Sunday, November 23, 2008

A Response to Ephraim Radner's piece on "A New 'Province'"

The Rev. Dr. Ephraim Radner has written a piece entitled, A New "Province" in North America: Neither the Only Nor the Right Answer for the Communion, in which, as the title suggests, he gives six reasons why he does not believe an alternative, orthodox province of Anglicans in North America is a good idea.

Let me be clear about my own position at the outset: I am still a priest in TEC, but I have many friends who are now in one of the entities that will comprise a new Anglican Province. And, as I read Dr. Radner's remarks, I could not help but put myself in the position of my Common Cause friends, who I believe will regard his comments as both unfair and unhelpful.

So I would like to make a few comments (in bold, below) on Dr. Radner's six points, as I imagine someone who is a part of Common Cause might respond to them:

1. The new grouping will not, contrary to the stated claims of some of its proponents, embrace all or even most traditional Anglicans in North America. For instance, the Communion Partners group within TEC, comprises 13 dioceses as a whole, and a host of parishes and their rectors, whose total Sunday membership is upwards of 300,000. It is unlikely that these will wish to be a part of the new grouping, for some of the reasons stated below.

True, a new Province will not, for various reasons, be able to include all traditional Anglicans in North America, but how does that constitute a reason not to do it? A great many orthodox Anglicans, including overwhelming majorities in four former TEC dioceses, attest that, due to conscience over the growing departures from orthodoxy and the political pressures being brought upon them, they cannot remain in TEC. Why should these who are determined to remain faithful Anglicans not constitute an Anglican Province that seeks to be in Communion with as many other Anglican provinces as will recognize them?

God willing, this new Province may well come to embrace all or most orthodox Anglicans if it proves to be a preferable alternative. It will also be of tremendous benefit and a fulfillment of Christ's high-priestly prayer if this new Province can succeed in uniting the members of an Anglican diaspora that stretches back to the separation of the Reformed Episcopal Church in 1873. How is this not a good thing?

2. The new grouping, through some of its founding members, will continue in litigation within the secular courts for many years. This continues to constitute a sad spectacle, and is, in any case, practically and morally unfeasible for most traditional Anglicans.

I agree that litigation is a sad spectacle. But we need to remember who started the litigation and who continues to pursue it. The martyrdoms in the reign of Bloody Mary were a sad spectacle too. But this is like blaming the Reformers for that spectacle.

No one who has ever left TEC desired to be involved in a lawsuit. The lawsuits are a regrettable consequence of their following their consciences. Many Episcopalians, either because they are too intimidated or because they do not see leaving as the correct solution, may not leave. But if you are going to make a case that those who have left TEC should not have done so, you are going to have to demonstrate how their consciences could have been assuaged in remaining, and not merely claim that they should not have left because it resulted in lawsuits.

3. The new grouping is, in the eyes of many, representative of diverse bodies whose theology and ecclesiology is, taken together, incoherent, and perhaps in some cases even incompatible. The argument can be made that this is no different than historic Anglican comprehensiveness as a whole; but under the circumstances of a new structural distinction and the challenges this brings, the incoherence constitutes a burden that not all traditionalists believes is prudent to assume. This warning bell has been sounded repeatedly by traditionalists.

As you anticipated, it must be pointed out that the diversity of theology and ecclesiology is no greater than that which already exists in the Anglican Communion. And, in some important respects, the diversity in theology is notably less than that which has brought the Anglican Communion into crisis. If Anglicanism has held together for nearly five hundred years, a Province united in its commitment to the authority of Scripture and Gospel-centered mission and ministry will have even less trouble doing so; and it may, in fact, succeed in healing some of the theological divisions that have troubled Anglicanism in the past.

If GAFCON can embrace Sydney evangelicals and Society of the Holy Cross Anglo-Catholics, the diversity among those who are included in the proposed North American Province is far less than that. To see this situation as "incoherence" and "a burden [that it is not] prudent to assume" strikes me as being either phenomenally nearsighted or timid to the point of paralysis.

It could be argued (and is being argued by those forming a new Province) that this is an opportunity to begin a remarkable new chapter in Anglican history--one in which an orthodox Anglicanism that shares the commitments I have mentioned above can move forward in mission, unshackled from many of the elements that have impeded its mission in the past.

In any event, the challenges you mention may be a reason why some Anglicans may choose not to join a new Province. They do not constitute a reason for those who embrace the challenges and the opportunity willingly not to proceed.

4. There is a host of irregularities regarding ordination, representation, consent, and so on that is included among the members of this new grouping. Some of these are both understandable and inevitable under the circumstances. But they nonetheless constitute barriers for future reconciliation with other Anglican churches.

The same could be said (and was said) regarding the ratification of Called to Common Mission (CCM) (providing reciprocal sharing of ministries between The Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America). An even greater degree of "irregularities" had to be embraced in the formation of the Church of South India and the Church of North India. This is almost inevitable whenever breaches are healed through ecumenical union. The irregularities make things messy for one generation, but are usually resolved by the second generation of ordained clergy. Compared with the opportunity of fulfilling the call to unity for which Christ prayed, many Christians have found it to be worth the price.

5. Will the new grouping actually be a formal “province” within the Anglican Communion, whatever name it assumes? Surely, it will be recognized by some of the GAFCON Primates. However, it will probably not be recognized at the Primates’ meeting as a whole or even by a majority of its members, and will be yet another cause for division there. Nor will it be recognized at the ACC. Thus it threatens to be yet another wedge in the breakup of the Communion, even while there have been signs of coalescing efforts to restore the integrity of our common witness.

