[NOTE: I am reposting this article, as it analyzes the divide that we will see played out over the next several days amongst our Worthy Opponents here at the House of Bishops meeting. The question is . . . which part of the divide has the majority amongst the progressives in the House? There will be a number of negotiations over this weekend, as the ideological progressives desire a “full steam ahead” approach—“we’ve already told them where we stand, let’s just say it louder”—and the institutional progressives desire some sort of “compromise reprise of what was offered at GC 2006” in the hopes of salvaging the institution. Of course, the same divide exists amongst the much much smaller traditional wing of the House—but I believe that divide gets far more attention than it probably deserves, especially as even all combined, their numbers are so much smaller.]
For some time now I’ve been pondering something—a sort of structural analysis—that might be fruitful to spell out for readers regarding our Worthy Opponents. To articulate it requires quite a bit of background though, so this is a lengthy article. But I think StandFirm readers will profit from exploring the state of our Worthy Opponents from General Convention onwards to today.
A Look Back At GC2006
It has now been slightly more than a year since so many of us—either virtually or physically—prowled the halls of General Convention 2006 and I think it is instructive to review the past 12 months from a distant perspective.
You may recall the final 24 hours in which our Worthy Opponents—or at least a portion of them—attempted to pass a Spectacularly Opaque Blurry Confusing Open-To-Interpretation Resolution called A161 that, depending on how cloudy the day was, and the angle of your gaze, and the prescription of your lenses was either blurrily and vaguely and somewhat in favor of the Windsor Report’s requests . . . or not.
After that resolution’s dramatic defeat—and by a wide enough margin that indicated that, regardless of the vote by orders, the mind of the house of deputies was quite clearly opposed—the House of Bishops bestirred themselves, introduced a second resolution, riddled their debating chamber with purported violations of Roberts Rules [not uncommon, it seems, for the General Convention], and then marched downstairs to the House of Deputies to set all of the lay and clergy deputies straight. New PB Jefferts Schori, along with Bishop Griswold and various other apparatchiks made their speeches, with Bishop Griswold having previously informed his peers in the House of Bishops that “Hopefully we can maneuver through this in a way that does not make us victims. Frankly of we are not finished by lunch we will have nothing. And frankly if we have nothing we will likely not be invited to lambeth”, and the House of Deputies—despite having no possibility of invitations to Lambeth in their bleak future—approved the resolution, B033.
All of that failed effort aside—[since the actually approved resolution was simply not enough of an assurance for the Communion as a whole]—the General Convention deputies, media, and bloggers staggered home, there to write angry letters to the editor and parish newsletter articles, denouncing the various factions that they had observed at the Convention—as if, somehow, there had never been factions at prior conventions.
A Brief Structural Analysis of US
Since that convention, much has been made over the divide between the “Federal” Conservatives and the “Communion” Conservatives. Federal Conservatives are able to conceive of a unified, orthodox Anglican entity without being a formal part of the Anglican Communion [although they certainly do not reject participation in certain individual provinces of that communion]. Communion Conservatives prefer to organize around the Communion, first, and have little hope that a unified, orthodox Anglican entity could survive outside of that “center that holds”. There is even a third category of “Conservative” that I will here name an “Institutional Conservative”—with the institution that is thought worth preserving being the Episcopal church. Institutional Conservatives grant that the Episcopal church has slipped into radical heresy of first order theology—but believe that time is on the side of Conservatives. They might be called by my former category description of “Trusting Conservatives” but whatever the name, that is how I break down the conservative side.
In the middle, of course, are the uninformed, parochial, and often oblivious “Beloved Moderates”—still some of them limping along, hoping that things will work out if they are just quiet enough and oblivious enough.
Much has been made of those divisions—and indeed they exist. But progressives have made several immense errors with regard to the importance of the differences between Federal and Communion conservatives, in particular. First, there is the “values and personality” difference between progressives and traditionalists that revisionists simply cannot comprehend and which causes them to seriously misread the divisions amongst traditionalists. There simply does not appear to be as much love of debate over ideas amongst revisionists. I suspect that in part this is due to their basic attitude towards theology, which seems to be “whatever”, except when coupled with their desire to co-opt what they can of the tradition to serve their own goals of dismantling any authority structures other than their own. But argument about ideas—rather than a public exploration of one’s Deep Wounded Places and Feelings—does not appear to be a real pleasure for progressives.
It is, however, an immense pleasure for traditionalists—in fact, it is one of our private hobbies.
The game of politics is a hobby for many progressives. The game of argument over ideas is a hobby for many traditionalists.
Furthermore, when Federal and Communion conservatives debate over their important differences, both sides still acknowledge the other as believing the same gospel, overall . . . which, in fact, is the reason why the debate can take place at all.
The reason why there is so little real debate between traditionalists and progressives—other than that progressives don’t enjoy such debate—is because both sides recognize that the other does not believe in the same gospel—and thus does not begin with the same words, definitions, key assumptions, foundational principles, values, goals, or pretty much anything that makes meaningful debate possible.
The progressives further mistake the arguments between Federals and Communions as deep division over First Things, when in fact they are not. This is in part our own fault, due to the intensity, verbosity, and number of public debates that we have. But the truth is, we share the same gospel, the same essential Anglican ethos, and the same foundational theology. The truth is that, if there were a communion solution that satisfied the need for boundaries and discipline, both Federal and Communion conservatives who are in ECUSA would happily settle down together in the common mission of the gospel, despite what many progressive activists prefer to predict and may even believe.
