Saturday, 29 November 2008

NEAC 5, CEEC and the hermeneutics of suspicion

By all accounts, the NEAC 5 gathering in London on November 19th could have gone better. Without a doubt there was a widespread sense that the motion put in the afternoon was ‘sprung’ on the meeting. Combined with the fact that no amendments were allowed, this has undermined the notion that this was a ‘consultation’.

At the same time, however, the manner in which objections to the process were voiced has left a bitter taste in the mouths of some attendees. Some feel that opposition to the CEEC was more heartfelt than any objections to the revisionist agenda or to legal action against other Anglicans in North America.

The sense of division amongst Evangelicals is palpable, and part of this is what might be called a prevailing ‘hermeneutic of suspicion’ — a tendency to attribute the worst of motives to those with whom there is disagreement.

Thus on the Fulcrum website the news that e-mails are being exchanged amongst CEEC members considering an alternative motion to that put on the 19th has been greeted with one accusation that this is “the electronic equivalent of ‘smoke-filled rooms’” with “the Usual Suspects’ stitching up a solution that they will foist on the great unwashed, whom they hold in contempt and whom they will manipulate at every opportunity.”

Reading this outside the context of that forum, it is of course an immoderate opinion. Nevertheless, it may be indicative of a widespread suspicion. The contributor goes on to ask that in the “interests of transparency and a genuine desire for wide consultation ... ALL of these e mails, in their complete form” be made public, concluding, “Don't hold your breath, though.”

What, then, can be said in response?

As far as I am aware, as a member of the CEEC, the only motion being discussed is one I have proposed. I am also not unaware that I am probably one of those ‘Usual Suspects’ (indeed, I would be slightly disappointed to discover I wasn’t).

Nevertheless, the intention of what I have put forward is precisely to avoid the mistake apparent in what happened on the 19th and to take into account a much broader range of responses to what is happening in the Communion. In this respect, it would be worth reading the notes on Christina Baxter’s talk to the Chelmsford Diocesan Evangelical Association today.

Several people have responded to the initial proposal, and as a result I have substantially trimmed down my first version. This is what consultation is about. I doubt, however, that now would be the right time to put this in the public arena.

This is not because I am ashamed of the proposal (though in retrospect the first version was embarrassing for its length). Rather, it is that there is such a thing as ‘due process’ and, in the first instance, I believe this means it is for the CEEC to discuss CEEC business.

By the same token, I also believe it would be quite wrong to publicize e-mails which had been sent in good faith by those who thought they were merely taking part in this process. Such an action would, I think, be a breach of trust.

But trust seems to be precisely what is presently lacking. Of course, trust can be lost. But it is unhelpful always to presume the very worst. In addition, the accusation of a ‘hidden agenda’ is particularly problematic since, by definition, what is ostensibly hidden is hard to deny.

Personally, I would be quite happy to publish the proposed motion in advance of the CEEC meeting. Indeed, I had already considered doing this, and believe it might be helpful as a way of ‘testing the waters’ before next Thursday, when the CEEC meets.

However, I am quite convinced that discussions within the CEEC should be allowed to proceed freely, and without anxiety about leaks, until the motion has reached as final a form as possible, before it is given such a public airing. Given that the CEEC is the body finally empowered with voting on what is proposed, it would be pointless, especially in the present atmosphere, to invite a wider ‘debate’ which, in any case, would really be a debate amongst bloggers and internet users who are not known for their reticence, objectivity or even (let it be admitted) their wisdom.

One other matter. Those who insist on openness and transparency amongst the ‘Usual Suspects’, including publication of their e-mails, ought surely to be prepared to identify themselves fully — proper name and location — in making their own comments.

John Richardson
29 November 2008

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  1. Of course, the hermeneutic of suspicion cuts both ways. I wasn't at NEAC, so I have to rely on the reports, blogs etc I read, and most of these seem to come from some other "usual suspects". Why should I trust anything that, eg, Fulcrum tell me about NEAC? They are an organisation with their own agenda- one that seems to be mostly negative (and the fact that some of them blog anonymously doesn't exactly create trust). In particular, they seem to have an obsession with Richard Turnbull, and I would be extremely suspicious of anything that is said about him. Speaking as someone who wasn't there, it sounds as if the whole thing was hijacked and manipulated by the open evangelicals. They knew that they would lose a straight vote on the motion, so deliberately sowed suspicion, created conflict, and used a procedural motion to avoid a vote, with Richard Turnbull as their customary hate figure. Of course, my suspicions might be completely unfounded. But why should I trust Fulcrum when they tell me otherwise?

    Stephen Walton, Marbury, Cheshire

  2. Surely the cross should be the advent of the death of politics...

    But maybe such a view is unnecessarily naive and theological.

    Simon Rowbory, Peckham

  3. Francis Schaeffer, himself bruised in an earlier time of difficulty among Evangelicals, has written A Christian Manifesto originally published by Crossway Books. He writes about the notion of co-belligerence in an excellent book. The book concludes with a clarion call from Revelation as relevant now as then, perhaps more so.

    "Wake up! Strengthen the things which remain, that are about to die, For I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God."

    L'Chaim! Ifan Morgan.......