Category Archives: The Palm Beach Experience

The place where I became a snob. You can take the boy out of Palm Beach, but…

Knowing the Facts and How You Look at the Facts Isn’t the Same, @crampell

Washington Post columnist and fellow Palm Beach Day Academy alum Catherine Rampell hits on the “facts” during her hometown address:

Rampell, who focuses on data-driven journalism, said she is worried about Trump’s stance on federal agencies such as the Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics and Bureau of Economic Analysis. She said his attitude toward analytics has ranged from “indifference” to “contempt,” noting Trump has called the unemployment rate a hoax and made budget cuts to the Census Bureau.

“It really bodes ill for a lot of people because numbers, good data, that’s how we know how to hold our public officials accountable, how to tell whether their policies are doing a good job and how to make good business decisions,” Rampell said.

This is a classic fallacy of our time: we have the data, therefore we know what it means and how to solve the problems it presents.  A good example of that is income inequality: it’s gotten worse under just about every president in my adult lifetime (and her entire lifetime) including Barack Obama.  And there’s been a great deal of hand-wringing about this.  One would think that he, of all people, would have reversed that trend, but he didn’t.  Perhaps the interest in achieving that goal isn’t as strong in a Palm Beacher like Rampell (and others at the top) as it is with those whose income has actually gone down.

The result of this in our electoral system was two candidates–Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump–who built their candidacies on basically the same problems, but looked at their solution entirely differently.  Had the Democrats not been as fixated on Hillary Clinton as they were, a race between the two of them would have been exciting, to say the least.  (The one we had was exciting enough…)

Climate change is another one of those “facts” problems.  All other things being equal, the earth will warm with an increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere: therefore, we must replace our fossil-fuel based energy generation with only “renewable” sources.  Another intramural problem: another fellow Day Academy alum, Kerry Emanuel, and two others did a piece a while back supporting nuclear power, which would make the replacement of fossil fuels a much more rapid process.  And isn’t time of the essence here?  (Speaking of intramurals, wonder if Rampell is a Pelican or a Flamingo…)

One other note: Donald Trump’s disdain for the unemployment rate is probably based on the fact that it doesn’t include those who have given up seeking employment and left the labour force.  That’s a legitimate problem; it masked that exodus all during Obama’s presidency.  His response, in part, was to expand the disability program and attempt to pension off the victims of economic change.  And that, truth to tell, was partly successful.

The Jewish Club Pans Barack Obama’s Membership

The soon to be former President finds out that a slice of exclusive American history has consequences:

It was founded more than century ago as a refuge for Jewish American golfers being discriminated against, but now a Maryland country club is facing its own exclusion row over whether to admit Barack Obama.

Several members at the exclusive Woodmont Country Club have said an application by the outgoing US president, a keen golfer, to join the historically Jewish club should be rejected because of his Israel policies.

The existence of Jewish and Gentile clubs may seem strange to most Americans, but it remains a feature of the country club scene in many places.  One of those is Palm Beach, where I found this out the hard way growing up there.  Excluded from the Gentile clubs (which were started first,) Jews founded their own clubs.  In the case of the Palm Beach Country Club, support for Israel charities is expected from new members, and I suspect at Woodmont it is the same.

The supreme irony in all of this is that the one person (in Palm Beach at least) who has done more than anyone else to break this Jew-Gentile separation pattern in clubs is none other than Donald Trump, which he did when he made Mar-a-Lago (his Florida White House) a private club.

My advice to well-heeled Evangelicals in the Washington area is to apply for membership at Woodmont.  We’re not Jewish, but after our support for Israel, there should be a reward for that somewhere on this side of eternity.

Our Elites’ Snotty Attitudes, Then and Now

Wikileaks’ revelations that Hillary Clinton and her operatives take a dim view of social conservatives–following her characterization of large portions of the population as “deplorables”–has ignited a great deal of anger.  As someone who started out life growing up with the elites, I think some perspective is in order.

