The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Lion, Perhaps, But Not Exactly Aslan

In previous posts, I have criticized American Anglican followers of Archbishop Peter Akinola for supporting his unchristian homophobia and willingness--eagerness, really--to invoke the civil power of the state to persecute, a view I have enunciated as well in my more secular home.

Akinola's followers in the United States may be even more compromised than I knew; in an an article in the current Atlantic, Eliza Griswold, the daughter of former Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, describes sectarian conflict in Nigeria between Muslims and Christians. After a 2004 attack by Muslims on a church in which 70 Christians were murdered, an organization called the Christian Association of Nigeria retaliated, killing 660 Muslims, burning a dozen mosques, and raping and killing at least 50 young Muslim girls. From the Article:
At the time of the massacre, Archbishop Peter Akinola was the president of the Christian Association of  Nigeria, whose membership was implicated in the killings. He has since lost his bid for another term but, as primate of the Anglican Church of Nigeria, he is still the leader of 18 million Anglicans. He is a colleague of my father, who was the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in America from 1997 to 2006. But the American Episcopals’ election of an openly homosexual bishop in 2003, which Archbishop Akinola denounced as “satanic,” created distance between them
. . . .
“My views on Islam are well known: I have nothing more to say,” [Akinola] said, as we sat down. Archbishop Akinola has repeatedly spoken critically about Islam and liberal Western Protestants, and he was understandably wary of my motives for asking his thoughts. For Akinola, the relationship between liberal Protestants and Islam is straightforward: if Western Christians abandon conservative morals, then the global Church will be weakened in its struggle against Islam. “When you have this attack on Christians in Yelwa, and there are no arrests, Christians become dhimmi, the vocabulary within Islam that allows Christians and Jews to be seen as second-class citizens. You are subject to the Muslims. You have no rights.”

When asked if those wearing name tags that read “Christian Association of Nigeria” had been sent to the Muslim part of Yelwa, the archbishop grinned. “No comment,” he said. “No Christian would pray for violence, but it would be utterly naive to sweep this issue of Islam under the carpet.” He went on, “I’m not out to combat anybody. I’m only doing what the Holy Spirit tells me to do. I’m living my faith, practicing and preaching that Jesus Christ is the one and only way to God, and they respect me for it. They know where we stand. I’ve said before: let no Muslim think they have the monopoly on violence.”
As Father Jake points out, this grinning "no comment" is as far as imaginable from a Christian response.

Akinola's condonation of anti-muslim violence (and his use of the "monopoly of violence" language) in the wake of mass murder has been pointed out previously in the context of a 2006 slaying of forty Muslims, but his interview with Griswold shocks the conscience.

The astonishing thing is that "reasserters" are appallingly eager to follow this "Lion of Ajuba," with no thought for his prey. Apparently, his being antigay is enough to wash away the blood of those with whom this lion decided not to lie down.

UPDATE, 2/29/08: Per Father Jake, I see that the original post conflated Akinola's response to the 2004 massacre described by Ms. Griswold with his similar response to one in 2006 described in Fr. Jake's linked post. My bad, Akinola's worse.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

As I was Saying...

It didn't take long to get a peculiarly vivid example of what I was addressing here.

The Living Church has published an analysis of the San Joaquin defection in light of the Southern Cone's own Constitution and Canons, which appear to establish that both the SC Constitution's limitation on its geographical territory, and the canon's limitation on the retirement age for bishops, would exclude San Joaquin and John-David Schofield from their purported realignment. Mark the sequel: explicit avowals that these breaches of the canons are perfectly right and legitimate because, after all, they are done in the name of protecting the Godly from the "heresy" of TEC.

Now, first, let's be clear: I am unaware of any even arguably heretical theological position taken by TEC. One may argue that the ordination of Bishop Robinson was irregular, or improper, or even sinful, but it's not, by definition, heretical. But even if I did not vehemently reject the theological positions of these folks, I would quarrel mightily with this "rules-only-apply-to-YOU" position.

