Ephraim Radner–Fractured Identity and Broken Trust: TEC’s Invention of Itself

So what happened? How did it all fall apart? Clearly, Gene Robinson was a watershed, and with it went a lot of other matters building up and associated, often in profound and logical ways, with the seemingly radical change in sexual discipline that General Convention 2003 represented. But “doctrine” alone doesn’t explain the tidal shift in relationships.

The central problem, I believe ”“ one noted by both Windsor and Primates — is the loss of “trust”: trust among Anglican churches was broken, and by and large, the initiative for this breaking (although not wholly) has come from one direction. In sum, TEC and her leaders broke trust with the Communion, and Global South leaders and conservatives within and outside TEC lost “trust” in the American church and her leaders. This is related to TEC’s changed doctrine and discipline; but, as I said, only partly. One can navigate doctrinal difference and dispute, even of the most essential kind, if there is a trusted means of doing so. The real issue has been the sense that TEC is no longer what she was, that her word is not worth anything, that she cannot keep promises, that she is no longer trustworthy and therefore she that cannot be dealt with consistently and openly in terms of discussions and common counsel. The doctrinal and disciplinary dispute of the present is “irreconcilable” not only because the divergences at issue are vast, but because there is no commonly coherent means of resolving them. The difference between 1970’s and the 2000’s is that in 1970, for all the suspicions and even dislike and outright worries about its liberalism, ECUSA was still “trusted”; now she is not.

And why was ECUSA trusted then, and TEC is no longer trusted now? In brief, because TEC has lost her bearings within a coherent history others once recognized; because she no longer evidences a consistent character others once encountered; and because she is no longer engaged in a committed Christian discussion of critical matters in a Christian way with her Anglican sisters and brothers she once pursued. This claim is now worth unpacking.

One major debate today ”“ and it has emerged only now, but necessarily and essentially ”“ is over the identity of the Episcopal Church’s history, and thereby the church’s historical character. The debate has been attached to a new argument that has been promoted of late by, e.g. the House of Bishops, and that has also been taken up by the House’s allies and apologists. The argument is that TEC has an exceptional character vis a vis the rest of the Communion: she is a “democratic” church. And this “democratic” character means that the church is governed by a comprehensive set of representatives well-beyond the episcopal order, committed to “liberative praxis”, to breaking the shackles of colonialist imperialism, to upholding the needs and aspirations of oppressed and marginalized peoples, and to working to fulfill the inclusivist project (or “mission”) of God to bring all people, whatever their condition and social status, into a reconciled and egalitarian participation within the Church’s authoritative order. This articulated self-identity has been used to justify the direction taken by TEC’s General Convention on matters of sexual morals and discipline (not to mention other elements like “open communion”), even when this direction has gone counter to previously stated hopes, claims and promises.

Now, this newly argued Episcopalian identity may indeed be a hope for some or even for many. But it in no way represents the historical character of TEC in a purely factual or sociologically tethered fashion. The new progressive liberative identity is a constructed or invented history that is being foisted on the church by its proponents through the mechanisms of political rhetoric and strategic procedure. But it does not reflect what TEC has in fact been, or even is today (leaving aside the question of whether it is faithful to the Gospel of the Scriptures itself, which, in many crucial respects, I believe it is not).

Read it all.


Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Resources & Links, - Anglican: Analysis, Episcopal Church (TEC), Resources: ACI docs

27 comments on “Ephraim Radner–Fractured Identity and Broken Trust: TEC’s Invention of Itself

  1. Sir Highmoor says:

    When truth is pluriform there can be no trust in the long run. We have reached the long run of 1984 and our history is being rewritten.

  2. mathman says:

    Movie quote: “what we have here is a failure to communicate” (Jack Nicholson).
    The young radicals of 40 years ago are now the silver-haired leaders of TEc. What they learned then is employed now. To change the world, one must use the lever of language. So one uses the language of one’s opponents, while re-defining the terms, so as not to alienate the vast middle.
    Book quote: “in his terms, saving means slaying and help means ruin” (Gimli the dwarf).
    Thus theology (the knowledge of God) becomes liberation theology (reasoning about how to operate without God.
    Sin (having failed to obey the immutable requirements of an omnipotent Creator) becomes sin (an outmoded precept imposed on gullible primitives by power-hungry classist satraps of an evil monarch).
    Salvation (being rescued from the inevitable consequence of sin [see above] in order to be welcomed to Heaven) becomes salvation (working through the Millenium Development Goals to achieve Heaven on earth).
    I could go on for hours, but I think I have made my point. Of course there is no trust. There is not only no trust, there is no longer a common language in which to discuss the lack of trust.

  3. Philip Bowers says:

    So mathman, TEC and Christianity are two religions separated by a common language.

