Thursday, December 27, 2007

On the Diocese of San Joaquin

It seems Bishop Schofield and the Southern Cone's Venables made an utter fool out of me for praising hints of an irenic tone in his letter to our Presiding Bishop--his performance at St.Nicholas, Atwater is a parody of episcopal ministry. One would have hoped that the Episcopal Church could have taken more explicit steps to maintain its presence in its diocese; maybe something is in the works, but in a sense significant damage is already done.

I have a hard time seeing any way in which Schofield's action could be justified. From the Separatists' point of view, the action might get any of a variety of readings:

(1) Schofield and Venables are just exercising their episcopal authority in purging fissiparous dissidents.
In that case, however, Separatist complaints about similar purges from Loyalist Episcopal bishops would be sheer hypocrisy. Many Separatists--including Schofield if memory serves me correctly--objected to Smith inhibiting one of the "Con6"--are they now castigating Schofield, as moral consistency would require? Is Schofield casting out Schofield? Moral consistency is not their strong point, perhaps--but why expect that if they have indeed carried out a teleological suspension of the ethical?

(2) You don't like what Schofield and Venables are doing? How does it feel now that the shoe is on the other foot, you apostate liberals?
This is simply a tu quoque: it's fallacious. This sort of argument could not establish that Schofield and Venables are in the right. If the Liberals are wrong to purge, the Wingers are wrong to purge just as well. If the Liberals are right, there is no point to saying "How does it feel?" inasmuch as Wingers on the receiving end would have been wrong to resent being purged.

(3) Ah--but we are permitted to do whatever we wish with the heathen, apostate Liberals. Or at least, because we are holy and they are not, we are permitted to purge them, but they are not permitted to purge us.
But that is an argument a Christian should never make about anybody. It's not just hypocritical, but outright pagan, inasmuch as it implies an outright rejection of the Golden Rule and the Great Commandment, i.e. the essential moral response that marks Christians as such.

Although I do not mean to attribute any of (1)-(3) to Schofield, Venables, or their minions, I do not see what other seeds of justification are available. On the other hand, maybe justification is not the main issue.

What I mean is: obviously Schofield et al. are not acting within the scope of what they can manage to justify. Rather, they are taking advantage of the type of power they have to do what they can manage, even if in the long term it will turn out that they are prevented from going through with it all--whether their use of that power is justified or not.

Their situation does not parallel that of regular bishops like Bishop Smith, as Schofield is now no longer a regular bishop of anything. He is experimenting, trying to improvise--with people as his raw material. He is doing what has not been done before, and nobody has any clear and cogent idea what he is doing or even why it is being done. In particular, the kind of ecclesiology he needs to render his action intelligible, dubious and marginal even if it has Williams' firm support, does not seem to be the kind of ecclesiology he has in mind.

But a Separatist might say "C'mon! What difference does it really make if we step outside of canonical bounds and good order, temporarily?"

I think it makes a great deal of difference. Consider that the congregation of St. Nicholas, through Schofield's action, has become sacred. That is:

a) Schofield et al are being permitted to do whatever they wish without being held accountable,


b) there is no ordered and regular deliberation, no canonical procedure governing what happens to them.

They are now in a kind of limbo. They have been made to exist in a space where anything is possible, insofar as they are parishoners, to be sure--but recall that communion is a matter of being, of life, and not tacked on as an additional extra. They have been made the exceptions on the receiving end of an exercise of extralegal sovereign authority, a kind of self-constituting act by Schofield. That is, by acting just as a genuine, regular bishop may, he might constitute his power as genuinely and regularly episcopal. His word, his whim, his innermost petulant passions have the real force of law, and a machinery--a bureaucracy--is set in place, ready to serve as an instrument for the successful projection of those whims and tantrums into reality. And Schofield's proto-sovereign tantrums were on display--garishly, even obscenely--before the congregation of St. Nicholas. And a bureaucrat, a certain so-called "Rev. Canon" Bill Gandenberger, was ready to hand as an instument to render the tantrum efficacious.

If you feel uneasy, even nauseated, at Schofield and Venables, you should. I cannot think of any surer confirmation of the thesis that the Anglican Communion's troubles are biopolitical in nature. Yes, pathetic arguments, all-too-late disavowals and rhetorical hyperbole are mustered as a front by Separatists, but in fact we are living through the gradual dissolution of our church community, a dissolution made flesh in San Joaquin recently, a dissolution St. Nicholas is resisting tooth and nail--and rightly so.

For the new community established by Schofield's means is constituted by establishing the structure of the camp. These nodes--the homo sacer, the exception, sovereign power, the space where anything is possible--cannot but establish an instance of the camp. Not just a kind of state of nature, but rather a kind of normalization of certain aspects of the state of nature, or better: a new communion of provinces is envisaged with relief, pride, and joy where these aspects are considered normal. Where community is established through such means beyond canon and law, beyond ethical rationality and accountability, it cannot help but instantiate the camp as its type.

