02 September 2008

Bishop Atwood speaks on TEC

There is an interesting letter by the Rt. Rev’d. William Atwood, a bishop of the Anglican Church of Kenya. It is dated 30 August 2008.

His letter begins

The problem with Indabbaing your way through life without addressing the crises that are strangling life (and members) out of the church is that it is based on a post-modern fantasy that the atmosphere is more important than the true state of things. In the emerging train wreck, it is like focusing on the musical program in the ballroom of the Titanic. In the case of our crisis, there are plenty of life boats available for the people. The problem is that they are being lulled into thinking that the crisis is exaggerated.

Well, it is exaggerated, m’lord, despite the histrionics you used. It is a ‘crisis’ only because a group of puritans have latched onto Donatism as a means to further their political goals and lust for power. They do not wish be a branch, they want a hostile take over of the corporation, and they are going to have it come hell or high water. They have not hesitated to state that intention. That has been clear since the Chapman memo. The Chapman’s letter fires the first shot right from the beginning:

Our ultimate goal is a realignment of Anglicanism on North American soil committed to biblical faith and values, and driven by Gospel mission. We believe in the end this should be a “replacement” jurisdiction with confessional standards, maintaining the historic faith of our Communion, closely aligned with the majority of world Anglicanism, emerging from the disastrous actions of General Convention (2003). We believe this goal is now pressed upon us by the Holy Spirit as a result of the rejection of the historic Christian faith and the rejection of biblical and Communion authority by the leadership of ECUSA. We will lead our congregations and partners in making the adjustment to adopt this strategy. We seek to retain ownership of our property as we move into this realignment. – The Chapman Memo [Emphasis theirs.]

And here we have Atwood’s deception argument:

…But the heart of the question is whether or not it is possible to be eternally separated from the redeeming love of Jesus Christ. If (as the Scriptures present and the Church has always taught) it is possible, then we must assess the content of the current conflicts with the seriousness of Hell.

To take a "Decade of Generosity for the Spirit to lead us into all truth," is utterly inadequate. In order to do that, one MUST believe that there are no consequences in people's lives today. To accept the current state of affairs with the current innovations while waiting for a decade is to choose to normalize the things that have torn the communion. We have certainly seen this before. If we can "live with" the status quo for a decade then it will be impossible to restore historic faith and discipline. If one were to countenance even the possibility that there could be negative eternal consequences for those in same-gender sexual relations (however monogamous), then a "moratorium" is utterly inadequate.

Yes, let’s roll out the old argument that this is about faith and saving souls, not power. And, use homosexuality as the means to disguise the real purpose (as seen above in the quote from the Chapman Memo). Say it enough, and loud enough and everyone will believe it. Well, not everyone. But, continue to say it anyway and attack those who bring the duplicity to light. And, attacking TEC and ACoC is a great way to avoid discussing the real objective.

As for the separation from the Love of God, Paul has something to say about that:

But God commended his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath though him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only [so], but we also joy in God though our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement. Romans 5.8ff

Notice there that it was accomplished without any action of our own. Whether we accept it or not, we have been redeemed, according to Paul, and there is no separation from God’s love though Jesus the Christ.

But, then, the bishop does attempt to deal with one aspect of the GAFCON crowd, the Donatism. But, he defends it:

[…] Years ago, the Donatist Controversy addressed the fact that the sacramental acts of a bishop were still valid even when the bishop had sinned. It is certainly no news bulletin to point out that bishops sin! The greater question is whether or not individual bishops are doing good things or evil ones.

What he fails to point out is that in the Donatist controversy, the church condemned the Donatists and said that whether a person is evil or good God is greater and works though and in spite of the person. Jesus said, “He that is not against you us is for us.” (Like 9.40) For the Donatists, that is not acceptable, even though it is what Jesus said.

But, for the fundamentalists, this does not apply bilaterally – it is only the North American bishops who are the evil ones, particularly TEC bishops:

The Episcopal Church is asserting that they have the right to make whatever changes to the faith they deem fit. They are claiming apostolic order as a cover for absolute jurisdiction over a given area. The "naked emperor" truth, however, is that Apostolic Order without Apostolic Faith is impossible. The two are intertwined. It is not possible to have one without the other. [Emphasis added.]

Many "moderate" clergy and bishops who disagree with teaching and direction of the Episcopal Church have refrained from speaking the truth. Some have said that it is too costly and they are afraid. Others try to maintain that the crisis does not directly impact them because their parish is OK and their bishop is not attacking them (yet).

This is of course an “everyone knows” argument. He offers no documentation to back up the claim. As such, it is a logical fallacy and not worth discussion. And, of course it is an appeal to emotion – “oh, those poor persecuted clergy and bishops! That evil TEC!” Note the Donatism in that first paragraph – “they are claiming apostolic order.” Donatism’s founding statement is “our orders are valid, yours aren’t.”

The question remains, however, "Is the teaching and practice of the Episcopal Church leading people away from Christ?" If the answer to that is "No," then sitting out the battle can be ethical. If the answer, however is "Yes," then the battle deserves our full energy, heart, and all the resources we can muster. Jesus said that all that we have is of less value than even one single soul. People are of great value and are worthy of rescue, but there is another truth, too:

Mark 9:42 "But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea.

I heartily agree with Jesus. But the simple fact is, the Donatists are shunning people and excluding them. That is causing people to stumble, not to come to the faith of Jesus.

The fundamentalists want the world to believe that they are asking all to come join them. as they practice their version of Christianity. Unless, that is, those who are GLBT, live in the 21st century instead of the Victorian era, accept any form of science, and reject a literal and inerrant view of the bible.

The sad fact is there is a litmus test for membership in their new organization. And they want a litmus test for the whole Anglican Communion (it's called a 'covenant'.) It is based on human criteria not God's criteria. The criteria they are using a faulty understanding of the bible itself. The bible is a record of humans reflecting on encounters with things they consider divine. It was not a document forcefully dictated by God (which some call "hardcore fundamentalism) nor by inspiration of the Spirit (soft-core fundamentalism). It is simply a record of how God has been experienced by humans. The Holy Spirit was most assuredly involved, just not as a dictator.

When I hear the fundamentalists talking, I keep hearing those words from the gospel: "We have a law, and by that law this man ought to die." John 19.7 Then I hear Jesus' words, "The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath." Mark 2.27 Thank God that Jesus brought us a life without the burden of oppressive man made law (and yes, "man made" since women weren't allowed any say in the law).

As is my practice, I will not link to a hate site, so you will have to Google “TEC and the Anglican Communion in a post modern fantasy."

UPDATE: Bonnie points us to a good article over at the Daily Episcopal.