Manners Maketh the Man

Centrists / Current Affairs

I attended the opening night banquet of the Dean’s conference last evening. One of the lovely features of the Dean’s Conference is that Dean’s and their spouses from all over North America are automatically invited, and often there are special guests from the wider Communion. Such is the case this year.

I had a chance to visit with the Dean of the Cathedral in Havana Cuba before the meal began. We talked about the church in Cuba and the special challenges it faces – and also about the issues that the nation of Cuba has with the United States and the ongoing embargo. The Dean’s wife was just elected Suffragan Bishop of the Church of Cuba and talked also about the same sorts of issues. They were particularly interested to learn about what the Diocese of Arizona is doing in the border area and most especially of any companion diocese relationships that may be developing with the people Arizona and any of the dioceses of Mexico. There were also two deans in attendance from the U.K. I had the chance to have a lovely conversation with the Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. I was in the cathedral there last year for a week in March and we talked about the visit and about how that particular cathedral is governed.

What struck me the most of the whole evening was a simple phrase in the introductory remarks by the Bishop of Ontario (who hosted our gathering). After welcoming us, he spoke of the recent Canadian House of Bishop’s meeting with Archbishop of Canterbury and the sense the Canadians had of where the Communion might be heading. He referenced Rowan William’s remarks made at the Theological Colleges on the next steps in the Communique/Windsor process, but as the bishop was not in attendance at those particular events, he didn’t speak about them any further. Shame. I would have liked to have heard from a person in the room about the emotional tenor of the remarks and of the entire meeting.

But then the Bishop specifically spoke specifically about the gratitude and admiration that he and the rest of the Canadian bishops had for the gifts and generosity of the Episcopal Church. I was rather taken aback by the fact that it’s been years since I’ve been in a meeting outside the Episcopal Church where someone has said “thank you.” Mostly I’ve had the experience of be lectured to or had the actions of the Episcopal Church critiqued. Which is not to say that we don’t deserve being lectured to or having our actions regularly critiqued… but why has it been so long since I’ve heard someone express thanks to the Episcopal Church for its generosity in supporting the ongoing work of the Communion and its intentionality about strengthening the ties between the provinces and dioceses.

Walking home from the dinner I realized that we’ve become so used to bad manners between Anglicans today that it’s become remarkable to encounter the opposite. How extraordinary is that!? The Church used to inculcate the idea among the clergy at least that “Manners maketh the Man.” Somehow we’ve lost sight of the fundamental need in the Episcopal Church to treat each other courteously and we’ve lost the expectation that people in the larger Communion would do so to us.

I wonder how much different the “current unpleasantness” would be if we could just insist on treating each other with common courtesy. (Didn’t Bishop Epting remark to the Primates that he’s been amazed lately that the Episcopal Church is being treated with more kindness and gratitude these days by other denominations with whom we are not in communion than it is by the Anglican Provinces with which we are…)

Oh dear. Reading what I’ve written above, it appears I’m becoming quite the curmudgeon about such things. “Kids these days and their lack of manners…” Sigh. I’ll have to calm myself with a cuppa. And I will. Right after my nap…

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...


  1. JOHN 2007 says

    I am all for kindness all the time. But let’s see. People vote for VGR before the Church has decided on the merits of SSB etc., (not to mention the resolutions of our own GC approved to accept the Theology Committees recommendations not to proceed along those lines), the Primates warning not to do so, and bring the Church into crisis. Then the same people bleat and bleat about the division in the church and the frayed relationships. I’m sure the family dymanics folks would have a term for this dynamic. Insisting on “manners” when, of course, those who cavalierly dismissed so much that was desgined to proctect institutional manners–and much more–sounds passive-aggressive to me. Where, for instance, is the humility to say “Maybe we’ve done the wrong thing?” Or, “Maybe, if it is the right thing, we’ve done it in the wrong way?” I’ve heard on ECUSA bishop who voted for VGR say both of those. But haven’t heard it elsewhere. Not on this blog.

