Friday, June 23, 2006

Reflections on Episcopalianism-- after 8 days at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Columbus, Ohio

I am now back in Seattle on the West Coast after the long trip back here from Ohio, via Chicago, on a day when there were many thunderstorms to delay travel. At the Convention, apart from representing the Prayer Book Society of the USA (along with the Revd Fr Edward Rix of Philadelphia), I worked in a team of four including David Virtue to produce daily news and analysis of events and views for The site had over 120 visitors reading pieces every minute, for 24 hours a day on most days.

What is very clear is that this Convention continued in the path that was plotted at the beginning of the 1970s – the path of progressive liberalism and of embodying the major developments in society into the Church in the name of God and as the leading of the Spirit. The commitment to human rights and equality for women in all areas of life caused the House of Bishops to elect a woman as the new Presiding Bishop – even though she has very limited experience as a Minister and her presence in the Primates’ Meeting of the Anglican Communion will cause great difficulties.

The same emphasis upon rights also caused the two Houses of Convention to approve as the next Bishop of Northern California a man who has been married three times and divorced twice, to a woman who is also a divorcee. And the rejection of a Resolution in the House of Deputies calling for a minimal type of moratorium on the consecration of an actively gay person as a bishop, and the blessing of same-sex couples, also proceeded from a belief in the “dignity of all persons”.

There was some concern expressed for the Episcopal Church to remain an active member of the Anglican Communion of Churches, but, it was made clear by the majority, this must not be so at the cost of giving up the achievements in religion of the Episcopal Church. When the Presiding Bishop managed to get both Houses on the last day to agree to a Resolution about a moratorium concerning the choice of actively gay person as a bishop, its wording hardly gets near to what was being asked of the American Church by the Communion. It sought to please Churches abroad and not offend “Gays” at home.

Commitment to the New Episcopal Religion is very strong and in this religion the Holy Spirit is identified with the progress of civil rights, human rights and peace and justice issues. Fifty years ago what was called sin and immorality is now called holiness and freedom. The outgoing Presiding Bishop, Frank Griswold, has been thoroughly committed to this religion and so also is the new one, Katherine Jefferts Schori, committed to it. She went out of her way to assure Gay and Lesbian people that she stands with them in their search for full participation in church and society.

This New Episcopal Religion has been around for thirty years or more but it is now clearer in terms of its beliefs and ethics because it is much more ready to explain itself and to move on to its next development. (In my Episcopal Innovations 1960-2004, I have described the growth of this Episcopal Religion through examining the innovations in faith and morality adopted by the General Convention.) Yet this Religion is not causing the Church to grow in numbers at all.

Not all who call themselves “orthodox” and refer to the likes of the outgoing and in the incoming Presiding Bishops as “revisionists” think that all the innovations have contributed to the New Episcopal Religion. In particular, some of them seem to think that (a) the change in the doctrine of marriage making procreation an option for health couples; (b) the allowing of easy re-marriage in church after divorce; and (c) the ordaining of women under pressure from the feminist movement, are neutral matters. For them, the new sexual agenda and the outworking of the commitment to the dignity of all persons are the primary manifestations of the new religion, along with such things as the influence of political correctness on the way God is named and addressed.

One big question facing the “orthodox” now is what to do. Eleven Bishops from the Anglican Communion Network have stated that they intend to fulfill the requests of The Windsor Report and seek to live in close cooperation with their “brethren” in the Communion overseas. That is they will stay within the Episcopal Church and go nowhere but wait for direction and help from abroad. The Diocese of Fort Worth has appealed to the Archbishop of Canterbury for help with the problem that they cannot receive the new Presiding Bishop into their diocese as they do not believe that a woman can be a bishop at all! In contrast the Bishop of Central Florida, who calls himself “orthodox”, has welcomed the election of the lady Presiding Bishop and has invited her to his diocese.

Below is a reflection I wrote for at the Convention on how to gather together the would be “orthodox”:

“The ‘Orthodox’ in the ECUSA”

In reply to the frequently asked question: “Will you leave the Episcopal Church in the light of its apostasy?” leaders in the American Anglican Council (AAC) and of the Anglican Communion Network (ACN) usually reply: “The Episcopal Church has left us. We have not left it. Thus we are going nowhere, for we are where we should be.”

