Thursday, July 30, 2009

If you meet the Anglican Communion on the road . . .

There is an old Buddhist admonition which has entered the popular culture: "If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!" It actually comes from a koan of the Zen master LinJi. (See an explanation here.)

I'm beginning to wonder if the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury isn't subconsciously channeling the ancient - even if he isn't intending to do so.

I mentioned earlier that I would give a more reasoned critique of Dr. Williams's recent essay. I was intending to be a little less dyspeptic. I'm not sure that's the case.

But I am becoming ever more convinced that Dr. Williams's sincere attempts to save the Anglican Communion will, if allowed to come to fruition, ultimately destroy it.

There are a number of problems with the document. I'll try to hit the main ones point by point.

2. However, a realistic assessment of what Convention has resolved does not suggest that it will repair the broken bridges into the life of other Anglican provinces; very serious anxieties have already been expressed. The repeated request for moratoria on the election of partnered gay clergy as bishops and on liturgical recognition of same-sex partnerships has clearly not found universal favour, although a significant minority of bishops has just as clearly expressed its intention to remain with the consensus of the Communion. The statement that the Resolutions are essentially 'descriptive' is helpful, but unlikely to allay anxieties.

One of the remarkable things in modern Anglicanism is how something becomes authoritative merely by being included in someone's report. Such is the dubious provenance of the Windsor Moratoria.

And, as always, only two of the three moratoria are given any attention. If the North Americans violate the first two (gay bishops and blessing same-sex unions), all hell breaks loose. If the so-called Global South Primates violate the third (illicit interventions across provincial boundaries), Dr. Williams's silence is deafening.

Of course, there is the added hypocrisy that both gay ordination and the blessing of same-sex unions are more common in the Church of England than in either the Episcopal Church or the Anglican Church of Canada. The difference is that we silly North Americans won't sweep it under the rug with a nod and a wink.

4. The first is to do with the arguments most often used against the moratoria relating to same-sex unions. Appeal is made to the fundamental human rights dimension of attitudes to LGBT people, and to the impossibility of betraying their proper expectations of a Christian body which has courageously supported them.

I actually agree with the Archbishop that a secular human rights argument is not definitive or decisive on a matter of Church doctrine or practice. That's the not the problem here.

The problem is his implication that no one has presented a theological or scriptural or pastoral argument. That is simply false. Tobias Haller's Reasonable and Holy is one recent example.

One may not be persuaded by the theological case that has been made. To imply that it hasn't been made is simply dishonest.

5. In response, it needs to be made absolutely clear that, on the basis of repeated statements at the highest levels of the Communion's life, no Anglican has any business reinforcing prejudice against LGBT people, questioning their human dignity and civil liberties or their place within the Body of Christ. Our overall record as a Communion has not been consistent in this respect and this needs to be acknowledged with penitence.

10. This is not a matter that can be wholly determined by what society at large considers usual or acceptable or determines to be legal. Prejudice and violence against LGBT people are sinful and disgraceful when society at large is intolerant of such people; if the Church has echoed the harshness of the law and of popular bigotry – as it so often has done – and justified itself by pointing to what society took for granted, it has been wrong to do so. But on the same basis, if society changes its attitudes, that change does not of itself count as a reason for the Church to change its discipline.

Nothing wrong with this per se. However, when the Archbishop so frequently briefs against the Americans through the Lambeth bully pulpit, I am moved to wonder why he is never prepared to say boo when various of the so-called Global South Primates deliberately sanction violence and discrimination against homosexuals. The most flagrant example, of course, was when Akinola of Nigeria pushed for neo-fascist legislation which would have established a five year jail term for merely suggesting in public that perhaps gays and lesbians shouldn't be beaten, arrested and jailed. Where were the prophetic pastoral letters from Lambeth then?

7. In the light of the way in which the Church has consistently read the Bible for the last two thousand years, it is clear that a positive answer to this question would have to be based on the most painstaking biblical exegesis and on a wide acceptance of the results within the Communion, with due account taken of the teachings of ecumenical partners also. A major change naturally needs a strong level of consensus and solid theological grounding.

8. This is not our situation in the Communion. Thus a blessing for a same-sex union cannot have the authority of the Church Catholic, or even of the Communion as a whole. And if this is the case, a person living in such a union is in the same case as a heterosexual person living in a sexual relationship outside the marriage bond; whatever the human respect and pastoral sensitivity such persons must be given, their chosen lifestyle is not one that the Church's teaching sanctions, and thus it is hard to see how they can act in the necessarily representative role that the ordained ministry, especially the episcopate, requires.

