A Statement Regarding Upholding the Ministry of Faithful Bishops
Written by Anglican Communion Institute
Sunday, 21 October 2007
Many Anglicans were convinced that September 30th, 2007, would bring clarity to the ongoing struggle within the Anglican Communion over the church’s coherent witness. By this day, it was hoped, there would be a clear decision as to the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops commitment to abide by the common teaching and discipline of the Communion; by this date “realignment” according to the definitions of this teaching and discipline would proceed with general and orderly consent. Obviously, this has not happened. But a new push to re-order the lines of jurisdiction within American Anglicanism has occurred nonetheless, one that has necessarily proceeded without common consent or order. Oddly enough, it is happening – as it has in the past – with a special intensity and passion within dioceses led by bishops who have long opposed the innovations of TEC’s leadership and General Convention and remained faithful to the teaching and discipline of the Communion. The current work of breaking up traditional dioceses, whose bishops are still recognized as faithful leaders by the Communion’s Instruments of Unity, including by her Primates, has been going on at least since 2000. Its pace, however, has recently accelerated in some places, like the Diocese of Central Florida and the Southwestern part of the church. What shall we say about this trend?
There is first a general statement to be made about Christian behavior, before addressing the particular character of the bishops in question. It pertains to the manner in which people take their “leave” of the Episcopal Church: if clergy and congregants, and even whole congregations choose to leave a diocese, for whatever reason, they should negotiate their departure openly with the legal authorities of the diocese. If there is no agreeable way found to take their property with them, they should simply leave it behind and start anew with grace and trusting in grace. Litigation – even participation in litigation initiated by others – acrimony, and recrimination is simply contrary to the Scriptures. Period. “Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?” (1 Cor. 6:7). Failure to heed St. Paul’s words, not to mention Jesus’ (Mt. 5:25f.), is an affront to the Gospel that no amount of casuistry can finesse. There are many matters in dispute among Anglicans in our present circumstances, matters that go deep and stir up deep feelings and convictions. But we can ill-afford to let this reality sicken our hearts: “if the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Mt. 6:23).
Having said this in general and knowing that not all choices are obvious and not all disputes resolvable, what then ought to be the proper relationship of clergy and congregations to a bishop specifically whose teaching and ministry are in full communion with and approbation by the wider Anglican Communion? The general answer to this is similarly straightforward: there is no evangelical reason to run from the oversight of such a bishop, let alone to disturb his ministry, especially through acrimonious means. The reason for this is a fundamental theological one:
A bishop represents the unity of the Church and the apostolicity of its teaching and mission. If this bishop is recognized as a legitimate bishop by the wider church this is not only a sufficient, but a necessary condition for communion with and obedience to that bishop within the boundaries of his jurisdiction. The diocese is the fundamental unit of the Church, as Anglicans understand this, and this is not because of some set of fixed geographical boundaries, but because of the apostolic nature of the episcopate itself. If, furthermore, this formally recognized bishop has in fact maintained the integrity of his ministry in the face of colleagues’ lapses and has confessed the faith of Christ’s Gospel openly against its detractors, that obedience is due a special deference won by a good confession.
It needs to be emphasized, in the present circumstances, that the recognition by the wider Communion of such a bishop’s ministry is not undercut, in some secret or invisible manner, if the bishop continues to work with or even within the political structures of the Episcopal Church, no matter how tortured TEC’s public postures and witness may be. It is not undercut by this anymore than Solomon’s kingly authority was undercut by his (sometimes corrupting) alliances with pagan nations like Egypt and Moab (1 Kings 11), let alone the Pope’s by concordats with secular and sometimes evil regimes. And when in fact a bishop has bound himself in spirit and public trust to confessing groups within TEC that have pledged themselves to the true witness of the Gospel, in the face of opposition, their authority is rather enhanced.
In short, there is no justification for clergy and the congregations they lead to leave the jurisdiction of bishops whose ministries are recognized by the Communion without impairment, bishops such as those Camp Allen bishops whose commitments were explicitly upheld by our Primates at Dar es Salaam in 2006. Of all American bishops, their commitments stand above common reproach, precisely at a time when adjudication is going on, through several channels and Communion mechanisms, as to the Communion commitments of TEC bishops in general.
Let us be clear as to the moral stakes involved in this matter. Those who seek to undercut the authority of bishops who have been recognized by the Communion without impairment and who have confessed the faith openly and in the face of the Gospel’s detractors are in danger:
a. of going against the clear teaching of the Scriptures;
b. of dividing, deliberately or not, the Body of Christ;
c. of inadvertently drawing Primates, their churches, and many others into conflicts not of their making, thereby pitting one against the other and sowing the seeds of discord;
d. of proving distracted stewards of the gifts and resources entrusted them;
In addition, those who encourage these activities, whether within the United States or elsewhere, are furthering a work whose character is placing a question mark over the Christian witness worldwide. Bystanders look upon Anglican Christians and hear the Psalmist’s cries, “It is not an enemy who taunts me – then I could bear it; it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me – then I could hide from him. But it is you, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend. We used to hold sweet converse together; within God’s house we walked in fellowship” (Ps. 55:12f.). This they observe, and they scoff at the Lord who would have followers such as these.
The Archbishop of Canterbury has recently written Bishop Howe of Central Florida, in a letter now made public, concerned that traditionalist parishes ought to see the Diocese, in distinction to ‘the National” or “provincial Church,’ as the main unit of Christian faith and teaching, in sacramental unity with the Anglican Communion through his own office. (This view has been generally accepted as a definition of fundamental Anglican polity and has been explicitly assumed in all of the recent Anglican-Roman Catholic Agreed Statements.) The Primates have also recognized bishops like Howe who uphold the Camp Allen principles. In a climate where the ‘National Church’ may seek to arrogate to itself more authority than the Archbishop of Canterbury believes is proper, individual Dioceses appear vulnerable to many – especially when alternatives present themselves in the name of offering a more secure reality, outside of TEC altogether.
One of the useful aspects of the Network was its granting to ‘traditionalists’ a measure of identification, still inside TEC, but laterally with other Dioceses, as the main unit of Christian faith and teaching, to pursue the Archbishop’s stated concern. Bishops like Howe, Stanton, Salmon and others availed themselves of this for this reason, and also because it was consistent with what the Archbishop here writes. In the meantime, however, the Network as originally intended has collapsed, and in its place or alongside it a new reality has emerged in the form of a Common Cause College, whose mechanisms for ‘unity in faith’ are different to what the Archbishop describes. This has made the plight of Bishop Howe and others more complicated, precisely as parishes seek to leave and find places in this College or somewhere else.
What is necessary, then, is for the diocesan unit, in conjunction with other dioceses who affirm the Communion’s teaching and discipline as Windsor and the Camp Allen principles outline them, to find the place that the Network sought to provide, and to build on what the Archbishop is here underscoring. At a time when the individual bishops of TEC struggle to affirm requests made of them by the Primates, and when some openly reject even the generous assessment made by the JSC, it is all the more imperative for Camp Allen Bishops and their Dioceses to stand in the place the Archbishop has argued is the most secure place, whilst the evaluation of TEC is still being processed.
For the Anglican Communion Institute: