Epater les Bourgeois

I’ve just had an epiphany.

Two news items (on the CaNN London 2003 website and Virtuosity) have helped to clarify in my mind something that has been swirling in my unconscious as I have pondered how it is that both sides in the current debate within ECUSA can go on talking past each other.

The first is the news from North Dakota that two priests who had been previously granted the right to vote in diocesan convention had that right taken away surreptitiously by the Standing Committee. The alleged reason was because part of their cures included parishes in Canada. The real reason was that they represented conservative votes in the upcoming episcopal election.

The second is the posting on the AAC website listing all the consequences (thus far) of the consecration of Gene Robinson and granting “local option” for same-sex “unions.” This list includes all the ecumenical conversations that have been terminated, the provinces of the Anglican Communion that have severed communion with ECUSA, etc.

The problem with the second news item—the AAC’s list—is that it assumes that proponents of “I AM Gene,” etc., are bothered by this. However, for many in ECUSA, that so many people and churches are outraged by all this is not only not a problem; it’s the GOOD news!

As I have written elsewhere, for many in ECUSA, the transforming moment in the life of the church—even if they are too young to have participated, or were too conflicted at the time—was the civil rights movement, followed closely by the anti-war movement. Being on the cutting edge of change, the sense of comradeship in the face of danger (and at times in those past movements that danger was very real) easily leads (for some anyway) to the belief that this is the model for the church, its raison d’etre, and that challenging social norms is somehow in and of itself a movement of the Spirit. This sense of (self)-righteousness feeds the illusion that those who do this automatically hold the MOHGRO, the moral high ground, and are thus justified in their “prophetic” maneuverings.

What makes all this so damaging, what gives it such a powerful dynamic, is that this sort of thing is self-authenticating. That is, by a kind of twisted logic, as the objections grow louder, the more confident the revisionists are that they must be doing something right.

That is why talk (or hope) of their eventual repentance is (sadly) unlikely—telling them the consequences of their actions only feeds their illusion. At heart, consciously or unconsciously, they are all Spongites. (Many would deny this, but it’s still true.) They genuinely expect to build a “new” Christianity, either gradually from the current structures and liturgy of Anglicanism, or as a phoenix rising from the ashes of a burned Anglican Communion.

Hence, as in the Diocese of North Dakota, they are not, as many accuse them, guilty of being furtive, or sneaky, or underhanded—at least not in their own eyes. The revisionists are not, in fact, power mad ecclesiastics engaged in deception. They are revolutionaries, fortified by the comradeship of the like-minded and actually encouraged when they see the damage they have done listed on the AAC’s website. After all, who cares what the Roman Catholic or Russian Orthodox churches think—they’re all just a bunch of pederasts and anti-semites anyway. Who cares what folks in southern dioceses do? They’re all Republicans anyway. And so on . . .

(I must also admit to a certain amusement at the unhappiness expressed by so many evangelicals over the suspended talks with Rome. Ecumenical conversation with the Roman Catholic Church was not, I think, something they showed much enthusiasm about in the past. Or does anyone suppose that, say, Peter Jensen is in tears because we are no longer “dialoguing” with the Pope?)

Hence this debate is not—or is only in part—a debate about the authority of Scripture. It is, at least in part, about the nature of the church itself, its meaning and purpose. Those who want to rescue Anglicanism in general, and ECUSA in particular, must speak to this issue.

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