Friday, August 31, 2007

Kenya's Anglican Church Consecrates 2 U.S. Bishops: Moving Closer to Ecclesial Anarchy

The Anglican Church in Kenya this week consecrated 2 U.S. Bishops to oversee Anglicans in the U.S. (the Episcopalian Church) who can no longer in good conscience be under the authority of their duly elected Episcopal Church bishop. The struggle, of course, is over the U.S. Church's consecrating openly gay bishops and blessing same-sex unions. The more traditional bishops of Kenya are stepping in to provide shepherds for American Anglicans who feel that the American Episcopal Church has betrayed the Gospel and the Sacred Tradition of the Church.

The article follows at this link:

In addition, I have some notes from an interview with Rt. Rev. Katherine Roscum, Bishop Suffragen of the Diocese of NY. This interview aired on National Public Radio some time in March or April 2007 (sorry, not very precise). Also, I do not have a full transcript (I would dig one up if I had the time--probably should, but...), so I am only posting excerpts and quotations from Roscum's comments. I do not wish to take her words out of context, but they should more or less speak for themselves. I meant to do a post on this back then, but became too busy with work... but I kept my notes with the intention of doing a piece on the ecclesiological [pertaining to the nature of the church] ramifications for these recent happenings.

When asked by the interviewer (Teri Gross, I think) if there was a threat of schism within the worldwide Anglican Church (consisting of 38 churches) over the question of open homosexuality among bishops and the blessing of same sez unions, Roscum responded:

"We are not one church we are a communion of independent autonomous churches." [words in italics represent her emphasis.]

