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.

Monday, February 1, 2016

The NFLization of the Anglican Communion: Primates Go Roger Goodell

Well, it's about time, I guess, for Crusty to weigh in on the current debacle in the Anglican Communion.  The Episcopal Church has, apparently, been "suspended" or faced "consequences" or been put in a "time-out", various terms which COD has seen in church and popular  media headlines in the past week.
As a Crusty Old Dean, COD knows all about double secret probation.
 Crusty has avoided writing about this clusterf**k up until now, mainly because he wanted to wait a bit and see how the pieces began to fall into place.  COD is wary of writing in the immediate aftermath of anything, mainly because misinformation, lack of information, and plain old spin usually abound in varying measures.  Best to bide Crusty's time and wait for the the picture to become a little fuller.

And yeah, lo, verily, it has.  Let's try to sort out the mess here.  What are some things we've learned in the past couple of weeks about this Primates' Meeting?

1)  First off, it wasn't a Primates Meeting, for two reasons.  One, it was intentionally referred to as a "gathering" and not a formal meeting by the Archbishop of Canterbury.  Two, it included someone who is not an official primate of the Anglican Communion, namely, the Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America.  So it is not the Primates Meeting at all which imposed these "consequences."

2)  It called for "consequences" for The Episcopal Church's approval of rites for same sex marriage at the 2015 General Convention.  Interesting that consecration of openly gay persons to the episcopate appears not to have been mentioned, which was the grounds for the last round of consequences, in 2010, when Episcopal Church representatives were removed from ecumenical dialogues of the Anglican Communion.  Crusty knows because he was one of the people removed from an international ecumenical dialogue.

These were specifically called consequences, not "sanctions", since the effort is to squarely lay all the blame on The Episcopal Church.  Consequences, you see, are solely a result of someone's or somebody's or something's actions, thus laying all the blame squarely on the purported perpetrator, and leave out the Star Chamber that thinks them up from the equation.  It also shows the incredible ability of the global Anglican Communion
Crusty means the metaphorical and not literal Star Chamber.  The actual Star Chamber did have due process.
to make this solely about The Episcopal Church, and not, say, other provinces where this goes on -- the notable example being Canada.  The bill of attainder, apparently, is alive and well, as unelected, unaccountable bodies meeting in private continue not only to define the offense, but what is involved in committing the offense, and any penalites to be imposed.

3)  Apparently a group of primates leaked the "consequences", which involved The Episcopal Church not participating in any inter-communion meetings or gatherings on doctrine or polity.  Once leaked, a number of primates then promptly left the meeting before the final communique was released, which included more nuanced language, including condemnation of homophobic language and affirming God's love for every human being.

4)  There was also at this meeting, apparently, a demand for repentance from The Episcopal Church, which included a new prooftexting verse, Amos 3:3: "Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?" [An amazing prooftexting verse because the Bible and the history of Christianity do, indeed, talk about people walking together even though they don't agree on everything.  Like the fact that unlike, say, Methodism or the Presbyterian tradition, Anglicanism has tended to have very few schisms, just to give one example of the top of my head. Or, to counter-prooftext, Gamliel's words in Acts.  Or Jesus' parable of the wheat and the tares.] When there was no repentance, a majority of the primates bolted on the excuse they needed to catch their flights.  Crusty can damn well bet you that had The Episcopal Church decided to repent, all the primates would've been there to see their perp walk.

The above isn't some fevered dream; it comes, more or less, from the Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America and the Anglican Communion's official communications.  A decent rundown can be found here on Episcopal Cafe.  Elements are also contained in the address of the Secretary General of Anglican Communion in Miami as part of the events leading to the installation of the new bishop of Southeast Florida, which can be found here.

There's been a tremendous amount of ink and energy spilled, and the fallout from this meeting has been ongoing.  Crusty was in Europe at the time of the primates non-meeting, and actually got to
We're here to clear up any confusion. Mischief managed.
watch the press conference on the BBC (it was the only channel on in English on his hotel TV).  There have been any number of blog posts.  A friend of Crusty's from seminary called him with condolences that The Episcopal Church had been kicked out of the Anglican Communion.  "Nobody died, dammit," was Crusty's reply.

