Church politics, on the other hand, I presume to know something about, and can at least plausibly pretend to hope to have some influence over, so I labor on in the wake of the "breaking" news that Quincy has now become the third diocese of the Episcopal Church to announce its secession therefrom, and its assocation with the Province of the Southern Cone. Fort Worth is cued up and counting down to become the fourth. (Are there others? Some speculate that there might be a couple more, but nobody else has yet "cocked the gun" with a first reading of the necessary constitutional amendment.)
History, as they say, is written by the winners. The political uprisings that took place in America (1776), France (1789), Russia (1917), and Iran (1979)--just to name a few--are now styled revolutions only because they were successful. Had they failed, we would remember them (if they were remembered at all) as mere rebellions. For that matter, if Cardinal Cajetan had successfully persuaded Luther to recant at Worms, what is now known as the Reformation might similarly be a blip on the radar screen of history.
Five years ago, General Convention threw a match onto a gasoline-soaked garage floor, instigating a chain of events of which the secession of Quincy is now the latest link. At the very least, we are witnessing a series of rebellions that might plausibly be interpreted as one Big Rebellion in several parts. The hope of dioceses like Quincy (along with San Joaquin, Pittsburgh, and Fort Worth) is that they are part of a larger movement of realignment within Anglicanism, the end of which will result in a new Anglican province on North American soil, one that will be institutionally unconnected from both the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. Several other Anglican provinces are cooperating with this movement: the Southern Cone, obviously, by providing a temporary insitutional haven, but also all the groups that fall under the umbrella known as GAFCON (from their initial gathering in Jerusalem this past summer, the Global Anglican Futures Conference). This big tent includes the Anglican Mission in American (AMiA, connected to Rwanda), the Convocation of Anglicans in North American (CANA, connected to Nigeria), and a smattering of parishes that have come under the aegis of Uganda.
So far, then, what we have is a rebellion in progress. But the hope of what we might call the realignment community is that it will continue to grow--both by continuing to peel off dioceses and parishes from TEC (and its Canadian equivalent) and by growing their parishes, both in size and number--and that TEC will continue to decline (by ongoing loss of dioceses and parishes and by stagnation in spiritual and financial vitality) to an envisaged tipping point, at which it will simply be a fait accomplait, with or without any official pronouncement from Canterbury or elsewhere, that TEC has been replaced as the holder of the Anglican franchise in this country.
If and when that tipping point is reached, we'll no longer be talking about a rebellion. It will be a revolution, because the new "winners" will be in a position to call it such.
Now, I hope I am amply on record that this is not a turn of events for which I hope or advocate, for reasons that are both principled and pragmatic. My principled objections are largely ecclesiological--see here. My pragmatic objections are largely strategic; I don't think the plan will work, I don't think the tipping point will be reached. I, and many others, remain committed to the broad outline known as the Windsor Process, which includes the development of an Anglican Covenant--an organic realignment, if you will. Evolution, not revolution.
That said, I never cease to be amazed by the capacity of the leadership of the Episcopal Church to shoot themselves in the foot. The Presiding Bishop's response to the vote in Quincy was to lament that "some individuals in southern Illinois" had decided to leave TEC. To say nothing of the geographical gaffe (one might forgive a westerner for not realizing that the Diocese of Quincy encompasses west central Illinois, not southern), her statement is one more iteration of a vacuous mantra, that it is individuals and not institutional structures that are are fleeing "this church." One invariable characteristic of a regime that is vulnerable to being overturned in a revolution is implacable denial, incessant repetition of an interpretive paradigm that bears less and less resemblance to reality. ("Let them eat cake.")
If the regnant leadership in TEC--my church, that is--wishes to quell the fury of the latter-day Parisian mob, it would do well to begin recognizing the fact that parishes and dioceses do leave the church. Whether or not they can is moot. The Alice in Wonderland word games need to stop immediately. Then they need to seriously engage the reality that the developing Anglican Covenant is an emergency response to their own misbehavior, not some theoretical construct worthy of a decade or two of polite abstract discussion. The Presiding Bishop's announced intention of keeping a vote on a covenant off the agenda in Anaheim next July is precisely the wrong message.
With some commitment and intention, the rebellion can be kept at bay. Without any changes in the current trajectory of leadership behavior, the realignment community's goals will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I can hear the gates of the Winter Palace beginning to collapse already.