Sunday, 4 January 2009

ACI and What God Wants

A minority within The Episcopal Church (and just outside TEC) are apparently no longer following a replacement strategy, one that used to look like:

strategies and tactics designed to use meetings of the House of Bishops and the General Convention to stop TEC's progressive march toward liturgical and even doctrinal Unitarianism.

Such is unrealistic, say the self-defined 'orthodox' insiders. Once again there is no detail or substance to this charge, that appears more like a slur than any actual incident having taken place. What movements, precisely, have taken place towards liturgical and even doctrinal Unitarianism?

The replacers have moved outside to the new Anglican Church of North America. The insiders, some of whom sit under the umbrella of the Anglican Communion Institute (ACI), think that having to go to an outside structure implies criticism of themselves as being too passive.

However, these insiders state that they have convictions that are hardly passive: they now just believe that God will act on these in his own time and in his own way. Nevertheless, to give God a push * they are demanding that TEC pursues several commitments:
  1. To Windsor injunctions to stop (a) the blessing of same gender sexual unions; (b) such defined people being ordained; and (c) stopping unlicensed Episcopal oversight across existing boundaries.
  2. To an Anglican Covenant that has clear consequences for Provinces that do not choose to ratify or abide by its terms.
  3. To the Office of the Archbishop of Canterbury as the effective symbol of Anglican unity.
  4. To the Instruments of Communion that order the Communion.
  5. To evangelising and teaching those who do not follow Christ as Lord and Saviour, and service to those in need.
  6. To Christian formation and equipping well of lay and clerical leadership through new forms of theological education in parishes and dioceses.
  7. To partnership with other provinces of the Anglican Communion regarding the above.

Presumably point 5 and 6 helped by 7 would address the alleged march towards Unitarianism.

[Regarding * please see the comment provided by Pete Hobson. I think he is correct that I am wrong regarding (I concede at least) giving God a push. They are not giving God a push. But are they still making demands on TEC, or are these commitments just their own? The answer to that depends on this first line from the original article prior to the list of commitments:

The commitments required by differentiation within TEC are these.

Commitment to the Windsor injunctions...

This suggests to me that some sort of demand is being made on TEC, though it may accept difference, but again I concede that God is not being given a push.

I do not think it renders my main focus on the ACI article and its criticism irrelevant, and please read on as this was written originally. Readers can make their own minds up and even add any comment. Am I wrong?]

Now I would be quite a sympathiser with a march towards theological and liturgical Unitarianism in The Episcopal Church, and certainly this blog would be filled with praise for some such moves. I would identify examples in liturgy and examples in theology, show why they were Unitarian-compatible, and suggest that this was probably a good thing that TEC was moving in a direction that treated the creeds and basic affirmations as indeed Church of England Anglicans now officially treat the Thirty-nine Articles.

Other than for a few Interfaith gatherings and some personal individual statements, I cannot see any such movement. I see no move whatsoever in any official direction towards liturgical and theological Unitarianism. Now there are theological colleges that question the make-up and truth of Christian dogma, as they must if they want to follow hundreds of years of theologically related discovery, but so there are with many reasonable seminaries around the world, and yet they feed only private and individual opinion and not any official positions. Perhaps this ought to change, as did happen for the Thirty-nine Articles.

Perhaps the ACI wants its acceptable views only within theological formation and education, or perhaps shielding preachers and teachers from some of the more searching questions. It does not say. What it is worried about is an internal drift at the official level.

When you look at the list produced, which they associate with the will of God, you have to wonder whether such a God actually has other ideas from those of the ACI.

First of all, the boundary crossings have not stopped but now exist in a replacement intended province. So it is perhaps time that The Episcopal Church's mission towards inclusivity should begin again, now that there is a clear choice offered by the intending replacers.

Secondly the Covenant has not been passed by any provinces yet, and one that is intending to create a two tier communion is unlikely to be passed by a considerable constituency of provinces. So the upshot there would be disastrous, as many will be rightly outside such a Covenant. A Covenant that cannot attract enough in across the breadth of Anglicanism won't be born. One that can be born will not have the corrective mechanisms the insiders-with-convictions want. Well, all right, let's go down the road of balkanising Anglicanism: this bit with this Covenant, that bit with that Covenant, that part with no Covenant, that part with some Primates Council of its own. Of course TEC won't sign a Covenant that marginalises itself on the inclusivity agenda, and nor should it, and nor will a number of provinces. It won't even get through the Church of England, and that's firstly because the Church of England cannot be governed internationally and seconly because the Synod will not pass something that seeks to exclude another Anglican Church or two or three or many more (we know the list - from Scotland to New Zealand).