  4. badman says:

    I agree that trust is critical – indeed, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s invitation letter makes this very point: “I believe that we need to know as we meet that each participant recognises and honours the task set before us and that there is an adequate level of mutual trust between us about this. Such trust is a great deal harder to sustain if there are some involved who are generally seen as fundamentally compromising the efforts towards a credible and cohesive resolution.”

    I agree that trust in TEC has been damaged, although the present Presiding Bishop has the personal qualities to rebuild that, and her reception in Tanzania was much better than expected.

    I don’t agree that the only damage to trust has come from TEC. Rejection of border crossing has been a constant refrain across Lambeth conferences, and it is an important component in the Windsor Report. The pairing of Minns with Robinson as an excluded Lambeth Conference bishop continues the theme. It must be remembered that AMiA was set up before Robinson was consecrated. He is not the root cause of all the present disagreements, although he is certainly a major factor. English evangelicals (including the present Principal and Vice Principal of troubled Wycliffe Hall in Oxford) have also published a very badly received “Covenant” which claims the right to bypass their bishops in case of disagreement, and embraces alternative episcopal oversight for dissenting congregations.

    I also think that there is an excessively US-centric perspective to this piece. The issue of the covenant is not an issue about the US, and the future constitution of the Anglican Communion, and, in particular, its effect on our ability to engage ecumenically, which is what Williams sees as the most important consequence of it, goes well above and beyond any US perspective on it. Our disagreements about human sexuality and other matters cut across provinces, as observed in “The Challenge and Hope of Being an Anglican Today”.

  5. Sherri says:

    I agree that trust in TEC has been damaged, although the present Presiding Bishop has the personal qualities to rebuild that, and her reception in Tanzania was much better than expected.

    She hasn’t made much effort at rebuilding trust at home, though, has she? If she can’t find it in her heart to make some provision for orthodox believers, I don’t see an end to border crossing, either, however much it confuses things. This doesn’t really have to be so hard, if there were any willingness to compromise. Perhaps the focus here is on the U.S. because it has been radical action in the U.S. that has brought us to this point? In some ways that is not bad, from reasserter or reappraiser perspectives, if it makes the AC examine and define itself more clearly.

  6. Tar Heel says:

    Mathman, your post is right on – – except for one small trivium. The “failure to communicate” quote should be attributed instead (I believe) to Strother Martin, who played the prison farm warden in “Cool Hand Luke.”

  7. Ian Montgomery says:

    I find this a splendid and cogent though sad analysis. It echoes my increasing sadness as we face a future of exclusion.

    I was particularly struck by these words:

    This is the “communion” of the suspicious, the untrusting, and the untrustworthy. TEC may well be left behind because of this, but not without already poisoning the trust of many other churches in the Communion.

    I believe that in my liftime there can be no reconciliation because of the breakdown of trust and the hostility. TEC or ECUSA has poisoned the well with its arrogance just as the current foreign policy and war in Iraq of our country has poisoned the well of international relatiions. Under these circumstances I hope still for a more irenic divorce within the communion and TEC. However given the predeliction for lawsuits and punishment of the dissident rampant in TEC’s leadership, I have little hope.

    My strength comes from re-reading how the apostles rejoiced to suffer in the name of Christ and for the Gospel.

    Amen — Come Lord Jesus

  8. Jordan Hylden says:

    Folks, one thing to remember when reading Radner is this: He’s a member of the Covenant Design Team and ACI, and is committed to Communion solutions for Communion problems. And he doesn’t take that position as any sort of pie-in-the-sky optimist either– clearly, from reading this piece, Radner knows in a very personal way what has happened to ECUSA over the decades in which he has served as a priest. Nevertheless he sees the opportunity we have been given: the vocation of Anglicanism to truly become a church-in-communion; a sign of healing from brokenness in the midst of a broken catholic Church and a broken world. (If you haven’t yet, read Radner’s excellent “Vocation Deferred” piece on the ACI website.)

    As for Zahl: I personally have a great deal of affection and respect for Paul Zahl, but in this I disagree with him. Giving up now means giving up on the vocation of Anglicanism. Zahl thinks that the very idea of “church” is nothing but Law. I disagree. The Church is the bride of Christ, and a gift we have been given in which to be faithful and grow in prayer, holiness, and witness.

    Anglicanism has a chance to become a place in which we all together live humbly and faithfully under the authority of Scripture, showing forth the self-giving nature of Christ himself. All Christians are given this grace– to become like Christ– and it is our vocation also as Anglicans.

    As Dr. Seitz said, there’s no reason to think that Abp. Williams and the Primates have abandoned the Tanzania Communique. Williams went around the room asking each Primate if he or she would live by it. Surely, he would do nothing other than live by it himself. His theological positions and expressed commitments as Archbishop of Canterbury both point to the same necessity– of expressing and acting the mind of the Communion. That was expressed at Dar es Salaam. It remains unchanged. Williams and the Primates remain committed to the Covenant process. Windsor and GS bishops alike have the chance of participating in what truly will begin to bring about Anglicanism as a conciliar Communion bound together by common life and the authority of Scripture. I hope and pray that we will do so.

