Friday, June 11, 2010

Come See the Violence Inherent in the System

When the presiding bishop's pastoral letter was released, I didn't read it particularly carefully. Thus, I missed this quite remarkable passage:
We also recognize that the attempts to impose a singular understanding in such matters represent the same kind of cultural excesses practiced by many of our colonial forebears in their missionizing activity. Native Hawaiians were forced to abandon their traditional dress in favor of missionaries' standards of modesty. Native Americans were forced to abandon many of their cultural practices, even though they were fully congruent with orthodox Christianity, because the missionaries did not understand or consider those practices exemplary of the Spirit. The uniformity imposed at the Synod of Whitby did similar violence to a developing, contextual Christianity in the British Isles.
Now, I cannot speak to the other issues, for I am not as conversant with the situations in question. Early English church history, on the other hand, is something of a hobby with me, so when this passage was pointed out to me, I was aghast at her grotesque misrepresentation of the council.

As Mark Clavier writes:"We have here a sort of theological variation on Avatar"-- perhaps more apt an analogy than he intended, considering all the woad, er, blue skin in the movie. Of course, as he points out, the matter was nothing of the kind; the council was called to resolve differences in practice which were becoming too disruptive to continue tolerating. It is strikingly presumptuous for the PB to deny the assembled churchmen (and women-- remember that they met under the authority of Hilda) the right and authority to make the kinds of decisions which they made. The Celtic churchmen were not victims; they were parties to a dispute, which for the most part they acknowledged losing with grace and forebearance. The greatest saint of the era, Cuthbert, acceded to the changes and eventually assumed a short bishopric under the "new" (that is, Roman) hierarchy and rites.

Clavier notes, as he should, that Celtic Christianity serves as a object of romanticism. But he neglects another point, the continuing paradox of the present struggle: that 815 2nd Avenue stands not just for Iona, but also for Rome, and the General Conventions of the Episcopal Church might as well all be held in Whitby. And yet there is not the charity which characterized the English council, but indeed, only, war, legal rather than phsyical, but combat nonetheless. Or if I may jump, not so charitably, to a parable: the ruling clerisy in ECUSA is altogether too much like the servant who is forgiven his debt, but then presses all the more on those in debt to him.

There is no mythology of dissidence and freedom within the communion which cannot come back to haunt ECUSA in the treatment of its dissident and rebellious dioceses and parishes. And of course the reality is that the Episcopal Church is safe from having its parish churches and cathedrals confiscated by Cantuar, as opposed to the relentless litigating within ECUSA. But of course, unlike the Hawaiians or Navaho, the modern reactionaries are irredeemably wrong and have to be made to change their ways,

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