Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Pewster Principle: A Possible Explanation for the Failure of the Episcopal Organization

The other day, speculation as to the possibility of an unprecedented second term for the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal church raised its ugly head on Facebook. Of course it sounds like a silly rumor. Why would any organization want to continue with a failing plan under a failing leader?

Of course this sort of thing happens all the time in governmental systems, but in the real world where people get paid for producing something of value, they get fired when they don't produce. Any organization that promotes incompetence eventually goes under.

There are only a couple of reasons why +KJS would be put up for a second term. The first would be that nobody else wants the job. I think this is next to impossible. I can think of a number of bishops who would give their left reproductive organ to wear the oven mitt miter. The other reason +KJS might get re-elected would be that the current P.B. is more desirous of the position than the others and has the power to hold the others at bay.

Is there any hope that a new Presiding Bishop would be less of a disaster than the current one? As one comment on the Facebook thread puts it,
"I think a bunch of naive moderates and traditionalists in our church are going to be shocked shocked shocked when her successor continues, by and large, the same sterling tradition of theological inanity, ignorance, ham-fisted handling of Holy Scripture, and bullying as KJS has."
I have to agree. After all, Bishop Schori follows on the heels of Bishop Griswold, so it looks like things tend to go from bad to worse in the Episcopal system.
You really have to wonder about an organization that elects a succession of poor leaders. I thought for a moment that the "Peter principle" is at work in the Episcopal organization, but then again I think maybe it is the "Dibert principle". For those of you not acquainted with those terms here is the skinny,
"The Peter Principle assumes that people are promoted because they are competent, and that the tasks higher up in the hierarchy require skills or talents they do not possess. It concludes that due to this, a competent employee will eventually be promoted to, and remain at, a position at which he or she is incompetent. In his book, The Peter Principle, Laurence J. Peter explains 'percussive sublimation', the act of kicking a person upstairs (i.e. promoting him to management) to get him out of the way of productive employees. 
The Dilbert principle, by contrast, assumes that hierarchy just serves as a means for removing the incompetent to "higher" positions where they will be unable to cause damage to the workflow, assuming that the upper echelons of an organization have little relevance to its actual production, and that the majority of real, productive work in a company is done by people lower in the power ladder. An earlier formulation of this effect was known as Putt's Law." From Wikipedia 
Okay, maybe we need another explanation,
Putt's Law: "Technology is dominated by two types of people:  those who understand what they do not manage and those who manage what they do not understand."
Putt's Corollary: "Every technical hierarchy, in time, develops a competence inversion." with incompetence being "flushed out of the lower levels" of a technocratic hierarchy, ensuring that technically competent people remain directly in charge of the actual technology while those without technical competence move into management. From Wikipedia too.
I think we need a new term to describe what happens in the Episcopal church because I believe the church has characteristics of a ponderous governmental organization, a failing private business, and an inverted technical hierarchy.

Like a governmental organization, the Episcopal church considers itself a non-profit, it attracts a large cadre of people not qualified for employment elsewhere, many of these are idolized by the folks who pay their meal ticket, and once elected or appointed they can go about saying things that make people feel happy, and they are are pretty much set for life.

Like a business, the Episcopal church has a certain amount of scut work to do like marrying, burying and baptizing, sermonizing, attending protests, gay pride parades, and other such important duties. People who are really good at the latter (the non-productive things) tend to be the ones who get moved up to the next level.

Like a technical hierarchy there are guys in the trenches who know how to fix things, but there are others who want to wear miters and carry croziers, or maybe they just look good in those crazy outfits, but they tend to get in the way of the real workers, so it is that those annoying, smarmy types are the ones who get promoted to Bishop, or they get jobs like "Canon of This, That, and the Other Thing."

Since new priests coming out of Episcopal seminaries have been hand selected by those already ensconced in the Episcopal organization, the bottom is being filled with persons full of "the same sterling tradition of theological inanity, ignorance, and ham-fisted handling of Holy Scripture" as those who have moved up in the ranks of the church.

Such an organization has to fail... doesn't it?

The only forces that can keep such a flawed system going are ignorance and money.

And where are those forces located?


The answer is, "the pewsitters."

Henceforth I will call this "The Pewster principle": Theological and Biblical ignorance in the pews pays for and promotes theological and Biblical ignorance in the pulpit, in the House of Bishops, and in the seminaries all of which serve to perpetuate theological and Biblical ignorance in the pews.

These pewsters carry as their motto the words of Walt Kelly,
"There is no need to sally forth, for it remains true that those things which make us human are, curiously enough, always close at hand. Resolve then, that on this very ground, with small flags waving and tinny blast on tiny trumpets, we shall meet the enemy, and not only may he be ours, he may be us." Walt Kelly
St. Paul hoped for more from his churches, and we are reminded in today's reading from 1 Corinthians 1:1-9 that the church is strong because of God's grace, and it should be enriched in knowledge and the testimony of Christ,

Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
The fall from grace ain't pretty, but I am afraid that is where the Episcopal church finds itself today. The chances of a pew-roots movement showing up to reverse the Pewster principle are looking mighty slim.


  1. Pewster,
    Many colleges have started as "church colleges" with an eventual destiny of a generic or secular school. I think this is happening with TEC. They will "evolve" into an NGO or a boutique/niche church. They are rebranding. What we see as a loss of membership is really viewed differently by the leadership. They are slimming down, shedding excess and looking to the future. There is absolutely no sense that God is removing members. They are smug, PC and self righteous. Where they are really out of whack is the disconnect between the church doctrines brought from the past that burden them and the current fluid beliefs and practices that enable them to make it up as they go along.

    1. The main danger to that plan is the people getting a hold of the powerful knowledge that the Apostles passed on to the Church as Paul alludes to above.

  2. Pewster,
    Where will they get this Good News? Radio Free TEC?

    1. Hopefully folks here in SC will tune into the radio free DSC broadcasts from Mere Anglicanism this Friday and Saturday. That has proven to be a good place to hear the Good News spoken plainly and honestly.

  3. Hey Pewster, I like your Pewster Priniciple. It does explain a lot of what TEC believes these days. Alas our friendly techno junkie/"DJ" Kevin Kallsen is on vacation in Israel. I don't know if he will be back in time for the Mere Anglicanism conference this weekend. However, "Radio Free" DSC church broadcasts are plentiful if you know to where to find them. :-)