Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A Very Messy Divorce In The Making

I've been an interested spectator to the slow disintegration of the Episcopal Church for quite some time. The schism is inevitable and has been clearly discernible for quite some time even to a complete outsider like myself. Traditionalists have basically been told by "progressives" that there is no room for them in the American Episcopal Church, so why don't they get the hell out.

The reason I'm interested in this sad spectacle is I'm sure this is exactly how things will play out in the Catholic Church once the "progressives" reach the majority. This movement represents the complete politicization of religion. By that I mean, this is the strongest expression of the belief that political ideology, of the "correct" sort, is the preeminent "moral" principle by which every category of human existence must be measured. Therefore everything, including religious beliefs, must be made subservient to ideology. It was once said that the Catholic Church made philosophy the handmaiden of theology. Well, the Episcopal Church is now attempting to make theology, political ideology's bitch.

From First Things: The Episcopal Declaration of Independence

Last week, the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops met and let the world know just what they think of the rest of the Anglican Communion. The official text of their resolutions ran to several thousand words, but for the effect they are likely to have on the church’s relations with the rest of the Anglican world, the bishops could just as well have taken a page out of General McAuliffe’s playbook, saved everyone a lot of time, and issued a simple one-word response: “Nuts!”

At last month’s meeting of Anglican primates in Africa, the Episcopal bishops were asked to do three things: participate in the creation of a church-within-a-church for Episcopal conservatives, promise not to consecrate any more actively homosexual bishops, and promise not to conduct any more church blessings of same-sex unions.

If they did not, the African meeting clearly suggested, the Americans would in effect be choosing to “walk apart” from the wider Anglican Communion. It was rightly described as an ultimatum but nevertheless was quite measured—no one asked Gene Robinson (the actively gay bishop of New Hampshire) to step down, and no one required anything of the Episcopal Church’s numerous openly gay priests. Essentially, the Anglican primates told the Episcopal Church that it would be allowed to push the boundaries, but within limits.

Unfortunately, last week the Episcopal Church apparently decided that it will be bound by nothing beyond itself—not Scripture, not tradition, not worldwide Anglican councils, not anything. And it said so with a vehemence that was surprising, even to many of its supporters.

In their statement, the American bishops accused the global Anglican primates of “unprecedented” spiritual unsoundness and solemnly spoke of the Episcopal Church’s “autonomy” and “liberation from colonialism,” which they understood to be threatened by the creeping rule of “a distant and unaccountable group of prelates.” Apparently, they were serious. With no sense of irony, the bishops of an overwhelmingly white, wealthy, and liberal American church actually saw fit to accuse their fellow Anglicans—many of whom are from poor third-world countries—of “colonialism.”

It is all very sad. One cannot read the bishops’ statement without sensing their anger and impatience. And what is worse, one cannot read the statement without sensing that the bishops have decided, for now and for always, to leave the Anglican Communion and cut conservatives out of the church.

This very clearly captures the almost silly naivete of the Episcopal leadership. Indeed, it is exactly the type of naivete you expect to see from ideological zealots.

Other tings you expect to see is hostility to the ideologically "impure." A classic example of such behavior is witnessed by Ephraim Radner:

I recall only several months ago, at the diocesan convention of Colorado, that a diocesan leader (now appointed by the bishop to a Taskforce on our “common life”) publicly confronted me and demanded that I “and my kind” “leave the church and let [them] get on with ministry”; we were nothing but “dying embers” bringing division and sowing anger within the church. Part of me would like to prove these kinds of affronts simply wrong. Such a motive, however, would be base. There is no point dying with the church, unless one is ready to struggle for the truth.

There is an almost perfect Stalinist moment in all of this. Obviously the "Taskforce on Common Life" will be used as a instrument of ideological purification when entrusted to the likes of folks like these. Shall we start the purges now or later?

Another symptom we should expect is a preoccupation with money, wealth, power and status. Yep, got those as well, as reported by Bishop Steenson.

