Alternative Bishops among Anglicans? One's Already Here

I normally stay away from commenting on the convulsions of the Anglican Communion, whether here in the Diocese of New Westminster, whose bishop is a heretic and schismatic (by the standard definitions of those terms), or in the Anglican Church of Canada, which tolerates such behaviour, or in the Anglican Communion worldwide, which is wracked by controversy over the legitimacy of homosexuality (ostensibly) and a lot of other things, such as heresy, schism, power politics, racism, and more (fundamentally).

I have belonged to Anglican congregations in Winnipeg and Vancouver, and have lots of contacts in Anglican churches in Canada, the U.S., and the U.K., but I am not a confirmed Anglican and am not currently a member of an Anglican congregation, so I rarely speak up about what are “family problems” in someone else’s “tribe.”

Speaking of “tribe,” however, I was moved to headshaking a year ago by the appointment of Mark MacDonald, already an Anglican bishop, to the newly-created post of National Indigenous Bishop in Canada. According to the Anglican Journal, Bishop MacDonald has “pastoral oversight over all of Canada’s indigenous Anglicans no matter where they live.”

The only other non-territorial bishop in Canada is the Bishop Ordinary to the Armed Forces, who has pastoral oversight of Anglicans serving in the Armed Forces. But this is actually, in an important sense, a territorial jurisdiction, in that most military personnel have their homes–especially while on active duty–in regions belonging to the Armed Forces.

Anyhow, what strikes me about this appointment is how enthusiastic about this news was Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, at the time the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, and exactly how he justified this extraordinary appointment: “It’s important to remember that we elect bishops for the church,” he said. “We don’t elect bishops for national jurisdictions.”

Well, yes. But this is the same archbishop who has stood with New Westminster bishop Michael Ingham against the idea of appointing bishops to shepherd orthodox congregations in Canada who no longer respect their current bishops who teach against the doctrine of the church and flout its ethical norms. When it comes to churches that resist Ingham’s crypto-Hinduism and his support for same-sex marriages, suddenly Archbishop Hutchison gets all territorial again: one region, one bishop. (One gives one’s head another shake at clergy who insist on being as “modern” as possible in their doctrine and ethics while equally insisting on being medieval when it comes to episcopal authority.)

The weirdness deepens in that I actually agree with Hutchison on this point. If you’re going to have an episcopal system (that is, governance by bishops)—and I’m not convinced you should, especially in North America, but that’s another topic—then a bishop should govern the whole church in a region, of whatever size makes administrative and pastoral sense. There should be neither Jew nor Gentile, to coin a phrase. So I don’t see how appointing a bishop on ethnic lines is a good move in this regard.

Indeed, I don’t agree with my Anglican friends who advocate for orthodox bishops to shepherd orthodox congregations, much as I sympathize with their distress. What happens next? A proliferation of bishops, one for each congregation’s particular preference of liturgy, doctrine, morality, and so on? A bishop for Prayer Book conservatives and another for evangelicals and another for charismatics and another for Anglo-Catholics and another for Barthians and another for Tillichians and another for liberationists and another for New Agers?

No, what should have happened is what should have happened long ago: Michael Ingham and his like should have been charged with heresy and defrocked, if they did not recant. And in the light of his more recent decisions to break with the national and international communions, he should have been charged with schism and removed from office. At least if the church split then, it clearly would be over the gospel and the church, not apparently over important, but secondary, issues of sexuality and marriage.

It’s too late for that, however. So now we have the absurd situation of catering to the alienation of native peoples—an alienation that is certainly understandable in the wake of the residential school abuses—by dividing the church’s leadership along ethnic lines, while stonewalling the many more Anglicans who are alienated from officials who patently deny the faith.

The Anglican Church needs desperately to put first things first. We’re all waiting to see if they collectively will recognize what those are, and then do what needs to be done.

(Note: This entry is an updated version of a blog entry I first posted about a year ago. Many readers have suggested that it is even more timely now, so I have “re-run” it here.)

0 Responses to “Alternative Bishops among Anglicans? One's Already Here”

  1. Chris Hawley

    I recently wrote Dr. Stackhouse about this article; I’ll summarize my thoughts here, just to get the ball rolling:

    It’s true that alternative Bishops aren’t a very good idea, for the (good) reasons stated in the original post. But, as a former “insider”, to me it’s no longer a question of whether a particular option is a good option; it’s now a question of whether a particular option is the best of a series of bad options.

    Heresy and schism charges don’t work; if they manage to get to court, they generally fail to end in convictions, and have for at least the past 40 or so years. They also have the effect of galvanizing a sort of martyrdom status for their victims. A church that for 20 years seems content to tolerate the likes of Bishop John Shelby Spong, who denied even the most basic Christian creeds, would be hard-pressed to defrock the likes of Ingham.

    Another option would be to do nothing. Several orthodox congregations in New Westminster did just that, and I am profoundly sympathetic towards them; still, I have heard they have suffered financially and numerically as a result, and there’s something really wrong and unfair about that.

    So, on to the option to rebel, which immediately leads to the question: why now, and why this issue? Heretical bishops have been more or less normal in the Anglican church for a long time, so anyone ordained a priest since then ought to have known, and tacitly accepted, what they were getting into. To split now, over a “gospel issue” involving a identifiable group of human beings, is disquieting at best.

    In any event, the Anglican world is like a dysfunctional family; and like all dysfunctional families, it’s difficult to know how (and in this case, when) to function normally within it. For this reason, I give the rebel congregations a pass. Their choices might be clumsy and fraught with troubling implications, but they nonetheless might be the best choices available to them.

  2. Preston

    I wonder, is there a kind of through-the-back-door subversive approach to dealing with heresy and schism in the church? The frontal attack seems so passé (and not terribly effective, in my view). Jesus subverted the whole religious system with a few stories, a band of local laborers, and a passive walk right into the hands of his enemies. The Evangelical Lutheran Church (of which I am a member) is dealing with similar pressures and I wrestle with a way through. I look forward to further reflections…

  3. Scott C.

    Sorry, but what is “crypto-Hinduism”? I attempted to search for “Hindu”/”Hinduism” in connection with Bishop Ingham’s name and did not come up with anything enlightening.

  4. John Stackhouse

    Scott, I refer to the beliefs and recommendations of Bishop Ingham in his book, Mansions of the Spirit. I myself am calling them “crypto-” (that is, “secretly” or “in disguise”), although Bishop Ingham is pretty clear about their origins in the Hinduism he so admires.

  5. Craig Carter

    I agree with you that if there is to be an episcopal system, it should be territorial (if it is attempting to follow catholic tradition). But isn’t it a bit odd that Anglicans use a Catholic argument to justify their Protestant church order? After all, I’ve never heard an Anglican say that the Roman Catholic Church is false and heretical and therefore not a true church. Yet they want to have an Anglican bishop in Vancouver when there is already a Roman Catholic one there. And then they turn around and argue that a second Anglican bishop in that territory would be against traditional catholic order! Strictly speaking, so was the first Anglican bishop. This seems inconsistent as best and ludicrous at worst.

  6. John Stackhouse

    Craig, you make an interesting point. But I suppose the Anglican response would be a denominational one, rather than a “church catholic” one: “We’re territorially and hierarchically organized, so one bishop per diocese.”

    As for Anglican theologizing about the presence of Roman Catholic bishops in the same territory (or Lutheran or Methodist bishops, for that matter, not to mention the clergy of all the other denominations), well, I’m not well enough versed in Anglican thought to know what they’d say to that.


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