That this instantiation is actually anticipated in Fort Worth, in Pittsburgh, and elsewhere shows a firm misunderstanding of ourselves as church; under Williams, the Communion as a whole may head in this direction. Given a liberal polity, as in the US, or a left-leaning social environment, as in the UK, such "normalized camp life" might seem innocuous--TEC and the CoE can't exactly bring on the Inquisition.

But the situation is different in Nigeria, in regions where liberal norms and bills of rights have not taken hold. There, the AC's slide into camp life is directly more sinister--and that is reason enough to resist it as the evil it is.

Consider again even the US, Canada & the UK--in these liberalized regions the slide to camp life can be seen in spheres of activity "outside" the church: in medicine, politics, economics, the military, etc.--especially in our post-9/11 era. The fact it is visible in the church too shows a new kind of christendom, a new constantinian settlement, a new variety of fornication is emerging in the church. The fact it seems so innocuous as it operates merely in the church should not leave us blind to its contribution to a much larger enervating trend. Let us have no traffic with this kind of power.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Williams' Advent Letter

The bottom line on Williams' Advent Letter? It's good enough to work with, and better than might have been hoped. Its worst parts have more to do with--it seems to me--Williams' personal idiosyncracies.

On the positive side, as TEC already holds to the Quadrilateral and to the supremacy of Scripture, much of Williams' section 2 should be read as a friendly attempt to shift our debates and disagreements to ground where the topic is not so much homosexuality as hermeneutics. Doesn't his attempt to move the debate along deserve our firm support? And doesn't it bode bode well for TEC in the long term?

Williams continues to hold that the word of Lambeth '98 1.10 expresses the mind of the Communion--surely a tendentious stand. He may seem obtuse in his tenacity--but wait. Lambeth resolutions can flip around with the wind; they are established on the basis of mere aggregates of transient opinion. And Lambeth '98 demonstrated how supermajorities can be assembled on the spot via combinations of manipulative rhetoric and lobbying. Thus, the incendiary parts of Lambeth '98 can be contradicted with some effort in good time.

There is precious little of substance to Williams' stand other than obstinate adherence to the latest ecclesial fashion--decided merely by majority rule--and his stand appears steadfast only because the occasions for contradiction pass at ten year intervals. We tend not to be that patient--left or right. Williams' tenacious hold to Lambeth could eventually cut TEC's way, and his emphasis on Scriptural authority can be taken as a positive development.

It is more difficult to credit his mention of Bishop Robinson again by name:

Thus it is not surprising if some have concluded that the official organs of The Episcopal Church, in confirming the election of Gene Robinson and in giving what many regard as implicit sanction to same-sex blessings of a public nature have put in question the degree to which it can be recognised as belonging to the same family by deciding to act against the strong, reiterated and consistent advice of the Instruments of Communion.

Robinson is not addressed as bishop, but as an individual with a scandalous sexuality. He is being treated here as the exception, subjected to the unique authority of the Archbishop as a means to securing the Communion's unity: a sacred man or, in another conceptual framework, a scapegoat. Williams should know better, judging from his writing on Girard. I have no idea if he is familiar with Taubes, Schmitt, and Agamben as well; even so that would not help his case. He has done this sort of thing to Robinson before and shows no sign of letting up--a merely personal tick?

Moreover, he picks a gratuitous fight with TEC by questioning the legitimacy of its episcopate:

It raises a major ecclesiological issue, not about some sort of autocratic episcopal privilege but about the understanding in The Episcopal Church of the distinctive charism of bishops as an order and their responsibility for sustaining doctrinal standards. Once again, there seems to be a gap between what some in The Episcopal Church understand about the ministry of bishops and what is held elsewhere in the Communion, and this needs to be addressed.

"Once again"--ordaining Robinson seems to be the other case. This is what theological
postliberalism can look like--Williams' ignorance of the very type of power politics in which he
himself is engaged. A grotesque ignorance of TEC's history: our relatively unique episcopate is no accident, and his special pleading with the circumscription "not about some sort of autocratic episcopal privilege" seems willfully perverse. As if episcopal autocracy were the only available
disjunct driving the formation of our polity! The Enlightenment, and the notion of a republic ordered with intrinsic checks, did not arise in a vacuum but out of the failure of premodernity to--among other things--regulate its indulgence in the rituals of power politics. TEC's polity arose in the recognition--the self-recognition--of a potentiality for disordered desire at the level of social structures. It is ironic Williams' very questioning of this polity shows the need for it.

Going over the Archbishop's latest missives, I found myself reading not with the expectation of cogency, but with respect for--even fear of--his power. Who reads or listens to the Archbishop with the expectation of finding a convincing line of reasoning or a persuasive articulation of some as-yet largley unseen picture?

