Friday, July 13, 2012

The Eighth Legislative Day

No committee meetings on this final day of convention, for obvious reasons. Just a pedal-to-the-medal press in both houses to get through the legislative calendar. This is more difficult for the House of Deputies, which is so large that one wag once compared it to the Supreme Soviet. By midday they were limiting debate to one minute per speaker, and later on agreed "no more amendments" (which effectively kill a resolution this late in the convention). The HoB is a rather saner environment, for which I am grateful.

The most significant work the bishops did was to unite rather resoundingly around the traditional understanding of sacramental order by which Holy Baptism is the gateway sacrament to all the others. We had a resolution from the Evangelism Committee, approved by the House of Deputies by a rather wide margin, that began by affirming the norm of Baptism leading to Eucharist, but concluded with an obliquely descriptive sentence that was clearly (given the entire context of the conversation) intended to provide leeway for the practice of "open table." Not one bishop spoke in favor of this language. Several (including YFNB) spoke against it in very strong terms. Eventually it was amended to remove the final sentence, with everyone aware that, in so doing, we were likely consigning it to "die in the bowels of the House of Deputies" (in the artful extemporaneous language of the Presiding Bishop), and this was passed resoundingly. I could not hear a dissenting vote, though I suspect there may have been a few. This was a happy outcome.

Somewhere around forty of the resolutions passed by this General Convention--a bunch of them on the last day--had to do with "social justice" and public policy issues. I went on record very early in the convention that it is bad practice for us to even consider resolutions like this. Not only does the U.S. government (to say nothing of foreign governments) not care what we think, but, in most cases, we don't have enough expertise to know what we're talking about, and the whole thing is needlessly polarizing in an already contentious political atmosphere in the church. To be more pointed: One could surmise, looking only at these resolutions, that the General Convention is the spiritual arm of the Democratic Party. But ... while the positions themselves are consistently well left of center (for example, support for the Dream Act, support for the Affordable Care Act, support for every aspiration of organized labor, condemnation of the banking industry), many of the voice votes affirming these positions in the HoB was less than resounding. Well less than resounding. My guess is that there was in many cases a majority of effective abstentions, and a lot of eye rolling over how these things clutter our agenda. It's just that very few (YFNB excepted) are keen on going audibly on record against the regnant progressive orthodoxy championed passionately by a relatively small number of enthusiasts on two committees: Social & Urban Affairs and National & International Concerns. If we could euthanize these two committees, we could have shorter conventions that focus much more efficiently on the work we really need to be doing.

A goodly number of other resolution are in the "feel good" category (affirm this, encourage that, commend something else). Most of these are completely non-controversial in their substance, but they're unnecessary. That take up committee time and clog the legislative calendar. Let's find a way to incentivize restraint in this area.

In the area of structural reform--responding to the crisis of ecclesial identity--General Convention spoke with a forked tongue. We passed a bold omnibus resolution on structure. It creates a Special Task Force, appointed by the presiding officers, but then operating outside their participation, control, or even oversight--that will begin the work of re-inventing the governance and administration of the Episcopal Church, and then summon what, for most practical purposes, amounts to a constitutional convention. This is far-reaching and "outside the box." But when presented with a couple of opportunities to unequivocally frost the cake, there was a failure of nerve. The Deputies were up to the task on one of them, passing a resolution that would have removed the requirement that a Presiding Bishop-elect promptly resign office in order to accept the new position, thus creating the possibility for a return to the part-time role that the PB exercised for most of TEC's history. But the bishops balked at this--twice, actually, because of a procedural error. I find this regrettable. Then there was a resolution that, in my mind, would have given the Special Task Force a huge jump start on its work: Eliminate all "interim bodies" (standing groups, known as CCABs, that meet and work and create work for themselves during each triennium), instead empowering the presiding officers to appoint task forces to deal with specific concurred resolutions that call for particular action, and then ride off into the sunset when that work is accomplished. We didn't do it; again, a failure of nerve.

