Friday, December 22, 2006

Why Not Leave?

From William Witt's Blog

"If I were ever to leave Anglicanism, it could only be with a sense of loss, that a noble vision of what it meant to be Christian had been tried for a few centuries, had produced some remarkable successes, and had brought much good to the world. Sadly, it had come to an end, and its loss would be much like that of those parts of the Byzantine Empire that were obliterated by Islam, or the Celtic Christians who faded after Augustine of Canterbury. For me, this would mean that the Church of Cranmer's liturgy, and Hooker's theology, and Donne's preaching, and Herbert's poetry, and Traherne's meditations, and Shakespeare's plays, and Butler's keen intellect, and Jane Austin's novels, and Wilberforce's and Gore's social vision, and Westcott's and Hort's and Hoskyn's biblical scholarship, and Arthur Michael Ramsey . . . . and Evelyn Underhill . . . and . . .C.S. Lewis, Dorothy Sayers, Austin Farrer . . . This Church would be gone forever. But wasn't it a glorious thing while it lasted!

So why not leave? I can only give my own reasons.

So, first. Leave for what? Rome or Orthodoxy would be the obvious choices. At least they are the ones that are usually offered. When as a young man I left the Evangelical denomination in which I was raised, I became an Anglican because I believed that the Reformation was a reforming movement in the Western Catholic Church, and I was convinced that Anglicanism had come closest to getting that job done right. For the Roman Catholics, Vatican II was successful just to the extent that it incorporated many of the changes that had taken place at some time or another in Anglican history. Liturgy in the vernacular? Check. Communion in both kinds? Check. Renewed emphasis on Scripture? Check. In good critical translations? Check. Religious liberty? Check. Focus on salvation by grace alone and reconsideration of justification by faith? Check. Married clergy? Well . . . Vatican II didn't do everything.

At the same time, one thing has not changed. As I have always understood it, one only has two choices about the Roman Catholic Church. One either must become a Roman Catholic, or one can not. There is no maybe about becoming Catholic. To become a Catholic, one is required to accept all of that Church's claims, including its claims about itself. If one accepts those claims, then one has no choice but to convert. But if one does not, one also has no choice. In that case, one cannot become Roman Catholic. And the Roman Catholic Church itself says that one cannot.

I am unable to bring myself to believe Rome's claims. Without going into details for now, as someone trained in theology (at a Catholic University, no less), I am convinced that the choices here are between Newman's understanding of the development of the doctrine of the Trinity and Barth's. And I think Barth was right, and Newman wrong.

Well, then? What about Orthodoxy? I want to claim the Greek Fathers for my own, of course—Athanasius, Cyril, the Cappadocians. I am even excited about learning from such lesser known lights as Leontius of Byzantium and Maximus the Confessor. And I recognize that the Eastern Church never accepted the authority of the bishop of Rome in the way in which Rome came to understand it. And I think they were right in that.

However, as with Rome, there are a number of things that Orthodoxy demands that I cannot quite bring myself to accept. Some are doctrinal niceties, for example, the somewhat abstruse distinction between the divine essence and energies. Or the doctrine of the filioque. I think the Western view is correct on both points. But at bottom, as I said above, I became Anglican because I believed Anglicanism was a reforming movement in the Western Church, and I
am a Western Christian.

Mine is the tradition of Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, but also of Hooker, and Luther, and Barth. A Western Orthodoxy that was able to embrace and incorporate this Western tradition (including the Reformers) as well as its own would be an Orthodoxy that I would find attractive, perhaps irresistible. But, to the contrary, Orthodoxy often seems rather to be suspicious of this entire Western tradition, including Augustine, and all who followed him. And, of course, such a Western Orthodoxy would look a lot like . . . historical Anglicanism.

As for leaving Anglicanism for another Reformation Church . . . what would be the point? All of the mainline Protestant churches are struggling with the same issue as is Anglicanism. The Episcopal Church is just ahead of the parade. The non-sacramental free church Evangelicals alone have stood their ground, and I admire them tremendously. But I left that tradition for a reason."

Extract from

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Challenge of the Moment

Over at Titus One Nine, I've noticed a number of comments (on various posts) drawing parallels between the apocalyptic banquet scene in C. S. Lewis's That Hideous Strength and the present unravelling of the Episcopal Church. In a book so rich with eschatological imagery, are there not other moments in the story that could be drawn upon for solace in the present crisis?

What of Cecil Dimble's final appeal to Mark Studdock: "I can offer you no security. Don't you understand? There is no security for anyone now. The battle has started. I'm offering you a place on the right side. I don't know which will win." (223)

Or that powerful scene when Mark, the sociologist who has been steadily seduced by the dark forces inhabiting Belbury, is called upon to complete his 'education' by desecrating a crucifix. Interestingly, the salvific effect is not, at least at the time, couched in terms of a conversion experience:

"He was himself, he felt, as helpless as the wooden Christ. As he thought this, he found himself looking at the crucifix in a new way - neither as a piece of wood nor a monument of superstition but as a bit of history. Christianity was nonsense, but one did not doubt that the man had lived and had been executed thus by the Belbury of those days. And that, as he suddenly saw, explained why this image, though not itself an image of the Straight or Normal, was yet in opposition to crooked Belbury. It was a picture of what happened when the Straight met the Crooked, a picture of what the Crooked did to the Straight - what it would do to him if he remained straight. It was, in a more emphatic sense than he had yet understood, a cross." (336)

Most of those in the majority in the Episcopal Church with whom we fundamentally disagree seem much closer in character to Mark Studdock than to those corrupted by Belbury and ultimately condemned because of it. In the early pages of That Hideous Strength the reader is not encouraged to feel much sympathy for Mark and yet he is ultimately spared when the heavenly powers finally descend. This seems a much healthier perspective from which to view those with whom we disagree.

