Ordained Into Wet Cement: What Does ‘Anglican’ Mean? Not @TheRevealer after all

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.

13 Comments on “Ordained Into Wet Cement: What Does ‘Anglican’ Mean? Not @TheRevealer after all

  1. My noting was the need to make distinctions similar to how one designates a PCUSA vs PCA pastor. While one may be part of a church with an Anglican ethos, considerable confusion has arisen as to whether or not one is a member of say the US Episcopal Church or the American Anglican Council. This is especially true when commenting on the proceedings of an ecclesiastical gathering.

  2. Becky, You know I appreciate you and your contribution to conversations about church life. I just disagree with you on this one. Many blessings~

  3. US evangelicals and mainliners see this debate through two completely different lenses – and one of my overarching critiques of this Anglican debate is that we have to be aware of this reality. We will look at the data and draw two different conclusion as has been the case of writers throughout history.

    In the case of Rowan Williams, he has made numerous comments that contradict each other s he attempts an undertaking I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Until the US Episcopal church is formally banned from Lambeth, I will assume they are part of the Anglican Communion. The fact that the US and Canada weren’t put on suspension during Lambeth 2008 tells me that some of Williams’ language needs to be taken metaphorically as he tries to appease the Anglican provinces in Africa.

    I think calling me careless and the critique of the Revealer went a bit too far.

  4. Becky,

    It’s obvious that I’ve hurt you and for that I am sorry. I didn’t mean to suggest that you are careless, just that your use of words in this piece was careless. But, I must also say that you’ve hurt me too. Every time you make sweeping generalizations about evangelicals it hurts me, because I am one and so are my family members and my closest friends.

    As to my critique of The Revealer, it could go further. When I submitted my piece, I asked the editor to let me know if I was being too hard on you. No concern was expressed in regard to that. There was concern, however, that I was being too kind to intolerant fundamentalists. That turned me off as much as anything and I should have said so both to the editor and in my introduction here.

    Additionally, I just came from a journalism conference at which The Huffington Post, which has very few editorial demands, was criticized for not paying its writers when there are many online outlets that don’t pay, or if they do, their editorial demands are disproportionate to the pay. As a freelancer I’m sure you’ll agree with me that high editorial demand in return for low or no pay is beyond tiresome. So, that is reflected in my irritated tone here as well.

    Warmest regards,

  5. As a satirist, it takes a lot more than an exchange like this to hurt me. I do find it amusing that I am accused of being careless with words in a piece where I am asking for distinctions to be made. And then I’m accused of making sweeping and hurtful generalizations about evangelicals when I’m simply noting that two different groups as a rule tend to view this entire US Episcopal debate through different lenses.

    I would never, ever put the Revealer, Killing the Buddha, or Yale Divinity School’s Reflections magazine, three academic outlets ,where I contribute material gratis on par with The Huffington Post. As a rule, these type of outlets are very demanding editorially and don’t pay or pay very little. To chide the Revealer for a practice that’s common in academia seems more than a bit unfair.

    We seem to be talking in circles and it’s getting us nowhere. Perhaps it’s best to agree to disagree and leave it at that.

  6. Funny, because Paul Rauschenbush of Princeton is the Huffington Post’s Religion Page editor and just described its goals in lofty terms in a discussion with Krista Tippett at the NPR convention. As it happens, I am at this moment at Princeton University, where the speaker at this academic event was just introduced as a Huffington Post contributor. But, yes, let’s agree to disagree and let it go.

  7. hello Christine, nice to meet you online. I enjoyed your piece, and also Becky’s, although they seem to me to be largely addressing different issues.

    Would you mind, though, if I just point out that my comments (and I can assure you, by the way, that my opinion doesn’t hold any sway anywhere!) were nothing to do with who is or is not Anglican, or about recent disagreements that have threatened to divide the Anglican communion, but specifically about the process and the theology of ordination as a deacon or priest in the Church of England. My phrase – that we are ‘not ordained into the abstract’ – concerns the fact that, in this corner of the globe at least, the Church of England never ordains people as an honorary gesture, but always to a position and a task. I am glad that this is the case, not merely as a legality but because of an important theological point made by the great Evangelical missionary Bishop, Lesslie Newbigin, who pointed out that if we ordain people for any other reason than to give them a job to do in the service of the Church, then ordination seems to suggest that one Christian is superior to another. Leaving ontological and sacramental issues for another day, the underlying truth that Newbigin highlighted was that a call to ministry is not an excuse to wield power, but a call to serve others.

