Two countries in the Western Hemisphere which owe their visions in part to the revolution in France - the USA and Haiti are both struggling these days with the "Egalite" piece in "Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity."
In the US the mounting of a serious campaign is underway to turn the minds of the American electorate to broad voter action to direct the policies and purposes of the US Government towards social betterment. The effort will only work, according to Senator Bernie Sanders, if large numbers of voters take to the electronic version of the street - the internet - and to physical presence in demonstration and in the voting booths and demand change for equality. It is the first step in turning our collective gaze to the matter of equality, and it's place in the trinity of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. I am with Sanders, and should he fall by the wayside I will make pragmatic choices as to who to vote for in the near term, but in the long term Sanders is ringing the bells of freedom and there will be more and more ringers, or not. If not the American Experiment will be over.
In Haiti the street has exercised the vote precisely by not taking part in the very questionable election process but also by refusing the elite's temptation to solve the problem for the people, rather than work through the the problems of governance with the people. Street protest in Haiti has produced a vote of no confidence for leadership that is elite and anti-egalitarian. Haiti did not "fail," in not having elections. It succeeded. Will it succeed in the near term? Who knows? But in the long term it is the voice of millions that will count, not the elite and established voice of money, guns and family. And if the effort fails, so does the vision of Haiti as a free republic.
These are days when the many layers of public speech, made thunderous by the internet, can again help turn the state towards alternatives to the established state, the state of the elite and their manager minions. There is, of course, lots of litter on the internet highway and it is hard to wade through the garbage to find the threads of good social and political analysis. Still the task is worth it. And it can be done.
Out there in Episcopal - Anglican land, most bishops in most of the Anglican world find themselves in office not as a product of election by the people or their representatives, but by representatives of the elite - other priests or more importantly other bishops. Of course that doesn't mean that regular paid up members of the church are not consulted. But their observations do not usually constitute the mandate for election. Still, we have this pervasive idea that bishops somehow do represent the expression of the Holy Spirit in the context of guardianship. Bishops, we maintain, are the guardians of the faith.
It is not clear that they are guardians of the faith as the whole people understand the faith. They are guardians of the faith on behalf of the people, but not necessarily grounded in the faith of the people. And the further bishops are from election to office by laity and clergy alike the easier it is to believe that bishops have authority directly from God with accolade and assent from the community. It takes very little for bishops to begin to believe that they are in authority by God's will, by divine right.
So it is that in recent days particular bishops who sit as chief bishops of various Provinces of the Anglican Communion came together and issued a communique in which they "require" certain things of The Episcopal Church and signal to the Anglican Church of Canada that they could be next. In spite of gentle words to the contrary, the Primates were acting our of their sense of authority by divine right. It was easy to have the word "require" fall from their pens. The communique was the product of established and / or elite church thinking. It is a sign of the very un-egalitarian character of Anglican Communion governance.
Now we need to be clear that not one single Episcopalian had a hand in electing any of the Primates save our own, nor did we have a hand in establishing this "thingy," the Primates Meeting. We certainly had no hand in the naming of its chair, the Archbishop of Canterbury. That was determined by the Established Church of England whose choice of an ABC is elitist to the core. The whole of this Anglican meeting was the elite meeting together to determine what it believed was required of The Episcopal Church.
This group of elite bishops, bishops over bishops, was essentially acting out the leadership of kings who rule by divine right. With few exceptions they are in place because other rulers chose them. Very few are elected by a voice which directly includes lay people in a meaningful way, many are elected only by other bishops. Sure, confirmation by the "people" is part of the process, but that is often liturgical in character, without clear option for an alternative to acclimation.
In Episcopal - Anglican land it is clear: The Anglican Communion is pretty top down, and those at the top have very little obligation to attend to the will of the people
So here's the thing about the "requirements" in the Communique from the Primates: They have power only to the extent that member churches believe in the divine right of bishops. The Primates have no business requiring anything of anybody, save by reliance on the notion that they are the true guardians of the faith. That they are the true guardians is maintained by the doctrine that they are bishops by divine will.
We in the Episcopal Church can be proud of our Presiding Bishop who made it clear - the Episcopal Church is set on its course by decisions of General Convention. General Convention in turn engages both laity and clergy in its leadership, such persons being elected from their dioceses. There is some sense that decisions in this church are not the product of divine right of bishops, but the product of the right of the people of the church to govern by other means than establishment religion would dictate or assume.
Established elite driven political processes in the US are being challenged, as they are in many countries. Established elite driven ecclesial systems are equally being challenged.
It is time to say Goodby to established church and state politics both. And what will be the way in which people in the Church will find voice? Will there be a revolution in Anglicanism, one in which the Primates meeting will become again a place of sharing rather than a court of decision?
And when will bishops throughout the Anglican Communion be called to office, by God's will, and the will of the people of God both?
And in TEC, when will the "School for Bishops" tell us what they teach new bishops about their authority or anything else for that matter?
Soon would be good.