The Most Important Goal in Life

Today is the Feast of Christ the King.  The script that calls out the liturgical year on this site simply refers to this as the Sunday before Advent, and that’s what it was for centuries.  The idea of this feast–at the end of the liturgical year–comes from the “new theology”, one that generally gets a reaction of horror from traditionalists.  The concept is simple: since we have Christmas (for Christ’s birth) and Good Friday/Easter (for his death and resurrection) we should have one for his coming return.

The idea that history has a purpose and an end is not uncontroversial but it’s one that bugs many of us: why are we here? where did we come from? where are we going?  We can’t do much about the first two, so it makes sense that we should concentrate on the last, and in doing so some answers to the first will become clear.

Many goals have been proposed over the centuries.  Some say that we have no goal, that when we die that’s it.  Others say that, through a series of cycles, we end up being reabsorbed into the Godhead, however that it defined.  Both of these have an air of pointlessness about them.  Why speak of a goal when the grave is the end? And why be here in the first place when we’ll be sucked up in another?

The French preacher Bossuet tells us that “man’s chief aim in life is to be happy”.  That sounds like something everyone can like.  But how to be happy forever?  Every form of happiness we see in this life is transient.  People wonder whether there will be pets or golf or football or even work in heaven.  But these come and go.  With football, it’s easy: you have sixty minutes to play and that’s it.  The others have less predictable starts and stops but they’re there.

St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that both the goal and the source of happiness in life is the following:

Final and perfect happiness can consist in nothing else than the vision of the Divine Essence. To make this clear, two points must be observed.

  1. First, that man is not perfectly happy, so long as something remains for him to desire and seek:
  2. Secondly, that the perfection of any power is determined by the nature of its object. (Summa Theologiae, 1-2, a.3, q.8)

Aquinas is always a little technical (which is why, I guess, I like him) so it helps to break things down. We all know people who go through life looking for the “maximum thrill”.  But when all the passing thrills are gone we are left with God, who is eternal.  Seeing him as he is (which is what the vision of the Divine Essence is all about) is the maximum thrill par excellence, not only for the sheer impact of the experience (2) but also because it lasts forever (1).

Getting back to the happiness, Aquinas notes the following:

If therefore the human intellect, knowing the essence of some created effect, knows no more of God than “that He is”; the perfection of that intellect does not yet reach simply the First Cause, but there remains in it the natural desire to seek the cause. Wherefore it is not yet perfectly happy. Consequently, for perfect happiness the intellect needs to reach the very Essence of the First Cause. And thus it will have its perfection through union with God as with that object, in which alone man’s happiness consists, as stated above (1,7; 2, 8).

We need to do more than believe that God is, although that’s a start.  We need to connect with him and know him as he is.  That’s starts in this life and reaches its goal–not an end in time–in the next.  And then we can find the happiness we’ve been looking for all along.

To start that journey, click here

My Challenge to Church of God Ministers: Take the Marriage Pledge

Many of you know that, in spite of a lot of what turns up on this blog, I am a member of the North Cleveland Church of God and worked for the church’s International Offices in the Lay Ministries Department for 13 1/2 years.  So I’m not a stranger to at least some of our ministers.

Many of you also know that I have advocated the abolition of civil marriage for a long time, and even longer have looked forward to the time when marriage in church and marriage by the state be separated.  We now know that the state, having redefined divorce away from New Testament standards, is in the process of doing so with marriage.

When Joe Edwards (who is pastor at Cartersville, GA) married my wife and I many years ago, he recalled that God married the first couple in the Garden.  Think about that: God didn’t need the state then to marry a couple, and he does not now.  He has not changed: to be Pentecostal is to proclaim that God’s promises, like him, don’t change.

Two distinguished clerics have come up with the Marriage Pledge, which states in part:

Our biblical faith is committed to upholding, celebrating, and furthering this understanding, which is stated many times within the Scriptures and has been repeatedly restated in our wedding ceremonies, church laws, and doctrinal standards for centuries. To continue with church practices that intertwine government marriage with Christian marriage will implicate the Church in a false definition of marriage.

We’ve reached the critical moment.  I am asking you to join in supporting and, if you feel led, to sign this pledge.

