Friday, June 15, 2007

Balkanization in the Anglican Tradition

I’ve been watching the excitement for the past couple of days in the Anglican/Episcopal blogosphere. There’s been ever so much excitement.

Of particular note, the Primate of the Anglican Church of Kenya announced that an American, formerly an Episcopal priest, would be ordained a bishop with responsibility for a new diocese of that province formed in the United States. This will take place soon, and reportedly more than one Primate will participate. Letters of support have been received from Nigeria, Uganda, and the Southern Cone. You can read it all at all the usual suspects.

Not surprisingly, this has caused a great deal of speculation and anxiety. Those criticizing the action have decried it as a new violation of Anglican provincial boundaries; but they have also suggested that it is evidence that these Global South efforts to invade Episcopal space are “fragmenting.” Those supporting the action have seen it as additional evidence of the commitment of virtuous Global South primates to the care of beleaguered conservative evangelical Episcopalians and ex-Episcopalians. The letters of support suggest that the various efforts, including this latest, are in fact coordinated.

Wednesday I made this comment in responding to the reports on Thinking Anglicans:

The association of separated congregations in the United States with the Province of Kenya is not new, if it has for some time been under the radar. According to an Anglican Mainstream news release, they have 25 congregations - all associated quietly while CANA has gotten all the press.

Much of the difference is because many if not most of these congregations have never been part of the Episcopal Church, although many of the clergy and parishioners have. I'm not aware of significant fights over property, for example. Another difference is that this has taken place in what many in the media consider "flyover" country - away from the major news centers of either American coast. The formative meetings have been taking place in Memphis, Tennessee, and these are small congregations scattered over the American Midsouth. Finally, they have not previously been centralized under one bishop. Instead, a number of Kenyan diocesans have accepted oversight of a few churches each.

Some time ago, Archbishop Williams spoke sadly of the Orthodox experience, with Greek, Russian, Serbian, and other traditions in communion with Constantinople having overlapping territories in the United States and elsewhere. He did not want that to happen in the Anglican Communion. In the United States, I fear it's a little late. Rwanda has long overseen AMiA. Nigeria has a bishop for Nigerian churches, and Kenya will soon have one for churches associated with various dioceses. Will Uganda be far behind?

Nor do I think of this as "splintering." For all the media attention of Archbishop Akinola, Archbishops Orombi, Mzimbi, and Kolini have not been idle. They may be quite happy for a while with a structure more like the Orthodox - not so unlike the Anglican Communion, but with a greater sense of common beliefs - and overlapping, mutually respectful jurisdictions within the "mission field" of the United States. I don't think we on the progressive side should expect them to fall to infighting too quickly, as long as they continue to have a "common enemy" (the Episcopal Church) and a belief that we have left this "mission field" open.

But in the face of this, what are we to do, we in the Episcopal Church? That’s been a question that’s been asked for some time, really. From the creation of AMiA in the Singapore ordinations to confirmations in Ohio to the “Hope and a Future Conference” to the ordination of Bishop Minns, someone has said, “Why doesn’t (Williams or Griswold or Jefferts Schori) prevent (Akinola or Orombi or Lyon from coming; or Duncan or Iker or Schofield from changing canons; or – well, you get the picture)?

But in fact there are real limits to what we can do. We may be annoyed and offended that foreign bishops might come to the United States to interfere in our churches, but we can do little to prevent them. After all, we don’t determine who gets a visa, or who makes it through Customs. In practical terms, there’s no more we can do to prevent Akinola visiting America to visit like-minded members of the Episcopal Church than if he were simply coming on vacation. Archbishop Williams could express an opinion. Indeed, he has, as have Bishops Griswold and Jefferts Schori, and all have been at best ignored and at worst ridiculed. And none of them has juridical authority to stop it. We value our Episcopal perspective on autonomy in the Anglican Communion, but there are times it cuts both ways. So, there’s little that can be done that way. Violating and attempting to displace the Episcopal Church may be bad ecclesiology, but it’s not unlawful in a way the folks in Immigration and Customs Enforcement will notice.

