The most recent Communique from the Anglican Communion Primates in which we are told that all is well and that there is no need to worry about the recent “complexities” because we have all decided to “walk together” inspired me to slightly re-work and republish a satirical piece I wrote several years ago in similar circumstances.
It is indeed a rare thing for a scholar of my caliber to take note of anything written on the internet. It is even rarer for someone of my station actually to write and disseminate an article for the benefit of those who regularly attend to internet discussions. It is not that the learned do not value the internet as a means of communication. The internet serves an important role in our society, permitting the unlettered to vent their more violent feelings in a way that does no harm to institutions, such as the academy, that are so essential to civilized discourse. It is simply that the value of the internet is limited by the education, knowledge, and wisdom of those who regularly contribute to it. Little more need be said.
Nevertheless, the incessant presumptuous clamor emanating from certain websites and social media has risen to such a cacophony that it has produced widespread distraction amongst those beyond these hallowed corridors who ought to and would otherwise be going about their business happily untroubled by the complexities of Communion affairs.
As a result, the reasoned calm to which my colleagues and I have become accustomed despite our exhaustive and sacrificial efforts to redress the slight rupture in Communion etiquette, efforts that have thus far succeeded, has been somewhat disturbed.
Various bloggers have presumed to express certain thoughts on important matters about which they remain entirely ignorant. The resulting undue and immoderate distress has been sufficient to move me to author this brief but significant contribution that will, I am certain, restore the placidity of the many who have recently been disturbed and discredit the few who have authored the disturbance. These bloggers have been quite critical regarding Communion matters. This impatience is characteristic of those who have limited minds and circumscribed perspectives
Learning tends to produce patience and the ability to view matters from a more considered position. Think of it this way. Knowledge is like a great mountain standing beside a deep river valley. Some live their entire lives in the valley. It is dark there and muddy and the view is severely limited. Others progress to the foothills. The increased elevation enables them to see more than those in the valley but those on the foothills are still unable to grasp the fullness of what lies below or what lies above. The greatest view belongs to those who have climbed to the top of the great mountain and who from that vantage survey all that lies below. Their view encompasses the valley, the hills, and even the deep muddy embankments wherein dwell the most humble valley dwellers.
Those who live in the valley and on the foothills ought not make grand pronouncements regarding things they have not and cannot see. It is, rather, most fitting to await word from above, to leave the task of knowing and seeing to those on the peaks who, once they discern the lay of the land, will reveal it to those in the valley.
How much more content might we all be if we were wise to observe our proper places? Those who live in the valley need not bother with what is happening on the peaks. Rather, they might live and bask in the light of the knowledge that, from time to time, those on the peak carry down for their benefit.
That is, as I see it, my task today.
Many, if not most of you, are running about with a typically outmoded understanding of the issue of human sexuality vis a vis Communion relationships. In 2003, some Anglican leaders, dear cherished friends of mine, spoke rather hastily and perhaps unwisely of a “tear in the fabric” of our Communion. The leaders in question must not be blamed of course, hailing as most do from regions of the world unaffected by certain key intellectual developments such as the enlightenment, modernism, and post-modernism. And, moreover, their rather reactive stance was certainly reflective of popular-level (or valley level) thinking at the time.
Since then, however, a new scholarly consensus has emerged that has replaced the rather passé pre-critical assessment of 2003. It is no longer proper, in learned circles, speak of a “tear in the fabric” or of a “break in Communion”. We speak rather of a disturbance in Communion Etiquette.
As the renowned ecclesiologist, the Quite Rev. Dr. Percy R. Bunnington IV Phd., Thd., DD., MD., with whom I share a rich and longstanding friendship wrote in his groundbreaking article, “Ecclesiology as Etiquette: Anglican Discord as a Problem of Politeness,” published in The Anglican Journal of Ecclesiological Movements and Mannerisms in 2004, “The source of besetting Communion dis-ease is hardly the quite simplistic notion of ‘biblical truth’ but it is rather reflective of a dialectic clash of complex narratives. Post-post colonial Communion relationships are presently played out in an ecclesial context populated by both post-modern and pre-critical narratives. Those parties embracing these disparate stories have yet to discover the overarching Anglican narrative of moderating comprehensiveness or ‘ecclesiological etiquette’…”
The Quite Rev. Dr. Percy R. Bunnington IV’s theory has since been embraced by every Anglican ecclesiologist of note and has become the assured opinion of mainstream Anglican scholarship. There is no “tear in the fabric” of the Anglican Communion. There has rather been a tragic breach in Anglican etiquette. The appropriate response, therefore, as is now universally recognized by the learned on both sides of the more distant questions of human sexuality and scripture, is to re-establish our deep bonds of “comprehensive relatability.” This will necessarily involve a collective return to Communion Etiquette and will be exhibited by meeting together at the appointed times, eating meals, sharing thoughts about matters unrelated to sexuality, and gathering in quaint ‘indaba’ groups (designed make those who embrace the ‘pre-critical’ narrative feel rather at home).
The breach in etiquette must not, under any circumstances, be permitted to be exacerbated by those who irrationally cling to the outmoded “tear in the fabric” model and cannot grasp the importance of remaining in earnest but polite conversation with those Anglican brothers and sisters who may hold differing opinions regarding vague and complex matters of doctrine but who are willing to observe appropriate etiquette.
The ignorant reactive voices, most especially the barbarous yelp of bloggers, must be quieted so that the considered wisdom of the wise might prevail.
Let me assure you, finally, that we have all of these matters in hand. From your limited perspective it may be difficult to understand. The valley is indeed dark. That is why it is important to listen to those of us who are in the know. Just the other day The Most Reverend Justin Welby (my dear old chum) and I were discussing these matters over dinner. I can tell you that in the very near future certain very important developments will take place that will significantly change the current circumstances thanks in no small part to the unsung efforts of the Anglican Communion Office and the selfless generosity of Trinity Wall Street. I cannot say more at the moment but let me assure you that your anger and fear are utterly unfounded. In the meantime, I encourage you to mind your affairs in the valley confident that these greater matters are best left to the greater minds on the peak.
Lastly, please do keep me in your prayers. It is quite difficult to work as hard as I do, producing my extensively published and renowned scholarly works and, at the same time, endeavoring with great success to restore Communion etiquette, while having to endure the incessant drumbeat from presumptuous internet punditry.
The Entirely Right Reverend Dr. Ainsley Q. Pennyfeather III, D.D., Th.D., Ph.D., MD.