Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Anglican Communion Meltdown

Coming back from a week of vacation in the mountains of east Tennessee, I see that things have heated up in the Anglican world.

First, there is Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan William's Pentecost letter in which he proposes:

Firstly, that members of provinces that are in breach of the three moratoria requested by the Instruments of the Communion should no longer participate in the formal ecumenical dialogues in which the Anglican Communion is engaged. Secondly, that members of these provinces currently serving on the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order (a body that examines issues of doctrine and authority) should, for the time being, no longer have full membership, but retain the status of consultants. 'This is simply to confirm what the Communion as a whole has come to regard as acceptable limits of diversity in its practice'.

Read it all.

In response, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, wrote:

We live in great concern that colonial attitudes continue, particularly in attempts to impose a single understanding across widely varying contexts and cultures. We note that the cultural contexts in which The Episcopal Church's decisions have generated the greatest objection and reaction are also often the same contexts where women are barred from full ordained leadership, including the Church of England.
As Episcopalians, we note the troubling push toward centralized authority exemplified in many of the statements of the recent Pentecost letter. Anglicanism as a body began in the repudiation of the control of the Bishop of Rome within an otherwise sovereign nation. Similar concerns over self-determination in the face of colonial control led the Scottish Episcopal Church to consecrate Samuel Seabury for The Episcopal Church in the nascent United States – and so began the Anglican Communion.
We have been repeatedly assured that the Anglican Covenant is not an instrument of control, yet we note that the fourth section seems to be just that to Anglicans in many parts of the Communion. So much so, that there are voices calling for stronger sanctions in that fourth section, as well as voices repudiating it as un-Anglican in nature. Unitary control does not characterize Anglicanism; rather, diversity in fellowship and communion does.
We are distressed at the apparent imposition of sanctions on some parts of the Communion. We note that these seem to be limited to those which "have formally, through their Synod or House of Bishops, adopted policies that breach any of the moratoria requested by the Instruments of Communion." We are further distressed that such sanctions do not, apparently, apply to those parts of the Communion that continue to hold one view in public and exhibit other behaviors in private. Why is there no sanction on those who continue with a double standard? In our context bowing to anxiety by ignoring that sort of double-mindedness is usually termed a "failure of nerve." Through many decades of wrestling with our own discomfort about recognizing the full humanity of persons who seem to differ from us, we continue to work at open and transparent communication as well as congruence between word and behavior. We openly admit our failure to achieve perfection!

Read it all.

(For critical takes on this pastoral letter from the Presiding Bishop, see Fr. Tony Clavier's blog posting entitled "Reflections on a Pastoral Letter" and Joe Carter's piece for First Things entitled "Is the Holy Spirit a Relativist or a Colonialist?")

Then there's the statement issued by the Rev. Canon Kenneth Kearon, Secretary General of the Anglican Communion Office, indicating how he is attempting to implement the Archbishop of Canterbury's proposals. The response across the Anglican blogosphere suggests that this has really turned up the heat of anger and mistrust.

Are we dealing here with two rival or even incommensurable visions of what it means to be the Church? Possibly so. Then again, as Fr. Nathan Humphrey suggests, it may be that the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Presiding Bishop are talking past each other and that there are places of convergence in their perspectives which, if recognized, might offer opportunities for deepening understanding and maintaining relationship in the midst of conflict. (Perhaps this is true more broadly?)

Regardless, I find as I surf the Anglican blogosphere that the theological left and the theological right are united in heaping scorn and contempt upon the Archbishop of Canterbury, but for different reasons. For the left, the Pentecost letter is too much. For the right, it's too little, too late. But it's how this all gets expressed that I sometimes find disturbing.

On blogs and on Facebook, rhetorical excess abounds. Terms like "dictator," "Anglican pope," and even "fascist" are used by the left to describe the Archbishop of Canterbury. Some on the right characterize him as "spineless" and call him a "coward." And some of the words I've read and heard by a few on the right to describe the Presiding Bishop I cannot, in good conscience or taste, publish (and, sadly, that's been true ever since her election in 2006).

It also disturbs me that our Presiding Bishop used words like "colonial control" and "spiritual violence" in response to the Archbishop of Canterbury's Pentecost letter. Given the climate out there, such language all too easily gives cover to those who go a few steps further by using ad hominem and vicious rhetoric to attack those with whom they disagree. At the very least, it can fuel a mistrust that says the motives of others are self-serving, authoritarian, perhaps even evil. Whatever its merits or demerits, I do not detect anything like this going on in the Archbishop of Canterbury's Pentecost letter.

All told, the politicization of the Church goes unchecked.

For those of us who genuinely care about the comprehensive character of Anglicanism, i.e., its ability to unite "people of great diversity ... by a common recognition of Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience" (John E. Booty), this is all very troubling. The scorn and contempt for those with whom we disagree has been around for a while now, but across the Anglican spectrum there's a willingness to throw each other under the bus if it serves our purposes. Living in a culture of increasingly expendable relationships, it's so much easier to just walk away into our like-minded enclaves.

