schism, and cynicism

By Diogenes (articles ) | Oct 25, 2005

The Thirty-Nine Articles did not include a pre-nup, and as the divorce between traditional and anarcho-Anglicans draws nearer, folks are starting to ask, who gets custody of the faith?

A liberal Episcopal group is crafting a strategy to disenfranchise about 16 conservative bishops if the denomination's pivotal General Convention next year in Columbus, Ohio, results in a church split.

Informally named the "Day After" for the aftermath of the June 13-21 event, the strategy outlines a way to file canonical charges against conservative bishops, unseat them from their dioceses, have interim bishops waiting to replace them and draft lawsuits ready to file before secular courts for possession of diocesan property.

It seems pretty clear that the struggle is primarily about power, not property (property here being important mainly as a conduit of power). We're watching the endgame of a slow schism that to a greater or lesser extent involves anglophone Christians throughout the First World. All administrations of all mainstream churches were hijacked by the Left in the 1970s, which, once in control, reflexively denounced criticism as an offense against charity. Tactically, it worked. Only in the last five to eight years have the proletarians cottoned on to the fact that they no longer have the same religion as their governors. Dialogue of a sort continues, but tensely. Revolvers are holstered, yet both sides keep a grip on the handle while they speak.

Just as the Soviets all but spoiled the word "peace" by using it to mean non-resistance to conquest, so the words "trust," "healing," "dialogue" have been used so mendaciously for so long that our stomach muscles tighten with disgust when we hear them. It's no surprise that Bishop Gene Robinson has pledged his life to "reconciliation." Why not? In possession of the territory he sought, of course he wants the vanquished to accept the fait accompli. But since reconciliation has come to signify an exchange in which the price is always paid by the orthodox and always pocketed by the innovators -- "We make the changes. You adapt or leave" -- the entire vocabulary of peacemaking is suspect.

The problem is that, if not the words themselves, the realities they convey are indispensable to the life of faith: we can't exist as Christians without trust and reconciliation and peace -- the peace, that is, which the Lord gives. Hence most of us hard cases resort to a kind of controlled schizophrenia, focusing our attention on the Holy See and the doctors of the Church on one level, while also listening to the apparatchiks whose aims and enthusiasms seem so contradictory to the first. When the apparatchiks invite us to trust, we respond, not with trust, but with a desire to be able to trust.

For the present, this may be the best we can do. Language involves a moral bond between speaker and audience; where the bond is broken by cynicism, we're left with mute hope for restored communion. Writing from the context of Anglicanism, S.M. Hutchens identified a type familiar to all of us in portraying

the ever-smiling bishop of beneficent visage, the open-minded, open-armed, blessing-filled aristocrat of smooth lips and perfect control -- a master of prevarication and double meaning, who could preach to an audience of naive traditionalists and knowing liberals and please them all, the traditionalists because they took him at his word, the liberals because they took his meaning.

Well, the pleasing has ceased, the duplicity has been exposed for what it is, lawyers have been hired, and all litigant parties -- Anglicans, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and, tardily, Catholics -- are striding toward the courthouse. Ironically, the instrument of averting schism has been broken by those who used it so successfully as an instrument of silencing dismay. Should reconciliation lose its honor, wherewith shall it be reconciled?

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  • Posted by: extremeCatholic - Oct. 26, 2005 10:57 PM ET USA

    I would not dismiss the property motive too quickly. The real estate holdings, bank accounts, copiers, etc. are significant even if you no longer care to have the care of souls. On Wall Street, we call it an "asset play" where the acquiring company has no intention of keeping the target company a going concern.

  • Posted by: sparch - Oct. 26, 2005 5:04 PM ET USA

    And when will the teachers of the faith be exposed for what they truly are, experts of the doublespeak? They convey the rightness of their position while not really saying plainly what they mean. I want it without the suger on top. Take their logic to it's end and find that he who is waiting is he who has fallen. The Chicago Theological Union is full of this nonsensical theology.

  • Posted by: Eleazar - Oct. 26, 2005 12:20 PM ET USA

    I believe that, just as God foreshadowed so much of Christ’s ministry in the Hebrew Bible, He is foreshadowing the future of American Catholicism in the death throes of the ECUSA. We “naïve traditionalists” need to study the unfolding events attentively.

  • Posted by: Eleazar - Oct. 26, 2005 12:19 PM ET USA

    "Tolerance” should be on the list as well.

  • Posted by: Brennan - Oct. 25, 2005 10:57 PM ET USA

    In addition to "trust", "healing", and "dialogue", another word which makes me cringe is "community." Perhaps a ban should be put on all these words until they are used in their proper sense.