9. In other words, the question is not a simple one of human rights or human dignity. It is that a certain choice of lifestyle has certain consequences. So long as the Church Catholic, or even the Communion as a whole does not bless same-sex unions, a person living in such a union cannot without serious incongruity have a representative function in a Church whose public teaching is at odds with their lifestyle. (There is also an unavoidable difficulty over whether someone belonging to a local church in which practice has been changed in respect of same-sex unions is able to represent the Communion's voice and perspective in, for example, international ecumenical encounters.)

This is a curious argument. It is also inherently unAnglican.

By this measure, the Church of England had no right to reform herself in the 16th century without the consent and support of a certain Bishop in central Italy. She had no right to permit married bishops when such a thing was not permitted in Rome or Constantinople. She had no right to insist that the liturgy be "in a tongue understanded of the people."

The argument is equally spurious in post-Reformation Anglicanism. The ordination of women to the diaconate, the priesthood and the episcopate would not have occured had the consensus of the Anglican Communion been a prerequisite.

One could even argue that William Wilberforce (who the American Church honours today) erred in advocating an end to slavery at a time when there was no ecclesiastical consensus. Who'd like to offer up that argument?

14. Sometimes in Christian history, of course, that wider discernment has been very fallible, as with the history of the Chinese missions in the seventeenth century. But this should not lead us to ignore or minimise the opposite danger of so responding to local pressure or change that a local church simply becomes isolated and imprisoned in its own cultural environment.

I would agree that we must not make an idol of local autonomy and local initiative. On the other hand, neither should we make an idol of the Communion. Both local and wider discernment are fallible. Thus it is absurd to demand that in this case and on this issue only Communion-wide discernment is valid.

15. There have never been universal and straightforward rules about this, and no-one is seeking a risk-free, simple organ of doctrinal decision for our Communion. In an age of vastly improved communication, we must make the best use we can of the means available for consultation and try to build into our decision-making processes ways of checking whether a new local development would have the effect of isolating a local church or making it less recognisable to others. This again has an ecumenical dimension when a global Christian body is involved in partnerships and discussions with other churches who will quite reasonably want to know who now speaks for the body they are relating to when a controversial local change occurs. The results of our ecumenical discussions are themselves important elements in shaping the theological vision within which we seek to resolve our own difficulties.

Of course, Dr. Williams's Covenant reflects the desire of the most extreme elements (heavily backed with money from a small number of American far right extremists) to impose precisely that sort of universal and straightforward rule. His Grace may rest assured that without the hammer of expulsion and a Primatial Inquisition, his Covenant will never gain the support of the GAFCON signatories.

And again, on the ecumenical issue, this same argument applies against the ordination of women, yet here we are. If our ecumenical relationships are based in refusing to do anything that might offend, then our ecumenical relationships are based on a lie.

18. To accept without challenge the priority of local and pastoral factors in the case either of sexuality or of sacramental practice would be to abandon the possibility of a global consensus among the Anglican churches such as would continue to make sense of the shape and content of most of our ecumenical activity. It would be to re-conceive the Anglican Communion as essentially a loose federation of local bodies with a cultural history in common, rather than a theologically coherent 'community of Christian communities'.

And to accept without challenge the supremacy of international factors would be to deny the very legitimacy of Anglicanism as a distinct ecclesiastical community. Fundamental to who we are is the rejection of governance by foreign bishops. "The Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this realm of England," as Dr. Williams may recall. Neither does the Bishop of Abuja (or, for that matter, the Bishop of Canterbury) have any jurisdiction in this realm of Canada.

His Grace also seems to have a somewhat skewed idea of how "coherent" the idea of the Anglican Communion is. The Communion is, after all, the accidental creation of Archbishop Longley when he invited Bishops from around the world to a bun fight at his house. Anything prior to the first Lambeth would deny any coherent definition at all. The precise relationship, for example, between the Church of England and the Episcopal Church in the US was utterly undefined.

Rowan, it seems to me, makes a false idol out of a revisionist history.

21. They [Covenant proposals] have been criticised as 'exclusive' in intent. But their aim is not to shut anyone out – rather, in words used last year at the Lambeth Conference, to intensify existing relationships.

With due respect, Dr. Williams's aim is off. His aim may be to strengthen relationships. He seems incapable of realizing that his Covenant musings have added to the divisiveness of the Communion. Whatever his intent, the Covenant (in it's various drafts) has become an Instrument of Division.

