Monday, December 31, 2007

That Didn't Take Long

In a remarkably clumsy move, the (maybe) Bishop of San Joaquin has relieved the vicar of St. Nicholas, Atwater of his position. This has been seized upon as something for the revisionists/legalists to complain about (and there's a LOT more at Fr. Jake's besides that article); conversely, there is decided silence at Stand Firm, apparently because mention of the incident is being censored there.


If we're talking legalism, then it is hardly remarkable that John David Schofield might exercise a power which, under ordinary circumstances, there is no question about him exercising. Well, besides the usual allegations of firing people for holding the wrong opinions; but if we started handing out tickets for that, we could paper every revisionist diocese in the country with the accusations. To the degree that this is an issue, the conflict is already lost, and we as an institution are damned from decades on.

And if it be an issue, we move on to the next point. The obvious analogue to the Atwater dismissal is the Connecticut Six, but it is a false analogy, because the issue in Connecticut is the unprecedented nature of the acts. What happened in Atwater is therefore no more than fallout from the real issue: whether San Joaquin's unprecedented move leaves its bishop without powers. It is unremarkable that he should consider that he believes that he may exercise them, so on that level the incident is merely cause for "ain't it awful" hand-wringing.

The truly sticky point is that the only precedents we have were set by Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, and their bishops. It's not a good precedent if you think that canons are our only recourse; it would direct the parishes and dioceses to turn in their keys to the nearest Roman authority.

But the conflict, at this stage, is baldly a war over territory. If charity were given its due, GC would reconvene, concede irreconcilable differences, and set forth a negotiation to carry the division through with as little pain as possible. This is not going to happen because each of the driving factions is intent on getting as much territory for itself and denying the opposition as can be denied. In the middle are a lot of people-- perhaps the majority-- who cannot be claimed as adherents of either extreme, and whose bishops, saying that "schism is worse than heresy", refuse to deal with a situation in which they will have both schism and heresy.

In the battle, Atwater is a rather small prize (ASA of 20 at last count). San Joaquin is a smallish diocese. The real contest is over the dispersion of dioceses like Virginia and Washington and Maryland. The revisionists cannot afford to let moderates have a choice or conservative properties escape. That's where the law comes in.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

For as in Adam All Fall

I gave up on Christopher Johnson and the Midwest Conservative Journal a long time ago. As with David Virtue's site, there's just too much cant. So when the following passage appeared there, I missed it (and for some reason, I can't find it now either):
If you are Protestant — if you don’t believe in an infallible/one true church, and as a separate church you were founded by a schism from your lawful ecclesiastical head, you have no right to invoke Nic├Ža. Ever.
Well, bullshit. My lawful head, the only Head the church has, is Jesus. And I never swore fealty to either Rome or Constantinople; if indeed I owe such an utter debt of loyalty to any earthly church, it would be to 815 2nd Avenue, for it was a Episcopal bishop who confirmed me.

Looking at Nicea as a simply a matter of legal authority is not the only possibility, and it is not the possibility that has any relationship to truth. Nicea's most tenacious authority doesn't come from its political relationship to any bishop, but from its repeated, persistent ratification by generations of theologians coming from a variety of theological approaches.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Come All Ye That Are Somewhat Vexed

Tony Clavier comes at a problem I'd mentioned earlier from a more direct angle:
I only wish the problem with TEC was something to do with liberalism. I caught a bit of a radio talk by the Archbishop of York over Christmas. He said that if the Church of England closed inner city parishes, even if they are sparsely attended, it would cease to be the Church of England and become merely a church for the well-off in suburban areas.

He need only look at the Episcopal Church. More and more as we have retreated from the inner cities and the rural areas we have become a church for wealthy people; people with the money to attend meetings, espouse liberal causes, write checks and love at a distance.
Meanwhile, from TitusOneNine, we have this interview of Peter Gomes, a Harvard theologian:
But I would think that, if Jesus came today, the people he would be most interested in dealing with would be homosexuals, racial minorities, people who would be thought to be less than the most upright and righteous people in the contemporary community. If the New Testament is any model, that's where he would hang out.
My job is, to coin a phrase used in the 19th century and adopted much by my old friend, Bill Coffin, "to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted." So, in some sense, if the one thing the sermon does is wake you up so that you discover that you don't agree, it's done a good thing, in that respect.
Frankly, it's hard for me to think of anyone more comfortable than a Harvard theologian, or for that matter, the forces at 815 2nd Avenue. And for all the talk of Jesus traveling with minorities, it seems to me that Rev. Gomes' window into the downtrodden is really quite narrow, and that it looks out upon many who are hardly downtrodden at all. Let us start with Peter Gomes himself, who (if Wikipedia is to be believed) is black and gay. A biography from his church's website reveals that he is firmly placed within the firmament of the establishment.

Let us turn instead to the single mother, with children from several men; or the father who finds himself increasingly in the hole; or the retiree faced with the care of her increasingly senile husband. Or for that matter, the family trying to keep their daughters from becoming teen pregnancy statistics, or the sons from make someone else's daughter a statistic. Or a young man started on the road to alcoholism. Or better still (since that should be our churches' core competency, should it not?) those whose hearts do not hear the message of Jesus; or having heard it, heed it not; or having once heeded it, turn away and depart into the thickets of secularism.

I look at my parish, and I do not see a place where the passing middle or lower class traveler is comfortable. We are the very model of a middle of the road upper middle suburban parish. I look at my old parish, and if anything, it seems worse. Of course, I came into the church at that most patrician of institutions: the private boarding school. We knew there who was quite rich, but we didn't necessarily know who was poor. I was on one score not among the latter, for my parents paid the full cost; but on another, we were terribly strapped by the cost, and it killed the possibility of attending one of those elite colleges such as those boarding schools are wont send their graduates to. Even at the University of Maryland I was reduced one winter to making do with a windbreaker. But I was never really poor.

I remember some of the kids at that school who were very blessed to be there, because we were their family. Sons of diplomats in difficult stations, and children of custodial fathers who didn't know what to do with them. And some of us were simply blessed to peek inside the doors of the establishment. Now and again the true patrician families would appear at the school, and they fairly glowed with privilege. Us pretenders knew we would never join their ranks, at least not by dint of effort. And yet some of them condescended to know us. It would perhaps embarrass him greatly, but I have always been grateful that the father of one of my classmates, a man of some importance, knows me by name and speaks to me as though I were the colleague which I am not.

I wish the doors of our parishes functioned as well. Instead I see the same church that Fr. Clavier sees, a church which is greatly uninterested in the suffering of the great bulk of people. The desperate poor are so very convenient: build them a house (but not on one's street), or offer shelter for the night (but not in one's house) or a meal (but not in one's kitchen). Their needs can be kept at a safe distance, and the venturesome can go among them and make the rest of us comfortable and satisfied that they are so attended to. They will be with us always, that we can never fail to be satisfied in our giving. The rest of the country can go hang; after all, for God's sake, they probably vote Republican.

I would remind Rev. Gomes and his fellows that Jesus' first miracle, as recorded by John, was accomplished not in dire need, but at that monument to middle class vainglory, the wedding. Indeed, from the description it could very well be that the host is trying to live beyond his means. And yet Jesus gives abundantly, as though the host's cheap New York State jug wine and meager champagne gave way to grand cru Bordeaux and Veuve Cliquot. Jesus, in the gospels, is friend not only to fishermen, but to Lazarus; he speaks not only to the Samaritan and Syro-Phoenician, but to members of the Sanhedrin.

Christ came not only to save the Bronx, but also Levittown.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Faith on the Ground

Given the current climate of Anglican crisis (with the latest ramp-up being this accursed Common Cause thing, bidding fair to leave me with no place to go to church) my friend Serge comes through with a timely observation:
Religion on the ground level is often a question of choosing the conscience problems you can live with over the ones you can't.

This came up in the context of a post linking to this discussion of reasons why some people don't become Orthodox. I've gotten that question from some Orthodox, as I continue to engage them in discussion. I mostly haven't gotten that question from Catholics, as they tend to operate from the viewpoint that any reasonable and faithful person would convert on the basis of the arguments they present. They tend to not be really interested in my faith, except to knock it down enough to get me to convert. To be fair there are a lot of Orthodox who take the same tack; they just are not so ubiquitous.

