Friday, April 28, 2006

Following the Money - The Wrong Way

In the continuing campaign to discredit the conservative opposition, we have a new entry from the Diocese of Washington, in the form of an expose of the funding of the American Anglican Council and other opposition organizations and of the connections between these groups and the Institute on Religion and Democracy. The timing of this missive, late in a Friday afternoon with very little trace on the diocesan website to show that it is even there, suggests a maneuver to get this in the Saturday papers (especially the Washington Post religion section) while largely denying the AAC the opportunity to present an effective reply. But perhaps my cynicism is misplaced.

About a third the way down the first page, the name "Howard F. Ahmanson Jr." is presented in big, not-so-friendly letters. This profile from Salon seems to give a better sense of what Ahmanson is about, but eventually even the diocesan article gets around to the inconvenient fact that Mr. Ahmanson is an Episcopalian, albeit in a dissident parish. It's not unreasonable, therefore, for him to direct his resources in the current crisis. Both the Salon profile and the diocesan expose take some pains to outline his connections with the (IMHO a bit cracked) R.J. Rushdoony, who is notorious as the father of Christian Reconstructionism. Reconstructionism is pretty far afield of any Anglican perspective, but the Salon profile seems to indicate some sort of break after Rushdoony's death, and it's unclear that Ahmanson's present positions owe much to reconstructionist thought per se. In any case, Ahmanson has a dog in this hunt.

The two articles both lean on Ahmanson's reclusiveness, though again, there reason is right there in the articles. If I were wealthy, and were held to be influential, and I suffered under Tourette's Syndrome, I'd be media-shy too.

So from there we pass on to the American Anglican Council. I wish the AAC website would 'fess up as to who its current officers are. Let's go back in time quite a ways, though, to an AAC chapter organizing meeting at St. Francis Potomac. (I should say at this point that I am not and never have been a member of the AAC.) The featured speaker? Mary Haines. Yep, the bishop of Washington's wife was there to denounce him. I mention this because the Diocese of Washington articles imply that the AAC was essentially bought by its funders without really producing much in the way of evidence. The reality out here in the parishes is that the conservatives do not need to be directed to find issues to object to in their dioceses. For instance, if I recall correctly the organizing meeting was not that long after the Haines/Dixon campaign of forcing Dixon on the parishes which continued to deny her sacraments.

And from thence we go back to Lambeth 1998, which the diocesan article passes over in a single sentence. I followed this fairly closely, unfortunately having to rely on the paired opposing weak reeds of Louie Crew and David Virtue, neither of whom could be accused of working from a neutral viewpoint. Lambeth was crucial to the current crisis, because it showed that if the conservatives could throw off the direction of their Anglo-American handlers, they had the numbers to dictate the future of the communion. The conference was therefore marked by a succession of such crises of control, and enlivened by some impressive displays of arrogance on both sides. Perhaps the most telling of these, for the present controversy, were the "chicken dinner" remarks. I don't for a minute think that the Africans and Asians needed to be bribed to vote against the Americans, and those who made these accusations in pbulic revealed a blistering condescension and contempt for third world bishops. The whole notion was conspicuously delusional.

Which brings us back to the present. Against the accusations which the article makes about AAC et al. external management of Dromontane runs the principle long observed about Anglican communion councils: "The Africans pray, the Americans pay, and the British write the resolutions." But recently the British resolution writing has not been that congenial to the American establishment, and none more so than in the person of Rowan Williams. There was great expectation at his appointment, on all sides, that as a card-carrying liberal he would be a mouthpiece and would marshall the communion in favor of liberal causes. This was met with dismay on one side and triumph on the other, but what very few foresaw (and if I may be immodest, I say it earlier than most did) was that Williams would foreswear advocacy of any position on the crucial matters, and would act strictly as a custodian of the expressed will of the communion. So when Dromontane came around, the conservatives were prepared, and liberals, as at Lambeth, lost the initiative.

And so we're faced with the following situation: two gay and one lesbian candidates for the Bishop of California, and a standing threat by the majority of the communion to excommunicate us if one of them is consecrated. And somehow, it is wrong for the conservatives to resist this-- not because of the moral argument, but because of some notion of fair play.

Those who've been paying attention will notice I've not mentioned the author of the expose. I've avoided doing so to point out something: this is not the advocacy of a private individual. It is the statement of the diocese itself, and thus is itself a poitical maneuver within the field of conflict. It's hard to say what the house of bishops will do, and it seems to me, ironically, that the most craven response would also be the most damaging to the conservative cause. If Chane and the other vanguard bishops get their way and get a gay or lesbian candidate with the necessary consents, they will end up in control of ECUSA as a whole, and probably almost all of the dioceses should they be hard-nosed about it. The reason is obvious: retaining power over the national church means retaining power over the dioceses, and retaining power over the dioceses means being able to impose their doctrines on the parishes. For again, we are back to the church as a locus of power, and a power which is presently delivered into the hands of the vanguard. And it's a power which draws its funds from many not entirely willing sources.

My parents are presbyterians, and my father was at one point clerk of the session at their church. It's sort of like being senior warden, except that the session delegates the housekeeping functions to the deacons (who are laypeople) and reserves all of the congregational governance to itself. Well. Over the same period as the parallel ECUSA problems, there has been a repetitive pattern of the national presbyterian church taking liberties with church prestige and influence, and with the reaction of being pulled back into line. Since they have no bishops, accountability is potentially complete. Episcopal accountability, by contrast, is almost nonexistent, and accountability of national church and diocesan offices is very low. So in both ECUSA and PCUSA people find their donations being directed to causes which they find morally (and often theologically) objectionable.

It's not hard, therefore, to deconstruct the whole thing in a different direction. I tend to suspect that a major part of the outrage which Ahmanson's funding is supposed to provoke finds its origin in the realization that the conservatives now have a source of support which the liberals cannot co-opt to their own ends.

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