication thereof.

And again from the same article:
"It's not," he [the Archbishop of Canterbury] said, "just about nice people who want to include gay and lesbian Christians and nasty people who don't. It is a question on which there is real principled disagreement. What are the forms of behaviour the church has the freedom to bless, and be faithful to Scripture, tradition and reason? That is the question that is tearing us apart at the moment because there are real differences of conviction."
With all due respect to the Archbishop of Canterbury, that is not the question. In Anglicanism "the church" is not a singular entity whose "freedom to bless" is determined by a hierarchically superior Church agency. In Anglicanism, as yet anyway, "the church" is comprised of Churches whose freedom is owned locally. Thus, no such question as the Archbishop of Canterbury describes can, in fact, come before "the church" as though the church were politically and organizationally a single entity – and yet this question has already come before the Churches.

To put it another way, one might wonder to which church does the Archbishop of Canterbury refer? The Episcopal Church? The Church of England? The Anglican Church in Nigeria? The fact is, each Church of the Communion already has in place polity and policies by which it may, if it so chooses, address this question or any other. There is no such question that is or should be before the Churches of the Communion in any determinative or juridical manner, unless the Communion decides to redefine itself as a new Roman-style Church. However, the more vigorously people lobby for such a change, the more such efforts expose the real issue: power. For why attempt to recreate Roman Catholicism rather than simply convert to it, except that the latter involves the loss of power? This brings up a deceptively small but significant point: the Anglican triumvirate is not Scripture, Tradition, and Reason, but Scripture, Reason, and Tradition – with Tradition a relatively distant third in Richard Hooker's purposefully hierarchical order. It seems to me a reasonable suspicion that the institutional instinct for stasis is helping to elevate Tradition beyond its original position in the foundation of Anglicanism and thus promoting its un-Anglican over-emphasis in the rhetoric of the Communion's recent debates.

The fact remains that any question around "forms of behaviour" (a curious phrase) that are or are not appropriate for the Church to bless is a question posed by each province to itself. Beyond the province, there is, in terms of polity, no "the Church" to address "the question." The Archbishop of Canterbury would benefit all the Communion if he would state this polity plainly and repeat it ad nauseam. This polity is the single reason that it never has occurred to the Episcopal Church, and never would, to set about trying to impose its policies on any other province, or to attempt to determine policy or polity of any other province. To do so would be to contradict the autonomy of a member Church of the Communion. Sadly, the same cannot be said of the recent demands of the primates, nor of the Archbishop of Canterbury's participation in seeking to pressure the Episcopal Church to accede to them. Finally, it is worth noting that the Archbishop of Canterbury's perception of "the question" suggests that he, himself, needs reminding that the blessing of same-sex unions is no more about blessing "behaviors" than is the blessing of unions of heterosexuals. It's about the blessing of mutual love, affection, sacrifice, and commitment. To focus upon behaviors is plainly crass. Surely the conversation has progressed beyond that level.

One suspects that the Archbishop of Canterbury will do well for his own sake to prepare for a profound education come September. One suspects also that our House of Bishops (and our Executive Council) will be prepared and committed to providing it. If both these prove true, the Communion will find the beginnings of its liberation from this overly complicated, overly politicized discord, and its return to mutual mission and ministry.


Anonymous the Reverend boy said...

The Bishop is tickling a truly Anglican idea, in my humble opinion.

I do not think that he is, as such, "for" openly gay clergy of all levels or he is, as such, "for" the blessings of same-sex unions.

But I do think, he is very close to respecting the position of those with whom he disagrees, and at least being able to see where those positions come from.

4/23/2007 9:10 PM  
Blogger Marshall said...

Bless his heart and his pointy hat, the Archbishop in fact does want a Church - a sense of "Catholic lite" that goes far beyond American liturgical humor. He does not want to be pope, as he sees it, nor to establish a curia; and yet he is not satisfied with "a federation, and perhaps less than a federation."

