Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Hypotheses on the Schism

In a sense, the slow-motion train wreck of Fort Worth et al. finally separating from the Episcopal Church is to be welcomed. After the ruins are restored to some new order, Separatists and Loyalists may be able to settle back into more worthy tasks befitting Christians than bickering bitterly and ceaselessly among themselves; myriad backburner issues may at last get the attention they deserve but have of late been denied. Even so, it seems likely to me that this schism, even when "complete" a year or so down the road, will offer neither closure nor catharsis. These are my fears then: likely so far as I can tell, but perhaps avoidable somehow:

I. The bickering will not end.

[a]Too many conservatives sympathetic to the separatists' cause will remain in TEC, and will prove too tempting to the separated. The newly separated will then begin to appeal to them through new interest groups: not the AAC or ACN or CAPA or the current whatnot, but new XYZ groups--a fresh serving of schismatic alphabet soup.

[b] The separated have their own internal conflicts, and will not have achieved the requisite unity among themselves at the time of separation a year or so from now. Having gained some measure of unity through opposition to TEC, they will return again and again to this theme--and that will require ongoing bitter rebuke in an endless stream of detritus flowing nonstop through the internet cloaca.

[c] The separated have bigger plans then mere unity among themselves; they want to be in the AC as a province, and to kick TEC out of the AC as a province. They have not given up these plans--separation is merely stage one. Performing the Provincial Two-Step will take years--even decades--of well-funded, high-decibel bitterness at an international level. The funding and the shouting will be there in good supply.

It takes two to bicker. Is there a creative way for Loyalists to unilaterally stop bickering? What would that look like on the national, diocesan, and congregational levels? What should it look like?

II. TEC will continue to slowy contract in the U.S.
Sure, TEC could turn that around, as we have the Message and a target audience very well-suited to hear the way we have received the Gospel. But that is not where we are putting our energy. That is not where the funds are going. TEC has been suckered into taking "the Global South's" Provincial Two-Step seriously enough to waste an enormous amount of time and energy on it. That is--in my opinion--a big mistake. Why?

[a] When there's a shouting match in front of the store, people will be disinclined to come in. They won't have the time or energy to figure it all out and to see what is going on--they'll move away from the margins to somewhere else: not in all cases, but in enough cases that we should be worried.

[b]When there is a shouting match, the message doesn't come through. Our target audience won't be able to hear it clearly. For example, think of how most younger Americans--many of which see nothing wrong with homosexual couples--see TEC in the midst of this mess. It is not clear where we stand when our crisis management in the HOB tends toward carefully parsed compromise that will inevitable seem to those on the outside to be self-serving equivocation. Sure, it really is not equivocation, but it sure is self-serving nonetheless.

[c] The fact there is still--after four years--a shouting match that is getting worse and worse serves the Separatist cause. It is in their interest to see TEC continue to be distracted from Mission and to continue to contract while being preoccupied with a never-ending "crisis" increasingly manufactured by the separatists themselves.

As a recent AC report made clear, we have at least a dozen sympathetic friends in the AC. Can they handle the issue of whether we get kicked out and whether Separatists everywhere should be rewarded for their schismatic efforts with a shiny new province? Can we form an intentional community in the AC to balance the continual poisonous, negative hype from the GS with something more constructive and postive--and less isolating for the Episcopal Church?

III. The Instruments of Union will Continue to Centralize their Power
Flip our tedious Anglo-drama on its head and ask cui bono? You might think first of Duncan and Minns, Nigeria and upper-class, right-wing Episco-america. In a sense, sure--but they might well be paying a high moral price through the means employed. Who else?

The instruments of union, of course. The whole Windsor Process as it has actually played out, the entire Covenant solution, the Communion-wide response to this crisis tends toward a resolution in centralized institutional power. You might say: both sides are being played against each other to the end of desacralized administration. To a double or triple irony: (1) the apparatus is already manifestly dysfunctional; and we're going to trust it with this?; (2) neither side actually intends this outcome primarily and no indiviual "bigplayer" seems to want it as an end in itself; (3) some of the right-wing prime movers in this mess would despise the "more bureaucracy" answer in any other context--with excellent, well-articulated reason too (see Tullock, Buchanan, Hayek et al).