23. This has been called a 'two-tier' model, or, more disparagingly, a first- and second-class structure. But perhaps we are faced with the possibility rather of a 'two-track' model, two ways of witnessing to the Anglican heritage, one of which had decided that local autonomy had to be the prevailing value and so had in good faith declined a covenantal structure. If those who elect this model do not take official roles in the ecumenical interchanges and processes in which the 'covenanted' body participates, this is simply because within these processes there has to be clarity about who has the authority to speak for whom.

I don't think the "who speaks for whom" question is anywhere near as complicated as His Grace makes it out to be. The Primate of Nigeria does not speak for the Episcopal Church, the Presiding Bishop of the Southern Cone of America does not speak for the Anglican Church of Canada. How complicated is that? Really?

A two-track model is the end of the Communion in any meaningful way. The one satisfaction we nasty North Americans will have is that we will not be alone in the outer tier. We will be joined by Scotland, Ireland, Mexico, Brazil and several other provinces who will not submit to the Primatial Inquisition demanded by the paid agents of the American right.

Ironically, the Church of England will be at the back of the bus with us, since it is illegal for her (in her established state) to sign onto a Covenant which will effectively deny the Royal Perogative and have the Church of England by Law Established governed by foreign bishops.

24. It helps to be clear about these possible futures, however much we think them less than ideal, and to speak about them not in apocalyptic terms of schism and excommunication but plainly as what they are – two styles of being Anglican, whose mutual relation will certainly need working out but which would not exclude co-operation in mission and service of the kind now shared in the Communion. It should not need to be said that a competitive hostility between the two would be one of the worst possible outcomes, and needs to be clearly repudiated. The ideal is that both 'tracks' should be able to pursue what they believe God is calling them to be as Church, with greater integrity and consistency. It is right to hope for and work for the best kinds of shared networks and institutions of common interest that could be maintained as between different visions of the Anglican heritage. And if the prospect of greater structural distance is unwelcome, we must look seriously at what might yet make it less likely.

The saddest part of all this silliness is that His Grace here describes the very situation he has created with his ill-conceived Covenant proposal.

Rowan Williams has seen the Anglican Communion on the road . . . and whatever he may intend, it seems inevitable that he is going to kill it.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Cranial - Rectal Colocation*

The 104th Archbishop of Canterbury has written an essay in which he reflects on the state of the Anglican Communion in the aftermath of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church.

His essay can be found here.

I promise I'll read it again later in the week and post a more incisive commentary.

In the meantime, I offer a short series of observations.

1. It has been suggested that there are more blessings of same sex unions annually in the Diocese of London than in the rest of the Anglican Communion combined.

2. It is similarly suggested that there are more partnered gay clergy (bishops, priests and deacons) in the Church of England than in the rest of the Anglican Communion combined.

3. In light of 1 and 2 above, it seems a trifle . . . odd . . . that the Primate of All England should be quite so p*$$* just because we nasty North Americans prefer to acknowledge that the place of LGBTQ people is a real issue to be grappled with.

4. Seems to me that +Rowan suffers from Cranial - Rectal Colocation.

Now, here's for something far more insightful:

(*Having one's head up one's a$$)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Who'd'a thunk it?

There were, as I recall, something like 27 of us in my graduating class from Trinity. At least one is deceased. A couple were never ordained (at least some of whom had never sought to be). A few of us, including me, ceased active ministry, at least for a time.

I was the first of our class to be ordained a priest. John Gibaut was the first deacon. He's since gone on to be a member of two Inter-Anglican Standing Commissions and a Director of the World Council of Churches Faith and Order Commission.

I was a little surprised that Michael Bird was the first (and so far only) of our class to become a bishop. Not that Micheal wasn't a fine fellow. It's just that Michael never displayed the kind of political hunger that often marks those who aspire to such things.

Yet Michael is not just the first of our lot to get the pointy hat. He also turns out to be something of a trailblazer, having bucked the Wndsor moratoria by authorizing the blessing of same sex unions beginning this September.

(Perhaps it has something to do with our class. Another of our classmates has been an on and off cause célèbre along with her partner. As deacons, they were suspended from ministry in the 1980s as a result of their relationship. The priest that blessed their marriage a few years ago was admonished. And so it goes.)

The Anglican Journal covers +Michael's actions here and some of the reactions to it here. The approved liturgy for such blessings can be found here. (The issue aside, I don't much care for the liturgy. I find it precious in the extreme, trying way too hard to be modern and relevant. In gvstibvs, non est dispvtandem.)

