5/25/2005

Getting Straightforward Answers from the Network

Bishop William Swing asked a number of questions of Network Bishops in an essay he wrote for The Witness . To date I have not seen any answer to them, save the answers provided by volunteer sage David Virtue, in his article, “California: Revisionist Bishop Swing Gets Answers About Network , whose post is listed as an “Exclusive.” Virtue does provide some information on some of the questions raised, but of course he has no information at all about others and occasionally simply issues retorts instead of answers. I am not aware that he is a spokesperson for the AAC or the Network.

So, where are the answers to these questions from representatives of the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes?

In particular I am interested in Bishop Swing’s question directed specifically to the Moderator of the Network: “It is stated that Bishop Duncan is on record as promising ‘to wage guerilla warfare on the Episcopal Church.’ Is this true?”

In the light of the Moderator’s comments on the steps of the Connecticut Capital, if the report of the ever present David Virtue is accurate, one wonders the extent to which we are dealing with guerilla warfare using tactics that involve a combination of disinformation and wild overstatement.

The words reported to be spoken by the Moderator are so extreme as to require that we question the reporter’s notes, the Moderator’s sense of judicious care in the use of language, or his sense of personal equilibrium.

David Virtue reported the Moderator to have said the following:

“There are wolves here that are set upon the flock. Does a shepherd come after the sheep? Does a shepherd seek to disable his flock? This too is a counterfeit and those who lead in this war are counterfeiters.”

“They (the Connecticut ‘six’) have struck a note all over the world that this counterfeit religious is being offered.”

“We are here to warn the people of Connecticut of this culture and to say that there is a counterfeit abroad in the land that looks like the real thing but when you try to spend it, it has no currency. It is a counterfeit.”

“of course we are loved by a God who is love and who sets us free, but we have a Holy Spirit that does not want to leave us where we are. Anything else is a counterfeit.”

“We have seen two revolutions – one 200 years ago that ended in blood and destruction. There was another revolution which said there was no King but King Jesus. It is the only liberating thing and it is why we are here. We are hear because of our faith, love and because of King Jesus, and we are here until he calls us home.”

The last two of these statements are forceful and quite attractively available to people on both sides of the issues at hand.

I too believe the Holy Spirit does not want to leave us where we are.

The last of these statements, even with its odd reference to the one revolution that ended in blood and destruction, is compelling. When the Moderator says that there is the revolution that is the “liberating thing” of no King but King Jesus, I remember the challenges to faithful living that in the past made me pay attention to the Moderator’s words.

I too believe with revolutionary fervor that we need throw everything on the Lord Jesus and that such action is a legitimate counter to various forms of cultural conformity.

However, these statements cut both ways: Perhaps the Holy Spirit does not want to leave us where we are – in a nation whose homophobic attitudes feed into the fears of Christian communities to the point where we will not or cannot listen to any reports of holy living in gay and lesbian relationships. Perhaps when we throw everything on the Lord Jesus we might realize our cultural conformities, and those of others in other parts of the world, are all deficient. The Moderator speaks with a clarity on these points that is well taken, howbeit available to those of us who disagree completely with his conclusions.

But the other statements, in so far as they really represent the Moderator’s words, are frighteningly overstated or misinforming. The charge that the religion of the Bishop of Connecticut and of course the Episcopal Church in its official decision making, is counterfeit is a far cry from supporting the six priests who in their own words say, “We are not here to witness against anyone, we are not at the cathedral or diocesan offices, we are not against (bishop) Andrew Smith…” They may not be, but the Moderator certainly is.

Counterfeit: If Bishop Smith is counterfeit, he is counterfeit of what? The Truth in Jesus Christ? If that then Bishop Smith is not the real shepherd, or the representative of the real shepherd, but rather is like the thief, perhaps the evil one, the Devil. That is where these words lead. They don’t say it, they suggest it. They suggest that Bishop Smith is the Lie masquerading as the Truth.

This is over the top. If Virtue has misquoted, so be it. The matter is on his head. If the Moderator has indeed said these things he is speaking near the edge of sanity.

In order to regain his composure the Moderator must either bring charges of conduct unbecoming a Bishop against Bishop Smith (for surely if he is counterfeit it is unbecoming) or must return to a less excitable form of address, one in which wild accusations of counterfeit religion and counterfeiting leadership are dropped for less inflammatory words.

The two concerns: the one voiced by Bishop Swing about “guerilla warfare” and the other about the over the top attacks on Bishop Smith are related. At some point the warfare language of the Moderator and the leadership of the American Anglican Council and the wildly corrosive language accusing Bishop Smith of being counterfeit come together. Either the second is an example of the first, guerilla warfare in action, or the second is a sign of corporate, and even perhaps personal, megalomania, for which the romantic notion of guerilla warfare, like the crusades, is the vision justifying the behavior.

Here are some more questions to add to those of Bishop Swing’s, for which straightforward answers are needed:


(i) Is the Moderator indeed speaking for the parishes and dioceses of the Network when he speaks this way, or is he speaking for himself alone?

