Friday, January 12, 2018

Can Evangelicalism Survive Donald Trump and Roy Moore?

For centuries, renewal movements have emerged within Christianity and taken on different forms and names. Often, they have invoked the word “evangelical.” Followers of Martin Luther, who emphasized the doctrine of salvation by faith alone, described themselves in this way. The Cambridge clergyman Charles Simeon, who led the Low Church renewal movement within the Church of England, adopted the label. The trans-Atlantic eighteenth-century awakenings and revivals led by the Wesleys were also often called “evangelical.” In the nineteen-forties and fifties, Billy Graham and others promoted the word to describe themselves and the religious space they were seeking to create between the cultural withdrawal espoused by the fundamentalist movement, on the one hand, and mainline Protestantism’s departures from historic Christian doctrine, on the other. In each of these phases, the term has had a somewhat different meaning, and yet it keeps surfacing because it has described a set of basic historic beliefs and impulses.
When I became a Christian in college, in the early nineteen-seventies, the word “evangelical” still meant an alternative to the fortress mentality of fundamentalism. Shortly thereafter, I went to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, to prepare for the Presbyterian ministry. It was one of the many institutions that Graham, Harold Ockenga, and J. Howard Pew, and other neo-evangelicals, as they were sometimes called, established. In those years, there was such great energy in the movement that, by the mid-nineteen-nineties, it had eclipsed mainline Protestantism as the dominant branch of the Christian church in the U.S. When I moved to Manhattan to start a new church, in 1989, most people I met found the church and its ministry to be a curiosity in secular New York but not a threat. And, if they heard the word “evangelical” around the congregation, a name we seldom used, they usually asked what it meant.
Today, while the name is no longer unfamiliar in my city, its meaning has changed drastically. The conservative leaders who have come to be most identified with the movement have largely driven this redefinition. But political pollsters have also helped, as they have sought to highlight a crucial voting bloc. When they survey people, there is no discussion of any theological beliefs, or other criteria. The great majority of them simply ask people, “Would you describe yourself as a born-again or evangelical Christian?” And those who answer ‘yes’ are counted. More than eighty per cent of such people voted for Donald Trump, and, last week, a similar percentage cast their ballots for Roy Moore, in the Alabama Senate race. So, in common parlance, evangelicals have become people with two qualities: they are both self-professed Christians and doggedly conservative politically.
The fury and incredulity of many in the larger population at this constituency has mounted. People who once called themselves the “Moral Majority” are now seemingly willing to vote for anyone, however immoral, who supports their political positions. The disgust has come to include people within the movement itself. Earlier this month, Peter Wehner, an Op-Ed writer for the Times who served in the last three Republican Administrations, wrote a widely circulated piece entitled “Why I Can No Longer Call Myself an Evangelical Republican.” Many younger believers and Christians of color, who had previously identified with evangelicalism, have also declared their abandonment of the label. “Evangelical” used to denote people who claimed the high moral ground; now, in popular usage, the word is nearly synonymous with “hypocrite.” When I used the word to describe myself in the nineteen-seventies, it meant I was not a fundamentalist. If I use the name today, however, it means to hearers that I am.
Understanding the religious landscape, however, requires discerning differences between the smaller, let’s call it “big-E Evangelicalism,” which gets much media attention, and a much larger, little-e evangelicalism, which does not. The larger, lower-case evangelicalism is defined not by a political party, whether conservative, liberal, or populist, but by theological beliefs. This non-political definition of evangelicalism has been presented in many places. The most well known is by the historian David Bebbington, whose “Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s” has become standard. He distinguishes evangelicals from other religions and Christians by a core set of beliefs. Evangelicals have generally believed in the authority of the whole Bible, in contrast to mainline Protestants, who regard many parts as obsolete, according to Bebbington. They also see it as the ultimate authority, unlike Catholics, who make church tradition equal to it. In addition, the ancient creedal formulations of the church, such as the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed, as well as others, are taken at face value, without reservation. And, again, unlike many in mainline Protestantism, evangelicals believe that Jesus truly did exist as the divine Son before he was born, that he actually was born of a virgin, and that he really was raised bodily from the dead.
Under Bebbington’s formulation, another defining evangelical quality is the belief in the necessity of conversion, the conviction that everyone needs a profound, life-changing encounter with God. This conversion, however, comes not merely through church attendance or general morality, but only through faith in Christ’s sacrificial death for sin. A lyric from Charles Wesley’s famous hymn captures the evangelical experience of conversion through saving faith in Christ alone: “My chains fell off, my heart was free; I rose, went forth, and followed thee.” Finally, contemporary evangelicals feel bound by both desire and duty to share their faith with others in both word and deeds of service. In this, they seek to resemble, as well as to obey, their Lord, Jesus, who is described as mighty in word and deed.
Do the self-identified white “big-E Evangelicals” of the pollsters hold to these beliefs? Recent studies indicate that many do not. In many parts of the country, Evangelicalism serves as the civil or folk religion accepted by default as part of one’s social and political identity. So, in many cases, it means that the political is more defining than theological beliefs, which has not been the case historically. And, because of the enormous amount of attention the media pays to the Evangelical vote, the term now has a decisively political meaning in popular usage.
Yet there exists a far larger evangelicalism, both here and around the world, which is not politically aligned. In the U.S., there are millions of evangelicals spread throughout mainline Protestant congregations, as well as in more theologically conservative denominations like the Assemblies of God, the Southern Baptist Convention, and the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod. But, most significantly, the vast majority of the fast-growing Protestant churches in Asia, Latin America, and Africa all share these same beliefs. And in the U.S., while white Evangelicalism is aging and declining, evangelicalism over all is not.
The enormous energy of the churches in the global South and East has begun to spill over into the cities of North America, where a new, multiethnic evangelicalism is growing steadily. Non-Western missionaries have started thousands of new urban churches there since the nineteen-seventies. Here in New York City, even within Manhattan, I have seen scores of churches begun over the last fifteen years that are fully evangelical by our definition, only a minority of which are white, and which are not aligned with any political party.
In my view, these churches tend to be much more committed to racial justice and care for the poor than is commonly seen in white Evangelicalism. In this way, they might be called liberal. On the other hand, these multicultural churches remain avowedly conservative on issues like sex outside of marriage. They look, to most eyes, like a strange mixture of liberal and conservative viewpoints, although they themselves see a strong inner consistency between these views. They resist the contemporary ethical package deals that today’s progressivism and conservatism seek to impose on adherents, insisting that true believers must toe the line on every one of a host of issues. But these younger evangelical churches simply won’t play by those rules.
In a book published earlier this year, “In Search of Ancient Roots: The Christian Past and the Evangelical Identity Crisis,” the historian Kenneth J. Stewart makes the case that the evangelical impulse in Christianity has been with us for centuries, taking on many different forms and bearing many different names, while maintaining substantially similar core beliefs. Many have analyzed the weaknesses of the current iteration of this movement. The desire by mid-twentieth-century leaders to foster more widespread coöperation between evangelicals and downplay denominational differences cut believers off from the past, some religion scholars have found. The result was an emphasis on personal experience rather than life in a church with historical memory. This has made present-day evangelicals more vulnerable to political movements that appeal to their self-interest, even in contradiction to Biblical teachings, for example, about welcoming the immigrant and lifting up the poor. However, evangelicalism is much more resilient than any one form of itself. The newer forms that are emerging are more concerned with theological and historic roots, and are more resistant to modern individualism than older, white Evangelicalism.
Does the word, then, have an ongoing usefulness? For now, the answer may be no. These new urban churches are certainly not mainline Protestant, yet they don’t look at all like what the average person thinks of by the term “Evangelical.” Will these younger churches abandon the name or try to redefine it? I don’t know, but, as a professional minister, I don’t think it is the most important point to make. What is crucial to know is that, even if the name “evangelical” is replaced with something else, it does not mean that the churches will lose their beliefs. Some time ago, the word “liberal” was largely abandoned by Democrats in favor of the word “progressive.” In some ways, the Democratic Party is more liberal now than when the older label was set aside, evidence that it is quite possible to change the name but keep the substance.
The same thing may be happening to evangelicalism. The movement may abandon, or at least demote, the prominence of the name, yet be more committed to its theology and historic impulses than ever. Some predict that younger evangelicals will not only reject the name but also become more secular. That is not what I have been seeing here in New York City. And studies by the Pew Research Center and others indicate that religious denominations that have become more friendly to secularism are shrinking precipitously, while the evangelical churches that resist dilution in their theological beliefs and practices are holding their own or growing. And if evangelicals—or whatever they will call themselves­—continue to become more multiethnic in leadership and confound the left-right political categories, they may continue to do so.

