Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Representing Jesus at GC 2009

I have briefly commented in the past about the peculiar mental fog that besets the leadership of the House of Deputies in the Episcopal Church. For a group of people that assembles together for just two weeks out of every 156, they can do remarkable damage. (Of course, they need the House of Bishops to cooperate. But that House has been enshrouded in fog ever since it failed to deal with Bishop Pike, and is now haunted by his ghost.)

The problem in a nutshell is this: the House of Deputies does not see itself as a representative body. Instead, it prides itself in being a group of up to 880 people who meet for two weeks every three years and are guided solely by the Holy Spirit when doing so. Listen to their current President, Ms. Bonnie Anderson, D.D. (I have added the bold in each case, for emphasis):
“In the Episcopal Church the belief that God speaks uniquely through bishops, laity, priests and deacons, enables our participatory structure and allows a fullness of revelation and insight that must not be lost in this important time of discernment . . . . [T]he joint work of the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops is the highest institutional expression of this belief.” ---April 2008 letter to the Deputies
"The highest institutional expression", you say? Now what was your title again, Ms. Anderson?

Next, here is her official statement on the Primates' Communiqué from Dar-es-Salaam:

As I read the Communiqué from the Primates' Meeting in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, I am deeply troubled by its implications for the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.
. . .

The polity of the Episcopal Church is one of shared decision making among the laity, priests and deacons and bishops. The House of Bishops does not make binding, final decisions about the governance of the Church. Decisions like those requested by the Primates must be carefully considered and ultimately decided by the whole Church, all orders of ministry, together.
. . .

Our baptismal promise to seek and serve Christ in all people must be very carefully considered when we are being asked as Episcopalians to exclude some of our members from answering the Holy Spirit's call to use their God-given gifts to lead faithful lives of ministry. Our promise to strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of all people binds us together. The Episcopal Church has declared repeatedly that our understanding of the Baptismal Covenant requires that we treat all persons equally regardless of their race, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, disabilities, age, color, ethnic origin, or national origin.
. . .

As president of the 800-plus member House of Deputies, it is my duty to ensure that the voice of the clergy and the laity of our Church will be heard as the Church discusses and debates the Primates' requests and that that process will not be pre-empted by the House of Bishops or any other group. . . .

In recent times . . . we have spent too much of our time, talent and treasure debating if we ought to deny some people a place at the table to which Jesus calls us all. Instead, we must listen to each other – really listen and not just read reports – so that we can hear the voice of the Holy Spirit moving through all of us and calling us to be more faithful.
And on the official Website of the House of Deputies, there is a page entitled "Role of a Deputy", from which this illuminating excerpt is taken:
The nature of the events that took place in America between 1782 and 1789, and the use and meaning of the word “deputy” help us to understand our role as deputies today. We are elected to General Convention by our own diocese. As deputies, we know our diocese, and the people of the diocese know us. We are not elected simply to represent the views of our diocese or any particular constituency. Deputies are extraordinary representatives who, “ideally. . . should reflect the will of the whole Church, act for the whole Church, and speak to the whole Church.”

We are deputies because we are trusted by our diocese and by the deputies from other dioceses to be informed and to prepare ourselves through study and prayer prior to General Convention. While at General Convention, we are charged to listen to other deputies, bishops and guests; to share our own thoughts and ideas; and to attend and vote at all legislative sessions. We are trusted to cast our votes informed by prayer, factual information, and the workings of the Holy Spirit. . . .
"The nature of the events that took place in America between 1782 to 1789 . . .". Now just what was the "nature of [those] events"? Let's look at the paragraphs which precede the quote just given:
To understand the role of the deputy in the General Convention, it is helpful to look back at the history of how that role and its title evolved. The first Episcopal Church convention was in 1785. The Journal reads: “Clerical and Lay Deputies from several states assembled. . . . ” . . .

