Friday, July 18, 2008

I really never thought it would come to this...

I first attended an Episcopal Church a little over 30 years ago. I joined the Episcopal Church 22 years ago, and I was ordained 19 years ago. Looking at the developments that have occurred over this period, someone might draw the analogy that I was a newly commissioned officer who sailed out in a fast speedboat to catch my ship that had already left port; and I took my place as a crew member on the Titanic just moments before it hit the iceberg.

George Conger has written a piece today in which he asks the question: "Is this the end of the Communion?":
The long foretold crack up of the Anglican Communion appears to be at hand, as political wrangling and media posturing mark the final days before the start of the 14th Lambeth Conference. Though the programme of the 20 day conference in Canterbury is designed to avoid position statements or divisive outcomes—the agendas brought to the conference by the 600 some bishops present will likely push the Communion farther apart, effectively ending the Anglican project. [Please read the whole article.]

While I may wish that this were not true, I fear that Dr. Conger may be right.

Certainly, the Episcopal Church has been in a state of declining membership and increasing departures from historic, biblical Christianity for virtually the whole time I have been a member. But I always thought that the Anglican Communion would be the Episcopal Church's salvation, not that the Episcopal Church would be the cause of the Anglican Communion's destruction. I really never thought it would come to this.

Why did I think it would never come to this? Here are four reasons:

(1) I thought that efforts to renew the Episcopal Church from within, combined with the missionary imperative of the worldwide Communion, would overcome the pernicious influence of liberal theology and western decadence. Thirty years later, the missionary imperative still exists in the Anglican Communion, but only in the Global South and among a few constituencies in North America and Great Britain that are committed to world mission. But the overwhelming tendency has been for those in the liberal church structures of the Global North to subvert any parts of the Global South that they can win, seduce, or buy. I have seen countless times what 30 pieces of silver can pay for when measured in rice, maize, potatoes, clinics, schools, episcopal preferments, project grants, opportunities to study abroad, appointment to international commissions, etc.

I spoke just today with a candidate for bishop in a Global South diocese. I mentioned that it was odd that none of the bishops from dioceses in his province had attended GAFCON, when only a few years ago, his province was looked on as soundly orthodox. He said sadly that his was a poor province and its bishops were "easily bought." In the months prior to GAFCON, each of the dioceses in his province "had been visited." (It was clear he was referring to visits by representatives of the western churches eager to see that bishops there distanced themselves from GAFCON.)

The missionary imperative in the Anglican Communion remains strong. But that is chiefly the case in those dioceses and provinces that are associated with GAFCON, and these are being driven out of the Communion by an agenda with which they realize, for the sake of their souls, they cannot compromise.

(2) I believed that the leadership of the Anglican Communion, most particularly the Arcbishop of Canterbury, would resist and even rebuke the western churches for their departures from historic Christian norms in faith and morals. Why did I believe the ABC would do this?

(a) Because common sense demands it. When the bonds of fellowship have been strained to the breaking point, it is only logical that the one who has strained them should be restrained, disciplined, rebuked, etc. It is not logical that the well being of the whole should be sacrificed in order to indulge the misbehaviors of a few.

(b) Because it is expected. While liberal activists in the west would protest, no one could seriously claim to be shocked that the leadership of a Christian body would hold its members to the standards that Christians have always held.

(c) Because it is easy. The Archbishop of Canterbury only needed to have issued the mildest of rebukes to the western churches in his rhetoric over the past three years and to have disinvited those bishops who were responsible for the consecration of the present bishop of New Hampshire to have made sure that the Global South participated fully in the Lambeth Conference. If Rowan had disinvited a couple of dozen American bishops and the Bishop of New Westminster, Canada, the nearly 300 bishops who have stayed away from Lambeth would have come. A show of strength and conviction on the part of the Archbishop of Canterbury, while unpleasant for the moment, would have insured that American and Canadian churches were a great deal more respectful of the consensus of the Communion in the decades ahead. It would have been an exchange of short term pain for long term gain. It should have been a no-brainer.

(3) I believed that the leadership of the Anglican Communion would be sufficiently concerned for the survival of the Communion not to allow the advance of a controversial agenda that can only divide and weaken it. The (London) Times ran an article this week, which Stand Firm excerpted under the humorous title, "Perhaps the Bishops Are Eating Their Parishioners," which contrasted the decline of active attendance in the Church of England over the last 150 years with the increase in the number of bishops. A conclusion not emphasized by the article (but one that should be obvious) is that, if the current rate of decline continues, there should not be a single practicing Anglican left in England in another 50 years. (Although the signs are not yet as apparent, the situation in the American Church is not much better.)