Let me start by putting up something that’s been on this website since 2004.  It comes from my Around the Island post about Palm Beach, and it goes like this:

Below: “There’s a hole in my bucket…” Fourth graders at Palm Beach Day School perform a satire on “hillbillies” called “Appalachian Legend” during Stunt Night 1969. Attitudes from the “coasts” about “flyover country” in the U.S. have been deep seated for a long time; stage productions like this only reinforced that. It’s fair to say that, if the “Religious Right” had fully grasped the contempt they were held in when the movement first got going in the late 1970’s they would not have started the Moral Majority: they would have started a revolution.

Haughty attitudes of our elites towards the rest of the population aren’t new; they’re as old as class differences.  So why didn’t the revolution I thought would be a logical outcome (then, at least) not happen?  There are several reasons:

  1. Our elites had better taste and manners then; they knew better than to rub the rest of the population’s face in their perceived superiority.
  2. We lacked the instant means of communicating contempt we have now.
  3. Most of the “moral majority” didn’t see the difference between their values and those at the top as class based.   That was simply false; the top of our society had been lost to the fervent Evangelicalism for a long time, being steeped in either Main Line Christianity or Judaism.
  4. Some actually did, but didn’t care; they felt that those at the top would go to hell for their lack of belief and they would not.  That kind of “remnant” mentality was very deep in Evangelical Christianity, especially in the South.  One result of the political activity of the last forty years or so is the erosion of that mentality.
  5. Others sensed it, but were too ashamed to admit it, because it would imply those who opposed them were better than they were.  They were and are the aspirational types; much of the impetus for political involvement has come from these people.
  6. Income inequality has increased since that photo was made; the gap between the elites and the Appalachians has grown significantly.

That leads me to some observations about the present:

  • I think it strange that the standard-bearer of those who seek a revolution is a billionaire; it’s one of those bizarre American things.  But it’s the aspirational way: those who idolize Trump project their own aspirations into his own success, which is very common in our society.
  • On the other hand, aspirational people are a threat to the existing power holders, which is why Hillary Clinton and her operatives feel about them the way they do.  Elites, then and now, prefer corporatism.  And that’s ironic too for a bunch whose ideological roots are in 1960’s radicalism.
  • As far as her attitudes towards social conservatives is concerned, what we’re headed for under her idea is a “two-tier” religious structure where certain churches and religious organizations are “acceptable” and certain ones are not, with legal disabilities following.  That was the case in Nazi Germany with the “Confessing Church,” in the Soviet Union, and is the case in China, although the Three-Self Church is showing many signs of life.  Her idea that Roman Catholicism is an “élite” religion (as opposed to Evangelicalism) has a strange feel to it.  Going from Episcopal to Catholic was a drop in social level in the 1970’s, but the Main Line churches have lost most of their relevance even at the top.
  • Trump’s crudity is unsurprising, especially for someone raised in South Florida as I am.  What we have to choose from is one candidate whose forced sexualization agenda is one of personal depravity and the other whose forced sexualization agenda is a matter of public policy.
  • Personally I’ve always gravitated to the “remnant” mentality.  I was raised listening to the encounter with the rich young ruler and the parable of the rich man and Lazarus; somehow anything else misses the point.  The most active alternative along these lines is the “Benedict Option” advocated by Rod Dreher.  Maintaining that in a totalitarian society–even one with periodic elections–won’t be easy.

Pro-Life Democrats: If You Knew the Priorities…

@timothypomalley is lachrymose for his party’s call to repeal the Hyde Amendment:

I had hoped for this. Until this week. Like many pro-life Democrats, I had been dispirited by the inclusion in the 2016 Democratic Party Platform of the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which has previously disallowed federal funds to pay for abortion except in the case of incest, rape, or the life of the mother. Here, a seemingly reasonable way of making space for us pro-life Democrats was being closed. Before the convention began, I was considering that it was time to leave the Democratic Party. To find an alternative way of building a politics of human dignity in my local community.

Having grown up at the upper reaches of this society and not the lower ones, I can say with confidence that our elites, under all the gaudy rhetoric, have two basic priorities in life: getting laid and getting high or drunk, which facilitates Priority #1.  Look at what’s been at the top of the agenda: contraception, abortion, the LGBT movement, the transgenders, all of it.  It’s all about sex.  That’s why real economic equality (and the economic development that makes it possible) has taken a back seat.  And it doesn’t hurt that a society where wealth generation is held back tends to concentrate what’s left at the top.

