Sunday, July 8, 2012

Episcopal Church General Convention - Day 5

For reasons that escape me, we actually had our busiest day at the booths today.  We're hearing increasing frustration from many deputies about the possibility the committee may report out a "defer the decision" resolution on the Anglican Covenant.

This apparent intent of the committee seems to be rooted in an assumption that a polite "non, merci" could not pass the House of Bishops.  I think there are two - well, actually three - problems with this approach.

First, I'm not convinced that the state of play in the House of Bishops is, in fact, what the committee assumes it to be. 

Bear in mind that the two bishops on the relevant subcommittee do not want a "no." Bishop Little of Northern Indiana would actually like to say "yes," while Bishop Douglas of Connecticut believes that ambiguity gives the Episcopal Church better room to manoeuvre.  I'm not suggesting either is being dishonest.  They both seem to be decent and honourable folk.  But perception is inevitably filtered through the lense of desire, and their perception does not seem consistent with the observations of other bishops. 

My intelligence suggests that something between 40 to 45 percent of the bishops actually want to say "no," while a slightly smaller amount want to avoid a "no," whether for tactical reasons or because, like Bishop Little, they'd actually like to say "yes."  However you cut it, that leaves 15 to 20 percent "swing voters" who could be persuaded either way.  One bishop I spoke to from the "don't say no" camp actually believes his position is the minority of the decided bishops, while one pro-Covenant bishop seems convinced a "no" from the House of Bishops is a slam dunk.

Second, it is not at all clear that an ambiguous motion to punt the decision to 2015 would pass the House of Deputies.  I'm certainly not convinced it would.  As the days go on, the patience of the deputies for the Covenant seems to be wearing ever thinner. 

Third, this whole dynamic seems consistent with one of the major flaws of the Anglican Covenant.  It is a very "purple" document - concerned principally (and almost exclusively) with bishops.  It seems almost to envision a church which is both episcopally led and episcopally governed, where the concerns of bishops are the principle engine of decision-making and where the role of the laity is, as the old saw has it, "to pray, to pay and to obey."  In the workings of the legislative subcommittee, we see a process that is driven, not by the heartfelt views of deputies, but by the combined anxieties and machinations of bishops.

If I might risk to make an outsider's observation about process, it appears to me that the committee structure which exists in the Episcopal Church, while providing the appearance of collegial transparency in the development of legislation and resolutions may actually do just the opposite.  The subcommittee proceedings seem less a healthy exchange of views than a self-reinforcing echo chamber.  The Primus of the Episcopal Church of Scotland referred the other day to the "smoke-filled rooms" of the General Convention.  This allusion to the bad old days of political powerbrokers and machine politics should, perhaps, be a clarion call to reconsider the whole approach to "managing" the debates of the Church.

Dare I say, the Episcopal Church's response to the Anglican Covenant should be determined by those who have been authorized to make decisions on behalf of the Church - the Deputies and the Bishops - and not by a cabal of apparatchiks, however well-intentioned.


A report from the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia.

"rejected the proposed Covenant based on section 4,
but ... subscribed to 1, 2 and 3 as a useful starting point
for consideration of our Anglican understanding of the church. 

We have also affirmed the commitment of the ACANZP
to the Communion and the Instruments,
and to using procedures similar to those in Section 3
if another church raises concerns
about what we are doing or going to do. 

The whole motion has been passed in open Synod,
with no negative voice.

Official text and links to follow.


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

You and Lionel are doing a brilliant job. Thank you and bless you

SCG said...

The subcommittee proceedings seem less a healthy exchange of views than a self-reinforcing echo chamber.

Well, that would be in keeping with the description of our church governance as being similar to our secular politics. Thanks for all you are doing, Malcolm+. You and Lionel are doing great work on our behalf!