Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Generals Are Revolting, Part II

Thinking of Egypt leads us -- via the worst segue ever -- to the ELCA's Churchwide Assembly.

We have been assured by the US government, and more forcefully by the present Egyptian one, that the military-led ouster of an elected president is not a coup d'etat.  We have no idea why not, but Brutus is an honorable man.  So are they all, honorable men.

Meanwhile, the election of a new presiding bishop seems, on its face, as far from the Egytian situation as East is from West.  It was peaceful and democratic; there were multiple candidates, and the electors were coerced with nothing more severe than Jello salad.  Hanson embraced his successor and said some very kind words about her.  Surely this was no coup d'etat.

And yet, curiously, one of our friends used just those words to describe it in conversation the other night.  The friend, whom for the purpose of this post we shall call Father Lovelace (as in "Deep Throat"), is a well-connected and sharp-eyed observer of church affairs, although also one prone to idiosyncratic interpretations of what he sees.

As Fr. L. sees, it this is what happened:  well in advance of the assembly, Bishop Hanson sought the counsel of his fellow-bishops.  They suggested that he was "tired" -- a likely-sounding thing.  Being the bishop of the ELCA must be obscenely difficult, emotionally and spiritually.  Beyond that, he has family concerns which no doubt weigh heavily upon his heart.  So at least some of his peers felt that he ought to step down gracefully.

Obviously, he did not take their advice.  And so, as Fr. L. sees it, the Conference of Bishops rebelled, and arranged things so that Bp. Hanson would get the rest it felt he needed.  Fr. L. offers no substantiation for this idea, nor even any real picture of how such a thing could be stage-managed, apart from his observation that "every one of these people has already been elected bishop of something.  They know how it is done.  They are the most politically astute people in the church."

If we were very cynical, we would add (as our friend emphatically did not) that stage-managing the election of a woman may have been just a teensy bit easier than a man, as the frequently left-leaning Churchwide Assembly may have been excited by the idea.  Three of the final four candidates were women.

It is also worth noting that the new ELCA Secretary -- arguably the other most influential person in the ELCA's national structure -- is a member of the Conference of Bishops.  He is the first bishop to serve in that role.

All this leads Fr. L. to conclude that this is the first ELCA Churchwide Assembly to be dominated, quietly but decisively, not by Chicago but by the bishops.  We have absolutely no idea whether he is correct or not; those of you who were there may be better judges.  But we do know that he has floated his interpretation past two of the most experienced national leaders of the church, and -- while neither embraced it at once -- neither rejected it out of hand.

So.  Did the generals revolt?  We may never even know -- which is itself a sign of astute maneuvering.


Brant Clements said...

As much as I love a good conspiracy theory, the view from the Assembly floor was very different.

Father Anonymous said...

I figured. Although fwiw, my conspiracy-minded friend was there too. Probably hiding behind a tapestry in his tin-foil hat ...