If rules don't govern people who disagree, then they are useless. The reasserters who fault the Presiding Bishop for allegedly infringing the canons of TEC by not recognizing the Standing Committee of San Joaquin after they decided that they remainied in place in TEC now excuse violations of the Southern Cone's canons because, after all, their cause is just. The problem with that, however, is that it means there is no mechanism for resolving disagreements--even in terms of negotiating a separation. After all, if the reasserters believe they (and they alone) are justified in breaking canons, constitutions, and ordination vows, then how can those who do not share their views trust any representation they make with respect to property, personnel, or any other issue?

Such individuals are fit for no company but their own; only those who agree with them can be in communion with them, because the only language they will speak is that of uniformity in all things--or abject surrender.

What is under challenge is not merely a belief about homosexuality, nor even about how to read Scripture. It is the very justification for an Anglican Communion--that a broad, culturally and theologically diverse association of churches can unite those who disagree on many matters, for churchmanship to theology, but hold in common a Christian faith, and can cherish those with whom they disagree. A "holy catholic Church"? Not if these individuals have their way. In their eagerness to secure the first attribute, as they see it, they would wholly extirpate the latter.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Anglo-Catholic Contribution

In commenting on a recent post, my friend the Young Fogey made clear his belief that the Anglican Reformation was illegitimate. My answer, like his brief comment, was a synopsis of a complicated viewpoint. (You can see the Fogey's more nuanced statement of his views here, by the way, and it's well worth the read, though I firmly reject his conclusion).

To put forward a more nuanced position, let me draw from several passages in Edward Gordon Selwyn's Preface to the Third Edition of Essays Catholic and Critical (1929):
What is Catholicism? The Roman Church answers easily enough that it is identical with the Roman Church. . . . If Roman Catholicism is the only kind there is, then in the last resort the gravamen against Catholicism must be admitted. . . .We are tied up to a conception of authority [Papal Infallibility] which, both in theory and in practice, cannot in our view be defended.

Fortunately, however, an Anglican finds himself pressed to no such impasse; and we are free to defend Catholicism on a non-Roman basis. . . . By Catholicism we mean, that is to say, a presentation of Christian thought, worship, and life to which no one Church--Anglican, Roman, or Eastern--has any exclusive title; and yet which does permeate all these bodies with a thoroughness and tenacity sufficiently marked to distinguish them from all those bodies which call themselves, and are known to history as, Protestant. . . . Catholicism gives to the institutional element of Christianity a place not less fundamental than that given to its mystical and intellectual elements.

[Anglo Catholicism] is something far more than Catholicism minus the Pope. It was not the Papacy only that the Church of England rejected at the Reformation; but the whole temper of those rules and ordinances, mostly enshrined in Canon Law, which had reduced Christianity almost to the level of a legalistic religion.
Id. at vii-viii.

Selwyn then states that "Rome's great contribution to Christianity was in the realm of law, and legalism is nothing more than law growing cancerously." Id. at x. Selwyn then compares the three traditions of which, he argues, Catholic Christianity represents the confluence--"the Hebraic, the Roman, and the Hellenistic, which first met in the person of St. Paul, and have blended in different proportions since." Citing the mediating influence of the Hellenistic tradition between the other two, Selwyn claims for Anglicanism a synthesis of the three, which has:
maintained all the essentials of Christian law and institutions, without the cramping fetters of legalism; through a revived knowledge of the Scriptures in their original tongues it brought into fresh prominence the Hebraic element, without giving it any monopoly; and it fused these two into a living unity by the alchemy of Greek thought, feeling, and proportion. The result was a Church where, in an age of religious license, law was maintained, where revelation was mated with reason, and where criticism--the characteristic product of the Greek genius--was steeped in the spirit of reverence.
Id. at x-xi.

There's a lot to upack here, but at present, let me cull one point from Selwyn's analysis. The Roman form of Catholicism has been guilty of not just legalism, but, in the decades since Selwyn wrote, a vaunting of the institution over the mystical and intellectual--exalting the power structure of legalism over the Church's pastoral role. The great paradigm of such error is the Roman Church's shameful use of its public goodwill and its hierarchical authority to cover up decades of sexual abuse by priests, who were shuttled from place to place, their acts covered up, over a fifty year period. According to the British newspaper The Guardian, during the papacy of John Paul II, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the current Pope, reaffirmed in 2001 an edict from Pope John XXIII called Crimine solicitationies, which imposed a religious duty of silence upon victims and other reporters or witnesses, barring them from taking their complaints to the civil authorities with penalties up to and including excommunication.

