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A series of essays in the Episcopal Church

Understanding What is and What Must Be?

Understanding What is and What Must Be?
Responding to the Windsor Report

By Fr. John-Julian, OJN

During forty-seven years as a priest and pastor, and thirteen years as a psychotherapist, I can tell you both personally and professionally that one of the most damaging aspects of interpersonal relationships comes from the matter of   “blame” — the almost universal human inclination to cast someone or something else as the cause of one’s problems.

—The abusing husband who has just beaten his wife and says: “It’s her fault because she is always nagging me.”
—The violent attacker who says, “It’s his fault! He made me so mad that I hit him.”
—The vengeful excuse: “He asked for it!”

None of those “blamings” is psychologically valid or true.

One of the things one learns early in the game is that in 99% of the cases nobody MADE anybody do anything. If one becomes angry about another person’s behavior how one deals with that anger is the responsibility of the one getting angry — and especially is this true when the one who is blamed did not INTEND to make the other person angry in any way. If the behavior of another person produces anger in mysel, (and if I am to be psychologically healthy) I must recognize that I am responsible for my anger and for what I do with the anger. If I ACT in the midst of my anger, I myself remain completely accountable for how I have manifested that anger. If someone makes a nasty remark about my friend, and I react by punching him out, it is not the REMARK that caused the problem; it is my own instability, immaturity, or lack of control in ACTING, which created the difficulty.

This is a basic and universal psychological principle that has been completely overlooked in the Windsor Report. Everyone – on both sides of the issue – seems naively ready to place (or accept) the blame for the fragmentation of the Anglican Communion on (a) the Episcopal Church for ordaining a gay bishop of New Hampshire, and (b) on the Bishop of New Westminster for authorizing the blessing of same-sex unions.

But it should be patently clear that in neither case did the actors INTEND to offend or exclude or insult the Archbishop of Nigeria (or anyone else). In both cases, the actors intended to do what they believed in their hearts and minds was the right, good, and decent thing for Christians to do. If their well-meaning actions are the source of the Archbishop of Nigeria’s anger, it is the actions the Archbishop has taken as a result of that anger which threaten the unity of the Anglican Communion. It is not the Episcopal Church’s action that is the problem; it is the RE-action of Archbishop Akinola (and others like him) which is the problem.

There is any number of possible actions one could take in response to the ordinations of gays in the American Church or the blessing of same-sex unions in Canada. There are scores of Anglican bishops and archbishops who are very unhappy about those actions of the Episcopal Church and the Bishop of New Westminster, but they do not react by threatening or proposing schism. Their reactions demonstrate stability, psychological maturity, and self-control. They do not take actions that put Anglican unity at risk. In fact, these quietly dissenting bishops are clear evidence that the actions of the Episcopal Church and the Bishop of New Westminster do NOT imperil unity. These actions certainly introduce diversity (and perhaps even disagreement and conflict), but they do not imperil unity and they were never intended to imperil unity.

Further than that, neither the Episcopal Church nor the bishop of New Westminster has ever expressed even faintly or vaguely the demand (or even the appeal) that anyone who wishes to be in communion with them must follow their lead and ordain gay bishops or bless same-sex unions. Their actions were in no way intended to be exclusionary or divisive or discordant. There was never a breath of the idea that anyone (or any bishop of diocese or province) would be required or expected to follow suit and do the same things. Exclusion and separation were not part of their motives. But exclusion and separation are exactly what the dissenters seem to intend.

Further still, the entire fragmentation issue is based on a principle specifically and uncontrovertibly denied by the entire Church Catholic in the 4th and the 14th centuries, and by the Anglican tradition in the 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries: the principle that a bishop’s sacramental validity is based on his/her morality and/or orthodoxy — that if someone judges a bishop to be immoral or heretical, that invalidates his/her episcopal Orders. That is the heresy of Donatism opposed uncontrovertibly by Saint Augustine of Hippo, and the heresy of John Wycliffe opposed entirely in both the English Blackfriars Council of 1382 and the Catholic Council of Constance in 1415, and also in Article XXVI of the 39 Articles. It is the refusal of dissenting priests (and bishops) to accept the proper, legal, and canonical episcopal minis-trations of bishops with whom they disagree (or whom they hold to be immoral or heretical), which is the root of the problem of disunity.

