Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Stating an Anglican position is tricky business

Titus One Nine has published this release from the Modern Churchpeople's Union's about it's response to the latest version of what the C of E with women bishops might look like. The press release is this:

"Women Bishops and the Revision Committee

MCU has published a paper that welcomes the Revision Committee's change of policy. However, it questions the emphasis on seeking to satisfy the opponents of women bishops while showing no comparable concern for the majority appalled by the continuing gender discrimination.

The paper argues

* that the proposed proliferation of different classes of bishops (women, men consecrated or not consecrated by women, men who do or do not ordain women, etc) should be resisted;
* that church leaders should resist the influence of magical views of the sacraments, treating priests and bishops as if the value of their ministry depended on whether their appointment followed precise rules;
* that the 'theology of taint' - the idea that a bishop who has once ordained a woman priest is no longer an acceptable bishop - is not acceptable and no allowance should be made for it;
* that resistance to change, while characteristic of many reactionary religious campaigns, is unrealistic since churches do, and need to, make changes;
* that the increasing appeal to the individual conscience as though it were a basic unchanging fact, rather than an expression of what the individual currently believes to be true, should be resisted;
* and that the current reactionary mood among church leaders is in danger of being made permanent by the proposed Anglican Covenant." (The whole paper to which the release refers may be read here).

I find this to be an interesting mix of propositions, underlining the difficulty we Anglicans can have trying to state a position on something for which we do not have a handy comprehensive catechism to quote from! Consider:

"* that the proposed proliferation of different classes of bishops (women, men consecrated or not consecrated by women, men who do or do not ordain women, etc) should be resisted;" I agree. No problem.

"* that church leaders should resist the influence of magical views of the sacraments, treating priests and bishops as if the value of their ministry depended on whether their appointment followed precise rules;" I agree to the words before the comma. After that is tricky: if following precise rules is not important for the value of ministry then, hey, let's treat those ACNA bishops as ... bishops!

"* that the 'theology of taint' - the idea that a bishop who has once ordained a woman priest is no longer an acceptable bishop - is not acceptable and no allowance should be made for it;" I agree. No problem for me; but I acknowledge it will be for some.

"* that resistance to change, while characteristic of many reactionary religious campaigns, is unrealistic since churches do, and need to, make changes;" I agree. But I wonder if the MCU understands that sometimes those most resistant to change are those fronting 'progressive religious campaigns'. Here in NZ, for instance, some of the people most resistant to the establishment of a truly profound Three Tikanga life together have been ... progressives.

"* that the increasing appeal to the individual conscience as though it were a basic unchanging fact, rather than an expression of what the individual currently believes to be true, should be resisted;" On this, with special reference to controversial issues in our Communion, might we all, left/right, reactionary/progressive be united in our agreement?

"* and that the current reactionary mood among church leaders is in danger of being made permanent by the proposed Anglican Covenant." Really? The Anglican Covenant is designed to ensure that the Communion understands itself to be a body of believers committed to orthodoxy and orthopraxy and works to ensure that understanding, and not another prevails. Only if the 'current reactionary mood among church leaders' is in tune with orthodoxy and orthopraxy will it be made 'permanent'. Surely the MCU is not saying it is unconcerned with orthodoxy and orthopraxy being a permanent feature of the Communion?

The MCU would not be the first Anglican body to attempt to achieve too much in a statement, to the detriment of the effectiveness of the statement as a whole!

4 comments:

Burke's Corner said...

Peter - thanks for this. What really brought a smile to my face was thorough-going liberals declaring, "the increasing appeal to the individual conscience ... should be resisted".

I couldn't agree more - just pleasantly surprised that ideological liberals are now saying this.

I assume that this will now apply to a range of issues and not merely the consecration of women as bishops ...? In other words, the mind of the Tradition and the Communion will no longer be trumped by "individual conscience".

Brian.

Kurt said...

I agree that the MCU attempted too much in one document. However, on one key aspect they are totally spot on:

“Plans are afoot to turn this [temporary] reactionary mood into a permanent part of the Anglican Communion. The proposals for an Anglican Covenant are designed to achieve precisely this... Although there are some administrative reasons for favouring an Anglican Covenant, the driving force behind it is overwhelmingly the determination of conservative evangelicals to establish that homosexuality is immoral, active homosexuals cannot be bishops and churches cannot offer same-sex marriages. Behind this focus, however, lies an additional implication, fully intended: that it will be possible for the central Communion authorities to block any innovation by one province which another province finds objectionable.”

This is totally unacceptable to the American and Canadian Churches (and to most progressives, and even moderate conservatives, elsewhere). It is the principle reason why the Covenant is dead on arrival here (at least as it is presently written).

There are signs that here in America, at least, the post-WWII ascendancy of evangelicalism is over. Not having a crystal ball, I don’t pretend to know what school of thought will take its place. (Though, if I would venture a guess, it very well may be some kind of High Church Latitudinarianism).

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn USA

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Kurt
The Covenant may be DOA in North America (though Mark Harris of Preludium frequently asserts otherwise); and there may be 'reactionary' forces at work driving it forward (though I note that the most conservative grouping in the Communion, GAFCON, sit pretty light to the Covenant and whether it comes into being or not).

Nevertheless I think the Covenant valuable and worth working towards. Take, for instance, the MCU claim that it will stifle 'innovation'. In my view 'innovation' is an ambiguous word. It attracts a sense (on the one hand) that a new something is a valuable something, and thus anti-innovation forces are bad. On the other hand 'innovation' can refer to things which are new-and-antithetical to well-being of (in this instance) a body or group. With regard to the latter, governance which prevents 'innovation' may be acting responsibly.

Thus, in my view (and others) the possibility of a Diocese or Province unilaterally authorising lay presidency is an innovation which is antithetical to the well-being of the Communion (because it undermines our claim to be in continuity with the ancient undivided church. It ought to be prevented! The Covenant (many would argue) is a means to ensure the well-being of the Communion.

Obviously much more can be said for/against ... but I will stop here!

Kurt said...

I think that Fr. Harris would agree that the punitive aspects of any proposed Anglican Covenant would have to go before it would be acceptable to a majority of Americans and Canadians. Minus the punitive aspects, a Covenant might well gather even my support.

I agree with you, Fr. Carrell, that one must be careful about “innovation.” Change, in and of itself, is neither bad nor good. Being an Anglo Catholic (of the politically liberal, modern persuasion), I often times find myself on the liturgically “conservative” end of the stick. “Innovations,” such as PowerPoint presentations during services, bother me.

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn USA