Thursday, October 31, 2013

Cold November Rain: The Sin of Division

Many years ago, Crusty went to a lecture by an unnamed person in an unnamed diocese.  This was a person whose theological views were diametrically opposed to COD's; there was very little we saw eye-to-eye on; and, frankly, Crusty thought the person in question was a bit of a jerk.  To be frank, the person thought the same of Crusty:  we had had a couple of testy exchanges at previously scholarly
I know that you can't love me, GAFCON, when there's no one left to blame.
gatherings, and we all know there's nothing scarier than a couple of academics being passive aggressive and smarmy with one another.  After the lecture, COD ran an errand in the town where the lecture had been held, and then headed from drugstore to the highway to drive home, when he noticed the person who had given the lecture walking, in the rain, down the street.  COD assumed he was walking to the nearest public transportation hub, which was a mile and a half away.

Crusty was then horrified at the feeling of glee that surged in him.  God help me, but to be honest, Crusty initially thought, "Where are all your conservative friends now?  None of them thought to give you a lift?  Now you have to walk a mile in the rain to the nearest stop?"  In the cold November rain.

This thought was instantly followed by Crusty feeling disgusted with himself for indulging such thoughts:  while perhaps understandable, schadenfreude is one of the basest emotions any of us can countenance.  Crusty turned the car around, doubled back, and pulled over.  When the window rolled down, the person gave a start to see that it was COD in the car.  "It's raining," Crusty said, "let me give you a lift."

COD ended up being 10-15 minutes later getting home than he told CODW (Crusty Old Dean's Wife), and, when CODW asked him if the rain slowed him down, Crusty told her the story.  "I had to pick him up," Crusty said, "even though I honestly wonder if he would do the same for me.  Maybe because he wouldn't do the same for me."

The Second Global Anglican Futures Conference (or GAFCON II: Electric Boogaloo) ended last week in Nairobi, Kenya.  To bring folks up to speed, GAFCON I: The Phantom Menace met in 2008 and gathered bishops, clergy, and lay persons from around the Anglican Communion, and issued a final communique, which it named The Jerusalem Declaration.  In the Declaration, they spoke of a "false gospel" being spread in other parts of the Anglican Communion.  It specifically states that this false gospel  "promotes a variety of sexual
You know, that's actually an apt motto for GAFCON.
preferences and immoral behaviour as a universal human right. It claims God’s blessing for same-sex unions over against the biblical teaching on holy matrimony. In 2003 this false gospel led to the consecration of a bishop living in a homosexual relationship."  GAFCON
 reaffirmed the 39 Articles, Holy Scriptures, 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and the first Four Ecumenical Councils (among others) as authorities in the church.  It created a Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans to carry forth the work of GAFCON, while at the same time clearly stating "Our fellowship is not breaking away from the Anglican Communion."  Many of the GAFCON bishops, however, declined to attend the 2008 Lambeth Conference of Bishops which was held later that summer.  

GAFCON II: Electric Boogaloo also issued a communique at the end of its recent gathering, which seems to indicate a shift in direction for the group.  GAFCON II: Electric Boogaloo likewise named a false gospel that "sought to mask sinful behaviour with the language of human rights. It promoted homosexual practice as consistent with holiness, despite the fact that the Bible clearly identifies it as sinful." GAFCON II's statement, however, seems to indicate a change in direction for the organization.  In essence, it looks formally to become a global Anglican "franchise" alongside the "official" Anglican Communion.  The communique describes new initiatives for the movement, which look like the kind of things a global communion does, such as

--supporting a network of theological colleges

-- discerning the need for new provinces, dioceses and churches — and then authenticating their ministries and orders as Anglican
--organise around a Primates’ Council, a Board of Trustees, an Executive Committee and regional liaison officers
--invite provinces, dioceses, mission agencies, local congregations and individuals formally to become contributing members of the GFCA...we ask provinces to reconsider their support for those Anglican structures that are used to undermine biblical faithfulness and contribute instead, or additionally, to the financing of the GFCA’s on-going needs 

GAFCON is calling for developing a network of theological education and training; creating new provinces, dioceses, and churches; establishing structures for governance, like a Primates' Council and Executive Council; and raising funds to support those and other initiatives, directly asking Anglicans to stop supporting the Anglican Communion and support the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (GFCA).  Looks pretty much like the establishment of another Anglican Communion along conservative lines.  Other communions have these -- for instance there is the World Alliance of Reformed Church and the World Reformed Fellowship in the Presbyterian/Reformed tradition; the Lutheran World Federation and the International Lutheran Council.

