Monday, April 09, 2007

Bishop Whalon Suggests Next Steps

The Right Reverend Pierre W. Whalon ( Bishop in Charge of the Convocation of American Churches in Europe) offers a fine essay in the current issue of Anglicans Online. "A Bishop's Estimate of the Situation" (dated March 31) places current events in a larger context, comments thoughtfully on the House of Bishops meeting, and concludes with recommendations for action "to move us away from the schism so many believe is inevitable."

His historical review begins in 1963 which he deems a pivotal year. That year Bishop Stephen Bayne called together an Anglican Congress in Toronto, and the 18 primates of the Anglican Communion -- virtually all of them Anglo-Saxons, Bishop Whalon notes -- adopted a manifesto of "Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence," which unleashed "new energy for mission that ... led to the doubling of the numbers of the Communion within forty years." He then analyzes the ways in which that extraordinary growth "is the cause of some chaos" between the First World and Third World.

He relates this Anglican history to several other movements which also burst upon the scene in 1963: the civil rights movement (with Dr. King's 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech), the women's rights movement (with Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique in 1963), the gay liberation movement (in the Stonewall riots six years later), and Rome's Vatican II Council (following the death of Pope John XXIII in 1963). His analysis of the history and ethos of the past four decades is fascinating and deserves a full reading.

Bishop Whalon then analyzes "the tensions inherent to Anglicanism" and the ways in which they have been exacerbated in the past few years, then moves to a discussion of boundaries and "who will define and enforce them?" His analysis seems remarkably even-handed -- offering more observation and analysis than judgment or critique.

He moves then to a thoughtful report on the recent House of Bishops meeting. He comments on several recent events -- some of which occurred in the meeting -- that have contributed to an erosion of trust.

In conclusion, he says, "It seems to me that a number of things must happen to move us away from the schism so many believe is inevitable." He enumerates them in the concluding section of his essay, and we quote them here:
First, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the rest of the Primates Standing Committee should accept to meet with the American bishops. The Archbishop should speak his mind, as well as the other Primates, and then listen as well; we bishops should listen and respectfully speak our minds. There is a Covenant to design together, and soon other issues will exercise the Communion—let us set the tone now.

Second, there are many signs that a large majority in the Communion does not want to see either the American Episcopal Church driven out of the Communion or the Primates Meeting become the final arbiter in Communion-wide issues. Neither schism nor autocracy will do for Anglicans. That majority needs to make its will known. Everyone will lose if either alternative wins out.

Third, I believe that the church in general, and the House of Bishops in particular, have heard the message loud and clear: we are mutually responsible to one another, and interdependent. 1963 is already a long time ago, and there is no going back. While individual provinces in the final analysis need to do what they believe is right, we always need to inform and discuss before acting. In any event bishops are not regional administrators, but, as the Ordinal declares, are responsible for leadership of the Church throughout the world.

Moreover, our House of Bishops has been since the Pike case unwilling to discipline its members for anything other than sexual misconduct. In saying this I mean on all sides: what we have no power to do or allow we should not do or allow. The result is that we have been contributing to the general sense of laissez-faire, of “anything goes,” not only allowing chaos, but also showing no love for the one who needs disciplining. I am not advocating anything more proper canonical and rubrical restraint and the even-handed application of our existing discipline. Bishops have a special responsibility to administer the discipline of the Church. We need to start with ourselves.

Lastly, the Anglican Communion has a ways to go yet in developing the structures appropriate to its global mission, which alone would continue to allow Anglicanism to thrive as a genuine way of living as Christians. The inherited ambiguity about moral teaching requires serious sustained consideration, as our ecumenical partners have also told us. So do other, very different issues like lay presidency at the Eucharist and giving communion to the unbaptized.

I believe that in order to do this work, not to mention the greater mission of the Church, we need to ponder anew the truth upheld and expressed clearly by the greatest Episcopalian, John Henry Hobart. The Christian must hear the Gospel and respond; that response is to be grafted into the Church, from whence he or she will then go forth as a witness of Christ to the ends of the earth. We cannot have only the Gospel, and no ordered community of faith, for that is chaos. We cannot have an ordered church, from which no Good News is proclaimed in word and deed to a desperate world, for that is death. “Evangelical Truth and Apostolic Order” is how the great Bishop described it. In this perennial dialectic the individual and communal can be reconciled; the Low Church, Broad Church and High Church weaknesses corrected and their strengths affirmed; personal sin and social sin judged and their remedy prescribed and applied. The power of the Spirit is experienced, and together, in debate and argument over Scripture, leavened by heartfelt common prayer, we come to have the mind of Christ (I Cor. 2:12-16). Call it a covenant, call it what you will, if we can find a way to do this, we shall be blessed indeed.

This is the hard road in which we are all called together to walk. It lies in no broad plain. This road is rather a narrow mountain pass that leads from an old creation to a new one. There is none other, and there are precipices all around.

Whether we take it or not will determine not only the present situation, but also the future of Anglicanism, and in some small measure, the future of the Christian Church.
Bishop Whalon's essay is a major piece of work and warrants careful reading and reflection. Do click here and read it all. (Father Jake also found Bishop Whalon's essay significant, and he commented on it here – but with a different focus.)

We are reminded of the "Motion to Reconsider," in which Jim Naughton and the Reverend Dan Martins collaborated in an effort to find "meeting ground" between the majority and dissidents within the Episcopal Church. Martins, a noted conservative, asks what "horse pill" each side would be willing to swallow. Anglicans Online comments on Bishop Whalon's essay: "It's all starting to get interesting." It is good to see some parties making serious efforts to suggest a way forward for the whole Episcopal Church and, indeed, the Anglican Communion.

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