Monday, August 14, 2006

Coats: "What Must Be Done"

Episcopal Majority brings us another essay from the Rev. William R. Coats. In this one, he recommends specific actions:

...Strategically there is a need to define our Church in a more assertive and positive way. It will no longer do to apologize for what we have done; we must speak positively of who and what we are. Some of the opportunities are as follows:

1) A more assertive theological defense of the consecration of Gene Robinson and a more rigorous biblical and theological case for the full inclusion of gays and lesbians.

At the same time we must attack those forces which stand in opposition. This entails, as well, a firm denial that our actions constitute a fall from orthodoxy. The right-wing case rests on the preposterous notion that certain so called "liberal" actions symbolize a complete fall into heresy and apostasy. This conservative mantra is to be attacked at all times.

2) A full defense of our Church’s use of "experience" in doing theology; and the assertion that this is fully compatible with traditional Anglican orthodoxy

3) A full defense of the claim that there is a distinction between core doctrine and certain ethical matters

4) Our firm belief that even those who disagree with our views on the matter of Gene Robinson are still entitled to their views and their full participation in the Church. We still tolerate dissent. But we treat dissent within the context of respectful conversation. We stand for traditional Anglicanism.

5) We support the view of Anglicanism as a big tent. We do not believe that narrowing the Church to strict right-wing evangelicalism is theologically or ecclesiastically correct. Moreover it narrows the Church’s "market" to that small portion of the population which is "evangelically oriented."

6) We must create a very active web-site so as to be able to gather material stating our case.


A) To mount a challenge against any and all moves by our right-wing radicals as they attack us and to oppose the notion that an elaborate right-wing evangelicalism is a viable alternative Anglicanism

B) To resist all efforts by the right-wing radicals to withdraw assets from the Church

C) To be open to tactics that either support legal moves to constrict the illegal activities of the right-wing radicals or ask them to leave the church entirely

D) To organize forces for the next General Convention that uphold our theological views


A) To challenge the Archbishop of Canterbury

B) To answer rigorously all attacks from forces such as Archbishop Peter Akinola

C) To challenge the Anglican Covenant (the best that can be hoped for is that the document will be watered down and benign).

D) To encourage our Executive Council and our Presiding Bishop to become more aggressive in their defense of the Church - which would mean:
1) a more critical view of the Windsor Report and the Anglican Covenant.
2) a demand that we be seated at the Anglican Consultative Council

E) To establish relations with friendly forces overseas. Efforts should begin immediately to explore the possibility of a separate set of concordats with friendly national Churches
Although I agree with these recommendations generally, I find myself somewhat uncomfortable with the way they are presented.

First of all, it seems too defensive to me. It gives too much validity to the small group of Episcopalians (roughly 10%) that have been slinging mud and issuing ultimatums for the last few years. Yes, we need to respect the dignity of every human being and challenge bigotry whenever it shows its ugly head. Yes, we need to respond to those faithful Episcopalians trapped in dioceses threatening schism. Yes, we need to stop foreign bishops from pilfering Episcopal parishes. But a siege mentality will incline us to respond on their terms. I think that is a mistake.

Making the theological case is an ongoing development, which has been advanced by To Set Our Hope in Christ. I think that is a good beginning, but much more attention does need to be paid to this effort. But let's not reinvent the wheel. Let's build on the work that has already been done.

"...attack those forces which stand in opposition..." I'd need to understand more clearly what is meant by "attack" before I could support this kind of language. It is essential that we always remind ourselves that among the 10% of the mud slingers probably more than half of them are not "right wing radicals" (Coats attempt to label the new breed that is neither conservative, orthodox nor catholic). There is a very small group in positions of leadership in the AAC/Network/IRD that are leading many faithful Episcopalians astray with the wild accusations of apostacy and heresy leveled at TEC. To declare war on all of the members of these organizations is to make the same kind of sweeping generalizations to which we so strenuously object when made against us. I would suggest that some Network members have no idea of the unethical schemes and maneuvers plotted by their leaders in secret. Exposing these tactics is indeed our obligation. But the goal needs to be to draw those who have been misinformed back into the Body, not a "seek and destroy" mission.

