Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Unicorn Appears: Racism, Progressive Christianity and the Media

A great discovery has occurred.  Not since the New York Times was dumbfounded by noticing that Brooklyn had reappeared after hiding in plain sight has the mainstream American media been this
Back in '92, NYT discovered "grunge."
astounded by noticing something which has surrounded them for decades.  After the Democratic National Convention last week, the following facts which have existed for decades if not centuries have been noticed by media outlets:

Hey, African American Christians tend to support the Democratic Party.
Hey, there are progressive Christians.

This has revealed a yawning gap in the mainstream media's coverage and understanding of religion in America.  The term "Christian" is all too often been synonymous with "evangelical", which actually is a term that in reality defines "a politically conservative person who goes to church maybe once a month."  This overidentification of "christian" with "evangelical" and the fact the term "evangelical" doesn't really mean anything as commonly used helps explain the utter incomprehension of why people can't seem to fathom why "evangelicals" voted overwhelmingly for Trump than, say, candidates like Rubio or Cruz.  Because we have an unthinking, uncritical definition of what an "evangelical" is.  The reason Trump carries these voters is because the term "evangelical" actually defines a constituency which barely goes to church, self-identifies as an evangelical, and is really a political and not religious label. Russell Moore, the Director of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, certainly no liberal himself, even announced he was going to stop calling himself an "evangelical" because “The word ‘evangelical’ has become almost meaningless this year, and in many ways the word itself is at the moment subverting the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Now, to be sure:  yes, there are lots of people out there who identify as evangelical, are deeply immersed in the theological components of evangelical Christianity, and who are politically and socially conservative.  And yes, there are people who identify as evangelical who are pretty much doing the equivalent of faith money-laundering for Donald Trump.  Dozens of religious leaders have sacrificed their own integrity to vouch for a man who has no discernible connection or understanding of the Christian message, solely because doing so gets them closer to the levers of power.

No arguments to any of these and other concerns, my main concern here is the oversimplified approach to "evangelical" and unsophisticated grasp of the American religious landscape, with attention only really given once every four years during a presidential election cycle.  What the media and broader culture simply have to understand, because failure to do so clouds the ability to perceive the actual dynamics at play, is that

a)  not even all conservative theological persons fit the stereotype of "evangelical" that is peddled and accepted as definitive.  Real evangelicals, like the Southern Baptist Convention, have staunchly supported immigration and support for refugees.

b)  there are ALL SORTS OF OTHER CHRISTIANS OUT THERE.  The Roman Catholic Church alone has huge numbers of conservatives and liberals, as well as a substantial charismatic movement which has links to Pentecostalism.  Look, Crusty knows he has a PhD in this subject and doesn't expect everybody to know every nuance or detail.  That's fine.  But just do a little f****g research.  Much of religious coverage, to Crusty, is the equivalent of having someone writing for the science and technology beat marvel about how incredible it is the world is round and the internet is a series of tubes -- a series of obvious, ill-informed, over-simplistic caricatures.

So, now on to the unicorns the media have breathlessly discovered in their hyperventilating wanderings around the Wells Fargo Center this past week:

At Vox: "The Democratic convention's most surprising argument: Christianity is a liberal religion", which somehow stated that "Just think...of how Christian [emphasis in original] it’s been, and how the convention tried to argue for Christianity as fundamentally liberal. Yes, there’s always been a Christian left, largely dominated by Jesuits and the black church. But the Christian left has been positively anemic in influence since the end of the civil rights era."

This is so utterly mindbogglingly oversimplistic it's hard to fathom. "largely dominated by Jesuits and the black church"? Maybe you could have done more than just name the first two Christian
organizations you could think of.  Seriously, just because you read that Kaine had been a Jesuit missionary, and saw some African American Christians, you leap to saying progressive Christianity has been dominated by Jesuits and the black church?What about groups like Sojourners or Evangelicals for Social Action? What about faith based organizations coming together around climate change? What about progressive women's religious orders, everyone from Sister Helen Prejean's anti-death penalty activism to Nuns on the Bus? But that would take, like, research and not just walking around the Convention floor.  Positively anemic? What about the religious left groups that been at the forefront of marriage equality and LGBT rights?  that helped rebuild black churches after they had been burned during arson attacks in the 19090s?  Hey, here's a married Episcopal priest and her wife who is part of the group challenging Mississippi's religious freedom bill.  "Anemic"?  Sure, while dynamics have changed, spend a little time with Google.

In Slate, "Bright Shining as the Sun: Infused with the spirit of the black church, the Democrats became the party of optimism."  Jamelle Bouie came a little closer by noting how "What is remarkable is the extent to which this kind of patriotism—and much of the mood surrounding the convention—is rooted in black traditions of political and religious rhetoric. In ways small and large, the lifeblood of the Democratic National Convention was the black church."  This is true, absolutely, but also leaves out the central place faith has played, and continues to play, in the lives of Hispanic/Latino and white Democrats.  To name two of the top of my head...hmmm...let's say HILLARY CLINTON who
Remember, in 1980 "evangelicals" preferred a divorced guy who was never really a member of a Christian church and whose wife was more into astrology than Christianity than this guy who regularly testified to his faith, taught Sunday school every week, has been married to the same woman for more than 70 years.
has been shaped by her Methodist upbringing.  Or perhaps one of the most powerful models of what it means to be a progressive Christian, JIMMY CARTER  who was PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, won the Nobel Prize, has done more for the world than any ex-president, and even beat cancer's ass.  Seriously, I think he's going to live to be a 120.

While Bouie is on target to note the influence of traditions of the African American church on the Convention, it's also important to note that Conventions themselves, as a whole, are inheritors of aspects of American Christianity.  There's important historical work done that argues that political Conventions are the descendants of the camp meetings and religious revivals of the 19th century -- here's a decent distillation here.  Mass spectacles, with series of speakers, designed to evoke social action.  Kind of like birds are the descendants of dinosaurs, Bare Naked Ladies are descended from They Might Be Giants, and Coldplay are descended from U2, Conventions as a whole are descended from camp meetings and tent revivals.  So in addition to the influence of the African American church, there is the important context of how American religion has shaped many institutions.

In the National Catholic Reporter (admittedly by far the best of the lot of these articles):  "The divided soul of the Democratic Party," noted that "To judge by public perceptions, and more than a few pundits, the Democratic Party is the default home of secularists and atheists, with practicing
Popularized in the 80s, the movie slow clap is descended from Charles Foster Kane.
believers shunted to a side room only to be trotted out when a political event needs a gloss of godliness. But walking around the Democratic National Convention taking place here this week and talking to delegates and activists reveals a much different picture, with people of faith -- almost every faith -- eager to testify to their beliefs and how they in fact bolster their political choice for a party some view as inimical to religion."  Way to go, NCR:  you are honored with a Crusty 80s slow clap for your awesomeness.

OK, so we've noticed the special snowflakes that are progressive Christians.  While Crusty's glad that this kind of light is being shone on the role of progressive Christianity, there's also a couple of things which also need to be called out:

One of the first is to call out the inherent racism and privilege in "suddenly" noticing things that have always been there. The New York Times ignored Brooklyn when it was predominantly poor and people of color and only noticed when white people started moving there.  Does it really take going to a political Convention to notice black Christians?  Is this like the trope popularized by the movie "The Help," that people of color don't exist until white people notice them?

Another is the anti-Christian myopia of the secularized left.  Crusty, frankly, is tired of the knee jerk ignorance and prejudice from lots of folks on the secular left who simply assume all Christians are hateful, bigoted, stupid, homophobes.  Here's just a few examples:

--Someone once asked me how I could possibly be a Christian given all of the injustice done in the name of Christianity.  This person was(is) a huge soul music fan.  I replied, "How do you listen to the music of James Brown, given that he was repeatedly arrested for domestic violence?"  The person then went on an extended discourse about separating the music from the person involved.  I said, "Yet you don't offer me the same right to separate myself and my actions from those of others."

