Shechem, Corinth and Columbus: ECUSA’s Choices - June 2006, Fulcrum Newsletter 8

by Graham Kings

Date added: 13/06/2006

Dear Fulcrum friends,

The Episcopal Church of the USA faces several choices at its General Convention in Columbus, Ohio, 13-21 June 2006. After sketching the background to, and the context of, the Convention, it may be worth pondering what light two scriptural passages may shed on the current crisis.

In the Old Testament, we shall be looking at the choices that led to the split which took place at Shechem under King Rehoboam, and in the New Testament at the choices that led to the godly grief that took place at Corinth under Saint Paul.

A. Background to the General Convention of ECUSA 2006[1]

1. 'Federal Structure' and 'Pioneering Spirit'

Two concepts in particular have historical and current influences on the Convention: 'federal structure' and 'pioneering spirit'. Both are deeply rooted in the development of the USA. The historical 'federal' culture of the USA means that, in secular terms, each state jealously guards the independency of its own laws, even to the point of differences concerning capital punishment. In ECUSA, this 'federal' culture finds it own echoes. The Presiding Bishop claimed at the time that the General Convention had no option but to give consent to the consecration of Gene Robinson, because of this concept.[2] The facts and myths of 'pioneering' across the continent, pushing the frontier further and further to the west, means that some consider this to be the role of Americans in the world. In the context of the Anglican Communion, some claim that since they pioneered the consecration of women as bishops, should they not also pioneer the consecration of people in sexual relationships outside of marriage?[3]

2. The Lambeth Commission

In Fulcrum's submission to the Lambeth Commission on the Anglican Communion, we took on the influence of both these concepts of 'federal structure' and 'pioneering spirit', by stressing two other words: 'interdependence' and the importance and limits of 'inculturation'. We wrote:

We agree with the analysis of Norman Doe in his recent article 'The Meaning of Autonomy' [4] that 'provincial autonomy', historically and canonically, does not mean that provinces may do whatever their wish irrespective of the expressed concerns of the Anglican Communion.[5]

The 'inculturation' of the Gospel is essential to its planting, growth and flourishing. The good news does need to be earthed deeply in local cultures, so that people feel at home and that they know that the good news comes from God, rather than from another country. However, there are key limits, and often these limits are best seen by outsiders. In engaging with gay cultures in the USA and Canada, it is appropriate that Anglicans from other cultures, as well as those from these countries, question whether these recent decisions go beyond the limits of inculturation. We consider that they do.[6]

3. The Windsor Report

We were encouraged that both 'interdependence' and 'inculturation' were featured significantly as concepts in the report of the commission, The Windsor Report,[7] together with the development of a 'Covenant' to give further shape and discipline to the Communion. ECUSA was invited to consider a moratorium on the consecration of bishops in sexually active relationships outside of marriage and on the public blessing of same sex unions and withdrawal officially from Anglican Communion meetings from then up until the Lambeth Conference 2008. A warning against transprovincial interventions was also given.[8]

4. The Primates' Meeting in Dromantine

The communiqué from the Primates' Meeting in Dromantine, Northern Ireland, strongly backed the Windsor Report[9] and ECUSA's Executive Council did indeed agree to the temporary withdrawal from Anglican Communion meetings till Lambeth 2008 and extended the above moratorium on the consecration of bishops to include consecrating any bishops at all, until the General Convention this month.[10] There was an encouraging apology and repentance for having 'broken bonds of affection' in not consulting before consenting to the consecration of the Bishop of New Hampshire, but there is no expression of regret or repentance for the action of authorizing the consecration of Gene Robinson, only for lack of consultation and its effects. There had been a discernable shift but there was still a gap. At the Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Nottingham 2005, there was an invited ECUSA presence for presentation and listening but not voting.[11]

5. ECUSA's Special Commission on the General Convention

ECUSA's Special Commission on the General Convention continued the encouraging trajectory of this shift by recommending 'extreme caution' in electing bishops who were in sexual relationships outside of marriage. There were again expressions of repentance for non-consultation with the Anglican Communion and causing hurt, but again, not for the act of consecrating Gene Robinson itself. Neither moratoria on the consecration to the episcopate of people in sexual relationships outside of marriage (until the Communion comes to a new mind), nor on the blessing of same sex unions, were proposed. However, there does seem to have been a discernable effect on the elections in the Diocese of California.[12]

So, although there is a shift, there is still a gap between the requests of the Windsor Report and the proposals of the Special Commission.[13] In short, ECUSA confesses to having 'left undone those things we ought to have done' but not to having 'done those things which we ought not to have done...'[14].

