August 19, 2011

Let’s You and Him Fight

The Rev. David Wilson has written a post in response to, among other things, my post of August 2, 2011, “David Wilson Complains, Warns.” His August 11 commentary is titled “Cognitive Dissonance: Follow up to ‘Something Has Changed Along the Way? part 2’.”

Originally, I planned only to call attention to the latest contribution by the Senior Pastor of St. David’s Anglican Church on the subject of the diocese he left, but I have decided that I need to do more than that.

The meaning of Wilson’s title is explained in these words:
Some of the buzz being generated among the TEC-Pgh conservatives could be the result of a term used in psychology, Cognitive Dissonance, which is defined as “A condition of conflict or anxiety resulting from inconsistency between one’s beliefs and one’s actions, such as opposing the slaughter of animals and eating meat”. … For example, in this case, believing it is right to remain in the Episcopal Church and also not opposing its draconian policies.
The “draconian policies” referred to are, on one had, the insistence by The Episcopal Church that parishioners cannot simply walk off with church property—Wilson calls this a “‘scorched earth’ or winner-take-all strategy”—and what he sees as an authoritarian streak in the church’s leadership. (Its all about The Episcopal Church’s not doing what the militant conservatives want it to do.)

Boxing glovesThe theme of Wilson’s post, in the same spirit as his earlier one, is best characterized as “let’s you and him fight.” That is, he is trying to drive a wedge between conservatives and non-conservatives of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. Some of the “gang of twelve” are giving in to the evil policies of The Episcopal Church or, at the very least, not opposing the direction of the church, Wilson complains. Of course, the “gang” was never the homogeneously conservative party that Wilson is making it out to be, so the cognitive dissonance being experienced by its members is likely quite diverse. The effect of his comments could easily be to drive a wedge between conservatives and conservatives within the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.

It is interesting to see what Wilson chooses to mention. He observes, for example, “The election of the Rev. Leslie Riemer [sic], the progressive candidate and the defeat of the Rev. Jim Shoucair, the conservative candidate, for the Standing Committee clergy slot in last year’s diocesan election should give the TEC-Pgh conservatives pause.” To be sure, Reimer is more liberal than Shoucair, but she could as easily have been characterized as the woman candidate and Shoucair the man candidate. She comes from a larger church than her opponent, etc., etc. In short, it is not necessary to see Reimer’s election through a lens of conservative impotence.

Rather more disturbing is this:
The real test, of course, will be the election of the next TEC bishop in Pittsburgh. That is why many of the progressives in TEC-Pgh will support the election of a candidate from outside their diocese. They want to make sure that a conservative who is gracious, largely respected, personally affable, and well spoken (and formerly supportive or even tolerable of former bishop, Bob Duncan) and from within the diocese has no chance being elected.
Wilson seems to have someone in particular in mind, about whom I will not speculate. Insisting on selecting a bishop from outside the diocese, however, is not simply a liberal-versus-conservative issue, however, and Pittsburgh Episcopalians of every stripe have reasons to want an outsider who is untainted by the partisan strife that had, until recently, tainted our diocese. Conservatives might even want to find a bishop elsewhere to avoid selecting a liberal candidate from within the diocese. (Did Wilson think of that?)

In any case, Wilson has perhaps made clear that the more progressive elements of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh should not let down their guard. We are not yet one, happy, tolerant, and inclusive family. Wilson notes, “Two of the conservative clergy of the TEC emailed me off-blog [in response to his earlier post] and expressed private opinions and another clergyman requested we have lunch together—which we did.” Whether there were conspiratorial conversations between Anglican diocese and Episcopal diocese clergy, I do not know, but I do wonder what was said.

A comment on Wilson’s earlier post from the Rev. Philip Wainwright, the recently retired Episcopal priest now working part-time at St. Andrew’s, Highland Park, is worrisome. Wainwright chairs the Committee on Constitution and Canons, of which I am vice chair, and I must say that we have experienced no conflict of substance in our work together. His comment is worth reprinting in full, however:
Could we separate the two threads in this conversation? David’s original post implied that the conservatives who had stayed in the Episcopal diocese of Pittsburgh were becoming tolerant of the loose moral standards that characterise current Episcopal leadership, and concluded that because of this they cannot be expected to ‘ally themselves with us or support our position… They will not defend us’, presumably in regard to the property issue. What we can or should do in regard to the moral/doctrinal issues and what we can or should do in regard to the property issue are two different things. The conservatives are not of one mind about how to deal with the property issue, despite their common approach to the moral issue, and it would help discussion if that could be kept in mind.

But the most important point regarding either issue is that conservatives are a minority in the Episcopal diocese, and on every one of its committees. At the moment we simply do not have the votes to stop the revision of standards in the diocese or to change the policies applied to property negotiations. Until that changes, there will be no change in diocesan policy in either area. David, you being recently (and reasonably) likened to Boss Tweed, I know you understand that those who don’t have the votes can’t stop those who do!

