Christianity for the Rest of Us

Christianity for the Rest of Us


Rowan Williams and Katharine Jefferts Schori: Anglican Smack-Down

posted by Diana Butler Bass

Like most Christians, I don’t pay attention to missives from
church leaders.  This week,
however, dueling pastoral letters issued for Pentecost from Rowan Williams, the Anglican Archbishop
of Canterbury, and Katharine Jefferts Schori, the Presiding Bishop of the
Episcopal Church, caught my attention–because one so rarely witnesses a first-class
theological smack down between tea-drinking Anglican primates. 

Unless you’ve been sleeping in a cave, you are probably
aware that the Episcopal Church (of which I am a member) has been arguing about
the role of LGBT persons in the church. 
Along with the Anglican Church of Canada, the Episcopal Church has opened
itself toward full inclusion of gay and lesbian Christians.  Here in North America, this has caused
some defections (fewer than at first predicted), some legal suits (most have
been settled in favor of the Episcopal Church), monetary fallout (hard to
separate from general economic downturn), and bad feelings (which, sadly
enough, remain).  But what is most
surprising–and I regularly hear this from bishops, clergy, and congregational
lay leaders–is that things are much less tense in the Episcopal Church now than
they have been in recent years.  Folks
are moving ahead in their local parishes doing the sorts of things that Episcopalians
are pretty good at doing–creating beautiful worship, praying together, and
feeding hungry people.

Despite that fact that the Episcopalians are bumpily
journeying into a renewed future, some other Anglicans–mostly in Africa–are
pretty mad that we’ve included our gay and lesbian friends and relatives in our
churches.  Large communities of Anglicans in places like Uganda (the same Uganda that recently tried to pass a death-penalty
law for gay people) and Malawi (the same Malawi that recently sentenced a gay
couple who wanted to marry to 14-years hard labor) are
seriously unhappy with American Episcopalians and Canadian Anglicans.

And this leads us to the Pentecost pastoral letters.

While (somewhat ironically) attending a conference in
Washington, DC entitled “Building Bridges,” Rowan Williams sent out his
Pentecost letter to Anglicans worldwide which, after saying a lot of nice
things about missions and diversity, pulls rank and proclaims that he’s going
to kick people off important committees whose national churches have violated a
controversial document called the Anglican Covenant.  This includes the Canadians (who let gay Christians get
married) and the Americans (who recently ordained a lesbian bishop in Los
Angeles) and some Africans (who ordained some Americans who were splitting
churches in places like Virginia and Pennsylvania). 

In response, Katharine Jefferts Schori essentially, but in a
nice sort of Anglican way, accused Williams of being a theological dictator–or,
as she says in understated fashion, “Unitary control does not characterize
Anglicanism.”  For non-Anglicans,
trust me, those are fightin’ words. 

This is not a conservative/liberal argument (both Rowan
Williams and Katharine Jefferts Schori are theologically liberal). This is a
fight between rival versions of Anglicanism–a quarrel extending to the
beginning of Anglicanism that has replayed itself periodically through the
centuries down to our own time.

Rowan Williams’ letter articulates “top-down Anglicanism,” a
version of the faith that is hierarchical, bishop-centered, concerned with
organizational control, and authoritarian.  It is an old vision that vests the identity of the church in
a chain of authority in the hands of ecclesiastical guardians who agree on “a coherent
Anglican identity” and then enforce the boundaries of that identity through legal
means.  This version of Anglicanism
stretches back through the Middle Ages and relates to similar forms of
Christianity as found in Roman Catholicism and some forms of Eastern Orthodoxy.

Katharine Jefferts Schori’s letter speaks for “bottom-up
Anglicanism,” a version of the faith that is democratic, parish-based, mission-oriented,
and (even) revolutionary.  It is
also an old vision, one that vests the identity of the church in local
communities of Anglicans at prayer, who adapt their way of life and liturgy
according to the needs of Christian mission.  This version of Anglicanism is rooted in both the ancient
Celtic traditions of English Christianity and the missionary work of St.
Augustine of Canterbury circa 600. 

As history unfolded, different cultures have picked up on
one or the other of these two streams–for example, the British church remains
primarily hierarchical (even referring to their bishops as “My Lord Bishop”);
while the American church is primarily democratic (“God alone is the Lord”).  The Ugandan church is authoritarian;
while the South African church is revolutionary.  The Anglicans in Sydney, Australia are boundary-oriented and
communally closed; while most other Anglicans in Australia are
liturgically-oriented and open (the Anglicans in Darwin, Australia are so open
that their cathedral doesn’t even have walls).

At its best, Anglicanism manages the polarities between these
tensions–often creating locally innovative expressions of a church that is both hierarchical and democratic, bishop
and parish centered, bounded and liturgically open at the same time.  Over the centuries, this has been
called the Anglican art of comprehension, or the via media (the “middle way”).

But once every few hundred years, the tensions explode.  This is one of those times. 

The argument isn’t really about gay and lesbian people nor
is it about, as some people claim, the Bible or orthodoxy.  Rather, the argument reprises the
oldest conflict within Anglicanism–What kind of Anglicans are we to be?  How do we relate to the world and
culture around us?  And very
specifically now:  What kind of
Anglicans are we to be in the 21st century?  And how to we relate to the plurality
of cultures in which we find ourselves?

Set in this frame, this isn’t just an Anglican
argument.  Roman Catholics,
Orthodox Christians, Protestants of all sorts, Jews, Buddhists, and Muslims are
having the same arguments within their varying traditions and cultures.  What kind of religious faith are we to
practice in the 21st century? 
And how do we relate to the plurality of cultures in which we each find
ourselves?

For what it is worth, the river of history does not seem to
be on the side of hierarchical church control; rather, history seems to be
moving in a the direction of what Thomas Friedman might call “flat
church.”  The tides are pulling
most ecclesiastical boats toward bottom-up versions of faith.  Hierarchical church control is, as Harvey
Cox argues in his book The Future of
Faith
, a “rearguard attempt to stem a more sweeping tidal change” toward a
new experiential, inclusive, and liberationist view of God and faith.

Despite their smack down, I think that Rowan Williams and
Katharine Jefferts Schori might actually agree on the fundamental questions of
identity, mission, and 21st century change.  I also suspect that Rowan Williams
would secretly find the “sweeping tidal change” more spiritually interesting
than trying to keep the Anglican institutional ship afloat in the waters.   But he thinks that he’s in
charge–and he’ll be captain of his Titanic until the last. 

As for me, I kinda like this American Episcopal river
raft.  Better for navigating strong
currents.




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John Dornheim

posted June 3, 2010 at 4:59 pm


I know that Rowan Cantaur needed to move a little to the center when he became ABp but it has seemed that he is conceding everything to the right. I don’t understand it.



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brazenbird

posted June 3, 2010 at 5:13 pm


As someone who is slowly stepping into the Episcopal church (I’d be surprised to find someone doing it any slower than I), this article is very interesting to me as I am still trying to learn about the history of Anglicanism.
Coming from a fundamentalist Christian background, I chose Episcopalianism because it seems the most open, the most accepting, the most democratic while simultaneously remaining a grounding force in my spiritual life.
So thank you for this (and all of your) enlightening article(s). My hope is that the presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church will continue to move in the same direction she’s been moving and that Episcopalians far and wide will move with her.



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David Scott Drane

posted June 3, 2010 at 5:21 pm


Here is my “junior varsity” approach, for what it’s worth: http://www.dranespout.com/2010/06/rowan-williams-doubles-down-and.html
Thank you for your voice!



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ruidh

posted June 3, 2010 at 5:59 pm


Oh, I’m afraid the author has missed the point completely. William’s reaction isn’t “top down” at all. It reflects what he’s been hearing from the other provinces in the communion. The other provinces, speaking through their primates, have been demanding some kind of limit. Voluntary restraint has been a problem and now the stick follows the carrot. I fully believe that if Williams had his druthers he wouldn’t be bearing this stick right now.



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The Reverend Canon Susan Russell

posted June 3, 2010 at 6:32 pm


Thank you for adding your voice to those challenging those who are on the verge of throwing out the baby of historical Anglican comprehensiveness out with the bathwater of hysterial Anglican politics.



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Pazmar

posted June 3, 2010 at 6:49 pm


Well, “ruidh”, I think that the author’s right about the conflict; if Rowan Williams didn’t hold a hierarchical view of the church that considers England the center of that larger church, he wouldn’t be making those statements at all. It may be true that he doesn’t really want to be “bearing that stick,” but he’s doing it — much as the author indicated, “captain of his Titanic until the last”.