A new generation of churches, more diverse and confounding political categories, may abandon the label but remain committed to its historic beliefs.

  • Timothy Keller is the founder and Pastor Emeritus of the Redeemer Presbyterian Churches of New York City.

Why I Can No Longer Call Myself an Evangelical Republican

This was originally published as an op-ed in the New York Times.  ed.

Preserving my identity as a Christian conservative means turning away from two movements that have shaped my life.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Abusing the Fathers

This essay from Touchstone magazine was referenced in an article at American Anglican, the website of the American Anglican Council.

The Windsor Report’s Misleading Appeal to Nicea
by William J. Tighe

A year ago, after the uproar over the consecration as bishop of New Hampshire of the notorious Vicki Gene Robinson—the Episcopal priest who divorced his wife and subsequently openly entered a homosexual relationship that continues to this day—the Archbishop of Canterbury appointed a committee to look into the matter. The consecration clearly contradicted the 1998 Lambeth Conference’s resolution declaring such relationships to be incompatible with the Christian faith, and the “Lambeth Commission” was to recommend ways in which the Anglican Communion could maintain the highest possible degree of communion.

The ensuing “Windsor Report,” released on October 18, 2004, called for moratoria on the ordination of all non-celibate homosexuals and on the approval of rites for blessing same-sex “partnerships,” as well as for an end to the intervention of traditionalist bishops (usually from Africa or Asia) in the dioceses of “revisionist” bishops. It called both traditionalist and revisionist groups to express regret for their actions, which were deemed to be incompatible with the tangible and intangible bonds that held the Anglican Communion together.

Wright’s Defense

N. T. (“Tom”) Wright, the bishop of Durham in the Church of England, was a member of the commission, and in various places since the issuance of the report has defended it. He has for some years deservedly enjoyed the reputation of a first-rate Scripture scholar who has been able to counteract and debunk revisionist—read, if you will, heretical or anti-Christian—views of the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord and of the authority of the Bible.

He appeals particularly to those “conservative evangelical” Christians who wish to uphold a generally high view of the authority of Scripture in doctrine and morals, but wish to leave room for some “developments,” such as the ordination of women, which Wright supports.

Wright has, in particular, defended the report’s implicit censure of the intervention of orthodox Anglican bishops in the dioceses of revisionist ones in the United States and Canada. In a report published in the liberal-leaning English Roman Catholic weekly The Tablet, he justified this censure on the basis that such interventions were “in contravention not only of Anglican custom but of the Nicene decrees on the subject.”

The theory of the inviolable integrity of diocesan boundaries has underpinned the statements of more than one or two Episcopal bishops in recent years, such as Peter Lee of Virginia and Neil Alexander of Atlanta. The result of the theory that “heresy is preferable to schism” and “schism is worse than heresy” has been the belief among influential conservative Anglicans that the faithful must put up with an unending stream of doctrinal absurdities and moral enormities.

In an interview with Christianity Today, Wright insisted that “border crossings” are not only “disruptive” but prohibited by the Council of Nicea. “And I think not a lot of people know this, but it’s important to say this was a question that the early fathers faced at the same time as they were hammering out the doctrine of the person of Jesus Christ, and that they gave it their time to say people should not do this because that’s not how episcopacy works.” He insisted that “the real charge” against the offending dioceses
is that they were going ahead with innovations without giving the proper theological rationale, without paying attention to the rest of the communion, without doing all the things which as Anglicans we all thought we were signed up to doing before people make innovations. The bishops and archbishops who have intervened in other people’s provinces and dioceses are, in effect, at that level making the same error.
The interviewer then noted that one theologian believed that, in the early Church, orthodox bishops considered a heretical bishop’s see vacant and would go into his diocese. “It’s not simply as easy as that, because who says that so-and-so is a false teacher?” Wright responded. Bishop John Spong would describe the Evangelical former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, as “a false teacher. . . . So you have to have some way of getting a handle on this and not simply one bishop saying that his next-door neighbor is out of line and therefore he’s going to invade. That has never been the Anglican way.”

As Bishop Wright’s grasp of the church fathers’ theory and practice seems a bit weak in these areas—and as he was clearly the most scholarly member of the commission—it may be useful to pursue the subject a bit further. Less can be said for the church fathers’ support for the commission’s claims than Wright asserts.

A regrettable feature of the Windsor Report is its lack of documented notes and references to back up its claims and assertions. For example, it simply cites “the ancient norm of the Church” for its claims about the unity of all Christians in one place and for its rationale against the intervention of outside bishops, without offering any evidence at all. It never quotes any “Nicene decrees on the subject,” to use Bishop Wright’s phrase, though an allusion to one of Nicea’s canons, of doubtful relevance, is tucked away in the report.

Inapplicable Canons

The Council of Nicea, which met from May to August of a.d. 325 and is most famous for its formulation of the original version of the Nicene Creed, also produced twenty canons, or rules, to settle problems or fix abuses in the Church. Several of the canons concern the relations of bishops with one another and of clergy with their bishops. Significantly for the present case, none have any legal force in any contemporary Anglican church.

But more importantly, none of them seem to have any real applicability to the situation of the Anglican Communion, or the Episcopal Church, today. If any one of them underlies Bishop Wright’s oblique reference, it must be Canon 16. Members of the clergy, it declares,
who have the audacity, not considering the fear of God and not knowing the Church’s rule, to abandon their churches, must not under any circumstances be received in another church but by all means must be forced to return to their proper communities, and if they refuse, they are to be properly excommunicated. In addition, if anyone dares to take someone who is under the authority of another bishop and to ordain him in his own church without the consent of the bishop in whose clergy he was enrolled, let the ordination be regarded as null.
This canon obviously deals with “clergy flight” and “clergy poaching”: It assumes a community of orthodox belief between the churches and bishops concerned, and says nothing at all about interventions in churches whose bishops have abandoned orthodoxy of belief and practice and have begun to oppress those of their flock who continue to uphold it, even if that “oppression” consists only in contradicting that orthodoxy and furthering those who teach and act against it.

