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.

Question 5: Bringing Sexy HistoryBack.

Dear Dread Pirate Crusty,

As William Faulkner, the famous drunken Southerner, once said, “The past is another country.  They do things differently there.”  He also once said “My mother is a fish”, but in this former instance, he
Or, what Malcolm said.
was correct.  We, in the church, study history, not only because that history shapes and informs who we are today, but also because we can learn from its mistakes, and differentiate ourselves from it.  We can do things differently.  The question is, however, what on earth do we understand to have happened in that far-off past land in the first place?

This being said, gird your loins, because here comes the Church History Question.
Set 5: History of the Christian Church

The decades 1640-1650 and 2000-2010 were periods of turbulence in the Anglican worlds of their day, turbulence that arose in part from conflicting views over the nature and sources of authority in the Church. In an essay of about 1,000 words, identify one or more important issues generating the conflicts in each decade. Describe ways in which those issues were disruptive, and ways in which they were addressed and resolved (or not) in each era. Conclude your essay by addressing how knowledge of these historical conflicts and the issues underlying them can help us to understand persistent disagreements about the role of authority within Anglicanism more generally.

Pour a drink, or an equally appealing non-alcoholic alternative.  This is going to be a long one.

Look, GBEC has done a good thing by taking a relevant issue and placing it front and center.  The strife in the Anglican Communion and TEC in the past decade and a half is a real thing, and it behooves clergy to ponder it, rather than ignore it.  DPC knows plenty of clergy who, when these recent fights were at their worst, consistently ignored them, and it led to broken churches, and disillusioned congregations.  It turns out that really everyone can use the Googles!   I see what they’re trying to do here, and it makes sense.

But by Grapthar’s hammer, the problems in this question are so many as to stamp out any good
Up there with "By the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth!"

Let’s start with the curious equivalence that the question assumes.  The test taker is asked to compare nothing less than the English Civil War and the recent period of time here in The Episcopal Church where people were mad about an openly gay bishop.  Look, I’m not saying the recent turmoil in the church has been fun, but so far as I know, it hasn’t resulted in a body count.  Queen Elizabeth II seems alive and well, and the rest of the English royal family continues in such good health as to be unimpeded by whatever shenanigans our bishops get up to over here – unlike King Charles I… and the 200,000 people who died during the English Civil War.  

Which leads to the next problem – if there is any sort of consensus as to what exactly the issue was from 2000-2010, WHAT IS IT?  Was it a conflict over authority?  Over the interpretation of scripture?  Over rapidly changing sexual mores?  Over the continually evolving place of women and people-who-aren’t-straight-old-white-guys in the church?  Did we just get bored?  

And for that matter--ARE we talking about the conflict strictly here in the Episcopal Church or should we also discuss the conflict that spread throughout the wider Anglican world?  Because if we are--then we also need to consider the backlash against colonialism and western imperialism, not to mention a conflict between several different missionary styles present around the Anglican world finally coming to the surface.  As well as the interplay between regional politics and religious forces in various places, including England and sub-saharan Africa.

So, as the Facebook page of any tween would tell you, it’s complicated.  But not ONLY that.  There
Cartman's best Scott Stamp.
is yet another problem. It looms before us like the incessant beckoning of Scott Stapp’s arms in a Creed video.
Exactly HOW were these conflicts settled? I can see that a case might be made for the English Civil War being resolved fairly cleanly (It’s a simple enough process: Kill the king, rule by Puritans, realize you miss fun, take back the whole thing.)

But if the church has arrived at some generally-agreed upon resolution to the turmoils of the past two decades, then someone’s keeping a pretty good secret.   If someone knows what that resolution is, then they need to spill.   This joyous news should not be confined merely to the boring annals of a GOE answer!  It should be printed in the newspapers!  It should be strewn about the pages of blogs everywhere!  Twitter needs to light up!  And certainly, someone should call the primates, because I do believe they are meeting at Lambeth AS WE SPEAK to resolve this very issue!   

Seriously, you and I both lived through that unpleasantness, and both as active, albeit very young, church pirates at the time.  But for as much clarity as anyone has, you might as well answer this question by citing the great battle in America fandoms between ‘Nsync and Justin Timberlake as a solo artist, which also continues to rage.  

