Friday, June 15, 2007

Self-Inflicted Wounds

Through a combination of circumstances--sheer longevity being the most relevant, I suspect--the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church is not an abstraction to me. I have at least a mutual name-face recognition relationship with many of the members. One of them is even a parishioner of mine. Most of the members whom I know, I hold in high personal regard, and when we're not talking about the business of the church, I enjoy their company. Whatever follows (and I'm never entirely sure when I begin a post--these things more or less write themselves) needs to be held in that context.

I'm not impressed with what has come out of the just-concluded regular meeting of the Executive Council. I don't doubt the sincerity of the actions taken and statements produced. I just doubt their wisdom and their effectiveness. Let's take a look at some parts of the statement of response to the most recent Primates' Communique. (First, I'll register my pro forma objection to their even taking up the subject, since the Primates never addressed anything to them. But...whatever.)

Conversations among Anglican sisters and brothers during the past several years have raised important questions of Anglican identity and authority. These questions speak to the nature of relationships among us. We understand the requests made by the Primates from Dar es Salaam in February, 2007 as a good-faith contribution to that on-going conversation.

This is gracious in tone but condescending in content. It fails to take note of the urgency of the Primate's requests and ignores the context in which those requests were made. Yes, this is an ongoing conversation, but it's a conversation in the midst of a crisis, a crisis initiated by the behavior of the Episcopal Church.

Still, the requests of the Primates are of a nature that can only properly be dealt with by our General Convention.

This is positively Kafkaesque! Aside from the fact (forgive me for beating a dead horse) that Executive Council was never addressed by the Primates--only the Bishops were--a response of this sort defies credulity. It sets the whole "conversation" onto an endless loop from which it can never be delivered. Two points seem eminently worth making: First, the statement is just plain wrong. If Executive Council cannot interpret the actions of General Convention, why does it exist? At a diocesan level, Standing Committees and Diocesan Councils routinely interpret the mind of the Diocesan Convention when that convention is not called to order, on a whole range of subjects. Second, the very fact that such a response could be seriously offered reveals the inherent weakness of our (apparently sacred) polity--that is, if only General Convention can authoritatively interpret its own actions, TEC can never be taken seriously as a partner in any endeavor--missional, ecumenical, social, or anything--by any other church. Could there possibly be a more cumbersome way to do business? It would be like the U.S. government trying to prosecute a war, but insisting that every command decision in the field be ratified by a joint session of Congress. Is that really "our polity"? Or is "our polity" actually just a convenient excuse to indefinitely avoid dealing with the concerns of the rest of the Anglican Communion?

Assertions of authority met by counter-assertions of polity are not likely to lead to the reconciliation we seek.

This is probably the truest and most enlightened sentence in the entire statement.

As important as we hold our polity, the questions before us now are fundamentally relational. Our salvation is not in law but in the grace of God in Jesus Christ our Savior; so too with our relationships as Anglicans. One part of this grace is that we, all of us, are bound together irrevocably into the body of Christ by the Holy Spirit through the waters of Baptism.

All perfectly true, but the effect is to obfuscate rather than clarify. If it is Baptism that binds us together in Christ, then we are also bound together with Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and the Church of God (of both Anderson, Indiana and Cleveland, Tennessee--take your pick). But we're not having this "conversation" with them, are we? Well, in some cases, maybe we are, but not in a state of crisis, of the imminent meltdown of our ecclesial life as we have known it. Let's keep it real: This mess is between Anglicans, and as pious as it sounds to invoke the theology of baptism, that isn't the field this game is being played on.

We cannot tell our brothers and sisters with certainty what the future holds or where the Holy Spirit will guide this Church.

I am eager to assume that whoever drafted this sentence was not intentionally trying to make it sound hubristic. But it sounds hubristic. Is there more than one Holy Spirit? Is the Holy Spirit going to lead "this Church" one way and lead other churches in the opposite direction? Or is "the Holy Spirit" just a euphemism for majority rule? If we believe any of this, we are pneumatologically challenged.

We can say with certainty that we have heard what some of our sisters and brothers have said about our actions with the utmost seriousness. We have attempted to respond to those concerns sensitively and positively. The sincerity of The Episcopal Church's responses to matters before the Anglican Communion, particularly the responses of the General Convention 2006, have been attested to by the Report of the Communion Sub-Group of the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates' Meeting and the Anglican Consultative Council.

SPIN ALERT!!!!! The Sub-Group report was, at best, a "conditional pass," or a "pass with concern." It said straight out that General Convention failed to address the requests of the Windsor Report in the area of same-sex blessings. And whatever positive assessment it gave in the other two areas is predicated wholly on the sort of clarifying assurance that both the House of Bishops and now Executive Council expressly decline to give.

The advice of the larger community will continue to find reflection in the actions we take.

How? So far, the advice has fallen on deaf ears. What is likely to change?

We have received from the House of Bishops of our Church a request to decline to participate in the proposed Pastoral Scheme; with an explanation for the reasons our bishops believe that the scheme is ill-advised. We agree with the bishops' assessment including the conclusion that to participate in the scheme would violate our Constitution and Canons. We thus decline to participate in the Pastoral Scheme and respectfully ask our Presiding Bishop not to take any of the actions asked of her by this scheme.

