I am also heartsick and pessimistic, specifically, that is, about the institution into which I have poured my life for more than three decades–the Episcopal Church–as well as the larger family of Anglican Christianity. I feel like Captain Kirk in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock as he labors in hand-to-hand combat with the evil Klingon commander Kruge while the planet literally disintegrates underneath his feet. Anglicanism is disintegrating. The last three and a half years have been like watching a train wreck in slow motion–not just an imminent wreck, but an actual wreck. It’s not just a prospect; it’s a reality. The collision is not merely poised to happen; it is in the process of happening. Fresh damage is being done every day, damage that–by any conventional wisdom, at least–is irreparable.
When I became an Anglican in 1975, it seemed to me–at age 23–an eternal verity. It seemed as stable and immutable a part of the worldwide ecclesiastical landscape as … well, the polar ice cap was a part of a natural landscape. Unthinkably, the polar ice cap now appears to be in considerable jeopardy. Anglicanism is beyond jeopardy; it has crashed into the sea and is melting. Gone are the days when we could confidently expect to “muddle through” the next crisis over the horizon. Gone are the days of clear and simple Inquirers’ Class explanations of the Tudor monarchs and the Caroline Divines and the three-legged stool and Seabury and the creation of the PECUSA and so on an so on, et secula seculorum.
This is not ipso facto (yeah…whatever…go learn some Latin…I’m in a bad mood) a hopeless state of affairs. Change happens, and God is ever an opportunist. But change is an occasion of grief, and so I grieve (grief is a feeling, so it gets to be in bold print). I grieve the passing of a familiar status quo that I know how to talk about and how to explain coherently to others. But it’s gone, and it’s not coming back. I–along with all other Anglicans who fancy being informed and responsible–are going to have to learn to travel light for a while, because the ground is shifting under out feet, and we don’t want to get swallowed up alive into the abyss.
I’m also angry. Not in the deadly sin way, I hope, but in the feeling way:
I am angry with Episcopalian liberals for pushing their agenda of the “normalization” of homosexuality–which I acknowledge they believe is a gospel-mandated matter of basic justice–with no demonstrable regard for the collateral damage their efforts have caused.
I am angry with the Bishop of San Joaquin for using exaggeration, half-truths, polarizing rhetoric, secrecy, and manipulative tactics in order to persuade a sizable majority of delegates to two consecutive conventions to vote in favor of seceding from the Episcopal Church, all with no demonstrable regard for the collateral damage caused to hundreds–yea thousands–of unsuspecting faithful, most of whom agree with him on the presenting issue but who have now been ripped away from a network of networks than has connected them to thousands of other largely unsuspecting Episcopalians in other dioceses.
I am angry with the Presiding Bishop for disingenuously misrepresenting facts in her ham-fisted effort to alienate key clergy and lay leaders in San Joaquin who do not wish to follow the Bishop to the nether regions of the western hemisphere but who happen to hold orthodox theological and moral views and who have no desire to be complicit in her canonically illegal putsch to establish a liberal 815 hegemony in the Central Valley of California.
I am angry with the House of Bishops for so thoroughly “not getting it” last March with respect to the Dar es Salaam Communique of the Primates. With their attitude they probably did more than any other party at any other time to ensure and hasten the demise of the Anglican Communion.
I am angry with what had been the leaders of the Anglican Communion Network–now morphed into the Common Cause Partners. If they had remained united, and not spoken with any voice until they were able to speak with one voice, the train would still be careening toward disaster rather than already having arrived irrevocably at that destination.
I am angry with the allies of the Common Cause Partners, aka the Global South (Primates, mostly), and their petulant desire to deal a death-blow to the Anglican Communion by snubbing the Lambeth Conference in favor of GAFCOM. As a vitual lifelong Chicago Cubs fan, I know all about snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. I recognize it when I see it. If cooler heads had prevailed, we would now be on the brink of a Lambeth Conference that would have offered a ringing re-affirmation of the sexuality statement from 1998, investing it with veritably canonical authority as the received teaching of the Anglican Communion. Lambeth ’08 also would have commended to the provinces a strong Anglican Covenant, one that General Convention 2009 would have choked on like a snake swallowing its own tail, thus ensuring the sort of “communion discipline” that conservatives (including myself) have been agitating for. But noooooo. We couldn’t just hold our horses and keep our shirts on. We had to get all inflammatory and fissiparous and piss off people who probably would have turned out to be on our side when the battle heated up. Talk about the blown opportunity of the century.
I am angry with the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church, the members of which are already en route to to Quito, Ecuador–first, for wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars in diocesan contribution to 815’s program budget by meeting in South America for the sake of political correctness, but mostly for what I suspect they will do: Affirm the Presiding Bishop’s declaration of non-recognition of the duly-elected Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin. The sad fact is, politics and due process do not mix. Executive Council is about as political a body as one can imagine. Their members are elected, but the committee itself controls the nominating process, so they are effectively self-perpetuating. Between meetings of the General Convention, the Executive Council speaks with the voice of the convention. Their interpretation of the Constitution and Canons does not have to be rational and coherent in order to carry the weight of ecclesiastical authority. It need only be their interpretation, and it becomes binding on the conscience of the faithful. We may say we’re a church under the rule of law, but we deceive ourselves. We are a church governed by a majoritarian tyranny that has the power to declare the color of the sky on a clear day to be green if the advocates for that position can get enough votes.
I am angry with my own Baby Boomer generation, now pretty much running the Episcopal Church. That we are also running the country is also true, but too scary to contemplate–we are a generation of Peter Pans. We walk and talk like adults but we have never laid aside the self-indulgence of youth, and the mantra that we learned just as we were starting school in the 1950s, that we are special because there are so damn many of us. In the Church, our dominance is seen in the hyper-individualism by which we apprehend the Faith, and the complete sentimentalization of its content.
I am fearful. (There’s another feeling.) If Anglicanism disintegrates, where can I go? It’s a very short list of alternatives, and don’t particularly care for any of them. And I have a vowed pastoral obligation to the people committed to my charge. I lead a parish the prides itself on being above and beyond controversial church politics. That’s an aspect of its culture that I personally find quite attractive, and I have no desire to inject the angst of the larger family into this particular corner of it. There’s a limit to how long I can or should keep them insulated. I owe it to them to know where that limit is.