Tuesday, July 31, 2007

And they morph again . . .

If only.”
These slightly petulant words seemed the leitmotif of the July 30-31 meeting of the Anglican Communion Network.
If only the Archbishop of Canterbury had spoken even one encouraging word about the Network, it would be so much bigger than it is now.
If only some of the Network’s biggest financial supporters weren’t tied up in their own legal battles as they tried to take property out of The Episcopal Church, the Network wouldn’t be facing financial “challenges.”
If only other bishops had spoken up in support of the Network bishops.
If only all the other splinter groups didn’t see themselves as the body into which all the other “orthodox” would come, the Network could have served as that body.
The glass is clearly half empty for the Network. Optimism was in short supply while mistrust was rampant in the room. There were lots of questions about what happens in the future when they are not all so willing to gloss over differences – like those over the issue of ordaining women to the priesthood -- in the interest of unity. But these misgivings were brushed aside as something to be expected among a group of wounded people who have been so abused and persecuted by The Episcopal Church.
On Monday morning, about 80 delegates, observers, and spouses met in a stuffy room at St. Vincent’s Cathedral in Bedford, a suburb of Fort Worth, to hear the Anglican Communion Network Moderator, Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan, sum it all up:
“What is needed is a completely new structure. Lambeth is failing, Canterbury is failing, the Anglican Consultative Council is prejudiced in a Western way and the primates are sadly divided north and south.
“We’ll leave and they can take the stuff with them to hell, because that is where they will take it. This is Good Friday and we have to face it.”
As the meeting got underway the primary mood was one of deep sadness underlain with anger. This very white, very male – I counted at most twenty women delegates – very cleric-heavy group seemed bewildered by how they ended up in these ‘emotional and spiritual depths,” facing financial challenges and feeling that The Episcopal Church no longer has any room left “for me or anyone like me,” as Duncan put it.
“How brutal the rejection, how total the failure,” he said.
Bp. James Adams was clear about how much influence the Network bishops have had: “We suffer under the delusion that we have any influence in The Episcopal Church. The action of General Convention 2006 sealed it – we have no influence whatsoever. They don’t listen to a word we say.”
What to do? Well, when your growth rate is static if not shrinking, one looks for ways to grow. One way is to ally with other like-minded little groups who share your obsession with “purity” and “clean hands.”
So the Network voted to join the Common Cause Partnership, which is a federation of autonomous “Jurisdictions and Ministries in North America,” all of whom affirm the same Theological Statement and accepts “one of the historic Books of Common Prayer as the primary standard for worship.”
The Common Cause Partnership is an alphabet soup of dissident conservative groups – the AAC, ACN, AMiA, ANiC, APA, CANA, AEF, FIF/NA, and REC. [See paragraph 23 below.]
The Partners are divided over women’s ordination but united enough in their outrage over the inclusion of lesbians and gays in the life and ministry of the church that they are willing to put that difference aside and ‘live in tension” for a time.
Hmmm. Autonomous members of a federation who agree to live in tension over disagreements?
Remind you of anything?
But don’t you go thinking they are replicating the wimpy Anglican Communion. No, they have put in place a plan to vote someone off the island if they misbehave. And most importantly, all partners agree not to “take any dispute to a Primate or Primates, nor shall any CCP Partner bring any dispute before any court of law or chancery, without first attempting in good faith to resolve the matter in accordance with the provisions of this article.”
Dean – and bishop-elect in the Anglican Province of Uganda -- John Guernsey explained that CCP “need[s] to deal with our own matters and not export disputes” to others outside the partnership. The irony escaped him.
They also amended the Network bylaws to clarify that only those members of the Network who are still members of The Episcopal Church are bound by the Network charter’s assertion that it “shall operate in good faith within the Constitution of The Episcopal Church.” Bishop Bill Wantland pointed out that at the January 20, 2004 meeting, the framers of the charter had very deliberately used only the word “Constitution” and not “Constitution and Canons.”
I’ve watched so many conservative groups morph into other groups with other names that it’s easy to lose track of the fact that it’s often the same people doing all this. Many members of the Network [ACN] are also members of the American Anglican Council [AAC] and Forward in Faith North America [FIF/NA]. The Anglican Network in Canada [ANiC] shares many members with Anglican Essentials Federation [AEF]. And certainly the Convocation of Anglicans in North America [CANA] shares members with the other groups. As far as I can determine, only the Reformed Episcopal Church [REC] doesn’t share members with the others. And I certainly could be wrong about that. And the Anglican Province of America [APA] owes its continued existence to the recurrent splintering of the “continuing churches.”
So now they’ve formed yet another ‘orthodox” entity, whose purpose is to “build toward that new ecclesiastical structure” that will one day supplant The Episcopal Church [and one assumes the Anglican Church of Canada] as the official Anglican presence in North America. By the time the meeting ended, they were back to their usual mode of alternating between playing the martyr and playing the cocky upstart taking on the mean ol’ Episcopal Church. It was “oh poor us” alternating with “bring ‘em on.”
The plan is this: The bishops who refuse to go to Lambeth will hold an “alternate Lambeth.” The Anglican Communion will split in two. The Common Cause Partners will affiliate themselves with the “pure” Anglican Communion. The “old” Anglican Communion will wither away, and the “purified” Anglican Communion will rise triumphant, and have a big tea party in Nigeria every ten years.
In the meantime, they hope to persuade TEC to “cease” litigation and come to mediation so they can settle on a plan to let them leave with the property.Apparently purity works better when you can take the property with you.