But while I was puzzling over Wright’s invocation of this inapplicable canon, I found an allusion to the eighth canon early in the report. In this passage, the report deplores “ as now part of the problem we face” the breaking of communion with the Episcopal Church by other Anglican churches, attempts by dissenters in America to “distance themselves” from the Episcopal Church, and the interventions of archbishops from other Anglican churches.

Then it comments: “This goes not only against traditional and oft-repeated Anglican practice [alluding to the 1988 and 1998 Lambeth Conferences] but also against some of the longest-standing regulations of the early undivided church (Canon 8 of Nicea).”

The Pure Ones

So what does the canon say? It is one of the longer ones, and it concerns the re-entry into the Church of “the so-called ‘pure ones’.” It required them to “promise in writing to accept and to follow the rulings of the Catholic Church,” primarily to have communion with those who renounced the faith during persecutions but had since been given a period of penance and a date for their reconciliation with the Church.

In places that had only “pure ones” as clergy, they should keep their status, but if a “pure one” wanted to be admitted to the clergy in a place that had “a bishop or a priest of the Catholic Church . . . it is evident that the bishop of the Church should keep the dignity of bishop.” A bishop of the “pure ones”
is to have the rank of priest unless the bishop consents to let him have the honor of his title. But if he is not so disposed, let the bishop give him a place as a chorepiscopus [i.e., a bishop who exercised some supervision over Christian communities in the rural areas, while being himself subordinate to the bishop of a nearby city] or as a priest so that he can appear as being integrated into the clergy. Without this provision, there would be two bishops in the city.
“The pure ones” was the name given, perhaps self-given, to a schismatic group known as the Novatianists. They originated in the aftermath of the great persecution—the first empire-wide persecution—launched against the Church by the Roman Emperor Decius in 249–251. Before that persecution, a Christian who renounced Christianity under pressure and then wished to return to the Church could only be readmitted to the Eucharist when on his deathbed.

In the aftermath of the persecution, which saw apostasies on a large scale, the bishop of Rome, Cornelius, allowed the “lapsed” to be readmitted after some years of public penitence, which involved, among other things, standing in a particular place during the Church’s Liturgy and leaving before Communion. Most bishops elsewhere adopted this practice as well, but in Rome, Pope Cornelius was opposed by the priest Novatian, whose followers elected him bishop in opposition to Cornelius, and in the ensuing years the schism spread throughout the Roman Empire.

The Novatianists were moral rigorists, best known for their absolute prohibition of second marriages under any circumstances (including after the death of a spouse) and their refusal to readmit the lapsed to Communion. In every other respect, though, their beliefs were thoroughly orthodox. A Novatianist bishop turned up at the Council of Nicea, where he was as vehement in his opposition to the views of the heretic Arius as any of the other bishops there. It was only when he went on to insist on the exclusion of the lapsed from Communion that his Novatianist allegiance came to light, and he was ejected from the council.

Of all the various heretical or schismatic Christian sects, the Novatianists were viewed with the most indulgence, as this canon indicates. Although it was common at the time to regard as “heretical” all Christian sects that pertinaciously and as a matter of principle separated themselves from the “Catholic and Apostolic Church,” in practice the council treated groups of them who wished to rejoin the Church as though they were simply schismatics.

In fact, few Novatianists took advantage of this offer. Their church, or “denomination,” continued to exist as a rigorous and “pure” alternative to the established Church in parts of the Eastern Roman Empire for some three or four centuries afterwards.

Dealing with Defectors

It is hard to see how this canon has anything to do with the troubles of contemporary Anglicanism that evoked the Windsor Report. The canon does uphold the unity of the local church, but the situation it addresses is the reunion of a schismatic group with the Church, not the appropriate response of bishops to the defection of one of their brethren from their common orthodoxy. However, the latter type of situation did arise in the fourth century, in the long aftermath of the Council of Nicea, and later still.

The main purpose of the Council of Nicea was to judge the views of the Alexandrian priest and theologian Arius, who held that Jesus was a creature—a divine being created by God before the angels, the cosmos, and mankind, but a creature nevertheless. Nicea condemned Arius’s views, and its creed confessed the full co-divinity and co-eternity of “the everlasting Son of the Father.”

However, since the controversy continued unabated after Nicea, and since Emperor Constantine had wanted the council to promote ecclesiastical harmony, the fact that it signally failed to produce such harmony induced him, within a few short years, to attempt to promote various theological compromises that would reconcile the Arians and the Niceans. (Many of the most influential bishops around the emperor were sympathetic to some degree with Arius.)

Among the most vigorous and uncompromising upholders of Nicea and its creed was the young archbishop of Alexandria, Athanasius (c. 296–373), who as a priest had accompanied his predecessor to Nicea. His vigorous opposition to any compromise earned him the hostility of the bishops who had most influence with the emperor, who himself in the last decade of his life (he died in 337) increasingly regarded Athanasius as a disturber of the peace, and finally exiled him to what is today the German Rhineland.

After Constantine’s death, as his Arianizing son Constantius became master, first of the East and then (in 350) of the whole Roman Empire, imperial policy shifted from conciliation to coercion of the adherents of Nicea, and these shifts continued down to the final defeat of Arianism in 381.

As time went on, the whole Church became divided over the question, with bishop opposing bishop. Athanasius was willing, as the conflict intensified—in his case, as early as the mid-340s—to intervene unilaterally in dioceses whose bishops were Arians or compromisers. The historians Socrates and Sozomen, writing in the middle of the next century, record that he ordained men in dioceses whose bishops were tainted with Arianism to serve the orthodox upholders of Nicea, and that he did so without seeking or obtaining the permission of those bishops.

We do not know for sure whether Athanasius ordained bishops for these orthodox communities faced with hostile heterodox bishops, or only priests and deacons. Socrates’s account in his Ecclesiastical History is obscure, stating only that “in some of the churches also he performed ordination, which afforded another ground of accusation against him, because of his undertaking to ordain in the dioceses of others.”

In his Ecclesiastical History, Sozomen wrote of Athanasius’s ejection of Arianizing clergy when he returned to Egypt from his second exile around 346, and added, “It was said at that time that, when he was traveling through other countries, he effected the same change if he happened to visit churches which were under the Arians. He was certainly accused of having dared to perform the ceremony of ordination in cities where he had no right to do so.”

Violable Boundaries

And he was not alone. Other orthodox bishops acted similarly.

Theodoret of Cyrrhus, yet another historian (and bishop), tells us in hisEcclesiastical History that a contemporary and collaborator of Athanasius, Eusebius of Samosata, traveled around many of the eastern portions of the Roman Empire disguised as a soldier, and where he found Arian or Arianizing bishops, he ordained deacons, priests, and even bishops to care for the orthodox and oppose the official bishops and their supporters. He names five bishops Eusebius consecrated.