And then there is one of my favorite passages, where the small company of the faithful wait for the powers to descend - so much human emotion, but it is surely that of Mother Dimble with which we are to concern ourselves.

Down in the kitchen MacPhee sharply drew back his chair so that it grated on the tiled floor like a pencil squeaking on a slate. "Man!" he exclaimed, "it's a shame for us to be sitting here looking at the fire. If the Director hadn't got a game leg himself, I'll bet you he'd have found some other way for us to go to work." Camilla's eyes flashed towards him. "Go on!" she said, "go on!" "What do you mean MacPhee?" said Dimble. "He means fighting," said Camilla. "They'd be too many for us, I'm afraid," said Arthur Denniston. "Maybe that!" said MacPhee. "But maybe they'll be too many for us this way too. But it would be grand to have one go at them before the end. To tell you the truth I sometimes feel I don't greatly care what happens. But I wouldn't be easy in my grave if I knew they'd won and I'd never had my hands on them. I'd like to be able say as an old sergeant said to me in the first war, about a bit of a raid we did near Monchy. Our fellows did it all with the butt end, you know. "Sir," says he, "did ever you hear anything like the way their heads cracked?" "I think that's disgusting," said Mother Dimble. "That part is, I suppose," said Camilla. "But . . . oh if one could have a charge in the old style. I don't mind anything once I'm on a horse." "I don't understand it," said Dimble, "I'm not like you MacPhee. I'm not brave. But I was just thinking as you spoke that I don't feel afraid of being killed and hurt as I used to do. Not tonight." "We may be, I suppose," said Jane. "As long as we're all together," said Mother Dimble. "It might be . . . no I don't mean anything heroic . . . it might be a nice way to die.'"And suddenly all their faces and voices were changed. They were laughing again, but it was a different kind of laughter. Their love for one another became intense. Each, looking on all the rest, thought, "I'm lucky to be here. I could die with these." (323-4)

Can we say that of those with whom we share these transitory moments of uncertainty? Are our parishes, our prayer groups, our ministries so ordered? And if not, are we really so far removed from the environment of Belbury as we would like to imagine?

Extracts from C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength (New York: Macmillan, 1946).

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Commentary: Primates, Parishes and Politics

The past couple of weeks have not been a good time for The Episcopal Church (TEC) in the United States. On December 2, delegates to the Convention of the Diocese of San Joaquin in Southern California overwhelmingly endorsed a constitutional change that would, if confirmed at next year’s convention, declare their diocese to be an ecclesiastical entity in communion with the Anglican Communion but no longer Episcopal. [1] On the other side of the country, members of seven parishes in Northern Virginia voted this week on whether to withdraw from the Episcopal Church, a move to which the Bishop of Virginia, Peter Lee, responded with dire warnings as to the likely consequences of such action. [2] The marked shift in the stance of Bishop Lee – who had previously come to comparatively amicable settlements with departing parishes – was attributed by conservative commentator David Virtue to pressure from the eminence grise David Booth Beers, chancellor (legal advisor) of the national church, not to allow wealthy congregations such as Truro and the Falls Church to take their property with them. [3]

At a time when the situation changes on a daily, if not hourly, basis, it becomes hard to guess how all of this will play out. A parallel shift already seems to be under way within the Church of England, where some conservative evangelicals have proposed a covenant that includes a pledge to no longer be “constrained by an over-centralised and increasingly ineffective control that is stifling the natural development of ministry.” Respect for the authority and jurisdiction of church leaders will become contingent upon their commitment to the “clear teaching of the Scriptures either doctrinally (for example, on the supremacy and uniqueness of Christ) or morally (for example, on issues of gender, sex and marriage).” Money and ministry will be allocated where it is deemed to be most conducive to evangelism and support will be extended to those whose relationship with their appointed and elected leaders is compromised by the latter’s deviation from the Church’s teaching. [4] As Bishop Tom Wright of Durham, a staunch evangelical and an author of the Windsor Report, has already pointed out this covenant demonstrates the same hostility to the catholic nature of the Church that has become evident in the progressive camp and is potentially as destructive. [5]

As we witness the frenzied cut and thrust of the present conflict, we might draw some enlightenment from Allen Guelzo’s superlative account of the events leading to the establishment of the Reformed Episcopal Church in the 1870s. [6] I suspect that many liberal Episcopalians (and some not so liberal) see distinct parallels: a small group of perfectionist Evangelicals ranged against a broad spectrum of mainstream opinion, incorporating a wide variety of theological perspectives and willing to allow a spirit of diverse opinion to persist; a conservative leadership disdainful of the traditional catholic understanding of constituted ecclesiastical authority and so convinced of its own righteousness that it lacks the capacity for honest self-criticism; and a body of clergy and laity so wedded to notions of personal conversion that they neglect the corporate pastoral injunctions of the Sermon on the Mount and the Epistle of James.

