Monday, May 25, 2009

Boanergean Brouhaha over B033

Was ever so much ink (or so much cyberspace) wasted on something so meaningless as Resolution B033 of General Convention 2006? Truly, the importance it has assumed in the life of the Episcopal Church (USA), and of the Anglican Communion in general, is out of all proportion to its significance, and is a symptom of the distorted values, misplaced goals and confused thinking that ails the present leadership of the Church---at all levels.

Hardly anyone quotes it today, so I assume no one has had occasion to read it recently. As befits our calling as Christians, let us begin with the text:

Resolved, That 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 by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.
Given that within hours after its adoption of this Resolution on the last day that it met, General Convention 2006 had passed into the annals of history, the first resolve can be viewed as a kind of pious window-dressing. After June 21, 2006 it would make not the slightest difference to the larger picture whether or not the group that had met for nine days in Columbus, Ohio and dissolved on that date "received" or "embraced" the invitation of the Windsor Report to engage in any kind of process whatsoever. Let us at least be clear on this point: General Convention ceased to exist after June 21, 2006. Since it passed the Resolution in question on its last day, there may have been time to "receive" the Windsor Report, but there was scarcely time for GC 2006 to "engage in a process" any more of any kind. We can therefore skip the first resolve and go directly to the second. 

Let us parse it, exactly as we once long ago learned to do in high-school English class. (I am not sure whether schools still teach students how to parse sentences, so if you cannot self-identify with the phrase "long ago", then please pay attention.) The subject of the Resolution is "this Convention"---i.e., General Convention as it existed on June 21, 2006, soon to pass out of existence forever.

Its verb is "call upon".

The object of the verb is "Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdiction"---so General Convention 2006 (subject) is calling upon (verb, meaning "to urge, exhort") the standing committees and bishops with jurisdiction (the object of GC 2006's exhortation, i.e., the groups and bishops in every diocese who vote to confirm the election of a new bishop) to do something.

What they are called upon to do is "to exercise restraint"---"by not consenting" to certain consecrations to the episcopate.

All right, now let us make the following observations about B033:

1. It is a Resolution adopted by General Convention. As Roberts Rules of Order makes clear, a resolution is a form of motion. It states a proposal by the body that adopts it---like "I move that we do X."

2. As a motion to do something, namely, to call upon Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdiction, it is not binding on anybody. To "call upon" someone to do something recognizes that you have no power to make them do what you are "calling upon" them to do. In fact, to use the word "binding" makes no sense in regard to this type of resolution/motion. The very act of passing the Resolution fulfills it, and constitutes the call having been made as proposed and moved.

3. What little effect Resolution B033 could have, therefore, was over and done with as soon as it passed. Shortly after it did pass, the body which enacted it, General Convention 2006, itself passed out of existence, into history. It dissolved and its members went home. There are no further acts which General Convention 2006 could take, or sentiments it could express, ever again.

4. Passing Resolution B033 was therefore the moral equivalent of a person on their deathbed exhorting someone at their bedside to do something after their death---the request has only moral force, and there is no enforcement mechanism if the request is dishonored.

All right, are we clear on this? From the foregoing observations, it necessarily follows that all the resolutions to be offered at General Convention 2009 to "repeal" Resolution B033, or to declare it no longer in effect, are meaningless nullities. There is nothing to "repeal", or to declare "no longer in effect", because any effect of Resolution B033 was over and done with as soon as it passed. You cannot "repeal" a one-time act that took place in the past. And no good result can come from declaring that an act which is fully over and done with, and can never be repeated, or even enforced against anyone in the present, "no longer has any effect." (Either the one-time act in the past still causes some residual effects in the present, or it does not. If it does, then declaring that it does not is simply false; and if it no longer has any effect, then a declaration saying so is redundant, and adds nothing to the picture.)

The same is true of speaking as though Resolution B033 imposed "extra-canonical restraints". It did no such thing---it imposed no restraint of any kind, extracanonical or not, on anybody. It was the one-time request of a legislative body about to pass into history, and never to be repeated by that body once it no longer existed.

Resolution B033, in short, is a dead horse. (For just this once, I happen to concur fully with the Presiding Bishop on this point.) Then why is everyone beating it so?

