Monday, February 21, 2011

"Breaking the Logjam": Post-Realigment Pittsburgh Beckons?

After a hectic few weeks in which two of Pittsburgh’s ACNA parishes (St. Philip’s, Moon Township, and Somerset Anglican Fellowship) elected to reach individual agreements with the TEC Diocese of Pittsburgh, I today attended a meeting at Church of the Ascension called to discuss possible ways forward. There was broad agreement that while individual circumstances differ (parishes whose deed is held by the Trustees of the Diocese of Pittsburgh – the majority – as compared with those who hold their own deed or who only have acquired property since realignment), it is essential that negotiation be, to the greatest extent possible, on a global basis. Following prayers led by Canon Missioner Mary Hays, the floor was turned over to the rectors of the two largest parishes in the Diocese – Jonathan Millard of Church of the Ascension and Geoff Chapman of St. Stephen’s, Sewickley, both members of the Standing Committee.

Reviewing the sequence of events that led to Bishop Price’s letter of February 17, Jonathan Millard noted the concerns about the secrecy surrounding the settlement with Somerset Anglican Fellowship, which had prompted Archbishop Duncan’s subsequent letter to ACNA clergy requesting that they not enter into discussions without at least informing the leadership of the ACNA Diocese of their intention. The letter from Bishop Price, he insisted, must be taken as a genuine commitment to a serious conversation without prejudice, but it is equally clear that there is a strong desire on the TEC Diocese’s part to abide by its canons, as the reference to Diocesan Canon XV.6 makes clear. Jonathan gave it as his opinion that provided engagement with the conversation was sincere, he doubted whether any attempt would be made to take advantage of the March 13 deadline (such as an attempt to replace clergy or vestries in the affected parishes). There were three criteria that he viewed as critical to any settlement: that it allow the parishes to survive; that it allow the ACNA Diocese to flourish as an integrated unity; and that everybody (including TEC leaders) are permitted to observe their fiduciary responsibilities.

Speaking about the diocesan-level negotiations, Geoff Chapman explained that while he understood concern about an excessive degree of secrecy, some confidentiality could not be avoided if progress was to be made. Their own informal exploratory conversations, he said, had been prayerful, friendly, honest, respectful, and with a considerable degree of concern shown on both sides. In his view, the fact that – after two years of stasis – we have begun to move towards negotiations is testimony to God “putting his foot on the accelerator.”

More importantly, he urged people to think about the core values that they wished the ACNA Diocese of Pittsburgh to embody. Not only do all the ACNA parishes need to work together, but they need to create the sort of positive environment in which change can happen. This was not a time, he said, for “trash talking” on blogs, but a time to reach out and embrace those from whom realignment has separated us, so that “we can be at our best and they can be at their best.” From the perspective of the 2005 Stipulation negotiations can only be on a parish-by-parish basis, but he believed that there is hope that some form of global agreement can ultimately be reached that observes the letter of the law without abandoning individual parishes to their fate.

Publicly, the advice from the leadership in the ACNA Diocese is that those who believe that they can walk away from their property without impairing their ministry should do so (though not by turning over their property to the TEC Diocese in advance of a general settlement – the ACNA Diocese Board of Trustees can hold title in the interim), yet not all parishes yet believe that this is their situation and the issue will not be forced (especially since every parish now holds title under ACNA canons, and can’t be forced).

Given the circumstances, this gathering of more than one hundred lay and clerical leaders was comparatively positive, although there was some concern expressed both that the Diocese keep individual parish leaders informed on the progress of negotiations and spell out what it wanted the latter to do at each stage. The tone set by Geoff Chapman and Jonathan Millard, however, was commendable for what it conveyed about the need to separate courtroom confrontation from personal relationship.

Surely that is the essence of today’s appointed Gospel:

But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Whither Egypt?

With the resignation of Hosni Mubarak yesterday, the era of Pan Arab nationalism finally closed. Only ten years younger than the father of modern Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Mubarak’s thirty years in power are all that many of Egypt’s 85 million inhabitants have known. The shockwaves emanating from the January 25th movement are now spreading outward, to Algeria and Morocco, to Yemen and the Gulf, to Jordan, and perhaps even to Syria and Iran.

