Smoking Landscapes, Marauding Bands, Feudal Lords: Three Faithful Acts in a Faithless Organization
I’ve engaged in a number of phone calls and emails over the past several weeks and decided I’d try to put down in an article some of the things fellow Episcopal friends have been discussing.
In another article I hope to offer a “birds-eye-view” of life “on the ground” here in the Diocese of Upper South Carolina—it’s always so interesting to observe the effect of another General-Convention-tsunami of buffoonery and insanity sweeping over the landscape and scrubbing more key bits of the landscape bare.
But for now, I wanted to offer a more holistic view of the scene.
For some years now—hopefully for more than a decade—any traditional Episcopalians who have troubled to inform themselves have recognized that The Episcopal Church as a whole is irreformable. It tipped over the edge long ago and, to mix metaphors, is now a runaway train picking up more and more speed, until it eventually loses its wheels, burns up the rails, and ends up a mass of twisted, molten metal. At the national level, people who do not believe the Gospel are completely and entirely in charge, which means that each and every national church commission or committee is stacked with leftist, Code-Pink style revisionist activists who also do not believe the Gospel.
Most of the diocesan bishops—the same. Most of the deputies [though still a wonderful minority remains, even in revisionist dioceses]—the same. Finally, unlike the US House of Representatives, the dioceses are in no way “representationally-elected.” Each diocese gets the same number of deputies, regardless of size, and those deputies are elected by delegates to diocesan conventions who are themselves often *appointed* by “leaders” in various parishes. So no matter how catastrophically a diocese fails in attendance, members, or money, it will still get to send its tinpot bishop and crew of eight revisionist activists to vote at the General Convention. And in no way do those deputies “represent” the values, foundational worldview, or vision of the parishioners back home in the pews. They aren’t elected by them and they don’t represent them.
There won’t magically be elected a majority of bishops who believe the Gospel. There won’t magically be elected a President of the House of Deputies or a Presiding Bishop who believes the Gospel. There won’t magically be elected a bunch of deputies who believe the Gospel. That’s just not going to happen—not even “moderate” deputies will end up—as a majority—attending the monstrously self-important, and grandiose orgy of faux MoveOn.org preeners that General Convention now represents.
With the above being the case, and with the laws of the universe still in force, what can Episcopalians who are remaining in TEC expect to see in the coming decades? And how does that guide our actions while we remain within such an organizational entity as TEC?
First, I think we can depend on TEC’s continuing to auger into the ground in rather blazingly spectacular fashion. We all noticed the budget battles for 2012—the first real sign that the massive losses of people, and the accompanying redirection of funds by faithful Episcopalians towards healthy and Christian organizations are having a good effect. Those budget battles will only increase, as the buzzards at the national level continue to fight over the remaining scraps of flesh on the carcase.
Beyond the ever-more-slender budgets, we’ll have emptier pews. There’s just not a large enough market for non-Christian, liturgical tastelessness that involves lots of sexually confused people as leaders. There’s a limited number of very very liberal activist people who also happen to be interested in attending church and pretending to engage in religious activities that purport to be a part of the Christian faith—it’s an incredibly small percentage of people.
Along with emptier pews comes increasingly detached and distanced conservative Episcopalians. In the traditional strongholds of TECdom, you’ve got quite a number of people who won’t be leaving TEC, but also won’t be attending as frequently, giving readily to capital campaigns, volunteering in church venues as much, and on and on it goes. I see this in my friends’ and allies’ lives, and in my own as well.
That’s not to say that we’re “inactive”—we’re blazingly active. Just not active in places we once were active a decade and more ago. Our activity, energy, money, and enthusiasm has been transferred to other places that need our help.
With all of that distance and detachment, many small parishes—and some mid-sized ones—simply won’t make it. Dioceses will be pared down considerably and a number of them—if their bishops and staffs and Standing Committees and deputies and the assorted other apparatchiks can be induced to surrender their tin-pot power—will merge. Camps and conference centers will go away, and—shocking and horrific as this may seem to some—even diocesan staffs will become smaller, despite their being the seat of so much evangelism, competence, and sanctification in our dioceses.
Ultimately, for TEC, this “doesn’t end well.” As I’ve said many times before, organizations that have lost this many clients, made this many terrible product decisions, narrowed their market this much, angered this many current customers such that they lose their word-of-mouth referral prospects, continue to lose this much money, and have this level of incompetence in leadership at the highest levels, do not survive.
What does this mean for us—those of us in moderate dioceses, liberal dioceses, moderate parishes, conservative parishes, or wherever else we find ourselves—and who are staying in TEC?
