Texanglican

"The Preachers chiefly shall take heed that they teach nothing in their preaching, which they would have the people religiously to observe and believe, but that which is agreeable to the Doctrine of the Old Testament and the New, and that which the Catholick Fathers and Ancient Bishops have gathered out of that Doctrine." A proposed canon of Elizabeth I, 1571

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Location: Bedford, Texas, United States

I am a presbyter in the diocese of Fort Worth, Texas (Anglican Church in North America). I serve as Chaplain at St. Vincent's School and as a canon of St. Vincent's Cathedral Church in Bedford, Texas. In addition to my parish duties and teaching Religion classes in the school I am also the Middle School Social Studies teacher.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

My Response to the HOB Statement

The primates of the Anglican Communion, meeting in Dar es Salaam last Spring, asked the bishops of TEC for clarity about the errant US province's teaching and practice on certain matters relating to human sexuality. This weekend's meeting of the House of Bishops in New Orleans was suposed to give the world just that clarity. Instead, the meeting proved to be more of the same--mendacity and ambiguity that undermine the classic teachings and practices of Christianity masquerading as "social justice" and "inclusion." Essentially, the HOB's final statement yesterday defended the status quo in TEC.

The one thing that was clear from the final statement of the HOBs is that nothing is going to change. Every concern of the primates was brushed aside as having already been dealt with sufficiently in accordance with TEC's polity. For example, the Pastoral Council/Primatial Vicar scheme outlined in the Dar es Salaam Communique was tossed aside without discussion, and a hopelessly inadequate DEPO scheme under PB Schori's direction (announced late last week without details) was endorsed in its place, even though the dioceses that had appealed for APO were never consulted and rejected the new plan as insufficient the moment it was announced.

Of course, two things were included in the HOB statement that might on their face seem to address the primates' concerns. First, the House again pledged to exercise "restraint" in approving future bishop-elects whose "manner of life" posed a "challenge" to the world-wide Communion. But a pledge of "restraint" is not a prohibition, and "restraint" is purely voluntary and subject to termination any time at the whim of the party "restraining " himself or herself. Secondly, the House collectively pledged not to endorse any official, public rites for same-sex blessings, while clearly leaving a vast amount of room for the continued practice of "private, unofficial" SSBs as a form of "pastoral care" (which "private" same-sex blessings may, of course, be performed in a church in front of 500 people by a priest or bishop in full vestments using language that may sound uncannily like a formal liturgy, just so long as no official text of a rite has been approved in advance by the bishop!). There will clearly be no turning back by TEC.

My response to all of this is deep sadness. New Orleans was undoubtedly the last chance for TEC to reverse course. I didn't expect the HOB truly to repent and turn away from their path of the last several years, but frankly I had thought they would produce something that went a bit further toward meeting the actual requirements of the primates. Instead they spent their time finding loopholes that allowed them to slip through the wording of the Communique of DES. This was "Anglican fudge" of the finest quality, which was apparently endorsed at the highest levels by officials of the world-wide Communion. No doubt, many leaders of Anglicanism in the industrialized world (especially ABC Williams) will seize on this statement as just enough to hold the Communion together and ensure TEC's place at Lambeth. But I am sure that the Global South primates will not view this response as adequate. Only time will tell if the Communion itself survives.

Even though ABC Williams astonished us all last weekend by insisting that the DES Communique was not an "ultimatum" but rather a starting point for "conversation", and that Sept. 30th was not a "deadline," pretty much everyone I know--reasserter and revisionist--has understood this meeting as "the end of the line" as far as the "Global South" primates go. And many faithful Anglicans still within TEC have also seen this week's meeting as the "make or break" event for their staying within or leaving TEC. If traditionalist leaders do not treat this HOB statement as TEC's last word on the subject I fear the faithful will begin to desert us in droves. After GenCon03 we told them "wait until London," then "wait until Plano," then "wait until Dromantine," then "wait until GenCon06," then Dar es Salaam, and finally--with an actual deadline apparently in hand--"wait until New Orleans." We have all waited far too long for something to be done. Real, robust action to preserve orthodox Anglicanism must be taken now. I am heartened by the meeting of the Common Cause bishops in Pittsburgh going on at present. There may still be a future for orthodox Anglicanism in North America if these godly men have anything to say about it. May God bless their work.