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Hannah

posted June 3, 2010 at 7:06 pm


Diana,
I love the way you start this post, “like most Christians, I don’t pay attention to missives from church leaders.” It grounds us all in reality. Thank you for explaining in everyday language what is going on and for offering your insight about it. I’m looking forward to hearing you speak at our diocesan convention next February.



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Lisa Fox

posted June 3, 2010 at 10:23 pm


Ruidh, of course Williams’ reaction is “top down.” That accounts for his continuing to state the falsehood that we “appoint” our bishops, whereas Jefferts Schori explicitly mentions they are elected by all orders of ministry: bishops, clergy, and lay people. Williams just can’t seem to get it through his head that the Episcopalians in the U.S. let lowly priests, deacons, and laypeople have a say in the selection of bishops.
As you observe, Williams’ letter “reflects what he’s been hearing from the other provinces in the communion.” Of course it does! But have you noticed? All those other primates who have their knickers in a twist are in strictly hierarchal, top-down churches, where bishops and archbishops function as “princes of the church.” Just as the author here suggested.
I think Diana Butler Bass is really onto something here!



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Lisa Fox

posted June 3, 2010 at 10:51 pm


Just one quibble, Ms. Butler Bass, regarding your 5th paragraph: I believe Williams critized TEC for violating the Windsor Report (which is only a report), not the Anglican Covenant (which has not yet been adopted by any province of the Anglican Communion).



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Your Name

posted June 3, 2010 at 10:54 pm


Just one quibble, Ms. Butler Bass, regarding your 5th paragraph: I believe Williams critized TEC for violating the Windsor Report (which is only a report), not the Anglican Covenant (which has not yet been adopted by any province of the Anglican Communion).



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Lisa Fox

posted June 3, 2010 at 11:14 pm


Apologies for the double-post. Apparently my finger got stuck on the “Post” button. :(



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Diana Butler Bass

posted June 3, 2010 at 11:34 pm


@Your Name,
Yes, thanks for that details re: Windsor Report. I get my Anglican “instruments” all mixed up–there have been so many versions of these sorts of things! Anyway, I appreciate the correction and have fixed it for the Huffington Post version (upcoming). BTW, the ABC does mention the Covenant in his letter–hence my citation.



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Lisa Fox

posted June 3, 2010 at 11:46 pm


Glad you could fix it before the HuffPo release. This is a very fine reflection, which I have flagged in my wee blog.
And you’re right, of course: There have been so darn many reports and demands and tirades and documents and sidebars coming out of the “instruments” that it is awfully difficult to tell one from another.



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DcnScott

posted June 4, 2010 at 12:37 am


Roy -
Cantuar _is_ being quite top-down here, but I think you’re right that it’s not home-grown: he gets it from the “Global South” faction. He seems to think he needs to placate them by spanking us to keep them from bolting. And he may be right.
But I am not at all sure that the good accomplished by keeping Abjua and Sydney and Rwanda in the fold is worth the price that he’s trying to blackmail TEC and ACC into paying.
And voluntary restraint has NOT been a problem: of all the TEC and ACC episcopal elections since Windsor, several have had openly gay-and-partnered candidates. Although some have been formidable candidates (such as Bonnie Perry and Tracey Lind), all but the most recent have not been elected, by wide margins.
It’s only after *years* of restraint in the face of *unremitting* abuse by the “Orthodox,” did somebody finally say, alright. If you damn us if we do and damn us if we don’t, we’re just going to be authentic and stand on the side of justice, where Jesus is.
/Scott



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Malcolm+

posted June 4, 2010 at 12:42 am


Curious thing here is that Rowan Cantuar was very clear that he intended to mete out punishment (punishments he has no authority to mete out) to provinces which had violated the restraints “officially.” Since the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada has done no such thing, he’ll be pretty hard pressed to penalize us Canucks.
Of course, he could punish all the provinces whare the blessing of same sex unions is quietly tolerated – but then he’d have to throw himself out along with the rest of us.



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Daniel Suggit

posted June 4, 2010 at 1:01 am


Diana
Thanks for these reflections on Anglicanism and its hierarchical vs democratic tensions throughout history and right in this moment.
It explains much!
cheers
Daniel
‘The Cathedral Without Walls’
Christ Church Cathedral
Darwin, Australia



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Joe Bair

posted June 4, 2010 at 2:40 am


As a UCC-er who is totally unqualified to speak on episcopal polity I have to say, this is a brilliant little reflection. Thanks for writing it!



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Eugene Mouton

posted June 4, 2010 at 6:29 am


What a thoughtful, insightful and well argued article!



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John (1)

posted June 4, 2010 at 7:42 am


Very insightful argument. One that makes, I think, an excellent case for North American Anglicans finding a home in the Lutheran World Federation (many of whom we are already in full communion with). An “ordinariate” in LWF???



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Scott

posted June 4, 2010 at 9:23 am


John, you misunderstand the purpose of the communion agreement between the Episcopal Church and the Lutherans. The concordat was started so that Lutherans could be converted to Anglicanism, not the other way round.



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NewbieRefugeeFromRC

posted June 4, 2010 at 9:55 am


Thanks for putting the current situation into a comprehensible historical context. I hope you are right about the polarities or the dialectic that marks Anglican church history–”top down” hierarchical vs “flat” democratic. And if this is right, then I think you are probably right about which pole will prevail in the current debate. I did not find anything scary in this article until I reached the metaphor of the river raft in the last sentence. It brought to mind Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and his friends on their Mississippi river raft, which is always in danger, in all sorts of dangers from pirates and con artists to huge collapsing chunks of river bank.



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JW

posted June 4, 2010 at 10:24 am


Katharine Jefferts Schori’s letter speaks for “bottom-up Anglicanism,” a version of the faith that is democratic, “parish-based, mission-oriented, and (even) revolutionary.”
I would think that if it indeed is to be parish based, there is little need for a Bishop. I would hope that an “episcopal” church would make the bishop and his diocese the base of its faith.
On the other hand, fifteen years ago I said that in fifty years the “episcopal” church would no longer have bishops. I guess we are well on the way. I still pray I am wrog.



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mompriest

posted June 4, 2010 at 11:03 am


me too. Thanks, Diana.



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Estelle Irene Kinkade Wilson

posted June 4, 2010 at 11:38 am


Ms. Bass,
Thank you for bringing the thoughts forward. The Church is moving toward a place Christ might recognize……much praise for Cathedral in Darwin. Also many thanks for the combination of T and Episcopal.
Ms. Wilson



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Randall Giles

posted June 4, 2010 at 11:43 am


Thanks for so much your reflection. I was delighted to see Bp Jefferts-Schori’s response to Archbishop William’s letter. She seems to hit the nail on the head, as do you in your reflection
I live in India and have travelled at least the Asian branches of the Anglican Communion to a fairly wide extent in my work. I see the fruits both ripe and rotten of this whole controversy, and the ABC’s dictates cannot possibly help foster our real and needed “bonds of affection”. Instead they can only feed the fire of zealots informed by their 19th century CMS missioners, via their present day ultra-conservative and moneyed sponsors.
Randall Giles, an Episcopal Church Missionary in the Church of South India for the past ten years.



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Dave Puxley

posted June 4, 2010 at 1:16 pm


Your comments about the via media are very useful and exceptionally well articulated. However, I think one element of your analysis could use some elucidation. ‘Democratic’ is very often, and especially in North American contexts, understood as a synonym for ‘good.’ We would do well to live the tension expressed by the comments of these two bishops critically, though. Plato’s comments on democracy (Rep. VIII) see it as producing only what would come to be called a negative freedom, e.g. a freedom from something which is unable to find from within its own resources a freedom in or toward something (like the rational necessity of the Ideas).
Experiential, liberal theology is not a failure of our Church – but neither is a desire to speak a common theological language and with a nuanced, unitary theological voice. This is precisely the meaning, in a certain sense, of the term hierarchy – coined in the early sixth century by the Pseudo-Dionysius and meaning ‘a holy source/arrangement.’ It is within the hierarchy that individuals find a place in which their humanity and their spiritual gifts are realised to the fullest – some as lay, some as deacons, some as priests, some as bishops.
You are right to say that this is a fundamental tension in Anglicanism. But to desire to negate or obviate one element of that tension is to risk denying what lies at the heart of the long and fruitful Anglican tradition and allow for the more radical polarisation of the communion than is already occurring by those who pursue precisely this path.