O’Malley and his ilk in the pro-life movement have always spoken of a “culture of death.”  But that’s not what this is really all about.  It’s about a thrill-obsessed culture that’s ready to sacrifice anything, everything, anyone and everyone to kill the pain of its own worthlessness.  The Democrats’ lame attempt to frame the issue on the timing of children was just that, as O’Malley justly points out.

That being the case, it’s only a matter of time before this kind of obsession will take command on both sides of the aisle.   In light of that O’Malley’s closing bears repeating:

I have left the Democratic Party this week. And the last gift this Party has bestowed upon me is a sense that the present political system is so broken, so obsessed with death that the rebuilding of the structures will not occur within the present structures of American political life.

Politics are about stories. And it’s time to tell a new one.

The Never-Ending Interest in Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club

My piece last year on Donald Trump and Mar-a-Lago has been a hit on this site.  There’s a great deal of interest in the subject, either by his supporters (who think he’s a SJW hero for the club) or his detractors (who are trying to find out some dirt about the place.)  Neither of these quite hit the spot, although his supporters have the better argument.  My last piece was a little brief, so some background is in order.

It’s easy to get sidetracked in an issue like this, because Palm Beach’s social system is different (or sui generis to use the fancy term) than what most Americans are used to, either in the past or now.  Donald Trump’s concept of a club for everyone in the place–black, Jew, gentile–was revolutionary, but that has to be seen in the context of Palm Beach, not some egalitarian utopia.

First: Mar-a-Lago wasn’t a club until Trump bought it.  It was the estate of Marjorie Meriwether Post, the cereal heiress, and it was the largest private home on the island.

Second: until around the First World War, Jews and Gentiles mixed pretty well in Palm Beach.  That changed with the growing perception among the Gentile community that the Jews, God-chosen achievers that they are, were a threat.  Probably the most shameful manifestation of this was the change in the admission process of the Ivy League schools, who de-emphasised academic excellence and went for this “well-rounded” (usually Gentile) student.  We’re seeing a repeat of this with the Asians.

Jews in Palm Beach, not wanting to be at the bottom of the place’s social system (and that’s a bad place to be, as I found out the hard way) started their own clubs, most prominently the Palm Beach Country Club.  The segregation of Jew and Gentile was a prominent feature of Palm Beach society for many years.  The one place that wasn’t extended to was the schools, where I had Jewish friends whom I remember fondly.

Turning to the issue of black people, South Florida is in many ways an extension of the Northeast.  However, looking back the Southern influence was a lot stronger in Palm Beach than I used to realise.  Gentile Southerners brought their racial attitudes to the place just as their Northern counterparts brought their religious ones.  The first time I heard anyone I knew called the N-word was a schoolmate at Palm Beach Day School, something that still blows me away.  Having said that, when some enlightenment started to sink into the place the big issue, IMHO, was economic.  Living on the island is a dreadfully expensive proposition, joining the clubs isn’t any easier.  The Jews had that problem in hand; most black people have not.

Into this segregated/stratified situation enters Donald Trump.  As I noted in my review of Lawrence Leamer’s book:

The inrush of that kind of money has changed the landscape of Palm Beach more than anything else, both physically (to the extent that those who want to build can get past the preservationists) and socially.  At the vanguard of that change is Donald Trump, whose transformation of the Mar-a-Lago estate into a private club, with the concomitant opportunity of the clubless arrivistes to have their own place in the sun free from the constraints of places like the Everglades Club, the Bath and Tennis (B&T) Club, or even the Palm Beach Country Club.

From my viewpoint as someone who grew up in Palm Beach, Trump’s opening of the club scene to nouveaux riches was the biggest innovation that he made.  Putting together a club where Jew and Gentile could mix freely was and is an achievement for which he needs to be given credit. Iconoclastic as that was, Trump saw that an “old money” town like Palm Beach was changing with the billions generated by the newly wealthy, and he put Mar-a-Lago at the centre of that change.  And there’s political significance to that.

