Whether or not you follow the politics of the Anglican Communion is probably related to whether or not you have a mental illness. Nevertheless, my people have been engaged in a struggle that represents the very understanding of authority in the postmodern age. Which is actually pretty cool, in that geeky sort-of-way.
Here’s my basic overview:
Since the 1960s or maybe even earlier, certain groups began planning to leave the Episcopal Church. Some leave sporadically over the ensuing years, primarily over difference in theology and authority. Then, in 2003, it all starts to happen. Several bishops, dioceses, congregations, clergy, and individuals start making a claim of independence from the Episcopal Church taking several forms, eventually coallescing around two primary entities: ACNA (Anglican Church in North America) and AMiA (Anglican Mission in the Americas). These two groups are sanctioned by overseas bishops. The Episcopal Church and our northern neighbors, the Anglican Church of Canada, the dissident groups, and the overseas bishops are all scolded for their behavior. Then, under continued pressure to further sanction the Episcopal Church, a scheme to write an Anglican Covenant is devised, which is playing out right now.
In actual practice, the only ones that have broken canon law of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) are these overseas bishops, who have attempted to set up parallel jurisdiction in North America, which is a real no-no. It is also of no small consequence that these same entities (with help from schismatic Anglicans over here) claim justification for their law-breaking based on a supposed breaking of faith and community on the part of the Episcopal Church (TEC) and Anglican Church of Canada (ACoC).
This issue brings up a whole host of questions, but there are a few specific ones I am interested in. And before I go any further, I am not interested in flame-throwing or discussion of heresy or liberal tyrrany or other such inequitable and offensive non-conversation. Here they are:
- Do we really hold as equal the conjecture of assumed unspoken laws and the actual breaking of real ones?
- Shall our U.S. love for revolution balance with our love of imposed equilibrium?
- Shall a spirit of mercy and forgiveness influence our future? Or shall pure legalism? Or shall brute force?
There is a wonderful conversation going on over at Mark Harris’ blog, Preludium, about a hypothetical arrangement in which a parallel system might happen. What is most profound is Harris’ response that there is one really good reason that it won’t:
Because no Communion of Churches in its right mind will deliberately include a new member church that exist precisely because the new member Church believes an existing member church to be un-Christian, heretical and not truly Anglican. Because the Anglican Communion has some interest in being in its right mind, that is a communion in which scripture, reason and tradition all play a part in discernment, the Anglican Communion will avoid, if at all possible, doing something as blatantly stupid as inviting membership from a church already a break-away from a member body.
He gives a second reason, based on the legal foundation, but this one superbly declares the problem of being the one who breaks something, then seeking to be seen as equals, with that same maturity and authority. This, of course, is the nature of spin.
All of this is related to a gigantic cultural question that has been baring down on us for most of the 20th Century. It reared its ugly head in the 2000s and won’t leave us alone until we deal with it. It is so massive, that we, like the proverbial elephant, find ourselves arguing over defining it, while only seeing its parts. That question is about authority and where it comes from.
Phyllis Tickle, in her prescient book, The Great Emergence, describes our history and all of the big questions of our history as relating to this simple question of authority. Who has it? What constitutes it? How do we agree upon it?
What has been breaking through has been our inadequacy in dealing with the consequences of challenging authority. Specifically, what happens when people or countries break certain laws? Whether that is the U.S. military under Bush defying the Geneva Conventions through torture and indefinite detention or churches breaking canon laws, we are seeing few adverse ramifications for breaking many actual laws and treaties. There seems to be no penal or social punishment for these sorts of actions. This, of course, is aided by the “self-defense” scapegoat.
So, how do we deal with actual law-breaking when we have no prescribed means of punishment?
My response is coming tomorrow. What do you think?