Power? Well, yes; but let us not forget that he also has a desire for unity as a theological virtue in itself. He does indeed desire that "all may be one as [Christ] and the Father are one." Some form of unity among Anglicans might seem a first step in this direction. However, having perhaps despaired of unity of practice, he has apparently bought into some greater model of unity of institution. Perhaps it is not about power to or for him. Sadly, it has played into the hands of those who do see it as being about power.

4/23/2007 9:18 PM  
Anonymous Mike Mayor -- Salt Lake City, UT said...

Well said, and I couldn't agree more with the general thesis. The polity questions for the communion are right on. I wrote a similar op-ed for my local paper back in March. The ABC, a died in the wool Anglo-Catholic, seems to be assuming that the communion is an ecclesia rather than a communion.

On a separate point, I do debate the assertion that reason comes second for Hooker after scripture. A careful reading of the Lawes would indicate that Hooker most likely would place reason first as he sees both the reading of scripture and the development of tradition as an interpretative exercise. Reason on the other hand is a product of the natural lawes of creation which reflect divine lawe.

4/23/2007 9:31 PM  
Anonymous Mary Clara said...

Bravo! Somebody finally brought in the heavy equipment to demolish and haul away the whole fantasy-structure of 'The Church' as a global institution with the power to control the actions and thoughts of its local exponents. Not to mention the truly appalling idea that it's all about whether or not to bless 'forms of behavior'.

I would only comment that it may not be a bad thing for Archbishop Rowan to be in private conversation with people in the US. Sometimes a lot gets learned and worked through behind the scenes, over coffee, etc.

I understand that he will be in Washington this weekend to preach at the National Cathedral. Maybe he will have some helpful conversations there.

4/24/2007 6:06 AM  
Blogger Jim Stockton said...

My citation of Richard Hooker comes from his Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Fifth Book, chapter VIII, section 2. The entire section describes his hierarchy, but here's a succinct quotation: "Be it in matter of the one kind of of the other, what scripture doth plainly deliver, to that the first place both of credit and obedience; the next whereunto is whatsoever any man can necessarily conclude by force of reason; after these the voice of the Church succeedeth." Here Hooker has clearly laid out his hierarchy of Scripture, Reason, then Tradition.

The following sentence reinforces this point: "That which the Church by her ecclesiastical authority shall probably think and define to be true or good, must in congruity of reason overrule all other inferior judgments whatsoever." Thus, in good protestant fashion, Hooker holds that even the authority of the Church must subject itself to sound reason.

I know we often cite the Anglican triad, but few of us really ever know whence it comes. Here it is and I hope this helps.

Jim Stockton +

4/24/2007 5:05 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Mary Clara, I think you are mistaken. You said, "I understand that he [the Archbishop of Canterbury] will be in Washington this weekend to preach at the National Cathedral." I've been in touch with folks at the National Cathedral, and the preacher this Sunday will be Robert Willis, dean of Canterbury. An easy confusion.

4/24/2007 8:28 PM  
Anonymous JCF said...

What are the forms of behaviour the church has the freedom to bless, and be faithful to Scripture, tradition and reason? That is the question that is tearing us apart at the moment because there are real differences of conviction.

Close, but no cigar Rowan (and your miss is as good as a mile).

If, in Christ, we are a "new creation"---and we are---then the Real Question is "What are the forms of behaviour the church has NO freedom to bless?"

In other words, the Church EXISTS to bless this world that Christ has redeemed.

If someone feels strongly that there are some things that cannot be blessed, then the the burden of proof is upon them to prove it.

TEC, transparently following its polity for all to see (lo these many decades), has concluded that homosexual couples/homosexual persons in orders, are among God's Creation which MAY be appropriately blessed.

The Sturm-und-Drang crowd (as a minority within TEC, and some larger percentage in the rest of the AC) has simply failed to make a credible case (from Scripture, Tradition and Reason) as to why TEC may NOT bless.

Rowan: it's horse-pull-cart, not cart-pull-horse!

5/05/2007 10:49 PM  

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