Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Some Questions

Suppose the so-called Global South primates react to Abp. Williams' decision to withold invitations from AMiA and CANA while inviting TEC-minus-Bp. Robinson by withdrawing from Lambeth '08. OK. And suppose they go a step further and withdraw soon from the Anglican Communion altogether. Each of these suppositions seems rather far-fetched to me; e.g. I believe we might well see Uganda at Lambeth '08 after all, even without Williams backing down. But what if I am wrong, and the AC splits--what then? Here are some possibilities.

(1) A split would be a disaster for any serious Anglo-catholic dissenters who see belonging to the AC as preferable on ecclesiastical grounds to going it alone as another even international Protestant fragment. "Preferable" might be much too weak--for these, one's being-as-church is at stake, and opting out to be part of a brand new Protestant sect isn't just lamentably low-church, but a road to at best being church in an impaired or diminished capacity for the long term.

The fact Akinola is enamored of split-talk should have been sufficient to dissuade serious Anglo-catholics (Fort Worth and Schofield?) from even seriously contemplating hitching their wagons to his train. In fact, given Akinola & co.'s propensity for overreaching immoderation, you might have thought serious Anglo-catholics would have been more vocal in actively reigning in calls for a split from the AC, and even other things like the CANA installation or the formation of a militant GS faction in the AC.

(2) How necessary are African primates to bishops in the US once unity with the AC is no longer an issue on the agenda? Especially an outspoken primate like Akinola given over to unfortunate turns of phrase? A serious evangelical might come to see Akinola & co. as liabilities to the effective spread of the Gospel in the US--and as I understand it, in CANA's case at least the actual ties between the US dissidents and Africa are pretty loose and pro-forma already. How well will Akinola's denial of human rights, his dim view of America, and the general interest in left-wing liberation politics play with potential converts to CANA? Forced to choose between being an effective force for evangelization in the US and loyalty to Akinola & co., they will--I bet--be sorely tempted to cut loose from their primates. Remember, CANA will be competing against practiced and successful evangelical denominations in the US; they can only get so far by
padding their numbers by poaching disaffected congregations. Can they do Jakes, Warren, and Falwell better, esp. given their anti-American beginning?

In other words, ironically enough Akinola & co. might be guaranteeing the failure of their US projects by splitting from the AC. And how does the prospect of still further fragmentation play with Anglo-catholics contemplating joining CANA or AMiA or whatever?

(3) How would a new GS rump do apart from the AC? In particular, if they have a non-gay agenda, how would it work out? Would their wealthy, western conservative supporters shell out $$ for left-wing liberationist programs? I think a GS rump could be brought back into the AC in short order once the current crop of secessionists step down and the next generation of GS leaders have a good taste of what it would be like to operate on their own.

Indeed, the dim prospects for a GS rump, and its dispensability to wealthy, western conservatives (see point (2) above) might break up any large GS faction into moderates who insist on staying with the AC, and fanatics who insist on leaping over the edge.

(4) Every new CANA congregation means one less congregation able to plausibly claim persecution by the big, bad, sinister 815 or Bishop Whomever. A clean GS split within the AC might mean an end to high-profile disputes in the Communion and Episcopal Church. That would mean we can finally begin to concentrate on more important things like preaching the Gospel without being handicapped by a public image of being that conflicted church. TEC has a niche, a natural constituency that it cannot reach effectively as long as the conflict continues out front. A split has its negatives, but it also has its positives, and it could end up being instrumental to restoring the Episcopal Church to a condition of stronger growth and more effective evangelization.

That is not to say we should simply hold the door for CANA/AMiA/XYZ-bound departures, but there is something strangely self-defeating in the recent turn the realignment movement has taken. It may be CANA & co. would do better expending less energy continuing with what will likely be an ever more expensive and draining realignment effort with at best questionable benefits to Christian mission, and simply get on with Christian mission, period. Of course, the evangelical vineyard in the US is already well worked over, and it might seem tempting instead to continue to grow via poached TEC congregations--in which case endless whining about mean old TEC has its own logic.

