Way back in August, when Becky Garrison wrote a little article “Ordained Into the Abstract: What Does Anglican Mean?” for The Revealer, which describes itself as “a daily review of religion and media,” I tweeted that I disagreed with her point of view and her description of evangelicals in the piece. An editor at the review direct messaged me asking if I would consider writing a response, which I did. Amidst the busy September religion news cycle, my response was left to grow stale.
Then this weekend, while I was tweeting away at the Religion Newswriters Association annual conference in Denver, I received an email from the editor asking me to revise my response. She said she could intuit from the piece what my political positions are on homosexuality and women’s ordination and she challenged me to come out with them and speak up for injustice where I find it. I replied that people choose their churches for complex reasons and that it would be wrong to assume anything about my positions based on where I go to church, because I’ve never entirely agreed with the values of a church I’ve attended and that remains true now. I also said that as a journalist, I feel no responsibility to be on the record about all any of my personal convictions.
As it happens, on the way home from Denver, I read an article about Anglican-Episcopal splintering over homosexuality in a lofty religion journal. The writer did a good job giving voice to both sides of the issue, but I could easily discern from the sources he quoted in his sidebar and who he gave the last word to in the main article that his sympathies lie with liberal Episcopalians on this issue. It also happens that Facebook recently suggested this writer as a “friend” for me. From his profile picture with another man and the comments that accompanied it, I just as easily discerned that he is gay. I wondered as I was flying through the night if the neutral tone masking his personal stake in the issue isn’t more of a problem than terminology or my own unwillingness to state a bias that I do not possess about an issue in which I have much less personal stake. It all seems so odd to me.
In the end I decided that the revisions the editor requested would be too time consuming, given that I will not be paid for the work. So here is my very stale response to Becky Garrison’s contention that it is wrong to call breakaway priests and churches Anglican.
In her Revealer article, “Ordained Into the Abstract: What does ‘Anglican’ Mean?” my friend and fellow Episcopalian, Becky Garrison, says the term Anglican has been distorted by conservative evangelicals and traditionalists who have left the Episcopal church over the issues of homosexual ordination and the blessing of same sex unions. She views the alternate bodies they’ve created as imposters and wishes media outlets would stop bestowing the purebred label on these rogue priests and provinces.
I do not pretend to know what’s in the minds of others, but I do know that the Episcopal Church’s decisions regarding homosexuality are viewed as symptoms of the denomination’s departure from orthodoxy rather than its cause by many conservatives. Becky knows this. It diminishes discourse, in my opinion, to misconstrue the motives of those with whom one disagrees.
We’re all guilty at times of careless generalizations, but when Becky links to an interview by fellow Episcopalian David Neff in Christianity Today as a kind of circumstantial evidence of media complicity in this crime, I must cry foul on her crying foul. What her assessment sounds like is less a critical analysis than an ardent fan blaming a biased umpire for deciding a call in the other team’s favor.
I myself was confirmed an Anglican at St. James Church in Newport Beach, CA, when it was affiliated with the Diocese of Luwero, Uganda, after it left the Episcopal Church. When my membership was transferred to an Episcopal church last year, the diocese didn’t question the validity of my confirmation or ask me to be re-confirmed now that St. James has aligned itself with an upstart North American Anglican organization. It’s a good thing too, because I would have refused. However much our presiding bishop disagrees with traditionalists, he still apparently views us all as Anglicans. Why the Rev. Doctor Maggi Dawn (who Becky cites) should hold more sway in regard to who is and who isn’t an Anglican than him or Ugandan Archbishop Henry Luke Orombe under whom I was confirmed, I cannot imagine.
If Becky wants to appeal to an individual at all, perhaps it ought to be Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who, in the wake of the Episcopal Church’s consecration of its second gay bishop said her election “raises very serious questions not just for the Episcopal church and its place in the Anglican Communion, but for the Communion as a whole.”Additionally, the Anglican Church issued a statement to the Episcopal News Service saying the consecration “shows that the TEC [the Episcopal Church] has now explicitly decided to walk apart from most of the rest of the Communion.”
Now, I respect the fact that Becky is a cradle Episcopalian while I am a church hopping mixed-breed evangelical, but I honestly don’t get her appeal to Anglican history either. Ours is a branch of Christianity that was founded in dissent and our democratic forbears were given special consideration, not to mention a unique name, because it was impossible for them to swear fealty to the English crown. We North American Anglicans are, for better and worse, acting in accord with our heritage, both political and ecclesial. In attempting to widen her argument to include Newsweek’s use of the term Presbyterian to describe Redeemer Presbyterian pastor Tim Keller, Becky demonstrates nothing so much as that denominational splintering is writ large in Protestant DNA.
Had my friend appealed to the 1930 Lambeth Conference statement as Anglicans Online did instead of maligning evangelicals and appealing to Lambeth generally, I might have given her argument more sway, though I still would have disagreed. Here’s how Anglicans Online describes its decision to label The Anglican Mission in the Americas (AMiA) as “Not in the Communion”:
“When a person or parish leaves a national church, for whatever reasons—doctrinal, personal, spiritual, theological—it does just that: it leaves. The leaving is tantamount to saying: ‘This entity has become something I can no longer be a part of’. That decision prima facie breaks communion.
In these days of easy transport and effortless technology, of course it is possible to virtually affiliate with another part of the Anglican Communion that seems to be more in line with one’s own thinking. But unless one physically moves oneself or one’s parish to that geographically-defined national church, one cannot claim to be in communion through some sort of virtual relationship.
Perhaps the definition of a national church or province will need to be altered, to take into effect the increasing globalisation of the communion through the Internet and what that means to the understanding of ‘diocese’ or ‘episcope’. As yet, that redefinition has not taken place.”
But can redefinition be far off?
A more interesting subject for this type of critique would be The Huffington Post Religion channel headline: “Interview with Toni Tortirilla, Female Catholic Priest.” The accompanying Religion News Service (RNS) article clearly states that Tortirilla was ordained in the Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement. It proceeds to say that “within a year of her 2007 ordination, the Vatican said women who attempted to be ordained—and those who tried to ordain them—were automatically excommunicated.” The Pope can do that sort of thing, so it seems to me that The Huffington Post is being intentionally provocative in describing Tortirilla as a Catholic priest. In comparison, describing internationally recognized Anglicans by their preferred name isn’t controversial.
While Becky advocates careful use of terms, she herself is careless. In her conclusion, for example, she writes, “This battle over the blessing of same sex unions and ordination of gay clergy needs to be placed in the larger context of the culture wars being waged by fundamentalist Christians against the rising forces of ‘secular humanism.’ In the eyes of these righteous warriors, their chief enemies are feminists, gay activists and others who advance what they perceive to be the ‘secular humanist’ agenda.” Suddenly she is no longer talking about evangelicals involved in an intra-denominational dispute. Now their actions are a function of fundamentalists fighting secular humanism. As an evangelical Anglican, I must protest.