Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Pinch of Gay Incense

One of the issues raised by some bishops of dioceses in Africa regarding the Church's attitude toward gays and lesbians, committed same-sex relationships, etc., is that approving, or even "not condemning," these people and their relationships would put their Christian mission at great disadvantage and even danger vis-a-vis the Muslims, who are depicted as being vehemently, even violently, anti-gay. (Actually, I think there is some real diversity of opinion among the world's Muslims about homosexuality, but it's probably fair to say that most African Muslims are at least as anti-gay as most African Christians.)

For instance, Archbishop Deng of Sudan said last week: "We reject homosexual practice as contrary to biblical teaching and can accept no place for it within ECS. We strongly oppose developments within the Anglican Church in the USA and Canada in consecrating a practicing homosexual as bishop and in approving a rite for the blessing of same-sex relationships. This has not only caused deep divisions within the Anglican Communion but it has seriously harmed the Church’s witness in Africa and elsewhere, opening the church to ridicule and damaging its credibility in a multi-religious environment." [Emphasis mine.]

Other bishops in parts of Africa have made statements that are even harsher. Their appeal is to what they think the Bible says (an interpretation which many Christians do not share), but it is also fairly clear that there are also cultural issues at stake -- as well as political issues. And maybe more than a little fear. It has been suggested that at least in some areas, toleration of homosexuality by Christians might lead to persecution by Muslims. I don't know whether that is true or not, but I can imagine that it might well be.

It's interesting that some African voices are accusing the West (particularly the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada, but with many in the Church of England and other Anglican Provinces in the British Isles and elsewhere in the world) of surrendering to the spirit of the age on this issue. I would suggest they read more American newspapers. While it is certainly true that more and more Americans (especially younger people) are accepting of same-sex committed partnerships, or least tolerant of them, there is still plenty of virulent homophobia, even violence. Matthew Shepherd. The young schoolboy recently killed by a classmate in school. Parishioners in a Unitarian church in Knoxville. Dozens more. Thousands of young people whose discovery of their sexual orientation and the reaction of their families and acquaintences has led them into depression, despair, and even suicide. If the Episcopal Church is cozying up to the spirit of the age, we have obviously made a serious misjudgment. The Zeitgeist of the West on this issue is not all that much different from that of Nigeria.

In the first three centuries of the Church's life, thousands of Christians (we estimate) were imprisoned, tortured, or killed because they refused to offer a pinch of incense on an altar before an image of the Emperor, or refused to turn over copies of the Scriptures for burning, or refused to enter marriages arranged by their pagan families. Many other Christians did yield, out of fear or for convenience's sake or for the sake of peace and accommodation. It is not for me to tell African Christians how they must respond to threats and persecution from what is often a more powerful and sometimes threatening Muslim community. But I will not be complicit in throwing our GLBT sisters and brothers under the bus for the sake of the safety of the majority. The martyrs of the faith deserve better remembrance than that.

Christ is the Way

Among the subjects that some folks these days seem to be getting their knickers in a twist about is how to understand John 14:6: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." The "hardline" interpretation of this is that unless one has consciously and explicitly professed one's faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, one cannot be saved. (There is, of course, a wide spectrum of less "hardline" interpretations. Even the Roman Catholic Church, which is not exactly "soft" on Jesus, grants the legitimacy of acknowledging the possibility of salvation for those whom Karl Rahner called "anonymous Christians.")

Here's what I say, and I'm pretty hardline about this:

Muslims cannot be saved by Islam.
Hindus cannot be saved by Hinduism.
Buddhists cannot be saved by Buddhism.
Jews cannot be saved by Judaism.

And finally (all you who recall Amos 1-2 will see this coming):

Christians cannot be saved by Christianity.

We are not saved by our religion(s). We are saved by the grace of God.

God does not consult with us about who is qualified to receive grace.

When Jesus talks about being "the way, and the truth, and the life," I see no indication that he is talking about ecclesiastical membership or theological orthodoxy or religious observance. I think he is talking about coming with him into the Kingdom of God. How well we can articulate the fullness of the identity of our Divine Companion is pretty much beside the point, which is good news for us, because none of us really understand the fullness of his identity.

Or, as the folks who had been rescued/healed/saved in the old western movies used to say, "Who was that masked man?"