To be realistic, I think many in and outside TEC will continue to adhere to realignment in word at least, with some ever ready for deeds. Even conservative moderates like Gomez and Radner and Howe will have to deploy realignment rhetoric at least some of the time to maintain an effective constituency, as "Will he be our realignment leader?" will continue to be a litmus test on the right. Indeed, it as if the entire effort has poisoned the well of discourse on the right, so that a certain number will have internalized combative or cynical dispositions precluding clear thinking and balanced evaluations. Who knows to what degree the poisoned well affected the judgement of those leaders on the right who so recently overreached? Realignment will become a new, romantic "Lost Cause" with its own curious in-language and storied history, its own special version of reality (Minns as Pickett making a modern charge up Cemetery Ridge all the way to Hylton Chapel before being forced back) and its own strained justification.

Monday, May 28, 2007

A New Development?

It seems to me that with Abp. Akinola's installation of Bp. Minns, we have witnessed the high tide of the realignment movement; its waters have begun to ebb back out to sea. For Abp. Williams has signalled--rather clearly for him--that he thinks they have overreached, and there is no Exodus of parishes and especially dioceses to CANA, which now appears to be merely the latest addition to the Anglican alphabet soup. Surely the tide may come back in--Minns & co. may somehow succeed in moving the realignment project significantly forward. But it seems to me the whole installation spectacle tarnishes their effectiveness as leaders in that movement, such that they join a growing list of other conservative Anglican leaders who have recently overreached. E.g. how do Fort Worth's Standing Committee declaration, Bp. Bena's high profile lateral mobility, or Rev. Armstrong's new allegiance look now? They might have taken a longer look before leaping in that particular direction.

So where is there an effective Anglican leader with the right profile for aiding the realignment project now? Is there anyone left? I think the answer is pretty clear: Abp. Gomez. His recent trip to the Diocese of Central Florida for a speech to our clergy may confirm his willingness to provide leadership among conservatives, and he has not yet diminished his capacity by overreaching; indeed, he is an official part of the covenant-making process at Abp. Williams' request. He could not be better placed in the AC at the moment for conservatives without actually being in the CoE.

Where might he take things from here? We already have an indication: he will continue to be a vocal critic. His speech in Central Florida brought up trust: How can the Primates trust PB Schori now, after she has left Tanzania out to dry? Yes, he was critical, but as far as speeches and issues go, it sounded rather tame. I mean, a breach of trust is something we can deal with more effectively than reaching agreement over, say, how to read Scripture. It sounded like his feelings were hurt, and he for one would like an apology. In other words, it might seem to some conservatives that Gomez lacks the right, well, zing to lead the faithful into realignment; just how much interest and commitment can tame critique sustain? "Gimme some hyperbole here; I gotta breathe!" In contrast, Iker, Minns, and Duncan had the required zing and a bit more, so far as I can tell.

But note what happened on the heels of Gomez' speech: in stepped Rev. Radner with another ACI, Inc. piece--this one arguing the crucial importance of the trust issue. An accident? I think not; Radner seemed to me to be amping up the good Archbishop's speech for domestic consumption, trying to add the zing and zap to which many Anglican conservatives thirsting for realignment have become accustomed.

To speculate: it may be that we will see them working together more and more, and that they will form the effective nucleus of conservative leadership of the realignment movement for the near future. Note "effective": there are of course other leaders, more or less charismatic (Weber's sense), among conservatives who will--I believe--not be effective, who won't have communion-wide power to move in a positive direction. Thus, Abp. Akinola surely continues to have great power, but I gather something subtle has changed in his ability to wield it in a positive way; n.b. simply leaving the AC would not be wielding power in a positive way. Perhaps Abp. Akinola's retaining credibility among mainstream CoE evangelicals, the kind who prefer Wright to Sugden say, as a reasonable leader was a necessary condition for his remaining an attractive leader-figure for that group. At any rate, simply leaving the AC would not accomplish realignment.