As a statement by our Standing Committee released yesterday made clear, the leadership of the diocese of Fort Worth has determined that a strong sentiment exists here to move forward with realignment now. No other path now seems viable to me either. I believe it will simply be too difficult for our diocese to remain a faithful witness to Jesus Christ within our heritage as Anglican Catholic Christians if we continue to be a constituent unit of "the General Convention church" following the Great Fudge of New Orleans. The HOB meeting has made it clear that nothing will change for the better. They have set their faces like flint in the direction of radical inclusion and will not be turned aside. That means the dire situation for the orthodox still within TEC will only get worse. As uncertain as our diocesan future may be, I do not see a faithful way forward for Fort Worth that keeps us within 815's fold in light of this week's failure in New Orleans. Our future must clearly be charted by our November diocesan convention. Let us pray hard for wisdom and discernment.

May God bless the leadership of my diocese and the faithful leaders of the Common Cause Partnership, and all the faithful people and clergy of the world-wide Anglican Communion, as difficult decisions are made in the months ahead.

10 Comments:

Anonymous Dean Reed said...

Well said Randall. I think that is a very helpful response to the HOB statement. I'm still trying to get my mind around what it meant. They essentially said nothing new. Those like Susan Russell were praising their work and looking forward to GC 09 when SSB's and ordination for all regardless of behavior will be affirmed. R+

11:22 AM  
Blogger sam said...

I appreciate your description of the "official, public rite" part. It's an odd language game, really. Isn't any liturgical act by a bishop automatically both official and public? Otherwise implies that bishops only have authority when they print things in books...

(But of course this is consistent with TEC's lack of intelligible authority in the episcopate and the constant need to make everything "democratic.")

I cannot say that I share your optimism about the Common Cause group, but I do hope and pray that Fort Worth will find a way forward.

(A late congratulations on your ordination by the way...if "congratulations" is really the what one should say.... Having read your blog for a little while, and having heard good things about you from a priest friend down there, I am sure that you will be a wonderful gift to the Church.)

2:41 PM  
Blogger Julian said...

Texanglican, don't you think it was unlikely to expect anything else? And while we'd rather the ECUSA leaders come to see the error of their ways, given that so many of them passionately believe that it's an issue of Christian justice to assert the legitimacy of monogamous sexual relationships among people of the same gender, I would almost be oddly disappointed if they backed down in opposition to their consciences. I think both sides simply disagree too sincerely about it to come to any agreement without making morally disturbing compromises, and so it's healthier to split and let God judge who's right. It would be better for us all if we didn't feel compelled to keep painting leaving or staying in terms of apostasy and faithfulness as some seem inclined to do.

4:35 PM  
Blogger texanglican said...

Actually, Julian, I think I can agree with that. That is why I couched my penultimate paragraph the way I did. In the diocese of Ft. Worth, for us to remain faithful witnesses to Christ within the Anglican Catholic tradition as we have received it and understand it here, it is necessary for us to go our separate ways from 815 and those who support the actions of GenCon over the last several years. Those who have sincerely-held convictions of a different sort would clearly have to make different choices than Ft. Worth will make in order to remain faithful to what they believe. Thanks for the opportunity to clarify. And thanks for stopping by.

4:54 PM  
Blogger Douglas said...

Please, I need to understand. How is it that there have been "orthodox" PECUSA faithful subsisting within the episcopal church for the last thirty years? I am VASTLY confused. How have you been "orthodox" while worshiping from the doctrinally deficient 1979 "prayer book"? How have you been "orthodox" while women have been "ordained"?

How do you square yourselves with scripture? How do you square yourselves with the saints?

Can anyone truly answer me these most simple of queries?

8:11 PM  
Blogger Douglas said...

I realize that my viewpoint may be somewhat odd to the current PECUSA mind...even those of an "orthodox" bent. I am one of those heretics who left the church years ago. I left during the first great heresy of the ordination of women and the rape of the Prayer Book and (the often overlooked) hymnal.

