May 16, 2010

The Pluperfect Mindset

In response to the ordinations of two new bishops in Los Angeles yesterday, the usual suspects from the Anglican Right are atwitter with comments about further rifts or tears in the Anglican Communion, accusations that the Episcopal Church has now walked apart in some formal way from that Communion, and that it certainly can't in good conscience sign on to the Anglican Covenant (as they conceive it, in a kind of anticipatory prejudgment of exactly what the policies and objects of discipline might be down the road once the new body is actually, well, embodied.)

It is important to remember that any "rift" or "tear" or any such "transection" is at this point "a rift in the Anglican Communion" -- it is not a rift between the Anglican Communion and some entity not a part (or no longer a part, as Anglican Mainstream and others would have it) of the Anglican Communion. No one has "walked apart" from the rest of the Anglican Communion, except perhaps those portions of it, such as Nigeria and parts of GAFCON / FoCA, who have chosen actually to reject the See of Canterbury as a focal point for gathering the Anglican episcopate for consultation, or who have established separatist outposts within the confines of other Anglican jurisdictions, declaring they are out of communion with the larger body.

So much of this is based on the self-fulfilling false prophecy of those who attribute more authority to the Instruments of Communion than they have heretofore exercised, or than they have been granted by the actual member churches and provinces of the Communion. Thus, conferring and consulting bodies have been lacquered with a quick coat of putative authority, which cannot completely cover the underlying texture: these bodies are not yet in possession of the powers with which some would like to invest them.

The fact is, a number of member churches disagree on a number of issues. (What else is new?) What we can say with some historical perspective is that Lambeth has no doctrinal authority (yet!); the Primates may express an opinion; but dissenters both to the left and the right are under absolutely no obligation to follow or concur with the judgment either of the gathered bishops or the Primates. The Windsor Report contains recommendations that the provinces have yet to endorse or act upon in a definitive way — and that includes TEC as well as ACNA, both of whom have taken actions contrary to the wishes expressed in Windsor.

Those at present with their undergarments in a tangle display a very much "make it up as we go along" sort of ecclesiology, in which they act as if what they want is what already is. Unless and until some form of the Anglican Covenant is signed off on, the Anglican Communion remains a "fellowship of autonomous provinces and churches" without a central governing authority, and with, at present, some serious disagreements among its members.

Only those who agree to the proposed Covenant will be part of whatever new constellation emerges, and will presumably submit to whatever governance to which they have covenanted. But for the meantime they are living in the pluperfect, as the New Anglican Thing has not yet come to be. And much depends on who signs up. (I've said before, I'd welcome a little more structure to the Anglican Communion. Either that or clearly back to that "fellowship." It's this living in-between with made up rules and assertion and arrogation of authority not yet conferred that I find wearing, troubling and un-Christ-like.)

In the meantime, Diane and Mary are bishops in good standing in the Episcopal Church, and hence, in the Anglican Communion. They will be welcome where they are welcome, and rebuffed where they will be rebuffed: actions entirely within the competency of any diocesan bishop outside of Los Angeles.

Deal with it.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


JCF said...

Those at present with their undergarments in a tangle display a very much "make it up as we go along" sort of ecclesiology, in which they act as if what they want is what already is.

I think that's been true since BEFORE Lambeth 1.10 (1998)!

I think it's the human tendency to separate into an Us & Them . . . and then justify the basis for so doing, after the fact.

Something like this:

* "I want to Feel Good about Myself"

* "I define 'Feel Good' by Being Superior to Someone Else"

* "I reinforce my 'Feeling Good', by recruiting more to my 'Superior to Someone Else' side"

* "Therefore, I pick my 'Inferior-to-Me Them' on the basis of identifying a 'Who do the most people already feel superior to?' group"

* "I justify my feelings of Superiority, by declaring that 'THEY' are out to put down ME."

* "Those who also feel superior to THEM flock to Me and MY cause."


* "I feel Good about Myself!"

How does that sound, Tobias?

[Conversely, I like to think that *I* look to the Word of God (which is Christ) for a Model, and the Words of God (and Tradition and Reason, in the Church) to find God's Will. Thereby, I find BOTH my *dignity* as God's Image, and *humility* when measured against Christ Jesus. I feel Good---not about myself, but about my REDEMPTION through Christ. OCICBW!]

Lionel Deimel said...


I agree with about 90% of what you say, though I am distressed by your seeming indifference to which way we go from here. TEC can insist that it construes the Communion as a voluntary fellowship and watch other church sign on and wall themselves off from the rest of us. Or, we can sign on, selling our birthright for a bowl of porridge.

What, exactly, do you mean when you say “I’ve said before, I’d welcome a little more structure to the Anglican Communion”? I believe that too much structure has gotten us into this mess.

I have not said this before, but I think it makes sense: I would prefer to dissolve the Anglican Communion rather than to strengthen it. It has become an instrument of the Devil.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your always thoughtful comments. I'm not trying to be a grammar cop -- just to be sure I've understood your point. Should the title be "The Future Perfect Mindset"? That is, the mindset that deals in terms of "what *will have* become true"?

A "pluperfect mindset" would be concerned with "what had become true" (at some point in the past), wouldn't it? Is that what you meant?

Neel Smith

G said...

Thank you! The observation about the self-fulfilling aspect is very apt. Those who regard the status quo as too muddled (Anglican?) to be viable and argue for its reform cannot claim that it is not nevertheless the status quo. Thus all this nonsense about Lambeth I.10 being "the teaching of the Anglican Communion" (!) on homosexuality.

