Wednesday, January 13, 2016

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?)


  1. In an essay of about 1000 words, please show how you would explain general relativity and quantum physics to a kindergarten Sunday school class, including your ideas toward a Theory of Everything to unite the two.

    Which question is more feasible? Beats me.

  2. i have been pleading for a generational ministry question for a long long time so yes, your question Will is a step in the correct direction.


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