May 27, 2011

Posthumous Rooftop Shout

The Guardian’s revelations of the late Colin Slee's observations about leaks and tantrums and tears in the English Episcopal Appointment Process is almost old news at this point, but I do have some thoughts.

The reported behavior of the Primates reminds me of Basil Fawlty, whose leadership style was evident when he said, “You people swan in here expecting to be waited on hand and foot! Well I'm trying to run a hotel!!!” Or the unnamed staff person at an unnamed seminary who complained that it actually cost the institution over $10K per student over what they took in, and if only they could get rid of the students they'd have a perfectly solvent school.

This is the sort of Institutional Blindness we see far too often. The purported good of the many comes to outweigh the actual good of the few, and in the long run no one is either well served or well taught. But the Institution, ah! the blessed Institution, slouches on towards its Byzantine goal, quite the opposite direction from Bethlehem of Judea.

Let us remember a simple truth: Institutional Unity is a false God to whom quite enough sacrifices have been made to satisfy even the most jealous god. As it is an idol, it cannot even appreciate the offering, so much as to mumble a "thank you" or a "not enough."

When the idol in question is a church or communion, how much the worse. It might just be barely comprehensible in a church that completely identified its sectarian self with the sole body of Christ on earth -- if there is such a beast -- but for Anglicans?! How soon we forget that the motto of the Anglican Communion is blazoned round the compasrose as “ἡ ἀλήθεια ἐλευθερώσει ὑμᾶς.” They really ought to have spelled it out in plain English: "The truth shall make you free."

In the one conversation I had with Rowan I told him, in spite of his fears that allowing Jeffrey John to go forward might mean a walk-out of half the bishops, that the Truth might liberate the real power of the Spirit. As I put it at the time, “What would happen; what wave of opportunities for new ministry might break forth across the Anglican Communion if we were to take off our masks — all of us? What would happen if we were to be set free by truth for Truth? I am reminded of the eponymous line from CS Lewis’s great novel, ‘How can we truly know and love each other face-to-face, until we have faces?’”

Since then, however I'd come to imagine Rowan, painfully shackled as he is by his own idolatrous bondage to the false god of Institutional Unity, saying to TEC and C of E leadership, "I have betrayed my conscience and my friends for the sake of unity, and I don't see why you bloody well shouldn't do the same!"

Thus, the Slee memo comes not as a surprise, but a confirmation.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


Br Richard Edward Helmer BSG said...

The great temptation of power is still to simply ring the bell and shout, "Manuel!"

*Sigh.* It is a miracle the Gospel survives being institutionalized.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

But they are not doing it - he and Sentamu are doing it for them. Everyone else is just to take directions. It's like the one argument for the Covenant, everyone is to just take directions.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, Richard and Adrian. The Café is using the metaphor of the "slow motion trainwreck" and there does seem to be a fatalism at work -- perhaps Rowan's "paschal theology" is working overtime.

The emerging problem, it seems to me, is the confusion between the bishop as the "guardian" of unity (as our ordinal has it) and the bishop (or Archbishop) as "focus and means" of unity. This latter blasphemy is in the Covenant at 3.1.4I, and is among the first things to be amended if the thing is ever adopted. It is manifestly false (not just in view of Canterbury but particularly blatantly so) and ascribes to that office something that properly is an attribute of God alone. A bishop best guards true unity not by sacrificing the few for the sake of the many, but by pointing all to the true source of unity, which is God.

The difference between a hub and spoke model of church governance and the richly organic image in the Pauline epistles is strongly contrasted in this case. We do not seek the unity of the pyramid, but of the living organic body.

Daniel Weir said...

Although it is dated - written in 2005 and posted to my blog in 2009 - here is the link to what I wrote on making the Communion an idol:

Here is how the post began:
F. D. Maurice, in a sermon preached on November 30, 1856, spoke of being preserved “from all idolatry of any outward things whatever, whether they be the elements of bread and wine, or anything else that is sacred because it is God’s creature, and accursed when it is made into a God.” The Anglican Communion is just such a creature, holy because it is God’s creature, but sadly in danger of being made into a god and, thus, accursed.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you Daniel. You remind me of a "conversation" (largely pointless) I've been having in one of the threads at Thinking Anglicans, concerning a right understanding of Paul in Romans. My interlocutor seems to think that Paul attributes an absolute good to "nature" or "the created order" and that people get into trouble when the violate the "order of nature." In fact what Paul is saying is that people get into trouble when they worship the creature rather than the creator. That is, precisely, among the idolatries into which we are being urged by the opponents of same-sex blessings, and a monolithic communion reified by its own substance rather than the Spirit of God at work within it, or an episcopate valued for its essence rather than its work.

