Friday, October 24, 2008

Hailing from Helena

The Executive Council of the Episcopal Church has just concluded its quarterly four-day meeting, this time in Helena, Montana. (Their practice is to meet in each of the church's nine geographic provinces on a rotating basis.) In the initial news reports, two developments are deserving of some comment.

First, the Presiding Bishop went unambiguously on record that she intends to actively discourage next July's General Convention from even considering a resolution that would either opt in or opt out of whatever version of a proposed Anglican Covenant is on the table at that time. There are some strong indications that an actionable draft will become available next May, and Bishop Jefferts Schori contends that there would be too little time between May and July for Deputies and Bishops to give adequate consideration to so weighty a step as signing on to an Anglican Covenant.

It doesn't require a very high degree of cynicism to smell a rat here. Although the Covenant Design Group has not yet completed its work, it seems a pretty safe bet that the document they unveil in May will look in most important aspects like the most recent working draft (the St Andrew's Draft). And it is manifestly clear to any sentient observer that nothing even remotely resembling the St Andrew's Draft would have the proverbial snowball's chance in you-know-where of being concurrently approved by both houses of General Convention. Just not gonna happen.

The Presiding Bishop obviously realizes this, and, indeed, would be among the majority voting in the negative. However, she is not eager for the headlines coming out of Anaheim to read "Episcopal Church to Anglican Communion: Drop Dead!" Such a stroke of finality would play right into the hands of her opponents across the communion who are awaiting a solid reason to yank the Anglican franchise from TEC and award it to some emerging coalition of orthodox Anglicans, both in and out of TEC, perhaps. The outright rejection of a covenant would be just such a reason. So she needs to buy time, and since only General Convention can approve opting in to a covenant, and General Convention meets only every three years, she's hoping to keep the matter unresolved until 2012, at least, and who knows what might happen between now and then?

Of course, the claim that we don't have enough time to consider something like an Anglican covenant, and that doing so would distract the convention from other vital business (like overhauling the canons on clergy and lay discipline to make it even easier to stifle dissenting viewpoints), rings awfully hollow. On the first count, the time that it took us to get into this mess in 2003 was shorter than the time a final draft covenant would be available for study and inspection. On the second count, since connection to the Anglican Communion is part of our defining identity as a church (see the preamble to the constitution), what more important business could the convention possibly consider than our relationship with that communion?

The second item of breaking news from Helena is that Council approved a resolution seeking the initiation of some sort of dialogue with the Common Cause Partnership. On its face, this is really quite remarkable. The CCP is the group that has evolved from what was earlier the Anglican Communion Network (a coalition I had a hand in founding back in 2005 when everyone concerned was committed to operating within the constitution and canons of TEC). It is headed by none other than Bishop Robert Duncan, whom the House of Bishops just purported to depose from the ordained ministry only last month. (It apparently didn't take, since he was this week received in Lambeth Palace with all customary episcopal honors.) The CCP is the group that has petitioned the GAFCON Council to recognize it as a ("the"?) legitimate Anglican province in North America.

Taking Council at its word, this is commendable and is deserving of positive reinforcement. I'm not personally in a position to give it very much, but I hereby lend whatever weight I have to the project. I hope the CCP will respond in a timely and generous (though not necessarily public) way. Actually, the longer I think about it, the more stunning it seems. I would dearly love to have had a hidden microphone in the room when this was being debated. Merely mentioning the name of the Common Cause Partners, let along expressing a willingness to actually talk to them, is a rather significant concession. It's like a Palestinian nationalist starting to talk about Israel as if it were a legitimate state. What are they thinking? Is there a measure of fear behind this move? Inquiring minds want to know!

It will not surprise me, however, if CCP adopts a very Reaganesque "trust but verify" attitude (with plenty of "linkage"), and rightly so.  815 does not have an exemplary track record as a good faith negotiating partner, and is in fact at this very moment a plaintiff in several legal actions against some of the entities embraced by the CCP. Nonetheless, I don't believe any olive branch deserves to be rejected out of hand, and the CCP will in fact cover themselves with shame if they do so.


Ann said...

Duncan was deposed from being a bishop of the Episcopal church - that is all.

Daniel Martins said...

Ann, not everybody interprets it your way. See my previous post.

mousestalker said...

I just wish I could assume good faith on TEC's part....

As to your main point about reconciliation, I think as Stephen Hopkins said "Well, in all my years I ain't never heard, seen nor smelled an issue that was so dangerous it couldn't be talked about." (1776)But I think it would be foolish to talk with 815 with anything other than open eyes.