On a personal note, I'm extremely gratified that the resolution I authored--B009--to allow bishops to authorize congregations that request it to use the lectionary for Sundays and Holy Days as it was originally printed in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, after an uphill battle in Committee 13 on two separate occasions, was concurred late yesterday by the House of Deputies. This is a small victory, and I would gladly trade it for A049 if given the chance (!), but I walked out of the convention center with a smile.

NOTE: This blog will be going dark for a while. Tomorrow I board a plane for Bangkok, where I will join Bishop Michael Smith of North Dakota in representing the Communion Partners bishops at a Global South Anglican conference on mission a networking. When I return a week later, my annual vacation begins, and I will be significantly "unplugging." So it will be at least late August before I post here again. I will continue my diary blog (at least I plan to) while in Thailand.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Seventh Legislative Day

Most of the committees had finished their work before today, but mine met for our full 90 minutes this morning, and then some. I had forgotten that B009 (1979 lectionary), which was voted "Adopt" yesterday by the bishops, needed to come back to committee--more precisely, the deputies on the committee. So I and my colleague bishops had to sit in silence and listen to the debate. There was still strong opposition, which baffles me, but in the end, both sanity and charity prevailed, and the message going to the full HoD will be with a "Concur" recommendation. For this I am grateful.

Then we spend most of the rest of our time considering the resolution on canonically authorized Bible translations. After being passed by the Bishops, the Deputies amended it to include the English Standard Version (ESV), but not without some controversy. Its provenance in the Reformed evangelical tradition makes it suspect to some. Personally, I think it's highly preferable to the NRSV as a text, though I'm not endorsing the notes, introductions, and general critical apparatus. After tortuous parliamentary wrangling, we voted to more the ESV to its own resolution, on which we recommend referral to the SCLM for further study during the coming triennium, and sent the rest of it on to the HoB. Since bishops already have the authority to permit whatever translation they set fit, I'm wondering whether we need to just get rid of any list of "preferred" versions. 

Overall, I'm sensing (or maybe I'm just wishing it--I don't know) a bit more grace and charity from the majority toward those who seem to usually be on the losing end of votes. After all, they got their "big one" yesterday, so they can afford to be benevolent. It doesn't cost them anything. I'm already getting the "we're so glad you're still with us" comments, just like I was getting at this point in convention three years ago.

One of the talking points we made in the A049 debate was that, as a result of its passage, the rate at which the Episcopal Church is already losing members would only increase. Indeed, it's already happening. I have a steady trickle of emails, Facebook messages and status updates, and blog comments that testify to the fact that we weren't just blowing smoke when we said that. Makes the heart sad.

The House of Bishops continued to plow through legislation, always with the warning that, when the question is whether to concur with an action already taken by the Deputies, any amendments or substitutes will effectively kill the resolution, because the clock runs out tomorrow. The big ones were the budget,  and the omnibus structure resolution that was the fruit of very hard labor in committee and passed unanimously in the House of Deputies. We did the same. And we passed the budget too. (I abstained from the latter out of ethical considerations; my diocese is not paying its proportional share of the DFMS program and is not likely to begin doing so during the coming triennium.) Unfortunately, we couldn't bring that same courage and vision to the question of even allowing the option of the Presiding Bishop remaining in charge of a diocese upon election as Primate. Our refusal to do this will make the work of the structure task force that much more complex.

So it's pretty much all now over but the shouting ... and there isn't even very much of that. I have begun to nourish a fond hope that there might somehow (not at convention, but later) be an informal meeting of those who are driving the majority agenda in TEC with those who are finding themselves a disappearing minority. The question at that meeting would be, "What has to happen for you to declare victory and give it all a rest?" I have grown intensely weary of opposing whatever The Next Big Thing is. So let's just fast forward to the end: What does Mission Accomplished look like? And in that scenario, is there a place for people like me? Not as tokens, or near-strangers, but in a way in which we can maintain our full integrity. I really wish for that.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Sixth Legislative Day

