Monday, August 6, 2007

A QUICK REPLY TO PHILIP TURNER

Dear Philip,

Thank you for your reply to my reply (maybe we’ll have to start numbering these things). I am not surprised by its irenic tone, and I am glad you recognize the same spirit in which I write. I want to take this chance to post a quick “ri-post” if I may coin an old word for a new medium.

Let me address your main point that conservatives have reacted emotionally and pragmatically rather than theologically in their handling of the crisis in the Anglican Communion. To be sure, the Episcopal Church USA has been something of a theological desert for many years. Name a major American Anglican theologian – ever! Perhaps this is a feature of our “prayer shapes believing” heritage, but I do not think it is anything to boast of. Within my own Evangelical tradition, it is probably the case that we are johnny-come-lately’s on the American scene. The founding of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, of which I was a part, was a huge effort and sometimes distracted our mental energies from the issues of the day, which were roiling the waters of TEC.

However, I will make a small claim to have tried to address these issues of the day theologically. In a series of writings beginning in 1987, I have tried to address the overall theological scene in the Episcopal Church, from inclusive language (1987), to biblical interpretation (1992), to sexuality (1997), and to the ecclesiology of the Anglican Communion (1997 to the present). Since I had trouble getting many of these writings published in hard copy, I have now posted many of them on a website (http://www.stephenswitness.com/). The most complete theological treatment I made of the sexuality issue was Two Sexes, One Flesh: Why the Church Cannot Bless Same-Sex Marriage (1997). This attempt at theological dialogue garnered exactly two replies over the years, both of them over-the-top attacks rather than dialogues.

As for an attempt to articulate a “faithful remnant” ecclesiology, I argued in my essay “Broken Communion” (1999) that orthodox bishops should publicly declare themselves in a state of broken Communion with those who openly advocated and practiced ordination of homosexuals and same-sex blessings – without leaving the Church. Exactly two retired bishops took that course, leaving it to a significant number of Anglican Primates and Provinces to do so.

Similarly, I have tried to make a case for a clear, strong theologically-focused Anglican Communion Covenant in my essays “The Global Anglican Covenant” (2006) and “An Evangelical Critique of the Draft Anglican Covenant”(2007). In both of these articles, it is exactly a theological shape for the Covenant that I am calling for. While the latter essay has been respectfully circulated at the ACI Conference in Oxford in July of this year, I have not received any substantive comments on it and I have no confidence, given the diverse group on the Drafting Committee, that it will see the light of day.

I think you are not quite clear in saying that you are not suggesting a moral equivalence between the two positions of Bishop Duncan and PB Schori. In your Oxford paper, you state that both of these positions are “dead wrong.” In any case, I think you need to be morally un-equivalent. Bishop Duncan in his public teaching and writing has said nothing that is contrary to the biblical and historical faith of the church. Just as surely PB Schori has. Where you differ from Bishop Duncan and some of us seems to be on ecclesiology, and that is relevant to the current crisis, but it is hardly the heart of the Gospel or theology.

This brings me to the practical situation in which we find ourselves, and I think my position is informed by faith, hope and charity. I want to see the day when you and the ACI can sit down with the leaders and theologians sometimes called “federal conservatives” to confer on all sorts of important issues. We cannot do this calmly, however, in a situation where clergy and congregations are being sued and put out of their churches and where the machinery of the Communion (read Anglican Communion Office) is used to undermine a true consensus, including the Lambeth Conference.

While keeping the shades down pretty far in your comments about the future after September 30, you do make a suggestive remark:

Do we seek, for example, seek a structure of some sort that is an alternative to TEC; or do we simply declare that we are TEC; that TEC has violated its constitution and that we will meet as TEC until such time as our opponents clearly “walk apart” or renounce their error and return?

Actually, I think the answer to this question is simply a both/and Yes. I do not see anything that Bishop Duncan or the overseas Primates have done or said that is odds with your view. The question is how this works out given the particular polity and legal situation of the Episcopal Church in the USA. Perhaps we can add one further question: “How do we proclaim that we are the legitimate representive of TEC within the loose structures of the Anglican Communion?” Tortuous though it has been, the Windsor process as interpreted in the Primates’ Communiques has charted a way forward, but it is not clear that the Archbishop of Canterbury is prepared to follow this course of action to its logical conclusion – by declaring with the Primates that TEC has indeed “walked apart.”

So to return to our exchange, I do hope that you and your comrades in the ACI will “continue the dialogue” with those in ACN who are seeking a faithful way forward for Anglicanism in North America and the Global Communion. We have differences, yes, but I do not see that they are such that should at the end of the day divide us.

Your brother in Christ,

Stephen

I have written this admittedly hasty reply in the dialogue with the Rev. Dr. Philip Turner, in particular his "Reply to Stephen Noll" of 6 August on the Anglican Communion Institute website. Most of my articles mentioned above can be found on "Stephen's Witness." I am working on posting the entire text of Two Sexes, One Flesh, but at the present only chapter 6 is available.

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