September 30, 2007

Duncan: History Lesson

In the extended online interviews for “Religion and Ethics Newsweekly” this week, Bishop Duncan of The Common Cause Partners states:

The last time that Episcopal dioceses separated from the Episcopal Church was in the American Civil War. Nine dioceses actually separated for a period of years. When the war was over the Episcopal Church came back together. There was an important social issue, I mean the whole issue of slavery divided the nation. The North and the South were divided. When the issue was settled the church came back together. Where we are right now is seeing the church moving in two distinctly different directions on issues of Christian morality quite different than the slavery issue.

Bishop Duncan’s account is telling both for what he omits and what he includes. First of all, from The Episcopal Church’s perspective, those southern dioceses were not “separated” — their bishops were “absent” but the roll was still called down yonder wherever the General Convention met.

More importantly, the rationale given for the separation by the separationists was the importance of defending the integrity of the national church. Since the Confederacy was a new nation, it was necessary for a new national church to be constituted for this new nation — just exactly as it had been “necessary” for the The Episcopal Church to separate from the Church of England at the creation of the United States, as the preface to our first BCP notes. Civil War veteran chaplain, and historian of The Episcopal Church, Archdeacon Charles C. Tiffany recorded the actions of the first Confederate Conclave:

It was unanimously resolved that the secession of the Southern States from the United States, and the formation of the government of the Confederate States, rendered necessary an independent organization of the dioceses within the seceded States. (496*)

So the reason for the “division” in the church was not disagreement over slavery, but the concept of the integrity of a national church — the very thing Duncan’s movement contradicts. To our shame, slavery was not the issue that “divided” the church — the church had, on the contrary, refused to take a national position on slavery in the interests of keeping the peace. As Tiffany put it,

The Episcopal Church as an organization had, from the beginning, determined to keep aloof from party politics, and, more fully that other ecclesiastical bodies, had done so. Her membership was very varied among the influential classes of society. Many of the distinguished statesmen of all parties were of her communion. They acted in their several political spheres as citizens and as churchmen, neither gave nor withheld their countenance in political action. The triennial meetings of the General Convention had made the clergy and laity of the North and the South familiar and friendly with one another. The sectional institution of slavery, which occasioned the secession movement, had not been made the subject of general ecclesiastical legislation. It was left to the regulation of the dioceses in which it existed. (494)

Thus, by allowing for local option on the question of slavery, The Episcopal Church was enabled to remain united, until the matter boiled over in the secular arena.

Finally, it is fascinating to me to see that Bishop Duncan appears to think that our present divisions over sexuality are of quite a different moral significance — and obviously far more important — than the question of slavery. It seems to me that this sad past chapter of our national history offers little to support his present pressure for division.

Tobias Haller BSG

*The citations from Charles C. Tiffany come from his History of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, 1895.


Anonymous said...

Yes, it struck me immediately when Duncan claimed the southern dioceses split from the Episcopal Church in order to support the immorality of slavery that it was hardly an analogy in his favor.

Now the CCP's want to split from the Episcopal Church in order to support the immorality of GLBT exclusion and suppression.

May they also remember that the southern diocese gave up their pro-slavery stance and re-joined the Episcopal Church as soon as possible.

Hmmmm....perhaps he spoke more truly than he knew!

June Butler said...

Does Tiffany mention that the Bishop of Louisiana, Leonidas Polk, served in the Army of the Confederacy during the Civil War? He was known as the "Fighting Bishop". He was not a chaplain; he was a commanding general.

He also established my parish church, St. John's Episcopal Church.

Chris Jones said...

Fr Haller,

You wrote:

So the reason for the “division” in the church was not disagreement over slavery, but the concept of the integrity of a national church — the very thing Duncan’s movement contradicts.

You are right that the basis for the (ultimately temporary) separation of the Confederate dioceses was not slavery, but the principle of the national Church. But I think you go too far in asserting that "Duncan's movement contradicts" that principle.

It is my understanding that the goal of the Common Cause partners is not to divide the Episcopal Church as a national Church, but to replace it as the national Church recognized by the Anglican Communion. Were they to achieve that goal, the result would be just as much a "national Church" as ECUSA has ever been. It would be a "national Church" with a different teaching and a different standard of "orthodoxy" from that of ECUSA.

I am not sure what meaning the concept of a "national Church" has in a religiously pluralist society with constitutionally-mandated separation of Church and State. In such a society there can never be a "national Church" in the sense that the Church of England or the Church of Sweden are national Churches. No American Church body can, in reality, be anything more than a "denomination". The most that any Church body could claim is to be the best and most "official" local representation of its particular confession or flavor of Christianity.

I should have thought that Episcopalian progressives would be glad to see "Duncan's movement" finally move on to the business of creating a separate denomination more to their liking; leaving the Episcopal Church free to preach the Gospel, and to work out its implications for its ecclesial life, as their consciences dictate. Why should their new denomination be any more threat to (or, indeed, any more concern to) Episcopalians than any other denomination, such as the Southern Baptists or the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod?

