Thursday, August 03, 2006

You Go, Girl!

There's a great reflection making the email rounds -- Don't Call Them Conservatives --written by Teresa Mathes -- a delightful woman I had the honor to meet in May when I preached at St. Paul's Cathedral in San Diego (where her husband happens to serve as diocesan bishop.) As "Father Jake" beat me to the punch and already has the piece posted I'll link to it from here ... I appreciated Jake's personal "intro" ... but let me add a bit of my own:

I was raised by conservatives, too. Goldwater Republicans. Good ones. Caring ones. From my perspective often wrong-on-many-issues ones but people with whom one could debate, dialogue and discuss. I grew up considering myself a Republican -- registered to vote as one in 1972 (the first year 18 years olds could!) and didn't officially make the switch across the aisle until the early 90's while watching the Republican Nat'l Convention and hearing out of Pat Buchanan's mouth hate-speech I knew was spinning my gone-to-Jesus-in-1987-Daddy in his life-long G.O.P. grave. I left kids doing homework ... dinner on the stove ... and drove down to the grocery store where I knew they had the voter registration card table set up and changed my party affiliation then and there. (See also: metanoia)

Long story short: I have deep respect for genuine conservatives and absolutely no patience for what's being done in the name of conservatism in this country and in this church today. And neither does Teresa Mathes. Which is why she gets this week's "You Go, Girl!" award!

Don't Call Them Conservatives
by Teresa Mathes

I was raised by conservatives. In Southern California, where I now live, this is rather like saying you were raised by wolves. But I like to think the people who raised me did a good job: they gave me a strong sense of family and of community obligation; they taught me to respect social institutions. Conservatives, my mother often said, valued what was best in society and tried to preserve it. She abhorred mob tactics, half-truths and secrecy. “If you have to hide it,” she’d say, “You shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”

I was also raised Episcopalian. My grandfather helped build the church in which my mother was married, then my cousin, then my sister and I in our turn. I was graduated from Sewanee, a liberal arts college owned by the Southern dioceses of the Episcopal Church. I have sung Evensong in Canterbury Cathedral, lunched with a Primate of New Zealand and dined with an Archbishop of Canterbury. By the time I was twenty-eight, I was on a first name basis with Jack Allin and Cecil Woods, and if you don’t know those names, it only proves how pathetically, arcanely Episcopalian I am.

Of course, if you do know those names, you know how un-Anglican all this boasting is. The Episcopal Church in which I was raised was a church of civility, a church that thought before it spoke. Some would say we thought too much and spoke too circumspectly. So I am being very clear here about the position from which I speak. Because what I have to say is that the AAC and the ACN do not represent true conservatives.

Read it all here


Anonymous said...

I don’t think there can be any question that reappraisers have wrought substantial changes in the Episcopal Church in the past 30 or 40 years. Let’s leave value judgments aside for a moment; I hope we can all agree that on such matters as unquestioning acceptance of homosexuality, women’s ordination, dismissal of the uniqueness of Christ for salvation, branding of Holy Scripture as anti-Semitic and permitting a bishop (Spong) who scoffs at Christianity as some kind of big fable to remain in good standing, there has definitely been a change.

I hope, further, that it is clear that conservatives, new or “old,” would oppose most or all of these changes. What, then, would Mrs. Mathes have us do? Rev. Susan, what would you have us do? It sounds like the old conservatives of whom Mrs. Mathes was so fond would have done nothing: grumbled, maybe slunk away silently, but done nothing to stand up for their principles. I see no honor in that. It seems, rather, that what offends Mrs. Mathes is precisely the fact that today’s conservatives have chosen to fight back, instead of taking the wholesale alteration of the Faith as a fait accompli. What concern did Catholic bishops have for boundaries during the many decades of the Arian heresy?

Reappraisers have fought – zealously – for their beliefs: for gay marriage, for women’s ordination, for liturgical reform. Why are conservatives denied the same privilege?

The idea that conservatism equals some kind of static preservation in which the conservative stands for no change is utterly false. Once an innovation is introduced, the conservative is certainly not bound to begin, “preserving,” the innovation.

Jake said...

...wholesale alteration of the Faith..., and then a comparison to the Arian heresy.

Those are the kind of generalizations, which are blantantly untrue, that a conservative would never make. You've proved Mrs. Mathes point, it seems to me.

By making such comments, you've managed to kill the conversation, as far as I'm concerned. If that was your intention,congrats. You have succeeded.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Jake, please either read more carefully or engage the argument. In reverse order, the comparison to the Arian heresy addresses Mrs. Mathes’ argument that there is something unprecedented about crossing geographical boundaries. That is rather obvious if you’ve read her piece, which I know you have.

