Friday, August 24, 2007

Choosing What We Believe

A few years ago, I sat down at a computer keyboard and typed a short letter to the congregation of Truro Church in Fairfax, Virginia.

It was not a letter intended to express my sentiments. Rather, it was a note from the Rev. Richard Crocker to the rest of the congregation about our latest adult education classes.

Yep, I was a ghostwriter for Richard on that occasion, attempting to write something that conveyed the heart and the mind of our overworked, beloved associate rector. I went back and looked over what Richard had said in sermons he'd written about adult education, and even included a phrase or two that Richard commonly utters. I did my best to sound like Richard, yet most of the words were my own.

I fully expected Richard to revise portions of my letter, but he didn't. He reviewed it, and he let it stand as is. It was printed in our adult education brochure.

Did I write the letter exactly the way Richard would have? Of course not. But did what I write agree with (at least some of) Richard's thoughts? It must have, or he never would have let it pass.

If I remember correctly, I composed the letter on Richard's work computer.

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Given my experience, and having just come back this evening from a few days away from the Anglican conflict (I was on vacation with my wife, and that will resume tomorrow), I'm feeling both bemused and disgusted with the Episcopal progressive spin on the "ghostwriting" incident involving the Rt. Rev. Canon Martyn Minns and Archbishop Peter Akinola.

Because when you have Susan Russell, Father Jake, Jim Naughton, Mark Harris, and others essentially saying, "Oh, it's not a ghostwriter that bothers us -- it's that we're not hearing the true voice of Nigerian Anglicans, but rather western conservatives who have been trying to destroy the church," it's time to join Baby Blue and sound a tin-foil hat alert.

Progressive Anglicans seem to have an awfully tough time with this. Many are absolutely convinced that there is some Grand Master Conspiracy behind all of the troubles associated with the Anglican Communion. Unfortunately for them, they have to keep reinventing their theories to fit ever-evolving "facts."

It wasn't too long ago that many of them considered Minns to be a puppet of Akinola -- and delighted in insulting Minns as a consequence. Now, they're jumping up and down, proclaiming the CANA bishop and other western evangelicals to be the real power behind Akinola's supposed bluster.

Which is it? It never seems to bother them that they have to change their "facts" -- and they have done so repeatedly -- at a moment's notice. That just confirms to them the intricacy of the Grand Master Conspiracy.

Are the details of the supposed Network/CANA/AAC/IRD/AMiA/(fill in the blank) conspiracy coming to pass? Of course, progressives say -- until things go badly (or at least seem to go badly) for one or more of the groups or individuals supposedly in on this great conspiracy. Then they chuckle that any conspiratorial attempts are failing, and it's game over for those whom they oppose. A few days later, the Network (or fill in the blank) seems to be on the ascendancy again, and guess what? Now the impossible-to-stop Grand Master Conspiracy is right on track. (And, of course, their views seemingly shift whenever it appears politically expedient for them to do so. )

The specter of slandering godly church leaders and other individuals never seems to haunt progressives' minds, either. That doesn't stop some progressives from penning incredibly broad, one-dimensional statements like this one from the Rev. Susan Russell: "So forgive us ... our moment of glee at the rest of the world glimpsing for a moment the truth we've known for years: this 'schism' has been designed, initiated and implemented by those committed to splitting apart the church they have been unsuccessful in recreating in their own image."

Does it ever trouble progressives that orthodox Anglicans even might be (for have no doubt, they certainly are) working for the unity of the church and to keep it faithful to the Lord God who made us all? Do they ever stop and consider that issues such as (but by no means limited to) same-sex blessings and whether Jesus actually died for our sins (as opposed to because of our sins) are not just areas of "disagreement" (a term that unfortunately trivializes the seriousness of the issues), but essential matters of church teaching that not only may harm the unity of the church, but compromise its holiness and the holiness of its members?

Sadly, they apparently cannot be concerned about slander when they are evidently convinced they know the inner hearts, minds, activities, and whereabouts of those whom they so strongly oppose. They express certainty that Minns made the revisions to Akinola's letter, even though none of them were there. They act convinced that Akinola could not have been in conversation with Minns about the document even if Minns did type the revisions himself.

And they do not think twice about grounding their arguments in suppositions. To cite just one example, Father Jake, in critiquing Akinola's letter, made this astonishing statement about a man whom he has never met: "I do not believe his pretense of sadness [concerning the current lower-than-expected number of acceptances to the 2008 Lambeth Conference]. I think he is voicing his wishful thinking."

This type of argument is about as effective as me saying, "I do not believe Father Jake's pretense of conviction in Jesus Christ as the way to God. I think he is voicing an argument to make points with orthodox Christians."

Now, I have never uttered (or even thought, before constructing this hypothetical example) such a statement and do not believe it. There are many reasons why I do not hold that position, the most fundamental one being that I do not know Jake personally at all. Do I have any ground on which to argue that Jake does not hold such a conviction? No. Even if I could point out and criticize statements or actions that seem to (or even actually) contradict Jake's stated belief, I could not call Jake's statement a "pretense." I could believe all I wanted that it was a pretense, but I couldn't state it as a fact that Jake was lying about his conviction.