  9. chips says:

    Someone should write the book on how the church once known as the Rebublican Party of Prayer got hijacked by the gay and lesbian lobby – a truly remarkable feet of political skill.

  10. Daniel Muth says:

    “badman” #4 –

    I can understand and even, to some extent, sympathize with the frustration of TEC regarding boundary crossing. Still, as the Tanzania Communique made clear, boundary crossing is a response to the loss of trust that Dr. Radner points out, rather than a cause of it. The fact is, TEC has squandered what trust has been placed in it and cannot earn that trust back save by abandoning its soi disant “prophetic” actions regarding the blessing of homosexual imitations of copulation. It is as useless to point fingers at the actions of others as it is to compare TEC’s actions with those of the Bush Administration, which is not a Christian body and is not in mystical communion with anybody. “tinpipe’s” quotation from Paul Zahl in #8 above would seem appropriate, if applied to the leadership of TEC.

  11. Reactionary says:


    I read an essay at Chronicles that summed it up thus. The Episcopal Church was always the church of the respectable Establishment. With the change of the larger culture in the 1960’s and 1970’s, the Episcopal Church had a choice between orthodoxy and respectability. They chose respectability. This leads me to the sad conclusion that there was never really anything of substance there and Anglicanism has just been trying to lift itself up by its own bootstraps all along.

    The modern “Establishment” is now a bunch of grey-haired veterans of the Fourth International and so goes the Episcopal Church. It has been a classic Gramscian march. Eventually, the only people in the pulpits and in the pews will be women and their homosexual friends.

  12. Sherri says:

    The fact is, TEC has squandered what trust has been placed in it and cannot earn that trust back save by abandoning its soi disant “prophetic” actions

    Actually, I think some of that trust could be restored if TEC would simply make sensitive, and long-term, provision for its orthodox members.

  13. Reactionary says:

    TEC no longer needs nor wants its orthodox members.

  14. Christopher Wells says:

    Hear hear, Jordan (#9). Thank-you.

  15. PadreWayne says:

    frianm: ” It echoes my increasing sadness as we face a future of exclusion.” While I am totally opposed to the “exclusion” of our conservative/reasserter brothers and sisters, and in my own parish will never encourage or allow it, if you feel the sadness of exclusion you might consider how hundreds, thousands of GLBT people have felt in church over the years.
    You are welcome in The Episcopal Church. No one is excluding you as long as you do not try to exclude someone else. That, my brother/sister, I will not allow.

  16. Hursley says:

    Dr. Radner’s account has many strengths. While no one author or group can have “the whole truth” in overviewing the situation we are in, much of what he writes here squares with my own experience. So many clergy today are taught only a very partial and rudimentary understanding of Church History, and combined with a lack of knowledge of the original languages of Scripture and a generally very weak familiarity with the breadth of the Bible, Philosophy, Christian Ethics (other than that of recent ideological schools), Logic, Ascetical Theology &c, one is almost certain to get the sort of revisionist leaning of today’s TEC leadership. I agree that much of this has to do with ignorance (as well as ideological bias). Sadly, the conservative response has all too often been to create another web of “let’s pretend” with Anglican history and biblical exegesis, resulting in various kinds of fantasy church models.

    Again and again as I read this piece, I kept thinking of how important – indeed essential – is the virtue of Humility, especially as expressed in the Rule of St. Benedict. The Church, the Gospel, the entire Christian life is not possible without this. And what I see over and over again in leadership (of both “sides,” sadly) is very little of this. Rather, I see revenge, the desire for power, and the exultation of the Self.

    The collapse of truth Dr. Radner writes of is very real. Most of us who are not tied to one of the “camps” have come to see very little difference between them, and now regard their various pronouncements as untrustworthy propaganda because there is no “breaking down the wall of division” nor a truly radical assertion of Christ’s call to a deep and loving obedience to Him rather than to our selves and our preoccupations. As the long-forgotten (but very insightful) Zacchaeus Report said, the leadership of TEC really have little idea of how their actions are leading to complete breakdown of trust for the Church beyond the parochial level, and how much such a process imperils the entire validity and significance of the Episcopate.

    In Christ,

    Non clamor sed amor psallit in aure Dei

  17. Reactionary says:


    No one in the orthodox camp is trying to exclude anybody. All sinners with a repentant and humble heart are invited to participate in the life of the Church; that’s what it’s for, after all. Naturally, this is never enough for the cultural Marxists who seek to level traditional institutions, so they demand that their deviancy be validated by ordination and gay “marriage.” However, practicing homosexuals cannot be ordained as priests nor can the Church bless homosexual unions. The reason they cannot is because Scripture forbids it. If Experience is to be another tool in discerning the truth in such matters, then get ready to not exclude pornographers and polyandrists from those Sacraments as well, because their experience is just as valid as yours.

