Shrewd as Serpents

I have refrained for quite a while from commenting on Anglican affairs, but the time has come to speak my piece.

The presenting topic is, of course, the Jerusalem Declaration, but I think it worth the time to step back and take a bigger picture view of what is going on. I will, however, begin with that document.

The Jerusalem Declaration is the declaration that the emperor—or archbishop, rather—has no clothes. That is, regardless of whether the Archbishop of Canterbury has the power or authority to discipline, the declaration challenges whether he has the will to discipline. It makes sense from their perspective: after begging him for five years to discipline the American and Canadian Churches, they have decided that they, in like fashion, will go ahead and do what pleases them, emboldened by the complete lack of consequences to us.

Technically speaking, a schism has not occurred in that no-one has broken with Canterbury—they’ve simply declared him irrelevant. Pittsburgh will still be leaving; Fort Worth will still be leaving. No doubt Quincy and others will soon attempt to follow. Parish departures will increase. While schism has not happened I think we’ll find that the incursions of foreign prelates will increase in the coming months.

Which will call forth a response… Yes, the GAFCON crowd has been shrewd—but they are not alone in their shrewdness.

At a particular point—and I’m sure a careful review of news stories could tell you exactly when, one or more liberal Episcopalians discovered an interesting use of antitrust law. They determined that the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation could be used as leverage. In a nutshell (from a non-lawyer here), this legislation means that, in order to prevent Enron-type malfeasance, a much wider group of people are responsible for checking on what the organization as a whole is doing. In nonprofit circles, it means that the board is also liable if a president is up to something untoward. Within our little circle, the interested parties realized that these laws could be used to apply leverage to bishops; if they negotiated with dissidents and did something like—say—selling them their property at fair market value, they could be sued for breach of fiduciary responsibility.

Now, whether a threat of this sort was actually made or whether it was simply detected, I don’t know. What I do know is that dioceses in negotiations abruptly ended them at roughly the same time and embarked on a national policy of litigation.

So many people are being so shrewd these days—by my reckoning too shrewd by half.

Litigation won’t help me. It won’t help us. Rather, it reminds me what’s at the bottom of all this. I’m sorry, but I really don’t think this is about “inclusion” or about the “authority of Scripture”, or even about the “faith once delivered”. Some in the pews may see it that way, but at the end of the day the sense that I get is that this is about whose clique calls the shots. I see it as a power game, pure and simple. And that’s what makes me most angry. I see two groups at the highest levels in a pissing contest that has pulled in the entire Anglican world. We’re burning through literally millions of dollars in big international gatherings and conferences and lawsuits while we stand on the brink of something much bigger and much more dangerous.

America is heading into a recession. Of that I have no doubt. And, if the peak oil people are right—and I’m becoming more and more persuaded that they are—than it will be longer, harder, and deeper than anything we’ve seen in a very long time. There are going to be a lot of people who will need help: covering rent, covering bills, families who have lost jobs, houses, and hope. How much do our squabbles and litigations cost when measured out in bags of flour and gallons of milk?

Not only will we need money to face the challenges of social change, we’ll also need grounding. We’ll need a rooted, grounded faith to proclaim as everything else is shifting.

How are we doing there?

Today is the first day that Seabury-Western officially has no faculty. Bexley Hall is collapsing back into rented quarters at a Lutheran school and EDS is selling off buildings. Not exactly hopeful for the well-trained clergy of tomorrow… How much do our squabbles and litigations cost when measured out in faculty salaries or credit hours?

I’m not happy with our leadership—and I don’t see these trends reversing anytime soon. But I’m not going anywhere. I’ve already swum the Channel from the Lutherans and could plausibly head across some other body of water but I’ve burnt my ships. I’m staying put and the church will have to deal with it.