As with all parodies, there are elements of truth to some of these characterizations. There is a tendency toward evangelical perfectionism, a distrust of authority structures (even conservative ones) and, on occasion, a reflexive objection to certain types of social action because they are understood to be icons of liberal Christianity. [7] The recent controversy over whether the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted by the Episcopal Church in 2006 represent a substitute for a commitment to mission, have become a debate about the motives of the sponsors as much as about the virtues and limitations of specific relief initiatives in the Two-Thirds World. [8]

Where the analogy with the Reformed Episcopal Church falls flat is in the altered global context. When George David Cummins launched the final attempt to rally Anglican evangelicals against the high church tide, he did so entirely within the context of an American environment. Evangelicals had already lost the grip on the denomination which they had enjoyed in the first half of the nineteenth century, due in large measure to their preference for foreign missions, while the high churchmen focused on evangelizing in the domestic field. As parishes were planted in the west and missionary dioceses received into union, the balance of power at General Convention steadily shifted in favor of the more ‘catholic’ wing. [9] Moreover, establishment evangelicals, like Bishop Charles McIlvaine of Ohio, balked at joining Cummins, whose clerical following was consequently composed largely of the young and restless. [10] The transitory success of the movement in the United States gradually petered out and found little appeal in the Church of England, where evangelicals exercised greater control over the levers of power.

Cummins was not – at least at the time - overly concerned with the principle of episcopal authority. For him, as for many low churchman, apostolic succession was less one of the essential marks of the Christian Church later defined by the Lambeth Quadrilateral (1888), [11] than a form of church governance, valued but not essential. The nature of schism within the Episcopal Church was defined by the example of the Reformed Episcopalians for over a century. For the next 120 years, departures from the denomination (except where they involved a transfer of allegiance to another Christian body) resulted in independent structures that claimed a place in the Anglican family but were not recognized as such by the Archbishop of Canterbury, until recently regarded as the acid test of Anglican authenticity (the Anglican Communion being composed of those national churches in communion with Canterbury). [12]

Since the dramatic consecration of missionary bishops for the Anglican Mission in America (AMIA) in January 2000 by two primates of the Anglican Communion, [13] the whole modus operandi of the traditionalist (or conservative) minority in the Episcopal Church has shifted. Even though the AMIA was not recognized by the then Archbishop of Canterbury and is not recognized by his successor, as a body in communion with Canterbury, it functions under the auspices of primates in Rwanda and South East Asia whose provinces are regarded as in communion. As we have struggled through the turmoil of the last three years, which began with the approval by the 2003 General Convention of the election of Vicki Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire, those who have dissented from the current course have self-consciously identified themselves not with an indigenous purified Episcopalianism (the standard course pursued in the Protestant churches for much of the nation’s history), but with the primates. Most of the recent departures and new church plants have held aloof from AMIA – with its controversial origins – and requested direct primatial oversight. In 2006, following what was generally conceded to be an inadequate response on the part of TEC to the findings of the Windsor Report, a number of conservative dioceses followed suit. [14]

More heat than light has been generated by the seemingly endless exchanges among conservatives and liberals about who is in communion with whom, who is still Anglican and who is not, and what power the Archbishop of Canterbury has to change any of this. Much of it would have little meaning absent the related issue of title to parish property (this will be addressed below) but there is also an important philosophical dimension not only for those within the Anglican family but also for those outside it. A year ago, Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, addressing the Hope and a Future conference in Pittsburgh, delivered his famous sally: “Are you Network or are you ECUSA?” While an effective rhetorical device for rallying the troops, it nevertheless posed a possible conundrum for those, including, it must be said, his local host Bishop Robert Duncan, who insisted that the conservative dioceses in the Anglican Communion Network continued to be part of the Episcopal Church. How, it might reasonably be asked, can such a circle be squared?

One answer may be found in The Fate of Communion, [15] the new work by Ephraim Radner and Philip Turner that makes the catholic argument for reform of the Church through institutional adjustment rather than impulsive separatism. Both authors make a plausible case for, as far as humanly possible, waiting upon the structures of the Anglican Communion – most notably the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates Meeting – to work through the process mandated by the Windsor Report. Until that has run its course and the status of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada relative to the rest of the Communion has been formally determined, any alternative structure is premature.

Those liberals who feel that the decision of conservatives to remain within the denomination and yet not of it is disingenuous at best need to recognize the possibility that those involved are actuated by a belief that any departure must wait upon the Church Catholic to reach an appropriate determination. Equally, those primates who have been more than usually scathing about conservative American Anglicans who want to have it both ways should bear in mind that the primates themselves have yet to express a collective opinion about what they understand as the future shape of the Communion. To ask people to come out of the Episcopal Church completely, even if “goods and kindred” must be sacrificed, is one thing;, to ask them to come out with no clear indication of what ecclesiastical entity they are entering is quite another. In “The Humiliation of Anglicanism and the Christian Life,” Radner draws on the examples of the seventeenth century English Nonjurors and the “Refractory” Church of the French Revolution to demonstrate how renewal is accomplished less by purification of church structures than by “agony”:

This is the sort of thing, in other words, that we should expect to experience if “life in communion” is to be the church’s vocation and destiny in this world: purity was no guarantee of and granted no rewards; good motives did not preserve moral outcomes; organization led to schism, while confused confession maintained the marks of humbled flesh, “useful” to resurrection; faithful and simple labor, straight ahead, done in the face of persecution and rejection, is seed; holiness and patience is a flame; teaching and catechizing is a gift; where no one triumphs, God reigns. [16]

If the necessary course for some is to remain, what of those who have reached the point at which they feel that their ability to preach the Gospel is irretrievably compromised? As noted above, most of those who wish to retain an ‘Anglican’ identity have developed ties to the bishop of another province and are now members of the (non-territorial) Seventh Convocation of the Anglican Communion Network (whose moderator, Robert Duncan, is Bishop of Pittsburgh). Thus, in the same way that the Episcopal Church currently occupies a grey area within the life of the Anglican Communion, so the Seventh Convocation churches, while still under their extra-territorial primates, occupy a similar grey area on the American scene.

