Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Where is the Authority?

At a recent event at Seabury-Western. I was asked to address the following question:
What does society's shift from hierarchy to network theory mean for our understanding of authority, scripture and the institutional church?
As a simple explanation of "network theory," think of the way the internet has changed our society. Among other implications, consider the ways that we group ourselves today. Communities, or a sense of community, are now almost completely disconnected from geography. Instead, in today's society. people are grouped along the lines of the following priorities:

1. Hobbies (or special interests, as in "the Anglican Wars")
2. Family
3. Work colleagues

Geography is no longer the primary basis for community. People are now defining communities through leisure activities, work and friendships.

This has an impact on a number of ways in which we have traditionally understood "church." To begin, I want to talk about how this shift has caused us to reconsider our understanding of "authority."

The term "authority," as traditionally used in Christian circles, is derived from the Greek concept of "exousia," which is consistently translated into English as "authority." However, the Greek concept of authority is far more complex in comparison to our normal understanding of the term. We tend to think of "authority" as a tool of domination. But Jesus was clear that is not what he meant; "The Gentiles lord their authority (kata-exousia) over one another, but not so with you!"

If you look at the different ways the term "exousia" is used in scripture, it does indeed sometimes refer to power, strength and control, but also competency, mastery, liberty and freedom. In other words, the one with "exousia" is the one who has "the freedom to act." Jesus, as the Son of God, speaks and acts with authority. As we faithfully follow him, we also receive, to a more limited degree, this same "freedom to act."

So, who has the authority? Who has the freedom to act? Well, in a network society, that depends. If the traditional persons who are considered to have authority refuse to act, the network will function temporarily in its place.

An example of how this works can be seen in my previous story, The Boys of Hall. The crisis was the unexpected death of a member of our cottage in reform school. The institution (the traditional authority) did not act. No memorial service, counseling sessions, etc. were offered. Consequently, the boys took on the limited authority that they had and organized their own memorial service.

As the person that they identified as having the most experience with the bible and Christian prayer, I was asked to lead this service. Note that the authority to function in such a capacity was very limited. It ended when the memorial service we held in the kitchen of Hall Cottage ended. I then returned to the role of just another throw-away kid who had broken various laws of the land, and so had been placed in that institution. After we had grieved the loss of one of our own, I returned to the role of just another of many boys of Hall.

I think such an understanding of "authority" might be helpful for the Church today. If the "institution," for whatever reason, is unable to respond appropriately to the crisis, the local community will respond anyway, with or without the blessing of the institution.

Those appointed to lead this response may be drawn from the ranks of the ordained clergy. But, then again, the one granted that particular authority may just be a fifteen year old convicted car thief and drug addict.

Being too deeply identified with the institution, especially if it is an incompetent institution, is not always a plus. In a network society, the needs will be met, even if it means traveling outside the boundaries of traditional authority structures.

This is not simply my opinion, by the way. This is how things are unfolding in this postmodern world. The time of prince bishops and cardinal rectors has come and gone. Any authority as leaders they continue to express is granted to them, not by the nature of their office, but by the authority of the gathered community. And, if they fail to respond to the needs of the community, alternative authorities will be sought out.

Your thoughts?


Saturday, September 19, 2009

Mission and Ministry in the Great Emergence

This program is being offered by Seabury-Western Theological Seminary next week. It is based on Phyllis Tickle's book The Great Emergence.

Phyllis will be giving the keynote address on Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning. Among the other presenters will be Nadia Bolz-Weber, Winnie Varghese, John Denson and Susan Harlow. I'll be facilitating the Thursday morning seminar.

So, if you can arrange a trip on short notice, come join us. Or, if you're in the Chicago area and just want to get together for a cup of coffee, drop me an email.


Monday, September 14, 2009

The Anglican Dominionists

What follows is a review of some of the events within the Anglican Communion over the last decade. The information contained within this summary can be supported by numerous other websites. Rather than focus on those other sources, I'm going to just tell the story, and then add a number of links at the end for further reading. If you request more information about a particular item, I'll be happy to point you to a source.

My main premise is that the current "schism" within The Episcopal Church is primarily being led by "Dominionists," which is a subset of Christians who are working to take over every aspect of common life in the United States. They want to replace the Constitution with biblical law. Dominionists are often referred to in the media as the "Religious Right," and have called themselves The Moral Majority, The Christian Coalition, and various other titles.

Anglicans are too reasonable for such unusual ideas to ever get a strong foothold within our tradition. However, these ideas have found their way in, primarily through the Americian Anglican Council (AAC), which became The Anglican Communion Network (ACN), which became the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). The leadership rosters of all three of these groups contains a very similar list of names. Same players, same game. In this case, I am suggesting that the game was not simply disagreement with the majority of Episcopalians regarding the role of women, gays and lesbians within the Church, but was actually far more ambitious: the replacement of The Episcopal Church with their own brand of extremist Anglicanism. This, of course, was simply doing their small part to further the overall plan by the Religious Right; to replace all leaders, secular and religious, with those who are willing to make biblical law the law of the land.