And I would add one other thing: I believe that, sooner or later, you will be forced to perform same-sex marriages.  How?  When you officiate a civil marriage, you’re an agent of the state.  Someone is going to claim that agents of the state cannot discriminate and, knowing our judiciary, will make that stick.  Making the separation outlined in the Marriage Pledge will take that out of contention.

May God richly bless you!

Go to the Marriage Pledge

Maybe the Democrats Don’t Need a Deep Electoral Bench

The Republican “wave” (what that means electorally depends upon whom you talk to) in the recent Congressional elections has highlighted their opponents’ weaknesses at the state level.  To a large extent there are two electorates: one at the mid-term and one at the Presidential year.

The one thing these two have in common, according to one Jonathan Gruber, is that they’re both stupid.  And that has much of the right in a tiswas.  Well, I hate to burst balloons, but the idea that the American people are stupid has been an article of faith among our ruling elites as long as I can remember.  I certainly was inculcated with that concept growing up.  The difference between then and now is that, with the Internet and viral videos, it’s a lot easier for this élite idea to be presented in the raw to the general population.  And using legislative and political artifices to get stuff done (good and bad) in Congress isn’t anything new either.  One would like to think that our elites, as smart as they claim to be, would use these tricks to pass something better than the expensive kludge known as Obamacare, but that too tells us that our “meritocracy” isn’t as advertised.

Getting back to the state level thing, the Democrats’ problems there go beyond the U.S. Congress; they extend to the governors’ mansions and state legislatures.  That’s a bad thing politically because your states and localities are the “farm club” for bigger things.  Today’s city councilman or woman (and the Republicans are getting better at that, too) is tomorrow’s U.S. Senator or more.  Even Barack Obama had to pass through the Illinois state senate on his way from organising the community to upending the nation.

The shallowness of that electoral “bench” shows up most vividly in the Democrats’ 2016 Presidential prospects.  To put it simply, they come down to Hillary Clinton.  No one else comes close.  And she isn’t an ideal candidate.  There’s always the baggage from Bill (although Obama has done a lot to lighten that load), the Benghazi fiasco, and IMHO the biggest unknown, her health.  For the party which claims to be the new American majority and the darling of the Millennials and the immigrants, to hang the 2016 Presidential  aspirations on her doesn’t speak well for the breadth of their leadership.  That’s an opportunity for the Republicans to take.

Or is it? What I think is happening is that aspiring Democrats are moving up in other ways.  They’re taking their places in NGO’s (which, as Julian Assange points out, are more often than not fronts for corporatist/political agendas and people), in the legal profession (where they can move up to the judicial bench), in the bureaucracy and finally in our pliant media.  There are two reasons for this.

The first is practical: moving up in this way is less risky (one doesn’t have to deal with the uncertainties and risks of our manic electoral system) and generally pays better.  The second goes back to the Progressive Era and is based on the idea that “professionals” are better at governing than elected “political hacks”.  That concept is well entrenched in our system; most of our career bureaucracy is based on that, and Congress has given the executive broad powers that put them far away from pesky elected officials.  (Which is why Obama’s use of executive power is possible; my only surprise is that he didn’t start using it sooner).  It also creates a natural army against shrinking the government.  There’s still a great deal of debate about whether the IRS was ordered from the top to put the stall on Tea Party groups, but one thing is certain: people like Lois Lerner didn’t need much encouragement.

And recent history, more than the Right would care to admit, vindicates this approach.  The Religious Right’s experience is instructive.  Their greatest mistake was to put too much confidence in making change through the electoral process and not recognising that their main opponent was an élite that didn’t have any use for them and whose minimisation was essential to their success.  The result was an expensive effort that has yielded little except for antagonising large parts of the population.  The only exception to that has been the pro-life movement, which was born in the wake of a major piece of élite fiat and whose legislative options have been limited, to say the least.

The idea that the electoral process isn’t central to political life strikes many as unAmerican.  But we live in a different country now; it’s time to get used to it and act accordingly.