As to, “wholesale alteration of the Faith,” there are specific points listed in the first part of my comment that support that characterization, viz.:

acceptance of homosexuality as normative;
women’s ordination;
dismissal of the uniqueness of Christ for salvation (such a statement literally being dismissed at GC, and Schori saying as much in one of her interviews);
branding of Holy Scripture as anti-Semitic (resolution at this GC);
permitting Spong, who, as you know, dismisses Christian belief in its entirety, to remain a retired bishop in good standing;
and, I might add, ECUSA’s explicit theology of radical inclusivity, which teaches we are good as made and have no need of amendment of life to the extent we feel our behaviors are part of “who we are.”

Look, you might feel all of these things are perfectly fine and welcome developments – as I wrote, “value judgments aside.” But, I really fail to see how you can claim that, taken as a set – and, of course, there’s more – these do not represent a radical change from Catholic Christianity.

And so, my question is, since many certainly fought for these changes, why are reasserters denied the right to even fight back for the original Faith as once delivered?

Finally, what is it about conservatism that precludes making generalizations? Have you ever heard a conservative say, “lower tax rates are good,” or, “smaller government is better?” Perhaps you should stick to topics with which you’re familiar.

Bateau Master said...

Have to agree with Phil and use a sports analogy.

At a family reunion a pick-up soccer game brakes out, and the teams face off. Each side is looking toward their goal, but only one team is allowed to move the ball. Every time the other team tries (just treis) to kick the advancing ball the first team cries foul. And goodness forbid progress toward the goal be stopped or even reversed, the first team acts like the felony murder has occurred.

Ms. Mathes complaint about conservatives sounds an awful lot like this soccer game.

Both teams need to be on the field and engaging each other, as arguments are advanced they might be blocked, as progress toward a perceived goal is made it can also be reversed, but it is still a family game and everyone gets to participate and play like grown ups.


And from my perspective it is more like changing the rules in the middle of the game ... AKA "we don't like the results at General Convention so we're bringing in the Primates" OR calling "game over" because you don't like the score AKA "comply" with Windsor or else!

Anonymous said...

But at some point, the game is over. Both sides go on the field, shake hands, hopefully displaying good sportsmanship, and leave the field.

Bateau Master said...

But the Primates are part of the game! It's not a change in rules to seek and accept coaching from others that play the same game and in who's league you purport to play.

Now declaring game over is not allowed, but quitting the field is certainly allowed (on an individual basis) and if you brought the ball (read Plano) then some other relative has to step up and provide the pelota.

It is a rough game, as many between kin are.


No, but it is a change in the rules to decide resolutions from Lambeth Conference, representing but one of the four orders of ministry, sudddenly have authority over the rest of an autonomous nat'l church -- much less letting Primates from other churches dictate what our course of action should be in the American Church.

Counsel is one thing. Ultimatums are another.

Anonymous said...

Rev. Susan, there isn't supposed to be an "American" Church - there's supposed to be one Church. And it is unfair to other members of the Church with whom you are supposed to be in Communion to make substantial changes in faith, morals or order without their consent. What you are saying leaves ECUSA as nothing more than a dwindling Protestant sect - not what many of us signed up for. How is not deferring to other Primates any different than the phrase Frank Griswold always throws at reasserters - "None of us can say, 'I have no need of you?'"


Phil ... I suggest you re-read the preface to the Book of Common Prayer and get back to me on the American church question

Anonymous said...

Rev. Susan,

I’m familiar with the BCP Preface, though, on re-reading it per your suggestion, I find that each of us could use it to support our respective arguments.

In any case, we profess ourselves to belong to the One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Anglicanism has gone further and espoused the branch theory, in which the Anglican Communion is held to be a full part of the Church Catholic, along with the Roman and Orthodox Communions.

It is a mark of Catholicity that no local church should make significant changes in faith, order or morals without the consent of the (large-C) Church as a whole. If your point is that, for various reasons, the American branch of Anglicanism has a corporate form that allows it to do whatever it likes, then, of course, you’re correct. On the other hand, if you’re saying it’s proper to make these innovations against the will of (at least) our Communion partners, then I believe you have deviated from Catholicity, and, therefore, Anglicanism as historically understood.

You may see Mrs. Mathes’ column itself, which you posted approvingly, as an illustration. She pulls out the Canons of Nicea I to criticize reasserters, but if you don’t care what our own Communion partners think right now, why in the world do you agree we should be bound by something done in 325? It’s because we are one Church, yesterday, today and forever.


And you could make the same argument about the ordination of women and we've managed to muddle along with different perspectives on that in the communion for over 30 years now.

Which again makes the point in question: the issues threatening to divide us as a communion are NOT "the issues" but the insistance by a vocal, strident, well-organized and determined minority in the American Episcopal Church that they will NOT be ignored (see also: Glenn Close in "Fatal Attraction") and so are strategizing to split the church they cannot control.

And of course you're right about using the Preface to support a variety of perspectives. Just like we can use Holy Scripture to support a variety of perspectives.

Just like we've done for generations and managed to live together as an Anglican family anyway -- one church able to hold differences in tension.