Most Dominionists, especially Anglican Dominionists, will never publically admit to their ultimate goal of making the United States into a theocracy. Such matters are discussed only when they are alone with their own kind. This makes it rather difficult to track such troubling ideas. However, it does not make it impossible.

The most extreme form of Dominionism is "Christian Reconstructionism," which strives to incorporate all 613 laws from the biblical code into secular law. That would include capital punishment for adultery, blasphemy, heresy, homosexual behavior, idolatry, prostitution, and sorcery. R.J. Rushdoony, author of The Institutes of Biblical Law, is credited as the founder of this particular sect.

One of Rushdoony's most devout followers was Howard F. Ahmanson Jr., a reclusive millionaire from California. Ahmanson served on the Board of Rushdoony's Chalcedon Institute for 23 years, and was at his bedside when he died.

Howard Ahmanson, and his wife Roberta, became members of St. James Episcopal Church in Newport Beach, California. The rector of that parish was Canon David Anderson.

In 1995, the American Anglican Council was formed, in response to certain developments within The Episcopal Church. It was funded primarily through a group of large donors, of which Ahmanson was one. Ahmanson's support was considered so important to the AAC that there was some discussion about including his name in the letterhead of their stationary. Internal memos revealed that the leadership of the AAC were willing to do almost anything to keep Ahmanson on board. Soon after that, Ahmanson's rector, David Anderson, became President and CEO of the AAC, a postion he still holds today.

The AAC moved into an office in Washingtom DC with another organization, the Institute on Religion and Democracy. Dianne Knippers, President of the IRD, was the original treasurer for the AAC. Roberta Ahmanson served on the board of the IRD.

The IRD has a long history of anti-communist activity, especially during the Reagan era. At one point, the rhetoric from Knippers resulted in the erroneous identification of a group of missionaries in Nicaragua as being a communist front. Their clinics became targets for terrorists.

The primary goal of the IRD is to replace the leadership of the mainline churches with their own conservative leaders. A reading of some of their material makes it clear that they continue to be active players in the Religious Right, and are very clearly of the Dominionist mindset.

Now that the IRD and the AAC were, for all intents and purposes, one organization (sharing board members, wealthy donors and the same mailing address) they began to focus on tearing down The Episcopal Church. After this alliance was formed, one of their early moves was to launch a smear campaign against Gene Robinson, who had just been elected as bishop of New Hampshire. In 2003, Ahmanson gave the IRD funds for this campaign, which was launched by Fred Barnes, a member of the IRD's board. Robinson received the necessary consents in spite of the IRD's efforts.

Such techniques were used against the leadership of the Methodist and Presbyterian Churches as well. Eventually, the outrage expressed towards the IRD by a number of people within the mainline denominations was cause for the AAC to distance themselves from the organization. They set up their own office in Atlanta. It is also worth noting that Ephraim Radner, affiliated with the Anglican Communion Institute, also resigned from his seat on the IRD board, which he had occupied for many years.

Howard Ahmanson has become even more reclusive, but as recently as June of 2008 showed up at GAFCON, an international group of Anglicans supportive of the efforts to destroy TEC and replace it with their own entity. It is also worth noting that Ahmanson was one of the major contributers towards the effort to pass Proposition 8 in California.

The IRD continues to attempt to have an impact within TEC, with limited success.

The story continues, but that's enough for now.

Here's a few links for further reading:

The Spread of Theocracy

Following the Money

Theocracy Watch

Avenging Angel of the Religious Right

The Mystery Man Behind Proposition 8

IRD and the CEPAD Affair

President of IRD Should Resign

Fox News, Falls Church and the IRD

That should keep you busy for awhile.


UPDATE: Lifting the Rock notes that the keynote speaker for the 2009 ACNA Clergy and Spouse Retreat is none other than Wellington Boone, a well known Dominionist. Imagine that.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Review?

Perhaps I have taken it for granted that those who visit here are familiar with the background of the current "Anglican Wars." Do we need to review some of the basics?

For instance, is everyone aware of the difference between a "conservative" and an "extreme conservative"? If you are not, then, for a quick review, I recommend you read this post from back in 2006; Don't Call Them Conservatives.

My assertion is that those who claim to be Anglicans while they do everything they can to bury The Episcopal Church are an extension of the radical Religious Right. They are very dangerous people. I can once again connect the dots for you, if you would like.

Why might such a series be of value? Because I think I bring a rather unusual perspective to the matter. You see, besides being a former drug addict and car thief, once upon a time I was also an active member of the extreme religious right.