B. Context of Current Reponses: A Suggested Quadrant

How do we make sense of the differing responses to this issue? Generalizations are dangerous and fixed models are not fluid, however, l have found very helpful the suggestions in the Bishop of Exeter's address to ECUSA's House of Bishops. He outlined four groups, each of which is located by their general stance on sexual ethics and ecclesiology:

As I look at the Anglican Communion at present I see its life threatened by two intersecting fault lines, each with its own totem.

The first is the issue of same sex relations, with its focusing in Lambeth 1.10. The second is the nature and future of Communion, with its focus being the Windsor Report and the Windsor/Dromantine process.[15]

Andrew Goddard has written a perceptive commentary on these intersections.[16] With trepidation, I will attempt to build on their ideas by describing this quadrant of responses and also developing it, including titles for the four groups and examples of names of people and groups within them.

The vertical line intersecting the quadrant concerns Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference:[17] to the right are those in favour of it, and to the left those against. The horizontal line intersecting the quadrant concerns the Windsor Report and Dromantine Communiqué:[18] above the line are those in favour of it, and below the line are those against it.

1. 'Federal Conservatives', in the bottom right, consists of those who are conservative on sexual ethics but who do not consider highly the ecclesiology of the Windsor Report and especially its warnings against transprovincial interventions. They would not be unhappy with the demotion of the Anglican Communion to a Federation of Anglican Churches. Examples of this group may be the Anglican Mission in America, which began with transprovincial consecrations, parts of the American Anglican Council and the Archbishops of Nigeria and of Sydney.[19]

2. 'Communion Conservatives', in the top right, consists of those who are conservative on sexual ethics but have a high regard for the ecclesiology and the recommendations of the Windsor Report. They are keen to hold to the concept of Communion. Examples of this group may be Fulcrum and the Anglican Communion Institute and the Bishop of Pittsburgh.[20]

3. 'Communion Liberals', in the top left, consists of those who are liberal on sexual ethics but have a high regard for the ecclesiology set out in the Windsor Report, if not all its recommendations. Examples of this group may be the Bishop of Virginia and the centre of the Special Commission of ECUSA.[21]

4. 'Federal Liberals', in the bottom left, consists of those who are liberal on sexual ethics and have a low regard for the ecclesiology set out in the Windsor Report and many of its recommendations. Examples of this group may be Integrity USA and the Bishop of Washington.[22]

Concerning the Anglican Covenant proposed by the Windsor Report, which recently has had some preliminary shape given to it,[23] groups 1 and 4 are likely to be against it and groups 2 and 3 for it.

It seems to me that the Global South Anglican movement[24] and Anglican Communion Network movement,[25] and the Anglican Mainstream movement[26] (and all three are movements, rather than just groups), include some in groups 1 and 2, though more, perhaps, in group 1. They straddle the two and responses to the outcome of the General Convention will depend a lot on the resolution of this tension.

We turn now to consider what light two biblical passages may shed on the current crisis.

C. Wisdom or Foolishness at Shechem? 1 Kings 12

In reconsidering any particular passage, we should be looking for principles which apply, rather than for one to one particular relationships between then and our context. Therefore, this passage may serve more as a 'parable' than as an 'allegory' for us.

As Rehoboam approached Shechem from Jerusalem to be made King by all Israel, the choice facing him was significant. Jeroboam had led a rebellion against his father, Solomon, in the last years of the previous reign (1 Kings 11:29-40), and now he had been recalled by the people at Shechem from exile in Egypt. Jeroboam and all the assembly of Israel came and said to Rehoboam: 'Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke that he placed on us, and we will serve you.' Rehoboam gained some thinking space by telling them to go away for three days and then return.

