Wednesday, December 21, 2005

You Call That a FUTURE?

As the first rays of 2006 appear over the horizon, thoughts in ECUSA turn towards General Convention, and the likelyhood that the church will be divided at that point. And thus we have at Kenesis some speculation on what the "new church" will look like.

Mostly I think the vision related there is self-affirming nonsense:

"The new Episcopal Church will no longer be comfortable with position, wealth, self-satisfied liberality, and our role as a "mainline" denomination." It's really hard for me to imagine how the new, "blue" ECUSA could be anything but all of these things. ECUSA is already tightly coupled to upper-middles, and shucking the "red" portion is not going to change that. The image of ECUSA as "the Republican Party at prayer" is decades out of date.

"It will be leaner and less encumbered by the bloated budgets that come from maintaining old buildings and expensive real estate." Please. The big old expensive Gothic piles are in old established liberal dioceses. Is ECUSA really going to give away St. John the Divine and the National Cathedral? (If the answer is "yes", I'll be glad to accept the latter.)

"The new Episcopal Church will be mission-driven; we will cease to be satisfied with maintenance and demand growth." If the statistics from 815 are to be believed, the new "blue" ECUSA will do worse than before in the growth department. "Blues" don't spawn; "reds" do. Conversions? Historically ECUSA has been a church of converts, but the problem is that the kind of people who join ECUSA don't reproduce enough. Latino cleaning ladies? Mostly they'll stay Roman Catholic.

"The new Episcopal Church will be orthodox, catholic, and reformed." That I doubt. Never mind that "orthodox" and "catholic" are, to a great extent, owned by others. The whole process of getting to where we are involved, on the one hand, "we dare you to stop us" outrages, and on the other, a lack of will and structure to rein anyone in. Without the traditionalists there will be even less of a check on theological innovation, and therefore I expect the "blue" ECUSA to become determinedly unorthodox-- that is to say, far outside the consensus of the churches as a whole.

"The new Episcopal Church will practice radical hospitality in an atmosphere of community." I would say "whatever that means" were that history thus far has elucidated "radical hospitality" to mean "being as formless as the UCC and the unitarians". That pretty much puts the kibosh on orthodoxy, but then I wrote that off above; in any case such extremes of hospitality won't be very welcoming to the genuinely orthodox.

Here's what I think will happen: the liberals will push homosexual marriages through GC, and the divorce proceedings will begin. There will be a terrible temptation for each side to spite the other by taking away their buildings and institutions, reinforced by the opposed, towering senses of moral superiority exhibited at the extremes. Even in the least acrimonious case there will be plenty of conflict over property and plenty of people on either side willing to fight to take away churches and the like from the other side, even when there's really no point in having it for themselves. Except in a few dioceses in certain states, the prestige properties will end up with the new, "blue" ECUSA.

The new ECUSA will end up with a lot of people who are moderate or even somewhat conservative, partly out of inertia and partly out of a complex of other reasons. The situation for these people will be bleak. I expect the 1979 BCP to be suppressed within a decade, and it wouldn't surprise me to see new liturgies introduced that are ostentatiously heretical, or at least spinelessly latitudinarian. Numbers will continue to drop, not so much because of flight (thought there will be a lot of that at first) but because ECUSA will continue to have children well below the replacement rate. Mission attempts will fail to cross the ideological class barriers that are increasingly entrenched. Spongian heretical bishops will continue to appear and will continue to escape any kind of discipline. Condescension to the troglodytes will continue unabated. Association with "blue" politics will continue, with the church taking increasingly leftist positions.

Mind you, I make no claims about how good the other side will be. The opportunities for angry disdain and fractiousness are obvious. But they have much or to establish in terms of institutions and attitudes, so I don't feel much confidence in predicting which way they will go.

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