Thursday, July 9, 2009
From the Cloud of Witnesses
From + Gene’s blog:
“ We also had a disturbing private (no one in the gallery) conversation in the House of Bishops that led me to feel discouraged about what lies ahead. That conversation is private, so I can't detail it, but there seems to be a kind of belligerent attitude toward the House of Deputies by some of our bishops. Their vision of the episcopate is way too "high and mighty" for my taste, or my theology, and I am not happy about it. The last thing we bishops need is a larger measure of arrogance. Didn't Jesus save his most serious criticism for the religious powers-that-be of his day who lorded their power and position over others?”
Comments: I am so glad to hear that at least one bishop has the same opinion as I. Over the past 15 years I have seen the devolution of the once revered position of bishop in the Episcopal Church. In my opinion, I have watched a singular movement, that of Romanizing of the Anglican catholic movement, take our once well-balanced polity off onto a quasi-Romish path. I see it in TEC and I see it in the Anglican Communion especially in the UK and various former colonies of the UK in Africa.
Now, don’t get me wrong! I am catholic to the core when it comes to the idea of a universal, liturgical, apostolically rooted faith. When I left Rome in the 1970’s I did not leave the catholic church! I came to a reformed catholicism that was current in theology and had a solid grounding in both western and eastern apostolic tradition. It is a type of catholicism that can support newness while understanding its roots. It is the Church that is strongly rooted in Jesus and the Scriptures without becoming mired in the past or in dogma.
The type of anglo-catholicism in TEC is not even really rooted in the Roman tradition either. This kind of anglo-catholicism is the aping of the outward trappings of Roman Catholicism without understanding the interior meanings of what it means to be Roman Catholic. It includes a slavish type of obedience that becomes a characterizing of the role of priest and bishop. It shoves the goodness of the offices into being what it never was—a place where one serves the Church, not rules it. It makes priests pawns and bishops arrogant politicians that care less for their flocks and more for their power. It is not surprising that Clarence Pope came running back from his trip into Roman Catholicism.
In the ‘70’s and early ‘80s bishops knew themselves to be servants of the servants of God. They knew that they had power only if there was a balance among the laity and clergy. They were accountable to the clergy of their dioceses because rectors had not only the right to criticize their bishops when they erred; they had the obligation to do so. It was implied in the kind of respect that clergy had for one another and for their bishop because they had elected him (and in those days it was always a him.)
Even in those areas where Anglo-Catholicism was not the overriding churchmanship, it is interesting that this image of overly powerful bishops has worked itself into the fabric of TEC. Perhaps it has fed the Boomer need for structure and surety. But it has not served TEC well. And even though we have lost many of the arch-Romish bishops such as Iker and Schofield, we still have enough in the House of Bishops who still see their role as ruling over the clergy and laity rather than working with them—being servants of the servants of God. It is not surprising for me to hear that there are those who are degrading of the House of Deputies--it is sort of like those who look down their noses at those who pay their salaries and give them the status they have. But I can understand why +Gene is disheartened.
The role of bishop in TEC is not one of power and entitlement. It is one of influence. It is one in which the leadership is to bring differing ideas together and bring some kind of consensus to the Christian community called a diocese and the House of Bishops. I am thankful for the witness of +Gene to this phenomenon in the HOB. Perhaps his humble presence will be seen as the way to go forward for the future.