But this type of centralization in the service of Power serves no merely human person, I'd guess. Here the church is caught up in culture to its detriment--the same "reason of state" interest can be viewed operating with great success in secular society, and especially in our own post-9/11 United States. This secular movement is fueled by discourse around sex and the practice of confession--it's as if we are trapped in a half-conscious, neurotic repetition in spite of ourselves: caught in a frantic St. Vitus' dance. But from the outside, from the outside: view it from the outside.

Ultimately, it serves nothing. Must we continue to partake in it?


At 8:12 PM, Blogger bls said...

Must we continue to partake in it?

God, I hope not. I so agree with you, especially on Point II.

It's all too true. Some of this has been helpful, I think; it's helped us focus ourselves in many ways, and focus on who we are. But I agree that we are losing more than we're gaining at this point, and I hope we can get going again at some point.

At 9:41 AM, Blogger C.B. said...

I actually think we HAVE turned a corner in this ordeal. I think TEC has said its "peace" through the last two HoBs meetings. I believe that this process has been to some degree necessary up to this point - and TEC is clear where it stands (no going back) and the limits of what it can and will do to address the issues. Including the limits of our interests in the AC if it changes into something unAnglician - at which point the world might be more impressed if we stay clear - rather than if we succumb.

In the next few months, it will make very clear how "separatists" are going to be dealt with - with few surprises.

As a result, I think TEC will be less distracted because it will be more settled as to what we can and should be doing - there aren't too many more hoops to be jumping through. And I think the neoconservataive MESSAGE is so marginal in its appeal that few will be interested in their on- going plight.

There's a Buddhist concept for how to operate in this new corner - its "present but detached"

So while the GS and its constituents may continue to scramble - I really think that at least on this side of the Atlantic people will begin to lose interest because there really will be very little new to see here - those who are fascinated by trainwrecks will move on - the clean up has already begun, EMS has already taken the bodies away - what is left is a lot of debris.

At 10:27 AM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Thanks for your generous comments bls and CB.

Surely lots of people in our parishes must have had enough, and are ready to move on to other concerns.

You are right to say that the separatist message remains marginal, in spite of lots of money and effort over these past years. The failure of the crisis to move out more generally into the laity and clergy is surprising, given how vehement the separatists have been for so long.

There is an opportunity for the Episcopal Church to step away from this shouting match--without turning its back on GC2003.

At 1:53 PM, Blogger Marshall Scott said...

My thoughts are, well, "yes" and "no." Certain events are in train, and they will need to be seen through. They include the diocesan court cases, of course; but they also include some continued interest in "the Windsor Process." We may at some point decide we're not going to play any more - whether because of a covenant we can't live with, or decisions from Lambeth or from the ACC that exclude us - but until then, we need to stay engaged. Indeed, I think being more publically involved in the Windsor Process will actually help. It will, of course, require some good PR work; but more important will be messages to the membership, whether through pastorals or ENS.

On the other hand, I think we do need to refocus energy on positive actions within that. So, I think we need more public acknowledgement of and engagment with those provinces that will work with us, even across "impairment."

I do think we are sorely troubled by the political spirit of this age: both by repetition of the "big lie," and by the current political mandate of "answer back (when you don't strike back) hard and fast; never look weak." In fact our leaders have tried not to get caught up in either; but, moved by the spirit of this age, too many have bought the idea that silence is not patience but emptiness - both those within and those without.

In light of your question, I think the most helpful event is the release of the Interim Report from the Committee on the State of the Church. It calls first and foremost for us to focus on our identity, not in contradistinction to the Separatists, but in light of our mission; and then for us to make that clear in word and action. I think this is a good start, and I think the timing of this is good: something of this will affect what we see in Anaheim in 2009.

At 9:22 AM, Blogger Annie said...

For some reason this all seems to exemplify the reason Christ was crucified, to me.

Well said, Scottist!

I appreciated all your points, but a point that I personally don't think should be overlooked is that I continue to believe that schism is being fomented from the fundamentalist/extreme conservatives (Evangelicals)/far right side of Christendom. I think that what happened in Virginia is such a case. I think that plans for this have been in the works since the 70s.



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