JUNE 1998: LETTER FROM AMERICA

 

WAITING FOR GODOT

 

THE ANNUAL MEETING of the Episcopal Synod of America, the Episcopal counterpart of Forward in Faith, has just ended. The legislature extended greetings to other Anglican bodies in this country and welcomed representatives from the other resistance groups, but did not make any major decisions. The president, Mr Peter Moriarty, retired, and was replaced by another layman, Mr Walter Bruce.

This was the Synod’s tenth annual meeting, and while the Synod has not had nearly the success hoped for, it has lasted much longer than its opponents expected and kept a principled, if not always clearly thought through, opposition when other conservative groups compromised in the hope of political (and financial) gain. And now, at last, groups like the First Promise movement are coming round to its positions (see the October 1997 and April 1998 letters).

The bishops and communion

That said, many members of the Synod were recently distressed that the four active bishops had all taken communion from Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold at the House of Bishops’ meeting in the spring. (One has since said that he regrets doing so.)

The Synod’s policy, approved by the bishops themselves, is that we are not in communion with the signers of Bishop Spong’s Koinonia Statement, which include Bp Griswold. (Its signers, by the way, now include three Scottish bishops, Neville Chamberlain, Gregor MacGregor, and of course, Richard Holloway.)

The bishops themselves last spring wrote to the Archbishop of Singapore, Moses Tay, that they were "most encouraged to learn that the Province of South-East Asia has . . . declared itself in communion with those parts of the Anglican Communion which support the Kuala Lumpur principles and not in communion with those which do not." The House of Bishops at our General Convention four months later declined to affirm the Kuala Lumpur principles, which would seem to have put the Synod bishops out of communion with the majority of their colleagues, because they would not encourage South East Asia to a standard stricter than they themselves would hold.

The bishops’ defense, as given by one of them, is that while they had declined communion at Bp Griswold’s installation as presiding bishop, because it was public event at which communicating would have been seen as approving his principles, they had taken communion at the bishops’ meeting because it was a small and private meeting at which declining to communicate would have been seen as a political act, excited the press, and pushed "middle ground bishops" to the left.

That relationships of communion are determined by the perceptions of others is a novel theory, certainly, but the Synod meeting let the issue rest, the division presumably being too deep to be bridged. But of course it will not rest, for people will keep asking how one can share at the Lord’s Table with people who do not believe in the Lord or profess to believe in Him but refuse to do what He and His authorized spokesman say.

Waiting for Lambeth

Conservatives as a whole are waiting for the Lambeth Conference this summer, though quite what they are waiting for is not clear. Some activists I have spoken to expect the world’s bishops to speak definitively against the American moral innovations — I will be somewhat surprised if they do — but few believe that this would have any real effect on the Episcopal Church.

As I have written before in New Directions, the assumptions and logic of the doctrinal and moral innovators is intrinsically totalitarian, because the traditional moral teaching is (they believe) not only wrong but oppressively, viciously so. They cannot retreat or even pause in the march to liberation, and they cannot keep more than a strategic peace with the forces of reaction (patriarchy, homophobia, etc.), a peace to be broken when advantageous, as it was last summer when the General Convention demanded that everyone support the ordination of women.

Conservatives have been waiting for defining moments and final crises for years now. The vote to ordain women in 1976 was the first such and the last three General Conventions (1991, 1994, and 1997) all declared moments when Something Must Be Done. Now it is Lambeth and after it the Convention in 2000.

But we have found that the defining moment is essentially undefinable, because there will always be good reasons to accept the conditions of the present and to see some future event as the real crisis. Some pastoral need will demand attention and some hope for radical change will present itself. And as we saw with women’s ordination and are now seeing with the promotion of homosexuality, many conservatives will come to "make their peace" with the innovation and then some large portion of those will accept it.

I do not think we can wait for final crises which in practice never come. Orthodox Christians must act on the realities at hand, and let things work out as they may. We ought, for example, to break communion with those who have broken communion so consciously and decisively with the Christian tradition, and do so despite what others might think.

Two corrections

I need to make two corrections to last month’s letter. First, the title of the new book of Episcopal liturgies is Enriching Our Worship. I had typed without thinking of the title of Peter Toon’s review which added "or Bankrupting" after "Enriching."

Second, a Canadian Evangelical complained that Peter’s quotations from the proposed liturgies in the Anglican Church of Canada were "seriously inaccurate" and worried that his report would upset the Canadian establishment. Peter had been given a late draft, but the changes in the final version were minor, and not by any means "serious."

To complain about the minor details as Peter’s critic did is somewhat like protesting a news story that made a small mistake on the type of knife used in a murder, but not caring about the murder itself nor trying to bring the murderer to justice. He should have been warning people about them, not quibbling with Peter.

I did also wonder about his worry that the report would upset the liberals. St John is reported to have fled a bathhouse to avoid associating with someone who taught doctrines not any worse than these liturgies. He seems to have been worried that if they were criticized the one semi-Evangelical rite — it includes some doctrine of the Atonement and avoids overtly "expansive" language — might be turned down.

But as Peter has written, this rite "is not specifically addressed to the Father and He, the Father, is not named in the prayer. No Bible-based evangelical thinks that a central, public prayer is acceptable if it (out of making peace with anti-patriarchialism and feminism) refuses to use the Name which our Lord taught us to use when he said, ‘In this manner pray, Our Father . . .’. In today’s climate we must be zealous for the Name of the Lord God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” I could not, myself, be silent about near goddess worship just to win approval for something I wanted. The bishop is wrong Finally, the dean of my seminary, Peter Moore, has edited a collection of essays titled Can a Bishop be Wrong? in which he and nine other Evangelical scholars examine the works of Bp John Spong. Admittedly, explaining how and why the Bishop of Newark is wrong is a taking-candy-from-a-baby type of exercise, but one needed because he has such a talent for making very bad ideas look like self-evident truths, and doing so in a phrase, that many good people are deceived. The book is not being distributed in England, but it can be ordered through Trinity’s bookstore with a Visa or Mastercharge card, by writing by e-mail “Bookstore@tesm.edu” or by mail Bookstore, TESM, 311 Eleventh Street, Ambridge, PA 15003. (Yes, that is Ambridge. It is a steel town named for the American Bridge Company.)

David Mills is director of publishing at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, where he edits their magazine Mission & Ministry (www.episcopalian.org/tesm/missmini). He is editing a book of essays titled The Pilgrims’ Guide: C. S. Lewis and the Art of Witness, including essays by Harry Blamires, Kallistos Ware, Stratford Caldecott, and Sheridan Gilley, which will be published by Eerdmans this summer.

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