More might have been done to challenge and inhibit (in both general and technical senses) the Episcopal clergy who facilitated and participated in these events. But even that has its limits. If the cleric is involved is prepared to walk away from the Episcopal Church, there’s little for a bishop or diocese to do. Our most severe punishment is “deposition” – the loss of the job and of the status as cleric within the Episcopal Church. We don’t claim to remove the “indelible mark” received in ordination; and if some new community is prepared to acknowledge it and to license the bearer, loss of our license seems to be a small issue. In a way, that’s highlighted by the new Kenyan diocese in America, and by the longer efforts of AMiA. Most of those congregations have never been Episcopal per se, even if most of their clergy and parishioners once were. “Individuals can leave the Church, but congregations and dioceses can’t.” True as it is, it doesn’t prevent those individuals who have left from reforming as new entities and making new ecclesial connections. That’s what we witnessed in the 1970’s and 1980’s over the related concerns of the ordination of women and Prayer Book revision. It’s what we’re witnessing now over concerns of authority, interpretation of scripture, and participation of GLBT persons in the life of the Episcopal Church. We can decry it. We can point out to the current folks how little the previous schismatics accomplished. But we can’t just put a stop to it.

On this I think the statement from the Executive Council is right: what we have to offer is who we are, as we are. As much as some might wish it, both within and without the Episcopal Church, we have made a stand that we value both our international Anglican relations and our internal commitment to a welcome so profound as to result in inclusion for all God’s children in this Church. We have said we will support what we can, pursue what we can; but that we will not be driven and we will not be panicked. We will work with those who will work with us, and will pray that those who won’t might change their mind. Bishop Jefferts Schori has suggested the Episcopal Church has a special vocation within the Anglican tradition, to model living together in the midst of difference. Several of us in the blogosphere have made similar suggestions, if in different images. We will continue to pursue our special vocation, and see what the fruits are.

And in the meantime, I fear we will have to live with this “balkanization” of the Anglican tradition in North America, and perhaps elsewhere. Today on Episcopal Café I commented again, saying in part,

I do think the Primates involved (Akinola, Mzimbi, and Kolini so far; and can Orombi be far behind?) have given up on a Canterbury-centered, much less Canterbury-mediated, result. I also think they're less anxious about the sort of "balkanization" we see among various Christian Orthodox traditions in the United States. In my metropolitan area we have Greek, Serbian, Antiochian, and Russian congregations (including both OCA and ROCOR). They don't do much together, but they don't bad-mouth each other, either, or at least not in public. We also have AMiA, Anglican Rite Catholic, Ugandan, and Anglican Church in America/TAC congregations. Along the same line, they don't seem to do anything together, but neither do they bad-mouth each other. For all Archbishop Williams' decrying of it, that sort of "Orthodox-style" overlapping of jurisdictions is already functional here. The Primates involved are, I think, less anxious about that, as long as there are enough disaffected Episcopalians to start a congregation and then to reach out into what they clearly see as an open mission field. They're praying hard for laborers to go out and harvest; and they've discounted us from being coworkers in the field to being at best wheat to be saved, and at worst tares to be burned.

Perhaps it’s time to accept the facts before us, and commit ourselves to being who we are, living out our vocation. Perhaps in time we will be able to relate to these new entities from the Anglican tradition, and they to us, politely, if not too often, recognizing in one another a common faith growing from common roots.


Ecgbert said...

Hello, Father! Long time, no talk. You might like to know that blogger Derek Olsen, who like you writes at Episcopal Café, told me how to access that site (apparently it doesn't like Firefox so I have to fall back on grotty old Internet Explorer to read it). I just read your piece on Episcopal religious orders and left a comment.

Anyway as you and I can talk about these things I'll have a (non-clobbering) go at this.

++Cantuar's comparison to the Orthodox is IMO poor. He really should know better. Did the Russians start teaching that gay sex isn't a sin? Did the Serbs decide on their own to try and change the apostolic ministry? Getting to the root of things did the Antiochians decide one doesn't have to literally believe what's in the Symbol of Faith to be a sitting bishop?

No, the divisions among the Orthodox are absolutely nothing to do with religion! They're an historical accident of the Russian Revolution when Russia no longer could take care of the Orthodox in America so the various ethnicities sought episcopal rule from their mother countries. That's all!