That these steps have been taken is not surprising.  Some of the differences in the Anglican Communion run deep, both in terms of theology, ethics, praxis, culture, and context.

What Crusty has found surprising is the schadenfreude and don't-let-the-door-hit-your-ass-on-the-way-outism in some corners of the Anglican world.    Andrew Brown's column in The Guardian sneered at the low turnout for a press conference in England announcing the GAFCON initiatives; other blogs crowed about predicting this years before; others offered short, curt dismissals of GAFCON II (maybe they're waiting for GAFCON III: The Search for Spock).

To be clear:  Crusty is not on the same page of many elements of the GFCA.   Some -- but by no means all -- of the actions and rhetoric of conservative Anglicans needs to be called for what it is:  efforts by some to manipulate issues of sexuality in a quest for power and influence; and, at times, bordering if not explicitly homophobic. While disagreeing with the GFCA, COD also laments this division in the Anglican world.  Division is a sin.  COD would much rather prefer we stay in relationship and in dialogue, even if he disagrees with others.

As COD has mentioned, he studies history.  And if history teaches us one thing with regard to division, it is this:

Divisions take a lot, lot longer to put back together than they do to start.  The divisions over slavery in the 1840s in the Presbyterian Church were not mended until 1983.  The Reformed Episcopal Church broke away from the Episcopal Church in 1873 over many issues which are no longer relevant.  The Non-Chalcedonian/Oriental Orthodox Churches broke with the Eastern Orthodox Churches in 451 and while they now agree that there are no major theological divisions between them they are no closer to reunion.

One side needs to be willing to be open to reconciliation and dialogue, even if it is not reciprocated.  In 2010, representatives of The Episcopal Church were removed from international ecumenical dialogues and reduced to observer status on others.  As ecumenical officer at the time, COD scheduled a conference call for bishops and others persons involved in ecumenical work.  In that call, Crusty acknowledged people might be feeling hurt, betrayed, and/or angry (one participant was dumped after 17 years on one dialogue and just before the last, and final meeting, where the dialogue team was going to adopt a statement this person had helped to draft).  But COD also asked for patience and magnaminity: "The day will come," Crusty said, "when we will be invited back.  Let's keep our reactions to a minimum, stay engaged as we can, so that we will be able to rejoin these conversations in a spirit of charity and graciousness, without regretting things we might say in the heat of the moment."

Another time COD got a call where his caller ID read "Scranton, PA."  The only people Crusty knows in Scranton are the good people from Dunder Mifflin and the Polish National Catholic Church.  Either way, COD was taking that call.  It was the Prime Bishop of the Polish National Catholic Church (PNCC).  The PNCC broke away from the Roman Catholic Church in the early 1900s over the question of using Polish language in schools, appointing Polish priests to parishes, and over local ownership of church property.  It affiliated with the Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht, who broke from the Catholic Church over Vatican I (and linked up with the Old Catholic Church in the Netherlands, which had been independent of Rome since the 1700s), and in 1931 came into full communion with The Episcopal Church.  In 1978, the PNCC declared it was no longer in full communion with The Episcopal Church over the ordination of women.  The Episcopal Church, however, never took similar action; we never suspended our agreement of full communion with the PNCC.

"How can I held you, Prime Bishop?" Crusty asked, ever helpful.

"You can change the language in your Episcopal Church Annual!" he replied, clearly irate. "I'm looking at the new copy, and in the ecumenical relations section, you list us as a church in full communion!  We suspended full communion with you in 1978!"

Crusty pondered the fact that anyone, let alone the Prime Bishop of the PNCC, read the Episcopal Church Annual that carefully.

"Yes, but we didn't suspend full communion with you," COD replied.

"You need to change this language!"

"With all due respect, Prime Bishop," COD replied, (trying to work in "Prime Bishop" as much as possible because, come on, how often do you get to call someone that?), "but you don't get to tell us how to define full communion.  You're free to describe the relationship from your perspective in your own church annual.  We would welcome renewing our dialogue."

"Not likely very soon," he said, and the call ended soon afterwards.

Crusty believes it is incumbent for a partner to be open to dialogue and reconciliation, and that dialogue does not mean approval or agreement of everything a dialogue partner says or does.   

Or, as Paul writes, "As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it."  If we truly believe the church is the body of Christ, and not just a series of human-made denominations, then we must take our call to unity and reconciliation seriously. Risibly sniggering ecclesial equivalents of "Go f** yourself, I told you so," diminishes the speaker.  

