Thursday, January 21, 2016

Mere Anglicanism Conference Next Week

Your Curmudgeon looks forward to attending his third annual Mere Anglicanism Conference in Charleston, South Carolina, starting Thursday of next week (January 28, 2016). The topic is timely: "The Cross and the Crescent -- the Gospel and the Challenge of Islam", and the roster of speakers is very distinguished. Adding to the value of the gathering are the wonderful choral evensong, morning prayer and concluding final mass services at Charleston's Cathedral Church of St. Luke and St. Paul.

It looks as though Charleston and its environs will escape the worst of the eastern winter weather, and my wife and I will be grateful for the chance to spend quality time with so many of our fellow Anglicans hailing from South Carolina and beyond. There still are places available for those who have not yet decided -- if you have any difficulties signing up, just tell them the Curmudgeon sent you.

Blogging will take a back seat to the Conference for its duration -- unless perchance the South Carolina Supreme Court issues a decision this next Wednesday, January 27. (The Court releases new decisions every Wednesday, and my experience has normally been that important decisions tend to come out when the Curmudgeon is on vacation.)

[UPDATE 01/27/2016: The Court released two opinions this morning, but neither one was the case involving Bishop Lawrence and his Diocese.]

We greatly value the friends we have made at this Conference over the years. We will, as usual, file a full report of the stimulating talks after it is over. If you are going to be in Charleston for this marvelous gathering, please do not be shy -- come forward and introduce yourself.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Who Dares Call It by Name?

There appears to be some reluctance on both sides of the aisle to express the full rationale behind the Primates' vote to impose consequences upon ECUSA for its adoption at GC2015 of canons allowing the performance of same-sex marriage ceremonies in the church, in parallel with the traditional ceremonies between a man and a woman.

The activists within ECUSA see the consequences as unjust "punishment" for their having taken a visionary stance -- out in front of the entire Communion -- to support full sacramental equality in the Church for LGBT Episcopalians. They express hurt for what they call "sanctions", but at the same time express their determination to wait out the three-year period without changing a thing, and certainly without trying to undo the marital canonical changes at GC 2018.

The orthodox and traditionalists who support the vote of suspension, on the other hand, do so on the ground that "changing the Anglican doctrine of marriage as between a man and a woman" was the straw that broke the camel's back, and say that the move simply could not be ignored. Unfortunately, this rationale appears to give a wink and a nod to provinces that adopt merely rituals of blessing for SSUs (like Canada), and (thus far, at any rate) stop short of celebrating same-sex marriages within their churches.

This debate engages nothing, and can go nowhere. It is like two ships passing in the night. There will be full engagement within the Communion only when the whole ground underlying the vote has been articulated plainly for all to see and discuss.

At the root of what ECUSA has seen fit to do with its marriage liturgies is, to speak simply and directly, the sin of blasphemy -- against both Jesus Christ our Savior, and against the Holy Trinity. Nothing has changed since I laid it out in this earlier post:
The blasphemy begins in the rite at the point where the celebrant says to the congregation (see p. 98 of these materials; my bold emphasis added):
Dearly beloved: We have come together in the presence of God to witness and bless the joining together of N. and N. in Holy Matrimony. The joining of two people in a life of mutual fidelity signifies to us the mystery of the union between Christ and his Church, and so it is worthy of being honored among all people.
As I wrote in an earlier post, critiquing the rite when it was first proposed, the bold language evinces a category mistake of the worst sort, by equating the union of two people of the same gender to the holy union between Christ and His Church. (How can they be so equated? In the former, which of the two men -- or two women -- signifies Christ, and which the Church?)
The earlier posts also explain how the trial rites for same-sex marriages go on to blaspheme the Holy Trinity, as well as each of the three Persons separately, so that the sin is comprehensive and complete. (Was no one on the drafting committee, or among the bishops, clergy and laity who voted for the rituals, mindful of Jesus's warning in the twelfth chapter of Matthew?
[31] Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. [32] And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. (Matthew 12:31-32 ESV))
Regardless of what may be the spiritual consequences of such blasphemy, it simply cannot be that a Communion of Christian churches will ignore, let alone accommodate, one of their member provinces as it systematically goes about promoting and uttering blasphemy in its rites and liturgies.