Friday, July 25, 2008

Dave Walker and the SPCK

I'm not going to get into this in any detail here, other than to note that "I Am Also Dave Walker." If you know what I'm talking about, well, then, you know what I'm talking about! If not, and you care (I really think we should care about this) you can find out all about it over at the MadPriest's place. http://revjph.blogspot.com/2008/07/very-important-dave-walker-update.html (And if you don't care, well, pthpthpthp!)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

St. Mary Magdalene

A friend and colleague was the celebrant at the Eucharist this morning, and in his homily he noted that all of a sudden there are dozens and dozens of books on the market about Mary Magdalene. (You can check them out on the online booksellers.) His favorite title was (yes, really!) "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Mary Magdalene."

I am speechless....

Monday, July 21, 2008

Bible-Believing Christians (2)

When the Holy Spirit moved the Church to require-or-at-least-encourage the praying of the Daily Office, s/he knew what s/he was doing.

This morning I was reading Joshua 7:1-13, as the lectionary directs. I noticed that tomorrow the reading picks up at Joshua 8:1 (well, actually, some of us will probably join that to the Wednesday reading, since tomorrow is St. Mary Magdalene). Well, thought I, what about Joshua 7:14-26? So I went back to read that (or re-read it, since I must have looked at it two years ago, or four, or six....). This is where the story goes on to relate how God and Joshua dealt with Achan son of Carmi (etc.) who took some of the devoted things from the sacking of Jericho, resulting in the humiliating defeat of the Israelites at Ai.

"Then Joshua and all Israel with him took Achan [great-grand]son of Zerah, with the silver, the mantle, and the bar of gold, with his sons and daughters, with his oxen, donkeys, and sheep, and his tent and all that he had, and they brought them up to the Valley of Achor. Joshua said, 'Why did you bring trouble on us? The Lord is bringing trouble on you today.' And all Israel stoned him to death; they burned them with fire, cast stones on them, and raised over him a great heap of stones that remains to this day. Then the Lord turned from his burning anger. Therefore that place to this day is called the Valley of Achor [That is Trouble]."

This episode is part of our story as the People of God, and we should most certainly read it and know it. But I am getting just a little tired of listing to "evangelical" whiners appeal to "Biblical morality." If you are a "Bible-Believing Christian," exactly what is it you believe about this story? (I certainly think that God may well speak to us through this story, but exactly what God is saying is another subject for another post.)

"Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation" (Article VI); it does not say "All things contained in Holy Scripture are necessary to salvation."

For those who are following Track One of the Revised Common Lectionary, the First Reading this coming Sunday is the story of Jacob's marriages to Leah and Rachel. Doubtless some more "Biblical sexual morality," a/k/a "What the Bible teaches about marriage." I'd be interested to know what the "Bible-Believing Christians" in our own Anglican-and-other-RCL-following family do with this. Actually, I'm planning to preach on this passage myself. Check in early next week to my "Have Stole Will Travel" blog.


Go see this at the MadPriest's place:


Sunday, July 20, 2008

"The Bible says....!"

Although we did not observe this "lesser feast" today because it is Sunday, I noted that July 20 is the commemoration of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Amelia Jenks Bloomer, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Ross Tubman. (The date for this celebration of major women witnesses for God's justice is that of the Women's Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848.) I notice that the opposition -- often very substantial opposition -- within the Church to the witness of these women for justice and equality for people of both sexes and all races was based upon certain quotations from the Bible, and there were widespread attacks from church pulpits. Ms. Bloomer, for instance, was accused of defying the clear Scriptural prohibition of women "dressing like men." (Yes, that's why they were called "bloomers"!)

Come on, folks, I can remember when it was still a matter of controversy for a woman to wear a pants suit to church on Sunday, and without a hat.

In our generation we are excluding and condemning GLBTs because "the Bible says...." People, we just have to get over this stuff!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Anglo-Catholics and Women Bishops (5)

Another objection to the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate is that it presents a major, even fatal, obstacle to hopes of reunion with Rome. Uhh, no. Well, I’m sure that the ordination of women presents an obstacle in the eyes of the papacy. But that’s not our problem. Let’s talk about obstacles to the reunion of Christendom:

1. The doctrine of the infallibility of the Pope. Granted, nobody is quite sure exactly what this means (although Cardinal Ratzinger seemed sure enough a few years ago), and some liberal Roman Catholic theologians have tried to find ways to weasel around it or explain it away, but that simply won’t do. The doctrine is arrogant and false, and if the Roman Catholic Church really wants to implement Christ’s prayerful wish “ut unum sint,” then they have to renounce it. Not just reinterpret it, renounce it.