--Ok, here's another example.   Circulating around Facebook this past week, at least in Crusty's feed, was a photo of the Obama family, stating that they were scandal free, the kids never got caught doing anything wrong, and "MOST WHITE CHRISTIANS HATE THEM BECAUSE OF THEIR RACE." Can't find it in my Facebook feed, Crusty points to anyone who can dig it up.

Crusty's first reaction was, "The glib and incorrect identification of 'most white Christians' as racist is not quite as offensive and ignorant as the racism this calls out, but undermines the point."  This should have been recaptioned, "Let me show my own ignorance while calling out that of others."

--Here's an example Crusty used in an old blog post on Ken Burns' Prohibition documentary:

COD admits having a larger bone to pick. COD has problems with people reading back the disgust and disagreements many have with the religious right in this country at this time into their view of religion at all times and in all places.

COD was outraged in a similar vein many years ago when he saw Spielberg's film "Amistad," which tells the story of Africans who were captured and for the slave trade, who overtook their slave ship, and landed off the shore of Connecticut, sparking a legal battle for their freedom. What shocked COD was the simplistic way Spielberg presented religious abolitionists. There is an appearance in the film of some abolitionists, whose response to the situation of the Amistad captives is to kneel and pray for the slaves outside their prison. This was such a ludicrously inaccurate portrayal that COD burst out laughing in the theater, prompting several folks who were being properly indignant in their reaction of those religious folks on screen briefly to take a break from their indignation and glare at him.

The fact is that abolitionists were actively involved involved in the plight of the Amistad captives. Members of Christian churches were intimately connected with the legal battle for the kidnapped Africans, including raising money for their legal defense. Attorneys who were members of New Haven churches offered their services gratis. Reducing Christian abolitionists to pious do-gooders who do nothing except praying for the slaves was simultaneously insulting and ignorant of historical fact. It does, however, play on the general impression in the culture that religious persons are hypocritical and sanctimonious, whose only response is prayer when action was needed.

True today as when Crusty wrote it four years ago.

--There's the privilege and racism inherent in this ignorance of Christianity.  At a party one time, someone asked me what I did, and I replied "I'm an ordained minister."  Crusty then got a speech on all the evils of Christianity.  The (white) person then said, "The only church I could see myself going to is an African American church, given their commitment to justice and equality."  "Oh really?" Crusty replied. "Are there any you have in mind?"  The person then named a church just down the block. "Oh," Crusty said, "I'm not sure how happy you'd be there.  Their minister brought a resolution to the local ministers' association asking us to condemn homosexuality, and, when we declined to approve it, he walked out and said he'd never come back.  That particular denomination also doesn't permit women to serve in the ministry."  This person, from their place of privilege, revealed their own ignorance and racism.  That had their own assumption of what the "black" church was, untroubled by any actual interaction with the diversity of the black church tradition.  The problem for the secularized left is believing that having African American Christians at their Convention makes them hip to Christianity just like voting for Obama finally gave them the black friend they don't have.

The kind of broad generalizations evoked by the secularized left with regards to Christianity, would, simply, be considered unacceptable when applied to almost any other group.  Picture your reaction to these kind of over-generalizations with regards to Muslims, or Jews.  Or African Americans.  Or "Most women..."

Yeah, that's what I thought.

Crusty says this is a lifelong and proud member of the progressive left, both politically and religiously: he was registered in the Green Party for a while and did his first same sex blessing in 1995.  This frustration comes from someone inside the tent, not outside.  And in calling this out, it is in not meant to equivocate with or excuse the excesses of the religious right, including preposterous "religious freedom" laws intended to enshrine discrimination and efforts to force a particular set of beliefs on a culture.

Get back to your summer, people. Crusty's back to swinging on the flippity-flop.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Great and Holy Crusty on the Great and Holy Council

Several years ago Crusty served on the International Anglican-Orthodox Dialogue (before he was removed by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 2010, not because of anything Crusty did, mind you).  Hey, here's a photo of the group, see if you can pick out Crusty! (The reason we are all squinting is not because, like St Gregory of Palamas, we are gazing at the uncreated light, but because they had us seated facing the blinding Mediterranean sun on a cloudless day.)  While at the meeting, we also held a caucus of just the Anglican members of the dialogue, to make sure
Hint: Crusty is not wearing a cool hat, unfortunately.
we were all on the same page.  Someone wondered what we should do if the Orthodox members started pressing us on issues of human sexuality.  "Easy," Crusty said, "if they start pressuring us, just get them to start arguing with each other, the Orthodox love to bicker with one another much more than they like fighting with other Christians.  It doesn't take much."

You may not have picked it up over the years of suffering through this blog, but Orthodox Christianity has been an important influence on Crusty.  He was a Russian language major as an undergraduate, and would sneak away to the local Orthodox church down the street from his dormitory during his semester abroad in Moscow.  Crusty earned a degree from an Orthodox seminary (Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Seminary in Brookline, MA -- where my Hellenic College peeps @?).  COD has just returned from a weeklong research project in Ukraine, looking at how
COD at the Baptists' HQ in Ukraine two weeks ago.
churches in that country have reacted and responded to the upheavals of recent years.  Crusty kind of stuck out like a sore thumb in many of these Orthodox sojourns.  There are, by and large, two main groups of not-by-birth-Orthodox Christian North Americans, at least as Crusty experienced it over the years.  One large group are evangelicals who somehow discover that church history didn't skip from Jesus to John Wesley.  It's a natural extension for some evangelical Christians:  if you see the Bible as supremely authoritative and definitive, wouldn't you also think that the earliest Christian church that interpreted that Bible would be uniquely authoritative as well?  There's been the remarkable phenomenon in the past 30 years of evangelical Christians converting to Orthodoxy.  Seriously, just google "evangelical converts to eastern orthodox" and you'll see what Crusty is talking about.  The second group consisted of Anglicans, Methodists, and others from mainline churches with strong liturgical convictions who were upset or otherwise disagreed with the theological perspective of their churches.  COD kind of stuck out like a sore thumb because Crusty didn't fit into either category, he just loves the liturgy and the theology and chalks up some of his most important spiritual moments and connections to Orthodoxy.

Crusty is thus reflecting his Orthodox sojourns and further narrowing the already limited church geekery audience of this blog with his thoughts on the imminent and upcoming Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church, to be held on the Greek island of Crete June 19-26, 2016.  What, you say?  You're aren't sick already of the torrent of social media and endless talking heads, or the saturation coverage on cable news?  Don't have enough commemorative swag, because what better way to commemorative important theological events in the life of the church than cheap swag? I thought not.  While the mainstream media covers every hiccup and random thought Pope Francis seems to have, sadly,
Get ready for Ecumenical Patriarch holograms!
unless you are plugged into Orthodox news networks (and, admittedly, unless you speak or read Greek or Russian; Crusty, luckily, reads Greek and speaks Russian) you may not even know that this event is taking place.  Crusty has been continually perplexed at the systemic ignorance and marginalization of Orthodox Christianity in much of global, if not North American, consciousness.  It is, after all, the second largest group of Christians in the world but gets about 1/10th of the coverage that, say, the next stupid thing that Franklin Graham will say.  This is, in part, due to its "otherness."  In the United States, Orthodox were late to the game in immigration, not arriving in large numbers until the 20th century.  Orthodoxy in North America tended to be strongly connected to its immigrant communities, with liturgies often not only in native languages, but in ancient versions of those native languages (the liturgy in many Russian churches was in Slavonic, almost but not exactly parallel to Chaucerian English, an ancient, archaicized language).  Globally, Orthodoxy has been "other" because of its historic strength in areas which were not part of the world stage: strong in Eastern Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia when the story of the 19th and 20th centuries was Western Europe and North America.