To be sure, churches bless animals, flags, tartans, and all manner of objects -- but those rites do not invoke any of the theology of matrimony. Nor do they try to alter an institution which God established and defined. So they do not risk blaspheming the Trinity.

If I am simply wrong in my claim, then let those who are theologically more knowledgeable tell me where I err. For the present, the silence of the orthodox remaining in the Episcopal Church (USA) in response to such blasphemy simply baffles me. If Episcopalians really believe that by just lying low for three years, the problem with their actions will go away, then I fear they truly are blind to how deep a wound they have cut, with these rites, into the Body of Christ.

Even if the offending language were excised from the liturgies, I do not see theologically how the fundamental fallacy that underlies invoking the triune God's blessing on same-sex unions in the Church could be overcome. For as the BCP says, the union between a man and a woman is modeled on the mystical union between Christ and His Church -- but unions of the same sexes cannot ever  be said to model that relationship, without veering into the sin of blasphemy. Nor can the Father, the Son nor the Holy Spirit be asked to bless that which God has declared cannot be joined together.

I am aware of a significant possibility for misunderstanding here, and I am trying my utmost to be plain and clear. Regardless of how one chooses to read Scripture's prohibitions against sexual relations outside of holy matrimony, Scripture -- as interpreted by one no less than Jesus Himself -- is unequivocal in defining matrimony as between a man and a woman. It is just as unequivocal in declaring that God joins them together, man and woman, as one flesh. This is God's prescription, not proscription, for marriage as a covenant blessed by Him through His church.

One can fail to agree with the proscription against sinning, and engage in unrepentant same-sex behavior -- that is between God and the sinner. But man cannot alter God's prescription for holy matrimony; any attempt to do so is a nullity. Moreover, as noted, the attempt inevitably leads to blasphemy. 

Therefore, if ECUSA really wants to accept the consequences of what it has done, let's have an open debate, culminating in a vote at GC 2018 either in favor of or against blaspheming the Holy Trinity. That way the whole world will know what that denomination is doing, and what it chooses knowingly to bless. And the Communion in good conscience can then make its separation from ECUSA -- as well as from any other member province that chooses the same path -- permanent, as it will have no other choice.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

On the Death of the Anglican Communion

My prediction about the sun setting on the breakup of the Anglican Communion is coming true, even as I write before the final session of the primates gathered at Canterbury.

Enough has leaked from the gathering to be able to form a picture of what went on. The Archbishop of Canterbury and his staff had tried to direct the progress of the group's deliberations by resorting to a standby from ++Justin Welby's corporate days: the RAND-developed group facilitation mechanism known as the "Delphi Technique."

That technique tries to direct an outcome by strictly controlling dissenting voices, and channeling them into increasingly ignorable "minority views", with the object of developing a so-called "consensus" that in reality represents the carefully-preserved majority thread. The attendees are  divided into small discussion groups which do not communicate with each other until after the supposed group "consensus" is announced by the facilitators, based solely on the carefully selected "majority" views in each mini-group.

This manipulation was too much for one Primate, Archbishop Stanley Ntgali of Uganda. He decided to leave the gathering on its second day, and explained his reasons in an announcement that castigated Canterbury's manipulation of the discussion process.

It turns out that many of the other Primates attending were new to the game, and had little understanding of the divisive steps taken by ECUSA in 2003 with the consecration of Bishop V. Gene Robinson, contrary to the expressed wishes of the Primates then in office. These newer Primates were also put off by the manipulative Delphi process directed by the Archbishop of Canterbury's staff.

The departure of Archbishop Ntgali served to galvanize their awareness of what was at stake, and they began to listen to their GAFCON colleagues more closely. In the course of events that followed, the Delphi process appears to have been scrapped, or else completely bypassed, and the GAFCON Primates and a clear majority of their colleagues reached a consensus that the Episcopal Church (USA), with its adoption of same-sex marriage rites at General Convention 2015, had gone too far.

An agreement evolved that would require ECUSA's suspension from Communion-related activities for three years. This would give ECUSA a sporting chance to decide in its General Convention (to be held in 2018) that it really did not mean to go against the majority of the Anglican provinces in approving same-sex church weddings that blasphemed the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and substituted same-sex love as a model for the relation between Christ and His Church.

