Monday, April 16, 2007

Father Dan on the Episcopal Church's Current Troubles

Father Dan Martins is, make no mistake, an orthodox Episcopal Church who believes that the Episcopal Church is wrong on issues of same gender relationships. Nonetheless, many of us who take a different view than Father Dan, have immense respect and admiration for Father Dan because he treats us with respect, as fellow Christians, and because he argues his position with such intelligence and grace.

I therefore found this post by Father Dan very interesting. He expresses his frustration that the two sides in the dispute are really not communicating as Christians should. And, he has harsh words for both sides:


So, my latest jag on communication--or, more accurately, the abuse thereof--is about self-pandering. Scoring cheap rhetorical points by playing to the home crowd. Letting an ostensible concern for truth or justice mask self-righteousness or self-serving behavior that short-circuits the organic and natural development of events. It happens on both sides.

The favorite catchword of Episcopalian liberals these days is polity. After the Dar es Salaam communique, it was widely argued that the Primates, because they addressed their concerns only to the bishops, just don't understand our polity. The House of Bishops nixed the Pastoral Council/Primatial Vicar scheme because it supposedly conflicts with the polity of the Episcopal Church. This is not only balderdash, it is hypocritical balderdash. Within the constitution and canons of the Episcopal Church, the bishops--both individually and collectively--are entirely capable of responding to the conditions laid out by the Primates, both with respect to the PC/PV plan--which could be fully implemented by scarcely even bending, let along violating, our "polity"--and the requested assurances about episcopal consents and same-sex blessings, about which they have not yet officially spoken. They just don't want to! But rather than simply saying that they don't want to, they hide behind protestations of their hands being tied by polity.

And here's why it's hypocritical: If our constitution and canons are the bases of our polity, then why has not every bishop in whose diocese congregations openly invite unbaptized persons to receive Holy Communion had a presentment filed against them? Why has not every rector who uses the miracle of word processing software to amend Prayer Book texts to fit various regnant ideologies, and all without so much as an asterisk in the service leaflet, been inhibited by his or her bishop? When canons are invoked selectively and prejudicially, then the entire process of canonical enforcement is robbed of its integrity.

. . .

Of course, I have some friendly fire to direct toward my own side of the divide as well. Here the issue is broad-brush polemic that attempts to justify bailing on the institution of TEC by naming it as rotten to the core, full of heretics and apostates, and in the on-deck circle for the grapes of wrath. Our opponents have efficiently milked the ill-considered language of one individual who appeared on the DVD made from last year's ACN-sponsored "Hope & A Future" conference in Pittsburgh, which stated fairly baldly that the Episcopal Church has forsaken Christ, Christianity, and the gospel, and has, in fact, become a counterfeit of itself. Such rhetoric effectively rallies the troops. The only problem is, it's just not true.

I hold to what hope to think is a fairly traditional position (albeit toward the Catholic end of the spectrum, of course), which is that the teaching of a church is to be judged according to its official formularies, particularly its liturgical formularies. Those of us who are still in TEC use the 1979 BCP, I presume, so we can stipulate--not to its perfection, or perhaps even to its excellence (though I do think it is the most excellent example of its genre)--but to its essential orthodoxy. Of course, in many places, certainly in the dioceses that surround my own, there is widespread emendation of Prayer Book texts at a parochial level in ways that vitiate this orthodoxy. But the clear fact is that such practices are wholly uncanonical, unconstitutional, and therefore a violation of the discipline and worship (to say nothing of the doctrine) of ... what? ... of the Episcopal Church! The ubiquity of invitations to the unbaptized to receive Holy Communion, again, is a categorical and unambiguous breach of the canon law of ... what? ... the Episcopal Church!

We can certainly accuse some (OK, many) of the leaders of TEC of selective and prejudicial enforcement of their own discipline; that much is obvious. But, trust me, I can point you to flat-out liberals ("progressives," as they style themselves) who vocally deplore these same practices as much as I do. For that matter, I can point you to flat-out liberals who are as annoyed as we are by the great majority of what proceeds out of the mouth of John Shelby Spong. I would wager that the majority of the members of Integrity say the Nicene Creed without crossing their fingers, and passionately believe every word of it.

I would invite those who use the rhetoric of division within the Body of Christ--by saying that what we're divorcing from is not really the Body of Christ any longer--to recall Abraham's intercession with Yahweh on behalf of the innocent bystanders who were hapless enough to reside in Sodom, and Yahweh's forbearance: If there were even as few as ten righteous men left in the city, he would desist from destroying it. I am in virtual daily contact with "righteous men" all over the Episcopal Church. Of course, there are hundreds of faithful laity and clergy in the other Network dioceses. But even beyond them, in "mainstream" dioceses, I can give you several places where the triune God is worshiped in spirit and in truth, where souls are fed and disciples are formed. And I can give you the names of real people who live and move and have their being in those places. Some of them (not all, not even most, but some) have what I believe to be mistaken convictions on certain vexed ethical questions, but they profess with their lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in their hearts that God raised him from the dead. These are real people. They are not abstractions. I feel wounded when they are dismissed as "Gomer."

Read it all. I know that at parish, most of us (Clergy and parishioners) are "progressive" on issues of same sex relationships, but we take seriously both the Canons and the integrity of the Book of Common Prayer.

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