Similarly, does Jake have any ground on which to argue that Akinola is not sad about the Anglican Communion situation? No. Jake unquestionably doubts Akinola's sincerity, but he cannot assign a motive to Akinola with any first-hand knowledge. He has no grounding whatsoever to call any statement of Akinola's a "pretense."

But this type of overreaching pervades writings of progressives all the time. So a statement like the following one on the part of the Rev. Mark Harris incredibly gets cited by other progressives as if it proved anything:

"It is common scuttlebutt that Bishop Minns in his former capacity as general managerial lackey for the Archbishop was in constant contact with him throughout the Dar Es Salaam meeting. Some thought Minns put the words in the Archbishop's mouth. Well, perhaps he was not lackey but more like the party whip. Now perhaps he is more than whip. Now he appears as the voice behind the throne... "(emphasis added)

Look at the words: "common scuttlebutt" (among progressives, of course), "thought," "perhaps." Are any of these words the grounds on which a solid case can be argued? They're valuable in terms of revealing different progressive viewpoints, but they remain speculation. Even "appears" is a questionable assertion. (And let's not even talk about the offensiveness of terms like "lackey.")

If progressives want to know why so many orthodox Anglicans feel that they cannot remain in the Episcopal Church, they should look to a large degree at their own words and actions. The attribution of speculated, and damaging, motives to orthodox Anglican leaders; "glee" at seeming progressive victories; insults and statements that the departures are inconsequential -- all of these things, and many more, contribute to orthodox Anglicans feeling that they cannot stay in the Episcopal Church.

The view of orthodox Anglican leaders is so negative and one-sided on the progressive end that people are left with a stark choice. Given that all of us, including godly leaders, struggle with sin daily and have our own weaknesses, are orthodox Christian leaders such as (but not limited to) Minns and Duncan to be respected and trusted? Do they have good ends in mind for the church of God, and for the body of Christ? Or are they nefarious leaders who have been plotting the destruction of one segment of the body of Christ for a decade?

This is not the same question as whether to leave the Episcopal Church. Orthodox Anglicans hold different convictions on that matter, and some are still working through that issue. Rather, the question concerns whether we essentially trust orthodox Christian leaders to have the good of the body of Christ in mind, even if we are not going to follow certain ones in either leaving or staying in (as the case may be) the Episcopal Church. To allude to a choice that Harry Potter must make in J.K. Rowling's latest bestseller, this is a question of choosing what we believe amid competing voices. The times demand this when orthodox Christian leaders are slandered with abandon.

6 comments:

Jake said...

I assure you that my colorful language regarding the schismatics is tame in comparison to the ugly things I have seen said about our Presiding Bishop and various other bishops with whom the extremists disagree.

BTW, how's that Commie hunting mission in Central America going?

Douglas said...

In light of ++Peter presumably relying upon the words of others to give voice to his thoughts, perhaps 'Fr. Jake' would now be prepared to divulge his true identity rather than continually hiding behind a quaint nom de plume (or should I say, nom de guerre?) Perhaps then this 'priest' from New Jersey might then disabuse us schismatics of the notion that his vitriol emanates from an obscure Episcopal parish in the Garden State and not some 'progressive' outpost in the South African bush!

Seriously Jake, your air of desperation bears a distinct odor. I believe it was Akinola who consecrated Minns, and not the other way around. Save the [ghost]writing invective for All
Souls' Day!

Ralph Webb said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ralph Webb said...

Jake, I don't agree with you that the comments from orthodox Anglicans about the PB or any other issue have been worse than those from progressives on a variety of topics. Nevertheless, I agree that people on both sides of the aisle sadly have made "ugly" statements at different times. All of us who are Christians are charged to guard our language, but our sinfulness does sometimes get the better of us. I pray that all of us, if or when we do sin, will be convicted by the Holy Spirit and repent.

Jake, I expressed publicly my gratitude for your apology at Stand Firm concerning the Central America charges. I sincerely hope that you are not reverting to the conspiracy theories, which do not present either a charitable or accurate picture of the IRD. Still, if you do have concerns over that issue, Alan Wisdom answered them over at Stand Firm.

Jake said...

douglas,

I have not been anonymous for some time now. If you're that interested, visit Jake's place and use the "about" link.

Ralph,

I did indeed apologize for accusing the IRD of premeditated murder, and promised to not repeat that accusation. I am keeping that promise.

Yet, it amazes me that anyone would listen to anything the IRD has to say in light of the "mistakes" that were made in regards to the CEPAD affair.

Kevin said...

Jake,

You're not making sense here.

You did apologies for your accusation which presumes a request for forgiveness. Then you are stating a matter of unforgiveness on the issue that you made the accusation.

The second reason we give IRD the benefit of the doubt is the accuser proved himself in error, highly emotional and made a VERY serious accusation that we're not backed up, the defense Alan Wisdom, who was around then, seemed reasonable. This was when you backed down from your accusations. Which was a noble thing to do.

However to raise the issue again, after making serious allegation that you retracted means the doubt shifts to you. This is the consequence of making that level of accusation which you were not able to support.

To be honest, I'm surprised you even raised CEPAD again after that interchange. Surely there many other things you have on an organization you don't like and are suspect however this one matter you stuck your neck out and it was struck. Your raising it again communicates you really do not have much on this organization and trying to use the same card again.