Those who have stuck with me and followed what I've written here over time may have noticed that I'm a bit suspicious of theology. It's not that I think it is worthless, but I think it's exceedingly easy to rationalize. Theology in the large hasn't proven to be a science in which light can be shone with assurance into every corner of every question; if it were, there would be a lot less division. And around Anglicanism, at the moment, there is a lot of division. If there is a single right response to the ECUSA crisis (for a layman), we are presented instead with the unedifying spectacle of people bolting in all directions, or staying put for not especially consistent reasons. A visit to the comments of almost any post on TitusOneNine will show all sorts of "why aren't you gone yet?" slams against the church; but the departing cannot agree on a destination.

And when it comes down to it, all of these destinations have faults, especially when the limitations of geography are admitted. The continuing churches can be roundly chastised for their fissipariousness and the tenuous legitimacy of their episcopacies. ECUSA-- well, yeah; though at least in my diocese (Maryland) for the moment more or less orthodox parishes are being allowed to remain more or less orthodox. A trip to one of the local RC parishes (eliminating the non-English-speaking ones) is impeded by some of my theological objections, but more thoroughly by the ghastly state of the liturgy. Orthodoxy presents the same issues in different forms.

The real problem for me is not I've been increasingly faced with problems in my faith, but rather, that increasingly I'm having trouble finding a place to practice it. In the end, though, I have to have a place to go to church. Surely some will come along and trivialize this problem, saying, "Well, you're putting yourself above Mother Church. You must put aside your distaste/qualms and go any way to [brand name here]." Never mind that I must exercise judgement to decide among the competing claims. Never mind that the speaker may well be a priest who can mold his parish to his tastes. Never mind that I'm being sold a fantasy church. The basic problem, here in this house, in a church that I can actually drive to and worship in, is that I don't see a place where I can be an Anglican refugee-- for that is what I would be, were I to go elsewhere. After thirty years, I am Anglican through and through, from my rising to my going to bed-- and my going to church. I can only attend these other churches as aliens, and at the moment, being a theological alien in ECUSA beats being a theological AND liturgical alien elsewhere.

Also, I am not buying the argument that the crappiness of the church experience is irrelevant. The "magic communion theory" of "you must be in communion with Patriarch X" (where X is in {Rome, Constantinople, Buena Vista}) fails on me anyway, because after thirty years of not having such a connection I'm not amenable to the thesis that absolutely nothing has been happening. But beyond that, it seems to escape most internet arguers that most people aren't theological. Indeed, fundamentally I'm not really theological either. If most people's experience of Christianity as religion is church, then it bloody well does matter how well it is done; indeed, it is important above almost everything else how well it is done. And by that I don't mean that it has high production values, though in my experience where those are belittled, church is done badly. I remember a dozen Friday eucharists at the UMCP West Chapel, an afterthought on the back of the main chapel meanly fitted out for the paltry remnants of protestant chaplaincies (and the Jews twice a year, which accounted for the rather ugly curtained thing behind the communion table). Wofford Smith and I would assemble and wait for the third person to show up so that he could serve a simple said Rite II service, with him standing on one side of the table and the two of us standing on the other. Production values were next to nonexistent, and yet I would place those among the most gracious services I have been privileged to be a part of. No, the problem in most places I've been that have been bad is that they are bad on purpose. It is a sin I can't live with, so I won't go there.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The ArchBarometer of Canterbury

Over in the Covenant discussion of the discouraging news about about the Common Cause meeting, John Thorpe said, "For all his personal theological liberalism, Williams does seem to be a great barometer for what is authentically Anglican in this crisis."

Well, yes. And that's why he is attracting so much ire.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Our Druidic Past

We have another pass at the Melnyk saga, the web-ish details of which I've discussed elsewhere. Here I wish to talk about its relevance to The Current Crisis.

I'm not sure why a book by William Melnyk that came out a couple of years back is suddenly relevant now, but nonetheless one Susanne Evans felt the need to bring it up and connect it to the homosexuality controversy:

Melnyk’s problems within the Episcopal Church began when he was ‘exposed’ by a conservative Christian website seeking more ammunition for attacking the Episcopal Church’s consecration of a gay priest as Bishop. They accused Melnyk of taking part in rituals celebrating the Divine Feminine.

It's an inaccurate depiction, but what is most interesting is the supposed strategy. The problem is that this is precisely how the incident did NOT play out. Melnyk and Melnyk were (and I assume are) husband and wife; the problem wasn't that they "celebrating the Divine Feminine", but that (a) the rite that started it all off aped pagan middle eastern rites as described in scripture; and more importantly (b) it became quickly apparent that Bill Melnyk was living a second life as Druidic priest, on top of his day job as a priest in the Diocese of Pennsylvania. Beyond that, the protestations of innocence on the part of the OWM were implausible.

There is a continuing problem within ECUSA of the presence of a core of clerics whose theology goes beyond unitarian and into an adventurism which I for one find irreconcilable with the Creed, much less the ten commandments or anything in the bible. A lot of this is closely connected to feminist theology (though there are other offenders with other agendas), and the Office of Women's Ministry has consistently served as a conduit if not exponent of the problem theology. That's what happened in the Melnyk case, but they got caught.

But as for homosexuality, the connection is loose. One could of course drape both with the banner of sexuality, though one issue is about being a sex and the other is about having sex. But the more truoblesome connection is that the theological adventurers are all on the pro-homosexuality side of that argument; many of their fellow travellers, however, are otherwise quite orthodox (modulo women's ordination, which crosses into the anti-homosexual side). Whether by coincidence or common precept, the orthodox and the heretical are allies on the issue which promises to divide the church.

So we are then back to the question I've raised over and over. Can the Episcopal Church, divested of the "conservatives", remain orthodox? I think it cannot, and the reason is the common thread of rights. Once homosexuality is out of the way, feminist theology is going to come back to the fore. And it is going to be very difficult for the remaining orthodox to effectively criticize it, because any criticism is going to be tagged as bigotry. The prayer book will be revised to enforce womanist positions, and it will be very easy to prosecute (or persecute) the creedally orthodox clerics who remain. Anyone who has seen the first phases of BCP revision has already seen some of this in action.

And Evans's post stands as testimony to the likelihood that the battle is indeed already lost. Such a flagrantly false account cannot be expected to convince the neutral; it is only workable as a self-justification for her faction. The subtext, therefore, is that the opponents of a radicalized theology need not be refuted, much less heeded.

(For some reason, this originally appeared on my other blog. My apologies for the confusion.)

Monday, October 15, 2007

Last Liturgical Dinosaur

The Last Protestant Dinosaur lists 20 Basics of Welcoming Liturgy. Anyone who has heard me talk about liturgy can guess that I disagree with a lot of those twenty points. So let's take it point by point:

1. Stop fighting the BCP. Sure, people in other churches do quite different things in church; but you can't compete with them by borrowing their praxis, so stop trying. BCP worship is the unifying center of Episcopal worship, and insofar as you abandon it, you've abandoned the brand. It is very hard to win converts by alienating the regulars, remembering also that a lot of the "converts" are Anglicans moving in from elsewhere.

2. Make worship the central spiritual priority and the sniff test of everything you do. Hospitality is important; worship is all-important. Everyone is there to connect with God; but the 25% or so of the population who are introverts are going to be put off by too much "hospitality".

3. I don't have too much to argue about point 3. Grubbing for money is off-putting for visitors. On the other hand, calling to much attention to your flexibility makes people suspicious, and can be alienating to the regulars.

4. Open communion sends the message that you don't have standards. Most people can deal with the idea that some elements of the service are for full members only. They will be more willing to make a commitment to Christ if they thing that it makes a difference to do so. (And never mind the strong scriptural justification of closed communion.) A better idea for welcoming the unbaptized is to make them aware that they can come up for a blessing.

5. Don't make a fetish out of holding people's hands. No doubt about it: a completely book-based Episcopal service can be baffling to the first-time visitor. OK: well, this is your big chance to be welcoming! Nothing could be more inviting than to slide into the pew, be faced with this daunting book, and have the person next to you come over to help you get through it.

6. Don't assume that people hate church music. Episcopalians have one of the broadest and deepest repertoires of church music out there in the 1982 hymnal. From what I can tell, a lot of clerics are afraid of it. I get the sense that its immense power threatens them because (unlike the words of liturgy) it isn't entirely within their control. So they try to whittle down as much as possible or dilute it by choosing less powerful styles and hymns.

And don't let anyone fool you: style is very important. It is a stronger conveyor of meaning than the words themselves, as evidenced for instance by the fad some years back for plainsong by those who hadn't the slightest idea what was being sung. If the only music you use is trivial, then you are saying that relationship with God is trivial.

The parish can develop an affection and even a desire for some pretty difficult music, if you let them. If they are treated like musical dunces, they will be so, so don't assume that they can't hack Anglican chanting. (There are simplified versions in the hymnal which nearly anyone can sing.)The thing is that the musical competence of any group of people depends on a dedicated core. If you always go for the lowest common denominator, you will alienate these people, and you will not even acheive that low level unless those people have pretty low tastes.