Another bishop, Lucifer of Cagliari, wandered throughout the Mediterranean world in support of those who upheld Nicea. Both Socrates and Theodoret record his intervention in the divided church of Antioch. In 362 he consecrated the leader of one of the orthodox groups, the leader of the other, larger group having early on in his career appeared to compromise with moderate Arians. The uncompromising orthodox group had never been willing to accept him as their bishop, and the consecration embittered the break between the two and led to a schism that was not to be healed for over fifty years.

Epiphanius, bishop of Salamis in Cyprus, conducted ordinations in his native Palestine in defiance of compromising bishops during the Arian crisis. As Socrates relates, he did the same thing many years later in Constantinople, when he was led to believe that John Chrysostom, the patriarch there, supported the errors of Origen.

Details of the activities of such bishops are few, but in the next century, for 85 years after the Council of Chalcedon in 451, both proponents and opponents of that council among the bishops in the eastern parts of the empire were willing to intervene, or intrude, regularly in dioceses whose bishops were on the “ other side.”

All of this allows us to say that any attempt to construct a theory of the inviolability of diocesan boundaries cannot find any support in the theory and practice of the early Church. In the light of this history, Bishop Wright’s invocation of “Nicene decrees” and the Windsor Report’s allusion to “the ancient norm” and “some of the longest-standing regulations” vanishes altogether, and all that is left is “Anglican custom” (Wright) or “traditional and oft-repeated Anglican practice” (Windsor).

Deprived Christians

Those who have followed the actual practices of Anglican churches over the past three decades, in the United States, Canada, and Australia especially, will see how readily proponents of one innovation after another have been willing to abandon norms, decrees, regulations, canons, customs—you name it—to gain their ends.

In the Christianity Today interview, Wright remarked that “the real question at the heart of much of this is, which [are] the things we can agree to differ about and which [are] the things we can’t agree to differ about.” He continued, speaking of modern questions the Nicene fathers he invoked would have thought settled matters of their common faith,
Again and again I hear people on both sides of the argument simply begging that question and assuming that they know without argument that this is something that we can agree to differ about, or assuming that they know without argument this is one of the things we can’t agree to differ about. What we all have to do is to say about any issue—whether it’s lay celebration [of Communion], whether it’s episcopal intervention, whether it’s homosexual practice—
How do we know, and who says which differences make a difference and which differences don’t make a difference?

Speaking for myself as a Catholic with many Anglican friends, the clearest and most instructive (as well as the saddest) lesson of this episode is how sincere and pious Christians, like Bishop Wright, deprive themselves of any compellingly persuasive basis for rallying a forceful “Athanasian” movement to retake their churches from the heterodox innovators who dominate them—and not least because of their own inability, as the bishop’s statements show, to make clear judgments about false teaching and false teachers and to take firm and decisive measures in response. In consequence, they render their own situations hopeless, being able neither to fight nor to flee.

N. T. Wright’s article appeared in the 23 October 2004 issue of The Tablet and may be found at The Christianity Today interview can be found at The sources of the quotations from Socrates are (in order): Book II, chapter 24; III.6 and 9; VI.12; those from Sozomen are III.21; and from Theodoret IV.13 and V.4; III.2.

William J. Tighe is Associate Professor of History at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and a faculty advisor to the Catholic Campus Ministry. He is a Member of St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Church in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He is a contributing editor for Touchstone.

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Saturday, June 17, 2017

Dramatic Shake-Up in American Anglican Blog Rankings

This morning, I read an article at Anglican Mainstream, a British site, and clicked on a link.  That link sent me to Anglican Ink, an American site, and it got me wondering.  How are American Anglican blogs doing these days?  Here's what I found at

Global Rankings

Virtue Online: 432,834
Anglican Ink: 1,451,785
Stand Firm in Faith: 7,451,785
Titus One Nine: 10,872,613

This was the first check I've done in a long time, and it suprised me on two fronts.

First, VOL is off a bit from previous global rankings, but Stand Firm in Faith and Titus One Nine have both fallen off a cliff.  SFIF used to be a close second to VOL, but now a newcomer, AI is a distant second.

Second, traffic to American Anglican sites is down overall from the heady days after the Episcopal Church's 2003 General Convention.  This is to be expected, but I was surprised to discover how much traffic has fallen for SFIF and TitusOneNine.  While AI is a relative newcomer, they do good reporting and their use of video sets them apart from the other sites.

Since the province of the Anglican Church in North America was founded in 2009, the dust has settled, and the issues that were so prominent after GC2003 are less so.  Orthodox Anglicans now have a place to go outside of PECUSA and the business at hand has become more and more the Gospel and not the issues plaguing PECUSA.

What is the future of American Anglican blogs?  That is hard to say, but I expect VOL will remain the dominant player for America Anglicanism.  Anglican Ink will likely continue to grow in popularity given its use of video, which will attract viewers in our visual age.  I expect that SFIF and T19 will continue to appeal to their smaller constituencies.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