But wait--when did either of Gomez or Radner commit themselves to realignment? So far as I can tell, they have not. This is why, in my estimation, the movement has begun to ebb. Those conservative leaders with the best prospects for future positive action are relatively attached to communion-wide institutions, and now, esp. in light of Minns' installation, that attachment seems to pull against actual realignment. Paradoxically, the realignment movement's probable future leaders will not be aiming specifically at realignment, but at something more, well, institutionally oriented. For the moment, the realignment movement has been neutralized.That's a new and recent development, and one worth celebrating here in the shadow of Pentecost.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

On Radner and Paganism

The Rev. Radner's opinions--as a writer sympathetic to the so-called Global South faction involved in forming an Anglican covenant--merit special attention; someone powerful might take them seriously, and the Episcopal Church might even end up being asked to swear by some notion he has hatched. His recent Vocation Deferred: The Necessary Challenge of Communion is relatively mild given his missives of late, but the opening hyperbole sets a tone:

Indeed, from a practical standpoint, parties in the Communion are pressing their commitments in a way analogous to political groups and their external allies within a civil war: discussion and "agreement" has value only if one can gain a place of advantage from which later to destroy the opposition.

There is a grain of truth here, to be sure.

Anglican Communion* (the star is an unfortunate necessity, so that one is not misled by the term to beg any questions about whether the AC is really a Christian koinonia) developments have come to seem nakedly political, in the sense that parties have become factions competing for power, compelling--in a rather Hobbesian fashion one might say--a primary authority to centralize its power in order to hold the relevant community together as an even minimally functioning whole. But if we take the development of factions seriously, surely we have reason to take a dim view of the covenant writing process as primarily an expression intending to enable centralized authority seeking an adequate Christian-sounding ideological guise. The purpose? Find the right postliberal christianist babble about koinonia--gobbledygook sufficiently anaesthetic to maximize participation in a scheme of subjection to an ecclesial sovereign. To his credit Radner cues us in right away about the nature of the covenant process; much of the rest of Radner's essay consists--alas!--of christianist babble.

The misleading part of the Radner quote above is its exaggeration, i.e. an imputation of symmetry between the "Global South" and TEC/ACC factions--supposing it is fair to say these are the relevant factions. Only one faction has destruction on its agenda, to my knowledge, and that is the "Global South"; only one faction intends a realignment to, in effect, "destroy the opposition" in Radner's words. You might have thought, from Radner's rhetoric, that TEC intended to kick Nigeria out of the AC* and replace it in the AC* with a new Anglican province. Not so. You might have thought that TEC intended a change in Nigeria's polit yas a condition on TEC's continued participation in the AC*--an intention parallel to Nigeria's. Not so. To tell the truth, I see no recognition in Radner's work here of this asymmetry between the "Global South" and TEC/ACC. Yet it seems relevant to me at least inasmuch as the procedures of the AC* such as they are now, pre-covenant, have enabled and supported the development of this asymmetry, and such enabling might be taken to be an abuse of power. Such abuses might be important to keep in mind as we develop a covenant.

"Serious Reflection"
Radner characterizes TEC as adhering to a "localist" understanding of the church or church, holding "[t]his is the church: an autonomous act of faithfulness – of which there may be many, none of which impinge upon the integrity of the others":

One view, which I shall call the "localist" view, is one that the TEC's general leadership seems to be vigorously pressing at the moment. It claims that every local church fulfills the Gospel calling wherever it is and according to whoever it is, and is faithful only as it does this.

That is, of course, a straw-man. It may well be that TEC does not understand itself to be the church in a sectarian sense, such that no other denominations are parts of the one true church. The sectarian sense of "church" is one sense. And it may well be that TEC does not understand the one true church to be nonexistent, many churches with roughly equal claim to fidelity existing instead. That would involve another sense of "church", a purely fragmented sense.

These options are not exhaustive; for instance TEC could see itself as bearing the one-in-many, rather as many drops of quicksilver may slide together into a unity. TEC could bear the nature church as you and I bear the nature human. And just as the nature human intends a telos, operating in each of us as a formal cause, so many denominations--TEC, PCUSA, etc--could bear one and the same nature operating in each as a formal cause aiming at some end point.. It may well be the telos naturally intended for TEC is a unity, even an eschatological unity, with other instances of the church. In this case each instance of the church could only realize its eschatological intention by being the best individual instance of the nature church it can be, given what is causally accessible to it. What might seem local on a surface view would not be merely local at all, but would conceal an underlying identity already actual which could only be properly worked out in numerically distinct instances.

