Saturday, August 9, 2008

Are We Toast Yet?

For the last couple of days, since the firestorm of press landed on ++Rowan Williams' letters, I have been pondering the fallout from the ++Williams letters and attempting to swirl that into the peaceful confusion that was Lambeth to see what sort of strange concoction we now have.

It seems to me that the revelation of Rowan's letters was interestingly--if unsurprisingly--timed. Whether that timing was by the press or by those in possession of the letters, it matters little for the purpose of the revelation and the timing of same were strategic. What better way to mar Lambeth's seeming peaceful conference than to drop a bomb on its leader after it's close?

Personally, I don't care what ++Williams' theology is as long as he believes it is not his duty, as the Archbishop of Canterbury, to push it. If he believed it was his duty to push his own theology, then I would be concerned. But he doesn't, and I'm not. I could not take this view. I wear my morals as an individual, not a leader, and they don't get abandoned for the sake of some sort of unity. But I am not the leader of Anglicanism, just one that decisions roll onto or over.

What did irritate me, however, was ++Williams laying blame for the communion's current situation at the feet of the North American churches. The accusation is ill advised and, actually, wrong. The North American churches are tending their flocks. We don't tell those in England or Sudan how to tend theirs. I think it is wise to presume that those in TEC can instruct themselves on these matters. Everyone has plenty of work to do in their own provinces, each province having its own peculiar set of secular and cultural ingredients. This issue isn't about about mission. It isn't about the faithful in need. The issue is about power and control and the strategy of dislodging it from its existing moors.

The other issue that has rather fascinated me is the question of who stands to benefit most from the ++Williams revelations, and why. My compass needle points to GAFCON/FOCA and the US-based Common Cause Partnership (CCP). Several previous groups have now morphed into the current group (CCP) which seeks to either take over--or over take--the American church, The Episcopal Church (TEC), and the Canadian Church, as well. They will no doubt branch into any province they feel they can. That is their self-proclaimed duty: To save us whether it is needed or wanted or not.

1. If the ++Williams letters were released prior to Lambeth, it may have caused some fallout but more damage could be done by seeing they were released after many had made emotional commitments to listening and trying to work things out through the various processes into the foreseeable future, clearly not something that benefits GAFCON/FOCA/CCP. One way to cut those emotional ties--or most certainly scar them--is to make it appear that the Lambeth attendees were taken advantage of in their honesty, in their prayers, and in their new commitments to try to walk together. Therefore, it advantaged them more to release them post-Lambeth. It is also true that many of the GAFCON/FOCA/CCP ilk, not only prior to and during but after Lambeth, made it well known they wanted concrete disciplinary actions against the accused American and Canadian churches, and anyone else, for that matter, that deviated from their view of core Anglican beliefs. This disciplinary approach, reportedly, was not something the majority of the communion would support. There are also known polity problems in many provinces, making this perhaps impossible. It most certainly is not possible sooner versus later in the American and English churches, and there are undoubtedly other provinces in this position. Fruthermore, given GAFCON's upcoming meetings to consider how to move forward (while IN the communion, they say, which I find nothing more than a joke), regardless of the outcome of Lambeth, GAFCON/FOCA/CCP are advantaged by the revelation after Lambeth because no matter what was achieved, they benefit by undoing it or damaging it. The seven or so initial primates signing onto the GAFCON/FOCA document released at the end of their Jerusalem conference (having been tossed out of Jordon) are immovable, but other Global South Bishops were not. There is great flux among these Global South Bishops, and almost all attended Lambeth.

It also behooves us to remember that while some Bishops did, literally, choose not to attend Lambeth, the majority that did not attend were forbidden to go by both Orombi and Akinola, etc. This point, clearly lost on the press, is significant. If you want to look big, you puff up, claim more than you have, and look ominous. It's an survival strategy in animals that humans mimic well.