  • Dismayed in the morning committee meeting when my resolution to authorize use of the 1979 lectionary came up for debate and was soundly defeated--sent to the HoB with a recommendation to "Discharge: Acted on in a Previous Convention." Where's the love?
  • This was the day the bishops were allowed on to the floor of the House of Deputies for a joint session in order to hear the co-chairs of Program, Budget, & Finance present the proposed budget for the triennium. I'm not a numbers wonk, and I've only been following the process of budget formation (politically charged) rather than paying much attention to the budget itself. So I don't have much to say. They suggest it's balanced. Of course, this depends on the strength of the income projections, which can be a big "if." No, a huge one.
  • The House of Bishops was once again a legislative machine. But we did manage to get all in a twist over a proposed canon on what to do when a bishop and a diocese find themselves in an unhappy marriage. We were in the midst of debating a proposed amendment to a proposed amendment to the main resolution when the whole thing got tabled until we could have private conversation about it at the beginning of the afternoon session. It was then given to an ad hoc task group to cut the Gordian knot and come up with a fix that we can consider tomorrow. The issue in question is precisely what class of bishops (all, active, diocesan being the categories), and under what circumstances (by mail, at a physical meeting) can vote when the question is forcing a bishop to resign.
  • To my delight, when my lectionary resolution came to the floor, I spoke from my heart, and the committee's recommendation was reversed, by a very comfortable margin. Now it goes to the House of Deputies.
  • A fairly hefty percentage of bishops and deputies are prone to Israel-bashing. So I was pleased that, owing to the hard work and strategizing of a handful of bishops and deputies, the most offensive resolutions on the subject of Middle East peace were cast aside, and the one we passed is very fair, in my opinion, to the interests of both the Israelis and the Palestinians. Of course ... it's not like anyone cares what this convention thinks on the subject.
  • We also concurred with the deputies on the resolution concerning the Anglican Covenant, which is: We can't decide. Of course, I would have liked an unequivocal Yes. But a great many others would have liked an unequivocal No. So I'm claiming this as a victory.

Monday, July 09, 2012

The Fifth Legislative Day

I have closely followed every General Convention since 1976, and I have attended every General Convention since 2003 (making this my fourth). In every one of them, there was some major issue (always related in one way or another to sex or sexuality) about which I and those I hang out with in this church have been highly anxious about, fearing dire consequences if a certain action was taken. And every time, the feared action has been taken, wounds have been licked, and, most of the time, the dire consequences have, in fact, ensued. And somehow I still am where I am--actually, with a much more entrenched "insider" role than I ever would have imagined--and it's only on odd-numbered days (or is it even? I can't remember) that I can coherently explain why.

Today, that event for this General Convention happened. The House of Bishops voted (by roll call, 111 to 41, with three abstentions) to authorize the use of a standard liturgical form for same-sex marriage. The House of Deputies is certain to concur. I believe this is a huge mistake, on several levels. It's not scriptural, it's not traditional, and it's not reasonable. It's an ecumenical nightmare and an inter-Anglican train wreck. I'm very sad about it this evening. My sadness is not as profound as it was in prior years with their events. I'm kind of used to it now, and I'm able to shake off the sting a little more readily than I once could. But I'm still sad.

Yes, it's a dark cloud. But there is a silver lining. It could have been worse. In the Committee 13 debate this morning, we were able to greatly strengthen the language that not only gives bishops the authority to prohibit use of the rite in their diocese, but offers both clergy and laity concrete safeguards to protect them from retribution or canonical impairment because of this position on same-sex marriage--in the case of clergy, refusal to preside at this rite. I have been abundantly clear in the Diocese of Springfield that this form, or anything like it, will not be authorized for use.

So now we await the dire consequences, which are sure to come. The Episcopal Church will quietly lose more members (or sometimes noisily). The majority of the Anglican world will distance itself even further from us. Ecumenical relations will grow still colder. The lives of Christians who live on the frontier with Islam will be placed in even greater jeopardy. And, somehow, God will remain faithful beyond anything we can ask or imagine.

