Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Interlude on the Titanic

The new liberal trope for fixing the Episcopal Church is, it appears, some sort of reorganization, especially directed at General Convention. Now, on one level I will be the first to complain: anyone who recollects the course of conventions over the past decade or so can see that they have not covered themselves in administrative glory. But I would also think that the problem here is far less in the actual organization, and almost entirely what they are being asked to do. And you can work this out by looking at what the two extreme parties think about the structural problems. The problem progressives see is that current structures get in the way of the changes they want to make; the traditionalists see that the current structures enable those changes, because the progressives take advantage of the inability of the houses to consider the issues intelligently in order to advance the progressive program through outrage escalation.

As it happens, the traditionalists are more in the right here. Well, the progressives are correct in observing that the current structures slow them down, but that's because that's the intent of the canons. And they need not only to be slowed down, but stopped, which is extremely difficult the way the polity functions now. Kendal Harmon made a long address concerning our polity problems, and I would agree with most of what he says. The organs which are supposed to keep discipline in the church don't work, because they are to a large extent used to drive out traditionalists who resist the innovations; but the innovators are not disciplined for stepping outside the canons, and indeed tend to be lauded after the fact (see under "Philadelphia, 1974"). GC has to deal with facts on the ground delivered by disobedient priests and bishops and dioceses, which are then backed up by resolutions proposing huge theological changes.

These resolutions are a big part of the problem. It is impossible for GC to function when it has to deal with a major theological issue every meeting; and this year, we have a whole raft of them: Eastern Oregon's proposal to legitimize communing the unbaptized, the approval of same-sex unions, and all the deviancies hidden in the SCLM's proposed liturgies. These have been talked about at great length, but I cannot imagine that there's going to be much effective talking going on at GC, because the venue is not conducive to intelligent contemplation by those whose minds are not already made up. People will line up at the mike, and the ritual statements will be made, and the press of other business (especially the budgetary disaster, which I can only hope will prevent some of these matters from coming up at all) will close off "debate". And there will be votes, by orders, and the votes will be closer than they ought to be, so that communing the unbaptized will likely fail, but with significant support; and some of SCLM's concoctions will get through (because too many people don't have time to consider them and their objectors seriously), and some will fail but again with far too much support; and same-sex unions will pass in part because of the concerted effort to drive away its detractors. And I will guess that every one of the issues which failed will be raised again in three years, and the progressive heretics will see gains because more traditionalists and even orthodox liberals will throw in the towel when defeat of innovations this time doesn't result in any discipline against those who continue to violate the canons and abuse liturgical texts.

And meanwhile, the elephant will sit in Research and Statistics, ignored. Susan Snook and Phil Snyder have, I think, some serious theological differences, but they agree on the one big thing: the progressives do not care that they are destroying the church at a rate of 3% a year. And it's conspicuously obvious that the thing that is destroying it is precisely that the progressives largely do not care about religion, or at least not the Christian religion as it was delivered to them. The purpose of the church, to them, is to put its (now enfeebled) powers behind endorsing the lifestyle dilettancy of the white upper middle class. So we engage in pointless (because with less than two million members whom the church surely cannot mobilize to the polls) political advocacy, and approve of our interesting sexual arrangements, and wink at our predilection towards spiritual adventurism (religion to us is like food: the serving platter for our Epicurean and cosmopolitan indulgences), and fulminate harmlessly at the economic 1% (when we are largely to be found in the 5% or so). And it is all so very much the lotion for our back-patting and the hot springs for the spa of our self-regard. That anyone else might look to us for RELIGION doesn't seem to matter, so it's hardly surprising that people don't bother to join us when they can get all of this for free. Well, free of church services, and our friends in the SCLM seem so determined to make what happens on Sunday morning a heel of self-righteous correctness bound together with abominable prose that its no wonder people are sticking their fingers in their ears.

And the running of all this disfunction: well, it gets a pass in the proposed budget, which Snooks computes as allocating 44% of the national church budget to administration, including running a $1.25M deficit. Mission and education together constitute less than 2.5% of the budget! And let us not forget, a large chunk of that 44% is dedicated to shameful lawsuits against the schismatics, ostensibly in the name of fiduciary responsibility, as though there was anything responsible about the way this budget was produced. If nothing else, her proposal to take a big bite out of the admin budget makes all the sense in the world; but we need to keep going from there. If there must be Eucharists at GC, then instead of the usual self-celebratory circuses, let them put on sackcloth, and recite the litany, repent, and return to their true business: the increase of true religion in the world.

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