This is the sort of thing I think Radner would had to have eliminated to make his case. Otherwise, it might seem possible that the TEC/ACC faction ordaining actively gay men to the episcopate and blessing gay unions does the will of God even if they do it alone among the denominations, and what is more, in doing so they fufill their ergon--doing the good--indeed doing the very same work the RCC for instance does, and perhaps at least as well.

Radner's version of localism implies a rather tendentious nominalism about the church. Anyone familiar with Anglicanism's long tradition of realism--of moderate, Platonic, and Augustinian varieties--stretching from Hooker to the Cambridge Platonists to Coleridge and the contemporary Radical Orthodoxy movement--a tradition that derives from an even longer tradition of realism going from the Middle Ages back to the earliest church apologists and perhaps even beyond into canonical and apocryphal literature itself, might pause at Radner's tacit, presumed nominalism and count the cost. Is it even possible for us to be orthodox, given our historical position, and be nominalists? Is it even possible to say the Nicene Creed and refer to ousiai coherently while embracing nominalism? Maybe the cost is too great altogether.

More "Seriousness"
I think I have already provided a candidate answering Radner's question about why autonomy seems to always trump communion. There is no shame in contemplating the church with a dessicated notion of "church"--how can we avoid it?--the shame is in doing so from within an authorial persona presuming the dessiciated notion is sufficient. It may be that autonomy to Radner looks that way because he chooses to confuse appearance and reality. Maybe "autonomy" is a tag referring to the nature church's messy concrete realization, "messy' in the sense the nature as a formal cause interacts with other causes outside the nature itself such that its development does not look properly linear and there may be questions like Does the serve our attaining our telos? E.g one might wonder whether GC2003 is an exercise of efficient causation extrinsic to TEC's nature as church contrary to its disposition toward its telos, or GC2003 is an exercise of TEC's nature as contracted here and now realizing its disposition toward its telos--and in the latter case, what seemes like a bunch of aging liberals enacting a radical agenda autonomously would not really be so. Moreover, one might seriously wonder just what the AC* is--what is it? Does it bear the nature church in embryonic instantiation? Or is it not a church at all, but rather something of a different sort altogether? Can it--is it even possible--for the AC* to instantiate Christian koinonia? Is it any more possible than a human being having been a block of wood?

Perhaps indeed koinonia cannot exist at the level of the AC* in a sense univocal with its existence in churches. Applying koinonia--pace Radner--at the level of the AC* is a category mistake I think. Or less charitably: gobbledygook. Like taking Socrates is human and Socrates is sitting down to tell you in the same way two things that Socrates is. The apparent synonymy of "communion" used of the AC* might be an effect of pros hen equivocation, like calling horse piss and War Admiral "healthy".

When we follow Radner's talk of the elements constitutive of communion, we should keep a firm handle, so far as such a thing is possible, on when he equivocates on "communion". Why should we--anyone--think an element contitutive of a church's communion is also consitutive of pros hen equivocal communion? Just what are we bemoaning when we regret the loss or lack of visible unity in the church's communion--may we even talk of the AC* in the same breath? And who would think visible unity a necessary criterion of real unity? When he speaks of "The particular ministry of Anglicanism within the larger church is thus to be a school for communion, for the koinonia that can only arise from a specific form of evangelism and ecclesial life that..." how are we to regard the "larger" church? Larger in what sense? As if were we to take this church over here, and the other one over there we would have two of them and that would be larger--and if we went on like this we would eventually have the larger church, see.

In effect, his foreboding at the close,

While localism and confessionalism churn their way through the fields of the church, leaving only stubble for a Communion, the lethargy of ignorance and denial over the question itself is like a flame set to the barren stalks. We seek some other outcome. But perhaps the fire is already set, and another prayer of our Lord is wending its way to fulfillment (Lk. 12:49)

looks merely like an effect of persistent misunderstanding grown to unmanageable proportions.

