Monday, June 16, 2014

From a conservative in pecusa

Editors Note: There is an incredible amount of ignorance in this piece, but considering the source that is to be expected.  ACNA Bishops have been expressly told not to politicize the process, which is a good thing.  ACNA has learned very well the negative lessons of pecusa.  ed.

Many years ago, as bloggers at StandFirm chronicled the activities of The Episcopal Church that led to the death throes, convulsions, and flailings that we are and will be treated to over the coming decade, I had several mantras that I reminded myself and others of in post after post.  The first was that actions have consequences, and that as much as we might cry and gnash over the actions of our current TEC leaders, those actions were the natural results of actions and failures to act over many many years not simply by liberal activists, but by conservatives. The actions of TEC progressive activists have had staggering consequences over the past ten years, with diocese after diocese selling off cathedrals, camp and conference centers, and parishes, with parishes declining “in haste” and then closing, with parishioners losing treasured places of worship and moving to other denominations, and with clergy losing their jobs and in many cases planning and entering second careers.  Far more parishes in my diocese alone lost that core of 30-40 parishioners and now can only afford part-time clergy.  Along with those consequences comes a lot of heightened rhetoric—now—about the glories of multi-career clergy, and “yoked” parishes, and “lay-focused ministry,” and all sorts of other self-serving theological babble mostly designed to paper over the fact that there are fewer full-time jobs for clergy because there are fewer parishes that are able to afford full-time clergy because, in a clause, there are now far far far fewer parishioners to pledge.

In my own parish’s instance, the actions of 2003 led directly to a severe lessening of the expectations for the just-embarked capital campaign, which then led to debt, which then led to debt service.  That is a small portion of the “train of consequences,” among many thousands of others, that have affected parish by parish.  Now, my parish wishes to hold a new capital campaign, but many of the long-term generous and multi-generation Episcopalians are departed from my parish for other denominations entirely.  We have lost parishioners to small Anglican start-ups, as well as to the PCA and local large contemporary churches, as well as to one of the largest Presbyterian congregations [now dearly departed from the PCUSA], and to Rome.  That is but a tiny percentage of the consequences in one large and fortunate parish in one diocese—but the ripple effects over the entire denomination have been epic.

Many readers will remember that I often closed comments or posts with that one word . . . “Consequences.”
But another mantra that I mentioned quite a bit was this. Suffering on earth is, in part, about the consequences of the Fall of man and the choices we make which spring from our depravity.  We sin, and sin brings forth consequences.

But another part of suffering—particularly for the faithful Christian—is about learning. In theory, the Holy Spirit is with us even as we suffer, comforting us, aiding us, transforming us, and teaching us. As years of counseling informed me, it would be very nice not to continually repeat the same things which bring suffering over and over and over again—and yet, humans often seem to repeat the same types of actions when they do not learn the lessons they needed to learn from the previous patch of suffering. One of the most common “repetitions” that all of us see is repeated bad marriage choices, with repeated divorces, while neither party learned the lessons of the previous marital choice and resulting marital failure.

And so, when confronted with failures, death, and loss in The Episcopal Church I have learned to ask “what can I and we learn from this further painful loss.”  As I said many years ago . . . if we are all to go through the demolition of a church that we dearly love, let us at the least pass through the suffering acquiring the lessons that we need from it.  There is massive stunning inexplicable pain, and then there is massive stunning pain with the prospect of becoming better, more thoughtful, more discerning people once on the other side.  I much prefer the latter—the former is what the beasts must endure, and as humans we have the capacity, with God’s good aid, to be transformed for the better by suffering.

So at every painful loss, whether personal, parochial, diocesan, or national, I have asked myself “what meaning can be made of this whereby I and others may become better, wiser people.”

One of the many mistakes that had consequences for traditional Episcopalians was that we spoke and acted as if “church politics” was dirty and something to be avoided.  While liberal activists were taking over vestries, search committees, diocesan conventions and committees, provincial offices, deputations to General Convention, Commissions and Committees at the national level, and the office of the Presiding Bishop, conservatives of all stripes were uninformed, passive, lazy, cowardly, clueless, in denial, and full of blustering bravado.  We didn’t know what kinds of vestry members we elected, or clergy we installed, or bishop candidates we voted for, or convention delegates, or convention deputies we elected. If we did know, we spoke about the importance of the Holy Spirit “choosing for us” and not engaging in “church politics.”  Or we said stuff about how we would “outgrow the liberals”—which mostly, we did.  We built strong parish after strong parish—and the liberals gained control of the levers of influence and power in the organization which, as we have learned, has little to nothing to do with large flourishing parishes.  If I’ve heard one pietistic story from a layperson about “trusting the Holy Spirit” . . . and therefore he would not trouble to inform himself, talk to others, check out the prospect or candidate’s written words, unify his vote with others . . . I’ve heard a thousand.  The kinds of stories I’ve heard have been truly spectacularly naive and lazy.

True story.  One parishioner told me that, in the absence of agreement by the search committee, and with a massive ignorance of the final three candidates, they had “drawn lots and trusted the Holy Spirit.”  The lot had fallen to the local female revisionist activist cleric and under her leadership the parish plunged into deep losses.

