Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Death and division can be infectious

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. Sometimes truth is mysterious. Coming onto the internet are reports on the 'opening remarks' of ++Jefferts Schori to the most recent meeting of TEC's Executive Council. Like it or lump it, TEC and what it thinks, does and says is germane to the life of the Communion. It is the flashpoint church for many of our current consternations about the fate of the Communion. So when its Presiding Bishop speaks, it is worth taking note of what she says. In this latest speech, as reported by Episcopal Life Online I see honest appraisal of the overall situation of TEC:

"Jefferts Schori warned that "the trajectory of churchwide funding is downward" and that the trend is shared with all mainline denominations.

Some of the leaders of the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and their equivalents in Canada have been discussing how they might share both churchwide mission and administration functions, she reported."

At this point nothing is stranger than fiction and nothing is mysterious: facts and figures about TEC life are published regularly, and critics of TEC have been observing decline for years.

But the Presiding Bishop, precisely from the vantage point of presidency, also says these things about the life of TEC and the character of its internal governance as it is worked out:

" "However, I think we're in some danger of committing suicide by governance by focusing internally rather than externally," she said. "Dying organisms pay most attention to survival. Our Haiti initiative is a positive counter-force to that. It's an example of what's possible when we turn outward rather than inward." "


"Meanwhile, Jefferts Schori said, there is what she called "a sometimes rather adversarial attitude" in the council that is the result of "confusion about roles."
"Sometimes committees try to do the work of staff," she said. "Council sometimes forgets that its job is about policy-making and accountability, and we live with the challenge of having 40 people challenged to make decisions together. There's a reason why Jesus called 12 disciples, it's a manageable group for conversation."

Jefferts Schori also described "an adversarial attitude between bishops and deputies," saying that bishops' vocation is "their ability to do big-picture work, care for the whole flock" and to invite others into the big-picture, long-term conversation. Deputies, she said, are elected to represent the interests of their dioceses.

"That does present tension," the presiding bishop said. "Our job here is to hold that tension and not resolve it to one end of the spectrum or the other." "

Truth is stranger than fiction here because the Presiding Bishop appears to fulfil her many critics' wildest allegations that she is presiding over a dying institution. But there is also mystery in what she says. Why use the term "suicide"? That is a very strong word in the context of recognition of decline. Is the governing role of the Executive Council really driving TEC to its death? (I am inclined not to think so, by the way). And the 'adversarial attitude' between bishops and deputies means what? Snarling at 12 paces in a duel at dawn? Surely not! But the greatest mystery is how any governance can occur when "tension" is something which is not resolved!

These are simply observations on my part. For criticism from within TEC itself, head to Episcopal Cafe's fisking and comments.

Here's the thing, from Down Under: why should the Communion be rent asunder in the near future (e.g. January 2011 when the Primates Meeting is due to occur) through division over the place of a dying and divided TEC in its midst? Would it be unreasonable to ask TEC to suspend its involvement in the Communion while it works out whether the course it is on as a church is towards life or death? Are we being infected as a Communion by the dis-ease of TEC which comes to expression in the Presiding Bishop's remarks?

If TEC's course turns out to be towards life (as some commenters here assert) then that should be obvious in, say, five years time, and its decision to reinvolve itself in the Communion could be celebrated. This would be in time for the next Lambeth Conference.

But if it is towards death (whether "suicide by governance" or otherwise), then I think - many Anglicans would think - the Communion deserves better than to be dragged down by a dying and divided church.

PS: ENS carries this report on further reductions in TEC's budget. What this report does not tell us is that in a time of stringency, the budget for litigation remains unabated. See Anglican Curmudgeon's analysis of the situation. Another ENS report, conveying the Executive Council's own report of its proceedings gets an A+ for sanguinity re finances,

"We then heard a report from the Joint Standing Committee for Finances for Mission (FFM) about issues related to the budget. Committee Chair Del Glover explained that FFM's work is to make sure we have the resources to do mission, and that the more clarity we have on mission, the better decisions we can make. Council adopted the budget."


Suem said...

If TEC is in terminal decline, why even bother about it anyhow? Why not just ignore what it does? Why go to all the bother and fuss of cutting something off that won't be there in a decade anyhow? If it is dying, it is not a threat. After all, sexuality and gay rights are not even an issue anywhere else in the world, are they? It's not as if the rest of the Communion is ever going to have to confront them, is it?

Are you assuming a direct causal link between TEC's policy on sexuality and a decline in number, BTW? I guess it is more subtle than that.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Suem,

I agree that theoretically the Communion could get on with its life and pay no attention to TEC, believing that it is fading from view. The present situation, however, practically speaking, could be assisted by TEC taking the initiative of standing aside from some forthcoming meetings.