I am reminded of my conversations with my fellow politically conservative friends over supper, coffee, and television. One would think by the raised voices, stabbing fingers, slitted eyes, volumes of words, and intense glares, that we were mortal enemies. Instead, we are indulging in light verbal swordplay, and learning by guaging our own arguments against another whom we respect. And I know and they know that all of us want a limited state power, freedom for the individual, an established rule of law and private property, and economic freedom of trade. In short, we have a common value system that allows for spirited and substantive debate. And . . . moments after we’ve closed debate, my friend buys my meal, we drive away in the same car together, and go hiking, free as birds and full of spirited fun.
I can assure you that the same can be said for my debates with my various Anglican traditional friends—same raised voices, stabbing fingers, slitted eyes, volumes of words, and intense glares . . . . same suppers, laughter, shared rides, and common foundational principles.
All of the above being said, I did not begin this article with the objective of writing about our own divisions—divisions over which much ink has been spilt by our side, and much hopeful fantasizing has been accomplished by the other side.
No, what I want to point out is one central fact that nobody that I know has written about yet. And it points to the beginning of the structural analysis of our Worthy Opponents over the past 12 months.
The One Thing So Many Of Us Have Missed
Here is the Main “Clew” that points us in the right direction. Mark it well.
Since the Windsor resolution skirmishes of General Convention, there has not been one fudgy, oblique, vague, confusing resolution, pronouncement, or letter from our national leadership bodies—Executive Council or the House of Bishops, not to mention the interviews of the HOD president or the Presiding Bishop—that has reached the public eye.
No, far from fudge, the House of Bishops stamped on the last communique from the Primates and ground it into a fine powder. The Executive Council has done the same. The letters from Jefferts Schori’s chancellor, from the President of the House of Deputies—all crystal clear screams of defiance.
A Flying Tour Around the ECUSA of the Past Year
Let me just demonstrate with a few choice examples from the past 12 months of non-fudginess.
There is Bonnie Anderson’s [President of the House of Deputies] letter to the Panel of Reference in response to their Fort Worth decision:
“I respectfully request that the panel acknowledge that lack of full understanding of the polity of The Episcopal Church may have resulted in recommendations by the panel that would be antithetical to our polity and therefore not appropriate.
I further request that future bodies charged to make recommendations to the Archbishop of Canterbury on any topics that have to do directly with a particular province of the Anglican Communion, have adequate representation from the province directly affected by the recommendations of the panel. I would also ask for clarification of the process by which submissions to the panel of reference are investigated and researched.
While understanding the difficult work and honorable intent of the panel, I pray that the Archbishop of Canterbury will understand that the recommendations made by the panel are incongruent with Episcopal Church polity and therefore inappropriate for implementation.”
Then, there is this letter from the Bishop of Bethlehem, to his peers in the House of Bishops, about the Archbishop of Canterbury:
“All of this said, it seems necessary to report my perception that the nadir in Rowan’s overall relationship to the US, Canada and perhaps South Africa has been the appointment of a virtual lynch mob to draft the Covenant that will by all reports attempt turn a fellowship into a curial bureaucracy in which the worst elements of the great and oppressive Colonizer and of the Resentful Colonized will as meet as a scissors to the denigration of significant number of God’s people who were almost equal in Christ for one brief shining moment. Are North America, South Africa and many other parts of the Communion (not to mention “much cattle”) of such little value in the grand scheme? Does anyone think that the COE itself will not split if a continent and a half are among those permitted to be set adrift?
So we must always talk about him, not to or with him. Like so many of you, I have been disheartened by the succession of “second gentlemen” from the COE who have addressed our House in Rowan’s stead while over-insisting that that they were not at all doing so. No bishop of the left, right, or center, was taken in, and our colleague from Missouri pointed this out on one occasion with deft words that the Sage of Hannibal, MO, himself would envy. Even our steadfastly bucolic local papers here in rustic Pennsylvania would not be deceived by such over-wrought protestations of mere coincidence or fortuitous invitation. By these speakers, one of whom just happened to have a specific list of a dozen or so things we had to do, all but the most anxious of us have been inevitably alienated. How can it help bonds of affection for Communion leadership to so overtly and maladroitly play us for chumps? There is a kind of contempt for our intellect there whose sting almost matches the pain of the overall strategy of isolation.
Having now had three successive messages delivered to us by what some UK friends describe as “fully accredited members of the British Olympic Patronizing Team,” I take this (perhaps not entirely welcome to her) opportunity to thank Katharine for her outstanding integrity and clarity of focus since her election, and accordingly to urge her that no foreign bishop whatsoever be given the privilege of addressing the House of Bishops of this Church until the ABC can personally enter this country and speak to the House himself and deign to entertain the level of frank questioning that his counterpart the Prime Minister might have to endure among those he leads and serves. We all do get cable news and know what the wonderful British tradition of questioning in the house can helpfully add to common life.”
Setting aside the swollen, verbose pretentiousness of the prose, I sense little vagueness in that letter.
“Several persons have told me recently that they believe that your diocese, within the past few or several years, has amended its Constitution in some way that can be read as cutting against an “unqualified accession” to the Constitution and canons of the Episcopal Church. First of all, could you please send me a copy of your Constitution so that I can have first-hand knowledge on this score.
Second, if your diocese has indeed adopted such an amendment, then, on behalf of the Presiding Bishop, I want to express the hope that your diocese will promptly begin the process of amending its Constitution to declare clearly an “unqualified accession” as Article V of the Church’s Constitution plainly requires. If your diocese should decline to take that step, the Presiding Bishop will have to consider what sort of action she must take in order to bring your diocese into compliance.”
