Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Being Polite -- the Newest Deadly Sin

I recently got myself into a little hot water with some adherents of the ANiC (Anglican Network in Canada) for suggesting that we should use a little bit more civility as we explore the state of the Church.

Followers of this blog will know that I was invited earlier this year to participate in the Anglican Church of Canada's Vision 2019 project. The project, initiated by our Primate, the Most Rev. Fred Hiltz, seeks to explore where the church in Canada finds itself today and where we believe we are being called in the next ten years. This reflection revolves around the five marks of mission. I was interviewed for a short video highlighting work being done by the National Church (I spoke about the second mark of mission, Teaching, Baptizing and Nurturing New Believers, in light of the work of the Anglican Book Centre publishing programme). In addition, Anglicans across the country were invited to post comments on where they see the Church today and in the future.

As the feedback began to come in I noticed that a great deal of the early feedback was very negative and critical. Of course, it is important for the leaders of the Church to hear all feedback, positive or negative. However, several people began to resort to name-calling and caricature in a most unedifying manner. A study group from St. John the Divine in Victoria, BC posted an interesting report of a Lenten study they were doing with some good thoughts about social justice. A response was posted by Frank Wirrell, a regular commentator on the ANiC blog. Mr. Wirrell made the following response:

"The comments with respect to justice sound good but to thank the Primate is definitely stretching the truth. The lack of any justice toward orthodox parishes and Anglicans can only be described as the work of Satan. The writer should carefully examine his statement that we should get past the same-sex issues. That issue is simply the tip of the iceberg and demonstrates a complete rejection of God’s word. So-called bishops, including the Primate, that are prepared to claim they can bless same-sex unions are not only deceiving themselves but are deceiving and misleading those involved. Each of us has a tendency to sin in one area or another and that includes being involved in homosexual activity or adultery. Rather than endorsing any sin we need to honestly repent and not be led down the garden path by political expediency. If the Primate were honestly interested in justice he would order that all actions against orthodox parishes cease and that apostate bishops resign their positions."


Everyone has the right to their opinion and to post it, nor would be against anyone posting a legitimate theological critique of any theological position. However, name-calling does constitute a legitimate theological critique. Furthermore, I believe this project was offered to Canadian Anglicans with a measure of graciousness and a willingness to listen. I do believe graciousness should be met with graciousness. Thus, I responded:

"I find it disheartening that in an exercise that is intended for thebuilding up of the kingdom of God, we continue to see our bishops characterized in such derisive terms. The primate (and our other bishops) are not “so-called” bishops, they are bishops in the Church of God. Similarly, to toss around a term like apostasy is very unhelpful. The elevation of abusive language in these debates is not at all edifying. In my experience, our Primate has never been
anything but gracious. His invitation into this discussion and his willingness to listen to all voices has been most gracious. I hope that we as Canadian Anglicans would reciprocate with a similar graciousness that would be characterized in the tone of our language."


Mr. Wirrell responded, asking for some clarification.

"I have noted the response of Fr. Dan Graves and would ask what he finds offensive in my remarks. Clearly the time has come to call a spade a spade. Bishops, clergy and laity that deny the authority of Scripture and attempt to make such authority subject to a majority vote are apostates - politely but mistakenly called liberals. The Primate might well be gracious under some circumstances but his lack of action to deal with apostasy cannot be and should not be overlooked. Certainly he has not been gracious to orthodox Anglicans. To be a true Anglican one must first be a Christian and when you have so-called bishops proclaiming that all religions lead to the same place, action is mandatory to have them repent or remove them from office. You cannot build a church on sand but only on the Solid Rock. The Anglican Church of Canada is quickly losing its “right” to be called a church of God and needs to repent and turn back from the sin of political expediency."