It is worth quoting the decisive part of the passage in full:

'Then King Rehoboam took counsel with the older men who had attended his father Solomon while he was still alive, saying, 'How do you advise me to answer this people?' They answered him, 'If you will be a servant to this people today and serve them, and speak good words to them when you answer them, then they will be your servants for ever.' But he disregarded the advice that the older men gave him, and consulted the young men who had grown up with him and now attended him. He said to them, 'What do you advise that we answer this people who have said to me, "Lighten the yoke that your father put on us"?' The young men who had grown up with him said to him, 'Thus you should say to this people who spoke to you, "Your father made our yoke heavy, but you must lighten it for us"; thus you should say to them, "My little finger is thicker than my father's loins. Now, whereas my father laid on you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions."'

Tragically, Rehoboam took the advice of his younger men.

'When all Israel saw that the king would not listen to them, the people answered the king,

"What share do we have in David?

We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse.

To your tents O Israel!

Look now to your own house, O David."

So Israel went away to their tents. But Rehoboam reigned over the Israelites who were living in the towns of Judah.'

Thus the Kingdom of David and Solomon divided into Israel in the north and Judah in the south and Shechem became the first capital of the Northern Kingdom. Once divided it did not come together again. John Gray has commented that Israel on such an occasion was thought of as a military confederacy in the field and 'to your tents' was a formula for disbanding the sacral community on the occasion of the covenant-sacrament. 'Here it would denote, as in Sheba's revolt [2 Samuel 20], the renunciation of covenant obligations.' [27]

Walter Dietrich has commented, 'The narrator tries to explain the Davidic dynasty's surprising loss of most of the kingdom. The cause is the way Solomon squeezed Israel dry, and the trigger was the undiplomatic arrogance of Rehoboam's men. Perhaps Solomon had already lost the north. A language of separation almost identical to v16 ['What share do we have in David?...] can be found in 2 Sam 20:1. In other words, by the time of Absalom's failed revolt, if not before, the northern tribes had privately distanced themselves from Davidic rule... The author of this passage is unmistakably a Judean who admits that Rehoboam played a part in the partition, but who regards it as a perverse rebellion (v19) against the legitimate reign of the descendants of David.' [28]

So it seems that the seeds of this schism were being formed in the folly and lack of discipline during David's reign, getting worse while largely undetected under Solomon before being blown wide open by Rehoboam's utter folly. Having ditched the House of David, the northern tribes were never able to establish a settled dynasty in its place.

How may we apply this passage to possible wisdom and foolishness at Columbus, Ohio? Well, rather than spell it out, it may be best to allow the Word to reverberate deeply in our hearts as we ponder again this passage - and not necessarily assume that Rehoboam stands for 'that person over there', rather than ourselves. Jesus's words about 'speck and log' come to mind (Matthew 7:1-5). The background to the crisis does indeed go back a long way, but now is the moment of decision.

The leaders of ECUSA will have differing voices of advice: to whom will they listen? Whatever the outcome in Columbus, other leaders in the Communion will have to respond and they will have differing voices of advice: to whom will they listen? Whatever their consequent responses, the Archbishop of Canterbury next year is due to send out letters of invitation to the Lambeth Conference in 2008. Again, there will be differing voices of advice: to whom will he listen? 'Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.'

D. Godly or Worldly Grief at Corinth? 2 Corinthians 7

From a turning point in Hebrew history concerning wisdom and folly, we move to the complicated context of Paul's relationship to the Corinthian church which he founded and loved - sometimes with much exasperation.

The context of the following passage is that Titus, one of Paul's small group of co-workers who acted as his representative, had just returned from the Corinthians with comforting news (vv5-7). They had responded with repentance and loyalty to Paul's 'severe letter' or 'letter of tears'. There has been some debate about the identity of this letter, mentioned in 2 Corinthians 2:1-11 as well as in chapter 7. It seems most likely that it is not part of the Corinthian correspondence that has come down to us, but is a lost letter:

'For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it (though I did regret it, for I see that I grieved you with that letter, though only briefly). Now I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because your grief led to repentance; for you felt godly grief, so that you were not harmed in any way by us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourself guiltless in the matter. So although I wrote to you, it was not on account of the one who did the wrong, nor on account of the one who was wronged, but in order that your zeal for us might be made known to you, before God. In this we find comfort. 2 Corinthians 7:8-13a.

The 'one who did wrong' refers to the offender mentioned in 2 Corinthians 1:23-2:13. The 'one who was wronged' refers to Paul. So the 'letter of tears' (2 Corinthians 2:3-4) had inspired and instilled repentance. Good relations were restored by godly grief.