If the departing congregation – or portion of a congregation – simply removes bodily from its current premises, problems do not arise; the issue is when it seeks to retain its property. At the most basic level, it is clearly absurd to look into the original intent of the founders, as it is doubtful if most of those involved would have approved of recent innovations in church practice; appeals by bishops to the idea that property was bequeathed to the Episcopal Church ignore the fact that such bequests were for the Episcopal Church, as it then was. In the situation that we face today, the only safe ground is to deal with the community of faith as it currently exists. Parishes where the majority is narrowly in favor of secession are unlikely to want to contest the issue of property. Pragmatism and Christian charity alike dictate departure and in the case of an aging structure the new congregation will be freed from the burden of expending an ever-increasing proportion of its resources on plant maintenance.

The problem arises with congregations that are products of the evangelical renewal movement that began during the 1970s. These can either be long-established traditional parishes that underwent a dramatic shift in orientation (such as Truro or St. Stephen’s, Sewickley in Pittsburgh) or plants like Christ Church, Plano, founded in 1985, which severed its ties with the Diocese of Dallas and TEC in September. All of these experienced dramatic growth in membership and material resources (which included a related benefit for the Episcopal Church until withholding in the 1990s reduced funding of the national church by evangelicals to a trickle) precisely by adopting methods of evangelization and spiritual formation in which most of TEC, whether by accident or design, expressed little interest. Part of the value of the church plants of these congregations reflects an active response to the Great Commission in which most Episcopal churches have failed to participate. At the very least, these congregations are entitled to compensation for the “value added” to their property by their labors.

The dissenting parishes do have obligations, however. First and foremost, is their obligation to the minority within their congregation, however small. If conservatives have been disappointed in expecting TEC to acknowledge its obligations to the Anglican Communion, they have no license thereby to disregard those who expected their congregation to remain within TEC. It will be essential to reach a settlement that provides for the latter’s pastoral care. Beyond this, are any financial obligations to their former diocese, all of which must assuredly be repaid. It would a gesture of good faith, finally, for congregations to make some commitment to their former bishop as to their future health as a community. Should they proceed to wither on the vine or dissolve into factionalism – the best measure of failure to keep the things of God clearly in view – then the bishop should have the right to reclaim the property.

What is evident is that most of the evangelical plants so described will go out en masse, and there is no bishop anywhere in the United States who has too many people and too few buildings. The watchword for the last thirty years from San Diego to Maine has been closing and consolidation of parishes. It seems almost certain that any bishop inheriting a property these days will, at best, keep it open for a year or two with a skeleton congregation and then will have no choice but to sell it. Unless one honestly believes that the seceders are not Christians as well as not Anglicans, the net result will be one Christian community fewer and the money raised is most unlikely to be deployed into the planting of a new parish. Perhaps those set to lose their property should try and force their bishop to commit either to keep the building open for at least ten years or to use any money raised solely for the purposes of church planting!


[1] For the text, see

[2] While many of the results will be announced tomorrow, after a week of voting, the lopsided vote from All Saints, Dale City of 402-6 (in a church of 500 members) suggests that the exodus in Virginia will be severe.
[3] See

[4] See
[5] See

[6] Allen C. Guelzo, For the Union of Evangelical Christendom: The Irony of the Reformed Episcopalians (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994).
[7] Bishop Wright’s critique cited in Note Five addresses these issues from an English perspective.
[8] On the MDGs, see Commentators on conservative blogs tend to see the MDGs as the Social Gospel minus evangelism. See Gregg Griffith’s comment on Stand Firm:

[9] George E. DeMille, The Catholic Movement in the American Episcopal Church (Philadelphia: Church Historical Society, 1950).

[10] One interesting case is that of Pittsburgh’s Calvary Church. On February 15, 1874, Joseph Wilson – its much loved rector - preached a sermon inviting his congregation to follow him into the Reformed Episcopal Church. Despite a supportive petition from many of the parishioners, the vestry immediately surrendered spiritual charge of the parish into the bishop’s hands and Wilson was forced to organize a separate congregation to which many Calvary parishioners – including almost all of the Sunday School – followed. When Wilson was called to other duties in the REC, however, the dissident congregation soon collapsed. Today, Calvary Church is amongst the most vocal opponents of Bishop Robert Duncan’s effort to uphold a conservative Anglican viewpoint, a course that could ultimately lead to the separation of the Diocese of Pittsburgh (though not Calvary Church) from TEC. How times change!
[11] See

[12] Some of these bodies are listed at
For discussion of the schisms of the 1970s, see Bryan V. Hillis, Can Two Walk Together Unless They Be Agreed? American Religious Schisms in the 1970s (Brooklyn, NY: Carlson Publishing Inc., 1991), 99-126.
[13] See

[14] On APO, see

[15] Ephraim Radner and Philip Turner, The Fate of Communion: The Agony of Anglicanism and the Future of a Global Church (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2006).