As distasteful as nouveaux riches are, they are a necessity for a vibrant economic system.  They show that people can and are moving up.  Unfortunately there are many “gatekeepers” in our society who don’t want others to move up as it would involve them to move out. Some of them are the recently successful people in the tech industry, who know better than anyone that glory is very fleeting.  Others are in academia, who have convinced everyone that the credentials people pay them dearly to hand out are the key to a unruined life.  Still others are in government, the usual laggard, which finds it easier to block change than to adapt to it.

Most of the discontent is coming from the American people’s decision that they’re getting the shaft from all of these “gatekeepers.”  That’s true of both Trump and Bernie Sanders supporters; they share the basic perception of the problem but not the solution.  As long as our haughty masters attempt to lord over us the way they have, they will have blowback.

The fear of Trump is that, if he can take on a social system like Palm Beach’s and win, he could do the same with them.

Yes, he can.

Banning Sobriety in Palm Beach

Well, not quite…

It’s unlikely residents will see sober homes popping up in their Palm Beach neighborhoods any time soon.

Earlier this month, the Town Council declared “zoning in progress,” a measure that essentially halts permits for alcohol and drug-free living environments in town while officials consider how best to regulate them. Council members also directed the Planning and Zoning Commission to discuss an ordinance change at a future meeting.

If there’s one thing the Town of Palm Beach is good at, it’s restricting residential development.  They’ve even frustrated people who had the good sense to put bullet-proof glass next to a golf course to the point of razing their house.  If they want to keep sober houses off the island, they can turn the task over to the Architectural Commission (ARCOM,) who can bankrupt just about anyone with the “improvements” they require.

I’m not sure why anyone who wants to run a sober house would try to put one on the island.  In addition to ARCOM, the real estate prices are dreadfully high.  By the time they would have the house set up, they would be out of money to actually help someone with their substance abuse problem.

What will be fun, however, is when the Feds try to put Section 8 housing in Palm Beach…

The Man Who Facilitated My Exit from the Episcopal Church

While searching out the web, I ran across an interesting article in the Lodi (CA) News-Sentinel dated 25 May 1995.  The issue at hand was harvesting the organs of anencephalic babies (not fetuses) for their organ parts, by killing the baby first.

Fr. William A. Sassman, his photo in the 1973 Tartan (St. Andrew's yearbook.) He was described as "a tireless advocate of Situationalism."
Fr. William A. Sassman, his photo in the 1973 Tartan (St. Andrew’s yearbook.) He was described as “a tireless advocate of Situationalism.”

Not unexpectedly, a local Episcopal minister staked out a position on the topic:

Harvesting the organs from the anencephalics is “a loving thing, saving another baby,” said the Rev. William Sassman of St. Francis Episcopal in Fair Oaks, who formerly taught an ethics course at a prep school in Florida.

And the parents of the doomed child “will ease their grief,’ said Sassman.  “They will know that their child–who is in the hands of the Lord anyway–will be helping another baby to survive.”

My Anglican readers will roll their eyes at yet another Episcopal cleric taking an edgy left-wing position on yet another social topic.  But for me this had a greater impact. About that ethics course:

  • The “prep school” referred to was the St. Andrews School in Boca Raton.
  • The formal name of the course was “Ethical Bases of Conduct.”  His textbook was Joseph Fletcher’s Situation Ethics; his remarks to the newspaper came straight out of that controversial tome.
  • The year was 1972 and I was one of his students.

And the Rev. William A. Sassman, the school’s chaplain, was the one person who had more to do than anyone else with me “swimming the Tiber” before graduating from that Episcopal prep school.  But, as always, a little background is in order.

St. Andrew’s was (and is) an Episcopal prep school.  For my sophomore year there I got elected to the one and only office I ever held in the Episcopal Church: a seat on the student Vestry.  That was the year Fr. Sassman came.  It was a challenging relationship from the very start.  We differed on many things.  The Situational Ethics came later: the first thing he tried to do was get people moving on social action.

The best way to describe this is to let him do so in his own words. The homily below was one he gave in November 2007; it was pretty much the same message he always gave to us.