Crusty has nothing much to add with the post-mortem, and commends, if you want to sort out truth from fiction, Andrew McGowan's excellent rundown, which can be found here.

Crusty, instead, would like two focus on a couple of other issues.

1)  One has to do with ecclesiology.  Back when he was ecumenical officer, Crusty was meeting informally with a senior official at Lambeth Palace who was talking about the issues around sexuality, and Crusty interrupted and said, "With all due respect, this isn't only about human sexuality, this is all about ecclesiology.  Human sexuality is the presenting issue which has laid bare the fact there is no agreed upon ecclesiology for the Anglican Communion.  If anything, the Anglican Communion as we know it is an anomaly, not the norm."

To put another way:  in his book "Collapse", Jared Diamond notes that one of the factors in societies which experience catastrophic collapse is that they take an anomaly to be normative.  They overbuild in an area that is prone to droughts at a time when it is not in a drought; they rely on a certain food source which is prone to interruption at a time when it's not interrupted; and so forth.

Well, one could argue we've built a conception of the Anglican Communion on such an anomaly instead of looking at the broader historical norm.

For the greater part of its existence, the Anglican Communion was loose collection of entities with some kind of connection to the see of Canterbury, and nobody really knew what to do about it.  The Church of England didn't know what to do with the Scottish Episcopal Church, a descendant of Charles I's failed attempt to appoint bishops and a Prayer Book for Scotland in 1637.  For almost 150 years, it existed in a kind of in-between place, like Neo in that stupid train station in the Matrix movies, or as some kind of crazy aunt locked in an attic, with the Church of England pretending it didn't exist.  While the Church of England consecrated bishops for The Episcopal Church, the first overseas bishop consecrated was for Nova Scotia, not the United States, and the consecration of bishops for the USA was a byproduct of the fact the Church of England was waking up and realizing it had increasingly far flung extensions of itself.  It wasn't until 1874 that clergy of the Episcopal Church were officially recognized as being validly ordained and permitted to serve in the Church of England (though this had happened unofficially, to be sure, prior
Even Colenso had rights of due process.
to the Colonial Clergy Act).  Bishop Colenso in South Africa defied a synod called in Cape Town which deposed him because he said it didn't have any authority over him, and he was right; he won the appeal of his deposition and was reinstated, and, like the Scottish Episcopal Church, was duly shunned and ignored.  The Archbishop of York boycotted the first Lambeth Conference because he thought (in part) it was an illegal and uncanonical entity.  In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a haphazard patchwork of independent provinces formed -- New Zealand, Ireland, Canada, Wales -- with only a decennial, advisory and not legislative body, the Lambeth Conference of Bishops, to coordinate.

In the mid to late 20th century, the pace picked up, as the number of province increased dramatically with areas in Asia, Africa, Oceania, and South America joining the communion.  Attempts were made to define what, exactly, the Anglican Communion was, leading to the inclusion of a Preamble to the Constitution in 1967 for The Episcopal Church, which is as good a definition as any.  It defines the Anglican Communion as "a Fellowship within the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, of those duly constituted Dioceses, Provinces, and regional Churches in communion with the See of Canterbury, upholding and propagating the historic Faith and Order as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer."

Other "instruments of unity" were slowly added:  the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates Gathering, in addition to the Lambeth Conference and the Archbishop of Canterbury as a first among equals.

But no single, definitive, decision-making or defining body was ever created.

2)  A second issue has to do with authority and due process -- and here we can see a pattern.  In the past ten years, the Anglican Communion has moved to throw any efforts at consultation and due process out the window and has been creating ad hoc expressions of authority, accountable to no one, and often administered behind closed doors. 

While intensifying in the past 10 years, this has been going on for almost 20 years.

a)  The 1998 Lambeth Conference passed resolution 1.10, which defined marriage and condemned homosexual activity.  This, in turn, has been treated with a kind of binding authority while  lots of other Lambeth resolutions or pronouncements have not.  In his address in Miami, Bishop Idowu-Fearon makes the following jaw-dropping comment:

"Although this resolution was passed by the majority of the bishops in 1998, it has not been unanimously acted upon by the churches of our communion."