It seems for Mr. Wirrell that as long as you are convinced and sure about something you can use whatever language you wish to villify your opponent. I maintained my original point and sought to clarify and restate it:

Although I never used the word “offensive” I do believe that I made very clear what I felt was unhelpful about your remarks. I am not aware that any of our bishops have been either tried for heresy or deposed. As much as I can determine, they are all in communion with the see of Canterbury (and even if they may be in a stated of impaired communion with some other bishops around the world, they are in full communion with brother and sister bishops of their own house). Thus, the bishops of our church are indeed true bishops in the Church of God, not “so-called” bishops or apostates. One is not simply an apostate because any given individual (or even group) declares it. Furthermore, being liberal(which you seem to imply is a sin of major proportion) does not automatically excommunicate one from the church. At a more nuanced level, orthodox and liberal have become caricatures used by those who wish to lampoon opponents with whom they do not agree. Most people have a much more nuanced theological landscape. Again, I believe polarizing language is not helpful. I will state it again: I believe this forum was created for the building up of the church, not for tearing it down. Does this involve critique and self-exmanination of where we are as a church? Certainly it does. However, simply criticizing, name calling(”so-called bishops” “apostates”), and starkly calling a “spade a spade” fails to offer an opportunity for authentic dialogue.


The independent Anglican blogger Anglican Samizdat made an attempt to comment on this debate but claimed to be shut out of the Vision 2019 site. They did allow him to post a link to his site, though, where he re-posted the first part of my exchange with Mr. Wirrell, to which he added his own comment:

"One of the significant things about this exchange is the fact that the ACoC’s defender is basing his defence on the use of language, rather than truth. The redoubtable Frank is intent upon calling “a spade a spade” and this is what seems to upset Rev. Daniel. After all, we are Canadian: what matters is being nice to each other, not the truth. And to set the record straight, the primate, Fred Hiltz is not as gracious as Rev. Daniel would like us to believe: he is supporting dioceses that are suing the pants off people who disagree with them."


I'm not entirely sure what Anglican Samizdat thought I was defending. I was simply suggesting that we frame our debates in a reasoned language and stay away from any slanderous innuendo. Simply because someone does not like the position a bishop has taken it does not give them a right to call their orders into question using slanderous terms like "so-called bishop" and "apostate." There are ways to depose bishops. I am not aware that any of our Canadian House have been deposed. Let us therefore stick to the facts and refrain from name-calling. And for the record, I never once commented on what I take to be "the truth." Thus, it is disingenous to suggest that I have rejected the truth of the gospel. A false dichotomy has been created here.

One further comment was posted on Anglican Samizdat by Jim Muirhead, another regular commentator on the ANiC blog:

"I don’t know Rev Graves, but I have followed Frank’s posts with pleasure at Essentials.This is a classic conversation with between the two parties of Anglicanism in Canada. On the one hand Graves is concerned with manners, and on the other Wirrell stands on the Word. I’ll stand with Frank any time. - Peace,
Jim."


For the record, at no point did I engage Mr. Wirrell on whether or not I "stand on the Word." My blog posts and sermons are a matter of the public record. Should they choose to judge me they can do so from my published writing, but not from this red herring of a debate. No, Mr. Muirhead, this was not a "classic conversation between two parties of Anglicanism in Canada... one concerned with manners and the other with the Word." There was really no debate here, simply an unwillingness on the part of Mr. Wirrell to use the kind of temperate language that makes debate even possible. I stand by my original point that constructive dialogue is characterized by a graciousness of language. If there are those that count me as condemned or apostate for the use of good manners, then so be it. At least my mother will be proud.

Fr. Dan Graves
Feast of St. John the Evangelist, 2009.

10 comments:

Cindy said...

It seems like they never got your point, which is strange.

I, too, agree that regardless what the debate (or argument) is about, name calling is not necessary. Being critical of anothers opinion is one thing, and can be be a base for further discussion, but once slander is brought into the discussion, that gets focused on instead of the topic at hand.

Sadly it seems like your point was completely lost. From their posts, I don't find their comments offensive, but definitely slews the meaning toward the negative and away from the constructive.

"At least my mother will be proud"

:)

Anonymous said...

I am proud too Fr Dan...for your manners and for your stand. You are a man of integrity and honor. It is VERY sad and does not bode well for the future of any church if they cannot agree upon the value of reaching out to all. Do these people REMEMBER WHO they are representing? The carpenter who ate with the prostitutes and outcasts.

David said...

Hi Fr. Dan,

Anglican Samizdat here; the point I was trying to make was that you chose to disagree with the way Frank made his case rather than the case itself.