I must confess to the following:

1. When I returned to Christianity, it was of the Pentecostal variety. The supernatural manifestations trumped everything else. A literal reading of the bible came along with that.
2. As one example of this, I once burned a number of my books, because I consider them "occult," and so a danger to my family.
3. I picketed abortion clinics more than once.
4. I believed we were living in the end times. I kept a "survivial kit" ready in the basement, which including many firearms and ammunition.
5. I once voted for Ronald Reagan (believe it or not, that is the most difficult confession to make on this list!).

That gives you an idea of the strange world in which I returned to my faith. I had not moved far from those rather extreme positions by the time my Bishop sent me to Nashotah House. As a matter of fact, my first sermon after entering seminary at my home parish was a point by point refutation of some statement made by Bp. Spong. I even handed out brochures for Episcopalians United (an extremists group, rooted in John Howe's parish in Truro, VA) at the end of the service.

What made me question these extreme postions? Primarily two factors, revealed to me during my time at Nashotah House. I received an excellent theological education (thank you Jim Griffiss, Joe Hunt, David Ruppe and David Schlaeffer), and was able to witness first hand the unhealthy level of anger being manifested by the other extremists at the House.

That was just the beginning, of course. Over the last 25 years, I have continued to learn and to grow.

I am making this confession so that you will know the reason why I believe that I am somewhat uniquely qualified to connect the dots between these so-called Anglicans and the extreme religious right, who are currently shouting down women in wheelchairs at town hall meetings and ready to grant Sarah Palin sainthood. It is because I've been there. It takes one to know one, so to speak.

So, anyone interested in such a review?


Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The Right Not to Tolerate the Intolerant

Compliments of Dave Tepper:

We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal."
—Karl Popper, "The Open Society and Its Enemies".

Thanks, Dave.


UPDATE: Apparently, some of the more "intolerant" Anglicans elsewhere are unaware of the work of Karl Popper, considered one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century. They have lifted the above quote, posted it on their site, and are having great fun using it for target practice.

In an effort to educate the intolerant, here is the entirety of Popper's Paradox of Tolerance:

Less well known is the paradox of tolerance: Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies, as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Extremists Demand a "War Chief"

There has been some suggestion from a few folks that Episcopalians need to calm down and play nice. I have no doubt that these sentiments are well intentioned. However, I continue to believe that they are misguided. We cannot simply ignore those who lie, steal and threaten violence against members of the Episcopal Church. That would simply be unethical.

Let me give you an example: If I was walking down the street, and saw someone being beaten and robbed, what would be my moral obligation? Hopefully we can all agree that ignoring the attack would not be an option. We would have to do whatever we could do to stop the violence.

There are parallels with that scenario and what is unfolding within the Anglican Communion. There are leaders within the Communion who have threatened and engaged in acts of violence against those with whom they disagree, in the attempt to gain personal power for themselves.

One would think that the actions of Peter Akinola would be sufficient evidence to suggest that the danger of violence is very real in some parts of the Anglican Communion. What is even more alarming is that to date, no one in a leadership position within the Anglican Communion has condemned Akinola's violence. In fact, he has been allowed to establish a satellite in the United States. How anyone claiming to be a follower of Jesus Christ could align themselves with such a disturbed leader is beyond my comprehension.

Did Akinola need to export his violence to the shores of North America? Not really. Threats of violence and the language of war have always been an integral element in the strategy of a handful of extremists in the US who have been plotting to destroy the Episcopal Church long before Akinola strode onto the stage. As a matter of fact, there is evidence that suggests that it was North American extremists who ushered Akinola onto that global stage, for their own nefarious purposes.

The North American extremists recognize that the tactics that work in Nigeria will not work so well in the US, so their violent intentions are normally carefully veiled within secret memos and closed meetings. But, every once in awhile, they slip out.

For instance, consider this 2003 memo, in which Bishops supporting the AAC/Network/ACNA (same group, different names) "commit to the guerrilla warfare of the next year." You can read more about the early plots of this guerrilla group to stamp out TEC here.

In case you might imagine that such examples of "war" language are just a bit of colorful allegory, let me suggest you take a look at this thread of comments from a notorious testosterone-driven website that claims to be Anglican. They are proud of the fact that they've got guns, and know how to use them. Challenges to their most unChristian threats are met with silence. To this day, that unfortunate thread remains up for all the world to see. Apparently, they honestly believe that such blatant attempts at intimidation actually help their cause. And, judging from the reactions of some Anglicans, which basically involves sticking their heads in the sand, perhaps they do.

More recently, it was almost humorous to hear this "slip of the tongue" by the leader of the American Anglican Council (more about that group of guerrillas later):

...Fr. Ashey compared the AAC to the Special Forces of the U.S. military.