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Michael

posted June 4, 2010 at 1:58 pm


I just wish that there were more people like Dave Pruxley who saw the importance of retaining the tension. I read in +Rowan’s Pentecostal letter ‘pain’ at the prospect of this tension breaking whereas in +Schori’s reply anger at any idea that her liberal ideas might be less than complete. I admit I do not follow Diana Bass unless she is arguing for Chuck Smith and Calvary or Rick Warren and Saddleback, churches in the TEC LA Diocese that have really reached out to local needs and demonstrated what the LA Diocese has failed to do. Personally, although I am conservative (trusting in Scripture, Tradition and Reason), I welcome the liberals in our church UNTIL they tell me that their view of social justice is right, consistent with the 1979 Baptismal Covenant, while mine is wrong since I prefer the 1662 text. I believe we benefit from having both views but as far as I can tell neither +Schori nor +Bruno agree.



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Regina Christianson

posted June 4, 2010 at 1:59 pm


The kind of authority that Archbishop Williams is claiming is qualitatively different from that which has been claimed. Even the most High Church (original meaning of the word)Archbishop of Canterbury has never claimed that kind of authority over other autonomous branches of the church. It is without precedent in Anglican polity. We are the Anglican Communion because we are in communion with him, period. To equate a historic High Church understanding of the episcopate with Roman Catholic polity is to misunderstand the foundational differences. And this is where the current archbishop has it all wrong.



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The Rev. James Ward

posted June 4, 2010 at 3:47 pm


I’m grateful to Diana Butler Bass for this helpful analysis. It all seems so quintessentially American, this lionizing of our “democratic” values and heritage, as if we’re stuck once again having to declare our independence: “no taxation without representation.” Something so noble about it. But we must understand, as well, how our principled stance of victimhood at the hands of “hierarchy” is structurally equivalent to our founding myth of murder at the hands of savages, that can be so easily used to symbolically justify more violence against those poor masses caught in the throes of old fashioned, “primitive,” religion. If the spirit does anything, she opens our eyes to the horrors our good intentions have inadvertently perpetrated in the past.



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David Justin Lynch

posted June 4, 2010 at 5:26 pm


For once, Diana Butler Bass and I are in agreement. I too believe in parish-based, bottom up authority as a preferred form of ecclesial polity. At one point the Diocese of Connecticut had Bishop Walter H. Gray, who was an absolute jerk because he purported to forbid Anglo-Catholics from celebrating Mass from the Anglican Missal. I can recall his visit to St. Savior’s Episcopal Church in Old Greenwich, CT in about 1963 or 1864 at which he gave an anti-Anglo-Catholic sermon and told the parish it couldn’t use the Missal any more. I was only ten years of age at the time, but to this day I can recall the hurt and anger I felt. I also recall telling Bp. Gray after the service that I thought he should go to hell for what he said about the Missal, something he clearly did not expect from a ten-year-old. The point is, the parish should have been able to determine its own liturgical destiny rather than have it dictated by a bishop. My family then went to St. Andrews in Stamford, CT a few miles a way where they did have a Missal Mass AND a rector with backbone who stood up to the bishop.



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Lewis DeForest Brown

posted June 4, 2010 at 5:39 pm


Sent to Lambeth Palace a couple of hours ago:
Has no one told the Archbishop that he does not have authority to rule the Anglican Communion and that his pretence of litigiously speaking for it is sheer hubris? Remind him please that this is God’s realm not his. Punishing diversity in the name of unity? What foolishness! The Anglican Communion is being written as a farce. I hope my church sees his folly and renews the Spirit that affirms our humanity. Personally, I don’t want to be engaged in a community where the social disease of homophobia is enforced and its leadership does not recognize how such behavior assaults the love of God and my neighbor. He would have unity at the cost of preserving ignorance and a discernment of the Spirit that is foul. Remind the Archbishop to pray instead of proclaim.



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Michael

posted June 4, 2010 at 5:56 pm


When David Lynch mentions Bishop Gray forbidding use of the Anglican Missal, it reminds me of the TEC mandate on the 1979 BCP.
The point is communion. What uniformity of practice is necessary to recognize other church’s sacraments, specifically Communion, Baptism/Confirmation, Marriage and Ordination? What I would like to hear from +Schori supporters is two things: first, where do they draw the line on uniformity of practice, secondly are any sexual practices sinful and where if anywhere do they draw the line? For instance, if they advocate same sex marriage, is it sinful for a same sex couple to live together without being married? Is it sinful for a heterosexual couple to live together without being married? Is it sinful for a spouse to leave his/her spouse and children assuming he/she honors the court orders regarding support and alimony? In liberal TEC teaching, what is a sin? Is there no merit in personal asceticism or is that just an old fashioned idea? What actually did Christ die for?



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John (1)

posted June 4, 2010 at 5:59 pm


Scott, I don’t think I misunderstand. You may disagree with me, but I don’t think that I misunderstand what has happened in Anglican/Lutheran relations over the past several decades. The Concordat did not pass, but “Called to Common Mission” did, and the title says it all. There are churches in the Anglican Communion that are not Anglican (e.g., the Reformed Episcopal churches in the Iberian peninsula, or the Church of South India), and there are churches in the LWF that are not Lutheran in heritage (e.g., the Moravians of South Africa). Can we effectively work toward a common mission with the Anglican Church in Uganda? — I fear not. Are we called to common mission with the Lutheran Church of Sweden — I hope so.



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Kieran

posted June 4, 2010 at 7:39 pm


You make a reasonable point, Michael. Although, telling gay men and women who cannot, in many places yet marry they are living in sin is just cruel. But I am strongly in favor of encouraging ALL, gay and straight to a robust conversation on sexual ethics and committed relationships in our time. If there were clarity in other areas, people might have less excuse to use the “slippery slope” argument.
I am opposed to a aggressively judgmental smack-down of people trying to negotiate relationships in our hyper-sexualized, and very confusing society. But believe the church can offer greater moral clarity and respect for the institution of marriage (for all people) that is quite needed. We’ve tried to nurture some hard conversations in my own community on this, in confidential, safe settings where all voices were heard. As it turned out several of the people who gave us the most mature, committed description of what a life-long partnership looks like in practice were our gay brothers and sisters.
I am not sure I would use the language of sin in quite the same way you do… but irresponsibility towards the God-given gift of sex and family in our generations are sinful, in a deeply relational way that is relevant to the way we do church. It is also important to give people tools and supportive communities to filter out the mixed messages and cope with the very real difficulties of living in our context, where there is so much confusion and challenge facing young people (such as the insanity of a culture where people are getting married in their late 3rd or even 4th decade regularly now, expected to wait 1/2-1/3 of their entire lives).
I think alot of these things can be done even better as we welcome the gift and presence of gay couples.



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Paul N

posted June 4, 2010 at 7:40 pm


I love the fact that this page and discussion are accompanied – and persumably paid for – by adverts for astrology, the mormons and a chance to win a large cash prize.
Methinks we are missing the bigger picture!



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Michael

posted June 4, 2010 at 8:38 pm


The logic of Diana Bass escapes me, you might conclude that Calvary and Saddleback are the way to go, bottom up, build the church for the needs of the people. Any criticism of +Rowan in terms of him imposing uniformity of course applies to +Schori as well and +Bruno. This bottom up idea is actually not bad, dump the bishops, priests also?, and start all over again, or have I got that wrong? It certainly has a libertarian appeal.
According to EP Sanders, “Jesus and Judaism”, the chief priests resented Jesus for doing exactly that. The Romans bought some of it, but not enough to kill off all the disciples and followers. The early bishops were then quick to establish uniformity in order to counter heresies.
If you can get away from the personal drama, and see it more as a fascinating chess game, +Rowan’s next move might be to go ‘bottom up’ in the US and pick up the bottom pieces of the Anglican Church. Nor do I believe that Newman would agree with Diana Bass’ definition of ‘via media’. Fr Clavier has charmingly exposed the numerous historical errors in +Schori’s letter.
This stirring up is probably what we need: what do we actually stand for? And what is our church? Are we living members of the Body of Christ? Rights activists? What is a sin? What is a heresy? Faith or works?