This question, inasmuch as it succeeds in doing something other than making me want to cry Justin his river, promotes the viewing of history in a very shallow, un-nuanced way--even that history which we are still living.  That’s nearly the worst thing you can do with history, in the Episcopal church,
You can't un-see this.
which does love tradition very much – more even than Justin and Britney love denim.  And they loved them some denim.


I’m bringing SexyBack,


Dearest Dread Pirate Crusty,

Oh, ye of little faith. As a cradle Episcopalian, I remember 2000 - 2010 quite well. On New Year’s Day, 2000, I was waiting to return home from a youth gathering at Kanuga, all of the tender age of 15. At least among the teen Episcopalians I gathered with in 2000, I know what the chief conflict in the church was. It was whether primacy of pop idoldom belonged to Britney or Christina, second only to concerns about whether my friends liked me, whether my zits were too obvious, and whether I was normal. (Also, to be clear, TEAM BRITNEY, NOW AND FOREVER.)

This is a question where I truly don’t know where to begin, so I’ll begin with about the nicest thing I can say: I think there’s a kernel of a good question here, or rather, a good intention: to challenge candidates to concisely summarize complex historical events in a concise and historically defensible way. This will happen in parish ministry: “How was the Bible formed?,” “Aren’t we really just Roman Catholics without the pope?,” “Why are there deacons, priests, and bishops, anyway?” – all these are questions that could form the core of a long book, but that you’re expected to answer as a priest
When you're done with Nickelback, explain Coldplay.
in 3 minutes or less in coffee hour. But, finding that kernel of a good intention in this particular prompt took me a lot of digging. It was like trying to understand why Nickelback was able to get some number one hits from 2000-2005 - it’s gonna take a lot digging to come find the underlying good intention therein. (And I refuse to concede there’s any affirming virtue to Nickelback. Not no way, not no how.) You rightly noted that we have two really deeply layered conflicts, with lots of angles to approach them from. GBEC does acknowledge this, somewhat, in the question, by asking candidates to identify “one or more of the important issues” generating each conflict. I can grudgingly appreciate this.

1640 - 1650, as you noted, is an era in Anglicanism largely dominated by the English Civil War. But what, at the core, was that conflict about? I think you can give a very historically defensible answer in just a sentence as to what the English Civil War was about: “The English Civil war was a conflict, at its root, about the limits of authority held by the English Monarch and the English Parliament.” Yes, you can get into more detail - but all in all, that’s a good summary. But this question specifically asks about the issues in Anglicanism during this decade, which, quite simply, cannot be separated from the political issues of the day. To describe 1640-1650 in Anglicanism, you have to discuss the tensions of the previous decades since the Elizabethan Settlement, the conflicts of Puritanism vs. High Churchmanship, the growing dis-ease over Episcopacy and the temporal and spiritual powers implied therein, and, as especially relevant to this time period, and I suspect, this prompt hopes, the failed imposition of a new Book of Common Prayer in Scotland. But you also can’t talk about William Laud without talking about how he freaked people out not just because he carried what Puritans saw as shades of “popery,” but because it also stoked fears of arbitrary political governance; you can’t talk about about the Puritans without talking about the prerogatives of the Parliament; you can’t talk about Scotland without talking about 1640 Recall of the English Parliament to raise taxes to pay for Charles’ misadventure there. Every single church conflict paralleled political conflicts of the day. Period.  No matter how much people may want to say that Charles I was executed for defending episcopacy, he also died because he was a jerk to parliament with far less political savvy with his father. To describe Anglicanism from 1640-1650 is to also describe English politics in 1640-1650. But the prompt confines the discussion to the church.

That last paragraph is 323 words. I’ve gotten into very little detail. And GBEC wants me to cover this, in historically defensible detail, in approximately 500 words? It’s not possible. And note what I haven’t done - I haven’t talked about the resolution of the issue. (Although, I don’t think it’s as clean as you imply - pretty damn unsatisfying in my book. Richard Cromwell wasn’t an inspiring leader, lost the army, Charles II was far more politically astute, and the parliament essentially decided to pretend the last 18 years of English history hadn’t happen. “We did all that - for what?!?!”)