It is further "other" because of a profound and inescapable fact, something which is crucial for those in the West to understand:  Many Orthodox churches have been under some kind of non-Christian domination for hundreds, in some cases thousands, of years, while at the same time in the West Christianity had a close relationship with culture, society, and the state.  The cradle of Christianity in Asia Minor, what is now the Middle East, and Egypt was predominantly Christian for hundreds of years but has been under Muslim domination for nearly 1400 years in some places.  Orthodox Christian countries in what is now the Balkans were under Muslim domination for almost 700 years in some cases.  For those which escaped the Muslim yoke, things weren't much better.  The country with the greatest numerical dominance of Orthodox Christians -- the Russian Empire -- underwent 70 years of the one of the most sustained and systemic efforts to eradicate Christianity the world has ever known, as did other areas behind the Iron Curtain with significant Orthodox populations (to differing degrees).  North American Christians complaining from their places of privilege about religious
Icon of the Coptic Christians martyred by ISIS in 2015.
liberty would be comical if it weren't insulting to the price paid by Orthodox Christians over the years, and continues to be paid daily.  When we speak of persecution of Christians in our present day, we are speaking largely of the persecution of Orthodox Christians (though certainly not exclusively) in places like Syria and Egypt.

So:  let's give Orthodox Christianity it's closeup on the world religious stage! 

Here follows Great and Holy Crusty's answers to all of your questions about the Great and Holy Council!

1)  So how did we get here?

The Council has been in various stages of preparation since 1961.  Now stop laughing!  You may think 55 years is a long time to plan something, but a) for Orthodox Christians, this isn't that long of a time at all.  Orthodox Christians have spent longer than 55 years arguing over the authenticity of various texts.  Plus b)  keep in mind the tremendous upheavals in the Orthodox world in the past 50 years, from Pan-Arab Nationalism to decolonization to the collapse of the Iron Curtain that have impacted countries with large Orthodox populations.  Yes the Orthodox think in centuries and 55 years is a blip.  But there's also been a lot going on.

When you're a hesychast it's the swinginest thing.
2)  Why is it in Crete?

Because, much like the gym in West Side Story, Crete is considered neutral turf.  The Pope can hold huge church councils in Vatican City because he's head of state and it's his 'hood.  The Ecumenical
Patriarch of Constantinople has some disadvantages.  Turkey is technically a secular state:  you can't dress as Christian clergy in public, for instance, while there are concurrently rising Islamist pressures on the government and society.  Plus, with current tensions between Turkey and Russia, there were political concerns as well (the Turks shot down a Russian jet and there have been diplomatic recriminations).  Crete seemed like a good, safe, neutral choice: not on the territory of Turkey, but still under jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch.

3)  What is it all about?

Keep in mind that Orthodox Christians have not only had a different political history, they have had a different social and cultural history.  The vast majority of Christians in North America share a kind of Western European historic and cultural hegemony.  Orthodox Christians never went through the
An ecumenical council without Twitter?
Reformation or the Enlightenment.  While there have been decisions made by individual member churches, there has not been a collective Orthodox Church effort to respond to the massive changes brought about not just by the 20th century but by the last, say, 1,000 years or thereabouts.  When you haven't had a universally acknowledged Pan-Orthodox Council in 1,229 years (since Nicaea II: Electric Boogaloo in 787) there are some issues you need to catch up on.

4)  OK, what is it REALLY about?

An epic smackdown is brewing between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul.  Since the fifth century, the Ecumenical Patriarch has been considered the "first among equals" among Orthodox Patriarchs.  The Orthodox churches are divided into 14 "autocephalous" or autonomous jurisdictions.  The Ecumenical Patriarch has a primacy of honor, but no direct authority or jurisdiction in other member churches.   After the collapse of communism, the struggle for supremacy in the Orthodox world between Moscow and Constantinople was renewed.  The Russian Orthodox Church is the largest by far of the Orthodox churches, claiming perhaps 200 million of the 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide.  The Ecumenical Patriarch, however, has over 1500 years of history and tradition on his side.

This is, in part, what was behind the Russian Patriarch's bilateral visit to Cuba to meet with the Pope in February of last year:  an effort to claim the mantle of pre-eminent Orthodox leader.  It was odd for Crusty to read press releases about the "historic" meeting which had the chance to "heal" the 1000 year old schism between the Orthodox and the Catholics.  Since Moscow didn't even exist 1000 years ago when the schism took place, and since the Ecumenical Patriarch is the first among equals and Patriarchs have met numerous times with Popes over the last 50 years, it's odd to think this meeting would have the ability to bring about a healing to that schism on its own.  This media narrative was, in fact, advanced energetically by Russian news outlets like Russia Today, and picked up and unthinkingly repeated by American news media.

If you've studied church history at all, you can see that like Battlestar Galactica, church history tends to be cyclical.  "All this has happened before, and will happen again," as BSG put it.  Crusty doesn't
Talk about primacy of honor.
necessarily ask anyone to endorse or approve it, but the 5th century also saw an epic smackdown between Constantinople and Alexandria, resulting in the church councils called in 431 in Ephesus, a disputed council called in 449, and another council called in 451.  We're seeing it again.

And yea, verily, just days in advance of the council, the Russian Orthodox Church announced it would not be attending the council (as are three other churches, for different reasons.) Which leads to...

5)  What are the big issues?

The meeting of the heads of the 14 Orthodox churches met earlier in the year and finalized the following topics for discussion:

·       The Mission of the Orthodox Church in Today’s World
·       The Orthodox Diaspora
·       Autonomy and the Means by Which it is Proclaimed
·       The Importance of Fasting and its Observance Today
·       Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World
·       The Sacrament of Marriage and its Impediments

Let's break each down to what it is really about.

The Mission of the Orthodox Church in Today’s World:  See above.  Will the Orthodox Church continue to be a loosely affiliated network of autonomous churches with the Ecumenical Patriarch as first among equals, or will the Patriarch of Moscow wrestle the mantle (and the awesome hat, to be sure) to stake the claim as big kahuna of the Orthodox frat house?  Can the Orthodox churches transcend their hard-wired links to national. cultural, and ethnic identity and truly be a global expression of apostolic Christianity?

The Orthodox Disapora:  Originally national, ethnic churches centered around a particular group of people -- Russians, Greeks, Serbs, Bulgarians, etc. -- but this model is creaking under modernity and globalization.  Orthodox faithful have been flung all over the world through immigration.  There are over a dozen different Orthodox jurisdictions in the United States, for instance.

On the one hand, to base church organization around language or ethnic identity seems to fly in the face of the Scripture that in Christ there should be no Jew nor Greek, no slave nor free.  On the other hand, the connection between faith and community and culture and identity is strong and powerful, especially when forged in the crucible of persecution on the one hand and being severed from that homeland in a diaspora on the other.

Autonomy and the Means by Which it is Proclaimed:  Anglicans, stop when this starts to sound familiar.  Concurrent with the diaspora, and the realization that Orthodoxy is a global communion, has been extended discussion on how, exactly, one is a member of this Orthodox communion, and by what means member churches are officially recognized.  This has been evident in places like North America, where there are currently 13 different recognized jurisdictions, with wildly different relationships to their historic churches.  Some are semi-autonomous, some are entirely independent, and some are still structurally part of their historic sending church.  There's also debate about who gets to grant the right for a church to be autonomous -- what is the extent of consultation needed? (Like I said, Anglicans, stop when this starts sounding familiar.) Then there's the question about communities whose political boundaries have changed: should their be corresponding rethinking of church structures? The big elephant in this respect is Ukraine (though there are other areas of disputed jurisdiction), which in the 1990s had a split, with a good number of churches saying that since the country was now politically distinct from Russia, it should be its own autonomous church, while others argued it should remain under the Moscow Patriarchate.  The result has been a deep and lasting schism.