While, for various reasons, there may still be some practicing members of the C of E in 50 years, it is nevertheless undeniable that the decline in membership and attendance has turned into a nose dive. Divisions within the Church of England over the lack of adequate episcopal oversight for traditionalists will only hasten the Church of England's demise.

Faced with such a graphic reminder of the tenuousness of the Church of England's existence, one might think that the Archbishop of Canterbury would make a greater effort to secure the survival of the Communion as a whole. Instead the same lack of leadership which has hastened the Church of England's demise is now threatening the survival of the Anglican Communion as a unified body.

(4) I thought that the Archbishop of Canterbury's role as the occupant of a historic see would have compelled him to act more strongly for the preservation of the catholic and apostolic faith in his own Church and the preservation of ecumenical ties with the other historic sees of the Christian Church. Instead the apparent sympathies of the present Archbishop of Canterbury have so weakened his loyalty to catholic teaching and practice that he refuses to utilize the instruments open to him (even that of the "bully pulpit") to secure the adherence of the Communion to the same catholic teaching and practice.

It remains to be seen what will come from this Lambeth Conference. But all indications so far are that the Archbishop of Canterbury will do nothing; the assembled bishops will decide nothing; the American Church's publicity steamroller will roll on; and the various churches of the Communion will follow the American Church's slide into apostasy--as, indeed, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales already seem poised to do. Somehow, I really never thought it would come to this.


Tregonsee said...

As a cradle Episcopalian who lasted 58 years before leaving TEC, I found this litany of why "It can't happen here!" poignant in the extreme. It is truly hard to imagine something which could go wrong which didn't. The liberals never missed a chance to advance their agenda, and the traditonals never missed a chance to miss a chance to advance theirs. +++Rowan is at heart a good man, but of all the ABCs of the last 50 years, he is certainly the least able to handle this crisis.

I always trust that in the end this will be worked out to God's plan. The present situation resembles nothing so much as as one of those OT cases where the situation is allowed to become desperately beyond hope before God steps in to set things right.

bob said...

Dear Fr., I fear that when you came to an Episcopal Church 30 years ago it *had* happened! That's why it never looked like it *would* happen.
I recall being a 12th grader in 1976 and being amazed at the stuff going on. By 1982 I was a catechumen in the Orthodox Church, and been there ever since. Some years ago Bishop Basil Essey of Kansas was at Nashotah
and was asked about the state of Anglican-Orthodox "dialog". Of course, Nashotah is one of the last places anyone would know what that meant. He said if it looks like the dialog is dying, it's because one of the churches is committing suicide. It just gets truer every day. A lady who left ECUSA for the Orthodox Church about 30 years ago and attended my parish (I knew her in about 1983-85) was Katherine Schori's mother. I don't think much of use to anyone in the Dioceses in Wisconsin or Nashotah is going to happen at Lambeth.

jason miller said...

Dean Munday--thank you for an excellent analysis of the situation--I will be posting this article on my blog.

One other reason I have been told over and over that the Communion would not break apart was because of the Queen--she would not let it happen. Perhaps her influence has been exaggerated.

Baruch said...

When Schori's mother died, despite her wishes to be buried in an Orthodox rite Schori buried her in an Episcopal rite at which she officiated. The is an example of Schori's lack of Christian compassion, she would not honor her mother's request even though she was an Orthodox.

Wallace H. Hartley said...

As entertaining a voyage as it has been on the liner TEC and it's sister ship CoE, we have struck the ice, the bows are awash, and some of the life boats have left. That is enough entertainment for most. I think it would have been better for our ship if the Captain and crew had gotten off and left the passengers in charge.

George William Pursley said...

I came to the Episcopal Church eighteen years ago from an evangelical denomination. My wife and I discussed at length what would probably happen in PECUSA as we then knew her. We have not been surprized by the events, only by the speed at which the changes have occurred. With all of that said, it was still the right move for us, because God was in it. He has placed us in a succession of wonderful parishes where we have had the opportunity to develop spiritually and minister in the Name of Christ. Our daughter met her husband in one of those parishes, and next month they will move to Nashotah House to begin his formal preparation for presbyteral ministry. I, like you and many others, wish things had developed differently, but even in the midst of the bad times, God continues to lead and bless His people. I must always remind myself that a soverign God is in control. May God bless your faithfulness at the House.