Monday, October 04, 2004

Drawing the line blues


I know I haven't been posting much lately. This is partly because of time, and time down, with hurricanes battering us here in Central Florida.

And, I haven't had the heart to post much about the Episcopal Church. Then, last month, I saw that the bishop of this diocese signed a letter Sept. 1, along with a few other right-wingers, demanding the Commission "discipline" the Episcopal Church, and, in essence, that the Episcopal Church be kicked out of the communion. I know, I know, it's SOS.

Reading between the lines, it's clear the Global South, or its bishops, anyway, are flexing muscles and this letter appears to me to contain a threat to the ABC -- do it our way, or the highway.

I wonder why my bishop signed this letter. Not even Iker and the other AAC types signed it.

It's obvious that "reception" of ordained women still rankles the hardliners.

Anyway. I love my parish very much, but I don't think I could stay if our bishop or anyone else tried to force us into some AMiA-type situation, or "realignment" into another union. I'm afraid I just don't have confidence in the intentions of the leadership in this diocese.

Meanwhile, an article I've started working on has me thinking again about my own rationale for supporting the actions of convention:

I look at the people I encounter and see children of God. Nothing more or less. As beloved as the bishop or me.

Is homosexuality a sin? I can't see it any more a sin than the way any of us were created -- white or black, blue- or brown-eyed, male or female, freckled or bronzed, tall or short.

What's important is how we treat each other, and we all fall short of the mark.

Our sexuality is something that will drop off us at the end, according to my interpretation of the Bible, which is heretical according to some.

I keep thinking about how Jesus constantly challenged the powers that be of his time, who were quite comfortable with themselves, but had a list of those "unacceptable" people -- women, tax collectors, Samaritans and all foreigners, even the sick and hurting, who (after all) must have surely done something to deserve what they got. They certainly didn't like anyone who challenged the power structure.

Jesus was an "innovator," a word the writers of the letter posted below don't like at all. He even dared to heal on the Sabbath. I can see the letters that would have been written back in his time!

Oh, wait, they didn't just write letters and demand realignments, they crucified the Lord.

I wonder what would happen if Jesus were to come today?

The Holy Spirit has constantly challenged the status quo, bringing in all these outsiders, ending slavery, crusades, pogroms (though we keep starting them back up) discrimination against various groups, prodding us in the direction God wants us to go.

I am wearied with hearing the politics of exclusion and of hate. I won't be part of a church that condones it. That's where I draw the line.

Here's the text of the letter, if you can stomach it:

