Monday, October 19, 2009

Diocese, Province, Communion: will any two of the three do?

Howard Pilgrim has (gently) challenged me to comment upon a post by Mark Harris of Preludium entitled 'A Fourth Way Revisited'.

Howard himself sums up the essay, and extends the critique a little with these words which engage with my own remarks below about 'Anglican tragedy':

"that in the Anglican tradition, the largest effective ecclesial unit is the diocese around its bishop, and that beyond that, at the levels of Communion, and even within provinces, the relationships have always been based on hospitality rather than control. I tend to agree, the powers vested in general synods notwithstanding. For instance, here in New Zealand the diocese of Nelson has always exercised a considerable degree of independence, and that has been OK with the rest of us, as long as we are not expected to follow Nelson's lead. We all get to choose how far to recognize and embrace the faith and life of other dioceses. Even within a diocese, the unity generated by "canonical obedience" to their bishop promised by licensed clergy still allows for generous freedoms for parishes to differ.

"It is an interesting argument, and I would like to see your response (to him not me). If he is right, then there are no "rights" in conflict, only responsibilities carried out differently in our service to Christ. The lack of some international magisterium is no flaw, but the way we have always operated quite satisfactorily. And the only train crash in the offing is a mirage generated by all the hot air coming from those who demand we all do things their way or they will throw their toys out of the cot."

Just a brief response is all I can manage:

(1)I think doctrine, what Anglicans believe, matters, and that being the church is not simply a matter of hospitality, vital though that is. Hospitality is an expression of doctrine, not a replacement for it.

(2)Dioceses are not perfect; they can make mistakes. Is the wider church responsible for offering correction in such a situation, or is that beyond its brief?

(3)Yes, the Anglican Communion could be an ecumenical fellowship rather than something with aspiration and momentum towards becoming a world church. Would it not be in the spirit of ecumenicity to then invite all Anglicans to this ecumenical fellowship, including ACNA, AMIA, CESA, and other networks and churches currently debarred from the Communion?

In short, when Mark Harris draws attention in another post to the argument of Bishop Bruce Mcpherson, one of the so-called 'Communion Partner' bishops, that at this time it is not possible to be both provincially-oriented (towards TEC) and Communion-oriented, I find his critique deficient inasmuch as he offers no way forward for dioceses within a province that feel they have more in common with the Communion than with their own province, other, that is, than to put up. But a true ecumenical spirit would, I suggest, encourage fellowship in all kinds of ways within the ecumenical fellowship of Anglicans.

It is my view that in our church, ACANZP, we are a long way from any one of our dioceses feeling they have more in common with the Communion than with our own province!


Anonymous said...

Typical nonsense from Harris, aimed at securing a place for Tec infidelities in the Anglican Communion.
Anglicans have never believed that a diocese possesses unilateral power to change the doctrine or discipline of the church, nor even to appoint its own bishop without the wider consent of the province. So the argument fails.
Notwithstanding this, certain Tec bishops have acted in very uncatholic ways, especially in 'same-sex issues'.
Others, like Spong and Robinson, are risible heretics whose dioceses have withered around them.

Peter Carrell said...

For once, Anon1, I think I agree with every word you say!

Howard Pilgrim said...

Peter, thanks for taking the time to consider that post by Mark Harris. I think you may have relied too much on my synopsis of his argument, and that I could have misrepresented his position regarding the importance of a diocese's affiliation with its province. His actual words were:-

"Communities of faith in which people are gathered and ordered with a bishop as chief pastor and missionary are much more central to Anglican sensibilities than the nature of the structures of the several national or regional churches, and certainly more central than any structural approval from persons or bodies outside the national or regional churches themselves."

So he was talking about everyday functionality. Anglicans in Nelson and Waiapu find most of their leadership and pastoral security in their own bishops rather than national or international structures. For which we are deeply grateful in each case, no doubt. On the other hand, we in Waiapu don't want Nelson to consider itself more closely affiliated with other dioceses overseas (e.g.Sydney)than it is to the rest of us here in this province. In exchange for that loyalty demand, we are committed to heeding Nelson's sensibilities more than those of any diocese overseas (e.g. New Hampshire). This commitment is expressed in provincial legal structures, which are in themselves of secondary importance to the bonds of fellowship they protect. So no, any two of the three will not do!

What a horrible tone of contempt for Mark Harris emanates from behind Anon1's barrier of secrecy. I am surprised that you find nothing to disagree with in his/her comment. In particular, you might like to tell me where we can look for evidence for these three propositions:-
1. Gene Robinson is a heretic.
2. Gene Robinson's diocese has withered around him.
3. John Spong's diocese has withered around him (he hasn't had one for at least a decade). I will not attempt to defend him on the heresy charge...

Anonymous said...

Peter, I imagine we would agree on Nelson beaches, Oyster Bay and the Chappells!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Howard
On reflection perhaps I was too hasty to declare agreement with the word 'risible' in connection with Robinson! Is he a heretic? That depends on whether one views a disagreement on a matter of ethics constitutes the possibility that one is orthodox and the other is not.

I was too hasty, or too glib in agreeing with the word 'withered' in connection with New Hampshire: notwithstanding +Robinson making claims that it is growing, I understand that its attendance figures are declining (though not withering).

