Saturday, September 22, 2007

Blinded by Technicalities

A few things are hitting me at this late hour as Friday turns into Saturday.

*First, thank you to all who have been praying for Louisiana/gulf coast weather. The sub-tropical depression turned into a tropical depression, but is now just a low. The biggest threat now appears to be "an isolated tornado" along the gulf coast. Of course neither the bishops, nor visitors and press, nor -- most especially of all -- the people of New Orleans and the gulf coast need another hurricane or anything even remotely similar. So thank you all for your continued prayers.

*Second, there's naturally been a lot of discussion today about the afternoon press conference with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. Some people have been on an emotional rollercoaster over the Archbishop of Canterbury's words. Personally, nothing that he said surprised me. Technically, I can agree with him that the September 30 deadline was not an "ultimatum" in the strictest sense of the word. (It's hard to say that something is an ultimatum when discipline has never been applied across the Anglican Communion and measures currently are not in place for such discipline.)

But to be technical on this issue misses the real point -- and, distressingly (though not surprisingly), the Episcopal Church leadership's stances on the primates' communique continually have relied far, far too much on technicalities. We've seen it before many times:

*Only x percent of parishes have left? That may be technically correct, although here the Episcopal Church's statistics don't match up with those of the Anglican Communion Network (ACN). But even if accurate, it conveniently ignores the fact that thousands of people have left and continue to leave the Episcopal Church -- and progressive parishes have not been immune to this trend -- in a denomination suffering from decreasing attendance that is wracked with conflict over the denomination's stances on the consecration of non-celibate gay and lesbian bishops and same-sex blessings.

*We don't need a "pastoral scheme" from the primates, thank you very much; we already have Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight (DEPO) and we will look for additional pastoral solutions? Again, technically true regarding the existence of DEPO. But DEPO has not been effective at keeping thousands of people from leaving the Episcopal Church. And now the Episcopal Church has eight bishops who have agreed to provide pastoral oversight, but is there any substance to the plan? The Episcopal Church's appointed bishops for yesterday's press conference couldn't tell us of any; they said that the details were still being worked out.

* Everything will be fine if we can just focus people on mission? True, common mission often helps build bonds even among people with major differences. But this time people on both sides of the aisle truly believe the gospel is at sake. The Rev. Susan Russell and the Integrity crowd trumpet it. Orthodox Anglicans believe it not just concerning homosexuality, but issues more fundamental to the faith, including who Jesus is.

Many more examples could be cited. But the fact remains that the September 30 deadline can only be disregarded by the Episcopal Church to the Anglican Communion's great detriment -- and possible collapse. The primates' requests may not constitute an "ultimatum" in the fully technical sense of the word, but given the current structures of the Anglican Communion, it's about as close to an "ultimatum" as you can get. And there's no denying that at minimum several Anglican Communion provinces see the deadline as a crisis point -- effectively, an ultimatum.

And so when Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams downplays the deadline at a press conference, it is gravely disappointing. The requests that the primates have made are extremely serious ones that the Episcopal Church cannot afford to sidestep.

Fortunately, there are other indications that Williams emphasized the seriousness of the matter to the Episcopal Church -- at least behind closed doors. In fact, he evidently was rebuked by some Episcopal Church bishops for telling the denomination that it needed to find a way to give the primates the assurances for which they have asked.

The question remains: Will the Episcopal Church put the needs of the larger Anglican Communion above its own interests? Or is it now thoroughly convinced (despite the opposition of many of its priests and some of its bishops) that it must stay faithful to its "gospel" of "inclusion"? Has it deceived itself into believing that everything will be fine if it both remains in the Anglican Communion and continues on its present course away from biblical and Christian orthodoxy? These are questions with which the bishops must continue to wrestle at its meeting in New Orleans.

Many published responses to the primates made by dioceses, bishops, and others in the Episcopal Church have insisted on technicalities, blinding the authors to the heart of the matter in the process. Ultimately, the bishops now need to respond to the spirit of the primates' requests, which asked for "unequivocal" responses made "in good conscience" -- not look for loopholes around the letter of the requests.

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