COD does not agree with the GFCA.  But he would stop and give them a ride in the cold November rain, even if they wouldn't do the same for him.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Re-forming Reformation Sunday: Beyond the School Fight Song

Despite being seen as some as a quintessential Anglican curmudgeon, Crusty has a confession to make:  he was not born Crusty, or Old, or even a Dean.  All of these things came to him later in life.  Further, Crusty wasn't even born Episcopalian:  he started attending the Episcopal Church in college, and wasn't formally received until he was already enrolled in seminary.  Crusty was raised Roman Catholic, and, as things go, a fairly pious Roman Catholic.  COD struggled with a vocation as a teenager, balancing a call to service and ministry with…well, being a teenager and staring celibacy straight in the eye (though, given Crusty's love life as a teenager, the question of celibacy was more an intellectual than praxis based proposition).  In college, celibacy was added to concerns about the Catholic Church's stand on women and LBGT persons.

But COD was raised Catholic.  Not just Catholic, but Catholic in Boston in the 1970s, when the old pre-Vatican II Tridentine Catholic Church was existing uneasily with the Vatican II church.  Think ancient nuns still wearing habits at folk masses with guitars and you get the drift.  Crusty likes to joke that he had a very religiously pluralistic upbringing:  he knew Irish Catholics and Italian Catholics, with a smattering of Lithuanian Catholics, along with a few Armenian Orthodox folks for some diversity. We knew there were Protestants, and knew there were different kinds of them, that they had differences they took really seriously but the only thing you needed to know is that they were Protestant, and COD really never had any interaction with them, and certainly never set foot inside a Protestant church.  Crusty distinctly remembers getting lost while over at my cousin's house -- we had all walked to a park to play, I wanted to head back to their house to get a drink, and got mixed up and wound up in some place unfamiliar -- seeing a Protestant church, thinking about going in any asking for help/directions/use the phone, hesitating about whether I should, and instead walking another block to a gas station to ask for directions.

I was in high school, away at boarding school, in 1983 when I began to hear the bell of the local church tolling.  The local Congregational Church in the village of Deerfield was located on the edge of the
We didn't need zombies in the 80s.  We had nuclear war to scare us.
school's campus, and also served as the de facto school chapel as well as a local worshipping congregation.  I thought it was odd.  It was not a Sunday.  I thought maybe there was a funeral or
something.  I wondered if there was some kind of school event I didn't know about.  And then it kept ringing.  And ringing.  It kept booming out for what seemed forever, I actually started to get a little nervous, wondering if something cataclysmic had happened -- The Day After would be on TV in a little less than three weeks, back then we still worried about nuclear war with the Soviets.  I walked into the hallway of my dormitory, not everyone was back yet from athletic practices, but I did see one kid in the hallway.  I asked him if he knew what was going on and he said, "It's October 31.  It's Reformation Day.  They're ringing the church bell 500 times to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's birth.  They're going to do it again in a couple of weeks for his actual birthday."  Turns out the kid I asked was one of the few who actually went to the church on Sunday mornings from the student community (they would line up school busses for Catholic kids to go to Mass on Sundays).

Crusty asked, "What's Reformation Day?"

Safe to say, COD's relationship with Reformation Day hasn't progressed much since then.  The Roman Catholic Church didn't acknowledge it -- in fact, the Catholic Church created its own feast, Christ the King, which was created in the 1925 to be one-part petulant reminder to an increasingly secularized world that had taken away the Papacy's temporal rule that God was still king of all, and one part
Gee Davey - did you know the Episcopalians have two settings for this hymn?
Catholic competition to Reformation Sunday, since it was originally celebrated the last Sunday in October, which, coincidentally, is when Reformation Sunday is normally celebrated in many Lutheran and Presbyterian/Reformed churches.  COD is always amused by the irony that many Anglican and Lutheran churches have adopted Christ the King seemingly unaware it was developed, in part, as smack down to Protestants.  Once Crusty became an Episcopalian, he never came across Reformation Sunday, since Anglicans don't celebrate it (Crusty preached on the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector last Sunday, thank you very much).  Heck, the first time COD heard "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" in his early 20s, he thought, "Hey, that's the theme to Davey and Goliath."

There are two issues floating out there with regard to Reformation Sunday that COD has heard over the years.