Christopher Stephen Jenks said...

Tobias: I remember a sermon you preached many years ago stating exactly what is at the heart of a pyramid: "A cold, dead body," or words to that effect, was your answer to that rhetorical question.

I'm glad you mentioned CS Lewis' "Till We Have Faces." It's one of his best books, and one of his least well known.

Rick+ said...

As someone once said, "In tough times there is always a run on the little gods." The Holy Spirit is not limited, but the problem always seems to be our god is too small.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Bro CJ. My goodness either you have a particularly good memory or it was after all a decent sermon!

Rick, that is a brilliant quote. It is exactly what we do when panicked --- literally turning to "pan" the false god of everything.

Daniel, on reflection it seems we have been thinking on the same wavelength for a long time. In the Diocese of NY draft response to the Covenant from 2007, of which I was principle author, this stands out:"It would be helpful at this point in time for the Anglican Communion to make up its mind whether the needs of the world and the mission of the church in response to those needs will be better served by a more strictly and centrally regulated structure, or by a more open model deployed for ministry. We favor the latter as more in keeping with Christ’s commission to the church, which is focused not on itself and its structures but on the proclamation of the saving message to a wounded world."

Fr. J said...

The strong-arm-behind-the-scenes approach of the archbishops to the question of Jeffrey John struck me as both hypocritical and ill advised when I first read about it two days ago. Since then, other documents have come forward, including some which indicate that the archbishops were working from a framework of sin and repentance, and that the acceptance of candidates by the rest of the Communion was only the fifth issue to be considered. If that's the case, you may still wish to criticize what was done here, but on very different grounds.

Personally, what I find striking is the way in which smart folks on all sides of the conversation about sexuality are criticizing Archbishop Rowan for essentially the same problem. Have you seen Charles Raven's book "Shadow Gospel"? I haven't read it yet, but I did hear his talk at Mere Anglicanism last January, which is available through Anglican TV here:

The gist of Raven's argument, much like yours, is that Rowan is much too optimistic about institutions while being much too pessimistic about the gospel revealed in holy scripture. While you and Raven would surely disagree about the implications of that gospel, there is otherwise a deep consistency in what troubles you both about the good archbishop. And as much as I love and admire the archbishop, I am nevertheless starting to wonder if the critics haven't been right all along.

Daniel Weir said...

Tobias, Thanks for the quote from the report. I have long thought, largely dud to the influence of Ian Douglas, that we need to think first about God's mission and only then about the Church's role in it. I am also taken by the thinking of Christopher Duraisingh who, in an article in the latest issue of the Anglican Theological Review, suggested that we think also of the concursus Dei (the divine accompaniment), seen by Duraisingh as God's walking with all of creation. Missionary societies frequently acted as if God was absent from the mission field before they arrived. We rarely make that mistake without being challenged today, but we still make the mistake of thinking that the purpose of God's activity in the world is to build up the institution.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Fr, J., I too am torn. There is much to admire in Archbishop Williams, but it seems to me he has much to much bought this idea of being a "focus of unity" as the Covenant puts it. (A notion first bruited, apparently, in the Virginia Report 3.30) I've noted elsewhere that I much prefer our Ordinal's language of being a guardian of unity (and faith for that matter!) rather than as the "focus" which is overstepping.

In some sense this has paralyzed Rowan from following his own line of thought, or even articulating it. In this he realizes the curse Nietzsche described, "It costs dear to come to power; power stupefies. [i.e., renders unable to speak, Ger. verdummt]"

The whole mess of the C of E and its dismal effort at compromise (the deeply flawed "Issues" being a clear witness that in spite of the lack of consensus people are made to sign testimonials to a particular point of view!) could not but lead to the current crisis of reality facing ideology. And Rowan is right in the middle, vainly trying to abide by rules he disagrees with at the depth of his thinking or feeling, and torn apart over it. Had he taken firm leadership in the Synod, he could have retired "Issues" instead of powerlessly promulgating it. One wonders why he thought he was elected if not to follow through on his own earlier opinions expressed in his writings, including the critique of "Issues"?

It is very sad, and in the long run has been more destructive than would otherwise have been.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks again, Daniel. I look fwd to that article. I'm a bit backlogged on my reading! (Do tell!!)

JCF said...

the bishop (or Archbishop) as "focus and means" of unity. This latter blasphemy is in the Covenant at 3.1.4I

Well said. I would just add the characterization that it is a (pre -Sec.4!) "fatal flaw."

Erika Baker said...

