Fealty to the hierarchy is more important than loyalty to the Gospel, says Army Chaplain

By The Rev. James McNeely
Special to Virtueonline
June 9, 2010

The Anglican Communion Institute functions as a think-tank for more conservative elements within North American Anglicanism. Fr. Christopher Seitz and Dr. Ephraim Radner remain key leaders of the organization. The organization posits essays on various topics within Anglicanism as a whole, but with a target on the United States and Canada.

During an earlier time, the work of ACI was critical to the shrinking conservative minority. Evangelicals, Anglo-Catholics, and orthodox broad churchers could discuss various matters of polity, practice, and theology within ACI and glean from the wisdom of the fellows who write there. There was relative peace between more progressive elements within ECUSA and ACoC, even while the liberals were working diligently to marginalize conservatives from power gradually. Patterns of abuse would rear their ugly head from time to time, like the disgrace of Accokeek, Maryland or the deposition of Charles “Cy” Jones, Bishop of Montana.

Times changed with the heretical ascension of the practicing homosexual Gene Robinson to the episcopacy. Suddenly there was a rupturing of the relative peace between conservatives and progressives as the outright heresy of a fornicating homosexual functioning as a bishop in the church exploded on the scene.

The Anglican Communion was ripped apart as the vast majority of national churches declared they were either in impaired or broken communion with ECUSA. Churches and clergy could no longer maintain their organizational connections to heretical Arian bishops, preferring orthodoxy to fellowship. Precedence under these circumstances goes back to the primitive church as the canons of the Council of Nicea describes.

For the ACI, however, schism is worst than heresy. In the minds of people like Dr. Radner and Prof. Seitz, staying within ECUSA is a critical element of their Catholic ecclesiology. Connection to the church is radically important, even if the bishops are heretical. In ACI thinking, maintaining a pastoral relationship with Bishop John Spong is more important than breaking the link to affirm the Virgin Birth or the resurrection of Jesus.

This valuation seems especially odd in the larger historical context of the church. To be consistent, for instance, the ACI should seek loyalty to the See of Rome, since all of Western Christendom was under his papal control until the 16th Century. The English Reformation, arguably more a political move on the part of Henry VII than a theological or pastoral one, seems a totally acceptable move to Dr. Radner and Prof. Seitz. Allowing the Diocese of Pittsburgh to leave the Episcopal Church, on the other hand, is not. The discrepancy here seems most troubling.

Another troubling aspect of the ACI’s work surfaces alongside a pastoral issue. Many of us understand the all-too human emotional dynamics that surface in family systems where addictive behaviors move to a place of predominant control. For many years, alcoholism focused on getting the sick person well while ignoring the way the disease affected the rest of the family community. Often the very people who benefit from recovery seem fully invested in stopping it. In addition, these people often try to shield the addict from consequences for their abuse. Perhaps the best example of this behavior is a wife who calls an alcoholic husband’s boss to tell him that the husband is “sick” in order to avoid losing a job. The common phrase for such behavior is “enabling.”

In institutions, this behavior often surfaces. Perhaps the best example of this in my lifetime occurred in the 1980s and early 1990s in the House of Representatives. The Minority Leader was a very nice man named Robert Michaels. Congressman Michaels was a classic enabler, allowing the Majority to run roughshod over the rights of the minority. As long as there was collegiality with the abusive majority, all was overlooked and forgiven. It took his retirement before the Republican Party was led by someone capable of exposing the tactics of the other party and craft a political earthquake in 1994. Dr. Radner’s enabling-institutionalism is a puzzling theme that emerges in almost all of his missives. His Catholic ecclesiology is incomplete, as he urges the persecuted orthodox in the West to stay in the festering and squalid sewers of their respective national churches. Even as TEC embarks on a religious syncretism that is blatant in its antipathy for Christianity’s claims of singular truthfulness, Dr. Radner affirms again and again that fealty to the hierarchy is more important than loyalty to the Gospel.

In a recent pontification, Dr. Radner sees the problems in the Anglican world beginning with the founding of the Anglican Mission in America – as though archbishops Emmanuel Kolini (Rwanda) and Yong Ping Chung (South East Asia) were just chomping at the bit to cross boundaries for their own cynical pleasure and for no apparent reason. Like so many phony conservatives, Dr. Radner seems compelled to blame his own side first and turn a blind eye to the devious and heretical inventions – not to mention Stalinist tactics – of TEC which led to the formation of AMiA as a safe harbor for faithful disciples of Jesus within American Anglicanism. Of course, the history of TEC’s heterodoxy prior to that time is a matter of record; from militantly and illegally ordaining women and homosexuals, to Bishops Pike and Spong oozing their soul-killing bilge, to the marginalization of orthodox candidates for ordained ministry.

Dr. Radner throughout this curiously triangulating tome seems to favor a forced Hegelian synthesis to a St. Basil-like prophetic condemnation of the source of Anglicanism’s current malaise. Overcome by a wave of political correctness, Dr. Radner seems to think both the orthodox and the heterodox in the Anglican Communion are equally to blame for the “current unpleasantness.” So he then sets out to find a middle way – to triangulate – the two points of view into some new and more balanced critique.

The missive fails in its attempt for one simple reason: truth and error cannot create a synthetic solution. One must win and the other lose. The current problems of Anglicanism are clear. The Global South and allies proclaim a Gospel filled with hope of personal transformation and see human ecclesial structures as secondary to the missional purpose of the church. TEC and ACoC proclaim a moral relativism and spiritual vagaries that bow to post-modern, soul-killing, epistemological categories while concurrently insisting the outmoded episcopacy of a now-passed, geographically-centered wire-chart cannot change to meet the new spiritual and pastoral realities.

In sum, Dr. Radner’s analysis seems forced and unable to truly address the real problem – that there is a fox in the hen house raiding and destroying the chickens. This problem’s solution is obvious to even the most elementary of analysts: remove the fox and the traumatized chickens will once again produce as the painful memory of the invasion of tranquility fades from consciousness.

—The Rev. James McNeely holds a D.Min degree and is a CANA priest. He presently serves as an active duty Army chaplain.

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