Monday, June 15, 2009

Is TEC Anglican?

I have received a bit of stick from one commenter at least, possibly from another in a post on his own blog, about my 'take' on TEC which, I stress, is not to definitively judge it to be either non-Christian or non-Anglican, but to raise questions about its self-understanding of being Christian and being Anglican in the light of internal criticism from within its own ranks (or, in some cases, from the ranks of the recently departed), and with respect to some hard-to-explain actions. Here is an excerpt from just such an internal critique, written by Jordan Hylden, and published in the esteemed (online) journal First Things:

"“Are you Anglican, or Episcopalian?” As an Episcopalian interloper studying at a Methodist seminary, I get the question a lot from my puzzled friends. Each time I’m asked, part of me wants to launch into a mini-primer on Anglican ecclesiology¯to wit, that Episcopalians are Anglicans, since the Episcopal church is just the American province of the global Anglican communion. Which means that, technically, the question shouldn’t even make sense¯it’s sort of like asking, “Are you American, or Texan?” But, of course, I know just what the question means¯it does make sense, because it reflects the sad divisions that have roiled the church over the past five years. Quite simply and sensibly, my Methodist friends want to know whether I’m a member of the liberal Episcopal church, or one of the conservative Anglican groups that broke off. And as saddening as it is to admit, I’ve come to think that their common-sense perception is more accurate than my attempts at ecclesiological theory. Their question can only be asked, and answered, because of the reality on the ground in the United States: Episcopalians are one thing, and Anglicans are another.

Popular understanding is usually much wiser than theoretical wishful-thinking, and nowhere more so than here. The divisions in the church have led the American public to attach the meanings to the words Episcopalian and Anglican that they actually bear in their usage¯namely, that to be an Episcopalian means to be a member of an pro-gay, autonomous American denomination, more liturgical than most churches but firmly within the theological orbit of liberal Protestantism. To be an Anglican, by contrast, means to be part of a conservative evangelical church with bishops, connected somehow with Africa and opposed to homosexuality. The definitions have by now become quite distinct and firmly fixed in the national lexicon¯ask almost any church-going American what the words mean, and you will get an answer something like the above.

Some Episcopalians and Anglicans (myself included) strongly dislike these characterizations¯to be genuinely Episcopalian, they believe, means to be in fellowship with the Anglican communion, and to be authentically Anglican is to be part of a global communion of catholic Christians united by creedal orthodoxy and a commitment to read Scripture, pray, and worship together in the historic Anglican tradition. But although this sounds wonderful in theory, it is simply not what has happened, by and large, in the American context. Because of what’s taken place over the past five years, Episcopalian is now understood to be a term set in opposition to Anglican, and Anglican refers not to a global catholic communion but rather to an American-African evangelical phenomenon. Whether we think the words ought to bear these meanings is not the point¯my point is that this is what the words actually do mean, in newspapers and conversations and pulpits across the country."

Read the whole article here.

By contrast in this piece by esteemed TEC theologian Ian T. Douglas, "Joining God's Mission", there is a clear understanding that Episcopalians are Anglicans. It is a well-argued plea for Episcopalians to work hard to achieve the Millenium Development Goals ... which is lovely but for the odd thing, as Christopher Johnson of Midwest Conservative Journal points out, that nowhere in this theology of making the world a better place does the cross of Christ play a role,

"It’s like this. I don’t agree with them about much of anything but I have no doubt whatsoever that the Unitarians have done many worthwhile things to ennoble the race and do them still. Muslims are known for their acts of charity.

If there is a religion anywhere in the world that doesn’t enjoin its followers to look out for the less fortunate or improve the world, I’m not familiar with it. No doubt many an atheist sticks a few dollars into a Salvation Army kettle at Christmas time.

So there is nothing distinctly Christian about trying to make the world a better place."

But Christopher Johnson's challenge applies to ACANZP - often our public promotion of mission is expressed with more concern for culture, context and changing the world for the better, than for the cross of Christ and the gospel message centred on it. There are times when the public voice of our church is indistinguishable from the Labour Party's policies. One reason for my critique of TEC is that I believe that the doctrines and attitudes of TEC have drifted down and across the Pacific to influence the dominant theological paradigm of our church. Ultimately this is not fruitful for the mission of our church.

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