Submitting to Episcopal Oversight: Turns Out It’s a Perspectivist Issue (Miniblog #210)
A crucial part of my efforts to rebuild up from mere Christianity has involved taking a fresh look at episcopal oversight. Specifically, what does it mean to submit to one’s bishop? The last couple weeks I’ve been been quietly asking around concerning this whole issue.1 There was a diversity of answers given… many of them conflicting!1.- What does it mean?
- What doesn’t it mean?
- What are the expectations?
- How are the expectations defined?
- How does one’s conscience fit into the equation?
- Where is there freedom of doctrine and practice?
That sort of thing. Honestly, I’m yet to hear an answer I find even remotely satisfactory. In fact, it became clear that the answers often said far more about the micro-individual than the macro-issue. It seems to me many, but obviously not all, Anglicans like to pretend there’s a certain uniformity of understanding that doesn’t appear to actually exist. Yet they maintain this illusion by projecting their own convictions and practices as embodying said uniform understanding. This realization sent my mind down another path altogether. Instead of looking for the theoretical standard I switched gears and went searching for the practical implications. My tentative conclusion is that, given the tradition’s breadth, there simply is no common definition for what it means to submit to a bishop; it’s always contextually dependent. Submission certainly isn’t purely subjective, but neither is there an objective standard.22.Outside of the constitution and canons, anyway. It’s a perspectivist issue. It’s always dependent upon the ministry context, regional dynamics, and culture of the diocese or jurisdiction. Equally important are the bishop’s personality type, gifting, and leadership style as well as the relationship between the clergy/laity and his or her bishop. The key, then, is fleshing those things out for one’s own situation. Thus, the question which I’ve been asking33.i.e. What does it mean to submit to episcopal oversight? has been painfully naive. To quote Rick Perry, “Oops.” What I need to be asking is this: What does it mean for me, in my specific context, to submit to my episcopal oversight? I sense this could be a real breakthrough.