"Shut Up, Bigot!": Civil Rights and Same-Sex Marriage

via Virtue Online: By Ben R. Crenshaw WITHERSPOON INSTITUTE April 14, 2016 Supporters of "same-sex marriage" claim that its opponents are bigots, like racists or misogynists, whose views should not be tolerated in the public square. In fact, marriage traditionalists are not bigoted but rather are realistic and honest about what marriage actually is. In a Public Discourse essay last year, "Shut Up, Bigot!": The Intolerance of Tolerance, I addressed how defenders of marriage are often called bigots for holding the view that marriage is, by nature, the union of one man and one woman, exclusively and for life. I objected to this censoring and bullying, explaining that those calling traditionalists "bigots" held a false postmodern conception of tolerance that confuses intolerance of ideas with intolerance of persons. Here I address the central objection that I have encountered to my argument. Denying Gay People the Civil Right to Marriage? The most common objection is that traditionalists are using "tolerance" as a cover for their discriminating and harmful views. The objection goes something like this: Discriminating against homosexuals by not allowing them to marry is as evil as racism and segregation, the banning of interracial marriage, or denying women's rights. You wouldn't be tolerant of these abhorrent things would you? America has become enlightened to LGBT rights, and you are simply using religious rhetoric to cloak your animus and bigotry. You have no right to demand tolerance just as the racist or misogynist has no right to demand tolerance, and society should call you what you are: a backward, intolerant bigot. The core of the complaint is that people in a same-sex relationship have a civil right to marry each other (i.e., a right to same-sex marriage), and that denying them this right is as scandalous and repulsive as denying blacks or women basic civil rights. In this case, traditionalists' calls for tolerance are ignored, just as calls for tolerance of racism, misogyny, and the like are ignored. The Limits and Demands of Tolerance If the analogies in this objection are correct, the critic has a valid point. Tolerance can only go so far. If members of a society systematically dehumanize any other group of people, the rest of society should not tolerate it. The practice of tolerance itself, however, is dependent upon a shared worldview that corresponds to reality. For example, because we all agree that by the laws of mathematics 2+2=4, we would not tolerate an elementary-school math teacher instructing her students that 2+2=5. We all agree that Aristotle's law of non-contradiction is necessarily true. Likewise, we wouldn't tolerate a religion that engaged in human sacrifice. We all agree that there is a moral law that unjustified killing of another human is murder and should be prohibited. We may not agree on the ontological bases for these truths, but all that is necessary is agreement that these things are true. In these and similar cases, intolerance is appropriate. Without it, society would become chaotic. Tolerance becomes relevant when truths are obscure. Is God timeless or in time? Are human beings body-soul composites or just physical matter? Is discarding leftover embryos used in in-vitro fertilization the equivalent of killing a person? These and a thousand other questions do not have clear-cut answers. This is why ongoing public discourse, academic freedom, and the joint pursuit of truth are necessary. Tolerating the views of those with whom one disagrees is an integral part of this task. For millennia, the necessity of sexual complementarity for marriage was one of the truths that cultures around the world shared (even those cultures that approved of same-sex sexual practice, e.g., ancient Greece and Rome). Yet this has now changed: the nature and definition of marriage, once indubitably and unanimously believed to be a union between man and woman, has become obscured. It has moved from the former category of a shared truth to the latter category of a debated idea. This means that, for traditional accounts of marriage, sexuality, and gender to be tolerated, they must be rationally explained and defended as reasonable, true, and moral. We can no longer rely on what everyone once knew to be true about marriage. False Analogies and Conceptions Such a defense of marriage has been made thoroughly, in part demonstrating that any comparisons to racism, misogyny, or prejudice against interracial marriage are false analogies. Refusing two people in a same-sex relationship the "right" to same-sex marriage is dissimilar in every way from denying black people human rights or women the right to vote, or banning interracial marriage. The reason the traditional view of marriage should be tolerated in public discourse and its adherents shouldn't be labeled bigots is precisely because it is a comprehensible, virtuous, and well-argued account of marriage superior in every way to revisionist accounts. Critics of the traditional view of marriage often think of opposite- and same-sex unions as two viable expressions of marriage, equally intelligible and able to coexist harmlessly. Thus one can understand why many think denying same-sex relationships marriage is a gross breach of civil rights. Yet approaching the debate over same-sex marriage from this premise is confused. In place of the fallacious analogies above, we need a valid analogy that captures the severity and consequence of what it means to redefine marriage. A Valid Analogy Consider the hypothetical case of a middle-aged couple, Dan and Susie, who own a pet Labrador dog named Max. This couple love and adore their dog so much that, for whatever reason, they come to believe he is actually their flesh-and-blood biological child. When they fill out their taxes, they claim the child tax credit for Max; when the new school year begins, they enroll Max in kindergarten; when they stop at McDonald's they order Max the child's Happy Meal and then let him romp in the play place. In short, they do everything for Max that normal parents would do for their children. Things don't go smoothly, however. When the IRS denies them the child tax credit, their local elementary school refuses to enroll Max, and the McDonald's manager kicks them out of the play place, they are incensed. How dare these people deny their child Max the rights and benefits of full integration into society! They decide to take their case to Washington, lobbying the government for help. Despite their passionate pleas, they are refused. The US government kindly but firmly explains that Dan and Susie are mistaken about the nature of reality: dogs are a different kind of species than human children. Their conviction that Max is their biological child is false, despite what they feel, insist upon, or do. Dan and Susie were not denied the civil right to have and raise children just because they had confusedly adopted their pet dog as their child. Instead, we would say that they failed to actually participate in the institution of parenthood (i.e., mothering and fathering), something that requires producing human offspring through sexual intercourse (or via adoption, etc.). Despite their insistence and self-righteous indignation, they were neither denied a civil right nor socially marginalized. They do not have the right to treat their dog as if it were a child, christen such behavior "parenting," and then insist that everyone else in society--including state and national governments--recognize their behavior as legitimate. Instead, their belief that Max is their child is correctly identified as false and thus detrimental not only to themselves and to their pet but also to society as a whole. But what would happen if Dan and Susie succeeded in convincing their culture that Max was indeed their biological child? What if thousands of other pet owners across the nation came to believe the same? What would happen if the Supreme Court, in a contested and controversial 5-4 decision, sided with Dan and Susie and redefined "children" to include pets? One could only imagine the social chaos that would ensue. Such a society would rightly be deemed to be living in a fantasy--a delusional world that would inevitably end in disaster. This is the proper analogy to the redefinition of marriage. Of course, this analogy is not asserting that gay people are somehow less human or a different species, but rather that revisionist definitions of marriage are as confused as Dan and Susie's revisionist definition of children. The traditionalist claim is not primarily that same-sex marriage is a bad idea, but that it is a nonsensical idea--an impossibility--just as a "pet (i.e., animal) child" is an impossibility. Since marriage necessarily requires sexual complementarity, to speak of "homosexual marriage," "gay marriage," or "same-sex marriage," is a contradiction in terms. It is akin to talking about square triangles, married bachelors, or monogamous throuples. It is unintelligible. Any society that believes it is possible to have "married bachelor" as a relational status with legal protection and congruent civil rights would rightly be declared delusional; so it is with "same-sex marriage." Natural Rights and Civil Rights How does this relate to the civil rights debate? Civil rights come in two forms. The first are pre-political, natural rights that governments recognize and codify as law, such as the inalienable rights mentioned in the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights. These rights are naturally occurring, God-given, and innumerable. They are known as negative rights because they place obligations of non-interference upon everyone else. In this case the civil right is a moral imperative that flows from the natural right. The second kind of civil rights come from civil law. In America, this includes the rights to vote, to trial by jury, to the standard of reasonable doubt, etc. These rights are not naturally occurring, innumerable, or provided by God, as they only obtain through social contracts and government legislation. They are not universal, but can vary from country to country and over time. It also means that changing these rights is not immoral (although usually imprudent). These kinds of civil rights are known as positive rights because they place obligations of provision upon certain parties. In this case the civil right is created when the positive right comes into existence via human effort. Civil Rights and Same-Sex Marriage Although debated, marriage is the former kind: a natural, pre-political right that is part of the created order. Therefore, the civil right to marriage depends on marriage as a naturally occurring, negative right. Since marriage did not come into existence through social contract or legislation (i.e., positive rights), governments and courts cannot redefine either marriage or the civil right to it. "Same-sex marriage" is a contradiction in terms, and one cannot have a civil right to a contradiction. Just as there is no civil right to being a "married bachelor," so there is no civil right to a "same-sex marriage" because such a thing does not and cannot exist--despite beliefs to the contrary. One can be granted the freedom to believe in illusory relationships, but in no case does one have the moral right to impose these false beliefs on the rest of society and use the strong arm of governments or courts to reshape the culture accordingly. In fact, just the opposite is true. Every government has the duty to correctly discern truth and then to craft laws, customs, and values according to those truths. While pluralistic societies should allow for differing beliefs and lifestyles, under no circumstance does this excuse the government from its duty to adhere to reality within its legitimate domains of authority--one of which is marriage. The irony is that same-sex attracted people have always had the civil right to marry. What they have not had is the civil right to "same-sex marriage," since such a thing is not possible. Just as Dan and Susie were never denied the right to have children or become parents simply because they were mistaken about what a child was, so same-sex attracted people have never been denied marriage just because they are mistaken about what marriage is. Marriage traditionalists are not bigots because their view of marriage is rational, well-argued, and virtuous, thus falling within the realm of debated ideas that are tolerated in the common pursuit of truth. Marriage traditionalists are not bigots because the analogies to racism, interracial marriage, and the like are false. Marriage traditionalists are not bigots because their understanding of marriage necessarily excludes "same-sex marriage" as a possible concept. Finally, marriage traditionalists are not bigots for denying same-sex attracted people the civil right to same-sex marriage, because this civil right does not exist. Everyone is welcome to get married, but we must conform to the reality of what marriage is, not attempt to shape it according to our desires. Facts are stubborn things, and the facts about marriage are stubborn indeed. Ben R. Crenshaw is a graduate student at Denver Seminary and a teaching fellow at the Gordon Lewis Center for Christian Thought and Culture ------------------------------