When did we suddenly decide that Lambeth Council resolutions needed to be adopted by provinces, and that failure to do so is somehow not the norm?  This statement is utterly mind boggling and speaks to this haphazard, ad hoc accretion of centralized authority, which is, in itself, selective and arbitrary.

It reminds Crusty of the story a rabbi once told him about the Torah: "There are two places in Torah which forbid the eating of pork.  Every pious Jew tries to uphold this commandment.  However, there are many, many more places in Torah which command us not to gossip, libel, or speak ill of our neighbors.  Would that every pious Jew tried to uphold these far more numerous commands as much as the one about pork."  It'd be wonderful if people actually tried to do something other than ignore authority when it they want to but demand others be held accountable when it suits them.

b)  Another example is the Windsor Report, one of the products of which was suggesting the creation of a binding authority in the Communion, which eventually lead to the Anglican Covenant debacle, where some provinces approved the Covenant, some did not, some kicked it down the road and never took action, some made their own interpretations of the covenant (one province, when it adopted the Covenant, further added that Lambeth 1.10 was now the definitive and binding teaching of the Communion as part of their resolution adopting the Covenant), and one mystifyingly "subscribe[d] the Covenant."  The Report called for various moratoria -- on consecrating openly gay persons as bishop, on approving same-sex marriage, and on interfering in other provinces.  One of its appendices contained a rough outline of a "covenant" as a suggested way to adjudicate future conflicts within the Communion.

c)  Then there were the shenanigans at the 2005 Anglican Consultative Council.  Most of the ink spilled on this meeting had to do with the resolution which barely passed, 30-28, which called on The Episcopal Church "voluntarily to withdraw its members" from the ACC -- which only passed because The Episcopal Church did not vote on the resolution.  While that resolution got most of the press, perhaps more important were efforts to undermine the representative nature of the ACC:  proposals to add Primates to the ACC, increase its membership from 78 to 115, and reduce lay representation in the only elected and representative body in the Communion from one-half to one-third.   This was a massive power grab by bishops to pack the ACC that makes FDR's Supreme Court-packing scheme look amateurish.

d)  Then there was the 2010 decision which removed the Episcopal Church from some international commissions for violating the Windsor moratoria.  Here we had an actual, concrete example of the Roger Goodell-ization and Star Chamber-ization of the Anglican Communion.

The Archbishop of Canterbury defined what constituted a Windsor Report moratoria violation, decided what the penalty would be, did so with no consultation or discussion, and gave no opportunity for The Episcopal Church to make any defense or response.  This puts even the NFL's
"That Rowan Williams guy is gangsta."
kangaroo court (trying people twice for the same offense; refusing to share evidence used in making decisions; appointing oneself arbitrator for appeals to one's own decisions) to shame.

Crusty will elaborate a bit, since most people probably don't know or even remember the 2010 decision, since most Episcopalians don't give a crap about ecumenical relations.

The Archbishop of Canterbury released a letter saying Episcopalians would be removed from all ecumenical and faith and order international commissions and dialogues as a result of formal decisions made at the synodical level concerning blessing same sex marriages and the consecration of an openly gay person to the episcopate, as described in the letter: "provinces that have formally [emphasis in original], through their Synod or House of Bishops,  adopted policies that breach any of the moratoria requested by the Instruments of Communion and recently reaffirmed by the Standing Committee and the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order (IASCUFO) – should not be participants in the ecumenical dialogues in which the Communion is formally engaged."  

Let's count the problems here. 