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Michael

posted June 4, 2010 at 8:46 pm


Completely agree with what Kieran said above, “But I am strongly in favor of encouraging ALL, gay and straight, to a robust conversation on sexual ethics and committed relationships in our time. If there were clarity in other areas, people might have less excuse to use the “slippery slope” argument.” Our church that celebrated a gay marriage last year turned down my request for a symposium on exactly that subject. Incidentally I am a strong supporter of ‘same sex life long covenants’, as long as they are not called marriage or a Sacrament.



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Gary

posted June 4, 2010 at 11:16 pm


Many thanks to Diane Butler-Bass for her wise words.
I would add that I am not sure that some of the folks who wish to have a hierarchical church don’t also have that bound up deeply in their understanding of Scripture so that the honoring of the Scripture means we must have overseers who lead with the authority of a Paul in Galatia, for instance. Those of us who experience God as more “flat” — say, in the pattern of the Gospel of Luke where the poor and the female are deeply honored with anyone else or as in Paul (again) who also speaks of a community of faith where there is neither slave nor free, male nor female — also find this to be authentic to Scripture. As we Anglicans like to say, this is a “both/and” where there must be some authority and order but we must also be authentic in our personal experiences and recognize the radical leveling of the Gospel of Christ. The strange democratic hierarchy of the Episcopal Church manages to do this in its finest moments, I think. Unfortunately, much of the rest of the Anglican Communion does not have such a vehicle to require both an accountable leadership in a structure and an empowered laity that lives out of its baptismal covenant with the Almighty. What I find most compelling in our Presiding Bishop Jefferts Shori’s letter is her reminding our Archbishop of Canterbury that anything less than this both/and is a “failure of nerve.” We cannot pretend that the leadership does not include some LGBT people who are called to roles as lay leaders, priests and bishops. This is by no means just the case in the U.S. and Canada.
If authentic Christian experience is an expectation and goal for all members of the body Christ, how can we do less than listen and include all who come with authentic experience and authentic callings? It is not simply the hierarchical model that is wanting. When the model becomes more important than authentic Christian experience, it eviscerates the church.
I will remain on that raft, with you, Diane. And unlike Huck and Jim, I don’t think we are going to be surprised by any steamboat in the night. On that raft we know with Huck that you can’t pray a lie.



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Dean

posted June 5, 2010 at 12:20 pm


As an Episcopalian I’ve followed this situation for years while being active and happily involved in a number of inclusive parishes. It’s clear that we American Episcopalians have decided to go in our own direction, valuing our relationships with other Anglican churches less highly than our own local needs and wishes. So I think your characterization of Rowan Williams’ remarks (using emotionally-loaded phrases and words such as “top down” and “authoritarian”) is inaccurate and unhelpful. Williams has merely acknowledged that we Episcopalians are following our own path at the expense of maintaining communion with other Anglicans with differing views. You can’t blame him for our decision to leave the Anglican Communion, and you can’t fault him for noticing that we’ve done it. Having made our decisions to leave those traditional ties behind, I’d suggest we respect him for his honesty and just get on with our own communal lives together as Episcopalians.



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Matthew Frankenberry

posted June 5, 2010 at 12:28 pm


It’s all really simple. It’s not that Gays aren’t able to come to church! Church is for the sinner! It’s about sin. Everything the Bible teaches ia about repentence and turning away from sin. You can’t say Homosexuality is a permitted sin and others are not, are you God? What if a brother was to marry a sister? Would this be acceptable too? You can love everyone, just a Jesus did, but the goal is to be more like him and what he gave us.



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unconvinced

posted June 5, 2010 at 1:13 pm


If religion and morality are simply reflections of what is acceptable in popular culture, right and wrong must adapt themselves to the prevelent beliefs in society. In that case, what use is organized religion? Any person commited to mainstream mores would lead a “Christian” life acceptable to God, even those killing in in Nazi Germany. Obviously, this could not be the case and God wants us to obey his law regardless of the popularity of doing so.



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Ed

posted June 5, 2010 at 1:32 pm


I agree with ruidh: “William’s reaction isn’t ‘top down’ at all.” The fact is that the Episcopal church in the US agreed to a moratorium on the ordination of practicing (a very key word) gays and lesbians. Then it then went off and did its own thing. That is the kind of unilateral action those who support the action generally condemn in others. The fact is, that when something is important enough to one’s values, everyone acts unilaterally.



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Nathaniel Pierce

posted June 5, 2010 at 3:04 pm


As noted in a previous comment, Archbishop Rowan Williams criticized the Episcopal Church for not honoring the Windsor Report. In her response Diana Butler Bass agreed and has made this correction. Perhaps it would be helpful to remind ourselves of what the Windsor Report actually said:
“The word ‘autonomous’ in this sense actually implies not an isolated individualism, but the idea of being free to determine one’s own life within a wider obligation to others. The key idea is autonomy-in-communion, that is, freedom held within interdependence.” (paragraph 76)
“In our view, therefore, ‘autonomy’ thus denotes not unlimited freedom but what we might call freedom-in-relation, so it is is subject to limits generated by the commitments of communion.” (paragraph 80)
“Since autonomy is closely related to interdependence and freedom-in-relation, there are legitimate limits (both substantive and procedural) on the exercise of this autonomy, demanded by the relationships and commitments of communion and the acknowledgement of common identity.” (paragraph 82)
The phrase “top down church” brings to mind the polity of the Roman Catholic or Mormon churches. The principle advocated by the Windsor Report is more akin to a circle, with each participant accountable and responsible to the others, each living autonomously and yet also honoring “the proper constraints of the bonds of affection.” Thus, in my view the Windsor Report seeks a middle way between “top down” and “bottom up” models, an effort unfortunately obscured by the need of many Episcopalians to challenge any outside interference.



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+Caroline Divine

posted June 5, 2010 at 3:41 pm


This is a tempest in a teacup. Anglicanism is barely two million people out of over 305 million Americans-and shrinking. Except for the grossly disproportionate percentage of CEOs and Senators who are Episcopalians, Anglican relations have about as much relevance to the life of the average American as the Armenian Apostolic and Polish National Catholic churches.



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Michael B

posted June 5, 2010 at 5:19 pm


Interesting article by Diana. It really highlights that the progressive liberal perspective often completely mis-understands the more traditional conservative perspective on the Christian life. So I quite agree with Matthew, unconvinced, Ed, and Nathaniel above. Regarding Caroline, she’s right, the ECUSA has made itself a marginal organization and this is what can happen when you lose touch with your foundations. Very sad, and even sadder for those still left in the ECUSA theological desert.



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Dana

posted June 5, 2010 at 6:34 pm


Interesting that the “bottom up” and “parish based” faith that is supposed to be the practice of the church in American has resulted in the “top down” confiscation of church property from the local parishes who paid for it, with strict “top down” orders that no church properties formerly used by now Anglican aligned churches can be sold to them for their use. A beautiful formerly Episcopal church members who voted to align with the worldwide Anglican communion were not allowed to buy back the church property. The church property was sold to a mosque for half of what the church members had offered. This appears to be “top down” mean vindictiveness and not the loving response to brothers and sisters who have a legitimate difference of perspective.



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Steve Scarcia

posted June 5, 2010 at 7:06 pm


Great insight – however, you missed the greatest problem with the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, she’s got an authority problem. She reminds me of the queen in Alice in Wonderland, “Off with their heads!” She has done more damage to the Church in her all too long tenure than we can ever imagine. She has surrounded her throne with people who agree with her and exiles those who don’t. She has pushed through General Convention unprecedented powers for her office and dares those who disagree with her to challenge her. She has made promises on behalf of the Episcopal Church to the Archbishop of Canterbury and to the whole of the Anglican Church and when out of earshot, denies and refutes her words. Therein lies the problems. The fight is not top down or down up but who has the biggest bullocks! At the rate she’s going, the Episcopal Church and the Church of Canada will be on the outs with mainstream Anglicanism in the not too distant future. Add to this the role of Scripture, Tradition and the gay issue and you have a mixture for disaster. I love the Episcopal Church – but it’s getting harder and harder not to drown in a sea of garbage! In the end, the Archbishop of Canterbury is the Primate of the entire Anglican Communion (3rd largest Christian group in the world!!!) and Jefferts-Shori, well she’s only the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in America, a church losing power, people and dollars. Will the last one out please turn out the lights!



