In Agatha Christie’s classic mystery, Ten Little Indians, the characters are picked off one by one by the mysterious murderer whose identity is only revealed at the end. In the present mysterious doings within the Anglican Communion, however, various forces are at work that appear to be holding to that biological truth and mathematical paradox: they multiply by division.
This past week, it was announced that a new Kenyan mission in the United States will receive a new suffragan bishop in the person of erstwhile Episcopalian Bill Atwood. Whether this new venture will be seen as competition or cooperation with the various other recent foundations (CANA, AMiA), the multitude of groups and churches created in the wake of the ordination of women (what I call the DisContinuum) and the even older foundations such as the Reformed Episcopal Church, remains to be seen. Will the strength of their “common cause” outweigh the various differences among them?
I have before suggested that there is a possible Girardian interpretation to all of this: the social unity of an organization achieved by sacrificing one of its members. However, the scale in this case appears to be reversed: a relatively small percentage of a larger society (The Episcopal Church) have separated themselves and now appear to be trying to undertake a common effort, if not an actual merger into a new entity. It is less like the hand saying to the foot, “I have no need if you”; and more like a toenail, eyebrow, and earlobe saying that to the rest of the body.
I realize some will think that is exactly what The Episcopal Church has done to the Anglican Communion at that larger scale. The difference of course, is that the Anglican Communion itself has not yet coalesced into a unitary body — much as some might wish that were true — and it remains to be seen if it ever will.
In the meantime, it would be good for all of us at whatever scale to remember that when Christie’s novel appeared in the United States, it did so under the title, And Then There Were None. One can multiply by division; one can save one’s life by taking a lifeboat. But if the multiple new divisions are incapable of sustaining themselves — and more importantly if the liner isn’t sinking, to abandon it for a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean (to await possible rescue from another distant shore) seems less than prudent.
Tobias Haller BSG