Not surprisingly, the earliest Diocesan conventions adopted existing legislative models. The Episcopal Church in America was not immune to revolutionary ideas of the English reformation, including representative governance in church affairs, and these ideas prevailed in the early Episcopal church councils. Representatives to church councils were deputized to act fully and freely on behalf of what they thought to be the best interests of the church while they deliberated in the confines of council.
I have added the bold again for emphasis, because this statement stands history on its head. Anyone who has taken the trouble to read my earlier posts about how the Episcopal Church (USA) got started, or---even better---who has studied the correspondence and resolutions that preceded the first conventions in 1785-1786, will know that this assertion is simply not true. To take just a few contemporary examples by way of refutation, let us begin with this letter from the Rev. David Griffith of Virginia written July 26, 1784 to the Rev. Dr. William White of Pennsylvania, who had issued a call to the Church in each State to send delegates to a national convention (it appears on p. 46 of the volume linked earlier, which may be downloaded in a number of formats):
Dear Sir,

Your different letters, to the Convention at Richmond and to myself, on the subject of a general meeting of the Episcopal Clergy at New York, were all received, but not time enough to be laid before Convention, which sat only three days. The Episcopal Church in Virginia is so fettered by Laws, that the Clergy could do no more than petition for a repeal of those laws---for liberty to introduce Ordination and Government and to revise and alter the Liturgy. The session is passed over without our being able to accomplish this. The few Clergymen at Richmond to whom your Letter was shewn, approved of the Plan and proceedings of the Pennsylvania Convention, and also of the general meeting at New York, but no delegates have been appointed to attend. In the Present State of Ecclesiastical affairs in this State, the Clergy could not, with propriety, and indeed without great danger to the Church, empower any Persons to agree to the least alteration whatever. I shall be able to explain to you the necessity of their acting with this caution when I shall have the pleasure of seeing you. Having some business in New York with the Executors of my Mother in Law, I shall endeavour to be there about the time of the general Convention . . . .
(Italics added.) When Virginia did pass legislation the next year enabling the Church in that State to organize, the delegates assembled adopted the following resolutions at their first meeting in Richmond, on May 18, 1785 (p. 47 of the volume linked earlier; italics added):
Resolved, That it is the opinion of this committee that deputies be appointed to represent the Protestant Episcopal Church of Virginia in the General Convention to be holden in the City of Philadelphia on the Tuesday before the feast of St. Michael next.

Resolved, That it is the opinion of this committee that the deputation to the General Convention consist of two clergymen and two laymen; any two of whom shall be considered as a representation.

Resolved, That it is the opinion of this committee that instructions be prepared for the conduct of the said deputies.

Resolved, That it is the opinion of this committee that the said instructions be so framed as to leave the Convention of this state at liberty to approve or disapprove of the proceedings of the General Convention.
Now contrast with the account given on the HoB Website as quoted above the following instructions given to each Virginia delegate in 1785 (id. at 48):

During your representation of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the General Convention, we recommend to your observance the following sentiments concerning doctrine and worship. We refer you at the same time, for these and other objects of your mission, to our resolutions on the proceedings of the late Convention at New York.

Uniformity in doctrine and worship will unquestionably contribute to the prosperity of the Protestant Episcopal Church. But we earnestly wish that this may be pursued with liberality and moderation. The obstacles which stand in the way of union amongst Christian societies are too often founded on matters of mere form. They are surmountable therefore by those, who breathing the spirit of Christianity, earnestly labour in this pious work.

From the holy scriptures themselves, rather than the comments of men, must we learn the terms of salvation. Creeds therefore ought to be simple: And we are not anxious to retain any other than that which is commonly called the Apostles creed.

Should a change in the liturgy be proposed, let it be made with caution; And in that case let the alterations be few, and the stile of prayer continue as agreeable as may be to the essential characteristics of our persuasion.

We will not now decide what ceremonies ought to be retained. We wish, however, that those, which exist, may be estimated according to their utility; and that such as may appear fit to be laid aside, may no longer be appendages of our church.

