Sunday, July 12, 2009

Night and Day

ECUSA's 76th General Convention is now halfway through its course. The House of Deputies has approved a compromise Resolution drafted and reported by the Legislative Committee on World Mission, Resolution D 025, whose text as it goes to the House of Bishops is as follows (I am showing the amendments made in its passage: new language added is in italics, and old language deleted is shown in strikethrough):

Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, That this the 76th General Convention reaffirm the continued participation of The Episcopal Church in the Anglican Communion; give thanks for the work of the bishops at the Lambeth Conference of 2008; reaffirm the abiding commitment of The Episcopal Church to the fellowship of churches that constitute the Anglican Communion and seek to live into the highest degree of communion possible; and be it further

Resolved, That this the 76th General Convention encourage dioceses, parishes congregations, and members of The Episcopal Church to participate to the fullest extent possible in the many instruments, networks and relationships of the Anglican Communion, including but not limited to networks involving youth, women, and indigenous people; networks and ministries concerned with ecumenical and interfaith work, peace and justice, liturgy, environmental issues, health, and education; and companion diocese relationships; and be it further

Resolved, That this the 76th General Convention reaffirm its financial commitment to the Anglican Communion and pledge to maintain its full asking for participate fully in the Inter-Anglican Budget; and be it further

Resolved, That this the 76th General Convention affirm the value of "listening to the experience of homosexual persons," as called for by the Lambeth Conferences of 1978, 1988, and 1998, and acknowledge that through our own listening the General Convention has come to recognize that the baptized membership of The Episcopal Church includes same-sex couples living in lifelong committed relationships "characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God" (2000-D039); and be it further

Resolved, That this the 76th General Convention recognize that individuals gay and lesbian persons who are part of such relationships have responded to God's call and have exercised various ministries in and on behalf of God's One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church over the centuries and are currently doing so in our midst, often without the church's recognition of their lifelong committed relationships and the blessings bestowed by such relationships; and be it further

Resolved, That this the 76th General Convention affirm that God has called and may call such individuals, like any other baptized members, to any ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church, which call is tested in our polity through our discernment processes carried out under Canon III acting in accordance with the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church and the canons of its dioceses; and be it further

Resolved, That this the 76th General Convention acknowledge that, while the members of The Episcopal Church, like those in our sister Provinces as of the Anglican Communion, based on careful study of the Holy Scriptures, and in light of tradition and reason, are not all of one mind on this issue, and that Christians of good conscience, based on careful study of the Holy Scriptures, may disagree about this issue, the validity of the Church's sacraments comes from the action of the Holy Spirit in and through them, not from the frail humans celebrating them in God's name disagree about some of these matters.

There is currently a lot of speculation and wondering about the effect of this language on Resolution B 033 enacted at the 75th General Convention in 2006. Apparently the Chancellor to the President of the House of Deputies rendered an opinion to the effect that a Resolution of General Convention, once adopted, continues in effect until the same is either revoked, repealed, rescinded, or superseded by a later Resolution inconsistent with it. Now this is, as a straightforward statement of the general situation, entirely correct --- as far as it goes. But it is a general statement, addressed to the case in general. The problem is that it is not addressed to the particular language of B 033.

I analyzed the legal effect of B 033's language in this earlier post. Essentially, I took the language of the resolution at face value:
"Resolved, the 75th General Convention receive and embrace The Windsor Report’s invitation to engage in a process of healing and reconciliation; and be it further
"Resolved, That this Convention therefore call upon Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdiction to exercise restraint . . ."
The language does two things: it makes a motion that a very specific body --- the 75th General Convention, which passed out of existence forever in 2006 --- "receive and embrace" an invitation; and it moves that the same body, which no longer exists, "call upon" certain other persons to exercise a certain restraint. Both the "receiving and embracing", as well as the "calling upon", were accomplished with the passage of the Resolution by both Houses of the 75th General Convention. The Resolution, in short, as drafted and enacted had, and could not by its own language have, any ongoing or continuing effect (unlike a Canon, or an amendment to the Constitution or Prayer Book).

So the opinion of the Chancellor was a little lacking in specific detail applicable to Resolution B 033. Yes, a Resolution may have ongoing effect. For example, a Resolution that the budget for the next General Convention be set at ten million dollars would stay in effect until it was "revoked, repealed, rescinded, or superseded". But the same is not true of Resolution B 033. Its effect was instantly over and done with, as soon as it passed both Houses.

