Saturday, February 18, 2012

Why the seeming incessant spinning of Bishop Chuck Murphy’s break with the Anglican Church of Rwanda?

By Robin G. Jordan

Bishop Chuck Murphy’s wing of the Anglican Mission in the Americas that joined him in his break with the Anglican Church of Rwanda appears to have an obsession with justifying Bishop Murphy’s break with the Province of Rwanda, as do its supporters. One of the latest articles seeking to justify this break is Joe Boysel’s “The AMiA Leaves Rwanda: What Happened?” In the comment thread following the article Boysel claims that his article is not “spin.” The article, however, covers all the talking points of Pawley Island’s account of the break that his claim rings hollow.

In the early days of telegraphy the telegraph systems in the United States and other countries had what were known as “repeaters.” Signals were transmitted over the telegraph wires, using direct current from a chemical battery. The result was that the further along the telegraph wires a signal was sent, the weaker it grew. Repeaters were devices that relayed the signal in place of telegrapher at various points along the telegraph wires, enabling the signal to be sent at greater distances. They replaced the weak signal with a stronger one. This article, like a number of articles spinning Bishop Murphy’s break with the Province of Rwanda, serve as a repeater of Pawley Island’s account of the break.

Good propagandists and public relations specialists know that if you repeat a story enough times people will come to believe it irrespective of whether or not it is true. Adolph Hitler referred to this principle in Mein Kampf. He called it the “Big Lie.” The bigger the lie and the more you repeat it, the more people are likely to believe the lie. This includes the people telling the lie. If you repeat a lie enough times, it will acquire a life of its own. The lie will not require the expenditure of as much time and energy in repeating it as was required at the outset. The lie will over a period of time become accepted as truth. This principle is applicable to stories that are a mixture of truth, half-truth, and falsehood.

A number of assertions that Boysel makes in his article are clearly not supported by the facts. For example, he claims that the Anglican Church in North America is more structured than the Anglican Mission in the Americas on the basis of its retention of the diocese as a basic unit of organization and its adoption of canons. But anyone who has studied the structure of the AMiA knows that the AMiA in a number of ways is much more highly structured than the ACNA. ACNA dioceses are not required to seek the approval of the ACNA equivalent of the Board of Directors for mission projects as must AMiA church planting networks. Nor are they dependent upon the ACNA equivalent of the Board of Directors for funding as are AMiA church planting networks. An AMiA congregation must call a pastor recommended by the Council of Missionary Bishops or provide justification to the Council of Missionary Bishops for calling a pastor not recommended by the Council. The Council of Missionary Bishops may refuse to approve the congregation’s choice for its pastor. In the ACNA the laity have a role in the governance of the province and the diocese albeit a limited one. In the AMiA they have no role at all. They may at best have a highly circumscribed role at the local congregational level.

One of the talking points is “We only want to do mission.” This talking point on the surface appears to be reasonable. But what does it mean by “mission.” At one time the Anglican Mission in the Americas had adopted a fairly clear statement of its position on a number of key issues, its Solemn Declaration of Principles. But in the past eleven years the AMiA abandoned this statement. It has increasingly become more “Ancient-Future” in its theological outlook, moving away from authentic historic Anglicanism and embracing Convergence theology. Among the consequences it has become more tolerant or accepting of medieval beliefs and practices that the sixteenth century English Reformers rejected on solid biblical grounds.

Until Bishop Murphy broke with the Province of Rwanda, both wings of the AMiA—his wing and the wing that has remained with the Province of Rwanda—were operating under a code of canon law that extensively incorporated doctrine, language, norms, and principles from the 1983 Roman Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law. This code of canon law had originated within the AMiA, Bishop Murphy had approved it, Archbishop Emmanuel Kollini had used his influence to fast-track its passage through the Rwandan Provincial Synod and House of Bishops, and Bishop Murphy as a member of the Rwandan House of Bishops and primatial vicar had endorsed it. Both the present Rwandan House of Bishops and a large segment of the AMiA wing remaining with the Province of Rwanda have expressed difficulty with this code of canon law, with its doctrine and other provisions. But little objection has been heard publicly from Bishop Murphy’s wing of the AMiA. In his A Pastoral Declaration for Ministry in The Anglican Mission in the Americas Canon Kevin Donlon who drafted the code put forward as a part of the proposal the continued use of the code in the AMiA. While a rumor has been circulated that Bishop John Rodgers has revised the code, no one has posted a copy of this revision on the Internet. The rumor may be just that a rumor and wishful thinking on the part of those who do not want face up to truth about the theological direction in which Bishop Murphy’s wing of the AMiA is going.