We need only add that we shall expect a report of your proceedings to those whom we shall vest with authority to call a Convention.
And lest I be accused of citing only to Virginia documents (which are particularly instructive), here is an extract from the resolutions adopted for the delegates attending from New York (id. at pp. 54-55; italics added):
Resolved, That the Reverend Mr. Provoost, Reverend Mr. Beach, and Reverend Mr. Moore, of the clergy ; and the Honorable James Duane, Daniel Kissam, and John Davis, Esquires, of the laity, be appointed for the above mentioned purpose; and they are hereby authorized to proceed on the necessary business which may be proposed for their deliberation at the said convention, so far as they conform to the general principles which are established to regulate their conduct in this matter.
The Churches in the various States of New England were just as explicit that their deputies were under binding instructions to represent their views to the national body. The letter to their delegates stated in part (id. at p. 65):
Reverend & Honoured Brethren.

Having been favoured with the Minutes of the Meeting of the Clergy & Lay Delegates from sundry Congregations of the Episcopal Church in the State of Pensylvania held at Philadelphia the 25th of May last, communicated to us by your Chairman, We the Clergy of the Episcopal Churches in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts & State of Rhode Island met in Convention at Boston Septemr. 8th, 1784, have duly considered the same and have unanimously adopted the fundamental Principles or Instructions to which you are bound, and think the same not only unexceptionable but such as the Episcopal Churches in the united States ought to adopt. We have indeed thought proper to add a Restriction or an explanatory clause to the first and fifth Article, more for the Sake of avoiding any Mistakes hereafter than because we suppose we differ from you in Sentiment. . . .
More precedents could be cited, but the point is, I think, sufficiently documented. It may safely be concluded that, contrary to the rewriting of history found on the House of Deputies' official Website, the very last thing that any of the founders of our Church expected was that deputies to the national conventions should be freed of any responsibility to represent the views of their own State churches in all deliberations. Why else would they have used the following language in the ECUSA Constitution, which has remained almost unchanged since its first version in 1789?

The Church in each Diocese which has been admitted to union with the General Convention . . . shall be entitled to representation in the House of Deputies by not more than four ordained persons, Presbyters or Deacons, canonically resident in the Diocese and not more than four Lay Persons, confirmed adult communicants of this Church, in good standing in the Diocese . . . Each Diocese . . . shall prescribe the manner in which its Deputies shall be chosen.

(Art. I, Sec. 4 [originally Art. II]; emphasis added.) What is the point of having a Diocese choose its deputies, and to guarantee that it is "entitled to representation", if the Deputies are not bound to represent it? And why continue the historical anomaly of voting by orders, with the requirement that each of the orders concur for a measure to pass, if each of the Deputies is a sovereign voter with the duty to vote as the Holy Spirit directs? (Surely the Holy Spirit would not guide one order to vote differently from the other, or provide a greater degree of inspiration to the one while withholding it from the other.)

Unfortunately, the vice attendant upon freeing deputies to vote "as the Holy Spirit guides them" now permeates all levels of Church government. For the simple truth is that those who feel the strongest about any given cause of the day are the ones who volunteer to be elected as representatives: the parishes elect their vestries, which contain a generous proportion of such activists; they in turn volunteer to be the deputies to the diocesan convention (has anyone, in any Episcopal parish but the largest ones, ever experienced a contested election for the post of diocesan deputy?); and since the concentration of activists at the diocesan level is very high, the deputies they elect to General Convention are also mostly the same activists.

How shall we check this tendency of the ones who are most sure of themselves to determine the direction of the Church? Looking back at how deputies were selected and sent off to General Convention in the early years, we see that they were subject to instructions. Today, however, even if it were still the uniform practice to instruct deputies to General Convention, their instructions would come from others already in authority who share their activist viewpoint. They probably would not, in fact, differ greatly from these instructions given by the President of the House of Deputies to a conference of (please note) "social justice advocates and grant seekers" in the Diocese of Southern Ohio last August:
Within the Anglican Communion, the Episcopal Church is the only province with a baptismal covenant, said Anderson. "Our baptismal covenant brings us to an understanding of the gifts of laity that isn't really understood in the same way by the rest of the communion … [In the Book of Common Prayer] the catechism says that the ministers of the church are lay persons, bishops, priests and deacons -- in that order. And so we are called by God to do the work we are given. . . ."

"Take the authority of your ministry seriously," she said. "Insist that other people take you seriously as well."

