Thursday, March 19, 2009

Flogging, Horses, and The Episcopal Church

UPDATE: Interesting backlash underway.

In retrospect, I do think that the strategy shifted for Episcopalian activists after General Convention (Denver) 2000 and the calm, carefully orchestrated, compassionate, inclusive, charm-offensive for the past twenty or thirty years was thrown out the window for a return to the old Act-Up tactics with a marriage twist.

It was clear after Denver 2000 that the Integrity folks were caught off guard by the unlikely coalition and organization of the Episcopal evangelicals and Anglo Catholics to resist the bold march into the future being orchestrated by the Integrity alliances in the church. That led to the ill-advised future-shock tactics of timing the election of the Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003 to require an up or down vote from the entire General Convention in Minneapolis. Again, there was a massive misjudgement that there would be a quick response from the newly enthrone Archbishop of Canterbury and Anglican Communion, as well as the negative reaction from leadership centers in the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic quarters, including Pope John Paul II.

It was catastrophic and this article written by someone clearly on the outside of the Episcopal fray, though very much in line with the thinking, opposes these tactics. And yes, Barack Obama and Joe Biden publicly oppose gay marriage. Surprised? What do they know that Integrity does not?

The tactics, as we see illustrated in this article by Charles Wincoff are what we are seeing now played out on the frontlines in the current "strife" in The Episcopal Church. While the California forces are centering their disdain against Rick Warren while the Episcopal forces are centering their disdain on Peter Akinola, the strategy is the same.

But is all well on the inside? Is that why a common "enemy" strategy is needed to rally the troops? Perhaps there is more dissent from within the ranks we thought, didn't legendary Elton John say as much?


Leaders in the Episcopal Church are now in full-gear, preparing for General Convention this summer and in recent weeks it's been clear that street politics and media campaigning for the summer is underway. Considering their strategic planning philosophy may be found in this key phrase put up this morning by the other cafe.

There is no ethical position of flogging a dying horse.

There are several presumptions from the writer that assumes that one's position is:

1. Ethically superior
2. Morally superior
3. Politically superior
4. Theologically superior
5. The future
6. Liberating
7. Neither flogger or horse
8. The victim
9. Revolutionary
10. American

The focal point for this phrase, oddly enough, is the Archbishop of Canterbury, who's unfortunate intention to intervene at General Convention this summer is seen as "flogging a dying horse of a centralisation project when that is based on sacrificing others."

That pretty much sums up the official view from the leadership of the Episcopal Church's embrace of the "Consultation," as they are now putting out position papers, initiating media blitzes, and uploading YouTube videos.

The Archbishop of Canterbury's insistence on this blasted "Anglican Covenant" is the centralization project that is seen by the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies, as well as the progressive activists in the Episcopal Church as nothing more that the "flogging of a dying horse." Both the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies have made it clear that they have no intention of seeing the covenant adopted while they remain in office.

So the Anglican Covenant is nothing more than flogging a dying horse and the Archbishop of Canterbury's insistence that the Episcopal Church sign off on the Anglican Covenant is akin to the act of flogging itself.

Now what is flogging? Flogging is from the Latin word flagellum which is quite simply what happened to Jesus before He went to the cross. The connotations in American history to flogging are deeply symbolic and tied specifically to America's shameful history of slavery. Whether we are conscious of this or not, flogging in the American mind is attached to a particular group of people.

The term "flogging a dying horse" is another way of saying "beating a dead horse." That is, to quote Wiki, "an idiom that means a particular request or line of conversation is already foreclosed or otherwise resolved, and any attempt to continue it is futile." The first appearance of that phrase comes in the middle of the 18th century in England.

Americans though often use the earlier English phrase (just as we use the word "fall" instead of "autumn" since "fall" is an earlier phrase as well - the predominant British influence on American English ends with the American Revolution in 1776), "flogging a dead horse."

According to Wiki again, the phrase "flogging a dead horse" goes back to the 17th century where it was "slang for"
'work charged before it is executed.' This use of 'dead horse' to refer to pay that was issued before the work was done was an allusion to using one's money to buy a useless thing (metaphorically, 'a dead horse'). Most men paid in advance apparently either wasted the money on drink or other such vices or used it to pay debts.
So in the new context, "flogging a dead horse" means that the Episcopal Church is being required to sign off on an Anglican Covenant that is akin to recklessly wasting one's money in advance for enlisting useless work.

