Refusing the Spectrum

Fr. Haller has an interesting post up where he looks at current Anglican issues in terms of realists and idealists. I agree with much that he writes, but I’m not sure I agree with this one… I think I can sense what he’s trying to set up, but it’s not quite there yet. One difficulty with the post is his initial rhetorical decision: to make the liberals the realists and the conservatives the idealists. In my experience, the liberals I know tend to be the idealists, then attempt to impose their ideals on those around them. I’m not saying conservatives don’t do this, I just think that both groups have both idealists and realists in them.

He presents a binary list of options. But, as I read through them, I found myself not only choosing freely from both, but just as frequently wishing for options not offered. Here are a few I offered in my comment–with a few new additions:

eschatology: sacramental
mood: optative
goal: maturity
pedagogy: experiental (i.e., liturgical)
gospel: Matthew
ecclesia: militans
theological school: benedictine
the church: “you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it”
creation story: John 1

I keep hearing about this spectrum but in an important sense…I’m not on it!

I’ve said before, I’m a moderate by default because I don’t fall into the camps described. Furthermore, I don’t think either of two camps should be the goal. To me, Anglicanism is about a set of boundaries defined broadly by the literal sense of the historical creeds and defined more narrowly (but still fairly broadly) by the theology encoded in the prayer book. I don’t want either liberals or conservatives to shoehorn me into their dogmatic statements; I’d much rather they join me in worshiping in the beauty of holiness and in works of mercy.

In short, I’d really like the conversation to move beyond the binary. We need to be challenged by those on all sides. All those who confess Christ crucified have something to teach me about loving and serving him and my neighbor. I need to be challenged by the “liberals” and the “conservatives” and by all those who don’t fit into either of these  for my own growth and correction(…let the righteous smite me in friendly rebuke…)–and I’ll return the favor too.

13 thoughts on “Refusing the Spectrum

  1. bls

    All those who confess Christ crucified have something to teach me about loving and serving him and my neighbor. I need to be challenged by the “liberals” and the “conservatives” and by all those who don’t fit into either of these for my own growth and correction(…let the righteous smite me in friendly rebuke…)–and I’ll return the favor too.

    Nicely put.

    And that’s why the rest of us all hang around here, too.

  2. *Christopher

    The irony is that his points started out emerging from my want to focus on worship together within the broad theological bounds.

    For example, on ethics I’m a virtue ethics person, which don’t fit on this point also but is largely in keeping with the Anglican tradition of “practical divinity” and pastoral care.

  3. Anastasia

    hold on, though..if there is a theology encoded in the prayerbook…and we’ve revised the prayerbook…I kind of think that’s the point some conservatives are trying to make. they can’t pray with you because the prayers aren’t saying what they believe anymore.

    I’m not a 1928 person but I’m around them a good bit and this is what I hear them saying.

  4. Tobias Haller

    Actually, Derek, I didn’t intend to see the “liberals” as the “realists” or mean this as an outline of the two “camps” — and I find myself (a progressive at heart) similarly torn from side to side as I go down this list. I suppose I should have made the caveats in the opening paragraphs more emphatic, as I quite agree that progressives are often quite as idealistic (or absolutists) in their own way and to their own ends. So I did not mean this to be a binary presentation at all, but rather a kind of chart to the field, which includes a lot of variety.

    For example, the reason I assign Kendall Harmon’s terms as I do isn’t because I think all he might call “reasserters” are idealists, but because the idea of being a reasserter comes from an idealist sensibility (i.e., the Truth has been revealed and only needs to be expressed anew in each age) as opposed to the “reappraiser” notion that the transcendent Truth itself is only asymptotically apprehended.

    Anyway, thanks for dropping by and let’s keep the discussion going. In a large sense the means are as important as the ends — that is, to echo your closing comment, it is largely in how we treat each other that we reveal the extent to which we embody the gospel.

  5. Bryan+

    Let me add a hearty “Amen!” to your posting, and particularly to the last two paragraphs.

    I share a sense of frustration at the binary, polemically-exclusionary rhetoric abounding in the Church these days. It chaps my hide to be told that folks like us are “wishy-washy,” that we’re “fence-sitters” who lack the courage of conviction, and that the term “Generous Orthodoxy” is an oxymoron, a cop-out, and ridiculous.

    As a Creedal Christian and an Anglican Centrist, I long for a Muscular Middle that not only learns from and is challenged by both liberals and conservatives, but also pushes back and says “No!” when the comprehensive character of Anglicanism gets hijacked to partisan agendas.

  6. *Christopher

    Fr. Bryan, muscular middles scare me just as much as muscular wings…given that what I’ve read of enforcement of rules from the middle tends to force my type and condition out or tends to read as heterosexual control as I’ve read it on your blog.

  7. *Christopher

    Comprehension may in other words be in the eye of the beholder, and I think Fr. Claviers caution about getting too caught up in the rules (though we disagree about particular issues) sounds with me as too many who label themselves centrists are so into the rules they shove folks like me out the door. It’s comprehensive and roomy–as long as we outwardly are like you.

  8. Bryan+

    It’s sometimes charged that we Centrists are “too caught up in the rules” – i.e., that we are “legalists” or “Pharisees” pushing a religion of rules. That’s why we go on and on about adherence to canons, Prayer Book rubrics, etc.

    I disagree. I think what we Centrists are reallly talking about are the norms and boundaries that define covenant commitments, not “legalism.” It’s about the conditions that make the shared life of community possible. It’s not about pitting grace against law, but rather (to paraphrase Psalm 119:29), finding grace THROUGH law.