[16] Ibid., 273.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Church and the Perils of Party Strife: A Cautionary Note

"In the first place the parochial organisation should always be attacked, because, being a unity of place and not of liking, it brings people of different classes and psychology together in the kind of unity the Enemy desires. The congregational principle, on the other hand, makes each church into a kind of club, and finally, if all goes well, into a coterie or faction. In the second place, the search for a 'suitable' church makes the man a critic where the Enemy wants him to be a pupil. What He wants of the layman in church is an attitude which may, indeed, be critical in the sense of rejecting what is false and unhelpful, but which is wholly uncritical in the sense that it does not appraise - does not waste time in thinking about what it rejects, but lays itself open in uncommenting, humble receptivity to any nourishment that is going. (You see how grovelling, how unspiritual, how irredeemably vulgar He is!) This attitude, especially during sermons, creates the condition (most hostile to our whole policy) in which platitudes can become really audible to a human soul. There is hardly any sermon, or any book, which may not be dangerous to us if it is received in this temper.

I think I warned you before that if your patient can't be kept out of the Church, he ought at least to be violently attached to some party within it. I don't mean on really doctrinal issues; about those, the more lukewarm he is, the better. And it isn't the doctrines on which we chiefly depend for producing malice. The real fun is working up hatred between those who say 'mass' and those who say 'holy communion' when neither party could possibly state the difference between, say, Hooker's doctrine and Thomas Aquinas', in any form which would hold water for five minutes. And all the purely indifferent things - candles and clothes and what not - are an admirable ground for our activities. We have quite removed from men's minds what that pestilent fellow Paul used to teach about food and other unessentials - namely, that the human without scruples should always give in to the human with scruples. You would think that they could not fail to see the application. You would expect to find the 'low' churchman genuflecting and crossing himself lest the weak conscience of his 'high' brother should be moved to irreverence, and the 'high' one refraining from these exercises lest he should betray his 'low' brother into idolatry. And so it would have been but for our ceaseless labour. Without that, the variety of usage within the Church of England might have become a positive hotbed of charity and humility."

Extracts from C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters. (New York: Macmillan, rev. ed. 1982), 72-75.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Diocese of Pittsburgh Convention: November 4, 2006

Convention resumed this morning with reports on elections to diocesan bodies.

Father David Wilson (who introduced yesterday’s amended Resolution One) requested that convention approve the Bishop’s express intention, in conjunction with the diocesan council, to address the “legitimate concerns” of the dissenting minority. This was approved without opposition. Bishop Duncan thanked delegates for their “continuing charity.”

Reports were received from Episcopal Church Women – who have embarked on a new commitment to the family life movement – from Episcopal Relief and Development and from Anglican Relief and Development (ARD). The spokesman for ARD stressed his organization’s commitment to an “investing” rather than a “gifting” approach. The projects undertaken are those with clear sustainable goals, adequate staffing and proper accountability. There have been expenditures of $2.1 million over the last two years, with no more than $200,000 committed to any one country. Of particular note was ARD’s support for the work of Global Teams after the 2005 Pakistan earthquake. Not only had Global Teams taught villagers how to build in remote areas how to build new homes but they had shared the Gospel and several hundred local people had accepted Christ and been baptized.

Father Laurie Thompson of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Ambridge requested suspension of the rules of order to allow a delegation from ACN parishes in Massachusetts and Connecticut to address the convention. Permission was granted by voice vote (with some dissenting voices). The rector of St. John’s Church in Franklin, Connecticut, read aloud a letter from Bill Murdock, dean of the New England Convocation (which now boasts twenty-seven parishes and missions). He expressed gratitude for the willingness of the Diocese of Pittsburgh to sacrifice their bishop for the good of the whole “at this time of heresy in the church.” They brought a gift of $2,900 to the Diocese of Pittsburgh as a thank offering.

There followed reports on the “Moms Group” ministry, launched at Fox Chapel Church in 1991 as a place of support and love for new mothers, whose former members are now bearing that message to other parts of the diocese. Lives have been changed, the speaker attested, and husbands have become involved in the work of parish ministry. The chairwoman of the Commission on Racism spoke of one of her success stories. Recently, the director of diocesan deacons attended one of the commission’s anti-racism workshop and came away troubled by the fact that there are no minority deacons in this diocese and only one being prepared for Holy Orders. Following discussions with diocesan leaders, it has been agreed that a letter will be sent to the rector and senior warden of every parish in the diocese that has minority members, encouraging them to seek out potential minority candidates for ministry. She further urged that scholarships be established for those who might require assistance. Other representatives reported on the work of the Commission on Aging and on the spectacular growth of a Sunday School program in one of the smaller parishes of the Diocese.

A report was presented by the 250th Anniversary Celebration Committee, which is overseeing arrangements for the observance of 250 years of Prayer Book worship in southwestern Pennsylvania. The Diocese has committed 1.5% of its budget for the next two years and parishes were urged to commit 1% of their budgets for the same period.

Father Jim Simons of St. Michael’s, Ligonier, presented a resolution praising the work of George Werner for his service to the Diocese and to the national Church and his consistent fairness in attempting to reconcile greatly divided factions. This was approved unanimously and with a standing ovation.

It was perhaps appropriate that the convention Eucharist concluded with Lawrence Tuttiett’s “Go Forward, Christian Soldier,” whose first and last stanzas may dimly hint at the road ahead.

“Go forward, Christian soldier,
Beneath His banner true:
The Lord Himself, thy Leader,
Shall all thy foes subdue.
His love foretells thy trials;
He knows thine hourly need;
He can with bread of Heaven
Thy fainting spirit feed.

Go forward, Christian soldier,
Fear not the gath’ring night:
The Lord has been thy Shelter;
The Lord will be thy Light.
When morn His face revealeth,
Thy dangers are all past:
O pray that faith and virtue
May keep thee to the last!”

