Bryan Owens – Anomic Anglicanism


There’s a thought provoking post up discussing the consequences of what happens when Episcopal clergy decide to act in ways contrary to the stated norms of the Episcopal Church. He gives the following examples:

“When Episcopal clergy …

  • alter the language of the liturgies in The Book of Common Prayer;
  • dismiss the directives of rubrics;
  • substitute a ‘new and improved’ creed for the Nicene Creed, or even drop it from the liturgy altogether;
  • act contrary to canon law and encourage others to do the same (by promoting communion for the un-baptized, for example);
  • support the belief that we can achieve Anglican ends through Congregationalist means by allowing parishes to vote on whether or not they choose to remain members of the Episcopal Church;
  • substitute the ‘spiritual authority’ of the Primates’ Meeting (which has no grounding in legitimate, conciliar authority) for the Constitution, Canons, and General Convention of the Episcopal Church;
  • and/or publicly affirm that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior, but only if you personally believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior

… then we reject the norms of the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church for the private judgment of individual conscience.

This is anomic Anglicanism.

Its consequences are far-reaching. Not only does it make it increasingly difficult to see the background of agreements against which our disagreements are recognizable (and perhaps bridgeable). But the extent to which we treat canons, rubrics, approved liturgies, ordination vows, etc., as arbitrary impositions to be ignored when convenient (or when circumstances trouble our conscience) is precisely the extent to which we repudiate our membership in the Episcopal Church.”

Read the rest here: Anglican Centrist Guest — Bryan Owens – Anomic Anglicanism

UPDATE: You can access the original on Fr. Bryan’s blog – and interact with the author directly by going to this site.


The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...


  1. I missed it Caelius – got a link? I’m quite impressed with this line of thinking. It helps me put words on something I’ve felt for a long time.

  2. William Paul says

    Still, a kind of selective list. I wonder if the so-called centrist would then object to those who substitute ‘God’ for ‘He’ and ‘His’ in the liturgy–a common occurence I am afraid.
    He stumbles at the end, grammatically, and notionally when he says “and/or publicly affirm that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior, but only if you personally believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior.” He’s trying to make a point, but he can’t seem to think clearly enough to make it.
    He is happy to eschew ‘congregationalist means’ in one breath, but then happy to take them up for himself in the next point by ignoring the accountability we have to a trans-national body–and to drive a wedge between “spiritual authority” of the Primates and the “real” authority of some of our instruments of self-government(a hard issue no doubt, but this guy certainly doesn’t have the answer).
    And, of course, for this traditionalist–me–he ignores the real Elephant In The Liturgical Canonical Room and that is that ECUSA has clearly with SSB’s and the elevation of VGR violated to any reasonable mind the standards and theology of appropriate sexual activity enshrined in scripture, the BCP, the theological reports of the house of Bishops, previous resolutions, and more. Further, just as even liberals who are pro-choice can admit that Roe v Wade was wrongly decided so we should admit that the Righter decision was wrongly decided (by people on the court who themselves could have faced the same charges–and underreported fact at the time).
    So it’s more of the same old, same old unconvincing stuff, the deepest possible rationalization for a course of action that was never, on its merits, approved by ECUSA. That it actually moves people (“I’m quite impressed with this line of thinking”) makes me want to take up drinking again.

  3. William Paul, why don’t you just argue, then, that Anglican priests ought to be celibate? Are we not “accountable” to the Catholic Church, as the largest transnational body of all? Heck, why don’t we just submit to all of the Catholic Church’s doctrine and discipline and go back to Mother Church? You sure have a weird view of “congregationalism”; nobody I know would consider the National Church a congregation. Anyway, Anglicanism itself was born in the division between a regional church and the rest of the “transnational body.”
    Back to the topic, though. I think a lot of this is born in a panic about the loss of influence of the Church in the modern world. And of course in typical modern impatience with the time it takes to make changes in the Church. Some clergy seem to want the Church to be at the forefront of the justice movement; I suppose it could be, but it does have to retain some sort of form. And in the case of TEC, it’s especially important to retain liturgical form, because our doctrine is minimal.
    Then there’s the typical American problem with “submission”; we don’t do it so well.