[UPDATE 07/13/2009: I note that the principal architect of Resolution D 025 agrees (emphasis added):

Gay Jennings: B033 wasn’t a moratorium. It was an urging. What the new language does is simply state where the Church already stands. Our discernment processes are governed by the Constitutions and Canons of the Episcopal Church. . . . I did not ever understand B033 as having the weight of our canons. . . . It was still always within the purview of bishops and standing committees to grant or not grant consent.
(End of Update)]

Thus you may imagine the view I take of the question of the effect of this new proposed Resolution D 025 on the former B 033. It does not expressly, in so many words, purport to "revoke, repeal, rescind or supersede" the earlier Resolution --- and if it did, it would be utterly meaningless, an indulgence in incoherency, like trying to revoke, repeal, rescind or supersede the Defenestration of Prague in 1618, or the first public performance of Beethoven's Eroica Symphony in 1805.

So let us instead look at what the language of proposed Resolution D 025 actually does. Here is the Curmudgeon's Condensed VersionTM , reduced just to subjects and verbs:

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention reaffirm . . . ; give thanks for . . . ; reaffirm . . . and seek to live . . . ; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention encourage . . . ; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention reaffirm . . . and pledge . . . ; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention affirm . . . and acknowledge; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention recognize . . . ; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention affirm . . . ; and be it further

Resolved, That the 76th General Convention acknowledge . . .

And that is it. Do you see my point? All that this Resolution accomplishes is to propose certain actions be taken by the 76th General Convention ("reaffirm . . . encourage . . . affirm . . . recognize . . . acknowledge . . ."), which will have been taken by the very act of passing the Resolution. It thus expresses the current mood of that gathering, in the sense that a "mind of the House" resolution does: "This is what we think right now . . .". And as such an expression of the moment, it acknowledges implicitly that other people, gathered under different circumstances at a different time, might well think differently.

"Ah, but ---" you say: "the Resolution expresses not just the momentary mood of the 76th General Convention, but also, since the General Convention is the 'highest' body within ECUSA, it expresses the will of ECUSA itself." And there you have fallen into a giant figure-of-speech trap, called synecdoche: you are letting the part (this particular General Convention, whose deputies cannot be instructed or guided by anyone but the Holy Spirit) represent the whole, the Episcopal Church (USA), which is an infinitely more complex amalgam of individual dioceses. Indeed, it is a common assumption on the part of the activists who seek to control it that General Convention is the Episcopal Church (USA). But a moment's reflection on the matter would suffice to show that such an assumption cannot be true.

Think for a moment: can the Episcopal Church --- The Episcopal Church, as it likes to be called --- actually be defined for only two weeks out of every 156? If General Convention is The Episcopal Church while it is in session, then just who, pray tell, is The Episcopal Church the other 154 weeks of each triennium? Is it the Executive Council, delegated to carry out "the program and policies adopted by the General Convention"? But the membership of the Executive Council --- none of whom is elected by the member dioceses of the Church --- is comprised of people elected by General Convention and the nine Provinces, plus five members who sit ex officio, so how can it be said to represent The Church? It represents General Convention and the Provinces, plus the staff at 815 to various degrees, but it cannot be the Church all by itself: its authority is circumscribed by that of General Convention, which is not the Church, either. This is the fallacy inherent in synecdoche --- letting the part represent the whole (and vice versa).

So if we reject the false apparatus of synecdoche, we come back to the fact that about 840 people, gathered in the House of Deputies in July 2009, have expressed a sense of their collective mind that as a body, General Convention ought to do certain things --- each of which can be accomplished simply by passing the Resolution. What, therefore, is so contentious about all this? Why cannot the House of Bishops just concur in the Resolution and be done with it?

Ah, now we come to the heart of the matter. The House of Bishops of course could simply concur, and the Resolution would be both enacted and carried out simultaneously. General Convention 2009 could thereupon adjourn and go home, and nothing would be any different. Individual Bishops and Standing Committees in each diocese would still determine who is ordained to holy orders in that diocese, regardless of any "mind of the House" resolution passed by General Convention. Bishops and Standing Committees are bound to obey only Canons enacted by General Convention (and some dioceses have not even acceded to that proposition). Whatever else it may be, Resolution D 025 is not a Church Canon, and so it commands obedience from no one.

What has happened here is something that transcends General Convention, the Bishops and the Standing Committees as a whole. All the actors are playing parts which differ markedly from their real-life roles in the Church. For what the 75th General Convention did, by enacting Resolution B 033, was to put in place a fig-leaf, designed to cover over the real (and possibly offensive, to the majority of the Communion) desire of the assembled Deputies to tell the rest of the Anglican Communion where they could get off. Its passage was sold at the time by an emotional appeal to the Deputies to "make a gift" to the newly elected Presiding Bishop, thereby ensuring that she would continue to be received in the hallowed halls of the Communion.