Trust me, the decline of PECUSA began in the lead-up to those days.....not now. To trust in a potential "good" outcome of a meeting of the house of "bishops" in NO is folly. The Anglican Communion is dead, It has been for many years.

8:26 PM  
Blogger Julian said...

Douglas:

1. It is the ECUSA, not the PECUSA.
2. It is perfectly possible to orthodox within ECUSA, just as it is possible to be heterodox. Visible membership in an ecclesiastical organization says very little, if anything, about the state of a person's belief. Of course, an orthodox Christian in ECUSA can expect to have to reject some things he/she hears or stand up for a minority opinion from time to time. It all depends, naturally, on how you define orthodoxy. "Orthodoxy" means holding the "right opinion." As Anglicans, the opinions one needs to be right about are centered in the Nicene Creed. The teaching of the tradition of the Church regarding these non-negotiables, especially in the first 5 centuries, defines how we understand these articles of faith. The tradition regarding matters that are not essential to salvation is likewise to be taken very seriously especially if it is clear in Scripture e.g. apostolic succession, the sacraments. But beyond these there are "adiaphora" issues about which the Scriptures may not be clear, or where Tradition offers various possiblities. In such matters, one does not need to necessarily conform to one opinion or another to be "orthodox." The farther away we are from matters essential to salvation, the less meaningful the word "orthodoxy" becomes, and the less unequivocal the traditional Orthodoxy. Before you decide that it is impossible to be orthodox in ECUSA, you might want to define what your standards of orthodoxy are.

2. The prayer book. The Prayer Book is a collection of liturgical forms. There is nothing within these forms that contradicts catholic (universal) Christian doctrine or the creeds. Nor is there a glaring omission of a central doctrine such as the Incarnation by which unorthodoxy would be implied. Thus, praying or worshiping according to its forms does not make a person unorthodox. The 79 prayer books is more catholic than any that have come before, especially the rite II Eucharist, as it conforms more closely to the ancient liturgical traditions of both Eastern and Western Christianity. One may argue that it is "deficient" in that one would prefer greater emphasis on one doctrine or another, but again, I see no actual heterodoxy, nor any glaring omissions by which heterodoxy is implied. Furthermore, the Prayer Book does not define Christian doctrine, but propagates it. Praying out of it does not make a person unorthodox any more than it would be unorthodox for a Roman Catholic to say a spontaneous prayer - even if that person could benefit from more expressions of repentance. And as much as you might dislike the hymnal, which is IMHO the best among comparable hymnals in existence, I simply cannot imagine whatever crimes might have been committed upon it as even beginning to approach the disgusting and perverted horror that is rape.

3. The ordination of women is not likely to be a question of orthodoxy in the sense of what is essential to Christianity unless, possibly, one believes that it is ontologically impossible. My personal opinion is that if it were so very impossible and so very pivotal, God in His providence would have made it clearer in Scripture. Nor has Tradition defined priesthood in terms of physical masculinity. The clearest teachings about priesthood in Scripture concern the priesthood of all believers, a fundamental part of universal Christian identity. The ordained priesthood, then, must fundamentally be built on this universal Christian identity. Men and women alike are equally able to take on the identity of Christ because that is the fundamental Christian vocation. Arguing against the ontological possibility of ordaining women thus endangers our conception of the Christian vocation itself. Similarly, many will argue from the sign of Christ and the Church as Bride of Christ to make a point about gender. But I argue that this Pauline illustration points inevitably towards the union of Christ and Church, so that the Church becomes, as we know, the very Body of Christ. So what, now, is the gender of this Body, if any? Does Christ have a male body, or a female body? The seeming absurdities here reflect much more theological mystery than if we were to insist upon a male priest because the historical Jesus was a male, an argument which IMHO pales in comparison to the sex-defying mystical reality of Christ and the Church. The strongest argument against ordaining women is not ontological, but practical - it is difficult to argue definitively against the ontological possibility, but it is even more difficult to deny that the priesthood has historically been overwhelmingly male. To argue that *something* important is being preserved in continuing this practice or that sudden change would scandalize the community is valid, but it is extremely difficult to identify that *something* which the ancients left undefined without overstepping our bounds of certitude. So the ordination of women is utterly too vague to be considered a central point of orthodoxy.

