The Law of Unintended Consequences articulates the principle that there are usually unanticipated consequences that rise from actions. It may be that the intended consequences are helpful, but there will almost always be unintended consequences that were not planned that also come—those can be very problematic. Here is an example of a decision that has unintended consequences. You may have heard of the “Stranger Danger” campaign which teaches kids that strangers are not safe.
FBI statistics indicate that there are approximately 800,000 abductions of children in the US. Of those, only about 115 each year are carried out by strangers. The other 799,885 were carried out by people that the abducted child knew; most are family members, but some family acquaintances who are known.
The campaign’s focus on strangers was intended to protect, but in fact, danger from strangers is more in the “you’re gonna get struck by lightning” category rather than the “you better watch out” category. Having the skills to identify other forms of danger would be more valuable. Tragically, simply focusing on strangers may cause people to overlook warning signals from people who are closer to the victim but still dangerous. The unintended consequences of a huge campaign may actually include a diminishment of safety.
Right now there is a huge problem with refugees from Syria and Kurdistan, northern Iraq. As the well-armed butchers of the Islamic State have occupied territory, sensible people have fled the area. Knowing that they are fleeing in droves, however, the innovative (though horrifically violent) ISIS leaders have salted terrorist operatives into the fleeing hoards of people. Those operatives have the objective of waiting until a later time and then inflicting as much pain and suffering as possible on unarmed civilian targets. Simple or superficial solutions to deal with the refugees will have terrible unintended consequences. We need to care for people who need care, but we also need to stop those who design mass murder.
In another vein, tender-hearted and probably well-meaning liberals in thought it would be kind and just to pursue blessing same-sex intimacy. Their perspective was that a simple blessing was something the church could and should provide. I remember the Rev., now Bishop, Ian Douglas saying at the General Convention in 2003 that “No one in another Province would notice or care if the Episcopal Church consecrated Gene Robinson.” That has proven to be wrong, wrong, wrong.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has invited the Primates to come for a “gathering” to discuss, among other things, the crisis and the latest actions by TEC to completely change the theology and practice of marriage. It is extremely significant that he has also invited Archbishop Foley Beach of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) to come. This shouldn’t surprise us, however. The vast majority of active Anglicans in the world have recognized the ACNA and are in full Communion with it.
For the last twenty years, the liberal wing in the church relied on deception. They claimed orthodoxy while they were practicing something all together different (see Andrew Symes’ article from Anglican Mainstream in the UK http://anglicanmainstream.org/warning-to-synod-voters-some-evangelicals-are-not-as-they-seem/). Then, things shifted and they became more open about what they were actually doing, but they relied on manipulating the institutional structures of the Communion to keep the real issue from being discussed. They were aided by decisions that Archbishop Rowan Williams made that were utterly supportive of the liberal agenda. The only time there was actually open conversation about the issue was in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in 2007. There, the Episcopal Church was called to repentance and given a deadline of September 30th to drop the lawsuits that they were pursuing and return to the teaching, faith, and practice of historic Anglicanism. The deadline was re-interpreted by Archbishop Williams to not be a deadline and the discipline was eviscerated by his sending out invitations to the Lambeth Conference before the Episcopal Church had addressed what the Primates insisted upon.
I suppose that Archbishop Williams assumed that because the issues at stake were not a big deal to him that they wouldn’t be a big deal to others. He was wrong. There was enough institutional loyalty to keep people from open rebellion or blowing the Communion up, but the consequences were actually devastating. Many Provinces simply stopped going to Communion gatherings. Others would have minimal participation. Overall, the attitude to the central structures have become so broken that they are utterly ineffective.
There was a report that the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion office was offering “facilitators” for the January gathering of Primates. He may be planning that, but I would suggest that the facilitators get refundable tickets. There is absolutely no chance that the GAFCON and Global South Primates will stand for another meeting where they are “handled” and manipulated by “facilitators” who have a pre-cooked agenda. This upcoming meeting will either be utterly genuine in all the gritty reality that brings, or it will not happen at all. I think it is truly an important gathering and I pray that it will be effective.
When innovations are introduced, it is done with the expectation that there will be unicorns and skittle rainbows. When they are done thoughtlessly, the result can be catastrophic, as it has been with some Provinces who have discarded the historic Biblical teaching on sexuality. I’m sure that they think all will be well because they want it to be; that there will be rain showers of gumdrops and the pot at the end of the skittle rainbow will be found, but in truth, consequences that they did not anticipate or intend are actually driving the train. Superficial solutions never work more than superficially. This is a time in which we need to actually deal with the departures from Biblical faith, with issues of Christology that are being erroneously embraced, and a disastrous sexual ethic that is not bearing godly fruit.
Here is the bottom line. If the January gathering of Primates does not fully address the real issues, the Communion will not survive—nor should it.
atwood-new-photobwThe Rt. Rev. Bill Atwood is Bishop of the Anglican Church in North America’s International Diocese and an American Anglican Council contributing author.