There is the interesting decision by the Diocese of Virginia not to negotiate agreements regarding property, as had been its stated intention in earlier years:
“Hopes for a peaceful settlement between the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia and nine breakaway congregations suffered a blow yesterday when the diocese announced it would not renew a mutual promise to avoid litigation over property.
Attorneys for the two sides have met once since the majority of members at the nine congregations voted last month to leave the Episcopal Church, which they think has strayed seriously from Scripture on such issues as homosexuality and the role of Jesus in salvation. Both sides had also agreed after the votes to honor a 30-day “standstill” period for discussions, during which no one would initiate a lawsuit.
The standstill would have automatically renewed for another 30 days if neither party opted not to renew.”
There is this courteous letter from the Bishop of Maryland, Robert Ihloff:
“It is with sadness that I need to rescind my invitation to you to be with us in late March into early April, 2007. Yesterday I learned you were one of seven primates who have boycotted the Eucharist at the Primates Meeting in Dar es Salaam, and +Peter Akinola’s statement on behalf of the seven of you is in all the newspapers. I have received a number of emails from clergy in this Diocese expressing their disapproval of your action. The Diocesan Council met today and agrees that you cannot be welcomed in Maryland under the circumstances. For my own part, I am disappointed you would use the Holy Sacrament of our Lord’s Body and Blood as a political tool—I had assumed you sacramental theology was more thoroughly Anglican. Mostly I am sorry after so many years to end our personal relationship on this note.
It is obvious to everyone here that it would now be completely inappropriate for you to celebrate the Eucharist at our Cathedral on Palm Sunday. Surely, many parishioners would protest you visit by not receiving Communion from you. Since I do not allow such behavior in this Diocese, I cannot encourage it by your presence. Clearly it would be inappropriate for you to preach Tuesday in Holy Week to a combined group of Lutheran and Episcopal clergy, since you do not even share Communion with other Anglicans. Finally, it is sadly clear to Nancy and me that your presence at my retirement celebration is out of order as well.”
Then, there is this communication from the Bishop of Florida, John Howard, regarding the Panel of Reference decision concerning his diocese:
“Until Fr. Lebhar and his parishioners are willing to be in communion with the Diocese of Florida and The Episcopal Church, they remain by their own choice outside the Church and we see no point at this time in discussing further implementation of the panel’s recommendation.”
We have so many other actions, letters, resolutions, and statements—too many to choose from, in fact.
We have the fulminations—now weekly and too many to count—against Archbishop Akinola. We have the denial of consent by numerous Standing Committees—for the first time in 70 years—of an overwhelmingly elected bishop of South Carolina, due entirely to his orthodox theology and resistance to the agenda of the national leadership of our church. Rounding third base in our breezy tour of the past year, we have this communication by way of a Mind of the House resolution from the House of Bishops to the Primates:
“Resolved, the House of Bishops believes the proposed Pastoral Scheme of the Dar es Salaam Communiqué of February 19, 2007 would be injurious to The Episcopal Church and urges that the Executive Council decline to participate in it;”
In addition, the meeting of the House of Bishops produced this somewhat grandiose, and again, rhetorically swollen statement, from which it is fruitful—just as a reminder—to quote several passages.
There is this one:
“We have no intention of choosing to withdraw from our commitments, our relationships, or our own recognition of our full communion with the See of Canterbury or any of the other constituent members of the Anglican Communion.
And this one:
“Other Anglican bishops, indeed including some Primates, have violated our provincial boundaries and caused great suffering and contributed immeasurably to our difficulties in solving our problems and in attempting to communicate for ourselves with our Anglican brothers and sisters. . . The Dar es Salaam Communiqué affirms the principle that boundary violations are impermissible, but then sets conditions for ending those violations, conditions that are simply impossible for us to meet without calling a special meeting of our General Convention.”
And this one:
“And, contrary to the way the Anglican Communion Network and the American Anglican Council have represented us, we proclaim a Gospel that welcomes diversity of thought and encourages free and open theological debate as a way of seeking God’s truth. If that means that others reject us and communion with us, as some have already done, we must with great regret and sorrow accept their decision.”
And this one:
“With great hope that we will continue to be welcome in the councils of the family of Churches we know as the Anglican Communion, we believe that to participate in the Primates’ Pastoral scheme would be injurious to The Episcopal Church for many reasons.”
The last echoes of verbosity had barely died away when we were treated to the Executive Council’s meeting—and its communication:
“We have received from the House of Bishops of our Church a request to decline to participate in the proposed Pastoral Scheme; with an explanation for the reasons our bishops believe that the scheme is ill-advised. We agree with the bishops’ assessment including the conclusion that to participate in the scheme would violate our Constitution and Canons. We thus decline to participate in the Pastoral Scheme and respectfully ask our Presiding Bishop not to take any of the actions asked of her by this scheme.”
The previous section of this essay has been a flying trip around the events of the past year, and I think it is fairly safe to say that, with each passing individual bishop’s, council’s, HOB meeting’s, and chancellor’s statements and resolutions, any fears of fudginess are now lessening by the day. There is little doubt that a radical shift in tone, rhetoric, and action has taken place in the 12 months since General Convention’s last gasp at vague institutionally-safe rhetoric.
The question is . . . what does this massive shift mean? And why did it occur so dramatically and suddenly?