7. Don't obsess about service length. In my experience, Rite II with music and a congregation of any size is going to go over an hour unless some serious cuts are made. If the service is working, most people aren't going to notice the length; but they will notice if they are being rushed through. The clock-watchers? They can never be satisfied; if the service seems to be taking to long, there is no length which is short enough to ameliorate this. So if the service seems too long, the first question should be "what are we doing wrong?" rather than "what can we cut out?" There should of course be room in the Sunday schedule for a low-fuss/speedy service; but remember that this service is not a sellable option for everyone.

8. There's warmth, and then there is too much warmth. Please remember that about a quarter of your congregation does not want to be hugged by strangers or for that matter be subjected to less intrusive forms of familiarity. Making them feel welcome is a delicate balancing act, because they are more sensitive than most to phony cameraderie and other such performances by the priest.

9. The biggest fat isn't in the BCP. Actual liturgy is almost never "fat"; more typically the problem is in the stuff that isn't in the BCP. Item: the interminal parish announcements. Item: the "peace" in which people leave their pews and go searching the nave for the right person to hug. Item: long explanations of why we are doing things. Item: Instructions that don't need to be announcements. Keeping the extraneous out goes a long way towards "streamlining" the service; and doing so helps keep people more engaged, so they don't think about how it's taking a long time.

10. The readings are what they are for a reason. Just do them and live with them.

11. The prayers work for you, if used properly. Except for Form II, which was broken in the name of political correctness, there's nothing really wrong with the Ps of the P that doing them intentionally wouldn't fix. What I see happening to much of the time, however, is that the overemphasis on immanence renders us incapable of praying TO God in a public setting; we are wont to converse with ourselves rather than bring our petitions before the Divine Throne.

One thing I have seen done which if quite effective is to have the leader stand in teh nave or sone convenient such place and face the altar. Leading from the lectern is deadly and should be avoided if at all possible.

12. Routine is not bad in itself; constant change is destructive. The big temptation with having everything in the bulletin is that it allows clerics to indulge themselves in liturgical dilletancy. An occaisional change can wake people up; but frequent change dulls people. They stop paying attention, because it's easier than trying to keep up.

Also, having people stick their noses in the book opens up the possibility that they will stray from the day's liturgy and look at the rest of it. Missalettes send the message that the book's contents are obsolete and can be ignored.

13. Don't make a fetish out of participation. Anglican churches are clerical, and there's only so much one can take the "curse" off it. And besides, a lot of people will want to minimize their speaking role, and will resent being put onstage when they know it isn't properly their part.

14. No disagreement on that: announcements are always a dead weight in liturgy and should be minimized.

15. Don't sell the entrance rite short. There's a rhythm to the liturgy, and when you start cutting, you alter that rhythm. A lot of the entrance rite is about shifting gears; shorten it, the the shift comes too fast for some people.

16. Communion music is tricky. Anything about communion music is going to be hampered both by those people who absolutely do not want to do anything but commune and pray, and by those people whose response to communing is to sing. Communion hymns can work for both groups as long as the first group doesn't feel pushed to participate.

17. Take sermons seriously and play to your strengths. By that I don't mean that they are all deathless monuments of prose; I'm sure even Chrysostom preached a few duds. But you have to look at how you do them, and not fight against your nature.

Of course, hardly anyone can make a long, rambling sermon work. And hardly any cleric can make an exceptionally informal sermon work either, because it's phony. I personally would have a hard time making a really short sermon, because it just isn't the way I talk. If you've made it this far you've probably noticed that I use a lot of subordinate clauses and compound sentences, because my thinking is centered around gluing things together. The question to ask is: What are people getting out of it? The obvious peril is to fall in love with your own voice, so that you can't stop talking; but the more immediate peril these days is to be so afraid of overstaying your welcome that you never say anything substantial. Which leads to

17.1. Preach to everyone, not just the new converts or the old hands. Again, the traditional fault of preachers was to preach to each other, thus producing sermons that laymen didn't understand. Given the frequency of warnings about this, it seems to me that the other fault is now more common: preaching only to the absolute beginners. The thing about beginners is that nobody is one forever; eventually the old hands will decide that there is nothing to learn from your sermons, and they will check out as soon as they sit down after the gospel.

18. Keep the sermon stunts to a minimum. An unusual presentation has a lot more impact when it is rare. If you indulge yourelf in constant performances, that's how people will see you: as a performer (or worse, a clown) rather than as a preacher.

19. Don't pretend you aren't the presiding minister. You can do some liturgies (e.g. compline) without a specific leading minister. You cannot do the eucharist that way; the most you can do is delegate parts to others. If you are really committed to being anti-clerical, then go join an anti-clerical church. But if you are the rector of an Episcopal parish, everyone can see that your anti-clericism is fundamentally fake. When push comes to shove, you will step in to rule things, because that is how your position is constructed.

And the other side of the coin is that probably most people are quite comfortable with taking a "passive" role, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Mainline churches have become uncomfortable with the notion that this kind of participation in the service is also service, even though there is a very, very long tradition respecting that. In a way, the emphasis to the contrary is also a kind of clericalism, because it says that the roles traditionally assigned to clerics are those which are important.

20. Don't mess with the words. And especially not with the creed. If you change the creed, you are saying that you are unwilling to make the same statement of faith as the rest of the church. That is THE most disunifying thing you can do, and it is hugely distracting. The natural reaction is to stop intending the words and try to figure out what the author (that is, the rector) is trying to put over you.

If you can't say the words in the BCP, then it's your job to go find some other church where you can, or to lobby General Convention to change them (knowing full well that you are excluding all the people who cannot bring themselves to say your changed version). But don't inflict your doubts on everyone else.

What is particularly striking to me about this is not so much that I found 18 of 20 points to disagree with, but that some of the attitudes implicit here are so pervasive. Never mind the lack of faith in the church's ancient words, which is completely beyond the pale. The subtext of this and so many other posts and papers talking about Anglican liturgy very much operate from the seeming position that the traditional Anglican liturgy is unsellable. Given that liturgy is about all we have left, one has to wonder whether we will soon be left with nothing beyond a vague sense of superiority. It's not working for the unitarians, and I don't think it can be made to work for us.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Amazingly Vindictive

The Living Church reported that our presiding bishop is insisting that Episcopal church properties not be sold to any competing Anglican group:
”If a building is sold to a congregation, The Episcopal Church as a whole is not so concerned if it’s going to be a community church,” she said, although there must be assurances that stewardship was addressed and that the building was sold at fair market value. “But if a congregation purports to set up as another part of the Anglican Communion, we are concerned about that.”

Heaven forbid we do anything to help our enemies after all. I'm sure the Most Rev'd sees this as simple prudence. After all, a church converted to a nightclub is not nearly the threat that another Anglican church poses. And I suppose nobody took those retrograde Antiochians seriously in the 1920s or anticipated that they would start absorbing Episcopalians decades later. Or perhaps she is confident that aspiring mega-evangelicals or emerging churches (whatever they are) don't present much competition.

Or maybe it's just spite. But whatever it is, it looks exceptionally petty, if not strikingly sactimonious.

(Hat tip to T19 for the link.)

Monday, August 27, 2007

Fried Chicken Tonight?

Last week a rather lame accusation was bouncing around one side of the Current Conflict, involving a letter from Akinola about which the Church Times says that Software suggests Minns rewrote Akinola’s letter. (BTW, that's an impressively unflattering photo heading the article. I have to wonder whether they went with it only because they couldn't find one that made him look more doofy/addled.) So what does the revelation that Minns may have ghost-written the missive mean? Let's go to Fr. Jake:
What this reveals is what many have suspected for some time; that it is Western conservatives who are behind the extreme positions that are being presented as the position of the Global South.

So let me ask this question: how many of you remember the chicken dinners? For those who don't: after the Lambeth conference of 1998, when the homosexuality vote went against the liberals, there were apparently claims from two bishops present that the Africans were essentially bribed into voting for the resolution through chicken dinners. At this late date, it is hard to say how accurate those claims are; one can be traced to Ruth Gledhill's summary of remarks by David Holloway, and the other (claimed of Barbara Harris) appears to have only been reported by David Virtue-- not my idea of an ironclad solitary source. Those remarks, and the large context in which they arose, have had little effect other than to reinforce a lot of ill will. And that basically what's going to happen here.

