Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Is There a Plan?

I've been convinced for a couple of years now that what we are witnessing in our current unpleasantness within the Episcopal Church is the unfolding of the Network plan described in the Chapman memo. Some things that I have recently read, combined with a brief conversation here (hey Charlie), has given me cause to reconsider that notion. I'm no longer so sure that there is any uniform plan among the various breakaway groups.

Dylan Breuer offers us a good analysis of this possibility:

... Not only have the breakaway organizations failed to come up with a consistent and coherent vision of what kind of "oversight" or "care" they want and who could or should provide it, but they also don't agree on what kind of new or reconstituted structure or structures would be best, with various parties proposing:

  • In the case of San Joaquin's newly proposed constitutional revisions, simply breaking off from The Episcopal Church without joining anything else, resulting in "The Anglican Church of San Joaquin," a province consisting of a single diocese "in full communion with the See of Canterbury";

  • In most proposals from the Anglican Communion Network, forming with others a non-geographic or mix of geographic (e.g., the Diocese of Pittsburgh, except that individual parishes would supposedly be free to declare themselves part of another diocese, making for diocesan borders looking a little like patterns in a kitchen strainer) and non-geographic (e.g., the "Forward in Faith Convocation") judicatories to form a "Province X" of The Episcopal Church -- but seemingly not under its Presiding Bishop, constitution, or canons;

  • joining another Anglican province (e.g., the Church of Uganda, Rwanda, or Nigeria);

  • forming a "'college' of bishops and dioceses within The Episcopal Church ... without this requiring either an alternative province or the intervention of bishops from outside the US"...
  • Dylan goes on to question why the ACI, the authors of the last proposal, were scrambling to respond so quickly to the latest developments:

    ...The six guys of the ACI are seeking to combat the significant confusion and dissension among breakaway movements regarding what they want to happen, which in turn represent significant confusion within and conflict among underlying assumptions of ecclesiology: they cannot agree on what it means to be church, and "one holy, catholic, and apostolic" at that; what it means to be in communion; and what it means to be "in Christ" -- all of which, I would say, are in essence one question...
    There is other evidence suggesting that there is more than a bit of confusion among these groups at the moment. For instance, has anyone else noticed that we no longer hear much about Archbishop Akinola of Nigeria? Not too long ago, he was being touted as the possible leader of a new Communion. Now he is rarely mentioned. How come?

    I suspect there are a couple of reasons for this. First of all, since Abp. Akinola continues to support the Nigerian legislation that would incarcerate gays and lesbians and their supporters, he has become a bit of an embarrassment to other Anglicans. After all, this is contrary to Lambeth 1.10, the Windsor Report, the policy of the US Department of State, and basic Christian decency. Jim Naughton suggests this might be the reason why it is taking those two parishes in Virginia some time to decide what they want to do; stay with a moderate bishop like Peter Lee who is contaminated by association with TEC, or go with a Nigerian Archbishop who supports draconian measures that are condemned around the globe. Quite the dilemma.

    There may be another reason why their relationship with Abp. Akinola has cooled a bit. Maybe the Archbishop is having second thoughts. Thinking Anglicans and The Episcopal Majority point us to a story by Colin Coward of Changing Attitude:

    ...Changing Attitude England has received further information about the meeting from members of our sister organisation Changing Attitude Nigeria. Archbishop Peter Akinola reportedly returned to Nigeria from the US in a very unhappy frame of mind. The discussions had not gone at all well from his point of view. He wanted a very private meeting and endorsement for his own plans but he didn’t get what he wanted. One of the Americans bishops at the meeting, who Archbishop Akinola expected to give unequivocal support to his plans, instead repeatedly told him that the American bishops need to think about the legal problems before they are able to take further action. This apparently came as painful news to Archbishop Akinola who had assumed his needs and agenda would be met, but they weren‘t. It appears that he wanted his American friends to be more needy so that he could present himself as coming to their rescue. Instead, he discovered that they are not able to do as much as he expected and this is giving him a big problem, which not surprisingly, includes the problem of money. His American supporters are no longer providing adequate financial support for his plans. It is no surprise to Changing Attitude to learn that relationships between the Global South Primates and their supposed supporters in the secessionist dioceses of the USA are not as harmonious as they might wish the outside world to believe...
    This is not shaping up to be the carefully crafted plan that I thought it was. At best, it is a plan that has started to unravel.

