Saturday, June 17, 2017

Ambiguity Used As A Strategy For Innovation


Fr. Dale Matson
“It became clear that we did not have the means to educate the bishops on this matter; so the alternative was to make the Confirmation rite as ambiguous as possible in the hope that eventually greater theological clarity would emerge and the rite would be an appropriate expression of that new clarity and a source - not a resource - for understanding the meaning of the sacrament." Dean Urban T. Holmes in Worship Points The Way (1981) The members of the Standing Liturgical Commission of The Episcopal Church (TEC) knew that the way we worship/pray determines how we believe (lex orandi, lex credendi). The SLC members also knew that the 1979 BCP was a radical departure from the 1928 BCP but were not honest about it even when challenged about the extent of that departure. They were changing theology by changing liturgy.
I believe less than honest leaders knowingly and intentionally employ ambiguity when they intend to innovate. Ambiguity is the preparatory step. An example of this is a phrase used at TEC General Convention in adopting resolution 2009-CO-56.  “…and be it further resolved, That bishops, particularly those in dioceses within civil jurisdictions where same-gender marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships are legal, may provide a generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this Church…” One might ask, “What is a generous pastoral response?” I think it is simply a green light to innovate.
Another ambiguous phrase used by innovators is “Radical inclusion”. What does this mean? For some it means allowing non-baptized individuals to receive communion. It is commonly practiced in TEC and once again, what is practiced becomes what is believed. A behavioral psychologist would not argue with that. For others it meant, “In 1976, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church declared “homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the Church" (1976-A069). Since then, faithful Episcopalians have been working toward a greater understanding and radical inclusion of all of God’s children.” I will return to radical inclusion in a moment.
Human flourishing is a more contemporary ambiguous phrase. What does it mean? What all does it incorporate? Does it include environmental sustainability? Does is allow for genetic manipulation? It is more than feeding the poor but does it also involve social justice activism? Important leaders are using this phrase today including +Katharine Jefferts Schori and ++Justin Welby. Is this a new gospel? The problem is that it is human focused and not God focused.
It is the very imprecision somewhat like a projective test that allows leaders to change things as they “clarify” themselves and their thinking “evolves”.
Radical inclusion is now a part of the dialogue of the World Wide Anglican Communion (WWAC). It is ++Justin Welby’s turn to throw it out for speculation. “To deal with that disagreement, to find ways forward, we need a radical new Christian inclusion in the Church.”
Behaviorists have learned that changing a behavior (training) is best accomplished incrementally via approximations. In this case change is first introduced/proposed in an ambiguous way. People begin to act based on what they want the ambiguity to mean and the next step is ‘locally adapted’ facts on the ground. Precedents are set. This is then followed by more clarifications that change doctrine an inch at a time.



underground pewster said...

Once a catch phrase catches on, any attempts to shake it off are considered mean, phobic, and neanderthalithic (my own attempt to create a catch phrase). There seems to be little that anyone can do to stop the inevitable progression of these ambiguous terms and phrases, and that says something about a human weakness when we so easily fall for leaders who spout ambiguities. Are we that easily misled?

Dale Matson said...

"A slogan is a memorable motto or phrase used in a clan, political, commercial, religious, and other context as a repetitive expression of an idea or purpose, with the goal of persuading members of the public or a more defined target group." (Wikipedia) This is nothing more than sloganeering.
Satan's temptation was also one of "Inclusion". "You can be like God".
My concern is this. "What is going on in the hearts and minds of the shepherds that they would think nothing of misleading and lying to the sheep?"

Katherine said...

I think it's quite clear what was going on in the hearts and minds of those who developed the 1979 book, and no doubt that they are very pleased with the results. The same is true of "radical inclusion" and "good disagreement." I can disagree cheerfully about whether or not to ring bells and light candles, but when they tell us there are no differences between men and women, nay, that those binary categories are not inclusive enough, it's time to shake the dust of our feet. Those who have not yet departed these failing churches are kidding themselves about being able to restore them to health.

Dale Matson said...

Hi Katherine,
Ah Yes, "good disagreement". That is another phrase popular with ++Justin Welby. How about "Living into the tension"? I remember reading + Rowan Williams statement that the differences within the WWAC were only differences of styles. A man of his intellect had to be denying reality. And the utter hubris of the innovators to call those who opposed their schemes, calling them schismatics as they winked privately to one another. Those who stayed initially referred to those who left as "quitters". The firewall was and remains the Global South Primates.