Until now. Insistance on conformity is what has changed ... THAT'S the "innovation" on the table ... and it isn't about conserving what's best about being small-c Anglican catholics ... its about something else entirely -- to quote my friend Liz "This uproar in the Communion is not about faith. It's about power -- who has it, who doesn't,and how far some will go to get it."

And that's what Teresa Mathes names. And that's why she gets the "You Go, Girl!" award of the week.

Anonymous said...

The issue before the communion in no was is about power. The conservatives think that faithful Christian practice and true understanding of humanity before God has been abandoned radically by the LGBT promoters, who exist in large numbers among our leadership. It is that simple. Imagine if you can that the leadership of your church advocated, embraced, and promoted something you thought was completely out of bounds for the Christian life. Completely. Say, just for a thought experiment, that bishops were consecrated who promoted open marriages, or the marriage of three or four people, and, these bishops, lived in those kind of arrangments themselves. I know that is not the issue here, but I am trying to come up with an example in the area of so-called private or sexual morality, that you might think is out of bounds. What could you do? What should you do? Would you leave your church? Would you leave it if every bishop was a promoter of that kind of life?

My guess is that you would try to to say "Hold on, you bishops! You cannot do this." And you would try, if you wanted to work toward communion and healthier days, to form a core of people to carry the church through what you would hope to be just a blip on the historical screen.

Now, I know this analogy might break down at some point, but it just might also bring you to state honestly or see more clearly that it is not about power and property for the reassertets. Further, if such a charge is made, it can be made, surely, of the other side. We could say, "Hey, the only reason you didn't go off and start the Metropolitan Episcopal Church is b/c you would not have had the properties, the institutional arrangements like seminaries, pensions, etc.,' I doubt that divorces are generally about property. They are about people, who sadly, can no longer get along. Then the question becomes, 'What do we do about the property?' It's more like that in ECUSA. If you ask me, the fair thing, is to work on some equitable solution for congregations and diocese to agree on just what the status of property is. This may mean revisiting the Dennis Canon, altering it, I don't know. But it is hard to convince this pew sitter that the conservatives are the schismatics. Windsor (with very few consevatives on it BTW) certainly doesn't see the ACN as the group who tore the church's unity.

Anonymous said...

In the old days when true conservatism reigned did bishops, early in their career, preemptively threaten to sue, and remove priests who disagreed with them as Ms. Mathes husband did.

Did they intentionally misuse canons to threaten and remove fellow bishops, alleging they had abandoned communion, even tho' on any reading, the facts were otherwise? Mr. Mathes has done this, too. How prevalent was that in the old days? As I recall not much was said or done toward John Spong, despite his essential and at time explicit denial of 'core doctrine.' Were those the good old conservative days, and were they conserving the riches of the gospel, or something else? Tell me, I really want to know.

Toewalker said...

Just for my own edification:

[A]nonymous, are you saying that the current major division in the Anglican Communion (and the Episcopal Church in particular) are purely matters regarding homosexuality, homosexual couples and the sexual activities of these persons (assuming for the sake of argument that this sexual activity is between two persons in a loving, committed, monogamous relationship)?

I'm not begging the question, I'm just seeking understanding into where the lines of division or disagreement are strongest. I also know that the above matter is by no means the only subject upon which persons may disagree, but I'm just trying to clarify whether this is the issue that is causing the most dischord in our Communion.


Phil, To suggest we "leave value judgments aside" and then use words like "dismissal," "branding" and "scoffs" immediately begs your point.

That said, ABSOLUTELY the church has changed in 40 years and for the majority of Episcopalians our response to that versicle is "Thanks be to God." Thanks be to God for a church that has tried to overcome racism, sexism and homophobia ... has preached peace in times of war, advocated for respect for the environment as part of our call to steward creation and has striven to reach across inter-faith divides for greater understanding.

"Misreading" the canons in this case is a matter of opinion. But where is the outrage for IGNORING the canons as Schofield and others have done for decades on the issue of allowing qualified women access to the ordination process in their dioceses?

As for "what's a conservative to do" I think, for example, of Bishop Allin who although personally opposed to the ordination of women supported the process by which the church came to that position rather than hijacking it to support his own perspective. Allin, in my mind, is a true conservative ... the perspective masquerading as conservatism in TEC today is more accurately called reactionary.

I'll say it one more time: the innovation du jour is the insistance by some that agreement is the critiera for communion. Phil, you do an excellent job of trying to reframe the debate to be about Jack Spong or other red herring issues but for many of us what is "on the table" are not quesitions of sexuality or even theology but of power and polity.

Conservatives are NOT being "denied the privilege" of arguing their position through the centuries old process by which this Episcopal Church arrives at collective understandings of where we are being led by the Holy Spirit. What we are denying -- and resisting -- are their efforts to circumvent the General Convention process that has not served their agenda by appealing to international Anglican bodies who have not jurisdiction in this Church.