Project Canterbury

The Panama Congress, the Board of Missions and the Episcopal Church.

By Charles Palmerston Anderson.

New York: Edwin S. Gorham, 1916.

The Panama Congress has become an issue in the Episcopal Church. It seems necessary to take either one side or the other. From the outset I have been opposed to official participation in the Congress on the part of our Board of Missions. My objections are many in number though unequal in weight.


From my point of view it was either a tactical blunder or else it was the deliberate adoption of a one-sided policy that was bound to incite conflict. It must have been known to the officers and older members of the Board that any proposition to participate officially in a pan-Protestant propaganda in a Catholic country would awaken the war-dogs of controversy throughout the whole Anglican Communion. It has always done so in the past. It will continue to do so as long as the. Episcopal Church is what it is. The Jerusalem Bishopric, the Mexican squabble, the Brazilian enterprise cannot have been forgotten. It is true that Bishop Blyth exhibited a charity and wisdom which allayed the fears of the fearful. Bishop Kinsolving and Bishop Aves are doubtless men of the same excellent qualities. That, however, is neither here nor there; and besides the Panama proposition is a more irritating affair. My point just now is that it is inconceivable that the Board’s leaders could have imagined that official participation in the Congress would not cause alarm and resentment. Apart altogether from the right or the wrong of it, it was certain that trouble would follow. The fact that it caused debate and postponement and division in the Board was a fairly accurate indication of what would happen outside.

Now it is one thing for the Church or for the General Convention to inaugurate some policy or movement in the teeth of opposition. That is its own affair. It is quite a different thing when the Board of Missions, the servant of the Church, charged with a specific duty and dependent on the good-will of its constituency, goes out of the way of its own specific business, to commit the Church (so far as it can) to a line of action which is certain to divide the body and to strain the loyalty of its friends. It was a tactical blunder.

[4] Or else it represents a well-thought-out measure to which this Church is to be made a party. This is much more serious. It is easier to overlook a mistake of judgment than a mistake of intention. In this latter case, the Board should have taken the Church into its confidence. For let it be clearly understood that there are those who will not blindly follow the Board’s lead in this direction. And let it be also clearly understood that the disturber of the peace will be the Board of Missions itself and not its opponents. We who oppose are not the aggressors. We are not the innovators. We are not the attacking forces. The opposition will come, as a defensive measure, from those who abide loyally by the principles and practices of the Church in her best and broadest moods.


The Board’s action, as I see it, was in defiance of the General Convention. The creature undertakes respectfully to snap its fingers at its creator. I am not now concerned about the powers of the Board under its charter as an incorporated Society of the State of New York. Nor do I argue the question as to whether the General Convention, through a failure to adopt an enabling resolution, legally restrained the Board from doing what it claimed to have the canonical power to do anyway. I leave these questions to lawyers and canonists, and they differ. What I maintain is this—that the Board did what the General Convention declared it had no authority to do. In this declaration the General Convention may have been, (though I do not admit it), in technical error, but even so it declared its mind and the Board ignored it.

This is what happened. The following resolution was introduced into the General Convention:

Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, That the Board of Missions be informed that in the judgment of the General Convention, it has full authority to take such steps as it may deem wise to co-operate with other Christian Boards of Missions in this country and elsewhere, in the united effort to arouse, organize, and direct the missionary spirit and activities of Christian people, etc.

This resolution failed to pass (vide Journal pp. 127, 128, 145). [4/5] That is, the General Convention declared that in its judgment, the Board of Missions did not have authority within itself to do certain things. Whereupon the Board proceeded to exercise an authority which it was told it did not have.

If the Board of Missions had the authority why was authority sought from the General Convention?

If the Board of Missions did not have authority, did the above negative action confer authority?

If the Board of Missions is above the General Convention, what were its two august Houses wasting their time over?

Has the General Convention anything to say about the Board of Missions?

If not, why not?

The answers to these questions from the pen of the defence, have recalled to my mind the profound words of the Duchess in “Alice in Wonderland” which I have never been able to understand:—“Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might; have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise.”

Without judging others by myself, I say that if I had been a member of the Board I should have regarded an affirmative vote on my part as a defiance of the General Convention, even though such vote might perhaps be legally and canonically defensible. When therefore the defence goes back of the General Convention and explains away its action as being inconsequential and having no hearing on the subject, my sense of respect towards that body is grievously wounded. Worse still, when the defence is made to rest on an appeal from the living voice of the Church to a State charter, an appeal from the spiritual authority to the secular arm, an appeal from the Church to Caesar—then every principle of Churchmanship in me solemnly protests. Erastianism in the United States of America, forsooth! The Board of Missions as the servant of the General Convention will receive the affection and support of the Church. The Board of Missions as the defier of the General Convention must expect to be defied. Better have a real Pope than a Board ruling over the Church.