2. Even more of an obstacle in my mind than the Pope’s infallibility (which is, after all, a silly claim anyway) is the Pope’s universal ordinary jurisdiction. In other words, the Bishop of Rome can (and sometimes does) intervene directly in the affairs of local dioceses. The bottom line is that Roman bishops, even cardinal archbishops, are only suffragans of the Bishop of Rome. Sorry. It isn’t going to happen. If Rome is serious about the reunion of Christendom, this is number one on the repudiation list.

3. Another obstacle is the issue of inventing new doctrines, or at least raising somewhat old but hardly primitive doctrines to dogmatic status. Specifically, the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the doctrine of her Corporal Assumption into Heaven. Frankly, I don’t have a huge objection if someone wants to believe that those pious opinions are true. I don’t believe they are, but if others find them coherent or meaningful, that’s okay, and I’m willing to listen to their explanations. Personally, I find the Immaculate Conception (of Mary) meaningless; I think it involves a category mistake about the nature of original sin. The Assumption bothers me a little more, since it is a specifically historical claim that is without any evidence whatsoever, and I think we need to be very careful about the historical claims we make. The most obvious problematic claim is the Resurrection of Jesus; whether it should be regarded as historical depends on how one defines “historical,” but there is certainly solid historical evidence that the first generation of Christians were absolutely convinced that Jesus had really been raised from the dead and had appeared to many of his followers. There is absolutely no similar evidence concerning the circumstances of the death, or purported non-death, of St. Mary the Mother of Jesus. Nor is it clear what the meaning of this alleged event might be. It would be a very strange way to honor our Lord’s Mother by making a false historical claim about her. More to the point, to claim that Mary’s Assumption was in some sense a reflection of her Son’s Resurrection seems to me to miss the point of the Resurrection of Jesus (which is not that “we too will go to heaven when we die”). Bishop N. T. Wright has some excellent reflections on the significance of the Resurrection; as far as I am aware he does not discuss the alleged Assumption, nor, I suppose, would he. But in any case, if someone wants to “believe in” the Immaculate Conception of Mary and in her Assumption, go ahead. But for Rome to claim that these pious opinions are de fide dogmata is utterly beyond the pale, and raises grave suspicions about whether they fully understand what the Gospel of Jesus Christ is really about.

I suppose an ecumenical negotiator might say, well, Rome will give up the universal authority of the Pope and the Marian dogmas, if the Anglicans will give up the ordination of women. Nice try. I for one am absolutely unwilling to throw my sisters under the bus in exchange for renunciations of falsehoods that Rome needs to give up in any case.

Reunion with Rome is something which simply is not going to happen in our time, sadly, certainly not on their terms. Mind you, I am very much in favor of the closest possible relationships and cooperation in mission and service between Roman Catholics and Anglicans at the local level, the diocesan level, and even at the national level. I rejoice that +Rowan and +Benedict seem to have a good personal relationship. But they both need to understand that we are not going to give up anything to Rome. Au contraire….

Anglo-Catholics and Women Bishops (4)

Reflections on objections to the ordination of women to the priesthood and a fortiori to the episcopate (for some of you this may be old hat and you’re tired of hearing about it. Feel free to skip to the next post):

Obj. 1. Christ did not appoint any female apostles.
Reply Obj. 1. Christ also did not appoint any Italian or Polish or German apostles. (Where did all these Popes come from? Jesus didn’t even appoint any English apostles!) Further; Jesus did not authorize the installation of flush toilets in parish churches. (Does anyone really expect us to take this line of argument seriously?)

Obj. 2. The New Testament forbids the ordination of women, e.g. 1 Cor 14:33b-36, 1 Tim 2:11-15.
Reply Obj. 2. Well, I suppose there is a sense in which it does. (I would argue that St. Paul is not the author of either of these passages — the former completely breaks the train of thought, reads like an interpolation, and contradicts Paul’s general attitude toward female colleagues in the ministry, and the latter is from the Pastorals which I believe are pseudo-Pauline, at least mostly. But these passages are still canonical Scripture, whoever wrote them, so they have to be dealt with.) However, these verses don’t simply forbid the ordination of women, they forbid any exercise of general authority in the Church by women. This means (and until fifty years ago was widely understood to mean) that women not only cannot be ordained, but also may not serve as lay readers, members of the vestry, delegates to diocesan convention, deputies to General Convention, etc. There are still some very conservative evangelical churches (some Baptists, for instance, though certainly not all) who closely follow this direction and do not permit female leadership of anything but women’s organizations, nor may they teach Sunday School to classes including boys above the age of seven. At least this position is Scripturally consistent. I personally remember when it was said in the Episcopal Church, “If you elect a woman to be Senior Warden, next they’ll want to be ordained priest!” Yep! Ex ore dooforum.

