Friday, October 9, 2009

The Credibility Gap

The various Continuing Anglican Churches come in for a great deal of criticism, and even the most optimistic supporter of the movement has to admit that some of it is justified. At times there has been just a bit too much of the "ecclesiastical Brigadoon" about the whole enterprise for folks outside the Continuing Anglican Movement to take it seriously. I am not just talking about the propensity of some towards elaborate titles, "bells and smells; lace and tat" bit about a more serious deficiency - a credibility gap that results from the willingness of some to set aside Canon Law to gain temporary advantages.

It is a commonly acknowledged fact that no society can function effectively without laws which are respected and observed. In secular society law exists to protect the life, well-being, rights and property of the individual, and to create an atmosphere in which men and women can live together in peace. In the Church, Canon Law exist to protect the Church from heresy, the sacraments from irreverence, the priesthood from unworthy men, and so forth. One of the first things that the new Anglican Catholic Church did after the Denver consecrations was set about revising and clarifying Canon Law, and other bodies have been similarly keen to be seen as churches that not only have clergy and congregations, but a structure and Canon Law.

However, none of us who have been in the Continuum more than five minutes can pretend to be blind to the fact that nearly every jurisdiction has, at some point in its history, been subject to the whims of bishops. Such senior clergy have been prepared manipulated rather than administered Canon Law in unspiritual attempts to empire build within the Church. We all know that when law is manipulated rather than administered the respect for the law inevitably declines and the eventual result is either schism or anarchy or both. The commonest problems with regards to Canon Law in the Continuum are, not surprisingly, associated with the clergy; their selection, discipline and preferment. Every jurisdiction has clergy of dubious quality who found their way into the ranks because someone failed to follow the proper procedure or owed some a favour. Most jurisdictions can also point to incident where bishops have been created in dubious circumstance - usually to pay back a political favour, or to avoid the election of a man who might prove troublesome to various vested interests. In one jurisdiction I heard the "Military Ordinariate" of one jurisdiction described as "the open back door to the episcopate" because it was controlled by the House of Bishops and was used to make bishops of men who were felt to be "owed a mitre."

In all these cases, it is the laity who suffer. Unsuitable and incompetant clergy empty churches, and, in the worse case scenario, turn people away from Christ. Unsuitable bishops destroy dioceses and sow schism. If the Continuum wants to be taken seriously it needs to get away from ecclesiastical politics and "doing favours" and adhere strictly to its own Canon Law. The bottom line is that if bishops want to be trusted by their clergy, they should be humble enough to play by the rules; if the clergy wanted to trusted by the laity, they too should have the humility to obey Canon Law. I suspect that the overall effect would be to create an atmosphere of trust and regularity that would help to heal our divisions, and bridge the credibility gap that leads so many dispossessed Anglicans to dismiss the Continuum as a sort of ecclesiastical Brigadoon.

I hope that those of us in Continuum now have the maturity to realise that if a canon is bad, it can be changed. Yes, it takes a little time, but to "finesse" our way around it only gives force to the arguments of those who would dismiss the Continuum irrelevant and self-serving. Likewise I would hope that the era of back room deals is passed, and that we need to do business openly and according to our own Canons. The hard truth here for all Continuing Anglicans is that if we want to be taken serious we need to follow our own laws honestly.


  1. An excellent analysis of the current situation, the time for egos is past and the clergy " all of them " need to set aside petty quarrels and move into true unity. Our bishops need to gather together for the sake of all and work this out or it's just business as usual and nothing will be accomplished. If we fail it will be the parishoners who will ultimately suffer.
    Iam cheered to see movement forward and thank God for it, there is so much more work to be done.
    God have mercy on us all.

  2. Peter:

    Though am not, cannot, and will not for many good reasons be party to or a member of the Continuum, I respect your integrity, humility, and honesty. Those latter three qualities are appreciated; those qualities I can live with and respect.

    Thank you.


  3. Bishops are called and consecrated to be "pators to Presbyters and Deacons." Therefore, they cannot seek to establish fiefdoms in the Diocese. Dare I say "reform" is called for? Charles

  4. More and more, I grow convinced that St. Louis Movement, which started so auspiciously, went right of the rails with the quirky Denver consecrations, and the Dallas Convention debacle, which followed with innumerable schism and jurisdictional machinations -- all of which shows that the quality, integrity, and credibility of the Movement's leadership were in dubious from get go.

    While I do believe from personal experience that a few very godly, educated, and credible men are still within the leadership of the Movement, they are in a distinct minority -- being quite thin on the ground. Indeed, IMHO, until the moderate, well-educated men of the central Anglican Tradition come out of the Evangelically dominated ACNA, the Liberally dominated TEC, and the Anglo-Catholically dominated Continuum, the hope of perpetuating the ideals of the Elizabethan Settlement, with is constitutive Anglican formularies grows dimmer day by day.