It doesn't shock me to learn that Minns had, at some point, served as Akinola's speechwriter, and never mind that the evidence isn't conclusive. Internet communications, even in Africa, facilitates this kind of shared work. The revelation hardly proves what is being claimed for it, however. It is perhaps true that the Africans wouldn't have made such an issue of the matter in 1998 without conservative American facilitation, if only because those Americans supplied organization which helped the "global south" to put up a united front. (That this was effective was illustrated by a late vote in which confusion about what was being voted on helped bring about a liberal success.) It seems more questionable to me that the Africans wouldn't have cared about the issue without American prodding. It seems absolutely certain that, when asked, the Africans would express condemnation of ECUSA positions without further prompting.

As to whether it is improper for the American conservatives to raise the level of African anxiety about this issue, I'm inclined to say that it isn't (ignoring my personal feelings about sexuality). Surely the relationships between African and American clerics are more complex than the nearly one dimensional pictures that both sides paint, but it's hard to miss the consequences of the fact that American institutional power does not extend across the Atlantic, and especially in light of a few conspicuous cases in which American parishes resorted to outright blackmail in pressuring Africans to back down from their opposition.

Beyond that, I have gotten reports from several directions indicating a lot of liberal willingness to drive conservatives from ECUSA as a consequence of their tactics. And if the American church has to choose between staying in the communion and continuing their present course (and I suspect that this time they will not be able to count on the British resolution writers to relieve them of this choice), I'm betting on schism. I am uncharitably (but I suspect accurately) inclined to suspect a great deal of liberal resentment that their power only extends as far as their diocesan borders; but it is quite clear that they aren't going to give up any of their power within those borders.

At any rate, the incident is only going to confirm liberals in their prejudices, and confirm conservatives in their (self-)righteousnesses. Naive moderates will continue not to notice, and informed moderates are likely not to be swayed. In other words, other than maintaining the current polarization, it's all going to amount to nothing.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Too Much Standing, Not Enough Sitting

Tobias Haller and Leslie Fairfield have a virtual exchange of statements on why the two positions remain intractable. But the medium itself vitiates the "discussion", because it is all too easy to talk past each other and to avoid difficult confrontation.

These statements inevitably need to present the opposite side in order to address it, and inevitably those characterizations are vulnerable to criticism. In the present conflict the matter is blurred by the two "sides" being in actuality broad coalitions united in common cause but quite divergent in theological grounding. It is easy to pick extremes on the other side or dissociate oneself from them on own's own side. Cheap shots are thus easy, and because of sin, common.

So let's take a strawman that appears in the present exchange: Jack Spong. I would guess that the vast majority of Episcopalians-- even clerics-- think Spong's current denials are too far out there to profess for themselves. Using Spong as a type of one side is surely incorrect and unfair. But the question as to how much he is UNlike other modernists is much more interesting, and potentially illuminating.

My personal reading of Tillich (on whom Spong bases his program) never gets very far, because I cannot agree to Tillich's presuppositions. Yet it seems hard to escape those presuppositions; they practically define modernist theology.

It is popular in Catholic and Orthodox circles to posit that Protestantism in gnereal always begets the kind of excesses one sees in Spong. In an uninteresting way, it is true; yet protestantism is inevitable because intellectual criticism of tradition's reasons is innately possible. The only way one can avoid criticisms of one's arguments is not to argue at all; and this tradition does not do. On the other hand, it is equally obligatory to defend one's doubts; and this the modernists do not generally do. Modernists routinely misrepresent the variety of viewpoints arrayed against them, reducing everyone to Southern Baptists in dog collars. Catholic and Orthodox polemicists routinely overstate the degree to which modernism is found in the Episcopal Church (though it is certainly pervasive enough). The thing is that in the past, these theological commitments were never what Anglicanism was about.

The modernist version of Anglicanism cannot be long tolerated. Its dogmatism on sexuality and gender is impossible to defend in an Anglican framework, and its manifest use of clerical power to establish its views as church doctrine make theological discussion pointless, besides being off-putting in its uncharitibility. On the other hand, the dream of having a church where one doesn't have to argue is a recipe for fragmentation, and for the loss of the bulk of the denomination. A lot of people are Anglicans because they are comfortable with argument and difference, and do not want these taken away from them. This seems to me to be a major reason why the continuing churches are not able to gather up the bulk of the Episcopal Church.

But then there's the "heresy is worse than schism" moderates. This too is a position that nobody can live with. The truth is, this is only a position for clerics, who can control what goes on in their own churches. Us lay people all have limits; none of us can tolerate any heresy. Right now, we're coming up against issues-- homosexual "marriage", neuter language for God, universalism-- where larger and larger chunks of the laity have hit the limits of their tolerance. The steady decline since 2003 speaks for itself, after a decade of stable numbers. And I expect that a lot of these people are going to go fishing in the non-denom world, or simply become unchurched, because the churches around them cannot step up to admitting that theology is netiher wide open nor a totally solved problem. Catholic churches and Orthodox churches may pick up some, but a lot of those people will be silent dissenters making the most of a bad situation. They will remain Anglican refugees, not true converts.

The only hope for a continued Anglican church is for its bishops and clerics to back down from the "here I stand" arrogance that is driving the current battle, and to engage in genuine theological discourse: not a dialogue where canned responses are traded back and forth, but a real effort to mark out lines on the theological map. There is no hope whatsoever for this, because within PECUSA the modernists have enough power to destroy their opponents if they just keep at it. The real Anglicans will gradually give up hope, or have their parishes taken away from them, or grow old and die; the Episcopal Church will be left with a lot of expensive real estate in the Northeast which will lapse into disrepair without the rest of the church to pay for maintenance. They will be reduced, like the Unitarians, to an upper middle class dalliance in spirituality.

It doesn't have to happen. But these days, it is going to happen.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

It's From Them That I Expect to Hear the F-Word

In Christianity, of course, the "F-word" is fundamentalism. It's the cheap slur of "enlightened" and "civilized" religion, used against anyone who insists on any hard limits to theological statements.

The real Fundamentalism is a particular Protestant theological system, and many American preachers commonly associated with it are not in fact fundamentalists, by this strict standard. Jerry Falwell was a true fundamentalist; Pat Robertson is not. It takes a fair bit of digging to find this out, because the mainstream media are tone-deaf about this (and really don't care anyway). And so, for that matter, are a lot of mainline clerics and theologians, not to mention laymen.

It's popular to point at Akinola and other African bishops as fundamentalists, implying that they are ignorant, bigotted rubes. Well, I don't know about bigotry, but as far as education is concerned, their papers at least some them to be the equals of their American counterparts, if not superiors. There seems to be enough bigotry to go all around.

Anyway, courtesy of the young fogey we have a nice little bit from Eunomia about the use of the word these days, this time with respect to Islam.
No offense to Mr. Krikorian, but does he really think that Muslims are going to conceive of their religion as an “ideology” and “way of life” that have failed? If they believe, as I assume they do, that their religion is the final revelation of God to humanity, it will take a lot more than its “inadequacy” to adapt to modernity to persuade them to abandon it.

Well, sort of. He goes on to say that
The lesson of mainline Protestantism, to follow his comparison, is that religion without substance and conviction is dead and uninspiring and doomed to stagnation and irrelevance. People flee it as they would from the plague. Those inclined to belong to religious communities are going to seek out communities where there is a sense that the religion they practice is true and edifying.

The thing is that American religious communities don't work exactly this way. The religious community is the parish or congregation; larger units like dioceses or presbyteries or synods or conferences or denominations don't function as communities in the sense that immediately comes to mind. They tend to function (for laymen, anyway) as distant potentates who make occaisional intrusive appearances, but have little to do with the week-to-week life of the parish. And particularly with mainline protestants, it is often possible to live as a deviant refuge within a hostile church.

And fundamentalism-- the real thing-- is precisely such a posture. One of the problems with modernism (and not coincidentally part of what gave rise to postmodernism) is that life in self-examination is emphatically subjective. It invites external criticism, and among sinful men, that is often hard to swallow. Modernist theology has been conspicuously arrogant in this from the start, especially following WW I and the European-based "nobody knows the trouble I've seen" rejection of any other standing to criticize it. Fundamentalism exists precisely as such a criticism, and is thus, in its way, modern.

