Thursday, February 11, 2010

More to Chew Over

So ... just a couple of days after proclaiming that the habitually troubled Anglican waters are lately ominously placid, we get a couple of real hot potatoes: the debate in the Church of England's General Synod on relations with the ACNA, and revelations from the Diocese of South Carolina on more legal skulduggery emanating from 815 Second Avenue.

As regards the latter, I'm going to reserve extensive comment at this time, not so much out of caution as out of recognition that Bishop Lawrence's letter does a masterful job nailing the crux of the matter. The bullseye quote is this:
[Thomas Tisdale] may be an attorney retained by the Chancellor for the Presiding Bishop, but it is hardly accurate in regards to the polity of this Church to claim to be an attorney of The Episcopal Church, as if the parishes, Standing Committee and Bishop of South Carolina are somehow something other than The Episcopal Church...
The polity of the Episcopal Church, demonstrably different from that of most other Anglican provinces, has been a much-vaunted notion over the last several years, generally in the context of TEC "progressives" lamenting that "they just don't understand our polity" when "they" make certain requests of the Presiding Bishop, or the House of Bishops, or the Executive Council, or whomever. What we see shaping up now, however, is a conflict in which the purveyors of this line of thinking are the ones themselves who do not understand our polity. To suggest that "the Episcopal Church" can be reified, separated somehow from its concrete local expression in parishes and dioceses, is ludicrous on its face.

The motion passed by the C of E's General Synod is kind of a mess, but it's a pretty interesting mess, all of which is to say that it's quintessentially Anglican, as fine a batch of fudge as has ever been confected! Here it is:
This Synod, aware of the distress caused by recent divisions within the Anglican churches of the United States of America and Canada, recognise and affirm the desire of those who have formed the Anglican Church in North America to remain within the Anglican family; 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 invite the Archbishops to report further to the Synod in 2011.
This is an amended version of a resolution that originally contained this language:
‘That this Synod express the desire that the Church of England be in communion with the Anglican Church in North America’
Let's look first to the starboard side of the Anglican barque, including those who are part of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). In this company, there are those who are utterly thrilled by the motion just as it carried (by a large majority). See examples of that attitude here and here. These folks see what happened as a giant leap in a trajectory that ends with the ACNA as a full constituent member in the worldwide Anglican Communion. Others, however, have a diametrically opposite assessment; see here for the most concisely articulate example. From this perspective, the amendment took all the teeth out of the original motion, reducing it to a gesture of politeness, a mere acknowledgement of an aspiration.

Eyes left now. Of course, no one on this side of the vessel can have anything positive to say about the phrase "Anglican Church in North America" even appearing in print on the legislative agenda of General Synod. So, watered down or not, they find it troubling--more troubling than they are generally willing to say publicly, I would suspect. Look here for a fine dose of liberal erudition, and here for an honest and generally charitable attempt at even-handedness by a prominent "progressive." Because the very subject is anathema to them, liberals are necessarily disposed toward spin over substance, as this headline exemplifies.

As far as I can tell, everybody is pretty much correct in what they're saying. So were each of proverbial blind men whose collective task was to describe an elephant. As long as we can be selective about a word here and phrase there, the Synod's action can mean whatever we want it to mean. Its eventual significance will be revealed in its interplay with subsequent events. It is now a "fact on the ground," another data point, another thread in the narrative. For example, if Mary Glasspool is eventually consecrated Bishop Suffragan of Los Angeles, or if the 2012 General Convention declines to adopt the Anglican Covenant (or, more tellingly, if the former occurs but the covenant is adopted), the significance of this week's action will loom large as Anglicanism collectively takes stock of its North American operations. On the other hand, if Canon Glasspool falls short in her consents (an unlikely eventuality, in my opinion), then the Lorna Ashworth motion will be yesterday's news.

As always, time will tell.


Scott Gunn said...

I had no idea I was "prominent". Tall, definitely. Thanks for your writing on this, and I am glad to see you back in the blogosphere.


Anonymous said...

I believe you have inserted the wrong name in brackets. Should it not be Tisdale, rather than Logan??

Malcolm+ said...

I'm intrigued by some reasserters claiming that the motion affirmed ACNA's desire to remain in "the Anglican Communion."

The term actually used was "Anglican family," which has no agreed meaning. On the face of it, it could mean the Anglican Communion. It could just as easily mean the broader category of churches which trace their heritage to the Church of England, such as the Reformed Episcopal Church, the Church of England in South Africa, the Traditional Anglican Communion or even any number of tiny churchlets that exist mostly online and trace their episcopal orders through an assortment of episcope vagantes over the past 100 or so years.

So it comes down to what Synod meant by "Anglican family."

My wife, who is a lawyer, advises that there is a legal rule of thumb that, if one does not use the usual term then one did not mean what the usual term means. It assumes that there was some specific reason for using a different term.

By that standard, the very use of "Anglican family" reflects a deliberate decision NOT to say "Anglican Communion." I am rather inclined to agree, since it makes no particular sense to say "Anglican family" if you mean "Anglican Communion."

On the matter of legal counsel in South Carolina, I really am not sure what to think. It does seem odd.

That said, while there are limits to how much distinction can be made between "The Episcopal Church" and the various diocesan and parochial expressions of it, there are some legitimate distinctions.

In this regard, I think Canadian constitutional law is a useful analogy.

There is only one Queen Elizabeth. She is, at the same time, the Queen of sixteen separate countries. In a few of those countries - ie, Canada, she is at the same time the executive authority for a federal government and for regional governments (states in Australia, provinces in Canada).

It is a principle of law that the Crown is indivisible. Yet, in Canada, court actions between HM the Queen in right of Canada and HM the Queen in right of one or another province are not at all unusual.

Daniel Martins said...

Anon at 12:09--you are correct. Change has been made.