Saturday, February 13, 2010

"Just a flesh wound"

The vote has come and gone on the resolution presented to the Church of England General Synod regarding the status of quasi-Anglican scismatics in North America. You will recall that the motion by Lorna Ashworth was accompanied by a background paper which was as honest as the average Liberal Party campaign pledge.

Ms Ashworth's original motion read as follows:

“That this Synod express the desire that the Church of England be in communion with the Anglican Church in North America”.

The bishops introduced an amendment which gutted Ms Ashworth's motion and replaced it with something which, if imperfect, at least stopped short of condoning theft.

Leave out everything after "That this Synod" and insert:

"(a) recognise and affirm the desire of those who have formed the Anglican Church in North America to remain within the Anglican family;

(b) acknowledge that this aspiration, in respect both of relations with the Church of England and membership of the Anglican Communion, raises issues which the relevant authorities of each need to explore further; and

(c) invite the Archbishops to report further to the Synod in 2011."

That was the version of the motion that eventually passed.

Now, even though the amendment guts the pro-ACNA position, most of the Anglican Far Right have been crowing about their glorious victory. Supposedly the resolution (according to them) grants recognition to ACNA as part of the Anglican Communion and affirms them in their acts of schism and theft.

Well, not all the Anglican Far Right. In a stunning example of how a stopped clock can be correct twice a day, Über-Reactionary Matt Kennedy of Stand Firm actually gets it right. (By policy, do not link to extremist websites, so here is the essential part of his post on this issue.)

1. The motion does not "affirm" the ACNA.

2. The motion does not "affirm" that the ACNA is part of the Anglican Communion.

3. The motion "affirms" a "desire" . Translation: Ohhh, how sweet that you want to be my boyfriend. I "affirm" your desire.

4. The motion does not refer to the ACNA as a whole but to the desire of "those who formed" the ACNA.

5. The motion does not affirm the desire of "those who formed the ACNA" to remain in "the Anglican Communion", but rather, it affirms their desire to remain a part of the Anglican "family". Arguably, anyone who prays with a prayerbook and wears a robe of some kind could be considered a member of the "Anglican Family."

Well, Matt is slightly wrong on the final point. Not "Anglican Family," but "Anglican family." There is no suggestion of a recognized and definable body called the Anglican Family of which ACNA is a part.

Matt's also a trifle week on point 2. Not only does the motion not affirm ACNA as part of the Anglican Communion, the principles of law (after all, the CofE General Synod is a legislative body with powers delegated from the UK Parliament) suggest that the amended motion explicitly denies that ACNA has standing in the Anglican Communion.

The lawyer most dear to me has referred me to an exciting little page-turner called Driedger on the Construction of Statutes. I gather it's something of a hot commodity among serious folk at the bar. In referring to the interpretation of statutes of legislative bodies in the Westminster tradition (ie, the UK Parliament, most Commonwealth Parliaments and surely since it is a delegated legislative body, the General Synod of the Church of England) Driedger holds that one must consider the context in interpreting the statute.

Specifically, Driedger argues that, if there is an existing term with a specific meaning and the statute uses a different term, then interpretation of the statute should assume the different use was deliberate and that therefore the statute means something different.

Or, to be plain, if the resolution had meant to affirm ACNA as a part of the Anglican Communion it would have said "the Anglican Communion." Instead, the resolution said "the Anglican family." Now, "the Anglican family" has no defined meaning. It may be something more than, less than or completely other than the Anglican Communion, but it cannot be taken to mean "the Anglican Communion."

Now Elmer Driedger wasn't just any old yahoo. He was a leading authority on statutory interpretation whose book is a standard reference 25 years after his death - routinely cited, for example, in decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada. He was Dean of Law at the University of Ottawa and subsequently Deputy Minister of Justice for Canada. He assisted the Commonwealth Secretariat to establish courses on legislative drafting across the Commmonwealth and he advised the Australian government on the establishment of the Legislative Drafting Institute.

