Saturday, 10 March 2012

Consequences of Super Saturday and After

Saturday I dubbed Super Saturday from the point of view of six dioceses voting about the Anglican Communion Covenant. There has been much lobbying ahead of these votes, for example all the Fulcrum website highlighted articles are pro-Covenant pieces. The context is a large gap between the noes and the yesses so far by synods, although the actually votes within each synod have been very close.

Rather than focus on the arguments about innovation and processing disagreement at the international recommending centre, it would be longer term to look at some of the consequences regarding these various campaigning perspectives.

General Christian sections I identify in the mainstream Church are Conversionist, consisting of charismatic, fundamentalist and evangelical parts; traditionalisms for which there is at least one per denomination and often more - Catholic and Reformed in the Church of England; orthodox liberal, which are those who affirm a realist incarnation and resurrection via various theologies, and heterodox liberal, by those who are theists, exemplarists and spiritualists (mainly multi-faith) and none of these as open non-realist or secular. The middle people were the orthodox liberal, and they were the main theologians and managers. Such has been my model for a long time, but it suffers from two problems. One is the virtual reality versions of these positions, where there is a Bible (Karl Barth and beyond) or Church derived performance theology, where all is text, narrative and story and there is a kind of orthodoxy of producing. In other words, they are like the non-realists but appear to be something else by force of detail, story or liturgical practice. Like the opposite of vampires, you see them in the mirror but not alongside. The historical religion becomes mythic and appears only when regenerated. The second problem with the scheme is the warping of the triangle: the current bending across of the more moderate evangelical side of Conversionism into more of the centre with some of the orthodox liberal made to appear heterodox - and yet they are still realist affirmers of key doctrines.

In my view the triangle is too large and the fringes will come off - the Catholic traditionalists, many male-only headship traditionalist Protestants, the further out heterodox liberals. You'll still get the mirror or virtual sophisticates as a kind of self and group deception. This would restore the orthodox liberal, but perhaps centres at points where it merges into something else.

The Covenant would be exactly that sort of document that would be promoted by the managerial and bureaucratic, that is the orthodox liberal. But it is a measure of the present time that the collection most pro the document is the open evangelical, that grouping at a point of tug-o'-war division between conservative evangelicals and orthodox liberals on to other liberals. In other words, with the traditionalist Catholics gone, there is a pole to pole positioning where these folks have taken on the 'whole Church' managerial ethos. And you see it in how they uphold the document, think ealtively little of the gays and lesbians sidelined to do it (it is a necessary consequence) and uphold the Archbishop of Canterbury as supreme bureaucrat. They - people with grand schemes in their heads - refer to 'important people' in the Communion and to its structures as if a Church.

Incidentally I regard the Archbishop of Canterbury as one of these virtual sophisticates. When he still in Wales, he was tracked at Sea of Faith as a postmodernist bishop, but of course he does his act by such narrative detail that you think he is orthodox, and indeed by expression he is orthodox. But look when he gets into social plurality or argues from other faith texts and you see the method elsewhere. What is disappointing is the later resultant ethical non-content: it can go from being on the minority at Lambeth 1998 1:10 to suddenly, in the job, of its greatest upholder, of pushing the bureaucratic ethos for all it is worth. The ethic is not self-sacrifice, but sacrifice of the other for the institution. The ecclesiastical Catholicism takes over: the virtuality (that was once easy on the virgin birth, but suddenly becomes affirmed) turns into something more and more hierarchical and institutional. But he will ask you what story you live by, as if everyone ought to live by a story; that's the giveaway, but in this case it has come at a high ethical and bureaucratic price.

That the orthodox liberals have been pushed out over the last forty years may be why this has been the main direction of resistance to the Covenant, though some of these are also heterodox (for example, to the extent that Diarmaid MacCulloch is still Anglican he is heterodox by rceent self-declaration). Liberals, quiet in the background but persistent have seen the need to campaign. In other words, there is a real fear that the impact of this international process mechanism will become the critical marginalisation of the liberal grouping that has been pushed off centre and towards its more heterodox neighbours.

