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A series of essays toward General Convention 2003 and beyond

Report on an AAC meeting in Atlanta

Report on an AAC meeting in Atlanta

By The Rev. Paul Cosby

Dear Forum Folk, I really do try to be tolerant, charitable and understanding of the other side, but my tolerance ran out tonight upon attending a meeting in Atlanta billed as the Georgia chapter of the American Anglican Council. The big guns were there, +Bob Duncan of Pittsburgh, and David Anderson+ of Stone Mountain, ironically the Georgia home of the Ku Klux Klan.

The meeting was in the grand ballroom of a swank hotel -- those things do not come cheap. Estimated attendance 400 [maybe high] -- but there were a lot of people. Saw only one person I recognised, the rector of St Jude's Marrietta, an AAC parish. Looked for Andrew Grimmke of St Lawrence Deanery web site fame but could not run up on him. I was late arriving and left before it was over, out of sheer boredom and frustration. I checked the sign-up sheets [yellow pads with people's names and parishes]. Most parishes represented were from the metro Atlanta area, but surprisingly there were people from the cardinal parishes of the city, including the cathedral. The boonies were hardly represented at all. There were a few non-Episcopalians in the bunch, including a suffragan bishop of some splinter "Anglican" group. The crowd were definitely white, middle to upper class, mostly older I'd say, with a sprinkling of black people sitting in oneses and twoses.

I've read all the rhetoric of the AAC and tonight heard nothing new or startling. But the impact was visceral. I recall an evening when I was in college in the '50s when a small group of undergraduates and I went to a meeting of the John Birch Society in Birmingham. We just wanted to know what they were up to. That was a huge mistake, because the entire program consisted of our sitting and listening to a film of Robert Welch [the JBC leader] going on and on about the reds taking over the globe and the comsymps in Washington aiding and abetting this scheme. This program lasted over two hours, and the camera work was so low tech that the camera never moved. We had to stare into the eyes of Mr Welch for those two hours. The AAC meeting was something like that, only more so, because the technology has improved, and in this case the speakers purported to be live.

During the evening we were reminded at least three times of the perfidy of the bishop of Atlanta in denying the AAC and St Jude's parish the right to advertise in the diocesan newspaper. They were also denied the right to have exhibit space at the recent diocesan council [convention], even though Integrity was given a prominent display place. Furthermore the bishop of Atlanta, they said, would not allow the "presence" of the bishop of Pittsburgh in Atlanta for this meeting tonight. They made a lot of this, poking fun not so good-naturedly, and insisting on a constititional right to speak, despite the bishop's apparent ban, saying that it is impossible to ban anyone's presence since you can get to neither heaven nor hell without having to go through Atlanta.

The truth of this matter is this: I asked the Bishop of Atlanta a few weeks ago if Bishop Duncan had asked his permission to come and speak in Atlanta. +Neil said Duncan had not asked permission, but had simply told +Neil that he was coming. Denials are not the style of the bishop of Atlanta. As a matter of fact, I saw with my own eyes at the diocesan council meeting some flyers being distributed to the tables of the delegates during a break. These flyers advertised the AAC meeting I just attended. At one point the pages started taking the adverts up, until the voice of the bishop from the front of the room boomed out through the PA system that the pages were not to take them up, but were to replace any they had already picked up, which they did forthwith before the people started coming back in. Very few people were witnesses to this event, which seems to belie the snide accusations of the AAC tonight.

>From the standpoint of procedure, the most egregious insult tonight was the method of eliciting and entertaining questions. We were told there would be a time for some Q & A after the two big speeches. For the questions we were given 3x5 index cards on which to write. Cards were to be handed in and the two speakers would answer any questions they saw fit to respond to. Control. That's what it's about, folks, control. I must admit that the questions I had in mind would not have been ones to be chosen for them to answer, so I did not bother.

One other procedural matter that was made much of: Since the bishop of Atlanta had forbidden the presence of +Bob in Atlanta, +Bob averred that he was there not as a bishop, not as the bishop of Pittsburgh, and would perform no episcopal acts while in this vicinage. To emphasise this point he was dressed in mufti, or what we call down here, "Virginia clericals", a coat and tie. At one point +Bob said, "I'm not clergy today." Oh, of course, that made it perfectly all right and all legal and tidy, then, because His Eminence was disguised as a human. It makes one weep with exhaustion trying to follow the tortuous logic of this amalgam.