Diocese of Pittsburgh Convention: November 3, 2006

Pittsburgh’s diocesan convention met today in the shadow of the request for Alternative Primatial Oversight (APO) first rendered by its standing committee on June 28 and subsequently converted into a joint appeal by the Bishops and Dioceses of Central Florida, Dallas, Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, San Joaquin, South Carolina, and Springfield on July 20. Under the theme of “embracing fruitfulness,” Bishop Robert Duncan remarked that new congregations tend to be more fruitful; more aware of “abiding in [God] in the present.” He drew attention not only to the successful church plants – such as Shepherd’s Heart congregation that serves the homeless of Uptown Pittsburgh – but also to those that have been planted and failed to mature. “To succeed,” he reminded us, “you have to risk things failing that there might be some blossoming that comes to fruit.” The bishop also reminded delegates of the as yet un-met pledge several years ago to double diocesan membership from 20,000 to 40,000 members. If each of us were to bring one person to Christ over the next three years, he pointed out, that goal could still be achieved by 2010. Why could dioceses in places like Sabah and Nigeria achieve what we seemed unable to do?

The Bishop was blunt in his insistence that we could not afford to be complacent. While he cited data suggesting that national gains and losses in membership seemed to correlate fairly closely with opposition to and support for the doctrinal innovations of the national church, Pittsburgh could claim only to be “marginally fruitful,” with one percent growth and a decline in average Sunday attendance of 63 souls.

Just as in 2003 and 2004, the Bishop went on, another defining decision was upon us. Through Resolution One, we are to confirm both the standing committee’s request for APO and withdrawal from the Third Province of the Episcopal Church. This is a “novel” departure but then so are the recent innovations. We do not yet know what APO will look like; that is a decision for the Primates in consultation with the affected dioceses. We remain the Episcopal Church in this place. We stand where it has always stood and where the Anglican Communion has always stood. He welcomed the decision of the Russian Orthodox Church to reopen ecumenical dialogue with the APO dioceses, suspended in 2003. As for the new Presiding Bishop, our prayers are with her as “she inherits a broken church.” Bishop Duncan pledged to work with her, but in the context of what he called “mediated disengagement.” He thanked the diocese for ‘loaning’ him to the wider world. “We are all still far from the fruitfulness God has in mind for us,” he concluded, but we have made progress.

Revenue is up only 1.7 percent and the Diocese adopted a $1.7 million budget, with $443,000 (26%) to administration; $350,000 (20%) to the Office of the Bishop; $347,586 (20%) to congregational mission; $284,072 (17%) to projects outside the diocese, including the Lambeth requirement; and $246,874 (14%) to transformational ministries, particularly youth and clergy development.

In debate on the budget, the question was raised as to how the twelve non-Anglican Communion Network parishes can pay assessments to Province III, to which the Bishop responded that he was under the impression that if the resolution were adopted they could not belong to Province III. A resolution was offered that would allow the dissenting parishes to remain in Province III, but though the Bishop stated that this would not compromise the APO request, it was defeated by standing vote. Another speaker claimed that the budget allowed the Bishop to care for “his people,” even as many parishes were suffering from under-compensated clergy. Concern was expressed for the funding of transformational ministries and specifically for the Commission on Racism (though the chairwoman specifically exempted Bishop Duncan from blame and noted his wholehearted support for the work of the commission). The budget was approved by voice vote.

Resolution One was introduced by John Heidengren, rector of Prince of Peace, Hopewell (a parish that has close ties to Bishop John Rucyahana of Rwanda) who called it an “important and reasonable resolution” that “expresses our desire to remain full and fruitful members of the Anglican Communion.”

After a roll call request had been presented, Dean George Werner, elder statesman and seasoned veteran of many years in the House of Deputies rose to indicate that while he continued to work with Bishop Duncan on diocesan affairs, approval of this resolution would make him an outsider and he would oppose it.

Other opponents of the measure approached Resolution One from the perspective that (1) it was unclear whether we were requesting APO or merely a commissary (the speaker made it clear that they were equally objectionable to her); (2) that the Episcopal Church is still a constituent member of the Anglican Communion; and (3) that the current crisis was merely another ‘little local difficulty’ that would pass as the others had done (this last speaker invoked Bishop Griswold’s recent sermon on “spiritual blindness” and its prevalence among many local leaders.) For the majority, one rector reiterated Bishop Duncan’s notion of “two religions,” and insisted that the letter recently sent by Chancellor Beers to the Bishops of Fort Worth and Quincy was symptomatic of how the new Presiding Bishop intended to act. It would be a mistake, he said, to come under her authority.

At this point, Father David Wilson of St. Paul’s, Kitanning introduced a substitute resolution that embodied the original APO request in tighter language – his effort to provide some clarity rather than continued “fudge,” he explained. The substitute was adopted.

In further debate, a lay delegate asserted that the resolution was intended to pull us away from the Episcopal Church. On the other side, one clergyman spoke to the case of his close friend from seminary Henry Pendergrass who has just resigned from St. Nicholas Church, Flower Mound, Texas. “At some point,” he said, “[this erosion] has to stop.” A clerical colleague from Church of the Ascension in Pittsburgh agreed. There are times to be pastoral, he said, but there are also times to be prophetic and this is one of them.