The Importance of Fasting and its Observance Today:  The Orthodox(technically) fast a lot more than Western Christians.  There's the Lenten fast, which makes Roman Catholics look like wusses.  Not only no meat, but no dairy or anything which comes from an animal at all.  There's also expectations to fast on
Maybe fasting isn't so bad.
every Wednesday and Friday, as well as other, shorter periods of fasting.  So fasting's important.  

Crusty thinks it's likely that this agenda item will be focused on Posers and Nagging. In some Orthodox cultures, it's become almost hip to follow the Lenten fast, with some restaurants having meat and dairy free menu options.  Fasting can almost be like Kabbalah, becoming trendy with people following the rules for it without really knowing what it is about or for.  So on the one hand they'll be singling out the posers.  On the other hand, they'll nag those who don't follow fasting rules into following them by reminding them of its importance.

Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World:  This will be a big one.  There's a strong strain of conservative, quasi-fundamentalist Orthodox believers who feel that the Orthodox Church is the only real church and all others are invalid.  When COD was at the Orthodox seminary he saw a bumper sticker which read, "Orthodox Christianity: Founded 33 AD."  There are Orthodox who believe that inter-Christian, ecumenical dialogues with other churches are either irrelevant or even heretical.  There are those who are unwilling even to designate the Roman Catholic Church as a "church", believing it has fallen into heresy and apostasy.  Heck, there are Orthodox churches that still cling to the hopelessly outdated Julian calendar because they think the Gregorian calendar is a Western, papist invention.  On the other hand, the Orthodox churches have been involved in a number of ecumenical dialogues, are members of the World Council of Churches, and many are members of regional ecumenical organizations (like the National Council of Churches here in the USA).  Ecumenical ties are particularly important for those Orthodox churches suffering persecution: under communism, ecumenical partnerships were important in helping to lobby for religious freedom for embattled Orthodox churches.  A showdown is brewing between those who want to flex their fundamentalist muscles and those that think that dialogue with other churches, particularly the Roman Catholic Church, is an essential part of the future of the Orthodox church.

The Sacrament of Marriage and its Impediments:  Like a lot of minority religious groups that link identity to religion, marriage can be seen as a threat, as an erosion of identity and an agent of assimilation, if there are mixed marriages where people marry non-Orthodox and drift away from the faith.  Crusty has a rabbi colleague who for years declined to do marriages between Jews and non-Jews because of the way mixed marriages, in his opinion, led to assimilation and were a threat to the survival of Judaism in North America.  There will be an emphasis on those couples married in the Orthodox Church do so not only because of the majesty and beauty of the ceremony (it truly is). but to commit themselves to living faithful lives as engaged Orthodox Christians.  There will also be unequivocal affirmation that marriage is between a man and a woman, and a complete rejection of any understanding of same sex blessings.

Well, that's an overall rundown.  Enjoy the hats, smell the incense, light a candle in front of our favorite saint's icon, and see what happens.   For decent coverage of the Council in English there's, run by John Allen (formerly of the National Catholic Reporter).

As always, with Crusty's predictions, all are guaranteed 100% correct or your money back.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Hamilton, Text, and Trumpism: or, Religious Studies Rules!

Before Crusty Old Dean was a dean, or the Rector of all Sandwich, he was an undergraduate at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT, where he was a Russian language and literature major.  The snooty high school where Crusty attended oppressed him by requiring three years of a foreign language, and, frankly, French, Spanish (nice thinking, Crusty!), or German didn't appeal.  So COD
went for the exotic choice of Russian.  In a sign of the time, Crusty's high school no longer offers
Crusty's Soviet student ID, 1990.
Russian but now offers Mandarin Chinese and Arabic.  Crusty took four years of Russian in high school, then went off to college, planning on being a Russian Language major.

Until Crusty wound up in Religion 212: Introduction to the New Testament, one of those classes changes your life.  The instructor was funny, energetic, irreverent, and cursed regularly in class.  It was there that Crusty was introduced to the academic, textual study of religion.  For better or for ill, there would not be a Crusty Old Dean had I not taken that class with Ron Cameron nearly 30 years ago.  Ron once said, "I don't really care what the New Testament says definitively about Jesus, I'm more interested in what early communities which produced it said about Jesus."  He was (is) a member of the Jesus Seminar, the group of scholars that looks at sayings of Jesus and votes to determine how likely they think he actually may have said them, using a color-coded system, voting either red (definitely said it), pink (probably), gray (maybe), or black (didn't say it).  Ron once confided while meeting with Crusty, smoking his pipe in his office (back when you could do that), "Ferguson, I only once voted f*****g pink." (In case you're wondering, it was the phrase "Foxes have holes, birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.")  We also engaged in some epic softball battles in the intramural softball league with the Religion Department team.  Ron  has been a great mentor to Crusty, and profoundly helped COD rethink how we look at texts and the telling of history.

Crusty became a joint Russian language and Religious Studies double-major.  It completely re-oriented how COD looked at Scripture, and as noted above, started him on the path towards Crustyhood. In addition to courses with Ron in New Testament and Early Christianity, Crusty also took classes with the school rabbi, Roger Klein.  Given that this was the late 1980s, the Rabbi had
Stand down rabbi, stand down please.
two popular nicknames.  Since a similar-sounding movie took the nation by storm in the summer of 1988, we called him Roger Rabbi.  For those who were fans of the English Beat, he was Ranking Roger.  Rabbi Klein himself preferred the nickname "RBI Klein," as part of his demonstrable prowess on the aforementioned Religion Department softball team.  He credited his hitting and fielding abilities at his advanced age to his "I-Thou relationship with the ball."

Crusty also learned much from Rabbi Klein, who got him started down a re-examination of the life of faith in addition to the academic study of religion.  He learned that there are something we couldn't know from religious texts, and that what we could begin to know were things about the people and communities who wrote them.  Further, with the Rabbi COD learned about the power in the process of reception, that meanings and interpretations can change over time.  One class Crusty took was called, simply, "Exodus."  We spent the whole semester reading different interpretations of the book of Exodus: from the Talmud, to Marxist interpretations, even Schoenburg's atonal Moses und Aron opera.

By now, if you were somehow googling "Hamilton" or "Lin-Manuel Miranda" and stumbled across this blog (poor you! leave now!) you're wondering what any of what has been written so far has to do with the purported title of this posting.  However, veteran readers of Crusty Old Dean know by now that the lede is always buried, drowning under a sea of prelminary remarks, opening remarks, and jokes and references nobody gets.  Well, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Crusty Old Dean share the same alma mater, Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT.  (And Wesleyan is badass because it gave Lin-Manuel his honorary degree BEFORE he came out with Hamilton.) While a proud Wesleyan alumnus, Crusty is perfectly content to let folks like Brad Whitford, Dar Williams, and Lin-Manuel Miranda carry the torch for Wesleyan University's awesomeness. (And, interestingly enough, of those three, the only one Crusty hasn't met is Lin-Manuel. True story(ies).)

This common alma mater came to Crusty when he read Miranda's remarks upon receiving the Edward Kennedy Award for Drama Inspired by American History.  In accepting the award, and speaking about his interpretation of the Alexander Hamilton story, Miranda commented that "History is so subjective.  The teller of it determines it."

The first thing Crust thought was this:  Did Lin-Manuel take a class with Ron?  (The rabbi had left by the time Lin-Manuel arrived at Wesleyan.)  This is exactly what Crusty learned from Ron!  In fact, this very perception was the cornerstone and concept for Crusty's slightly less wildly successful adaptation (that is, his dissertation) of potentially the same learning.  No way, COD thought, more likely is the broader emphasis in looking at how communities shape texts, which is certainly not confined to Religion 212 but a crucial component of many literary and historical schools of thought.