With the primate of Canada (Archbishop Fred Hiltz) remonstrating that his church had not gone so far (at least, not until its next General Synod later this year), the primates decided to extend their sanction at this point only to ECUSA, and to leave the Anglican Church of Canada to its future deliberations.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry protested that his church was trying only to be faithful to the Holy Scriptures as its leaders perceived them, but the clear voice of the Bible in opposition to same-sex concourse (whether in or out of so-called "marriage") spoke louder than his protests. As a result, Presiding Bishop Curry will have to explain to his House of Bishops (and to General Convention in 2018) that they could face further sanctions -- even permanent expulsion -- from the Anglican Communion if ECUSA continues openly to contravene the sense of the Anglican Communion embodied in Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference.

The reaction to the Primates' sanctions among Episcopalians committed to that church's revisionist agenda was overwhelmingly negative, as might be expected. An announcement of the Primates' Statement posted at Episcopal Café garnered more than 100 comments as of this writing -- most of them derisive and derogatory. There were many calls to cut off the Episcopal Church (USA)'s subsidy to the Anglican Communion Office -- as though ECUSA should withhold its money from those who dissent from it, while expecting its own dissenting members to voluntarily surrender their churches and bank accounts in lieu of being sued for them. (The double standard of liberals -- "one rule for me, another for thee" -- marks them every time.)

So what will come of the Primates Meeting 2016, and of the Anglican Communion as a whole?

First of all, note that Archbishop Foley Beach of ACNA remained a participant almost to the end. This fact alone serves as a marker that the new Anglican Communion -- however it evolves in the years to come -- will no longer be limited as the old one was, particularly if ECUSA ceases to play a significant role. (The full statement issued by the Primates at the end of the meeting notes: "The consideration of the required application for admission to membership of the Communion of the Anglican Church of North America was recognized as properly belonging to the Anglican Consultative Council. The Primates recognize that such an application, were it to come forward, would raise significant questions of polity and jurisdiction.")

Second, note that the Primates, in and of themselves, were not gathered as one of the Communion's Instruments of Communion; nor does the Primates Meeting alone control the membership list of provinces in the Anglican Communion. ECUSA accordingly could, if it dared, simply ignore their "sanctions", and show up as usual at Communion gatherings, and insist on its right to participation and to vote. But that would be a highly provocative stance to take, and might result only in more formal sanctions applied properly and unanimously.

That said, if we assume that ECUSA will voluntarily withdraw from participating in votes on the Communion's "doctrine or polity" for a period at least three years, the principal consequence will be that ECUSA cannot vote on whether its suspension will be continued before that three-year period is up. Its General Convention will meet July 2018 in Austin, Texas -- and it is completely predictable that the legislation passed by that body will not backtrack from anything that has gone before, but will probably exacerbate the differences between it and the majority of the Communion. The Primates who voted for a three-year sanction will be presented with a fait accompli, and they could well vote to make ECUSA's suspension from the Communion permanent as a result.

This development will strongly depend on whether the GAFCON and Global South Primates build and maintain their connection with the Primates from the rest of the Communion over the succeeding three years. But there will be another factor at play, namely, the amount of money which ECUSA and its wealthier dioceses and parishes spread around in the Communion during that same period.

The old saw about the Communion used to go something like this: "The Africans pray, the Americans pay, and the British make the rules." It now appears that the British alone no longer make the rules, and that the Americans are already not paying as much as they did before. (The Africans, it may safely be said, have never stopped praying.) The latest statement from the Anglican Communion Office shows (see the last page of the link) that ECUSA has paid through 2014 less than half of what was requested (£204,772 of £538,280). Thus the withdrawal of all funds by ECUSA may turn out not to be the decisive step that many Episcopalians conceive it to be.

What is certain is that in three years, the Anglican Communion will not be what it is now, nor anything like what it was in 2003: the Episcopal Church (USA) has already seen to that. If the recent sanctions provoke ECUSA to amend the Preamble to its Constitution, and to cease proclaiming itself as "a constituent member of the Anglican Communion", both the Communion and ECUSA would be the better for it.