The LGBT community within ECUSA saw this as a sell-out, a form of "feudal morality" imposed on it by those desirous not to cause any affront to the rest of the Anglican Communion. But as we have just seen, nothing was imposed on anyone. There was only a "calling upon" bishops and standing committees to exercise a certain restraint. However, the very idea that the two Houses of General Convention would join even in such a "call" was offensive to the LGBT community in ECUSA.

Now they have redoubled their efforts for this Convention, and they are determined not to let the same form of "feudal morality" be imposed upon them again. They have set their sights, however, upon a chimera --- the "repealing" or "rescinding" of a finished and completed act: the "call" that was made when B 033 was passed.

Only people with a profound and tragic sense of victimhood would perceive a one-time, non-obligatory "call" upon someone else as something to be "repealed" after it had happened. It was a form of "voter's remorse": "Yes, we did this to make a gift to our newly elected Presiding Bishop, but now we ought to take it back." (The deputy who pleaded with her colleagues to enact B 033 as a "gift" to Presiding Bishop-elect Katharine Jefferts Schori was the same confused Deputy who in today's debate pleaded with the Deputies to enact D 025 "as a gift reflecting our messiness to the Anglican Communion, but as an authentic statement about who we are.") The point is not to dwell upon a single, isolated incident of the past, even if it was an incident that involved a whole General Convention. That General Convention is dissolved forever into the ether; it can never reconvene or express its mind again.

But the point is equally not to create another single, isolated reference point which will in the end be just as ephemeral and non-binding as B 033. Those who think that Resolution D 025 is the solution to the problem are just as misguided as those who voted for B 033: in the final analysis, neither Resolution accomplishes a thing other than to express an inclination of the moment, a certain "mind of the House". "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions", or expressed in parliamentary terms, "the road to oblivion is papered with 'mind of the House' resolutions." Such resolutions are not only toothless, but cease to have any meaning once they are enacted. "So the 76th General Convention thought this on July 17, 2009: so what? What do the Bishops and Standing Committees, who will be giving the actual approvals for ordination, think? That is what I would like to know."

A kind of parliamentary fig-leaf thus becomes, through mutual and blind assent to unspoken premises, a perceived point of crisis in the lives of Episcopal LGBTs. None of them wanted it in the first place, but having voted for it, now they do not want a vote to remove it to be a source of condemnation for their having allowed it to be put in place three years ago. Having wholly manufactured the crisis in the first place, there is nothing anyone on the outside can do to rescue them from it; that is the nature of fig leaves. The first wisdom for those on the outside must come from realizing that no matter how sympathetic one might be towards their goals, they have gone about it the wrong way, as though General Convention were the be-all and the end-all to ECUSA's polity, and that nothing in one's power to do could grant them what they believe they must have. "As you sow, so shall you reap." The Episcopal LGBTs have only themselves to blame for their self-imposed predicament, and must live with the invited consequences of their tactics.

Now contrast, if you will, this current posture in which the activists of General Convention find themselves with what happened at the Lambeth Conference of 2008. Unlike General Convention 2009, which is all about doing as a group that which we came here to accomplish, Lambeth 2008 was all about listening --- to each other, but especially to the wise and marvelous teaching of Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Let me refer you to this earlier post, in which I quoted from one of his teaching sessions, as follows (I am going to quote both his remarks and my comments on them, because they are of a piece):

Archbishop Rowan now continues to emphasize the special calling of bishops:

So the only way of being a successful apostle is to be incapable of distancing oneself from the weakness of others. Bearing apostolic witness we have to speak of a new humanity in which we bear others burdens and so fulfil the law of Christ. Represent Jesus Christ and your defences will be down, and you will share in the weakness and loss of all, and your assumed loss will be part of the pain God takes upon himself in his infinite love. Paul sees the Church as being called to living the death and resurrection of Christ in the world.
Note well, TEC (and all other) Bishops: you have to learn "to be incapable of distancing oneself from the weaknesses of others." So much of what passes for deliberation these days in TEC's House of Bishops , and all of the litigation TEC is embroiled in, shows exactly the opposite face to the Communion, and to the world as a whole. Think again about the oxymoron of a church that fully endorses abortion, and ponder on the Archbishop's words.