Another true story.  There was actually a highly placed person with important voting privileges in another diocese who repeatedly announced that he was opposed to all “church politics.”  The question for his fellow conservatives was . . . how do we let him know that of the three people for whom he will be voting for an important position, only one is remotely acceptable, or multitudes of other important decisions for which he would be responsible for voting. He refused all consultative discussions entirely.  The solution?  People had social lunches for him, and in the course of the conversations somebody would mention a person in the diocese [who was up for election] and he would say “oh, do you know so-and-so?” and the strategic conservative would say “why yes, he’s the one who brought in John Shelby Spong to teach one session during the parish’s Lenten series.”  “Really!” our hapless anti-political highly-placed voter would say.  Slowly, through a series of “non-political social events” the information would be spread, all in seeming sweet oblivion by the information-sharers of the upcoming important meetings and votes to take place.

That. Is. Ridiculous.

The man—regardless of his false theology and silly convictions—was engaging in “church politics” whether he wished to admit it or not. In fact, any member of an organization set up by human beings engages in “politics” simply because the nature of human beings and organizations is to be “political”—that is, to organize and influence for human action together in society.  There is nothing intrinsically immoral or unChristian about human beings organizing and influencing for human action together in society.  In fact, I suspect that it is impossible for human beings not to organize and influence for human action together in society.

This brings me to my primary point about some of the current leaders in ACNA.  I find it astounding, incredible, incomprehensible, and demoralizing to see calls for “not engaging in politics” by some leaders regarding the election of an archbishop of ACNA, which in and of itself is “political.”  The act of making a decision about who will lead an entity of human beings who have organized and influenced for human action together in society—albeit with a mysterious element called “the Church” entwined in and among the organization that was formed by humans called “ACNA”—is by its very essence “political.”  One is making a political decision, and any vote cast by any bishop in ACNA will be, by its very nature, a “political” vote. Unfortunately, the entire ACNA college of bishops has decided that they are going to pretend to “avoid a political process” even while engaging in a political choice, and a political process, and a political event, called a “vote.”
As Archbishop Duncan is retiring as Archbishop in June, 2014, the bishops also discussed and prayed about the process of electing a successor and the subsequent transition. Archbishop Duncan reflected with the College on his experience in the office and the bishops expressed gratitude for his courageous and persevering leadership. Archbishop Duncan then graciously absented himself so we could pursue facilitated conversation with Dr. Cynthia Waisner, who again served as our consultant. Seeking to avoid a political process, the bishops committed to a covenant of behavior and a season of prayer as we move toward the bishops’ conclave in June. The College of Bishops will have regular days of prayer and fasting in the coming months, and then gather the week before the Provincial Assembly to discern in prayer the one whom God is calling as successor to Archbishop Duncan.
They didn’t explain what the components of the “covenant of behavior” was in their communique—but that has been emailed and discussed quite a bit on the underground railroad of communications that has developed within ACNA [and boy do I wish there were more ACNA bloggers who were interested in making the underground railroad an aboveground railroad—more lessons that didn’t get learned, I suppose, with regards to laity engaging within their important organizations.]
What does this tell me?

It tells me three things.  First, it means that some leaders in ACNA did not learn some very important lessons through their suffering in TEC—and they will be destined to suffer yet again from their not learning those lessons.  Political action is necessary. It is not intrinsically immoral.  And it is impossible to avoid anyway. So those people that did not learn those lessons will be in an organization where others will out-maneuver them and out-work them and out-inform them by a country mile, all over again.  The sooner people recognize those facts, the sooner they can get on to engaging their minds with discernment and wisdom while actively working within strategically to influence organizational decisions—in other words, church politics.

Second, it means that some leaders in ACNA know well about the importance and necessity of church politics—and wish for others not to know or be aware of that necessity or to inform themselves about issues or to inform themselves about the stances of bishops who will be voting or to work with others actively to attempt to influence such organizational behavior.  In other words, politics for me but not for thee.
Third, politics is about the reality of division. All organizations have competing interests, values, expectations, and goals, because human beings are different and unique. This means that all organizations are, at their root, “divided.”  Some are foundationally divided—as for instance, The Episcopal Church; such organizations do not, and cannot, last in their traditional form.  Others are foundationally unified, but still divided about other very important, substantive issues.

Much of the bleating from TEC bishops over the past ten years about the evils of bloggers “being divisive” was about their actual desire for parishioners and clergy and other bishops not to be informed about the real divisions which already existed within the organization of TEC. Bloggers—whether revisionist or conservative—don’t “create divisions” out of whole cloth. Those divisions already exist and are revealed, though some of the more canny wish for others not to know about those divisions, even as those same people exploit those divisions on their own.

When a parishioner or priest or bishop doesn’t know that a goal exists, and that there are people elsewhere within the organization who wish to fulfill that goal, then voting is done in ignorance and pronouncements are made that “one candidate is just as solid as another.” Ignorance of divisions by others is, in fact, vital to the goals of people who have organized in order to reach certain goals. The longer that some voters may be kept unaware of actual divisions, the more their voting can occur in clueless incompetence while those who are aware and organized may vote with discerning competence.  That is all to the good—for the organized and strategic influencers of organizations.

I do not know which bishops, clergy, and laity fall into the first group—those who didn’t learn the lessons of suffering within TEC—and which fall into the second.

But my hope is that there are laity and clergy and even bishops who are informing themselves about the issues, researching the candidates for archbishop feverishly, and working together to unify and organize their church politics strategy.

The founding leadership of ACNA made sure to limit the power of laity and clergy within ACNA, with the bishops holding almost all of the decision-making power.  But power and influence comes to those who inform themselves, inform others, and work together in a unified and strategic manner to influence an organization in a wise and good direction. Further, I do not think that all the bishops of ACNA are completely immune to the organized concerted efforts of their laypeople and clergy to inform bishops and ask for certain things.

Godspeed to the laity, clergy, and bishops who are not in denial about—or worse, in full awareness of and attempting to prevent—political action in ACNA.

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