The Evangelical Comeuppance in the Middle East

I’ve not had the time lately to post in as timely fashion as I would like, mostly because of the semester-by-semester crapshoot which is my PhD pursuit.  But there’s a long-term issue that deserves some comment, and that concerns a long-overdue attitude adjustment that Evangelicals need to make because of events in the Middle East.

And I’m not talking about Israel either.  There’s a drumbeat amongst Evangelicals who can’t bear to see the latest bandwagon roll down the street without them to change Evangelical support towards Israel.  Leaving aside the theological changes, they need to consider two things: do they want another Holocaust, and would the land (and its inhabitants) be better off under the rule of the likes of Hamas? (They also need to consider that, these days, Israel has better friends in Cairo and Riyadh than Washington and Brussels).

Eluding them in the search for answers is the simple fact that, in the Middle East, people play for keeps.  We see that plainly with the other news-gathering force in the region: ISIS, or ISIL, or whatever.  ISIS has made itself a stench in people’s nostrils for their wanton destruction of ancient artefacts, but in destroying the remains they carry on the tradition of warfare that has been the region’s hallmark for millennia.  As John McKenzie observed in his Dictionary Of The Bible:

The ancient war was a candid war of conquest or looting.  Both of these ends were sanctified by the religious character of war, which was fought on behalf of the gods of the people and under the leadership and protection of the gods. The cruelty and barbarism of ancient war were equally candid; ancient war is shocking only because it involved the primitive means of personal effort, and could not achieve the vast mechanical horrors of modern warfare. Prisoners of war had no rights whatsoever; the entire population could be enslaved, unless the defeated enemy were regarded as a menace to the victor; if it were, the male population could be exterminated or mutilated.  Destruction of conquered towns was a normal act of the victor.

Today ISIS has social media, fast vehicles, religious motivation and personal weaponry (but not so much air power) and they’ve brought back the personal, brutal tradition of warfare with a vengeance.  It’s almost as if the spirits of the Assyrians, the core of whose empire they’ve conquered, have come back and entered into these people.

Most mentions of the Assyrians these days, however, centre in two places: the artefacts ISIS is destroying and the Christian communities they’re butchering.  Before the Kurds were supplied well enough to stop this advance, the world’s attention was riveted on Christian (and Yazidi) communities being tortured and massacred by ISIS.  Floating to the top in Evangelical circles was this question: where are the Christians to help? Fortunately Evangelical organisations rose to the occasion and have done what they’re supposed to, and things are better.  But the blind spot that Evangelicals have revealed towards Christianity in the Middle East doesn’t need to be passed over in silence.

In my work My Lord and My God, when introducing the church fathers I made the following observation:

Most evangelicals look at church history in a very specific way; there were first New Testament times, then there was the Reformation, and now there’s us. This results in a gap of about a millennium and a half between significant events; surely something happened in that length of time!

Part of the “something” was Middle Eastern Christianity, in its array of Orthodox (Chalcedoninan and non-Chalcedonian), Nestorian, Monophysite and other manifestations.  All of these eventually came under a rotation of one Islāmic state after another.

The switch of populations from Christianity to Islam varied from place to place.  In North Africa, it was complete, which explains why Evangelical (largely Pentecostal) Christianity pretty much dominates the Christian population in Algeria.  At the other extreme is Lebanon, with its sizeable Maronite population, legendary on both sides of the Atlantic.  Then there are those populations which were driven out or destroyed by massacre such as the Armenians, although the driving force behind that was the incorporation of Western ideas of nationalism into an Islāmic framework, which drives much more of Islamicism these days than either the Islamicists or their Western analysts care to admit.

Evangelicals marched into the Middle East with the same attitude towards whatever Christianity was there with the same attitude they did in Latin America: these people are lost as a goose unless we do something about it and they join our church.  And experience teaches that underestimating the ability of very old churches to engage in lacklustre inculcation of the faith is a dangerous proposition.

Events in the Middle East, however, showed that, for all the deficiencies of these churches, their ability to drill scriptures such as Mt 10:32-33 into their parishioners worked: by and large Middle Eastern Christians were ready to die for their faith.  The contrast with the lachrymose approach we see to the subject of martyrdom in the U.S., to say nothing of the knock-kneed approach we’re seeing with regard to the challenges against the Christian sexual ethic, is striking.