ECUSA as a former Anglican province has long since decided to walk apart from its fellow Anglican provinces, in its single-minded elevation of human justice over God's justice as expressed in unequivocal Holy Scriptures. It is time to stop the pretense that it remains willing to be "in communion" with the See of Canterbury -- at least, so long as Canterbury remains faithful to Lambeth 1.10, and especially if ECUSA withdraws its financial support (as, in all honesty, it should once it withdraws its membership). Let it find its new communion partners among those who likewise think the Holy Spirit is doing a "new thing" among them, and let the test of Gamaliel (Acts 5:34-39) decide who, ultimately, is in the right.

The Anglican Communion is dead. Long live the Anglican Communion!

And thanks be to God.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Consolation on the Loss of Communion

Contrary to what you may have read elsewhere, the meeting starting in Canterbury tomorrow is not a meeting of the Anglican Communion. It is not even a meeting of the Primates of the Anglican Communion, because it includes the Most Rev. Foley Beach, primate of the Anglican Church in North America -- and ACNA is not a constituent member of the Anglican Communion.

But it will be a milestone in the demise of that Communion.

In a sense, the times have passed the Anglican Communion by. It is no longer equipped with structures that are able to deal with the circumstances facing Protestant churches in the twenty-first century. The Primates' Meeting, as we see, is being bypassed in favor of a gathering of primates; whether another Lambeth Conference will be called is doubtful; and no one particularly cares whether or not the Anglican Consultative Council continues to meet, because it has lost its constituencies in the debacle over the Anglican Covenant.

In short, the fabric of the Anglican Communion is torn, exactly as predicted by the primates in 2003 before ECUSA took the step which the Communion asked it not to take, and consecrated V. Gene Robinson to the episcopacy. It is useless dreaming to hope that the fabric will ever be mended. The real question is: what, if anything, will succeed the Anglican Communion?

To begin with, it is entirely safe to say that birds of a feather will flock together. ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada are joined by apostasy, and will never repent or confess error. Even while being instrumental in its death, they will continue to trumpet their membership in "the Anglican Communion."

Likewise, the GAFCON primates are united by their traditional orthodoxy. ACNA is part of GAFCON, and will continue to be. They, along with a majority of the 38 provinces of the former Anglican Communion, may organize under a different name, but one which still has the descriptor "Anglican" in it. Or they may continue to meet, without either the apostate provinces or the Archbishop of Canterbury, and still consider themselves the true "Anglican Communion." Only time will tell.

The remaining provinces will stay with ECUSA and ACoC, but some only for as long as financial support continues to flow in their direction from those churches. If their overhead and trips to group meetings cannot be subsidized, they will cease to attend.

The big question is: what will the Church of England do? For as long as the Queen of England governs the Church, it will follow the Queen -- but she may not continue to govern it for long. And if Parliament forces the Church to offer same-sex marriages, then the Church will splinter, and parts of it will become disestablished. The Church of England as we know it will (especially under King Charles III) cease to be.

And without a Church of England, how will it be meaningful to speak of an "Anglican" Communion? Churches using derivatives of the Book of Common Prayer may continue to call themselves "Anglican", but as each proceeds to revise its BCP to remove the last vestiges of commonality, the term will lose meaning as a descriptor, and will remain only as a marker of history and origin. Over time, "Anglican" will come to mean about as much as "Accadian" does today.

This is the future the Gene Robinsons and Mary Glasspools of the church have ordained for us. For them and their identities, it is simply a matter of justice -- that is to say, full equality of treatment and opportunity.

But what does the larger picture tell us? Full equality, to be sure -- but at what cost to the Anglican Communion, if full equality entails its extinction? Does that not point to the heresy that was the Communion's undoing?

To those who would say "Better that the Communion perish, than that it perpetuate inequality and injustice", I respond: "What you call 'inequality' is a confusion of categories -- it is true that apples are not the 'equal' of oranges, and that only oranges may make orange juice. God, not man, made oranges that way. Likewise, the inability of apples to make orange juice is not a form of 'injustice.'

"Scripture makes it clear that a bishop is to be 'the husband of one wife,' and those terms do not admit of your modern redefinition of them, any more than an apple can be said to be an orange. Throw out Scripture, and you have doomed the Church to extinction. So your demand for 'full equality' is really a demand to throw out Scripture, and hence to wreck the Church. And I would say that thus far, you have been doing a pretty good job of it.