Twenty-two years ago, as a college freshman, I watched the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe (only months after the bloody denouement in Tiananmen Square). A decade ago, as a newly minted PhD, I watched New York’s Twin Towers slowly crumble into rubble. Both of these events are strongly connected with the past few weeks in Tahrir Square. As we now know, the collapse of the Eastern bloc (and the then Soviet Union’s withdrawal from Afghanistan) shifted the attention of militant Islam, as embodied in groups such as Al Qaeda, from Communism to – in their eyes – the decadent, capitalist West. The 1990s, infamously dubbed by one commentator as marking the “end of history,” merely tracked the road to September 11, 2001. Beyond that, in turn, lay the great neoconservative gamble – bringing “democracy” to Afghanistan and Iraq, with the wider goal of inducing a form of inverted “domino theory” throughout the Middle East.

A decade on, it is understandable that many view this proposition with skepticism. Both Iraq and Afghanistan are far from where we would wish them to be, though the long-term prospects for the former seem slightly better. Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points serve as a reminder of the dangers of a foreign policy that promotes abstractions like “democracy” without regard to the culture and values of the community toward whom it is directed, but that does not mean that one can simply retreat behind the defense that “they” are not yet ready for democracy (given the level of civic education today, one might wonder if the West is still up to it).

Whatever the virtues of “guided democracy” may once have been, in the information age it simply is no longer possible. Some of those demonstrating in Tahrir Square were overheard declaring that President Mubarak and his circle simply have no conception of modern methods of communication, even something as basic as e-mail. Iran’s stalled Green Revolution, and the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt were all structured around such modern forms of communication as Twitter that are the preserve of the young. Its very unstructuredness makes it hard for authoritarian governments to control, but it also perhaps makes it hard to participate in the day-to-day bureaucracy of the conventional political world. The Bolsheviks were prepared to run the organs of government in 1917; the men and women of Tahrir Square, one suspects, are not.

Which, of course, brings up the issue of the Muslim Brotherhood. The reason Hosni Mubarak has survived for so long has been his ability to preserve order, achieved, in no small measure, by marginalizing the Brotherhood and preventing the emergence of secular challengers to his National Democratic Party. In this respect, Mubarak bears some comparison with Indonesia’s former President Suharto, who was driven from office in similar circumstances in 1998. The Muslim Brotherhood present the real conundrum in the present crisis; many of today’s most militant Islamist groups trace their origins to its founders and while the Brotherhood ostensibly espouses nonviolent methods, its public statements convey, at best, a mixed message. Many have warned against a repeat of the Iranian revolution in 1979, where well-organized theocrats were able to subvert the broader campaign against the Shah. When one considers that today’s Egyptian revolutionaries are disproportionately middle-class and the bulk of the population is rural and more culturally conservative, this is not an unreasonable concern. One interesting image that came out of the demonstrations is this Reuters photograph (and the accompanying article by Ann Alexander), which serves as a reminder that nothing is ever as black and white as some commentators tend to believe.

The real problem, though, is that the Brotherhood cannot simply be wished away. The Mubarak solution (detention, rigged elections, marginalization) has been tried and found wanting. If the Brotherhood were to be barred from politics under the new order, it would have to be according to strict criteria that applied equally to extremist parties of all stripes. The better course, though, would surely be to recognize that Indonesia (with strong Muslim parties), Turkey (where the AKP has been praised by Freedom House for its actions in relation to civil liberties), and Iraq (where the Sadrists now sit in government) are all striving to integrate religious parties within democratic systems.

Charles Krauthammer, writing yesterday in the New York Daily News, suggested a comparison between Egypt and Western Europe in the late 1940s, when the United States took steps to prevent the “democratic” election of Communist governments in such countries as Italy. He has a point, as long as it is remembered that the Communist parties in the West – including the unreconstructed Stalinist French Communist Party – were allowed to remain part of the democratic experiment, to hold office and even to run certain cities, a process ultimately leading to the transformation of Italy’s Communists into a democratic party of the Left. Such a goal should be the objective of those countries now engaging with the problem of Islamists in politics, which simple exclusion is unlikely to resolve.