Christianity is first about transformation:

Therefore, if any one is in union with Christ, he is a new being! His old life has passed away; a new life has begun! But all this is the work of God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and gave us the Ministry of Reconciliation– To proclaim that God, in Christ, was reconciling the world to himself, not reckoning men’s offences against them, and that he had entrusted us with the Message of this reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:17-19 TCNT)

In looking at other people, we tend to look at the process by which their lives were transformed by Jesus Christ and not the transformation itself.  (And that goes for ourselves, too).  If we do this, we are no better than those who say that, without Church __________, heaven is difficult if not impossible to attain.  And that’s inconsistent with what Evangelical Christianity is all about.  We need to see real Christians in places we haven’t before and act accordingly, and if our Middle Eastern brothers and sisters have made this point stick with their own blood, that blood is a seed in more ways than one.

It Really Is About What You Stand For

In this wild election cycle, a Republican is about to break a record she wasn’t “supposed to”:

An upstate New York Republican is slated Tuesday to shatter the congressional record of former Brooklyn Democratic Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman as the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.

Elise Stefanik, 30, is favored to win in New York’s upstate 21st District and break history as the youngest female to win a seat in the House. Holtzman was sworn in at age 31 in 1973 at a time when women weren’t even allowed in the congressional gym.

“I’m just sorry it’s a not a Democrat,” Holtzman told The Post. “But hats off to her. We need more young women in Congress.”

We do, but then there’s the kicker:

“I think more important than gender, it’s what people stand for,” said Holtzman, a lawyer in Manhattan.

That’s true too.  But people like Stefanik, according to the current meme on the left, aren’t supposed to exist.  Neither are two other Republican women running this year: Mia Love and Joni Ernst.  But they do and have done well this election cycle.

Perhaps the lesson from all of this is that the best way to develop talent is through adversity and not entitlement.  That’s something that the Democrats should think about as they move to coronate another hippie dreamer with the goal of having the “first woman President”. The fact that the Turks and Pakistanis (to say nothing of the Canadians,  Brits and Israelis) beat us to having a woman as head of government should tell us that our whole gender construct is a disaster, and that nearly a half century of trying to “fix” it hasn’t achieved the desired objective.

But the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, and that’s pretty much the norm in American politics these days.

Is Civic Life Dead in the West?

In the middle of Julian Assange’s long diatribe on Google, we have this:

The received wisdom in advanced capitalist societies is that there still exists an organic “civil society sector” in which institutions form autonomously and come together to manifest the interests and will of citizens. The fable has it that the boundaries of this sector are respected by actors from government and the “private sector,” leaving a safe space for NGOs and nonprofits to advocate for things like human rights, free speech and accountable government.

This sounds like a great idea. But if it was ever true, it has not been for decades. Since at least the 1970s, authentic actors like unions and churches have folded under a sustained assault by free-market statism, transforming “civil society” into a buyer’s market for political factions and corporate interests looking to exert influence at arm’s length. The last forty years have seen a huge proliferation of think tanks and political NGOs whose purpose, beneath all the verbiage, is to execute political agendas by proxy.

Following the Hegelian idea, society is said to be divided into three parts: the public/political sphere, the private sphere, and the civic sphere.  The one thing that separates a democratic society from an undemocratic one is the existence of a healthy civic life and the absence of one in the latter.  Assange states, with a good deal of justification, that civic life as we have known it in the west is being crowded out by a corporatist system (and the mentality that goes with it) where our lives are sucked into complete domination by the “system”.  In such a system real dissent is a positive nuisance at best and a dangerously unaffordable luxury at worst.  The demise of a democratic society follows.

As a Christian, I found Assange’s mention of the church as a part of that bygone civic life interesting.  That, in part, explains the growing hostility being drummed from the top towards religion of any kind: when it’s organised, it’s a threat because it dilutes the monopoly of the system being put together.  And technological wonder organisations such as Google are simply being a part of that system.  I don’t think that the techies started out to be that way but have taken necessity and made it into a virtue.