Margaret MacDonald comments: 'That what is at stake transcends the particular events of the dispute and involves the fundamental nature of Paul's relationship with the Corinthians is made clear by Paul's description of the consolation which has occurred as a longing, mourning and zeal for the apostle (v7; cf v12; 11:2). The "tearful letter" precipitated a rediscovery of the inseparable link between loyalty to Paul and loyalty to God.' [29] (vv12-13) This is one of the few places that Paul employs the actual term 'repentance' (see also Romans 2:4ff; 2 Timothy 2:25), although the concept is dealt with much more widely in his letters.

Concerning 'proving themselves guiltless in the matter' (v11), C K Barrett has commented: 'This shows that the Corinthians' repentance (verses 9f) was not for a wrong they had themselves committed, but for their negligence in dealing with a wrong committed by another.' [30]

So, how do we apply this choice between 'godly grief' and 'worldly grief' to Columbus, Ohio? Again, by letting the Word reverberate deep in our hearts. A wrong has been committed and others have been involved in their negligence in dealing with it. Is it too far fetched to see the Windsor Report as a 'severe letter' or 'letter of tears'? Will there be 'godly grief' or 'worldly grief'? In the visit and address by the Bishop of Exeter to the meeting of ECUSA's House of Bishops, are there perhaps echoes, of that letter and Titus's visit? We shall see. 'Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.'

Conclusion

So, for ECUSA's General Convention 2006, we have outlined the background meetings and papers, sketched the context of responses from various groups, and pondered the significance of two passages of Scripture.

In October 2003, when the Primates of the Anglican Communion were summoned to Lambeth for an extraordinary meeting, David Jenkins, the former Bishop of Durham wrote an article in The Times. He was disillusioned with the Anglican Communion and suggested its dissolution. He considered that the churches should concentrate on mission and serving the flock within their national boundaries.[31] The next day, I wrote a short Fulcrum article entitled 'The Anglican Communion: Long Term Solutions and not Dissolution'.[32] This emphasised the importance of the Anglican Communion for three particular areas: for international mission support; for the limits to inculturation; and for our need of each other fully to discover the whole gospel.

Now, three years later, we come to the crucial time of decisions, and it may well indeed be a time marked by the Cross of Christ. May God give his people the wisdom to discern and trace what is going on in what is taking place.

Yours in Christ,

Graham Kings

Canon Dr Graham Kings is vicar of St Mary Islington and theological secretary of Fulcrum


End Notes

The notes in the text are hyperlinked into the end notes; to return to the text, click on the end note number

[1]
Background reading and news on the General Convention may be found on the following sites:

· official ECUSA General Convention;

· Global South Anglican;

· Anglican Mainstream;

· Anglican Communion Office;

· Integrity USA;

· Titusonenine;

· Thinking Anglicans;

· Ruth Gledhill's blog;

· Anglican Communion Institute;

· Fulcrum

[2] However, in 2006 there was the stongest of hints, from the same Presiding Bishop, that if the Diocese of California were to elect a person to be consecrated as bishop who was in a sexual relationship outside of marriage then the likelihood was that the General Convention would not give its consent.

[3] For the significant difference of process in the Anglican Communion between these two issues, see Colin Craston's Fulcrum article 'Women Bishops and the Anglican Communion Process'

[4] Norman Doe, a canon lawyer, was a member of the Lambeth Commission. See 'The Meaning of Autonomy'

[5] See also the quotations on 'autonomy' from Adrian Hastings and on 'interdependence' from Robert Runcie, in the appendix to the Fulcrum submission to the Lambeth Commission

'The Fulcrum Submission to the Lambeth Commission'

[7] 'The Windsor Report'. On 'inculturation', see especially paragraphs 32, 67, 85 and 86. Fulcrum Initial Statement on The Windsor Report. For some Lambeth Commission background papers on biblical authority, written by Tom Wright, a member of the Commission, see N T Wright, Scripture and the Authority of God (London: SPCK, 2005).

[8] For further Fulcrum articles on the Windsor Report, see Oliver O'Donovan, 'The Only Poker-Game in Town: Reflections on the Windsor Report' and Tom Wright 'Thoughts on Concerns and Questions about the Windsor Report'.

