Friday, January 25, 2013

"There is no alternative" is not an argument.

While he was talking about austerity as a failed economic and fiscal policy, the former head of the Canadian public service, Alex Himelfarb, could have as easily been talking about the undead failure which is the Anglican Covenant when he said:
When our leaders tell us that there is no alternative, it is a safe bet to assume that there is indeed an alternative and one that we would prefer were it on offer.

There is an alternative to the failed policy of austerity. Prudent fiscal spending on things like infrastructure replacement and improvement will "prime the pump," while responsible tax policy (ie, not "lower taxes uber alles") would both ensure adequate revenue while also ensuring the wealthiest pay their air share of the costs of a civilized society.

Similarly, there is an alternative to the failed Anglican Covenant. A commitment from all sides to stay at the table as a family even when we disagree - especially when we disagree - is how we should be functioning as faithful Christians who honour our Lord's desire "that they all may be one."

But there is one other point which Himelfarb makes about austerity which also applies to the Anglican Covenant.
What became increasingly clear was that austreity had never been driven by fiscal policy or economics or evidence. It was driven by ideology. Market fundamentalism. A desire to make government much smaller, eliminate or reduce, as much as politics allowed, so-called entitlements, create a “pro-business” climate of less regulation, less government, and, above all, lower taxes.
In the same way, the Anglican Covenant was never about creating structures to hold the Anglican Communion together in the face of disagreement.  It was always about centralizing authority in the Communion, to replace a family of Churches with one international and quasi-curial (if not quasi-papal) structure controlled from the centre.

In both cases, the proponents of radical change tried to stampede a consensus by claiming, "There is no alternative."  Of course, what they really meant was, "We don't want you to look at the alternative because we know the alternative is better for you and for your interests and it doesn't satisfy our desire for control."

"There is no alternative" is not an argument.  And it is virtually always a lie.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Time for the new broom to sweep clean

A recurring image used by populist politicians in opposition, "a new broom sweeps clean," perhaps also describes the opportunity presented to the new Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev'd Justin Welby.  While Dr. Welby is unlikely to make any loud pronouncement against his predecessor's misguided project, he does have an opportunity, very quietly, to sweep the discredited Anglican Covenant into the dustbin of church history.

I was a little startled to realize that I had not made a single blogpost about the so-called Anglican Covenant since July, when I blogged daily from the Episcopal Church General Convention in Indianapolis.  In part, the extended silence was due to the lack of substantive developments. 

Indeed, having seen the Covenant go down in flames in England, Scotland and New Zealand, it is now pretty obvious that the thing is dead.  Yet because it was so incompetently drafted, it staggers on like some dessicated zombie or reflection-free nosferatu.  And in the background, its bewildered partisans try to pretend that everything is coming along swimingly.

A good example of how the ecclesiastical talking heads continue to delude themselves is the report prepared for the fall session of the Church of England General Synod which, while admitting that the draft Act of Synod had been defeated in the dioceses, tries to spin it out of the grave with a bit of fancy arithmetic and a spurious claim of moral victory. 

Of course the business committee completely ignores the unethical way in which the deck was stacked in favour of the Covenanters.  The fact that Church House refused to provide any material that was not 100 percent supportive of the Covenant is not mentioned.  Nor is there any mention of the refusal of many dioceses to permit such information to be distributed to synod members when other groups offered to cover the cost of distribution.  The fact that the debate in many diocesan synods was grotesquely manipulated to produce a pro-Covenant outcome is likewise blithely ignored.  Elsewhere I have used the analogy of a soccer match between Manchester United and the boys from the local grammar school.  If the grammar school wins the game, ManU can take no solace in having kept the score close.

Similarly, the fall meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council carried on in the best "nothing-to-see-here" manner.  The official report from the Anglican Communion Office attempted to spin the English result as a non-defeat, and unofficial commentary attempted to do the same regarding the unequivocal rejection by the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia.

It's all beginning to resemble the apocryphal tale of the Duke of Northumberland holding the dead body of Edward VI in the window so the crowd would believe the young king still lived.

It seems unlikely that Justin Welby will want to waste his ecclesiopolitical capital trying to revive a discredited and discreditable project which, whatever the intentions of its authors, has failed in its purpose.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Sad Plight of the Religious Progressive

One of the frequent frustrations of being a progressive person of faith is having to read and listen to the false and malicious narratives of the religious right claiming that they and they alone represent the official religious viewpoint.