There’s a lot of back and forth these days in Evangelical Christianity (and Roman Catholicism is having this tug of war, as evidenced during the recent synod on the family) about how much of the faith is going to have to be compromised to survive and thrive in the West.  Given the general hostility towards a practical civic life that’s out there (and, as Assange points out, the NGO’s are in large part fronts) I think it should be clear that compromise is a waste of time; it will only stall the inevitable.

What Christianity in the West needs to learn in a hurry is what our counterparts in China know all too well: how to operate the church without the civic society we have had for so long.

The “Cult” of China Experts is Hardly New

Thorston Pattberg at Asia Times Online thinks he’s found something novel:

There is a cult of Western evangelists and self-righteous crusaders who are determined to dislodge non-Western nations and usurp their governments.

Unfortunately, Western “experts” have hung around China for a long time.

In the years immediately after the start of the People’s Republic, same People’s Republic would bring in foreigners to help them in their economic and technical development.  Think the Soviet experts who came in until things froze between Moscow and Beijing; the Soviets pulled them from the country.  Others came to “help out” and get caught in upheavals such as the Cultural Revolution.

After Mao’s death the experts became people who were basically self-proclaimed know-it-alls and marketed themselves accordingly.  As I noted in my series on doing business in China in the early 1980’s:

One of the lessons we at Vulcan took from China is that “experts” seem to gravitate towards the country. We found these experts in the U.S., too. They’d appear at international trade events, going on at length about how to deal with this exotic Chinese culture and how different it was from ours, and how with their advice we would do business.

The problem with many of these people is that they’ve never “done the deal.” Many of them have never sold or leased anything to the Chinese or anyone else for that matter. We found that such advice not to be as helpful as it looked. However, the one thing that those of us who have done the deal must avoid is to represent our specific experience as the only way to do business in China, then or now. But there are some useful lessons that can be learned.

The experts that Pattberg is referring to, however, are those who have aimed their advice towards China itself.  Instead of marketing themselves to the West based on the “weirdness” of Chinese culture, they impose themselves on the Chinese based on Chinese “weirdness”.

And the Chinese don’t always think much of Western opinion even when it’s well meaning, as I found out in this comment on my piece about the death of the Chinese author Mao Dun:

I don’t understand why the interview surprised that journalist that much. For someone who really understands his literary theories and political ideology, one should not be surprised at all. I don’t think what he said there was a show or some effort by him to keep in power. It was what he truly believed, or at least that was what he envisioned after his life-time devotion to the revolutionary cause.

American journalists tend to look at things from their own angle. They have a self-defined notion of correctness or ultimate truth, and if people do not agree with that, then there is a problem. This is very sad. They do not try to understand the path of other people’s development, neither do they respect others’ ideals, or if they do, they bluntly ignore it. They describe everything they disagree as “undemocratic”, “insincere” or “fake.”

Disagreement is too common and it is good that people are open about it. But I think it is a disgrace of turn a disagreement into character bashing. This is what the journalist did here. But nonetheless, it was good information that he revealed.

That’s pretty much Pattberg’s thesis in a nutshell.

China is an old civilisation which has done things its way for a long time.  Although people are people, it has an inner logic that has to be understood to successfully deal with the Chinese. For Westerners to come in and lecture/impose stuff on the Chinese is neither helpful for the West nor the Chinese.  It sets up institutions in Chinese society that don’t work and blurs the Western understanding of the country.

It also puts a new twist on this “white privilege” meme that we hear so much of these days.  Most propagators of that meme would like us to think that such is a purely right-wing phenomenon.  But this is not the case, as the list of experts Pattberg reels off shows.  It’s one thing to mouth a multicultural agenda; it’s quite another to actually do it successfully.  In the case of China, we’re nowhere near that point, and I’m not holding my breath on that changing any time soon.

Harriet’s Secret…or Harriet’s Revenge?

Last Friday evening my wife and I got to do something that doesn’t happen very often around here: go to a movie première, in this case that of the documentary Harriet’s Secret.

The film is produced and narrated by Dean Arnold, who is a well-known figure in this community.  As the trailer conveys, it’s an intriguing story.  For me personally, it’s especially intriguing for three reasons.