I do not, by the way, have any expectation that the Common Cause partners' new denomination will have any greater success than the 1970s-era "Continuum" -- even in the unlikely event that it succeeds in gaining +Cantuar's imprimatur. The world is not holding its breath waiting for yet another "really Anglican" denomination.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks for the comments.

Tiffany does indeed mention Bishop/General Polk. Here are a few of the things he noted about him beginning with a summary of the various churchmen throughout the country and their stands as individuals on slavery: "Bishop Polk, a large slave-holder, cared diligently for his servants..." ... "Bishop McIlvaine, of Ohio, the most conspicuous of the Northern bishops in the cause of the Union, was in closest bonds of religious and ecclesiastical sympathy with that of most ardent secessionist, Bishop Polk, of Louisiana, who had been converted under his ministry while a cadet at West Point. They prayed for each other by name every Sunday morning. There was no religious household in a the land into which the coming of the Civil War introduced more personal distress than that of the Episcopal Church. At first some of the Southern bishops deprecated secession, notably Meade of Virginia and Otey of Tennessee; but when their states seceded they joined heart and soul with Elliott of Georgia and Davis of South Carolina, who had ardently fanned it from the first; and it was the aged Meade who cautiously counseled the more youthful Polk to enter the Army, and use the military education he had received at West Point for the advantage of the endangered Confederacy. It was a unique position for a Protestant bishop; but it was reluctantly undertaken from the sternest sense of duty, and discharged in the spirit of a Christian warrior... In the ordering of Divine Providence the separate existence of the Church in the Confederate States was of so brief a continuance that there is no need to further trace its history. Its action was such as to leave no invincible obstacle to a complete reunion when once the political situation was changed. Its one bishop who had entered the Southern army had fallen, and all men honored his motives and his spirit, while they deplored his action and his fate." (495-497 passim)

When you consider that Tiffany served as the chaplain to the Connecticut Volunteers, and was writing at a time when many veterans were still among the living, I think you can get a sense of fairness of his account. ( he was, by the way the third rector of my present parish!)


I think the difference here lies in the fact that Duncan is trying to remove his diocese from the church -- he is not simply trying to establish a separate denomination with the understanding that an Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh will continue.

Obviously, in a pluralistic society without the establishment of religion there is no "national" church in the same sense as the Church of England or of Sweden. The idea is rather that the jurisdiction of any given "particular or national church" should be coterminous with that of the secular nation. This is true both in cases where the church is established and where it is not.

It is in part because I share your sentiments concerning the likelihood of the Common Cause Partners actually achieving their goal of unity and recognition as the legitimate expression of Anglicanism in the United States that I challenge Duncan's rationale.

I would also point out that this effort to unify all of the many splinter groups from the past will do little to help the case of the parishes in Virginia that what we are seeing is a division in the denomination rather than one more splintering effort. On the contrary, this rather demonstrates that what we are seeing is not the division of the denomination, but the departure of the disaffected.

June Butler said...

Tobias, thank you for the material on Bishop Polk. I know more about him than I knew before.

I have misgivings about fighting bishops, and from what I know of Gen. Polk, he was not particularly skilled at military strategy and battles, but he cared for the soldiers under his command, and they, in turn, loved him very much and grieved when he was killed.

I may have done a double post. If so, please delete one.

Anonymous said...

I have not read your archives, but have read several of your recent posts and have found them interesting, even refreshing. Having been largely stuck in the worlds of Father Jake and David Virtue -- equivalents in my mind --I am delighted to see some willingness to entertain the problems that confront TEC.
I would ask your posters to cite references when making claims as to church history.
I am most glad to see a side-stepping of name calling: "homophobe," for example. A great deal of the blogging, etc., that supports the liberalization within TEC as to sexual behaviour, and/or, the role restrictions in the church based on same, is destructive, and often seems to be based on the central premise that sexual identity politics trumps all; on the other hand, I find the voices from the other side suspect, even as I sympathize with their dis-ease.
Thank you for the blog links.
I am disturbed that blog links are always defined by the basic idea: these is blogs we's agreeing with; but what can you do?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, Theologaster.

Oh, how I wish people would cite references when asserting history (or theology!). I find myself at a loss sometimes even reviewing places like Stand Firm where confident assertions are completely wrong.

On "homophobia" I disagree to some extent. I do think it can be wrongly used, but there are times that it represents an accurate description. It is, of course, important that it be properly defined -- unlike the Lambeth 1.10 definition of "irrational fear of homosexual persons" -- and understood as primarily a personal fear of one's own possible inclination towards something held to be taboo. This does explain some of the vehemence in some circles, I believe. But it is the taboo, ultimately, that is the problem, not the person whose socio-psychological makeup inclines them to place it at too high a level of concern.

As to blog links, the ones I list are places I regularly visit; not all are places I necessarily "agree" with, but which I enjoy reading for their sane and balanced language. Others I enjoy for their insane and unbalanced language!