Even as you reluctantly say the last rites for "catholic order" I note that progressive bloggers on other sites still vigorously push the argument. It’s advanced for example as a reason to oppose the Kigali statement’s suggestion of a separate structure for the North American conservatives. One bishop per geographical area is an appeal to traditional catholic order, and the catholic impulse to, well, be catholic and not split the church.
Catholic order has at its heart a conviction that bishops are necessary. As an evangelical I lean towards the point of view that they may be useful but they are not necessary. With Hooker I say that they are of the "bonum esse" of the church rather than the "esse" of the church. However the appeal to remaining with those with whom we disagree, in Cantuars "solidarities not of our choosing" remains a strong argument in my view.
It seems to me that your post forms part of a recent pattern among the Episcopalian left of reassessing their views on realignment. Jim Naughton appears to be now in favour of a negotiated split in the US church.
I am surprised that it has taken the left so long to catch on. Both the left and the right may in fact flourish separate from each other. It is the people in the middle who will be distressed I suspect. However I don't expect a US split will be exported. The rest of us don't live with your culture wars, and probably do not want to.
And my response:
Thanks again for this. I always appreciate thoughtful, reflective thought, whether in agreement or not.
"Last rites for catholic order?" Let me think about that a moment.
That certainly wasn't my intent. I'm a pleni esse person myself. I think the Church can’t know what fullness is possible in this world without the historic episcopate to incarnate our sense of continuity of apostolic faith and order. However, to believe that bishops in historic succession are absolutely necessary seems unbiblical. Paul says that no one who accepts Jesus as Lord and believes he was resurrected will be lost. So, while I don't think much of congregational polity (too much risk of "every one did what was right in his own sight;" far greater than any allegations made of the Episcopal Church), I don't claim that congregationalists aren't faithful trinitarian Christians.
Again, my comment is that the arguments from and for catholic order aren't helpful. That doesn't mean that I don't think they're valid. I think a geographic diocese with one bishop is good order (I almost mistyped "god order;" wouldn't that have been in interesting Freudian slip!). I think they have the problems I reflect, but those are matters of the use of the arguments and not of the value of catholic order.
The most difficult reason that the arguments are not helpful now is that reactionaries aren't interested in them. Making those arguments in response to the Kigali statement, which I still believe isn't much interested in catholic order, isn't much more helpful than trying to debate in English in francophone Rwanda. Good order is useful within a communion, and the Kigali statement is about founding a new communion (again, whether it's the fault of reactionaries or progressives is for the moment not the point). If a new communion is established, and they're not in communion with the Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Church would have no more control over their actions than we have over the Russian Orthodox. Now, in North America there are no less than three groups arguing which group has the "purest" Russian episcopate; but the Episcopal Church has no standing to step into that argument.
Now, if there is a new communion, and some configuration of churches in North America is in communion with some group of Global South Primates, and not with the Episcopal Church (and, presumably, not with Canterbury, again considering the tone of the Kigali statement) it appears then they will care about catholic order internally (and thus some struggles I think are brewing between Network churches and Anglican Mission in America [AMiA] churches). But they will, eventually, lose their anxiety about us; and we will, eventually, lose our anxiety about them. The same thing happened regarding the dozen or so "continuing Anglican" churches that have formed and reformed since 1979. (I commend to your attention the “Not in Communion” page of Anglicans Online.)
I have come to reassess my view on the inevitability of realignment. I take them seriously who say, “We can’t continue in communion with the Episcopal Church;” and I trust their commitment to a new vision, as expressed in the Kigali statement and the Hope and Future Conference, and in other settings. I think we (the Episcopal Church, and progressives in general) should be listening to everybody, meaning listening with openness to be changed. I think we should be talking to anybody who’s interested in taking the risk of real conversation, including listening with openness to be changed. I don’t think there’s much point in talking past folks who are no longer interested in conversation. It’s not that I don’t care about them. It’s not that I wouldn’t grieve actions they might take. It’s that, ultimately, I do respect their integrity when they say they’re not interested. There will still be some issues to be resolved, largely at the local level; but that won’t prevent them from following through with their commitments. I appreciate your reference to “solidarities not of our own choosing.” That’s why I have valued the efforts of Bishop Griswold and of Archbishop Williams in pursuit of reconciliation. But, I can’t hold those, choice or no, who see no solidarity.
I have expressed in other settings a thought that perhaps the Global South could allow the Episcopal Church to be the Communion’s “research and development” arm, taking seriously Gamaliel’s warning: “So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!” (Acts 5:38-39) In the venue where I suggested that I was dismissed with scant reflection. However, I still believe it is a reasonable and biblical position. And if, as it appears to me, enough folks have decided they’re no longer interested in reconciliation and are committed to their own path, we progressives and we in the Episcopal Church need to have the faith in God’s providence to take this risk ourselves.