[9] 'The Primates' Meeting Communiqué'. Fulcrum response. The General Synod of the Church of England also gave overwhelming backing to the Windsor Report after a key proposing speech by Tom Wright 'Welcoming Windsor'

[10] Fulcrum response

[11] See Anglican Consultative Council meeting at Nottingham 2005. See also the closing address to the meeting by Tom Wright, 'Shipwreck and Kingdom: Acts and the Anglican Communion'.

[12] In the election of a bishop in the Diocese of California in May 2006, out of seven candidates, three were in sexual relationships outside of marriage and none of these was elected.

[13] The Fulcrum response, 'Brakes and Breaks', to the report of the Special Commission. See also the thoughtful and lucid response by Ephraim Radner, 'Come Up Higher: A Response to the Report of the Special Commission on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion', on the Anglican Communion Institute site. See An analysis of the resolutions by the Special Commission, compared to the requests by the Windsor Report, by Michael Watson.

[14] See the article by the Anglican Communion Institute, 'What will it take?'

[15] The 'Reflections' of Michael Langrish, the Bishop of Exeter, which he shared with the ECUSA House of Bishops meeting at Kanuga, North Carolina, on 22 March 2006. These reflections have the gravitas behind them of the Archbishop of Canterbury, whose envoy he was.

[16]
'A Commentary on the Address of the Bishop of Exeter to the American House of Bishops' by Andrew Goddard, tutor in ethics at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, Anglican Communion Institute Fellow and member of the Fulcrum leadership team.

[17] See Lambeth 1.10

[18] See The Windsor Report and the Dromantine Communiqué

[19] See The Anglican Mission in America (AMiA); see The American Anglican Council; Archbishop Peter Akinola is the Archbishop of Nigeria and Archbishop Peter Jensen is the Archbishop of Sydney.

[20] See Fulcrum; see Anglican Communion Institute; Bishop Robert Duncan is the Bishop of Pittsburgh and the leader of the Anglican Communion Network

[21] Bishop Peter Lee is the Bishop of Virginia and the Revd Dr Ian Douglas was a key member of the Special Commission.

[22] See Intergrity USA. Bishop John Chane is the Bishop of Washington. Marilyn McCord Adams, Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity in the University of Oxford and Canon of Christ Church, would also be an example of a 'Federal Liberal', see her article 'Liberal Anglicans should not sacrifice their beliefs in order to hold on to church unity at all costs', The Guardian, 25 March 2006. Andrew Linzey would also be an example of a 'Federal Liberal'. See his article 'The logic of all purity movements is to exclude', The Times, 22 April 2006.

[23] See 'Towards an Anglican Covenant'

[24] The Global South Anglican movement has Peter Akinola as its chair, John Chew, Archbishop of South East Asia, as it secretary and Mouneer Anis, Bishop of Egypt, as its treasurer. Michael Nai-Chiu Poon, Director of Centre for the Study of Christianity in Asia, Singapore, is its key prolific ecclesiological theologian. See the series of his thoughtful articles, 'Deliver us from corporate perversion: A Conversation with Ephraim Radner and Graham Kings on the State of our Communion' and 'Farewell to Babel: Rowan Cantuar as servant of unity for the one, holy, catholic & apostolic Communion' For a recent interview with John Chew, see 'Anglicans look south for unity in diversity' by Ruth Gledhill, The Times, 10 July 2006.

[25] Anglican Communion Network is chaired by Bishop Bob Duncan, Bishop of Philaldephia.

[26] Anglican Mainstream is convened by Philip Giddings and Christopher Sugden is the Executive Secretary.

[27] John Gray, I & II Kings: A Commentary (London: SCM Press, 1977), p306

[28] Walter Dietrich, '1 and 2 Kings' in John Barton and John Muddiman (eds), The Oxford Bible Commentary (Oxford: OUP, 2001), pp241ff.

[29] Margaret MacDonald, '2 Corinthians' in John Barton and John Muddiman (eds), The Oxford Bible Commentary (Oxford: OUP, 2001), p1142.

[30] C K Barrett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1973), p212.

[31] The Times, 13 Oct 2003.

[32]
Graham Kings, 'The Anglican Communion: Long Term Solutions and not Dissolution'

 
Graham Kings

Graham Kings

 
 
Interweavings

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A bronze

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