"The" issue isn't going away, no matter how much +Rowan Cantuar may wish it would. Perhaps it is imprudent of Canada's two Michaels (+Ingham of New Westminster and +Bird of Niagara) to push forward as they have - with Ottawa and Montreal likely to follow sooner than later. But I fail to see how it would be any better to pretend that such blessings don't happen. My coreligionists in England are playing at that game (nudge-nudge, wink-wink). Perhaps +Rowan can tell us how such internal dishonesty is working.

Better to have the issue out in the open. Let us argue it out. Let us rail and rant. But let us not pretend such blessing haven't been happening for at least a generation or two.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A not so little light reading

Tim Chesterton and I disagree on an awful lot of things. We've even exchanged slightly heated words online regarding some of those disagreements. Our theological / ecclesiastical differences aren't even limted to the current "presenting issue."

Yet somewhere in all of that, we are able to be friends. Online friends, at least. I've never met Tim in the flesh, though I'd like to sometime. We are friends on Facebook and we link to each others blogs.

From my end, one of the reasons is that he is eminently reasonable, even when I think he's wrong. He is one of a small number of conservative (or at least conservative on some things) religious bloggers in my list of links. (In some respects, it is a mislabel to call Tim conservative. There are a handful of other issues where he is actually to the left of me. The "presenting issue" just isn't one of them.)

This post is a good illustration of why I find him to be so reasonable. He attempts to outline the current Anglican fault lines in a way that is fair to both sides. In general, I think he succeeds - though I think some of the commentators are right to challenge him on a couple of points.

He also makes one explicit comment that will doubtless earn him the condemnation of certain elements of the Anglican hard right:

(By the way, conservative and traditional Christians need to recognise this same motivation amongst some [not all] of those who are calling for the acceptance of gay marriage. They are proclaiming this message, not out of a desire to exclude traditional Christians from the church, or out of a desire to plunge headlong into licentiousness and sin, but out of a desire to live lives of faithful Christian discipleship in the situation they find themselves in).

We can disagree with one another's interpretation of the biblical and social science data, but there is no need for either side to bear false witness against their neighbour by imputing unworthy motives to the other, or accusing the other of preaching hatred or exclusion. When it comes right down to it, we're all trying to learn what it means to follow Jesus and crying out to God for the strength to put it into practice (transformation). Maybe it's time for all of us (myself included, mea culpa) to stop yelling at each other and have a bit of the meekness that Jesus talks about in the Sermon on the Mount. That way, maybe we'd be better able to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit guiding us into all truth.

Anyway, please go read the whole thing - including the comments. It's worth the energy.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Wafergate - a throwback to a shameful past

Last week, while attending the state funeral of former Governor General Roméo LeBlanc, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was administered Communion. The funeral and eucharistic rites were those of the Roman Catholic Church. Prime Minister Harper is an evangelical protestant.

(For non-Commonwealth readers, Canada is a monarchy. However, we share our monarch with a bunch of other countries and she normally resides in a nice palace in London. A Governor General represents the Queen for official purposes in each of the Commonwealth monarchies, which also include Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica and several others. When HM travels, someone is temporarily deputed to play a similar role in the UK while she's out of the country.)

Yes, it's against the rules for a non Roman Catholic to take Communion in a Roman Catholic mass. (Rome's rules, I note. While some protestant denominations may have rules about receiving the sacrament in other denominations, I don't know that the PM's Alliance Church does.)

Of course, the biggest problem in the event was that the incident was captured on amateur video and it APPEARS that the PM slipped the consecrated host into his pocket.

Frankly, a slanging match about the rules is simply silly. Arch-Romanists apart, whatever happened was clearly rooted in interdenominational misunderstanding and there is no reason to presume any mischievous intent. The priest should have realized the PM was not a Roman Catholic and shouldn't have offered the host. The PM should have politely declined. Nobody wanted to be seen as making a scene. It was a mistake.

The amount of newsprint, airtime and bandwwidth wasted on this story is a trifle bizarre.

More disturbing is the tone of some of the commentary.

Many "progressives" have used the event as an excuse to let loose a stream of vitriol mocking the Roman Catholic Church and their doctrine about the presence of Jesus in the elements of the Eucharist. Of course, it isn't just our Roman friends who believe that Jesus is present in the elements of the Eucharist. Although Orthodox and Anglicans decline to define how that works, belief in the Real Presence is normative for both.

I confess, I don't quite get the point of the hatespeech. How does it build up support for the progressive cause to insult the hundreds of thousands of progressives who happen also to be people of faith?

There used to be quite a long history of anti-Catholic bigotry in Canadian politics, from he bad old days of the Orange Order in southern Ontario in the late 1800s to the rise of the Ku Klux Klan on the Prairies in the 1930s, Roman Catholics were a frequent target for hatemongering rabblerousers.