The first critique is that Reformation Sunday can be an embarrassing celebration of Reformation triumphalism.  In doing so, this can perpetuate the lamest of historical anachronisms:  that the medieval Catholic Church was somehow trapped in decay and despair, true religion was nowhere to be found, until, by the grace of God, Martin Luther emerged to restore the true understanding of the Gospel.  COD grants that this is a problematic element of Reformation Sunday.  But to be clear, this kind of wretched reshaping of history into denominational origin story is something many of not all traditions are guilty of.  If he hears one more f*****g Anglican wax blissfully nostalgic about via medias under Elizabeth or three-legged stools in Hooker, reading back 19th century historical recreations into myth of origins which at best oversimplifies and at worst is simply fatuous,  you all will see what it really looks like when Crusty feels crusty.  Catholicism does the same, when, either because they have come to believe their polemic historical fabrications as fact, or in sheer effort to deceive, blithely asserts the only reason Anglicanism came into being was because Henry VIII wanted a divorce.   So, lots of sin to go around here, and COD thinks various flavors of Christian should be careful about the log in their own eye as they go straining after specks in others, but yes, Reformation Sunday as a time to sing the company loyalty song is not really worth celebrating.

A second critique of Reformation Sunday which COD does NOT hold to is the notion that Reformation Sunday is a glorification of sin in the eyes of God, because the Reformation of the 16th century resulted in the division of the Western church.  This runs the risk of laying the blame for the divisions in 16th century Europe at the feet of Luther, which is utterly preposterous.  The causes of Christian division in the 16th century are complex, from religious to political to social to cultural to economic.  Luther is not to "blame" for causing these divisions any more than Darwin is to "blame" for the divisions caused between people arguing over creationism versus evolution.  In Anglicanism, this dynamic is related to the distancing if not disparaging of the Reformation by some, which at its worst expresses itself in a sneering disdain of "Protestants" which at times echoes my own ignorance as a child and at other times perpetuates the unchurching of "Protestants" with their "invalid" orders, when, in fact, Anglicanism is one of the few churches in the world to have its order declared null and utterly void.  Christian division is a sin, to be sure; Crusty spent a decade as ecumenical officer preaching this to people who seemed not to care.  But the Reformation cannot be laid at the feet of Luther.  If there is anyone to be called to account for the sin of division, it should be all of us under indictment for the sin of continued reveling in exceptionalism and distinctiveness, clinging to our shibboleths instead of striving for the unity to which we are called.

What good, then, can come of Reformation Sunday?  COD heard a powerful and compelling vision of
Great sermon.  But she could've laid off the Episcopal joke

in the sermon preached by the Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, Elizabeth Eaton, at the installation of the new president of Trinity Lutheran Seminary, the partner school of the seminary where COD is D, last Sunday.  Noting that Reformation Sunday was often for Lutherans a time to "sing the company fight song," and recite the denominational slogans of justification by faith, she called for Reformation Sunday to be something more:  as a time for Lutheranism to reassess its place as a reforming theological movement within the broader church catholic, grounded in a theology of the Cross.

What would it mean for each expression of Christianity to engage not in self-congratulation -- we each have our own versions of the worst elements of Reformation Sunday -- but in the kind of self-critique that Bishop Eaton expressed?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Are We Heading for Our Own EpiscoShutdown?

Crusty just started a Twitter hashtag, #EpiscopalShutdownScenarios.  He doesn't expect it to take off, and he is not following it very much; COD fully expects Twitter to be mostly preoccupied with Panda Cam.

Crusty did, however, wonder how long before some elements currently impacting our federal
Coming soon to a General Convention near you?
government situation may be coming to a General Convention of the Episcopal Church in our near future.  After all, we have experienced several aspects of this narrative of defunding through manipulating budgetary crises already in the Episcopal Church.

One aspect is governance through manipulation of financial brinksmanship and deadlines.  COD is still disappointed with how the budgetary process was handled in the leadup to the 2009 General Convention.  It was apparent to anyone paying remotely any kind of attention that a massive deficit was staring the church in the face, but there was absolutely no broader discussion in the church about how this should be approached.  News releases from the January, 2009 Executive Council meeting lead with discussions of the Anglican Covenant (remember when Anglicans thought that was important?) and only then noted that expenses were ahead of projected revenues by $10 million.  Rather than any strategic planning or broader discussion, it was simply all deferred to General Convention, by which time the projected deficit between income and proposed budget had ballooned to over $20 million.  Please excuse Crusty for not posting more numerous links, but the link to coverage from the 2009 General Convention here no longer accessible.  You can read some previous thoughts I have about this whole fiasco here.