At this point, a representative from St. Andrew’s, Highland Park, arose with an amendment that would revive a defunct diocesan district, and allow dissenting parishes to remove themselves from their existing districts and organize around a common set of values (basically an analogue to the Province X solution proposed for APO dioceses). It would, he said, be “kind and compassionate” to allow them to stay out of the fray. As far as I can judge, the Bishop was not unsympathetic (and may revive the idea at a later date), but it was evident that some orthodox deputies are resentful about how they see the dissenters having behaved (one acquaintance of mine later remarked that back in the 1970s conservatives had to keep their heads down or risk abuse; now the boot is on the other foot). On a standing vote, delegates turned down the amendment, though it looked to be about evenly divided, which, for Pittsburgh, is unusual. A delegate from Christ Church, Indiana, commented at the time that such a proposal would cause a premature rupture in her parish, which she was not keen to see happen.

The convention moved to a roll call vote and Resolution One was approved by 97 votes to 14, with 3 abstentions in the clergy order and by 117 votes to 40, with 7 abstentions in the lay order. (In last year’s vote accepting the Windsor Report, the vote was 85 votes to 12, with 9 abstentions in the clergy order and 118 votes to 45, with 6 abstentions in the lay order.)

And so the deed is done. The only question now is where we go from here. But in the end that’s in God’s hands.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Global North Meets Global South: New Christian Paradigms for a New Century

Review: Lamin Sanneh and Joel A. Carpenter, eds., The Changing Face of Christianity: Africa, the West, and the World (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).

The reality of a twenty-first century Christianity powered by the mushrooming churches of the “two-thirds world,” as some observers have recently dubbed it, is now upon us and yet for those of us in the post-industrial West, an understanding of what constitutes the new Christian order remains as yet unclear. This volume of essays edited by Yale scholar Lamin Sanneh deliberately refrains, as he puts it, from providing “one comprehensive explanatory theory, one all-encompassing answer for the riddle of one universe of facts.” (16) Instead, through a diversity of perspectives drawn from the fields of anthropology, religious and cultural history and theology, it seeks to explore the nexus of relationships that exists between the Christian world that initiated the great missionary undertakings of the nineteenth century, and the spiritual heirs both of those who undertook those missions and those who benefited from them. Perhaps the greatest irony of all is that as the mission impulse and the Christian particularism that sustained it have waxed cold in the nations that gave it birth, the communities that profited from their missionary zeal now display a similar ‘enthusiasm’ for Gospel proclamation and conversion. “The variety of forms and styles,” writes Sanneh, “the complex linguistic idioms and aesthetic translations, and the differences in music in worship patterns show world Christianity to be hostage to no one cultural expression and restricted to no one geographic center.” (5)

This notion of a variety of forms could certainly be said to apply to the subjects touched on by several authors. In the first section, devoted to Africa and the African diaspora, these include the role of music in the religious life of the US Virgin Islands (Harkins-Pierre), the relationship between belief in the occult and Christianity in western Nigeria (Vanden Berg), the changing nature of the relationship between the Southern Baptist Convention and its missions in Zimbabwe (Mwase), the churches as advocates for peace in Mozambique (van Butselaar) and two case studies of Ghana (Gifford and Bediako). The second section on Asia includes a case-study of nineteenth century mission work among the Karen of Burma (Case), and examinations of the role of Hendrik Kraemer in developing a theology of mission between 1925 and 1955 (Plantinga) and of the redefinition of Christianity in China during the same period (Shenk).

Even allowing for Sanneh’s disclaimer regarding comprehensiveness, an obvious criticism of the volume, especially in the section on Africa, is the limited spectrum of countries involved. There is a certain irony in that Ghana – which has an interesting story to tell – receives such attention, while the Nigerian case focuses on one small sub-group of a remarkably diverse nation. Omitted from any mention are such countries as Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo and even South Africa (though the cases of South Africa and Rwanda are discussed in passing by van Butselaar), all of them countries with large Christian populations. Even more striking, at least from an Anglican perspective, is the general omission of discussion of how Africans are reshaping Christian paradigms within both Roman Catholicism and the original mainline Protestant churches. While independent and Pentecostal groups throughout the African continent exert significant influence, it seems curious that the only direct reference to the Roman Catholic Church is its role in the peace negotiations in Mozambique, while Anglicanism rates mention only in relation to Desmond Tutu and to Bishop John Spong’s famous denunciation of his brother bishops at the 1998 Lambeth Conference as cultural primitives (220). In a continent that boasts such figures as Nigeria’s Francis Cardinal Arinze – once seen as a possible successor to Pope John Paul II – and Archbishop Peter Akinola, bane of Anglican liberals and church-planter extraordinary, such lacunae are troubling.

Despite such caveats, the essays undoubtedly illustrate key aspects both of Christian enculturation within the two-thirds world and of the dynamic that characterizes discourse between churches of the Global North and those of the Global South. An internal debate within the book is set up by the contrasting essays of Paul Gifford and Kwame Bediako on the nature of Ghanaian Christianity. For Gifford, the mainline churches that helped build modern Ghana have been largely superseded by charismatic and Pentecostal groups structured around a “Health and Wealth Gospel” of personal success through faith (in an intriguing example of American religious ‘imperialism,’ Gifford notes that pirated Nigerian editions of works by Norman Vincent Peale circulate widely in Ghana). Gifford further argues that this Prosperity Gospel is linked to a “deliverance” theology that emphasizes the use of prayer rituals to cast out the ‘evil spirits’ that stand in the way of a Christian’s ‘natural right’ to success. Gifford’s association of contemporary African Christianity with pre-Christian African spiritualism is echoed by anthropologist Todd Vanden Berg in his study of the persistence of belief in witchcraft amongst the Longuda of Nigeria and their incorporation of this belief into their Christian world view. African theology, Vanden Berg maintains, lacks a developed theory of sin and evil, and the Longuda continue to associate evil phenomena with external occult power: “This conceptualization of evil persists among Longuda Christians to the extent that the Christian perception that evil occurs as natural result of the fall is not stressed or acted out on a daily basis.” (57)

