In recent weeks I have been referring once again to "conservative Episcopalians." This label produced, in a comment by a reader, the good observation that we should not call such people "conservative." To clarify the way I have used this expression, I relied on an article from the June 2002 Touchstone by Fr. Samuel Edwards, because his definition gave clarity to the usage of "conservative" in this admittedly relative context. In that article, he spoke of "members of what the sociologists call 'the Silent Generation,'
who were born between 1927 and 1943, [and who] were growing up during World War II...As a generation, they tend to be reflexively (as opposed to reflectively) conservative; most of its members in Accokeek are socially and politically conservative or moderate, but none can be accurately described as genuinely traditional...They are, in a word, corporatists."
Indeed, if we understand the difference between "conservatism" as a reflex and conservatism as a reflection, a set of deeply held convictions based on the foundation of true philosophical thought, we cannot escape the fact that the true conservatives are Traditionalists. So, when we write of "conservative Episcopalians" we are speaking of reflex, knee jerk reaction, at best relative "conservatism" of the loyal corporatist, party line, team players type. The fact that they remain "Episcopalians" indicates the limitations and relativity of their "conservatism" so automatically that the expression, "conservative Episcopalians" just about says it all. Of course, we find this kind of relative conservatism in other officially Anglican venues, including the Church of England, where it includes a part of national identity and patriotism.
What we are witnessing right now in the Anglican Communion will only serve to further blur the lines between these relative conservatives and Traditionalists, because the team (or party or corporation), is viewed less as the Episcopal Church (et al) and more as, for some, the Anglican Communion.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, has a safe place to cover himself from the storm, because he can play both sides against the middle. He can say, as he does, that each province and diocese that is at odds with the rules about boundaries and their integrity (shown for the false issue that it is by William Tighe), are still in good standing within the Anglican Communion because they are holding to the principles of belief about human sexuality stated during the 1998 Lambeth Conference. However, the provinces and dioceses that are at odds with the stated beliefs of that last Lambeth Conference are in good standing as members of the Anglican Communion too, and they are in the process of discerning.
In his recent Advent Letter sent to the whole Anglican Communion, the Archbishop of Canterbury presented this ongoing "discernment" process as the corporate, shared communion-wide continued reading of the Bible. Does this mean that as the Anglican Communion reads the Bible together that they may hope to find something new? Maybe something that contradicts the Traditional teaching that the church has always, everywhere and by all (quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est), found in the scriptures? (Have we missed something all along, failed to turn a certain page, or notice a passage tucked away behind the sofa? How careless of the Fathers.) Here we see an appeal to the Scriptures, but not not to the weight of Traditional, Rightly Reasoned, teaching that alone guides the reading of scripture truly. This appeal gives an appearance of authority that is sufficient to please the relatively conservative mind, and to keep objections within the boundaries of the team- the Anglican Communion.
So, for now Archbishop Williams may be on the side both of Ms. Schori and Bishop Schofield, and appear to be standing on principle.
We are seeing more of such blurring from other quarters. Today, David Virtue has reported that the Virginia "Continuing Episcopalians," as they call themselves, are about to go through the same process of study that the AMiA went through a few years ago. In a report filed by Nicholas Benton for The Falls Church News Press, and posted with attribution on Virtue Online, Bishop Martyn Minns (consecrated earlier this year to the episcopate in Virginia under the authority of the Anglican Church of Nigeria) is reported as having said that "he's appointed a task force to study the matter...
...from the standpoint of what he called "two integrities" of the issue, namely, adamant opposition to the ordination of women, on the one hand, and an array of alternatives ranging from some diminished role for women in the leadership of the church to ordination, on the other.
"We will keep our promise to honor both integrities within CANA and fulfill our commitment to the full participation of women in the life and leadership of the church," he said. "We will do so in such a manner that both those who are unable to support the ordination of women and those who embrace it will know that their position has been honored."
But Minns did not offer any further clarification on how both opponents and supporters of the ordination of women would come away happy.
We may pray and hope for the best; yet for now, the only reason Bishop Minns gave for why his mission diocese cannot ordain women was stated at a recent service to consecrate new bishops. At that service he said: "At this time, the Church of Nigeria, to which we owe canonical obedience, has no provision for the ordination of women." And if they did? At this time Bishop Martyn Minns is a faithful team player, loyal both to the Province of Nigeria with its Archbishop, Peter Akinola, and also to Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams and the Anglican Communion. It is good that they do not "ordain" women in Bishop Minn's diocese. But, let us hope and pray that this will grow into a matter of deeply held conviction that is both Traditional and truly conservative, rather than just relatively conservative and loyal to the corporation.