Monday, October 06, 2008

But Then We Already Knew That Tradition Means Nothing To Them

I have blogged several times about my fond memories of the Right Reverend Robert W. Duncan, the Episcopal bishop of Pittsburgh and the man responsible for bringing me into the Christian Church. Search on his name at this blog and you can read more about the time I spent with him when he was the campus minister at the Chapel of the Cross in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Recently he has been involved in the movement to restore some semblance of orthodoxy to the Episcopal Church but, sadly, he and his orthodox ilk appear to be very much in the minority in that train wreck of a denomination. Last month he was removed from his position as bishop of Pittsburgh by the House of Bishops because he had been advocating a kind of secession from the Episcopal Church. It's interesting that Shelby Spong, who, as far as I am concerned, does not count even as a Christian let alone as a bishop of the Church, was never even reprimanded for his heresies, and yet Bob Duncan is removed from office for advocating a return to orthodoxy. He is the one who gets blamed for schism rather than those who are really responsible for tearing the Episcopal church away from the Sacred Tradition of Christianity. I continue to think that I dodged a bullet when I left that church 25 years ago.

Speaking of traditions, a story in the New York Times mentions that the Diocese of Pittsburgh has voted to secede in spite of the removal of their bishop, and this has given rise to the predictable squabbles over who owns the millions of dollars worth of property belonging to the diocese. Strangely, the PECUSA is claiming that it should belong not to the diocese, but to the national church. I say that this is strange, but really it isn't. It's strange in one sense, because when Henry VIII split from Rome, effectively bringing the Church of England into autonomous existence, he took all the church's property with him, even going so far as to confiscate properties that had been held by religious orders for centuries. So when a diocese within the PECUSA decides to do exactly the same thing--leave the larger church and take the property too--it is strange that the larger church should object, since without that kind of maneuver the larger church itself wouldn't even exist. On the other hand, there is a sense in which it isn't strange at all, since to allow the diocese to seize the property would be to bow to a kind of old-fashioned Anglican tradition, and if anything is clear in that muddle-headed denomination it's that old-fashioned traditions, like the Sacrament of Matrimony, are always up for grabs and redefinitions. So maybe this is a new-fashioned tradition in the PECUSA: do whatever you want, just so long as you act unilaterally in upending some old-fashioned tradition. The diocese of Pittsburgh acted unilaterally, but it was in defense of an old-fashioned tradition, and that is worse than heresy as far as the PECUSA is concerned.

This is the sort of thing that's bound to happen when your ecclesiology has no sound intellectual tradition to begin with. It's always been a mystery to me why Bob Duncan never converted to Rome--in spite of the thoroughgoing influence he had on me there are many ways in which his thinking has always been somewhat opaque to me. Generally speaking the explanation lies no further than my own density. He is a deeply spiritual and profoundly intelligent person, so I have always assumed that whatever his reasons are for doing the things he does, they are in all probability far better reasons than I have ever had for doing anything. One can, at most, pray that God's will be done in all things, and hope that one is able to discern it when it happens.

3 comments:

Mike L said...

Scott:

You can find the 30-minute video of Duncan's final TEC interview here. I'm amazed by how calm he was, all things considered.

If you can't explain why he doesn't pope, I sure can't.

Best,
Mike

Scott Carson said...

Mike

Thanks for bringing that to my attention. It was both inspiring and disheartening. I imagine he's had ample time to prepare himself for a wide range of possible outcomes, and that might explain why he's so calm. On the other hand, in my experience he's always been a model of calm courage in the face of adversity. I remember spending a number of days with him in his office in Chapel Hill after his young daughter had been hit by a car and was recovering in the hospital. He was trying to bury himself in his work, and he was clearly very worried, but I was amazed at his overall fortitude.

I don't think he will ever leave Anglicanism (think Robert Hart), but neither will he abandon orthodoxy.

Bill Siddall said...

Hi, Scott. I'm just passing through via my Google alert. Thank you for your thoughtful posts.