The first is that both Dean and myself had to answer the same question: what do you do when you rummage through your own family stuff and realise that you’ve got an interesting story on your hands?  The answer is simple: you do a lot more research and then figure out a medium to convey that to the public.  In his case, the film is the result of the research.  In my case, I took to the internet here and here to get the job done.  Which to choose–or select another path, such as a book–depends upon many things, but they boil down to the resources you start with and where you want to go: the nature and abundance (or lack) of records, access to financing and other resources, and your long-term goals.  In my case, part of the reason I went to the internet with the material, say, surrounding the family business was to intertwine the history with keeping the product line alive, something which has worked out very well.

The second is that, in watching the film, I think it’s pretty certain that his family and mine crossed paths along the way.  Harriet Thompson, the central character, was from Chicago, and until my great-grandfather moved to Washington just after the turn of the last century it was the centre of the family’s business and residence.  Chicago between the Civil War and World War I was the planet’s premier “new city,” at one point the fifth largest city in the world.  Only Berlin rivalled it.  Given its subsequent history, and the tendency of the media centres of New York and Los Angeles to talk about themselves endlessly, that’s easy to forget, but it shouldn’t be.  And of course some of my family made it out to Los Angeles as well.

The last point relates more to the present: what do you do when you find out (or know going in) that the values of the family members are substantially different from yours? That’s a problem that both Dean (a well-known Orthodox Christian activist) and I had, although it played out differently.  Harriet’s husband Percy was a full-blown radical, especially after they moved to California, with friends such as Emma Goldman, Margaret Sanger, and Clarence Darrow.  With mine it was different: as I explained a long time ago, my people were practical people with little time for idealism.

The answer to that is simple: you tell it like it is, or was.  It’s tempting to excessively editorialise, but it’s best to avoid it.  There is one thing that Dean and I both end up doing on a personal level: putting paid to the idea that this country was a seamless Christian country until the 1960’s showed up.  That puts the “culture war” in a new context, one which is badly needed these days.

But yet…there is one interesting twist to both stories.  Dean does a more thorough job of documenting it than I do, but without doing a big spoiler I came away with the idea that twentieth-century modernity was more fun for the men than the women who had to live with them.  For Harriet it was a special agony with the radical version of the “girl next door” but while Chet was making aviation history my grandmother found herself stuck in neutral.  The term “martyr” has been applied to both; that kind of thing, as much as the usual religious meme beloved of the left, may have fuelled the feminist kick-back of the 1960’s and beyond.

That kick-back may also have driven those who came after to seriously re-consider (or consider) Christianity, with its higher idea of monogamy and (for Evangelicals at least) endless marriage seminars.  Many on the left will laugh at this, but it’s time for people who just moved to the city (literally or conceptually) to stop dominating the agenda.  History is a more complicated than the simplistic memes of either side.  Perhaps the dutiful “martyrs” not only get their due recognition, but in the end they get even too.

Making Canterbury Portable

Evidently Justin Welby stirred up more than this blog by his backhanded comments regarding the ACNA and the Anglican Communion.  It’s unsurprising that some of the provinces at least have taken offence to them.  In Australia, with their interesting system of provinces, dioceses and extraprovincial diocese (Tasmania) we have the Diocese of Northwest Australia warmly greeting the ACNA as part of the Anglican Communion.

The whole concept of Northwest Australia upstaging Canterbury is a heartening concept to those of us who like to remind the Brits that their isles are such as wonderful place they filled two continents with the people who wanted or had to leave.  That said, not to be outdone by the western extreme of the country, the Diocese of Sydney’s Mark Thompson has weighed in on why ACNA is part of the Anglican Communion: because the Anglican Communion is confessional in nature, the ACNA confesses the faith (as opposed to some provinces that, ahem, don’t) therefore they are in the AC.

Thompson’s idea is no stranger to this blog: he’s at the centre of his diocese’s musings over the subordination of the Son to the Father.  Like that theological adventure, his thesis that the AC is primarily confessional in nature is necessary but not sufficient; it needs some further thinking out to get Anglicans where they need to go and not to lead them once again to where they don’t need to go.