The question is, therefore, what can be done to reform the church under these circumstances. The only thing I’d say about that today is this: the one thing that is absolutely certain is that to go on doing what conservatives have done in the Episcopal Church for the last forty years will not do it. Every conceivable rebuke has been hurled at the revisionists, and it has changed nothing. Every conceivable political stratagem has been used at diocesan and general conventions, and it has changed nothing. Anyone who continues to hope for reform of the Episcopal Church (as I do) must agree that it is time to try something else.

Those of you who have commented about not being aware of any opposition to the new standards by the conservatives who have stayed may be looking for more of the sort of thing that was done in the past: fights on the floor of convention, refusing to let the bishop come and confirm, letters to the newspapers. You won’t see any of those things, but it’s because they haven’t worked, not because we are less committed to biblical moral standards. I do know that adherence to these standards has been urged on the Pittsburgh diocesan leadership, but not in a spirit of confrontation.

As far as I know, we have no consensus about what should be tried instead, although David’s post might be stimulating progress towards that. The opinion I hear most, and share myself, is that the most effective thing is simply to go on preaching the pure word of God in our parishes, in the belief that God’s word does not return to Him empty, but prospers in the purpose for which He sent it. It’s true that such a policy won’t change things overnight, or even in my lifetime, but that doesn’t seem to be God’s plan. I know that the Bible was preached by many of those who pursued the policies that failed, but perhaps God wanted us to rely on His word and nothing else.
I am disturbed to learn that my committee chair apparently considers me a “revisionist” and is seeking a new stratagem to change the direction of the diocese and general church. I do hope that our diocese is not seeking a new bishop too early.


  1. "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You" period end of sentance. There is no room for deciding who may or maynot be an Episcopalian.

    so, add the phrase "All of You" to the church motto

  2. It seems to me that it is the preaching of the Gospel in its pure form that has led to what some are calling "revisionism." That's what happened when Jesus first brought his message, and we should not be surprised to see similar things happen now.

  3. Some years ago a dear friend was sent by then bishop of Chicago Griswald to a conference in California. The subject was, "Reconciliation." About half way through the first day, an attendee from the then Iker led diocese of Dallas (I think he said it was) stood and berated the participants. He said that conservatives know what "reconciliation" and "conversation" mean. They mean progressives do whatever they want and let conservatives talk about it.

    My friend returned to Chicago shaken by that speech. First he wondered if the speaker had a point? Do progressives simply ignore conservative complaints? Second if that is how conservatives view reconciliation how can we ever advance from conflict?

    My experience over the last few years is that conservatives do believe something like the speaker's rant. Unfortunately that has led me to trust a lot less.

    Sad is it not?


  4. Jim, Bishop Iker was Bishop of Fort Worth. Bishop Stanton is Bishop of Dallas.

    We have a democratically governed church. Being in a minority has its down side. Implementing the will of the majority is not, ipso facto, persecution of the minority.

  5. Lionel, it seems to me that part of this comes down to the difference between those fiercely committed to their own ideology (whether of the left or the right) and those content to live with difference. Some people cannot live with ambiguity or difference, others can. There is an almost osmotic drive forcing such people into sects of one sort or another, unless there can be some overriding unity to which all of them are willing to consent. The church has been splitting and rejoining from the time of Peter and Paul, as "the latest issues" seem so pressing. Some conservatives are willing to see that holding on is a better strategy in the long run, while others will seek a level of "purity" of belief. It is all in process... and yes, it ends up being decided in the assemblies of the church. My appeal to my progressive friends is to work against triumphalism and and equally intolerant "my way or the highway" -- in so far as that can be done. Ultimately one cannot tolerate the completely intolerant or "purist" -- they will, by osmosis, find their way out of the system into one of their own. But there should be plenty of room for traditional Anglicans who are willing to remain within the system and participate in it even if they do not prevail in the decisions of the G.C.

  6. Tobias, I think we have no disagreement. It is axiomatic, however, that the tolerant cannot afford to tolerate the intolerant.

  7. Indeed, Lionel. One tactic to note, and I think you have noted thatit appears in some of the current or recently past rhetoric, is for the intolerant on the "losing" side to attempt to cloak themselves in the garments of righteous martyrdom and persecution. It is not "persecution" simply to be disagreed with -- or to be reminded that property is held in trust for the church that perdures through time, not for the incumbent congregation.

  8. Lionel


    I don't have any one person in mind as to your reference to the paragraph concerning TEC-Pgh conservatives being candidates in your upcoming episcopal election. I do note that Simons, Shoucair Robison, Murph and Geisler are neither members of the Nominating Cmte nor the Transition Cmte making them all possible candidates.


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