Deconstructing Bishop Iker
Whatever else you think of being an Episcopalian, it certainly isn't boring. Take a recent article over at The Living Church Foundation interviewing Fort Worth's Bishop Iker, who today (July 27) signed a letter promising--incredibly--a presentment against Bishop Smith for inhibiting Rev. Hansen.
In the interview, Bishop Iker laughs, seeming at ease, even off the cuff, unguarded--enough perhaps to tell us something reliable about how he pictures his role in relation to the Connecticut Six Affair. A couple bits caught my attention (I've added the italics):
[I] We are willing to pay the consequences. If [Bishop Smith] continues to turn up the heat, we are going to respond. It is sad to see those who claim to be liberal behaving like fascists when someone disagrees with them.
[II] Our appeal [a separate issue--he alludes to Fort Worth's appeal to the Panel of Reference] illustrates the hypocrisy of the Episcopal Church when they say that they honor all theological views. That simply isn’t true.
[III] I have brought our concerns to the Archbishop of Canterbury on more than one occasion previously. One of the problems in the Episcopal Church right now is that there is no independent court system. The same goes for the Anglican Communion. We have previously had no means to appeal beyond our Province.
Pretty heady stuff; what to make of it all? I'm interested in seeing what Iker really thinks of ECUSA. He connects the Episcopal Church with: (a) phony liberalism; (b) occasional fascism; (c) the hypocrisy of favoring some theological views when claiming no favoritism; and (d) a biased, unfair court system.
It seems to me Bishop Iker associates (a) with (c): genuine liberalism treats all theological views equally, showing no favoritism. The "middle term" here might be "tolerance"--genuine liberalism is tolerant of competing points of view. Why? Ultimately, it is up to individuals to follow their consciences when choosing religious beliefs; liberals are loathe to impose on conscience from outside in matters of faith. Faith, like the free-market, operates best when free of planned interference from above. Points (a) and (c) connect with (d)--the Episcopal Church, on the liberal model, owes its constituents an unbiased court, just as government in the free market system owes the players a fair referee.
Is Bishop Iker himself a genuine liberal? Does he see himself that way? Note how his rhetoric, consciously or not, sets him outside "the Episcopal Church" as other to it. According to Bishop Iker, the Episcopal Church had claimed to be liberal--this is a tacit assumption of his criticism. That doesn't mean Bp. Iker would class himaself as a liberal, pining for ECUSA to join him--indeed, it follows Bp. Iker saw himself as other than a genuine liberal. The tantalizing question--just how is Bp. Iker outside genuine liberalism? Where would he step away--treating all theological views equally, tolerance, permitting guidance by conscience, freedom from planned interference from above, providing an unbiased court, or some combination of these? Inquiring minds want to know.
ECUSA's claim of liberalism--for Bp. Iker--turned out to be phony: ECUSA's "liberalism" isn't genuine.
ECUSA and Bp. Iker are thus, as it turns out, both other to or outside of genuine liberalism. Where does that place ECUSA? According to (b)--in the camp of fascism. The problem with ECUSA isn't so much the phoniness of its claim, but the intolerance, the imposition on conscience, the planned interference from above, etc. These constitute fascism in Bp. Iker's conceptual framework.
But now recall that ECUSA and Bp. Iker are both, according to Bp. Iker's own formulations, outside genuine liberalism. If that merits ECUSA the name "fascist" what name does it merit Bp. Iker?
It hurts operating within Bp. Iker's cramped conceptual framework, no? But it alarmed me to see where deconstructing Bp. Iker--using his own frame--leads. So far as I can tell, Bp. Iker doesn't think of himself as a, well, you know what--that might be a very well kept secret, provided we have indeed touched on a conceptual frame in which he is at home. After all, the framework used might be incoherent or inconvenient without the user consciously recognizing it--I think that's what we have here. But so what: meaning is not just "in the head." The framework may be incoherent without his realizing it; his passionate embrace of that framework in its incoherence is yet another instance of Postmodernism, a phenomenon on the Anglican right I've mentioned before. Bp. Iker, and perhaps that segment of the Anglican right that shares his framework, is caught in a degenerating dialectic.
I'm not suggesting Bp. Iker's conceptual framework is "a destiny": liberalism or fascism (fascism under one of various descriptions) is a false dichotomy. For the Episcopal Church to occupy either spot would mean something like the gates of Hell have prevailed against it. Indeed, I don't think ECUSA has ever been genuinely liberal in Bp.Iker's sense: but that does not mean it is fascist. ECUSA occupies an alternative he has neglected, an alternative not about to collapse (God willing) into either disjunct haunting Bp. Iker.