Thursday, June 25, 2009

Bedford is no St. Louis

Today, the Anglican Church in North America concluded their 4-day “Inaugural Assembly” to ratify their canons and enthrone their new archbishop. Somewhere in there was a lot of time for celebration and a pep rally, as the men and women in Bedford, Texas — many of them veterans of property fights against a vindictive bishop and/or PB — celebrate their unity and institutional success.

I haven’t and can’t follow it all. The official party line can be found at www.acnaassembly.org; for a more neutral view, see the list of postings by Kendall Harmon or browse for live reports and commentary at BabyBlue or VirtueOnline.

Certainly the event has been well-organized and orchestrated, a PR triumph. Supporters and critics note that ACNA has managed to get national visibility and recognition for the idea that this newborn group is the Anglican alternative to TEC. (I think they have also created some good news for battered N.A. Anglicans.) It was a masterstroke to get Rick Warren (no matter what his theology) the same year he preached for the Presidential Inaugural. Attracting Metropolitan Jonah was more substantive, particularly since he promised ecumenical ties with ACNA and cut his province's ties with TEC at the same time.

I have some friends who participated in Bedford, and many others who have eagerly joined ACNA, whether as part of Western Anglicans or its fledgling Bay Area counterpart. People I have known for years have nothing but the greatest respect for the three Anglo-Catholic bishops — Ackerman, Iker and Schofield — who led their dioceses to (or through) their departure from TEC to help form ACNA, and who are now standing alongside Abp. Duncan.

I also see ACNA as the only possibility for a near-term theologically traditional update to the BCP or Hymnal 1940, to replace the 1979 alternative service book and Hymnal 1982.

Despite this good news, I have a sense of foreboding, bothered by what my coworker used to call a “spidey sense.” There are a few small indications that ACNA 40 years from now will be no more devout than TEC in 1995. Call it a hunch, but on a hunch I recognized John Chane for what he is long before he was appointed First Apostate of the National Cathedral.

Exhibit A was the nature of the centralized authority in the canons of ACNA.

Exhibit B is women’s ordination. Although personally I’m an agnostic on women’s ordination (perhaps a subject of another posting), I am troubled by Rt. Rev. Duncan’s attitudes on the subject. After Anglo-Catholics have claimed that women’s ordination will not be imposed upon traditionalists, this seems dubious in light of the December 2008 press conference (on YouTube) by the then archbishop-apparent:
Reporter: Bishop, what does scripture say about women priests?

Bp. Duncan: Scripture is unclear - that is to say, scripture gives women roles of leadership throughout the old and new testaments. Often women emerge as leaders over Israel and in the church....

It's also the case that women had an apostolic function in much of the new testament story. After all, it is women who first tell of the resurrection of Jesus.

Whereas some issues are quite clear in Scripture, other have a complexity. Or, as one lay person said to me … “It’s a Technicolor® picture; it’s not black & white.”
This is troubling on many levels. Being a Christian witness is not the same as being a preacher or priest. Despite what Bp. Duncan said, many clergy see it as black & white, and it’s hard to see how this issue will be resolved properly with the primate’s thumb on the scale. Worse yet, this “nuanced” view of Scripture is consistent with the sort of TEC revisionism that got us into this mess.

Finally, among the dozens of Continuing Anglican blogger postings this week about the convention, the open letter to Bp. Duncan from Bp. Millsaps of the tiny Episcopal Missionary Church caught my eye. I recommend the entire posting (and the comments), but here is a relevant excerpt:
How can those who think, as I do, that only men can be presbyters (the very word means old men) process with priests who are female? You yourself have left no doubt as to where you stand, as you have ordained more and more women, even in recent months.

Then there is the problem of multi-married male clergy. The ranks of the new body are filled with them. The late Dr. Peter Toon wrote time and time again about this issue. There are tragic situations where abandonment of married men and contested divorces have taken place, but could there be as many as seems the case with clergy members of the bodies coming together as the "ACNA"?

Has the ACNA in formation taken a stand on Abortion? I know individuals have done so, but is there a public stand?

Perhaps you have read the Affirmation of St. Louis. The Episcopal Missionary Church did not come into being until 1992, but has affirmed the Affirmation and asked our friends in the Reformed Episcopal Church to do so only to be told there were things in it which they could not affirm.
This posting really brought my concerns into focus. If Dan Quayle was no Jack Kennedy, then Bedford is no Congress of St. Louis.

The 1977 gathering and its Affirmation were about sharply defining doctrine, with continuity both back to the origins of the Church of England, and setting a precedent for decades if not centuries to come. This week’s gathering was about fuzzing theological differences between Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics, while reassuring both parties that the ACNA is no TEC.

It’s possible that more truth, clarity and courage will be forthcoming, but right now I don’t have reason to be optimistic. If he wants to connect to those American Christians who believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church, Metropolitan Jonah still has a few dozen Schism I bishops yet to meet. Perhaps it’s time for the Congress of St. Louis/Schism I crowd to convene their own media event. If the Metropolitan isn’t available, they could invite Cardinal Kasper.

7 comments:

Matthew said...

Much as I agree with what you write, the problem is that the Congress of St. Louis folks generally do not agree, with each other, much less with anyone else.

From where I sit they are to ACNA as Arnor was to Gondor.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Please test that impression, Matthew. There is less disunity among them than there is among my own Antiochian Orthodox Church in America.

Matthew said...

I'm glad to hear that. My experiences with the St Louis crowd were a while back. It is entirely possible I'm over generalizing from an especially contentious sample.

Robin_G_Jordan said...

The ecclesiastical structure that the constitution and canons of the ACNA create has few if any real safeguards against the abuse of power. Power is not only centralized but the Governance Task Force and the Provincial Council have shown a willingness to ignore the provisions of the constitution and to arrogate to the province powers that the constitution does not delegate to the province, setting a bad precedent. They were called on giving the archbishop duties and responsibilities that the constitution does not authorize and therefore in violation of the constitution which explains why the constitutional provisions related to the archbishop were amended. The much touted article protecting property rights of local congregations permits dioceses to hold property in trust and a related canon permits them to take property into trust with the written consent of the local congregation. The provision related to women's ordination is not in the constitution but in the canons and seems worded more to protect the right of dioceses and jurisdictions to ordain women than it does to protect the rights of dioceses and jurisdictions opposed to women's ordination. If the perfunctory manner in which the constitution and canons were ratified is an example of how business will be conducted in the Provincial Assembly, it will be little more than a rubber stamp of the Provincial Council. Feeling uneasy is a natural reaction to the ecclesiastical structure the two documents create. I am speaking as a conservative evangelical.

Alice C. Linsley said...

That may be true but most of the dioceses in ACNA do NOT ordain women priests.

wnpaul said...

I agree with Matthew that the problem with the St. Louis churches is their disunity. If they had managed to come together in a single body they might have become the safe haven for current refugees from TEC - both individuals, as well as congregations and dioceses.

Vicar Josh Osbun said...

It always amazes me that people claim that "the women should keep silent" (a reference to preaching, if you actually take the time to read the entire context of 1 Corinthians 14) is an unclear teaching of Scripture.

Coupled with (and this is not an exhaustive list) the priestly structure in the Old Testament, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, the 12 apostles, and the history of the church, I'm still utterly stunned that people debate this issue.

I shouldn't be surprised, though. People are still sinners. And to an extent I am relieved that we are not the only church body struggling with this issue.