(Interestingly while Anglicanism is flying apart, which I submit may have been inevitable without the force of the English state holding it together, the mother and exile parts - the Moscow Patriarchate and ROCOR - of the Russian Church are now back together, a substantial part of the Catholic world, the larger church.)

Perhaps it’s time to accept the facts before us... Perhaps in time we will be able to relate to these new entities from the Anglican tradition, and they to us, politely, if not too often, recognizing in one another a common faith growing from common roots.

Well put, Father. I knew I liked this blog for a reason. :) A Continuing priest in the South-West I'm acquainted with says he's friendly with the local Episcopal priests because he wasn't the one who started the local split. (In fact he never was in the Episcopal Church - he's English.)

Thanks for the background info on the Kenyan mission. I understand the Nigerian one, CANA, started like that, for expats.

While I sympathise with those conservative Christians going under new arrangements - IMO if the three Catholic TEC dioceses and other conservative ones want to bolt they can go for it - I understand and accept your logic. As long as these African churches and the Episcopal Church are in the same communion the incursions don't make sense!

As the differences are substantial a model like the admittedly flawed Orthodox practice in America of overlapping ethnic jurisdictions (the USSR is gone but that problem remains) won't work.

Sooner or later somebody will have to decide who stays in and who's out.

But in the face of this, what are we to do, we in the Episcopal Church?

Erm, stop teaching that gay sex is not a sin and go back to what most other Anglicans still teach on the matter? Again, getting to the heart of the matter, enforce orthodoxy like in the 1920s when the House of Bishops deposed William Montgomery Brown, quondam Bishop of Arkansas, for not literally believing the teachings in the creeds?

Not screwball or peculiar churchmanship at all, Father. Come on - we both remember when this was standard-issue stuff.

It’s what we’re witnessing now over concerns of authority, interpretation of scripture, and participation of GLBT persons in the life of the Episcopal Church.

Regarding authority it strikes me as morbidly funny that the revisionists, champions of private judgement, turn into EENS Feeneyites as soon as a conservative Episcopalian says 'FTS' and leaves for the new arrangements. That the people, often ex-RCs, who rail at the Pope for being a tyrant (that is, he's Catholic and won't say gay sex is fine) become higher in their ecclesiology than Pius IX in elevator shoes when a parish or diocese shows signs it wants to take off.

As we've talked about before I know that in most cases the buildings belong to the Episcopal Church so the leaving groups will have to move to new ones.

The irony is still gob-smacking though.

I realise these Global South primates are of the Protestant persuasion, an option for some Anglicans but not for Catholics.

I've told Catholic Anglicans in sound parishes under valid bishops ('theology of taint' is Donatist and not what I mean) who've asked me what to do not to bolt (and I'm talking about after the Robinson furore) - I never would drag anybody through a change of church except as an absolute last resort.

But eventually they all will have to make their submissions to the larger church, perhaps individually.

(And IMO this sums up the row: 'If you, the liberals, believe as Anglicans historically do that you're only a branch of the larger church then stop acting like you are the entire church!' That applies to all the controversial issues.)

Although these places still exist I realise my home is gone in the sense of a Catholic Movement that claims to be THE authentic voice of Anglicanism. (IMO that wasn't arrogance, as if those teachings were one person's invention for example, but simply confidence based on faith.)

That's over.

As I realise the Christianity I learnt from the church of my birth is kaput there, one may rightly ask why I even care about these doings.

(Actually I'm not an avid reader of some of the better known conservative sites.)

Believe it or not I'm not out to clobber people in blogs and forums, harass homosexuals (I'm a libertarian for crying out loud! ... and somebody from an Anglo-Catholic background afraid of gay people is just about a contradiction in terms) or upload nasty Photoshopped pictures of your presiding bishop or the ordinary of New Hampshire.

It's to do with that 'common faith from common roots', or more accurately a common culture (as important to me as the Russians' is to them for example), I have with the Central Churchmen - including people I know face to face - now being driven out of their church home much like Catholic churchmen began to be forced out 30 years ago.

I don't want to see anybody else go through that.

