I have refrained for quite a while from commenting on Anglican affairs, but the time has come to speak my piece.
The presenting topic is, of course, the Jerusalem Declaration, but I think it worth the time to step back and take a bigger picture view of what is going on. I will, however, begin with that document.
The Jerusalem Declaration is the declaration that the emperor—or archbishop, rather—has no clothes. That is, regardless of whether the Archbishop of Canterbury has the power or authority to discipline, the declaration challenges whether he has the will to discipline. It makes sense from their perspective: after begging him for five years to discipline the American and Canadian Churches, they have decided that they, in like fashion, will go ahead and do what pleases them, emboldened by the complete lack of consequences to us.
Technically speaking, a schism has not occurred in that no-one has broken with Canterbury—they’ve simply declared him irrelevant. Pittsburgh will still be leaving; Fort Worth will still be leaving. No doubt Quincy and others will soon attempt to follow. Parish departures will increase. While schism has not happened I think we’ll find that the incursions of foreign prelates will increase in the coming months.
Which will call forth a response… Yes, the GAFCON crowd has been shrewd—but they are not alone in their shrewdness.
At a particular point—and I’m sure a careful review of news stories could tell you exactly when, one or more liberal Episcopalians discovered an interesting use of antitrust law. They determined that the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation could be used as leverage. In a nutshell (from a non-lawyer here), this legislation means that, in order to prevent Enron-type malfeasance, a much wider group of people are responsible for checking on what the organization as a whole is doing. In nonprofit circles, it means that the board is also liable if a president is up to something untoward. Within our little circle, the interested parties realized that these laws could be used to apply leverage to bishops; if they negotiated with dissidents and did something like—say—selling them their property at fair market value, they could be sued for breach of fiduciary responsibility.
Now, whether a threat of this sort was actually made or whether it was simply detected, I don’t know. What I do know is that dioceses in negotiations abruptly ended them at roughly the same time and embarked on a national policy of litigation.
So many people are being so shrewd these days—by my reckoning too shrewd by half.
Litigation won’t help me. It won’t help us. Rather, it reminds me what’s at the bottom of all this. I’m sorry, but I really don’t think this is about “inclusion” or about the “authority of Scripture”, or even about the “faith once delivered”. Some in the pews may see it that way, but at the end of the day the sense that I get is that this is about whose clique calls the shots. I see it as a power game, pure and simple. And that’s what makes me most angry. I see two groups at the highest levels in a pissing contest that has pulled in the entire Anglican world. We’re burning through literally millions of dollars in big international gatherings and conferences and lawsuits while we stand on the brink of something much bigger and much more dangerous.
America is heading into a recession. Of that I have no doubt. And, if the peak oil people are right—and I’m becoming more and more persuaded that they are—than it will be longer, harder, and deeper than anything we’ve seen in a very long time. There are going to be a lot of people who will need help: covering rent, covering bills, families who have lost jobs, houses, and hope. How much do our squabbles and litigations cost when measured out in bags of flour and gallons of milk?
Not only will we need money to face the challenges of social change, we’ll also need grounding. We’ll need a rooted, grounded faith to proclaim as everything else is shifting.
How are we doing there?
Today is the first day that Seabury-Western officially has no faculty. Bexley Hall is collapsing back into rented quarters at a Lutheran school and EDS is selling off buildings. Not exactly hopeful for the well-trained clergy of tomorrow… How much do our squabbles and litigations cost when measured out in faculty salaries or credit hours?
I’m not happy with our leadership—and I don’t see these trends reversing anytime soon. But I’m not going anywhere. I’ve already swum the Channel from the Lutherans and could plausibly head across some other body of water but I’ve burnt my ships. I’m staying put and the church will have to deal with it.
Caelius may say he’s wondering what to do, but I think he already knows—at least the outlines—and I do too. There’s no point in waiting for the pointy-hats to come around. Lay people and local people need to:
- Rediscover the Book of Common Prayer. As a broadly catholic and evangelical document, the Prayer Book in its many forms holds together the essentials of our theology, our doctrine, and the necessarily disciplines of a robust spiritual life.
- Teach the Book of Common Prayer. We cannot rely too much on the clergy. Clergy are already swamped with what they do and, frankly, not all have been blessed with the gifts to teach and inspire others with regard to our basic documents and history. And no, you can’t teach the prayer book with out simultaneously teaching Scripture, history, and theology—they all flow together.
- Recover Practical Rhythms of Life. A deeply grounded spirituality does not happen apart from regular ol’ life as we know it. Spiritual rhythms are sustainable rhythms. And that goes back to knowing who and what you are and where your priorities lie.
- Recover Communities of Faith as Communities of Practice. Modern Americans are notorious for rejecting social opportunities (the Bowling Alone phenomenon). And yet, churches are places where people gather and form a community in spite of themselves. As things get worse—whether short term or long term—local communities will become more important. People and communities weather crises best when supported by effective habits and disciplines. The time to get these up and going is now, not later. Do things together. Do things that instill healthy, simple, practical practices together. Does your church have a garden? Does it landscape with herbs and/or edibles? Is there a compelling reason why not? Even if the fossil fuels last another three hundred years is there a good excuse for not doing some of this now?
- Collect and Craft the Necessary Resources. All of the above things are good (in my eyes), but none of them are simple. They’ll take work. To do them poorly may be as bad as not doing them at all. There’s simply no point in attempting them without adequate preparation. And this is where we find ourselves now. The internet provides the perfect place to collect resources, instructions, and histories of projects successful and unsuccessful gathered into a common place. It’s time to start collecting and it’s time to start creating.