The slogan “We are a mission; nothing more, nothing less” is meaningless if the task Bishop Murphy’s wing of the AMiA conceives itself appointed to carry out is not the spread of the New Testament gospel but the transmission of “a different gospel.” Planting new churches that are not gospel churches does not serve the cause of the gospel. No matter how attractive may be the worship, how inspiring may be the sermons, and how winsome may be the worship leaders and preachers, if the true gospel is not proclaimed, all Bishop Murphy’s wing of the AMiA will be doing is digging empty cisterns, dry wells. It clearly needs to put its theological house in order before it does anything else.

Behind articles like Boysel’s is a desire to control perceptions of Bishop Murphy and his wing of the AMiA. If the two develop a serious public image problem, it will not only cost them in terms of congregations and clergy but also money. The Anglican Mission in the Americas’ financial support not only comes from its churches but also from mission partners, donors outside the AMiA as well as in it. It also reflects negatively upon those in Bishop Murphy’s wing of the AMiA that they are willing to follow a leader who is prone to outbursts of temper and is unwilling to defer to the judgment of others or to accept any real form of accountability. Consequently rather than admit these shortcomings in their leader, they must explain them away or deny them altogether.

There is also the tendency of a group to defend its embattled leader despite his failings and weaknesses in reaction to mounting criticism of his actions. This dynamic might have accounted for this kind of article two or three months ago but not at this stage. Rather the intent appears to be to reinforce in the minds of the public as well as the minds of members of Bishop Murphy’s wing of the AMiA Pawley Island’s account of what happened and having established this account as the accepted account to maintain its acceptance. The process is similar to that of keeping a vision before a congregation. Without constant repetition of the vision it is apt to quickly fade from the minds of members of the congregation.

The one thing that Pawley Island fears most is that a different view of what occurred will take hold in the minds of Bishop Murphy’s wing of the AMiA and its supporters. It could adversely affect Bishop Murphy’s influence with the group. It could also have a negative impact upon giving and media support. The AMiA (Bishop Murphy’s wing) might lose the backing of those who presently identify themselves as its friends and mission partners.

While Bishop Murphy’s break with the Province of Rwanda has helped to draw attention to the shortcomings of the Anglican Mission in Americas, the defects of the Anglican Church in North America unfortunately appear to have escaped notice in the process. The ACNA has similar problems with accountability, openness, and transparency as the AMiA. Archbishop Duncan’s declaration that the AMiA needs to become more Anglican, when viewed in the light of the ACNA’s own defects, brings to mind Jesus’ words about removing the plank from your own eye before pointing out the splinter in the eye of someone else. Both the ACNA and the AMiA fall short in such foundational areas as commitment to the Scriptures, to the classic Anglican formularies, and to responsible, synodical church government. As Archbishop Duncan acknowledges, AMiA leaders have shown ability to lead the churches of the AMiA in church planting and evangelism. Does this mean that the AMiA has evidenced a strong commitment to the Great Commission despites its other shortcomings? The answer to this question depended upon whether the churches that AMiA has planted are gospel churches and whether the gospel that AMiA pastors have been preaching is the New Testament gospel. At most we can say is that in some places gospel churches appears to have been planted and the New Testament gospel appears to be proclaimed. We can say the same thing in the case of the ACNA. The ACNA also needs to put its theological house in order.

There is a very real possibility that God allowed what happened to occur in order to draw our attention to the shortcomings of both ecclesial bodies. He is giving us an opportunity to recognize and correct them.

God overrules all things. He is also a God who does not hide things in the dark but brings them out into the open, into the light. As human beings we do not want to face up to our failings and weaknesses. But once they are exposed, we are forced to recognize that we cannot depend upon our own strength—our own ingenuity and whatever else we have going for us—but must turn to God and rely upon his grace.

This is a hard lesson for us—even a painful one. But it is a necessary lesson.

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