In considering the claims of disiilusionment proffered by the modernists, one would do well to remember that those two great conservators of the past, Tolkien and Lewis, were quite literally in the trenches in the Great War. Both had close friends killed; Tolkien caught trench foot, and Lewis was wounded. Lewis in particular expressed impatience with the notion that the horrors of the twentieth century were crucially alienating, a position I have to agree with. For me one of the biggest issues with theology in the century just past is that hardly anyone is willing to step up to the task of trying to pull of of these disparate strands together; the loudest sound in the theological synod is that of not listening to others. Here I think Anglicanism had the possibility of being post-modern early, for the via media was based in the restraint of one's ego to the point of being able to agree to disagree. But like other mainline churches, Anglican theology has in practice been captured by modernists, and the position of Anglican revisionists-- those in the driving seat of the Episcopal Church-- is conspicuously modernist, arrogant and political. What "fundamentalist" means is really anyone who is willing to admit that they do not feel the "disillusionment" that the moderns claim is universal, because those people then appeal to the texts and to older tradition in criticizing the modernist program.

There is clearly a problem because the whole claim of disillusionment goes unresolved. The moderns can't defend it, and the others cannot get past it. But "fundamentalism" per se has little to do with it. It's simply a way of dodging the obligation to defend modernist precepts.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Can't Tell Your Churchmanship Without a Scorecard

One of the things that happens all the time in the Anglican Wars is people trying to position their group over the "right" churchmanship labels. The result has been that with maybe one exception these labels have become pretty unclear.

It hasn't helped that the average liturgical practice in the church has shifted considerably over the decades-- mostly upward and in some cases more "catholic"-ward. Twenty years ago I had to go to the cathedral in Wilmington, DE to get a communion service on a fourth Sunday; now communion every week is the rule almost everywhere. Anglocatholic-identified practices such as use of incense have spread.

I came into the church in the center of the old "high and wide" churchmanship, the sort that characterized many of the big east coast cathedrals thirty or more years ago. Or perhaps forty-five years would be more apropos. Back in those days the Broad issue was racism, a cause that allowed it to be easily allied with the A-Cs. When the Broad issues turned to the middle class (sexism and homosexuality), Anglo-Catholics became the enemy, because they were bound to teaching what they had always taught.

Women's ordination did not help the church hold together, but it did not wound it as grievously as the current battles are wounding it. But women's ordination took the church away from advocacy for the downtrodden, though it is impolitic to say so. Those women who were ordained were middle and upper-middle and perhaps even upper class, drawn from the same pool which produced male priests. Homosexuality has the same pattern. They are closely coupled to academic theorists who are more of the same. Thus the church turned away from advocating for others, and towards advocating for its own.

In the end, the old churchmanship distinctions have been overcome by the theological differentiation which is driving the current crisis. And it's been exacerbated by a loss of nerve about the liturgy. In one way, the 1979 liturgy has emerged triumphant: all discussion of further revision takes its considerable structural innovations for granted. But the revisors increasingly cannot say its words, and from the other direction the attacks upon its changes are so virulent as to force a division among those who resist the current wave of revisionism. From what I see, a considerable part of the Episcopal Church falls in a rather small range of churchmanship, fairly high but basically conservative within its own context (that is, that of 1979); but when the Anglo-Catholics are set aside, the other two other parties are on the one hand a Roman/evangelical-looking group which tends to use the 1979 framework for a liturgy well outside old Episcopal style, and on the other hand a high-looking party which is theologically adventurous. The old labels just don't work for these groups.

Those who know too much history are also condemned to repeat it, because they are unable to see any other course. Churchmanship has largely become a distraction; the real differences, the ones that matter in PECUSA today, arise out of theology, both in the answers and in the way these answers are brought forth. Increasingly the old tolerant modes are failing, and with them, the continuance of the church is increasingly in jeopardy.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Faith and Belief are Brothers

While I appreciate some of what Fr. Jake says in his recent post on faith and belief, I'm afraid he's guilty of eliding over some of the difficult spots. Well, and one major misstatement that throws the whole thing crucially awry.

At one point he says, "Christianity is not built on intellectual ideas. It is about having a relationship with the living God." Well, I don't know about intellectual ideas, for as a mental holist I doubt the existence of non- intellectual ideas. But one would think it obvious that Christianity is about relationship with the living Christ. And this opens up all of the problems that talking about God allows one to sweep under the rug.

When we are talking about Christ, we aren't just talking about a theological abstraction, but also talking about Jesus. And about Jesus, one cannot hide behind the unknowability and indefinability of the divine. Jesus was (and is) a man, a human being, and thus can be talked about just like any other man. Faith in Jesus and belief about Jesus are quite inseparable, particularly when talking to the unbaptized.

And speaking of faith, I must also disagree that "faith has an absolute quality that belief does not." Actually, I'd say that it's the other way around. Beliefs themselves, being propositions, tend to be cast as absolutely true/false statements. In fact, that's part of the problem with them: they tend to cast matters into categories more rigidly than is often reasonable. Faith, on the other hand, beig like unto trust, is present in degrees.

Let me illustrate this by turning to that very modern divinity: Science. Natural science is something that modern educated people, as a rule, have some degree of faith in, often a very high degree. And a great deal of school science curriculum is devoted to instilling this faith, by presenting the mechanisms of scientific inquiry and building confidence that these methods do indeed work. The thing is that the degree of this trust varies, and ought to. On the level of ordinary, low-energy physics, Newtonian mechanics has earned an extremely high level of trust. Certainly on big enough or small enough scales relativistic and quantum effects intrude, but they do not invalidate the Newtonian framework that is indeed part of those other theories. Other scientific conclusions inspire similar high trust, but others are more dubious. A knowledgable and sophisticated observer understands, for instance, that cosmology is at present highly speculative, that the underlying forces of evolutions are poorly understood, that biology has a very long way to go, and that economics is close to voodoo. This is not to say that any of these fields is groundless nonsense, but simply reflects a judgement that not all pronouncements should be taken with the same seriousness.

Part of the reason I used science here is that there is a tendency of late to pit faith in science against faith in the traditions of the church. Here we come into some curious contradictions. Anyone can, for example, deduce scientifically that people are "fallen"-- that is to say, that they are wont to violate their own moral codes, much less some absolute morality. What is curious is that the other side of the human nature coin-- that people are intrinsically good-- is not so observable. Indeed, the very statement borders on the metaphysical. Yet it is this statement that most people will ratify, and the other that many will essentially deny. More commonly, statements about human nature have to be couched statistically, bringing in that dangerous word "normal". To a statistician, "normal" has a definite, objective meaning; but "normal" in that sense does not imply a meaningful distinction. It's simply a kind of 80-20 rule, with no implication that for non-statistical reasons 80 and 20 are the right numbers. Outside of statistics, of course, "normal" carries a ton of value judgments, easily prompting fallacious conclusions.

Theology being a kind of science, it is subject to the same reservations on confidence-- whatever the pope or the church fathers would say. But the traditional formula is that faith in Jesus leads to faith in the Church. If faith must be absolute in general, then this faith also must be absolute-- at least, so says an Orthodox Catholic. It is a sure thing that Fr. Jake has no such absolute faith, but it is equally sure that, to some degree, he has some faith in the church. And that is indeed the Protestant problem: that one must rely on the church to some degree for one's faith, but that the church as we see it does not merit the kind of total faith that can be placed in God (and therefore, in Jesus). And that leasds to the same issues about faith in the church's other teachings. Part of the problematic nature of Christianity is that we simply are not provided with the kind of absolute roadmap to Christian living that would obviate thought, and therefore the holding of beliefs. Theology is unavoidably necessary, at least for us adults; at the very least, we have to work out how to act morally, because we are not given rules that do not need interpretation.

That's why I think making this particular faith vs. belief distinction is a mistake: it is precisely at this level that they aren't separable.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Funny, I Don't Feel Welcomed

South Carolina has cast down the gauntlet again, and Lambeth inches closer, and the ACN meeting sends Ephraim Radner off to stew in his tent (not that I don't blame him, but that's a different post). It's not a good time to be a centrist Anglican, but then, these days seem to be bad for anything reasonable in PECUSA.

So Father Jake drops a "Welcome Home" plan for "those who may become disillusioned with the apparent splintering that has begun among the secessionists." Well, I dunno. I'm not a party to the "secessionists", but it's been obvious for some time that a division of some sort is necessary. The three "catholic" bishops (as one of my friends refers to them) will not be accommodated in the present Episcopal Church. If South Carolina is having trouble electing a bishop, San Joaquin, Ft. Worth, and Quincy have no hope at all of getting consents. Too many righteous liberals will demand that they toe the line. At this point, it still seems to come down to making sure that the "other side" ends up with as few dioceses and parishes as possible.

As for disillusionment? Well, I at least haven't held out much hope throughout this. I'll talk about the "splitters" in the next post, but there is a lot about them that doesn't appeal to me. But the problem remains that PECUSA increasingly offers the prospect of a church that is tending towards making it impossible for me to worship in its liturgies. I do not think the less radical liberals are going to be able to hold the theological revisionists in check. It's hard to become more disillusioned than I already am, because I feel increasingly faced with having no place to go to church.