Obj. 3. A woman can no more be a priest than a man can be a mother.
Reply Obj. 3. Actually even C.S. Lewis made this argument somewhere (I forget exactly where; I could look it up, but it’s not really worth it), and one still hears it occasionally. Well, Lewis was brilliant 99% of the time, which is a lot better than most of us. The assumption is that priesthood is essentially fatherly, and therefore a woman cannot exercise it. Where does one begin with this? Paul uses paternal imagery for his relationship with his churches (1 Cor. 4:15, 1 Thess. 2:11), but he also uses maternal imagery (Gal. 4:19, 1 Thess. 2:7.) I’m not sure where the idea came from that Christian priesthood (including episcopacy) is essentially paternal, other than that for most of Christian history bishops and priests were all men. But in a large percentage of cases, we might note, they were not fathers, except metaphorically. The superior of a religious community of women is often called “Mother,” and her responsibilities are quite equivalent to those of the superior of a men’s community. The only difference between an abbot and an abbess is their gender. Actually the use of parental titles and imagery for priestly ministry is open to question, I think, and I suspect we are moving away from it. As one who was ordained and called “Father” at the age of twenty-four, I am sensitive to the ultimate silliness of this custom, although I still observe it, sort of, some of the time.

Obj. 4. Thomas Aquinas writes: “Since it is not possible in the female sex to signify eminence of degree, for a woman is in the state of subjection, it follows that she cannot receive the sacrament of Order.” (Summa Theologiae, III.Suppl. Q.39 a.1. The Supplement to Pars Tertia was edited and published posthumously by Rainaldo da Pipeno, of course, but the text is taken directly from Thomas’ earlier Commentary on Book 4 of the Sentences of Peter Lombard.)
Reply Obj. 4. It is this that was really the definitive argument through most of the Church’s history. But it is obvious to most of us today that it is an argument with serious problems. First, the premise that ordination is related to “eminence of degree” (see also Q.34 aa.1&2.) is a pretty shaky one, and that’s to give it more than it deserves. Second, the premise that a woman is in “the state of subjection” is also a non-starter. Aquinas was a good enough logician to realize that when the premises are false, the conclusion is also likely to be false (or at least not proved by the premises). Unfortunately it seems not to have occurred to him to give his premises a really thorough examination.

Obj. 5. A priest (or a fortiori a bishop) is a sign of Christ, and Christ was and is a man. As Pope Paul VI said (Inter Insigniores, Chapter 5, 1976), “‘Sacramental signs,’ says St. Thomas, ‘represent what they signify by natural resemblance.’ The same natural resemblance is required for persons as for things: when Christ’s role in the Eucharist is to be expressed sacramentally, there would not be this ‘natural resemblance’ which must exist between Christ and his minister if the role of Christ were not taken by a man: in such a case it would be difficult to see in the minister the image of Christ. For Christ himself was and remains a man.” (This papal teaching has been subsequently reaffirmed by both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.)
Reply Obj. 5. Pope Paul’s 1976 declaration interestingly enough discarded (subtly, but still discarded) the Thomistic argument in Obj. 4., and substituted this one. It’s a long and fairly well thought out argument, but in the end it just doesn’t work. In fact, pushed to its logical conclusion, it represents a heretical Christology. All baptized persons manifest the image of Christ. Women are not “lesser” images of Christ. “Christ the priest” is not a better or higher image than “Christ the servant” (if anything, quite the contrary, by Jesus’ own words) and the Church, God knows, has never had any hesitation assigning to women the role of servant. It has been commented about this declaration that by this thinking a woman not only cannot be validly ordained, she cannot even be validly baptized. This argument is a classic instance of the clergy “thinking more highly of themselves than they ought to think” (Romans 12:3). I think it may well have been this argument that was the final straw for many Anglicans (and others), including me: If this is the best argument for not ordaining women, then there clearly is no good argument for not ordaining women. But Rome held on nevertheless. In 1994 Pope John Paul II issued an Apostolic Letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, in which he named as reasons for not ordaining women: (1) “The example recorded in the Sacred Scriptures of Christ choosing his Apostles only from among men,” ignoring the fact that Christ chose only Jewish men; but in any case, so what? See Reply Obj. 1. (2) “The constant practice of the Church,” that is, “We’ve always done it this way before,” and (3) “her [the Church’s] living teaching authority,” that is, “Because I say so.” John Paul II concluded: “I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful.” Tell me if I’m mistaken: is this the only instance in history in which the Pope declared that the Roman Church had “no authority whatsoever”? I can’t think of another one offhand. But of course I could be wrong….