Furthermore, the claim of the dissidents that literal interpretation of Holy Scripture holds the total truth and must be followed is a 19th century invention. What do the same people say about things like (1) the Darwinian understanding of evolution; and (2) the Divine Right of kings; and (3) the Sabbath changed from Saturday to Sunday; and (4) The very existence of the Priesthood (as an order distinct from the episcopacy); and (5) Christ’s descent into hell appears in the Apostles’ Creed, but has no basis in canonical scripture (See 1 Peter 3:19?). Not one of these “changes” can be justified from Holy Scripture. And, of course, there are the more obvious examples of the justification for divorce and the rejection of slavery. Not one of these things has support in Holy Scripture or is even allowed by Holy Scripture.

When I was in seminary there was an axiom: “The Catholics have religion and no morality, while the Protestants have morality and no religion”. Obviously, that is not a theological (or even factual) truth, but it raises a very important issue: what is the difference between “religion” and “morality”? Or between “core doctrine” and “discipline”? As Episcopalians, we are not a “confessional church” — that is, unlike many of our Protestant brothers and sisters, we have no external and independent statements of core doctrines to which we are required to adhere. The only formal document we have which expresses “core doctrine” is the Book of Common Prayer with its Creeds and its Catechism. And I am certain that worldwide Anglicans do not find anything in any of the various Anglican Books of Common Prayer with which to take serious theological issue. Archbishop Akinola and the Episcopal Church hold the same doctrinal beliefs. But across the vast patchwork of Anglican Provinces, there are any number of different and varying applications of those common beliefs, depending often on the nature of the cultures in which they exist. [It will be remembered that a formal ecclesiastical court of the Episcopal Church at which Bishop Walter Righter was the accused, declared that the ordination of gay people in committed relationships was NOT a matter of “core doctrine”.]

So, for instance, non-African Anglicans were willing to recognize that African cultural norms had long accepted polygamy, and that it was inhumane to require a Christian convert to put aside his multiple wives (especially since those wives would have been social outcasts with no way even to support themselves). When missionaries went to the Orient, they found that white was the color of mourning in some of the Oriental cultures, so black vestments were replaced by white ones for funerals. In the 19th century, a little Episcopal Church I know of had a congregation of old-country Europeans, and the men sat on one side of the church and women on the other, because that reflected the culture from which they came. Most colonial Episcopal Churches had galleries where slaves had to sit, because that was the culture of the time and place. In 14th century England (with which I am very familiar) no one (except royalty) ever got married in church until the wife-to-be was pregnant: they were betrothed and then waited for pregnancy before they were married, because it was essential that there be an heir. I recall in my own youth, my own rector preaching against the new fad called “ecumenism”, and we know of the McGarvey Secession when a number of clergy and laity left the Episcopal Church because of the passage of a new canon (the “Open Pulpit” canon) which authorized people other than ordained Episcopal clergy to preach in Episcopal Churches (with the bishop’s permission). Some of us are old enough to remember when our own culture suppressed women and they were not allowed on vestries or at diocesan or General Conventions as deputies or delegates, to say nothing of being ordained — and they were not allowed by our culture to take jobs or to vote in national elections! Indeed, there were years when Black men could not be ordained in the Episcopal Church unless they agreed not to attend diocesan conventions. For nearly 1400 years, the Church declared usury (the loaning of money on interest) to be a mortal sin, and now it is the entire basis of our economy.

All of these are cultural circumstances that were reflected in the life and practice of the Church. And they have all changed as the culture changed. Perhaps sadly, the secular culture too often has taken the lead in the changes, and the Church only picked up on the change after the secular world had promoted it.