--the definition of the decisions being taken at the provincial, synodical level was defined solely to apply to The Episcopal Church.  And it was incorrect.  The 2009 General Convention called for the development of liturgies to be presented at the next Convention, and called for "generous pastoral response" in dioceses where civil unions or same sex marriage was legal.  2009 GC simply did not FORMALLY (remember, it was what the Star Chamber made its standard) approve same sex blessings.  Also, Bishop Glasspool's consecration was consented to only by bishops with jurisdiction, who only make up about half of the House of Bishops, the consents were not taken in any regularly called meeting of the HOB, and thus the House of Bishops did not FORMALLY consent.  The lay and clerical consents were done by the Standing Committees of various dioceses, which are not a synod; the House of Deputies is the synodical body, thus this was not an action of a synod at a provincial level.  As bills of attainder go, this was pretty crappily written.  When Crusty pointed these numerous issues out to an official at Lambeth Palace, the official scoffed, "I think you're trying to parse this too finely."  Crusty replied, "You're the ones that wrote the definition, not me."

--the decision conveniently left out everybody who violated the crossing of provincial boundaries until eventually, due to people pointing it out, the Anglican Communion office did acknowledge this.  Crusty actually pointed this out to the then Secretary General of the Anglican Communion that provinces crossing provincial boundaries, also one of the moratoria, were not sanctioned.  He was told these action were not formally taken at the provincial, synodical level, which, remember, was invented as the standard so that it would apply solely to The Episcopal Church.  Crusty pointed out where the Province of the Southern Cone had specifically, at its provincial synod, amended its canons to create missionary diooceses which had not previously existed in order to allow the diocese of Fort Worth to apply to become a missionary diocese, and those canonical changes, approved by the Synod of the Southern Cone, were posted at the time on the webpage of the diocese of Forth Worth.  He also pointed the then Secretary General to the website of the Episcopal Church of Rwanda which noted the decision of the House of Bishops to consecrate additional missionary bishops for North America.

--the decision was initially applied to members of full communion dialogues, for example international commission with Lutherans and Old Catholics, until people pointed out that these were not ecumenical conversations, but full communion partners.  By their very definition, ecumenical dialogues are dialogues with other communions on the way to deeper unity, while full communion commissions seek to deepen unity already achieved.  As a result, a couple of people initially kicked off got their seats back on these bodies.  Thus they did not even know which dialogues their decision appropriately applied to.

 Without consultation, without discussion, without opportunity to defend oneself, and without even knowing how properly to implement the decision, the Archbishop of Canterbury defined what a moratorium violation was and announced the penalty so that it would only apply to The Episcopal Church.

e)  and now the Primates un-meeting.  Not even an official primates meeting is now, apparently, invested with an authority unlike any other body in the Communion?  The Primates' communique states that:

It is our unanimous desire to walk together. However given the seriousness of these matters we formally acknowledge this distance by requiring that for a period of three years The Episcopal Church no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity. 

Crusty's first response, when reading the leaked consequences, was "The Primates, even in an official meeting, don't have that authority."  They cannot "require" anything.  They have no authority to determine who "will not take part" in decision making.  This is simply astounding. Once again, a small group, meeting in private, has abrograted any semblance of due process and defined a new form authority seemingly on the fly.  Sure, one could parse this and say that this need to be referred to various, relevant bodies that may have that kind of authority.  But the statement doesn't.  It states these consequences as the result of the primates' decisions.  The Secretary General repeated this in his remarks in Miami the past week, speaking as a fait accompli, stating that

"TEC no longer represents the Anglican Communion on ecumenical or interfaith bodies; while this consequence applies to TEC as a whole, it practically involves a three-year absence of a gifted priest, ecumenist, and Bible scholar who serves on our dialogue with the World Communion of Reformed Churches. A member of TEC will not be elected to the next triennium of the Standing Committee. Current members of TEC serving on internal bodies of the Communion will not be part of decision-making on matters of doctrine and polity."

[BTW as someone who is now five and half years in limbo as an Episcopalian kicked off an ecumenical dialogue, so glad you're grieving for this gifted ecumenist and all I got was a form letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury.]

In 10 years from the Anglican Consultative Council in 2005 we've gone from  a resolution from a duly called and representative body asking us voluntarily to withdraw to having consequences imposed by an unofficial gathering.  Read that sentence again.