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Ralph Webb

posted June 5, 2010 at 7:11 pm


“But what is most surprising–and I regularly hear this from bishops, clergy, and congregational lay leaders–is that things are much less tense in the Episcopal Church now than they have been in recent years.”
Diana, respectfully, why is this surprising? Theological conservatives, who were already a minority in TEC, have lost enough strength to reach the point where they can no longer make a difference in the direction of the national body. Most conservatives who have made a choice to stay within apparently (based on their own statements) have decided not to try to change the national body any longer. Given this situation, of course things are less tense in TEC. It’s a no-brainer.
The differences within TEC are now essentially differences along a progressive scale, not a conservative-to-progressive scale. Lauren Winner, at a lecture in DC in spring 2009, bemoaned the fact that TEC is now essentially a homogeneous church. The old moderates are the new conservatives, the old liberals are the new moderates, etc. TEC used to pride itself on having a substantial range of conservatives to progressives, but you can’t seriously look at TEC today and see that range anymore.



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Christopher+

posted June 5, 2010 at 7:37 pm


It is sad that some (even many) Anglicans do not believe they can be in formal fellowship – in communion – with other Anglicans who disagree with them on issues that aren’t defined in the Creeds, that is, on secondary issues of discipline. Yes, I know that some – even many – believe that issues of sex are just as important as, say, belief in the Holy Trinity in terms of Christian orthodoxy, related as they are to interpretations of biblical texts. Yet Anglicans also don’t agree on whether women should be priests, let alone bishops – also a matter of biblical authority for some, even many – and have nonetheless managed to maintain a very high degree of communion despite such disagreement. Clearly sex issues are much more upsetting and distracting – at least for now. No wonder so many people think Anglicans are obsessed with sex!
The Anglican Communion will be much better off when it accepts (once again) that its member churches do not – and will perhaps never – agree on everything and yet can still be part of the same ecclesiastical family anyway.



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+Caroline Divine

posted June 5, 2010 at 8:57 pm


There are so many converts to the Episcopal church (have you ever heard of a “cradle Russian Orthodox”?)that its ideological homogeneity is only going to increase; people leave the catholics and fundamentalists over political and social issues and look for a religion that agrees with them. Self-segregation is everywhere in American society; why did anyone think that religion would be any difference?
The problem for the Episcopalians is that few of the people joining bring their children into life-long membership (if they even have children), leaving this church with a median age of nearly 55. Of course, this also leaves the Episcopal Church’s claims to “celebrate diversity!” as nothing more than a polite slogan; not only is it ever-more ideologically homogeneous, it’s still over 95% white, middle/upper middle class, the group most concerned about sexual identity issues.



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Jenny

posted June 5, 2010 at 11:45 pm


I love a good theological analysis and this was a great read, and funny too (unless you’ve been living in a cave . . ) Thanks so much. So its about power and control and authority. I sometimes think it is the death throes of patriarchy, although history is full of ebbs and flows. Still and yet, people 40 and 50 years younger than me live in a world where there are more women in graduate schools than men and most are pretty accepting of us queers.



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Owen

posted June 6, 2010 at 12:10 am


Will this debate never end? How long did it take us to include Black Bishops among us? It’s only been two generations that we’ve allowed women to serve, and the last time I checked women represented over half the population of the planet. Gays represent 10%. The truth is that the Spirit desires for all to repent and come into the communion. Top-down, Bottom-up…who cares? What’s important is that we remain in dialogue, and feed His lambs. (That would be with Spiritual food). Let the one without sin cast the first stone……



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Linda M

posted June 6, 2010 at 9:05 am


Owen, First black bishop in the Episcopal Church? That would be Samuel David Ferguson of South Carolina in 1885, after having been an ordained priest for close to 20 years.
“The Spirit desires all to repent and come into communion.” True, but that means admitting, regretting, and turning away from our sins and following God. Christians are not to embrace sin for fear of hurting someone’s pride or feelings. We are to rebuke our neighbor when they sin, so that they may repent and gain salvation. We do not love our neighbors when we encourage error, false teaching and sin. The only way that makes any sense is if you don’t really believe there are any eternal consequences. Forgiveness is not for all who sin (that would be everyone) but is available to all who sin and repent.
Luke 17:3So watch yourselves.
“If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. 4If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”



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Al

posted June 6, 2010 at 2:24 pm


We all agree to disagree and that’s the beautiful bottomline of our faith!



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Heather M

posted June 7, 2010 at 12:46 am


For such an article to be written and to have it then produce such comments only tells me that there are deep deep wounds around authority. How can there ever be a truly genuine conversation while this is the case?



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William H. Lorentz

posted June 7, 2010 at 12:00 pm


Linda M. If one’s God-given, immutable and unchosen sexual orientation is gay rather than strait, then simply living into how one is created is not sinful but just natural. Hence, there is no need for rebuking one’s gay neighbor, insisting upon change or adminishing the seeking of forgiveness. The only requirement for us all is that we love, not whom we love.



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Freed

posted June 7, 2010 at 1:30 pm


William H Lorentz. Interesting that you take the party line, “I was born this way.” As you must know, unless you live in a cave, there is absolutely no evidence to support that despite the expenditure of large amounts of energy and money to verify it. On the contrary, it is clearly not genetic since there are large numbers of identical twins (genetically identical) where one twin is LGBT and the other is straight. Even if a genetic cause could be proven, you would still have a problem. Cleft palates, spina bifida and conjoined twins clearly were present at birth so your argument says we should not surgically correct them since God made them that way. We should say that is an alternate lifestyle and attempting to change them from the way God made them would be sinful. As to your “immutable” comment, again, unless you live in a cave, there is too much evidence to the contrary.



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Via Median Christian

posted June 7, 2010 at 2:36 pm


Dear Ms. Bass,
I hadn’t ready anything by you; however, I am glad I found and read this. How nice to see the LGBT issue playing out in slow time before us (I am an American Episcopal who supports the church, and one with friends in the gay clergy) reflected in these terms, rather than the terms of America’s now dominant cultural paradigm, which having mostly accepted that gay people are born and exist, still don’t know how to deal with this newfound knowledge.
As the old-order patriarchal dominance of earth and those in it continues to crumble in on its clearly bankrupt and unsustainable self, it is good to be reminded that American Episcopals have shown that meaningful and valued religiosity is available in a non-transcendental – and jointly observed – manner of being. Its prayerful transposition has been slow for some, fast for others; but all in all, quite timely. May God bless and preserve those who have offered themselves as the vehicles for this change.
The values found in the Holy scriptures need be understood in light of current knowledge and circumstances, by a people and a clergy who are living by inspired and divine guidance from their faith, as well as from their experiences and knowledge from, with and of the world.
While it is understandable that cultures and sub-cultures(including many in our own country) which can’t adapt to this change will object; however, without leadership from the bottom to assist the hierarchy, there is no co-leadership, the true via median. To have it any other way leaves out the adaptability so badly needed as the church and its followers attempts to both remain relevant in a time where man’s “dominion” over our shared earthly resources is shown to be a very bad need of reinterpretation also.
The LGBT issue is a fabulous, human, and inspired one for ferreting out from where and whence leadership shall arise, but only a precursor to the real fight over whether we shall ruin the earth as a habitat for others (many, many of whom do not share our Christian beliefs, let alone our version of it), as well as the life we depend on to live ourselves in true interdependent fashion. Those religions like the other catholic church where leaders and followers are only pretending to share all the values in their faith (like a male only priesthood, celibacy, hierarchy, etc) will surely be made only more precious to those who self-select for their time-honored conservatism, but sadly over time, less precious to many others of their own, who remind us of the many, many virtues and service of the faithful in a church where dominance, patriarchy and transcendental beliefs have left many without someone with whom to help lead their church into the future.



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Thomas B. Woodward

posted June 7, 2010 at 3:45 pm


What a beautiful and generous recounting of the heart of our identity as Anglicans. Thank you.
I would argue, in addition, that one of the divides in our Communion is the place of experience in discerning doctrine. It was our experience in dealing with some marriages characterized pretty much only as destructive to both partners and many second marriages characterized by all the spiritual values we have looked for and wanted in Christian marriages that enabled us to consider blessing of second marriages.
I believe that is also much of the process in this country and others of experiencing grace and goodness and all the rest in gay and lesbian people and relationships – where all the traditional gifts of the Holy Spirit are present and flourishing. We straight people are learning that it not a faithful thing to legislate away the presence of the Holy Spirit – and learning that the important questions are about human sexuality rather than gender theology.
I grieve for all those who are unable or unwilling to enter this new age of reconciliation and mutual appreciation — both gay and straight are victimized.