But let's get back to Fr. Jake's plan. Let's tart with Point One: "Seek ways to remove clergy from their posts who need to be removed without humiliating them[.]" Right away we have a big problem, because most of the really problematic clerics in need of removal have been on the liberal side. Let's just start with the adulterous: when we look at the bishops, only Jones of Montana was forced out of office. Grein and Bennison's appalling antics haven't brought significant censure. And then there's Spong: if we couldn't get rid of him on theological grounds, we cannot get rid of any liberal. So it's easy to see how this goes: easier removal translates into easier consolidation of power.

Offering DEPO: I suspect why this has been a non-starter is that trust has dropped so far that simple delegation of oversight isn't considered enough. But it's worth a try.

Implement a non-biased way to identify conservative congregations so that they can be more easily found by those seeking them. I honestly don't see the point of this. The problem isn't that the conservatives are hard to find; it's that they seem to be besieged by bishops and dioceses who are determined to end their conservatism if possible.

Make a commitment to not hinder a congregation that seeks only male clergy. Well, this a point that isn't going to be conceded. The big fights in the Diocese of Washington were precisely over forcing Jane Dixon on parishes. I simply cannot believe that the liberal powers would say, "OK, fine, we aren't going to do anything to push you into hiring a female priest or even accepting a woman as a bishop." Indeed, what I see is that the liberal side sees a moral imperative in making all parishes friendly to their causes.

And indeed, Fr. Stockton's reply pretty much says this. It is, again, very much about power, and putting the (waning) authority of the church behind liberal social causes. I tolerated this when I was a younger man, though I knew even then that the coupling diminished the church. The thing is that Protestants are going to pass judgement on the church for doing this, and they are not going to stand for being instructed by it under such circumstances. The Episcopal Church will increasingly sink into being the self-righteous indulgence of upper middle class intellectual snobs who appreciate high production values in their liturgy, thanking God that they are not like those benighted fundamentalists (who are an increasingly irrelevant group, but never mind that) or those benighted Roman Catholics.

Not that the alternatives are looking that good....

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Catastrophic Model of the Church

There has been some blog action bouncing around about Vocation Deferred: The Necessary Challenge of Communion (an essay by Ephraim Radner) and a related address by Stepehn Noll: The Anglican Communion in Crisis. One line of response has centered on this remark by "I'd Rather Not Say":
The contrast between “confessional” and “conciliar” models takes us right back to the original horns of the Anglican dilemma: in what sense is the Anglican Communion “protestant” and in what sense “catholic”? The more “confessional” we are---i.e., a church apart from others with documents written in stone, the betrayal of which means a sacrifice of identity (as with Lutherans and the Lutheran confessions) or with unique institutions and doctrines unknown to the catholic consensus (as with WO)---the more sectarian we are. The more “catholic” we are---i.e., a church which bases its authority to decide doctrine on claims to be part of a wider, visible catholic church in continuity with the church of the apostles (see Articles XIX and XX)---the less it is up to the Anglican Communion to determine anything doctrinal except on a provisional basis, and the more we must defer to the common consent of antiquity and the wider catholic community (i.e., Rome and Orthodoxy).

The tell-tale word in this only pops up in the second section: authority. It shows that, on one level, the contrast between the two models is specious. The conciliar model, as an authoritarian model, is in part about enforcing allegiance to the confession that the authorities have set before the members. On the other hand, the confessional model is about the insistence that the confession's authority is not really derivative of the councils which set it before us. On that level, it is the correct model. At best, the church is only a conduit of truth; for instance, the Creed's authority must in the end trace back to it being the correct explanation of the Godhead, not merely the church's explanation.

Of course, the other side to the conciliarity model's problem is that for half of Christian history, there have been councils. Al Kimel seems prone to eliding over the issue, but the fact remains that Orthodoxy and Catholicism have maintained separate councils for a millenium. Councils themselves have therefore been a locus of sectarianism.

Let's go on further in IRNS's remarks:
WO is only one feature of this problem. I do not intend to send this thread off in the direction of discussing this specific topic, but it does serve to illustrate the problem. People such as Radner continue to evoke a conciliar model, but refuse to accept the implications of that model, i.e., that we (Anglicans) can have all the Communion-wide councils we want, and that may be better than having everything doctrinal decided at a provincial level, but such councils do not amount to a hill of beans unless we recognize that either they are local councils that must be submitted to the wisdom of antiquity and the wider church (bye bye WO), or we don’t give a fig for antiquity and the wider church (hello sectarianism).

Well, I think in fact that women's ordination is a better vehicle for examining this, but I that neither IRNS nor Al is going like my response (nor for that matter will William Tighe). Here the problem is going to be in that phrase, "submitted to the wisdom of antiquity and the wider church". Submitted, yes; but if one by this means real intellectual interaction and not mere obedience, such submissions come with the proviso that the responses to such submissions are subject to criticism. Recourse to infallibility is a bad response, as I find myself repeating over and over.

Now, I am in general loathe to invoke Post-Modernism, that Spirit of the Age. But as far as nature of men and women are concerned, it's bloody obvious that answers phrased as universals are not working right now. Women and men are universally different, all right, but when it comes to an individual man and an individual woman, it all seems to collapse into platitudes on the one hand, and the mechanics of specific human relationships on the other. The conventional, religion-justified statements about the rightful positions of men and women in society have simply crumbled to dust in a world of two-income professionals and working single mothers and women as CEOs. When the feminists rail at the hypocrisy of traditionalist men on this, they have them dead to rights. On the other hand, it is also quite clear that the feminists don't have a good grip on the complementarity of the sexes. But in any case, we live in a world where the kind of traditional arguments made about the subsidiarity of women only work in religion, and only where they can't be criticized. The same arguments simply do not work anymore in the real world-- or rather, they only "work" when those who make them are in no danger of having to realize them in practice.

It is of course dangerous to invoke the World as a critic of the Church. But it is self-serving to utterly deny such criticism. The truth, once the posturing dies down, is extremely simple, and extremely difficult. The truth is that the working out of church teachings happens in the world, and that it is subject to all the pressures of sin, the devil, and human frailty as any other kind of discourse. It's a simple truth; but it means that working out answers is supremely hard. And it means that we have to live with the certainty that some of the answers won't hold up in the long run.

Anglicanism has always been about working out theology in this way. And sometimes, like now for instance, it simply doesn't work. But I for one cannot subscribe to the error of the magical, infallible church. And eventually even the magically infallible churches are going to succumb, I believe, to the dissonance between teaching and reality.

Monday, May 14, 2007

It's Not the Theological Agreement That Matters

Over in Dylan's Grace Notes (via Fr. Jake) we have an invitation to discuss "a list of points on which I think I and many 'progressives' agree with the vast majority of 'reasserters.'" I don't see any significant problems with the original list of points, though I would certainly throw in adherence to the Nicene Creed as a point of agreement.

But there is another point about which there is agreement, and this point is what is creating the battle: Moral teaching is a central purpose of the church. Certainly both, um, factions believe this. On The Issue That Is Driving This, they are committed to teaching some moral position. If there is much of a difference, it's that the progressives are more sanguine about their ability to pass judgement on the world and to effect change.

And that leads to still another point of agreement, and the one that really enables the conflict: It's all about power and politics-- especially church power and therefore church politics. The current conflict is very much about using the church as a locus of power in an attempt to change the moral climate of the nation, if not the world.

BUT there are, for instance, feminist theologians who want to play with the God language to support the moral imperative of women's rights. Here we run into the most serious problem: the separation between systematic and moral theology cannot be maintained. So it's questionable whether points of agreement are going to persist, or (for instance) whether the social liberals are going to be able to resist the demands to abandon Nicene orthodoxy as being, well, immoral. It seems to me that they are going to find it difficult to do so.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Frustrating Wait

I was going to post something over Easter weekend, when so many were piously abstaining. Really, I was. But singing at four out of six services put paid to that. And since then, I've found a level of detatchment that should make my rector happy, because I've almost stopped caring what happens to the Episcopal Church.

