Thursday, February 23, 2012

Posted on the Norwich Diocese website are several items preparing members of the diocesan synod for the vote on the Anglican Covenant.  Not the least is a video from the Archbishop of Canterbury but comments from several others:  Alan Strange, Adrian Chatfield, Andrew Davidson and Peter Doll

Once again Peter Doll, Canon Librarian of the Norwich Cathedral, has written a support of the Anglican Covenant supposedly from the perspective of an American in the UK and from the perspective of an academic. And once again I find his opinion of the American religious populace as remarkably monolithic and misleading when the American religious experience is exactly the opposite.

In the UK, I guess one can think monolithically of religious experience when there is an Established Church but after spending some time with UK Methodists and  Scottish Presbyterians, I doubt they would appreciate being swept into the paradigms that Canon Doll seems to define either. The American religious experience or culture is incredibly diverse and fragmented.  If any Englishperson has visited the US, he/she knows that there is a different denomination of church on nearly every street corner.

If there is anything that characterizes the Episcopal Church is that we do not fit the normal “we are all Baptists” mentality that Canon Doll describes.  The Episcopal Church does not even begin to conform to the evangelical, congregational theological and ecclesial norms of the great majority of American Christians these days.  We are clearly a minority church that speaks loudly and has continued to speak loudly throughout the 20th and 21st centuries to issues contrary to the ‘religious norms’ to which Doll points.  The relatively recent co-option of American religion by right-wing political and financial interests is as repugnant to most Episcopalians as it is to most Anglicans. 

In 1988 I was called to serve a parish in suburban Washington, DC.  When I arrived, two thirds of the US Congress, on both sides of the aisle, was, at least nominally, Episcopalian.  When such things as sanctions against South Africa’s apartheid were being discussed it was Archbishop Tutu and Bishop John Walker, then bishop of Washington, who visited with those politicians to work for justice for the people of South Africa.  It was the work of the Church then as it still is, to proclaim and hold before people here in the US and around the world an image of justice that is being ignored by moneyed interests globally.
This was not just a ‘liberal’ church or a ‘progressive’ agenda being floated.  It was the work of people who had touched each other’s lives through the ministry of Jesus Christ that brought the evils of apartheid to the eyes of the world just the same as it was the Church of England who through the Abolitionist movement in the 18th century did in this country.  It was England’s proclamation that slavery was an evil that cannot be tolerated among the faithful that finally took hold in America.  It caused great tribulation for us in the US culminating finally the Civil War and loss of millions of lives so that justice could be done.
Much is made of American individualism.  It is part of our national make-up.  And it is the first cry that goes up when change is made.  But I would suggest that we, Americans, while we value our independence, we also know where and when we must collectivize for the good of the whole probably better than most.  But no matter what Harold Bloom says, we are not Gnostics.  We are a people who believe that everyone has the right to think for themselves and submit ourselves to whatever form of ecclesiology that we must to be a part of the Body of Christ.

I do believe that Andrew Davison does have it right.  We are already part of the Communion—all of us because we are gifted by God with the Communion.  To choose not to be part of a communion may be possible but that does not mean that we are not family.  We are family simply because we come from the same root.

TEC saw that in the way that the Anglican Communion was formed.  We recognized the need of a loosely confederated band of Churches to be established that found our roots in the Anglican Reformation. We found in the development of the Church of England in the 16th century the same need to regularize our Church in the 18th.  But we used the founding principles of our nation rather than the imperial ones of the Constantinople or Rome to build our ecclesiology.  And it has worked for us.  It is part of the character of TEC and cannot be pushed into some sort of ‘divine right’ appointment by fiat.  It would not be in keeping with who we are as a nation or a Church.  I am sorry that Canon Doll has never had an experience of the Episcopal Church so that he might know of the benefits of elected bishops and rectors.

As a former Roman Catholic sister and one who used to teach the Documents of Vatican II in Roman Catholic educational institutions, I am aware of the principles of conciliarity Doll proposes for the Anglican Covenant. He claims that the Councils speak beyond the authority of the popes or prelates.  But I have watched those carefully spoken documents, the work of clerics and laity for the betterment of the whole of the Church overturned point by point by popes and bishops for whom such statements are inconvenient or do not match the power that whatever prelate desires.   

Whenever I find any religious leader saying “It is the ONLY way”, I know it isn’t.  The Pharisees of Jesus’ day demanded and all-or-nothing approach to Judaism and Jesus warned them of the 'leaven of the Pharisees.'  The Anglican Covenant is not a covenant.  It is a piece of legislation.  It says how we are going to be governed, but it doesn’t say who is going to decide who is going to govern.  And no matter what the Archbishop of Canterbury says, Sec. 4 is punitive.  It says: “It’s my way or the highway.”  It is a very poorly planned and executed piece of legislation that is not worthy of the Anglican Communion , the Church of England or common law.  And after I have seen the actions of the Archbishop of Canterbury in trying to push this through the diocesan synods of the Church of England, I am clear that I am not willing the Archbishop of Canterbury to be ‘an Instrument of Unity’ in the Church in which I live and move and have my being.

Alan Strange has written “Something must be done—this is something; therefor this it to be done.”  Something does not have to be done.  If there are those who can’t stand the thought of sitting in a House of Bishops with other gay folk, then they need to absent themselves from the gatherings of the Bishops because there are gay folk there—whether honestly or not.  But the split in the Communion NEVER has been a problem about gay folk.  It has always been about power, and the Anglican Covenant is not going to fix that.  There will always be a nation that is the big guy and the nations that are the little guys.  At present it is the US against everyone else.  But there are those of us in the US who do not hold with the bully-boy attitudes of American political or business concerns and many, if not most of us, are part of TEC.  Why lose the allies that you have?

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