The liberal groupings have a characteristic that they get 'defeated' in terms of what they can state and do as representative of Christianity, but that they tend to stick around regardless. Over time they nudge the faith expression their way. But this hit a point in the late 1970s when this process halted and only now has there become this issue of necessity.
The other context of the Covenant is the Conversionists and traditionalist Protestants. They have more of a propensity to leave, but what some have done is formed parallel structures. They have thus semi-removed themselves, setting up their own bishops to co-ordinate, introducing their own confession documents and fellowships, and thus taking advantage of the Church of England and its reach while taking their ballast and numbers from outside. Consider how Julian Mann, for example, will stay in the Church as others set up parallel protected structures, simply so that they get their access inside the larger body. It is entryism by pre-managed group control into the bigger body. Other evangelicals want to be more fully 'inside' but are rather unhappy.

The liberals stick around simply because the more numerous conversionists have this tendency to self-defeat. They split themselves, they back the wrong policy, or squabble. At present there is the conservative-open division, but there is even a division at the conservative end between entryist and in-properly. Plus the biblical fundamentalist has many a problem with the charismatic and both these individualists with the more socially inclined evangelical - the latter having become the more bureaucratic in recent times.

The Covenant is a document riddled with internal compromise that renders it still capable of bureaucratic conservation by process and yet has not the force of evangelical doctrine or written dictat. Another group did that, and thus the Conversionist wing is divided. Instead of being pro-Covenant and one with teeth, there is ambiguity among many conversionists and traditionalist Protestants given a view that a different strategy is needed (or just get out).

On Super Saturday a motion is going around that would be an alternative to a yes vote to a Covenant. In fact it is like a compromise, as if a no vote but would like to pat the Archbishop on the back and ask bishops to investigate how to help make the Communion more of a communion. Such a motion might itself assist the no vote by producing an 'alternative' where anti and pro Covenant could come back together again.

But I doubt this is going to be the outcome of a no vote, if such happens. The newer, evangelical bureaucrats, will be furious. Their new role has been critically undermined, and they will be depressed and frustrated and that will power their anger. There will be the perceived need to grasp more levers of power: most recent appointments to Salisbury and St Pauls in London suggest a need to get a stronger grip.

Liberals will open the champagne, because as well as a vote for diversity it will show that they still have the connection between their theological and ecclesiological position and the broader Church through the parishes: the moderate English. It will show that the Church of England is indeed a Western Church like the Americans, Canadians, most of Australian and New Zealand, and can at least progress: there will still be room for the spirit of change despite the last forty years.

Their longer term fate though will depend on what the conversionists and traditionalist Protestants do, and how much they can regather their identity or whether they continue to fracture. The crystal ball isn't really needed: they look like fracturing simply because one tendency will assert the need to hold the bureaucracy more and the other will assert the need for full-on entryism, with the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, international oversight, own raising, training and appointment of ministers, and money going down their own channels. This will undoubtedly happen assisted by female ordination of bishops: and there might be a blowback on this action too.

As for the current Archbishop, he ought to announce his resignation as soon as the vote is lost (later on, not from this Super Saturday). I don't want to be charitable at this point: so it is one thing to understand how a person made into an official starts to make compromises, but quite another to turn around completely and do so with apparent consistent enthusiasm. Despite appearances of ethics with theology at a good interfaith lecture, he has treated Anglicans out of step with quite a different ethos. The man who smiles at others gets angry with his own denomination. Much of that anger, displayed in meetings, is probably self-anger too and such a situation is in need of release. But whereas a former Archbishop like George Carey can feel liberated out of office and become a fully obnoxious conversionist Christian on to other people, Rowan Williams will always be broken by the fact that if his theology returns to his pre-job ethical and intellectual content, no one will believe him or will at least ask why he could stand so enthusiastically otherwise when it mattered. It isn't just about a reluctant turncoat, but a turncoat that kicked the other and kept doing it. That is the tragedy. No doubt others will be kinder and be so faster, but don't make it look false.

One reason why it took some so long to oppose the Covenant was because of deference to an apparently real Rowan Williams, but in the end the savings bank became exhausted. I wonder if the vituality of the theology is the reason for the ease or at least persistence of turnaround.

The Covenant has and will therefore have a divisive effect even by its removal, should it be removed. But its removal will be at least the anger of withdrawal, and then it is gone, whereas the effect of having it will be all the greater in its formalising of conservation and division and of lacking consensus when the authorities grabbed what was strained through. Its divisive effect will go on and on.

For at present, the votes in dioceses are so close and divided that all six could vote in favour, all six against or anything in between. It is almost a random outcome. The tipping point is in each clergy and laity house in each synod, by the narrowest of margins: truly a definition of chaos [theory] as understood, and hardly the basis to decide to adopt something new.

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