DRAWING THE LINE
May integrity and uprightness protect us, because our hope is in you.
Redeem Israel, O God from all their troubles (Psa. 25:21-22).
We write as bishops and theologians within the Anglican Communion to
the Lambeth Commission to express our thanks for the important work
which you are doing on our behalf as you respond to the current crisis
within the Communion. We hold you in our prayers as you work to
clarify for us the nature of Anglican discipline and make proposals
for a way forward which will maintain among us the highest level of
communion. Such communion and godly unity is our desire also. Yet we
need to express our grave concerns about possible outcomes that might
shortly be proposed by the Commission.
1. We write as persons convinced that the only way forward for the
continuance of the Communion is for the Primates to exercise some form
of discipline upon innovating provinces. The arguments for such a
`restorative' discipline, together with concrete suggestions for the
shape of that discipline, have been given in previous submissions. We
believe that the arguments in these submissions summarise well the
concerns of the vast majority of Anglicans in the Communion, including
much of the Two-Thirds World. For the present dispute does not derive
from some conflict of local cultures, but is truly about right
Christian teaching and common life understood in a `catholic' sense
(that is, throughout the world).
2. There is, however, a danger that the voice of that vast majority
may not be heard. We note that, while there have been some significant
contributions from the Two-Thirds World, these are still few in
number. This is surprising since (as Appendix 1 shows) the churches of
the `Global South' make up over well over half of the Anglican
Communion. We know that the membership of the Commission is as
representative as it can be, but we trust that it will not be misled
by this `accident' in its sources. Regrettably many in the Global
South may find the methodology of such a Commission culturally alien
and therefore be hesitant to contribute to this process. There would
then be the danger that the important work that you are doing and
which all of us support might be perceived as a bureaucratic
discussion amongst those who live in the `West'. Should this turn out
to be the case, it would not be surprising if the Commission's advice
and proposals were not heeded. We must emphasize that the churches of
the `Global South' have an important a voice and a strong intention
which will be ignored at great cost. We trust that the Commission is
fully apprised of this political reality and therefore of the
inevitable consequences of failing to make recommendations that
adequately reflect this.
3. The argument for discipline is hard to refute. We trust that the
Commission is now fully aware that the present crisis cannot be
resolved through adopting a simple process of `reception' (as with
women's orders). For we have already entered an evident process of
rejection, not reception. Primates and bishops throughout the
Communion have therefore repeatedly urged for such discipline. If this
request is ignored, then plainly we have reached the end of the
Anglican Communion in its present form. Indeed, given that many in the
Global South have been asking for an even stronger response (namely
`repentance or complete expulsion'), it is clear that this category of
`restorative discipline' is the only viable middle-ground that might
possibly preserve the Communion. Even then it will require persuasion
on both sides: not only will innovating provinces need to accept its
strictures, but Global South provinces will need convincing that it is
a sufficient response and not a subtle means of evading or postponing
the hard issues. For many provinces are set in contexts where this
distinctively Christ-like concept of `restorative discipline' (giving
time for `amendment of life' and upholding both truth and grace) would
be dismissed as weak or erroneous. The key point remains, however:
anything less than discipline is a non-starter.
4. So our chief concern now is that the Commission might be tempted to
seek to accommodate this call for `discipline' by proposing instead
some form of `associate status' as an alternative to `communion'. The
argument here would be that, if the overwhelming majority of Anglicans
are pressing for ECUSA and Canada to be `disciplined' (as the only way
of preserving the Communion), perhaps instead these two provinces (and
any others that overturn biblical and traditional teaching on human
sexuality) can be given an alternative status-a `looser' relating to
Canterbury. Some have spoken of an `inner' and `outer track', some of
a `federation'. In such a way it is hoped our present crisis can be
side-stepped and the provinces of North America can avoid the painful
`loss of face' and legal vulnerability associated with being `under
discipline'.
5. At first sight this may appear an attractive proposal, even (in a
caricatured sense) very `Anglican'-in its attempt to comprehend within
a single institutional structure what appear to be logically
irreconcilable positions. Within this proposal both `sides' in the
argument might be `affirmed' in some way, and they might even learn to
live alongside one another under some `still-Anglican' umbrella. But
the reality on the ground is quite different. This proposal is wrong
in principle and unacceptable in practice.
6. In Appendix 2 we list some of the reasons why this is so, which
cover matters of theological principle, practical procedures and real
politics. In many ways this `federation' model, it will be noted, only
pushes the problem down a level-from inter-provincial relations to
those within provinces and dioceses. It does not actually resolve
anything, but leaves the issue to worm its divisive way down into
every layer of the Communion's life. Another concern is that, if there
were ever occasions when the `inner and outer tracks' were required to
gather together, then this would place an intolerable strain on the
consciences and patience of those who have consistently expressed
their principled objection to revisionist teaching. Hence the
insistence in various recent proposals that provinces `under
discipline' would not be represented at the Primates Meeting and the
Lambeth Conference.