Spong may not have been Bishop of Newark for a long time but I understand its attendance figures are significantly smaller than they once were. It is possible that that fact has no connection with Spong's theology. Yes, that is possible ...

Anonymous said...

Howard, where 'everyday functionality' is concerned, most Anglicans think no further than their own parish - not even their diocese.
Robinson's universalism and his rejection of the atonement as traditionally taught by Anglicanism are well known - you can check his own words. His promotion of homosexual relations as good IS heretical and anti-biblical, whatever you may think now on the subject. (You did think very differently years ago.)
The decline of Robinson's diocese is easily attested in all Tec statistics. He is not tending it as 'chief pastor' but gallivanting around the world. (To be fair, one could make the same criticism of Tom Wright.)
Newark is only a shadow of its old self.

Howard Pilgrim said...

Anonymous wrote about me, "You did think very differently years ago." Now that is a really offensive comment, coming from someone unwilling to make themselves known. Who are you, behind your coward's mask of anonymity, that you presume to report anything about me in a public forum? What were you to me in my past: friend or foe, or just someone that never really know me very well? And what might be said about you if you stepped out into the light?

I think that supplying a name and a photo is an essential mark of integrity in a forum such as this. Doing so allows readers, or at least some more local ones, to match my opinions expressed with my public career as a teacher and priest. I am not at all apologetic that some of my convictions have changed over the years, and am happy to give an account for what I have learned in God's "university of hard knocks" (to quote Canon Orange, one of my early teachers). What about you? Are you proud of learning nothing from life?

Now to the substance of your comment about Bp Robinson and those who support him. Do you really contend that it is "heresy" to differ from you over the issue of sexual orientation, or the possibility that committed same-sex relationships may be blessed by God? I can understand that you think such a belief requires biblical backing, and that any such justification may involve some new readings of scripture. But the term "heresy" has classically been reserved for departures from central doctrines of the faith, as opposed to relatively unexamined preconceptions inherited from previous generations of the faithful. Otherwise, any new ethical or doctrinal understanding must qualify for this derisive and thoughtless tag. When millions of Christians around the world are re-examining their inherited beliefs on this matter it is just too shallow to label this process and their driving motivations as "heresy". Something deeper is at work here, and our discussion of the issues should me marked by mutual respect, and yes, openness.

Do these two things please, Anonymous. First come out from behind your hiding place. Then offer a better argument for your position.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anon1
Howard is right: it is offensive to make a remark about someone's past (whether indifferently, for good, or for ill) from the position of anonymity. Any future such remarks, about anyone, will not be published!

Anonymous said...

I consider myself rebuked. I was going only by Howard's own published words on this site, where I thought he had made it clear his own background was conservative evangelical, but that his thinking has changed over the years. My comment was unnecessary and I'm sorry if making this observation from what I've read on this site has occasioned offense.
My own background was certainly not evangelical (nor even clearly Chrsitian) and I will happily admit to thinking differently now to how I did when much younger. So I think I have learnt a few things from life, but even more, I trust, from the Scriptures.
As for "my" judgment on homogenital acts, it isn't "my" view but the great consensus of commentators across history. Robert Gagnon expresses this much better than I can.
I can't make Paul mean other than he intended. All kinds of "readings" are no doubt possible, but msot are absurd.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anon1
I could certainly accept a phrasing 'as previously indicated on this site, you have changed your mind/grown a moustache/bought a Porsche' and the like ... but sometimes a phrasing here and there (from, I stress, more than one 'Anonymous'), has made me wonder whether behind Anonymouses (Anonymice?) lie people who personally know me, or commenters, and my/our preference then is to engage with named people.

Howard Pilgrim said...

Nicely put, Peter, on the issue of anonymity. I accept the explanation of this anonymous commentator regarding the basis of his/her remark about me, but would find it even better if when challenged to show his/her face, he/she could give a general explanation for the reasons for preferring not to enter into equal (i.e. open) dialogue.

Moving right along ... one point in his/her reply deserves a challenge: framing of the key issue as differences in "judgment on homogenital acts". This is perhaps the most crucial problem underlying the present controversy. Let me say plainly that I have no interest in homogenital acts, heterogenital acts, autoerotic acts, or whatever else is done in private by consenting adults. Nor do I think that any of these constitute a theological problem or a challenge to centuries of Christian orthodoxy, once we get past the Catholic preference for celibacy.

How my wife and I express our love physically is no one else's business. The fact that we are in a committed, loving relationship certainly is. I want other Christians to recognize, bless and celebrate our love as a gift from God and an integral part of my Christian ministry. I also want them to extend the same courtesy to Gene Robinson rather than slagging him off for whatever they imagine he is up to in bed. Closer to home, I want all my gay clergy friends to be in a church where it is just as safe to openly celebrate their loving relationships as it is for me to celebrate mine.

Luke 12:1-7 (last Friday's gospel reading which we studied at a clergy gathering in Napier)gives me hope that God is in the business of creating just such openness and trust, and I don't went to settle for anything less.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Howard
Luke 12:1-7 is certainly a pertinent reading for the hopes you express. As you know I do not see things in quite the same way, but try to remain open to seeing them in that way. I also wonder, if what you express is the truth to which God is drawing us, how do "we" get there - "we" being the whole church and not just pioneering progressives breaking through glass ceilings and rolling back frontiers as they do so!