Friday, March 11, 2016

Anguish and Amnesia: The Episcopal Church and Communion

From the Anglican Communion Institute: Written by: Rev. Dr. Ephraim Radner Tuesday, March 8th, 2016 Download the full text of this article with footnotes (PDF) The hurt The sense of sorrow and sometimes indignation expressed by many TEC bishops over the Primates’ meeting and its decisions is understandable. The sentiment of grief comes in many forms. For some (e.g. Connecticut), “sadness” is marked by a warning against primatial overreach. For others (e.g. New Hampshire), TEC is experiencing pain because she is being persecuted like Jesus. For some (e.g. Western New York), the Primates gathering “fails” as an ecclesial council and is but a “clanging cymbal” in its understanding of communion. Some (e.g. California) went so far as to accuse the Primates, on this “sad day”, of acting in a manner “antithetical to the way of Christ”, and of being “dishonest”, “devious”, and “scapegoating”. Despite these strong notes of distress, TEC’s episcopal responses are generally gracious. They also almost all assert the fact that nothing has changed, nothing will change, and that TEC’s decisions regarding same-sex marriage are immovable. In this way, sadness is bound to a sense that the Primates’ common counsel is mostly irrelevant. It is true that the Primates’ decisions mark a clear rejection of TEC’s policies and decisions at its own General Convention. Nobody likes to have people forcefully disagree with them; and the matter of same-sex marriage is one of deep feeling and passion, and also irresolvable contradictions in presupposition and perspective among disputants. It is painfully grating when fellow Christians and thoughtful human beings insist they cannot agree with another’s point of view. I suppose it is also understandable that one might mourn the fact that such deep disagreements give rise to tangible estrangement. While the Primates insisted that TEC remains a beloved sister church in the Communion, they don’t want TEC representing the Anglican Communion or voting at Communion councils on matters of doctrine and polity. That too is painful. It is hard to hold together talk of “love” and the imposition of disciplinary “consequences”. All of us want voice and vote within our communities, and when these are restricted or taken away, we feel that our place in that community has itself been threatened or diminished. So, I say, let the bishops vent. It’s only natural. We have all been venting about these kinds of things, each from our own vantage of experienced threat and diminishment, over the past few years. But we should beware of confusing our hurts with ecclesial realities. In this case, TEC bishops have, one after the other, insisted that the Primates have no “right” or “authority” to make the decisions they have done, or to implement them. TEC bishops have said that the Anglican Communion has no means to shape their participation in its councils. They have said that the Communion itself has nothing to do with common teaching and an ordered common council. They have said, finally, that the Anglican Communion has historically been nothing like what the Primates have said it is. All of these claims are questionable, perhaps even false. Historical Errors about the Communion Let me take each of them in reverse order: 1. The nature of the Anglican Communion: TEC bishops as a whole seem to have adopted the view that the Anglican Communion is a serenely immovable reality wherein independent churches around the world respect one another, enjoy each other’s company, and let each other do as each pleases. This is normative, they say, and has always been thus. The Primates are innovators, they assert. This characterization is a gross historical fabrication. Respect, personal interaction, and legal independence among Communion churches, yes: but these constitute the thinnest veneer of communion life imaginable, and do not begin to touch the historical reality of the Anglican Communion itself. The Anglican Communion is an entity that is both the product of and the continued subject of dynamic evolution. There is no “always thus” in the Communion. This dynamism, furthermore, has not been haphazard. It has been consistently driven by three much more profound elements, which I list in order of historical importance: mission, catholicity, and the witness of ecumenical unity. This is no place for a history lesson, although it seems that reminders remain necessary. We can outline, then, what such a lesson would involve and how it would turn up some key continuities. There has been a clear current in the Communion’s emergence and evolution according to these elements of mission, catholicity, and witness to unity. First, England Reformation had at its core a sense of catholicity; in part, this drove Cranmer to be one of the Church’s first deliberate ecumenists, searching for council and unity in Europes. Then there were the complex and knotted politics of a divided realm – England, Scotland, and Ireland in the 17th century especially — that forced the Church of England to reconsider its link to the apostolic mission of the Church catholic. Next came the impulses of those vibrant mission societies that, in the 18th century, moved from England into the wider world of Britain’s colonial expansion, channeling the new pluralistic energies of the nation into a shared religious fervor for sharing the Gospel. By this point the missionary current had begun to flow deeply and strongly. It was linked to the earlier Reformation press for disseminating Scriptural knowledge. When the Protestant Episcopal Church’s late 18th- and early 19th-century life unfolded, concerns regarding the catholicity of Anglican witness took explicit hold in the face of vying Christian communities within America. (It was also a time when we see the first expressions of American Episcopalian exceptionalism – “we’re different”.) More missionary impulses flowed out from this period, and took form in a range elements that, after around 1850, became associated with something called “the Anglican Communion”: Canterbury, Lambeth Conferences, more mission, Anglican Congresses, more mission, formal ecumenical engagement in the late 19th and early 20thcenturies especially, more and more mission, and then the cascading organizing symbols of the Communion Office, the Anglican Consultative Council, the Primates’ Meeting in the 1960’s and ‘70’s. Finally, in the early 21st century, emerged the rumbling flow of the Covenant Process. And yes, more mission – in Asia, Africa, South America, and beyond as the Christian Gospel offered from Anglican hands and voices took wing outside the fading religious precincts of the West. Mission, catholicity, and unity have all driven the Communion’s emergence and formal articulation, as well as its developing order. What is more, American Episcopalians have, until recently, been at the forefront of this river of divine energy. This is all historically demonstrable, and TEC bishops today forget this at the risk of forgetting who they really are and why they are bishops at all. Saddened as I too am, in this case by TEC’s actions at Convention, I am grateful that I have been an Episcopalian: for because of this Communion dynamic that the Episcopal Church came out of and contributed to, I heard the Gospel of Christ Jesus, learned the faith, was caught up within the Scriptures, and drawn into the life of a world of unimagined yet holy believers from across the continents. It has been a foretaste of heaven in many ways, even with its all too this-worldly disappointments. There has never been a stable or ideal “Anglican Communion”. It has always been “on the move”. Describing the Communion in such a dynamic way, of course, also includes contestation and debate: that too has always been a part of the flow of life that has moved evangelically around the globe since its first springs in early modernity. (The Anglican Communion is a quintessentially modern phenomenon, in the sense of it being a vessel of the one Gospel’s adaptation to this epoch of human history.) The role of the Primates is itself a part of this contestation. But there is a difference between debate that seeks to unleash the current of the Gospel and one that ends by stymying it. The last 15 years have seen a dam built up, through often intentionally stoked conflict, to block the Communion’s evangelical dynamism. Now that the Primates have sought to unblock it, they can hardly be called unfaithful to the Communion’s character. For communion more broadly, and the Anglican Communion in particular is not a “thing”, but a movement in service