Unicorns, Skittle Rainbows and The Law of Unintended Consequences

Posted by Fr. Tere on 09/30/2015

Primates & Unicorns & Skittles

The Law of Unintended Consequences (we’ll call it the “LUC”) articulates the principle that usually unanticipated consequences rise from actions. It may be that the intended consequences are helpful, but there will almost always be attendant consequences that were not planned—and those can be very problematic.

Here is an example of a decision that fits the LUC. We’re all familiar with the campaign “Stranger Danger,” which teaches children that strangers are not safe and are to be avoided.  FBI statistics indicate that approximately 800,000 abductions of children occur annually in the US. Of those, only about 115 each year are committed by strangers [1]. The other 799,885 are perpetrated by people known by the abducted child: most are family members, and others are known family acquaintances.  The focus on strangers was intended to protect children, but, in fact, danger from strangers falls more in the “you’re gonna get struck by lightning” category than the “you better watch out” category. Other skills to identify danger would be more valuable. Tragically, by focusing exclusively on strangers, families may overlook warning signals from people who are known but still dangerous. The unintended consequences of a huge campaign may actually be a diminishment of safety. 

We are watching an instance of LUC occurring worldwide.There is a huge problem with refugees from Syria and Kurdistan, northern Iraq. As the extremely well-armed forces 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 refugees. 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, the LUC is very operable in the Anglican Communion.  Tender-hearted and probably well-meaning liberals thought that it was just being nice and loving when they began to pursue blessing same-sex intimacy. They had the perspective that the situation was simple and would merely bring blessingI remember the Rev. 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. It is another instance of LUC, this time with far-reaching and tragic consequences.

For the last twenty years, the liberal wing in the church has engaged in deception that has had far-reaching unintended consequences. First, they claimed orthodoxy while practicing something all together different. 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. The deception was aided by decisions made by Archbishop Rowan Williams that were utterly supportive of the liberal agenda. The only time that actually open conversation about the issue was addressed occurred in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. There, the Episcopal Church was called to repentance and given a deadline of September 30th to drop the lawsuits that they were pursuing and to return to the teaching, faith, and practice of historic Anglicanism. The deadline was re-interpreted by ABp Williams as not being an actual deadline, and the discipline was eviscerated by his sending out the invitations to the Lambeth Conference before the Episcopal Church had addressed what the Primates insisted upon. 

I suppose that ABp 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 up the Communion, but the unintended consequences were devastating. Many Provinces simply stopped going to Communion gatherings. Others would have minimal participation. Overall, the attitude to the central structures has become so broken that they are utterly ineffective. 

Now, the Archbishop of Canterbury has invited the Primates to come for a “gathering” to discuss the crisis that has resulted from that ill-informed decision 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 to come. It shouldn’t surprise us, however. The vast majority of active Anglicans in the world have recognized the ACNA and are in full Communion with us. 

A report has circulated that the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion office was offering “facilitators” for the January gathering of Primates. If that is, indeed, his plan, 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 during which 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 it 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, often the expectation is that there will be unicorns and skittle rainbows. When they are done thoughtlessly, the result can be catastrophic, as has been the case with some Provinces that have discarded the historic Biblical teaching on sexuality. I’m sure that they think all will be well because they want it to be; they may think that there will be rain showers of gumdrops and that 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 erroneous issues of Christology that are being embraced, and a disastrous sexual ethic that is not bearing godly fruit. 

The “bottom line” is this: If the January gathering of Primates does not fully address the real issues, the Communion will not survive—nor should it. 

[1] https://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2012/crime-in-the-u.s.-2012/tables/1tabledatadecoverviewpdf/table_1_crime_in_the_united_states_by_volume_and_rate_per_100000_inhabitants_1993-2012.xls

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