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.)