    I do agree with Becky that the words ‘Anglican’ and ‘Evangelical’ are used to suggest quite different meanings in the USA and the UK, which if I have understood her article correctly was more the driving force of her argument. But in any case, I would be dismayed if my comments were taken to be about who is or is not an Anglican when they were not about that at all – and in any case, the real question is whether we are Christians, not which denomination we find ourselves in. The word ‘Anglican’ may change again in what it refers to on either side of the Pond, but – as I heard someone comment recently – it is not for any of us to decide who is “in” or “out” of communion: we are called in scripture to remove ourselves from communion if we feel we are out of line, but not to make that decision for someone else.

    Grace and peace – and thanks again for an interesting article. Maggi Dawn

  8. Thank you Maggi for your eloquent comment. It’s nice to cyber-meet you too. I did not mean to dismiss you as an authority, but only to balance your voice (perhaps misplaced here) against that of those who have declared under their authority that I am an Anglican.

    As it happens, I’d be interested to hear what the term ‘Evangelical’ means across the pond. Terry Kelshaw, retired Episcopal bishop of the Rio Grande, often described himself as a “low church evangelical Anglican” when he was Bishop in Residence at St. James, Newport Beach, after he left the Episcopal church, and he was, I believe, an Englishman or maybe a Scot. So, what does ‘evangelical’ mean across the pond?

  9. in conversations with Becky and others, and in my observation on trips to the US, it seems that “Anglican” and “Evangelical” are used as terms of denomination on your side of the pond – for instance, you might hear someone distinguish themselves from the Anglican church by saying that are, on the contrary, an Evangelical.
    For us in the UK ‘evangelical’ is a theological leaning rather than a denominational commitment; within the Anglican Church you might describe yourself as evangelical, post-evangelical, catholic, liberal, post-liberal. In addition, ‘evangelical’ is defined further by such terms as reformed evangelical, conservative evangelical, open evangelical, charismatic evangelical – but all of those theological positions might be found both inside and outside the Church of England.
    As a teenager I went to an independent Church that had went under the name of “Free Evangelical” – but its theology was decidedly on the liberal, Schleiermacherian end of the spectrum.

    – all by way of saying that “evangelical” is generally used as a theological rather than a denominational distinction over here.

  10. Thanks. I actually think many of us here use the term as you do there. A recent discussion on the future of Evangelicalism at Patheos.com suggests a much wider spectrum of theological commitment than many would attribute to us, although the introductory description fits within the American definition you describe. Here’s that link: http://www.patheos.com/Topics/Future-of-World-Religions/Evangelicalism.html. I have always thought of the term more broadly, probably because my own family spans the theological spectrum from conservative to liberal.

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  12. Hi Christine. For the record (which was off-record until you posted it here): it was your decision to not do even a first edit on a piece you agreed to write in response to Becky’s original article. Compensation was never discussed. I felt your argument didn’t do enough work to suss out and explain the ways in which you wanted to challenge Becky. I still don’t. In my comments I was asking you to examine the issues Becky takes up — among other things, opposition to ordination of women and condemnation of homosexuality by some groups that also claim the name Anglican.

    We don’t get into “authentic religion” because we don’t believe in it. But we do like shedding light on the implications of belief and doctrine, and on how the media (mis)construes them. We don’t equivocate on intolerance, inequality or hatred. If that makes us “liberal,” we’ll accept the label. If you wish to not take a public stand on these issues, that’s perfectly fine with us — unless you’re responding to an article that requires you do. Thanks, Ann, Editor, The Revealer

  13. Thanks for your comment Ann. I did a thorough job of dealing with the subject of my disagreement with Becky’s piece, which was who should or shouldn’t be described as an Anglican in the press and who gets to decide. I had no interest in taking up the other topics that you found compelling. Additionally, I never expected to be paid, but I also did not expect to be asked for revisions, especially of the type you were after.

    You’re right about one thing and that is that our correspondence was private until I discussed it here. I should have told you first that I was offended by what you were asking. I’ve already stated that, and, for the record, I apologize and hope you will forgive me.

    Finally, you say The Revealer doesn’t equivocate on intolerance, inequality or hatred. I don’t buy those definitions of conservative Anglicans and Evangelicals. There are, however, plenty of intolerant, hateful individuals across the political and theological spectrums. Peace to you, Christine