It means that at some point in the future—25 years from now, 20 years, 15 years, even 10 years—conservative Episcopalians will emerge from wherever they’ve been hunkered down, to survey the smoking landscape and the crumbling ruins of TECdom, the blighted and far less powerful national church, the empty church buildings on the national registers and in small-city downtowns, the greatly straitened diocesan staffs, their small entourages and posses riding about dioceses causing trouble and chaos like the marauding bands of tiny feudal lords ... and we’ll shake hands with one another, squint into the sun, roll up our sleeves, and say, “well then ... let’s begin.”
Friends, that is the future we have. It’s not a shining one, or an easy one—but that’s it.
We’re not going to have, as I’ve said time and time again, a deus ex machina springing down and rescuing us from the consequences of our bad choices, laziness, cowardice, incompetence, slackness, inattention, and lack of regard for the import and joys of doing battle within organizations in order to preserve good things.
The Episcopal Church will be hollowed out, and its carapace collapsed, before we can do any kind of rebuilding or salvaging operation of what is left.
Recognizing that fact is a good and healthy thing. It allows you to pace yourself, and deal with the things you should deal with now, while ignoring other things about which you can do absolutely nothing.
Practically, then, in recognizing this reality, there are three things that we should focus on as Episcopalians who believe the Gospel, yet who exist in an entity that is plummeting towards destruction.
1) Once you have recognized, and visualized in your mind’s eye, just what is happening to The Episcopal Church—complete destruction before our very eyes—and once you have accepted that reality, then the obvious practical hope for all of us is summed up in two words: “Faster, please.”
That is why I look forward to General Conventions so much—they give us all a chance to educate ever more aghast and horrified parishioners about the nature of the leaders currently in charge of TEC, which then allows these same parishioners to become a part of the consequences of repeated bad actions by our leadership.
Every three years, those in charge of the national structures of TEC back up slowly and laboriously, gather up a good head of steam, and take another run at the iceberg. They did that in spades in 2012, and they will do so again in 2015, and 2018, and 2021, and 2024. The people in charge of the TECtanic are unable to stop themselves—they’re pathological.
The very best that we can hope for as Christians in regards to the national structures of TEC—that visible edifice that grinds ever downward—is that it increase its pace of collapse and complete the destruction in a timely manner. The visible edifice—made up of the various corrupt national structures, committees, commissions, councils and processes—is not the thing that I love—and it is not the thing that you love either. I’ll always love The Episcopal Church—but its current leadership has taken over the structural aspects of the national entity, and those aspects will be ground into a fine powder.
This doesn’t mean that everything about what we have loved gets destroyed—although it will certainly be a rocky and uncomfortable ride downward. Sometimes, though, the fever just has to burn through, while the patient survives, greatly weakened, and greatly humbled.
Once one realizes that the natural consequences of the actions of our current leaders are devastating and pulverizing—we need to hope for the application of those consequences in spades. For the application of consequences leads to as fast a pulverization of the structures held by the current leadership as possible—as opposed to the destruction of The Church, which is a very different thing, even when it resides within an organization like the current manifestation of TEC. All of that is a good thing.
So when you blog, when you write letters or emails to your Episcopal friends sharing information and reality, when you redirect your funds, when you write letters to the editor being clear about the current situation of the structures of this organization, when you communicate with the media, when you write comments on national articles, that is all a part of the application of swifter and swifter consequences to the destructive actions of the leadership of our church—and that is a “Faster Please” endeavor.
Is it tough to watch budgets dwindle, and parishes close, and pews empty, and leaders behave incompetently throughout our church? Yes, it is—but the laws of the universe dictate that those are the consequences of sinful and disordered actions; People of the Lie are intrinsically destructive. They cannot create anything original, only destroy that over which they have gained power.
The faster the current structures destroy themselves, the sooner we can step out of our respective hovels, do our complimenting of those who have survived, and roll up our sleeves.
Fortunately, there is much that is positive we can engage in, even as we highlight the actions of our leaders in TEC and watch the structures of TEC experience the consequences of those actions.
2) The most positive thing we can do is attempt to preserve something from the wreckage of the current structures of TEC. That something may be our family—no trivial thing at all. It may be a particular Episcopal para-church ministry in which we are engaged—a diocesan Cursillo community, or a DOK, or some other smaller organization that is good and true and can be strengthened and salvaged. It may be a camp and conference center. Perhaps a seminary. Or a small-town parish. Or even a cathedral. Maybe, if God has blessed you, it will be an entire diocese.
