Thursday 16 October 2008

Chaos Maths, Reform and Anglicanism

The mathematics of chaos tells us that the more interconnected a system is, and the faster it runs, the more likely is it to encounter tipping points that send it over into chaos: where equilibrium swings around and gives a nasty bite in the backside. Thus happens with the weather and climate, thus happens with economics (as we are all only too aware), thus happens with ball games like snooker (two apparently equal starting positions but twelve moves on despite similar shots the outcome is unpredictable), and it also happens with Anglicanism.

What is a tipping point? Go to the top of an isosceles triangle with a little ball. The ball balances on a pure peak. No matter what is the push given, the result of the falling ball is the same. That's a chaotic relationship of push to movement. But the tip of a heap is usually less obvious, and the push given is less known. So a tiny push and you might get away with it, but a tiny bit more and over it goes.

One reason why I oppose the Archbishop of Canterbury's centralisation was that it creates greater interconnections and allows a centralised tip. What he did at Lambeth, however, was the opposite: he applied a lot of marshmallow to reduce the chaos. Plenty of talk and no resolutions slowed things down. However, a lot of pushers are now citing this apparent non-event as a reason to push again, and (using this interpretation) chaos is back again. So too is the effect of a programme of action to act upon, when time passes and there is no action - and yet the speeded up system wants action (and the action wanted in some quarters keeps changing). The Archbishop advises patience, to slow things down (less chaotic) but conferences down at Forward in Faith and Reform are of the kind that speed things up.

The Lambeth Conference was a period perhaps when the wider Anglican system showed its last legs of any injected stability, as since then the usual push and pull has taken over, with more strategies available for the discontented.

To go back to Reform again, and keeping to its largely Church of England focus: here at the beginning of Rod Thomas's speech were reasons why Anglicanism has become more chaotic, in the mathematical sense.

First, there was a crisis of leadership. Lambeth failed to make any difference to the divisions in the Anglican Communion. Church of England bishops failed to follow the Archbishop of Canterbury’s lead at the General Synod over the proposals for women bishops. And it was GAFCON that picked up the baton so far as leadership in the Communion was concerned.

Secondly, we saw what an Anglicanism united in the Gospel and dedicated to mission could look like. At GAFCON in the summer, there was a joy and sense of purpose that could once again commend Christ to the world. It also showed what had to be done to defend the Gospel. It opened up a route for orthodox Anglicans to take when their own dioceses or Provinces are being led astray. GAFCON gave a clear commitment to providing alternative structures of support.

And thirdly, we saw the intolerant face of liberalism as General Synod took decisions which will severely hamper the future development of our ministry.

Never mind the bias, we have:

  • Perceived inadequate leadership in a number of places
  • An alternative
  • Movement in a disliked direction

All of which, like an infamous speech at Reform by the Wycliffe College Principal, leads to thoughts of strategy. Strategy is some group pushing the ball.

This time the system is more chaotic because of GAFCON/ Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans. If GAFCON provides alternatives, then the system pushes into division all the more easily. It could be that twenty five congregations sign up to GAFCON, but it could be that two hundred and fifty do so, or even two thousand five hundred. And this might happen quickly, if a ball rolls and Reform and GAFCON types start identifying bishops who it deems are unbiblical.

Another attempt to cause chaos is the notion that the people who worship largely the same and who give homage to the same saviour figure represent "two religions" (says Rod Thomas - not even the virtually two of Michael Nazir-Ali). This is extreme in and out talk. Apparently Rod Thomas was even separating his congregation for musical and liturgical reasons; separation must be a common theme in his categorising head.

Whether he sees this as "not confrontational" or not, it is definitely chaotic and will certainly be seen as others as confrontational.

