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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Michael Hopkins Responds to +++Rowan's Advent Letter

From your mouth to God's ear, Michael (because, God knows, Rowan won't listen!). Michael Hopkins is the rector of The Episcopal Church of St. Luke and Simone Cyrene Church in Rochester, NY and the immediate past president of Integrity USA

The Archbishop's Credibility Gap and the Destruction of Anglicanism

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s recent Advent Letter raises some questions that need to be open for debate, two in particular

The paragraph regarding “the common acknowledgement that we stand under the authority of Scripture” is deeply problematic, despite its beginning with a quote from the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. The Archbishop goes deeper than that “definition” (“the rule and ultimate standard of faith,” with which, but the way, few progressives, including this one, would quibble). He says Scripture is

the gift shaped by the Holy Spirit which decisively interprets God to the community of believers and the community of believers to itself

At best, that fragment of a sentence should read

the gift shaped by the Holy Spirit which interprets God in and with the community of believers and continually forms and re-forms that community itself.

The Archbishop completely objectifies, makes passive, “the community of believers,” which, for this Anglican, is about as far from Anglicanism as one can get.

The other problem is his final sentence in that paragraph.

Radical change in the way we read cannot be determined by one group or tradition alone.

That is Roman Catholic Theology pure and simple, and it’s is simply hogwash. At the very least it begs the question, what is “radical change.” I defy the Archbishop to prove that the ordination of Bishop Gene Robinson is a “radical change” in the reading of Scripture by Anglican standards. He ought to have at least asked the question rather than made the pronouncement.

Here’s the other problematic paragraph:I acknowledge that this limitation on invitations will pose problems for some in its outworking. But I would strongly urge those whose strong commitments create such problems to ask what they are prepared to offer for the sake of the Conference that will have some general credibility in and for the Communion overall.

Earth to Archbishop, the credibility of the “instruments of communion” are already shot, literally, to hell. To be fair to him, this did not begin on his watch, but on his predecessors at the previous Lambeth Conference. The very reason Lambeth 1.10 cannot be “ the only point of reference clearly agreed by the overwhelming majority of the Communion” is that 1.10 had and has no credibility because of the process at which it arrived. I would also defy the Archbishop to give actual evidence outside the Primates Meeting that the statement is actually true. It is not true simply because he “repeatedly” says it is true.

This raises the whole question of attendance at the Lambeth Conference itself. I have supported our bishops’ attendance despite Bishop Robinson’s lack of an invitation because I felt it was and is important that we “be at the table.” I still lean in that direction, but I also think it is important that someone play “devil’s advocate” here.

What if the table is in itself so distorted that nothing good can come of it? What if the table is, by design, not credible. And it is clearly not given that despite three previous Conference’s promise to listen to the experience of lesbian and gay persons, there is no evidence whatsoever that the next Conference intends to do so. If nothing else, the one person who could be there as an active participant in such a listening process from the side of gay and lesbian persons is not being allowed to participate. If our bishops’ are to go to the Conference are they willing in no uncertain terms, to protest strongly this state of affairs and state that they will do everything in their power to see that the conversation happens at the Conference?

Second of all, is not the Conference a set up. The Archbishop says in his letter that the primary purpose of the Conference will be to work on the Anglican Covenant, presumably to bring it to a final draft. Presumably the Covenant will then be presented to the Provinces of the Communion for their constitutional assent. Is there any reason at all to trust this process? Is not, rather, the evidence that this Covenant will be seen after the Conference as the norm for the Communion as Lambeth 1.10 has come to be seen? Will not the Covenant be presented to the Provinces as a litmus test, i.e., vote for it or you’re out of Communion? Does not the trajectory of the Archbishop’s own writing not lead in this direction? Do we really want to participate in our own exclusion? Are our bishop’s so certain that they can effect the Covenant language so that it is not innocuous to our constitutional make-up as TEC? Do they not remember how out-voted they were in 1998, despite all their efforts to bring something more palatable to the Conference (the report of the sub-section)?

I believe these are the issues that should be open for debate among us. For myself, every time I am ready to “be at the table” (even though I, as an ordained person who is also an openly gay man living in a partnership, will not “be at the table” even vicariously), I am seriously concerned that we are being invited to participate in our own destruction. And I wonder if membership in the Lutheran Federation is not a better worldwide alternative than what is left of the Anglican Communion. The Communion may survive the next Lambeth Conference, but it appears to me that Anglicanism may very well not.


Lapinbizarre said...

Very naughty picture you've got as a header, Mizz Elizabeth.

Paul said...

A Covenant emerging from (1) the demands of Primates and (2) the labors of Lambeth cannot speak for the Communion because it excludes the laity, deacons, and presbyters. Without those voices engaged in the process and empowered to shape it, the whole thing devolves into a hierarchical fiat. Hello? This is not the Vatican, folks!

As a priest I can be deposed but I cannot be un-baptized. It is as a baptized member of Christ's body that I most have a stake in what is going on. Growing power in the hands of bishops and primates is much like growing power in the executive branch of the U.S. government--aberrant and inimical to the life of the world. I realize that most of the world does not grasp or appreciate the American approach to polity, since we are formed not only by a history shaped by Enlightenment ideals of democracy but also because we have taken seriously the restored centrality of the Paschal Mystery and our Baptism into it. What Vatican II (and its antecedent roots) started we have carried on, watching the whole People of God becoming empowered in a way that undoes so many of the problems that have grown out of the Constantinian establishment and rampant clericalism. Of course this ruffles feathers. Hierarchies are threatened when they can no longer function paternally, with all the power in their hands and a facade of benevolent dictatorship. I, for one, don't plan to resist the tide of democracy in the church. I don't consider it anarchy, I consider the glorious free-blowing breath of the Spirit of God.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Lappy - What? What's naughty about an icon of Judas about to kiss Jesus?

Rowan The Dog said...

Would someone please elect this man bishop already!? Seriously.