Too often, she said, "We give our authority away." Anderson urged the group to dismiss the preconceived, triangle model of ministry, with the bishop at the top and the lay people at the bottom. In reality, she said, ministry is a circle, and lay people should look to clergy and bishops to help -- not tell -- laity how to discern gifts and carry out ministry.
. . .

"Does one person, like the Archbishop of Canterbury, for instance, have a ‘corner on the truth market?'" asked Anderson in her sermon. "Has one particular group been given the gift of pure truth and the rest of us just can't hear it?

"I don't think so. Right now the how of coming to the truth is as important as getting to the truth. Right now, the way in which the Anglican Communion goes about the search for the elusive truth is as important as the truth itself."
. . .

"Listen to yourself, trust your insights," Anderson added. "Your primary job is to represent Christ in this world." Her last challenge was, "pray to see the work of God in everything."
(Bold added.) So now Episcopalians are called upon not to represent just their local parishes or dioceses, but to "represent" Christ Himself. Coming from a minister in a Sunday sermon, such a sentiment might be no more than moral encouragement---to be Christian, after all, is to let the light of Christ shine through you. I have no problem with "representing" Christ in that sense, but I do not hear Ms. Anderson as saying only that. She is speaking in her role as the President of the House of Deputies, she refers to that Baptismal Covenant again (which applies---does she realize?---only to those in the Church who are under 30), and she is telling people that "how" we arrive at the truth is just as important as is the "truth" itself.

(My goodness---and all along I thought that the truth was not something which each new generation has to "arrive at" or "get to" on its own, but which has been carefully handed down from each generation to the next. Elevating the process of the individual's or the group's "arrival" to the same importance as the message itself tends to undercut the fact that the message is not new, and that what has been handed down is far more important than that which you can discover unaided. If you want to repair your car and do the job correctly, you consult the manual. And if you want to know the truth of your religion, you start with the Bible.)

Thus with all the background I have given concerning her other remarks above, I find this statement symptomatic of much that is wrong with today's Episcopal Church. The arrogant presumption of those deputies who take it as their duty to "represent Christ" to the Church as a whole is at bottom what is tearing this Church apart: there are all too many deputies at General Convention who claim to speak for Christ! (Or at least, to speak for their version of Him.) Where do they find His instructions to them, if not in Holy Scripture? Listen to the Rev. Canon Dr. Elizabeth Kaeton speak in opposition to a resolution introduced at GC 2006 to rescind the decision of the Executive Council to affiliate the Church with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, which supports a woman's right to choose abortion (the account is written by a deputy who supported the resolution):
It was then my turn to address the committee. I noted that personal agendas should not control the direction of the Episcopal Church and the issue should be put before the entire GC to vote on and I gave three examples (see side bar) of how the RCRC publications make statements that are counter to the Episcopal Church’s statements of belief found in the Book of Common Prayer, Lambeth Resolutions, and resolutions.

The Rev. Canon Elizabeth Kaeton from the Diocese of Newark (also a board member of RCRC and the Social and Urban Affairs Committee) was the next speaker. She referred to a quote by Martin Niemoller, and then said, “while abortion may not be favored by local churches, we are deputized to follow the Holy Spirit, not the wishes of the folks back home."

(Emphasis added.) Could there be a plainer example of non-sequitur "reasoning"? The Holy Spirit is in favor of abortion, even if local churches are not? Notably, the Reverend Canon Doctor provided no scriptural source for her assertion of what the Holy Spirit supported. And she must consider that the Holy Spirit was simply absent when the authors of the Didache [v. 2.2] or the Epistle of Barnabas [19:5] were writing their plainspoken condemnations of abortion during the earliest years of the Church.

The resolution to rescind ECUSA's affiliation with RCRC was eventually tabled at GC 2006. ECUSA remains affiliated with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, no doubt in part because the latter organization inculcates the same philosophy of sovereign individualism in its clients that the President of the House of Deputies advocates for deputies. According to another speaker in favor of the unsuccessful resolution:
NOEL’s Administrative Director Sheila Bracken, speaking for the first time before a GC legislative committee, said “RCRC does not encourage parental involvement in the issue of abortion. They encourage girls to seek truth from within. . .".
"Seeking the truth within", instead of relying on traditional authority such as families and the Church itself, is the hallmark of today's postmodern creed. In fact, the very name "Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice" is an oxymoron. It is self-contradicting to assert that religion can be linked in the same breath as abortion. Yet we see it every day, do we not? (Think of Nancy Pelosi or Joe Biden.) Can anyone still wonder that the Church is being undermined by those who reserve the right to "make up their own minds", rather than by following what Holy Scriptures or a bishop---not least, the Bishop of Rome---tells them?