The only people dancing around the Office of the Archbishop of Canterbury are the Primates Council led replacers, seeking power to themselves and boundary crossing. The commitment to the Archbishop of Canterbury is always to his limited authority and even more limited power. He has roles and functions and that's it: but for some this seems to be too much, when what he does (or does not do) does not suit them.

The Instruments of Communion take their time: can these insiders really wait so long for an outcome that might simply be compromise layered over compromise?

None of this ACI statement understands that Anglicanism is a Communion of Churches, and it is the Churches that are the effective centres. Basically the Churches decide what other Churches they want to recognise at an official level, and this is why, decentralised, Anglicanism draws in cultural diversity and makes different decisions one from another.

The ACI has delusions that it speaks for some general homogeneous outside Anglicanism despite being a minority in TEC. It perhaps only speaks for itself. There is no reason why TEC should pay any attention to its list at all.

The anti-inclusive Windsor injunctions are failing: yet TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada, despite the strain involved, has remained more loyal to these injunctions than have the boundary crossers. The Covenant is subject to negotiation and being acceptable and being accepted: if it survives it may simply not function like the ACI assumes. The Archbishop of Canterbury and Communion Instruments will presumably just go on as before anyway, unless the Primates Council and GAFCON continue to undermine them - how will, for example, the Primates Council undermine the Primates Meeting? Presumably theological education will go on as before, and still with little impact on official doctrines expressed by the Church (if they ever make such a change, do call the Unitarian Universalist Association: this could be an exciting partnership!). Also relationships between Churches in Anglicanism will continue: efforts to centralise cannot cut across the cultural differences, and the supposed centre has no authority to undermine the Churches that constitute Anglicanism as an identifiable form of Christianity.

What have we learnt recently from weather and financial systems alike? If you centralise and speed things up you increase the likelihood of chaotic behaviour and system breakdown. When there is stress, the necessity is to decentralise and weaken formal connections, not add to them. Calm down, slow down, and do what is true at the locality.


Anonymous said...

I think, on a careful reading of the article, you will see that ACI are not requiring that TEC as a whole follow the courses of action listed - but that they are describing a series of commitments that they, and those like them are making, as they remain within a Church which they believe is increasingly heading in a wrong direction. this is a significant distinction, and it makes irrelevant much of the critique of thei stance which you make.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

It makes wrong one part of my criticism, and I concede that I misunderstood the nature of the waiting. That is, I'm wrong in suggestion the notion of giving God a push for demands made on TEC. So I make a note on the article regarding your comment and I am grateful for the correction.

I don't think it does render irrelevant much of my criticism:

Presumably ACI expects God to act in his own time consistent with this witness, otherwise why have such witness? This statement is made:

"The commitments required by differentiation within TEC are these:"

Presumably there is a meaning in "required by differentiation" though I'm not sure what that means. It appears to mean that higher commitments or commitments different from others are required within TEC. That is a demand of a sort, isn't it, that TEC has these commitments?

Certainly these commitments are not regarded as being passive, which again suggests some sort of demand.

Perhaps the ACI is to be a vanguard with these commitments that only sits and waits regarding the differentiated rest of TEC. I'm trying to understand here.

But my main criticism is centred around this continued point that TEC is heading towards liturgical and theological Unitarianism at high level, and this point has no evidence. Thus strategies, replacement, outside, inside, demands or waiting, are all based on a false analysis that TEC is moving to a position when there is no specific evidence of such.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for accepting the main point of my comment. To pursue the matter a little further, you highlight what may be meant by the phrase "The commitments required by differentiation within TEC are these:"

The word "differentiation" is introduced in the text of the article a little earlier, as one of four 'convictions' which the authors believe are shared by those of this viewpoint within TEC, which then in turn lead to the 'commitments'. The third 'conviction' is said to be that "The pattern of Christ’s life suggests the necessity of a clear differentiation between a way faithful to his life and teaching and one that has simply assumed the form of the culture with which the leadership of TEC has identified."

I suggest this makes it clear that the "differentiation" called for is one that those of a particular viewpoint within TEC (broadly the ACI view) are called to, in what they see as faithfulness to God, rather than any call to TEC as a whole.