Some will point to the action taken by the House of Bishops in September 2007, in adopting the following statement:

The House of Bishops offers the following responses to our Anglican Communion partners. We believe they provide clarity and point toward next steps in an ongoing process of dialogue. Within The Episcopal Church the common discernment of God's call is a lively partnership among laypersons, bishops, priests, and deacons, and therefore necessarily includes the Presiding Bishop, the Executive Council, and the General Convention.


  • We reconfirm that resolution B033 of General Convention 2006 (The Election Of Bishops) calls upon bishops with jurisdiction and Standing Committees "to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion."
  • We pledge as a body not to authorize public rites for the blessing of same-sex unions. . . .

Resolution B033 of the 2006 General Convention
The House of Bishops concurs with Resolution EC011 of the Executive Council. This Resolution commends the Report of the Communion Sub-Group of the Joint Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates of the Anglican Communion as an accurate evaluation of Resolution B033 of the 2006 General Convention, calling upon bishops with jurisdiction and Standing Committees "to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion." [Footnote omitted.] The House acknowledges that non-celibate gay and lesbian persons are included among those to whom B033 pertains. . . .

Do you see the contrast betweern how this Statement treats Resolution B033 and the issue of same-sex blessings? It does not adopt it, ratify it, or confirm it, or pledge anything in regard to it (unlike same-sex blessings, which the bishops "pledge as a body not to authorize . . ."). It simply refers to Resolution B033, as that resolution was described in a report to the Joint Standing Committee of the ACC and the Primates, which report was commended in another resolution by the Executive Council "as an accurate evaluation" of Resolution B033, including its application to "non-celibate gay and lesbian persons". And in the Summary portion, it merely reconfirms that the Resolution indeed made a one-time request. ("Yep, indeedy---shore 'nuff," as Snuffy Smith might say.)

And that is it. Once again: there was no adoption of Resolution B033 by the bishops themselves, no pledge to honor its request, and no commitment as to their future exercise of restraint. All they expressed in their Statement was their collective understanding of what Resolution B033 did---namely, exhort them not to do something.

And as for the Standing Committees which B033 equally addressed---did anyone ever hear anything from them? Any collective acknowledgment that the Resolution was even passed? Any commitment by them to honor the request? Again---nothing, nada, zip, zero.

So what, I ask again, is all the fuss about?

Well, I will tell you: Resolution B033 was a kind of political fig leaf. What it did was to cover up, for the time being, the cracks and fissures in ECUSA which had begun to open up with the actions of General Convention 2003, and with the action of the bishops who consecrated V. Gene Robinson to the episcopacy shortly thereafter. By taking that step immediately after the assembled Anglican primates---including ECUSA's own Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold!---had joined in a strongly-worded plea to refrain from it, the consecrating bishops (led by none other than the same Presiding Bishop Griswold) had quite simply stuck their thumb in the eye of the Anglican Communion. The result was the convening of the Lambeth Commission and the publication of its Windsor Report, which (in paragraph 134) called upon ECUSA “to effect a moratorium on the election and consent to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate who is living in a same gender union”.

So the Anglican Communion gave ECUSA a second chance. At General Convention 2006, the fissures dividing the various factions were wide and deep. There were those (as there still are today) who wanted to call it quits with the Anglican Communion, and effectively stick their thumb in its eye one final time. There were those who felt called upon to witness for "social justice" regardless of the consequences for the Church---or for the Communion---as a whole. There were the diminishing numbers of the orthodox, who wanted to call ECUSA back from any final rupture with the great majority of the Communion. And then there were those bishops who were eyeing their invitations to the 2008 Lambeth Conference, and who were desperate not to ruin their chances of receiving one.

The story of how these, and still other, battling factions were literally impelled together at the last hour by emotional appeals to fear, and to "make a gift" to Presiding Bishop-elect Katharine Jefferts Schori, so that she would not be handicapped in her first meeting with the other Anglican primates, has never received a better account than this one by Episcopal Life reporter Herb Gunn. (I commend it to you if only to note how some of the same names who were prominent in the debates leading up to B033's last-minute enactment---the Rev. Ian Douglas, Josephine Hicks, and Bishop Jefferts Schori---were also the ones who played decisive roles in the outcome of the recent fourteenth meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council.) Perhaps the most extraordinary moment of all came when on the very last day Presiding Bishop-elect Jefferts Schori made this dramatic appeal to the House of Deputies, as recounted by Mr. Gunn:

“Yesterday afternoon,” the Nevada bishop said, “the bishop of Louisiana spoke in our house most eloquently about living in a church with two minds—one church, two minds. As he was speaking, an image rose in my mind. It is a challenging image.