We are dealing with an inevitable clash of cultures, and the cultures represented by Africa, some of the far East, and the Southern Cone are as much as 200 to 300 years behind the cultures of the West in social progress, societal structure, and the development of the individual. It is impossible for the Church in USA or Canada to pretend that our cultural development and growth has not happened and humbly to consent to revert to the cultural norms of some past age. That is too great a price to pay for uniformity.

Curiously, the Windsor Report asks for repentance and apology from the Episcopal Church. How could the Episcopal Church be “repentant” — even if it wanted to? There is no political machinery in the Episcopal Church to accomplish that demand. There is no one who is politically capable of speaking for the Episcopal Church. Any of us individually can charitably express regret that others have been disturbed by our actions; as individuals we can show remorse for the sorrow others may feel about our decisions, but there is no provision in our polity for the Episcopal Church to “repent”. It is virtually a political impossibility that the Church would reject and repudiate her own actions in General Convention, and certainly a General Convention which clearly confirmed the election of a gay man as bishop cannot reasonably be expected to do an about face and repudiate its own actions. (And even if it could, it could not accomplish that before a February, 2005 deadline.)

The House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church has generously (over-generously, to my mind) agreed to provide alternate episcopal ministrations to those who for whatever reasons cannot accept such ministrations from their own diocesan. However, the very nature of the Church cannot allow the repudiation of the pastoral and canonical rights and responsibilities of a diocesan bishop to his/her clergy and parishes. I have served under five bishops. Two of those bishops were (to my own knowledge) involved in sexual immorality and one of them was a total and complete heretic, and yet I never even dreamed of removing myself from their pastoral authority. Indeed, I knew I could not have done so without compromising my ordination vows of obedience. There were three times when I obtained the diocesan’s approval for another bishop to preach or confirm in my parish, but that never compromised my canonical relationship with my diocesan. And so it has always been in the history of the Church. Historically, it has been only heretics who have claimed an exemption from this canonical obedience.

Finally, what has happened here is that two fundamental and basic catholic theologies have been repudiated by the dissenters: (1) The very nature of the Church herself has been attacked by a covert and individualist Protestantism masquerading as Anglo-Catholicism. They used to call us “high church” because we held the Church herself in the highest possible esteem and respect, placing her far above individual opinion or preference. And the highest authority any Episcopalian has is the General Convention – higher even than the Bible. (It can be noted that it is only the General Convention that can declare what translations of the Bible may be used in public services – so canonically, the General Convention has authority over our interpretation of the Bible.) (2) The very nature of episcopacy and priesthood has been attacked by those who claim that priestly and episcopal validity is lodged in a priest’s or bishop‘s morality, not in his/her nature as a priest or bishop. God help us all if only “good” and “sinless” people could be ministers. This age-old tradition does not suggest that immorality of ministers is unimportant, but it is irrelevant to the validity of the ministerial function. It is not plain Joe Smith who is administering Confirmation; it is not plain Fred Jones who is consecrating bread and wine. And the validity of those sacramental ministrations has never depended upon the morality of the minister. And that is what the dissenters now claim.

The best that can be expected of the Anglican Communion in the future is the recognition that our provinces function in entirely different cultures, and that we cannot make demands on other provinces to match our own culture.

I recall one summer in my parish when there was considerable upset on the part of some older parishioners because two teen-agers had come to church on Sunday with bare feet! This was improper! It was disrespectful and impolite, to say the least! But what people in the parish didn’t know was that those two teenagers had just returned from a summer Church Camp where they had had a truly peak experience of God’s presence at the informal Eucharists at the camp, and they wanted to replicate that inspired experience in their home parish. It was a classical clash of cultures — as surely as there is at present a wider clash of cultures in the broader Church. But both sides in that conflict were good, committed, even holy Christian people, and finally it just took some explanations and the differences became irrelevant.