of a divine gospel and evangelical imperative: “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” and making us “ambassadors for Christ” who beseech the world for our Lord (2 Cor. 5:19, 20). The dynamic elements of Mission/Catholicity/Ecumenical Witness that mark the Anglican Communion are not theological criteria; rather they embody a divine vocation empowered by God’s own life. TEC can decide this vocation is not hers; or she can dispute its articulation. But to press for that vocation’s subversion as taken up by her sister churches is not only antagonistic, it has led her to embarrassing and shameful offenses, like the cultural racism that, in TEC hands, now paints African and non-Western church leaders as socially primitive exemplars of an undeveloped religiosity. It is a divinely developing Communion, by contrast, upon which the Primates have in fact made their wager. It is, in any case, interesting to see TEC bishops, who frequently applaud the Holy Spirit’s progressive revelatory capacity in their own midst, assert an entity called “the Communion” in a way that is closer to the ahistorical and static platonic form of some imagined (and indeed, historically unreal) ideal that has never existed. It is a view that now strangely seeks to trump truths articulated in the process of catholic debate and discernment within the larger church. 2. Common teaching and ordered common council TEC leaders like to describe this impassible Communion as something antithetical to shared teaching and decision-making. To be sure, these elements often seem in tension or even conflict with the dynamic character of the Anglican Communion. Common teaching and council was made difficult just at the moment when the Communion gained clear public profile in the late 19th century and beyond, due to a host of sociological changes: pluralizing indigenous leadership, the rise of the seminaries and their diverse formations, ideologies of debate and resistance that mimicked civil political attitudes, polities of individual choice. We see some of these social changes influencing debates already in England in the 17th century, in the Anglo-American world of the 18th-centurhy, and in formal ecclesiastical party strife in the mid-19th century. By the 20th century, diversity and divergence became positive cultural values in the eyes of many Westerners especially. It is, in any case, a political reality out of which we do not seem able of move, and for which we have no obvious alternative. Nobody seems to agree on much of anything these days, and civil political life is more and more about managing disagreement, rather than shaping and enacting common vision. Nonetheless, in the midst of these social developments, the press for alternatives to such degraded diversity has in fact been central to the Communion’s life and for one main purpose: mission, catholicity, and ecumenical witness. Although hardly immune to the tensions and struggles of expanding diversity, the Anglican Communion has always sought for ways to overcome unchecked diversity’s debilitating and dispiriting elements. Thus, mission societies aimed at common catechesis around the globe; the Lambeth Conferences were first convened and continued to search for ways of resolving conflicts and furthering mission on the basis of agreed-upon frameworks of teaching and witness; the amazingly rich array of ecumenical discussions and dialogues, set loose in the wake of Lambeth’s Appeal for unity in 1920, were premised on the hard-won fruit of theological agreement. Other Christians were, for decades, astonished, not so much at the Communion’s uniformity, but at its thirst for “agreement” and the work Anglicans were willing to put into this just in the midst of their own humanly typical conflicts. Common teaching and common council have never been finished products for Anglicans. They have been given in the mode of hope. The ordering of the Communion, as it has taken shape over the last 150 years, underscores how historically false are TEC’s claims regarding the way Anglican churches are “meant” to relate to one another. The fact that individual churches have chosen at this or that time – as TEC does today — to ignore the shape of common teaching and the decisions of common council proves nothing about the Anglican Communion other than that some members sometimes reject commonality and the reasons given for it; perhaps they have even lost hope in such coming-together through sheer historical forgetfulness. The notion, furthermore, that there have never been consequences for rejecting communion commonality is also false, however contested these consequences may have been: concrete examples in 19th- and 20th-century South Africa, in Rwanda in the 1990’s and other smaller disputes are admittedly few and generally not that significant for the larger church. Where real consequences to a rejection of Communion teaching and council have been significant is found in the ad hoc and often more destructive realms of frayed relationships and their knock-on effects: estrangement, broken communion, the decoupling of missionary cooperation and material support, shameful discord in the face of a world in need of reconciliation. It is hard to argue that these informal and inescapable consequences, deriving simply from churches doing their own thing without formal pushback, are good ways of dealing with the rejection of common teaching. It is even harder to claim that they are better than a formal decision-making process that involves representatives from around the Communion. Only a glance at recent Anglican experience shows us how absurd such an argument would be: all around us in the Communion, and in the United States especially, we see the ugly consequences of laissez faire disunity scattered about in the form of rancour, lawsuits, and missionary drought. There are always “consequences” to disunity, most of them ugly and painful. The question is how we can faithfully redirect them towards the fulfillment of divine purpose. What the Primates did, then, was to respond to a widespread desire for a deliberate rechanneling of the Anglican vocation. If TEC wants to resist this and reap yet more “informal” consequences, she is playing with the forces of her own demise. 3. Political means TEC bishops tell us that the Communion has no legitimate means, in any case, to formalize the consequences of the Americans’ resistance to the wider church’s requests and witness. This too is false, and patently so. The Primates asked that TEC representatives no longer to serve on decision-making bodies of the Communion that either deal with matters of doctrine and polity, or represent the Communion in inter-church and inter-faith meetings. In fact, most Communion-wide commission-work and counsel is pursed via invitation. Invitation is made mostly through Canterbury or the Anglican Communion Office, and it does not follow any rules of choice or representation. Sometimes nominations for such invitations are solicited, sometimes not. Why invitations might be issued or not is up to the inviter, as Archbishop Rowan Williams showed in 2010 (“the Pentecost Letter”), when he did something similar with respect to TEC representatives according to his own counsel. If the inviter is swayed by the arguments of this or that group, then that is all that is required to control who comes to represent and decide. If Lambeth or the Primates or the ACC or Canterbury itself publicly “decided” that so and so should not be invited to participate in this or that form of Communion counsel, or represent Communion churches because of a failure to embody common teaching and discipline, and if the inviters listened to such a decision, that is all it would take. There is no code of Communion canon law and no tribunal that makes any of this enforceable; there is only the collective of the Communion’s leaders themselves. But where else is communion’s Christian force humanly embodied? Participation in the Communion’s formal life is not a right, but a privilege, based on the movement that is the Communion’s own apostolic evangelical witness. 