+Bob began by lighthearted reference to his being named for Robert the Bruce of Culloden fame, and that the fact that the AAC is led by a Duncan and an Anderson means a potentially dangerous situation for all enemies [please forgive me if I do not quote directly, but I give the gist]. My only problem with this oblique reference to the Scots is that it is insulting to every freedom-loving Scot who ever lived, when all this Duncan and this Anderson want to do is to constrict and contain.

Here are a few of +Bob's more preposterous statements, lifted out of context, but their sense is the same because the context was rather fluid anyway. "The future of the Reformed Tradition is at stake." "We're building an ecclesiola in ecclesia." "The Anglican Consultative Council [John Peterson, take note] is bought with USA money." "The Network of Confessing Churches is ++Rowan's idea." [If it is, and I doubt it, then ++Rowan knows nothing about Nazi Germany and the political situation that created the original "confessing church", which meant that the church would not be sold out to the surrounding culture, not that it was the very last bastion in defence of 'orthodoxy' as in the present case. Usurpation of the title Confessing Church by the AAC smacks of a lamentable lack of historical perspective. But it sounds nice, makes good copy.] "We shall respond with 'canonical creativity', meaning that we shall invent situations that will befuddle the opposition because they are too dumb to figure out what we are up to, such as the uncanonical transfer by fax in the middle of the night of the Rector of Rosemont to the Bishop of Rwanda. There is no canon that says you can't do it -- so 'canonical creativity'. [Which sounds more likely to be what the Bishop of the Diocese of Christ the King in Africa, Peter John Lee, called 'canonical thuggery'.]

What the Bishop of Pittsburgh is saying here is that we will use all the deceptive, scheming underhanded tactics our brilliant lawyers can dream up in order to win, because God is on our side. And when you're right, then any means is justifiable to a good end. Go for it.

David Anderson is to +Bob as Huxley was to Darwin. He was his bull dog. Two things at least disturb me about Anderson's presentation. One was that the business of "Adequate Episcopal Oversight" means that you and your parish can go out and get yourselves any cotton-picking bishop you want, either at home or abroad, and your diocesan bishop, such as the bishop of Atlanta, can't do a thing about it. He has no say in the matter. If we don't trust him in other things, why should we trust him in this? So, we'll remain Episcopalians, under the aegis of the Anglican Communion, but diocesan bishops will be stripped of their power to control. Remember what I said earlier? It's about control, folks.

In fact your friendly neighborhood AAC web site has application forms for you to fill out and send in to us, to the AAC, that's right, to the AAC, where we'll keep those little apps on file until we have a whole bunch of them, then we'll spring them on the PB and the ABC, and they will have to respond because there is safety in numbers. I'm not making this up, folks. This is Anderson's nefarious plan and it is already gaining way.

The other disturbing thing to me is Anderson's belief that ++Rowan is in his pocket, that Rowan is in on the planning of the Network of Confessing Churches, that he is agreeable to the plan acceptable to the AAC for Adequate Episcopal Oversight, that Rowan thinks so much of the USA dissidents that he met with them first before all others immediately following the extraordinary meeting of the Primates in Lambeth in October. If all this is true, then the goose is truly cooked, Rowan has double-crossed us and is not to be trusted further, and it is time for me to become a Quaker. But, you see, I do not believe a word of it, not until I hear it from the ABC himself.

Oh, of course there are the obligatory swipes at the PB, in which Anderson cleverly calls ++Frank the "embodiment of pluriform reality", the precursor to a clinical diagnosis. I'm not making this up. These are Mr Anderson's own words. Further, he says to all who are sick and tired of their heterodox parishes, priests and bishops: The AAC has a plan for you, just send in your box tops and we'll send you post-paid our little plan for you and your parish to go off and do your little like-minded thing. But in any case, if you go ahead and leave your large buildings and churches, don't do it unto it gets very cold, so that the bishop -- that old rascal -- will have to pay the heating bills. How's that for love and charity, folks? But we have this plan, we assure you, but we cannot reveal it yet. We would not want to give away our play book to the other team.

Then finally in a colossal claim to hubris, Anderson observes that all of history is pivoting before our very eyes. Decisions are being made that will affect the next 1,000 years. And we are to "set the world aright."

Pardon me, folks, I'm going to the bathroom and throw up.


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