  2. Manners are important in “smoothing” and “oiling” our interactions, but I am also reminded that manners are culturally constituted and constitutive AND that manners can be a way of avoiding serious disagreement or of rendering mute and moot the cries of those from whom we’d rather not hear.
    The first, I say, because what I understand to be manners is quite at odds with where I presently live and that doesn’t include the multiple ethnic and cultural differences that impact manners in different communities that intersect where I live. Just for example, I never address professors by their first names without title unless given permission, and yet, I have found myself to be considered a formal weirdo in California where calling Prof. Smith, John, by students is common and not considered rude or presumptuous.
    The second, I say, because manners can be used by those with more power in a situation to not only respond civilly to others but to diffuse and then ignore and dismiss the reality of the others’ suffering or anger when it erupts in ways that are felt unpleasant, uncouth, and rude. Manners in some instances come across to another as condescension, as if “pat, pat, on the head”; I’ve seen this happen to women, people of color, and gay folk and the person “with manners” doesn’t seem to recognize how they come across. I can imagine the folks eating at the table in 1 Cor. 11 as quite well mannered according to Greco-Roman custom as they slicked up the last crumbs in front those who showed up after working for their daily bread. And I can imagine Paul’s uncouth anger were he present. Some of this is cultural as different cultures have different attitudes toward how affect and dealing with disagreement arise. I think of African Americans or Italians, for example, whose extroverted ways of going about conflict make my Anglo-Saxon self highly uncomfortable. Some of this is recognizing what exactly we mean by manners and who gets some say in agreeing upon our common interactions.
    I think manners, recognizing our cultural conditionedness and hence being careful to not assume another is being uncourteous simply because his or her way is unlike ours, coupled with a willingness to be hospitable with honesty is important. A lot of the way the unpleasantness has been handled isn’t simply about manners or lack of manners but an inabililty or unwillingness to be frank, to hold one another in our honest disagreement, and name as well as face one another’s anger, hurt, frustration, despair, etc.
    The result tends to look an awful lot like a codependent or alcoholic family where flexible boundaries breakdown for everyone’s subjectivity taking over everyone else’s (which has become a model for our covenant and unity), and everyone gets to play a role rather than be a person.

  3. Couple of quick comments as I duck my head in here before making my way out for dinner:
    John – I actually have said what you mention at the end of your post. Don’t remember if I said it here or if I said it on the HoB/D list – but I’m willing to agree with folks that TEC moved in a way that was less than helpful in its attempt to do the right thing. That said, there standard response that people like myself get when we say such things is “someone had to go first – and/or justice delayed is justice denied.” I’ll dig around and see if I can find the link to that conversation which happened a few years ago.

  4. I might add insisting on manners when I couldn’t visit my partner if he were in the hospital or could be refused communion right down the road comes across from “this side” as also just as hostile as what John accuses the “other side” of.

  5. John 2007 says

    1. I did not accuse the other side as ‘hostile.’ I think they acted against a phenomenal amount of scripture, reason, tradition, canons, the BCP, advice–so much so that the supporters of VGR and the new sexual ethic that they broke the sacramental, and organizational unity of the church.
    2. I don’t get your first sentence, Christopher. You pose it as something that happened with ‘when I couldn’t viist my partner’ and then as I conditional ‘if he were in the hospital.’ Anyhow, of course your partner should be able to see you and all he generally has to do is ask. It’s that simple. What we are talking about, however, is the election of someone to the level of the episcopate for the whole church, which is what a bishop must be; and at this level, I would think, ambiguity cannot stand.
    3. As for Mr Knisely’s ‘I’m willing to agree that ECUSA moves in a way that was less than helpful’ one can only shake one’s head at the paucity of regret or rethinking that is going on here. Less than helpful? The cost has been pretty high, I would say. It’s not as if one were painting a room and one got the agreed upon shade of blue slightly wrong. There was no agreement, consensus, or single mind of the church about things of fundamental importance, and yet by a very slight majority–6 votes maybe or thereabouts in the HOB–we have held up to the world VGR as fitting as a Bishop. That it was fundamentally political BTW seems to be attested to by the obvious lack of forthcoming candor on his part during the process (denial of alcoholism, a failure to answer questions about marital fidelity straightforwardly)
    4.’Justice delayed is justice denied’ is a slogan (sloganeering rarely helps) which, in any case, shows the miscasting of the issue to many of us. There is no fundamental right to be a bishop in a church which is to shape its life according to the NT.

  6. “Denial of alcoholism”? Are you not aware that one of the key features of alcoholism is denial? And are you actually suggesting there’s never been an alcoholic elected Bishop before? I don’t really think that could be true.
    And I’d bet my bottom dollar that there have been racist Bishops; misogynistic Bishops; anti-Semitic Bishops; and angry, destructive, spiteful Bishops. Matter of fact, one of the “Saints of the Church” had all these characteristics; his name was John Chrysosotom.
    The Church really some very odd priorities, if you ask me.