    So, if Abp. Akinola is no longer the main champion for this cause among the Primates, who is? Without a foreign leader to represent them at the February Primates' meeting, how can their dream of a 39th province ever come to fruition?

    It didn't take long for a new leader to step upon the global stage. Remember that letter that Bp. Schofield sent out to the members of the diocese of San Joaquin? There's a statement in it worth noting:

    Is Our Place In The Anglican Communion Assured? Yes. First, we have a commitment from the Southern Cone (Archbishop Greg Venables) that the bishops of his dioceses are open to our joining their Province.
    Gregory James Venables is the Presiding Bishop of the Southern Cone and also bishop of the diocese of Argentina (thus the reference in the news reports to "a diocese in Argentina").

    In the last few days, a video of Presiding Bishop Venables has been making the rounds. He repeats the typical false accusations lodged against TEC, and promises the breakaway groups that he will be their advocate at the Primates' meeting. As one might imagine, he is receiving high praise from those fleeing Episcopal cooties. I think they believe they have found a new champion.

    Who is PB Venables? One of his most recent notorious actions was reinstating the deposed bishop of Recife. This deposed bishop is the same one who scooped up two parishes of TEC the day after the Windsor Report was released.

    It appears PB Venables has no problem with such plundering raids. Here's part of a recent statement from the Southern Cone:

    ...we renew our conviction that the Province of the Southern Cone of the Americas remains in impaired communion with the Episcopal Church; and given that their continuing position results in an extremely difficult situation for churches and Christians that do hold Anglican doctrine, and in the spirit of Kigali, we support our Primate and other Primates who are overseeing the development of a new ecclesial structure in the United States.
    And you'll never guess who wrote this press release. None other than our old friend the Pirate Bishop of Bolivia! Yes, Frank Lyons, who has plundered a few Episcopal parishes of his own, is also under the authority of PB Venables.

    A brief word about my use of the terms "plundering" and "piracy." It has been suggested to me that it was not really theft, since those parishes were leaving TEC anyway. That misses the point. If there had not been a foreign bishop standing in the wings wooing them, these parishes may have eventually become reconciled with their bishop. Now we will never know.

    There is another factor that needs to be considered here. PB Venables oversees the dioceses of Argentina, Northern Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay. From what I could find, Argentina, Paraguay and Uraguay have about 12 churches each. Bolivia has 4. Until 1981, these were all missionary dioceses. I recognize that the number of actual structures does not necessarily represent the number of Anglicans within this part of the world. It is not unusual for there to be a congregation without a church, who gather when the priest arrives in the village. The Southern Cone has about 20,000 communicants. My point is that the lack of churches suggests that this is a very poor Province. I cannot help but wonder if the temptation to pick up a few wealthy congregations to the north is not fueling some of the outrage we are hearing from PB Venables. If the bishop of Bolivia and former bishop of Recife are examples of the makeup of his House of Bishops, one is inclined to begin wondering what kind of crew he is assembling and for what purpose.

    If the breakaway groups within TEC are looking for a "Windsor compliant" leader, I suggest they keep on looking. PB Venables not only seems to ignore the recommendations regarding border crossings in that document, but seems to sanction such raids, and possibly even encourages them.

    Things are beginning to appear a bit chaotic among the extreme conservatives. Most likely we will see many more shifts and shenanigans in the months ahead. In the end, they are a fascinating curiosity, but nothing to lose any sleep over. What good will it do us to fret over such a fluid situation? Put it in God's hands, trust the new leadership of TEC to respond to developments appropriately, and press on toward the Kingdom.

    J.

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