Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Sydney Diocese, the ACL and the interaction of party ideology on personal ideology

Over at Gold, Silver, Precious Stones, Andrew Katay has been questioning whether the political dominance of the ACL really serves its stated goal of 'protecting the Evangelical, Reformed and Protestant character of Sydney diocese', or whether it is in fact pursuing a slightly different mission.
You can look at the to-and-fro of arguments in the comments on his blog, but I'd like to discuss why I think this is important.
The importance lies in the way party ideology affects individual ideology, especially in dominant party systems.
Jing Jing Huo, in 2005, did a study of how party ideology interacts with individual ideology in 18 industrialized nations

(Party Dominance in 18 Countries: The Role

of Party Dominance in the Transmission

of Political Ideology , Canadian Journal of Political Science / Revue canadienne de science politique

38:3 (September/septembre 2005) 745–765

Here is what he concluded from this study,

To sum up the discussion, whether it is the electoral or governmental dimension of party dominance, data from the 18 highly industrialized

democracies ultimately support the following core theories:

1) If individuals already find the dominant party in the party system ideologically congruent, the party’s dominance enhances its ability to transmit party ideology to individuals. For these individuals, the more politically aware they become, the more effective the dominant party becomes in transmitting its ideology, so the effectiveness of party political persuasion increases monotonically with increasing levels of political awareness.

2) If individuals find the dominant party ideologically incongruent, the party’s dominance inhibits its ability to transmit party ideology to individuals. For these individuals, as their political awareness increases, the effect of the dominant party’s ideology first increases, then decreases, resulting in a curvilinear pattern.

The key here is 'congruence' . If you agree with the ideology of the party, the more politically aware you become, the more you will internalise the party ideology. On the other hand, if you find the ideology incongruent, the more dominant the party becomes, the more you will be pushed away from its ideology, given a certain amount of political awareness (since you are bombarded with more evidence of its incongruity)

Now, what might this mean for the ACL and politics in the Sydney Anglican Diocese.

If the ACL is simply about making sure that evangelicals are elected into Diocesan positions, then evangelicals will find that ideology congruent, the more politically aware they become, the more they will support the election of evangelicals to Diocesan positions.

However, if the ACL is not simply ensuring the election of evangelicals, but has a different ideology, whether it be positions for mates, or a more narrow vision of the health of the diocese, those who find this ideology incongruent will at first be influenced by the ACL, but as the ACL becomes more dominant, and the the people become more politically aware, the ability of the ACL to influence their personal ideology actually shifts into reverse gear, they are repulsed by that ideology. On a simple level, all it takes is for an evangelical to know another solid evangelical who has been slighted by the party system.

But there are two larger problems.

Jing Jing Huo, using the work of Zaller, notes three forms of resistance in the individual

These three scenarios are:

partisan resistance, in which individuals refuse to internalize a political message if they are provided with information cues helping them to recognize that this message comes from an incongruent political party;

inertial resistance, in which individuals who already possess a large amount of existing schemas use such schemas to wash out any incongruent message they happen to already internalize;

countervalent resistance, in which individuals internalize schemas directly opposing those coming from the incongruent parties.

The danger for the ACL is that there are a lack of evangelical options, so resistance strategy 1 doesn't happen.

Which leaves us with strategy two or three. People who already have a strong schema of their evangelical identity that is unconnected to the ACL (and it's members, which, I might add, includes a large chunk of the clergy) are able to wash out the political (rather than evangelical) ideology of the ACL, though this leaves them politically inert.

Others however, will internalize schemas that directly oppose the dominant party.

Now, if the party itself has mixed its ideology, that is, (if it has said it is only about protecting the evangelical character of the diocese, but also includes another ideology, about jobs for friends or a narrower vision), the potential for someone to take up non-evangelical ideology as a reaction to the party's other ideology becomes higher and higher the more dominant the ACL becomes.

That is, without the creation of another evangelical option, the ACL's strength will work against its mission (protect the reformed, evangelical, protestant (REP) character of the diocese) unless it is solely focussed on that mission.