    If, for example, asking Episcopalians to take their Baptismal Covenant vows seriously (including the one about continuing in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship), or asking Episcopal priests to adhere to their ordination vows, such that failure to do so is grounds for repentance – if that is a “partisan agenda,” then I’m guilty as charged.

    This is not about asking everybody to be outwardly like me. We are all different parts of the same body of Christ. But even taking our diffrences into account, it is the SAME body, nonetheless. Our unity must consist in something more than mere ideas or good intentions. It requires shared norms.

    Nor am I saying that failure to live up to vows to adhere to the norms is grounds for shoving anyone out the door. As the Prayer Book teaches, “The bond which God establishes in Baptism is indissoluble” (BCP, p. 298). Our faithlessness and our failures do not affect God’s steadfast faithfulness. But neither does the indissoluble bond give us the freedom to do whatever we please regardless of what the norms are or what vows we’ve made (antinomianism, Anomic Anglicanism, etc.).

    We all fall short of the mark. I just hope it isn’t asking too much for us to strive to aim for the bullseye.

  9. Derek the Ænglican

    Well, bls, we’ll just have to keep the mutual smiting coming then, won’t we… :-D

    Anastasia, there’s no doubt that the 1979 represents a change in the theology from the 1662 English BCP and the American 28. The question is how great of a divergence there is. Furthermore, even though Rite I is not the same as the ’28 or the 1662, it is very similar and is a constituent part of the current authorized book of the Episcopal Church. Again, I think *Christopher has elsewhere made an important distinction between the theology of the BCP and the theology we want to find (and force on others) there. I’m reminded of the time I attended a solemn pontifical mass for the Assumption of the BVM at Smokey Mary and fell in with some Lutherans at the solemn high reception that followed; they whined and complained that the service (though replete with Latin chant, clouds of incense, and Marian hymns) contained and retained the line: “The gifts of God for the people of God. Take them in remembrance that Christ died for you , and feed on him in your hearts by faith with thanksgiving.” They were amazed that this Zwinglian sell-out line appeared. But it’s in the prayerbook… To me this line isn’t a betrayal of the beautiful mass we’d just participated in, rather, it opened my understanding of Anglican comprehensiveness through the liturgy.

    We keep both that line, and the prayer of humble access, and the Star Trek prayer in the currently authorized book. To me that speaks of breadth and comprehensiveness. Yeah, I’d rather be more catholic and use the more catholic options. But to be formed by the prayer book means recognizing that the folks who prefer the lower options yet stick to the book are still in the fold too. So–as long as Rite I stays, we still encompass and hold a strong link to the originating books. (That said, I do fear the next revision…)

    Fr. Haller, thanks for your thoughts and for commenting here. It may not have been your intention to separate the liberals and conservatives but that is what I kept finding in your list. I guess one of my frustrations is the degree to which the debate is often about ideas versus actions. One of the reasons I left the Lutheran Church is because I had lost faith in the idea that unity was connected to what people said they believed (holding the Confessions) rather than what they did together (praying the liturgies of the BCP). I look forward to the continuation of the conversation.

    Bryan+, thanks for your support. But, I’ll saying again that claiming the center or trying to enact a “Muscular Middle” serves only to locate a group on the polar spectrum. In several senses I’m not a moderate at all–I’m a radical liturgy freak! :-D (And in saying that, I agree with many of the things you say in your second comment here.) I just happen to be cast as a moderate because that’s the way the polar spectrum comprehends me. Me, I’m trying to get beyond the bondage of those two poles altogether.

    I’m with *Christopher, let’s talk more about virtue and pick it up from there…

  10. Bryan+

    I don’t see a concern for what is normative on the one hand, and virtue on the other, to be mutually exclusionary.

    For example, one could ask the question, “What virtues are required to rightly dispose persons for living in covenant relationships/community?”

    Or, “What virtues are required to rightly dispose persons to live into the norms of common life such that they do not treat those norms as binding only when convenient or as impediments to the expression of individual conscience/rights?”

    I see these kinds of questions as complementary rather than antithetical to my concerns about “Anomic Anglicanism,” the Church’s failure in moral, intellectual, and spiritual formation, etc. which I touch upon on my own blog. And while I have not developed it in writing, I understand the work of virtue ethicists like Alasdair MacIntyre and Stanley Hauerwas as providing philosophical and theological warrants for such concerns.

    BTW, self-identifying as a Centrist is more complex than saying such a person is in the “middle” when it comes to eveything. I lean leftwards on many social and moral issues, but am rather conservative when it comes to the dogmatic core of the Christian faith (what some might call “Nicene orthodoxy”).

    Fr. Jones has addressed the complexities of Anglican Centrism a number of times very well at his blog “The Anglican Centrist.” I recommend his perspective.

  11. Derek the Ænglican

    You’re right, Bryan+, normativity and virtue certainly aren’t exclusive–I wasn’t suggesting we *not* talk about the normative. Fr. Jones and I are in agreement on many things; I note on your blog quite a bit of discussion about Luke Johnson’s book on the Creed. And that’s one of the places I’m coming from here.

  12. JTFS

    Really good discussion. I keep going back to a belief that so much of this is tied up in the struggle between the modern and postmodern paradigms. The Either/Or of the modern approach is taking on water and sinking fast, making the Both/And the only logical dry ground.

    Grace and Peace,

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