So what's next?  The answer, to Crusty, has always been pretty simple:  just give up on the anomaly of 1960-2000 and acknowledge the Anglican Communion has always been an ecclesiological mess.   Provinces will engage in common mission and ministry with those who are willing on areas where they agree.  We did that for a couple hundred years and while it wasn't perfect, we managed to, you know, expand into a global communion, establish schools, hospitals, and universities, restart dialogue with the Catholic Church, enter into full communion with the Old Catholic Church, mobilize massive relief efforts for both World wasn't as if we were incapable of doing anything without the "instruments of unity."  Seems clear to COD we need to be more of a federation or fellowship -- but with all on an equal footing, and putting an end to these convoluted attempts to create tiers of membership in various star chambers.  Let's go back to how the Communion worked in 1920, live with the confusion, and wait to see what kinds of structures emerge in the 21st century instead of clinging to the system created in the 1960s as a kind of neo-colonialism by primarily English speaking, Western provinces.

3)  And here's the last issue: the Amos 3:3 verse is quite appropriate, because it demonstrates that, actually, we may not be able to find common ground, at this time, on this particular question.  Crusty has a sense the complexity involved.  He was in a meeting once where a bishop from Asia said plainly, "To me there is no difference between George W. Bush and The Episcopal Church, you both just do what you want when you want."  Issues around unilateralism and legacies of colonialism are ones that Christians in the West must constantly be aware of.  We must realize the incredibly diverse and complex realities that Anglicans live in, from small, persecuted minority churches to established churches.  In some places, simply being a Christian is a life and death situation.  However, in many places, being an LBGT person is a life and death situation.  All of these things, and not just some of them, are true.

We need to acknowledge, painfully, that, while The Episcopal Church is not seeking to impose its provincial decisions on any other provinces, it may be that disagreement on human sexuality and same sex marriage is a place where no compromise can be found at this time.   

Perhaps it's time to say "So be it."  This is where all the verbiage about consultation is simply hokum.  We've been at this for over 20 years, and, frankly, for some in the Communion, there is no compromise, and all the consultation in the world wouldn't have done a damn thing.  We're not asking the rest of the Communion to adopt our understandings of human sexuality.  Crusty thinks we just need to walk separately with as much charity and goodwill as possible.  Division is a sin, to be sure, and schisms always much harder to heal than to create.  But as Gram Parsons once sang, "It's time to stop pretending things are real."

For all the talk of respecting the development and vitality of Christianity in the global South, we also need to squarely ask ourselves whether our centralization and emphasis on a "single" Anglican Communion is not, in fact, investing in the last legacy of colonialism: the notion that there can be only "one" Anglican church is a legacy of establishment, and perhaps truly to embrace diversity and be a globalized church we must let that go and see what might emerge.

And please, after almost 20 years of this, let's stop the NFL-ization and Goodell-ization of the Anglican Communion.  No more Star Chambers.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Blogging the GOEs, Question 4: The Mawwiage Trap[door]

[Disclaimer #1:  You know, Crusty can be serious at times (well, often, actually) and here is a very special message from COD:  These blog postings are really about me arguing with the questions, and are not intended to be any kind of GOE forum.  Crusty welcomes comments and feedback, but please DO NOT discuss answers in the comments section, since the GOEs are a double-blind process -- readers aren't supposed to know who you are, God forbid any of them should stumbleacross this site.]
[Disclaimer #2:  Last year for some strange reason Crusty was elected to the General Board of Examining Chaplains. To prevent any appearance of conflict of interest, Crusty has recruited Dread Pirate Crusty to fill in this year as GOE blogger.  While COD is allowing Dread Pirate to remain anonymous, rest assured the Crust is strong in DPC.]