Or rather, I've given up hope that it will come to anything other than a bad end. Perhaps away from the centers of power it will survive, but right now it seems destined to become the perfected apotheosis of upper middle class selfrighteousness. In the meantime, we await the next crisis, helpless to make any difference.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

A Prayer Not Worth Praying

Perhaps the two good things I can see about the "non-theistic prayer" supplied by the Rev. Dr. Charles Bidwell are that (a) he isn't one of ours (acto his website, he is in the Metropolitan Community Church), and that (b) this schlock is two years old. In fact, I'm wondering where Chris Johnson dug this stuff up from, because on one level it would seem to be pretty unimportant stuff. Liturgical crud is bad enough in our own church without having to borrow trouble from someone else. And while I'm not sure that a poll of Episcopal Divinity School faculty would result in retention of the Nicene Creed, the situation elsewhere is hardly so dire.

That said, I have to agree with Brad Drell that this is awful, self-ratifying, arrogant crap. Faced with "petitions" such as this:
We work for these changes in our lives and in the lives of others in the spirit of Jesus who cared for all those who were unjustly treated or oppressed.

... all I can says is, "you will, will you?" This drivel (for the writing is dreadful) is not for the poor, the ill, or the powerless; it is a credo for those who have health, wealth, status and power at their disposal. Or at least, those who feel they merit all of these, by virtue of their virtuous position. In short, it's for the overly-educated upper middle class, especially academicians and clerics. It's not something I can see a barber or sales clerk or ditch digger "praying".

I also wonder, reading this sort of stuff, where the rest of 20th century theology went to. Back in the '70s the Euro-American postwar (Great Patriotic or Vietnam, take your pick) angst was still strong. Now twenty-plus years later, the whole sense of sin that motivated those earlier atheisms has faded away, and we are left with people like this who can't kick the religion habit.

I suppose there's some reason to worry that the rank intellectual snobbery of this kind of talk will appeal to seminary professors. But I'm not too worried. The whole thought of having to stand up in church and say this thing is enough to dissuade all but the very silly.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Nobody Expects the Anglican Inquisition

Eddie Izzard explains our problems:

(and dressed like a bit part from an old Dr. Who episode at that)

The ex-Anglican Obsession

It seems almost inevitable that Anglican priests who depart for Rome or Constantinople start to harp on ecclesiology. This time it is Fr. Stephen Freeman, whose post The Problem of Church was brought to my attention in All Too Common, where the following passage is quoted:
Of course, all of that latter sentiment is delusion. It is only my imaginary relationship with Christ (if the Church is invisible it is little more than imaginary). It is the visible character of the Church, and the possibility of boundary (everything visible has some boundary) that creates the “problem.”

For if there is a boundary, then someone is not within the Church. If there is a boundary then you can be inside it or you can be outside of it. And there is the problem. Who says where the boundaries are to be set?

As far as any man is concerned, the important thing is to be inside it. And for any man who does not doubt his current affiliation, the answer seems inevitably to be, "Where I am, there is the church." But the not-at-all subtle subtext of the ex-Anglicans seems to be to definitively put the Episcopal Church in particular outside the church; the principle of the moment would appear to be, "where I came from, there is not the church."

Now, I am certainly among the unhappy to whom these appeals are directed. Anyone with even vaguely orthodox views has to feel some discomfort with the theological winds that blow through Anglicanism these days. But the claims of definite boundaries are self-evidently problematic. It is the catholic faith that the church is, in some senses, invisible, so that it isn't utterly without reason that its visible component might not be utterly identifiably; and the reality is that it is not immediately identifiable, or else there wouldn't be so much controversy surrounding its identification. In another sense, the church is manifestly visible, even if only in the steeples and towers I pass as I drive by. And while I know that India exists, as testified to by maps and some of my officemates, I don't think its existence is made imaginary by the ongoing dispute between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir.

The fact of ecclesiological dispute is not as easily brushed off as this. A thousand years of East/West schism and five hundred years of Protestantism are ample evidence that the question cannot be reasonably resolved. It is obvious both that reason is necessary, and that reason is insufficient. And it's also just as obvious that personal judgement is all over this issue, contrary to frequent assertion. The driving force for all of this is personal dissonance with the teachings of (in this case) authorities within the Episcopal Church. There are several reasons why I don't come up with the same answer, but one of them is that I have plenty of theological dissonance with the Roman Catholic Church. There seems to be no recourse to getting past that other than more argument (especially since I have for the most part found the RC church to be sacramentally repugnant), so somewhere along the line, the arguments have to work as arguments. And since they aren't working, I would have to conclude that Catholicism's insistence on an absence of theological defect is in fact itself a defect-- which leaves me an Anglican.

The problem with Orthodoxy is more subtle, but runs far deeper. Let me return to where I started: that we are particularly hearing from ex-Anglican priests about this. I cannot but understand this as Orthodox and Catholic bishops taking advantage of priests which Anglicanism has formed, however much either church denies the legitimacy of Anglican orders. It's particularly contradictory in the Roman case, seeing how may of these priests could not have become so had they not already been Anglican "phony" priests. But at any rate, the appeal here is from one churchman to another. And that's a problem, because it is in essence saying that what I'm missing isn't anything as objective as obedience to Christian moral teaching. No, what I'm missing is the magic pixie dust of sacramental validity. And that's a huge problem, because the only way to maintain that position is to deny the relevance of personal experience. Fr. Freeman starts to slide into this, when he comments,
One’s personal history is important, but in the larger scheme it’s very little for us to go on, except for the fact that you cannot live someone else’s history.

But crucially this statement is untrue, because we are all, in essence, trying to live out the personal history of the original apostles as literal witnesses to the ressurection. Accepting it all uncritically is one thing, but to suggest that it can all be rejected equally uncritically is to invite rejection of the Christian witness. All of these appeals to ecclesiology, as they are directed to me, rely on my status as a faithful Anglican. And if my Anglicanism is so invalid, then such appeals strike me as illegitimate. It's the flip side of Al Kimel's "parasite" remark: Orthodoxy and Catholicism become parasites on Anglicanism's apparent power to produce half- or three-quarters-formed Christians.

I can contemplate the day when I may have to abandon the Episcopal Church, and it will be a day of loss indeed for me if or when it comes. But should it come, honesty will prevent me denying the reality of my former Anglican faith. I will never in good conscience be able to say, "I was never a Christian before".

Monday, March 05, 2007

Another Look at Catholicity and Reason

In tracing back a bit further from the posts which prompted my just-previous entry, I found a post by Fr. WB in his blog in response to a passage from Alexei Khomiakov discussing Anglican legitimacy. I find myself largely in agreement, but I think there is one point which calls for further elaboration.

A point which is constantly misunderstood about the Anglican scripture/tradition/reason triad is that it is intended as a prescription. Well, it is, I suppose, in the sense that one ought to be aware of it: but it is more fundamentally descriptive. It is simply the way that everyone does theology, whether or not they claim otherwise. It is inarguably true of the Roman theological process, whose reference to the three components is evident to anyone. It's also true of low "bible-only" Protestants who can be seen to appeal to their own traditions and their own reasoning.

There is no getting the reasoning out of theology. And while I'm at it, Eastern snipes at the West for using "Hellenistic" reasoning is complete bullhockey. Yeah, Aristotle was dead wrong about natural science and how to go about it, but the basic notion that there are rules of proper thinking and that arguments can be tested against procedure is simply inassailable. Eastern theologians use that Hellenistic reasoning too-- indeed, as is the rule where the Anglican triad is denounced, they are all the more bound by it because they refuse to see that it is in every sentence they utter. (The Palamite "energies/essence" distinction is an object example of such bondage.) And if reasoning is everywhere in theology, then personal judgement is also everywhere-- not in the degenerate sense of someone sitting in their room and trying to work everything out without consultation, but in the much more pervasive sense of propositions requiring assent. For Roman loyalists, perhaps such assent is easy-- though as someone pointed out elsewhere, Roman Catholics as a rule have found difficulty in assenting to Humane Vitae. For someone who is not yet a Roman (or Eastern) loyalist, there's no substitute for presentation of a sound argument to which the potential convert can assent through his own judgement-- or perhaps reaching his reason through some route which does not involve theological propositions, but that's not the route of choice here.

In all of this, the Vincentian canon helps, but in the wrong way. The typical sectarian usage by Roman or Eastern correspondents is so painfully tendentious as to not bear rehashing. And obviously the expansion to include everyone who ever called themselves a Christian is hopeless: there's simply not enough commonality, especially if you include people like Spong in the mix. But what the canon does tell a person is that there's more to theology than just convincing onesself. It has to fit into the bigger theological picture, and especially into the greater community, and especially into the historical picture. And not just historically, but into the future. "At all times and places" means that one has to keep convincing people that a proposition is true, and if that conviction fails, the proposition is called into question. I don't think that the Southern Baptists get to trump Catholic positions, but to state that the Catholic Church doesn't even have to answer SBC objections satisfactorily (which is to say, reasonably) is state an absurdity.