Religious bigotry played a direct role in the Saskatchewan election of 1929, including the simply bizarre accusation that a Roman Catholic priest was directing the Speaker of the Legislature on how to rule on points of procedure.

I thought those days were behind us.

Those days ought to be behind us.

Apparently they're not.

(I am sticking to my practice of refusing to link to extremist websites. This is the first time I have had to apply that rule to a website of the secular left. Most disheartening.)

Here is just one example (from "Canadian Cynic"):

If you actually want sane people to take your idiotic ritual seriously, why not have the "wafer" magically appear out of the air each time? That would be wicked cool -- the sudden appearance of the mystical biscuit in the fingers of the priest just before he places it in someone's mouth. It might even convince me to give this Catholicism thing a try.

But if wafers come, not out of thin air, but out of mixing flour and water, then baking at 350F for 20 minutes, then they're not magical representations of the body of Jesus Christ, ready to be transmogrified into His actual flesh. They're crackers.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Great Heresy(ies)

Some years ago I read The Four Great Heresies: Nestorian, Eutychian, Apollinarian, Arian by J.W.C. Wand, sometime Bishop of London. One of the things that struck me in reading it was the way in which heresies tend to come in pairs, each one emphasizing a part of the truth in such a way as to deny another part of the truth.

Thus, if I might be permitted to oversimplify, one heretic overemphasizes the divine nature of Christ while another overemphasizes Christ's humanity, yet both lose sight of the fact that Christ is both divine and human. One heretic overemphasizes the the distinction between the three persons of the Holy Trinity while another overemphasizes their unity, yet both lose sight of the fact that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are both Three Persons and at the same time One God. The Four Great Heresies all arise from the attempts of learned folk to define the who Jesus was and how Jesus related to the Father. Nestorius, Eutyches, Apollinaris and Arius managed to bracket the truth without ever apprehending it.

The flip side of this is the reality that all theology is written in response to the heresy of the age. After all, the whole muddle over homoousion and homoiousion only began when Arius got it wrong.

So the Church, in responding to one heresy, must always have a care that she not fall into its polar opposite.

I am moved to reflect on this because The Usual Suspects Trying to Destroy the Anglican Communion (TUSTDAC?) have launched into another vicious personal attack on the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori, accusing her of heresy.

Not that I think they have a theological leg to stand on. The Presiding Bishop does attack what she describes as "the great Western heresy" (by which she clearly means the great Western heresy of the present age), but she does so without falling into the polar opposite heresy.

Dr. Jefferts Schori's words which have started this current rhetorical rhubarb? They come from her opening address to the General Convention of the Episcoapl Church currently meeting in Anaheim, California.

The overarching connection in all of these crises has to do with the great Western heresy – that we can be saved as individuals, that any of us alone can be in right relationship with God. It’s caricatured in some quarters by insisting that salvation depends on reciting a specific verbal formula about Jesus. That individualist focus is a form of idolatry, for it puts me and my words in the place that only God can occupy, at the center of existence, as the ground of being. That heresy is one reason for the theme of this Convention.
I think she's spot on in her identification of the Great Heresy of the present age - at least in the West. This is the root heresy that underlies far too much of political religion in both the United States and Canada. Personally, I'd name it Thatcherism, for it's great advocate, Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, who once proclaimed "there is no such thing as society." (Woman's Own magazine, October 31, 1987)

Historically, Catholic Christianity has always seen the collective expression of the Body of Christ - that is to say the Church - as important. While never denying the importance of individual faith, individual devotion and individual piety, a Christian is properly a Christian because they are part of Christ's Body, the Church. To treat Christian faith as being an entirely individual undertaking - as seems altogether too common in some circles - is manifestly heretical. The Ethiopian eunuch came to believe as an individual, but it was baptism by Philip which grafted him into the Church. The lot fell on Matthias as an individual, but his Apostolic authority came from being "added to the eleven Apostles."

Now, I agree that there is, as always, a polar opposite heresy - the heresy that would emphasize the collective to the exclusion, diminution and discarding of the individual. That heresy might take many forms, but it would certainly be a heresy.

However, I fail to see that Dr. Jefferts Schori has come anywhere near offering up an alternate extremism to the rampant individualism of the present age.

The irony, of course, is that the TUSTDACs with all their assorted acronyms (ACNA, ACN, ANiC, GAFCON, FOCA, FCAUK and cetera) are damning Dr. Jefferts Schori and defending the very heresy of individualism. What's ironic about that? The emphasis of the individual over the collective, philosophically, is called liberalism, while the TUSDACs wrongly think of themselves as conservatives.

