Wednesday, September 27, 2006

More on Catholic Order, Thanks to obadiahslope

Once again obadiahslope responded to my post on arguments from catholic order; and once again, his question brought forth a full-bore reflection and post. From his comment:

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.


Anonymous said...

Your idea of TEC as the communion's R and D arm reminds me of an essay by Bishop Paul Marshall in which he suggest that TEC has some kind of prophetic role in the communion which he claims to have been given by the Holy Spirit.
Sadly by comparing you to a bishop I am not giving you a compliment. For Marshall seemed to me to be dressing American exceptionalism - manifest destiny - in progressive clothing. It was just another case of Americans thinking that they are in the forefront. Which makes a lot of the rest of us see TEC as more similar to Bush than you might want to admit.
It seems to me you might have a milder case of the same disease.
Why is TEC to be seen as the R and D arm? What about an african province serving the poor in humble sermvice. Could this not be seen as a bold experiment too? Or a province re-evangelising a western culture grown secular? or a province serving a orphan-filled society devastated by AIDS?
I guess what I am saying is the theought that TEC might be THE R and D arm is hegemonic, contra your last post.
Another difficulty is that TEC is not saying we have ordained +NH as an experiment, or as R and D. Rather they are claiming that it is the right thing to do. Perhaps if TEC did say that +NH was an experiment, or that TEC was not claiming that he be recognised at Lambeth it could indeed be the basis for some kind of settlement.

Marshall Scott said...

Hmmm. Interesting criticism.

Having grown up in a research household, and working now in health care where the call is to be "evidence based," I think I have a different perspective on "experiment." An experiment is a change in practice, undertaken to accomplish a good end, with some basis in past experience. I acknowledge that consecrating Bishop Robinson was to some extent a change of practice, but undertaken for good reason, and with reason to expect success. Success in this case would be in seeing the fruits of the Spirit exhibited in the Diocese of New Hampshire and in the Episcopal Church. The basis in history is the fruits of the Spirit that the people of New Hampshire believed they had already seen when they elected Bishop Robinson.

To speak of the Episcopal Church in the metaphor of "R and D" was to suggest, first, that there was no reason to expect other provinces would consider making the same decision unless and until they also saw the fruits of the Spirit; and, second, that other provinces would continue to maintain enough relationship to continue offering conversation. One can only be grandiose about research by ignoring the risk.

Your point about other "experiments" is well taken. At the same time, I have not ignored the many ministries already taking place in other provinces. I would consider your examples of serving the poor and those affected by AIDS are not experiments: these are already best practices. I would hardly want those to be forsaken. By the same token, the Presiding Bishop and many American funders have been willing to provide resources without strings to local organizations who best know local needs in provinces across the Global South. Those provinces that have refused those funds to demonstrate broken communion have done so to reject any association, and not because there were requirements to toe some American line.

For all the apparent shock of some provinces, and all the denials of some in the Episcopal Church, this did not happen ex nihilo. The process of listening to glbt persons in our midst and looking for the fruits of the Spirit has been going on here for a generation. Through the same time and for some time previous, scientific and sociological understandings of sexuality have changed, changes that in the Anglican tradition of accepting natural law become part of the consideration. The Episcopal Church took a risk, but it was a calculated risk, with the promise that we might benefit from the fruits of the Spirit that Gene Robinson had already shown and from the fruits of the Spirit shown by other persons, siblings for whom Christ died, who were and are still largely distrusted and unwelcome (to acknowledge Cantuar's value statement) in American society.

I appreciate your comments. They help me.