Obj. 6. The Church of England or other Churches of the Anglican Communion do not have authority to make this change in the Church’s ordained ministry without the consensus of the Universal Church.
Reply Obj. 6. In other words, we can’t ever change anything anytime anyhow. First of all, the consensus of the Universal Church (presumably expressed through an Ecumenical Council) isn’t going to happen in the foreseeable future, or, alas, even in the unforeseeable future. Actually, in real life this means “we can’t make this change until/unless Rome says we can.” Umm, do we remember that we are Anglicans?” (These aren’t the same folks who are also making the big whoop about the 39 Articles, are they? Article 21: “General Councils…may err, and sometimes have erred, even in things pertaining unto God.” Article 37: “The Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this Realm of England.”) Those in the Church of England who will not accept the ordination of women until/unless the Pope or a General Council says they can would be in violation of the Statute of Praemunire, except that Praemunire was repealed in 1967. Darn. (Incidentally, are any of these folks aware that the permission of the clergy to marry, stated in Article 32 — not just the ordination of married candidates but the marriage of priests already ordained — is a violation of quite ancient tradition and canon law? The Church of England said that this was an issue within its competence to decide, and I am not aware that there has been any argument about this within Anglicanism. The ordination of women is also within the competence of the Anglican Churches to decide.)

Anglo-Catholics and Women Bishops (3)

The primary group of opponents of the consecration of women to the episcopate in England are typically being identified simply as “the Anglo-Catholics.” Excuse me! I consider myself an Anglo-Catholic, and I’ve been one longer than a lot of these folks. (I was confirmed when I was a boy at All Saints’ Church, Indianapolis — the parish that at the time was “the Anglo-Catholic parish” of the diocese. Twenty-five years later, in that parish — still an Anglo-Catholic parish, but by then it was no longer such a big deal — the Rev. Jacqueline Mears was ordained to the priesthood, the first woman to be legally ordained after the approval of the ordination of women by the General Convention.) In the United States and in most of the rest of the Communion, Anglo-Catholics (with a few exceptions) not only do not oppose the ordination of women, but enthusiastically welcome it, and a substantial number of ordained women consider themselves to be Anglo-Catholics.

However, we should also recognize that the spectrum of “churchmanship” in England has always been much wider than it has been in North America or much of the rest of the Communion. English Evangelicals are more “evangelical” than any other Anglicans on earth, except in Sydney. English Anglo-Catholics have routinely adopted practices that American Anglo-Catholics never for a moment considered doing, like saying Mass in Latin from the Missale Romanum. (In those days we all used the American Missal, but all things considered it was relatively faithful to the Book of Common Prayer. Once the Episcopal Church began the Trial Use of liturgical forms that eventuated in the 1979 BCP, most of us put the missals away. On the whole the 1979 Book represented what we really wanted anyway.) The “Anglo-Catholic” opposition in England to the ordination and consecration of women to the priesthood and the episcopate are actually Ultramontanists (although they won’t always admit that even to themselves). As Dr. Eric Mascall (no mean Anglo-Catholic himself) put it many years ago, before the current kerfuffle:
And, though I’ve not submitted yet,
as all my friends expected,
I should have gone last Tuesday week,
had not my wife objected.
(From “The Ultra-Catholic,” Pi in the High.)