Now, I don't rake this up to bash the Roman Church reflexively, but rather to point out how consistent this behavior is with Selwyn's critique: the roots of the problem are, not simple monstrousness, but rather exaltation of legalism over law, the institution over the individual, not in balance with it, and monarchical power over Christian service.

In other words, the Anglo-Catholic stands in between Roman Catholic and Protestant, tempering the tendency towards excessive regard for institutional power and prestige, on the one hand, and disregard for the numinous value of the whole Church gathering as the Body of Christ, on the other.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Process and Persuasion

Perhaps it's my legal background coming to the fore again, but I really do think that many on the "reasserting" right do not have an adequate grasp on ecclesiology and, especially process. Let me take an example. In a discussion of the defecting bishop of San Joaquin's ire at TEC's recreation of a pastoral presence within the geographical boundaries of "his" diocese, several commenters took the position that even if TEC's action were consistent with the Church's canons, TEC's heresy had deprived it of the standing to invoke those canons--that "there is no violation when the faithful in a Diocese from the Bishop to the least of the laity appeal to orthodox groupings to support them in the battle against the errant and heretical ravening them or trying to do so."

This argument is, frankly, absurd. Process, such as the canons provide, is created to allow for an orderly determination as to the rights and wrongs of a contested issue. A party may be perfectly certain that he is in the right in a dispute, but that does not allow him to force his adversary to yield at gunpoint. When reasserters argue that TEC's "heresy"--that is, its effort to discern if the so-called "clobber passages" reflect the Holy Spirit or, like certain other passages are more reflective of the human understanding of those who received revelation and not revelation's kerygma--mean that TEC can properly be subverted, and that the canons that clergy who take this view swore to uphold can be set at naught, they are in the position of the litigant who uses force rather than submit to a judicial process. Such individuals assume that no view but their own is entitled to a dispute resolution process; they are right, and that is all that matters. Rights and process only attach for their side of the argument, and need only be respected when they choose to invoke them. Thus, any act they perform is justified. This argument is that advanced by those who care only for dominance, and not reason, discernment or fellowship. Those who advance it are, simply, outlaws.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Anglocat on Retreat

I don't often share about my personal life, let alone my spiritual journey. Just a little over two years ago, my entire life, including my marriage, shattered like glass. I found myself bereft of the home I had thought I'd grow old in, and the relationship I'd believed would last--didn't.

I won't write more of this--other than to note that the loyalty of family and friends has been inspiring, and that those who came to my rescue were unexpected, and all the more dear to me for that. Oh, and that miracles do come in our lives when we least expect them. (Sometimes a truism is just true). But there was, of course, a price: a large part of my missionary zeal for the law was shattered, along with the old life.

This wasn't just destruction, I have come to believe; it was metanoia. Because the Church has, ever since, been calling--almost literally; I found myself drawn in, first just as part of the congregation. Then attending some theological discussion groups. Then helping out with some work, and then as a Lay Eucharistic Minister, and Morning Prayer officiant. And my long-dormant thoughts of ministry reawakened. I'm not sure whether it's the diaconate or the priesthood, but I believe, for the third time in my life, that I am called to ordination. This time, I'm not letting the call go unanswered. It's exhilarating and frightening--awesome, truly--at once, and, to help clarify my discernment efforts, I'm going on retreat starting Friday.

And, as I stand at the threshhold of the ruins of what went before,and the unexplored future, I think again of my spiritual awakening at Coventry Cathedral, and realize that the journey is still ongoing.