What I want to suggest is that we may be unhappy with Christian polygamy in Africa, but we must recognize the good faith of the province that accepts it. This means that we may not approve of the exclusion of women from Holy Orders, but we must believe in the good will of those provinces that exercise such exclusion. This means that we may be discontented by provinces where Anglican liturgy is manifested by the waving of arms, loud shouting, glossalalia, dancing, being “slain in the spirit”, or what-have-you, but we must believe in the benevolence of those who practice liturgy in that way. Judgment of “the other” must simply cease, and the same tolerant fellowship we all show now to our non-Anglican ecumenical friends (with whom we may disagree on any number of very important theological or moral points) must be shown to our own Anglican neighbors. We must learn to say, “They are different, not wrong!” or even, “I do not agree with them, and I would not do things their way, but they are not therefore bad people or moral monstrosities.”

There is no other true solution possible that can resolve the confrontational distress we see today among Anglican provinces. It must be seen that the Episcopal Church does not do what it does out of malignancy or the wish to harm or offend anyone. And it must be seen that those who disapprove or object to these “new things” hold their position with the same integrity and commitment to the Lord. As Archbishop Williams pointed out in his Advent letter, the damning, cursing, and blaming of others must finally cease, and disapproval – if there be such – must be couched in terms of compassion and caring. More “structural” or “political” solutions to the conflict hold no promise of solving anything, and only of further tearing apart the already scarred Body of Christ.

One reader of the essay above responded:

I could hardly believe someone would write: "We are dealing with an inevitable clash of cultures, and the cultures represented by Africa, some of the far East, and the Southern Cone are as much as 200 to 300 years behind the cultures of the West in social progress, societal structure, and the development of the individual."

The statement is condescending and reeks of paternalism. I found it offensive. What benefit is to be derived from heaping scorn upon those whose views are different? Especially where those views happen to be entirely consitent with those of many of the so-called more culturally advanced.

Fr. John-Julian responded:

Since when does recognizing observable, plain, historical, sociological facts become "condescending" and paternalistic?

And it is not heaping "scorn" to say that a culture which approves female genital mutilation is behind the West in social progress. I don't think I am falsifying anything to say that broad literacy demonstrates more social progress in a culture than broad illiteracy. I don't think a culture which solves its massive racial hatreds with machetes and genocide is "advanced." I don't think cultures in which dictatorship is the norm are equal in social development to Western democracies. A culture whose best roads are mere muddy trails is not as socially progressive as a culture with Interstate Highways. A culture in which the majority of its members has no electricity or toilets or medical facilities is surely not as socially developed as cultures in which the majority has all those things. Cultures in which the political opposition is imprisoned and/or murdered can hardly be compared with a culture in which free elections are the norm. What do you say about a culture which in my own lifetime was run by a dictator who actually ate the flesh of his victims? Is there a Western democracy that can compare in social regression to that?

These are not "moral" judgments on my part. I don't think a middle-class American is morally superior to a rural Nigerian peasant. But neither am I ready to say that any American ought to be forced to follow the cultural norms of a nation ruled by an Idi Amin, or a culture in which a government drops bombs on its own people, or a culture where a bishop drive the owners off a huge agricultural estate so he can have it for himself, or a culture in which women are not even allowed to leave their homes, to say nothing of attending school or voting in elections.

The point of my posting was not that we are BETTER because we live in a more modern or more socially-developed culture. My point was only that our decisions and our actions and our choices cannot reasonably be expected to be governed by people who live immeasurably different cultural lives than we do. And the same goes for the reverse: I don't think Archbishop Akinola should be forced to make the same decisions and take the same actions within his culture which we can (and should) take in ours.

I had a gay friend who was an observer at the last Lambeth Conference. He wrote to tell me of a conversation with the wife of an African bishop (who shall remain nameless). The conversation came to an end when she said, "Of course we don't have any homosexuals in our country -- because when we find one, we kill him."

Wouldn't you say that suggests a rather regressive social norm? At least the Bush administration has not been quite so blatant about its hatred of gays.

John-Julian, OJN

You are welcome to submit your essays for consideration for this series. Send them to Identify yourself by name, snail address, parish, and other connections to the Episcopal Church. Please encourage others to do the same.


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