28 August 2008

'pastoral' Oh My!

The worst mistake a general can make, as "Art of War" tells us, is strategic over reach. In the sad story of Anglican polity, the Chapman Memo and the writings of a good number of self-identified orthodox tell us that at least one group is at war. So, strategic over reach becomes a potential problem.

It is also, the besetting fault in the thinking of Dr. Williams and his staff. This week we have another sad example. Dr. Williams published what his communications folk called a, "pastoral letter." Of course, we do not know if Dr. Williams chose to call it that, or if one of his staff did, but the implications are none-the-less breathtaking.

A 'pastoral letter' issues from a pastor to a jurisdiction. So, for instance, bishops write them to their diocese and in the US, the House of Bishops writes them to the entire church. Dr. Williams might write a pastoral to his archdiocese (Canterbury) or to his province (Southern England) or even to all of England although in that case courtesy and custom would suggest he write it with the archbishop of York as a co-signatory. In all three cases, his standing makes the audience arguably his jurisdiction. The entire planet is however, not his jurisdiction.

Things are a bit different in other parts of the catholic church. The bishop of Rome, as "pope" does indeed claim a global jurisdiction. His "encyclicals" are indeed pastorals to all Roman Catholics in all countries. The Ecumenical Patriarch does not claim quite the same authority over the Orthodox world. He might author such a letter, but it would probably be the assembled patriarchs that issued it. Which leads to an obvious question: does someone in Canterbury have delusions of papacy?

The distressed Anglican Communion already is cursed with a group that has delusions of curia. The "primates council" of the continuing "GafCon" or "FOCA" bishops sees itself empowered to do curial things. Papal delusions are the last thing the communion needs. This just in: after a considerable delay, the 'council' has issued a communique. Several interesting things are visible in a first reading. Yet another addition to the holier-than-god-dares-be collection of initials has appeared: FCA. FCA is a new organization "inviting" those too holy to remain in TEC or ACCAnada to join. By some very convoluted reasoning this is not considered by the authors 'border crossing.' There are some interesting by their absence primates. Also notably absent are Dr. Jensen of Sydney and Bp. Duncan of Pittsburgh. Interesting times we live in!

But there it is, a "pastoral letter."

The content of the letter is disturbing enough, and I will probably write about it later. But first we have to assimilated the title. Popes issue encyclicals: apostles wrote epistles, but for an Archbishop of Canterbury to publish at this level is unprecedented, and unwelcome. Despite his protestations of weakness, he continually argues he has no authority to act as a chief executive, someone somewhere in Canterbury thinks the office conveys authority.

To consider why someone might want to have a papal sort of figure or for that matter a curial one, I think we might consider several failed republics. While the Anglican Communion is not a republic, I think the comparison is instructive.

Ancient Rome was a republic. It had some flaws we might today consider crippling. Only free men could participate in its polity, and one needed to be in a particular class to be a senator. None-the-less it was a functioning state with a senate that did work. It had a fatal flaw. In the case of an emergency, its founders allowed for the ceding of authority to a single person. This was seen as necessary to resolve a crisis. Of course, the Caesars simply never saw an end to the crisis and Rome became a monarchy with a senate that was completely dominated by the emperor.

A number of modern states had a similar flaw. Chile, Greece, France, and Italy all have experienced nearly permanent "states of emergency" providing a cover for dictatorship.

Let us think about why this flaw is out there. When something troubles us we want resolution and we want it immediately. The old joke, "God grant me patience and do it now!" describes a real human trait. Democracy is slow sometimes. Process takes time.

The most recent political manifestation of our impatience in American life, which troubles me a great deal, is the tendency for Congress and the president to create 'czars.' So we have the 'drug czar' whose job title is a bit misleading, this person is supposed to get rid of drugs. We also see the 'intelligence czar' a manifestation of post-911 paranoia. In both cases the purpose of these positions is to consolidate power and cut through process. "give me patience and do it now!"

Which leads us back to the problem with being an Anglican Communion. Communion is cumbersome. Precisely because it is about a relationship it involves process. Churches on the other hand are about rules and boundaries. Communions have meetings and conferences, churches have canon law and synods.

We may disagree about whether or not the Anglican Communion should be in crises over the honesty of one bishop in the USA or the evolving response to the pastoral (there is that word again) and vocational needs of lesbian and gay people. In fact the crises exists. The proliferation of new organizations, new pseudo diocese, and new irregular bishops all point to the Chapman memo, which was indeed a deceleration of crises, indeed of war.

In this crises, some in the communion seem to act like that ancient Roman republic. Some at least seek a 'czar,' a papal authority or a curia to set things right. As yet we do not seem to have a czar, we do have several aspirants for papal authority, including the primates of Uganda, Nigeria and the archbishop of Sydney. And we have in the "primates council" which was created at GafCon and several boards of several organizations, aspirants to curial standing.

As Rome and later examples show us, there is often someone ready to step into the role of dictator. As Shakespeare in his Roman plays showed, there are often a number of would be dictators. Now we hear the Archbishop calling the communion the "Anglican Church." We now see him issuing a global 'pastoral letter.' Can his first encyclical be far behind?

The publishing of a pastoral letter should give both progressive and conservatives pause. Do the Nigerians or the Southeast Asians really want someone to be the ultimate judge at this level? Consider again the example of the Caesar family and its successors. Oh, they paid lip service to the idea of the republic, but in fact, once Rome had a dictator the only question was who and with how much reach. The eventual split into Eastern and Western sections was not the re-emergence of the Republic, it was the result of strategic over-reach. Now there were two dictators.

Is this to be the fate of the Anglican Communion? Will it inevitably split into factions following various papal or curial authorities? I fear we face that future. Unless we can evolve an alternative model of relationship that builds on the best features of the existing, troubled communion and sheds those who insist on the curial / papal model.

I read recently that the current incumbent in Rome is predicting (in private of course) a smaller, more compliant Roman church. He expects to shed some of the more troublesome members. Upity women who actually have opinions and ideas, lesbians, gays, progressives, users of birth control and anyone else who is not prepared to say, 'not my will but yours holiness.' That path is not a good one. It appears to me that some at least (cf. diocese of Pittsburgh) are intent on walking it.

Strategic over-reach. Canterbury would issue 'pastoral' directions and dismiss process. He or at least some on his staff appear ready to be in charge. It is fair to ask what will be left to be charged.

Or so I think

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