June 8, 2009

Saving Anglicanism

In my last post, I made reference to a paper I wrote in anticipation of the last General Convention of The Episcopal Church. “Saving Anglicanism,” a 15-page essay, was dated May 31, 2006. More information about the paper and a related one, “What Should General Convention Do?,” can be found here. The context for both papers was the need for The Episcopal Church to respond to the challenges of the Windsor Report.

My citation of “Saving Anglicanism” led to my rereading the essay. (It also led to my correcting two typographical errors I had hitherto missed .) Although The Episcopal Church finds itself in a slightly different position with respect to the Anglican Communion as we approach the 76th General Convention, that situation has much in common with the situation just before the 75th General Convention. My advice to the church today would not be much different from that I put forth in “Saving Anglicanism,” save for that slight difference in context.

It is for this reason that I reproduce below the final section of “Saving Anglicanism,” titled “The Decision,” below. I hope that deputies to the governing body of The Episcopal Church will read and think about what I had to say in 2006.

Further commentary from me seems unnecessary, although I will add that the 76th General Convention must effectively nullify B033 and should authorize the blessing of same-sex unions and begin the process of drawing up an official liturgy for the purpose.
The breadth, length, and complexity of the resolutions proposed by the Special Commission surprised many. Clearly, the group methodically enumerated all that had been asked of the Episcopal Church and considered some related matters as well. It then acted with the predictability that we have seen from the rest of the Communion in the past three years to fashion proposals intended to mollify the church’s detractors without conceding anything more than was seen to be necessary. A complete analysis of the resolutions themselves is beyond our scope, but useful commentaries are available elsewhere.

Passing the 11 resolutions or a set of resolutions not too different from them may buy more time, but one has to question the purpose in so doing. Unless the Anglican Communion gets off its current path, its character will be destroyed and the theological essence of Anglicanism, the comprehension of Richard Hooker, will be extinguished. Our object, then, despite what the militant traditionalists tell us, must first be to save Anglicanism, not to save the Anglican Communion, which we cannot allow to become an object of idolatrous veneration. Recent history suggests that our response in typical Anglican rhetoric—the subtle, nuanced, ambiguous language that has allowed us to, as the traditionalists say, “fudge” so often in the past—will, in the current climate, be misinterpreted, ridiculed, and used to stage new attacks on our church. Perhaps the decision of General Convention will be that this is a chance we must take, but it is not our only option.

We should consider making a more principled, straightforward, and courageous response. We should consider the novel ideal of proclaiming the Gospel as we understand it and defending the approach to theology that most theologians in our church actually use. In simple, clear sentences we could express our sorrow for the hurt that others have experienced and express our sincere desire to remain in communion with all our sister provinces. We could remind others of Bishop Desmond Tutu’s explanation for how we have always maintained communion—“we meet”—and insist that removing the Episcopal Church or its representatives from Communion discussion is hardly characteristic of the Anglican way. Before the Communion creates more rules, we could insist that existing ones be observed. Before we cede authority to others, we could insist that those to whom we have ceded no authority refrain from intimidation. And we could declare that that name-calling, misrepresentation, and subversion are unbecoming a Christian and unacceptable in a bishop.

We could, in other words, insist that we have as much right to make claims on the Communion as it does on the Episcopal Church. Most importantly, however, we could declare our commitment to save Anglicanism at all costs and to save the Anglican Communion if at all possible.

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