Frank did clearly state that clergy who defend something that is biblically forbidden are promoting heresy; the fact that these clergy have not been deposed is more a reflection on the sorry state of the ACoC than the orthodoxy of its clergy. I am not, of course, accusing all ACoC clergy of being heretical.

I agree you did not comment on “the truth” of the situation. That was my point: I think you should have.

Some comments Here would seem to demonstrate that harsh language and cogent argument are not mutually exclusive.

Tay Moss said...

Good for you, Dan, for standing up for civility!

Heather M. said...

I love the line about none of our bishops having been tried for apostasy. giggle.

Frankly, I have enough trouble trying to urge my own offspring to be polite. Don't need to be trying to get "so-called" adults to do the same.

However, it's also true that there are many in the church and in Canadian society for whom the maxim, "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all," has resulted in years and even generations of avoided conflict that is truly unhealthy. I wonder whether the lack of civility here is a result of years of unvoiced resentment. Which, of course, does not excuse abusive behaviour, but may explain it. A little.

The Rev. Daniel Francis Graves said...

David:

Thank you for taking the time to post a comment.

My point about the deposition of those in Holy Orders stands. It is clear that on the several issues on which members of the Church have argued through the ages, many disputes are rooted in the interpretaion of Scripture. This is no easy matter. The Church has had various processes of sorting out what is orthodoxy and what is heresy. There are further processes of sorting out what to do with those who espouse heretical opinions. As I see it, the Church is still sorting out the former. It is using prayer, the study of Scripture, the study of science, and the mechanism of the councils of the church to try to discern the way forward. It is not as simple as making a claim for the plain meaning of Scripture. We need to work together to try to understand what Scripture means and calls us to. As I see it this is at the core of the present debate. There will be some who think the case is closed while there will be others who are not so sure. Some have chosen to stand on their princples and left the Canadian Church, and as individuals, that is their right. Others remain, equally on principle, hoping to continue the dialogue. The discernment continues.

I read your recommended post and we obviously have a methodological disagreement on the way into dialogue. I do respect the fact that there are many who feel that the the proclamation of the truth requires strong words. I tend to prefer building gentle relationships. I suppose there is room for both approaches.

As to an argument about the truth, it was never my intention to engage Mr. Wirrell on the point of truth. This is not to say that I do not care about the truth... I care about a great many things. In this case I was strictly interested expressing my concern over the way he was expressing himself, and what I took to be be statements against the bishops that were not factually precise (I continue to maintain that they are not "apostates" or "so-called bishops" until they have been canonically deposed). I am, of course, concerned about truth. I preach about the truth and power of the Gospel extensively each week.

The Reverend Mark Kinghan said...

Well said Dan! And not just as a faithful priest under the authority of your bishops (not so-called bishops), but equally as a faithful follower of Jesus Christ (not a so-called follower!)

A prophetic message! Let those who have ears to hear listen!

David said...

Fr. Dan,

It is true that no clergy have been deposed and so, strictly speaking, Frank’s characterisations are inaccurate. That is to dodge the real issue, though: if some ACoC leaders have drifted into heresy, perhaps they should be deposed, but there is little to no hope that they will be.

How can the ACoC still be trying to sort out what is orthodox and what is heresy; surely, after 2000 years that has been nailed down rather tightly.

Your contention that the disagreements are essentially caused by differing views of what scripture says is, I think, a little flimsy. Those kinds of disagreements have always been occurring and have not led to the type of situation we see today. What we are seeing are radically differing views of how to read scripture: one is to try to allow scripture to speak to the culture - view our culture through the eyes of scripture; the other is to read scripture in the light of our current cultural predilections.


Reading your last comment gives the impression that nothing fundamental is wrong and eventually the ACoC will be able to work everything out. Yet, the provinces of West Indies, Southern Cone, Uganda, South East Asia, Kenya, Rwanda and Nigeria, representing a sizeable percentage of worldwide Anglicans, have declared varying degrees of impaired Communion with the TEC and ACoC. J. I. Packer, a world renowned theologian, has been inhibited and threatened with trespassing; less than gracious lawsuits are being pursued by dioceses – some against individual wardens. These facts should be a bit of a clue that something is very awry in the ACoC.

Administration said...

I think this all boils down to the simple fact that debates often have uneven sides. Few people are as smart as Father Dan. 'Nuff said.

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