So, while the resolution nicely acknowledges that the founders of ACNA want to be part of the Anglican Communion, it is actually pretty explicit that they are not.

Just to bash home the point a little harder, we now have an excellent little essay by General Synod member Brian Lewis who describes the sequence of events during the debate. According to Brian (whose piece you can read in full at Preludium or Thinking Anglicans), Synod actually said a resounding "no" to ACNA three times over the course of the debate.

Here's how it all went down.

1. Ms Ashworth introduced her motion.

2. Bishop Hill (Bristol) moved the amendment.

3. Synod passed the amendment. (The first "no.")

4. ACNA supporters moved a subamendment to reinsert the original language of the motion as an addition to the motion as it stood.

5. Synod defeated the subamendment. (The second "no.")

6. ACNA supporters introduced another subamendment to recognize the orders of ACNA clergy.

7. Synod defeated the second subamendment. (The third "no.")

In the following video, you can see ACNA Archbisop Bob Duncan in coversation with King Arthur.


Göran Koch-Swahne said...

Dear Malcolm,

Jurist learn how to interpret. Theologians don't. That seems to be the whole problem of the Gaffe-con, ACNA, Stand Firm, Venom-on-line crowd...

G said...

ACNA's primate can't read for comprehension. "British understatement being what it is, I think they went very far down the field. They have basically said they favor overlapping provinces here."

Say whaaat?

Joe Episcopalian said...

He's Matt Kennedy, actually. Matthew Shepard was someone else indeed.

Malcolm+ said...

@Geoff - One could put it down to Bob Duncan's weakness in the Queen's English. That is a kinder explanation than the first one that occurs to me.

@Joe Episcopalian - Thanks for pointing out the error. Now corrected in the text. Teach me not to post at 1:00 am.

I once crossed Rowan Williams and Rowan Atkinson, but that may be more logical. Crossing Matt Kennedy and Matt Shpeherd goes beyond ironic.

Nom de Plume said...

@ Göran Koch-Swahne:

Actually, theologians are taught how to interpret. Sadly, too many confuse the terms "interpretation" with "spinning". You've got to wonder about how people who "interpret" synodical actions this way are also "interpreting" scripture.

Actually, I imagine you don't have to wonder very much at all. :-(

keith nethery said...

Hi Malcolm

I toyed with the idea of posting the Brian Lewis article for our friends over at the essentials blog. Given they wouldn't read the San Diego report or the Thinking Anglicans rebuttal on TEC (I posted both for them) they would ignore the Lewis piece as well.
My compliments on how long you have hung in with them. I go a round or two with them when they get their facts mixed up (not an all to infrequent happening.) I see they are now on their favorite tactic with you, have as many people as possible ask you as many questions as possible and whatever one you don't answer to their satisfaction, they demand to know why you are ignoring them. Once the thread runs out it's course, anywhere from two to ten days later, several of them will go on and post reasons as to why you are wrong and take several pots shots at you hoping you won`t come back to respond. Oh yes, and the troll accusation (my favourite!!!) Can`t have anybody disagreeing with them.
From one who has fought this battle, my compliments on your honesty and fairness with them. No matter what you say, it will come down to they are right and you are wrong.



Malcolm+ said...

@Nom de Plume - It makes it so much easier when you don't care if your spin has any basis in fact. Duncan et al have no interest in truth. This is all about ego for them.

@Keith - There is something profoundly unAnglican in the way they demand one parse one's understanding of phrases. The genius of Anglicanism was that (in the words of Elizabeth I) we sought no "windows into men's souls" but only conformity of worship - and even there allowed for diversity. These folk want a nice, confortable little groupthink cult.

June Butler said...

For the benefit of folks who may now be considering joining up with ACNA, the leadership and members have to spin the General Synod story to make it appear that a positive response to their wish to be in communion with the CofE will be comin' round the mountain quite soon. It seems plain to me that the English politely said, "Thanks for asking, but no."