Thursday, December 04, 2008

Oh, Bother. Anglicanism Still a Mess.

We had hoped they would clear things up while we were on our autumn break.

Instead, however, the PECUSA malcontents have signaled their intention to create a second Anglican province in North America, despite contrary guidelines issued by the Communion.  One hears various names bandied about -- the Common Cause Partnership, the Anglican Mission in America, North American Anglican Province -- all with their various initials, each no doubt signifying something distinctive to the group choosing it.  We couldn't really care less, and assume that within a few years the dust will settle, and there will be two Anglican churches in these parts, by whatever name.

So what will they look like?  Well, the Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA will no doubt look much the way it does today, a comical convocation of pompous old duffers, theological radicals seeking what validation they can find in the lovely titles and customs of Anglicanism (archdeacon, anyone?), and regular mainline Prots of a modestly high church inclination.  Doctrinally, it will make no pretense to uniformity, but will range from a very moderate Calvinism to a sort of irritating leftism that wants to occasionally call the Trinity "Mother, Sister, Lover."  In most parishes, worship will be the 1979 Prayer Book, variously adapted to local custom and accompanied by a sermon no better than it should be.  The same parish's extraliturgical life will include both modest good works and certain self-contented snobbery.

And by the way, none of this meant to be insulting.  We genuinely like Episcopalians.  It's just that they are fairly predictable, and unlikely to be changed by the secession.

What about the body we'll call the SAPUSAC, or Schismatic Anglican Province in the USA and Canada?  That's a more interesting question.

1.  It will be small.  According to a couple of news reports (like the one linked above), the as-yet-unofficial new province claims to represent 100,000 Anglicans in two nations.  That's not a large number, roughly 4% of the Episcopal Church.  There are roughly as many members reported by, say, the Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Church in the US.  On the other hand, it is not a negligible number, either; the Church of the Brethren is only about 1/3 larger.  (We've never actually known any of the Brethren, but people do keep talking about them.)  

But let's also face facts:  as an avowedly "conservative" body, it will appeal to the disaffected masses searching for something that sounds familiar in a strange and threatening world -- that is, Ron Paul voters.  As defections multiply and converts trickle in, the SAP will (ahem) rise.  So after ten years, let's guess maybe a million people -- which puts them well past the Baha'i, and into the territory of the Jehovah's Witnesses.  (If that's true, then the 2.5 million-member PECUSA will probably shrink commensurately; it will remain the larger body in 2018, but perhaps not by very much).

2.  Will it be liturgically traditionalist?  Hard to say.  The provisional canons, posted on the CCP website (which is, humorously, called "Anglicans United"), declare that the 1662 BCP is the doctrinal norm, but that a task force will work on a provincial prayer book, but that the books presently in use -- overwhelmingly, the 1979 BCP with a few 1928-ers thrown in -- remain authorized.  

This suggests something that we find modestly noteworthy.  The SAP is seeking conformity in doctrine but not in worship.  Unremarkable among, say, Lutherans -- but a direct challenge to the underlying principle of the Elizabethan Settlement.  (Well, a little less direct, since they still base their doctrine upon some prayer book, even if it isn't the one they use).

Also, we find the language of the provisional canons suspicious in places. "Dioceses, cluster or network" is a catchall term for judicatories -- why? Bishops ordain deacons and presbyters, not priests -- why? Oh, we realize that they're just words (and we Lutherans generate unchurchly terminology at a terrifying rate) but cluster and presbyter do make us wonder which low-church parties are being appeased in order to get this house built.

3.  Will it be doctrinally conservative?  Depends upon your definition of "conservative."  We do not doubt that on most matters, it will be -- this is an excellent opportunity for pastors exhausted by the John Shelby Spongs of the world to stand up plainly for things like the literal Resurrection, original sin, and maybe even vicarious substitutionary atonement.  (Good for them, we say.)  It will obviously not be a place in which gay people feel especially welcome, save the inevitable few who actually prefer lives either of celibacy or covert trysting.  (Less good, we think.)  

But, speaking of original sin, the SAP will someday need to confront the fact that it has been conceived in a doctrinal iniquity, and bears the mark of Cain.  We have heard, over and over, the pious whining about "we didn't leave our church, it left us," and how this is a legitimate effort to prevent schism within the worldwide Communion.  We are not convinced.  The truth, both legal and historical, is that parishes and dioceses formed by missionaries of the Episcopal Church are withdrawing from that church.  It's called schism.  

Furthermore, they have been aided in this effort by foreign bishops, overstepping their traditional boundaries to appoint American "missionary bishops" -- fine, if one is speaking of missionaries to a land in which one's church has no presence. But in this case, the practice has led to a violation of the ancient rule "one city, one bishop." As Fr. John Meyendorff points out, no rule has been affirmed with greater firmness by tradition, not mention church councils. The creation of overlapping judicatories is an especially nasty piece of ecclesiological mischief, and does much to undermine any subsequent claim to doctrinal "conservatism."

4.  It will have a stained-glass ceiling.  The provisional canons specify that bishops shall be male, although gender-neutral language is used for priests.  The Church of England ordained women some years ago, and is still struggling over the question of whether women can serve as bishops.  Obviously, that same struggle has gone one behind the scenes at SAP.  To us, the idea of a divided priesthood, in which some priests may become bishops and others may not, seems absurd on its face, but we recognize that there is precedent.  The Orthodox will only enthrone celibates -- which, if you're going to discriminate, strikes us as both more practical and no less Biblical.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

SAPUSAC... love it! 'Bout time we had a new word-jumble.

Glad the Egg is back!

Anonymous said...

Bravo! Best analysis we've seen. Welcome back, Egg. web

Anonymous said...

if ron paul could've hung on for ten years maybe he could've had a million followers.

George said...

the saddest thing to me as an episcopalian (by way of lc-ms, with a brief stop in elca) is this:

the one mainstream denomination that did not split over the civil war was the episcopal church. no mere enslavement of a race or lynchings of fellow citizens could break this body apart. we were bigger than that.

but then, one openly gay man gets ordained bishop, well that is simply too much to bear.

slavery? that we can tolerate. an *openly* gay bishop? that is enough to break the bonds of fellowship.

would be laughable if i were not shedding tears.

grb