Such analyses would certainly seem to be at odds with what is frequently proclaimed by Anglican and Catholic bishops throughout Africa in terms of traditional Christian theology regarding human sin and the necessity of sacrificial living (though Vanden Berg, at least, would argue, that they do not necessarily speak for every member of their flocks). Kwame Bediako’s study of Ghana serves to remind us that commentators from the West are at least as shaped by the secular culture in which they have been raised, when they comment on the ‘spiritualism’ of Africa. “It stands to reason, therefore,” he writes, “that an African quest for the social and public significance of ‘Christianity’s transcendent claims’ is compelled to look, for its foundations, to the experience of African Christianity.” (121) That experience is inevitably shaped by the status of the churches as the one institution that has largely escaped the taint of corruption and dictatorship that has characterized all too many nations in post-independence Africa. Whether in their contribution to Ghana’s budding democracy in the early 1990s or in the manner in which the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches of Mozambique provided ‘neutral’ space within which the Frelimo government and the Renamo resistance movement could reach a settlement of their bloody civil war, the churches have minimized the danger of becoming simply another player in the political game by forswearing a desire to exert political power as such (the case of the Anglican Archbishop of Zimbabwe and of certain Rwanda bishops during the 1994 genocide, notwithstanding). In this respect, most of the negative associations of being a state church have been avoided, even as Christian churches in Africa continue to exert an influence over public culture that would have been envied in nineteenth century Europe.

If there is a local Christian dynamic at work within the two-thirds world, relationships with ‘mother’ churches continue to have relevance. Isaac Mwase demonstrates with brutal directness how, despite exceptional growth of the Zimbabwe Mission during the 1950s and 1960s, the Southern Baptist Convention largely lost interest in sustaining a community of fellow-believers strong in faith but weak in material resources. Mwase sees this shift as a deliberate abandonment of a “holistic” mission strategy (reflected, for example, in the famous “Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence” initiative adopted by the Anglican Communion in the 1960s), in favor of a focus on simple evangelization of unchurched regions, a change prompted not by financial necessity but on deliberate ideological grounds. Jay Case, by contrast, speaks to the volume’s only nineteenth century case study, by exploring how North American Baptist wrestled with the problem of evangelizing the Karen residents of Burma, already partially aware of the nature of the Bible, who came to the Baptist missionaries requesting evangelization. Case demonstrates how the proactive approach of the Karen severely disrupted the missionary view of how witness to ‘primitive’ peoples was supposedly undertaken. After a rare period in which indigenous Karen missionaries were ordained to minister to their people, the Baptists ultimately proved unwilling to face the theological conundrum such a strategy produced and reverted to the view that indigenous religious leadership could only result from intensive education.

Perhaps the most thought-provoking essays are those by Wilbert Shenk and Richard Plantinga. Shenk documents the seismic shift in mission theology that took place in the context of Chinese Christianity that replaced the idea of the steady development of indigenous churches based on a Western paradigm, with the concept of contextualization - the development of a theology responsive to local historical, political and cultural contexts. In China, mission-based Christianity had never been seen as anything other than foreign, something that missionaries like the Anglican Roland Allen increasingly came to appreciate. During the 1920s, Chinese Christians increasingly revisited this issue, arguing that Chinese Christianity was now at the point of ‘making’ itself indigenous. The ultimate Chinese form of this indigenization was that propounded by Nee Tuo-sheng (Watchman Nee), whose preference for a non-hierarchical, locally based Christianity ultimately resulted in the House Church Movement of post-1949 China.

Plantinga’s essay also has relevance for today’s African and Asian Christians, even though its subject, Henrik Kraemer, can hardly be represented as a product of the two-thirds world. Previously a Dutch missionary to Indonesia, Kraemer made singular contributions to the post-First World War debate over what strategy should be adopted in mission work amongst non-Christians, most notably at the Tambaram Conference of 1938. What is striking about Kraemer’s mission theology is its aggressive neo-orthodox concern with Christian particularism. Kraemer definitively took the view that general revelation – i.e. those truths expressed within non-Christian religious traditions that testify to the omniscience of God – could not be permitted to obscure the uniqueness of Christ’s call to salvation. While he therefore espoused humility on the part of the missionary toward other religions that he encountered, he rejected the notion that somehow the unique message of Jesus should therefore be obscured. To surrender Christian exclusivism was, for him, to surrender the heart of the Bible message. What is intriguing about Kraemer’s approach is less how it is critiqued by advocates of religious pluralism in the West today than about how close Kraemer’s views seem to run to many of those Catholic and Anglican leaders who are coming to the fore in Africa and Asia. Kraemer’s message may have been discounted by many of his own generation, but for the leaders of the “Next Christendom” it may be considered a blueprint for evangelism.

This volume of essays is to be welcomed for what it conveys about the nature of the emerging global Christian family to which we all belong. One can but hope that others will continue to flesh out the nuances of the analysis to date and reveal the future of a Christian community in a two-thirds world poised to assume ever greater responsibility for its neighbors in the post-Christian West.