Tuesday, April 19, 2005

What is Bishop Smith thinking?

That's a serious question, not a sarcastically rehetorical one. Odd as it may seem, I genuinely think progressives should be considerably more upset with Connecticut's Bishop Andrew Smith over this whole thing than should be conservatives.

I would think that, no matter whether you were progressive or conservative, you would find something inappropriate in the sentence, "...the priests have demanded that the historic traditions we live by as a Church be changed for them and the congregations they serve." It's hard to see how a bishop who voted to confirm Robinson's elevation to the Society of Pointy Hats has left himself any space to insist that other people follow "tradition" rather than what their own consciences dictate. Following tradition would seem to be exactly what these priests and congregations are attempting to do, and the tradition they are seeking to follow goes back (in their own minds) quite a bit further than merely to the Ecumenical Councils -- and they are backed up in that judgment by the Anglican Communion as a whole. Tradition is very much on the side of the conservatives rather than ECUSA; I would think progressives would be of the mind that the less said about tradition, the better.

Also problematic, though less obviously so, is the statement, "[I hoped that] we could go forward in the unity and Christian love that Jesus prayed for, for the sake of the Church and our work for God in the world." This begs the question of whether unity between progressives and conservatives is the unity that Jesus prayed for. (Of course it also begs the question of the nature of Christian love when that love's object is a purveyor of false teaching, as the priests in question consider this bishop to be; and it begs the question of whether the purposes toward which ECUSA has directed itself are indeed the work of God or of, well, somebody else. But these are not really on the table for discussion, for either the bishop or the priests -- which is why the real question is whether there can be meaningful unity between the two. Therefore the begging of that question is the critical petitio principii here.)

Finally one is struck by the difference between the attitude the bishop seems to expect from his priests, and the attitude that the bishop and his allies have evinced toward the Anglican Communion as a whole. A bishop who has defied 2,000 years of tradition, threatens to punish priests for their lack of respect for tradition; a bishop who has been part of a decision that has done unprecedented damage to the unity of the Anglican Communion, complains that these priests are harming the unity Christ prayed for; a bishop whom the Anglican Communion has found to be in violation of his vows faithfully to pass on the teachings of the Apostles, moves to crush priests because they have not kept their vows.

It is not impressive. To appeal to standards by which you clearly are more at fault than your opponents, in order to establish their guilt, is at the very least an unskillful tactic of debate.

But more than that, it is impolitic in the highest degree, and this is why the Presiding Bishop ought to be on the phone with Bishop Smith begging him to cease and desist. ECUSA is desperately trying to keep orthodox Anglican bishops from simply walking in and ignoring the diocesan lines, and the most influential such Anglican bishop has said quite plainly[1] that Africa will respect ECUSAn jurisdictions only so long as conservatives within those jurisdictions are not persecuted. There is no question that conservatives throughout the Anglican Communion will interpret Bishop Smith's behavior as persecution of those under his authority who have chosen communion with the Anglican Communion worldwide over communion with Bishop Smith (and it is Bishop Smith himself, and his own decisions, that have forced that choice upon these priests). Every charge that Bishop Smith directs toward these priests, reinforces the worldwide Anglican Communion's belief that the discipline Smith wishes to impose is pretty much the discipline that ought to be imposed upon him and his ECUSAn compatriots. Unless Bishop Smith's ultimate goal is to hasten the irrevocable and (barring a miracle of mass repentance) inevitable divorce between ECUSA and the Anglican Communion, his behavior is impolitic and unwise in the extreme.

And what, in heaven's name, does he expect to accomplish by it? As far as I can tell it's all downside and no upside. I don't wish to accuse any person of sheer vindictiveness -- "how dare those !@#$!@ fundamentalist SOB's defy my authority??", that sort of thing -- but I'm having trouble coming up with a rational motive. Anybody want to help me out here? What does Bishop Smith intend to gain here; what is he trying to accomplish, and how can he possibly expect his current approach to be successful? This is a genuine question to which I genuinely would like to find an answer, but, being largely unfamiliar with the dynamics of the diocese in question, I'm not informed enough to do so. Thanks in advance to anybody who can explain it to me.

The Peril

UPDATE: The progressive clergy of Connecticut have just turned in an impressive display of good sense.

[1] The relevant paragraph from Bishop Akinola's letter (emphasis the Peril's, not the Bishop's):

Finally, I need to address the important matter of provincial and diocesan boundaries. As I have repeatedly reaffirmed maintaining good order is important for the work of the Gospel but it can never be used to silence those who are standing for the Faith and resisting doctrinal error. It was our common understanding in Newry that the extraordinary pastoral relationships and initiatives now underway would be maintained until this crisis is resolved. If, however, the measures proposed in our Communique to protect the legitimate needs of groups in serious theological disputes prove to be ineffectual, and if acts of oppression persist, then we will have no choice but to offer safe harbour for those in distress.

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