"If you had been content to be a sinner among all other Christian sinners, the Church could have continued to do what it was meant to do: to show God's love and forgiveness for all sinners -- so long as they repent and try to keep from further sin. But you wanted more. You demanded that, in the name of equality, the Church bless your sin and perpetuate it -- and in the process, blaspheme our Lord. The Church that agrees to do that seals its own fate, as we are witnessing this very day."

For ECUSA and its followers, the Church's continuation has become inextricably intertwined with their identities, so the above line of argument (or anything similar said to them by the GAFCON primates) will not cause them to repent or even change course. That means that, as surely as the sun will rise tomorrow over Canterbury, so it will soon set on the breakup of the Anglican Communion.

At the risk of misplacing the object of my worship, I may still turn to Shakespeare's Sonnet LXXIII for consolation:

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou seest the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consumed with that which it was nourish'd by.
This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

On Attempts to Rewrite Holy Scripture

People who go to church expect to hear readings from Holy Scripture -- which frequently then become the basis for the sermon. Actually, all of the so-called "proper" elements of an Episcopal or Catholic mass -- the collect, the Old Testament reading, the psalm, the epistle, and the gospel passage are theoretically arranged to show forth or illustrate a unifying theme, which then grounds the homily or sermon that follows.

These selections are called the "propers" of the mass because they are chosen for just that particular day of the liturgical year. (The "ordinary" parts of the mass are those that do not change from day to day: the kyrie, the gloria, the credo, sanctus and agnus dei.) Both the Roman Catholic and the Episcopal Church follow a "lectionary" (schedule of readings) by which supposedly the entire Holy Bible is read aloud in the propers, over the course of three liturgical years.

I say "supposedly", because as the Underground Pewster regularly points out, the theologians and clergy who assembled the current lectionary routinely excised certain passages from the ones specified in the lectionary. One can only speculate as to the reasons for omission in some cases, while other cases seem clear: certainly hearing nothing but a whole series of "begats" is not very edifying.

Because the Feast of the Epiphany occurs this week, churches are free to use Matthew's story of the visit of the three wise men in their Sunday readings. We heard, for instance, the first twelve verses of Matthew's second chapter, finishing with the wise men's secret departure in order to avoid having to see King Herod again. For the three had been warned in a dream that Herod sought not to worship the new-born Jesus, but to slay him as soon as he could find him, in order to be certain that Herod and his descendants, not Jesus, would be known as "King of the Jews."

In the Pewster's church, they seem to have heard an expurgated version of the next eleven verses (Mt 2:13-23), with the account of the slaughter of Bethlehem's newborn infants left out. Although (as he says) this may have been because that passage already was used for the Feast of the Holy Innocents, it is all too often the case, as the Pewster's blog chronicles, that the expurgations have to do with leaving out the more "distasteful", or less savory, parts of the Bible.

Such manipulation of the text of Holy Scripture, even so, is small potatoes compared to the wholesale attempts, ever since Marcion, to refashion and rewrite Scripture to make it more "suited" to one's objectives. If anything, those attempts have multiplied today, along with the proliferation of "isms" that seek a Bible more in tune with their respective beliefs. "[Men] wrote the Bible," famously said now-resigned Bishop Charles Bennison, "and so we can rewrite it" (or words to that effect).

The article quoting Bishop Bennison to which I just linked makes this excellent point:
This is a rejection of the Word as a revelation. The liberals who declare their absolute dependence upon the grace of God cannot, or will not, say “Thus saith the Lord.” They can, or will, say only “Thus saith the community, most of it anyway, at this point in time, though it has said other things at other times and may change its mind shortly.” Not, really, a faith that will change lives.

More subtly, at the end of the Lambeth Conference, after seeing the world’s Anglican bishops reject his favored moral innovations by a margin of almost eight to one, Bishop Griswold told them that he “encourage[d] our brothers and sisters in different parts of the world to allow God in the full freedom of the Holy Spirit to lead us on,” because “the journey of faith is, among others, to follow along the path of dispossession.” 
It sounds good, this call: humble, patient, open, submissive. But in giving God the freedom to lead us on, he is refusing the Holy Spirit the freedom to speak clearly and finally. He is dispossessing himself, and those who follow him, of God’s Word.
Exactly right. And let's not forget the very first person who ever tried to rewrite Holy Scripture, in order literally to dispossess us of God's Word.

His name was Herod the Great.