Caelius may say he’s wondering what to do
, but I think he already knows—at least the outlines—and I do too. There’s no point in waiting for the pointy-hats to come around. Lay people and local people need to:

  1. Rediscover the Book of Common Prayer. As a broadly catholic and evangelical document, the Prayer Book in its many forms holds together the essentials of our theology, our doctrine, and the necessarily disciplines of a robust spiritual life.
  2. Teach the Book of Common Prayer. We cannot rely too much on the clergy. Clergy are already swamped with what they do and, frankly, not all have been blessed with the gifts to teach and inspire others with regard to our basic documents and history. And no, you can’t teach the prayer book with out simultaneously teaching Scripture, history, and theology—they all flow together.
  3. Recover Practical Rhythms of Life. A deeply grounded spirituality does not happen apart from regular ol’ life as we know it. Spiritual rhythms are sustainable rhythms. And that goes back to knowing who and what you are and where your priorities lie.
  4. Recover Communities of Faith as Communities of Practice. Modern Americans are notorious for rejecting social opportunities (the Bowling Alone phenomenon). And yet, churches are places where people gather and form a community in spite of themselves. As things get worse—whether short term or long term—local communities will become more important. People and communities weather crises best when supported by effective habits and disciplines. The time to get these up and going is now, not later. Do things together. Do things that instill healthy, simple, practical practices together. Does your church have a garden? Does it landscape with herbs and/or edibles? Is there a compelling reason why not? Even if the fossil fuels last another three hundred years is there a good excuse for not doing some of this now?
  5. Collect and Craft the Necessary Resources. All of the above things are good (in my eyes), but none of them are simple. They’ll take work. To do them poorly may be as bad as not doing them at all. There’s simply no point in attempting them without adequate preparation. And this is where we find ourselves now. The internet provides the perfect place to collect resources, instructions, and histories of projects successful and unsuccessful gathered into a common place. It’s time to start collecting and it’s time to start creating.
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21 Responses to Shrewd as Serpents

  1. David E says:

    Actually, I just returned from classes at Seabury-Western. They have a reduced faculty, but it is not true that they have no faculty. This does not change the truth of your observation that education in Episcopal seminaries is in trouble. Seabury-Western is attempting to change a century old model of education to one which is more practical for the 21st century. Whether they are successful or not, we shall ahve to wait to see. Pray for them and all of our seminaries. The ‘canary’ is singing, and action must be taken.

  2. Jay says:

    Thanks for your wise words.

    I’m no Sarbanes-Oxley expert (I am an attorney, but no in that area) but I suspect that courts would be extremely hesitant to use it to get involved in intra-church squabbles.

  3. Thanks for the clarification, David. I was going off the posted article to which I linked.

    As one whose future is literally invested in the future of Episcopal theological education, I’m keeping my options open…Something must change.

  4. Jay–you’re right, courts may be hesitant but I believe Ive heard the current property policy linked to it explicitly by one of our bishops. +Sauls perhaps?

    That is, I think it’s an excuse to pursue a particular path regardless.

  5. bls says:

    Amen, Derek.

  6. LP says:

    don’t worry, we’ll take you back! ;-)

  7. No, you wouldn’t…

    I’ve been to your church, and even there there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell of anybody tolerating let alone requesting Solemn Benediction… :-D

  8. LP says:

    You and your monstrance!

    Hey, I’m just glad that they aren’t using the ablutions for french toast. Progress has been made!

  9. LP says:

    BTW…everyone loved Mother M this past week.

  10. Glad to hear it—she thought a solid doctrinal sermon on Romans would be just what they needed… :-)

  11. It makes sense from their perspective: after begging him for five years to discipline the American and Canadian Churches, they have decided that they, in like fashion, will go ahead and do what pleases them, emboldened by the complete lack of consequences to us.

    Right, I’ll ask: what consequences to you?

    If most of the Anglican Communion, the Protestant conservatives, leaves that group, or if the majority rules at Lambeth and TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada are dropped from that communion, I don’t think it would affect you at all.

    (Considering that both sides commune all baptised Christians, in a way you wouldn’t even be out of communion with each other.)

    After all these people (the conservatives or a foreign Anglican church) don’t pay your church’s air-conditioning bills. You’re independent.

    Thanks to American law no-one in the US can close you down except you, and I agree with that. I’m a libertarian as well as a Catholic.

