Thursday, June 07, 2007

Do Bishops Really Matter?

Brad Drell unravels Episcopalian double-speak.

Update: Captain Sacrament translates for Brad Drell.

Orthodox/traditionalist/reasserting believers within the Episcopal Church (TEC) have been complaining that the majority of TEC's leadership has been creating bishops that do things that bishops ought not do, such as engage marital-type unions with same-sex partners, perform the rites of Christian marriage for same-sex partners, or deny the divinity or sinlessness of Jesus the Christ. When they do complain, the liberals/heterodox/reappraisers respond that the office of bishop doesn't really matter - the bishop is nothing more than the local leader of a local church, and it's no one else's business who is elected to someone else's diocese.

When conservatives respond that, no, really, the office of bishop is a symbol of unity in the wider church, and that bishops themselves have a responsibility to exemplify core Christian ethical commitments, this assertion is simply denied by the other side. The office of bishop isn't really meant to be all that.

The rest of the bishops of the Anglican Communion has called upon the House of Bishops of TEC to make some Difficult and Important Decisions. The liberals complain that under "our polity" (a fancy word for "according to our interpretation of the rules we done wrote") bishops are simply not that important, and that the EPISCOPAL CHURCH is not actually governed by bishops, and so the HOUSE OF BISHOPS is not constitutionally authorized to make decisions for the entire EPISCOPAL Church.

You were supposed to laugh at that, it's really funny.

The joke, you see, is that the word EPISCOPAL means "governed by bishops." Everyone go look it up. I'll wait.

The argument is that, like the Southern Baptist Convention, the Episcopal Church is not a true and complete decision making body until one week in the summer when everybody gets together to vote.

That wasn't a joke, but it's surely very funny.

As far as liberals in TEC are concerned, bishops govern the Church like the Queen rules England. Just for fun, just for show, and only to justify pretty gowns.

Until... somebody violates the authority that a liberal bishops wants to assert. When another bishop sends a missionary priest without diocesan permission, or a parallel Anglican jurisdiction is set up to replace that of an apostatized diocese, then the offended bishop rails about the ancient, venerable EPISCOPAL polity of the Anglican Communion and "of this Church," blah, blah, blah. Or when they can brag about having the first partnered gay bishop or the first girl Archbishop, and so on. Then the episcopal office seems to really matter.

The point: when somebody says, "it's not in our polity," that's a cop-out.


Anonymous said...

What an utterly delightful bit of prose that you have found here...

I'm at a complete loss as to what his point or the relevant issue at hand is. But if it produced such fine literature as that, I'm sure that it is worth knowing about... :-D

Maybe a touch of translation from the peanut gallery?

Kyle said...

No problem, Matt! :0)

Anonymous said...

It has never seemed to me that liberals are saying bishops don't matter, they are just saying that they matter differently. Clearly liberals think bishops matter or Fr. Lawrence would have received the necessary consents to be a bishop.

What is not in our polity is for bishops to govern autocratically, with complete and unhindered authority. Even within their own diocese they are advised by Standing Committees. And it is undeniably true that decisions of the national church simply are not made by the House of Bishops, but by General Convention, comprised of both houses, or the Executive Council in between sessions of General Convention.

It's not a cop-out to say "it's not in our polity," it's simply the way this geographic culturally conditioned part of the Church has chosen as its perceived most faithful mode of governance. Disagree with the polity, if you'd like. Say that bishops shouldn't be guided by standing committees or that the voice of the laity and presbyters shouldn't have a legislative voice in the national church. But don't claim dishonesty on the part of liberals because they believe that there is a middle ground in polity between Roman hierachical bishops and Southern Baptist congregational/convention centered polity.

Caelius said...

Dear Kyle,

It would be contrary to the customs of the primitive Church of England for the bishops to do anything in synod without the consent of the laity. Most of the ancient Church Synods were held simultaneously with Witangemotes. For indeed as Kenneth writes in Ecclesiastical Synods, "Even in the Saxon times, if there was any subject of laws for the outward peace and temporal government of the Church, such laws were properly ordained by the king and his great council of clergy and laity intermixed..." Only doctrinal questions properly belonged to the bishops. It is the custom in this country to introduce lay participation in a different way.

Now I know you strongly object to Constantinian forms. But it was on similar basis that many of the Ecumenical Councils legislated. Or do you assert that the Undivided Church lacked the fullness of episcopal government?

Best regards,

Caelius Spinator

SaintSimon said...


Never mind your detractors - you are spot on.

Steve Hayes said...

Hmm... that's what I thought was going on. It's good to have confirmation from someone within spitting distance, as it were.

Kyle said...

When the representatives of a denomination insist that by the nature of its own polity, it is impossible to respond directly to any challenges of the wider Communion, they're being deeply disingenuous.

I've not heard them announce an emergency GenCon, have you?

To paint the assertion of episcopal authority to govern and speak for the whole church as authoritarian is too easy. Also a cop out.