Anglo-Catholics and Women Bishops (2)

One of the annoying sidelights of this are the comments from Rome and Moscow about the Church of England’s action. Vatican Radio posted a story headlined “Vatican Regret at Anglican Vote to Ordain Female Bishops.” Please give me a break. For one thing, John Paul II reinforced the century-old ruling by Rome that Anglican orders are “absolutely null and utterly void,” so why should they care about what the Church of England does? Other provinces of the Anglican Communion have been consecrating women bishops for many years — the US, Canada, New Zealand, and recently Australia and Cuba — and other provinces are clearly on the verge. Something like twenty of the bishops at Lambeth will be women. What are we, chopped liver? Rome reminds me of nothing so much as Captain Renault’s exclamation to Rick: “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling in going on in here!” The only surprise about the Church of England is that it took them so long.

Anglo-Catholics and Women Bishops (1)

My plan was to continue a series of whining about GAFCON, and I still plan to do that, but in the meantime the General Synod of the Church of England has approved the appointment and consecration of women to the episcopate. (We are urged to continue breathing normally, however.) This has largely displaced GAFCON in the British press and on many of The Usual Blogs, at least for a little while. So I will detour through a series of curmudgeonly reflections on the decision of the General Synod and the reactions to it, divided into a number of sections since once I got started I could hardly restrain myself....

Much of the big whoop in England has to do with the fact that the measure passed by Synod does not provide for safe all-male havens for those who claim that in conscience they cannot acknowledge the episcopal or priestly ministry of women—primarily conservative Anglo-Catholics, although some conservative Evangelicals are allied with them on this issue. (I don’t in the least doubt that they are in sincere conscience; whether it is good conscience is another question, which I may get to later.) Those who wanted special protection from girl cooties by means of some system of “super bishops,” or even a boys-only province of their own, did not get it. The measure provides for a “national code of practice” (yet to be formulated) to give some respite to those who will not accept a female bishop. On the other hand, it is speculated that this code of practice will also repeal and replace the current system of “flying bishops” who minister to those who have refused to accept women priests in England.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

GAFCON (1): Being Anglican

The word “Anglican” is derived from the Latin Anglicanus (-a, -um), which means “English.” Ecclesia Anglicana is the English Church, normally phrased as “The Church of England.” The highest-ranking cleric in the Church of England is the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is Metropolitan of the Province of Canterbury and Primate of All England. A number of other national churches derived from (some might say, “were emitted by”) the Church of England. The first of these was the Scottish Episcopal Church. Whether in the eighteenth century they would have been considered as, or considered themselves as, “Anglican,” I don’t know. I’m not sure what their relationship with Canterbury was. They were, after all, non-jurors; they were not C of E. I don’t know that the issue of their “Anglicanism” really ever arose, although the C of E did extend some support and sympathy to the small and sometimes persecuted Scottish Episcopalian minority, with whom they felt a relationship.

Then at the end of the eighteenth century the United States secured its independence, and the previously Anglican congregations (hitherto under the jurisdiction, such as it was, of the Bishop of London) constituted themselves as the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. As we know, the parishes in Connecticut were unable to secure the consecration of a bishop from Canterbury (for legal reasons that were at least technically valid), but successfully did so from the Scottish church, who were not so constrained. Subsequently the Church of England obtained legal provisions for consecrating Bishops beyond the C of E (whether out of the goodness of their missionary hearts, or because they knew that if they didn’t the Scots would), and several additional bishops were consecrated for the Episcopal Church in the U.S. At that point the American episcopate became self-sufficient. But although the Preface to the American Book of Common Prayer (1789) acknowledges the debt of the Episcopal Church to the Church of England and states the intention of TEC not to depart from the C of E in any essential point (“or further than local circumstances require”), it is not clear that the notion of an “Anglican identity” or membership in an “Anglican Communion” had yet emerged. Presumably the Episcopal Church was “in communion with” the Church of England, as well as with the Scottish Episcopal Church — after all, they had consecrated our first bishops — but it isn’t clear what if anything that might actually mean. (Bear in mind that the United States and Great Britain were at war again from 1812 to 1815, and that Great Britain supported the Confederacy during the American Civil War.)

But by the middle of the nineteenth century, particularly as the Church of England’s missionary activity followed the development and expansion of the British Empire, the C of E was becoming a church of international scope. The “Anglican Communion” as such can arguably trace its inception to the first Lambeth Conference in 1867. Since then the Anglican Communion, and its influence and that of the Archbishop of Canterbury, have continued to grow. In the late nineteenth century the Church of Ireland was disestablished and in the early twentieth the Church in Wales. Other formerly colonial or dominion churches have become independent and autonomous, so that now the majority of the Anglican Communion are not members of the Church of England. Nevertheless, membership in the Anglican Communion is defined as being in communion with the Church of England/the Archbishop of Canterbury (with the relatively recent Anglican Consultative Council serving as “membership secretary”).

