August 2, 2007

Geographical Reality

In response to my previous post, Rick Allen has left a thoughtful comment which I think deserves a more prominent response. He asks

Why [is] discipline...appropriate at the diocesan and provincial levels, but not at the level of the communion. What is it about the unit of the "Nation" that should make it independent of the norms of the whole, and be immune from types of uniformity which the provinces are competent to legislate for their dioceses?

This question conveniently refocuses us on the whole issue of the distinction between "what is" and "what [some think] ought to be." The present fact is that in the Anglican Communion the highest judicatory or basic unit is the province (or to use the old and somewhat inaccurate language, "national or particular church." This is inaccurate to the extent that some churches, such as TEC still have some international jurisdiction as the result of missionary or colonial history.)

This principle is actually quite traditional, and well noted in the canons of the Ecumenical Councils. Of course, just because it is a tradition doesn't mean it is correct. It might at first glance seem to be a relic of an earlier time in which people didn't travel, and there were no means of communication faster than a letter carried by horseback.

But ask yourself, to what extent are the current problems in the Anglican Communion a result of a clash of cultures -- a clash made possible by those new means of travel and communication, between cultures quite different in different nations in terms of their attitudes? To what extent, particularly with regard to sexuality, are we seeing the differences between cultures that have embraced engagement with the findings of social and biological science (as well as previously ignored portions of the tradition), as opposed to those which are refusing to acknowledge that the church may be as mistaken about sexuality as it was about cosmology (see Case of Galileo, et al.)? And to what extent are these differences geographically delineated? Surely it is no accident that the term "Global South" has been adopted -- nor that conservatism in the US is also to a large extent geographically distributed.

So the idea of a coalition of national churches may be arbitrary, but it is what we are. It is out of what is that what will be must come.

Tobias Haller BSG


Anonymous said...

Geographically-organized denominations are useful in this respect: You don't have a choice about worshiping and associating with people who might not agree 100% with your views.

In particular, if one gets tired of dealing with the blithering ideiots in the parish who disagree with one's own obviously-correct views, one cannot easily flee to a more-congenial group. [i](End sarcasm mode.)[/i] This is a good thing.

Bishop Don Wimberly of Texas has said as much. A year or two ago, a friend and I were chatting with him between services (he was at our parish to do confirmation). Our parish is extremely conservative and evangelical. We jokingly said that we were two of the shrinking liberal minority there. He immediately responded that he was glad we hadn't gone elsewhere — he thought it was a bad thing for people to self-sort themselves into "conservative" and "liberal" parishes.

June Butler said...

Just a thought from a humble Episcopalian in the pew: I do not want an Anglican pope. Been there with a pope. Done that. Don't want to do it again.

It is, no doubt, fortunate that I hold no position of power whatsoever in the church, because I tend to oversimplify and deemphasize the subtleties - to a fault.

The legislating provinces are quite top-down enough for me. At least folks like me have some voice in formulating the rules that we must live by.

John D Bassett said...

The Anglican Church has always been a collection of social networks, and these networks have often been more important than official connections of diocese and province. For example, when I was young and involved in an extremely Anglo-Catholic parish in Chicago, we were much more connected to similar parishes in New York or Boston than we were to a low church parish only a few blocks away. RSCM parishes form networks. Charismatic parishes create networks. Churches with large gay and lesbian communities create networks. Anytime that a group of people has a strong interest or identity it creates connections which are often more important than those described in official documents.

Even if we somehow manage to maintain some of these "Instruments of Communion" intact they will still be irrelevant for most people in the Church. What will matter to them are these share interests and beliefs and backgrounds that they discover that they share with others. Maybe we can start to create a new ecclesiology begins by accepting the reality of social networks, and which understands that the reality of the church is inherently somewhat messy, sometimes even chaotic. But heck, isn't that the way the Day of Pentecost appears in the Acts of the Apostles?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

John Bassett raises an excellent point, and in the spirit of "accurate description" it is well worth acknowledging. The various strands of "churchmanship" constituted powerful bonds of affection within the various traditions that Anglicanism was able to embrace. The old joke in Anglo-Catholic circles was that you could determine the fidelity of an Anglo-Catholic by the number of Protestant Episcopal churches passed by on the way to Sunday Mass. I can recall Fr Donald Garfield speaking with fondness of Somkey Mary's "Sister Churches" -- St Paul's K Street in DC, St Clement's in Philly, or Grace and St Peter's in Baltimore, for example, where he ended his ministry in retirement.

However, and this is the important point, these various strands were braided together in a recognized whole -- while the members of Smokey Mary's may have regarded with dismay the goings on at [the other] Saint Clement's (just a few blocks away on the same street! -- and which I always took as a sign of the richness of TEC), still there was the common structure of the diocese and the larger international church, and the Anglican Communion, holding them together.

What we are seeing now is the unbraiding of the "threefold cord" that used to hold High, Low and Broad together. It has always been true that the strength of a cord and its individual strands is greater along its axis than across it -- that is, it is easier to pull a cord apart by stretching the braids outward than it is to snap the cord lengthwise. This lateral unbraiding is what we are seeing now -- and it will weaken the strength even of each strand along its length, to say nothing of what they could do if they remained together.

Anonymous said...

There is also the now somewhat neglected principle of subsidiarity (which seems to me essential in respecting cultural differences)

Re: the three parties -- there was tremendous dynamism & richness in all of that -- in "Last Rites: the End of the Church of England," Michael Hampson says that the Anglo-Catholic party in the C of E has walled itself off & the struggle is between the liberals looking for common ground & compromise and the fundamentalists determined to win -- hence the end of the C of E (which would be sad, but the institution he describes should die, alas).

bls said...

I think there will still be High, Low, and Broad in TEC, no matter what happens. I'm aware of this right now, even in the liberal Northeast, in fact.

There are liberal Low churches, you know - and some of us gay folks would be counted among the more "conservative" members theologically. There will still be "conservatives" in any case, since many are sticking - and anyway, that definition will probably change over time. There are more conservative groups in other countries as well, of course, who won't go with CANA et al.

I'd imagine the whole pattern would replicate everywhere, in fact, some Provinces being more conservative and some more liberal - if we hold onto Anglican comprehensiveness, that is.

Not to say that I'm hoping the whole thing will shatter, but I'm not that worried if it does.