  18. Shumanbean says:

    Hursley, #19

    I think I agree with you to some extent. However, when I see little difference in the two “camps,” it’s usually in their more extreme members. Maybe, as I read a while back, the center no longer exists as a viable camp, but I think there are still differences. Compare the responses of +Robinson and +Minns to the Lambeth invitations.

  19. Daniel Muth says:

    Sherri #15 –

    As “PadreWayne” in #18 illustrates, I think it impossible for the TEC leadership to make “sensitive, and long-term, provision for its orthodox members,” without in some way and to some extent backing off from its commitment to the homosexual movement, particularly given their inappropriate and grossly inaccurate use of terms like “full inclusion” to describe the official sanctioning of homosexual imitations of copulation via ordination and the redefinition of Holy Matrimony. If, as claimed in “To Set Our Hope on Christ” and other places, the Holy Spirit has given the TEC leadership a new revelation in this regard, it is incumbent on them not to allow others to “exclude someone else.” As with women’s ordination, it may be possible to allow reasserters their opinions for a time, though they will not be allowed to act on them, but eventually, this paradigm must succomb to logic and prevent “full inclusion” of those who cannot accept TEC’s newly-manufactured identity as described by Dr. Radner.

    It has ever been thus with heresy, and for the record, the position of “To Set Our Hope on Christ,” described above is Montanist and therefore heretical. It and orthodoxy are and have always been mutually exclusive. Though the term is not being used, the reality is that the TEC leadership majority must abandon heresy in order to be trusted by the wider Church, and that’s as it should be.

  20. Undergroundpewster says:

    I agree with Hursley that we need to practice Humility as followers and as leaders. I agree with Radner that Gene Robinson has in his power the option of stepping down and humbling himself.

  21. Undergroundpewster says:

    Co-existence is an interesting concept. Unfortunately most want to co-exist on their own terms.

  22. Daniel Muth says:

    “tinpipes” #24 –

    There’s always the option of TEC accepting Dr. Radner’s advice and backing off from their theologically and ecclesiologically indefensible position. Assuming they don’t, we eventually get to where you describe. I say eventually. There’s a difference between being a heretic and being found guilty of heresy. It is not just to treat someone as a heretic who has not been found guilty of heresy by lawful ecclesial authority. Yet at the same time, one must first BE a heretic to be found guilty thereof, heresy being an objective category. It therefore makes sense to me to speak of the TEC leadership’s positions as heretical yet remain in communion with said leadership so long as they are not found guilty – if only because they have not been put on trial.

    Personally, I would remain in TEC so long as she is the only recognized Anglican body in America. If she removes herself and is recognized as having done so by the proper ecclesiastical authority (just what this would consist of is obviously a conversation well worth having), then I would join whatever body replaces her. Otherwise, I intend to remain an Episcopalian and work and watch and wait for her leadership to come to their senses.

  23. wildfire says:

    A splendid analysis; one of the best yet. Radner has really been on a roll since the HOB meeting. Now two observations with which he almost certainly would disagree. First, Rowan Williams seems to be suffering the same loss of trust and for some of the same reasons as that Dr. Radner attributes to ECUSA. Second, with Radner questioning the legitimacy of councils as Williams seems to be constituting them and Seitz wondering aloud whether he is reading Rowan right, is ACI starting to tiptoe away from Canterbury?

  24. Jordan Hylden says:


    No, I don’t think there’s any chance that ACI is tiptoeing away from Canterbury. Or the councils of the Communion, for that matter. It’s just a matter of trying to interpret precisely what ++Williams meant. And unless you have mind-reading powers, that’s a challenge for anyone! On the big things, however– the main tenets of Williams’s committments– Williams himself has been quite clear, even if it does sometimes require translating from Oxford-Anglo-speak. I see no reason to think he’ll do anything other than represent the mind of the Communion. He sees that as his job. Right now, the Communion’s mind was expressed at Dar es Salaam. Williams’s authority is circumscribed by the Communique. And with that in mind, Dr. Seitz is basically saying: We shouldn’t suppose that Williams meant anything other than that when he issued his invitations. I can’t speak for ACI, but that’s their opinion as I understand it. I think it’s the most reasonable conclusion.


  25. john scholasticus says:

    ‘I think it’s the most reasonable conclusion.’
    You’re probably right, but surely you’ve got to admit that nothing Dr Radner or Professor Seitz writes has the capacity to stir the blood?

  26. Sherri says:

    John, they often stir my heart. I sometimes wonder what your requirements are in writing, but the hints I am collecting suggest that excellent prose is that which agrees with you. 😉

  27. john scholasticus says:

    Bit surprised by that, Sherri.