What do we do now? That is the question many are asking since the 2003 General Convention. The constant rhetorical drumbeat of "Unity, unity, unity," sounded from '815' and other pulpits across the land, is sincerely meant, and should be sincerely pursued, by all those who take our Lord's commandments to heart. But 'unity,' in its true and classical sense, can never mean 'unity at all costs.' When Truth is forfeited to unity, then unity has become an idol. Our own Reformation principles bear this out: if certain well-placed men and women hadn't believed Truth was more important than unity in 16th century Europe, would there even be an Anglican Communion today?
Whatever the Post-modernist mindset says, Truth cannot be forfeited to unity. We must be prepared, in the service of God, to take bold steps for the sake of the Gospel. Some will find the proposal I am about to make dangerous. Some will say we are bigoted fundamentalists for even considering it. Certainly it will call down the wrath of the institution; they will probably threaten our churches, buildings, endowments, and lands. But I do believe it is the right thing to do, for Truth's sake. It is a positive approach to the current crisis, not the mean-spirited "pick up my marbles and go home"-response some will paint it to be.
Most importantly, I believe it is the only way there will be a true Anglican Christian presence in the U.S. To lose that voice would be an evangelical tragedy.
What do we do now? Taking into account all the various meetings, special conventions, parish forums, and internet news items for the past two months, I believe the gathering in Dallas should ask the Anglican Primates, meeting in London in October, to order the American bishops to:
Taking these four steps would allow the American bishops to preserve the unity of the Church, show the respect due fellow Christians (as mandated by our common baptismal vows), and repent of 'Western arrogance,' racism, and cultural hegemony.
If the American bishops refuse to comply with these requests, then they should, by all means, be excommunicated as constituent members of the Anglican Communion. That is a painful choice to consider, and a path few want to walk; but it will be necessary to preserve the faith and unity of the Church, the authority of Holy Scripture, our evangelical witness and catholic orthodoxy. Ultimately, it is the doctrinal, pastoral, and moral way forward.
Next, we should ask, through the Primates' Council, for the Archbishop of Canterbury to recognize a completely new Anglican province in the United States. This would not be a parallel province, overlapping ECUSA; it would rather be a complete replacement of ECUSA, in communion with the rest of the Anglican Communion.
If the Primates' Council declines to expel ECUSA from the Anglican Communion, should a parallel province, or a non-geographical "Tenth Province," then be formed? In a word, no. In such an arrangement we would still be in ECUSA, which we believe to be apostate. It would solve none of our problems, and it would create several more. In that case, we should convene another meeting to decide our next step. (1)
One objection to this course of action comes from conservative evangelical leaders, who want to stay in ECUSA and recapture its heart, mind, and institutions. A noble ideal, to be sure, but an historical study of a similar process in the Southern Baptist Convention, where some have unsuccessfully tried to counteract the fundamentalist capture of the church, is not encouraging.
Perhaps we could have reformed ECUSA if we started long before this: if we had abandoned our Episcopal good manners and deposed James Pike for his open heresy and appalling morals; if we had brought presentments against John Spong and his ilk for their numerous theological and disciplinary transgressions. But we didn't. And now we're reaping the whirlwind. If we had untold centuries, we could stay within ECUSA, suffer for the faith, try for a revival, band together as orthodox believers and be a 'beacon on the hill' for any who would seek God in the Episcopal Church. But the die has been cast for the future of unreformed Anglicanism in this country. There will be no going back once Gene Robinson is consecrated.
I believe the only way forward is to utilize the doctrine of "apostolic succession, locally adapted," and form a new Anglican province in the U.S. from the ashes of ECUSA. We can begin with those bishops who voted 'no' on Robinson's confirmation, as well as parishes who wish to affiliate.
We should next seek recognition from the Archbishop of Canterbury and from the Primates' Council. Once this is given, we should ask them to appoint a retired primate, agreeable to them and to us, to be the Presiding Bishop (perhaps Archbishop) for five to ten years.
We should keep our current diocesan structures. Parishes and dioceses should be given the choice of whether or not to affiliate with the Anglican Communion. Affiliated parishes in non-affiliated dioceses will receive the oversight of 'missionary bishops,' appointed by the American Archbishop and confirmed by the Primates. Likewise, unaffiliated parishes in affiliated dioceses should be given their property and assets and left to pursue their separate path. Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh is modeling the way forward on this issue: parishes of whatever stripe should be allowed to keep their buildings, their endowments, etc., and carry them forward into their new existence. We should suggest to the National Church, in the strongest possible terms, that every diocese follow suit, so that the break can be as amicable and orderly as possible.
Of course, when it comes to money and property, we should be prepared for the opposite. It is likely that dioceses still affiliated with ECUSA will make a legal claim to all property and assets. But such blatant attempts at intimidation should not deter us. Our Lord himself bids us leave all things to follow him. Let us comport ourselves charitably. The sin will then be, not on our souls, but on theirs.
We should authorize a special convention of the new province to produce a Book of Common Prayer, combining the best of Anglican sacramental theology and linguistic expression.
We should consider how best to train clergy for the emerging mission field in the U.S. At first, we may need to form our clergy abroad, or in well-designed and supervised local and regional settings. We should have discussions with both Nashotah House and Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry about their possible contributions to the new province. And we should begin to look at new seminaries in the South and the West. (2)
In short, I believe we need not fear for the future of Anglicanism in this country. The revival of a passionately convinced, ardently practiced, and unreservedly taught Anglican Christianity, a blending of the best insights and practices of both the catholic and evangelical traditions, will allow God to set the world ablaze with the Gospel.
He will provide whatever we need.
(1) For an assessment of the problems inherent in a parallel province, see the important essay by the Very Rev. Dr. Philip Turner, Assessing the Proposal for a Second or Parallel Province, which I think my proposal augments. His comments about why the current issue is not the same as women 's ordination are especially important.
(2) For a new seminary in the South, I have favorably examined Jacksonville, Charleston, and San Antonio. I have drawn up a much fuller design for this projected seminary, and will be happy to make it available on request.
I could not have reached this proposal without the contributions and editorial insights of my friend and colleague, the Rev'd Matthew Teel; my wife and constant inspiration, Maria Rasco Lytle; the proposals of the Rev'd Drs. Philip Turner, Ephraim Radner, Paul Zahl, & Christopher Sykes; and my conversations with the Rev'd Dr. Ashley Null, as well as many others. None of them should be pilloried for their association with this paper.
The Rev'd Guy Fitch Lytle, III, Ph.D., D.D.
Bishop Juhan Professor
Divinity School of Theology
University of the South, Sewanee
provided but not written by
The Rev. Dr. Kendall Harmon
Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina
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