The AC* is trying to be what it cannot be--that is, if we take its account of what it is trying to do to be what it is really doing. It is trying to do what a church does when it is not--and cannot be--a church. But I do not think it is really trying to instantiate Christian koinonia in the primary sense, the sense in which a church may be in communion. Rather, the AC* is attempting to centralize its power, and there is nothing distinctively Christian about that. Indeed, revivifying an analogate of and imitating the Constantinian project may seem quite pagan, the sort of thing corporations and governments and institutions with no special Christian identity do. We have been poorly schooled in Christianity indeed to mistake pagan futility for Christian vocation.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Abp. Akinola in Virginia

Is the installation of Bishop Minns really of any significance? Why all the furor when, after all, he has already been ordained in Nigeria? The installation's predominant meaning probably shifts with the audience. To conservative Episcopalians in the US who have not yet come under CANA, it may feel like something of a challenge. While Bp. Minns & co. are moving forward with the Gospel, actually doing something--in their view creating the safe havens within which conservatives may worship and proclaim--what is the ACN doing? Or the AAC? What are the Windsor/Camp Allen/Whatever bishops doing? Who knows: equivocating, or talking and talking and writing and writing, or waiting around for some version of the PV-scheme to materialize, or..... It may seem like the Exodus is actually starting, the Israelites are actually leaving for the promised land, and those conservatives still outside CANA are missing out, sitting around in the sand insisting on bondage.

Minns' installation in effect subverts the claims of other conservative leaders--I have Duncan and Iker in mind especially--to loyalty, or even to relevance. Do they have anything other than submission to CANA on tap? If not, why on earth are they still waiting to kiss Akinbola's ring? And if they do have something else in mind, will they in the end just be producing more Anglican fragmentation in sheer hubris, adding their own pathetic two cents to CANA, and AMiA, and all the other riff-raff and bobtail?

From the center, however, Minn's installation looks rather different. After all, Akinola, Minns & co. seem to have twisted arms in Tanzania to get a rather harshly worded Communique sent out in the Primates' name, a document brazenly threatening the Episcopal Church's place in the AC if TEC's bishops didn't surrender their province's traditional autonomy and polity. Akinola, Minns & co. even managed to get a deadline for submission--9/30--thrown in and the ABC as a spokesman. But with Minns' installation, they in effect walk away from the Communique, subverting what had been the process they worked to put in place. For before TEC's deadline, and before TEC issued a final, authoritative response to the Communique, before the PV-scheme was finally decided upon, and before ABC Williams had a chance to chat up the American bishops, Akinola carried out an audacious border-crossing, just the kind of thing the Communique promised would not happen if TEC submitted to its demands. It looks as if Akinola is not a party in good faith to the Communique--it would be as if PB Schori were to ordain an actively gay bishop or bless a SSU in September.

Were Akinola, Minns & co. ever serious about the Communique? And if they were, why couldn't the installation wait until after 9/30 at the every least? Why did it have to be in open defiance of PB Schori and even ABC Williams? Their actions open the door to a serious and credible charge of cynicism. One might infer Akinola and Minns are not to be trusted in future negotiations. They seem to have used the other primates and especially Schori and Williams, both of whom may have actually believed in Akinola's probity.

Minns' premature installation is just what TEC's bishops need to yield interesting conversation with Williams during his brief visit. Is there any point to talking about the PV-scheme when we all know that whatvever TEC does, Akinola will continue to cross borders? The Communique is dead; what to talk about then? Supposing one of Williams' chief concerns is the unity of the CoE, and that his past capitulation to Akinola had the premise of Akinola's reliability in delivering that unity, can anyone really believe that premise now? In light of Minns' installation is Akinola a reliable party for anything so important? Or does he belong with Duncan and MacPherson as mere might-have-beens? Amazingly, Akinola and Minns may have managed what seemed impossible just a few weeks ago: simultaneously undermining their own claim to Williams' serious consideration and other conservative TEC leaders' claims to serious attention; the conservative cause just took a crushing body blow. Just maybe it is time for Williams to rethink his broader strategy, and our bishops can help him out a little.