Friday, December 14, 2007

Bishops and Democracy

The long-awaited Archbishop of Canterbury's Advent Letter has been published and is worth a read. Folks with far more free time on their hands than I have dissected and parsed the text trying to read between the lines for what it really says (or what they would like to think it really says) and I will leave that to them. The question which is as yet unanswered is this: Can the members of the Anglican Communion agree to disagree regarding ordination of partnered homosexual persons and blessing of same-sex unions, or are the irreconcilable differences of opinion on this one issue such that schism is inevitable? It seems more and more that this is a cultural, rather than a biblical or theological, divide, but it is no less critical for that.

I'm also interested in +++Rowan's thoughts regarding bishops:
A somewhat complicating factor in the New Orleans statement has been the provision that any kind of moratorium is in place until General Convention provides otherwise. Since the matters at issue are those in which the bishops have a decisive voice as a House of Bishops in General Convention, puzzlement has been expressed as to why the House should apparently bind itself to future direction from the Convention. If that is indeed what this means, it is in itself a decision of some significance. It raises a major ecclesiological issue, not about some sort of autocratic episcopal privilege but about the understanding in The Episcopal Church of the distinctive charism of bishops as an order and their responsibility for sustaining doctrinal standards. Once again, there seems to be a gap between what some in The Episcopal Church understand about the ministry of bishops and what is held elsewhere in the Communion, and this needs to be addressed.
Having just had my own bishop call for the election of his successor, and having seen from afar some of the issues with which he has been forced to deal, the question of what we in the Episcopal Church think is, to use the Archbishop's words, the "distinctive charism of bishops as an order." Do we think of the episcopate, or even the priesthood and/or diaconate, as simply jobs or positions? Do we believe in the "Bishop as CEO, Priest as Caregiver, and Deacon as Social Worker" model or do we believe that there is, in fact, some special gift of the Spirit that is conveyed or recognized at ordination? What do we think God does when we ask God to "make" someone a bishop, priest, or deacon in God's church?

More than sexuality, it appears that here is where the real divide between the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion lies. We like to dress our bishops up like everyone else, parade them around, and have them make speeches and wax theological, but God help them if they actually exercise any power! Ever since the first colonists came over and established a settlement at Jamestown 400 years ago, we have been uncomfortable with the role of bishops. I would submit that we often have far more in common with the Lutherans, for whom I believe that bishop is a role or job, not an permanently ordained ministry, then we are truly catholic in our ecclesiology. I keep seeing other bloggers wondering why we should give the resolutions of the Lambeth Conference so much weight and seeing the most representative body, the Anglican Consultative Council, as having the only true and legitimate authority in the Communion. Don't even get them started on the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates! Why? Why do we see democracy as having the highest authority? I would say that says more about our culture than it says about out theology. While we certainly shouldn't give bishops more authority than they are due, it may well be a part of what Dan Martins refers to as our "impoverished ecclesiology" (though that blog entry was written before the Archbishop's letter and referring to the unpleasantness in the Diocese of San Joaquin) that we give them so little authority.

In any case, I would love to see a discussion on what we believe ordination is and what we believe the ministry of a bishop is. As the Archbishop says, "this needs to be addressed."

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