Those salvage operations will be the only things left standing in the current TEC, and will be foundation-stones of whatever good there is that will follow.
In order for that to happen, you will need to do all in your power to protect that small treasure, that artifact of what was healthy and wholesome in The Episcopal Church. It will mean doing all the little things that are a part of being faithful: vestry elections, search committees, foundation boards, strengthened bylaws that can hinder the efforts of revisionist activists, strategic board appointments and recruiting, clearer canons and constitutions, creative 501(c)3s, well-developed discipleship programs, careful networking and relationship building, and on and on and on it goes.
Those are positive and good things that each of us can work through in our own small gardens even as we surrender to the wasteland things that cannot be tilled any longer and that cannot bear fruit.
In other words, once you recognize that you cannot save the large vault from the fire, you make do with the journal, the box of letters, the gemstone, or the child—and those are enough.
3) At the same time that you are protecting and strengthening the artifacts of our church, you must also be very clear in your communications about who you are and what your values, principles and Gospel are. In a word, you must differentiate.
I’ve used the old example of the cyanide in the Tylenol as an example of the dire need to differentiate before. Had the national brand of Tylenol refused to enact its various protective policies at the time of the crisis—stopping all production, clearing the manufacturing facilities, taking the Tylenol off the shelves, producing stronger child-proof caps—the local pharmacies would have had to jump through all sorts of complex hoops in order to continue to sell Tylenol to a frightened populace, while demonstrating publicly and clearly that the local pharmacy’s Tylenol was entirely different from the national brand. The local pharmacy would have had to institute stringent quality control standards and testing. It would have had to put on its own child-proof caps. It would have had to protect itself from the feckless and incompetent leaders at the national level and assure everyone that there would be no way for those same feckless national leaders to sweep in locally and enact their incompetent policies. It would have had to trumpet all these changes to the hills and beyond. It would have had to, in essence, create its own internal-Tylenol-brand in order to convince customers to purchase in and prevent loyal patrons from switching to another brand.
The loonier the acts of the current leadership of the national structures of The Episcopal Church, the more strongly, clearly, and openly must local members of The Episcopal Church distinguish themselves from that current leadership and those national structures.
In effect, each parish, organization, committee, commission, camp and conference center, para-church organization, and whatever else you’re attempting to salvage, must say “we are not that over there . . . we are this over here.”
The consequences of not doing so are very stark.
If whatever entity you are attempting to salvage does not differentiate itself, the people engaged in that entity that make it what it is will steadily leave that entity and you will ultimately be unable to salvage the treasure.
If there is anything that seems to befuddle traditional Episcopalians it seems to be this principle of differentiation. Every three years I hear laments from rectors and bishops and other leaders about the fact that the General Convention Tsunami washes away more traditional leaders. And organizations can only lose chunks of 50 and more leaders at a time before the departures start to show, not merely in the pews but also in the level of volunteerism and the quality of lay leadership.
If you are only strengthening, and not differentiating—if you are only “focusing on mission and ministry” while ignoring the fact that your organization is not sufficiently distinguished from the national church brand—you will lose it, because you will lose the people who are making the entity what it is.
Lay leaders need to be able to look to a flag—something they can gather and rally round in the smoke and fog and confusion of the blasts from the national church—or they will understandably and rightly “lose their way” and wander away. They will ask “what exactly are we fighting for in this place, since the trumpet blasts from TEC are so loud and overpowering?” It is simply a fact of life.
If I were going to name one thing that drives traditional Episcopalians away from their local cherished parishes it is that failure to differentiate. If the local entity is “the same as” the national entity in the eyes of the observing populace, then why would traditional Episcopalians wish to stay in the local entity either? Further, the national brand garners a greater amount of attention, media credibility, and volume due to its status as the national entity. If you are not vocally and strategically competing with the national brand with the message of your counter-brand from the inside, that national brand will overpower your own smaller voice; people will come to think that the national voice is the voice of the organization, rather than simply one of several antithetical voices.
I see two main reasons for this failure by smaller entities to differentiate themselves from the larger national brand led by our current leadership. The first is fairly predictable. Moderate rectors and bishops do not differentiate because they either like the national brand and don’t have the guts to inform their parishioners, or they do not differentiate for political reasons.
Consider the plight of a moderate and ambitious rector. If he takes strong actions to differentiate the parish from the actions of our national leadership, he loses many many “vocational options” in his chosen career and industry. Further, if he takes strong actions to differentiate, he brings into the open the conflict and division that is so endemic to our church.