But then came Lin-Manuel's interview with Rolling Stone which produced the smoking gun.  He specifically mentions the same course with same instructor.  In his words:

"I remember taking a great Gospels and Christianity class in college that really made Christian history interesting to me. I grew up pretty Catholic, and the Bible was just a thing that existed. This was a class that was like, 'Well, people wrote it after he died, and even the original accounts disagree, and there are stories about Jesus that didn't make it into the Bible.' I was like, 'Oh, shit!' That was the first time the notion of history as being up for grabs, and the teller being just as important as the subject, really occurred to me. Thank you, Professor Ron Cameron."

Crusty wasn't just trying to think up a connection with Lin-Manuel's "Hamilton" and my "The Past is Prologue: the Revolution of Nicene Historiography",  and to bask in our shared coolness:  it's f*****g true!  We really did both learn about how the teller of the story shapes the making of history from Ron Cameron, and applied that in different contexts.  For Crusty, this was looking at the oft-overlooked formation of the genre of church history in the fifth century in a book that a handful of people know exist, let alone have read; for Lin-Manuel, one of the most wildly popular musicals in American history which has become a truly cultural phenomenon.  I tell you, the parallels are staggering, aren't they?

This formation under Ron and the Rabbi ended up influencing how Crusty shaped his doctoral work.  Looking to learn what we can discern from communities which produced texts, as well as looking at other kinds of texts, allows for suppressed narratives and voices to begin to emerge.  Crusty first got interested in exploring the interplay between "heresy" and "orthodoxy" in the first centuries of Christianity, particularly the so-called "Arian" controversy.  (No, Crusty's shift key is not spasming, all of those quotation marks are intentional.)  Yet while engaging the excellent historical and theological and textual work done in the past fifty years, Crusty was struck by the glaring omission:

Hardly anyone was studying the church histories produced during the period.  Scholars had attempted to determine which theological treatises of Athanasius were authentic or not, had parsed the dates of various letters written by Basil of Caesarea, had explored the minutiae of any number of theological texts.  But, by comparison, very little was done with the church histories written. It doesn't take long to figure out why: they were considered "flawed" and "subjective" and only really used to help flesh out other narratives or supplement other work.  Why else would anyone read Eusebius or Rufinus?

Crusty thought this was ridiculous for a couple of reasons. First off, all history is subjective, all that matters is that you take that into account; that you acknowledge you shape the narrative in the study of history as much as those who wrote the texts your studying shaped theirs.  Here, Howard Zinn was equally important to Crusty along with the Rabbi and Ron.  Hearing Howard Zinn speak in person in
COD keeps trying to get Zinn nominated for sainthood.
high school blew Crusty's mind.  Being subjective can be perfectly fine so long as you acknowledge that paradigm; Zinn specifically chose to write history in a certain way to recover suppressed narratives.  A second reason that overlooking church histories seemed flawed to Crusty was that it treats church histories to a different standard, instead of subjecting them to the same process of seeing how it was produced by a community and shaped a narrative.

Which brings us back to Hamilton.  Reading Lin-Manuel's comments were enormously revealing to COD, and, in turn, shines a light on other aspects of the Hamilton phenomenon that have bemused COD.

One aspect is the inevitable pushback, including criticism that Hamilton plays fast and loose with historical fact, that it is somehow nothing more than a kind of fan-fiction.  (Let Crusty explain fan fiction to those who might not know what is is, because, believe me, you do not want to google Fan Fiction or all you'll get are largely sexualized takes on Harry Potter.)  Fan fiction is when devotees of a certain work write their own versions of it: prequels, sequels, alternate takes on the work itself.  Prior to the internet, these works would have had limited ability to be shared.  With the internet, self-publishing has brought this to the mainstream.  To this criticism, Crusty, thought:  So what?  Of course it is.  All of history is, in a sense, fan fiction: our take on events which are removed from us which we write about because we're interested in it, with our own biases and perspectives.  The pushback is utterly absurd because it still presumes a "right" way to present history, when, as Lin-Manuel and Ron agree with Crusty, the teller determines the narrative.

Another is trying to understand the phenomenal popularity of Hamilton.  I think, simply put, it shines and incredible ray of light in an otherwise dark world (that is, our contemporary context).  We have seen so many interpretations of the "founding" period which reflect some of the worst aspects of American society: repeated efforts wrongly to characterize the founding of the United States as a "Christian nation," to efforts to whitewash the role of slavery, to name just a few.  In our current world, we have seen a revival of nativism, open expressions of racism, and economic stratification, along with these efforts to bend history.  Crusty sees Hamilton, in a sense, as an unintended rejoinder to both Trumpism and Bernieism: a musical predominantly featuring people of color with inspiration from sources largely outside of musical theater, about someone who overcame a poor upbringing to become one of the most powerful and influential persons in the United States.  This is, perhaps, why (among many other reasons) it is striking such a broader chord.

So, in sum, the staggering parallels between Crusty's doctoral work and Lin-Manuel's work make sense: we both owe Ron Cameron a tremendous debt, and we have both thanked him (Lin-Manuel in Rolling Stone, mine in my PhD dissertation introduction). 

And here let's give a shout-out to all teachers, and to liberal arts education.  

To the teachers: One course with one professor so many years ago shaped two people's lives (mine and Lin-Manuel).  Teachers, don't think you work is not important, and don't think you don't have the power to shape lives!

To liberal arts education: it's because of the power of liberal arts education to teach people to read, write, analyze, and think that got Lin-Manuel to where he was, got Crusty to where he is, and so many countless others.

So to all you who denigrate the teaching profession, and all you who sneer  at liberal arts education and want to dismantle our public university systems to become trade schools: f**k off.  People like Lin-Manuel are an awesome example of why liberal arts education matters, and why teaching matters. To the rest of us: Get out there and start "passionate smashin' every expectation! Every action's an act of creation!"

There's a million things we haven't done: just you all wait.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Oops! He Did It Again: Francis and Female Deacons

Well, Pope Francis did it again:  he went and melted the ecclesiastical episcotwitterblogogramsphere.  In a meeting today, he announced that we would appoint a commission to consider the question of female deacons!  Quickly the Washington Post, National Catholic Reporter, and other outlets such as the respected Jesuit Fr James Martin breathlessly reported that Francis has established a commission
Crusty prefers the Richard Thompson version of Oops!
which could "end an all-male clergy" by considering female deacons who could "baptize, officiate at weddings, and deliver the homily at the Mass."

Oops! He -- or They -- did it again?

The problem is, naturally, that Pope Francis did no such thing:  like so many other instances with this Pope, media has taken remarks given in an informal setting and extrapolated widely from them. 

Let's look at what we know of what happened.  Pope Francis was meeting with the International Union of Superiors General (which, to Crusty, does sound vaguely Teamsters-like), and, during a question and answer session, was asked about the possibility of female deacons.  In the transcripts that Crusty has seen so far, the Pope did three things

1)  Acknowledged, by way of recounting a conversation he had with a former professor, that while there were clearly mentions of female deacons in the early church, nobody knows exactly what they did apart from assisting in the baptism of women (since converts were normally adults and baptism was performed by full immersion), and it wasn't clear that they were "ordained."  As a history
Yes, but would they make it through TODAY's ordination process?
professor himself, Crusty certainly hopes that former students will be likewise guided by everything he told them when they ascend to high office.  Note that the Pope did not state his own historical opinion, but recounted a conversation he had with an unnamed professor.  And, BTW, this conversation the Pope recounts is more or less an accurate summary of what we do know about mentions of female deacons -- while keeping in mind we do not possess a full, accurate, and universal accounting of just what male deacons, presbyters, and bishops did across the breadth of the Christian world in those first centuries, either.  There's been a quite a bit of really excellent historical work done in the area specifically of women deacons, including the outstanding scholarship and advocacy of Phyllis Zagano.

