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.

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