Thursday, January 24, 2008

Radner's Fallacy

I. Radner's Case
In a recent piece for ACI, Radner argues that our HoB should prescind from disciplining Bishop Duncan. In it, Radner, who, appointed by Williams himself, sits on a committee assigned the task of formulating a "covenant" for the Anglican Communion, concedes the engagement of the process itself appears to have been inevitable, and that once the complainants against Bishop Duncan formally made their charges to the Review Committee, an examination and determination as to Bp. Duncan's adherence to the Episcopal Church's Constitution and Canons was necessarily demanded, and finally that the use of Title IV.9 - "abandonment of communion" - was reasonably applied in this determination.

Nevertheless, the disciplinary process ought to be suspended--Radner thinks. Why? Radner claims it is an open question as to whether "the Doctrine, Discipline, or Worship of this church" are in fact being upheld and/or embodied by the current executive offices of the Episcopal Church; indeed, he says the question is not currently being and has not been investigated, there is not even an adequate method or procedure in place for determining how to find an answer, what for us should be an authoritative process of finding what should constitute doctrine and discipline for Anglicans is in fact already underway at the Communion-wide level, and TEC's Christian leaders should call a truce rather than "lord it over" Duncan with an exercise of ecclesial power.

II. Why Radner's Argument Does Not Work
I urge anyone considering Radner's course of action to reject it, especially anyone charged with carrying out the disciplinary process. Bishop Duncan ought to be removed from oversight of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, and Radner's case should not convince you otherwise.

Even if it were true that the adherence of TEC's leadership to the worship, doctrine, and discipline of TEC were in fact in question, that would not be relevant to whether the process should go forward against Duncan. I think it is tendentious to suggest that TEC's leadership has abandoned TEC's worship, doctrine, and discipline--and that not even a cogent case has been made for Radner's premise. But, to show how weak and unconvincing Radner's case is, I shall concede his premise and show that even with such a large concession, he still does not have a sound argument.

First, Radner has no sound moral reason for thinking the purported abandonment by TEC's leaders is even relevant to Duncan's case. For instance, if I see Mr. X holding up a 7/11 with a shotgun, and I try to persuade the police not to stop Mr. X, because a few blocks away Mr. Y is holding up a BP with a shotgun, the police would be right to disregard my plea. Mr. Y's holdup does not somehow make Mr. X's holdup OK, or even tolerable. Likewise, Duncan's abandonemnt would not magically be made OK or even tolerable by the leadership's abandonment.

Moreover, Radner's target--the leadership--is the wrong target for the argument he wants to make. As I am sure Radner recognizes, TEC's leadership is not responsible for disciplining Duncan. That responsibility will fall on the HoB, the bishops of the church acting collectively, as a community in council. If Radner could establish that there was a credible claim that the HoB as a whole had abandoned TEC's worship, discipline, and doctrine, then he might be able to charge the HoB as a whole with hypocrisy for disciplining Duncan when their own status was at least unclear. But that is not what Radner claims; Radner attacks the leadership, not the HoB as a whole. At best, since he attacks the leadership, he should argue that they along with Duncan be subjected to the process.

We are led to ask, why on earth would the leadership's failure exonerate Duncan, or even merit the suspension of the process?

More importantly, suppose those responsible for disciplining Duncan were in fact credibly charged with abandonment. That in itself would not suffice for suspending the process. For instance, consider a case where Mr. X is a chain smoking father of Ms. Y, his daughter. He catches her smoking against their rules, and punishes her. When Y objects, saying "You hypocrite! You smoke two packs a day!" her father, X, is justified in keeping the punishment in place. Y's cry of hypocrisy does not make her smoking OK or even tolerable. Her father's wrong does not make her wrongdoing right. Radner seems to have no handle, no grasp, on these basic facts, near the foundations of a proper sense of moral right and wrong.

In short, Radner's case reduces to a tu quoque fallacy. There is nothing a covenant or Williams will--or can--do to change these basic moral premises, to alter the moral fabric of our common life at such a fundamental level. The insruments of unity cannot by their fiat establish that two wrongs make a right. There is no need to wait if they say anything to the contrary before proceeding. Indeed, one might think Gospel freedom did not mean overturning these basic things, but that these things find an ultimate foundation in the nature of God, in the inner life of the Trinity, in our communion with the Godhead.

Indeed, even if the discipliners were in fact credibly charged with abandonment, there would still be reasons to go forward with the process:

(1) Stemming the tide of ecclesial chaos and moving toward stability and closure is grave enough that Duncan must be disciplined by the discipliners even if they do not repent;
(2) The discipliners did not proceed with malice aforethought, whereas Duncan proceeded with a plan and appropriate calulation, so that the wrongs are not equivalent, and the gravity of Duncan's ongoing efforts must be stemmed.

One might have hoped that Radner's own sense of the seriousness of fomenting schism in the church would have been enough to bring home to him the urgency of doing something now to prevent more harm from being done. If TEC's leaders have done something wrong in embracing the doctrines of 2003, it's in the past. It can't now be stopped--we are dealing with the consequences. But we still have time to stop Duncan; there is no reason to passively wait, to pretend we do not have an obligation to stop Duncan before he brings still further ruin.

The instruments of union have unequivocally condemned what Duncan is doing. They have never wavered, and there is no question from them that his course of action, fomenting schism and perpetuating chaos in the church, is morally wrong. No process of discernment or listening is in place for Duncan and his fellow anarchists. But there is a question about what TEC and the ACC's leaders have done. It is not clear whether anyone in the instruments of communion has ever condemned the leadership to whom Radner refers explicitly; as a matter of ecclesial authority, Radner's personal low opinion of them is irrelevant.

Note that the issue at the level of the Communion is not with the leadership at 815, but with the province as a unit, and it seems especially with the bishops who are seen at the Communion level as--in practical terms--governing the province. Radner's demonizing the leadership at 815, as if this counts for something, is a red herring, but more importantly, it personalizes the Communion's conflict with TEC. Who is the face of the leadership at 815? Our Presiding Bishop, a woman. She is easy to make an issue out of; she is already an issue. It seems Radner would attempt to gather support for his covenant plans by unifying around a scapegoat, a group of people--and it seems especially the Presiding Bishop--who can be singled out and blamed and by being blamed be made to bring unity among fissiparous parties.