'Common faith from common roots' reflected, I dare say, in the fact that I can talk to born Anglicans my age and older, often centrists in the current climate (if not in my reckoning), people like you and a few others.

Oremus pro invicem.

John Beeler

Marshall Scott said...

John! Well, it has been a while! Thanks for the comments.

I appreciate your comment about Archbishop Williams' comment about the separation and overlaps among the Orthodox. From the outside it does sound to me like the differences that separate those Orthodox using the Julian Calendar from those using the Gregorian Calendar can get pretty bitter. However, yes, divisions among the Orthodox are largely cultural rather than theological.

On the other hand, I'm pretty well convinced that Williams' model of how Christian unity might work is more an adaptation of Rome than of Constantinople. Structurally (no, not theologically, perhaps, but structurally and functionally) the Anglican Communion has been more like Orthodoxy. I've been saying for a while Williams wants more structural links, more like Rome, but without so many as to create another curial church. He still believes in a conciliar structure, but more ordered.

I don't think the new Kenyan enterprise started for Kenyan expats. That was the initial argument for CANA (and at the time CANA was an acronym for different words), although many believe that was disingenuous. However, I think Kenya, like Uganda, was invited by new churches, formed largely of clergy and laity who officially left the Episcopal Church to do so, but without taking property or name. I just can't imagine there are that many Kenyan expats in Memphis (and I've lived and worked there).

A branch of the larger Church? I get your point; but we have long had a pretty broad definition - or, really, a couple of them - of "the larger Church." Sometimes we mean those with bishops in apostolic succession; but for us that also includes the Oriental Orthodox and the Separated Assyrian and Mar Thoma successions, as well as at least some of the Lutherans (and more and more as we get our hands on them). Sometimes we mean all those baptized in Trinitarian formula, and that includes a lot of Protestant, Separatist (a lot of North American Baptists don't really fit the broader Reformation categories), Anabaptist, and Pentecostal traditions, which would include (in there somewhere) the Metropolitan Community Church. There is so much variety among those that "a branch" may be too organically connected an image. I'm not suggesting you should, much less would, accept either of those definitions of "the larger Church;" but both have been used in Anglican discourse. The Body of Christ is not nearly so coinherent as we would like to envision.

Well, enough for now. I'm sure we'll have more to say. I'll look forward to it.

Ecgbert said...

Thanks for reminding me of the calendar row - that is about culture.

Structurally (no, not theologically, perhaps, but structurally and functionally) the Anglican Communion has been more like Orthodoxy.

I know - I've said that myself.

The idea that practice - common prayer - is at least as if not more important than juridical unity (a centralised 'curial church' as you say) is another thing in common.

Which is why I think Anglo-Catholics, though part of Western Catholicism, can relate better to the Orthodox in some ways whilst conservative Presbyterians with their intellectualised religion not based in liturgy are happier converting to conservative Vatican II Roman Catholicism.

My rough working definition of 'apostolic' or for that matter 'Catholic' (just about interchangeable terms) follows Rome's criteria for validity of orders... very basic credal orthodoxy (Rome recognises the Lesser Eastern Churches based on this), unbroken claim to succession and (the deal-breaker with Apostolicæ Curæ) unbroken official orthodox teaching about the Eucharist. (Everything else in the Catholic religion seems to flow naturally from these.)

Given the recent understandings, nothing to do with Modernism, that the Oriental Orthodox (who include the St Thomas Christians, the Malankara Church, part of the Syrian patriarchate... regrettably native apostolic Christianity in India stayed limited to one ethnic group) weren't really Monophysites nor the Assyrians really Nestorians I'd include these apostolic churches in 'the larger church'. (The Tractarians may not have done!)

I wouldn't rule out an official Eastern Orthodox-Oriental Orthodox restoration of communion in the next 100 years. In any event I think it would happen long before a reconciliation with Rome... similar cultures and no post-schism definitions of doctrine (like about the Pope, IMO the only seemingly insurmountable one) getting in the way.

As you probably already know the Mar Thoma Church started under the British raj as a protestantising movement in the Malankara Church; today essentially they're Eastern-rite Anglicans (I understand they're conservative), in full communion with Canterbury (I think they go to Lambeth)... Canterbury's version of Rome's Eastern-rite churches!