This answer presupposes that (or hopes that) the majority of Anglican Primates and Provinces overseas, especially the so-called Global South, will very soon state that they are out of communion with the Episcopal Church as a whole, but in communion with those within it who claim the description, “orthodox.” And, of course, the AAC and ACN, see themselves as the “orthodox” even as they describe the leaders of the Episcopal Church as “revisionist.”

Let us, for the sake of musing, suppose that this scenario actually occurs. This will leave the “orthodox” in the uncomfortable position of having an “unorthodox” liturgy, doctrine, canon law and pastoral practice (i.e., that of the current Episcopal Church). So what can the “orthodox in intention” do in the short term to become “orthodox in reality.”

Here are some suggestions:

1. Recover the classic formularies of the Anglican Way as the basis of the Reformed Catholic Faith of the Anglican Way. That is restore to first place, after the authority of Scripture and the catholic Creeds, the Thirty-Nine Articles, the historic Ordinal and the classic Book of Common Prayer (in the editions of 1662 [used in a majority of the Anglican Communion] or 1928 [the PECUSA edition of it] or 1962 [the Canadian edition of it] . This will mean rejecting the 1979 Prayer Book as the chief Formulary and making it, at best, an approved Book of Alternative Services (which in shape and content it truly is, and as its equivalent, the BAS, is in Canada).

2. Create a contemporary language edition of the classic Prayer Book that is based on the classic 1662 edition, so that there can be used services that contain biblically informed, Reformed Catholic doctrine and morals and which are available for those who wish to address God as “You.” (A pilot form of this project has already been completed by the Prayer Book Society with others.)

3. Recover or create a new canon for marriage so as to make it clear that marriage is a union of a man and woman as one flesh and one major purpose of the union is procreation. Further, that divorce and remarriage are the exception rather than the commonly permitted rule. This will mean a setting aside of the notorious marriage canon of 1973 and the preface to the marriage service in the 1979 prayer book. It will also probably mean both a cessation on the ordaining of divorce and remarried persons and the standing down from parish Ministry of the ordained who do in fact divorce and remarry. To face the radical sexual agenda, the “orthodox” must tighten their discipline in order to be the salt of the earth!

4.. Begin to phase out in an honorable and reasonable way the practice of ordaining women and of deploying women clergy, while at the same time making it clear that there are many ministries for godly women in Christ’s Church. In the USA there is no doubt that the ordination of women has been a central part of the liberally progressive agenda of the Episcopal Church, and the only way to deal with this painful reality – even though it will bring sorrow to some – is to cease this innovation which began in 1976.

If those still within the Episcopal Church (in AAC & ACN) who desire an orthodox province will do this kind of thing, then they will truly appear to the Anglican Communion of Churches as a group who mean business, and who intend to conform to biblical and classic Anglican standards. Further, and importantly, they will also have built the bridges for the possibility of a growing union with the present Continuing Anglican Churches, which left the Episcopal Church because of its growing radicalism and apostasy. There certainly needs to be a coming together of those who desire to be authentic, orthodox Anglicans in the USA – right now there are too many groups apart from one another.

Right now, perhaps surprisingly to some, it is not unfair to describe the AAC and the ACN as “mildly revisionist” for they have not explicitly stated their rejection of the 1973 Canon on Marriage, the 1976 Canon on Ordination, and the calling in 1979 of a book of alternative services and doctrines, “The Book of Common Prayer.” Further they use and treat the 1979 Book as though it truly were The Book of Common Prayer and The Formulary for them.

There is light ahead for the “orthodox” as they pass through the dark tunnel. But to embrace that light will be costly – the price of recovering the dynamic Reformed Catholicism of the Anglican Way. Let us hope that they do this quickly and joyfully, whatever the cost!

It is impossible to predict the future of the Anglican Way in North America, or indeed in the world. What seems clear is that the Provinces in the West, with very few exceptions, seem to be moving (as do all the main-line and old-line American denominations) in an ever increasingly liberal direction and being proud in doing so. This suggests that the possibility of a rupture in the Anglican Communion between the provinces that are liberally progressive and those which are conservatively biblical is great indeed. The charming and wise Archbishop of Canterbury has certainly much to give him headaches and much to spread before the Lord in his holy chapel in Lambeth Palace.

The Revd Dr Peter Toon June 22, 2006

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