“We have read many stories in the news in the last several years about conjoined twins—two or parts of two bodies united in one being. And when physicians and ethicists and parents have wrestle with decisions about whether or not to try to separate the twins, they operate out of an understanding that is it wrong to attempt to separate those twins unless both can live full lives,” Jefferts Schori said.

“I think we are in a church much like that. This creature, this Body of Christ, is not wholly one and it is not wholly two. The resolution which stands before you is far from adequate. I find the language exceedingly challenging, but my sense is that it’s probably the best we’re going to do today and at this convention. I am fully committed to the full inclusion of gay and lesbian Christians in this church. I certainly don’t understand adopting this resolution as slamming the door, and I think that if you do pass this resolution, that you have to be willing to keep working with all your might at finding the common mind in this church. I don’t find this an easy thing to say to you, but I think that is the best that we’re going to manage at this point in our journey’s history.”

"The best that we're going to manage at this point in our journey's history"---that was how Resolution B033 was seen by those who urged its enactment, as well as by those who ended up voting for it. And yet, as I have observed above, what did it amount to? "The best that [General Convention 2006 could] manage" was a whispered request, made on its deathbed in its dying moments, to bishops and standing committees "to exercise restraint".

The tragedy in all this drama is that it was seen at the time as meaning so much, and that accordingly its "repeal", or declaring it to be "no longer in effect", could be seen as meaning anything today. The Resolution was, as I say, enacted as a political fig leaf---and it still retains that function. No one wants to be "responsible" for removing it, but many cannot bring themselves to ignore what it covers up, either. A fig leaf is our Biblical symbol for a modesty which results from lost innocence and newly acquired shame. By its very nature, a fig leaf is wholly inadequate to the task of actually covering anything up. A fig leaf, in short, represents a dishonest device for evading truth.

And that is my problem with all the brouhaha over what to do about Resolution B033. The best thing that the Church could do today is to forget it as quickly as possible. It was nothing to be proud of in 2006---but by the same token, it is not worth the effort of being ashamed of now, either. It is a dead measure---over and done with, finished, and fully deserving of the dustbin of history.

Continued focus on it serves only to distract the Church from addressing the real problem with which it is faced in its present relations with the Anglican Communion. That problem is not the ordaining of LGBTs per se, although such actions, taken in defiance of the wider Communion, are a symptom. The problem is more systemic, and has its roots in the inescapable contradictions that lie at the very heart of the Episcopal Church today---in the clash between its canons and Holy Scripture as embodied in the rites and rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer ever since 1792, and as traditionally taught and ministered in the Churches of the Communion. In the grotesque image put before the Deputies by Bishop Jefferts Schori, ECUSA's Book of Common Prayer and its canons are conjoined twins. They cannot survive together as currently constituted; the one is presently draining the life out of the other. Yet they cannot be separated unless one of them dies in the process.

That topic, however, deserves a whole new post of its own---which I promise to put up soon. Meanwhile, to those about to convene as General Convention 2009, I say: "Leave the past alone. Do not, I implore you, disinter B033 only for the purpose of burning its bones, as the Catholic Church did with John Wycliffe.1 You have far greater problems on hand which you must face."


1That famously futile gesture serves as a monument to the irrational fears (not of Wycliffe---who had been dead for thirty years---so much as of the reformer he influenced, Jan Hus) which beset the Council of Constance when it directed Wycliffe's exhumation in 1415 (at the same time as it had Hus treacherously burned at the stake). The ignominy is shared by Pope Martin V, who carried out the Council's decree against Wycliffe's bones twelve years later.


  1. I admire your ability to walk through the mad house without going mad.

  2. The whole process of non-binding and non-enforcible resolutions is a waste of time.

    Isn't this one more piece of evidence that TEC is not a hierarchal church?