I have some ideas on that.
The Categories of Worthy Opponents and How They’ve Evolved—Church Demographics
First of all, just a bit about church demographics, set in a broader context. We live in what is overall a conservative country, with the vast majority of the Christian religion residing in the Assemblies of God and the Southern Baptist denominations. By conservative I mean, for now, people who hold traditional values around the nature of the family, sexual morality, and hosts of other values. We know this using many qualitative and amusing measures [not merely intuitively] including the popularity of NASCAR, the rise of alternative media in cable, radio, and cyberspace despite the state’s support of NPR, the plummeting measures of support for abortion, the overwhelming popular support for marriage amendments in states, and the attempted co-option of the rhetoric of the “values conservatives” by liberals [and here again, I am not speaking of political parties here]. Once a conservative term is shown to be mightily descriptive of the desires of most Americansm, progressives of all sorts attempt to use that term, while at the same time evacuating it of its original meaning. The term “family values” is of course Exhibit A.
Set in this context is the Episcopal church. To its left are the MCC and the Unitarian churches. To its right are, frankly, all other Christian churches. So the challenge for the leadership of the Episcopal church is to scoop up 1) all ardent progressives with 2) the faintest interest in a Christianese religion, 3) and some attraction towards formal liturgy.
That is not, in the US, a very large demographic pool from which to grow.
The end result of this “target market” of vaguely religious, somewhat liturgically interested progressives is some fairly nice-sized [by Episcopal standards anyway] churches in large urban west-coast or New England regions.
This is compounded by the fact that, shockingly, most Christians are far far far far to the conservative end of the radical progressivism that is now leading the Episcopal church. So we have, oddly, a small crew of radical progressives at the helm, attempting to lead a church institution whose main religious attraction is amongst conservatives.
We know also something else about the Episcopal church. We know that most of the laypeople are moderately traditional to quite traditional, save of course in those large urban west-coast and New England states. This is born out in many ways, from the size of the Plano conferences to [ahem] the size of the “National Gathering of The Episcopal Majority”, from the blog traffic of, oh, say T19 to that of Episcopal Cafe or Father Jake Stops the World.
It is born out by the interesting size of the largest progressive lobbying group in ECUSA—Integrity, which according to Louie Crew had about 1200 members and chapters in 1984, 2500 members and 75 chapters [Note: a chapter must have at least 10 Integrity members] in 1994, and today has about 55 chapters and about 2000 members. Of those chapters, five are in California, two in the state of Washington, three in Colorado [yes, that’s three chapters in one diocese], three in Texas, three in Ohio, and four in Florida [and three of those four are in the Diocese of SE Florida]. I don’t take all that seriously the fluctuating numbers—but, essentially, this is the pool of progressive activists built up in the Episcopal church over the past 34 years. That’s . . . 34 years.
It is born out when one notices a very strange fact—that whether one is referring to Claiming the Blessing, Oasis, Every Voice Network, Via Media, Integrity, Episcopal Women’s Caucus, or the Episcopal Majority . . . it’s always the same 300 Episcopalians rotated about from organization to organization.
And of course, there is the Kirk Hadaway research from the research office of our national Episcopal church. About 8% of the surveyed Episcopal parishes self-reported that a majority of their members are “predominantly liberal”, 18%—more than double—of the parishes self-reported that a majority of their members are “predominantly conservative”. The numbers “toward the middle” are closer. 22% of parishes reported that the majority of their members were “somewhat liberal”, and 25% that the majority of their members were “somewhat conservative”. In the famed “middle” were 27% of the parishes.
This bears out my general surmise, based on observation, travel, anecdote, and smatterings of quantitative research like the Hadaway reports. My suspicion is that some 10% of Episcopalians are “madly progressive”, and some 20% of Episcopalians are “wildly traditional” [like me]. The rest spread out over the spectrum. When adding together the somewhat and predominantly conservative parishes in the Hadaway research, we reach a number of 43%, and for the somewhat and predominantly liberal we reach 30%.
Even if—by some quantitative survey of every active member of ECUSA—my surmise on the actual numbers in ECUSA were proven to be true, however, that is essentially meaningless in terms of political power. Recall that I pointed out that the same 300 progressive leaders rotated about from liberal organization to liberal organization. It should be deeply convicting to reasserting Episcopalians for me to point out that those 300 leaders are essentially found on Executive Council, on the various national church commissions, on Provincial councils, on diocesan Standing Committees, as clergy of the church, and yes, as bishops of the church. As the StandFirm webmaster pointed out to me recently, the progressives in the Episcopal church don’t need even moderate-sized numbers of supporters—they own the political levers of change at almost all levels save the parish level. From a business point of view, in the game of “politics”, the progressive activists in our church were “first to market”—and as we all know through the QWERTY keyboard and Microsoft operating systems, being first to market doesn’t necessarily mean you’re better—it just means you were first.
That pool of 10% of the church—vastly outnumbered by conservative pew sitters—is running the church through the national levers of power.
Thus when we return to view the highest legislative body of the national church through this demographic lens, we see that the actual “conservatives”—in terms of Hadaway’s research the “somewhat” and “predominantly” conservative—represent no more than 20% of the deputies. The rest of the deputies, dear readers, represent the somewhat and predominantly liberal. That would be . . . 80%. [Note: I throw the poor “middle” into the “conservative” side, for the purposes of describing General Convention.]
