...The constitutional issue we face is between two competing visions of what it means to be an Anglican. One vision has its roots in the English Reformation, particularly something known as the Elizabethan Settlement with its key principles of (1) common prayer as the broadly inclusive framework of unity holding together a diversity of doctrinal belief on even fundamental issues and (2) local leadership of the local church. This vision of Anglicanism seems to me particularly well-suited for a world endangered by rising and intolerant fundamentalism, coping with globalization, and struggling with an ever-increasing rate of significant change and its resultant discomfort.I think the Bishop is on to something here. The real issue is this question; is our Anglican comprehensiveness a blessing or a bane?
The alternative vision sees our roots in the English Reformation as fatally flawed. Dean Paul Zahl of the Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry states, “This whole crisis has revealed a very serious deficiency in the character of Anglicanism. It’s a severe deficiency in Anglicanism because there isn’t really a church teaching in the same way there is in the Church of Rome…. I would say there is a constitutional weakness, which this crisis has revealed, which may in fact prove to be the death of the Anglican project—the death, at least in formal terms, of Anglican Christianity. We’ve always said that we’ve had this great insight, and I used to think that we did” (New Yorker, p. 63).
There you have it. The first vision of Anglicanism sees our character as having continuing validity and perhaps being uniquely suited for our times. The second sees our character as severely deficient and constitutionally weak. How the two can coexist with so fundamental a difference is not clear. The difficulty is this. The second vision intends to replace the first, not coexist with it (New Yorker, p. 65). At the same time, if the first does not make room for the second to be heard, the traditional Anglican approach of comprehensiveness will be no less endangered. Anglicanism cannot be legitimately defended by stifling dissent any more than the American constitutional principle of freedom of speech can. It is quite possible that the traditional Anglican approach to spirituality, theology, and seeking God’s truth may well vanish from the earth. If we Episcopalians allow that to happen, what I always believed was our most important characteristic will have become our tragic flaw...
Beyond that discussion, it seems to me that there is another point worth noting here. How do we plan to make room for those with whom we disagree? There are a number of conservative clergy with whom I work with on various projects on a regular basis. We work together quite well, with the understanding that there are certain topics that we cannot discuss. I certainly want there to be a place for them in the Episcopal Church. It seems to me that some of them feel they are being pushed out. How can we assure them of a safe place within the Church?
Bp. Sauls continues by emphasizing the damage done to comprhensiveness when we marginalize the minority position, and then identifies the new factor introduced in our current unpleasantness:
...Before we are too quick to point fingers, let me say that our intolerance for discomfort has led us to weaken Anglican comprehensiveness on the basis of positions I agree with as much as on the basis of positions I disagree with. Discomfort is an equal opportunity malady. Anglican comprehensiveness has also been challenged by the marginalization of those who oppose the ordination of women. Once one theological minority is relegated to the margins, it becomes perfectly acceptable to relegate others there, too. In the same way, once a break in communion is tolerated for one doctrinal controversy, it becomes perfectly acceptable to resolve others the same way.Not to mention foreign bishops having no ethical qualms about scooping up Episcopal parishes that are at odds with their bishop. Such chaos cannot continue.
The limits of Anglican comprehensiveness have been challenged before. It is being challenged now. What has not been challenged until now is the principle of local leadership. Episcopalians at least have not purported to decide the question of women’s ordination or homosexuality for anyone but themselves. The same is not true with respect to archbishops of other provinces who have attempted to impose their absolute and unquestioning understanding of God’s truth on us (New Yorker, p. 63-64).
Regarding the Windsor Report:
...The Episcopal Church will consider the Windsor Report and respond to its requests at the General Convention next month. It is too early to predict what that response will be, but the initial proposals are to agree not to authorize public rites for the blessing of same sex relationships and to leave the issue of future bishops to our constitutional processes as The Episcopal Church with the request that all involved exercise extreme caution and care for the positions of our Anglican partners. I, for one, can live with those proposals even though there are aspects of them I don’t particularly like, and it is my hope that the final response will not vary too much from what is proposed. I do not expect the Anglican Provinces of Nigeria, Uganda, or the Southern Cone to heed the requests of the Windsor Report about interfering in The Episcopal Church. The wrongs of others, however, are not a good reason for us to fail to do the right thing ourselves.If the WR is the beginning of a conversation, it may be helpful. If it is the final word, Anglican comprehensiveness will cease to exist.
So what is the Windsor Report that we are responding to in light of what is really at stake? To the extent the Windsor Report is a voice in the conversation, it is helpful, because it raises some valid questions about how the identity of the family of churches we call the Anglican Communion is continuing to emerge in its characteristically untidy way. To the extent it is an ultimatum, a threat, or a laying down of the law by some siblings to others, though, it represents one vision of Anglicanism supplanting the other and abandoning the Elizabethan Settlement altogether...
So, what should we do?
...Those who prefer the older vision of Anglicanism, in order to be true to our own values, must make room for the alternative vision to have a place, to be a part of the conversation. That is so because it is true to our heritage and constitutional nature even though the newer vision now asserting itself would not make room for the coexistence of the original one. We must not marginalize anyone on the basis of a legitimate disagreement, even those who would marginalize us. That may indeed be our fatal flaw, and time will soon tell.Let me repeat one statement..."We must not marginalize anyone on the basis of a legitimate disagreement, even those who would marginalize us. That may indeed be our fatal flaw, and time will soon tell." I tend to agree. And I recognize that my intemperate remarks sometimes contribute to the marginalization of some.
What I believe is that preserving the traditional Anglican theological process of seeking truth in common prayer will still serve us well if we let it. What I believe is that the traditional vision will be able to make room for the alternative vision without succumbing to it. The best protection against error, after all, is the free exchange of ideas. In fact, in a world facing the discomforting challenges that ours is, particularly the rapidity of change, I believe the traditional Anglican approach is the world’s best religious hope and perhaps the only one that will be able to carry the Christian faith far into a new millennium. But whether it will survive the General Convention of 2006 and the Lambeth Conference of 2008 is very much in question. That, though, and certainly not sex, is what is really at stake.
As we move towards General Convention, let's attempt to be doubly careful about what we say, and especially be on guard against personal attacks. Because, after all, when General Convention and Lambeth are over, if we are right, God reigns. And, if we are wrong, God reigns. Let's keep things in perspective.
One final statement to highlight; "I believe the traditional Anglican approach is the world’s best religious hope and perhaps the only one that will be able to carry the Christian faith far into a new millennium." This is the primary reason that I am an Anglican, or at least why I remained one after I realized what a harlot the Church can be. Maybe it's just false pride, but after some years of exploring other traditions, I'm convinced that Anglicanism is the best hope for the future of Christendom.
Tangent alert...we commemorated Columba of Iona today (transferred). In preparing for the celebration, I came across a rather interesting tidbit about Iona that I'd never noticed before. After the Council of Whitby, when the Church in England agreed that they were under the authority of Rome (by bending to Rome's date for Easter and type on tonsure; thus setting the precedent for Roman authority over all things), there was a group that disagreed with this position. They removed themselves to Iona.
Anyone know of an island available on which those who dissent from possible future councils in the next few years might retire?