Stacy Sauls and the Danger of Centralisation

Stacy Sauls’ recent address to the Chicago Consultation at Seabury-Western Seminary brings up an interesting issue he may not have intended:

There are proposals, of course, to make us either a federation or a confederation, or God forbid, a unitary governmental structure such as the Roman Catholic Church has. The draft Anglican Covenant is a serious concern in this regard, particularly because it abrogates the constitutional principles that make us Anglicans. It abrogates the principle of lay participation in the governance of the Church by placing disproportionate emphasis on the views of the highest ranking bishops.

What neither Sauls nor his African opponents may be thinking about is that the long term deterioration of Christian orthodoxy in TEC started at the top, i.e., in its seminaries and clergy, and filtered down through its bishops and finally landing at its laity.  What liberals taught in seminaries and from parish pulpits eventually gained credibility as the truth when in fact it was not.  Giving laity a greater voice in the church is one way to counteract this kind of thing; the experience of the Southern Baptists is instructive in this regard.  On the other side, those who advocate the Anglican covenant are not thinking about what would happen if the top went left.  That’s the central problem they’re having with Rowan Williams right at the moment, but that’s gotten lost in the endless appeals to "authority" which are the staple of conservative Boomer thinking.  (That relates to the issue of authority in Protestant churches in general and Evangelical ones in particular, which I discuss elsewhere.)

Sauls’ position on TEC’s fiduciary responsibility is very lawyerly but a little disingenuous:

The obligation to protect property rights flow from fiduciary responsibilities, but carrying out those responsibilities reveals a polity and governance issue within TEC. A fiduciary duty exists in secular law for an organization’s leadership to guard its property for the good of the whole. It is a duty imposed additionally by vow in the case of the ordained and by canon in the case of others.

The problem here is that TEC cannot afford to litigate every property departure.  As a practical matter, TEC will have to pick and choose its battles carefully to properly husband its resources, which is also part of its fiduciary liability. Put another way, bankrupting the church isn’t the way to defend its property rights.  Since Sauls is doubtless in the centre of that thinking process, his remarks should be taken in that light.

His position on foreign oversight is almost laughable:

Another issue that threatens to seduce us into being untrue to the identity we have claimed for ourselves in our constitutional principles is the persistent call to submit TEC to some sort of foreign oversight, jurisdiction, or consultation, not as to matters of interdependence, but as to matters of autonomy.

Any organisation that resists foreign oversight on the one hand and enthusiastically supports the UN’s Millennium Development Goals is talking out of both sides of its mouth.  What do you think the UN is about anyway, if not reducing national sovereignty?  If it’s good for the US, why not TEC?

Leave a Reply