The Categories of Worthy Opponents—The Real Divide
Now we come to the most fascinating part, I believe, of this analysis. For all the talk about the divide between 1) Traditionalists and Progressives [really a given now] and 2) Federal Conservatives and Communion Conservatives, the really interesting divide is that which we find now mainfesting itself amongst our Worthy Opponents, the progressives.
For the progressive segment of the church is now quite divided as to strategy. In fact, my suspicion is that they have always been so divided, but only in the past four years has that division actually led to real and dire consequences for the two liberal sides.
I will call those two sides the “ideological progressives” and the “institutional progressives.” By idealogical progressives I mean the “full speed ahead on our inclusive agenda, and damn the torpedoes” progressives. These are the folks that have fought their hearts out, scrapped and clawed and screamed and emoted their way to power—and now that they seemingly have victory in their grasp, they sure as the dickens do not intend to hold back.
By “institutional progressives” I mean the “let’s drop anchor and hope they all fall asleep” progressives. They firmly believe in all the usual progressive ideas about the scripture, authority, sexuality, the nature of Jesus, the resurrection, and Karl Marx. But they have spent a whole lot of time and energy announcing that they were moderates, obscuring their real beliefs, speaking in euphemisms, and carefully climbing the corporate ecclesial ladder. They are the pragmatists—the ones that are uneasily aware that their capital campaigns are in danger, and that the pew numbers are not, in fact, “on their side”. The strategy is to only move slowly and quietly and stealthily, so as not to startle or frighten the conservatives and the moderates in the pews.
When confronted with parishioner and economic losses, the ideological progressive will say “good enough for ‘em,” “quality not quantity”, and “we need the pure gospel”. I have always said that, so great is their ideology that they would be more than willing to have a diocese of 100—just so long as that 100 were Really Really Really Inclusive.
But for the institutional progressive, the losses are much much more serious. There is a loss of prestige [important to institutionalists], the chaos, the media, the phone calls, and of course . . . the money. But let’s not make out that the institutionalists are entirely self-serving and shallow. The institutional progressives recognize something central to implementation of revolution and that is . . . the institution carries the innovation.
Without the institution, the innovation receives neither prestige, nor societal approval, nor stability.
The parasite of an idea—one that is innately destructive and non-creative and de-stabilizing—always needs a host, a constructive, creative, stable host.
In the past, it was the “institutional progressives” that held the levers of power at the national and even diocesan levels. That meant that they could “go slow”, be very very quiet, and essentially core out the host from the inside without the host recognizing it.
But something happened at GC 2006 . . . something that led to some of the first displays of rage and fury and denunciation on the part of the institutionalists. It was at that convention that, slowly and steadily, as day by day marched on, they recognized that they no longer owned the convention.
The Categories of Worthy Opponents—How They’ve Evolved
In the old days, a mere 10 years ago, in fact, the Bishop Lee’s of this world—institutional progressives—could arrive at convention confident in their holding at least 50-60% of the deputies. The “conservatives” might be 30% and the ideological progressives might be the remaining 30%. Note that the conservatives were still outnumbered, for the ratio was 70/30 [and also note that my estimate is born out by Louie Crew’s “Changing the Church” when he says this about the 1994 convention: “Deputies arrived knowing that of those who had actively studied the issue, “Seventy per cent indicate that being sexually active as a gay or lesbian person is not contrary to being a faithful Christian.”] But the institutional progressives could count on their owning half the deputies at least, with some occasional help from hapless conservatives, and some occasional help from frustrated ideological progressives.
But this convention was different. For one thing, the “somewhat” and “predominantly” conservatives were at no more than 20%. The ideological progressives were at least 40% and probably closer to 45%, and the institutional progressives held whatever was left, perhaps the remaining 40% to 35%.
The difference between the makeup of the highest legislative body of the church—and the “average” parish—could not be more stark and compelling. I’ve always said that if a “moderate” Episcopalian—one firmly convinced that “this will all blow over if I just keep quiet”—were to ever go spend 10 lovely days at General Convention they would leave truly shocked at how little representative of their concerns the average deputy is. When this is pointed out, of course, the “average deputy” will trumpet that they are not supposed to “represent” anybody but themselves—and this fact certainly shows in the end product of General Convention!
The Living Church said much the same thing in their analysis of the number of conservatives at General Convention:
“In Columbus, one could get the impression that division already exists. For example, while the “official” convention Eucharist-Bible study took place each morning in the Columbus Convention Center, attended by perhaps 700-800, Forward in Faith North America (FIFNA), joined by members of the American Anglican Council and the Anglican Communion Network, held their own Eucharist in the Nationwide Arena a couple of blocks away. It was possible to tell which “side” deputies, visitors and exhibitors were on, for badges distributed by various organizations were affixed to the identification worn around their necks. While some convention participants gave no clue to their sentiments, many were proud to proclaim which side they were on.
The clearest illustrations of the sharp division among Episcopalians can be found in the legislative houses. While I was thankfully tucked away in the exhibit hall, out of the lines of fire in the houses of deputies and bishops, I was able to read what they said during legislative sessions and hearings, and found that their testimonies, proposals, resolutions and suggestions couldn’t be much farther apart. My estimation was about 75 percent of those in Columbus favored the status quo of The Episcopal Church, and about 25 percent prefer a more conservative approach.
But at any rate, the word “outnumbered” now also applied to the institutional progressives as well, and frankly, they were run ragged, and had little plan or response to the well-run machine that was the ideological progressive side.
