I’ve gotten some pushback on my last post Be True to Your School, Or They’ll Go Postal, which concerned recent events at our Church of God General Assembly. One major objection is my characterisation of what happened on the floor of the General Council as the Seminary being “outed.” Probably the easiest way for me to explain this is to go back to something I discussed a long time ago, which I discussed in my post The Woman Who Outed the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Deborah Pitt was the Welsh Evangelical psychiatrist who published an exchange of correspondence she had back in 2000-1 with the now former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. My characterisation of this as an “outing” got this response from a commenter:
His views were not “buried in some of his public writings” as you say. The very statement is an oxymoron. Buried and public? A simple Google search, or even a glance at his Wikipedia bio (these are hardly difficult to access) would provide one with ++Williams views and with links to the full text of several of these articles. There has never been any attempt by the Archbishop to cover anything up and so to say he was ‘outed’ as if he was trying to hide something is absurd.
To which I responded:
Given the way that ++Williams writes, it’s certainly possible to bury an opinion in front of everyone. Writing and speaking without clarity or decisiveness is an occupational hazard of Anglican/Episcopal men and women of the cloth, and that’s something I lament in this post and the previous one on the subject.
Had Williams’ views been better understood in general, the publication of his letters to Dr. Pitt would not have been newsworthy.
There are several reasons why a person’s “public” writings aren’t well disseminated and understood in their “community,” some of which are as follows:
- They’re behind an academic paywall. Some of us can breach that paywall, as was the case with Karl Barth’s girlfriend, but most cannot. In any case, even amongst our clergy, interest in academic publications is limited, to say the least.
- They’re couched in the post-modern jargon so that those outside of the “craft” (now I’ve passed from trade union to Masonic imagery) don’t really understand what they are saying. That in part was the case with ++Williams.
- In closed systems such as churches, it is in the interest of some people not to have certain information widely disseminated. To do so requires that some people dig and risk consequences for that digging and dissemination. That’s especially true in a hierarchical, episcopal form of church polity, which is certainly the case in the Church of God.
- There’s a tipping point where issues which previously weren’t of much interest suddenly become of interest, and those who disseminate previously obscure facts can be justifiably said to “out” someone else.
In personal outings, it’s the rare one where only the person involved knows what is going on. Usually things get to the point where those who know reach a critical mass and then things come out. That, IMHO, is was basically happened on the floor of the General Council the week before last. Yes there have been many discussions about topics taught at the seminary and elsewhere, but now it’s a matter of record. I’m sure some on the floor wish it hadn’t happened that way, but it did, and now we must move forward.