What in the world

Dear Editors,

I was a little taken aback to pick up a copy of your magazine in my parents’ home, today, and find what I thought terribly superficial and even sloppy reporting in Alisa Harris’s article about American Anglicans and the Vatican’s recent provision for Anglican churches’ transference. I’m neither Anglican nor Roman Catholic, but I’ve followed this story with some interest elsewhere, in Christian and secular publications and in conversation among informed Christians. I understand that this World piece is not about all the history or all the complexities of ecumenical dialogue and negotiation, but a look at the way things are unfolding for the Episcopal Church of the U.S. and its spinoffs. It really surprised me, though, that there appeared to be hardly any hint of more substantial appreciation in it, than in articles that have appeared in a lot of secular newspapers and magazines, of either the sheer magnitude of the event as a historic turn in relations between communions, now many years in development, or of the specific character and subsequent evolution of the English Church’s split from Rome, in theological and political terms.

I hope you’ll hear from readers who can critique the article, preferably from an insider’s point of view, better than I can. I have to say, though, that when I read for instance that one of the Vatican’s “concessions” is to allow married Anglican priests who make the move to “stay married,” I know immediately that I’m reading the view of someone who has quite a thin grasp of church history generally and of Catholic history and teaching particularly.

But more problematic, to my mind, is the author’s extremely loose way of treating Anglicanism’s position in the spectrum of ecclesiastical identities among Protestant and Catholic bodies, defined and redefined from the 16th and 17th centuries’ upheavals, across Europe, until today, globally. It’s true that Anglicanism is a very complicated subject, theologically and otherwise speaking. But this is all the more reason that it should be handled in a Christian magazine by someone who understands the essential issues. I’d venture that a writer who says that the question of the authority of the Church, in the choice between Rome’s position and a Protestant position (leaving aside in what sense Anglicanism is or isn’t a form of Protestantism), is a question of whether her authority “comes from” the Bible or from the Bible plus the magisterium, doesn’t understand essential issues very well. To have two basic problems confused — the historic debate over whether the Church’s authority, as an expression of Christ’s accession to reign over all things, does or doesn’t reside in the episcopacy, and the historic debate over whether the word of God has been given to the Church in the Bible alone, or in the Church’s very transmission of her apostolic establishment through time with the Bible and its preservation — is not a minor muddling of details. Confusing the most fundamental kind of questions (e.g., what is a question of ecclesiastical authority and what is a question of divine revelation) obscures, finally, the remarkable and perhaps inherently unstable nature of the English Church, as a national and then as a global communion. It leaves an enormous gap for the reader’s effort to get what the story really is, here, as a story about churches since the Reformation or about English-speaking and American society in the 21st century.

A Christian publication should do better.

Thank you for considering my concerns.

Paul Bowman
Baltimore, MD

4 Replies to “What in the world”

  1. Posting this here with second thoughts about having sent it in the first place, of course. But I did send it, and I’m still thinking about it.

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