What is important is rather that he wields an enormous amount of power with regard to both left and right, and whichever way the wind happens to tumble him about, he will end up having enormous influence. Whole provinces stand or fall, form or are finished off on the basis of what he says and does not say--and it seems his style of communicating has only intensified the spectacle of Communion-wide focus on his every nod and arched eyebrow.

What does the habit of such a focus do to a community? It is not as if there are principles to be found underneath the words that guide what he asserts with some formal argumentative force. The power of this office is wielded without a set of discernible reasons, but with great reliance on the relevance of the person of Williams and his contingencies, as well as a rhetoric of persuasion based on fear.

Still, this letter is good enough to work with. We would probably do well not addressing Williams' personal idiosyncracies head-on; they are not that important, and we need less wrangling. We already know, for instance, he does not view--even in this letter-- TEC or any province as a real church, he treats Robinson as a scapegoat, and he questions the legitimacy of our episcopate. While it would be tempting to take these views on, we would probably do better ignoring these oddities.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Bishop Schofield's Letter in Reply

Bishop Schofield's irenic tone surprised me, and I found myself wondering whether he, rather than Duncan or Iker, should have been the leader of the Episcopalian separatist movement. He seems like more of a bishop than the others in this letter, exercising what he takes to be the only permissible measure of oversight remaining to him as pastor to the diocese.

Given that I disagree with his position openly and vehemently, I bear a burden of showing where such a leader could have gone wrong. Maybe the place to start is with this bit of hyperbole:

It is true that the House of Bishops has ignored my views for nearly twenty years. [sc. almost since 1987]

That is a very strong claim: his views have been ignored, not discussed or debated or engaged with but simply ignored as if they did not exist. No doubt he feels this way, probably with many others in his diocese, but his claim is nevertheless transparently false. One would think the long historical appendix of To Set our Hope on Christ would be enough to show his claim is in fact an exaggeration.

And then more hyperbole:

The decision to be made by our Annual Convention this Saturday is the culmination of The Episcopal Church’s failure to heed the repeated calls for repentance issued by the Primates of the Anglican Communion and for the cessation of false teaching and sacramental actions explicitly contrary to Scripture.

The teaching of Lambeth 1.10 cannot claim for itself the kind of authority he assumes it carries; moreover, even granting the Primates the kind of authority he presumes they have, he seems to pretend that a manifestly contentious issue--whether the Episcopal Church satisfied the Primates and what it was the Primates wanted exactly--is one around which there is a consensus. In fact, a consensus has not emerged; he seems to have "jumped the gun" in running this particular race.

In fact, by short-circuiting the primates' process of discernment, through which a consensus might have emerged, the good bishop is acting not on the authority he claims, namely as part of

Catholic Faith and Order...shared by the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Churches and by some 60 million faithful Anglicans worldwide

but as a mere faction of the Anglican Communion. He acts not even with the full authority of that fragment of the catholic church which the Communion might be said to represent in its councils, but by something less: hence the claim he is isolated.

And more hyperbole:

For years, I have tried in vain to obtain adequate Primatial oversight to protect the Diocese from an apostate institution that has minted a new religion irreconcilable with the Anglican faith.

In fact, by pursuing separation he has cut off the very process of alternate oversight he claimed to have sincerely pursued without success. Moreover the judgement he levels with claims of apostasy and formation of a new religion are merely propaganda issued from his peculiar faction; they are antithetical to the words of the ABC and were not issued by the Primates. That is an odd episcopal practice, no? To drag the entire diocese out of the church catholic and into a mere faction? For what? An oddly individualistic reading of his ministry of oversight?

My Ordination vows require me to be a faithful steward of God’s holy Word and to defend His truth and "be ready, with all faithful diligence, to banish and drive away from the Church all erroneous and strange doctrines contrary to God’s Word; and to use both public and private monitions and exhortations..." I can do no other.

Rather than act fully within the authority of the councils of the Communion--which would require a certain patience--he chooses to act as a little Luther, doing his own special new thing, out on his own, joining the latest faction. Is it too much to claim the root of this wide-ranging hyperbole in the leaders of the Episcopalian separatist faction is just this odd self-conception, this conviction "I really am just like Luther! I really am!"? We can find the same sort of hyperbole in Iker and Duncan and the same high-profile reference to Luther in Duncan.

Taking a further step: the root of the Luther-self image might be a certain cultivation of inwardness, a certain inward tending passion a la Kierkegaard. It's not that these bishops are really like monks capable of reformation, but that they bear in their ministry a certain tendency to teleological suspension of the ethical, i.e. a certain tendency to disregard the Anglican Communion's Sittlichkeit out of a passion regarded as faith. That makes them interesting, to be sure, and a bit dangerous from the point of view of the negotiator: how can they be moved from their position? These bishops may have already made their move of "infinite resignation"--who knows?