4. Squaring ourselves with Scripture and the Saints: First of all, one needs to define the standard by which one is said to be in conformity with Scripture, as opposed to a certain interpretation of Scripture. Second, assuming you are alluding to the spread of interpretations which are contrary to Tradition, you need to remember that not everyone agrees with it. You cannot judge a person's orthodoxy by their nominal church membership. What if God has called a person to witness to what is right among the people of ECUSA? What if a person is in an orthodox diocese or community within ECUSA whose ministries would be hurt by a sudden withdrawal? What if a person has ECUSA membership but refuses to join in communion with a scandalous promoter of heretical doctrine? etc. And who's to dictate at what point a person ought to leave? If Christians left their visible churches whenever someone failed to discipline a sinner or heretic, we would have all gone into hiding long ago. Besides, what is "leaving"? By definition it is always the unorthodox who separate themselves from the community by choosing heresy. A person should leave ECUSA when God calls him or her to - probably when it becomes impossible to live a faithful Christian witness. That point comes sooner for those in prominent leadership positions than for many lay people.

5. How is the Anglican Communion dead? Perhaps the ECUSA is "dead." Perhaps the usefulness of Canterbury as an institution is dead. But the communion of worldwide orthodox Anglicans is far from dead. Probably at least as alive as, say Catholicism in Europe.

In short, the fundamental issue seems to be: is it authentically holy, catholic, and apostolic to define "orthodoxy" as narrowly as you do?

10:31 PM  
Anonymous Jill C. said...

I read your response, included with Bishop Iker's letter, on Stand Firm. Congratulations on having been recently ordained to the priesthood, and on having your statement highlighted in such a way. (You're no longer under the radar, if you ever were, so make sure you have your armour on!) Blessings and prayers from a member of the diocese next door. :)

11:08 PM  
Blogger texanglican said...

Douglas,

I cannot endorse the tone of your comments, which I gather must stem from some sort of extreme "taint" theory (i.e., if I have any sort of relationship with a group that holds opinions you deem erroneous--even if I don't share those opinions and even protest against them--then I am a heretic in your eyes just as much as they are). My own diocese has been in a state of impaired communion with the majority of TEC for thirty years now, and the faith and order of the apostolic church is still maintained here regardless of that fact. In short, I see no evidence that such a "taint theory" accurately reflects reality on the ground. The Gospel is still proclaimed here. The sacraments are still faithfully administered and Christ's people are still cared for in this diocese, despite the folly that has gone on in much of TEC in recent decades.

The WO question is clearly a divisive one within North American Anglicanism. But all the parties in the Common Cause Partnership are agreed on the content of the Gospel, the understanding of the Creeds, and the moral precepts of the Church. What purpose would be served--how would the Gospel be better spread--by cutting ourselves loose completely from other faithful Anglicans who agree with us on so much that matters to building up the Kingdom simply because we are not fully agreed on every single issue we face?

If you feel the Anglican Communion is "dead," that is your right.But please don't come here casting stones at faithful Anglicans who are trying to forge a viable future for our tradition in North America.

7:59 PM  
Blogger Charlie J. Ray said...

While the tone of Douglas' comments is lamentable, I happen to agree with him that the common cause groups are no better than ECUSA itself. Why? Because sexual morality is not the Gospel. The doctrine of Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Anglo-Catholicism is thoroughly condemned in the confessional statement of the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion. I might also mention that the 1979 prayer book is virtually pelagian in the catechism section at the back.

The short of it is that to deny the Protestant doctrines from the Reformation like sola scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, etc., is to deny the Scriptures from which these doctrines are drawn. The ordination of women is also divisive, though it does not rise to the level of denying the very Gospel itself. Anglo-Catholicism is indeed a heresy of the worst sort because it openly and vehemently attacks the Evangelical doctrines of the Bible.

I'm sorry if that assessment bothers you. However, the truth hurts. It always puzzles me when Anglo-Catholic conservatives criticize liberals for equivocation and twisting words out of context when it's obvious that the Tractarian Movement has done exactly the same thing with the Articles of Religion, the Prayer Book, and the Scriptures.

May God have mercy!

11:59 AM  

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