The majority of the House of Bishops is very anxious to protect the property claims of the Episcopal Church. There seems to be no willingness to suspend civil litigation, as the Communiqué called for, but, to the contrary, the resolve to pursue such litigation is strengthening. I for one have no interest in fighting a spiritual battle on these grounds, but, consistent with church law, I continue to believe that provision needs to be made for those congregations and clergy whose consciences will permit them to go no farther. Here the work our task force on communion did last year may yet prove to be a useful foundation.

Of course the hypocrisy of the Episcopal leadership is staggering. Here they basically assert their right to do whatever their conscience dictates to them vis-a-vis the Anglican Communion as a whole, but if member parishes in the United States wish to remain in the Anglican Communion and find their consciences dictate a break with the American Bishops, well you need to take them to court to confiscate the parish property. This shouldn't be surprising as ideological zealots generally know no shame.

I'll end this with a final thought from Radner:

I was struck, at the recent House of Bishops’ meeting, with the open abuse, often personally directed, thrown at the Primates by many of our bishops. Turning to them, it appears, means turning away from the majority of the TEC’s leadership. Some will ask, of course, “is this not a form of giving up?”. But if we do not do this, if we do not continue to hope in the larger Church, we are all being thrown back on individual conscience – a noble, but weak reed indeed that, on its own, can never save us. And it is far too easy to confuse our conscience with the Lord Jesus Christ.


Folks might want to check this out as well.


C Stanley said...

A big difference, though, is the centralized 'governance' of the Catholic Church. If/when progressives become the majority in the Catholic Church, they'd have to find a way to overthrow the papacy or elect a progressive pope, which isn't going to happen in our lifetimes (or, I believe, beyond that).

Now, the progressive Catholics could decide to leave the Church, but that's a horse of a different color. Still a schism, but the part that remains intact is the conservative part and there hasn't been a politicization of the doctrine within the original Church.

The Iconic Midwesterner said...

I think what you would get is a movement to seperate from the See through the American Conference of Bishops. There are already plenty of folks pushing for the "democratization" of the Church, which is nothing other than capitulation to the political ideologues.

I'm a little less sanguine about orthodoxy's chances in the long run....hopefully you are right, but I've been pessimistic about it for so long it is hard to change.

C Stanley said...

I agree with you about the people who are pushing, but I think Rome will be steadfast and I'm doubtful that the American progressives could garner enough support to separate. I could be wrong of course; Benedict writes about how the Church needs to become smaller and purer so perhaps that's foreshadowing things to come.

WannabeAnglican said...

You are absolutely right about the Episcopal Church.

And I think you would be right about the Roman Catholic Church IF it weren't for the pontificate of John Paul II. He has rightly shifted the Catholic Episcopate so far to orthodoxy, it will be many years before the "progressives" can make much ground. Thanks be to God!

The Iconic Midwesterner said...


I hope you are right in a general sense, and you are undoubtedly right concerning this Pope.

But I can't help feeling uneasy. The drive to put political ideology above all else is depressingly strong among many Catholics in the US. The fact that Garry Wills can get so many people to nod along with his semi-coherent rants gives clear testimony to this.

I worry that the seeming strength of the Catholic Church in the US will prove to be a hollow shell. I think the reaction to the elevation of Benedict gives evidence of that, as I noted here.

What I said there in regards to the media in the US holds for the majority of "progressive" Catholics. You can sense a growing repudiation of Vatican II because it "didn't go far enough." And if you ask, "Far enough in what way?" The response will be "Far enough to enshrine our political ideology as the Way, the Truth, and The Life."

They won't phrase it that way, of course, but it is obvious.

ccinnova said...

Several years ago, a liberal priest introduced a resolution at the Diocese of Virginia's convention calling on those who disagreed with the "progressive" stand on gays and lesbians to leave TEC. Of course, now that a number of biblically orthodox Northern Virginia parishes have done so, both the diocese and 815 have filed suit. Go figure!