It has been said that it was not the General Convention, but the House of Bishops only, that voted down the resolution [5/6] quoted above. It was the General Convention. A negative vote in either House is the negative of the Convention. It is true that the resolution failed through the non-concurrence of the Bishops. Allowing this to stand (for the sake of argument) as representing the mind of the Bishops only, is it not a rather serious situation when the Board of Missions of the Episcopal Church takes such an anti-Episcopal attitude? It sets one thinking. If that sort of thing keeps on, it will require no effort of the imagination to conclude that either the Bishops must go, or the Board must go. In such cases as the one under consideration (and there will be many such) it would doubtless be a great convenience to have the Bishops go. For certainly, so long as the Episcopate is true to its responsibilities, it will prevent the Church from drifting into a corporate assimilation with systems which, to say the least, have no prejudices in favour of Apostolic Order or Catholic Unity.


Official participation in the Panama Conference involves, for us, matters of general ecclesiastical policy—which go beyond the province of the Board of. Missions. In these days many questions touching the very essence of Church principles are likely to arise in the field of missionary administration. Panama might be another Kikuyu or worse. The division of territory, ministerial status, and all sorts of similar things might naturally be the subject matter of conference. They are already in the air. They are not merely questions of method, they are questions of vital principle. If the Board of Missions is ever called upon or allowed to pass on such matters, its usefulness as a Board will be imperiled. Other Christian boards may rightfully be authorized to act for their respective churches in congresses founded on their own principles. The Episcopal Church however, for better or for worse, is differently constructed. It must conduct its affairs on a broad Church basis and not on a sect basis. It cannot separate missionary method from the propagation of the Catholic Faith. It cannot authorize, or at any rate, it has not authorized its Board of Missions to be a Board of inter-Church relationships. In a word, the Board of Missions is not the executive committee of the Church, It is not a [6/7] board of general strategy. It is not a board of Church unity. If it allows itself to be tempted beyond its own sphere it will become a Board of Entangling Alliances.

I have been assured by an officer of the Board that no entangling alliances will ensue. This reminds me of a painful experience in my boyhood days. Innocently walking along a country road, a dog attacked me and bit a piece out of the calf of my leg about the size of a hen’s egg. I “hollered”; whereupon the owner of the dog rushed out of his house to assure me that the dog wouldn’t bite.


With no desire to question the motives of the promoters of the Panama Conference, it seems to me to come close to being an international as well as an inter-Church discourtesy. In these days, American statesmen, North and South, are trying to draw the two  continents together in mutual defence and helpfulness. Should not Churchmen be as statesmanlike as statesmen? Will it help towards the rapprochement of the two countries, either religiously or politically, if the dominant religions of the one antagonizes the established religion of the other? It is said that there is no antagonism. To this the retort has come promptly and bluntly from those immediately concerned—“Tell that to the marines.” The non-Protestant world has not been convinced of the cosmopolitan comprehensiveness of the Congress. There may be no intentional or ostensible antagonism, but it is nevertheless openly regarded as an offensive movement. It is intensely Protestant in its character and intensely (even if unconsciously) anti-Catholic, especially from the South American standpoint. The underlying premises and presuppositions are such that the Roman Catholic Church could not formally participate without committing suicide. It is gratifying to be told of a change of tone in the official Panama literature, but does anyone honestly think that the Roman Catholic Church could accept the Panama invitation even if it were written in honey? The invitation of the spider to the fly was courteous enough. There is a suspicion that the invitation of the Panama spider was not meant to catch the Roman fly but merely to hypnotize the Anglican fly. The Roman Catholic Bishop of Panama and the President of Panama have spoken in no uncertain tones. [7/8] Their words have echoed, throughout the Southern continent. The Conference is clearly regarded as an unfriendly act towards both Church and State. To my mind it is bad manners and worse statesmanship and the Episcopal Church ought not to be a party to it.


