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Monday, June 04, 2007

Rhetorical Flamboyance

Well, the summer's fun has just begun at HOB/D. That's the listserv known as "House of Bishops/Deputies" sometimes also known as "Days of our Anglican Lives."

I can't imagine what it will be like as we get closer to the September 30th deadline imposed by the Primates when they met in Tanzania.

I got fed up with a posting about the seemingly phenomenal statistics of church growth in Nigeria from the peripatetic Kendall Harmon, Canon Theologian for the Diocese of South Carolina, and, as such, the leading voice for the Right side of the church and undisputed "Spin Master" for the conservative, neo-Puritan 'fungelicals' in The Episcopal Church.

I decided to take him on and challenge those numbers.

Well, it wasn't long before one of the boys from Dallas got all up in arms, calling my post "unhelpful" and an example of "rhetorical flamboyance" and, stepping up to his own style, added that, as far as he was concerned, it was part of the reason people just don't like to post any more on HOB/D.

Therein followed the usual onslaught of hand wringing - including those who protested that they didn't post because most often, others had posted their thoughts exactly and anything else would have been redundant.

Kendall picked up on this - taking special umbrage to the term I applied to him: "Spin Master," complaining that that "it is not only rhetorical flamboyance, it is unnecessary and communicates a lack of respect."

Well, that's all this uppity woman needed to respond:


Hang on a minute! Who is communicating lack of respect to whom?

First of all: We on the Left have our own “King and Queen of the Sound bite” – a coveted title which too many of us are too verbose to claim (mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima nisson stanza).

You, sir, ARE the hands-down, undisputed “Spin Master” for the voices on the Right. No question. And, no disrespect intended. Indeed, that title is well deserved and given with a modicum of begrudging admiration.

What is it you all call it over at Stand Firm? Oh, yes, “worthy opponent.”

When I was a young adult Roman Catholic, we had a term for the theological methodology of the priests and nuns who taught us. We called it, “truth by blatant assertion.”

Apparently, that methodology is not unknown to Protestant Evangelicals. The more modern description of your theological methodology is “spin mastering.” It’s truth by blatant assertion in the age of cyberspace, where the name of the game is getting your stuff out first on the information superhighway in order to “frame the issue.”

Neither term is disrespectful. Rather, both carry the sense with which I often sit and scratch my head in amazement (if not with said ‘begrudging admiration’) as I watch the effectiveness of both of these methodologies in the church catholic.

In the short term, at least, it sure beats the heck out of the slow, steady pace of liberation theology, relying as it does on the time consuming and sometimes tedious practice of the inclusion of personal witness and the process of praxis.

Indeed, I'm thinking that both terms are part of the task of classic theological methods – to claim a truth about an aspect of God and present that (spin it) in such a way as to make people believe it is true. You are “Canon Theologian” of your diocese, are you not? As such, you are a Spin Master of Theology where you rather blatantly assert “the truth.”

To your credit, you have been very, very effective at spin-mastering, Kendall. You have invented the polemic terms, “reasserter" and "reappraiser” as opposed to the more nuanced if not more cumbersome terms of “liberal, progressive, conservative and orthodox,” and applied them so consistently and well that, despite protests from folk like me who find these terms odious, they continue to be applied.

I have found comfort in standing in solidarity with Jesus who was, near as I can tell, both a reasserter and a reappraiser.

You have also gotten folk to talk about “the four instruments of unity” as if it had ever been thus in the Anglican Communion.

It has not.

You also framed the argument for General Convention 2006. “Clarity and Honesty!” were the words hot on everyone’s breath on the right side of the aisle. Actually, these words became a battle cry because the only clarity and honesty you saw were contained in the language of the Windsor Report, which, along with the Primates’ Statement from Tanzania have practically been elevated to the same authoritative status as Holy Scripture.

As the reaction from the Right to the March Statement from the House of Bishops indicates, statements are only deemed to have both clarity and honesty when they say what you want them to say.

Here’s my second point: Truth be told, Kendall, you must take some responsibility for inspiring some of the "rhetorical flamboyance" on this listserv. With rare exception, your posts are predominantly other people's articles. Indeed, you are famous (infamous?) on this list for signing off: "posted but not written by . . . ." - as if that absolves you of any responsibility for hurtful statements, inflammatory remarks or inaccurate reporting.

It doesn't.

Most of the articles you post are, in your words, "unnecessary and communicate a lack of respect." They consistently caricature and misrepresent LGBT people, liberals and progressives in particular and The Episcopal Church in general. Then, when someone like me takes issue with what you have posted, you either point us to another article or complain that you are the one being caricatured, misrepresented, maligned and disrespected.

