There's a saying in the Canadian Football League - and I'm sure it's a saying in many sports leagues - that "statistics are for losers." It is applied when the losing team starts pointing to one or more of the game statistics to claim some sort of success.
For example, my beloved Saskatchewan Roughriders lost the 2009 Grey Cup when, on what would have been the last play of the game, they had too many men on the field. The penalty gave their opponents another opportunity to attempt a field goal which won them the championship. It was the first and only time in the entire game that the Montreal Alouettes were in the lead. At the end of regulation time, the Saskatchewan Roughriders were in the lead.
Yesterday, the Church of England issued a news release outlining the agenda for the upcoming session of General Synod at York from July 6 to July 10. (Coincidentally the Episcopal Church General Convention and the General Synod of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia will both be running over that time period as well.) Oddly, for a news release about what was on the agenda, there was a long and detailed paragraph about a certain item which is not on the agenda.
One item not on the Agenda for July is the Anglican Communion Covenant. The Business Committee publishes today its report on the voting in the diocesan synods on the draft Act of Synod adopting the Covenant. 18 diocesan synods voted in favour and 26 against, so this draft Act of Synod cannot be presented to the General Synod for final approval. As the report shows, the voting was quite close. The majority of Houses of Clergy (26) voted against, but the majority of Houses of Laity (23) voted in favour. Overall, of the 1516 members of houses of clergy who voted, 732 (48%) voted in favour and 784 (52%) voted against, whereas, of the 1813 members of houses of laity who voted, 960 (53%) voted in favour and 853 (47%) voted against. The Business Committee believes that it would be helpful for members of the Synod to have time to reflect on the position before the Synod debates the report and the Diocesan Synod Motions about the Covenant that have been passed by nine diocesan synods. These will therefore be debated not in July but at the next group of sessions after July.
This is, of course, another excellent example of the aphorism, "statistics are for losers." The aggregate voting figures are profoundly irrelevant to the issue. The Covenant was submitted to diocesan synods, and the majority of diocesan synods said "no."
So why are Church House apparatchiks going into such detail about this?
Well, I'm just a poor colonial and I don't necessarily grasp all the subtleties of establishment sensibilities. I have, however, been involved in the cut and thrust of partisan politics for more than 30 years. I've organized floor fights at political conventions and I've been involved at senior levels in a few very competitive leadership and nomination races. I know a bit about hardball politics.
What we have here, ladies and gentlemen, is the early stages of an unseemly attempt at political hardball from the smoke-filled backrooms of Church House, Lambeth Palace and the Anglican Communion Office. This data is going to be used to justify some sort of General Synod resolution to affirm the Anglican Covenant despite the defeat in the diocesan synods.
Oh yes, it will not "adopt" the Covenant - but the message will be clear. The ecclesiastical bureaucrats are not about to allow the ephemeral concept of due process to get in the way of their project to recast the Anglican Communion from a fellowship of autonomous churches into a centralized, unitary and curial body.
We've already seen their capacity to make up the rules on the fly. Within hours of the defeat of the Covenant in England, the Anglican Communion Office put out a news release asserting that the Archbishop of Canterbury's role as an Instrument of Unity was independent of his membership in the Church of England and therefore, even if England were to defeat the Covenant, he'd still be in charge of meting out "relational consequences."
It's the sort of behaviour one expects from the worst sort of political operatives. It's a pity one can't expect any better in the Church.
Hardball politics has marked the Covenant process from the start.
- We Covenantsceptics were warned, surely, when the very day we launched the No Anglican Covenant Coalition, a former ACO staffer compared us to the principle fascist party in the United Kingdom (a vicious slander for which he has only ever offered a politician's non-apology apology).
- It was confirmed when both the ACO and Church House declined to provide balanced background material, and when several dioceses refused to allow any material critical of the Covenant to be distributed to members of their synods.
- And let us not forget the many synods where even the debate was deliberately manipulated to give unfair advantage to the pro-Covenant position. Indeed, this applies to most of the diocesan synods that voted yes - and which is the source of the now claimed "moral" victory. (Lichfield may be the best example of this, where the 90 minutes allocated for debate began with a 30 minute speech from a prominant Covenanter, followed by a ten minute speech to move the motion to adopt. Fully 40 minutes of a 90 minute debate before the Covenant's opponents were permitted to utter a single syllable. Curiously, the Covenant passed by a wide margin.)
And yet, despite every institutional advantage, despite a propaganda onslaught, despite an international campaign of slander, despite the manipulative use of the bully pulpit, the proposed Covenant could not overcome its internal contradictions and the combined might of Church House, Lambeth and the Anglican Communion Office were unable to defeat a wee band of bloggers. The remarkable thing about these voting results is not that the Covenanters "almost won," but rather that they blew a commanding lead and managed to lose.
So they will try to make a silk purse from this particular sow's ear with a motion to "affirm" the Anglican Covenant and expressly denying that the failure of the Covenant in the diocesan synods means anything at all.
Stand by for Round II.