2)  Offered this ringing endorsement of a commission to study the matter -- again, in response to specific question from the gathered Union members."Constituting an official commission that might study the question?" the pontiff asked aloud. "I believe yes. It would do good for the church to clarify this point. I am in agreement. I will speak to do something like this....It seems useful to me to have a commission that would clarify this well."  

Not entirely the most ringing endorsement in the world, not a bold proclamation.  It seems like a good idea to "clarify this point."  Having been around the church long enough, Crusty can tell you about all the problems that specially appointed commissions have solved...on one finger of one hand.  Crusty's just saying that media reports that the Pope established a commission to consider whether institute a female diaconate is not exactly what he said.  He thinks it might be a good idea to study the question.

3)  He reaffirmed the church's teaching on ordination: in elaborating on who may preach the Homily at the Mass, he stated it must be the priest because the priest stands "in persona Christi."  A quick reminder, friends, of the theological reason why women may not be ordained in the Roman Catholic Church:  because the priest stands in the place of Jesus, Jesus was a man, and thus the priest has to be a man (this is an oversimplification to be sure but that's it in a nutshell).  So, while thinking it might be a good idea to study female deacons, Francis also made sure to restate and reaffirm the Roman Catholic Church's traditional teaching that only men may be ordained.

It is simply a ludicrous, and huge, jump to leap from the Pope thinking it would be a good idea to study the question to saying there is a commission which will decide whether women can be ordained female deacons and do all the same things as male deacons, including sacramental functions like baptizing, officiating at weddings, and preaching in the context of the Mass.  Here are all the steps that would have to happen:

--The Pope would need to appoint the commission.  That'll take time.
--The scope of the commission would need to be defined (just study the early church? make recommendations about current context or not?)
--Even if the commission were to recommend something, the Pope doesn't have to accept it.  Pope Leo sent the commission to study Anglican orders back to redraft its conclusions to condemn Anglican orders (instead of its original mixed verdict) because that's what he wanted.
--Even if the commission were to recommend, and the Pope were to act, it doesn't mean a diaconate equivalent to the male diaconate.  The Episcopal Church, for instance, formally created the office of deaconess by canon in 1889.  However, deaconesses were clearly defined as "consecrated", not ordained; had no sacramental functions; and were specifically considered not to be clergy.  It would be almost a hundred years later, in 1970, that The Episcopal Church would declare that deaconesses.  The Roman Catholic Church doesn't have to restore a female diaconate equivalent to the male diaconate even if it restores the female diaconate!
He also wrote Uncle Vanya.

It's also crucial to keep in mind the witness of certain Eastern Orthodox Churches, for whom the female diaconate is not something confined to ages past.  There have been female deacons in more recent memory in the Armenian Orthodox Church, which ordained women deacons well into the 20th century.  The Church of Greece voted to restore the female diaconate in 2004.  But, as the Western media's fascination with the Pope is concerned, we all know nothing is real unless the Roman Catholic Church does it.  So let's spill a lot more ink about Pope Francis speculating on a possible commission to study the question than point out an actual, real, Eastern Orthodox Church has voted to restore the female diaconate.

To be clear, Crusty would welcome the Roman Catholic Church joining an emerging ecumenical consensus and supporting restoration of a female diaconate.  COD is just noting his bemusement at the perpetual flights of fancy that seem to accompany anything which comes out of this Pope's mouth.  We've seen this phenomenon over and again with Francis:  he makes a comment in an unrehearsed or informal setting (like a press conference, or in a Q&A session), the secular and some religious media outlets blow this entirely out of proportion, while all the while Francis is also clear to reaffirm traditional Catholic teaching and practice.  This happened with his remarks about gay and lesbian persons, and it happened around the question of whether divorced and remarried Catholics would be able to receive Communion.  It's remarkable that it continues to happen time and again.

As the old Russian saying goes, "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me." 

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Justin Welby's Doomsday Device: Or, Humpy Dumpty as Archbishop

 There's a terrifying scene in the Stanley Kubrick classic, "Dr Strangelove."  Due to a technical problem, an American B-52 is headed to the Soviet Union to drop its nuclear payload.  Unable to communicate with the bomber, the President calls the Soviet ambassador, explaining the situation, hoping that if the bomber does deliver its nuclear weapon, the Soviets will understand it is due to a technical problem and not unleash a massive nuclear strike.  Well, there's a problem, the Soviet ambassador says.  The Soviets have devised a "doomsday device," numerous atomic bombs
Archbishop Welby, as seen in Lusaka.
specifically salted with highly radioactive Cobalt, designed to go off if the Soviets are ever attacked by a nuclear weapon.  This are not bombs which are launched; instead, they are buried and triggered to explode if a nuclear attack occurs.  The bombs are highly radioactive, and will spread a radiation cloud so intense it will circle the globe and destroy all life on earth.  The "doomsday device" was designed so that if, for some reason, the Soviets were taken out in a first strike they would still be able to retaliate.

Well, reading Archbishop Justin Welby's interpretation of the Anglican Consultative Council, where he masterfully manages to combine the best of Dr Strangelove, Lewis Carroll, and George Orwell,  all Crusty could think is "He has just created his own doomsday device."

In a desperate attempt to keep spinning what did or didn't happen at the most recent Anglican Consultative Council. yesterday Archbishop Welby released his own fanciful interpretation, which can be found here, dropped on the Friday of a bank holiday weekend in England, weeks after the conclusion of the meeting itself.  Let's count the problems here:

1)  There is the whole kerfuffle around what it meant that the ACC "received" the Archbishop's report from the Primates meeting.  Crusty blogged about this previously here, where I'll repeat the relevant section:

--The ACC formally received the report from the Primates' Meeting in a resolution proposed by Bishop Deng of Sudan.  Further, declined to pass a resolution which would have received and welcomed the entire text of the Primates.  Some people have been spinning the first action: by "receiving" the Report, is it acknowledging and approving of that report?  Others have focused on the second action:  Or, by declining to receive the entire text, is that somehow a repudiation?  In the end, it did what it was supposed to do: one instrument of communion received a report from another.  By failing to receive the entire report, this can clearly be seen as being reluctant to take any further steps, but Crusty is reluctant to see it as some kind of grand repudiation of the Primates, at least at this stage.

Crusty sticks by this interpretation:  by declining to receive the full text of the report, and adopting a motion that accepted the report in generic language without receiving the full text, this can be seen as an unwillingness formally to receive the entire report.  However Custy didn't see it much of a repudiation or an endorsement, but doing what one legislative body does with another.

Not so.  According to the Archbishop, "By receiving my report, which incorporated the Primates’ Communique, the ACC accepted these consequences entirely."

Crusty would say this is just mind-boggling, but that will be saved for later.  The Archbishop here is
Archbishop Welby, Lambeth Palace
interpreting the actions of a legislative body after the fact, on his own authority, and defining what the legislative language used actually means.  And definitively, too:  not saying this is his understanding; he is definitively stating what the body did.

And Crusty was not using Lewis Carroll's name in vain.  He thought of the famous exchange form "Through the Looking Glass":

'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.'

'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'

'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master — that's all.'

This is, apparently, the Archbishop's goal as well:  he has set himself up as master of the what the words the ACC uses actually mean, able to define its actions through his own interpretation.

2)  The meeting from last January is now, ex-post facto, apparently a Primates' Meeting.  Remember, leading up to it, the Archbishop specifically said it was a gathering, for a specific purpose, and not an official Primates meeting (it even included a non-Primate, the Archbishop of ACNA). 

The Archbishop has now rewritten history, and this gathering is now referred to as a Primates' Meting on
The Archbishop's Christmas Card for 2016.
two occasions in his recent posting, replete with capital letters.  Such are his powers of interpretation that he can change the past, akin to the Ministry of Truth in 1984, which simply rewrote the historical record when it needed to make changes.