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Christian Rideout

posted June 7, 2010 at 4:02 pm


The discussion of “bottom-up” and “top-down” Anglicanism is meaningless, and silly. The argument is “what constitutes Christian orthodoxy?” The “global South” churches believe that orthodoxy and the Christian message stem from two thousand years of more or less agreed upon doctrine. Whether this message about belief is coming from the grassroots or being imposed by ++Rowan, it is the center of the argument, not the vertical direction it comes from.
One can argue, perhaps, that, in Africa, homosexuality is particularly anathema, and that some churches are getting African traditional values mixed up with Christian ones, but frankly that is a weak argument. I would hazard a guess that the attitudes of Africans are much more in line with the attitudes of 1st Century AD Jewish converts to Christianity.
One can argue that Anglican national churches should be free to accomodate those they choose, in the way they choose, but that flies in the face of a global Anglican identity in the information age. African churches are in direct competition with Islam, and with other branches of Christianity. Being associated with those “weak” churches of the West makes them appear weak as well.
The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada are leading Christianity in a new direction of compassion and acceptance. Should they look over their shoulders, sadly, they will find few if any followers.



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Rev. Robert W. Caruso

posted June 9, 2010 at 10:07 am


Thank you for your thoughtful column. As a gay man, ordained Old Catholic and serving the Christian Community of Old Catholics and Episcopalians in Minneapolis, MN, I view this issue not so much as a “gay” issue as it is an “Ecclesial” one. You allude to this in some parts of your column. You mention that the two letters between ECUSA’s Presiding Bishop and the Archbishop of Canterbury were theological arguments, but I disagree with this assessment. It may be that their letters are a beginning of a needed theological (and more specifically ecclesiological) discourse among Anglican and Episcopal theologians, but that is about the extent their letters go when it comes to being “theological.”
Actually, I interpreted the letters as being primarily a debate over authority. The question that begs to be answered here is: how is authority manifested in the Anglican Communion among its local Chuches throughout the world? That is, how do local Churches stay in “communion” with each other? Is it purely legislative, or is there a deeper ecclesiological basis that maintains unity amidst such diversity that is found in the Anglican Communion? Further, I do not view this issue as being a “show-down” between ECUSA’s Presiding Bishop and Archbishop Rowan Williams — this is too simplistic of an idea. The deeper issue lies in responsibility in moving outside one’s independence so to foster and maintain communion within reason of course. I am not advocating a monarchical ecclesial structure, but a conciliar one (which moves beyond the secular definition of “democracy”) where relationality reigns supreme, not one’s right’s per se. This goes for both local Churches as well as with individual persons.
The Anglican Communion, as a whole, decided to place a moratorium on consecrating anymore openly gay/lesbian bishops in a relationship. The Communion also stated that further theological dialogue was necessary around same-sex ceremonies. Again, I do not find this unreasonable but necessary so to provide further “theological” substance behind the actions that are being done on the local level. To request no further consecrations or public ceremonies be conducted until dialogue is accomplished in the Communion is not unreasonable! It is taking into account the entire people of God, which is the essence of the conciliar ancient church, of which is the essence of communion constituted in mutual solidarity and compassion.
All in all, I am confused as to how ECUSA views itself in relation to the Anglican Communion. What does communion mean theologically to ECUSA? Merely quoting canon law all the time is not theological, but rather legalistic and secular. ECUSA’s actions must move beyond legalistic legislation and begin serious theological discourse with those in the communion who disagree with their actions. I see a lot of reacting without a whole lot of theological reflection behind ECUSA’s actions. Again, quoting canon law is too simplistic and must move to something more substantial in describing its ecclesiological understanding of communion. Only then can ECUSA’s actions be biblically and traditionally prophetic: a calling back to the faith of those who strayed from its ancient tradition.



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Milton D. Fritschle, Jr.

posted June 9, 2010 at 2:48 pm


Your comments only included the word “God” or reference to Him once.
That is the problem with “the new Episcopalians,” God and scripture seem to have taken a back seat. I hope I am wrong.



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Barb Kraning

posted June 9, 2010 at 5:35 pm


What is important is that the Holy Spirit leads. I have seen complications of Jesus as head via God’s Spirit in both flat and hierarchical church systems. When we figure out how to organize so we listen to the Spirit of God while making decisions as a whole people we will be more of a whole people.



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Mardi Mccabe

posted June 10, 2010 at 11:51 am


The issue of “top down” vs. “bottom up” is interestingly discussed in the following article from a technology perspective on the internet! Political conservatives tend to prefer a rules-oriented approach directed by those in authority, while political liberals tend to prefer the open, messy, natural development model of the internet.
http://www.cnn.com/2010/TECH/web/05/31/liberals.conservatives.online/index.html?iref=allsearch
There are personality types who cannot function in the messy world of life as it is, they must have heroic authority figures who can explain, regulate, and enforce order.
Others cannot function in the tightly structured world of hierarchy but have a tolerance for, in fact a delight in, the messy, uncertain, organic, evolving, non-linear, multi-focused approach that more directly reflects the biological model of life.
God made all of us the way we are and asks us to learn to love and get along.



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Barb K.

posted June 10, 2010 at 12:08 pm


To Mardi’s comment: God is order. If we know how to listen and organize so we move as the Holy Spirit leads us, then the polity of an organization matters less.



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Pastor LP

posted June 10, 2010 at 12:32 pm


That the Bible is very clear on deceitfulness of the human heart (Jeremiah 17:9) and the inherent error of human judgment (Proverbs 14:12) cannot be refuted or rebuffed. Right VS. wrong; righteousness VS. wickedness; sin VS. holiness; are not things that human beings decide.
These have all been established BEFORE our time; for example (we do not determine what’s RED, BLACK, WHITE or GREEN – we simply accept what’s RED, BLACK, WHITE or GREEN). Religion is not a democracy.
God is not swayed by MAJORITY; He is not moved by POPULARITY; has no regard for CELEBRITY; and is certainly not part or parcel to RELIGIOSITY. When, as religious leaders and church administrators, we operate on the basis of democracy we fall further from God’s will, His protection and His identity.
What we need therefore, is not bottom-up approach, nor top-down dogma for that matter. What we need is a seeking and searching for God. The steps are as simple as they are confounding:
1. Find out what is Right VS. Wrong (As God had established BEFORE our time)
2. Ask Him for faith, strength, trust to FOLLOW (not determine) the Right
3. Declare that the wrong is SIN and that God desires and would empower ALL people to live righteously.
The universal church today does not do this. Instead, we sit and try to determine what is right, through the faulty schemes of Democracy (Majority, Popularity, Celebrity and Religiosity).
I leave us with the words of Christ:
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matthew 7:13,14 NIV



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Barb K.

posted June 10, 2010 at 1:22 pm


I so agree with the beginning of Pastor LP’s comment. Perhaps we should take the understanding a step further as we “find out what is right…”
If by human thinking we discern what is right in Scripture and we seem to discern what is right so differently according to our own experiences and understanding of Scripture… then perhaps we haven’t found God’s direction yet.
Listening to the Holy Spirit is not something that uses my reasoning over issues and readings where I can determine such things. It is the Holy Spirit that convicts me when I sin, seperate from such things… And the Holy Spirit that shows me what I should do in confusing situations, often by guiding me through Scripture. My discerment is primarily inviting the Holy Spirit in to guide me and confirming that it is the voice of God, (Not an actual verbal voice)that I am listening to.



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Shirley Jackson

posted June 10, 2010 at 2:49 pm


Well said, Ms Bass. I am so tired of the polarity. Especially in the south where I live currently until I return to NH.