In watching what might be the meltdown of the Anglican Communion, I'm reminded of Speed Leas' five levels of conflict:

Level One: There's a problem to solve in the organization, and people may disagree about how to solve it. But they believe they can work it out, and they are committed to try. They are talking directly to each other, not withholding information. As a result, most people don't call this conflict. They say, "We've got problems to solve, but we can do it."
Level Two: The focus shifts from solving the problem to caring for myself. People feel, We've got a problem to fix, but I don't want to be associated with it. I'm going to be cautious, armor myself, plan before I talk to the pastor. I'll talk with other people, but not share fully all I know about the situation. People are nervous, which you can tell because they generalize everything: "We're not communicating. There seems to be low trust around here. There are some difficulties with the choir." But they don't describe the problem specifically. The role of the pastor, then, is to get people talking.
Level Three: Again the objective has changed. It's no longer, "Fix the problem", or "Protect myself;" it's "Win." People feel, You must accept my solution. It's win or lose. I'm not contributing to the difficulty; I'm the good person who has the only possible answer.
The language in such cases is not only vague, it also overstates, distorts, and dichotomizes the conflict. For example, "Pastor, the whole church is out to get you. We are split down the middle. A few bad apples should not be in the church at all. They're never going to change."
People are not yet in factions, but they clump together, and we give them labels: "The pastor's buddies," "the old pillars of the church."
The pastor's role is to create a safe environment for people to air concerns and start solving the, which means thinking a lot about who should be in what conversations and how we can affirm people and hear their concern.
Level Four: People are no longer satisfied with getting their way. Now they have to get rid of the opposition. The goals is a "divorce"--getting people to quit coming to church, firing the pastor, or disbanding a committee or ministry. People are now in factions, usually meeting in homes. There is a clear leader, sometimes two, who gives marching orders to each faction.
At this level, it's wise to get outside help: denominational officials, a consultant, a skilled pastor or lay leaders from another congregation.
Level Five: People won't settle for getting people to leave; now they want to remove them from the fact of the earth, as we see in Palestine or Northern Ireland. In a church, the people are not satisfied with a resignation; they want to have the pastor defrocked. And if they can't have that, they'll call congregations where the pastor is candidating and warn them.
People at this level become fanatics. They won't stop fighting because they feel it's immoral to stop. They believe they are called by God to destroy the evil. The only thing you can do at this level is remove the opposing parties from each other.

Different people and different parts of the Anglican Communion may be at different places among these levels. Some of our leaders, for instance, appear to be in the second level ("let's keep talking"). But I do wonder if, on the whole, we haven't moved beyond the third ("win or lose") into the fourth level ("get rid of the opposition"), with some pushing for us to enter into the fifth level of conflict ("annihilate the evil enemy"). And there's no discernible resolution in sight.

For those who care about the Episcopal Church being a part of something larger than itself and containing more than a majority of mostly like-minded "progressives," this is depressing.


Anonymous said...

This is deeply disturbing. As someone who is just finding their feet as part of the Anglican communion from being someone who among other reasons avoided the church for it denominational politicizing, I find myself left wondering where to turn.

Very very sad.

Joe Rawls said...

Lots of hovering between levels 3 and 4, from what I can see. The best any of us can do is to witness to what we see as authentic Christianity and try not to act like jerks.

Anonymous said...

Wow, they sure did use a bunch of big words to make a simple point. Couldn't the AoC have just said,

Dear America,

We clearly told you that we didn't want any more gay bishops and whatnot. You did it anyway. We are now placing you in the Naughty Cathedra.



Then Schori could have just responded:

Dear England,

Thanks for the note. We stopped having to do what you say back in 1776. Still sore from that whooping?

Need we remind you that if Jesus were around today, he probably wouldn't live in Chelsea and drive a Range Rover. He would be hanging out with the poor and the hookers and the outcasts like he used to.

You keep digging your hole and we'll keep spreading the word of God to all of God's creation, even the gay ones.

Peace out,


Bryan Owen said...

Thanks for sharing a humorous trivialization of everything at stake for both sides in the current mess, Anonymous.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous sadly your attitude is a huge indicator of the problem. I think the fact you choose to remain anonymous is a second indicator of the problem.


Bryan Owen said...

Trivializing what's at stake in all of this misses or dismisses something central to what it means to be Christian. Ephraim Radner puts it well:

" ... the issue at stake has nothing to do with how we think of the connectional church, with its institutional responsibilities and strategies. It has to do with whether the church exists as a divine body at all, and if so, where it might be and how it might survive with the integrity of witness to Christ's gospel that is its reason for being" (Hope Among the Fragments: The Broken Church and Its Engagement of Scripture, p. 201).

My second posting on Politicizing the Church is relevant here.

Brett said...

I'm in the depressed, stay in bed on Sunday morning level.. whichever one that is. The Anglican experiment only looks like a big failure to me, and I'm sorry that I ever fell in love with it..

Bryan Owen said...

I empathize with what you're saying, Brett, but I'm far from willing to give up on what I believe to be, at its best, the purest form of catholic Christianity in the West.

In the meantime, I commend Ephraim Radner's Hope Among the Fragments: The Broken Church and Its Engagement of Scripture to you. Perhaps especially chapter 11 entitled, "Enduring the Church: How to Be a Fool."

Bryan Owen said...

I'm posting the following comment on behalf of Jill Woodliff:

"Frankly, Bryan, I think the greatest problem is at Level Zero. If the vast 'middle' would arouse from its slumber, the voices on the right and the left would become less strident. There seems to be no outrage (e.g. Spong's soteriology, Bruno's Hindu-Christian interfaith service) that stirs them to action. Can they not even throw off their mantle of torpor to defend the cross and demand a correction?

"The name-calling of the right and the left is bad manners and unhelpful. However, the paralysis of the 'middle' is what will ultimately kill the church."

Anonymous said...

I have come to the conclusion there is no longer a "middle." The former middle has either left TEc or it has become the right. There are very, very few far rights left in TEc.

There is a category here not mentioned. It is the still asleep and I hesitate to call them that. I often ponder - is it sleep? I wonder how any can sleep through the disturbance of the past 7 years and wonder if we should take care and take a pulse on any who still slumber lest they have slipped away when we did not watch.