(ii) Bishop Swing asks if the Moderator really said he was promising to “wage guerilla warfare on the Episcopal Church”? If so, are we to take his over the top and slanderous statements in Connecticut as the ecclesiastical equivalent of propaganda broadcast? If not, when will we hear to the contrary?

(iii) And if the statements from the State Capital steps are truly reported, and if the effort was not propaganda, what was it? The words of someone near the edge of rational discourse or the words of someone about to bring charges? For, if these are not serious words, they are disturbed.

These are not easy times, and they require careful words. Archbishop Eames has made a plea that liberals and conservatives both tone down the language of discourse. I agree with him. At the same time there is no health letting false charges simply dangle out there. For the intentionality behind the charges leads us in one of several directions: trial, libel or concerns for stability, and perhaps in more than one direction at once.

7 comments:

  1. Come on, now, are the Network types the ONLY ones using inflammatory language?

    And there's an argument about what conformism looks like: you say it's conforming to our culture's homophobia; they say it's conforming to our culture's moral relativism. Does our culture hate homosexuality or accept it? Where I live in the NorthEast, acceptance is more dominant and is growing much faster than homophobia. Perhaps it's different in other parts of the country, but I grew up in Red-State-Central Oklahoma and acceptance of homosexuality was also strong and growing there. It's a matter of principle for advocates of homosexuality that the dominant culture is homophobic, but increasingly that principle does not fit the facts. At the very least, you have to admit that the claim to conformism cuts both ways and that the Network-types haven't just made all this up out of nothing.

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  2. Liberals and conservates are both guilty of inflammatory language. However, I don't consider the moderator's use of the word counterfeit quoted here as particularly inflammatory. It represents what the Network folks and the Global South actually think. This is what they have been saying all along. This is why the Global South bishops and the Network bishops won't share in the Eucharist with the other bishops. The real issue is that the ECUSA takes what they say as more rhetoric or power play, instead of hearing it at face value. Perhaps it is time to hear them and respond to what they are actually saying. For instance, Archbishop Malango's comments, "To sit with you and meet with you would be a lie. We are not one. We do not share the same faith or Gospel." Or the words of the former Archbishop of Uganda: "The Word of God is
    clear that you have chosen a course of separation that leads to spiritual destruction." Or the statement in the Windsor Report itself: "The overwhelming response from other Christians both inside and outside the Anglican family has been to regard these developments as departures from genuine, apostolic Christian faith." The judgement of very many is that the Episcopal Church is embracing a different gospel which is no gospel at all but a counterfeit, with all the implications one might draw from the first chapter of Galatians.

    No, the word counterfeit is not rhetoric. They mean it.

    To say that you disagree is hardly the point, and to accuse the other side of inflammatory language is to simply refuse to hear them. More to the point would be to determine precisely what is the gospel we proclaim together, and how the recent decisions of the General Convention fit or do not fit into it. To detract by talking about relationships rather than issues, or by attempting to focus on relief for the poor instead, is simply avoidance. It may already be too late for this discussion.

    I strongly recommend the liberals avoid the assertion that the Holy Spirit is doing a new thing. This is the very language of schism and heresy, and this is precisely what the conservatives hear when they hear it. Besides, on what basis can you make that claim? How do you know it is the Holy Spirit and not a projection of the ideals of a church dominated by a church dominated by the liberal bourgeoisie splayed out onto the universe? To invoke the Holy Spirit here has the sound of supreme arrogance.

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  3. Thanks for both Thorpus and rb comments:

    If you read what I wrote carefully I do indeed quote the comment that both liberal and conservatives use inflammatory language.

    rb's comments correctly indicate that the Moderator is using the word counterfeit deliberately. I think unwisely, but that is another matter. It is a real name, but then that makes it a real name calling. And that, I think, takes it over the top.

    As to the reference to the notion that the liberals should stop claiming that the Holy Spirit has done a new thing: I think rb is right to caution on this. I don't believe my initial note spoke to this, but rather to the Holy Spirit not "leaving us where we are," something said by the C 6.

    Both notes are thoughtful. Thanks.

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  4. Mark:

    I appreciate your irenic tone. No, you didn't suggest using the "new thing" language. I seem to recall that you recommended it for the presentation to the ACC a while ago. But I may be wrong, or you may have changed your mind.

    I suppose I do object to the term counterfeiter. That is a personal attack, and it is over the top. It's one thing to condemn actions or institutions, quite another to condemn people who support them. I seem to recall that Martin Luther King was always careful to make that distinction, and we could learn much from his example.

    However, if you believed that a message was being proclaimed that pretended to be the true gospel but wasn't, what word would you use other than counterfeit? And if you considered it your responsibility as priest or bishop to "banish and drive away from the Church all erroneous and strange doctrines contrary to God's Word," as stated in every BCP prior to the current one, what justification could you give yourself for remaining silent?

