FaithWorld

GUESTVIEW: No king, no bishop? American Anglicans revolt

By Guest Contributor
December 18, 2009
tea party

Reenactment of the Boston Tea Party, 13 Dec 1998/Brian Snyder

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Elizabeth E. Evans is a U.S. freelance journalist living in Glenmoore, PA who writes about religion.

By Elizabeth E. Evans

After King George III lowered the boom on Boston in the wake of the 1773 Tea Party rebellion, Virginian Theodore Bland wrote “The question is, whether the rights and liberties of America shall be contended for, or given up to arbitrary powers.” It didn’t take long at all for J. Jon Bruno, Episcopal bishop of the diocese of Los Angeles, to launch another, quintessentially American challenge towards Canterbury and other Anglican points anxious or angry about the election of the denomination’s first openly lesbian bishop on December 5.

“I would remind the Episcopal Church and the House of Bishops they need to be conscientious about respecting the canons of the church and the baptismal covenant to respect the dignity of every human being,” Bruno said.  “To not consent in this country out of fear of the reaction elsewhere in the Anglican Communion is to capitulate to titular heads.”

Within a day, Archbishop Rowan Williams responded to the election of Mary Glasspool as suffragan (assistant) bishop,  warning that it raised “very serious questions” not just about the role the Episcopal Church would play in the Anglican Communion, but for the Communion as a whole.

Maybe he doesn’t realize that, in the eyes of some Americans, he is virtually irrelevant.

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Mary Glasspool/Episcopal Diocese of Maryland

Within the next five months or so, it will be clear whether or not the American church heeds that caution when bishops, clergy and lay leaders in the denomination’s 109 dioceses consider whether or not to approve Glasspool’s consecration as bishop.  I asked Jim Naughton, editor of the online Episcopal Café and a “go-to” spokesperson for denominational liberals, if he saw anything characterologically American about the denomination’s moves to open all orders of ministry to gays and lesbians in the teeth of internal and external opposition.

Episcopalians have been shaped both by the American democratic tradition, and by campaigns for civil and women’s rights, he said.  “There are many honorable instances in history of people having to take moral stances, and then having the culture move towards them,” said Naughton.

But the American rebellion over “titular heads” isn’t solely about sexuality by any means. Episcopal liberals were quick to draw a parallel between the archbishop’s reprimand of the diocese of Los Angeles and his apparent reticence to openly criticize church leaders in Uganda. A proposed law in that country would harshly punish homosexual conduct.

“The Archbishop of Canterbury’s willingness to assert himself in local elections within the Episcopal Church while remaining silent about the egregious human rights violations supported by other churches in the Communion has diminished his own stature as a moral leader, and has now begun to taint the work of other bodies that claim to speak for the Anglican Communion,” said Naughton.

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Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, 11 Feb 2009/Kieran Doherty

Last week, in an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Williams spoke out against the bill – a move seen by some as too little, too late.  Strikingly silent were another group of rebels, separatist Episcopalians, many of whom have strong collegial and reporting relationships with some African bishops.

For another perspective on the ongoing contention between American Episcopalians and many in the Anglican establishment, I spoke with Geralyn Wolf, bishop of the Diocese of Rhode Island. Before many conservative church leaders decamped, she might have been considered a moderate.

“The reason I’m here today is because my ancestors rebelled against what they experienced in Germany and Russian and came here,” said Wolf, one of the dissenting voices on last summer’s liberalizing changes at the Episcopal triennial meeting. “There’s a marvelous legacy of dissent, independent and fearless, and yet at same time it creates the kind of situation we now find ourselves in … It’s not so much that we are fractured, but I’ve not convinced that we have found a way to be different together.”

Displaying an empathy for Williams uncommon among most liberal and conservative Anglican public voices, she said it may be impossible to demand absolute clarity of a man who is a dreamer and a thinker.  As to his words of reproach to the Episcopal Church, they are neither new nor unexpected, she added. “He’s been thinking about this a long time.” Looking to the future of the Anglican Communion, she commented: “Maybe you have to divide in order to reunite…or maybe there is no reunification.”

This morning, the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion noted the recent Episcopal election, American and Canadian decisions to move forward on same-sex blessings and cross-border activities by dissident clergy and  issuing a stark warning that these trends “endanger the unity of the Anglican Communion.”

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Bishop Samuel Seabury

While there is dissent from other voices in the Communion, at the moment there is an element in the Anglican crack-up that seems familiar. After all, American Anglicans lived without prelatical supervisors for hundreds of years — and then had to go to Scotland to get Samuel Seabury consecrated as bishop in 1784 because he couldn’t take the oath of loyalty to King George III.

Thus it is no surprise to hear the voices of dissent raised in the rebellious former colonies, now one of many provinces contending for supremacy in a global Anglican bazaar. But it isn’t clear, this time around, that in this war anyone will come out a winner.

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