Dr William Tighe draws our attention to Anglican Church in Meltdown. The article is inevitably written by the ever-smug Fr Dwight Longenecker. I could say say all kinds of unkind things like wondering what he’s doing in America and so forth, but I see no point in it. He invites people to join his Tiber-Swimming Team as the fishmonger at his market stall would cry Cockles and mussels, alive-o, alive-o! or the slick door-to-door salesmen of old would ply their vacuum cleaners and floor polishers.
Before bringing the reader to the “inevitable” conclusion, he has an interesting build-up. The “preparation” work for having the reader “make his step forward” is classical. I have no more sympathy for or interest in the goings-on between the Church of England and the American Episcopalians, their various movements and indabas. The one thing I noticed about Church of England clerics and “committed” laity is that they love meetings and lots of verbose claptrap. They just seem to revel in boring people to tears. The way of bureaucracy is to wear down the opposition by boring it to death – the war of attrition. Bravo, it’s the best argument for atheism I have known until now. They beat Dawkins & Co. hands down!
We know the story by heart, all about the ordination of women, same-sex marriage and women bishops. Those people just don’t seem to realise that 90% of the population just don’t care, either that of they just go along with the secular idea that the Church should simply follow the general trends in society. What an admission that the only person in a parish who was opposed to the innovations was the priest! That to me is extremely significant.
He next builds up his selling tactic by pointing out that conservative opposition to the innovations would meet with persecution. This is the constant self-justification technique – say how persecuted one is. It justifies any amount of provocation and nastiness, blowing up cinemas showing smutty or blasphemous films, torching abortion clinics without a second thought. Not being able to have the support of a “Christian” totalitarian state, the persecution line is their only justification.
Either side is just as theatrical as the other – Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Both sides claim to be persecuted, one by medieval obscurantists and the other by secular humanists. Perhaps we should give them American Civil War uniforms and weapons – with live ammunition!
Indeed, the Church of England and the Episcopalians are in a mess, and so are the Roman Catholics. I would like to see Fr Longenecker come over to France and take over a thirty-parish “pastoral sector” in the Archdiocese of Sens-Auxerre or perhaps in the Massif Central. Diocesan bishops were predicting thirty years ago that their dioceses would be dead within ten years. That’s the reality outside the American parishes with pots of money.
It would be easy to suggest that Continuing Anglican Churches were the only way. We are still marginal not far from forty years since the famous St Louis meeting that established our Affirmation of Saint Louis and set up an independent Anglican jurisdiction that scandalously split up. This argument has been used ever since to say that we were no good. It behoves us not to be triumphalistic. To the contrary, I see Continuing Anglicanism streamlining itself, cleaning up its act and learning from its experience. The more cantankerous bishops and rival jurisdictions have withered away and are gone. The more solid and stable have withstood the test of time. As a priest in the Anglican Catholic Church, I am optimistic for our future as a manifestation of the Catholic Church. We may not be the only way, but we do have something to offer. Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy are not the only way. They are an option among several others.
Fr Longenecker is right in saying that no reconciliation is possible between the ecclesial world of Madame Jefferts Schori and that of the conservatives. The kind of Church both represent is over. It belongs to history. The conservatives don’t have enough military juntas to go round to enforce orthodoxy and compliance to the biggest wigs in town. The so-called “liberals” also represent a sinking ship. It’s over.
The most condescending thing about Fr Longenecker’s piece is the sanctimonious cant about authority. We’re no longer in the 1870’s with the word infallibility on everyone’s lips! The Church of Benedict XVI no longer functioned in terms of authority and obedience any more than that of Pope Francis. The more I consider this question, the better I understand the abdication of Benedict XVI and the present run-down by Pope Francis of conservatives and traditionalists. Fr Longenecker might have a conservative bishop. Otherwise, he is just as much an island as when he was an Anglican vicar in England.
As for the Tiber Swim Team, I don’t see many men in the shallow water of that river in the above photo. I have always seen this analogy to be a stupid one. Looking at this photo, we see the opposite bank of the Tiber and the Castel San’ Angelo, which is the side leading to the Via della Conciliazione and the Vatican. The wall is rather high, especially for men wearing no more than their swimming trunks and the only way up is via a narrow stairway. Most of us have more serious things to do in life!
People do become Roman Catholics, and I welcome their freedom to do so. Something attracts them to that Church and they make their pilgrimage in life. It isn’t for everyone. So much for “trashing” everyone to leave them with this possibility alone, just as with Orthodox zealots who claim the same thing for their Church. The more this goes on, the more it becomes clear that there is no “true church” – and the writing on the wall is that Christ’s silence is that same silence he kept face to face with the High Priest Ciaphas and Pontius Pilate.
We won’t find a true church anywhere, and there is nothing to tell us “where” we should go as we flee institutions that insult our intelligence and our very humanity. We might find that we can render service in a Church community that welcomes us and in which we can find something in common with its clergy and other members. That church will be as “true” as we make it through our transformation in Christ. We have to work it out for ourselves.
The moral is simple. Don’t be taken in by the sales patter. Work it all out for yourselves, and simply do what God calls you to do in life.