It’s not a straightforward business to recall the rationale behind my aversion to his idea, but a few things stand out.

The first is that Fr. Sassman always struck me as an optimistic enthusiast about everything he did, and I came up in a world where optimistic enthusiasts were beaten down by the culture.  To adopt his way would have, in my estimation, subjected me to more social pain, and especially after my years in Palm Beach (with stuff like this) I had had enough.

The second is that his social action program struck me as inadequate.  Evidently I’m not the only one who felt that way; in his homily, he makes the analogy of the man who throws starfish back into the sea.  When someone calls his effort out as generally unimportant, his response is that it’s important to the starfish that he saves.

While that’s true, growing up in a culture with a creeping sense of guilt about its own success and material prosperity, just saving “a few starfish” wasn’t going to get the job done.  That was especially true for someone who studied history, and recent history where entire ruling classes were swept away in bloody revolutions.  To address this would take more serious measures than the ones Fr. Sassman was proposing.

As an aside, I wasn’t the only one there uninspired by his idea.  But that may have been a timing issue. Even some of the serious liberals had their doubts.  One of them, who had told my parents the previous year that the geniuses commit suicide, noted that much of his agenda was better suited to a college student group and not to a prep school one.

But I think the one message I got from him that the Episcopal Church had no answers to the serious questions of life.  It’s fashionable in conservative circles to say that liberals are wrong about many things, and they are.  But when you base your idea on the premise that there is no absolute truth–and in many ways Situational Ethics is a “baptised” way to do that–you’re basically empty-handed in helping others sort out the important questions of life.  And in many ways that’s worse than being wrong.

After nearly two school years of this, I found Dante and began my journey to “swim the Tiber” and become a Roman Catholic.  That brought many of the answers I was looking for, especially with the parish priest I had.  I actually made the Profession of Faith towards the end of the ethics course.  It also, indirectly, addressed the social issue problem.  One thing that was becoming clear–if only in an implicit and visceral way–was that the concept of the Episcopal Church, with its lofty demographics, being an agent for either social change or meaningful charity was a nonstarter.  In this case the Marxists were right: the Episcopalians were the problem, something that many social activists other than Fr. Sassman (such as Ian Mitchell) didn’t quite grasp.  Roman Catholicism, with its broader income level and ethnic diversity, is in a better place to address this problem, although there are issues there.

An even stronger statement in that direction was made with joining a Pentecostal church.  No where else is it more clear that the preferential option for the poor and the preferential option of the poor aren’t the same.  It’s hard to imagine Fr. Sassman having never encountered that in his time in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, but evidently he never thought that an option.

Today, of course, the time of social action that Fr. Sassman tried to interest us in is almost a form of forced labour among our elites in school.  To a large extent it’s replaced upward social mobility as the goal of the search for significance.  In this respect he has won.

But we also have the fact that, in the intervening years, income inequality has grown.  In that respect I’ve won: it’s important to come up with a game plan for all the starfish and not just the few.  Today we have figures like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, whose rise indicates that the many starfish are tired of being left on the beach to die.

And medical ethics, which brought Fr. Sassman to the newspapers? Those battles still rage, and now we have the technology to do both serious benefit and damage to ourselves.  It’s interesting that the objection to Fr. Sassman’s situational ethics came not from Christianity but from Judaism:

But Rabbi Lester Frazin of Congregation B’Nai Israel in Sacramento believes that harvesting organs from anencephalic babies while they are alive is cruel and lacks compassion.

Frazin, formerly chaplain at the Dixon (Ill.) State School for Mentally Retarded and Deformed for 13 years, had a child with a neurologically degenerative disease called Tay Sachs.  He removed the child from a Chicago hospital when doctors asked to do research on the child’s brain.

“Experimenting or harvesting organs from living human beings just is reminiscent of Nazi Germany experimentation,” said Frazin.

The line between the most loving thing and the expedient one is finer than people like Fr. Sassman may care to admit, and it’s one we’re going to spend a lot of time walking in the years ahead.

Fr. Sassman’s life has had tragedy of its own.  His son went to prison for securities fraud; my experience in the Church of God tells me that PK’s (preacher’s kids) are either the best or worst Christianity produces.  He experienced divorce and his wife died of cancer.