WSJM said...

As I commented over at jimB's blog the other day, I am sympathetic with Lionel's thoughts about our future in Anglicanism, even though I suggest a somewhat different tack. But I was struck by his statement above, "I believe that too much structure has gotten us into this mess." Having now become one of the Old Coots, I remember when the Anglican Communion consisted of the Lambeth Conference, plus a wide variety of mostly personal relationships with fellow Anglicans all around the world. (I still remember warmly my experiences as a young man meeting Joost de Blank, Ambrose Reeves, and Trevor Huddleston when they came through on their various tours raising concern and support for the South African church's struggle against apartheid.) At the time, "Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence" seemed like such a splendid idea, but I wonder now if perhaps Screwtape was not saying, "Oh, look, Wormwood! They're giving us a new toy!"

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Grabbing a moment in a very packed day --- as I try to finish "those things I ought to have done that I have left undone" due to jury duty!

JCF, I think you have the sequence laid out very clearly -- and I would merely note that it can work for liberals as well as conservatives, when purity notions such as "political correctness" become dominant.

Lionel, when I say I'd welcome a little more structure, I'm referring in a practical sense to the first three sections of the proposed Covenant. I could live with that kind of articulation, and I don't think it would be to our detriment. I would also welcome beefing up the ACC and downplaying Lambeth (and omitting the Primates' Meeting altogether!) I don't really want to see anything as strong as an Anglican Congress, but would welcome greater opportunities for dialogue. The Continuing Indaba is working well as a model for tri-lateral dialogue, but there is no substitute for getting people from all over the communion together for worship, and discussion -- and broadening that to clergy and laity would be ideal. I don't think that "too much structure has gotten us into this mess" but rather the arrogation of power by a few and the assumption of rules that don't exist. If we'd all voted off on, say, "the authority of Lambeth to articulate doctrine" twenty years ago, then I'd bite the bullet and say we'd been outvoted. But it's the attribution of authority, not any actual authority, that is the problem as I see it.

Which brings me to the pluperfect. Thanks Neel for noting that dilemma. It does have a quality of the future perfect about it, but what I meant was the idea of treating something you would like to happen as if it had already happened --- hence the idea then Lambeth 1998 had already established an authoritative position which the Episcopal Church then violated. It is that setting up of an event in the more distant and antecedent past that has the "pluperfect" quality about it. But I welcome a comment from someone who clearly knows grammar!

Geoff -- yes indeed, as the "pluperfect" issue shows!

Bill, so true. It is distressing that the Anglican Communion, whose motto is, "The Truth shall make you free," seems willing to transform responsibility and interdependence into subservience and codependency!

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

I can't resist another comment. One of my favorite constructions in English is:

In order to have done that, he would have had to have had all the tools at his disposal.

In the present case, for the assertions of the Anglican Right to be true, the member churches of the Anglican Communion would have had to have given their assent to the doctrinal authority of Lambeth.

June Butler said...

I'd welcome a little more structure to the Anglican Communion.

Tobias, that was once my view, but when the Windsor Report came to be seen as a set of rules to be applied to only some members of the Anglican Communion, I woke up the the fact that mischief was afoot, and I changed my thinking.

Amen to getting rid of the Primates meeting altogether. The meeting serves no useful purpose and costs a lot of money that could be better spent.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Mimi. As I say, I'd "welcome" -- not "push for" -- some greater structure, particularly in the area of strengthening mission cooperation.

But I'd be very leery of even doing that at the present moment. In an analogy I've used before, one should not rush into marriage and the engagement is proving difficult! And as I've also suggested before, perhaps what we all need right now is a sabbath from any pan-Anglican gatherings whatsoever! Let's just keep working at the bi-, tri- and quadrilateral relationships that had been at the heart of building up the Anglican Communion from the beginning!

Lionel Deimel said...


It sounds like you should appreciate my idea for a sabbatical from participating in the Communion as I suggested in “Reviving an Old Proposal.”

JimB said...

When I was young (and dinosaurs roamed the earth) Illinois where I live had a legislature that met ever other year. When I was an undergrad the State held a constitutional convention as was lawful and made a critical error. We changed to a legislature that meets every year. The shift was based on the idea that it was more efficient to vote for the budget annually and we have run 'efficient' deficits ever since.

It is really simple -- call a legislature into session and you will get legislation.

Unfortunately, the primates of our Southern brothers see their primates as chief pastors empowered to legislate. Get them together and they see a legislature. It legislates. The primate's meetings have to go or the communion is fated to become a schismatic denomination.


Father Ron said...

Tobias, your comments,as usual, are pretty well 'on the ball'. Your take on the fact that there is currently no power within the Communion to expel anyone is probably the only thing that motivates ACI, ACNA and the Global South to excite controversy.

Nigeria, for instance, having already dispensed with any notion of Canterbury from their Provincial Statue Books, obviously has no fear of being kicked out of the Anglican Communion - they have already resiled from active membership.

The same goes with ACNA. They have taken leave of the only entity (TEC) which made them members of the Communion. So why do these Anglican Dissenters want other people kicked out? Beats me. They're not even part of the game.

I find it peculiar that people who have 'cocked a snook' at the ABC now want him to act - against their perceived 'non-Anglican' fellow Anglicans. First they want him - then they don't - now they do!

And then, there are those cuckoos in the nest who call themselves 'The Anglican Communion Institute'! Who granted them their Charter?