Anglican Consultative Council Reinstates the White Man's Burden
By Canon Gary L'Hommedieu
Special to Virtueonline
"If over 80% of Anglicans live in the global south, why is this not reflected in communion structures?" writes Indian Ocean Primate Ian Earnest in an April 12 letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury in which he protests, among other things, the illicit transfer of power from the Primates' Meeting to the Anglican Consultative Council and its Joint Standing Committee.
The short answer is that the present "structures" of power and influence continue to reflect the colonial history of the Anglican Communion. More to the point, these persistent "structures" demonstrate how that history continues unabated. While cosmetic changes have been made to church governance, and while token appointments give the appearance of social transformation, the fact remains: the present structures of power and influence in the Anglican Communion continue to serve the same socio-economic interests as during the pre-conscious Age of Colonialism. The same dominant group that colonized the Global South is still in charge and serving primarily the same social interests-its own.
Here's the difference: We are at least two generations past the world-shattering consciousness-raising of the mid-twentieth century. The West has long stood convicted of its imperialism, its historic tendency to exploit the resources and even the will of indigenous populations, and even to romanticize this through mythology such as Kipling's "White Man's Burden." We know about the near determinism, the almost transcendent force, whereby "structures" of self-interest project their structured history through relations of power unto the third and fourth generation, even against the most guarded good intentions and sublime gestures of penitence.
In other words, the usurpation of the Primate's Meeting and the transfer of power to the ACC and its Standing Committee were done in the full light of day, in the full awareness of history, and in the consciousness of full intentionality. It was a deliberate usurpation of power and authority without any need for the former rationalization that "it's for their own good". It was done so that the same group could make sure that the major perks of the institution-in particular, the power to define its future-continued to fall to them.
It has become almost cliché to toss the word "colonialism" at the Western power brokers of the Anglican Communion-the Church of England, the Church of Canada and the paymasters of both, the Episcopal Church. The term has generally been used by Western conservatives and the Global South as a counterpunch in the ideological struggle of the Anglican culture wars. Generally tossed in the faces of Liberal ideologues and bureaucrats, it is meant as a "gotcha" remark-an expected "score" against the self-proclaimed Liberal champions of equality and empowerment. And yet these demonstrably unempowering and illiberal power brokers have sufficient social and moral capital so that the obvious evidences of imperialism glance off, leaving them morally unscathed.
What is the source that gives weight to this moral and social "capital"?
The claim by Western Anglicans that they represent the interests of a new world order of social justice and compassion can be taken at face value because so many Westerners have a stake in the "truth" value of this claim. "Truth" is not even a good word for it, as is quickly demonstrated by the utter lack of correspondence here between "truth" and facts.
The Liberal claim to be on the side of justice, compassion, equality and every other social bromide has no necessary relation to facts as long as those "facts" can be controlled and kept out of the mainstream. "Facts" are now "demonstrated" by slogans and token appointments in political and corporate offices-in other words in a well publicized campaign of good intentions. Those who feel guilty in the face of historic racism and imperialism (for example) have a stake in the "truth" claims that their institution now exists to counter these gross historic anomalies. Any truth to the contrary can be kept out of public awareness. Thus the public is aware of two pressing needs: its own need for social rehabilitation, and the claim that this rehabilitation is taking place. No one questions the irony that the same group that enjoyed the former fruits of dominance is now seeking above all to retain its dominant position.
The Episcopal Church, for example, has all its moral capital invested in the recent innovations of female clergy, gay liberation, and now Millennium Development Goals. These all serve as ideological justifications for an institution thoroughly invested in the socio-economic structures of the old order to retain its historic position of dominance in a slightly new order after the awakening of global consciousness. Like universities and corporations throughout America, the mainline Protestant institutions had to find a present justification for its present position of power and influence within the society. Christian Liberalism with its platitudes of justice provides such an ideological cover. The churches "bought in" to a new emphasis of religious doctrine because they were "invested" in its promise to guarantee a continued dominance.
At a fundamental level, then, the claims of Liberal Christianity have nothing to do with factual claims of ending historic injustice, and everything to do with providing ideological cover for power. Thus American Bishops can get away with calling African Christians "animists" and rant before their peers that the Global South has been bought off by American conservatives. Never mind that these are outwardly racist comments. Knowing that they are racist is insufficient ideological ammunition for the powerless. Western Anglicans can get away with belittling their Global South counterparts with the same impunity as White Supremacists in the American South during the 1950s, and for the same reason: they know they will not be held accountable.
The real racist aspect of these kinds of remarks is not so much the words themselves as the social structure that gives them weight and the present intentionality with which that structure is maintained. The same relationship between the colonizer and the colonized is lived out in the present expectation that the Global South, in spite of the fact that they represent 80% of the Anglican Communion, are just as lacking in political resources as they were fifty years ago. Just like then they can be expected to capitulate. The Big Three will redefine the power structures of the Communion at will and with the usual haughty contempt of colonial "betters" living out their birthright.
The Churches in Canada, the UK and the US are all thoroughly invested in the traditional structures of historic dominance. Their confidence in the durability of these structures is what translates into the power to define "truth," which includes the power to reduce obvious facts to irrelevance.
It is an illusion to expect colonialists to change their method of operation when it continues to pay off. They can only make such a change when they see that their interests have changed, a change that can only be imposed by a rearranging of external relations-in effect, by a new history.
What is essential is that the former colonized, the Global South, refuse to play their expected role in the old pattern of colonialism. The Singapore Conference this week must emphatically refuse to reinstate the White Man's Burden. Going along with Western parliamentary practice has been exploited by the powerful to construct a subterfuge for this historic pattern of colonialism. The former colonies have the power now to refuse to give substance to this pattern of relations now embedded in the "structures" of the Anglican Communion.
To paraphrase Ugandan Archbishop Henry Orombi in another recent missive to Lambeth Palace: a return to "business as usual" would be just that: business as usual.
----The Rev. Canon J. Gary L'Hommedieu is Canon for Pastoral Care at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke, Orlando, Florida, and a regular columnist for VirtueOnline.
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