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Barb K.

posted June 11, 2010 at 8:38 am


Ms. Bass. I am not a blogger. Well at least this is the first blog I have ever attempted. My church sent this address via an E-Bulletin sent out weekly.
I have attended many denominations and non-denominations and have too dealved into the history of the church looking for answers of why there is so much positioning and divisive communication etc. within the church.
In the Episcopal Church we say at the end of the Scripture readings, “Hear what the Spirit is saying to God’s people.” Somehow it appears that our church is finding a way to do that. The Rector is young and organized and more conservative in some ways. The associate Priests are older women and more liberal in some ways and spontaneous. They are polar opposites. But all the Priests love God and work at loving each other. Despite their opposing views and ways the Spirit of God brings us all into beautiful harmony each Sunday (and Wednesday) as too there are Services then.
I am convinced that our harmony comes from our listening to the Holy Spirit.
To piggy back on some of the metaphores in this blog. It’s good that our conversation puts us on a raft that is more moveable. God can be given more room to move our boat the way that He wants. But it is trusting the conversations we have with God, and learning to listen to God that gives us the best ability to do His work. I don’t think we should steer the raft, even away from choppy waters. We should let the Holy River of God move us where He wants us to go.
To my mind we are all color blind and/or see the colors that God gave us very differently. Some see grey as black and white. So we should accept by now that we really can’t see that well. God gave the Holy Spirit to the writers of Scripture, but He gives the Holy Spirit to us too. To the extent we can listen, and give up our human control and trust what we hear from and be directed by God, is the extent that we will have God’s power to obey His will and be in harmony.
We have been learning how to listen to each other. Perhaps it is a precursor to learning how to listen to Him, our Triune God, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Thanks for the article. I am grateful to my church too for including the article in our weekly E-Bulletin.



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Jordan Bloom

posted June 11, 2010 at 11:35 am


“Like most Christians, I don’t pay attention to missives from church leaders.”
What about Paul’s letters? Jesus’ sermon on the mount? Apparently, Katherine Jefferts Schori is the only legitimate church authority.
“Folks are moving ahead in their local parishes doing the sorts of things that Episcopalians are pretty good at doing–creating beautiful worship, praying together, and feeding hungry people.”
Except, of course, in the parishes that have been displaced by the ECUSA’s stubborn efforts to maintain control.
“Despite that fact that the Episcopalians are bumpily journeying into a renewed future, some other Anglicans–mostly in Africa–are pretty mad that we’ve included our gay and lesbian friends and relatives in our churches. Large communities of Anglicans in places like Uganda (the same Uganda that recently tried to pass a death-penalty law for gay people) and Malawi (the same Malawi that recently sentenced a gay couple who wanted to marry to 14-years hard labor) are seriously unhappy with American Episcopalians and Canadian Anglicans.”
This is bald-faced rhetoric. Those churches have the right to express theological opinion, and we have the right to oppose the exercise of that opinion.
“This is not a conservative/liberal argument (both Rowan Williams and Katharine Jefferts Schori are theologically liberal). This is a fight between rival versions of Anglicanism–a quarrel extending to the beginning of Anglicanism that has replayed itself periodically through the centuries down to our own time.”
Wrong. Rowan Williams called for a moratorium on the ordination of gay bishops (which this article does not state), within the Anglican Communion there are mechanisms for resolving theological difference, ECUSA has not utilized them and for that, they have been censured.
“Rowan Williams’ letter articulates “top-down Anglicanism,” a version of the faith that is hierarchical, bishop-centered, concerned with organizational control, and authoritarian. It is an old vision that vests the identity of the church in a chain of authority in the hands of ecclesiastical guardians who agree on “a coherent Anglican identity” and then enforce the boundaries of that identity through legal means. This version of Anglicanism stretches back through the Middle Ages and relates to similar forms of Christianity as found in Roman Catholicism and some forms of Eastern Orthodoxy.”
BOOOOOOH, fear the tyrant Rowan Williams!!! No. The Anglican Communion largely functions as a democratic body.
“Katharine Jefferts Schori’s letter speaks for “bottom-up Anglicanism,” a version of the faith that is democratic, parish-based, mission-oriented, and (even) revolutionary. It is also an old vision, one that vests the identity of the church in local communities of Anglicans at prayer, who adapt their way of life and liturgy according to the needs of Christian mission.”
No, Katherine Jefferts Schori articulates a social justice mission above adherence to orthodox biblical principles. That’s the origin of this debate.
“As history unfolded, different cultures have picked up on one or the other of these two streams–for example, the British church remains primarily hierarchical (even referring to their bishops as “My Lord Bishop”); while the American church is primarily democratic (“God alone is the Lord”). The Ugandan church is authoritarian; while the South African church is revolutionary.”
There’s the specter of those crazy Africans again! If ‘God Alone is Lord,’ why does the ECUSA insist on spending millions of dollars to maintain property control over congregations who choose to leave? The fact that they do is theologically incoherent with their stated mission.
“The argument isn’t really about gay and lesbian people nor is it about, as some people claim, the Bible or orthodoxy.”
Of course, this is a theological dispute that doesn’t have to do with the Bible or religious tradition.
“Set in this frame, this isn’t just an Anglican argument. Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Protestants of all sorts, Jews, Buddhists, and Muslims are having the same arguments within their varying traditions and cultures. What kind of religious faith are we to practice in the 21st century? And how do we relate to the plurality of cultures in which we each find ourselves?”
The ECUSA has related to the plurality of cultures by selling the property taken from breakaway congregations to Muslims at a discounted price.
“For what it is worth, the river of history does not seem to be on the side of hierarchical church control.”
Again, the Anglican Communion is called a communion because it involves participation from all its members, but it also believes in unified faith. The ECUSA has shirked that committment because they believe in a radically liberal theology, which is fine, but that makes them the deviant faith, not the breakaway congregations.
This piece reads like apologetics for the ECUSA. It is bunk, biased and downright unreadable. If it is a question of religious freedom, the churches should be allowed to go and the ECUSA should, charitably, relinquish the property, which they have not done. If it is a question of the imposition of a theologically liberal social justice mission by the national church upon local congregations who disagree, then they are the ones articulating ‘bottom-up’ anglicanism.



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ED B

posted June 12, 2010 at 4:55 am


Jordan Bloom writes, “Katherine Jefferts Schori articulates a social justice mission above adherence to orthodox biblical principles. That’s the origin of this debate.” He is correct.
This debate has gone on for 2010 years.
Did Jesus articulate a social justice mission above adherence to orthodox biblical principles? I believe that He did. I believe that he also called us to devote ourselves to mission, as we love God with all of our being and love our neighbors as ourselves.
We are commanded to come to know God and work together to help the community of God’s people. When we first seek the kingdom of God with each other, the rest will come.



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Barb K.

posted June 12, 2010 at 8:48 am


So if the social justice vs. adherence to orthodox biblical principals has been the debate for 2010 years, why do we keep doing it thinking we can find unity through it?
It would seem that what Jesus prayed for us in John 17, that we find unity with each other and love is important to both sides. So why do we not try another way to get what we all want.
Why not try and find better listening skills to the Spirit of God since the Spirit of God is our Counselor that teaches us “ALL” things?
If God is not growing us; perhaps He too is tired of the debate.



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Barb K.

posted June 12, 2010 at 1:37 pm


Maybe I was a little sloppy to make a point. My understanding from the writings of the early Church historians and apologist: Eusibius, Hegesippus, Josephus, Justin Martyr, Polycarp of Smyrna, etc., was that the power of the Holy Spirit was better understood. And since “sacred writings” that make up our New Testament were at best circulating in some spots and not in others; some were considered canonical in some areas and some as non-canonical in others: it is amazing to me how directed and powerful and united the early Christians were. The Book of Acts describes such a scene. Leaders were leaders if they were “filled with the Holy Spirit.”
So I would adjust my last statement and say that it is an educated guess that the debate of social justice vs. adherence to orthodox biblical principals has lasted closer to 2007 years.



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Brad Evans

posted June 12, 2010 at 9:23 pm


I don’t pay any attention to religious leaders, either. But I’ve noticed that “progressives” can get very upset if nobody listens to the Sojourners people or thinks Bill Moyers is an idiot or calls Jimmy Carter the worst president or is indifferent to the Mainline churches’ leadership pronouncements on “diversity” and “social Justice”.
I ignored Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson and the Popes and Patriarchs; why do you think that Dorothy Soelle deserves my consideration?



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jesus

posted June 14, 2010 at 6:58 am


i never said make a religion out of me .. god doesnt need a religion or a book to explain himself.. have nothing to do with the world.. that means stay out of politics of the world too. why do you love america ???? america belongs to lucifer along with the rest of the world!!!!! any of you that still want to be involved in the world and use my fathers name as you hurt others and gain power of the world I will turn away from you now cause I never knew you…. you belong to lucifer my brother….



