14 July 2008


In a seminal work on business best practices, Studebaker is contrasted with GM. In the 1950's, Studebaker had a great relationship with its dealerships. GM had lawsuits. Studebaker went broke, GM thrived. In a phrase engraved in my memory and in most business school grad's, "Studebaker cooperated itself to death."

To this day, we refer to, "Doctor's orders" because the surgeons who invented and refined the hospital system that is the basis of our health care were officers in Napoleon's army. They did issue 'orders.' It was war that gave us 'triage.' American medical care lept ahead after the War Between the States.

Democratic government, based as it is in conflict, what Americans call, "the two party system" what Western Europe calls the Assembly or Parliamentary system has consistently led to progress, freedom and economic progress. One party systems on the other hand have little conflict, no freedom and little progress.

Which leads us to the question of why anyone would want a static church.

The genius of what we call the "Elizabethan Settlement" was that the church lived in tension between the evangelicals and the Anglo-catholics. At some moments, one side was ascendant, at others not. Along the way, there have been rough spots.

  • In King Edward's day, the ascendant evangelicals created the 39 articles as an effort to make their position a permanent winner. This failed in England and North America. The impact of the Oxford Movement was to make the articles an historical oddity, noted and ignored.
  • Throughout the history of the Anglican experience, some folks have felt unable to live in the ambiguity and tension the settlement required. So we have seen the Puritans, the Methodists, Cardinal Newman, the Reformed Episcopal Church, the Church of England on South Africa and more recently the various churches of the, "Continuim." go their separate ways.
  • Throughout it all, the Settlement called us to live in tension, to accept each other, and to at least try to progress.
Not every step is progress. We are after all, human.
  • Somehow, the "Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society" has lost its missionary drive. Wishing to respect cultures and peoples in other countries, and very aware of the (legitimate) criticism of American triumphalism, we have withdrawn. We have not asked ourselves how to do mission and re-focused.
  • The adoption of the "revised common lectionary" has introduced some improvements, but also made some Sunday's lectionary confusing. The lectionary was, "not ready for prime time."
  • Our seminaries, not supported by the whole church are in financial distress. There are probably too many of them, so that the student bodies are too small to pay the bills unless tuition is too high. So we see priests emerging with huge student loan burdens.
  • The deliberate discouraging of young people in favor of those with "life experience" has create a shortfall in available clergy. The bishops simply did not think this one through.
There are undoubtedly other items that can be added to that list. Another list of successful initiatives, and accomplishments could be written. But, let us be content to note that the church is in the society, preaching salvation and justice. The society is better for our presence.
Now we hear, from various voices that the Elizabethian Settlement cannot stand in the current day.

Can the settlement survive? It can if those in the church agree to disagree, even angrily, while accepting the possibility that they wont win the day. In order to continue we must all accept the idea that we will loose from time to time. And we have to accept the fact that the tide is always turning.

TEC needs to regain its missionary voice. It is likely TEC contains some ideas of how. The diocese of Chicago and Virginia's efforts in Sudan represent potential models. We need to seek out situations that can benefit from our help and then give it, without conditions or pretension to leadership. If we act as friends, not lords, we can benefit those who need us, bear witness to the Gospel and avoid the cultural imperialism that rightly affronts those in other countries.

TEC needs to build bridges without the clericalism and formalism that so typify the road to Canterbury. TEC should seek direct contacts with other provinces not based on our knowing more, but on our need to learn more. Consider for instance that the process of discussion that Lambeth will engage in came from South Africa. There is much to learn.

It is likely that ACCanada similarly needs to consider the landscape. It is also likely they will see something different. That too is part of the Settlement.

So, the task is not to make those who disagree with some view or action conform. Nor is it to make the church conform to some particular viewpoint. Rather it is to make it available, open and resolutely opposed to the idea of enforced conformity. No person has the final word on how truth. A church that recognizes and celebrates the ability to err as well as diversity has a future.

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