My analysis is supported by numerous reports from all sides at convention. You have but to read the live blogs of various committee meetings to “hear” how vastly outnumbered the conservatives were. Leander Harding said it quite well:
“Gene Robinson and Louie Crew are centrists in terms of the spectrum of opinion represented in the General Convention. This was my greatest surprise. I want to be careful here. I am not saying that the center of opinion of the Episcopal Church taken as a whole is represented by these leaders of theological revision but they to my observation represent the center of the 75th General Convention. I was stunned to see just how small the orthodox and traditionalist element is at this national level and how radicalized the national leadership is in both houses of the convention.
5. There is a tremendous distance between the sentiment in the General Convention and any parish that I have ever served. The most liberal person in any parish I have ever served would have heard things at the convention that would have astonished them. What is thought liberal in most parishes is centrist and conservative by GC standards.”
The Categories of Worthy Opponents—How the Institutional Progressives Responded to their New Minority Status
I truly believe that, at least in part, the shattering experience at General Convention for institutional progressives led to the immense amount of “aftermath frustration” by these same people upon their return to their home dioceses. They had experienced a convention that they knew in their hearts was “an institutional disaster”, devastatingly portrayed in the media, and internationally exhibitionistic to observers. All of the bizarre mannerisms and dysfunction of the Episcopal church were paraded on display. A161—the “institutional resolution” par excellence, that was meant to confuse and fuddle the concerned watchers—failed. The Presiding Bishop election did not go as planned—and make no mistake, friends, Bishop Parsley was the “designated heir apparent” that would offer a “traditional face” to the world, and an iron boot to the actual traditionalists, the Ultimate Fudge presented to a grateful Anglican world—because the most progressive “minority sop” nominee was actually elected.
Frustrated and confused, they arrived home to well-informed dioceses and—unable to recognize that they had been outnumbered by those who were their brother and sister progressives—they issued scathing blame to the pathetic minority conservative contingent for all their troubles.
My own take, for instance, on Bishop Lee’s actions over the past year are in part explained—or at least initiated—by the disaster that was GC 2006. I suspect that Bishop Lee was used to being the “moderate” and “the negotiator”—and fancied himself the Great Middle. And I think he got a real shock, oddly enough, at GC 2006. He suddenly found that no longer could “the middle” get their way. I think he came home and then had to deal with the catastrophe of his underestimation of the force of the 19 parishes in Virginia. Whereas before GC2006, he may have thought that, when push came to shove, two or three would “walk” and he could perhaps negotiate with them, now post-GC2006 when it came down to it, the power of that coalition was immense, and he was bowled over by it. And I think this really got to him. For three years he’d been thinking that he was going to sweet talk the radicals into caving for “the middle way”—which of course is HIS way, since he’s “The Great Moderate”.
The recognition that the institutional progressives were no longer in power at convention and in fact were “The Shrinking Middle”, 815’s horning in, wounded pride, peer pressure, and real practical necessities led him to say “I’ll throw the book at them . . .”
But I could be wrong about Bishop Lee—thankfully there are plenty of other examples.
There were, for instance, the Presiding Bishop Election Explanations, for instance, from the institutional progressives.
They were caught between a rock and a hard place on the new Presiding Bishop. On the one hand they had to proclaim the “extraordinary giftedness” of their beloved and wonderful and perfect and did-we-say-gifted-yet Presiding Bishop . . . but at the same time they had to say that this wonderful gift of a new Radically Progressive Presiding Bishop had come about through . . . a shadowy cabal of Scheming Radical Conservative Bishops.
It was a hard sell, mainly because it was hard to so extol her to the stars, while at the same time blaming the conservatives for the disaster. But try they did.
I analysed the winning “fifth ballot” in an article soon afterwards—even had all those NOT voting for Bishop Parsley on that final ballot, eleven bishops in all, voted for BIshop Parsley, he still would not have won. The final vote then would have been the winning-95, to 93. And let’s face it, folks—I can’t imagine any one of the Network bishops ever dreaming of voting for Bishop Parsley.
As I stated in my article:
“We are left with perhaps three or four retired bishops who may have voted for Bishop Schori—but the fact still remains that their votes were not enough to surmount the 13 vote difference between Bishop Parsley and Bishop Schori.
No, the number which voted for Bishop Schori represents, frankly, the number of “progressive” deputies at General Convention. To put it baldly, the progressives—the number of people who agree with Bishop Schori’s theology and actions—are in a majority at General Convention.
Not the “center”. Not the “moderates”. Not the “center aisle”. Not the “via media”.
Those who were the majority at the convention were the radically progressives and the institutional progressives who supported Bishop Schori.
And even if all the “Vastly Conservative Bishops” had voted *with* the “shrinking center”, it would not have been enough to surmount the Progressive majority.
The sooner that the dreaming, shrinking center recognizes that truth about the convention from which they just returned, the more honestly they can deal with the concrete reality of their situation, at least with regards to the national situation.”
Note that the 40-45% of the ideological progressive deputies combined with about 5-10% of the institutional progressives to produce that bare majority vote for Bishop Jefferts Schori. Again, the numbers on that ballot bear out my analysis of the situation at General Convention.
One of the most egregious and bitter slaps at the conservative minority was by erstwhile “moderate” Phil Linder, Dean of Trinity Cathedral in Columbia. Barely had he arrived home when he penned and sent off his impressions of the convention to The State newspaper.
