Monday, April 18, 2005

Bishop Smith's Progress

There was nothing ambiguous in the statement released by the six retired Episcopal bishops concerning a decision made by Connecticut Bishop Andrew Smith.

After the consecration of gay Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, the Anglican Church throughout the world was riven. Here in Connecticut, six priests from the conservative Anglican American council, differing with Smith who supported Robinson’s consecration, petitioned to associate their congregations with a bishop that was, in their view, more orthodox.

Smith’s response was Cromwellian: He delivered to the priests a notice that their removal was imminent – unless they reconsidered and chose to remain affiliated with him, a course of conduct their consciences forbade.

Smith’s letter of removal provoked an ardent response from six retired bishops.

“Bereft of the faith which alone establishes true unity in the Church,” the bishops wrote, “(Smith) now attempts to impose unity by uncanonical coercion against six faithful clergy in his diocese. Since Bishop Edward Fowler put John Bunyan in jail for 11 years in the 17th century, there has scarcely been such an example of brutal and unconscionable ecclesiastical tyranny."

John Bunyan was a tinker who turned to preaching and came into conflict with the famous Quaker George Fox.. Later imprisoned for 12 years by agents of the restored monarchy, Bunyan turned to writing. One of his best known works, a gem of English literature, is The Pilgrims Progress From This World To That Which Is To Come, published in 1678. Remarkable for its plainspoken style and spiritual fervor, the book served as a model for C.S. Lewis’ Pilgrim’s Regress.

Fowler’s works are less well known.

The enemy of the Anglican faith, according to one of the protesting retired bishops, C. Fitzsimons Allison, is “300 years of secularization. They can't hold a diocese together based on common faith, so the only way they can get unity is through the imposition of canons. This is merely an act of tyranny that is a kind of _expression of paranoia because (Smith) doesn't have the faith that can evoke the unity and respect from these congregations.”

Canonical thumbscrews become necessary when bishops impose on the clergy and laity unorthodox forms and beliefs that are unconvincing.

In an address he was invited to give to Anglicans in Wales during Easter 1945, C.S. Lewis focused, as only he could do, on the “necessary boundary lines” beyond which “your doctrine will cease either to be Anglican or to be Christian.”

Lewis did not doubt that unorthodox opinions may be arrived at honestly by men of faith, but he cautioned, “There is a danger here of the clergy developing a special professional conscience” that can only “scandalize the layman.”

Defending such opinions, clerics with professional consciences “are prepared to suffer obloquy and to forfeit professional advancement. They thus come to feel like martyrs. But this simply misses the point which so gravely scandalizes the layman. We never doubted that the unorthodox opinions were honestly held: What we complain of is your continuing your ministry after you have come to hold them.”

The point in Christian apologetics, Lewis continued, “is to defend Christianity, not ‘my religion.’ We are to defend Christianity itself – the faith preached by the Apostles, attested by the Martyrs, embodied in the Creeds, expounded by the Fathers.”

In support of his view, Lewis easily could have produced the following lines written by Bunyan in prison:

“It is not every suffering that makes a martyr,

but suffering for the Word of God after a right

manner; that is, not only for righteousness, but

for righteousness’ sake; not only for truth, but

out of love to truth; not only for God’s Word,

but according to it: to wit, in that holy, humble,

meek manner, as the Word of God requireth.”

The Rev. David Roseberry, rector of Christ Church in Plano, Texas said, "These priests are standing up for the standard and agreed-upon understanding of human sexuality. It is the bishop who is at odds with the canon, who is trying to move them out and break the will of the congregation. [These priests] have the right to a bishop who is in line with orthodox teaching."

Roseberry is one of the six rectors from other states who preached in Connecticut in solidarity with the six priests that bishop Smith is attempting to bring to heel. In future meetings with the six priests, might it not be useful for their bishop to keep in mind Bunyan’s advice to speak the truth according to God’s word in a humble and meek manner? And a re-reading of Lewis’ advice to Anglicans in Wales might be helpful.

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