Well it’s been a fun week for Lambeth Palace hasn’t it?
Last Friday the story broke of a rather egregious press statement that the Archbishop authorised, praising Katherine Jefferts Schori to the hilt on the news she had been awarded an honourary doctorate from Oxford University. As Phil Ashey of the American Anglican Council rightly pointed out, the use of the word “Compassion” was particularly offensive.
On February 17, 2011, The American Anglican Council published a documented report of how Bishop Jefferts Schori and the leadership of TEC had violated the very text of its canons, due process and natural justice to inhibit and depose (at that time) 12 bishops and 404 deacons and priests. Since then, the estimate of total inhibitions and depositions of bishops, priests and deacons has risen to 700. This represents the largest exercise of penal discipline by any Presiding Bishop in the history of the TEC—and perhaps in the history of any Church in the Anglican Communion.
In one notable case, Bishop Jefferts Schori deposed Bishop Henry Scriven of the Church of England! In another notable case, her “compassion” led her to inhibit retired Bishop Edward MacBurney (VII Quincy) on April 2, 2008. On April 4, his son died, leaving the grieving father and bishop unable to conduct his son’s funeral rites.
Through her Chancellor, Bishop Jefferts Schori authorized and continues to authorize litigation against volunteer vestry (parish council) members and other volunteer leaders in church property cases. Although volunteers do not hold title to the property of the departing congregations, we documented at least 48 instances (as of the date of our report) where such volunteer vestry members have been sued by TEC or the diocese—in some cases, seeking the personal assets of these volunteers for monetary punitive damages in excess of the value of the property at issue. Such claims represent a position by Episcopal bishops and attorneys that a volunteer vestry member‘s vote to leave TEC is oppressive and malicious illegal behavior that justifies the forfeiture of a volunteer‘s personal assets. In addition to suffering the intentional infliction of emotional distress at the possibility of losing their personal assets, volunteer vestry members and other leaders have suffered damages by the mere filing of such claims including difficulty in refinancing their homes, difficulty in obtaining security clearances for new jobs, and prejudice to their credit reports.
When “Christian compassion” might have moved Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori and the leadership of TEC to accept the Primates call for a moratorium on litigation at their 2007 meeting in Dar es Salaam, Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori chose instead to accelerate the litigation. In 2009 when TEC cut staff and program by 30%, it increased the line items in the budget for litigation. We documented at least 56 complaints filed by TEC and its Dioceses against individual churches, clergy and volunteer vestry members. Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori led a delegation of bishops to Lambeth 2008 who demonstrated reckless indifference to the truth by telling other Anglican bishops in their “indaba groups” that TEC was being sued by local churches—when precisely the opposite was true. The Episcopal Church has continued to stonewall every request for an accounting of the funds it has expended on such litigation, and conservative estimates based on public records indicate that the cost is already in excess of $30 million.
Really-Is this “compassion dedicated to the service of Christ?”
He’s got a point hasn’t he?
Of course, there’s also the issue of where the copy for the press statement came from. As I demonstrated last week, there are strong textual clues to indicate that 815 had a hand in it’s drafting. I have asked a Lambeth Palace representative twice in the past week to deny that the Headquarters of the Episcopal Church had any hand in either drafting part or all of the statement or providing biographical information suitable for such a statement. On both occasions no denial was forthcoming when at the same time they were incredibly quick to tell me that ++Justin had seen and authorised the statement when I suggested he might not have. Make of that what you will.
I tell you what some people are making though, and that is a clear understanding that the Press Statement from Lambeth Palace last week was a political disaster. I’ve spoken to two members of the House of Bishops over the past 24 hours from different camps, and both of them were very clear that the leadership realise the words of that statement were a grievous mistake. The fact that the Americans thrown out of TEC for simply wanting to believe and preach what the rest of the Communion did have united past their differences (womens’ ordination anyone?) to decry this piece of blind sycophancy is deeply worrying, but it’s not half as disturbing as the utter silence from Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria and others. The danger comes for the Archbishop not when his fellow Primates respond to his letters with ones of their own, but when they decide that they have finished with appeasing (as they see it) a traitor to the cause and there is no more hope in dialogue.
And it’s dialogue that Justin Welby wants to facilitate. In his address to Synod he called for love across the divides and a renewed commitment to each other.
