Let us leave aside the substantive theological aspects of the recent Episcopal Church General Convention. They are important, of course. But I am interested here in the dynamics of decision-making that underlay the way things turned out. I am interested because these “transactional” aspects, as some call them, may tell us a lot about the future. And we are hearing a lot about these aspects from the Convention: it was surprisingly “respectful”, many have reported; it was engaged without “acrimony” and “contention”, and despite the momentous topics addressed, people were calm and relatively relaxed. All very different from past conventions, with their hand-wringing, protests, weeping and gnashing of teeth. “Where are all the passionate arguments?” many wondered, breathing a slightly uncomfortable sigh of relief. The explanations for the relative peace breaking out varied: some said that the traditionalists of TEC’ had all been “purged” or disappeared or were simply too exhausted and defeated to raise a ruckus; others said that the church had finally moved to a real “consensus” about previously contested matters of sexuality. “This is who we are!”, the Convention could finally say with some coherence.
The “purging” and the “consensus” explanations are probably both right to some degree. But it is a complicated overlap that merits some reflection. This is what I want to offer now. I have been doing some reading of late on the matter of how church councils “decide” things. And inevitably I have had to delve into some of the social scientific literature on related topics. There are two writers in particular who, I think, have something to say about this particular council we call the General Convention that has just met. And applying some of their broad insights can indeed, I suggest, help us to map the future a little bit. ...
As traditionalists leave TEC, consensus decision-making will prove more and more devoid of accountable divergent thinking, and the decisions made will become less and less informed and representative. This spells danger and self-destruction for the Episcopal Church. Alas, though, the same is true for the exiting groups. From the perspective of decision-making, the loss of divergent thinking will affect traditionalists who leave TEC as negatively in their own sphere as the liberal church they have left behind: alternative views will be suspect as “extreme” and councils “buffered” from their effects; small groups of decision-makers will prevail over the engagement of broad participation; and, just as importantly, the existence of multiple and available choices will spur exit over loyalty. American Anglicanism has never appeared so vulnerable as now (Canada is just a few steps behind).
A warning, then, a warning to all world Anglicans! All you who pass by! Do not touch the American disease! Too many choices, too many fears, insecurities and enmities, too few loyalties. The Anglican Communion cannot turn into an enclave. That is not what Christian communion embodies. Yet, should it simply split apart, it will become a set of enclaves, spreading their little seeds of insularity.
Do read the rest of Radner's essay.