Now, for those of you who want to contemplate a bit of heresy hunting:

Or for those of you of a more Anglican bent:

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Communities of sinners

Speaking of "Oh those interwebs:"

Some fellow I've never heard of, Eugene Peterson, wrote a book in 1987 called Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity. My online friend the Bishop of Buckingham, Alan Wilson, quoted the book on his blog, and then my online friend Tim Chesterton posted the same quote on his blog.

I'm not going to post the whole quote - just the part I found particularly striking.

The biblical fact is that there are no successful churches. There are, instead, communities of sinners, gathered before God week after week in towns and villages all over the world. The Holy Spirit gathers them and does his work in them. In these communities of sinners, one of the sinners is called pastor and given a designated responsibility in the community. The pastor’s responsibility is to keep the community attentive to God...


I've said before that statistics only tell you what they tell you and that's all they tell you. Thus statistics about average Sunday attendance or giving by members do tell you something about the vitality of a congregation. But what they're telling isn't always clear. And even when it's clear, it may not be important.

If only we could find some discrete statistical way to quantify the transforming work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a community and in the lives of individuals.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Oh those interwebs

When I was working on the Ryan Meili leadership campaign, we saw how effective Web 2.0 can be in spreading a message, in generating support and even in raising money.

Web 2.0, for the uninitiated, is the idea that internet communication is not just the one way transmission of information via a website. Properly used, the internet enables the building of community and fully interactive communication. Social networking via sites like Facebook is one of the more recent means by which community or campaign building throws off the usual constraints.

We see another example of this in some local Saskatchewan politics.

Regina lawyer Noah Evanchuk, who was Regina co-chair of the Meili campaign, has not yet made any public announcement about his intent to run for the NDP nomination in the Palliser constituency. There isn't even a website - at least not yet - though the url exists and currently redirects to Noah's professional website.

But there is a Noah Evanchuk Facebook page. And without any formal campaign, without any website to redirect, it has managed to garner (as of this writing) 162 supporters. That's just Noah's friends (Facebook and real life) using their existing networks.

Similarly, the people behind the Barack Obama website (now restyled as Organizing for America) are using an email / social networking hybrid pitch to get supporters of Obama's heath care proposals to call their Congressfolk and Senators. The email makes the case, and then provides phone numbers for the appropriate elected officials. Of course, once the initial recipient forwards the email, that data may no longer be correct. No matter. The email helpfully embeds a link to a search engine that uses the person's address to generate the correct list. And it includes another page where the person can report back on how it went when they did call.

Of course, Web 2.0 isn't all opportunity. There are more than a few pitfalls. Among those who've been stung over the past couple of days, we have United Airlines, AT&T, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper (twice) and the usual gang of far right extremists who are trying to destroy the Anglican Communion.

First, United Airlines. Dave Carroll had some issues with United. Here is the story in his own words.

In the spring of 2008, Sons of Maxwell were traveling to Nebraska for a one-week tour and my Taylor guitar was witnessed being thrown by United Airlines baggage handlers in Chicago. I discovered later that the $3500 guitar was severely damaged. They didnt deny the experience occurred but for nine months the various people I communicated with put the responsibility for dealing with the damage on everyone other than themselves and finally said they would do nothing to compensate me for my loss. So I promised the last person to finally say no to compensation (Ms. Irlweg) that I would write and produce three songs about my experience with United Airlines and make videos for each to be viewed online by anyone in the world. United: Song 1 is the first of those songs. United: Song 2 has been written and video production is underway. United: Song 3 is coming. I promise.

Here is Song 1 - United Breaks Guitars

I'd seen the story online, but it hit CNN today (though I can't find a link). After nearly 150,000 views, United have finally decided to do something about Dave's guitar. According to the CNN story, the company has called this a learning experience - and plan to use the video as part of their employee training.

Compare that delayed response to the actions of a quick thinking WestJet employee. When a young bride arrived in Victoria, BC a few hours before her wedding, she was understandably distraught when her wedding dress had missed a connection somewhere. Once the employee of western Canada's regional carrier had tracked down the dress but determined it wouldn't get to Victoria on time, she simply took the bride downtown and bought her a new $2,280 wedding dress - on her personal credit card. She was that confident the company would do the right thing and reimburse her - which they did. Of course, there's less Web 2.0 buzz when a company goes over the top to do the right thing - but lot's of buzz when the company stupidly plays the villain.