Sexuality and gay rights are issues everywhere. The way we respond to them in the Communion is important. In my view the response does not need to be the response TEC has made (as though TEC is the brave pioneer charting the path we all must inevitably catch up with one day sooner or later).

Yes, I think decline in all Western churches is 'more subtle' than a direct causal link between 'policy on sexuality' and decline. In TEC's case, however, the decline is exacerbated by the way in which the parishes and dioceses disagreeing with General Convention have been handled. (And, yes, that has been a two way handling of relationship in that the parishes and dioceses which have left have played their role too).

Brother David said...

As the outspoken gay man here from the Anglican Church of Mexico, I will tell you forcefully Peter, yes the Anglican Communion will have to go the route of TEC and AC Canada eventually. Obviously the developed provinces of ACANZP, AC Australia, CoE, SEC, CiWales, and AC Southern Africa, as well as the provinces in all of the Americas will be dealing with it much sooner than the provinces in the emerging nations of Africa and South Asia, but you will each be confronted with the intractable realities of human sexuality and the fact that sexual minorities will no longer be suppressed and treated as the unwanted step children or second class citizens. And you will have to recognize that history has been on the wrong side of dealing with human sexuality.

If you do not, then the sad fact is that you unhappy lot will die out one day! The reality on the ground is that GLBTQ folks of my generation are just impatiently waiting for your demise. It is a harsh reality to speak about and perhaps it is awful to hear, but it is the truth. There will be a day in the future where the voices of bias, heterosexism, homophobia, genderphobia and discrimination will be an ever tinier background noise in the on going social evolution of humanity. Bishop John Shelby Spong is correct, the Church will change or the church will die.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi David,
You could be right (I do not dispute that), but you could be wrong (you dispute that). I wonder if we will live long enough to find out what happens!

Brother David said...

I think that I am the younger of us (46), so I hope to be here longer. But I also live in a much more dangerous social environment, as opposed to your earthquake prone physical environment, so who knows.

Peter Carrell said...

Youth is on your side, David! (I am 50!!).

I would think 50 years would be long enough for some things to become manifest about significant change in Anglican life.

May we both live that long because there are no more major earthquakes, nor nuclear terrorism, etc!

liturgy said...

David, I think you are using the wrong tense in talking about our province “will” have to deal with it - in the future tense.

In 1992 our liturgical commission produced and published a collection of rites “for life events”. This included:
Liturgy for the Blessing of a Relationship
Liturgy of Healing from Abuse for Women
Liturgy for Recognising the End of a Marriage
A Liturgical Resource for Addressing Experiences of Abuse in the Church
The rites were driven primarily by two bishops (now retired). They were used experimentally. In 2002 General Synod passed legislation called “The Worship Template” which effected the allowance of these rites in our province officially. Yes – you guessed it: driven by the same two bishops. These bishops ordained and licensed gay persons in committed same sex relationships. Many others have used these services – right up to bishops.
New Zealand loves being first in things.
(eg: we were the first to have a woman diocesan bishop!)
One day, when the dust settles: NZ will proudly claim – we were the first to officially allow the Liturgy for the Blessing of a Relationship.

That’s if our church survives ;-)

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Al
Thank you for your comment.
I am choosing not to publish it!
What you say may be true, but to publish it may either cause hurt I do not particularly wish to be party to visiting upon colleagues or cause dispute to arise as to the precise facts of the situation, and I do not wish to have to moderate such a dispute.
The gist of what you say, that there is a causal link between some policies of this church and some signs of its decline could perhaps be rephrased with less pointed and personal examples in a replacement comment?

Anonymous said...

Sue asks: "If TEC is in terminal decline, why even bother about it anyhow? Why not just ignore what it does? Why go to all the bother and fuss of cutting something off that won't be there in a decade anyhow? If it is dying, it is not a threat."
In the long term that is correct. However.....
1. Schori continues her litigious crusade against orthodox congregations that haven't escaped her grasp.
2. Diseased and dying members still pose a danger to the healthy parts (think: gangrene, Black Death). Tec has tried very hard to export its own perversions of the Gospel.
Al M.

Kurt said...

We’ve discussed this before, yes? The fact of the matter is that in the West nearly ALL Christian denominations face declining memberships. If there is a “crisis,” it is not simply a crisis of The Episcopal Church. Even America’s largest Protestant denomination, the conservative Southern Baptists, after 100 years of uninterrupted growth, has reported their third consecutive year of membership decline. (Their membership figures are grossly inflated to begin with, since these evangelicals count as “members” practically anyone who accepts a tract from their hands).