7. The key problem, however, is that those provinces of the Global
South that have already declared a state of `impaired communion' (as
well as orthodox Christians and churches in the North) will not wish
to be in some ambiguous kind of relationship with ECUSA and Canada.
For the sake of their own mission (often in Muslim lands) there needs
to be a clear and publicly recognised distinction between the
continuing Anglican Communion and those provinces whose witness
diverges from the Communion. In some instances this may be because
Communion churches do not wish to see their recent church growth
compromised by association with unbiblical standards; in others (more
soberly) because the very survival of any Anglican presence in their
local context depends on this clear severance-it is, too literally, a
`life and death' issue. We urge you to note this key reality `on the
ground'. The provinces of North America must therefore be seen and
known to be a quite separate church or denomination. This means that:
. They must not be able to use the label `Anglican' in a way that
identifies them as part of the Anglican Communion.
. Their relationship with Canterbury (if it is to continue at all)
must be of a qualitatively different kind from that which Canterbury
will maintain with (what will become) the continuing Communion. They
would need to have a clearly `diminished' status, the details of which
would need to be worked out.
The major point here is critical: if there is to be no accepted
discipline within the Communion, then there must be appropriate
distance from the Communion.
8. It should also be noted that the `federation' model is a proposal
which necessarily signals the end of the Communion-a tacit acceptance
that an irretrievable breakdown has occurred within our common life.
It should also be quite plain which provinces are responsible for this
dissolution of our Communion. Indeed it seems odd and even
irresponsible that the Communion as whole should be being asked to
reorient its common life in a fundamental manner around the actions of
a few provinces bent upon such dissolution.
9. If the `federation' model were pursued, then orthodox provinces, we
trust, would be clearly and securely within the continuing (though
depleted and smaller) Communion-the `inner track'. They would also, of
course, keenly hope that they might continue to be in the same valued
relationship with Canterbury that they have known up to this point.
The problem with the `federation' proposal arises when the status of
the provinces in the `outer track' needs to be defined. For if
Canterbury sought to confer some legitimate `Anglican' status upon
these provinces, then many who have seen Canterbury as the focus of
their Anglican unity and identity would find that relationship placed
under intolerable strain. This awful possibility does not arise from
any desire for independence but from a firm commitment to the
Communion as it has been known and understood until now. Loyalty to
Canterbury is (and always was) expressive of a loyalty to the biblical
and apostolic faith as received and of which Canterbury is called to
be steward and guardian. If Canterbury (as the effective `gatherer' of
the Communion) or the central Instruments of Unity should somehow
attempt to compromise at this point, they must not be surprised at the
principled resistance of those wishing to maintain an authentic
biblical witness in our confused world. In any family, if the
offending party refuses to be disciplined, then the alternative is
polite removal from the family. And if they refuse to be removed, then
the main family will itself need to consider other options, including
relocation.
10. These plain statements of the church-political realities at stake
on this issue cannot be ignored. They also help then to clarify what
the realistic and viable options are for the status of the provinces
of North America: membership in the Communion (in conformity with its
teaching), `membership under discipline' or non-membership. There is
no fourth category. Talk of `federation' is effectively a device to
open up such a new category. It is a new and ecclesially vague status,
specially designed for these provinces so that they can appear to have
been distanced and disciplined (to the supposed satisfaction of the
orthodox) whilst conveniently retaining their Anglican status and
their treasured links with Canterbury. But this is giving them the
privileges of membership without any matching responsibilities (of
conformity to the Communion's teaching). No institution can survive if
it seeks to play such a game.
11. In this submission we seek to make it quite clear that orthodox
`members' of the Communion will not accept such a compromising move:
there is no magical way to `square the circle' and keep all current
members of the Communion satisfied, despite the irreconcilability of
their views. A `compromise' in the direction of an inclusive
federation is theologically wrong, morally questionable,
ecclesiologically disastrous - and totally unworkable in practice.
Orthodox bishops will reserve the right to resist false teaching and
to preserve a Communion that is essentially theological. A response
that is primarily a matter of structural re-arrangement is doomed. So
the Commission should be under no illusion that this might be a
practicable solution. During the last 12 months we have seen people
taking actions, despite warnings, who then claim to have been
surprised by the storm they have created-as though this might then
excuse them for their actions. We trust a similar blindness to clear
consequences will not mark the final deliberations of the Commission.
12. We therefore offer our own proposal of a way forward to the
Commission. And we do so at this time as the gathered voice of a host
of traditional Anglicans from around the world, standing in steadfast
unity with our brothers and sisters in the Global South-indeed in the
Communion as we have received it. We propose that the Commission
recommend the Primates to act in some such way as this:
The Primates should address the House of Bishops (or specially
convened General Convention or Synod) of the provinces of ECUSA and
Canada with this SOLEMN DECLARATION, requiring a response within a set
period:
In the light of your recent synodical decisions which have knowingly