    I've read statements from the Network that call this a "salvation issue." I take that to mean they still believe in hell (or at least, some destination other than heaven, non-existence or whatever), and some people who accept the implications of GC2003 (practicing homosexuals, I suppose) could possibly end up there. That may indeed be an extreme position (I find it extreme even as I write it down), but if that's what they think, surely they have a responsibility to speak up and take some sort of action. Seeing it from that perspective, how could they do otherwise?

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  5. rb recommends "liberals" should "avoid using the assertion that the Holy Spirit is doing a new thing." Why dissemble when we are called to worship in truth? What the Spirit does is not decided by the fiat of rb or the utilitarian considerations he insinuates: we are obliged always to remain receptive to reproof from the Spirit.

    rb is right to wonder how we can tell genuine from false calls of the Holy Spirit--one might add especially when appeal to Scripture and tradition fail to produce consensus. The short term answer: each side must make and argue its case. As a regress of "How can you tell genuine inspiration?" looms for any move made toward final closure here below, in humility each side must admit the possibility of having erred, and of needing to repent in the future. The long term answer: you will know better at the Eschaton.

    What makes the Moderator's comments so amazing is the lack of any hint of epistemic humility: His "counterfeit" claim implies he possesses supernatural abilities. He can tell not only with Absolute Certainty that ECUSA's moves in GC2003 are wrong, wonderful enough, but he can tell also that they are "counterfeit." The moves of GC2003 were not made from genuine belief; instead they were made with a deliberate and malicious intent to deceive good Christians into accepting something false as something true. Now how could he reach into soul and conscience to discern such malice with unqualified certainty? Was he able to read minds? Did the Spirit whisper in his ear? The esteemed Bishop must be a fortunate man: miracles abound indeed.

    To then extend the claim of counterfeit teaching to conservatives of the AAC, ACN, global south etc etc in general is no friendly claim by rb, implicating all of them with one bold, sweeping sentence in the epistemic hubris of the Bishop. Somehow, all of them are absolutely certain "liberals" in ECUSA have acted not out of sincere ardor for the true faith, but out of an intent to deceive the unwary.

    Silly. Who can take the Bishop seriously when he talks like that, with such an absence of judicious gravity, with such passion for reprehensible overstatement? Bishops are called, after all, to be a "wholesome example to the entire flock of Christ." The world is weary with bearing the weight of yet another bomb-thrower.

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  6. rb is right when he said, "I seem to recall that you recommended it for the presentation to the ACC a while ago. But I may be wrong, or you may have changed your mind."

    I did indeed recommend that the presentors at the ACC use that position...namely that these actions concerned prophetic issues and therefore should be judged on that basis and not on coherence with existing theological suppositions, etc. There are tests as to the validity of claiming that something is a "new work" of the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, the test mostly is about time...given enought time somehting that claims to be of the Holy Spirit and isn't will exhibit the lack of the signs of the Spirit, or worse yet will sink the whole ship.

    However, that recommendation was meant to get the presentors thinking about the possibility that a defense of what was done is not to be found by reaching back, but by reaching forward. (Who knows if this was a reasonalbe suggestion?)

    rb also said, concerning the accusation that Bishop Smith was counterfeit, "That may indeed be an extreme position (I find it extreme even as I write it down), but if that's what they think, surely they have a responsibility to speak up and take some sort of action. Seeing it from that perspective, how could they do otherwise?" Whoever you are, friend rb, you are right on target.

    I have a deep admiration for those who from great conviction are working as hard as they can to keep the church from doing what they think is wrong. (I don't believe, however, that this is a salvation issue.) I hope they have some admiration for those of us who are convinced that we acted at General Convention in response to what we understood to be God's call to us in Jesus Christ.

    The over the top use of counterfeit is not about the ideas being counterfeit...it is about calling particular bishops (Bishop Smith in this instance) counterfeit. Bishop Smith may be dead wrong in what he is doing, but I believe he is trying as well as he can to do what is right, and calling him bogus is no help at all.

    Sometime rb drop me a note off-line. I'd like very much to know who you are, if only to give these very thoughtful comments a "face."

    Thanks

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  7. RB said, "Liberals and conservates are both guilty of inflammatory language. However, I don't consider the moderator's use of the word counterfeit quoted here as particularly inflammatory. It represents what the Network folks and the Global South actually think. This is what they have been saying all along. This is why the Global South bishops and the Network bishops won't share in the Eucharist with the other bishops."

    Serving in a Network Diocese I will say that I haven't heard the word "counterfeit" referred to even once. That sort of name calling hasn't happened here, I believe. But I wish in a way that it would because then I might understand better what the Network actually does think... or if it were articulated differently but with a sufficiently clear reference to know what they are talking about.

    The Network seems to speak with a paradoxical and nearly strident clarity in the likes of Radner, and an equal clarity mixed with expanded hopes in Duncan, but individual bishop members hang back making me think that they don't in fact wholly agree with the tone. Oddly, I'm not at all sure I understand what they are saying when the representatives close to hand say so little in respect of these loquacious members.

    I also wish the Network would make a case for itself that was more than just assertion wrapped in "don't you get it?"

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