C Stanley said...

The comment from Walt at your linked post about Benedict was pretty much on target as I understand it. You brought up that conservatism isn't the same in the religious realm as it is in the political realm and I agree with you on that; I think a better term for what you're describing there is authoritarianism (which Benedict embraces; his Church will not become more democratic).

The book length interviews by Peter Seewald are great (Salt of the Earth and God and the World). Salt of the Earth probes the interpretations of Ratzinger's role in Vatican II. He was seen as an agent of reform there but he explains that his aim was to reform by turning the Church back to it's roots (there's a French word which escapes me; resourcement, perhaps?) That put him in conflict with the group that won out which wanted to modernize the Church. He's not totally opposed to all of the reforms, of course, but he's not one to want to go further by any means and he thinks they missed the boat on a few things.

The Iconic Midwesterner said...

c stanley: I guess a lot will depend on one's view of Vatican II. I'm not sure I see it as one side "won" at the expense of another side. Some people viewed it that way, such as the groups that left the Church because they couldn't bring themselves to recognize the non-latin mass. But the fact that such groups were so small in numbers underscores how we shouldn't view the Council as in any way analagous to an electoral process that has definite "winners" and "losers." The fact that JP II and Benedict haven't "rolled back" Vatican II (as was predicted by many) is further proof that they didn't see it as in contradiction with their orthodox views.

Let's go back to the Latin mass as an example. Benedict is allowing an expansion in the use of the Latin mass, so this might indicate that his personal feelings at the time of Vatican II might have been with those trying to keep the Latin liturgy as the catholic liturgy. (I have some sympathy with this idea as the Latin mass IS a powerful symbol of the UNIVERSAL church. But I say this as someone who was born in 1968, and grew up without the Latin mass. It is not the Church I know, but I can see where folks are coming from.) However, there is no indication that Benedict is in any way going back on the direction of the council.

One could argue, and I would agree, that JP II and Benedict emphasize the more traditional overtones of Vatican II. But I would also say that tradition is in there. They are not ascribing something foreign to Vatican II in any way.

Please dont misunderstand me, I'm not saying that the Vatican will go along with any democratizing ideas. I'm saying that American bishops might convince enough amreicans to do a little seceeding. To go it alone in direct confrotation with Rome.

Think of it as the New World Reformation.

The Iconic Midwesterner said...


I am not surprised.

God knows when you have congrgations that want to ditch their affiliation it will cause a lot of thorny issues that DO need to be resolved. But why are "all or nothing" litigation battles the first recourse?

C Stanley said...

Yes, I see your point about the use of the word "win", but you'd have to read the interview to get my drift; Benedict does give insight into the insider politics of the Council; even though it's clearly not a democratic process (and shouldn't be), there are people and groups with influence and it did break down roughly into two camps who both wanted change but one in a purification/returning to traditions that had been lost (Benedict's camp) and the other wanting the Church to move into the modern times by shedding a lot of her past. There were definitely compromises but on certain points, the latter group ended up having more influence.

And I totally agree with your assessment of JPII and Benedict in that neither of them reject the changes of Vatican II. I do get the sense that Benedict will attempt to implement some of the things that he thinks were missed but not that he'll reverse the changes that were made. The Latin mass example you gave is one; another is style of liturgy because he feels that the Mass shouldn't be a show or entertainment and the role of the priest as a personality needs to be diminished.

Anyway, I brought it up because in the post you referenced, you seemed to be questioning the 'conservative' label and I found those books to be very informative on just how conservative Benedict is (which is considerable in my estimation). Some questioned whether he was only conservative as CDF because that was his job and because he was doing JPII's bidding, but in reading him it seems it goes much deeper to his own convictions.

I do see your point about the American Catholics and I have concerns too but I think that it helps that the Vatican won't appease the 'progressives'.