Apropos of my post from yesterday, Mark Harris, who is one of the more literary and irenic--though no less partisan for being so--of the "progressive" bloggers--paid me the compliment of being one of the big voices keeping the racket going over the canonical deficiency in recent acts of the Presiding Bishop with respect to the deposition of Bishops Cox and Schofield, and the reorganization of the Diocese of San Joaquin. If indeed so, the honor is all mine, and may my tribe increase. And may it increase especially among those who put on purple shirts when they go to work and wear funny pointed hats to church on Sundays.
Now let's do some close critical exegesis--sort of like the Jesus Seminar approaching one of the gospels--of Father Harris' analysis. He writes:
"Now it turns out that Bishops Lawrence, Howe and Duncan (or at least his Lawyer) have all objected to the voting at the last House of Bishops meeting. Bishop Duncan was absent. I don't know about Bishops Howe and Lawrence."
I can state with confidence that the right reverend gentlemen from Central Florida and South Carolina were indeed there.
Did either of them object at the time?
To my knowledge, not to the procedure. Unlike some other conservatives, who can't resist smelling a conspiracy here, I'll opt for the simplest explanation and chalk it up to plenary incompetence in the HOB--and I don't say that with any self-righteousness because I've been guilty of the same sort of thing on many occasions. However, it is attested by multiple sources that Bishop Lawrence raised the issue of the illegitimacy of the March 29 San Joaquin convention, now a fait accomplait. I hereby rise up and call him blessed.
"For most [Episcopalians] this business in San Joaquin is no big deal."
And we should all be grateful for that. I know I am. But yet ... it is a big deal. Its bigness is not determined by plebiscite.
"...I am not convinced that a Standing Committee elected in the same Convention that voted to withdraw from the Episcopal Church and align itself with another Province can be said to be neutral on the matter."
And I'm not convinced that a player who has a vested interest in a particular interpretation of rules and canons "can be said to be neutral on the matter" either--and yet that person is in the position (ostensibly) of ruling definitively on disputed matters of interpretation! Besides, only two of the eight members of the Standing Committee were elected at the 2007 convention.
"The Canons are tools for us to use in our common life in the Episcopal Church, tools that both form and are formed by the community. While they are always in need of further work (of perfecting) they still constitute a body of discipline that we consider of such importance that obedience to them signals a basis for being considered included in or abandoning the communion of this Church."
To this I can only add my Amen. Mark goes on to suggest that the canons need to be revised in the direction of greater clarity. My own mind is not made up on this. From what I've seen of the proposed Title IV revisions, I'm skeptical that they would represent an improvement. But I do not see that the present canons are particularly ambiguous. We all know the difference between "shall" and "may." We know what "next" means. We know that the canons are quite capable of omitting "retired Bishops not present" from required majorities for taking particular actions, but that no such omission is specified for calculating the "whole number of Bishops entitled to vote" in the deposition of one of their colleagues. We know that there is no such canon investing the Presiding Bishop with the authority to nullify an election that takes place in a duly-convened diocesan convention.
But granting Fr Harris' premise for the sake of discussion, I would invite him to follow his own logic. If the canons are murky enough to cause concern about how they may be applied in the future (he raises the spectre of heresy hunts), are they not then equally murky as they apply to the past? Given that they are the very form and substance of the communal life of our church, the medium of our ability to trust one another, is not even the appearance of murkiness sufficient cause to go back and get it right?
"I believe Dan to be wrong in his assessment of what has happened in San Joaquin."
Well, of course! What fun would it be otherwise? But I would dearly love to see a clear, dispassionate analysis of the canons that would explain why I am wrong. I haven't yet.
One thing more: The acrid odor of double standard hangs in the ether like a stale campfire. For us reasserter types, even though all's well that ends well, the process leading up to the consecration of Mark Lawrence was highly traumatic. The first time around, he appeared to have the requisite number of consents at the eleventh hour, but some of them were deemed by the Presiding Bishop to not be in the proper form, and she nullified the election. Fair enough, as long as it's ... well ... fair enough. Every umpire's strike zone has its idiosyncrasies, and both pitchers and hitters are accustomed to making the required adjustments, provided that a pitch that is a strike for the home team is also a strike for the visitors, and vice versa. So, for Bishop Jefferts Schori to apply the letter of canon law with exact precision in the case of the first South Carolina election, and then live by what she apparently considers to be the "spirit" of the law with respect to the deposition of Bishops Cox and Schofield seems egregiously biased. Be strict or be loose, but don't be one way for your favorite team and another way for their opponents.