An interconnecting (and therefore raises chaos in the system) element is the demand by traditionalist Anglo-Catholics for something more than a code of practice. They want their own non-geographical dioceses, which the General Synod specifically rejected. The Reform approach would turn dioceses into religious communities for the same sort of oversight, but it is the same sort of removal. It takes away from an undivided episcopacy, and (unlike for the traditionalist Anglo-Catholics) it is selective about which diocesan bishop they reject. One can see Reform jumping on the bandwagon, just as such traditionalist Anglo-Catholics have jumped on the GAFCON bandwagon (even when GAFCON seems to believe such Reformist and Protestant views on to which Anglo-Catholics could never settle). This bandwagon jumping adds to the chaos in the present system.

It is no doubt with some humour that people like Reform can describe votes inclusive of gender in leadership to be exclusive regarding the breadth of the Church. Well, of course, not all inclusions are inclusive of everything: some involve decisions that do exclude in order to include others. But then again, the inclusion of women to the highest decision makers is another element of chaos into the present system: it will narrow the boundaries of the Church of England in terms of its permissable extremes, simply because its current extremists have a view of women and leadership that would be lost. It is now clearly the will of the bulk of the Church of England that women play the full role of duties and responsibilities, and that gender should not be an issue of authority. There are theological implications of such, given those who currently disagree. Furthermore, the groups arguing for separation/ takeover etc. are those affected by this ongoing decision, and the decision will lead to many walking and some staying behind in what might be described as grumpy corners.

In England Reform would like to flood the General Synod and thus take over or make compatible to itself this Church. Whereas the grumpy traditionalist Anglo-Catholics now accept the change happening, and would find some outbuildings to find respite, the more agressive Reform types look for a GAFCON based takeover. It won't work. Whilst the system may well go into a meltdown, the bulk still of the Church of England is not Reform sympathetic and the evangelicals remain divided. Some evangelicals could not stand a Reform type Church, nor one run from a distant Primates Council (it's illegal anyway). The chaotic system will find different points of equilibrium, usually referred to as schism.

So perhaps Reform ought to be more realistic. It represents the extreme end of Western Anglicanism, whatever members think of the composition of Anglicanism in the rest of the world. Anyway, we all know about chaos in revolutions: if chaos happens and a revolution begins the instigators are likely to lose control of it, and the outcome won't be theirs. Reformist Protestants might even find themselves in another outbuilding, next to the ones occupied by traditionalist Anglo-Catholics. The point about chaotic systems is that they go where they will, and settle down in shapes not predicted.


Anonymous said...

“Well, of course, not all inclusions are inclusive of everything: some involve decisions that do exclude in order to include others.”

Thank you for exposing the inherent contradiction of the “inclusive church”. Like the “cuckoo in the nest” it wishes to exclude everyone of a different view and destroy the “broad” church. It appears to hate the FIF guys in particular and wants them to leave. How inclusive is that?

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

I have commented on this before. It does shrink the Church at its boundaries, because those who are in it but cannot accept the headship of women obviously cannot be in it if there is headship of women. It's a zero sum game on this matter. The topic may be worth another visit: people ought to be honest about this.

Anonymous said...

I agree that people should be honest about this. The shame is that people have not been honest right from the very beginning that this would be the inevitable result of women’s ordination. Then an orderly separation may have been made rather than the rancour, ad hominem, and bitter infighting we have today. The days of “broad” church Anglicanism are numbered ironically because of inclusiveness leading to exclusion.

Fortunately the Church is much bigger than the CoE.

Erika Baker said...

Inclusiveness leads to exclusion?

Inclusiveness says you can be part of us, regardless of what you believe, but you cannot expect all your beliefs to be acted upon. If you leave, you do so of your own accord.

Exclusiveness says you can only be part of us if you believe and act like we do.

I'd say Inclusiveness leads to voluntary exclusion.
Exclusiveness leads to forced exclusion.

No difference?

Anonymous said...

“Exclusiveness says you can only be part of us if you believe and act like we do.”

But this is exactly what the “inclusive church” is saying. Accept women Bishops or get out. We do not want you - you have to go.

Voluntary exclusion on grounds of conscience is still exclusion. And no less destructive.