TEC is not unified because it is not unified. We don’t share the same Gospel and cannot be unified around two antithetical and mutually opposing worldviews. But if that is brought to light in a parish, it can lead to a lot of open conflict, rather than simply maintaining the hidden conflict already there. And for moderate rectors and bishops, open conflict is anathema. It can do serious damage to “stewardship” and other Vitally Important aspects of “ministry.”
Further, to differentiate also means that more and more people will be informed about the actions of the national church. And quite frankly the last thing that a moderate rector or bishop needs is for more of the church to become informed—a ghastly and radical idea indeed!
The second reason why people within TEC fail to differentiate seems to me to be because of a lack of imagination. “How do we know when we’ve differentiated?” “And how exactly do we differentiate?”
One way you know you’ve done enough is when anyone who cares to be informed is well aware that whatever organization you’re attempting to salvage within The Episcopal Church does not support the actions of our current leadership at the national level.
Another way you know you’ve done enough is when revisionist activists within TEC are enraged and hate you and your organization. You’re then a threat, and they know it. Bingo—you’re sufficiently differentiated.
Another way you know you’ve done enough is when those who believe the Gospel want to become a part of your organization. Recruitment does not suffer one bit!
Obviously the Diocese of South Carolina wins on all three counts. They’re well-differentiated.
The lack of ideas for differentiation puzzles me. For it only takes three or four repeatedly well-publicized actions on the style side, and on the substance side, and you’ll be well on your way towards differentiation.
What might some of these differentiating actions be?
Style [symbolic actions]
—a black flag waving outside of the parish
—a new sign
—a full-page ad in the newspaper
Substance [content heavy]
—a well-written, lengthy vestry resolution, with bylaws changes detailing how your parish will stand
—a seminar on sexual faithfulness for persons of all sexual attractions
—public alliances with other churches that are faithful and Gospel-promoting
Of course, that’s just at the parish level. But there are literally scores of activities that dioceses, parishes, para-church organizations, committees, and commissions may take that demonstrate fully, clearly, and publicly where they stand.
I’ll offer just one differentiating idea on a national level, just for kicks.
I find it quite stunning that the dioceses represented on the Indianapolis Statement, along with traditional parishes in revisionist and moderate dioceses, and delegates from para-church organizations and other entities have not created their own, national, synod-like meeting at which they gather, take counsel, pass resolutions, worship together, and generally make decisions representative of that segment of The Episcopal Church that believes and promotes the Gospel.
Why on earth don’t we have our own national convention? Rather obviously, the General Convention’s actions don’t even come close to representing the Gospel which we believe and promote. Why do we allow that meeting to speak for us?
I honestly don’t get that.
Think of what a witness it would be to the watching world, as an entire segment of a church announces what it stands for, which happens to be antithetical to what its current national leadership stands for.
Would that get attention? Would it reveal consequences? Would it further spread the word about what the current leadership of TEC believes, as contrasted with what those who believe the Gospel believe? Would it differentiate?
Yes, to all of those questions.
Regardless, I do believe that it is possible for traditional dioceses, parishes, and other Episcopal entities to fail quite dramatically in the coming decade. There will be many laments about such failures and purported explanations, including “our inner city has gone to the dogs,” and “people won’t come to an Episcopal parish any more,” and “our downtown is dead and our little town is struggling to survive anyway,” and other explanations focusing on demographics, culture, and the overall poisonous effect of the national church brand. And some of those explanations will be adequate ones.
But there will also be some amazing successes, and some parishes, dioceses, and other entities will come out of the coming spectacular crash of The Episcopal Church nationally quite whole, healthy, and flourishing. I believe those who do survive and thrive will have either consciously or unconsciously followed the path I’ve outlined above. They’ll have acknowledged the reality of the failure of the national brand, and recognize that the faster the inevitable demolition occurs the better off everyone will be. They’ll communicate it clearly and articulately to others, they’ll strengthen and further form what they’ve chosen to preserve, and they will engage in very public, open, and increasing efforts to differentiate from the national brand.
We’ll see in the coming years which entities choose to follow that path. At least we can’t say we’ll be bored, as Episcopalians who believe the Gospel, hurtling along on this runaway locomotive we call TEC.
Wow, what an adventure!
[Please note that it’s been two weeks since the close of General Convention. We’ve been around the bend once again on a couple of other threads with certain people who are unable to follow our long-standing and clearly stated commenting standards and proceeded to screw up yet another thread with their obsessions and anger. The Instant Bannings Protocol has now been joyfully re-instated, as a result.]
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