Is Protestant North America in a position to patronize Catholic South America? Is there not a suggestion of Pharisaism about it? “I am holier than thou.” No one denies that religious conditions in South America are most deplorable. We have it on the authority of the Roman Catholic Bishops themselves. What about religious conditions in Protestant North America? Do we want to introduce into South America our heterogeneous conglomeration of a hundred churches, which, in spite of their great number have failed to secure an aggregate allegiance of much over one-third of the population? Do we want to take to them our disintegrated Christianity? Do we want td take to them our national educational system from which is excluded the very name of Him Who is the Truth? Do we want to take to them our legalized tandem polygamy which disowns the laws of Christ? Do we want to take to them our rural paganism; our failure to touch the national mind of the industrial conscience? You answer No, and so do I. Then let us be careful not to patronize. I am not unmindful of the great work for Christ that has been accomplished by American Protestantism. God forbid. But it has so many sins of its own to answer for, that its lugubrious lamentations over benighted South America might easily smack of religious snobbishness, if we can help South America, in the name of God, let us do it. Let us be sure however that we help and not hinder. Protestant propagandism in Latin countries has not so far demonstrated great skill in ministering to the people, The Missions in Italy, France, Spain, Quebec and elsewhere—they are all pre-eminently respectable and pre-eminently unsuccessful. It looks as though the Latin people and the Latin Church must travel together. Perhaps we can help them by administering to our own people in their midst, and trying to set a good example. Perhaps in this way we can help them to be better Catholics. To try to help them by converting  [8/9] them from Catholicism to Protestantism is to hurt them. The converted Catholic does not make a good Protestant. Has the Panama Congress any special genius for making South Americans better Catholics? If not, the Episcopal Church will serve a broader purpose by keeping out of it.


Official participation in the Panama Congress touches the very structure of the Episcopal Church, and raises the question as to where it belongs. Broadly speaking, there are two groups of Christian Churches, Catholic and Protestant. The Episcopal Church, historically, structurally, theologically, belongs to the Catholic group. When the Church of England had a family quarrel with the Bishop of Rome, and rightfully (as we think) declined to recognize his jurisdiction over her, she put herself on record, in her canon law, as not thereby forsaking or rejecting the Catholic Churches of Christendom. She never broke off communion with Roman or Oriental Churches. She never rejected Roman or Oriental Orders. She remained Catholic. Her doctrine of the Church is the doctrine of the Catholic Creeds. Her doctrine and practice of Baptism, her doctrine and practice of Confirmation, her doctrine and discipline touching Holy Matrimony, her doctrine and practice of the Eucharist, her doctrine and practice of ministerial priesthood, her acceptance of Catholic Orders, her rejection of Protestant Orders, her threefold ministry, her theological premises, her devotional life—all these align her with the Catholic family and differentiate her from the Protestant family. So much for the Episcopal Church.

Now let us examine the character of the Panama Congress. With the highest admiration for its distinguished promoters and with the fullest recognition of their consistency, the Congress is seen at a glance to be an alignment and an alliance of exclusively Protestant forces. It is necessarily so. Its premises exclude any other possibility. If it means anything worth while, it means some sort of consolidated Protestantism. Admitting for the present that, even in South America, this would be worth while, let me confine your attention to this plain fact, that the Congress is as constitutionally Protestant as the Episcopal Church is constitutionally Catholic. Keeping this fact in mind, let us go to Panama in the capacity of [9/10] a corporate participant. On the face of it, does it not look as if, for the time being at any rate, we had “forsaken and rejected” our own family group, and had gone over to the other side? It seems to me to be as inconsistent for us to go in as it might be for others to stay out.

Some day, let us hope and pray, Papist and Protestant will dwell together in one happy Christian family. It is impossible for me to believe that Panama hastens that blessed day of the Lord.


While at first glance our participation in the Panama Congress might appear to the superficial observer as a step in the direction of unity, I am inclined to think that it works in an opposite direction and tends to defeat any special contribution that we might make towards unity. It certainly does not make for unity within the Episcopal Church. It certainly does not foster unity between the Catholic and the Protestant world. It certainly does not touch the fringe of the problem of unity with the Protestant churches. To my mind it simply befogs our own people, and befuddles our good neighbors. It evades and avoids the main issue to follow the line of least resistance. Unity will never come by sacrificing principle to good natured amiability, nor by substituting sentimentalism for sane thinking. Our own people are becoming confused and our Christian brethren bewildered because we are not instructing the one nor making our position clear to the other. The Episcopal Church is drifting with the tide. Whither? So far, she has never been Romanized, and she has never been Protestantized but the drift just now is toward the latter. Recognizing this, I, for one, in the interest of her larger usefulness in the world, and in the interest of higher ideals of Christian unity, will exert every effort to prevent this drift from her historical position to a modern denominational basis.

Between Romanism and Protestantism the Anglican Communion may be crushed. Or, she may divide up, half and half. Or, if she is true to her ideals and mission, she may become the Church of the Reconciliation. She cannot become the latter by blurring her own outlines until she becomes indistinguishable from the one or the other.

There are two distinct tendencies in the Christian world [10/11] today. On the one hand, an increasing number of people are learning to think in terms of the whole. They think of Christ as the Universal Saviour, redeeming the whole world through a world Church. They think of the Church as the Body of Christ possessing the marks of unity and universality and having many organs of expression and many modes of worship and work. They speak the language of the whole Church rather than that of many Churches. They think of unity embracing diversity rather than heterogeneity encompassing unity. They have got beyond the logomachies of sectarian warfare and think of one God as their Father and One Holy Church as their Mother.

