Saturday, November 03, 2007

Singin' the Center Field Blues

I'm inherently suspicious of those who claim to be centrists. We all tend to presume, I think, that the center is the moral high ground, populated by those who are too intelligent to perceive reality wholly in binary terms, or so filled with divine love that they can see the nugget of decency in every person and the kernel of truth in every idea. And the center is in the political high rent district: Anyone who can frame the debate so as to cast themselves as "moderate" (thereby casting their opponents as "extreme") has a palpable advantage.

So, as the battles and skirmishes of the Anglican ecclesiastical wars unfold with sustained drama, it is with some alarm that I find myself precisely in that territory where I have never had any wish to be--in the middle. It is the result of no plan, it is the fulfillment of no desire, on my part that I am a known knuckle-dragger on the HoB/D listserv and among "progressive" bloggers, and as one who keeps company with "Vichy collaborators" in the conservative evangelical corner of Anglican cyberspace. Of course I should add: caveat lector--just because I take fire from both directions doesn't give me extra moral capital to spend. I could still be entirely wrong!

While we await the Archbishop of Canterbury's final (well...not final perhaps, but next, at any rate) word on whether the House of Bishops' work in New Orleans a few weeks ago is an adequate response to the Primates' Dar es Salaam communique of last February, stuff is still happening. This weekend, the convention of the Diocese of Pittsburgh voted by a more than decisive (if perhaps less than overwhelming) margin to amend their constitution in the direction of severing ties with the Episcopal Church. No real surprise here; we all knew it was coming. Next month, my former diocese of San Joaquin will hold a similar vote--only this one will be on the second reading, and could therefore be construed as actually "pulling the trigger." ( should be pointed out that, interpreted in strict grammatical terms, the language of the revised Article II, while it removes specific references to TEC, does not categorically initiate a separation therefrom. Of course, Bishop Schofield plays his cards extremely close to the vest, and I suspect that even some of the elected leaders of the diocese are not yet aware of what he has in mind by way of future provincial affiliation.) Quincy, while appearing to have stepped back just a bit from the brink, is still poised to bolt, and Fort Worth shows all the signs of leaving.

This all makes me very sad--at times, nigh unto terminally depressed. And there is some real longitudinal context for my melancholic state: I have spent thirty years or so watching a steady stream of bright, devout, gifted, energetic clergy and lay leaders in the Episcopal Church reach their own personal omega point and jump ship--mostly to Rome or Eastern Orthodoxy. Each individual departure has been grieved and then absorbed and compensated for, and life has gone on. But when I stop to mentally list and count the names, I cannot help but think to myself, "Dear God, if we still had all those people, we may actually be able to make a difference." I'm probably wrong about that, but I feel it anyway.

So, yes, the news from Pittsburgh makes me sad, and I'm fairly certain the news from San Joaquin a month from now will make me even sadder. These are my friends we're talking about here, my theological homeys. These are people I have labored with side-by-side to try and keep the Episcopal Church true to its own theological and moral self. We have largely, so far, failed, and now they are giving up. On one level, I don't blame them. I share their sense of frustration, if not the conclusion of despair that they have reached. I cheer for them inwardly in their public rhetorical volleys with the powers-that-be at '815.'

But I also believe that they are gravely mistaken, and I pray for them to turn back and forswear their foolish ways. What was once a movement configured toward maintaining a vibrant orthodox Anglican ecclesial presence in North America has morphed into something else entirely. I was present, as a voting delegate, when the Anglican Communion Network was birthed. My signature is on its founding document. I stand by what I did then. I would do it again. But I fear that the Common Cause Partnership will turn out to be nothing more than a bastard child of the ACN. The trajectory of the CCP bends clearly in the direction of true schism--that is, a breach within the Anglican Communion--the establishment of an "Anglican-like" ecclesial body that will no longer be in communion with the ancient See of Canterbury, such communion being the sine qua non of Anglican identity. The impetus toward such a move is rooted in an impoverished ecclesiology, a myopic historical perspective, and a simple lack of the Christian virtues of patience and charity.