We all know that perfect love casts out fear. We know it although we don’t often apply it. We mostly know that perfect fear casts out love. In any institution or organisation, the moment that suspicion reigns and the assumption that everything is zero sum becomes dominant (that is to say that some else’s gain must be my loss, we can’t both flourish) that institution will be increasingly dominated by fear. It is an old problem in game theory. The moment at which something is zero sum, players stop looking so much at their objectives and increasingly look at each other. The more they look at each other, the more they are dominated by fear and the less they are able to focus on their objectives.
The Church of England is not a closed system, nor is the Anglican Communion and most certainly nor is the Church catholic and universal. It is not a closed system because God is involved and where he is involved there is no limit to what can happen, and no limit to human flourishing. His abundant love overwhelms us when we make space to flood into our own lives, into institutions and systems.
At the other end of the spectrum, closed systems, full of fear eventually implode under the weight of their own contradictions and conflicts. Assumptions grow about what is happening. I notice many of them.
And so do others. Of course Welby is talking about the women bishops issue here, but he is also addressing the wider sexuality debate about to engulf the Church of England. When he mentions disagreement with “appointments of people who disagree with us most profoundly”, he is as much talking about the possibility of Jeffrey John being elevated to Episcopacy as he is the idea that the Church of England will continue to consecrate Bishops opposed to the very principle of women’s ordination (as Lee Gatiss proposes here).
But the lines are being slowly drawn in the sand. Andrew Symes points out very clearly and concisely (perhaps I should take lessons) that beyond all the talk of loving through our disagreements, key values cannot be compromised.
We know that Justin Welby has made this new version of Indaba a central feature of his archepiscopacy. Of course there is a need for sympathy and understanding for his position, and much prayer. There are several problems though, not least theological difficulties. It may be possible to get people who profoundly disagree with each other to be nice and respectful (it happens at Synod, and regularly in Deaneries up and down the land). But the ideological and philosophical differences remain unresolved and will continue to be so as long as the fiction persists that contradictory views on primary issues are equally valid and both welcome in the same church. To put so much energy and money into getting people to repeat the same arguments and tell the same stories in refereed, set piece engagements appears to be making superficial reconciliation within the church a primary means of facilitating mission. However it is not preparing the ground for Gospel preaching, but a flight from it, because of the admitted confusion about the content of the Gospel. It is being portrayed as a model of peaceful and courageous negotiation, but how will it be seen? Yet more navel gazing, or worse – a dishonest form of manipulation?
Jesus’ intention was that Israel should be a light to the nations, as the prophets had foretold. He found an Israel profoundly divided on their understanding of the nature of God, the reality of the spiritual realm, the meaning of salvation, and the interpretation of God’s word. He did not see the way forward in facilitating conversations between the Sadducees and the Zealots as the key to creating a united, witnessing people. Nor later did Paul see reconciliation between Jew and Gentile as a precondition for mission, but the result of it.
For a more precise statement of the fundamental problem facing the Archbishop of Canterbury, look to Matt Kennedy at Stand Firm,
There is no “middle road” here. There is no reconciliation ground between these two viewpoints. None. If those who believe #1 above are correct, then then those who believe #2 are leading people God loves to hell. These leaders must be called to recant or be subject to discipline and expulsion. What Archbishop Welby wants to do, and he does it clearly in this speech, is re-cast the question as if it were tantamount to “should Christians drink wine?” or “What is the appropriate length for women’s skirts?”. He wants to reduce the question to “adiaphora”, to the level of a matter about which God does not speak. This is a lie as anyone equipped with reason, a bible, and the ability to understand human language ought to know. To promote this notion is to sully and obscure the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
and then look at what is coming out of Changing Attitude.
It’s impossible to conform to a conservative interpretation of Scripture and not be homophobic. I know conservatives will disagree with this statement and some will be hurt by it. I also know that comparing a conservative hermeneutic about homosexuality with hermeneutics about race or gender or slavery isn’t popular. For lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, the parallels are appropriate and the results all too similar. Prejudice and homophobia are the result of a particular Biblical hermeneutic.
I wish Justin all the luck in the world (or should that be chutzpah) trying to bring those two positions together. The bottom line appears to be that neither side accepts the issue of sexual behaviour is a matter of adiaphora. The Church of England has in some senses reached a moment of decision that may engulf and destroy it – will it, through however many “facilitated conversations” it takes, reaffirm and hold to the traditional position on marriage as a unique gender specific icon of the union of Christ and his bride the Church, or will it compromise and accept the world’s definition of marriage as simply two people, whoever they are, loving each other. Both are yet possible, but increasingly the idea that we can hold these contradictory positions in “loving tension” is being seen for the arrant nonsense it obviously is. And when that becomes blatantly apparent even to the highest leadership in the Church of England, what next for Justin?