But we take the advice of the rest of the Communion with utmost seriousness. Hmmm.

I could pick at other parts, but my comments would be along the same lines as what I've already said.

One final salvo: Council passed a resolution--authored and moved by the Bishop of Lexington, the resident legal eagle of the HOB--that presumes to nullify any constitutional changes dioceses have previosly made in their own constitutions that have the effect of qualifying their accession to the constitution and canons of TEC. Of course, neither Bishop Sauls nor anyone else expects these dioceses to go "Oh, our bad!" and promptly remediate the offending language in their constitutions. The resolution is by way of jockeying for postion, establishing a paper trail, in future litigation over property.

Well, prudence is, after all, a virtue. But, you gotta hate it when the lawyers are running the show, and decisions are driven by legal considerations rather than...oh, the proverbial "right thing." The irony is that the passage of this resolution, before it ever has a chance to be deployed on the field of legal battle, will have the effect of hardening the resolve of the pertinent dioceses to either maintain or increase the distance they have put (or believe themselves to have put) between themselves and the main body of the Episcopal Church. A little love along the way would have the effect of obviating the need for legal battles. You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.


Anonymous said...

Well, yes Stacy Sauls is the legal beagle and he is establishing a paper trail. Good for Stacy. And, on the issue of what the Exec Con can and can't do, I don't know, but what they said was that they could not commit the church for the future. In that they are right. When the committee of the whole meets, the GC, in 2009, any decision reached by the Ex. Com can be overridden. With you, I would think that the Ex. Comm can act in the interim. But that's a legal question....Should we ask +Stacy?

But I also question the assumption that the HofB can/can not do. The problem here is that, yes they can do what is asked. They have the raw power to do so, but I don't believe they have the authority to do what is asked. For many primates particularly ++Akinola, power and authority are co-terminus in him. Happily that's not the TEC approach.

Could this look like so much TEC fudge, well, maybe depending upon your point of view. The document did address the PV scheme as developed in Tanzania. +++Rowan William's timeline six months ahead of the two same sex content demands of Tanzania. It somewhat had to. The ABC hoped to have the PV scheme in place before even the bishops had discussed it. The theology commitee of the HofB now has put out a study quide on the rest of the communique, and had the Exec. Council responded to the demands, it would have trumped that process. This works for a polity of monarchy or oligarchy, but not for one that is essentially democratic. We are slow. We are clumsy. And often unbelievably inefficient, and I am so grateful.

Heard you were moving to Indiana. This I can understand...commuting distance to Wrigley field?

Anonymous said...

One more note... What makes the primates request one of such "urgency?" The accession that it is assumes that one has bought into the view that the situation in the US is one of "emergency" and or that there is unbearable suffering requiring the primates intervention. Darfur, yes, AIDS/HIV, yes, even the possibility of a birdflu pandemic, yes. But there is DEPO for churches unhappy with their bishop. There is even policy in place The Ft. Worth plan for those who are unhappy with women's ordination. No one has forced a gay priest on a congregation that doesn't want one or a bishop? When do any of these things constitute an emergency or is spinning things in this manner get a result that is wanted, a response without much thinking, one that that plays into the hands of the less informed or critical thinkers who come to believe that something something dreadful will happen unless they take immediate action? Rwanda, poor Rwanda has said that it is coming to the aid of the US because they know what is like to suffer and no one came to help them? I don't think our situation is really on the level of genocide, Are orthodox Christians persecuted and thrown to the wolves or do they just fail to sit on the committees they want to?

JimB said...

A few notes:

The fact, undoubted, that the primates addressed only TEC bishops is one reason the communique was DOA. The HOB seems to 'get it' as they referred the Primates insult to the council.

This is a lot like the refusal of dad to say yes to something without asking mom. If that is not what the primates expected, they know us less well than even I feared.

Regarding the Holy Spirit leading various churches in various ways: sure, why not? Are you suggesting the Roman, Eastern, or Lutheran communities are not led by the Spirit?

I submit that while there may be one ultimate truth, that while we see through a glass darkly, and are to say the least divergent in our understandings, the Spirit may need to deal with us using different voices. In fact, that may have been one of the subtle messeges of penticost.


bls said...

Well said, EPfizH. Thanks for saying what needs to be said about this alleged "crisis."

Jon said...

Is this a crisis? Yes, but if one tries to rush discernment one tends to get very bad results, so perhaps it's a good thing that we aren't getting instant action.

That said, the bishops almost certainly have the authority to do most of what the Primates requested. All it would take to enforce a moratorium on partnered gay or lesbian bishops is the agreement of a majority of the diocesans. Blessings are harder to deal with, but if absolutely all the diocesans agreed they could almost entirely stop them, after all they are theoretically being done under the rubrics for liturgical events not covered by GC approved materials. In a way the PV scheme is the hardest and easiest thing to deal with. If it means giving the Primates juridical authority over TEC either in part or entirely it would require GC approval, but if the scheme is only to provide a mediator to work within the bounds of TEC's polity then it could be much more acceptable. There are still questions to be asked about what the political fallout would be if the bishops decided to do what they can assuming they could all entirely agree on what to do about things like SSB's.