Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The ACI Explains It All For You

There. They admitted it. The Anglican Communion Institute, in a docuemnt they call "a plea to all ECUSA members," has stated plainly that they are focused on polity. Their work is not only theological or academic, it is political. Their writing, research, documentation and travel serves a political end.

I am certain that they see these as political means to a higher, theological end. I am not questioning their faithfulness to Jesus Christ or to the Anglican Communion. It is their understanding of what the Anglican Communion is that has brought them to this point. They see polity alone as the salvation of our tradition. T
he crossroad at which we now stand is one of their own creation, and the Anglican Comunion Institute and their allied, overlapping groups, have worked hard to define the question in their own terms.

One of their tools is language. They want to own the terms of the discussion by owning the language of the debate. A most obvious example is how the Anglican Communion Institute has aided and abetted the transformation of "orthodoxy" into a slogan. Now it's a mere code-word for "sex." In narrowing the defintion of what it means to be "orthodox" they have narrowed the scope of Biblical interpretation.

Their vision of a new Anglican polity offers us a contradictory, incomplete vision of Anglican authority.

The ACI has bought into, and had a hand in originating, an innovative approach to interpreting our constitution and canons. At one time they claimed that no member of the Communion could make no changes to our polity or practice without the approval of the Mother Church, which they later expanded to include the whole communion.

The ACI has also be re-writing history. I remember an essay a few years ago that attempted to portray the ordination of women as an example of how a major change was brought to the whole communion for a kind of approval. They were attempting to contract the anticipated controversy about the blessing of same-sex unions (When they wrote this, Bishop Robinson had not been elected yet). The process they described never happened, at least not formally, and even if it did it occur in some loose way, it did not succeed given the inconsistency in the practice of ordaining women within Anglicanism.

Similarly, their writing poses a strangely contradictory vision of how the Anglican Communion should work. They claim that for the sake of "our beloved communion" we in the United States must unilaterally adhere to a central, international (and as yet undefined) authority. At the same time they have said nothing--nothing!--about the consequences of a political strategy that seeks to have individual clergy and congreagtions operate separately from their Bishops and dioceses. They are silent when congregations and clergy claim may choose which bishops they may admit into their communities without regard to geography, history or ordination vows. They tell us in their "plea" to all of us that they want the theological question to revolve around polity. Their actions and writings tell us they want polity to operate both ways.

It is true, the Anglical Communion Institute has made a contribution in that they have raised the question of how we define "communion." The choices that they have defined are very clear:

Is the Anglican Communion a communion of communions, a loose gathering with broadly speaking a common history and a common ethos? Is our common adherence to Jesus Christ as Lord Savior express via this particular kind of fellowship?

Or should our communion function a higher, more centralized, more coordinated level? Should 'communion' in fact mean that people share their adherence to Christ through a centrally mediated structure? This group prefers a centrality of moral and ethical teaching to adress a crisis (that they have defined ) in our approach to scripture, theology and ethics. The Anglican Communion Institute prefers a more unified and consistent approach to the Scriptures, a more restrictive use of reason, and theuse of tradition to reinforce, but not critique, the other elements.

The Anglican Communion Institute tell us that they have described what "is", but in fact the ACI describe only what they want the Anglican Communion to become. Their writings have consistently attempted to show that the seeds of what they would like us to become are already there, but they choose to describe what "is" it is in terms of a failed present, a mythical past and an imagined future.

If they were to describe what Anglicanism "is" then they would have turned to different sources--they would have gone to the several churches and described for the rest of us the varieties of expressions within our Communion--instead they describe a church in terms of crisis and failed polity. If they were looking at what "is," they would have been working to show us why different Anglican churches, sometimes within the same Church, approach their theological and pastoral questions quite differently. If they were trying to describe what the Anglican Church "is" then they would work to both describe and find meaning in the fact that some of the churches in our communion are very democratic and others are not. They would be describing the "is" and helping us understand how the Gospel is made real in that. If they were looking at what "is" they would be describing for us how the One Church is expressed the fullness of Christ in a variety of ways. In describing the church as it "is" I would expect some fair and often stinging critique because none of the Churches in the Communion have a corner on what works. Instead the Anglican Communion Institute have invented a theorhetical and rhetorical benchmark against which they measure what "is." In their work, the ACI provides the theological underpinnings of a process that will radically change who and what we are as a communion globally and as a Church in this country.

They tell us that "the time came for urgent attention to polity as a first-order affair if our beloved Communion was not to devolve into a federation of autonomous units, or worse." Outside of the troubling admission that mission can ever be a second-order priority to polity, and the assumption that mission should serve the polity and not the other way round, there is a simple fact that this group for all their writing and reseach has missed: One cannot devolve into something that never was. There was never any non-federal, less-than- autonomous structure within the whole Anglican Communion, unless one considers the colonial era Church of England as the ideal from which we have departed. Is this the mythical past that they seek to regain in their imagined future? Or do they imagine a Book of Acts with no controversy and change over the Gentile mission? The Anglican Communion has never be so organized as a "federation" and the units have always been autnomous.