4. Primates’ place. Over and over TEC bishops have decried what they see as the Primates’ usurpation of powers. In this, rightly or wrongly, our bishops are behind the curve. The Primates have, over time, been given a very prominent place in the evolution of the Communion’s life. Obviously, the very category of archbishop and primate could only come to be as Anglican churches could form their own integrities, become locally independent and finally move towards a fully indigenized ministry. Much of this was driven by the mission and the apostolic quest for catholicity itself. So it is no surprise that it waited until the post-colonial moment of the 1960’s for the very notion of a “Primates Meeting” to emerge. In the late 1970’s this took concrete form, first with the locating of the Primates as an important aspect of common teaching and council – the Primates’ Meeting itself was born – and then with recommendations for the Meeting to assume greater leadership. Three successive Lambeth Conferences tell the tale: The Lambeth Conference of 1978 passed Resolution 11 urging “member churches not to take action regarding issues which are of concern to the whole Anglican Communion without consultation with a Lambeth Conference or with the episcopate through the Primates’ Committee (emphasis added) and requests the Primates to initiate a study of the nature of authority within the Anglican Communion.” 1988 broadened the scope of the responsibilities assigned the Primates’ Meeting. Resolution 18.2 “Urges that encouragement be given to a developing role for the Primates Meeting under the presidency of the Archbishop of Canterbury, so that the Primates’ Meeting is able to exercise an enhanced responsibility in offering guidance on doctrinal, moral and pastoral matters (emphasis added).” The 1998 Conference reaffirmed Resolution 18.2 (1988) noting that it “urges that encouragement be given to a developing collegial role for the Primates’ Meeting under the presidency of the Archbishop of Canterbury, so that the Primates’ Meeting is able to exercise an enhanced responsibility (emphasis added) in offering guidance on doctrinal, moral and pastoral matters.” The Conference further asked “that the Primates’ Meeting, under the presidency of the Archbishop of Canterbury, include among its responsibilities positive encouragement of mission, intervention in cases of exceptional emergency which are incapable of internal resolution within provinces, and giving guidelines on the limits of Anglican diversity (emphasis added) in submission to the sovereign authority of Holy Scripture and in loyalty to our Anglican tradition and formularies.” Since 1998, the Primates have been trying to follow these recommendations, albeit with some confusion at times, and certainly with some opposition. Their precise role and the form it takes are developing. That development is precisely how our Communion works as a Communion. The direction of the Primates’ Meeting’s emergence could be reversed, and TEC is free to argue (as some have) that it should be reversed. What TEC cannot argue persuasively is that the role of the Primates’ Meeting has been appropriated by misdemeanor, hijacked, invented, and so on. Not so. The fact that the Covenant’s first draft placed the Primates in the position they have recently assumed – a recommendation many supported even though it was later revised – was but a sign of this movement laid out by successive Communion recommendations. Perhaps the argument made by some in TEC, that the Primates are, if not illegitimate in their actions, at least “unrepresentative” of the Communion, is a better line of attack. Yet this too would be a false assertion.. Short of universal franchise for every Anglican in the world (and we don’t even know who they are in our own parishes!), “representativeness” is a conventional act, not a quantitative science. Within Anglicanism, since the 16th century and reaffirmed repeatedly, that convention has, rather decidedly, been ordered around the episcopacy in a primary way. To be sure, the Primates constitute a group of mostly old men. But then, so does the House of Bishops of TEC (plus a few old women), along with the leaders of TEC’s General Convention as a whole. Come to think of it, it sounds like TEC all the way down. Conclusion: What TEC leaders need to decide It is worth bringing up the Anglican Covenant here, not to make any argument about it specifically, but simply to point to the way that the dynamics at work in the Primates’ directives are just those that the Covenant attempted to address. The notion that “the Covenant is Dead In the Water”, repeated by many TEC leaders and their allies, is wishful thinking at least when it comes to underlying substance: the Primates are trying to do what the Covenant itself is far more systematically laid out to do. They are doing so because Anglican churches have, thus far, failed to engage what they need to engage if they are to be truly Anglican Communion churches. Thus, in one form or another, the Covenant by some name or other, is not going away: what pressed for its articulation continues to press us. Instead of continuing to dig their heels into the ruts of rejection, TEC leaders should try to contribute to the creative ordering of the Communion as it really is. The current discussion around the Primates’ directives has failed to substantiate TEC claims. Just the opposite: that discussion now only underscores the vanity of all those accusations regarding Communion “coercion” of member churches. Just as TEC is free to ignore any other church in the prosecution of its own affairs, so the Communion does not constrict the internal workings of this or that church. Today’s requests and “consequences”, just as the Covenant’s relational expectations, have always been framed by the inherent freedoms of local Anglican churches to determine their own way forward. One of those ways is “communion”, and its historically vibrant form in the Anglican Communion. Another way involves the rejection of communion altogether. TEC is free to be a part of communion or not. There are no legal compulsions in this regard. But TEC leaders need to be clearer in their own mind as to what is at stake here. Some might feel that ecclesial discussions like those above are all beside the point. Some have, in fact, insisted that the matter of same-sex marriage for same-sex attracted persons is one of fundamental human dignity and justice; the ecclesial issues of Communion are irrelevant to its affirmation by this or any other church. That may be the case so far as TEC wishes to claim, according to its own special view. And the hurt some Episcopalians have strenuously voiced surely derives from their sense of indignation that justice, as they perceive it, is being denied. Nonetheless, as long as the matter of same-sex attracted behavior is legitimately discussed and debated within the Church – and most TEC bishops still tell their conservative colleagues, priests and laypeople that such debate and diversity is legitimate – then the Communion can discuss and debate it, as they have. In doing so, the Communion’s leaders can claim, as did the Primates, that human dignity attaches to persons, not to internal feelings or behaviors, which are to be otherwise evaluated theologically; hence it is necessary to repudiate homophobia and civil penalties against same-sex attracted persons, even while insisting on the divinely created norm of heterosexual marriage. Furthermore, just as TEC’s General Convention has moved ahead to decide the issue for itself, so too can the Communion move ahead within the realm of its competencies to decide this or any other issue on the basis of Communion-wide counsel. If, on the other hand, TEC leaders want to say that there is no longer any room for diverse perspectives and practical decisions to be made on the matter, the Communion’s life is indeed irrelevant to TEC’s life. But then why bemoan what the Communion’s Primates have decided on the basis of common discernment? TEC leaders would have already judged common discernment and decision-making as retrograde. What TEC leaders cannot reasonably say is that the choice for Communion does not involve the commitments, responsibilities, and consequences tied up with Communion life – with common mission, catholic identity, and ecumenical witness. Hurt feelings are not a substitute for any of these realities. The next three years will require of TEC clarity and hard decisions about this. Without that, “safe distance” will become simply “distance”, and new and fuller tears will then be shed, and deservedly so. Let TEC then be clear about the character of its independent life vis-à-vis a bona fide historical reality called the Anglican Communion. Let it seek to clarify its present self-understanding. Let it speak this out clearly so that the larger Communion can hear and understand who TEC now wants to be, and in just this way, how it wants to differentiate itself vis-à-vis the historical Communion’s evolution and present life. There is no need for too much sensitivity, but only clarity about its new self-understanding. Download the full text of this article with footnotes (PDF)