We did a few other things today as well, most of them relatively meaningless. More public policy statements, unfunded mandates, and "requests" that dioceses and congregations encourage this and advocate for than and study the other thing, which will actually get done ... virtually nowhere. That's the reason they all pass on overwhelming voice votes, because all bishops realize that they are completely at liberty to utterly forget about these resolutions the minute they get up from the table when the house recesses.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

The Fourth Legislative Day

When we gather like this to make Eucharist, we offer all that we are and have for this work.  That little exchange that starts, “lift up your hearts,” is about entering another reality – some old translators put it, “hearts aloft!”  Get moving!  Go cross the frontier between heaven and earth – boldly go where Jesus has gone before – and invite others to go with you to help build the world that God intended at creation.   
So – mortals, prophets – stand up!  God is sending you to a rebellious house, full of impudent and stubborn folks.  As the prophet Pogo said, “is us.!" Your job is to go and say, “Listen up – here’s the deal, God’s got a better world in mind, and you are needed to help make it happen.”  And once you’ve started the conversation about good news, keep moving, keep showing and telling the world what God’s dream looks like.
We heard these words near the conclusion of the Presiding Bishop's homily this morning at the principal General Convention celebration of the Eucharist. It was not bad liturgy, as hotel ballroom celebrations go. The music was consistently wonderful. I was surprised and grateful that it was straight Prayer Book, with nothing doctored. Eucharistic Prayer C was used, which is certainly not my favorite, but at least the text used was right out of the book, without the tweaking of that prayer that is so ubiquitous these days.

That sermon, though. 

I can track with the PB's zeal for a mission-driven church. I share her evident interest in paying attention to society as it heads down the road of secularization. She has a gift of being able to put a compelling rhetorical flourish on her thoughts. But I am saddened by her underlying missional vision. It is way too tame, way too earthbound. 

The parables of the summertime "green season" are rife with reminders that we do not "make it happen." We don't even "help" God make it happen. "God has no hands but ours" is pure theological claptrap. We are not responsible for bringing in God's kingdom; God is responsible for bringing in God's kingdom. Our job--the job of Christ-followers--is to announce the kingdom, to model the kingdom in our common life, and to ride the wave of what God is doing. 

But God does not in any way depend on us, much less need our "help." There is no number of resolutions we can pass, no amount of money we can budget, no number of programs we can initiate or organize, that will hasten the progress of the Kingdom of God one second. The good news is that neither is there anything we can do, or fail to do, that will retard that progress one second. 

Our job is probably also to get past ourselves and our own self-importance ... especially at places like General Convention.

In other news ... 

The first hour of the House of Bishop's legislative session this afternoon was devoted, as has been our custom, to private conversation. I can reveal what went on there today, because the House voted to make it public. I personally moved a mind-of-the-house resolution that affirms Bishops Ohl, Talton, Price, and Buchanan as the legitimate bishops of the Episcopal Church dioceses of Fort Worth, San Joaquin, Pittsburgh, and Quincy, respectively. This motion carried on a unanimous roll call vote. And it is in no way inconsistent with the amicus curiae brief that seven of us recently signed. My sense is that this has significantly lowered the thermostat in relations between the bishops. What effect it might have on the Title IV complaints remains to be seen. But I am hopeful.

Our legislative calendar was short. There's a small disconnect in synchronicity between the work of the committees and the work of legislation. It does seem that we could get through convention much more expeditiously if we eliminated the committees on Social & Urban Affairs and National & International Concerns, which constantly ask convention to make statements about things we don't actually have any influence over, and "call on" dioceses and parishes to do a bunch of things that the vast majority of them will never even hear about, let alone do. What will it take for us to get unstuck from the 1960s? Probably the death of a bunch of baby-boomers. I'm not volunteering.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

The Third Legislative Day

Less committee time, more legislative time. That's the point we've reached in this convention.

Committee 13 heard testimony on B009, Authorize Use of the 1979 Lectionary. There was one "expert" witness who showed up to testify against it. He was given five minutes--more than double the usual allotment. All he did was put forward a rationale for the Revised Common Lectionary, but this seemed pointless, as B009 does nothing to challenge the official status of the RCL. As the author of the resolution, I was given equal time. I characterized it as an act of pastoral charity. We won't have an opportunity to debate it in committee until Monday.

We then spent the rest of our time discussing the details for tonight's hearing on A049--in effect, a rite for same-sex weddings.