Having set up the assembled bishops for their special role, Archbishop Rowan now delivers the clincher:
Therefore bishops can never, however much they’d like to be, become the spokesperson of a single nation, or cause, or group, however worthy they may be.
Dr. Williams, however, was not through with his teaching (or I with my comments):
Some will call it dithering — we have to find ways to make it prophetic. It would be much easier to turn the church into an association of people who sign up to particular ideas, or reflect the nation in some vague way.
Such as abortion, gay/lesbian civil rights, liberation theology---you name it, it has been promoted in the name of our church and social justice. Just in case anyone is still wondering about the message of this study, Archbishop Rowan now says it a third time:
What we actually have to do is express in our living the whole new humanity that is being gathered up in Christ. Therefore we can never simply be servants to one subgroup. We have been taken hold of by Christ. We may of course want to affirm this person or that, but we cannot without also some note of challenge as well as affirmation. Therefore bishops have to prioritise living and proclaiming the life of a Christ who gathers lost humanity into one in himself.
"We have been taken hold of by Christ." This is the message that is wanting at General Convention. Instead, what we have in its place is this message (I have added the emphasis):
"If you don't want GLBT folks as bishops, don't ordain them as deacons, better yet, be honest and say 'we don't want you, you don't belong here' and don't bestow on them the sacrament of baptism to begin with," said Harris to applause. "How can you initiate someone and treat them like they are half-assed baptized."

From there Harris moved on to the sacrament of marriage: marriage is a civil contract to which the church adds a blessing. It is the firm belief of many that the church should get out of the business of marriage. Let same- and-opposite sex couples get married, where it is legal; it's now legal in six states. "Let the church then administer the sacrament of blessing on all such couples and their lives," she said.

Rather than speculating about the suitability or unsuitability of a person's manner of life, Harris said she would prefer the church to work to protect people from hate crimes. . . .

Harris concluded where she began with Peter's bold assertion: "God has no favorites. Whoever fears God and does what is right, is acceptable to God . . . all of us the baptized let us honor the sacrament of our baptism and our baptismal covenant, the only covenant we need."
According to this view, everything the Church has to give is a matter of contract rights that flow from the initial compact which is the baptismal covenant. This covenant ("the only covenant we need" --- as though man could be the judge of what covenants he "needs") is one's entitlement to all the trappings of salvation, which belong to one by virtue of one's baptism. To deny the gift of holy orders is not a consequence of the Church's subordination to Holy Scripture: the denial is not that of Scripture, but is an act of civil discrimination by the Church, which "initiates" someone and then "treat[s] them like they are half-assed baptized". At the same time, the Church has no business facilitating the sacrament of marriage as Christ recognized it; it must "get out of the business of marriage", because marriage is not a sacrament at all. But once the State does marry couples of whatever gender, then it is the Church's task "to administer the sacrament of blessing" on all such civil unions, share and share alike. Sacraments, in other words, are administered to those whom the State first qualifies; the Church serves only as a middleman.

This is heresy, pure and simple; spoken by an ordained bishop of the Episcopal Church (USA), however, it borders on blasphemy, in that it combines church and state in a fascist abomination. The Church is totally subservient to secular civil rights; Scripture can play no role in the Church if its message is contradicted by those who have been through the Battle of Birmingham. The admixture of State and Church is complete: both serve each other, and neither functions alone. For it is only by taking the secular State, where all the battles of the last sixty years have been mostly won, and imposing its hard-won principles of equal rights on the Church that the latter may finally fulfill its role here on earth: as a middleman to glorify and bless those whom the State has first liberated in its wisdom.

Such a message is poles apart from the one which Archbishop Williams was at pains to deliver to the bishops assembled at Lambeth (and please note: being a resigned bishop, without jurisdiction, Bishop Harris was not eligible to attend). For all of the criticism directed toward the time spent in indaba, Lambeth at least had the merit of two-way conversation, instead of the one-way street of ubuntu, where "I am in you whether you like it or not, because we start with the fact that I am me, and with you having nothing to say about that."

In marked contrast to Bishop Harris, the Archbishop of Canterbury told those assembled to hear him that having been "taken hold of by Christ", those who lead the Church "can never simply be servants to one subgroup" of the civil spectrum --- "the spokesperson of a single nation, or cause, or group, however worthy they may be."

The difference between Lambeth 2008 and General Convention 2009 is like day and night. With all the other intercessors being recruited by Father Rob Eaton at this site, I am praying that the clear, firm light of Christ will yet shine its way through the fog at Anaheim, and I invite you to join us.