“Like Special Forces, we go behind the scenes and we blow up things,” he said, adding quickly that what the AAC blows up is principalities and powers...
Oh, I bet he added that second part quite quickly, once the shock in the eyes of some of the reporters present registered.

This isn't the first time the AAC has proudly described themselves using war language. Back in 2005, David Anderson, leader of the AAC at that time, described his organization this way:

...We consult with a large number of our constituency on a variety of issues including assistance with legal, strategic and communications issues. This includes some covert activity! One of the major problems we face in the AAC is that a large portion of what we do is under the radar or behind the curtain...
We might need to refresh our memories regarding the history of this particular "covert operative". You have to understand David Anderson to understand the AAC, as for many years we could say he was the AAC.

Before David "I like a good fight" Anderson jumped to Nigeria, he was the rector of St. James, Newport Beach, which is the parish who has asked for their case to be heard by the Supreme Court. David then launched the American Anglican Council, partially bankrolled by Howard Ahmanson, a former parishioner and previous disciple of the infamous Rushdoony. You may recall that Rushdoony was the grandfather of the Dominionists, who advocated for, among other things, capital punishment for all gays and lesbians.

Anderson set himself up in the offices of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, where he continued to build his reputation as "that angry guy" among most Anglicans. He was rewarded for his lack of self control by being issued a mitre by Abp. Peter Akinola of Nigeria. Birds of a feather and all that.

The mitre has not seemed to tame David at all. His violent rhetoric continues:

...What do these days in the Anglican World Communion call for, a Peace Chief or a War Chief? I would argue that this present time requires a War Chief for the defense of the Gospel and the Anglican Communion. Those Anglicans who are proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ are beset on several sides by those who hate the true Gospel: humanism and materialism attack from one side, militant Islam from another, and heretical distortions of the Christian message from still another. The church needs leaders who correctly perceive the clear and present danger, have a workable vision of how to go forward in this crisis, and the energy, willingness and focus to actually lead. Without this leadership, the Communion will move into chaos and the advantage will be ceded to those who would reshape the Gospel and the discipline of the historic faith...
Sure sounds like yet another declaration of war to me. Unfortunately, it seems that the justifications for such warfare are rooted in a bad case of paranoia and a penchant for making false accusations. Do check out Susan Russell's analysis of David's letter. Mark Harris offers some good insights as well.

And by the way, as Mark points out, take care not to be hoodwinked by some of the other covert operatives of this war party. They like having lots of different names. This group actually thinks that some will believe them to be "moderate" conservatives. The evidence suggests otherwise. Jim Naughton provides some good commentary on the latest ACI statement here.

So, you are witnessing a beating and robbery taking place. What will you do? Ignore it? Or do whatever you can do to stop it?


Thursday, September 03, 2009

The Train Won't Stop Going

It appears that a few Episcopal bishops are visiting Canterbury. The speculation is that this meeting is to discuss the "two track" model of Anglicanism, which seems to have been the preferred compromise of Canterbury for the last few years.

My response is, so what? If The Episcopal Church is to be relegated to the category of second class citizens, so be it. And, if these bishops think it is so darn important for them to sign some covenant, then let them sign it.

We've been talking about "making a sacrifice" for the sake of the Gospel for quite awhile now. In the past, it was a small group within the Church that was being asked to make that sacrifice. Now we are faced with the possibility that we all will have to participate in such a sacrifice. Not such a bad thing, it seems to me.

However, if this is a ploy by the ACNA, CANA, etc. folks to get some kind of official recognition, then it matters to me, a little bit. Those who lie and steal in an attempt to gain personal power for themselves need to be held accountable.

On the other hand, do I want to be part of a Communion that would officially recognize such scoundrels? I don't think so.

In the end, it's all an academic exercize anyway. As much as my Anglo-Catholic trained intellect hates to admit it, the reality is that in this post modern world, hierarchies are usually more of a bane than a blessing. Truth is known through relationships, and those relationships grow out of local communities. Those from on high who desire to "lord their authority" over such communities are quickly becoming irrelevant.

So, let those who desire to assign our train to this track or the other get on with it. Such bureaucratic decisions are not likely to cause us to stop proclaiming the radically inclusive love of God, made known to us through Jesus Christ, regardless of who is made nervous by this liberating message.

All this talk about tracks brought to mind one of my favorite tunes:

Here's the lyrics of that last verse, in case you missed it:

He hears the silence howling
Catches angels as they fall.
And the all-time winner
Has got him by the balls.
He picks up Gideon's Bible
Open at page one
God stole the handle and
The train won't stop going
No way to slow down.
The train won't stop going. No way to slow down. Canterbury and those bishops he is entertaining this week might as well just get used to it.

Now, please feel free to critique my rather shallow comments about this latest development in the Anglican saga. But, I will consider any criticism of Jethro Tull to be blasphemous. You have been warned.