Part of the main trouble is that with Christians, theology comes first, once you have that right, then you can get about your business. With the majority of the Episcopalian ruling class, social justice comes first. I do not think they understand just how important sound theology is to us.

Unknown said...

Dan is correct - Duncan was committed as having abandoned the communion. The Episcopal Church is not a communion unto itself.

Unless it is now.

And no wonder Bishop Schori is blocking ratification of the covenant at General Convention (of course, how much time passed between Gene Robinson's election and confirmation at GC 2003?) - again, Dan is right. Bishop Duncan was received as a bishop by none other than the Archbishop of Canterbury himself. And it was Bishop Schori who kept her arms folded in defiance when the Lambeth Conference gave Rowan Williams a standing ovation after his final Lambeth address.

And now TEC is slipping into at least $2 million deficit over legal bills (and that's an optimistic projection). TEC will have to deal with the deficits in dioceses as well - who will not able to pay their TEC Tax.

The conversation thingy - we did that for seven years - seven years - in the Diocese of Virginia. It built up enough trust between the parties that a protocol could be eventually negotiated that would allow the hope of reconciliation in the future. That was destroyed by Bishop Schori's intervention after taking the helm at 815.

So on one hand the Executive Council is giving Bishop Schori nearly a $1 million to prop up the TEC shadow dioceses and shadow congregations strategically created for the TEC litigation (got to see evidence of this strategy last week in court in Virginia), while sinking into at least $2 million in legal debt and yet call for "listening" with some unknown members of the CCP and not the actual moderator (the dissing of mentioning him in the EC resolution also speaks volumes about the broken trust and raises questions of sincerity).

It would be like King George III calling for a listening process with the the American colonists - why would he do that except to find a Benedict Arnold?

Which of course, King George did.


Anonymous said...

BB asks, like I asked at SF and Titus, "How much time passed between Gene Robinson's election and confirmation at GC 2003?"

No one answered my question (and I was asleep in the pews at the time), so I had to do some digging. I found this at the diocese of New Hampshire website: "V. Gene Robinson was elected Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire on June 7, 2003, having served as Canon to the Ordinary (Assistant to the Bishop) for nearly 18 years..."

GC 03 was held July 30-Aug 8th. Thus, it was about seven weeks to debate the "tearing of the fabric of the communion" (or, in reality, to make all those "Ask me about Gene" buttons).

I wonder how the revisionistas can sleep with themselves at night.

Unknown said...

Personally, I don't understand the hurry. I'd rather take 10 years and do it right.

TLF+ said...

The Dar es Salaam pastoral scheme addressed all of this, and was rejected by TEC in the name of "unique polity."

How in the world can this resolution be characterized as an "olive branch" when the one holding it out claims that it can't possibly understood and that all discussion is self-referential (and maybe even self-reverential)?

The ludicrous amount of executive power now centralized in the PB and the Executive Council goes against everything Episcopalians have been teaching and learning in Seminary, Confirmation classes or any other venue for most of the denomination's existence. "A church of councils and consensus... we have no Pope or pyramidal leadership structure... "untidy but lovable" (Tutu).

Anyway, serves the interests of the club members. Have fun.

TLF+ said...

oops- 2nd paragraph correction:

"...can't possibly be understood..."

Kurt said...

“Personally, I don't understand the hurry. I'd rather take 10 years and do it right.”-- ruidh

I agree. We should talk this thing to death for 10 years.

Kurt in Brooklyn, NY

Anonymous said...

ruidh says "Personally, I don't understand the hurry. I'd rather take 10 years and do it right."

Are you counseling a change of direction for TEC then? After all, after the evidence we have seen of the Robinson consecration, the reaction to DAR, the purported depositions of Schofield, Cox and Duncan, the mess in Virginia and San Joaquin....why should all of a sudden now, TEC slow down to make sure things "are done right"?

Unknown said...

I have neither faith in EC that their motives are pure, nor in CCP that they will be open to dialogue with the "apostate" (their word, not mine) TEC.
In my opinion, the leaders of both groups have been so consumed with vilifying the other that there is simply no modicum of trust left that will allow discussion to occur (without the intervention of divine grace, at any rate).
Sorry to be so cynical, but I'll believe it when I see it.

If the EC is sincere, putting the lawsuits against CCP on pause while the olive branch is extended would be a convincing statement.