There are many denominational fellowships in Christianity.  We think first of the National and World Councils of Churches, united in their unbelief.  More germane to the topic are groups of denominations which are similar in their beliefs but not institutionally unified; Baptist fellowships, Pentecostal fellowships and the like.  These have doctrinal statements and commitments of the organisations which are similar to their own statements; a kind of confessional unity can be seen in groupings such as these.

The Anglican Communion, however, implies something stronger than that.  The obvious unity is communion itself, and we’ve seen that broken even at the primitial level for some time now.  Beyond that, any group of churches which claim the Apostolic Succession in one form or another (and I’ve been round and round on that topic too) need to have some kind of institutional unity that reflects their common origin.

This is where things get tricky.  We get back to the question that has haunted Christianity for centuries: what do we do when those who can trace their institutional lineage to those who walked the Earth with Our Lord depart from his teachings?  In a sense the Reformation centres around this question, and the answers weren’t univocal then and aren’t now.  The Anglican Communion is, in a sense, the gathering of those churches who believe that the results of the English Reformation were, and are, the optimal result.

Now we’ve seen further successors depart from the faith, and the same question comes back: what is to be done? Confessional unity is important, it’s something that Anglicans too often treat with benign neglect.  We’ve never really been able to afford that luxury, we really can’t now.   As things stand now, the Anglican Communion isn’t working, and pulling rank like Justin Welby is doing, with the state of the church in the Global North, will only put the Communion on hospice.

What Orthodox Anglicans need to do is to find a way to make Canterbury portable, whether the current occupant of that see likes it or not.

Pulling Rank on Who’s in the Anglican Communion and Who Isn’t

That’s apparently what Justin Welby is doing, or trying to do:

At the start of his 3 October 2014 interview with the Church of Ireland Gazette Archbishop Welby noted that he was surprised to learn that “virtually everywhere I have gone the analysis is that the definition of being part of the Anglican Communion is being in Communion with Canterbury  …  I haven’t faulted that [view],” he said adding that “most provinces of the Anglican Communion valued their relationship with Canterbury …  [And that] there remains in the overwhelming parts of the Communion an attachment to Canterbury.”

I don’t think it’s much of a news flash that being in Communion with the see of Canterbury is the most important piece of the puzzle in being in the Anglican Communion.  What Welby is doing is strengthening that relationship at the expense of the other pieces, i.e., the ACC and Lambeth (which has, for the moment at least, been cancelled).  That’s something one would expect a business executive like Welby to do: set up clear lines of authority.  And, if you’re at the centre of the spokes, all the better.

As far as churches such as the Lutheran “Porvoo Agreement” churches, Canterbury has a long history of being in communion with churches which it does not regard as part of the Anglican Communion because they are not Anglican in doctrine or worship.  (For a slightly dated summary of that situation, click here).

The real “slap in the face” here is at the ACNA.  Canterbury could extend communion in the same way it does with the Porvoo Agreement churches, but it won’t for two reasons.  The first is that the ACNA, as its name indicates, regards itself as Anglican, and thus would want to be in the Anglican Communion.  The second is not to antagonise TEC.

The whole idea of the ACNA being a formal part of the Anglican Communion has been a pipe dream from the very start, but one that has driven many North American Anglicans to put it together in the first place.  As I’ve said before, it’s time to cultivate the relationships with the Global South and forget about Canterbury.

In addition to centralising what it means to be in the Communion, Welby, for his part, is probably stalling for time until TEC elects a new Presiding Bishop to replace Katharine Jefferts-Schori next year.  While it’s unlikely that TEC will choose a less heterodox leader than KJS, their new choice may revert to a more traditionally Episcopalian mealy-mouth style and not KJS’s smash-mouth style.  If they do that, Welby may try to achieve a reconciliation while “holding the keys” to the communion.

In addition to the doctrinal chasm that’s been ongoing in the AC, there’s another looming problem: the years of liberalism have run down the Global North churches (and that includes the CoE) to the point where their unfavourable demographics and financial woes will make communion with them progressively less valuable.  The ACNA, for example, has already surpassed the ACoC in ASA; if they repeat this process with TEC, it will be clear to everyone (including Welby himself) that Canterbury has backed the wrong horse in the “colonies”.

Sailing the Last Voyage with Newton and Pascal