  4. william paul says

    BLS, what are you talking about? I pointed out, first of all, that the author says in his 5th bulleted point that ‘congregationalism’, referring to the ability of local congregations to decide if they belong to ECUSA, is ill-advised or wrong and then in the next bullet point the author disowns an accountability to a greater reality–viz., is now willing to be autonomous.
    Next, what does the RC church have to do with anything here? I don’t think they are the one, true Church. I don’t think they are right about required clerical celibacy. But, in the main, I am just responsding to what I think are obvious weaknesses in the post under discussion.I don’t think we are “accountable” to them because they are the largest transnational body. That’s a misguided comments on a number of accounts, one of which is that you leap over the obvious body to which we are in some account, namely, the Anglican Communion. And are you willing to say, as the original poster says, that somehow ‘spiritual authority’ that the Primates possess is not ‘real’ authority and is not grounded in our Constitution, canons, liturgy, etc., I can cut the guy a break for trying to think his way, our way, out of this mess. But the dichotomies here are silly. Sorry.
    Last, I am not sure if you mean by ‘our doctrine is minimal’ and if you are saying that that is a lamentable state of affairs or not. I think it is and, increasingly, I think this hollows out our liturgy, to say nothing of our preaching and catechesis. (I also think that there is no such thing as not having doctrine. We got it all right, just not the right doctrine IMHO among our leaders.)
    I do agree that ‘submission’ is often not easy–and that our practices and our understanding bind us. It is hard for 21st century Americans, and, of course, hard for anyone living in that part of a culture which things that there is no objective good, no solid common good, and that, therefore, the self is free to confer–as opposed to recognize–value and truth where it sees fit. Somewhere on a blog recently someone said of CS Lewis ‘he bowed to reality and was able to climb up the ladder of truth.’ That’s where I am coming from,

  5. William Paul: I notice you concentrate on everything except the fact that, as I noted, Anglicanism itself was born in the rejection of the “transnational body” by a regional church. IOW, the very church you point to as an authority came into being as a result of exactly what you argue against here. No comment on that, I guess? And BTW, was that a mistake, in your opinion?
    As for the RC: I was simply pointing out that your definition of “congregationalism” is a little whacked out, and by the (il)logic you use could be stretched indefinitely.

  6. william paul says

    Do you see any contradiction, or tension, in the 5th and 6th bulleted points in the original post? Maybe that is a simple question to get at the heart of things.
    Please put aside the charge of my illogical use of congregationalism. It makes no sense. I am not saying ANYTHING about it. The original poster used that term. Surely the issue is about autonomy, self-governance, and where one draws the circumference to delimit an entity. Can we say to the AC ‘We’re completely autonomous’ and then turn around and say to parishes “And you’re not”?
    BTW I am concentrating on my original post ‘not everything else.’ Historical facts do not mean BTW historical necessity nor logical necessity. What I am after is good reasoning. I think the original post has weaknesses. Do you see any in it?

  7. BTW, William Paul: “reappraisers” certainly do believe there is “objective good.” That tired old canard really ought to be retired at some point.
    “Liberals” believe very strongly in equality; “reappraisers” argue from “inclusion” constantly. Most believe racism is an evil, as is prejudice of any sort. Many are pacifists; many believe strongly that our social policy must care above all for the weakest members of society. Almost all believe that Jesus taught all these things and believe we ought to follow them. TEC’s official positions reflect these beliefs, as well.
    So please: no more about TEC’s failure to believe in “objective good.” Liberals certainly do believe in “objective good” – although I admit many would have a problem with what you personally label “objective good.”

  8. Can we say to the AC ‘We’re completely autonomous’ and then turn around and say to parishes “And you’re not”?
    But we’re not saying that. The statement just released says the opposite, in fact: that the problem lies in the “breaking of relationships,” which it decries as a particularly Western weakness.
    So you are arguing from a faulty premise, but that never works. Here’s my feeling: you are throwing around a lot of generalities here that don’t hold – although they are certainly very dramatic and seem to help make the points you want to make in a very rhetorically flashy way – and so we will never get beyond square one in this discussion. My post above is another example of this, BTW.
    The Episcopal Church has a constitution and canons, to which all clergy bind themselves at ordination. The Anglican Communion, OTOH, makes no such binding requirements of its constituent members at all; it’s a group of national churches that began meeting in the 1800s to talk and pray together. Members have always been free to disagree with other members; in fact, AFAIK, the Anglican Communion doesn’t really even exist, except through the most limited “bonds of affection.”
    Your argument, in fact, is the faulty one. Now, if you think there should be binding mechanisms of some sort, you are talking about a different church. An you are welcome to it, but it’s not this one.

  9. (Anyway, can we please get back to the topic? This is supposed to be about “anomie” in TEC. It’s not about The Great Unpleasantness, much as everything seems to revolve around that these days.
    It’s really hard to have a good – and I think important – discussion with all sorts of extraneous topics being thrown around.)

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