February 22, 2008

Thought for 02.22.08

Given that "all of us make many mistakes" (James 3:2) — and that this applies to the church as much as to individuals (Articles XIX, XXI) — autonomy is preferable to hegemony, in order to encapsulate error while allowing opportunity for healthy developments to arise and be tested locally before being accepted globally.

Tobias Haller BSG


Erin said...


Country Parson said...

You are referring to the church, of course, and more particularly to the Episcopal Church, but we are inextricably woven into the fabric and ethos of American life. Historically, we Americans have asserted our autonomy in the full and unassailable faith that world-wide hegemony was our destiny. One would think we had become more enlightened in the last 100 years, but GWB is a twice elected icon of that very delusion. That might seem irrelevant to current church issues, but I think not. The American church stands for all of America in the eyes of many throughout the world. It is as guilty as the nation itself in wanting to assert its autonomy on the one hand and enforce its hegemony on the other. Not true, you say. That may be, but for many in the rest of the world it's the belief that blocks any other image of truth.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear Country Parson,

I believe our present polity is ideal for the reason spelled out here. I think you are raising an entirely different issue: the supposed "domination" of the Anglican Communion by the US, as if our actions have mandated that others follow suit -- in spite of explicit statements to the contrary. It is precisely our provincial structure that allows us to err if we are indeed in error, and be corrected by the larger body. It is too soon to tell where that is going. If I believe it will eventually end up in the Communion coming to acceptance it is not because we are Americans, but because we happen to be acting consistently with the Gospel.

But on the larger issue of how the US is perceived: When a person is mistaken in their perceptions, whose responsibility is it? If people cannot see the truth, why is that not primarily their responsibility?

In particular, surely you know that this "Ugly American" nonsense (and it is utter nonsense in the case of TEC and the Communion) is being deliberately manufactured and coached in the Global South by unhappy American dissidents. That is where the real "colonialism" is going on, as American conservatives have -- contrary to the clear claims by many in the real Global South that sexuality isn't "their issue" -- stoked the fires of outrage by making claims that are false. For instance, as I noted in another blog comment you may not have seen,

My bishop was invited to an episcopal conference in the Church of the Province of the West Indies last year to explain the problem in TEC. He was known as the bishop of a large and diverse diocese, which had gone so far as to state publicly that there were a number of gay and lesbian clergy serving in its parishes, and which had somehow managed not to "lose" parishes over this issue. When the meeting began, the opposition in the air was palpable. As time went on, the other bishops warmed to my bishop's open and affable and non-threatening style, and the mean temperature of the room cooled. Then one of the remaining angry bishops stood to ask, "But how many parishes will be lost to the Episcopal Church over this!?" My bishop considered, and answered (I think quite correctly), "None in my own diocese, and perhaps fewer than a hundred, perhaps a few more than that, in the whole Episcopal Church." The West Indian bishop literally collapsed into his seat as if blown backwards. The room was abuzz: "But we've been told this is a 50/50 split in the church!" My bishop said, with his usual reserve, "You have been misinformed." Now, if this can happen in the West Indies, which is not all that far away, and which has many emigre members in Episcopal Parishes (a large number in my diocese alone!) is it any wonder that the tales being told in Africa by angry Americans will not create very false impressions about the state of affairs?

Who are the real "Ugly Americans" in this scenario? Who is creating the "blockage" that leads to misperceptions? In fact, who are the liars and malcontents who will stop at nothing to get their own way? If people truly cannot distinguish between George W Bush and Katharine Jefferts Schori -- or rather claim not to do so -- who is really at fault?

Country Parson said...

You are absolutely right in your specific argument, and i could not agree more. And you are absolutely in agreement with my most politically conservative patriotic Republican friends in your rejection of the Ugly American stereotype. Set that aside and simply read the historical record. Bishop Sisk did a great job of offering a radically different truth than the one of popular belief among his audience. What I'm trying to say is, apart from the current intra-communion arguments, that popular belief is a subset of something much larger and unless we come to honest terms with it we will simply blunder along like the current White House administration.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear CP,

I agree that we do need to contradict the falsehoods and more innocent false impressions at every turn. But I think it is also important for us to understand that just as the reality of the "Ugly Episcopalian" is questionable, so is the extent to which this misapprehension is widespread. There are lots of squeaky wheels out there, and yes, there are many who do think of TEC and USA as interchangable. But they are in reality far fewer than one might think -- as the continued collapse of the "Global South" coalition attests. As people gradually learn that the scare tactics were just that, and as TEC has responded appropriately with explanations and expressions of regret and so on, there isn't much more we can do as long as the instigators of turmoil in the Communion are at work -- except to remain patient and truthful, and help others to wise up to the slanders.

We should, in the long run, treat this stereotype or "popular belief" the same we we treat all stereotypes and poplular beliefs: be well aware of their existence, expose them for what they are, and move on. I think KJS has shown exactly that approach, which was not the style of her predecessor -- who by remaining essentially passive allowed the muck to continue stirring.

Ultimately the real difference with the Administration is that they actually do perform unilateral actions against other parts of the world. That is also why I find the linkage wanting: in one case you really do have an "Ugly American" at work; in the other, only an accusation, and a false one at that. TEC, unlike Kenya, Uganda, and Nigeria, has not sent any bishop to invade another province's territory!

Jon said...

It is true as long as autonomy doesn't slide into isolationism. Discernment is best done with some sort of community to ask the questions we have missed or have been conciously ignoring.


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Indeed so, Jon. I've never understood autonomy to imply isolation, or even "independence," but rather self-governance, in a context of interrelationship with others. This has worked well in Anglicanism, and in Eastern Orthodoxy under the form of autocephaly, for hundreds of years.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

In short, I think the English Reformation to have been a good thing in general; not without its faults, but on the whole a positive development in the life of the Church.

Malcolm+ said...

Country Parson's comments about the twin sides of autonomy and hegemony are valid - in the abstract.

But I see nothing in the present "crisis" about American hegemony - at least not from TEC.

Nothing compels other provinces to ordain a gay bishop, to bless a gay marriage or even to be nice to gay people. Nothing TEC has done even compels the primate of Nigeria to stop demanding that people be thrown in jail for being nice to gay people.

Curiously, the most hegemonic activity seems to be that of the "conservative" financiers who are using two-thirds world cultural norms as a weapon to fight the reality that their own American culture has "moved on" on a range of issues - of which gays are merely the convenient wedge.