In his review of my work in his course, he recommended that I take some more logic and philosophy courses in college.  While my pursuit of a mechanical engineering degree did not avail me of opportunities that he (and others) would have liked me to pursue in the liberal arts, I did take a course in logic from the Philosophy Department at Texas A&M. It was there that my professor informed me that “you’re not as dumb as you look!

It’s always something…

Free Speech and the Mikado

This past weekend my wife and I got to see Lee University’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado.  It was a strange production; it was one of those things where the audience sat on the stage and the performers did their thing in the seats.  The program regaled us with the usual politically correct rubbish of “it isn’t about Asians.”  (They could have chosen an all-Chinese or Korean cast; both would welcome a shot at making fun of the Japanese.)  It had the potential of being a serious dud, but Lee University, as all the world knows now, has a deep bench of talent in singing and the performing arts and the faculty to make the most of it.  So it was good.

I’ve heard the highlights from this, H.M.S. Pinafore and The Pirates of Penzance most of my life, but it’s only been this late in the game when I got to see them.  One of those highlights came at an unhappy time and in an unhappy place, but as always there’s a lesson to be learned.

I think one reason I ended up in STEM and gravitated towards French and Latin literature came from my less than satisfactory relations with most of my English teachers, from elementary school to my last English course at Texas A&M.  I’ve documented one of the more egregious incidents in The Geniuses Commit Suicide, but for mutual non-admiration the award must go to my first junior high English teacher at Palm Beach Day School (now Palm Beach Day Academy,) Robert Bayless.

Both in class and on the football field (a sport I should have never tried,) Bayless thought I was a sissy, and wasn’t shy about expressing that opinion.  Having an English surname only made matters worse because he was a devotee of all things Scottish.  What neither one of us realised is that I had more Celt in me than was clear.  On my father’s side, I had the McArthurs.  On my mother’s, I had all the Scots-Irish worthies (“horse thief types” as she put it) whose foibles are well documented in this blog.  Had I discovered my inner “hillbilly wildman” then, it would have ended badly.

In spite of all this, he could make profound points that stuck.  Probably the most profound one was in connection with Gilbert and Sullivan; in playing the highlights in class, he observed that G&S lived in a country (the UK) where you could make fun of the government and other social institutions.  In other parts of Europe (like Tsarist Russia) such satire was forbidden.

At the time I really didn’t understand what he was saying; like many raised at the top of this society, I lived in a world where the benefits of real freedom didn’t mean a lot.  Getting away from that was educational.  But now those who haven’t gotten away from that have the upper hand, and one of the casualties of that is an erosion of freedom of speech, especially on college campuses.

A lot has been made about the pressure on free speech from the students.  And that’s a problem.  Today we have a generation that, faced with a society which changes at a blinding pace, is running scared.  The last thing anyone wants to hear is someone advocating changing something else, especially when every change makes a new set of people unemployable, either temporarily or permanently.

But none of this stifling could move forward without the acquiescence of collegiate governance.  And it’s often more than acquiescence; they write many of these speech codes and carve out these “safe spaces” which make free expression on campus tricky.  That even applies to what gets performed on campus; one victim of our obsession with not offending anyone is The Mikado itself, which can’t be performed in many places.  I should be thankful that Lee actually put it on, politically correct drivel notwithstanding.

If we allow this trend to continue, we won’t be any better off than Russia, Tsarist or Putinist.  And that’s going to cost us in the long run.  Without the free exchange of ideas we won’t have any ideas, which only works in a corporatist bubble.  And we’ve had enough bubbles to burst the last few years to last us a lifetime.

But back to Bayless…I would be remiss in not mentioning that I wasn’t the only student/athlete who lived on his bad side.  There was one other, and I think he gave him a harder time than he gave me.  His sister teaches at Palm Beach Day Academy, along side Bayless’ own daughter.

God still has a sense of humour.  I wish our elites could say the same.

