Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Some Good Sense from an Unexpected Source

Kudos to Bishops Benhase of Georgia and McConnell of Pittsburgh for their article, "A More Excellent Way," and kudos to The Living Church for publishing it as a lead essay in their most recent edition. It is rare (in this Curmudgeon's recent experience, that is) to see two Episcopal bishops who are not members of Communion Partners speak with such clarity about the crisis that is unfolding as the General Convention at Salt Lake City draws near.

Their topic is the work of the Task Force on the Study of Marriage and of the Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music -- specifically, Resolutions 2015-A036 and 2015-A054, whose theological and canonical fallacies I discussed in this post (Part I), this post (Part II), and in this post (Part III). In addition, they take on the SCLM's proposed Resolution 2015-A066, which I have been reserving for later comment, but which might as well be discussed now.

They begin with a rather surprising observation (as ones who have not exactly been distant from the events to which they refer):
St. Paul chastised the church in Corinth for failing to live in peace and concord as Christ’s body. The Corinthians had hauled one another before Caesar’s courts (1 Cor. 6:1-8) and split into warring factions (1 Cor. 1:10-17). For too much of the past generation, we have been like the Corinthians. Our Lord, however, has shown us a “more excellent way,” and we are called to take it up afresh (1 Cor. 12:31). In what follows, we provide a few suggestions for how we might embody this way at General Convention.
In taking up the report of the Task Force, they first observe that the group generated their report without any input from, or dialogue with, the Church's Anglican and ecumenical partners -- which was a mandate in the original resolution creating the Task Force. They also note, as did I, that the proposed revisions to Canons I.18.2 and I.18.3 will in effect divorce canonical marriage from marriage ("Holy Matrimony") under the BCP:
Resolution A036 proposes that all clergy will henceforth conform to “these canons concerning the solemnization of marriage,” rather than to “the laws of this Church governing Holy Matrimony.” The manifest problem that this revision seeks to get around is that the Episcopal Church will continue to have contrary laws governing Holy Matrimony in the Book of Common Prayer, a constitutional document. There are constitutional provisions for revising the prayer book. Perhaps that is the conversation we really need to have, but it is hard to see how a canon that directs clergy to disobey the prayer book might help that discussion.
[UPDATE 06/10/2015: One of the Task Force members who authored Resolution 2015-A036 is the Rev. Tobias Haller, who has been conducting a spirited defense of his proposals at his blog, In a Godward Direction. He takes issue with Bishops Benhase and McConnell in a new post:
... Far from "directing clergy to disobey" the BCP, the canon change addresses the current situation, in which we have clergy, operating under "generous pastoral provision," solemnizing same-sex marriages in those states in which the civil law permits, in violation of the current canon, and, if you accept the logic of Benhase and McConnell, in conflict with the BCP as well. It is true that the canon change will do nothing to change the BCP -- or to authorize any other liturgy, for that matter -- but it will remove the problem of clergy being in violation of the canons. And it is only the canon we are proposing to change.

So if the bishops are interested in "good order" as they say, this is a step they should applaud. It introduces no new conflict with the BCP -- that conflict is already there, if you accept their logic -- but it does remove the canonical dissonance, which is actionable under Title IV, in spite of the wink and nod of "generous pastoral provision." That no one is going to take clergy to ecclesiastical court, in those dioceses in which the bishop has permitted use of provisional rites for solemnizing same-sex marriages, is a nice promise, but from a canonist's perspective it is disorderly. We desire good order rather than ambiguity.

For there is no need for such ambiguity. The canon change will not alter the BCP, or the status of the BCP, but it will remove a conscientious burden for those clergy, and some bishops.
Unfortunately, both sides of this debate are correct. The bishops are right that performing the rites now "authorized" by diocesans in their own jurisdictions violates not just the current canons, but also the rubrics of the BCP, as I pointed out in this earlier post. And Father Haller is correct that his proposed amendment will remove the canonical violations -- but they will do nothing to stop the violations of the rubrics. Clergy may face disciplinary charges under Title IV for violating BCP rubrics, just as much as for violating canons -- see Canon IV. 4.1 (b) quoted in my earlier post.

By fixing the canons, but not the BCP, Resolution A036 simply moves the conflict elsewhere, and maintains the current disorder -- it does not, as Father Heller says, promote "good order." The proper solution would be to respect the primacy of the BCP in our canonical system, and to commence changing it, if that is what the Church wants. That process would take a minimum of four years, but at least it would ensure that the dialogues between different groups and factions could take place in the interim, rather than not at all, as is the case now.

Then the canons could be changed to conform to the revised BCP. And during the whole process, the "interim use" of "provisional rites" would not be allowed, insofar as those rites would be contrary to any rubrics in the BCP.

And that would be the way to maintain "good order" in the Church. Whether the LGBT forces behind the immediacy of the current proposals will indeed be patient enough to allow good order to prevail at GC 2015 is an open question.]

Next, their article takes up the rites proposed by the SCLM, and adds a new wrinkle to the language in that Resolution (A-054). Previous trial rites "authorized" by General Convention (and there is a good constitutional question as to whether General Convention had any authority to do so) had made their use "subject to the permission of the diocesan bishop." But the new Resolution purports to authorize the rites independently of the diocesan bishop, and to make their use throughout the Church possible "under the direction of the bishop exercising ecclesiastical authority" (italics added). In other words, the diocesan may not, under this language, completely withhold his permission for the rites: this is a subtle change which many bishops will see as an infringement upon the prerogatives they enjoy within their own dioceses.

The article also takes up proposed Resolution 2015-A066, a constitutional amendment to authorize (finally) what General Convention has unconstitutionally been doing for years and years, namely, the authorizing of experimental rites on its own, with no intent that they eventual replacements for the rites in the BCP. The points the bishops make are valid, and it is high time that General Convention stopped passing resolutions first and considering their validity only much later, if ever.

The whole article, in other words, is well worth a careful read -- especially by those who will be the ones to vote on the resolutions in question.


  1. I find it ironic that Bps Benhase and McConnell would quote the following text, "St. Paul chastised the church in Corinth for failing to live in peace and concord as Christ’s body. The Corinthians had hauled one another before Caesar’s courts (1 Cor. 6:1-8)" given both of their diocese, the Diocese of Georgia and the Diocese of Pittsburgh (TEC), initiated secular court actions to abscond the property of parishes that overwhemingly voted to leave the Episcopal Church.

    1. I found it ironic, too, Fr. Wilson -- which is why I made the parenthetical remark that precedes their reference to St. Paul.

      Is it a case of "live and learn"? Only time will tell.