It is certainly true that there is an “Anglican tradition” (or “Anglican traditions”), Anglicanism as a “style” of being Christian, and there are some things that can be identified as “mainstream Anglican” and others that are “marginally Anglican” or even “not really Anglican at all.” Obviously there is no general consensus as to what any of things specifically are! Which simply reinforces my contention that Anglicanism is not “confessional” or even very specifically doctrinal (the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral is arguably about as close as many of us are willing to get). That doesn’t mean that there is no such thing as theological truth or theological error, but it does mean that we deal with disagreement by discussion (yes, and passionate argumentation!), but not by decree or power.

It means that to be an Anglican means to be a member of the Church of England, or of a church that is in communion with the Church of England through the Archbishop of Canterbury. That’s what “Anglican” means. So if you are not in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury, you are not an Anglican. Period.

There are a number of churches that have an Anglican heritage and share a great many things with Anglicans in terms of doctrine, liturgy, etc. An early example would be the Methodists. John and Charles Wesley, of course, lived and died as priests of the Church of England. But the English Church was remarkably obtuse about the spiritual renewal that the Methodists were advocating, and the Methodists were eventually driven to separation. Methodists are not Anglicans. Many of them do not even remember that they once were Anglicans. If the new American Episcopal Church had exercised greater ecumenical imagination early in our history, it might have made immense difference in the history of American Christianity. Alas, by the time of William Reed Huntingdon it was already too late in regard to the Methodists. A somewhat later example is the Reformed Episcopal Church in the United States, who split with the Episcopal Church over “high” liturgical practices and baptismal regeneration. They thought they were upholding traditional Episcopal/Anglican principles: But:

"Not being Anglican in spirit, [Bishop George] Cummins [Assistant Bishop of Kentucky and leader of the schism] and his followers could not endure the tensiion which characterizes a comprehensive Church. Essentially sectarian in their conception of the Church, they could be satisfied with nothing short of uniformity. They departed ... because they thought the Church was not energetic enough in suppressing convictions which they opposed....They could breathe freely only in a body where there were none to disagree." (James Thayer Addison, The Episcopal Church in the United States 1789-1931, 1951; quoted in Powel Mills Dawley, Our Christian Heritage, rev. 1978.)

(GAFCON and FOCA, please copy.)

The last generation or so has seen a number of other small schisms (yes, they are small, but also yes, they are schisms) which often use the word “Anglican” in their institutional title. They are not in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury, and therefore, despite a substantial Anglican heritage, they are not Anglicans no matter what they claim on their letterheads. Perhaps most notable currently is the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, originating from a schism in the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. They have placed themselves under the (all too eager) jurisdiction of the Primate of the Church of Nigeria, but they are not recognized by Canterbury and are therefore by definition not Anglican. (Stay tuned. Film at 11:00.) Several other separatist groups have latched on to Primates in East Africa and in the Southern Cone of the Americas, claiming thereby to demonstrate their authentic Anglicanness. So far the Archbishop of Canterbury (Rowan Williams) isn’t buying it.

Comes now the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON), with their spin-off organization (assuming it does get organized), the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FOCA). [“But I thought you said a moment ago that Anglicanism is not confessional!” Well, yes. Boys and girls, can you say “oxymoron”?] Following its meeting in Jerusalem, GAFCON issued (or, as some might say, emitted) a Final Statement on 29 June 2008 (to which was attached “The Jerusalem Declaration,” which was somewhat odd since the Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem had explicitly asked them not to meet in Israel) The Statement can be found at http://tinyurl.com/6gkjmf.

In the main body of the Statement they said:

"While acknowledging the nature of Canterbury as an historic see, we do not accept that Anglican identity is determined necessarily through recognition by the Archbishop of Canterbury."


Over on the other side of the River Tiber, I wonder how far one would get with the statement, “While acknowledging the nature of Rome as an historic see, we do not accept that Roman Catholic identity is determined necessarily through recognition by the Pope.”

As I write this essay, the Church of England is holding its regular General Synod in York. We shall see what emerges (or is emitted, if you like) from that meeting. In the meantime I plan to make further comments about the GAFCON Final Statement. Watch this space.