That gives the ACL, if it truly wants to pursue that mission, two options.

Move away from the other ideologies


Admit that it isn't simply about protecting the REP character of the diocese (which would involve changing both its formal and informal rhetoric about being the 'evangelical' party)

The countervalent response is probably the scariest for individuals. That individuals are repulsed from evangelicalism because of particular party politics.

But the political inertia is a greater issue for the diocese, as many gifted and godly people simply opt out of involvement, confident of their evangelical faith, but unable to swallow the 'jobs for friends' structure for participation.

Of course, if another evangelical organisation was created and was sufficiently strong to create a genuine second option, we wouldn't have such a huge problem


Dan Anderson said...

That's a fascinating piece of analysis Mike. As an interested non-Anglican observer at a number of Sydney Synods, it seems to ring true with what I could see happening in debates and voting patterns.

Mike W said...

Huo is an interesting dude.

You might enjoy his analysis of why Canada ended up with a much better welfare system that Australia

"Comparing Welfare States in Australia and Canada: A Party Competition Theory of Welfare State Development"

He basically argues that because Canada had a far less polarized politics than Australia, the left managed to far better welfare outcomes whilst not in power. In Australia, where things were far more polarised, the right was able to position itself against the welfare reforms of the left.

Translating this into church politics is always a bit weird, but the lesson seems to be that centrist politics makes for stability and better outcomes.

I see Andrews proposal as a centrist proposal

Luke Collings said...

The other side of the Australia vs Canada thing is that because Australian politics were polarised (particularly in the post-war period) we have the benefit of a much broader range of political options to practical problems (i.e. we are generally comfortable with offshore processing for asylum seekers but still don't want Medicare to go broke).

I'm not that comfortable with the proposals for change proposed by Andrew and Mike, though I do admit that measures that would limit the potential for political abuse should be addressed ASAP. The proposed changes rest on a number of assumptions that, to my mind, have been merely asserted rather than proven. To whit:

1) 'ACL is running a shadow "jobs for the boys" agenda.' This is an unfounded accusation which can only heighten the climate of suspicion. No evidence had been put forward that those endosed by ACL have received their endorsement simply on the basis of personal relationships OR that they have carried out their duties in an improper way because of ACL influence OR that the range of a legitimate evangelical opinion is being suppressed by these endorsements. All there has been is innuendo, some of it not particularly godly. The fact that some people miss out on ACL endorsements in elections does not prove that there is an underlying power conspiracy.

2) 'A second "evangelical party" would make ACL endorsements accountable.' Without more details as to what sort of body this would be it is impossible to determine the truth of this statement. What will its charter be and how will define its "evangelical character" distinct from ACL? How would it be different from an ACL franchise? Ask yourself this question - do we REALLY want to go there? Do we want these elections to be more politicised rather than less? How will we stop a Reform vs Fulcrum divide over time, as new clergy follow their "leaders" into one party or another and the Next Big Issue divides the groups? Our past history with the debate over women's ordination and Anglicans Togetehr suggests that this will be the case.

I remember us giving thanks while at MTC that our theological education was free from the factionalism that plagued previous generations. Now I'm starting to hear a proposal for a division in the evangelical political voice in the diocese. This is playing with matches big time.

Mike W said...

Well, Luke, as for point 1, I would think both Scott Newling and Michael Jensen over on Katays blog has basically admitted this. Not as an 'agenda' but as a method. And, as a political party rather than a recommendation body, it is kind of necessary. The accusation of 'power politics' isn't meant to be dark and sinister, simply an admission of a reality. The question is, if this organisation is functioning as a political party, and not just a recommendation body, is it healthy to only have one party?
You are right, all I have is anecdotal evidence of people who feel slurred, shut down or notice some bizarre things in meetings, slips in governance etc. Of course each of these is going to be notoriously difficult to pin to the system that put them there, but there is room for questioning the system.
As for ungodliness, name and shame mate. Name the bit you think that was ungodly, so whoever said it can repent.