Greetings, Crustaceans! Our GOE test takers are taking a well-deserved break today for Epiphany. (Way to go! You’re over halfway through!). As much as Dread Pirate Crusty may whine, moan, and critique the GOE questions, it should be noted that DPC has infinite respect for those kick-ass folks who are taking the examination this year.  The GOE breeds its own paranoia - and often, the clergy who have gone before aren’t of that much help. Candidates go through seminary hearing constantly about the traumatic experience of the GOE, how it is a hazing ritual, how this or that person was abused by their readers, and so on - and that re-enactment, before their eyes, of a trauma not their own only heightens anxiety as the exam happens. So if you’ve been wondering the best way to support GOE test takers this week - just give them a shout out. Remind them that they’ve got this. Give them your confidence and your love. Give them high fives, buy them dinner, tell them you care about them. And when it’s over, help them celebrate. To any GOE test takers who may be reading DPC’s rambling treatises on the questions they’ve had to answer: DPC salutes you. And not only that… you’re almost done.  BTW, DPC also respects the GBEC and the difficult task they have been given, especially since no funding was provided at General Convention 2015, despite the fact this is a canonically mandated commitment of the church.   All of the critique here is in the service of hopefully strengthening future iterations of the process.

But, DPC, you ask, don’t you have a question to eviscerate with your laser eyes approximately 12 hours ago? Why, yes. Yes, dear reader, there is another question. We just wanted to make sure you had something to feast on during the GOE day off.

Set 4: The Practice of Ministry

You are a recently ordained priest in a rural diocese. Your bishop appointed you Priest-in-Charge of a pastoral-sized parish with an average Sunday attendance of 80. The parish is in a small town with a population of 500 in a county with 15,000 people. A veteran priest, who serves a 45-minute drive away, is your mentor. Your bishop is headquartered a five-hour drive from you.

Soon after you arrive, a newly retired same-sex couple, who are Episcopalian and have recently moved into town, approach you with the request that you preside at their wedding. No such liturgy has previously been performed at your parish. The couple quotes a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision as inspiration for the request. Your bishop has issued a pastoral letter indicating that General Convention has authorized such rites in The Episcopal Church, though, in accord with our canons, a priest can decline to solemnize any marriage.

Construct a pastoral response to this situation in a 1,000-word essay. Explain how the practice of ministry interplays with a theology of marriage in The Episcopal Church. Refer to the appropriate canons of The Episcopal Church and/or resolutions from General Convention that will guide your pastoral response. Identify the key parties involved, and tell how you would engage those various parties in this situation. Include what considerations you might give to those who hold different views.

Dread Pirate Crusty notes that if you didn’t expect this question to come on this year’s GOE, that DPC has a nice, big, beautiful bridge to sell you in Brooklyn. GBEC loves to take a “hot” issue - whether in the church or the world at large - and get it into the exam each year.
This question is a dream within a dream.
Andcertainly, mawwiage, er, marriage, was among the big developments in both the church and the United States over the past year. Mawwiage, that bwessed awwangement, that dweam within a dweam. With those two stwains bwought togethew, thew was wittle douwt that GBEC would use mawwiage somewhere in this year’s GOE. DPC hopes that test-takers felt very prepared as this question appeared.

GBEC’s prompt places the test-taker as a newly ordained priest in a rural diocese where the bishop has authorized same-sex marriage, in a parish of 80 in a town of 500, where an retired same-sex Episcopalian couple approaches you to marry them. The parish has never celebrated a same-sex wedding before. GBEC wants the examinee to construct a pastoral response to the situation.

All in all, Dread Pirate Crusty is quite pleased with this question. So pleased, in fact, that DPC wishes to dispense with the negatives first, so that we may dwell togethew in the positive.

First, Dread Pirate Crusty must rail against the greatest, grossest implausibility present in the question. A newly ordained priest gets to be PIC in a parish where 16% of the town’s population attends their church on Sunday? Where is this parish, Colonial Virginia? I mean,
Scram.  This is an Episcopal town.
that is one freakin’ impressive ASA figure over and against the general population. DPC would kill for that sort of attendance figure, if only because it would mean there would now be something like 1,600 people attending DPC’s parish on Sundays. (But when that’s the worst implausibility of the question, you’re doing alright. Well done, GBEC.)

Dread Pirate Crusty has often been castigating GBEC for not including necessary details to provide sound answers to the questions. In this case, though, GBEC could dispense with lots of details that are distracting, or are likely to lead to typecasting. The ASA example is one piece of that.