The House of Bishops was a legislative machine. I made my stock speech once on the folly of passing resolutions that speak to public policy on matters about which Christians of good will and an informed conscience might legitimately disagree. I then proceeded to vote No several times--on issues ranging from statehood for the District of Columbia to advocacy for the Affordable Care Act. I was, of course, on the losing side each and every time. If I were in charge, we would dissolve the Committee on Social and Urban Affairs. IMO, they just clutter the docket with a secular political agenda.

  • We defeated a resolution that would have restricted the votes of various categories of bishops who are not active diocesans when a matter involves the allocation of funds. I voted with the winners on this one.
  • We rejected funding (if my notes are correct) for the General Board of Examining Chaplains, despite the fact that their existence is canonically mandated, effectively killing the General Ordination Exams.
  • We agreed to a slow phase-in of the mandatory requirement that parishes and schools provide pensions plans for lay employees.
  • We passed a resolution that affirms our continued full-communion with the ELCA, but calls for more focused attention to two issues on which our paths diverge: lay presidency at the Eucharist and the nature of diaconal ministry.
  • We reaffirmed our commitment to the Millennium Development Goals
  • Rather to the consternation of anybody in the room who is involved with theological education, we narrowly passed a resolution that tasks the Standing Committee on Ministry Development with some rather unwieldy and intrusive oversight work in connection with the seminaries and other formation programs.
  • We had long debate, with several attempts to amend, of a resolution that seeks to increase the pressure on dioceses (like Springfield) that pay less than the full asking from the national church. Eventually, with a push from the Presiding Bishop, it got re-referred to committee for further work.
  • We passed, on second reading, a constitutional amendment that will remove the House of Deputies from the consent process for bishops elected within 120 of General Convention, and send everything to the Standing Committees. This is now in the hands of the Deputies.
These are just some of the highlights. I'll mention one more: A059 passed. This is the one that amends the Prayer Book (thus requiring passage at two successive conventions) in order to fix the discrepancy between the lectionary for Ash Wednesday and Holy Week as printed in the back of the Prayer Book since 2006, and the readings set forth on the actual pages where those rites are found. There is much confusion about this, and I fear that many of my colleagues did not understand what we were doing. I'm certain that many on Committee 13 did not. Maybe somebody would like to carry this water in the House of Deputies.

At the beginning of our afternoon session, there was another hour of private discussion regarding the complaints from the Bishops of Fort Worth and Quincy stemming from the amicus brief that I and several other bishops signed. The rules of the house prevent me from saying anything more about that here, but I believe things are headed in a positive and helpful direction.

Friday, July 06, 2012

The Second Legislative Day

We're settling into a routine now: Early morning committee meetings for two hours, break for Eucharist, 90 minute legislative session, break for lunch, two hours back in committees, 30 minute "passing" break, two hours in legislative session. Some committees then have evening meetings. It's grueling, and this introvert of heading toward tilt.

Committee 13 heard testimony on proposed liturgical rites having to do with animals, honoring God in creation, and forms for daily prayer that would serve as a more accessible alternative to the Prayer Book offices. If I remember correctly at this late hour, I believe we proposed authorizing the animal and creation material for use, but leaving them in the custody of the SCLM for "perfection" before the 78th General Convention in 2015. We're still working on the Daily Prayer material, having gotten the impression that the SCLM doesn't really want it back. So we've farmed it out to sub-committees, thinking that we're probably going to have to wordsmith this one on our own at this convention.

The House of Bishops began to sink it's teeth into resolutions sent over by committees, and the teeth were sharp. I think we may have voted to reject more resolutions than we voted to adopt. This included a week in May to honor "older Americans," and funding for meetings of the SCLM. The general angst about re-structuring is driving this newly-found frugality, I believe. Stay tuned. This may yet get interesting.

We also consented to the consecration of eight new bishops-elect, who were then welcomed into the house have given seat and voice.

At the beginning of the afternoon legislative session, there was an hour in private session devoted to discussion of the tensions arising from the amicus curiae brief that I signed in April, along with several colleagues. Earlier in the day, the amici met to agree on the text of a letter explaining our collective position. (I don't have an electronic copy and am not yet aware of its existence on the internet, so I'm unable to provide a link.) Rules of the house prevent me from saying very much more about a private session, but I think it's safe to say that the matter is not yet resolved. I can also say that everything was done with courtesy and civility.