The beginnings of his essay were rather breathless— “I say this as one who was there as a deputy, fighting for her soul, representing the Diocese of Upper South Carolina. And I believe it is the very soul of our great Anglican heritage that is at stake”—this said to a state which holds a truly teensy percentage of Episcopalians and which could not care less about “the very soul of our great Anglican heritage”. But Dean Linder was warming up to what appeared to be his central thesis and that was his bitterness about the “radicals” in the church, which were not only the diocese of Newark, but also the diocese slightly to the south of his, the Diocese of South Carolina.
This is what he said:
“On the floor of the House of Deputies in Columbus, I witnessed the extreme factions of our church — represented in the dioceses of Newark and South Carolina — working from the posture of extreme liberalism and extreme conservatism for the same purpose. I believe that their goal coming into convention was to fracture the Episcopal Church’s place in the Anglican Communion to suit their own objectives, and that breaks my heart. I was stunned to see these two extreme sides actually voting in unison for opposite purposes.
Neither Newark nor South Carolina was interested in coming to what Episcopal priest and former Sen. John Danforth claimed as the “higher calling of reconciliation” and consensus for the greater good of the church.”
For most of the rest of the essay he flits about aimlessly—[for the main point of it seems to have been to cast blame at the “radicals” for ruining the progressive institutionalist’s convention]—casting about for a thesis beyond his blame of the radicals, and of course, pleasing a varied cathedral constituency. He reveals that, though he is Certainly A Moderate, unsurprisingly, yes he is actually a progressive: ” . . . we believe in the full inclusion of gays, lesbians and women within the life of the Episcopal Church”, standard Integrity-speak for the consecration of non-celibate homosexual bishops, ordination of non-celibate homosexual clergy, and approval and blessing of the unions of non-celibate homosexual relationships.
But have no fear, conservative parishioners! He has a limit, because he is certainly no “radical” like the folks down 30 miles to the south of him in the Diocese of South Carolina, hence he provides this extraordinarily incoherent statement:
” . . . the extreme liberals keep pushing the envelope of human sexuality further. It is now not just about gays and lesbians, it is also about bisexuals and transgender persons. Are they asking the church to argue that God creates people as bisexuals as well as of the incorrect sex”.
In closing, he rounds it off neatly with his “broad triumphant middle” closing, and asks for World Peace:
“The vast majority of bishops, priests and laypersons at the convention came together as the broad middle, in a spirit of reconciliation and hope for this kind of identity and truth found in Anglicanism. And the vast majority believes we have a hope-filled future under the guidance of Presiding Bishop-elect Katharine Jefferts Schori, who is already boldly calling us to dynamic mission in Jesus’ name to a world crying out; a world where dying, hungry children in Africa are concerned about bread and not human sexuality.”
Only thing is . . . there was no “vast majority” of institutional progressives at General Convention. As an “institutional progressive” he was in the minority.
The Present State of the Progressive Divide
If the institutional progressives blamed the conservatives for their embarrassing losses at General Convention, I suspect that after the results from the House of Bishops and the Executive Committee meetings that even they now realize that in these bodies they have been outplayed, outmaneuvered, outflanked, and yes . . . outnumbered.
The truth is . . . Bishop Peter Lee and those like him are now in the minority in the House of Bishops. They are now in the minority in the Executive Council. There are far fewer “fudgers”, far fewer equivocators, far fewer “the middle has found her voice” progressive institutionalists . . . and it shows.
The further truth is that those fudgers who depended on their sheer numbers to pass Slowly-Creeping-Forward-In-Camouflage resolutions and statements are not nearly as organized and networked as the ideological Full-Speed-Ahead progressives . . . and the result is that the vehicle for the innovation—the institutional “host”—is being thoroughly and publicly demolished.
Each and every meeting, the ideological progressives show their . . . unswerving devotion to their cause in feverish and hysterical terms. And, thanks to the Internet, there is no stopping them or controlling them or hiding them.
Each and every day, some different ideological progressive, priests and bishops and laypeople alike, decides to Cast Off The Shackles of The Oppressive Structure and Do Something Really Dramatic and Prophetic—either dramatically and publicly and bizarrely theological, like Ann Holmes Redding announcing that she is an Islamic Anglican. Or dramatically and publicly and bizarrely tacky—like a person claiming to be the Bishop of Bethlehem, Paul Marshall, entering a blog thread and stating this about blogger Brad Drell:
“Your doctor calls it “splitting,” combined with “magical thinking.” Both are diagnoses, whereas strong religious belef is not a diagnosis. The idea that trut is a thing rather than a relationship is one that Jesus rejected. It is of some satisifaction that black-and-white thinking combined with the magical is considered treatable and there are drugs available. Paul Marshall”
And last week, we were treated to the latest in a long line of what appears to be now-standard ideological progressive behavior in the blog post by the President of the Standing Committee and priest of the Diocese of Newark that involved 12 paragraphs about a fellow priest decrying her decision to perform the unspeakable act of bringing four children into the world, including this comment:
“There is one woman, an Episcopal priest married to an Episcopal priest, whose writing sometimes flat out scares the BeJesus out of me.”
And this one:
“She gets lots of support from women who have made similar choices, all giddy with what they describe as Christian love and the Holy Ghost.”
And this one here:
“Well, after reading a few of her entries, I have seriously considered calling the local authorities.”
And with a final flourish, this comment:
“I swear to God, one of these days you are going to read about this woman loading herself and her six kids in her mini van and driving them all into a nearby lake. Or, drowning them, one by one, in the bathtub and then lining their lifeless little bodies in a perfect row on their perfectly made beds in their perfect suburban home.”