You see, this is where GBEC’s intent and the realities of ministry diverge. I can give a short, three sentence answer in coffee hour about church politics from 1640-1650, and say that they paralleled the larger political conflict, and then give my one-sentence answer on the political conflict. Most of the time, a parishioner would be happy with that answer. But much like the Black Eyed Peas, I Gotta Feeling. I gotta feeling that GBEC wants details, and with this complex a topic, I don’t think a historically defensible synopsis can be crafted in 500 words. (Granted, I don’t think Fergie and Will-I-Am are big readers of GOEs or the English Civil War. They were to busy spendin’ up their money, maybe from a bequest like in the earlier question?)  I want to be clear - unlike some of the other questions, I actually tried to write the answer to this within the limitations provided by GBEC. I couldn’t write one that was concise and historically defensible.I couldn’t right one that was concise and historically defensible. DPC mentioned this prompt to DPCFWADIEH (DPC’s friend with a Doctorate in English History - specifically in the English Civil War era), who immediately replied: “Oh, ffs! That’s a doctoral dissertation! You can quote me on that.” And quote I shall. Thanks, DPCFWADIEH.

Now that we haven’t resolved the English Civil War in 500 words, it’s time to turn to 2000-2010, summarize and resolve that in 500 words. And if DPC wasn’t steamed up already, best get ready, because like Nelly warned us, it’s about to get Hot in Herre. (Keep your clothes on, though. Safe Church.) Again, GBEC wants a discussion of conflicts over authority - which one? Do they want to talk about the issues of human sexuality, and the authority or lack thereof held by some indeterminate entity - be it scripture, canons, General Conventions, provinces, Instruments of Unity, etc. - to the autonomous yet interdependent Anglican provinces to ordain GLBT persons to Holy Orders (especially the Episcopate), and allow GLBT persons to get married? Do they want to talk about the authority or lack thereof granted to the Primates Meeting or the Lambeth Conference, as interpreted throughout varying parts of the Communion? (Also, why is the question crafted in such a way that the 1998 Lambeth Conference is not in the time frame? Surely, for either of the preceeding, you need to discuss Lambeth 1.10). Do they want the candidate to discuss the breakdown of colonialism that made provinces in the Global South able, for the first time, to speak with a louder voice than had been allowed in Anglicanism since Britain’s Empire dissolved?  And how has any of this been resolved? Like you noted, The Primates’ Meeting is going to happen soon, and all of these issues are still in play. We still have court battles going on over property. Seriously, they may as well ask the candidate: “In no more than 75 words, please conclude your paper by solving what has ailed the Anglican Communion from the time of Bishop Colenso to the present day in no more than 75 words.”

(And in a further shade, this question, like the question on marriage, can put candidates in a seriously sticky position, should their bishop, standing committee, or COM try to use the candidate’s answer on 2000-2010 as a litmus test of their position on issues around human sexuality, authority, and other issues. Methinks GBEC has a few hangups this go-round.)  

You see, history is like an ogre, which is in turn like an onion. It has layers. And yes, occasionally it
Something we all can agree on.
stinks, and not everybody will like it. Like Avril Lavigne reminded us, it’s Complicated. A fair treatment of history requires time to draw out and explicate some of the nuance. Pick one, specific issue. Then give enough room to answer the question, maybe in not as much detail as one can, but enough to accurately convey the complexity of the issue. When we reduce complex issues filled with nuance to short polar extremes - well, that’s how wars begin.

Ultimately, this question tries to do too much, and gives the taker too little guidance, and too few words to write it in. A good answer, for each of the time periods in this prompt, could be a doctoral dissertation. GBEC gives a tired test-taker 1,000 words. Like Snoop, GBEC needs drop some portion of this question like it’s hott.

I think we’re on the same page for this question. It’s a clear WTF, mate.
This s**t is bananas, B-A-N-A-N-A-S,

P.S.  Way to set us up on the 2000-2010 Pop Culture References. I’ve been playing all this music non-stop since I read your response. (Except Nickelback. Who do you think I am, a barbarian?)