  7. (I’ll add that all those Catholic Bishops who tried to cover up the sexual abuse of children – and told the civil authorities that they should stay out of it – are still occupying their chairs.
    Not that this is directly relevant to what happens in the Episcopal Church, of course. But it’s yet another demonstration of the very, very strange priorities of the Christian Church. It’s not very healthy, I’d say, in fact….)

  8. john says

    “”Denial of alcoholism”? Are you not aware that one of the key features of alcoholism is denial?”
    Of course. That does not lessen moral culpability but shows the depths of self-delusion. And it matters not one whit what the church has done before. Two wrongs hardly make a right. VGR has been a huge mistake.

  9. Of course. That does not lessen moral culpability but shows the depths of self-delusion. And it matters not one whit what the church has done before. Two wrongs hardly make a right. VGR has been a huge mistake.
    In other words, once “morally culpable and deluded,” always “morally culpable and deluded.”
    I’m afraid that doesn’t work under our theology, though. All people are sinners – and Gene Robinson is a repentent sinner, since he is now in recovery. Or perhaps you’re saying that there are some Episcopalians who aren’t sinner, and would be better candidates for Bishop? Can you point to one of these, please?
    In any case, alcoholism, and the denial that accompanies it, are viewed as a sickness, and not a moral issue, in our society. And if denial is part of the syndrome, then Gene Robinson hasn’t lied – “lying” required that you are aware of what the truth consists of – so how is he morally culpable? Very bad logic there.
    VGR might have been a “mistake” – but the huge mistake was the effort of the “reasserters” to get Bishops from other countries involved. The huge mistake was Robert Duncan’s argument that the Episcopal Church would no longer exist were it to be ejected from the Anglican Communion. The consecration of a Bishop is one event that is now complete and could be corrected; the mistakes that were made afterward – border-crossings, etc. – are ongoing and far more damaging. I’m frankly tired of people who are hungry for power (and who can’t seem to keep themselves from attempting a coup d’eglise) blaming everything on the Episcopal Church.

  10. John 2007 says

    1. It’s a bit rich to think that Duncan and those who align with him are after power. They just aren’t. Accuse them of neo-Puritanism if you will. It’s an unalloyed accolade in my book to do so, but then at least you will get to the heart of the matter. (Even Windsor acknowledged that their boundary-crossing was precipitated.)They think that something fundamental is at issue here. So do I. What we do with our bodies matters.
    2. As far as your crying that denial is part of alcoholism, my point was that in the process of being elected to the episcopate VGR was not truthful. At a minimum that calls into questions the process by which he was elected. I also have doubts about some of his other representations, but this alone means that the bishopric, in my eyes, was ill-gotten. I hope you will agree that misrepresentation in the curse of obtaining something–say, like claiming to be the Dean of A School of Theology instead of (just pulling one out of the hat here)the head of an Adult Education program in a parish–should cause us onlookers to raise an eyebrow, and maybe our voices. The point here is not that anyone is without sin. Of course not. But if my child steals he doesn’t get to keep the money because he, like everyone else, is a sinner. He returns the money, and desists, ideally, from stealing.
    Last, how could border-crossing ever be more damaging that holding up VGR and his lifestyle as above reproach, godly, shaped by the NT? Border crossing is just part of temporary care. NBD.

  11. OK, you’re really being obtuse here, IMO.
    Gene Robinson went into treatment for alcoholism after he was consecrated Bishop (in early 2006), not before (in 2003). If he didn’t recognize he had a problem, then he was not dissembling about anything. Many alcoholics are what is called “functional alcoholics”; they don’t have very serious problems – yet – but they still need treatment. An analogy would be, perhaps, dental disease; if you don’t know you’ve got a problem, you aren’t lying when you say you don’t – but your mouth still needs attention before things get worse. His co-workers in the diocese have said that they didn’t notice his alcoholism, or that it affected his work at all.
    I don’t get your intransigence on this point, honestly.
    Robert Duncan has claimed that, because of a clause in TEC’s Constitution that calls it “a constituent member of the Anglican Communion” – he claimed that if TEC were ejected from the Anglican Communion, it would cease to be The Episcopal Church. He claims that there are “two churches” in the United States – and that his is the “real” one.
    These two statements are really nothing but spin, both of them – and I think it’s fairly clear that they are both working towards the same end: that the Episcopal Church should be replaced by the breakaway factions as the American representative of Anglicanism. If that’s not a power play, then I’d like to hear your definition of one.
    (“What we do with our bodies matters”? Where did that come from? And who said otherwise?)

