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.


At 11:56 AM, Blogger John D Bassett said...

The separatists, as much as they detest ECUSA, are accustomed to the customs and policies of the Episcopal Church. They are used to a great deal of congregational autonomy, a great deal of clerical and lay influence on the affairs of the diocese, and, by the standards of twenty centuries of apostolic succession, a remarkably weak bishop.

All that is about to change once they join up with Southern Cone or Nigeria. The whip is going to get cracked and when it does, they are not going to like it. What will happen when they are told that the Bishop, not the search committee and the vestry, will choose the new rector? What will happen when they are told that their next Bishop will be selected for them? (Schofield must be on a first-name basis with his cardiologist, so this may come sooner that they expect.) And what happens when the new bishop, appointed by Venables, tells the these parishes to stop reserving the sacrament or wearing chasubles?

And have they had their first diocesan assessment yet? In many parts of the communion most of the parish budget goes to the diocese which then parcels it out as they see fit. Are these foreign prelates going to accept the comparatively small sums which American parishes send to their dioceses? I doubt it!

As Tobias Haller counseled, patience is in order here. We're going to see something hitting the fan, and we'll see what happens then.

At 6:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry to post off topic, but there was a topic a while back about calling God "Father" and "Mother," and thought this was interesting (although I don't intend it to make a case in that matter):

According to sociologist Rodney Stark, in his book Exploring the Religious Life (2004), pgs. 142-144, the most recent General Social Survey (1984) asked respondents "Were you ever picked up, or charged, by the police for any reason whether or not you were guilty?" (screened for traffic offenses), 13% said they had. Of those 13%, only 8.7% felt reported feeling extremely close to God while 19.4% did not feel close to God.

But, in the words of Stark, "A powerful God sustains the moral order,; an affectionate God does not!" and he reports that those who imagine God as "Father" were significantly less likely to have been picked up by the police; while "Mother" (among other images) "is significantly correlated with being picked up by the police."

At 6:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That last sentence should read "is [not]...."

At 2:23 AM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

It is very difficult to be patient in these circumstances. At least we can take heart in the fact the congregation of St. Nicholas continues--even if "underground" for the time being. That is very important, and perhaps the main thing.

At 2:30 AM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...


That is interesting, in a playful sort of way. What the researcher should have gone on to figure out is how closely feeling close to God correlates with being close to God.

But then again, the way he speaks of a powerful God and an affectionate God, it's probably the case that the researcher has no coherent idea what being close to God is like. After all, being powerful and being affectionate could not be real distinctions on the side of God.

Finally, we need to know what being picked up by the police has to do with the will of God. It could well be that some picked up and feeling distant from God nevertheless do God's will--even pleasing God with righteousness.

At 3:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps even more interesting is that when participants were asked if they would condone stealing goods, being in a hit&run, or smoking dope in non-Orthodox nations (in Eastern Europe), there was significant correlation with saying no when the person reported God as important in their lives. But in Orthodox nations (of Eastern Europe), there was no correlation, while Stark invokes Mary Jo Weaver (Intro. to Christianity, 1998) as reporting [in Orthodox Christianity] "The emphasis is not so much on truth and justice as on beauty and love."


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