Monday, February 28, 2005

Error, Denial, and Wishful Thinking

I have found myself over the last few days with a whole series of questions that I have been asking myself. That is not entirely true, some of these questions have been forming for a while but only now are they reaching any communicable form.

It was not very long after the initial shock and pain of GC2003 started to wear off that I found myself noticing that on all sides of this ghastly debate there is an unwillingness to face facts and realities. Those on the left were saying gushing things like, "This is like women's ordination, it will be a storm in a teacup and then everything will settle down again." I believe this was wishful thinking on their part -- whistling in the dark. On the right were those who were saying, "In
no more than a year the Episcopal Church will have completely come apart," and this, too, was black but wishful thinking.

Since then there has been a steady flow of data, statements, spin, political actions, and so forth, and so forth, that have deep within them an inability to look the facts squarely in the face. Kevin Martin is one of the few people who has kept his head and tried to assess what is actually going on, and to comment on it; too many others are either burying their heads in the sand or refusing to allow their
presuppositions to be clouded by anything as uncomfortable as facts.

Two recent statements from the bureaucratic and sclerotic heart of the Episcopal Church are examples of this. One was the dismissal with a wave of a hand of the decline in the number of congregations and a slippage of over 30,000 members in 2003 as something that was to be expected. Goodness knows what sort of response the 2004 figures, which promise to be abysmal, will get. The other was the slight of hand that was being played with budget figures to make what was not as bad as had been expected sound downright rosy. Talk about creative accounting!

These are merely part of a pattern. From dioceses all around the country come all sorts of stories that are attempts to find a silver lining in the very dark clouds rather than accepting the reality of those clouds. Right now it is fascinating to see bishops desperately attempting to spin what the Primates said for all they are worth, extracting tiny gobbets from the whole text in the hope that they can
make it mean what they want it to mean -- several such offerings have come over my cyber-transom today.

At the other end of the spectrum we have good folks, especially pastors, who believe that by walking they can solve the problems. For a lot such an action has been like wandering off into a desert without so much as a full bottle of water to sustain them. If it were true that the problems would be solved by leaving, a lot of us would have gone a long time ago. But this is not the case -- instead, like the wake of the breakdown of a marriage, all this spawns a whole different set of problems. I
appreciate the sensitivities and convictions of those who have done this, but I respectfully suggest that they have in most cases weakened themselves and weakened those who remain to stand up against error.

My two disciplines of study have been theology and history, and when reading accounts of wars and international conflicts it is regularly observed that in these circumstances truth is often the first victim. This can easily be seen in the reporting of the Battle of Britain. Each side grossly inflated its total of enemy planes brought down in an effort to win the propaganda war. Churchill went to great lengths rejoicing over "The Few" of the RAF, when in reality this was not a
David and Goliath fight, but much more of a battle of equals -- and this in no way minimizes the gallantry of those men who defended England's skies that cruel summer and early autumn of 1940.

So in this conflict in North American Anglicanism, truth has fallen victim. If we are to find anything like an honorable way out of the mess that has been brought upon us, truth and honesty will need to be reasserted, and we will have to stare them in the face. With a clearer grasp of the facts we will be in a better position to realize what damage is being done, and what also might be done to resolve the

I suspect, however, that contenders on every side are not yet ready to come to terms with the truth yet. Like warriors on the Somme, the Light Brigade as it charged hopelessly up the valley, or wave after wave of charges Gettysburg, the Wilderness, or any other of those Civil War bloodbaths, the madness of conflict blinds those who can bring resolution to this tragedy. Wishful thinking seems to be winning the
day for the moment, and error is daily weakening this church.

I had hoped I would spend the last active years of my ministry building up a new congregation in an exciting demographic. Instead I have spent the last 18 months preventing the denomination from destroying what we have already achieved, while spending endless hours with others trying to put together a base from which we might move faithfully forward in the midst of error. In my darker moments, like those who watched in horror as men died from the mud and bullets at the Western Front, all I
am able to do is shake my head and say, "What a waste, what a waste."

It seems it will be a while before we come to our senses like the Progigal Son, and realize we are wallowing with the swine, and that pig food is hardly a satisfying diet. When we do, perhaps, we will be ready to rise and go to our Father, and all of us together before him to kneel and say, "We have sinned against heaven and before you." It is no longer a case of who started it, we are all locked in this together, and only together are we going to find a constructive way through it. If we refuse to accept our complicity then we will just continue to spiral downward into ever greater verbal and legal violence to one another.

Meanwhile, it would be a helpful exercise for someone to work hard to monitor the way in which error spawns denial and wishful thinking, because we are going to have to find the machinery to blow away this fog when eventually we are prepared to stop behaving like blinded baffoons and to prostate ourselves in fear and trembling before the living God.

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