2. That's why I think an 'endorsing body' would be better than a new political party. I don't know what it would do for the ACL, and mostly I don't care. What it would do for Synod representatives though, as they looked at nominees, is the sense that there is more than one 'safe' evangelical option. What it would do for nominees would be a way of presenting their evangelical credentials without having to go through the ACL.
The protection against factionalism is that it is generous towards anyone who approaches. It isn't an issue based, political party. Simply a body for endorsement.
I give thanks that (for the most part) people weren't encouraging students to flush out heretics at MTC while we were there. I give thanks that (for the most part) we were not encouraged to be suspicious of other Jesus loving, solid evangelicals.
I would hope that that peace comes from christian maturity and charity. But if it only comes from the fact that certain people have unchallenged and unquestionable control, then it comes at too high a price. I don't really know what went down with womens ordination and Anglicans Together, but if there was nastiness, factionalism, mistrust or mistreatment, I can only assume that it comes from a LACK of christian charity and maturity, not because different evangelicals were able to have a political voice

Mike W said...

of course the elephant in the room is the election of a new archbishop next year.
How will the ACL respond to an evangelical candidate that isn't nominated by them?
Will that candidate be wracking their brains whether they had a beer or two at college?
Will they be treated as an evangelical?
Does the ACL see themselves as kingmakers?
Or would they be able to say 'both evangelicals, both good choices'?
Or simply as those who recommend one evangelical candidate?
Will they put up two candidates to do that China thing you were talking about Luke?
Are they institutionaly able to nominate a candidate who has continuity but critique of the past ten years?
Guess we will find out over the next year.

Luke Collings said...

As for godliness questions, I don't think that anything has yet been said that is definitely repent-worthy. I think that everyone who has raised concerns has a legitimate point. My problem has been more with the tone of the objections to the status quo and the innuendo contained therein, i.e. "the fact that certain people have unchalleged and unquestionable control". Maybe I need to be less sensitive, but it seems as if there are improprieties being hinted at without present or past ACL being able to refute. A suggestion that "this may happen" quickly turned into "this IS happening" and turned into "this is a serious problem that needs an immediate solution". More restraint, I think, is appropriate at this point unless a serious allegation that the conduct of ACL or those they endorse is established.

I still feel an "endorsing body" is unnecessary if another way can be found for non-ACL candidates to make their case in elections. The management and control of such a body would be a nightmare? Who would be on it and how would they be chosen. And what if I, a clergyman in good standing who wished to run for a place on a committee, had objections to a group that I had no part in electing certifying me as a "safe evangelical"? Surely all clergy ordained in this diocese are entitled to that assumption unless they openly disclaim the label or their public conduct proclaims otherwise (at which point an endorsing body becomes moot).

I state again - I do not think the current situation is perfect and that improvements can be made, but that what has been suggested here and elsewhere will not solve the problem but only shift it.

Mike W said...

I would see the 'endorsing body' as simply another organisation somewhat like the ACL(ie, not an official diocesan body). Hopefully the screening panel would include some prominent, trusted, local evangelicals. Nominees would request endorsment if they wanted it, if not, that it fine too.

As for clergy expecting the benefit of the doubt re. Evangelicalness, this hardly is the case with our current arrangement.
Cf. For example, one prominent diocesan official (who I think is a bit of a player in the ACL) telling us in second year about clergy who had been influenced by the new perspective being a cancer on our diocese that we will simply have to live with until they leave. Of course, he didn't name his targets, but that is part of the problem, if you actually name people, they might defend themselves!

The story going around is that a couple of years beforehand rectors had been warned about Moore College graduates because 'they do not think like us'

I would think having another group that can also endorse evangelicalness could be good

byron smith said...

I realise I'm very late to this party.

If you're looking for a careful, prayerful evangelical attempt to call the ACL and upper leadership to repentance over a range of issues, you can check out the open letter penned in 2007 by Keith Mascord (who was for many years an MTC lecturer) and signed by hundreds of parishioners (including plenty of wardens), dozens of clergy and former bishops.

Whatever the legitimacy of the grievances listed, it is clear that such feelings are not isolated instances but represent a systematic effect of the present order.