Here’s another: why stereotype our rural dioceses as examples of places that haven’t had to wrestle with the emergence of changes in our understanding of marriage in church and society? It wreaks of the worst sort of assumption - that our rural congregations are places that are just now receiving word - possibly by carrier pigeon, telegram, or Pony Express -
Maybe Errol from Harry Potter delivers to this parish.
that GLBT Episcopalians exist, and what’s more, they’re in love and interested in getting married! Puh-lease. Dread Pirate Crusty is willing to sell a few more bridges, this time in the Bay Area, if it isn’t equally true that there are plenty of urban and suburban churches that haven’t wrestled with marriage and human sexuality as well. This isn’t a “practice of ministry” question that’s confined to our rural parishes. Don’t stereotype our rural parishes as backwaters unaware of what’s happening in society and the church at large.

GBEC could reframe the supporting information quite simply, and avoid some of the typecasting:

You are the newly ordained priest in charge of a congregation of an ASA around 80. For the next three months, your Bishop is on sabbatical, but you have been paired with an experienced mentor whom you trust, and who is reasonably available to you.

But beyond GBEC’s loathsome typecasting of our rural parishes, the rest of this question itself is, in Dread Pirate Crusty’s opinion, solid, with one major caveat, which DPC will discuss later.

First major congratulations: the test-taker is asked to explain how their pastoral response interplays with “a theology of marriage in The Episcopal Church,” not with “the theology of marriage in The Episcopal Church.” They are given the Book of Common Prayer, the Canons of the Church, and General Convention Resolutions as suggested sources. (DPC does wish that scripture were listed as a resource, as well, but it’s open resource.) As the preceding years and numerous blogposts have made clear, we don’t have a single theology of marriage. Many Bishops in our church have authorized marriage rites for same-sex and opposite-sex couples equally; many Bishops in our church have not and will not authorize them. Some bishops are trying to find middle ground with varying degrees of success.

We don’t have one theology of marriage - we have tons of them. And the question, as GBEC writes it, recognizes this reality, and leaves it to the test-taker to respond appropriately. DPC hopes that tired test takers were able to note the choice of an indefinite article here. The question was well crafted in making everything licit in the hypothetical, but leaving the choice to proceed in the hands of the test-taker, and the test-taker alone. No person is asked to violate the boundaries of their conscience in answering the question, or defend a theology that they cannot hold personally. But the question expects that the test-taker’s response is given roots, and is not flippantly held. All in all, DPC perceives this to be a good thing, indeed.

A second plaudit for GBEC: the situation is entirely practical. DPC notes that the couple seeking to get married cites the 2015 Supreme Court ruling, and not their life in the church, as the impetus for their marriage. While it may not be this exact motivating factor for all couples that come into DPC’s office for marriage counseling, on the whole, 95% are inspired to marriage for reasons outside their lived Christian faith. As such, priests will have to construct a pastoral response to every day to engaged couples for every potential marriage - regardless of whether they are same-sex or opposite-sex, because they have to communicate what marriage means in the church, not just what it means in society writ large. Bravo, GBEC!

A third huzzah for GBEC: it does realize that there are plenty of parishes that haven’t encountered this specific situation before, and that presents challenges that the candidates will face in their ministry (the fact that they seem unaware that this is equally a rural and suburban/urban issue notwithstanding.) When Dread Pirate Crusty began parish ministry, DPCM (Dread Pirate Crusty’s Mentor) gave DPC one big piece of advice: “don’t move the
You're growing on me, Question 4.
furniture without talking to the congregation first.” By furniture, DPCM meant anything from the actual furniture, to the liturgy, to the landscaping. People need to be prepared for big changes. Dread Pirate Crusty is a full-throated supporter of marriage equality in the church, and yearns for the day that we don’t have to write about “same-sex marriage,” and can just say “marriage.” But for many people beyond the couple themselves, this would be a big change, and one that no priest would be advised to try and “sneak by,” hoping that nobody notices. Some would laud the change; some would hate it; all are part of that priest’s flock, and need to be responded to pastorally. The fundamental skills at work in this question apply even if the issue isn’t marriage - there will always be some big change requiring a thoughtful, grounded, theologically astute practical response. It’s a real dynamic present in parish life, and the test takers are asked to be prepared for it.

