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.


Jon said...

To be fair, what you call declining to frost the cake could also be seen as declining to tell the task force what sorts of conclusions we'd like them to come to on specific issues like the CCABs and the PB's job.

I certainly hope the task force addresses those questions, and since they've been brought up so recently it seems likely to me that they will (I'd certainly want to discuss eliminating CCAB's and reworking 815 if I were on the task force).

Unknown said...

M'Lord Bishop - Would that we could inject more of this good sense into the whole process. This is the most encouraging information I've heard from GC to date. And I've sat in SO many conventions hoping against hope that the endless whereases extolling the virtues of some resolution condemning some obvious sin or other would vanish into the ether... From ghosties and ghoulies and long-leggity beasties, and long-winded resolutions trying to tell the government how to do what it knows not how to do: Good Lord, deliver us!

Scott Kammerer said...

It's not the fault of Committees 9 and 10 that those resolutions take up so much time. The resolutions come in from CCABs, dioceses, bishops and deputies and have to go somewhere - if we eliminated those committees then they would have to be taken up by others. Speaking for committee 10, we took five health-related resolutions and combined them into three; and a whopping SEVEN poverty-related resolutions were combined into ONE. So in that respect, I'd say that Committee 10 actually *saved* us all a lot of time. The only way to improve the situation would be to somehow prevent the resolves from being made in the first place.

Bishop Daniel Martins said...

Scott, I take your point, and thank your committee for the hard work of consolidation. Eliminating the committees will not solve the problem. It's the cognate CCABs that flood the docket, I suspect. Don't quite know what the fix is, but I'm gestating some ideas.