3)  And, unbeknowst to us, the Primates Gathering-Now-Meeting has set up a disciplinary process for all future conflicts in the Communion.  The language of the Communique from January said nothing about this, nor did any of the press conference spin that Crusty heard.  The Communique in full is found here.  It currently has no magisterial interpretations posted to define what it actually says, but perhaps that will come.  The Communique repeatedly spoke of a decision to walk together, and noted consequences as a result of specific actions of The Episcopal Church.  The following words were astonishing to Crusty, that the Archbishop could have the gall to state this so baldly in his statement from today:

"The Primates’ Meeting in January set out some consequences for any Province, now or in the future, which goes out on its own on a significant matter without the support of the rest of the Communion."

Reread that again.

No, this was not a decision taking after much discussion about the actions of The Episcopal Church at a Primates gathering.  This was now an official Primates Meeting, which has established disciplinary process for any and all future actions taken by any province of the Communion.

Left unspoken is what the definition of "significant" means, or what "support" means.  The Primates can now define what is acceptable for the Communion as a whole.

We don't need a Covenant, apparently:  the Archbishop has claimed that authority in Section IV of the prpposed Covenant to adjudicate for the Communion for the Primates.

If you read Crusty's previous postings, he has, in general, been less histrionic in worrying about international Anglican conspiracies.  This was in part because of three things

1)  we always had the Anglican Consultative Council as a check against the other instruments of Communion;

2)  in general Crusty doubts the ability of church bureaucracies to pull off anything that grand (Crusty once worked for a church bureaucracy that had to cancel its Christmas lunch because nobody remembered to plan for it);

3)  no matter what is done, nothing will work, because of those in the Communion for whom the only acceptable response is expulsion of The Episcopal Church and any and all who think likewise.

Crusty is now beginning to worry, because Justin Welby obviously has a plan.  His un-Primates Meeting claimed authority it didn't have.  He has now ex-post facto made that into a Primates Meeting which established a disciplinary process for the Communion as a whole.  And has now claimed that the Anglican Consultative Council has endorsed it in its entirety, based on claiming his interpretation as definitive.

His thuggery knows no bounds.  It was clear that the way the Primates' meeting defined a violation of the Communion's teaching was done solely to apply to The Episcopal Church as a threat to future provinces.  But now this has been institutionalized by his personal fiat.  Like the President in Dr Stranglove, instead of a conversation we had hoped to have, we now find out there exists a Doomsday Device none of us knew about, by which the Archbishop can call his un-meetings to become Official Meetings and decide what is a "significant matter" and hold provinces accountable.  Well done, Archbishop: even the master of parody himself, Stanley Kubrick, could not have attempted to pull off something like this. Crusty has said repeatedly on this blog he is well aware that actions have consequences, and The Episcopal Church may indeed need to face them for actions taken (actions which COD fully supports, BTW).  But have the courage to impose them openly and fairly.  Instead all we have seen is that Humpty Dumpty now runs the Anglican Communion, where words mean what he wants them to mean.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

ACC-16: Electric Boogaloo

Friends, Crusty is back after a bit of a hiatus.  Lots going on in Crustyland.  COD has left the confines of academia, while remaining as adjunct professor of church history to torment future generations of students, and is now a simple country parson.  Crusty knows what you all are thinking:  Can this blog still be called Crusty Old Dean if COD is not a Dean?  Some thoughts:

First off, it's not as if the other letters were valid, either, in COD.  I'm neither particularly old nor particularly Crusty, though I was a dean.  2/3rds of it is kind of false advertising, anyway, so in for a penny, in for a pound.

Second, in this age of branding, COD is hoping that the acronym can no longer have any connection to the words from which it derived.  Like AARP and KFC are now officially just AARP and KFC and don't actually represent the words their letters once acronymed, and many spend MLK Day forgetting MLK's strident calls against militarism, economic injustice, and class stratification.

Third, Crusty has moved to Cape COD so there's also the possibility of keeping the acronym but changing it to reflect the fact he is now Lord and Master of a Cape that has, in actuality, been an
Bourne Rotary:  where you get your PhD in MA driving.
 for over 100 years but is still called a cape.

Fourth, Crusty's just too lazy to think up another name.  Petition the Bexley Seabury Board to name me Dowager Dean so that the Crusty Old Dean brand can live on!

What, you might ask, has roused Crusty from his life as a simple country parson to once again take to the blogosphere?

It can only be the meeting of the most recent Anglican Consultative Council, which, as Crusty writes, is finishing up its most recent meeting in Lukasa, Zambia.  It amuses Crusty to no end that the Anglican Consultative Council treats itself like Rocky movies, referring to its meetings by their sequential
You know Justin Welby has some sick dance moves.
number, like one endless string of sequels.  This is the sixteenth meeting of the ACC since its inception, and thus this is ACC-16.  Crusty thinks all numbered sequels should also choose a pithy description.  Like Star Trek III: The Search for Spock; Speed 2:  Cruise Control; Leprechaun: Back 2 Tha Hood; Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan; or the greatest of them all, Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo.  To take a page from the official communique from Episcopal Church members to the meeting, perhaps we could call it: ACC 16: In the Shadow of the Primates.

Crusty waited breathlessly for this ACC meeting (well not really since he ended one job, moved, and began another job during Holy Week, in reality Crusty thought: What?  The ACC meeting?  Isn't that, like, next month?), wondering if it could somehow sort out the hopeless, confusing mess that the Primates made at their January meeting and which Crusty broke down here in excruciating detail.

Unlike many others, however, Crusty wasn't waiting for ACC-16 to save the Episcopal Church.  This is because we have to be careful to take the ACC for what it is.  Just like we should not give the Primates any kind of authority that they do not technically have, nor the Lambeth Conference, neither should we give ACC any kind of authority it doesn't have. (Crusty is looking at you, Episcopalians -- just because we may think it is the instrument of communion friendliest to the Episcopal Church doesn't mean we should imbue it with the kind of authority we might like it to have.) This is particularly troublesome for Americans: since the ACC is the only representative instrument of unity in the Anglican Communion, we can have a tendency to see it as a kind of legislative body, and we tend to see representative bodies as inherently better and authoritative.  (If you believe that, allow me to show you the democratically elected and representative Russian Parliament.) This simply isn't the case, since representative bodies don't necessarily have to be authoritative.  According
Can't wait for the Hamilton folks to do the ACC for next project.
to the Anglican Communion website, the ACC's role is to: "facilitate the co-operative work of the churches of the Anglican Communion, exchange information between the Provinces and churches, and help to co-ordinate common action. It advises on the organization and structures of the Communion, and seeks to develop common policies with respect to the world mission of the Church, including ecumenical matters."

Thus the ACC has no binding, legislative authority, despite being an elected and representative body (again, Americans can tend to conflate the two).  It's job is to "facilitate", "exchange information," to "advise," and to "develop common policies."  Thus neither those seeking to have the Primates' decisions "upheld" by the ACC, nor those seeking to "overturn" them (both phrases Crusty heard in the Twitterblogofacesphere) will find redress:  ACC doesn't have that authority.

Just like we can't give the Primates authority they don't have, we likewise need to be careful to ask or expect the ACC to be something it's not.

OK, that was just one big opening remark.  Crusty, as always, has several thoughts on the ACC.

1)  It has been interesting to see that various parties have managed to draw exact opposite conclusions from the actions of the ACC.  One article stated that "ACC Declines to Go Along with Consequences" while a commentary piece on another Anglican themed news site mostly argued that the ACC went along with the Primates recommendations.  Like many instances in journalism, a catchy headline doesn't often actually match up with the text that accompanies it.  In fact, just reading a straightforward description of what happened at the ACC, one could say that "ACC Goes Along With Consequences by Not Challenging Them" or "ACC Does What It Is Supposed to Do."