flouted Communion teaching on matters of human sexuality:
A) We hereby declare that your provinces have entered a period of
restorative discipline, the purpose of which is to provide time for
your reconciliation to the larger Communion and its teaching. This
discipline will have implications for the presence of your
representatives in the councils of the Communion and includes the
adequate provision of episcopal oversight for clergy and congregations
in your midst who wish to remain in communion with us. While this
discipline is in force, there will be quite naturally an impairment of
sacramental fellowship and a restriction on the interchangeability of
ministries.
B) We hereby pronounce that this discipline will come into force with
immediate effect for a set period lasting up to 2 years. It will only
be rescinded during this time if your provinces publicly renounce your
recent decisions and take practical steps to rescind your actions.
C) We hereby also give warning that, should you refuse to respond by
renouncing these decisions during the set period (B) or even by
refusing to accept the discipline imposed (A), then either of these
two refusals will be taken as a clear and conscious signal that you
yourselves are unwilling to continue as constituent members of the
Anglican Communion. Instead we shall recognise that `communion' to
exist with those from among you who declare their commitment to our
common teaching and life.
The rationale behind this declaration is that these provinces be
presented with a clear and reasonable choice (as above), namely: full
membership of the Communion (B), `membership under discipline' for a
set period (A) or non-membership (C). It closes the door on any fourth
option, by clearly stating that the alternative to discipline is
distance: if they are not content with `observer status' within the
Communion, they shall have no status within the Communion. It also
makes clear that they cannot remain forever in the `disciplined'
category (A) but must sooner or later either return to full Communion
membership (B) or leave the Communion (C). This status of `membership
under discipline' is thus not to construed as a perennial condition,
another `vague' place where ambiguities can be left unresolved, but is
precisely a purposive category which allows `time for amendment of
life' and/or for clear decisions to be made. Previous proposals for
discipline, through not defining the real threat of non-membership,
may have been insufficiently clear at this point and thus been liable
to misinterpretation.
13. It may be that these provinces will wish to pursue the claim to be
offering the Communion a `prophetic' vision. Our argument is that, if
so, then they must speak their voice `from outside' the Communion's
structures-so that we may `test the spirits' and observe whether their
prophetic stance is true or false. Should the provinces wish to pursue
this `prophetic' role (C), then:
. They would be required to reconstitute themselves, acknowledging
that they are no longer `Anglican', adopting some alternative
denominational name, and rewriting their constitutions in a way that
excludes their previous claim to be `in communion with Canterbury'.
. After an agreed length of time there would be a review of their
relationship with the Communion as a whole.
Meanwhile those bishops and congregations who continued to oppose the
innovative teaching in sexual ethics would be duly recognised, legally
and constitutionally, as the continuing _expression of the Anglican
Communion within these provinces-able to nominate their own `presiding
bishop' and other officers (to represent them in wider Communion
affairs) and ensuring appropriate episcopal oversight for those within
their province. We would trust that other matters (e.g. property
matters governed by civil laws) would be amicably sorted out,
according to the imperatives of the Gospel, in the light of these new
constitutional arrangements.
14. We see the above as a reasoned and reasonable proposal, which
honestly acknowledges the depth of division that has now broken out
within our Communion. Most importantly, however, it adequately does
justice to the clear, principled and repeated concerns of the
overwhelming majority of faithful Anglican Christians. Why do the
majority have to be troubled for so many years by the insistence of
such a tiny minority? How long can any institution-let alone the
Church of Jesus Christ-continue in this indecisive manner, limping
endlessly between two opinions? How much longer can we see our
spiritual and material resources being haemorrhaged through incessant
debate and acrimony on this point? For the sake of the Church and for
our communion in Christ, the time has surely come for decisive action,
for clear speaking and, if there is no change of heart, for a clean
break. It is time to draw the line.
1 September 2004
Signed:
The Rt Revd Mouneer Anis, Bishop of Egypt
The Rt Revd Wallace Benn, Bishop of Lewes & President of Church of
England Evangelical Council
The Revd Mario Bergner, Redeemed Life Ministries
The Rt Revd Pete Broadbent, Bishop of Willesden
The Revd John Coles, Director, New Wine
The Rt Revd Dr. Michael Fape, Bishop of Remo, Nigeria
Dr Philip Giddings, Anglican Mainstream
The Rt Revd John W. Howe, Bishop of Central Florida, ECUSA
The Rt Revd Michael Kyomya, (Ph.D.) Bishop of Busoga, Church of Uganda
The Rt Revd John Lipscomb, Bishop of Southwest Florida, ECUSA
The Rt Revd Alpha Mohammed, Bishop of Rift Valley, Tanzania & Anglican
Communion Institute
The Rt Revd Edward Muhima, Ph.D., Bishop of North Kigezi, Church of Uganda
& Team Leader Director of African Evangelistic Enterprise in Uganda
The Revd Professor Stephen Noll, Vice-Chancellor, Uganda Christian
University
The Revd Mike Parker, Scottish Episcopal Evangelical Fellowship
The Rt Revd Edward Salmon, Bishop of South Carolina, ECUSA & Anglican
Communion Institute
The Revd Professor Christopher Seitz, President, Anglican Communion
Institute
The Rt Revd James Stanton, Bishop of Dallas, ECUSA & Anglican Communion
Institute
The Very Revd Philip Turner, retired Dean, Berkeley Divinity School at
Yale & Anglican Communion Institute
The Revd Dr Chris Wright, Langham Partnership International
The Very Revd Dr Paul F.M. Zahl, Dean, Trinity Episcopal School for
Ministry, USA

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