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Weedman

posted June 14, 2010 at 4:59 pm


One article and 75 comments, and as best as I can read, only one person (and not article’s author) makes actual reference to or even seems to have read Rowan Centaur’s letter, which explicitly does *not* advance a top down form of leadership. From the letter:
“I am aware that other bodies have responsibilities in questions concerned with faith and order, notably the Primates’ Meeting, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Standing Committee. The latter two are governed by constitutional provisions which cannot be overturned by any one person’s decision alone, and there will have to be further consultation as to how they are affected. I shall be inviting the views of all members of the Primates’ Meeting on the handling of these matters with a view to the agenda of the next scheduled meeting in January 2011.”
This isn’t theological dictatorship, this is administration. Read Rowan’s letter, and I think you’ll find that this doesn’t fit into some nifty, we’re-right-and-progressive-and-democratic-like-Tutu- and-he’s-boorish-and-tyrannical-like-the-Popes-of-old framework.
It’s simply not that simple.



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Barb K.

posted June 14, 2010 at 5:58 pm


I read both letters. I read that Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori leads by listening to the Spirit of God. I trust her. It’s what we should all do to take church polity conflicts out of the picture.



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Barb K.

posted June 14, 2010 at 6:21 pm


Also, if one reads both letters, it seems clear that Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori is talking about careful listening to the Holy Spirit…while Bishop Rowan William’s does appear to be administrative in tone and nature.



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Linda Turbyville

posted June 15, 2010 at 10:56 am


Brava! Very well put!! I remember that at the time Bishop Robinson was ordained I felt a bit nervous and disappointed by the Anglican rejection of the stance taken by the Episcopal Church regarding gays and lesbians. I wanted their approval of our ship’s course. Now, I find that, though interested in what the Archbishop of Canterbury has to say, it is only just that: curiosity. Observing the outrage in other corners of the Anglican Communion, wherever they have arisen, has only strenghtened my pride in the openness that Episcopalians have embraced. Honesty in relationships brings integrity to commitments. It keeps the smelly dust of hypocrisy out of our churches. Thanks for this excellent article.



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McCBrown

posted June 15, 2010 at 5:42 pm


From the very good article, I noted that “somewhat ironically” the Pentecost letter came out during the Bridges seminar in DC. Then in one of posts, there was the suggestion that hubris might be involved. We are all human, even leaders, and perhaps the above mentioned preoccupations will give a springboard in the near future for modifications.



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Etienne Grobler

posted June 17, 2010 at 6:49 pm


Wow. Amazing. All of this and not a single mention of God’s Will or His Word.
Way to go churches!



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Nancy D.

posted June 17, 2010 at 7:20 pm


If it is true that there is only one Word of God, and if it is true that there is only One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, then there can be only one Magisterium within that One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church in order that the one Word of God remains consistent in His Church. His Church is not a democracy nor do we get to vote on The Truth as He Has Revealed Himself to His Church, for the Truth is not a matter of opinion.



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McCBrown

posted June 18, 2010 at 9:55 pm


MBrown breaking silence and I hadn’t planned to, but I’ve taken your comments seriously, Etienne, and also Nancy D.’s. Why haven’t we mentioned God? Immediately I saw that I had not. Yet the last time I wrote and quite briefly on John Henry Newman, I mentioned both the Holy Spirit and God. That tells me something and has been a real help to me. Thank you.



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Bill Roberts

posted June 19, 2010 at 12:12 am


Dear Nancy, I think it is important to maintain the distinction between the Word of God Incarnate, Crucified, Risen, and Reigning, and the Word of God written. I appreciate your devotion to the Word of God written, so I am puzzled by the invocation of the word “Magisterium,” a word which doesn’t appear in Holy Scriptures. It is an important word in the Roman Catholic Church since Pius IX used it in the mid-19th century, but the Anglican Communion has never embraced it. Jesus told his disciples “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will speak not on his own, but he will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” (John 16:12-13). The Word of God written and the Word of God Incarnate both testify to a dynamic and continuing revealing of God’s Truth and Will. The Church is not a democracy; it is a Community which seeks to discern God’s Will. Thank you for your contribution to our continuing discernment. I hope you may be thankful for my contribution.



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Barb K.

posted June 19, 2010 at 8:59 pm


Bill Roberts’ I appreciate what you had to say and am thankful for your contribution. Perhaps the Church has a ways to go before it knows how to tap into that dynamic in a collective manner.



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Titian

posted June 20, 2010 at 10:02 am


I believe that you are mistaking a symptom for the problem. The question of organization and control would not have arisen in the first place if the Anglican church were not suffering from a crisis of authority that runs deeper than political structures and the details of canonical law. While Williams and Schori agree on many points, the questions of LGBT membership in the Anglican clergy and permission for LGBT parishioners to receive the sacrament of marriage have created fissures throughout all levels of the Anglican community. No consensus exists on these issues between the English Anglican church and the American Episcopal church, each claiming their own version of authority in order to justify and impose their conclusions. While political authority is certainly important to this debate, it is secondary to the moral and spiritual crisis that is plaguing and dividing the church, which led these bishops into conflict and to assert their authority above one another. It’s important not to mistake an argument’s methods for why the argument exists.



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Barb K.

posted June 21, 2010 at 8:59 am


But these kinds of issues do exist today. I believe divisiveness within the Church “exists” not because of human sin all by itself, whatever that sin may be, but because evil tries to make us believe the lie that it is more powerful than God, and has more control over God’s human creation. So I believe it is important that we, as God’s children, learn collectively to listen to God better.
Lot’s of people “see” not the issues within the Church, but how we are handling them…they see the many arguments and hard power struggles, and unyielding positions.
I see almost all the divisive issues in the Church as a division rather in how we listen to God… or think we should listen to God. And to the extent that we “fight” over this is the extent that we give our church over to human or evil control.
We need to find a way to in love, honor the Holy Spirit of God within Scripture given in the past and the wisdom of God that the Holy Spirit gives to us in the present.
I think that Scripture guides us on how we should do that…but I have not yet seen a Church able to develop the guidelines collectively. I believe we have to focus collectively on how we should listen to God.



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Barb K.

posted June 21, 2010 at 6:19 pm


Correction…”…we give GOD’S Church over to human or evil control.” It’s sometimes hard for me to remember that when there is so much human discourse within.
Question. Who convicts you of sin better and knows your sin better? God or humankind? If the Church’s purpose was to help us to all hear God through the power of the Holy Spirit better, then wouldn’t we all be better directed? Shouldn’t we rely on what God tells our own souls and stop thinking we can somehow take God’s place in this?



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McCBrown

posted June 24, 2010 at 9:46 am


Hoaxing and folksing has a history and a thread
Unleashed feelings like a consequential bed
of therapy and politics: Go for it! Say it!
Feel good. We can worship next year.
Next millenium.



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McCBrown

posted June 27, 2010 at 4:29 pm


correction–millennium i guess like you, Barb, I will plead concern.



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Father John

posted June 27, 2010 at 6:13 pm


With respect, Rev. Bass, I do not think that the struggles in Anglicanism are over the type of Anglicanism that one espouses. Rather, the fight is between those who want to “preserve” the Church at a certain point in history and those who want the Church to move forward in an evolutionary or even revolutionary manner.
There are those who see revelation frozen in time…”always, everywhere and by all,” as St. Vincent said. There are others who see revelation as a living and evolving thing that responds to the times.
Then there is the historic tension in Anglicanism between those who think they are Medieval Catholics who say Mass in English, and those who are liberal Calvinists. Those who believe in a more Catholic church will be very slow to alter anything, while liberal Calvinists think that they’re Protestants, God help them.
I do think, however, that the Episcopal Church seems to be moving in the right direction to serve God’s people now and be inclusive.
Father John.
A Russian Orthodox Priest



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McCBrown

posted June 29, 2010 at 8:36 am


One: Halloa! Whoa!
Two: See us run!
we’ve opted for buffoonery
Soonerly or latterly
we’ll be done.
One: That was not the Truth I wanted them to find.



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Christophylaktos

posted December 2, 2010 at 12:58 pm


Regardless of KJS’s rhetoric, she’s as guilty of top-downism as Rowan, just domestically, rather than internationally. She’s been centralizing authority in the national church at the expense of the dioceses. She confuses her primatial honor with metropolitan authority, mucking around in the dioceses, using national polity to outmaneuver her opponents. I’m a social liberal myself, so my axe to grind is not ideological. It really has to do with hijacking the polity to enforce conformity. I am interested in seeing how things go with South Carolina (I think?), which has all but withdrawn from the national church without actually leaving. They have skirted a legal line which deprives KJS from using polity as a weapon. It’s a stalemate. She is actually going to have to *convince* conservatives in South Carolina, rather than administratively excising them. Which is something Anglicanism historically is not good at doing.



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