Not, I suppose, an inappropriate way to start Lent--a thoroughgoing reassessment, and effort to listen to the "small, still voice," and decipher its meaning.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Inspired, Not Inerrant

So over at Stand Firm, our Worthy Opponents are harshly critiquing an excerpt from Called to Teach and Learn (1994), titled "An Anglican Approach to Scripture." The comments are, as is so often the case, illuminating of a mindset that I can't really call Anglican, especially as they degenerate into a challenge to a more liberal commenter to "think of one example where the Scriptures have been reinterpreted in the light of contemporary knowledge and experience in the last 2,000 y[ea]rs?" They ask, especially, for one prior to the Twentieth Century, but "anything will do for us to examine."

Well, I'm somewhat surprised that a self-identified Anglican would need this example pointed out to them, but how about Mark 10:11-12 ("Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery"); Luke 16:18., compare Matt. 19:9: "I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery"; and 1 Cor. 7:10 (divorce allowed for abandonment by an unbelieving spouse). Beyond the easy gibe that the English Reformation was precipitated in part by, and Thomas Cramner endorsed, a divorce for King Henry VIII, the fact is that these texts conflict, and some interpretation of them is needed.

How about this one: "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." Exodus 22:18. That text, as endorsed and interpreted by Thomas Aquinas, led to half a millenium's persecution from the Middle Ages through colonial times. To quote Louis Brandeis, "men feared witches, and burned women." Whitney v. California, 274 U.S. 357 (1927)(Brandeis, J., concurring). As recently as 1999, this text was deployed by Congressman Bob Barr (R-Ga.), Paul Weyrich and Rev. Jack Harvey to argue for civil laws excluding Wiccans from the armed services, despite the clear terms of the First Amendment prohibiting federal laws burdening the free exercise of religion.

And, to take an example I have previously noted, Matthew 27:24-25--in which the people--meaning the Jewish people--say to Pilate "His blood be upon us and our children"--is just one of many New Testament passages that has been cited to justify anti-semitism. (There's a helpful collection of anti-semitic applications of the New Testament here; a more complete account is James Carroll's book Constantine's Sword (2001)).

Now, these three passages have clearly either been reinterpreted in the very formation of Anglicanism, or, in the case of the latter two, have led to appalling acts of cruelty and even genocide. I strongly suspect that no Anglican would argue for the "plain meaning" interpretation of any of the three--or else they are ceding the illegitimacy of the Anglican Reformation, or advocating mass murder in the name of Christ. These three scriptural passages are not, by the way, the only examples one could find (I once wrote about "The West Wing Conundrum", which featured several other examples as well--although some interesting rebuttals were posted to that one).

Which is why, in my prior post above linked, I tried to suggest that St. Paul's statement that "we see now through a glass, darkly" (1 Cor. 13:12) and St. John's recording in his Gospel that Jesus told us that He has "yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now," (Jn. 16:12), suggest that revelation is still unfolding, and we should be cautious in our judgments. And, as truth is the daughter of time, and the Gifts of the Spirit may be known by their fruits, when the result of a scriptural interpretation is disaster--murder, cruelty and pain, in the name of Christ--perhaps we need to consider if our reading of scripture is at fault. Arrogance can take many forms--including an inflexible assumption that what seems the obvious reading of the text is in fact the right one.

Friday, February 1, 2008


We've had a fair amount of serious posts, so I thought I'd tackle a really tough one: why is it that certain cats seem to fit within different wings of the Church?

My Betty, for example, is only short a wimple from founding her own Anglo-Catholic order. Whenever I take out the Prayer Book and the Bible for Compline, Betty begins her part in the liturgy. What is it?
For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For is this done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
For this he performs in ten degrees.
For first he looks upon his fore-paws to see if they are clean.
For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the fore paws extended.
For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.
For fifthly he washes himself.
For Sixthly he rolls upon wash.
For Seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.
For Eighthly he rubs himself against a post.
For Ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
Of course, where Betty differs from Christopher Smart's Jeoffry, is that her ten degrees involve brushing up against the BCP--or Bible, depending on where I am in the service--and caressing it with her face. Betty radiates a chaste, nunlike severity at most times, which is especially endearing after the secular humanist Lothario Ethan tries to seduce her, and she walks primly away, making sure to convey that she had nothing to do with the incident, and disapproves of that wicked Ethan.