Thursday, December 27, 2012

The "Continuing Anglican" Dilemma

I had an e-mail from a reader this morning who expressed some puzzlement about the whole question of what the focus was for the "continuing Anglican" movement that stemmed from the St Louis Declaration: the first ACNA, the ACC, the TAC, the FCC, the APA, so on and so forth: were they "broad" Anglican at the start? When did they begin to become "Anglo-Catholic"? In effect, what did they intend to do at first, and who was right in taking them in the "Anglo-Catholic" direction that led to further fractionation?

My short answer would be that this is probably not worth the time to try to figure out! Let's look at the issues over which the St Louis-derived groups left The Episcopal Church: women's ordination and the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. I referred earlier to an Episcopal priest who expressed the opinion half a dozen years ago (before the second ACNA split off) that women's ordination and the 1979 prayer book were no longer controversial except among tiny splinter groups, and he was completely correct.

The second ACNA left in effect due to the election of openly gay Bishop of New Hampshire Eugene Robinson. It continues to use the 1979 prayer book, and the ACNA has women priests. But to me, a gay bishop, self-admitted or not, isn't really an issue. The Roman Catholic Church has gay priests. Gay Catholic priests have come out, and although various forms of discipline have been applied, some continue in parishes. Same-sex attraction in and of itself is not a sin according to the Roman Catechism. I assume the Catholic Church has had bishops with same-sex attraction; I assume some of those may have sinned in that direction as well. Some Catholics, as Cardinal Dolan has pointed out, are even in jail.

I just don't see the specific problem with a gay bishop, open or otherwise. It may or may not be a good or bad example to believers; it may or may not be a scandal in and of itself. (It's certainly no more a scandal than the conduct of openly straight ACA Bishop Strawn.) "Gay bishop" is basically something for certain TEC parishes and certain dioceses to hang a hat on, and in turn, it's hard for me to see what gain is involved in hanging a hat on it. But beyond that, the much larger ACNA left TEC for a generally vague issue, or vague set of issues on a liberal-conservative divide, completely unrelated to the issues on which the small St Louis Declaration groups left 30 years earlier. Those issues by the mid-2000s were simply no longer controversial.

The Episcopal Church is generally identified as a main line Protestant denomination. Most main line denominations, along with Reform Judaism, have accepted women priests and rabbis. The 1979 Book of Common Prayer follows a general trend, not just among Protestants but in the post-Vatican II Catholic Church as well, to modernize liturgy and liberalize at least some theological positions. I simply don't see the problem: if we accept that The Episcopal Church is a main line Protestant denomination in the 21st century, we've got to accept that it will act like one, for better or worse. Deal with it!

The schism of the second ACNA is related in many ways to discomort in conservative quarters with same-sex attraction -- Bishop Robinson has been a major focus in all discourse related to it. This leads to a problem in Anglo-Catholicism: it has always had a special appeal to gays, and this dates to the beginning of the Oxford Movement. By no means the only author or the first to point this out, the highly respectable Diarmaid MacCulloch does discuss it in his A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years. While I came to St Mary of the Angels very late in the game (and I came from a largely gay, urban Anglo-Catholic Episcopal parish), I've been told by several current and former parishioners that St Mary's had, for much of its history, also been gay-friendly as part of its Anglo-Catholicism; a much-revered curate (now deceased) had been openly gay.

I've mentioned here the tendency among some Anglo-Catholics to want to shade the difference between the small-c "universal" catholicism of the Nicene Creed and the capital-C Catholicism of the Catechism. An additional problem is that Anglo-Catholicism now exists in a kind of pre-Vatican II time warp, since the Catholicism it emulates, with ad orientem celebration, subdeacons, bells, incense, copes, and birettas, is now very seldom encountered in Roman-rite parishes. In fact, Msgr Steenson, the US Ordinary, has had to tread a very careful path in maintaining a polite distance between the Ordinariate and those traditionalist Catholics who want a general return to pre-Vatican II liturgy, including the Latin mass.

The fact is that this brand of Anglo-Catholicism is a tough sell. Its appeal is specialized. And beyond that, the gay-friendly urban Anglo-Catholic TEC parishes are fully supportive of TEC's overall direction -- Anglo-Catholicism is by no means synonymous, or necessarily even compatible with, "continuing Anglicanism". It seems to me that it's hard enough to be a Catholic without having to be more Catholic than Vatican II! In general, I don't see a good future for either Anglo-Catholicism or the "evangelical" version of "continuing Anglicanism" that we see promoted at Virtue Online and elsewhere. If you want to be Protestant, well then, be Protestant and deal with it. If you want to be Catholic, well then, be Catholic and deal with it!