On the other hand, there is a tendency amongst many people to attribute finality to “our unhappy divisions” and to regard unity as an irridescent dream. Dissatisfied nevertheless with our “sub-dichotomies of schisms” they seek refuge in federated denominationalism. This finds expression in interdenominational conferences and congresses which are wont to be heralded as the arrival of the only attainable unity. I do not desire to undervalue this latter tendency. It has tremendous symptomatic significance.

Here, then are the “signs of the times”—a clearer vision of the organic unity of the whole Church and a nearer realization of a federated disunity amongst the Protestant churches. The one is a long way off, but is well worth working for here and now. The other is close by, but is a purely local, program that tends to shut out the—larger issues. As between these ideals, the Anglican Communion, in all her official utterances, comes out squarely for the corporate oneness of the whole family of God, as distinct from mere provincialism or organized individualism. Has the time come for us to abandon our ideals and to substitute Panama for Lambeth? Is Panama really en route to unity? I take the liberty of expressing my doubts.


No objection is here made to inter-Church Conferences and Congresses in themselves. There are Conferences and Conferences. There are Conferences in which unlike groups could properly meet. There are Congresses in which unlike groups could co-operate only at the sacrifice of their [11/12] intelligence. It depends on circumstances and on the underlying principles and purposes. It was my privilege to be a delegate to the Edinburg Conference and to take part in the Laymen’s Missionary Movement and other similar co-operative enterprises. I was most happy in these associations with my Christian brethren. These organizations dealt broadly, as it seemed to me, with the broad question of Christianity in non-Christian lands. Panama is different. It is an aggressive determination to plant an exotic Christianity in a land that is already professedly Christian. Its logical goal is Pan-Protestantism, and its methods are adapted to this end. The Episcopal Church cannot, must not, allow herself to be lured from her own broader platform to this narrower one. The Board itself, in restricting the freedom of its delegation, seemed to have some fears.

If this is the inevitable terminus of the various missionary conferences which the Board is so energetically assisting, then the Episcopal Church, will have to define her position more clearly or risk her own cohesion. She cannot take official part in Panama with out this grave risk. It is a serious situation. It is a situation which the Board has created by not tending strictly “to its own affairs. It is the Board itself that has broken the peace of the Church. They are the Board’s defenders who announce to the world that “the fight is on.” Very well. So be it. We who stand on sacred historic ground have no fears.

“Faith of our Fathers, holy Faith
We will be true to thee, till death.”

It is not a question of co-operation in certain forms of Christian work. There is great need of co-operation between all sorts and conditions of Christians—yes, and non-Christians. Contact is to be encouraged. Let us have conferences that raise no life-and-death issues. The more informal they are, the more good they will do. The more formal they are the more harm they will do. A dozen Bishops might even have gone to Panama on their own individual responsibility, and no one would have said a word. They might have brought back valuable suggestions. It is another story when an official agency of the Church formally identifies itself with an organization whose platform is not only too narrow for the [12/13] Church to stand on, but foreign to her own genius.

There is a Commission of the Episcopal Church which is charged with the task of bringing about, if practicable, a conference of Catholics and Protestants on questions touching Faith and Order. The plan of this Conference is such that no risk or compromise can overtake any participating Church. I have not been over-optimistic about the success of this effort in either direction. It is quite certain, however, that the Panama controversy which has been so unnecessarily foisted upon the Church, will not help the work along on the Protestant side; while, on the other hand, it is well calculated to embarrass the negotiations of the Commission with the Roman and Oriental world. At any rate, it is poor team work when one of the Church’s agencies does what it was told not to do and thereby hampers another agency in its struggles to do what it was told to do.

It brings no relief to the opposition to be informed that the Board’s delegates are to be tongue-tied and shackled. The principle is just the same. The manner of doing it adds only an element of humiliation. It is a poor honour that the Board has conferred on its Right Reverend delegation, to bind it hand and foot and cast it into—South America.

When, oh when, shall we get done with these slippery compromises—this steering between Yes and No—this serving of two masters? Let us go in or stay out. Let us be fish, flesh or fowl. If the Episcopal Church is fundamentally Catholic, let us govern ourselves accordingly. If it is fundamentally non-Catholic, let us do likewise. But in the name of consistency let us get done with this acrobatic business of riding two horses at the same time, for we are sure to ride to a fall.

Let me conclude by hoping that this unhappy affair will cause no falling off in the Board’s receipts. It should not. The innocent missionaries should not be made to suffer. The cause of Christ should not be made to suffer. I shall exhort everyone in reach of my voice or pen to stand loyally by the Board in carrying out the real work which has been committed to it. At the same time, I venture to predict, that if the Board persists in trying to shape general policies for the Church, then its own unity and usefulness as well as the harmony of the Church will be seriously jeopardized.

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