UPDATE: Here's a link to the response of the amici to the letter from Bishops Ohl and Buchanan.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

The First Legislative Day

Toward the beginning of every General Convention, the initial focus of energy and time is in committee meetings. Every resolution has to be reviewed by a committee before it arrives at the "house of initial action." So there isn't much to do in the legislative sessions because the committees haven't had a chance to create very much work for them yet. As time goes on, the proportion shifts. Committee meetings are shorter and less frequent, and the legislative sessions begin to feel like marathons. Today is known in General Convention parlance as the "first legislative day." Both houses met, indulged in some formalities that make sense only because that's the way we've always done it, and are a manifestation of bygone eras in the church's life. And we began to actually act on some resolutions. Tomorrow sometime, we in the House of Bishops should actually begin to receive messages from the House of Deputies (and vice versa), and our action will be to "concur" (or not), thus formally enacting legislation (or not).

The committee on which I serve--Committee 13 on Prayer Book, Liturgy, and Worship--spent its time in two major areas. One combined the intent of two resolutions and call for the creation of a special Task Force to produce a study on the theology of marriage, and to include in that study guidelines for churches in states where same-sex (we actually changed it to "sex" from "gender") marriage and/or legal domestic partnerships are recognized. I spoke against this resolution, and voted against it. In the abstract, I would be enthusiastically in favor of producing a theological study of the sacrament of Christian marriage. But it is evident to me that the conclusion is all but foregone, and this is simply a vehicle by which the ultimate goal of those proposing the resolution can be delivered, which is recognition of marriage as a compact between any two consenting adults, regardless of sex (or gender, depending on how one understands it). I which we could just be honest about that rather than going through a charade.

The other issue was the sanctoral calendar. The current project in that area, Holy Women, Holy Men, is really a train wreck. I proposed a rather drastic substitute resolution that would have pressed the reset button and just allowed us all to take a collective deep breath and not do anything at this convention. My proposal elicited some interest and sympathy, but was defeated rather handily. Then somebody else proposed another substitute, which was eventually adopted, and this is what we are reporting out. It keeps HWHM in trial use, but reaffirms the already-enunciated criteria that have been effectively ignored in the compilation of the list of "saints," and removes the language about producing a final product available for "first reading" in 2015. This is certainly a better result than the original resolution. But unless the SCLM begins to "get it," I'm skeptical about the chance of meaningful change.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Piecemeal Prayer Book Revision

Maybe I'm paranoid. Or perhaps not.

In 2006, General Convention adopted the Revised Common Lectionary (slightly tweaked) as the official lectionary of the Episcopal Church for celebrations of the Holy Eucharist on Sundays and Holy Days. Apparently, the constitution specifies that, which the body of the Prayer Book is part of the constitution, and therefore takes two General Conventions to amend, the lectionary, while for the sake of convenience bound with the Prayer Book, is not actually part of it, and can therefore be amended by resolution at one convention. And that's what we did.

Except ... it seems to have escaped everyone's attention that the section of the BCP labeled Proper Liturgies for Special Days sets forth scripture readings for Ash Wednesday, Holy Week, and the Paschal Triduum. So Prayer Books printed since 2006 manifest an inherent conflict between the lectionary as printed in the back of the book (RCL) and the readings in Proper Liturgies for Special Days.


So, along comes the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music with the solution: Resolution A-059, which proposes revising the Book of Common Prayer to fix this anomaly: swap out the RCL lections for the ones printed presently in the body of the book. This is presented without concealment as Prayer Book revision, which is a constitutional change, and therefore requires two readings at successive conventions.

This afternoon, Committee 13 (Prayer Book, Liturgy, and Church Music) considered A-059. Now, quite apart from my general lack of fondness for the RCL, which I have not hidden, I have a deep concern about the process being followed here. In the history of the Episcopal Church, the process for Prayer Book revision has been reserved for ... actual Prayer Book revision. And there have been only four, beginning with the original 1789 model. We have resisted the temptation to "fix" it bit by bit, piecemeal. 