To those who are determined that the Church must reflect their own activist views on issues of "social justice", I say: You are promoting an oxymoron, not a religion. The very words "social justice" point to something other than God's justice, which you cannot be content to accept; no, for you, justice is something that must come out of, and be defined by, the society of sovereign-minded individuals in which you find yourself. So, go ahead: establish your own secular philosophy of sovereign individualism, where everyone is entitled to equal "rights", as long as they are in accord with what you think those rights ought to be. Just don't pretend to be in a church, and don't call yourself "religious".

And to the Deputies headed for GC 2009, I say this: rather than trying to "represent" Christ to the whole Church, or to express His will through your individual, sovereignly divined votes in General Convention, I suggest that you might begin by ascertaining the true will of those parishes that elected you. See if they truly believe that the Holy Scriptures support abortion. See if they really think the national Church should be able to impose a trust on their parish's property without their consent. See if they believe it is a fine thing that the Church is spending more than $2 million a year on litigation with former Episcopalians. And while you are at it, you might want to find out how ready they are to spend the money to send you down to Anaheim (right next to Disneyland!) for two weeks next summer, all expenses paid, so that you and 879 other deputies can spend several million dollars, and hundreds of hours, debating, voting on, and then printing up "peace and social justice" resolutions that no one ever implements, or ever hears of again.

Just think---if you recognize the possibility that the Holy Spirit speaks in the gatherings of individual parishes, and through them to the whole Church, you might---to the extent you resolve first to discern, and then to represent, their wishes to the best of your ability---actually be pleasantly surprised that it doesn't all have to ride on "you". That is, in emptying yourself to do the will of those you represent---as best as you have been able to learn it---you might just end up helping His will to be done. After all, you have the perfect example to follow, as Paul reminds us in Phil. 2:5-7:

You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had,

who though he existed in the form of God

did not regard equality with God

as something to be grasped,

but emptied himself

by taking on the form of a slave,

by looking like other men,

and by sharing in human nature.


  1. And then the neat trick (and possible contradiction):

    GC deputies have this unique charismatic authority...

    But orthodox Anglicans do not.

    GC deputies can throw out Christian history, tradition, and the Bible...

    And invoke them against orthodox Anglicans.

    GC deputies do not have to represent the views and sentiments of home parishes and dioceses...

    But parish property is "held in trust" for the Episcopal Church (there is a sense in which every parish "represents" the top - at least in terms of property).

    Water flows upstream for us - but not for you.

  2. "Right now the how of coming to the truth is as important as getting to the truth"

    As long as it is Ms Anderson's way of discerning the truth. Your way of testing the truth through scripture and reason and tradition is so old school, and since the results it obtains differ so much from from her results, you must not be guided by the same Holy Spirit that is guiding her (to paraphrase Bishop Robinson).

  3. For me, at least, the final word on "seeking truth within yourself" was written about a century ago:

    Of all conceivable forms of enlightenment the worst is what these people call the Inner Light. Of all horrible religions the most horrible is the worship of the god within. ... That Jones shall worship the god within him turns out ultimately to mean that Jones shall worship Jones. Let Jones worship the sun or moon; anything rather than the Inner Light; let Jones worship cats or crocodiles, if he can find any in his street, but not the god within. Christianity came into the world firstly in order to assert with violence that a man had not only to look inwards, but to look outwards, to behold with astonishment and enthusiasm a divine company and a divine captain. The only fun of being a Christian was that a man was not left alone with the Inner Light, but definitely recognized an outer light, fair as the sun, clear as the moon, terrible as an army with banners.

    -- Chesterton, Orthodoxy (1908), p. 81

  4. A wonderfully apposite quote, Craig. Thank you so much!