What is the alternative to this "devolution" that required such urgent attention? One alternative to federalism is simply to break up. Since the ACI say they do not want the Anglican Communion to dissolve, there must must be another alternative: centralization. The goal is a more central, more authoritative process to which the several national churches would be accountable for their actions. The more conciliar of the Anglican churches would be subject to the authority of this more-than-federal, less-than-autonomous polity. Do the Primates of the more heirarchical members of our family know that they will also be subject to that same authority? When they envision this, do they realize that this kind of structure cuts both ways? And who will choose this strange new structure? Certainly it will not it be the people that the Anglican Communion Institute and their cohorts have blamed for the crisis! It would have to a wise few working on behalf of the misguided many in order for this to work.

They pose the central question in this way: "Does ECUSA mean to be a "national denomination" - an essentially 'local church' -- or will it seek to be conformed to its own constitution, canons, and Prayer Book identity, declaring itself and acting as a constituent member of the Anglican Communion, in communion with the See of Canterbury? The terms of that conforming, in this specific instance, are the teaching of Lambeth 1.10 (1998) and The Windsor Report." The key to the correct answer to their question to understand that they have redefined the words of our preamble in a leap of inventive originality. There was no formal, consituted body called the Anglican Communion existant when the preamble was modified . The phrase "instruments of unity" had not been invented. Lambeth was a meeting called by the Archbishop Canterbury, the Anglican Consultative Council was brand new, and the Primates meeting did not yet exist. The only way we can be conformed in a way satisfactory to the ACI is to submit ourselves unilaterally to structures that did not exist then and are not now constituted to the work the ACI would like them to do.

The Institute is asking the ECUSA to adhere to a centralized polity--more-than-federal, less-than-autonomous--outside of this Church as our Consitution and Canons define it. To do as they demand we must change how we are fundementally constituted. They ask us if we will "at General Convention 2006 send a clear signal to the Instruments of Unity that it is in compliance with The Windsor Report and that it seeks, in the language of its final plea, to 'walk together'?" Who will define compliance? Who gets to say that we are in fact walking together? Will it be The Archbishop of Canterbury? Perhaps it will be the other churches of the Communion within their own polities? Maybe it will be the individual Primates or maybe the gathered Primates? Will it be a reenginneered Anglican Consultative Council? Or will it be a group not yet defined or constitued?

And what in fact will define compliance? Here are the ten things (in four parts) that taken together we must do in order to satisfy the needs of the ACI, the AAC and other alphabet soup groups that have defined the conversation these past few years.

Repent Now
1. We must unring the bell. We must find a way to un-make Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire. We must also depose or discipline all gay clergy now serving. We will put on notice that clergy and congregations supporting these clergy in their actions, preaching or writing, may be subject to discipline.
2. For now, we must not talk about divorced and remaried clergy, lay leaders or such persons now recieving communion. Neither will we talk about ordained women, but we will humbly acknowledge that these represent a dangerous trend in adhering to cultural norms over the Gospel. We will repent of anything which brings the culture and the Gospel together.
3. We must repent of ever even thinking about blessing same-sex unions--no matter what the experience of the people around us or what the governments of the countries of several of our churches decide to in response. We must do no research, make no studies and ask no questions.

Be More Episcopal
4. We must unilaterally change our constitution so that we have a mechanism to be beholden to a centralizeed international polity that does not now exist. We must unilaterally agree that we are neither apart of a federation nor independent of other Anglican Churches and so become the first member of the Anglican Communion to give itself wholly over to the authority of all the other independent Anglican Churches together.
5. We must create a centralized teaching authority that is beholden to that same non-existant international body.
6. We must agree to have no say as to the constitution or membership of the new central teaching authority.
7. We must agree to allow those who represent the Episcopal Church on this new central teaching authority to be selected by as yet unnamed people or bodies from outside the Episcopal Church. We will agree to have no veto power over these choices. We will abide by all decisions of this body.

Be Less Episcopal
8. At the same time, we must create structures for individual clergy and congregations to do as they please without reference to their Bishops or dioceses. We must allow these clergy and congregations to select the Bishops they will invite into the spaces they own. We must do this without violating any Diocesan Constitutions and Canons, any state laws nor violate any state consitutions in the process.
9. We must grant independent ownership of church properties to these clergy and congregations.We must continue to take responsibility for the actions, errors and ommissions of these newly independent, wholly private autonmous congregations, and we must agree that we will never discipline any clergy if they claim Biblical warrant for their actions. We will accomplish this new clerical and congregational autonomy while maintaining our unilateral adherance to the un-named international body.

Work Fast
10. We must make all these changes in one session of the General Convention.

If we do anything less we will without a doubt show that we will not "walk together" according to the terms set for us by the ACI and their cohorts. Realisitically, is there anything that the General Convention can do in 2006 to show that we are walking together enough? I doubt that there is because, as they have said, the crossroad has been set. According to this strange plea, we have only to meet some vague, ever-changing standard or these groups will walk. I expect that the AAC, the ACI, and the other interest groups will, no matter what happens in 2006, will throw up their collective hands and walk away claiming all the while that we left them. They have probably already rented the space to walk out to in Columbus. For these groups to succeed, General Convention must fail--even if it doesn't. That is why the bar is set impossibly high and made intentionally vague.

They wrote that "Anglicanism is a missionary locomotive with a polity caboose." I noticed something during a recent trip to Steamtown. When the caboose is leading, the train is going backwards.

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