Until now. Proponents of A-059 insist that this is a one-time deal, an inelegant but necessary patch to take care of an unforeseen development. Color me skeptical. The machinery of Prayer Book revision could well turn out to be an addictive drug for those with access to the controls. If this one works, it won't be too difficult shoot up one more time, and then once more, and in a handful of triennia, we could have a substantially different Prayer Book. The liturgy for Marriage would probably be the first to go, but it wouldn't be the last.

To my dismay, though not to my surprise, my efforts were to no avail, and A-059 was referred to the House of Bishops (customarily the "house of initial actions" for all matters liturgical). But there's more. Instead of being sent over merely with a "recommendation to adopt," it will arrive tomorrow morning in the HoB as part of something called the Consent Calendar, which is a time-saving device to dispatch resolutions that are thought to be non-controversial and will not elicit debate. This means it won't even get discussed. In order to remove the resolution from the consent calendar, I will need to find two other bishops to join me in asking for such, and then it would require a majority vote of the house. That would enable us to at least talk about it, but I'm not optimistic. 

If any Deputies are reading this who share my concerns, you also, by the rules of the HoD, have an opportunity to remove it from the Consent Calendar and give it a fair hearing. But you will need to be vigilant, and ready to pounce on the microphone stand just at the right moment. 

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Speaking Truth in Love

I had hoped the news would not leak out as quickly as it did, mostly because I was away from home and not able to respond at any length as it was breaking. Now I'm home, with about 36 hours before leaving for Indianapolis and the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church. I am distressed that the convention, which was already going to be a tense time, will be complicated ever further by the fact that nine bishops--four retired, one soon to retire, one suffragan, and three active diocesans--were notified Friday and Saturday by the Title IV Intake Officer of the Episcopal Church, Bishop Clay Matthews, that we (I am, in fact, one of the nine) are potential respondents to a misconduct complaint. 

For two of these nine (Beckwith, Salmon), the foundation of the complaint is that they executed affidavits that were filed in civil litigation between the ACNA incarnation of the Diocese of Quincy and the Episcopal Church incarnation of the same. They contested the account given to the court by TEC lawyers that the Episcopal Church is a unitary hierarchical church at every level--i.e. that bishops and dioceses are in hierarchical authority over clergy and people, and that the Presiding Bishop and General Convention are in hierarchical authority over bishops and dioceses. Six others (Benitez, Howe, Lambert, Stanton, Love, and YFNB) are accused because we added our names to an amicus curiae brief that was filed in a similar legal proceeding between the two incarnations the Diocese of Fort Worth, contending here, as did the affidavits in the Quincy case, that the true polity of the Episcopal Church, when one carefully considers our history, theology, and the language of our constitution and canons, is one of a voluntary confederation of dioceses which accede to the constitutional and canonical authority of General Convention for purposes of church order and effective mission, but which retain a measure of autonomy as ecclesiastical integers, the historic fundamental unit of the church. Bishop Bruce McPherson, soon to retire as diocesan of Western Louisiana, enjoys the distinction of being named in both complaints.

I cannot presume to speak for any of the other eight, but I need to be clear that my intention in attaching my name to the amicus brief was in no way to affect the outcome of that case. As the Bishop of Springfield, which is in Illinois, it is no concern of mine how a property dispute in Texas is resolved. If my action has the effect of aiding one side or the other, that is, from my perspective, an immaterial consequence. Rather, I took the action I did with the best interests of the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Springfield, as nearly as I can discern them, at heart. My principal concern was to not leave unchallenged the assertion that the Episcopal Church is a unitary hierarchical organism at all levels, and that the dioceses are entirely creatures of General Convention. I viewed signing the amicus brief as consistent with my vow to uphold the doctrine and discipline of the Episcopal Church. 

I certainly signed on reluctantly and reservedly. As a matter of general principle, I am opposed to litigating church disputes in secular courts. Lots of scripture passages are challenging to interpret, but I don't think I Corinthians 10 is one of them. "Why not rather be defrauded?", St Paul says. Moreover, I realize how my action could be construed as one bishop interfering in the affairs of a fellow bishop's diocese, which is a big No-No. So I had to make a judgment call, and my judgment, after reflection and prayer, was that I had to join the intervention, because to allow such a false read of TEC polity to potentially help form legal precedent constitutes a danger that could bring harm to the church for decades to come, and resisting this outcome trumps my other concerns.