You can't have it both ways, Kendall. You can't try to paint The Episcopal Church in a state of decline and ruin by comparing our statistics with someone else’s statistical spin about the ‘numbers’ in the Anglican Churches in Nigeria, and then, when someone pushes back and challenges those figures, complain that you are not being respected for being called on ‘spinning’.

You can't stoke the fire in the kitchen and then complain that it’s too hot to stay in there. A brilliant young upstart Rabbi once said something about “reaping what you sow.”

You know what? Forget "rhetorical flamboyance"! I've begun referring to this time in our church as "The Decade of Disrespect." In the last ten years or so, the "flaming rhetoric" coming out of the Religious Right in The Episcopal Church has been like listening to the voices of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell (of not-so blessed memory)!

Want proof? Just listen to Moderator Bob Duncan of the Anglican Network and erstwhile Bishop of Pittsburgh talk about my faith as being "inauthentic" because the Bible I read is a "counterfeit" (read: not his or your) version.

Gone, it seems, is the Anglican capacity for gracious accommodation and tolerance. I went to seminary with Anglo-Catholic men who really didn't like the “modern notion” of the ordination of women, but tolerated us because they saw this “innovation” as inevitable in the church – as long as they didn't have to have ordained women in the churches where they did their ministry.

The opposite of that seemed to work well from my side, too.

We respected and tolerated and accommodated for each other’s difference. That seems impossible now. I deeply lament that, even as I trust that it will change eventually.

Eventually, others will grow as weary as I am about this conversation. Eventually, more and more people will catch on to the rhetorical gamesmanship. Eventually, more and more people will say, “Hang on a minute. Who is communicating lack of respect to whom, here?”

And, Kendall, I don't think we'll have to wait for the Parousia for that to happen. Indeed, I think that’s one of the loud and clear messages of many of the silences on this listserv. Many people just sit back and watch the show – a sort of ecclesiastical voyeurism.

Or, they go over to Blogs like yours to catch the second act.

If the Decade of Disrespect can't be changed, well, might as well sit back and enjoy the show. It’s like ‘reality television’ for the church. It’s all the rage, I hear. Vulgar, in my estimation, but highly popular.

One last question: Isn't it interesting that when a man writes well, he has a ‘flair’ or has ‘a way with words,’ but when a woman does the same thing, she is engaging in ‘flamboyant rhetoric’?

No wait! Here’s the last, last question: How is it that in the year of our Lord 2007 some of you boys on the Right think that what you say and do is not absolutely transparent?

Didn't Jesus say, "Woe to you! for you are like graves which are not seen, and men walk over them without knowing it?" (Lk. 11:44)

Jesus did caution his disciples, “Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.” (Lk 12:3)

I think those are great flamboyant rhetorical statements that are well worth a serious listen.


Paul (A.) said...

The Reverend Doctor Canon Theologian of All South Carolina complains that you "communicate[] a lack of respect".

Respect is never earned by refusing to deign to answer pointed questions. Kendall Harmon never so deigns.

Instead, he makes snide comments (just as I am wont to do but --- mostly -- restrain myself). The world needs to call him on this. You, Mother Elizabeth, are a good start. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

And I'll say it again!:

Lauren Gough said...

Perodic "Holy Rants" are not only necessary but also good for the soul. You are one of the few that will take them on, and in ways that are always with a kind of respect that you can have for beasts that are dangerous.

Susan Russell said...

Flamboyance rocks ... and so do you!

Mark said...

Harmon - HARMON - complains about others' lack of respect?

Does he really think we're so stupid as to think that because he continually protests his "respect" for us that we fall for it?!

Frair John said...

As I said in an email, you are now my Hero of the day.
Harmon's become a charicature of himself.
I think he responded about a lack of respect because a few comments cut to close to home, and so responded.
i alwlays am vaguly aware that I've crossed a line in heated remarks. i think he's lacking in that faculty.

klady said...

Brava! Thank God for uppity women!

JimMollo said...

Did he respond back?

by the way... where did you get that picture of me?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Nope. Not on HOB/D. Not on his Blog. But, you know, as a woman, I'm used to being ignored by the church. It's an old trick. The institution only pays attention to that which is worthy.

Guess you know where I stand.

Your mother gave me the picture of you. Great, huh?

Mike in Texas said...

Well done, you lovely uppity flamboyant chick.

Go Spurs