Oh I forgot—and this one:
“Let me tell you something: This woman doesn’t title her Blog, “an undercurrent of hostility” for nothing.”
Not content with the original, our ideological progressive decides to apologize, and include in her apology a list of the bad mothering qualities of a fellow priest, along with implied and subtle references to the authorities:
“I need to say to you, however, as gently and lovingly as I can, that there are growing numbers of us, lay and ordained, mostly all in “the helping professions” including psychiatrists and psychologists, doctors and nurses and pediatric nurse practitioners, social workers and those whose speciality is in domestic violence and child protection, who grow increasingly concerned and check in on your blog with some regularity.”
Barely had our ears ceased ringing from the various revised posts and the blast of an apology, just as the echoes had died away from the defenses of three or four supportive fellow idealists, then we are told that it’s been two whole days . . . and . . . “bygones”.
It’s true that the now five whole days that have passed since the verbal assault have allowed additional perspective and objectivity. For this latest blast is simply and neatly slotted into the Yet-Another-Outburst-By-An-Ideological-Progressive category. Although the unfortunate outburst by Ms. Kaeton is very hard on our friends the Kennedy’s, and certainly they need to do all in their power to both stay away and protect themselves from such assaults, in the cold and objective light of day it is nothing more than Business As Usual from the Ideological Progressives.
And folks, if you don’t think there are flocks of institutional progressives out there shaking their heads slowly, rolling their eyes, sending little emails to their allies with the words “you’ll never believe this—check it out”, and especially, doing the famed Episcopal “closed-lips-smile,” be aware. They’re out there, thinking unrepeatable thoughts. They’re out there, opening email and clicking on links, and thinking—to some extent—exactly what Greg thinks, when he opens his email, which is “what fresh hell is this” . . . but then pondering how on earth they can keep it from their people and out of the press.
And every time another Shadwynn, Oakwyse, Bennison [no not that one, the other one], Bauman, Redding, and Kaeton decides to Take Action, Wage Reconciliation, Give an Interview, Write Another Blog Post, or—heaven help them—Apologize For Another Blog Post, an institutional progressive grits his teeth, sets his face, smiles gamely, and studiously ignores the displays.
Every time a parishioner brings it up, he or she says “I don’t read blogs”, and says it a little too loudly. [I should add that one of my friends watched with awe the spectacle of a priest loudly stating that he did not read blogs and thought they were all liars, while defending himself from the words of a blog for 20 minutes in a public and heavily attended gathering]. A little bell rings vigorously, and another Institutional Progressive earns his wings.
This divide is the Divide Worth Watching by those of us who, by virtue of our politically minority status [though happily not a quantitative minority status], are essentially on the sidelines of the arena, observing the conflict with interest.
A Short Guide to What to Expect in the Next Six Months
What should a conservative Episcopalian look for over the next 6 months, as we observe this national spectacle?
1) Look for a Last Gasp Effort by the institutionalist progressives to wrest control away from the ideological progressives. Though they smile gamely, and put on a brave front, you shouldn’t doubt that there is a lot of talk burning up the phone and cyber-waves amongst these folks—especially the bishops.
2) Watch closely the Covenant Response Drafting Group. Knowing what you know about the real divide between the progressives, how would *you* analyze the committee appointments Interesting, is it not, the newly crowned institutional progressives that have been appointed.
3) Expect for some furtive meetings to take place amongst various concerned bishops. Look for them to make a [private] last appeal to a few traditional bishops to help them overcome the now-majority in the HOB.
4) Read the various public appeals, probably being carefully penned even now, that will no doubt be posted for ALL the bishops to please, please, please show up for the September meeting of the House of Bishops. See those appeals with new eyes. Once our slim side arrives, prepare for a whole lot of pressure on them to help with some sort of “reconciling” compromise . . . which being interpreted is “help us, please, not to destroy ourselves”.
5) Know that meltdowns and outbursts from the ideological progressives will continue on apace and probably escalate, through blogs, letters, ugly face-to-face confrontations, and in meetings. Even though they are in charge of the political institutions of the Episcopal church, they remain angry [and no, I’ve no idea why]. And I am convinced that they are not really able to help it anyway. Furthermore, there is nothing that the institutional progressives can do to contain them—they can only ignore it and work to pretend that it does not exist.
6) Don’t rule out the possibility of a last-hurrah of fudginess at the House of Bishops meeting in September. Massive international pressure, the public gaze, looming deadlines, media interest, miserable diocesan budgets, the need-to-wave-a-piece-of-paper-while-getting-off-the-plane . . . it all fondly inclines the heart of an institutionalist progressive towards warm and cuddly actions, like throwing all the sexuality issues in which one firmly believes and on which one has staked one’s gospel under the bus of “let’s take this Much Much Much More Slowly than some of us previously might have had in mind”.
It all inclines the heart of an institutionalist progressive towards the Old Golden Days. Back when my moderate [because of course, I’m the moderate] voice counted for something.
Back when people waited on me to make my move, because when I made my move, people just stood back and voted for it.
Back when none of my people back home could really understand what on earth we had decided. Back when the words of resolutions and statements could mean basically anything and I could say it meant one thing to my clergy, and another to my laity. My goodness, I could even make it mean one thing to one parish and another to another parish.
Back when my, shall we say, less discreet allies could say and do wild things . . . [poor dears, they mean well, but lack the sophistication] . . . and they weren’t blazoned across the cyber-heavens.
Back when there were no bloggers. And especially live blogging of speeches, with full text, rather than ENS snippets.
Back when things were right.