It can be argued that the establishment of an orthodox North American Province (even if it is initially recognized only by some of the GAFCON primates) is the best way to deal with the crisis in the Communion. (a.) The orthodox will be able to look after themselves, so "border crossing" for episcopal oversight by overseas bishops and primates can cease. (b.) Instead of being a beleaguered minority within TEC, the orthodox can be treated as equals in a dialogue intended to resolve the crisis of authority in Anglicanism. (c.) TEC will have greater incentive to respond to the calls of the rest of the Communion to return to Anglican norms, lest they lose credibility compared with the new Province. TEC's leadership fears the realization of this last point, which is the main reason why they are working so hard to prevent establishment and recognition of a new Province.

6. Such division on this matter among the Primates and the ACC will likely strengthen the position of TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada. They will move forward as continuing and undisciplined members of the Communion. All of this will merely hasten the demise of our common life, even among Global South churches themselves.

While some may argue that the best way to preserve the unity of the Anglican Communion is to preserve the unity of the American Church (or, failing that, not to recognize any group that splits off from the American Church), I would argue the exact opposite. The best way to preserve the unity of the Anglican Communion is to allow the American church to divide (which is happening anyway, whether anyone likes it or not) and to recognize two North American provinces. Some overseas provinces will relate to one of the North American provinces more than the other. But there will not be the present level of vigorous advocacy (and border crossing) that now threatens to divide the Communion. And there will not be any reason why the other provinces of the Communion should be impaired in their relationships with each other or with Canterbury. However, if the present situation continues, and Canterbury does not recognize the new North American Province, it will eventually (and sooner rather than later) force some Global South provinces to end their relationship with Canterbury, and the Communion will be lost.

Finally, on a personal note: I am very appreciative of the work of the Anglican Communion Institute and especially the work being done with the Communion Partner dioceses and rectors. I have not criticized and would not want to see anyone criticize the work the ACI is doing on an "inside strategy" to the same degree that they apparently feel obliged to criticize those who are working on an "outside strategy." I can imagine the frustration that members of the ACI feel with those who are leaving existing Anglican structures while they are trying to save them. But I believe the ACI's efforts would win the support of a greater number of people if they spent more time telling us how they propose to save the ship and less time knocking holes in other people's lifeboats. It remains to be seen whether the ACI's strategy can be successful; and, if not, there may come a day when we are glad the lifeboats are there.


Creighton+ said...

Thank you Dean Munday...well done.

Creighton Evans+

Father Bill said...

Very good blog Dean, and good questions.

Anyone who has paid attention knows, for example, that Ft. Worth remained and functioned within TEC as long as was possible without abandoning elements of The Faith that it (we) consider to not be our prerogative to change or abandon. Boxed into a corner of being forced into "compliance" with TEC or leaving, we did what any Christian who is serious about his or her convictions, and has any measurable dose of fortitude (a virtue that, in my perception, seems very sadly to be far more lacking in TEC Clergy in the U.S. than knowing what is right and what is wrong; well-polished politicians in collars abound, with lots of good one-liners and crowd-pleasers, but only a thin facade of any recognizable substance or unwavering conviction).

Neither Bishop Iker nor the other Clergy or I have judged anyone, and I (as I'm sure is also the case with my fellow Clergy and our Bishop) am very thankful that such is not my responsibility. In fact, I worshiped yesterday in a TEC parish that has yet to decide what route it will take, and I did so in good conscience as an Anglican Priest under the headship and jurisdiction of Archbishop Venables.

That 3 of the dioceses that truly had no choice left but to violate conscience, or seek other oversight, were the 3 last holdouts against the priesting of women is undoubtedly no coincidence.

Yet even those who disagree with that position (and I do personally have several friends who function as female priests, under Bishops who are convicted of their position), if they are honest, educated and have any sense of tradition, must at least admit that ours is the practice of the overwhelming majority of the history and tradition of the 2,000 year life of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. As such, I would hope for some respect and compassion among them, even where we agree to disagree.

On a personal note, I thought you to be canonically resident in the Diocese of Quincy, and prior to that Pittsburgh, and was thus surprised to read that you remain resident in TEC. Did you transfer your Orders elsewhere? Feel free to email me privately if you prefer.

God's blessings,


J.West said...

Dean Munday,

While I normally admire your column, so far I find Radner’s arguments on #1 and #3 more persuasive than yours.

On the one hand, Bp. Duncan and Bp. Iker have fudged their substantial theological differences on WO to form ACN and Common Cause. (Point #3).

OTOH, the wide range of theology and contamination by 20 years of PECUSA modernism (Exhibit A: continuing use of BCP 1979) found in the Schism II types has brought justifiable suspicion by those (Schism I types) who bolted long before anyone had hear of Gene Robinson. Continuing Anglicans formed out of the Congress of St. Louis continue to walk apart, and nothing done by CC thus far has brought them back.

I can see both sides. I was married in a FiFNA PECUSA parish and currently attend a 28 BCP parish. It seems as though CC should stand for something — and draw a line, rejecting the theological innovations of the past 30 years. Otherwise it will re-fracture in 10-20 years as the semi-modernists continue to push for "progress".