Friday, July 25, 2008

Listening -- Episcopal Style

Back before Lambeth started, I examined the stages of the indaba process, including the observation:
1. Meet in indaba groups for conversation and "listening".
lis·ten (lĭs'ən) intr.v.
a. Conservative - attending to another point of view in an effort to understand
b. Liberal - outward passivity during a period of time in which you think about what to say next, ignoring any noise which might distract you.
Well, it seems that was spot on.

Remember those indaba groups -- how they're supposed to be about listening to other perspectives, to aid in coming to a better understanding and achieving an informed consensus? Seems the Americans have already decided what that consensus is, even before arriving. Observers at Lambeth report the following from a press conference:
Q: How is your indaba group?
A:“Well, the funny thing is,” began one bishop, “The Americans here have this cheat sheet that they use in our group. It has statements on it that justify their decisions in the last two conventions that led to the consecration of Gene Robinson and same-sex marriage. It is a prioritized list of talking points and the one in our group reads off this thing every day.”
So much for "unity in diversity"... in PEcUSA we don't have diversity. Or, where we do, we're crushing, inhibiting, deposing and suing it. And not only do we enforce the party line, we give you a memo to read off so you can inflict it on others in a coordinated attack! Gotta keep everyone on message. All the more effective when your party (representing perhaps 2% of the world's Lambeth-recognized Anglicans, and dropping) comprises 25% of the attendees.

I'm not making this stuff up. I swear. Here's a link to a copy of the "cheat sheet" itself. The attached memo says:
Enclosed you will find two sample narratives that were initiated during our March meeting 2008 session with Macky Alston of Auburn Seminary. The suggestions made by the House of Bishops were collected, and Bishops Ed Little, Michael Curry, Neil Alexander, Mike Smith, Cate Waynick, and I [Clay Matthews] worked with Neva Rae Fox to create the two narratives that you will find in this section.
The idea is that you have a "core message" which has three "supporting ideas", each of which has three "supporting points". This way, all your points underline one of three ideas which, in turn, communicate the core message.

The PEcUSA memo gives two "core messages":
1. At the Lambeth Conference, the bishops of the Anglican Communion renew our deep unity in Christ.
2. When Anglicans work together through the power of the Holy Spirit, we change the world.
Sounds well and good... until you look at the details. Then you find (as the ACI's Rev. Turner points out) that
The TEC memo is in fact proposing a post modern, de-centered church joined not by mutual recognition of belief and practice but by allegiance to a common mission.... The implication is that the mission of the church has nothing to do with the matters that now so divide the Communion—that we can do mission while in fundamental disagreement about the content of the Christian gospel... Those of us who look to our bishops to speak truthfully about our real circumstances can only hope and pray that the incoherence of what TEC is proposing will be pointed out in no uncertain terms.

One example of that incoherence is the talking-points' inclusion, yet again, of this typical PEcUSA (I'm sorry, there's no other word for it) crap about "reconciliation". This has been the going buzz-word in Shorian circles for years now, despite the fact that it is used in complete contradiction to what Scripture means by the term. But I've already analyzed that bankrupt theology here.

I'm sure more blogs and news sources will run various examinations of this PEcUSA memo. For my purposes, I'd like to do something a little different, by taking a look back at those two "talking points". Do they sound at all familiar? They should. Here's what the ABC said at the opening of the Conference:
The Conference this year has two key points of focus: strengthening the sense of a shared Anglican identity among the bishops from around the world, and helping to equip bishops for the role they increasingly have as leaders in mission.
This got me wondering... just who beside the Episcopal bishops may be using these talking points? We certainly heard about "unity in diversity" in Lambeth's opening sermon.

So, as a case study, I looked back over Williams' presidential address and compared it to the first talking point in PEcUSA's set "consensus". Here's what the PEcUSA memo says, and here are comments by the ABC:

Core Message: At the Lambeth Conference, the bishops of the Anglican Communion renew our deep unity in Christ.
Idea One:A Church that celebrates both unity and diversity.
Supporting points:
  1. God made a diverse creation which reveals many gifts but the same Spirit.
  2. Jesus calls a diverse community into being and sent them in witness.
    • we have it in us to be a Church that can manage to respond generously and flexibly to diverse cultural situations
  3. St. Paul called a diverse church to unity in Christ.
    • How do we genuinely think together about diverse local challenges? If we can find ways of answering this, we shall have discovered an Anglicanism... in belonging to a fellowship that is more than local. The entire Church is present in every local church assembled around the Lord's table. Yet the local church alone is never the entire Church. We are called to see this... as an invitation to be more and more lovingly engaged with each other.
Idea Two: The Anglican Communion is a community of faith, bound together through baptism in Jesus Christ.
Supporting points:
  1. The Anglican Communion is a network of relationships across cultural, political and economic boundaries.
    • God works through the specifics of the community that is called in Christ's name -- the Church. And the Church is known in diverse forms and traditions.
  2. Baptism in Christ demands that we always welcome each other in our journey in faith.
    • That's why a Covenant should not be thought of as a means for excluding the difficult or rebellious but as an intensification... of relations that already exist. And those who in conscience could not make those intensified commitments are not thereby shut off from all fellowship.
    • Bear in mind that in this Conference we are committed to common prayer and mutual care so that the hard encounters can be endured and made fruitful.
  3. Tell a story to illustrate.
Idea Three: The reconciling work of Christ is at the heart of our common life.
Supporting Points:
  1. In Christ, we seek justice, love mercy, heal creation, and end poverty. And this is hard work.
    • If our efforts at finding greater coherence for our Communion don't result in more transforming love for the needy, in greater awareness and compassion for those whose humanity is abused or denied, then this coherence is a hollow, self-serving thing.
    • we seek for clarity about what we must do in a suffering world because we are surely at one in knowing what the Incarnate Lord requires of us -- and so at one in acknowledging his supreme and divine authority.
    • all those existing bonds are already being richly used by God for the service of his world.
    • Jesus did not call us to agree but to love as he loves. And this is hard work.
      • The indaba process is meant to clarify what the real questions and concerns are, so that everyone comes to have some sort of shared perspective on things, even if they don't yet agree.
      • It means giving attendance at these groups an absolute priority during our time together. It means being willing to contribute, to share what's on your mind and heart. It means being ready to listen to what someone else is saying and not leap to hostile or suspicious conclusions.
      • Remember that learning is just that -- not necessarily agreeing, but making sure that you have done all that is humanly possible in order to understand.
    • Tell a story to illustrate.

    Now, I don't mean by this to suggest that the ABC is working off that same PEcUSA "talking points" memo. Maybe he is; maybe he isn't. Maybe PEcUSA got the themes ahead of time from the conference planners; maybe they took suggestions from them. Maybe they're both drawing on a common source. Maybe it is a bizarre coincidence. But, whatever the cause, there's obviously a significant congruence.

    Which highlights why there's one passage of Rev. Turner's analysis with which I disagree. For he suggests that the existence of this memo -- the arrival at Lambeth by PEcUSA bishops not prepared to listen or change their minds, but to demand that others do -- means that it
    signals a hardened position on the part of TEC’s Episcopal leadership that runs counter to the spirit the Archbishop of Canterbury has asked to guide the bishops in their deliberations—a spirit of mutual subjection in Christ that is open to correction.
    Certainly there is no -- and never has been -- attitude of "mutual subjection in Christ" or any "open[ness] to correction" among PEcUSA's heretical and apostate leadership and bishops. But I don't think this represents "counter to the spirit the Archbishop of Canterbury has asked to guide the bishops."

    For I think the ABC is on the same page as PEcUSA's apostates -- he's simply subtler about it. (And not so foolish as to openly bring such a memo to indaba groups). For the spirit he has called for is not one of theological or ecclesiological agreement... but one of "mutual listening" and "focus on the material world" and "unity in process" and so forth. And, because this means you get to be an "official Anglican" without actually having to believe in Scriptural, Creedal Christianity or give up heretical practices and beliefs... PEcUSA is right on board with him on that one.

    And if you take a look at the majority of the majority of the "self-select sessions" being offered at Lambeth (click on the "bishops" section on a day, and then on the "self-select" item most days offer) you'll suspect that at least some of Lambeth's designers and planners had these same notions in mind as well.

    Leaving one to wonder if, perhaps, the ABC and his much-touted indaba groups haven't been designed to distract and deflect, as much as possible, the Conference's time, attention, work and actions from focusing on the the genuinely pressing theological and ecclesiological issues and crisis every bit as much as the PEcUSA memo is designed to aid those bishops in accomplishing that same distraction and deflection in the indaba groups themselves.