Saturday, February 23, 2008

Secret Plans!

As you've likely heard, a tiny international clique--a clique that seems to only tenuously include our Presiding Bishop--has launched secret plans to rescue the Episcopal Church, and perhaps thereby the Anglican Communion, from an even wider and more violent schism than we've yet seen. And the plans may succeed: they seem tolerable, they do not reward the extremists from among the Separatists, and indeed seem to sidestep the wild Minns/Sugden axis with its Duncan/Iker/Schofield/Venables/etc minions. One might look forward with a modest measure of hope to a general resolution to the conflict among those who differ over the presenting issues of GC2003, but are acting in good faith to avoid schism. That is, it seems those bent on schism from the Windsor Process' inception are not players in this. These plans are not a recipe for pleasing them; the reasonable majority seems to have finally realized that cannot happen here below. Perhaps then some settlement can be forged from among the good faith parties, with this initial, secret international affair providing a starting point?

Still, this way of doing things just seems so unfortunate: a public forum in the Episcopal Church, or in the Anglican Communion, that could function to support the type of discourse that might have a chance to keep the Communion from fracturing simply does not exist. If solutions are to be found, they must be found sub rosa, on the basis of personal relationships among the remaining reasonable members of the power elite. The General Convention, Lambeth, the Primates meetings et al have in effect forfeited the role of providing the compromises necessary for reconciliation. It would be interesting to ask:

I.
Why this evacuation of power from public discourse? To what extent have competing, purity-obsessed factions become so powerful in our public councils that a Leviathan-prince is required to keep parties in check?

I'm presuming recollection of Hobbes' argument for civil polity's requiring submission to an absolute sovereign, to whom I attach the tag "Leviathan-prince"--the faint allusion to Machiavelli is meant to underscore how much this whole affair looks to the outside like an unprincipled exercise of power. Of course I don't mean to imply there is just one guy involved; strictly, it might be better to speak of an oligarchy with a princeps inter pares in this case.

Regardless of whether we're dealing with one secret sovereign or many, we should ask: Do we really need this Leviathan-prince? Do we need to belong to a Communion that enables such a concentration of unrepresentative and unaccountable power?

There is no open protocol, no provision for representation, no formal, institutional check on the exercise of power in such proceedings as these. They amount to an exercise of pure sovereignty, carried on outside the rules--here indeed thankfully for the sake of a perceived common good--and if actually efficacious, what precedent will have been set? What praxis will have been thereby encouraged?

II.
Are such shady proceedings morally permissible? To some extent, if the irregular procedure succeeds in securing the common good, it is justified, and one may let it pass as--hopefully--a one-time affair. But who thinks the occasion for recourse to the backroom deal will pass soon? Must we look forward to this sort of thing happening again and again? It's alimentary: the patient peristalsis of time and institutional process will likely leave extremists in positions of power on the inside for quite a long time before requiring they pass.

That is, it seems alongside the apparent instruments of unity, about which we have heard so much, and alongside the actual canonical institutions of ecclesial power, the shadowy real instruments of unity and real institutions of eccelsial power may be taking shape.

So: is it morally right for us to submit ourselves to the power such a Leviathan-prince? Even if it were the pragmatic way, maybe we--being faithful rather than merely pragmatic--would be required to prescind and take the resulting consequences.

III.
What then of the apparent instruments and institutions? Why take them seriously? Why pretend? In short: do these proceedings have implications for the development of a Covenant? I should think they do, and I say so with certain words from Seitz in mind:

For those Dioceses which wish to abide by Camp Allen Principles, this Plan offers a way to model full and enthusiastic compliance with Communion life. This is particularly important at a time when the terms of belonging to the wider Communion are under assessment and negotiation.

The discernible trajectory desired by the elite is no secret: finding some way to codify "Camp Allen Principles", or some set of measures of which they would be a principal proper part, for the Communion. It may not matter whether those principles appear in the open letter of the document, or are understood tacitly as principles guiding a sovereign praxis.

IV.
The apparent institutions/instruments which seem to channel power are one thing; and they were already operating outside fair procedure in the Primates' Meetings in my opinion. The stream of discourse issuing from them occupies a great deal of time and energy; one reads them and analyzes them taking their justifications and interpretations at face value to represent what is actually going on and why it is going on with a rough accuracy.

But what if, behind the apparent stream of institutional discourse, there is another genuinely efficacious discourse, in which horses are traded, deals made, authentic opinions voiced and the painful alternatives weighed while compromises grind through? Would that render the apparent stream of institutional discourse merely ideological, a mere shadow play for the children--and the adults obliged to sit through it all? Would that make the Covenant in the end an ideological instrument, a sop for chumps, so that it becomes a stick to be weilded--whatever it might say in the end--by members of the elite against those who defy its dictates?

The good sought by this slice of the Anglican power elite, whether it really includes our Presiding Bishop, is laudable: peace in our time. But proceed with your eyes open.

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