Sunday, 6 December 2009

Mary Glasspool: Charlie Brown's Football (Redux Edition)

The announcement that TEC has elected Mary Glasspool as a suffragan bishop in Los Angeles ought to be greeted with the same surprise as accompanies the familiar cry at this time of year in the UK, "Gosh, it's cold outside."

Below I have copied one of the first posts that ever appeared on this blog, back in February 2007. What is surprising is not that this was essentially right but that it all seems so long ago, when the Covenant Process was seen as the way to keep everyone on board.

Who could possibly believe that now?*

John Richardson
6 December 2009

*Update Sunday evening, the answer to this question is the Bishop of Sherborne. Personally, I feel his  covenant process of 'glacial gravity' is melting in the global warming of TEC following what it firmly believes is the leading of God the Holy Spirit - and how could it not?

Interestingly, Bishop Graham Kings is finding remarkably little support so far on the Fulcrum blog.

Charlie Brown's football: why the Covenant is an irrelevance

Remember those Peanuts cartoons where Lucy holds the ball for Charlie Brown to kick it? Every time Charlie Brown runs up, Lucy whips it away at the last minute, and every time Charlie Brown finishes up flat on his back.

The joke, of course, is not that Lucy always behaves the same way, but in the fact that Charlie Brown does. Lucy always acts according to character, but against all experience, Charlie Brown always acts as if she won’t.

Welcome, then, to the world of the Anglican Covenant. Doubtless over the next weeks and months there will be much time and energy spent analysing it, wondering if it will do the job for which it is designed, namely to provide a framework of discipline for the Anglican Communion.

In the same way, we might examine Charlie Brown’s football. Is it the regulation size and shape? Is it inflated to the right pressure? Are the stitches secure? And what about Lucy’s grip. Is her finger holding the ball upright? Will she be in the way of Charlie Brown’s kick?

We might examine all these things, and deliver the same verdict as does Charlie Brown himself. It all looks good enough. But it makes not a jot of difference. What matters is that Lucy is going to pull the ball away. How do we know? Because that is what she does.

And so the content of the Anglican Covenant is, to all intents and purposes, an irrelevance. What matters is what will be done with it by the constituent Churches of the Communion. And we already know what that is.

Let us ask ourselves this: was Lambeth Resolution 1.10 clear? Was the Windsor Report sufficiently specific? Was the Dromantine Communique properly worded? The answer to these questions is surely yes, certainly, of course.

And did the Episcopal Church in America heed the call to discipline which they expressed? The answer is that even the generous report presented to the Primates in Tanzania only gave them two out of three on compliance with the Windsor Report. Yet has it been made clear by the Primates that this is not good enough? The answer to these questions is no, and of course not.

Charlie Brown’s problem lies not with the ball but with his own attitude towards Lucy. He refuses to face the fact that she is deceitful and he is gullible. And in the same way, a discussion of the Anglican Covenant per se, without addressing the events that brought the Primates to Tanzania in the first place, will be a refusal to face the institutional dishonesty that runs through the Anglican Church like ‘Brighton’ through a stick of rock.

By all means, let us discuss the Covenant’s first draft. Let us dissect it, tweak it and refine it. It will bolster the spirits of the optimistic. It will keep the bureaucrats happy. It will keep us all at the table talking. And no doubt, what we will see in a few months time is a very fine Covenant.

And while we’re about it, let’s buy Charlie Brown a new football.

Revd John P Richardson
19 February 2007

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  1. I am sorry to read this and my prayers are with those in the Anglican Communion at this difficult time. It is not easy being Catholic at the moment either.

    But we must never give up on the Lord or each other, and we must continue to pray for Our Lord's healing love.

  2. Sadly, your words about Tec's "institutional dishonesty" are truer now than when first penned (except that I prefer to say that it's people rather than "institutions" that are dishonest/racist etc - there should be no evasion of personal responsibility behind corporate facades). Charlie Brown's football is basically OK - it's the "team mate" he can't trust. Tec needs to be cut free to be the kind of religion it aspires to be.
    & Charlie needs to take his ball & find a new captain.
    Mark B.

  3. I write from a liberal perspective and agree with some key points. You are right that the Anglican Covenant is a futile exercise, it should be abandoned. There is little point in something that is a "covenant", a contract of love, mercy and grace being used as a tool to "discipline" in any case, even were this possible or desirable.

    TEC have decided to act on their conscience and follow where they feel the Holy Spirit is leading them. The GAFCONITES, those opposed to LGBT and women's ministry must do likewise. Meanwhile, perhaps each side could pray for each other and themselves since we are all fallible and sinful and discerning how to act in the light of strongly held convictions and complex situations is a responsibility neither side should take lightly.

  4. "We are not boys twice."

    Once upon a time, some of us took American Anglicanism with some seriousness and hope.

    We're men now. Back to the books.

    D. Philip Veitch
    Camp Lejeune, NC

  5. Those suggesting that the american Anglicans are somehow 'distancing themselves from the communion' are living in cloud cuckoo land. I mean do they really believe that if we remove ECUSA Anglicanism is suddenly ok??!!

    Would this be the same church that refuses space to orthodox Catholics in its desire to have women bishops with no concessions to trads. whatsoever?

    The Amercians are only doing what the majority in the country plan to do. Let us be honest at least. This is not an issue of a branch that needs pruning..the whole tree is deeply infected. Hence so many are considering future elsewhere

  6. I quote Suem, 'Perhaps each side should pray for each other since we are all fallible and sinful'. This must surely be the way forward, in attempting to achieve any sort of unity, or peaceable agreement, and building of bridges. I feel we are in danger of losing sight of the gospel and the supremacy of grace for all, in majoring on the sexuality of our brotherhood of believers. We are all sinners, and 'casting the first stone' was something we were entreated not to do by Jesus. A fellow christian's sexuality should not be the all-defining barometer of their godliness, or ability to reach people with the gospel. Or am I being too open-minded..?!!

    Alison R

  7. Alison,

    I hope you are not trying to change the subject.

    The numbers suggest that expanding the qualifications for ordained ministry to anything other than the Biblical ideals has failed. There are fewer and fewer Charlie Browns in the pews.

  8. Dear Pewster,
    You say 'expanding the qualifications for ordained ministry to anything other than Biblical ideals has failed'. Do please enlighten me as to what you deem to be 'biblical ideals'? I'm mystified..

    Alison R

  9. Dear Underground Pewster,

    I am sorry you appear to limit your understanding to a narrow interpretation of scripture, (presumably you also agree with prescriptive codes of dress 1 Tim 2:9!! )and so do not feel that women can legitimately practise as 'priests'. Many christians now see these passages as written for that time, and are of the opinion that God would forsee and approve changes and advancements in women's roles, both domestic and ecclesiastical. We use the holy spirit as our 'comforter and guide'. Maybe you would be happier with white, middle-class males in the pulpit, but many feel this neither enriches the church, does nothing to increase the gospel and denies women their God-given gifts, and calling.

    Alison R