I've never been comfortable with placing "experience" as a fourth leg on our theological stool. I've always understood experience to be a subset of "reason." The raw data of experience is of no use by itself. It only develops meaning as it is included within the reasoning process.

"...treat dissent within the context of respectful conversation..." This would seem to address my concern regarding the "attack" language, although it would seem to me that if it is indeed a clarification, it needs to be included with that statement. Placed by itself, in the midst of other issues, it rings a bit hollow.

Once again, we encounter the term "evangelical." As we have discussed before, the term means different things in various parts of the globe. I always stumble when I see it, as I cannot imagine how a Christian could not be an evangelist. Doesn't that make us all "evangelicals"? Claiming to be an "Evangelical Christian" seems to me to be as redundant as referring to a "pizza pie," or as seen in a recent local menu, beef "with au jus".

Regarding the strategies, I agree with all of them, but still have some concerns.

Yes, we need to protect our assets. That's simply being responsible stewards. But using all legal means? That sounds to me like using the tactic of justifying the means by the end. This is what we find so objectionable in some of the AAC/Network/IRD tactics. I would hope that we would hold ourselves to a higher ethical standard than the secular law. After all, many of those laws were developed by professional politicians, who one would hope we recognize as not always being the best resource for moral and ethical theological considerations. On this I have to come down as a deontologist. Some legal maneuvers are simply wrong, regardless of the greater good they might accomplish. We should not use such tactics (btw, such reasoning is also behind my objection to B033; it is wrong, period; any good that may result from it should not have been a consideration when debating the ethical implications).

"...organize forces..." Once again, I don't find such militant language helpful. Yes, we need to challenge those whom we feel are acting in a way that is detrimental to our Christian witness. But the goal is not so much to "win" as it is to convert. When we stand aginst oppression, the change of heart of the oppressor is as much the goal as the salvation of the victim. Transforming the oppressor is the only way to assure the creation of no new victims in the future. The only other option is the elimination of the oppressor through the use of force. That is a method that humans use, but it is not the way of Christ.

Challenging Dr. Williams is necessary. But in making that challenge, there's some obstacles that need to be recognized. For instance, I found it insightful to be informed that some of the staff at Canterbury are from the George Carey era. I've been told, although I cannot confirm such stories, that much of the correspondence that actually reaches the Archbishop's desk is from the extreme fringes of the Communion. The rest is screened before ever reaching him. It is questionable if Dr. Williams is even aware of the nefarious intentions of the extremists. Creative ways to communicate with Canterbury need to be explored.

Mentioning Peter Akinola as a specific "force" with whom we contend is something that I find myself doing quite often. He is an easy example of the mindset that I oppose. His aggresive voice is being heard as a postive corrective within some corners of the Communion, and that concerns me. In hindsight, however, I think that giving the Archbishop so much attention is really counter-productive. It seems to me that Peter has some serious personal problems, and could benefit from professional help. Consequently, until he seeks such help, when he speaks in the role of an Anglican global leader, his inappropriate language must be challenged. This does not mean that he is not a Christian. Nor does it mean that he is beyond redemption. The goal cannot be to crush him. We are called to convert him.

Challenging the Covenant suggests that it is in and of itself a bad idea. That may be so. But, if such a challenge is rooted in a fear that the end result will exclude TEC, I think it is based on a false premise. If a Covenant was developed, I would certainly assume that TEC would have a role in such a development. Let's not lose the important point that the Anglican Communion needs TEC as much as we need her.

I would hope that our leadership would be more "assertive" (rather than aggresive) in making it clear that TEC considers the Windsor Report to be a terribly flawed document. But, that assertion should have started some time ago. The actions by our leadership at GC2006 will make it quite difficult to make such an assertion now. It still needs to be made, but I won't be holding my breath.

Making alliances overseas is a positive idea, although I think we need to be careful here. Foreign bishops raiding TEC is a big domestic problem right now. I would not want to start using similar tactics. I think we need to be very cautious when acting overseas. That role is appropriately given to our Presiding Bishop and his/her staff. If that team is not effectively establishing such alliances, I think that our energy needs to be focused on building up that team, not launching iniatives on our own.

So, there are a few of my initial thoughts. Yours?


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