  12. john 2007 says

    Obtuse? Surely, anything but that. You must mean obdurate, or obstinate.
    Anyhow, VGR admitted his problem after he was elected:that is my point! ‘If he didn’t recognize the problem then he wasn’t dissembling anything,’ you say. To this, please note that I talked also of self-deception. Surely, part of the phenomenon of denial (think hard here) is that it is an ongoing intentional, at some level, willful, failure to admit the truth. Denial is not the same a being blissfully unaware, not the same as complete ignorance, not the same as never even thinking of something. All the time in AA meetings people will admit their denial and claim it as something for which they are morally accountable. (If you want to get real heavy here go read Sartre’s attack–a very good one–on Freud’s idea of repression. Tangential but related.)
    And I don’t think Duncan, who is more conservative than I am BTW, is trying to do anything more than organize parts of the Church that want to be faithful to traditional sexual ethics and the theology, ecclesiology, etc., that supports that. What perks or power does he get? The leadership of ECUSA–the episcopate and delegates–are virtually all left-leaning. It’s not like Duncan will ever tap into huge trust funds like the PB has at her access. Even if Duncan could say, by some reorganization, his federation of churches are the “true” representative of Anglicanism in the USA, so what? What real difference will that make? A small percentage of churches, or even a small percentages of dioceses, break off. So what? The fact is that there are two theologically distinct camps on the issue of what is appropriate behavior and what can be elevated to the level of the episcopate. Duncan calls these, you say, “two churches.” That doesn’t seem like spin to me. Our church is divided about a fundamental issue in the Christian Life, isn’t it? Wouldn’t be strange, at this point, to say we’re not divided, or that there aren’t seismic faults, theological fractures, broken unity . . .or whatever phrase you want? Duncan seems honest to me. What is not exemplifying honesty to me, to get back to the initial point of this blog, is the way in which those who created the split by consenting to VGR and SSB’s have never really–in any significant numbers and with convincing depth–said publically ‘Maybe we are wrong, fundamentally, in endorsing the revision of sexual ethics, a consequence of which is the fracturing of the communion, strained relationships, etc.’ and “Maybe we are living, as a result, under judgment by God, meant to be purifying, meant to chasten us.” There is evidence that +Rowan’s posture before God is this. But not too many in ECUSA seem to have adopted it. Instead, they cry, as this blog has, about the manners of others.

  13. “Self-deception”? Is that a sin that can keep a person from being nominated and/or elected Bishop? Because I have a feeling many Bishops have been self-deceived about many things – just as the rest of us are, all our lives, until we learn better.
    Your original claim was that Gene Robinson’s alcoholism was evidence of his “ill-gotten” position; IOW, your argument was that he willfully deceived other people in order to become Bishop. Now you’re arguing something different – that he’s “accountable” today for his prior self-deception. So there was no cheating, but the implication is he should resign now that he’s sober, to balance out the errors of the past.
    I know what goes on in A.A. meetings; I’ve been in recovery for 25 years. (And BTW, I never recognized myself as an alcoholic until I heard other people talk about it in meetings – and that’s quite typical. Did I get jobs in those days under false pretences? Should I go back and apologize for leaving my alcoholism out of the interview process – even though I wasn’t aware of it? And I wonder what I should resign from now, in order to make things right?)
    FYI, I’ve never heard a “reasserter” admit that he or she might be wrong about this issue, either. So it goes both ways. I haven’t heard any border-crossers apologize, or Peter Akinola apologize for his actions or for the things he’s said either. As I said above, I’m sick and tired of listening to people blame TEC for their own actions; do they take no responsibility for what they do? Do they have no self-control at all?
    Lambeth 1.10 implies that this issue is not closed, in fact. It calls for “conversation” and “listening,” and this has been almost totally ignored. So why are we the ones “under judgement”?

  14. (John, after thinking about this, I believe you don’t realize what “denial” actually means, in a psychological sense.
    It’s most often defined in a way similar to this: “a process of automatically blocking awareness of painful realities, thoughts, or feelings in order to protect oneself from emotional distress.”
    It isn’t what you’re suggesting: that a person lies to the world about what s/he knows and accepts within him/herself. It’s an unconscious blocking of reality itself inside a person’s own mind.)

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