Fr. Duncan was not the only such person in my life--I can name several others, beginning with my own mother who, as I also mentioned on The Journey Home, was not herself a theist (possibly she was some sort of deist, but I fear I know little about what her precise views actually were). But she taught me the words to the Lord's Prayer when I was just five years old, and although I have no idea what she herself thought about that prayer, either at that time or later in her life, it was surely a gift of some sort, freely given and dutifully received, though I never really realized how great a gift until decades later, when I finally learned to believe what the words of the prayer really say.
I don't think I could have learned to believe those words if Fr. Duncan, and certain other individuals like him, had not shown me by his own example what those words actually mean. Such discoveries are not to be made by the individual working on his own in the dark, separated from his brethren, whatever the post-Reformation individualist may like to think. And so, as I have written here several times before, Fr. Duncan was instrumental in my becoming a Christian, and I will always respect and admire him for that, another great gift that I was slow to appreciate.
That is why I find Fr. Duncan's present state of affairs so utterly depressing. He was deposed as the Bishop of Pittsburgh in the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States by that denomination's Presiding Bishop, Katherine Jefferts Schori, in September of last year. In my opinion, that would have been the perfect opportunity for him to find a way to make an appearance on Marcus Grodi's program. Given the number of ex-Anglican priests of my acquaintance--Al Kimel, Jeffrey Steel, Trevor Nicholls, among others--I can't help but hope to meet more, especially one who is already an old friend. But that, alas, was not to be. What was to be instead reads like something out of one of my worst nightmares--or one of my many rants right here in this blog about denominationalism in this country.
Things began, if not with the desired appeal to the Pastoral Provision of 1980, at least with a step in the right direction: Fr. Duncan made a move to associate with those elements of worldwide Anglicanism that still cling, however precariously, to the precious traditions of our faith. Happily, these elements are more numerous once one moves outside of the United States. But for whatever banal reason, the leadership in the worldwide Anglican communion feels a strange loyalty to that train wreck that is now the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States, a body that has moved steadily away from authentic Christian belief ever since the election of John Shelby Spong to the episcopacy. Consequently Fr. Duncan did not receive the welcome that he deserved among those in communion with Canterbury. This too, would have been a good time to contact Marcus Grodi. What happened instead, sadly, was aptly described--it breaks my heart to say it--by Ephraim Radner, one of the co-founders of the Anglican Communion Network, in his statement of resignation from the ACN:
It is with sorrow and deep disappointment that I tender my resignation from the Anglican Communion Network. Since the time I assisted in its founding, its leaders, members, and mission have been dear to me, even when I have disagreed with some of its corporate actions. The recent statements by the Moderator of the Network, Robert Duncan, however, so contradict my sense of calling within this part of Christ’s Body, the Anglican Communion, that I have no choice but to disassociate myself from this group, whom I had once hoped might prove an instrument of renewal, not of destruction, of building up, not of tearing down.He has, indeed, "decided to start a new church", and as my faithful readers will remember, that is one of the things that I so despise about Protestantism generally--the instinct to reboot things in one's own image that Radner rightly describes as "astonishingly self-confident and autonomously prophetic".
Bishop Duncan has now declared the See of Canterbury and the Lambeth Conference — two of the four Instruments of Communion within our tradition – to be "lost". He has said that God is "doing a new thing" in allowing these elements to founder and be let go. I find this judgment to be dangerously precipitous and unfair under circumstances when current, faithful, and hard work is being done by many to bolster these Instruments as servants of our common life in Christ. The judgment is also astonishingly self-confident and autonomously prophetic in a mode not unlike the baleful claims to visionary authority of those who have long misled the Episcopal Church. Finally, the declaration in effect cancels out the other two Instruments of Communion that also uphold our common Anglican life – the Primates’ Meeting and the Anglican Consultative Council. It is the entire Anglican Communion, therefore, that Bp. Duncan is declaring to be "lost". The judgment is far too sweeping.
Bp. Duncan has, in the end, decided to start a new church. He may call it "Anglican" if he wishes, though I do not recognize the name in these kinds of actions that break communion rather than build it up – for such building is what I have long perceived to be the "thing" God was "doing" with the earthen vessel of our tradition. In founding his new church, furthermore, he is, I fear, not working for the healing of our broken Body, but repeating the mistakes of Christians in the past, whose zeal has not only brought suffering to themselves, but has wounded the Church of Christ. It is not only his own diocese that his statements and actions will affect; it is many others, including parishes within them, many of which have worked for faithfulness and peace, truth in love, for some time, and for whom new troubles and divisions are now promised. Enough of this. I cannot follow him in this way. There is great work to be done, with hope and with joy, if also with suffering endurance for the faith once delivered, in the vineyards of the Anglican Communion where the Lord has called us and still maintains His calling; just as there has been in the past, and all for the glory of the larger Church Catholic.
The only saving feature to all of this that I can see is that Fr. Duncan has at least moved towards orthodoxy, if not towards orthopraxis, simply by moving away from what was so egregiously heterodox and heretical. But even a stopped clock is right twice a day, and one ought not to praise the workmanship of such a clock just because one happens to look at it at the right time.
So what is a person in my position to do? When he remained in the Episcopal Church, Fr. Duncan was a voice for orthodoxy crying out among the heretics. In becoming the archbishop of what is basically his own denomination (this is, of course, somewhat hyperbolic--he did not create the "Anglican Church in North America", but still, I can't help but be reminded of this guy), he has done something that ordinarily would strike me as just plain wacky. Yet, of course, what he has done he has done in the name of orthodoxy, a kind of protestation against what Protestantism has become. While protesting the Protestants is perhaps not a bad idea, it can't be a good idea unless it leads you back to Rome. That is clearly not in the cards here, so orthodox or not this cannot be seen as an intrinsically good move.
I suppose the good news is that this provides further confirmation of the truth that our freedom lies in our capacity to make mistakes of such grandiose proportions.