As an illuminating case in point, I would draw your attention to a resolution we will be considering next week in Indianapolis, A101, Convene Consultation on Diocesan Effectiveness. This resolution asks for a study of “the potential for re-aligning dioceses to maximize their effective witness and ministry.” While this may be a relatively small thing in itself, and might actually make good sense, if the top-down (with General Convention as the “top”) hierarchical model is accepted, then it sets in motion a potential chain of events that could end with General Convention imposing redrawn boundaries on dioceses without their consent. At a time when the Episcopal Church is shrinking, especially in more sparsely populated areas of the country, this is not idle speculation. If the interpretation of our polity offered by the attorneys for the Episcopal Church in Quincy and Fort Worth is allowed to prevail, there is nothing at all that could prevent such a scenario. It's one thing if two or more dioceses decide they want to shuffle and re-deal the cards voluntarily. It's quite another for that to be imposed on them. It would not be anything that our forebears in this church would recognize.

I respect those who have a contrary understanding of our polity. While it is always possible that I could be mistaken—it has happened several times—I am at present confident in the correctness of the view I hold. I recognize that taking this discussion into the secular courts certainly escalates tension and raises the stakes, which is regrettable. My chief concern is that a very particular property dispute in Texas not become the vehicle for supporting an erroneous understanding of the polity of the church to which I am committed, the constitution and canons of which I have freely vowed to uphold, and to which my diocese freely accedes. 

Now for some important technicalities.

As of this date, all that has happened is that the nine of us have been informed that a complaint has been received, that the complaint is in connection (in my case) to our having signed the amicus brief in Texas, and that the matter is being looked into by the Intake Officer. It is Bishop Matthews' obligation to make a determination whether, if true, the complaint constitutes an offense under Title IV. So it could still be--a consummation devoutly to be wished--that he will dismiss the complaint for lack of merit. Or, if he determines that a misconduct may actually have been committed, he will send the matter to a body called the Reference Panel. This group functions sort of like a grand jury, and it will be their job to determine whether to "indict." If they do so, it then falls to the Conference Panel to hear testimony and issue a judgment. It is then up to the Presiding Bishop either to negotiate an accord with the respondents, or prescribe sentence. The penalty could range from a letter called a Pastoral Directive all the way to deposition (the latter would need to be approved by the House of Bishops). 

The Title IV canons protect the anonymity of an accuser. In an instance of something like sexual abuse, this perhaps make sense. In the current matter, it manifestly does not. It is difficult to imagine, however, that the complainants are not from the Diocese of Fort Worth. If this is the case, I quite understand their motivation. They feel wounded by what they perceived as an oppressive majoritarian regime under Bishop Iker, and bereft of much that has been near and dear to them as the institutional and most of the material infrastructure of the diocese was pulled out from under them. And as they seek redress of grievances in the secular courts, here come interlopers who are supposedly from their own church aiding and abetting the cause of their opponent. They are hurt and they are angry, and people who are hurt and angry often take ill-considered actions. I very much regret not personally phoning their provisional bishop, Wallis Ohl, at the time I signed the brief. I truly hate being blind-sided, and now I am guilty of doing it. I intend to apologize to him when I see him in Indianapolis.

My best guess is that this will all go away before it gets out of hand. For what it's worth, I tend to think it's exactly what it appears to be--some hurt and angry people in Forth Worth taking intemperate action. My heart truly goes out to them. But as I and others examine Title IV, even with its very broad categories of misconduct, it is virtually impossible to see how what we did is a canonical offense. I don't think there's a conspiracy here. I don't think the Presiding Bishop is involved. I honestly don't. I could be wrong, of course. Undoubtedly, this will come up in Indianapolis, at least in private conversations among the bishops. But there's plenty of other important stuff to do there for the sake of our church, and I am praying for the grace to not be distracted by this latest bump in the road. Of your charity, pray with me.