"It costs dear to come to power; power stupefies. [i.e., renders unable to speak, Ger. verdummt]"

Verdummen means to become stultified, to make someone stupid.
To be unable to speak would be "verstummen".

I don't know the quote, but there certainly seems to be a way in which power dulls the mind.
It is almost inconceivalbe that complex thinker Rowan Williams should have morphed into the flat earth theologian he appears to have become.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

JCF, I don't think it a _fatal_ flaw, though a serious one. The main reason I think it not fatal is that it is impossible to accomplish, if one is foolhardy enough to try. It is definitely one of the clauses needing revision.

Erika, thanks for that correction. (My knowledge of German is sadly limited to Lieder and Wagner! -- I should have remembered "Du Dummer" from Das Rheingold! in the arguments between the two Niebelungen brothers...) I'd always sensed "stupify" to have a quality of being struck silent, so that's likely where my synapses crossed. Pity, though, as it was one of my favorite quotes (as I misunderstood it!) and seemed to be so true in that sense. Not so sure I agree with Nietzsche's sentiment! This is a case where I think I prefer the meaning of my misunderstanding to the originsl intent.

Rev R Marszalek said...

I am beginning to think a little more carefully - I will be dropping by... thank you

Anglocat said...

Abp. Williams' reported bullying, the manipulative process described in the Slee Memorandum, not only seem of a piece with the undisputed actions of the ABC in the last few years; they prefigure, in my opinion, how the Anglican Covenant would be administered. And, with great respect, Tobias, I think your assumption that it could/would be amended after TEC signed on is over-optimistic. Rather, acceding to it would give it and its embryonic magisterium the one thing they lack now: Legitimacy. Abp. Williams himself admits that it is a change to the status quo --an "intensification of relationships." It would also be the equivalent of what is in law called a submission to jurisdiction.

The incidents described in the Slee Memorandum explain better than I can why the answer to that invitation to submit to jurisdiction should be a clear "no."

Closed said...

This language of a focus or means of unity re: bishops stands in great odds to the heart of our Reformations post-Henry--there is one Head, Jesus Christ, which is another way of saying God alone is the focus of our unity. As I noted here:

This language in the Covenant cuts at the heart of our Reformations, which are reforms, I might add that cohere with Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon contra a Papal usurpation--and apparently now, a Canterburial and episcopal usurpation. Maurice would be rolling in his grave, as would Ramsey in this regard.

The openness and catholicity of Archbishop Williams' Christology contrasts sharply with the Covenant claim, I might add, and saddens me.

I will go so far to say that claims to a focus or means of unity stand in contrast to our longstanding Christological claims, and should be considered charitbly as erroneous at best.

Closed said...

In light of our Anglican Reformations and the claim to Christ's headship alone, it is a theological fatal flaw. It is a hubris that both the Pope and Henry VIII claimed for themselves and is at odds with our claim to One Center, Jesus Christ as Maurice would remind us in rejecting Roman claims. Canterbury's here are no better.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Anglocat, my point has been that if we are signatories we would be part of the implementation process. It isn't only amendment that is at issue. Also, there is no magisterium in the Covenant, only a body that can make recommendations -- and at present we are members of that body and can only remain so in Covenant implementation terms if we are signatories. Being part of the process of adoption allows us to talk back to the Archbishop, not only on matters that concern us but on other issues with which we feel it is important to speak out. I am not, btw advocating adoption at this point. I am advocating continuing the process.

Rach, thanks. Do look in!

Thank you, Christopher, you are being true to your name! There is one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism -- this is the focus of our unity, incarnate in Jesus Christ. Period.

June Butler said...

Has Rowan read his job description? He seems to be taking upon himself duties that are not his. And if he sees that one duty of the ABC is to hold the Anglican Communion together, even alone with his bare hands, other provinces have already shown that they have different ideas by making their way out.

I greatly value the relationships in the Anglican Communion, but I cannot see giving Rowan and his minions more power to meddle in the governance of our church, which I believe would be result of adoption of the Anglican Covenant by TEC. Rowan wants to move the position of ABC further in the direction of a pope-like figure - not quite, but heading there.

Remember, the ABC is put in position by the English government, which makes choosing the head of the AC even less democratic than Rome, in which the cardinals elect the pope.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, Mimi. Personally I would disassemble all of the Instruments of the Communion except the ACC, and insist that it be only a body for consultation.

The ABoC does not stand in relation to the rest of the Communion as he stands in his own church. There is no reason for him to be seen as primus inter pares -- as he not at all "primus" : the term is an oxymoron that appears to convey meaning but which is a logical contradiction. Instead of "first among equals" he should be "servant of all."