  1. I remember Metropolitan Jonah saying something in his address to the ACNA to the effect that if you don't think something real happens at ordination, you haven't experienced a real ordination.

    Likewise, I would say that if you think nothing happens in marriage except a civil contract, you don't know what marriage really is.

  2. I find interesting the assertion that GC resolutions express the mind of the GC at the mpoment and have no lasting effect. Might not the same be said of Lambeth resolutions? My sense is that resolutions of either body have the weight and authority that we choose to give them, except when they are, as is possible for the GC, written into the Constitution and Canons.

  3. Yes, Father Weir, you are right. Lambeth 1.10 was also a non-binding, "mind of the House"-type Resolution: "This Conference . . . cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions . . ."

    So while it is just as non-binding as B 033 was, it expressed the mind of the assembled bishops in 1998, and in 2008 they wisely decided to leave well enough alone. But ECUSA, in contrast, just keeps coming back for more (cf. this comment quoting Eph. 4:19).

  4. The history of I.10 is interesting. There was some feeling in the group that was responsible for considering human sexuality that a resolution like I.10 not be presented to the Conference as there had been too little communion-wide progress in reponse to the 1988 resolution 64:

    This Conference:
    1. Reaffirms the statement of the Lambeth Conference of 1978 on homosexuality, recognising the continuing need in the next decade for "deep and dispassionate study of the question of homosexuality, which would take seriously both the teaching of Scripture and the results of scientific and medical research."

    2. Urges such study and reflection to take account of biological, genetic and psychological research being undertaken by other agencies, and the socio-cultural factors that lead to the different attitudes in the provinces of our Communion.

    3. Calls each province to reassess, in the light of such study and because of our concern for human rights, its care for and attitude towards persons of homosexual orientation.

    The relevant section of 1978 resolution 10:

    3. While we reaffirm heterosexuality as the scriptural norm, we recognise the need for deep and dispassionate study of the question of homosexuality, which would take seriously both the teaching of Scripture and the results of scientific and medical research. The Church, recognising the need for pastoral concern for those who are homosexual, encourages dialogue with them. (We note with satisfaction that such studies are now proceeding in some member Churches of the Anglican Communion.)

    Of course, what is often ignored in the citing of I.10 is a section that preceded the part that is most often quoted. In that section the Bishops stated very clearly: "We commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and we wish to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ;"

    Has that commitment to listen been fulfilled?

  5. I hope I won't make a fool of myself here:

    It seems to me that there's a confounding by some of covenant and sacrament going on. A covenant is, of necessity, a two-way instrument: I do, and (then) you do. But a sacrament is, of necessity, a one-way administration. (In the whole sense, we can offer nothing in return. We cannot administer grace as does God.)

    The liturgy of baptism questions and receives assurance of agreement to the covenant by or for the baptized. This is the first part. The second part is the administration of Holy Baptism in(to) the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. The covenant and the sacrament are not the same thing. Indeed, the sacrament is the second part of the covenant. The whole second part, I believe.

    In neither the covenant nor the sacrament are any rights or privileges granted to the baptized. Instead, grace is (norminatively) given. And grace is far, far, far better than any right or privilege that can be expressed by human tounge.


  6. Fr. Weir,

    You raise an interesting question. I'm assuming from the way you preface it, that you assume the answer is no. What, therefore, would a successful listening process have looked like?

    Clearly there had already been a great deal of public debate in the Global North in the 1990s - ranging from academic exchanges to local experiments (authorized and unauthorized) to individual testimony - which continued into the 2000s, and much less in the Global South.

    Would every province have had to experience all aspects of the debate in Canada and the United States for it to be judged successful or would it have been possible for the listening process to take different forms in different contexts (Lambeth 1:10 didn't prescribe how the listening process should be conducted). Moreover, assuming that an adequate form of listening process could have been conducted Communion-wide, would it ever have been possible to state that the proposition had been weighed in the balance and found wanting?

  7. I appreciate Jeremy Bonner's question, although I cannot answer it. However, I think that in some churches of the Communion there was no attempt to listen to the experiences of gay and lesbian persons in their own churches. It was reported, perhaps inacurrately, that some African Bishops said that there were no gay and lesbian persons in their countries. I understand that it would be diffiucult to engage in a listening process in a society in which gays and lesbians cannot risk coming out, but it seems to me that the churches in those places needed to find a way to fulfill as best they could the commitment made in 1998. The process in those places would have been very different from the process in the US, but my sense is that the commitment to listen or some was half-hearted at best. I am thankful that there are attempts to initiate listening in places where it has not happened and I hope these will bear fruit.