In the long haul, theology objectively looks like many other sciences which have run aground on the shoals too much "reasoning" and not enough knowledge. If it were otherwise, the divisions wouldn't be as extreme; as it is, I can't justify the kind of absolute commitments demanded by Rome or the East on the basis of theological proposition alone.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Serial Catholicity

Over in All Too Common we have a little essay by Andrew Bartus: Why Should Anglicans Accept Roman Ecclesiology?, addressing a post by Al Kimel on Parasitic Catholicism. "Catholicism" is really not the right word here anyway, because the problem point is catholicity; as Bartus points out, the "parasite" problem plagues Catholicism with respect to Orthodoxy in the same way that Anglicans are "parasites" to Catholicism. "Parasite" is also a problem word when Rome is skimming off the priests which Canterbury (or, to stretch the point, Mt. St. Albans) has made.

I'm not an Anglo-Catholic, so my analysis of the situation is going to go a bit further afield than Bartus's. I not only tolerate but must assert more difference from Rome than he would accept on his own. But at any rate my views are based more on the empirical psychology of the matter, and how this interacts with human nature as the church teaches.

I've been wont to say that human sinfulness is the one empirically verifiable doctrine of the church. Anyone, Christian or not, can see that people are prone to sinning. When it comes to theology, sin leads people to bad arguments, and to defend bad arguments. Now, those who do not consider a theological question are like Adam and Eve in the garden; but we here have tasted the forbidden fruit of theology, and for better or worse have to live with the descernment that is now required of us. And this is particularly obvious in ecclesiology. A child is raised in a church, and unless he is unusually rebellious (or perhaps, if the church is unusually vile) he simply accepts the legitimacy of that church. And if he is educated far enough, he may simply accept the official ecclesiology of that church on authority. This discussion isn't for those people, except to cast doubt upon them and force them to take up the problems of theology. Personally, I think it is cruel to rattle these people in their faith, but again, that is beside the point.

What is not beside the point, however, is that all this takes place in the context of theological strife in Anglicanism. For those of us who are theologically inclined, it is natural to resolve the question of where to go to church through a theological judgement. And as it must in the end be made as one's own judgement, there is no way to get "private judgement" out of the picture-- at least not as Anglicans have historically understood it (and in fact, as it is).

Way down in the comments on All Too Common, Al makes the claim that Roman ecclesiology is more "pneumatic" and "sacramental" than "juridical". I find this utterly unconvincing-- even counter-productive-- as far as inducing me to swim the Tiber. I would understand the first two terms to mean that I go to church where I find the Spirit and the sacraments-- and since I found Him and them in an Anglican chapel, that puts paid on that, even if that very place be something of "a bare ruined choir" in this latter day. The problem, all too obviously, is that objectively we fail to see, in the large, where the Spirit and the sacraments are. If we could, then the dispute would disappear. As it is the Spirit is too hidden, or too infrequently revealed; or sin clouds our vision too far. But in all cases it behooves me to take that seriously and start from the assumption that Roman vision is just as obscured as any other, until evidence proves otherwise. Likewise, theological reasoning is subject to all the demands of ordinary reasoning; invocation of infallibility is tantamount to an admission of inadequate arguments.

It doesn't bother me that Anglicanism is in some sense derivative of Catholicism; but the problem remains that I cannot go to church in an RC church. If nothing else, the frailties of my nature hamper my worship in the vast sea of liturgical badness and crappy preaching that is the church around here. (And what really irks me is that people keep trying to reproduce this badness in my chuurch.) And there's too much bad theology, which at least, as a Protestant, I haven't yet been made to swear fealty to in my own church. And only an idiot or a radical progressive would say that PECUSA is without its worse problems in the theology department. I will not, however, assign consent to loyalty. Of any person I will hold that they believe what they themselves believe, and not what membership in any organization would hold them believe. In any case, all those ex-Anglicans know perfectly well that I cannot be held to believe what Jack Spong (heaven forbid!) writes in his tendentious tomes.

And as a layman, likely doomed to remain so forever, I have an actual issue which none of the clerics and proto-clerics have: I can't do anything about the badness of church. The clerical re-ordinands, frankly, have a lot more leeway to talk about ecclesiology than I do, because whether they take their ordination, they have power to make church happen as they feel is right. I don't, and when I'm stuck with a dog of a priest, my only recourse is to shop for a better parish.

And that's really what this is all about: church shopping. The only dispute is about the terms, and again we are right back at the problem that there isn't consensus about what the right approach is. No agreement suggests, if not implies, that nobody really knows. But if a layman does this on the basis of theological correctness, he can always find someone who will tell him that wherevent he is now isn't "really" Catholic, and that he needs to move to a genuinely correct group. And thus the Orthodox forums are littered with serial Cyprianists who move from one true church to another, until they are completely cracked.

The reverse of church shopping is skimming. After the things I've said, I don't know if any of the online Catholics would want me in their parish. Plenty of others would, if only for my voice. I have to wonder what would happen to around here if the Anglican crack-up were to drive large numbers of ordinary central churchmen into RC parishes. I expect they would be out in short order, if they even made it that far, because they would find that ecclessiological correctness wouldn't be enough.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Am I Conventional?

Do I go to a conventional church? When we I started, I didn't think so.

I can hardly remember those ancient days when men wore suits and women their best clothes of a Sunday morning. So much nonsense has been written about the '60s, as though the old world passed away with the first Mercury launch; but the truth was that in almost any place as much of the '40s survived and lived on for decades more. But by my day the men's hat was gone, and the woman's hat was disappearing fast in white culture. But I suppose in most respects my parents' Presbyterian congregation was everything the stereotype of "conventional" church promises-- except for the Sicilian pastor.

But then I went off to boarding school. Perhaps in its way it was conventional for an Episcopalian school; today, it is perhaps much more so, though the convention has changed greatly over the years. But to me it was anything but, and not just because it wasn't a lot like my old church. Indeed, it took some two years for me to become comfortable with it.

When I came home from high school, I choose my parish "conventionally": I looked up the phone number in the yellow pages and called to see what time servics were. Such a commitment is perhaps now unconventional, and now, twenty-five years, two parishes, three interims, and five rectors after high school, it is perhaps only some misbegotten loyalty that keeps me where I am. We seem to follow the local convention of a guitar service around 9 and a "traditional" service at 11, and frankly, guitars in church are not my thing; I'm not a pep rally kind of person. But the convention now is that young people and young kids are supposed to go to the "contemporary" service, and the gray hairs go to the "traditional" service., and never mind that "contemporary" really means "20 years ago" or more.

So I'm having a big problem with the word "conventional", because as far as I can see pretty much any kind of church service, at this point, follows some sort of convention. I don't think we can get at the badness of bad church on these terms.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Don't "Challenge the Culture"

By way of The Living Church we have this bit of advice from a missive by John Martiner, the just-retired rector of Christ Church, Christiana Hundred, Del.:
Finally, a rector must challenge the culture. OK, this is a hard one to understand. Everyone wants a rector who “understands us.” On the other hand, a rector who just fits in and blesses the status quo, in my opinion, is not doing the job.
On my worst days, I think, "Only a priest could write such nonsense." Every new rector comes in, and thinks, "boy, is there a lot about this parish I need to whip into shape." In spite of the supposed power of altar guilds, it seems to me that any reasonably determined priest can overcome it; and the rest of the congregation is pretty much powerless, except that the priest is willing to listen. It is not a situation that is conducive to clerical humility, and a rector who believes that shaking things up is of itself a good thing is predestined to be largely a destructive force.

Tradition is anamnesis, and anamnesis is central to Christian worship. While tradition cannot be above criticism, where tradition is held to be an impediment, connection with the past is eroded. Continual agitation is, in the end, essentially destructive; what is torn out and tossed away is not so easily recreated when the next rector finds it wanted. I despise and detest the dishonest language of opposing "traditional" with "contemporary" when talking about liturgy, and when I hear a "change" sermon, I wonder what the rector is planning to break this time. A change is good, or it is bad, and only in its own right; an attitude that values Change is an attitude that opposes stability. It is often said that growth requires change, but even a tree that sends up shoots each time it is cut down will eventually succumb out of exhaustion. In truth, it is not growth that requires change, but change which arises out of growth; change that is not growth is often enough change which growth must overcome.

One of the things I have found relaxing about having supply priests is that they, as a rule, accept that they don't have to be disruptive. I remember back in the days when I was acolyte master speaking with one of them before the service and having him tell me to direct him as to how things were done. It would be a better church if more rectors had the same attitude.