Mythbuster Adam Savage was savaged by the giant telecom AT&T, who felt that "a few hours of websurfing in Canada" should cost him about US$11,000. Savage made use of his Twitter account (and his minor celebrity status) to protest the ridiculous overcharge. With more than 50,000 followers on his Twitter account, Savage proved himself a trustbuster as well as a mythbuster, and AT&T resolved the issue.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been bitten twice in the past 48 hours by stories which would never had legs before Web 2.0.

First, he took communion at the funeral of former Governor General Roméo LeBlanc. Not a big deal, you'd think. But the funeral was a Roman Catholic mass - and Stephen Harper is an evangelical protestant. Now, even that wouldn't have been so bad. Another former GG, Adrienne Clarkson, an Anglican, once received at a Roman mass. There was criticism, but at least she had the sense to put the host into her mouth - right away. Harper appeared to put it in his pocket. While the Clarkson event got some coverage, the Harper faux pas has gotten far more. In the great scheme of things, not a major issue, but it is a headache the Prime Minister's Office would not have had even ten years ago. Here's the video.

The PMO's other headache has to do with the decision to grant tourism funding to support Toronto's Pride Week festival last week. In an interview with the extremist site LifeSiteNews (I do not link to extremist websites as a matter of principle), obscure Saskatchewan Tory backbencher Brad Trost launched a personal attack against Tory Tourism Minister Diane Ablonczy. That wouldn't be so bad - except that the government has now stripped Ablonczy of the grant program. Most of Harper's time leading the party has been focussed on containing the extremists. But with Web 2.0, it isn't possible for the PM to hide the fact that he's actually pandering to them.

A few years ago, comments about what HM the Queen may or may not have said in private correspondence wouldn't likely get much coverage. But in the age of Web 2.0 some deliberate misrepresentations by the usual suspects have proven embarrassing for the extremist moves to destroy the Anglican Communion.

The Reverend Canon Doctor Chris Sugden (no, he really insists on piling on his titles like that) tried to claim that a letter from Mrs. Battenberg constituted an endorsement of the extremist agenda of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans - conveniently leaving out the paragraph where HM (or actually one of her staff) makes it clear that the Supreme Governor of the Church of England does not interfere in the day to day affairs of the established Church of England, nor does she endorse a particular agenda on controversial issues. It was pretty unambiguous, the way her staffer said it:

I should explain however that the Queen, as Supreme Governor of the Church of England would not intervene in the day-to-day running of the Church of England. Although you have already sent a copy of your letter to him, I have, nevertheless, been directed to forward your letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury so that he may be aware of your approach to Her Majesty from this office.

The best media comment on this is The Telegraph's religion editor George Pilcher. After describing how Mr. Sugden has been implying Mrs. Battenberg supports his extremist views, Pilcher goes on to say:

“Sources close to the Palace”, as they say, have coughed lightly and raised an eyebrow to one another. That’s a courtier’s equivalent of being incandescent with rage. Because Her Majesty said no such thing.

Ten years ago, it's unlikely Chris's idle ravings would have gotten quite the exposure outside of his own schismatic circles. Instead, he and his are exposed as . . . let's call them "dissemblers" since "liars" is so harsh.

Web 2.0 is a marvellous tool that can build things up. It can also be a marvellous tool to trip up the foolish.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Mixed Feelings

I've been hanging my biretta in the same place for nearly 30 months now. St. James the Apostle is a small but lively parish which has come to embrace a new sense of mission as the last Anglican parish in north Regina. It has been and continues to be a joy to work and worship with them.

It is the nature of interim ministry that it is interregnal. I am not here nor was I called to be here as anything more than the Interim Priest. (So much nicer than the now thankfully discarded phrase "Priest in Charge.") My appointment was originally scheduled to be a matter of months and has been extended several times - and most recently extended without a specific end date, but rather until the appointment of a permanent incumbent is effected.

Now, I knew all that. Even so, I've mixed feelings since the official call went out for candidates who would consider becoming the next incumbent of St. James the Apostle, Regina.

I would encourage any of my ordained readers, wherever they may be, to check out the posting here. I'll even allow as the ad gives an honest reflection of what the parish is really like - at least as I have experienced it. And I'll admit to a mischievous sense of satisfaction that an unreconstructed lefty like me actually proposed the adjective "entrepreneurial" to describe the desired next incumbent.

We learned on the Meili campaign how effective social networks can be in spreading a message wider. So I'd ask any of you who know a priest who is entrepreneurial, innovative, a team player and a skilled communicator to pass it on.

God has plenty of work to do in north Regina.

(For the record, I don't actually have a biretta.)