That churches in dysfunctional Third World countries are growing should be no surprise. Lacking even the threadbare social safety net of the USA, religious organizations (Muslim as well as Christian) in countries such as Nigeria, Uganda, etc. fill in the gap. They provide basic social survival and service networks for millions of impoverished individuals—service networks that are routinely provided by governments in the West. In fact, it’s in the Western countries with the most extensive welfare programs, that religious affiliation is weakest. Perhaps the growing economic depression will reverse this trend somewhat.

David’s point about the homophobes and misogynists dying off is accurate. Here in the USA, at least, younger people have fewer problems with either gay people or women, including their holding church leadership positions. Sizable numbers of American young people have stopped going to church because they view institutional religion as socially backward and bigoted. However, there is growing anecdotal evidence that liberal mainline religion here may soon see a stabilization, perhaps even an upturn in membership. What’s happening in my own little parish in Greenpoint, Brooklyn supports this view. A year ago we had one service on Sundays with about 40 people in attendance. Today, we have two services on Sunday with about 40 people each in attendance—many newcomers are young parents. Of course, my parish is composed of people who are willing to break out of ruts and who are willing to try new approaches. These are the traits that TEC needs, and I believe the Presiding Bishop was telling this to TEC leaders recently. Being flexible and taking advantage of the opportunities that do exist for church growth is key. The often-repeated predictions of the “death” of TEC may again prove premature.

Kurt Hill
Enjoying the colorful foliage
In Brooklyn, NY

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Kurt,
Yes we have discussed these things before. I think they are worth discussing further because of the peculiar present situation we are in as Anglicans, namely that the Anglican Communion as an institution is foundering because of a persistent disagreement with TEC. It is not with other declining churches (e.g. my own; and if it was, I would be arguing that we should consider stepping aside for a while from Communion meetings). Nor is the disagreement with an Anglican church which is demonstrating an ability to both promote a 'liberal' policy while striving to retain 'conservatives' in its ranks. Many Anglicans are simply aghast at the way in which TEC is treating those Anglicans who disagree with its policy. TEC is entitled to act sovereignly as it pleases, but the Communion is also entitled to take a view on what is satisfactory conduct by its member churches.

TEC, if it is dying, is dying slowly, and within it there will be many examples of growing congregations such as your own. But it would help the wider Communion, both fellow declining Western members and growing Global South members (who probably take exception to your socio-political explanation of their growth!) to be more convinced that TEC's gospel is the true gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ if overall its life was marked by growth and not decline.

Anonymous said...

"Sizable numbers of American young people have stopped going to church because they view institutional religion as socially backward and bigoted."

More likely because they started playing soccer on Sunday, or found it hard to reconcile getting stoned and having sex on Saturday night with singing 'Amazing grace' the next morning.
Do you actually know any young people, Kurt? Have you ever watched MTV? In the West (especially the US) we have produced the wealthiest, most play-orientated and introverted generation of young people yet. Maybe the cold winds of recession and student debt will wake some of them up.
Al M.

Kurt said...

“More likely because they started playing soccer on Sunday, or found it hard to reconcile getting stoned and having sex on Saturday night with singing 'Amazing grace' the next morning. Do you actually know any young people, Kurt?”—Al

Yes, Al, I know quite a number. (You see, for the past 25 years I’ve been well-known on the Lower East Side anarchist/punk scene). There is, of course, a grain of truth in what you say. But the polls (you know what they are, don’t you Al?) all confirm a sea change here in the religious behavior of American young people since the right-wing evangelicals 30 years ago began to make institutional religion synonymous in their minds with social backwardness and bigotry.

And, of course, even punk rockers (like us hippies) grow older, get steady jobs (if they can), get married and have kids. In the past two years, my little parish has begun attracting younger parents in their 30s to our events. We’re having more baptisms; new volunteers are showing up for the food pantry and the soup kitchen; younger people sit on the Vestry, etc. Little o’l hippies like me may not be having more kids, Al, but nothing says we can’t welcome young parents into our faith community.

Kurt Hill
In colorful Brooklyn, NY

Anonymous said...

Rock on, Kurt! Ol' hippies never die - they jus' take over the Episcopal Church! :)
I imagine, though, that a little bit of "social backwardness" might help those thousands of NYC teens who have single parenthood, unwanted pregnancies, STDs, abortions and drug habits/addictions, or the number who die in shootings. Even the NYT, the house paper of the irredeemably obtuse, has recognized the terrible sexual wilderness afflicting NY teens. If your little parish is reaching a handful of parents, I am happy. That Tim Keller and Redeemer Presbyterian are reaching thousands of young people is a cause for great joy.
Al M.