Home > "Dialogue", Fisks, The Auburn "Affirmation", Theology > Silver dollars, Barbie dolls, and cow manure: The Auburn Affirmation, Part I

Silver dollars, Barbie dolls, and cow manure: The Auburn Affirmation, Part I

9 December 2009

[Elder’s Note:  This is a partial follow-up to Saturday’s (12/5) article regarding Auburn Seminary’s actions within our diocese.  This article presents an analogy between a hypothetical coin collection organization and the struggle that led up to the writing and signing of the Auburn Affirmation.  I wrote this analogy in order to put in a framework for understanding the historical context of the “Affirmation” as well as to get past all of its hot air in a timely fashion.   ]
Imagine going to a coin show, and walking up to a vendor (let’s call him ‘Jack’) who is selling his coin collection. The coin collection is exquisite and is also broad, ranging from very old silver dollars to rare pennies to coinage from around the world. For various reasons, the collection is being sold piecemeal rather than all at once. You are impressed with the Silver Dollars and purchase that portion of the collection. Someone else is impressed with the penny collection, and purchases that. Eventually, the master collection is gone, purchased in the same fashion.

While you are at the coin show, you sign up for a membership in a local organization made up of coin collectors. You meet with your fellow collectors once a month, eat milk and cookies, and have a group activity that relates to coin collecting.

Years and years go by. The coin collecting organization grows into a political entity complete with by-laws, a council, and power struggles. A strong movement starts within the organization that endorses the reunification of Jack’s (you remember Jack – from the coin show?) original coin collection. It seems that all of Jack’s collection is accounted for, among the members of the coin collection organization.

And so, Jack’s original coin collection is consolidated. No longer belonging to the coin collectors, this particular coin collection belongs to the ‘club’ itself.

Years and years go by. The coin collecting organization begins to diversify into (in addition to coin collectors) people who collect other materials – Barbie Dolls, Monopoly Money, deer antlers, and petrified guano. Some of the members don’t like this diversification, citing that the group really should be for coin collectors only. Others of the members offer “proof” that their collection of odd items at one point or another, can serve (or could serve) as a form of money, thus “proving” that they are valid forms of exchange. In the middle of this is of course, a group of “moderates,” who like being members of the club more than what it means to belong to the club.

Years and years go by. The struggle continues between the people who collect coins, and the people who collect Other Things. By now, the group has its own building and stores everyone’s collections. The odd assortment of Other Stuff, which by now includes um, “recently created guano,” has diversified even more, to the point where it no longer shares any similarity with Jack’s original coin collection.

Now imagine the debate gets even more intense. Some of the coin-collectors draw charges against one of the cow manure collectors, citing that his manure collection shouldn’t be allowed into the clubhouse. This enrages the other manure collectors. One of the more savvy manure collectors pens a document and circulates it among the moderates and the People Who Collect Other Stuff. The gist of the document is this argument:

“1) Whereas this organization was originally intended for collectors of silver dollars and

2) whereas the merging of the silver dollar collectors and penny collectors established a precedent of diversity within this organization,

3) and whereas that precedent eventually led to the collection of Barbie Dolls (thus establishing another precedent), and

4) whereas the Barbie Doll collection precedent led to our allowing in collectors of petrified guano, and

5) whereas that precedent led to our allowing in collectors of manure,

6) there is room for everyone in this organization.

7) We all signed an agreement when we joined this organization. All of us collect coins. It’s just that some of us have different theories about what the word, “coin” means. We the undersigned agree not to enforce one theory of coinage onto one another. We value freedom.

8 ) Far from collecting coins, the true objective of the coin-collecting organization is to hold onto our organizational unity at all costs.

The document is then circulated among the members, and all of the progressive types and some of the “moderates” sign it.  Eventually, the document proves to be the undoing of both the coin purists and the manure collectors, as a coin is no longer a coin, and manure is no longer manure.  It is a disaster for the “moderates” as well, as organizational unity is not preserved.  The only group that comes out on top is the one that asserts that manure is a form of currency. 

Okay.. back to reality.  The hypothetical “struggle” in this analogy mirrors the struggles of the mainline Presbyterian Church in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries;  and the “intent” of the hypothetical document more or less parallels the intent of the Auburn Affirmation. 

We will explore the text of the Auburn Affirmation itself, and the resulting fallout, in future installments.

– Elder 

  1. 11 December 2009 at 8:40 PM

    “8 ) Far from collecting coins, the true objective of the coin-collecting organization is to hold onto our organizational unity at all costs.“

    Very good.

  2. Elder Oyster
    15 December 2009 at 10:50 PM

    Hi Undergroundpewster,

    Thank you for your comment. I apologize that it’s taken me so long to respond. Everytime I try, my kid comes up to me with a book to read. 🙂

    If I remember correctly, you had done some fisking of your own (?) from the vantage point of the pews in various revisionist parishes – I had wanted to read more about this.. but..

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