Bernie Sanders and the Test Pattern T-Shirt

Shepard Fairey, who designed the Obama “Hope” logo back in 2008 (which has spawned many parodies) is “feeling the Bern” and backing Bernie Sanders, not only in word but in deed, with his tee-shirt design:

shep-shirt-black-front_1024x1024I dunno, this reminds me of the old test patterns TV stations used to use at the start of the day.  Below is WTVJ Miami’s test pattern from the old days:

TP-WTVJbBut I guess that a test pattern is right for a guy who could actually remember seeing these things on TV.

And those flames at the bottom…didn’t Saul Alinsky dedicate one of his books to the guy who lives in the hot place?

These hippie dreamers are just too much…

A Letter from the Rector

I was looking through some papers and found a letter from an Episcopal rector with this:

I did enjoy your letter and it just makes me that much more distressed that you left the Episcopal Church. Somehow, with your mind and keen feelings, we should have been able to hang on to you. We sorely need the prayers of everyone and their understanding during this time of crisis in the Church. It would be so easy to “throw in the sponge” and go along with the crowd, but my disposition is not such.  I suppose I will go down fighting for what I feel I have to do.

Personally, I do not think there is much hope for the Episcopal Church at the present time except to grow smaller and smaller as more and more people leave it to go elsewhere, or to join with the Anglican body now being formed.

And the date? Perhaps in the last decade or so, after the crisis detonated by Vickie Gene Robinson’s elevation to bishop? Hardly.  The letter was written in January 1978, the rector was the Very Rev. James C. Stoutsenberger, and the parish was St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church in Boynton Beach, FL.

Before I get to commenting on this “contemporary feeling” epistle, some background is in order.

My home church is Bethesda-by-the-Sea in Palm Beach; however, in 1972 we moved to Boynton Beach.  I was the only one in my family going to church anywhere at that point, and that was St. Thomas More Catholic Church, the destination for my “Tiber swim.” A few years later church attendance became a “political football” in my parent’s protracted divorce, and that’s where Rev. Stoutsenberger came in.

Now for some observations about this letter, which could have been written a quarter century after it was:

  1. The “Anglican body” he was referring to was that of the predominantly Anglo-Catholic “continuing” Anglicans, which had met and issued a statement the prior year.  As we all know, they formed a few parishes and dioceses, but really didn’t make much of a dent in TEC.
  2. At the time most of the impetus to form a new body came from the Anglo-Catholics.  The Charismatics, like their LGBT counterparts, were too fixated on changing existing institutions and not making new ones. The Reformed, I suppose, were simply out to lunch in those days, or “swimming the Tweed.”
  3. It’s interesting to think what would have happened if these continuing Anglicans had really taken hold at the time; the Dennis Canon wasn’t passed (or was it?) until the following year.  It would have definitely levelled the playing field had those seceding not had to deal with it.
  4. The Episcopal Church’s lurch left and the membership bleed that followed isn’t a recent phenomenon; it was just Round II, Round I having taken place in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  “Smaller and smaller” has been the trajectory of TEC ever since, except they managed to stop the bleeding in the 1980’s and 1990’s long enough to gather people in who weren’t there for the first drop, but many of whom were involved in the second.
  5. Most of the people who left at the time and stayed in Christianity either swam the Tiber like I did or went to an Evangelical or Charismatic church of some kind.
  6. I think one major reason the continuing Anglicans didn’t make the impact their later, AMiA/ACNA/CANA counterparts did was the lack of a ready means to make a community and spread the message.  The internet handed the Anglican world just that in the 1990’s, and the rest is, as they say, history.
  7. Another reason was the continuing churches’ lack of communion with Canterbury, an obsession which has lurked in the Anglican/Episcopal psyche from the start. The AMiA, formed by the provinces of Rwanda and South-East Asia, fixed that problem to some extent, and now we have the results of the recent Primates’ meeting.

Stoutsenberger put “his money where his mouth was” and ended up serving at a FiFNA affiliated parish in Lantana. He passed away in 2004, living long enough to see the explosion that has brought us where we are.  It’s sad that it took the elevation of an openly gay man to motivate people, because TEC’s problems were clear long before that event.  That’s indicative of peoples’ low consciousness and understanding of what Christianity is all about, and that situation (in this country at least) shows little sign of improving.