A less frequent frustration - though perhaps even a greater one - is having to read and listen to secular progressives who are so ignorant of the history of progressive political movements that they unconsciously parrot the false memes of the religious right.


Last month, Saskatchewan New Democratic Party leadership candidate Ryan Meili laid out a plan for reaching out to faith communities, and in particular to progressive people of faith.  His plan explicitly offers a counternarrative to the false claims of the religious right, pointing to global examples like Martin Luther KIng and Mahatma Ghandi and to more local examples like former CCF-NDP leaders and Saskatchewan premiers Tommy Douglas and Lorne Calvert.

The key point in Meili's plan is the establishment of a Faith and Social Justice Commission, modeled on a similar initiative in the federal NDP.  This commission would "open a space for dialogue within the party on the intersection of faith and politics," leading to the implementation of an outreach strategy to religious voters.

Meili's proposal is endorsed by former Premier Calvert:

"faith has inspired many of us to seek justice through political action.  To provide an opportunity of dialogue for those who arrive from the intersection of faith and politics will serve the party and the province well."

It is also endorsed by Dr. Mateen Raazi, a leader in Saskatoon's interfaith group Multifaith Saskatoon:

“While duly recognizing and respecting the diversity of religious opinion, this policy emphasizes the commonality of communal and social justice themes across various religious traditions. Adoption of such a policy further provides political common ground to the many whose social justice work is inspired by their religious traditions."

Unfortunately, political blogger Scott Stelmaschuk seems to miss the point, offering up a bit of secular fearmongering and the veiled hint that any outreach to religious progressives would mean compromising the party's principles.

"I fear I've editorialized this post more than I meant to, but I do think there are valid concerns to have over such a commission as this. There is nothing wrong with having a discussion, and attempting to do better to connect our values with those of faith-based groups throughout Saskatchewan; but at the same time, we must take heed to ensure that we are not crafting party policy that compromises on our own social values."

Like many secular progressives these days, Scott is woefully ignorant about the strong tradition of progressive religious political activism in western Canada and in Saskatchewan in particular, and he apears to be oblivious to the significant role religious progressives played in creating the CCF-NDP.  He assumes that people of faith who support the New Democratic Party do so despite their religious beliefs rather than because of them.  And he assumes that virtually all religious voters are anti-choice, even if some set that aside to vote for pro-choice politicians.

Scott seems to be completely unaware of the Social Gospel movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many of whose members were deeply involved in the formation of progressive political movements, especially the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (the forerunner to today's New Democratic Party.  He appears to have forgotten that for nearly one-third of the party's history in Saskatchewan, it was led by ordained Christian clergymen (Tommy Douglas 1942 - 1961 and Lorne Calvert 2001 - 2009).  (If we include the first Saskatchewan CCF leader, Anglican Lay Reader M.J. Coldwell who successively led the Independent Labour Party 1926 - 1929, the Farmer Labour Party 1929 - 1932 and the Saskatchewan CCF 1932 - 1934, we're well over the one-third mark.)

Somehow, according to Stelmaschuk, getting too cozy with religious people risks undermining the party's principles.  We are led to the ridiculous conclusion that those religious activists (mostly Christian activists, given the demographics of the day - though Jewish progressives played a significant role in other parts of Canada) had nothing to do with shaping the existing principles of the party.

Stelmaschuk also seems completely hoodwinked by the religious right's claim that there is only one authentic religious view on the abortion issue.  He appears to be unaware that the anti-choice consensus on the evangelical right is a recent development - indeed, it isn't as old as the McDonald's Happy Meal.  He seems similarly unaware that religious views on the abortion issue run the gamut from ardently anti-choice to as ardently pro-choice.

I grant you, many of the loudest religious voices these days tend to be pretty reactionary.  That's pretty discouraging for those of us who see ourselves as part of the long tradition of progressive people of faith.

The problem with the kind of superficial, knee-jerk reaction of people like Stelmachuk is that it plays right into the strategies of the religious right.  It alienates potential political allies, leaving us, at best, disenfranchised.  It isn't like the Saskatchewan NDP is so flush with electoral support we can discard religious progressives as an inconvenient constituency.

Indeed, Stelmachuk's shoddy analysis may be the best evidence of the need for a deliberate outreach to religious communities, and for the establishment of a Faith and Social Justice Commission within the Saskatchewan NDP.