Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Bishop Kelsey's Mantle

As the bishops of our Church prepare to gather in New Orleans next month, I'm mindful of the important decisions they will have to make in response to the Dar es Salaam Communique. While the "Pastoral Council" scheme proposed by the Primates already has been rejected by the House of Bishops and the Executive Council, it remains for the bishops to respond to the following request of the Communique:

In particular, the Primates request, through the Presiding Bishop, that the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church
1. make an unequivocal common covenant that the bishops will not authorise any Rite of Blessing for same-sex unions in their dioceses or through General Convention (cf TWR, §143, 144); and
2. confirm that the passing of Resolution B033 of the 75th General Convention means that a candidate for episcopal orders living in a same-sex union shall not receive the necessary consent (cf TWR, §134); unless some new consensus on these matters emerges across the Communion (cf TWR, §134).

I'm encouraged by the resolution displayed by our bishops at their last meeting, and am hopeful that they will be equally forthright in their response next month. The New Orleans meeting will be more difficult, however, due to the presence of the persuasive persona of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The ABC, already triangulated between the "Global South" Primates and the rest of the Primates, as well as between liberals and conservatives in the Church of England, has been a powerful force for consensus and unity at any price. It seems that he finds it impossible to self-differentiate as a leader, to take strong stands that, while making the chronic anxiety in the Communion more acute in the short-run, could ultimately move the Communion toward healing at a more mature level of integration.

There have been some signs recently that he is beginning to set boundaries with the Nigerian and Uganda Primates, indicating that if they walk away from the Lambeth Conference they will be responsible for the rupture in the Communion. Still, I am wary. Chronic anxiety in any system has an emotionally regressive pull on leaders, and it takes real strength of character to resist the temptation to preserve togetherness by adapting to the lowest level of functioning in the system.

Edwin Friedman writes in A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix that

The "togetherness" that forms under such circumstances is an undifferentiated togetherness. It is more a stuck-togetherness, similar to the oneness that is characteristic of cults. The chronically anxious, herding family almost seems to develop a "self" of its own to which everyone is expected to adapt. As its regression deepens, it will turn the togetherness principle into the supreme goal that rules every member and transcends all other values. In the herding family, dissent is discouraged, feelings are more important than ideas, peace will be valued over progress, comfort over novelty, and cloistered virtues over adventure. Problems are formulated in rigid either/or, black-and-white, all-or-nothing categories. In this cult-like atmosphere, members of the family will tend to pressure both outsiders and "their own" to adapt to the centrality of its togetherness principle. This behavior is always short-sighted since it promotes contrariness, conflicts of wills, and perversity. In fact, the constant pressure of various members to coerce one another to adapt, whether through threats or charm, is often characteristic of the families with the most severe physical and emotional problems.

The alternative, however, is not to promote compromise and consensus but to develop the kind of self-differentiation in each member that will increase the toleration of every other members' differentiation. Actually, the polarizing potential of the chronically anxious family's all-or-nothing attitudes makes the family more
likely to split and increases the possibility that alienated members will cut off from one another. While the latter may seem to go against the desire for togetherness, it has a selective effect that preserves the homogeneity of the herd, for only those who are willing to surrender their self to the family's self will be comfortable in the homogenized togetherness. And where the family does not break up, the intense, locked-in polarization between members can also be understood as another kind of emotional fusion. Perhaps the major goal of family counselors ought to be to help people separate so that they do not have to "separate." (Friedman, pp. 67-68)

Friedman argues that what is true of families is true of larger systems as well. Capitulation to the herding instinct undermines the capacity of leaders to be decisive.

In order to be "inclusive," the herding family will wind up adopting an appeasement strategy toward its most troublesome members while sabotaging those with the most strength to stand up to the troublemakers. The chronically anxious, herding family will be far more willing to risk loosing its leadership than to lose those who disturb their togetherness with their immature responses. Always striving for consensus, it will react against any threat to its togetherness by those who stand on principle rather than good feelings. (Friedman, p. 68)

Sounds like the Anglican Communion to me! The mistake of liberals has been to adapt to the immaturity, threats, and emotional regressiveness of schismatic elements in the church for the sake of "inclusiveness." In truth, we are better served by leaders who can take firm stands rather than constantly trying to moderate the reactivity of the least healthy members of the body. "The word decision means literally 'to cut away.' When one makes a decision, one is making choices, which includes the choice of being willing to give something up." (Friedman, p. 69).

My hope is that our bishops are coming to recognize this. The late Bishop James Kelsey wrote to his sister shortly before the March 2007 House of Bishops meeting that

I have come to believe that the time has come for us to step back and name bigotry for what it is. All these nuances about the nature of the Anglican Communion are important, but I am going to need to say that even if it resulted in a tearing of the fabric of our ecclesiology as we have received it, when the time comes that our ecclesiastical structures are bringing us to even tacitly support bigotry, it may be time for us to go boldly, even against our beloved polity, if need be, to stand and speak out for gospel love. (Bishop James Kelsey, personal email communication, March 7, 2007, shared with permission of his family).

Bishop Kelsey understood that leadership requires acting on principle, "gospel love," rather than good feelings to preserve immature stuck-togetherness. He understood that decisive leadership requires a willingness to give something up, even something as valuable as the unity of our polity, to preserve what is even more valuable: our baptismal covenant.

We will miss your voice in September, Bishop Kelsey. God willing, others will take up your mantle.


xb blog said...

been running into quotes from that friedman book all over the place.

revlois said...

With your permission, I am printing this page, sidebar and all, and would like to send it to my bishop as my answer to the House of Bishops Theology Committee's questions to their study guide "Communion Matters". You have said everything I want to say.
Lois Keen

Rev. Carol said...

Bishop Kelsey was a remarkable man, warm, wise, approachable. And thank you, John, for this. It is easy to confuse taking a decisive stand with taking an aggressive one and I think the herd instinct arises all too easily in a world like ours -- find an enclave and keep the peace. But Jesus stood up for love and so should we. If we are not diverse and dynamic, if we don't go to the edge, we aren't there.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

The best legacy Bishop Kelsey's could have is that he will leave a HOB more self-differentiated than before.

Having heard and experience such liberation, I can't imagine even Rowan would have a negative effect on the . . . "herd."

Fr. John said...

Lois - feel free to send this on to whomever you choose.

Elizabeth we shall see whether HOB stands for "House" or "Herd" of Bishops, and I share your hopefulness. The temptation will be to say "We already have moratoria in place and must wait until GC2009 for further developments." Given the latest Network shenanigans and Primatial posturing for a new and improved Anglican Communion, however, I suspect our bishops will feel emboldened to speak a more prophetic word.