So Dread Pirate Crusty was prepared to give this question an AXIOS. Dread Pirate Crusty wanted, yearned deeply to give this question an AXIOS. But this does not happen at this time. (I say that because you’re looking a little nervous, and I don’t want you to be worried.) One reality, outside of the bounds of the question itself, prevents full plaudits from being awarded.

That reality is rooted in the sticky spot of being a seminarian, not yet given the canonical protections afforded to those in Holy Orders, and being constantly judged and evaluated by Bishops, Standing Committees, Commissions on Ministry, examining chaplains, and Rodents of Unusual Size. This question may be an unfortunate trap door.

Consider a hypothetical. A seminarian from a diocese where the Bishop has declined toallow for same-sex marriages to proceed is acutely aware of the requirements of their bishop, and the scrutiny of the Diocesan examining chaplains, and so constructs an answer
The only marriage traps we like have Hailey Mills.
in which they decline to solemnize the wedding. They know the watchful eye of their Bishop is upon them, and as such, construct an answer in which they decline to solemnize the marriage. (An answer in the affirmative could, hypothetically, lead to their dismissal from the process, a student loan debt of $100,000 for seminary education which they cannot use in ordained ministry, and a quick trip back to square one.). A reader from GBEC doesn’t like the answer - and marks them as non proficient - not because it isn’t sufficiently supported, but because of the choice itself. The person without any power here - the seminarian. The question, as written, allows for a pastoral response where the answer is “no.” But the graders may not look upon that decision generously, and mark it down. (The past experience of many has shown that GBEC readers are not as impartial as we might want them to be on less “hot” topics.) Hello. My name is GBEC reader. You hurt my feelings. Prepare to die.

Or consider the converse: A seminarian from a diocese where the Bishop has authorized same-sex marriages writes an answer laying out their plan for the couple in a parish. But there’s a few people on the Standing Committee, or the Board of Examining Chaplains, or the COM, etc., who oppose same-sex marriage in the church. Upon reading the answer to the question on marriage, they are unwilling to even think about the the rest of the candidate’s answers. The answers were thoughtful, theologically astute, and (in the Standing Committee members’ minds) wrong. COM and Standing Committee and diocesan Boards of Examining Chaplain members are not bound by the rubrics that the GBEC has set up for itself for evaluation responses.  They can interpret the answers by any metric they deem fit, regardless of what the GOE readers say.  So they vote against endorsing the ordination. And, in doing so, the candidate is unable to proceed in the process.

These are hypotheticals, but sadly, they are more real than DPC would like to admit. There are remedies - a COM could (and often do) ignore the GBEC Readers’ evaluations altogether; the Bishop can go to bat for a candidate with a COM and push them through (it happens), a Standing Committee may not be provided with GOE answers/summaries (I think very few are, but again, hypotheticals.).

But regardless, we shouldn’t be putting our seminarians - at a particularly vulnerable point in their processes - through such turmoil. GOEs are stressful enough - we don’t need our candidates squirming that their Bishops and COMs will use their position to determine their aptitude, rather than their response to the question itself. It is as if GBEC stands in a doorway, waving merrily to the test-takers, telling them “Have fun storming the castle!” while knowing full well this is still a subject that the whole church has yet to calm down about. Dread Pirate Crusty rates the potential political squirming for test takers as a WTF.

DPC’s crustliberations (like deliberations, only crustier) gives this question is a MEH. It’s the average of the question on its own merit (AXIOS!) with the potential consequences to already stressed our seminarians (WTF!).

DPC really does find this to be an excellent question. But DPC also remembers what it was like to be in the position of a powerless candidate for ordination, stuck between a rock and a hard place, where it only takes one jerk to derail a vocation. Because of this, the average prevails.