Even so--God help us--those holding the reins of power in the Episcopal Church seem to be hell-bent on abetting the realization of what they claim are their worst fears--though one wonders. When helping people who have been through divorce prepare for a second marriage, a wise priest will invite them to articulate honestly their own contribution to the breakdown of the former relationship. Casting all the blame on the former spouse is not an acceptable answer. The inability to name and own a share of responsibility for what went wrong is a prima facie sign of immaturity and denial (and therefore lack of readiness to enter into a new marriage). From the Presiding Bishop (witness her most recent letter to the Bishop of Pittsburgh) on down to my leftist friends on the HoB/D, the pervasive level of denial is astonishing. They either don't get it or won't get it--I don't know which--but they are certainly not seeing or acknowledging their own contribution to the breakdown of relationships at a macro level in the Episcopal Church. They insist on shifting all the blame on to the disaffected minority. They rigidly enforce the letter of canon law when it suits their interests, not realizing that, in so doing, they are biting their nose to spite their face. Rather than attempting to understand their opponents--"getting inside their heads," so to speak--they demonize and ridicule. They habitually squander opportunities for reaching out to their opponents in reconciling ways. Have they never heard the aphorism, "You can catch more bees with honey than you can with vinegar"?

So it's an awkward place in which I find myself. My friends are abandoning me (thinking me foolish at best, and possibly disloyal, for not joining them). My adversaries smile and tolerate me, perhaps because I'm a pretty nice guy, but more likely because they know I'm not in a position to do them any harm. They will let me cast my 'Nay' vote because they know the 'Ayes' will have it when the tally is in. Oh, I don't yet have an Elijah-complex. I know there are plenty who have neither left for Moab nor bowed the knee to Baal. But it's getting lonelier all the time.


Anonymous said...

Fr. Dan:
You're not alone as you might think.

BTW, I understand why parishes leave and join. But, ISTM that the AoC just said to +Howe that if a diocese chooses to no longer participate in the polity of the Episcopal Church, it need not "join" anything as long it is yoked to Canterbury. And that call is made at Lambeth Palace, not 815. So, why not just not show up at HoB meetings or GC 2009 and hold your assessment in escrow. In the PBs words just pause "for a season".



-miserable sinner

Daniel Martins said...

Miserable Sinner, I have a slightly different take on the ABC's letter to +Central Florida (especially in light of the subsequent "clarification" issued by Lambeth Palace). It certainly takes the wind out of the sails of parishes with orthodox bishops justifying departure from TEC "in order to remain in communion with Canterbury." But I believe it carries the same message to dioceses as well. Rowan is clearly saying to bishops who are orthodox and Windsor-compliant, "It doesn't matter to me that you are connected to a province that may come under discipline. You have a relationship with ME that transcends (without abrogating) your relationship with your province. So relax. You are in 'full communion' even if your province isn't. Meanwhile, stay in your province, because it provides a canonical context for the ongoing life and mission of your diocese." Far from giving Pittsburgh, San Joaquin, and Fort Worth rhetorical ammunition by which to justify jumping ship, I believe Rowan's epistle removes one of the major reasons for breaking with TEC--that to remain places communion with Canterbury in jeopardy. It clearly does not.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Fr. Dan for your thoughtful insights.


Ann said...

Hey -I will play left field on your baseball team anytime.

Celinda Scott said...

I am grateful to Fr. Dan for his well-written observation. I'm grateful, in fact, to all clergy who identify themselves as "centrist", which can make
them lose "clout" in the political process (for instance, not getting elected or re-elected to being deputies to GC). QUESTION: Nominees for executive council and other positions to be elected at the 2009 General Convention are due in February 2008. Do nominees for these positions have to be deputies
(or alternates) for the 2009 convention?

Anonymous said...

This was one of the best pieces you have written. Life in the middle of a teeter-totter can not only get lonely but can be dangerous also. However it seems on a daily basis that more and more are standing in that middle ground. What can this mean when huge decisions must be made?

Anonymous said...

Father Dans:

On many of the issues of the day that divide the Episcopal Church, you and I are on different "sides." Still, I too consider myself a centrist and share your discomfort. Why? I think that it is because I accept the fact that I could be wrong and you could be right, and I think that it is healthy to have a church that includes both you and me.

I must say that it is uncompromising certainty of both sides in this dispute that gives me the most discomfort.

A progressive centrists?