GAFCON/FOCA have made it abundantly clear that their intention is to involve all the provinces of the global south and unite them, ultimately, under one GAFCON/FOCA "constitution", if you will. That constitution has specific requirements to date: 1) use of the 1662 prayer book, 2) full agreement with each of The Thirty Nine Articles and several creeds, 3) a strong alignment with literal reading of the Bible. The fourth, and certainly the unwritten, though not unspoken one, is the perceived or real conflict with the western churches in culture and with ++Williams' "non communion election" to the position as clearly called out by Uganda's Archbishop Orombi during Lambeth. If one wanted to go after ++Williams, what better way to do it than to show Williams as some sort of "liberal" back-stabbing colonialist even if it is untrue. In fact, from my perspective, Williams has appeared a pretzel as he has cow-towed to the south while clearly brushing off the American church, for instance. I am certainly not the only one to hold this perspective. Surely, they thought, those defending ++Williams might think twice if the "real" ++Williams was revealed. Though many Bishops are familiar with the writings and theology of ++Williams, most laity are not. What do they need to drive their cause? The laity, because they will drive the Bishops or will follow. No laity, no movement. It is, in fact, the purpose of all press, basically--to reach the laity.

3. The issue is not about gay anything. Rather, it is a reflection of decades of disagreement (beginning in the American church) over women in clergy and the 1979 prayer book, and over the perceived liberal political bent of the American church. The Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), for instance, didn't just appear in 2003 coincident with Bishop Gene Robinson, they were extent decades before ++Robinson was so much as a whisper in the American church, working in foreign countries to accelerate uber conservative politics and to destabilize liberal foreign governments. Only in the early 2000's did the IRD turn their attention to American mainline Protestant churches attracting funders like Howard Ahmanson Jr., heir to the Home Savings and Loan fortune and former student of the bizarre Rev. Rousas John Rushdoony, and several other conservative family foundations: Bradley, Coors, Olin, Scaife and Smith-Richardson. In other words, the work to destabilize the American church--The Episcopal Church--began before Gene Robinson. With Gene Robinson's election as Bishop of New Hampshire, they added the "gay" issue to their political tool box. It had traction, and not just among some in the Episcopal church, but, all the better, on foreign shores.

4. The release of the ++Williams letters did not speak--nor were they expected to speak-- to the American or Canadian churches. In these two countries, where personal theology is respected and where the churches mainly are able to "big tent" diversity, the ++Williams letters would have little traction. Those that would be inflamed by ++Williams personal theology were already pointing fingers at him for not tossing out these two North American Anglican Communion members (though he couldn't as he has no power to), and many are already part of parishes or dioceses who have left TEC or are on the path to do so; some 100 or so churches out of the 7,000 in TEC. The intent was to fan the flames in the global south and, coincident with Orombi's observation that the head of the communion didn't belong in colonialist England when the majority of Anglicans were located, geographically, south of the equator; an assumption and statement that is neither verifiable or well understood as many in Nigeria, for instance, have been reported to attend not only the Anglican church but other more fundamental or pentecostal churches in a single day. What was discovered by many north and south of the equator in eye-to-eye discussions at Lambeth, was truth as it came from the "other". It is important to remember that many of the Bishops south of the equator don't have a vehicle, let alone internet. Truth is told and learned in words or by mail and perhaps by telephone. Much of what was "assumed", on all sides, was found to be in error or misunderstood. After Lambeth, the opportunity for correction would be lessened and the "stunning" revelations found in ++Williams letters indisputable. The same groups that entered the fray to drag TEC to the right, the IRD and the collection of groups now called the CCP, are the ones advantaged by the timing of the letters in fact the releases of the letters at all. The Global South will be meeting soon, and there will be no alternative voice to explain why ++Williams personal theology makes no difference to anyone, anywhere, any how.

There are those that will argue that the release just underlines the theological basis for inclusion of lgbt people in the episcopacy. I agree. But, the advantage will not be felt in any way. It will remain an interesting footnote and, in my opinion, no more.

So, is the Communion toast? Yes, I think so. Am I sad about that? Not really. Some with stay, some will go and some will continue to invade, some will start new movements and succeed, some will start new movements and fail, just like the last couple thousand years of Christianity, and just like the last 500 or so years of Anglicanism. Christianity has never been static and neither has Anglicanism.

While some want to freeze-frame God, our understanding of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit, it will not ultimately succeed. God is, after all, in control and if change was not part of the plan, Christ's presence would have been puzzling and meaningless.

The end of the Communion as we now understand it is just a new beginning as I see it. The Communion will look and "be" different and may be uncomfortable at first. And long after I am gone, it will continue to change and others will have these conversations about issues we cannot now imagine.

So, please butter my toast adding lots jam and let's just get on with it.