Wednesday, November 14, 2012

What we may not be grasping

UPDATE: This post by Bishop Dan Martins includes a helpful clarification from the Presiding Bishop. +Dan's words are wise.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Read +Mark Lawrence here. And for balance, we ought to also read a letter from ++Katharine Jefferts Schori here.

ORIGINAL POST: Picking up on yesterday's post and some insightful comments to it, I have been thinking about whether we are grasping the bigger picture of the breaking down of institutional life/relationships with larger/smaller institutional partners in the Diocese of South Carolina/"Diocese of South Carolina."

The bigger picture (so it seems to me) includes the question of the "church in the 21st century": if we are in a time of change (represented by attempts to change doctrine of marriage) why are we not considering all relevant changes? In this case a relevant change concerns the polity of an episcopal church. The pre-21st century episcopal model is territorial: one (Anglican/Catholic) diocesan bishop per territorial area. Should this continue? Does it have to continue? If we are changing our doctrine on marriage, why not also on territorial jurisdiction? What if the model was theological rather than territorial? (The C of E with is PEVs has an element of this within its essentially territorial model. Our church in these islands has a cultural model).

Another bigger picture to think about is the role of the bishop as focus of unity. What is our unity based on? Not the bishop per se but the gospel which the bishop teaches! What if there are two (or more) claimants to be the one gospel of the church and what if the church cannot decide (Galatian fashion!) which is the true gospel and which is apostate? Should there be a bishop for each gospel claimant within the one territory until gospel harmony is reached?

The tragedy of the South Carolingian situation is that the situation is being played out according to canons set by a church working on a model set in the past for the past. It is descending to the level of canonical firing and counter-firing: our (TEC) canons say this/our (DSC) canons say that and thus a power play of an institutional kind is being worked out. But the issue is not what the canons say. The issue is what the gospel is, what Christians do when they disagree about the gospel and the role of the bishop in upholding the gospel.

It is the 21st century folks and time for a 21st century solution!

Postscript: to clarify, I am not arguing for a 'theological' model for episcopacy in my own church. The day of that model may yet come, but we have plenty of work to do on how our current model is working before we change it again.

1 comment:

MichaelA said...

"It is descending to the level of canonical firing and counter-firing:"

But Peter, this is nothing new in TEC. The years 2005 to 2008 in particular were characterised by a series of inhibitions and depositions of orthodox bishops and clergy - there were scores of these, a veritable purge.

This was the catalyst for the formation of ACNA. By 2008 the orthodox could see the writing on the wall and so four entire dioceses, complete with bishops, standing committee, clergy and congregations, left en bloc in early 2009. Thus ACNA was formed.

Also note that at the present time TEC is not just taking action against Dio. SC: It has also laid ecclesiastical charges against the bishops of five other orthodox dioceses: Western Louisiana, Albany in New York, Springfield in Illinois, Dallas in Texas and Central Florida (actually its only the just retired bishop of Cen. Florida in the present indictment, but the new bishop signed the Indianopolis Statement dissenting from TEC's decision on same sex blessings, so everyone knows he will be next).

These dioceses are all strongly orthodox, and their bishops are popular with the clergy and laity, so these depositions can only have one result: once the dust settles, six TEC dioceses will have moved to ACNA. They may or may not take their church building with them, but the people will go, and experience has shown that TEC can never replace them. And it is the people that are key – time and again we have seen in USA how orthodox congregation will hire a community hall or rent the use of another denomination's church building, until such time as they have the money for a deposit on a building of their own. If you have the parishioners, its not difficult.

I doubt that any negotiated solution is possible in USA: TEC is just going to keep driving away any dissenters, and since those dissenters are usually the people who are best at growing churches, the terminal decline of TEC is inevitable. Don't ask me why TEC leadership keeps following the same self-destructive policies - it makes no sense to me! But they clearly are not going to change, so that's just the way it is.