As regards the nature of ACI's expectation of God's action, this is also dealt with a little later in the article, which states " The future state of TEC and the Anglican Communion rests in God’s hands. Our work is not to take this kingdom by force of design and tactic, but to make a faithful witness, practice faithful endurance, and wait upon the Lord to see what he will make of what we do and say." This does not read to me as any sort of 'demand' that God act in any particular way - and your suggestion that this is more some sort of 'vanguard' action seems closer to the mark.

I do however concede your main point, that the article itself gives no justification for its claim of TEC's "progressive march toward liturgical and even doctrinal Unitarianism". This is instanced as the cause of a policy of strategic resistance, now abandoned by both groupings of conservative opponents. I do not myself know enough about TEC to offer evidence, but have read sufficient to be clear that conservatives do feel the point most strongly and have argued it in other places (it is a relatively short article mainly addressing the reasons the two main conservative groupings have adopted different tactics).

You, of course are saying you would welcome such a theological move from TEC but see no evidence for it. ACI and others say that there is all too much evidence and do not at all welcome it. That's a clear difference either of evidence or of interpretation!

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Well of course I had read that passage, and hadn't accepted the premise, but could see a difference being made - I just couldn't understand what required by differentiation meant. What was actually required?

I freely admit to reading this in the usual way, that is too quickly and making assumptions, but I'd suggest that the people writing these make their case more clearly. There are no brownie points in making things obscure, and this really was. I might be lazy but I don't come to reading either the content or level of this material unequipped, and it could be clearer that now there really is nothing but a group's convictions and these convictions are only their own. Again, though, my pieces here and elsewhere keep asking for the basis of the original argument: the liturgical and theological Unitarianism either that is being introduced or would be.

Here is another blog habit: having arisen from a nap I've come to Fulcrum, seen there must be an unchecked comment, come here and replied, and now I'll go back to Fulcrum to see I've probably commented too quickly. Such is blog life.

Daniel Lee said...

Well the ACI continues to sound a tad confused about whether it exists mainly for its own gathered skirts sake (passing by the fallen travellers lying in the ditch on the other side of the road), or whether for the whole church entire that is TEC, or whether for the virtually imagined whole church entire that is the Anglican Communion newly covenanted from a fellowship of churches to a global church, or whether it likes, say, all of the above.

So long as ACI continues to stake its believerhood on trash talking queer folks and urging odd (but verrrry traditional?) theological reasons for mistreating queer folks - all as major points, it must be talking mainly to itself as a point of closed-minded and conformed believerhood inside the otherwise differing TEC spectrums. Another oddity marker is how it might presuppose that the negatives and animus against queer citizens simply must without question or comment or qualification obtain, on just about the same high levels lifted up about gospel, creed, and evangelism - whew, that is a high equation indeed.

This is pat and traditional of course. God never makes any human but straight folks. Animal evidences of same sex pair bonding must ever be studiously neglected. Speak contrary to this customary but odd error, and you will be called out for endangering the eternal salvation of all the faithful, globally.

Medieval sodomites were supposed to be tortured, then burned or beheaded or whatever - to refresh the endangered health of the body church that was the body politic. It is all Pat Robertson stuff, preaching that Disneyland will be hurricaned for allowing a Gay Day on its grounds. And dinosaurs were ridden by the earlier generations of the three kings, long before Zoroastrian astrologers arrived to bring gifts to the Christ Child.

Connoting flat earth beliefs about queer folks and ethically committed adult pairbonding (which in itself these days connotes the ten million kids in USA, raised by queer folks?) without spelling the natty nasty details completely out may be a strategy to avoid outright embarrassment in our public or church life conversations; but otherwise may, may, may fall short of real ethical bullseyes, aside from the flat earth belief systems about queer folks being raised to equality with gospel, creed, and evangelism.

Why posit essential conservative believerhood, then, on having nothing positive or good to say to queer folks? These preachments are not only flat earth, but also tend now to collapse under their own vastly superior and self-proclaimed ethical or theological weights. Radner and Company would know this, of course, if they had been involved in the queer communities over the past thirty to fifty years of shared ethical and public policy pilgrimage.

Now to hang the whole new covenant and communion on the antigay pegs? Who are these ACI believers, and what in the end can they possibly hope to gain, inside or outside Anglican strategies being pursued?

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

It comes down to putting the apparent needs of the Church bureaucracy above the place of gay people. The argument shifts to 'Unitarian drift' but the practicality is the exclusion of gay people in order to keep other, prejudiced Churches, happy about TEC and the AC Canada. The Unitarian drift argument does not hold, and so there is only the gay argument left. Blinkers on.