However, the Episcopal Church (for we must now consider that the progressive campaign and the official actions of the Presiding Bishop are one, since Integrity's Consultation has now been raised to official status at General Convention, listed ahead of even the dioceses themselves) sees themselves as the employer in this scenario, not the workers who are out wantonly spending money they have not yet earned on wild living. The Episcopal Church is being required to "pay in advance" for something that is not only utterly useless, but senseless. That is their view of the Anglican Covenant.

What does the Anglican Covenant threaten? In the case of the Episcopal Church's campaign the cost is "full inclusion of the baptized" i.e., the ordination, consecration, or marriage of lesbians, gays, bisexuals (not sure exactly how they get married, but nevermind) and transgendered individuals (which, according to Wiki means those who are "transsexuals, cross dressers, transvestites, drag queens, cross gendered and androgyne" and other terms that probably are better not stated here).

So if the Episcopal Church now sees itself as the boss who being required to pay in advance for work that will never pay off, who is to be paid in this pointless endeavor? Who is being given pay in advance for - ironically - wild living?

It's not the Episcopal Church, of course! And it's not even the Archbishop of Canterbury, except to shame him in his role of flogging the dead horse. The dead horse, the focus of the Episcopal Church's campaign through their activists in the Consultation is the Church of Nigeria. That is their campaign target - not only in their anti-Anglican Covenant campaign but as a focus in the Virginia Supreme Court appeal. The choice of Nigeria is strategic and intentional.

Not Uganda, nor Kenya, nor Rwanda, nor the Sudan (who have, interestingly enough, been actually been far more vocal and bold than Nigeria as we saw not only in recent statements but also at the Lambeth Conference this past summer in Canterbury), or Argentina and the Southern Cone, or Sydney Australia or even the Bishop of Rochester. No, it's Nigeria and most specifically, their Archbishop. He is the focus of the Episcopal Church's campaign to sink the Anglican Covenant and open up the Episcopal Church to publicly and fully embrace bohemian lifestyles as the moral living.

He is also the target for the Episcopal Church's most severe litigation effort in the Commonwealth of Virginia. CANA is actually a missionary diocese in the Anglican Province of Nigeria. Unlike the other bishops consecrated by archbishops in the Global South, Bishop Martyn Minns is a diocesan bishop, a bishop with jurisdiction.

But who is the more powerful, who is the richer, the most powerful nation on the planet? Is it Nigeria? No, of course not. America is rich and powerful and global. The Episcopal Church's long association as an American church can be seen in it's dominion over the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. It is still a powerful force, as the Archbishop of Canterbury has learned, though it's image of stability and confidence has been shattered. Now much of the Episcopal Church's considerable wealth is being focused on rebuilding their broken public image.

But instead of rebuilding the brokenness in the church, auditing itself structurally and theologically - the inherent lack of the ability to do so is seen in the latest "pastoral letter" from the Episcopal House of Bishops - the attention is redirected to focus the Episcopal Church as the champion of the victims of an Anglican Covenant. It is classic redirection, as we also saw in the bishop's pastoral letter.

The oppressor is now redirected to be the Archbishop of the Church of Nigeria with the Archbishop of Canterbury as his convenient whipping boy (the ironic and rather disturbing racial connotations are not by accident, as happens when one uses shame as a weapon). By using shame against Rowan Williams, TEC leaders obviously seek to draw a target circle around the Archbishop of Nigeria - and indirectly, but by association, around the Archbishop of Canterbury himself.

And so the message is clear from the inner ring of The Episcopal Church. "If you are not for us, than you are against us, and if you are against us, we will bury you."

In the opening scene of the remarkable film Amazing Grace we see the flogging of dying horses as the carriage of William Wilberforce approaches. When Wilberforce sees the flogging, he leaps out of his carriage and intervenes. In addition to his renown as the leading force to stop the slave trade in England, he was also a champion of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. His zeal for justice came from his inner-core convictions of Christian evangelical truth and moral living, which cost him dearly even in his own generation that was not so different from ours today.

And so we ask ourselves, who is truly being flogged today? The Americans? Who is identified as the one who must be shamed and punished? The Americans? And who is in the carriage passing by? The Americans? And who is on the side of the road? The Americans?

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