Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Larger Issues: Anglican Communion geekery

For serious Anglican Communion blog/politics geeks only.

Over on Internet Monk, Chaplain Mike graciously asked, "I wonder if we have some Anglican or Episcopal readers out there who would like to comment [on the current situation in the Anglican Communion]. Give the rest of us some insight about this situation. Many of us who are evangelicals or from more conservative denominations have watched this from afar and have been shaking our heads for some time. It would be easy to cast stones from a distance, but I’m interested in some inside perspective."

Here's the comment I left. Did I miss anything major? Do you agree/disagree?


Most of the Episcopal blogs I’ve been reading today don’t think of this in terms of the issue of homosexuality, and I think it might be helpful for you to know some of the other ways in which this is being seen. Here are a few pieces that I think are in play:

1. The structure of the American church The Episcopal Church has a very different structure from many (if not all) of the churches in the Anglican Communion. Although The Episcopal Church is still hierarchical, it’s also got a number of democratic systems in place that don’t match that of the Church of England. Lay people and priests have a lot bigger vote here than many places, and that’s something I think that causes confusion outside the U.S. I believe that ++Williams (and others) have been frustrated that the House of Bishops can’t just set policy by fiat, but the Episcopal Church also a House of Deputies, made up of lay and clergy delegates. It is through both houses that church policy is set at General Convention every three years.

Furthermore, It is lay and clergy members of a diocese who elect their bishop, and a majority of bishops and Standing Committees (diocese Board of Directors) who give their approval. That is very different from other places where bishops are appointed from the top rather than the bottom. When the Archbishop writes to the American church to stop doing something, it involves getting a lot more people on board than simply announcing from the top that something is to be.

2. The authority of women One of the often-unspoken tensions in the Anglican Communion is that of the authority of women. From my vantage point, the real catalyst for the departure of what we refer to as the “break-away dioceses” was not so much the election of Gene Robinson but the election of our current Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori. I think it is no coincidence that the three dioceses I’m thinking of are also the three that still refused to ordain women 25+ years after the first ordinations in 1976.

I got to meet the Presiding Bishop when she spoke to a group of clergy women a couple of years ago. She told us that when she received Anglican Communion email, all other primates are addressed by their clerical titles; she is addressed as “Dr.” A commenter above referred to her as Mrs. Schori. The Church of England only started ordaining women as priests in the 1990’s and still does not have any women bishops. It is a peculiar thing that the representative of our national church must do so among people who do not believe she has any legitimate ecclesiastical authority.

3. The United States as a superpower One conjecture floating around the Episcopal blogosphere is that even though other Anglican churches break the moratoria the Archbishop speaks of, the U.S. is singled out because it’s the U.S. Certainly the Episcopal Church has an impact far outweighing its numbers; it provides the bulk of the money for most of the international Anglican Communion events (Lambeth Conference, etc.). Kudos to the Archbishop for being willing to lose that financial support. The thing that has many people scratching their heads, however, is why not treat all of the national churches equally. My conjecture is that, as much as we in the U.S. like to think of ourselves as one national church among many, we’re really the elephant in the room.

4. The post-colonial mindset Conversely, from where I sit, the Archbishop seems tremendously reluctant to say boo to any Anglican church in parts of the world that used to be English colonies or have that kind of painful past. Although I can understand that as well, in the U.S. church there was considerable consternation that we received a warning memo within 24 hours after a partnered woman was elected bishop, but ++Williams (to our knowledge) never gave a direct response to the Ugandan church when that country was considering the death penalty for homosexuals (as indeed it still is).

5. Honest differences of opinions seem to be punished while quiet hypocrisy is ignored I’ll end with this one. I think it’s pretty clear even from the comments above that there are a range of opinions about homosexuality. That’s just the presenting issue, here. One thing that sticks in the craw of a lot of Episcopalians is that the Archbishop is lecturing the U.S. church about homosexuality while it is commonly known that there are many gay Anglican clergy in England, many priests performing same sex blessings in England, and a gay bishop or two in England. I think many in the U.S. church are saying, “At least we’re being honest about who we are and what we believe and not trying to play both sides.”

A friend and seminary classmate of mine put this in her blog this morning:

“all this that we have been through and that we are still in the throes of… this was not an argument about LGBTQ in the church –LGBTQ were just the convenient whipping post that would bear the brunt of this argument —and about which much fear and energy could be culminated. This was an argument about the twin sources of yeast: power & authority and how these two things are wielded and who gets to wield them…”

I think that pretty much sums it up.


it's margaret said...

"I got to meet the Presiding Bishop when she spoke to a group of clergy women a couple of years ago. She told us that when she received Anglican Communion email, all other primates are addressed by their clerical titles; she is addressed as “Dr.”"

Uuuughhhhh. Now, that REALLY ticks me off....

This was about as good as any explanation I have yet seen. Thank you.

LKT said...

Well, I owe it to you and Sam P.!

Anonymous said...

Love the calm clarity of this post. Thank you!