6/19/2008

Power, power, who has the power: The Moderator on the Instruments of Unity.

In case anyone thought otherwise, the core of the matter at GAFCON and certainly in the eyes of the completely Western Bishop of Pittsburgh and Moderator of the Common Cause Partnership, concerns power.

In the middle of a long presentation given to the 100 or so persons meeting in Jordan in the warm up to GAFCON, Bishop Duncan said this:

"Archbishop Williams remarked at the beginning of the Dar es Salaam Primates Meeting:
“It is all a question of who blinks first.”10 Neither the American orthodox, nor the Global
South Primates, nor history would blink. Not then, not now. The so-called “blink” has
taken place, but it has taken place in the re-definition of the Lambeth Conference as a
place of managed conversation, not conciliar decision, and in the recognition that to call
the Primates Meeting together ever again would be to confirm that the Communion’s
engine has shifted to the South. Re-defining the Lambeth Conference and not calling the
Primates Meeting are exercises of colonial control. But the inexorable shift of power
from Britain and the West to the Global South cannot be stopped, and some conciliar
instrument reflective of the shift is bound to emerge as the Reformation Settlement gives
way to a Global (post-colonial) Settlement."

This is instructive on several levels: (i) the "who blinks first" strategy supposedly stated in front of the four bishops from the US invited to speak to the Primates at Dar es Salaam is, if true, appalling. (ii) The Moderator supposes that the realignment crowd and history itself did not "blink," rather the Archbishop of Canterbury blinked in redefining Lambeth. (iii) The Moderator raises for the first time (at least in my reading) the notion that "not calling the Primates Meeting" is somehow an exercise of colonial control. (The request for a special meeting of the Primates is not in and of itself a matter of colonial control, although it may be a matter of power,) (iv) the historical certainties (in which the Moderator finds some hope) means that " the inexorable shift of power from Britain and the West to the Global South cannot be stopped, and some conciliar instrument reflective of the shift is bound to emerge as the Reformation Settlement gives way to a Global (post-colonial) Settlement."

So the matter is about power and about the "inexorable sift" of such power.

Reading the whole of the Moderator's essay I am struck by two things: (i) His recitation of Anglican history, mission development, and ecclesiology is at best a biased read. At worse it is banal. (ii) The essay is a plea for what in some circles would be called historical inevitability. It is a plea most recently used by the radical right and left to block out the power of actual people doing actual things in the world. Historical inevitability only works for really large issues - say the Lordship of Jesus Christ or the Final Judgment or the greatest of these, Faith, Hope and Love, the greatest of which is Love. It is entirely unclear and an overreach to believe that there is historical inevitability related to whatever happens to the Anglican Communion.

But for those who read the power runes predictions run wild. Power made inexorable is still power exercised by people who want it. Take care that power does not corrupt even more than the supposed sins of the churches of the West.

10 comments:

  1. The two things that strike me about Duncan's screed:

    1. He repeats the "conservative" lie that Lambeth has conciliar authority. That is pure historical revisionism and utter bovine excrement.

    2. He is declaring victory. In my experience, the only people who ever declare victory are those who are losing. Winners wait for someone else to declare it. As I read, I pictured the Bishop of Pittsburgh in a flight suit, standing on the deck of an aircraft carrier, "Mission Accomplished" banner in the background.

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  2. It sometimes seems to me that the political and religious Right is beginning to look more and more like their old Bolshevik foes. It's all there, tactics of internal subversion, appeals to the inevitability of historical processes, and (on the political side anyway) the party marching together in lockstep behind the Leadership.

    As George Orwell once said to a pioneering Cold Warrior in 1948:

    "I don't think you fear the communists so much as envy them."

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  3. christopher+20/6/08 9:38 AM

    Yes, there really does seem to be a strong concern for power at work in GAFCON. Yet, this is all also bound up in matters of sex, because it is disagreement over homosexuality that is at the very core of GAFCON's efforts, as the group's own statements have made clear time and again.

    So what we seem to have in GAFCON is a strange fixation on sex *and* power. I imagine at least one good book could be - or already has been - written about that!

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  4. I think this address is another clear indication that Bp. Duncan has completely lost perspective.

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  5. What malcolm+ said...in spades!!!

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  6. "the inexorable shift of power from Britain and the West to the Global South cannot be stopped"

    And if this is the case, then where, oh where, does the Moderator from the WEST, not only that from the northeastern part of the US, fit in? How with the above statement can he think that he will become the head of this fractious body? It just doesn't make sense. Wouldn't it still be seen as colonialism to have a white man in charge of this bunch?

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  7. I waded through all 14 pages of Bp. Duncan's opening speech at GAFCON, and when I read of the power shift in the Anglican Copmmunion that Caminante quoted, the same thought came to mind, "Why is a white man running this show?"

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  8. Bishop Duncan's version of history reminds me, sadly, of a statue of Teddy Roosevelt riding forth to lead the heathen that sits in front of the Natural History Museum in New York City.

    Pompous and preposterous.

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  9. I don't get why the "who blinks first" strategy is appaling. I've thought the same thing, although I'd put it differently. I'd say that the first group to decide that they can't remain in the Communion is the group that will wind up out of the Communion.

    Jon

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  10. Mark, I think you read the good bishop wrongly. He is simply aware that if the church in the West continues to lose numbers, and if the church in the Global South continues to grow at the rate it is, then yes, the balance of power will shift, and it is "inexorable". The whole sexuality debate has nothing to do with it; it would happen anyway. The bishop has the gift of foresight, which is a mark of good leadership.

    I also think the bishop understands power, at least in the church, far better than most of our other leaders do. He understands that real power comes through relationships -- that power actually comes when others willingly grant it. And +Duncan is simply phenomenal in building relationships with other conservatives in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.

    I'm afraid that too often our bishops think that titles, positions, money and real estate are sources of power. (Do you all really imagine that our buildings are our assets, and not our people -- even the conservative ones?) I'm afraid that even in the Episcopal Church, the title of bishop will only take you so far. Without trust and respect, there is no real power, no matter what color your shirt is. Didn't Jesus say something about leaders needing to be servants?

    To be fair, I think the Presiding Bishop knows this as well. She said as much at General Convention. But so far, she has utterly failed to build the relationships needed to turn the tide -- and frankly, I don't see much of an attempt to do so. Someone somewhere noted that there seems to be some incongruity between her pastoral sense and her actions. I suspect something's holding her back; I don't know what it is, but I pity her. Whoever has the power, it isn't her.

    Yes, +Duncan should make you nervous; he will be a serious challenge to the Episcopal Church. Depose him if you wish, though it won't make any difference: the Diocese of Pittsburgh and the Coalition will follow him anyway. Reason and negotiate with him if you can. But also learn from him.

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