Crusty asks, isn't one way to look at the 2009 budgetary situation as individuals manipulating the budgetary process?  A budget with significant cuts was presented to Convention, more or less with the option to take it or leave it.  This is the absurdity of the budgetary process, where bishops and deputies are presented with a budget and told to take it or, well...take it, since leaving it is not an option.  Convention by canon must pass a balanced budget before adjourning, so the budget is passed with a minimum of discussion.  Bishops and deputies were told these were only numbers, and not program or staff decisions.  Meanwhile, staff were informed who was being laid off before the budget was even voted on; decisions about layoffs and program were already made days, if not weeks, before the budget was even presented.  Staffing and other budgetary cuts, including walking away from a union contract without any negotiations, were made not only without any input or discussion, but without articulating any kind of vision of of what kind of denominational entity was needed in a radically different incarnation of church.  We defunded and then a small group of people restructured.  Sounds like Congress?

If anything, sadly, the 2009 process was a model of efficiency compared to the 2012 process, or as COD likes to call it, "Budgetary Clusterf**k II:   Electric Boogaloo."  Read more of Crusty's previous ponderings here and here.  Similar to the current situation in Congress, where one wing of one party shutdown the government because it's demands were not
Nice to know Washington Post reads Crusty.
met, the 2012 process was marked by factions  demanding that the budget be shaped according to their principles.  Within the group tasked with producing an initial budget -- the Executive Committee of Executive Council, or ECEC -- a rump group met on their own and drafted their own budget with their own percentage of diocesan giving without discussion or consultation with other members of the drafting group.  Executive Council as a whole met a few months later and made an even bigger mess of the budget.  With multiple visions of a budget before it -- one based on a 15% benchmark of giving from dioceses, one based on a 19% benchmark of giving from dioceses -- with a difference in $5 million between these two.  Council made the decision to begin with the 15% budget, and then add back, piece by piece, line by line, the $5 million difference, resulting in a ungodly feeding frenzy.  Youth and Young Adult ministries ended up getting slashed by 90% whereas additional funding was giving to the Office of Government Relations not for any particular program but for their "good work."  Just a stunning, dysfunctional, train wreck of a budgeting process at Executive Council, with competing visions colliding with pork barrel spending decisions based on members' personal concerns and passions.  A full and complete narrative of how that budget was drafted was not released until JUNE, several months later.  And then the church was told that nothing could be done about the turd that Council produced until General Convention, when, guess what, we could all watch Budget Clusterf**k II:  Electric Boogaloo and see if the dysfunctional budgeting process could implode again.  Crusty ended up being mildly pleased pleased with the eventual budget passed, seeing it as a somewhat reasonable holding of the status quo while broader debates about restructuring took place.  He is also waiting to see if any real change or vision will emerge leading up to the 2015 Convention, or whether the whole thing will start over again.

So who are we as Episcopalians to sit back and roll our eyes at the dysfunction of government?  Honestly, at times Crusty sees little difference between what has happened in the last few years in our political governance -- dubbed by some commentators as budgeting by near-death experience, or budgeting by brinksmanship and financial crisis -- than the 2009 and 2012 budget experiences.

The reality is that the potential is for it to be even worse.  The day is coming that without structural reform we will see the shutdown of our own governance.  At some point very soon -- 2018?  2021? -- we will not be able to hold General Convention in its current format.  Convention is too large, too long, and wastes an inordinate amount of time.  (Note: this does not mean Crusty is an anti-democratic clericalist fascist, as he has been called.  Stop with the straw man that reform inherently means one is opposed to the democratic process and principle in the church.)  Read more of Crusty's extensive thoughts, from two years ago, before TREC was a glimmer in anyone's eye, and when only Crusty and Dwight Zscheile seemed to care about this stuff, here.  The amount spent just on Convention and our own governance is shocking.  We already have, already, shut down 815:  We have an entity at 815 Second Avenue which is a property management and rental company that has some people who also work for a denominational entity called the Episcopal Church and which gets smaller every three years.

Our window for reform may have already closed.  Maybe, as the Replacements once sang, "It's all
Westerberg for PHOD!
over but the shouting."  But as Crusty has said before, mission and ministry will move on.  There may be anxiety and angst in the church, but it will survive.  The Episcopal Church nearly died out after the American Revolution, but we adapted to a new context and were reborn.  Crusty lived in the Soviet Union for six months.  He's seen a church persecuted for 70 years nearly to the point of extinction.  The Russian Orthodox Church survived, and Communism fell.  Anglicanism will survive the collapse of 815 and General Convention.  Can we grasp the opportunity and vision in birthing a new church, or will we quibble among the wreckage of Christendom?