  12. Rev Dr Mom says:

    I might disagree with some of your points about leadership, but I totally agree with your points about seminary education and about what we need to do. Points 1-4 btw are essential to what I do and what I see as my call as a priest and the more laity embrace them as well, the better.

  13. Rev Dr Mom says:

    Reading my own comment it sounds sort of clericalist, and I don’t mean that way. So let me amend it to say that I think your points 1-4 sound like a great basis for common mission.

  14. This would not be the first time the church has been compelled to go local to a greater degree, crafting a rule of faith for the with an eye to withstanding a possibly very long winter.

    The BCP is well equipped for sustaining such a community, I think, esp. modelled after an adaptation of monastic life to the reality of the community. If indeed suburbia proves unsustainable in the short term, people will be compelled to come back into a more urban pattern of life–even a more communal pattern, sharing daycare, transporation, meals, and (who knows) even shelter–who can say how far a monastic model could be adapted?

  15. Joe Rawls says:

    A really first-rate post. It’s been clear to me for quite a while that the purple-shirts are more committed to the control of real estate and institutional preservation than to either gay inclusion or “the faith once delivered to the saints”.

  16. Mrs. M says:

    Thanks, I really like what you have to say here. I was told just this past weekend was that the general “mind of the House of Bishops” was that it was time to really wield their authority. Makes me a bit nervous.

  17. Thanks for the comments, all. The thought of you being clericalist are kind of funny, Rev. Dr. Mom! You’re one of the last people I’d accuse of that…

    YF, I value the existence of the Anglican Communion highly. I think a more fluid transference of stories and thoughts about life would be helpful all around but ideological and practical blockages often inhibit this process. At a base level and in terms of actual practice, you’re right—it doesn’t impact us on a daily basis.

    Scotist, it’ll be interesting to see what the future holds. If a major social shift is coming, I’ll be interested to see what forms hold and what forms pass. One things the monks do tell us, though, is that being in community is *really hard work* even if you agree on a majority of the fundamentals. Maintaining true community is difficult.

    As for the bishops, well, we just gotta do what we do and not fall into the subtle but pervasive clericalism that makes it all revolve around them… Despite my cynicism I do believe that there are good and godly bishops about. But that doesn’t mean we need to or should wait on them before we, the baptized, get on with our work.

  18. Brian M says:

    Derek, I wonder if in some post someday you might amplify your understanding of the BCP as the locus of our theology and doctrine. I find the catechism and the baptismal rites in the ’79 to be rather anemic, and rather less than edifying when it comes to forming a solid Anglican identity. Are there other elements of the ’79 that you find to be substantial when it comes to formation?

  19. Great question, Brian, and my quick answer would be—the Mass and the Office.

    Twice-daily repetition of the Office grounds us in the Psalter and in Scripture as well as in the classic texts that inform how we read (like the Creed) and how we identify central parts of the Gospel proclamation (the Benedictus [Song of Zechariah], the Magnificat [Song of Mary], Nunc Dimittis [Song of Simeon] and the Te Deum [You are God]).

    The Eucharistic Narrative of the Mass reminds us again of the key points as well, the Incarnation and Redemption accomplihsed by Christ and our own transformation through being bound into his body through Baptism and nourished by it in the Eucharist.

    Finally, the Church Year itself brings all of our days into relationship with the mysteries of Incarnation, Redemption, and the ongoing life in the Spirit exemplified by the saints.

    Anglicanism isn’t fundamentally an intellectual exercise—it’s experiential and at its heart is the knowledge of the Living God whom we encounter through the experience of the liturgies.

    And this is precisely why point 5 is important: quite a lot of Anglicans–even those cradle-born, don’t realize the riches of our prayerbook. We need good solid resources that help people understand what’s there and what it means.

    I’ll poke around a bit—if I don’t already have a full post on this somewhere, I’ll get one up fairly soon…

  20. bls says:

    I’ve always liked this article called “How the Episcopal Church Teaches the Catholic Faith.

    All of the examples given as evidence for this claim are from the Prayer Book.

  21. brian m says:

    Thanks Derek and BLS–

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