I would think that most Eastern Orthodox Christians would agree with that brief formula of ecclesiology, although they would have a much different understanding of shared Sacred Tradition, ecumenical councils, and church hierarcy. I, as a Catholic, of course, cannot understand how such an ecclesiology works. Jesus Christ founded ONE Church and prayed for it to remain one (see John 17). How can local churches remain in communion with another if they lack a visible sign of their unity in the person of a primary bishop (such as the bishop of Rome)? What constitutes communion? Does it mean that we all believe the same doctrinal truths, that we preach the same Gospel? Does it mean a shared Sacred Tradition, the wisdom of the Gospel alive in each age passed down from the bishops? Does it mean that we are united in possessing the same sacraments and forms of worship? If one church teaches that homosexuality is a valid form of sacramental/marital love, and another church does not... I would say that ruptures a communion.
When asked what does ensure communion within the worldwide Anglican Church, Roscum answered:
"Common prayer, affection, and relationship: this is what holds us together as descendants of the mother church of England."
OK, got it, common prayer. They have some uniformity in their liturgy I presume. They share the Book of Common Prayer. But the concepts of "affections" and "relationships" sound nebulous, vacuous and sentimental. The Catholic Church and the Orthodox churches might share some "affections" for one another (respect, admiration, a desire to work together to promote the Gospel, perhaps?) and "relationships" (in the Ukraine, for example, the Ukrainian Orthodox church and the Urkrainian Catholic Church must have some kind of relationship by the mere fact that they co-exist in the same territories/culture/communities. However, these things do not, by themselves, make for true communion. What we need for communion in addition to shared form of worhip would be a shared body of teaching and a shared hierarchy of authority. We need a common teaching and a common shepherd... otherwise the flock naturally wanders away from each other.
Roscum said that the locus of decision-making, in the Anglican faith, is at the local level (including the laity) and is not with the other bishops or the world-wide communion of regional churches. According to Roscum, the Episcopal Christian in the U.S. says 'we are the tree (that is, we are connected to the Anglican Communion). So, if you [traditional dissidents] are so few then you split off.'
Laurie Goodstein, the NY Times Religion Correspondent, was cited as describing this battle as one between the acceptance of "diverse points of view vs. the need for orthodoxy." Roscum then characterized the later "conservatives" as the "dissidents".
Notice that the ones who are crying for the acceptance of "diverse points of view" are the same ones who are, in the final analysis, claiming the position of orthodoxy. Yes, they will accept diverse points of view... unless, one of those points of view is that homosexual acts do not constitute proper use of the gift of human sexuality.
This, of course, has happened throughout the long history of the Catholic Church. Heretics were those who presented "diverse points of view" on, for example, the true nature of Christ (Arians denied the divine nature, Docetists denied that Jesus truly took on human flesh), on the need for grace (Pellagians denied the need for grace), and even the Protestant revolt itself (denying the need for a Church hierarchy and authority). Fearless saints such as St. Athanasius, St. Augustine, and St. Frances de Sales all strove to remain in the continual stream of orthodoxy. I thank them for their sacrifices.
Roscum continued to relate then recent events. At a worldwide gathering of the governing bishops of the various region churches in Africa, 7 of the 38 primates did not receive communion. Their decision was based on the attendance of the primate of the U.S. Church Bishop Katherine Jefferts (who had recently come out supporting the continued consecration of openly gay bishops and the blessing of same-sex unions). Jefferts said that many of the other 31 primates probably disagreed in some cases, but still were committed to communion.
My thought is that, if this were the case, they were trying to fool themselves into believing that true communion exists. In the Catholic Church's history, when there has been major rifts in Church governance or theology... it became obvious rather quickly, and it would be addressed by regional or ecumenical councils. Such a rift would be seen as serious, important, and requiring immediate attention.... and concrete resolutions were made to solve the matter under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. When a wound or breach appeared in the Communion of regional churches--the Catholic bishops did not celebrate communion together and pretend that everything was ok, they sought to diagnose, treat, and heal the wound. Sometimes that process was painful... but it was seen as necessary.
Roscum completes her interview by describing more of the "democratic" governing structure of the local Anglican churches. There are 4 instruments of communion, including, among other things, the Archbishop of Canterbury (who--unlike the Pope, does not seem to have any true right to authority over another bishop or primate... but perhaps only a kind of leadership of moral authority), and the Lamberth Conference (dating back to 1884; and it was at this Conference in the 1930s, for example, that the Anglican Church became the first Christian body to permit the use of birth control within marriage for certain reasons). Decisions are made "from the ground up." There is a house of bishops and a house of deputies, that latter consisting of both laity and clergy. There is an Anglican Consultative Council made up of laity, clergy, bishops, men, and women. Roscum suggests that if women were properly represented inthe councils "we would not be speaking about division." This is a common claim of radical feminists who, in the Catholic Church, for example, push for the ordination of women: women are some how of a higher nature than men--women must be somehow free from the tendancy to sin (concupiscence) because with women in authority dissension, division, corruption, ignorance, oppression, etc. would never exist. Women, like men, are human, and thus still prone to sin. And, in my opinion, the Holy Spirit works better through a Church hierarchy than through a multitude of democracies.
So, it will be interesting to see who this all pans out. Now you will have some Episcopalians in the states of Massachusettes and Texas who will be under a bishop who was consecrated by bishops all the way out in Kenya, and who are in communion with such churches. In the same neighborhood you will have Episcopalians who are under the authority of an Anglican bishop who has been elected and consecrated by the Episcopal Church in the U.S. for some time. Imagine that you are a bishop of a territory and a brother/sister bishop from some other country comes in and consecrates a new bishop to send into your ecclesial "turf". What you have is overlapping and conflicting "communions." And that is no One Church no matter how much you wish it were. And I do not foresee the situation resolving itself except in the formation, in time, of 2 separate and distinct Anglican churches.
Perhaps some of the Traditional Anglicans will see the need for a true communion, and reconsider the Bishop of Rome and his worldwide family.
Lastly, some might say that this is yet another example of Christians being too hung up on the question of sex (as Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu recently claimed). Well, as you can see, God's meaning of the gift and proper use of human sexuality is no trivial matter. It is at the very heart of our Christian understanding of the nature of man and woman, the nature of love, the sacrament of marriage, the family, etc. Read Pope John Paul II's theology of the body and you will understand the profound and central importance of this subject. The Church lives or dies by the state of the Christian family. The Christian family lives or dies by the state of Christian marriage. And Christian marriage lives or dies by a proper understanding of marital love and the nuptual act. And besides all of this... this issue of division within the Anglican church points to the need to have a proper understanding of ecclesiology--a proper understanding of what the Church is and how she functions.
Articles on recent happenings:
It sure seems that the Episcopal Church in the U.S. is not too concerned with maintaining communion with the other Anglican churches when it continues to throw prudence to the wind and keep the fires of controversy burning.
Lesbian Is Finalist for Chicago Episcopal Bishop

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