If you haven’t seen the piece on space for theological conservatives in the Episcopal Church by Christopher Wells yet, do go and read it.
Christopher’s work is always worth reading, even when I don’t agree with it, but in this case I certainly do. I note that this work is part of a series and I look forward to see how he develops it. What strikes me at this point is that his definition for “conservative” may actually be a bit too big…
With that said, let me propose what I take to be a useful hermeneutic for “conservative” self-reflection and -identification, in the form of a thesis: Conservative Episcopalians will, or should, be those who define and approach all things ecclesial in a steadfastly theological way, by asking first about God’s character, his person and promises, his history and the record of his actions, so that all else is tied to, interpreted in light of, and otherwise subjected in obedience to him.
Some non-self-nominated conservatives may wish to do this, too! And arguably such an approach is simply and straightforwardly Christian. Ruled out, however, is an approach that starts with or subsists in human wisdom and experience, which requires a fundamental retelling or reworking of classic Christian doctrine in light of what may have happened to us lately — since, say, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the American Revolution, the 1970s, or what have you. Conservatives may be more or less gothically Anglo-Catholic, buoyantly evangelical, or determinedly progressive with respect to various liturgical, catechetical, or social commitments. But we take a revealed body of texts as normative, across time and space — sacred Scripture, and the creeds as its summary — and we order “all things” with respect to this trust, in Christ. That is, we accept God’s ordering of the world in this way: God, who “has put all things under [Christ’s] feet and has made him the head over all things for the Church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:22-23).
Yes, starting with the character and identity of God revealed in the Scriptures, history, and pre-eminently in the person of Jesus Christ is basic Christianity as far as I’m concerned. I can easily find myself in his definition.
But is it too broad? I know he’s walking a tightrope because one of his commitments is holding Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics in the same group. But are their theological commitments what hold this disparate group together? In my experience, the reason why the “conservative” elements of these two church parties
barely tolerate each other hang together is precisely because they are united on a moral/social platform that closely mirrors the platform of the conservative political party. I look forward to what he says next…