The following is excerpted from a letter to Bishops of Province IV of the Episcopal Church of the United States by retired bishop Fitzsimmons Allison
The long drift of the House of Bishops away from the responsibilities of our consecration vows drift goes back as far as the censure of Jim Pike for the ‘tone’ and ‘manner’ (not substance) of his anti-Christological and anti-Trinitarian teachings.
This Episcopal failure to be ‘guardian(s) of the Church’s faith’ (p519, Book of Common Prayer) has been followed by ‘decrying’ the action of George Barrett, to the ‘dissociation’ from Spong’s ordination of Robert Williams, to ‘nothing’ regarding the anti-Christian ‘12 Theses’ which makes a mockery of our pretence to apostolic ministry.
The bishops are in an awkward bind. We have vowed before God to do something that our present culture and spirit of the times does not want us to do: hold clergy accountable for their teachings. We suffer embarrassment, we suffer when we insist on maintaining bishops in apostolic succession, yet we are in such doctrinal disarray that we appear devoid of apostolic faith. Yes, it would be difficult and would require a lot of courage for us to obey our vows, but our predecessors lost more than their popularity and their actions should inspire us.
Those, who tend to accommodate to the zeitgeist in the name of pluralism, tend to relinquish this accommodation end tolerance of diversity when they gain power. They then impose their views with little tolerance for diversity. The ordination of women is a prime example of this process. It began by an appeal to recognize the diversity of views. But when a majority was reached the majority then imposed its will in spite of clear affirmations of the House of Bishops, General Convention, the Eames’ Report and the Lambeth Conference. (The bishops of Washington violated all of these assurances before the vote in Philadelphia, a vote that ignored eighty-nine women priests’ request that it not be imposed).
At the bottom of our contemporary crisis is not sexuality but theology – an erosion of the apostolic faith, of which sexuality issues are symptomatic. The undebatable apostasy and tolerated teachings of Carter Heyward and Jack Spong are not isolated phenomena. The erstwhile Episcopal Press, Seabury, published three books by Episcopal clergy, each denying any belief in life after death (Don Rogan, Jim Adams, and Milton Gatch). They also published works by Ernst Bloch, a Marxist and atheist. None of this seemed to worry our Church until The Sex Atlas was published. The editor (a non-practising Roman Catholic) was then terminated. The present editor of Morehouse has written a book Romancing the Holy with a preface by Marcus Borg which advocates the teaching. It’s not homosexuality that is the elephant on the table but a wilful amnesia concerning the Christian faith.
Our Lord warned us about the yeast of the Sadducees who did not believe in the resurrection (Matthew 16.5, 11; 22.23–33). The contemporary synonym for Sadducee yeast is secularism, what Reinhold Niebuhr called ‘this-world-is-all-there-is-ism’
The Archbishop of Canterbury claimed that if we have only pride in our diversity we are in deep trouble. Diversity is a virtue only when it is embraced by some principle of unity. In our retreat from theology and responsibility for the faith we have nothing but the institutional rules to keep the organization together. The absence of witness to the faith which evokes obedience and unity, leaves us dependent on the ‘authority’ of bishops. At the same time, we evoking less and less respect for our office, an office we have received from a succession of predecessors of outstanding courage in their witness to the Christian faith.
The current institutional strategy to hold our vaunted diversity together seems to be one that seeks to preclude any controversial or divisive issue from consideration. In the meantime, this strategy gives license to the increasing centrifugal forces doing anything that ‘seems right in their own eyes.’ The actions of bishops and dioceses in defiance of Lambeth deliberations seem to justify the charge that ECUSA is a rogue province in the Anglican Communion.
The irresponsibility of the House of Bishops is forcing some to choose between vows regarding the faith and vows regarding the canons. Choosing the latter can hardly excuse one from the charge of an idolatrous priority.
One suggestion I made at our last meeting was to follow the recommendations of Bishop Bayne’s Report of the Advisory Committee of the Episcopal Church, titled, Theological Freedom and Social Responsibility (Seabury Press, 1967, pp22–31). Here the committee suggested that one way to establish teaching discipline was to censure or disassociate from teachings rather than persons by the House of Bishops. To disassociate ourselves from the ‘12 Theses’ would avoid the spectre of a heresy trial and would not give an individual the ad hominem publicity of a trial. It would also give the House of Bishops a graceful way to make it clear that boundaries do exist and bishops are responsible for maintaining them.
It would take something like the Bayne commission to examine in detail the ‘12 Theses’ in order to determine and illustrate how they undermine Christian hope and faith. Such a report would have a salutary effect on our critics in the Anglican Communion who are frequently confronted by Moslems and others who assume Spong speaks for our Church and use his theology as an attack on Anglican churches.
It might also give us a teaching and evangelism opportunity to speak to our times. The ‘12 Theses’ do indeed represent much of the thinking of our increasingly secular world. Certainly Jack has been incredibly effective in reflecting the spirit of the age. A new Advisory Committee could treat each of the theses, showing how far each has departed from Christian teaching, the pastoral cul de sacs each leads to, and how what each excludes provides the very basis for the Good News. This could indeed become an opportunity to reverse the erosion of Episcopal authority, make it clear that the Episcopal Church has not abandoned the Apostolic faith, and make a clear witness to a world urgently in need of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.