So what did it do?

--The ACC formally received the report from the Primates' Meeting in a resolution proposed by Bishop Deng of Sudan.  Further, declined to pass a resolution which would have received and welcomed the entire text of the Primates.  Some people have been spinning the first action: by "receiving" the Report, is it acknowledging and approving of that report?  Others have focused on the second action:  Or, by declining to receive the entire text, is that somehow a repudiation?  In the end, it did what it was supposed to do: one instrument of communion received a report from another.  By failing to receive the entire report, this can clearly be seen as being reluctant to take any further steps, but Crusty is reluctant to see it as some kind of grand repudiation of the Primates, at least at this stage.

--No Episcopalian, whether by their own choice or not, was not elected to any positions of leadership or governance.  Bishop Ian Douglas, in a magnanimous and gracious gesture, declined to stand for the Standing Committee.  This is something the Primates called for, that no Episcopalians be elected or appointed to any internal governing bodies.  Whatever the route, what the Primates had requested has been achieved.

--Archbishop Welby publicly stated "the consequences for The Episcopal Church stand."

True, the ACC did not add any additional time to the timeout chair for The Episcopal Church.  And, as the only body that may admit members to the Communion, it did not exercise its presumable ability to expel members.  So there's that.

So yes, the ACC did nothing to institutionalize or expand the "consequences" from the Primates meeting.  But it also did nothing to mitigate them.  The shocking non-story here is that the ACC did what it was supposed to do as defined by its role in the Communion.

2)  It has also been interesting to see the reactions to Hong Kong Archbishop Paul Kwong's election as Chair of the ACC.  There were a number of reactions of dismay that a Primate was elected, feeling that this is a continued deference to clericalism, or a continued strengthening of the place and role of Primates in the Communion's governance.  In their communique, the Episcopal Church's delegation hinted at "a drift towards increased Primatial authority" in this action. Crusty has met Archbishop Kwong and finds him to be an impressive person, very knowledgeable about The Episcopal Church, capable of building bridges (though by no means certain this would a result) between the global South and the West. 

Crusty, frankly, has been befuddled by some of the reaction.  It's hard to trumpet the ACC as the paragon of representative democracy in the Anglican Communion then grouse when they elect someone you don't like. [And BTW Crusty didn't hear people lamenting Bishop Tengatenga as chair, despite being a bishop, when he was loudly and publicly defending The Episcopal Church's right to be present in Lukasa.]  Sure, it would've been nice to have someone other than a bishop or primate elected as chair.  But that's how democracy works,  they elected who they elected.  Part of the problem with democratic processes in churches, in

Crusty's experience, is that all too often people see simple majority votes as binding actions of the Holy Spirit for things they personally support, but then ignore or demean actions taken with which they disagree.  We already do this so well in The Episcopal Church, where everyone more or less does as they please canonically and liturgically, that Crusty supposes it's only a matter of time that we extend this to the international level. The United States has exported so many dysfunctional things to the rest of the world, perhaps it only makes sense that we can try to General Convention-ize the ACC into a bloodsport where we pit bishops, clergy, and laity against one another -- you know, like the House of Bishops and House of Deputies.  The infantile bickering between the Houses of General Convention every three years is an embarrassment, and a sin, and has to stop.

3)  The ACC finally shed some light on the financial situation of the Communion.  It's no secret that the Communion is disproportionately funded by churches from the West, though we've had little transparency about that.  This is often given pernicious or nefarious overtones, as some accuse the Episcopal Church of funding the Communion to spread its false Gospel of treating LBTQI persons with dignity and respect -- when, in fact, you could argue that the Episcopal Church has spent the last 20 years funding international meetings where a goodly amount of time has been spent attempting to marginalize the Episcopal Church, but that's another matter.  We found out that a good number of provinces give nothing, and, in fact, a few provinces do indeed provide most of the funding.  As anyone should be able to tell you, this is the sign of a dysfunctional organization.  A congregation where nearly a third of the members attending, serving, and voting give absolutely nothing and a handful of pledgers basically fund the ministry would be seen as unhealthy.  We'd be asking: why is there such a disconnect with some members?  Don't they know it's not healthy to have a few people funding the church? Has leadership been open and honest and transparent about finances?  The ACC took a good first step here.  Having served at a seminary, on churchwide staff, and in a parish, Crusty has preached and argued and been taught by people he respects that fundraising is a product of the relationships you build.  You build relationships with your alumni, and, out of that relationship, they may feel like they want to give to support the mission of the institution.   We shouldn't guilt or nag parishioners into pledging: if they have a genuine love and connection, they'll give out of that relationship.  While no one is expecting the Episcopal Church in Sudan, for instance, to give hundreds of thousands, it'd be nice if more provinces gave at least a token amount, but that means there's the need for relationship building.

4)  The Anglican Congress: since the ACC went about, you know, doing its actual job, it passed a lot of resolutions and took seriously its role to co-ordinate and develop policy.  What excited Crusty the most was the resolution to consider planning and holding another Anglican Congress.  The first Anglican Congress, held in 1963, was extraordinarily important and set in motion the modern understanding of Anglicanism as a global communion.  Prior to 1963, we had a Lambeth Conference that was overwhelmingly white, all male, all Western, and met once every ten years.  So much of our understanding of Anglicanism as something more than the Church of England is a result of the 1963 Congress.  The Preamble to the Constitution of the Episcopal Church, which defined for the first time the Anglican Communion and the church's relationship to it, was adopted in 1967, as a result of the Congress, as is the ACC itself and all of the inter-Anglican bodies that we have.  There is a glaring aspect of the 1963 Congress, however, that speaks to the need for a new Congress.  One could also argue that the Congress was the last gasp of colonialism, whatever its intent.  It birthed a Communion funded by the West, whose leadership has been dominated by churches from the West, and whose governance and decision making ethos is Western.  Have we truly engaged what it means to be a post-colonial Communion?  We call ourselves a diverse, global Communion but still have a first among equals, for instance, who has to swear allegiance to the British monarch.  We need a new Congress to help figure out what kind of Anglican Communion we need for the 21st century, instead of continuing this maddening process of asking structures (Lambeth, Primates, ACC) that were not setup to do this to do this.

5)   Whatever happened at ACC-16 really doesn't change a damn thing from the Primates' mess from January.

On the one hand, the Archbishop's thuggery seems to be working.  The Episcopal Church alone was singled out in an effort to send a clear message to other provinces of the Communion that they, too, will face consequences.  Same sex blessings happen at the diocesan or local level in other provinces, and clergy can register as same-sex civil partners in some places, but none of that matters in the Primates' eyes.  The goal has been to single out The Episcopal Church in order both to prevent other provinces from taken any action, and to keep conservative provinces from leaving.   We see this working in the actions of the House of Bishops of the Anglican Church of Canada, which has already said it would not be able to find the majority to approve action coming to its General Synod this summer, referencing the Primates' gathering in their statement.  We see this in the fact that nothing has been said about ecumenical partners that have approved same-sex marriages, such as the Church of Sweden, ELCA, and Church of Norway. 

On the other hand, we see the utter failure of this policy.  Despite all the careful parsing that went on in January about what the Primates could or could not do, or did or did not do, there are strong constituencies in the Communion which want the Episcopal Church expelled from the Communion, along with any other provinces that think the same.  The decision by the Primates did not change the de facto schism in the Communion.  There's already an alternative global communion in place, GAFCON, and a number of provinces absented themselves from this meeting because of The Episcopal Church's presence.  After all of this, has anything changed?

Save us Anglican Congress!  You're our only hope!

Once the Congress is announced, look to this space for Crusty's GoFundMe page to raise money for him to crash the party.