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Even your media cheerleaders know you're wrong

The Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, not known for being a particularly leftwing rag, has published a scathing condemnation of a proposal to allow Saskatchewan marriage commissioners to refuse to solemnize same sex marriages. When a centre right paper like the SP refers to a rightwing government's policy as "reprehensible" and effectively brands the minister of a rightwing government a coward, it becomes apparent just how wrongheaded the policy is.

For my non-Canadian readers (and for Canadians who may have spent the last five years on a desert island with no access to the news), let me explain that equal marriage has been the law in Canada for quite sometime by an act of the Canadian Parliament. It has been law in Saskatchewan somewhat longer by a decision of the Supreme Court of Canada.

For most everyone reading, let me also explain that marriage commissioners are agents of the state and only agents of the state. While they hold the same license as a clergyperson to solemnize marriages, they do not in any way act as agent for any religious body. In fact, the office of marriage commissioner was created precisely so that couples in Saskatchewan could have a wholly secular marriage ceremony.

This is manifestly not an issue of religious freedom.

Churches and other religious institutions, quite properly, are permitted to apply their own canonical requirements to any intended marriage. Thus no clergyperson is obliged to solemnize the marriage of any couple whose situation does not conform to canon law. A Baptist pastor can refuse to marry a same sex couple. A Roman priest can refuse to marry a couple where the husband is divorced from a woman still living. An Anglican priest can refuse to marry a couple whose relationship falls within the prohibited degrees (ie, a man marrying his deceased wife's sister). While they act as agents of the state, they are principally agents of their religious institution, and should that change, their capacity to solemnize marriages is automatically revoked by the province.

Marriage commissioners are civil servants. Like any other civil servant, they are obliged to apply the laws, regulations and policies of the province. Religious convictions are, in this matter, irrelevant. If they cannot comply with the law, there is nothing which compels them to become marriage commissioners. (Indeed, if they are governed by such religious scruple, isn't it counterintuitive for them to participate in a system specifically designed to provide for a non-religious means to solemnize a marriage?)

Now, as a matter of reasonableness, there might have been a case for creating a temporary exemption for those who were already marriage commissioners when the law changed. That is to say, the small number of existing marriage commissioners who scrupled at same sex marriage could have been grandfathered -provided that they assisted any same sex couple to find another marriage commissioner - but that the exemption would not extend to any new marriage commissioners. Existing marriage commissioners had no legal entitlement to that situation, and the previous government chose not to extend it to them.

Apart from being reprehensible and cowardly, what the Saskatchewan Party government proposes in patently absurd. It is analagous to saying that pacifists should be allowed to serve in the military but, should the balloon ever go up, they wouldn't have to put themselves in harms way so long as another soldier could be found to put his or her life at risk. I have a great deal of respect for pacifists. Most of them understand that they shouldn't be in the military, and so long as the state does not compel them to military service, the system works.

The SP editorial makes some other comparisons to show just how odious this proposal is:

Would the minister go to bat for a social conservative who objects, justified on grounds of "traditional values" or religion, to wed a mixed-race couple? How about a Hindu doctor who refuses to treat a person he believes to be of a lower caste?

. . .

Surely Mr. Morgan wouldn't be asking the court if it's legally acceptable for a government manager to refuse to hire a First Nation worker based purely on her race, as long as he is able to identify another manager at a Crown corporation who's willing to hire her?

If this were about race or caste or even religion, even Don Morgan would be able to recognize this for what it is. Instead of being the Minister of Justice for all the people of Saskatchewan, he has chosen to pander to hatred. Words like "reprehensible" and "coward" are barely sufficient.


So, just 'cause, I created a Simple Massing Priest Facebook Page. Three fans so far.

The Last Saskatchewan Pirate

Neither the Arrogant Worms nor the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra are from Saskatchewan. But Edmonton is on the Saskatchewan River, unlike either Moose Jaw and Regina, both of which are referred to in this delightful version of their fabulous novelty song, frequently covered by such groups as Captain Tractor and Squeeze of Scotch.

I draw to the attention of my non-Canadian readers that the civil province of Saskatchewan is entirely landlocked, but is nonetheless the home to two Naval Reserve Divisions.

And that the phrase "Arrrgh Métis" uses the technical term for a person of mixed Aboriginal and European descent. (Actually, historically speaking, "Métis" only referred to those who were of mixed Aboriginal and French descent, but now is generally used across the board.)

Oh, and the GST is our national sales tax, the Goods and Services Tax, which was very unpopular when it was introduced to replace the hidden Manufacturers Sales Tax. I like the piratical take on the GST.