Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The 2009 Church Follies (III): Veni, sancte spiritus

We are now a little more than a week away from the start of the 76th General Convention of the Episcopal Church (USA). Already I can see signs of the fog of confusion descending upon the leaders who will assemble in Anaheim, and sure enough, by the time all of the deputies gather for the opening session, it will be impossible for them to see out --- to orient themselves according to any usual or customary landscape whatsoever. As go their leaders, so will go the deputies. The old proverb has it: "In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king." The trouble is, in the kingdom of the befogged, not even a one-eyed person can help.

Those of us who will be on the outside looking in will have a double advantage: the fog will not affect us (since we won't be there), neither will it obscure our ability to tell what is going on. For the General Convention of ECUSA is the largest and most transparent monument to collective folly that has ever been devised by the mind of man. To be sure, there are larger legislative bodies that gather together from time to time --- the National People's Congress of China has about 3,000 members --- but unlike the deputies to General Convention, its members are under no illusions about what they can accomplish. In contrast, General Convention consists of the House of Bishops (potentially 300, except the retired ones don't bother to show up) and up to 880 lay and clergy members of the House of Deputies, each of whom is carefully instructed for months beforehand to believe and act as though they were beholden to no one but the Holy Spirit:

Deputies are not delegates; that is, they are not elected to represent the electing dioceses.

Deputies vote their conscience for the good of the church. They cannot be instructed to vote one way or another, for to do so would preclude godly debate and preempt the work of the Holy Spirit. . . .
(Such instruction is anathema to the purpose and functions of General Convention as originally conceived and created by those who assembled in New York in the fall of 1789 to adopt ECUSA's first Constitution. Please read this post for the full details.)

Yes, "godly debate" is what takes place these days at General Convention. That phrase means, by the way, "a debate among those who are like gods". This is the oldest sin in the Bible. As the snake told Eve: " . . . [W]hen you eat of the fruit that God has forbidden to you, you will be like God . . ." (Gen. 3:5).

And now we learn that a special form of "godly debate" --- strictly speaking, not a debate, but a "discussion" --- is to take place with regard to that infamous resolution passed on the last day of the previous General Convention, known as "B033". The discussion will take place in the House of Deputies, meeting in the formal guise of a "Committee of the Whole", on the second and third days of the Convention.

It is difficult to know what to say in the face of this proposal. On the one hand, it suggests that the deputies to General Convention are to be afflicted from the outset by the cold, dead hand of a one-time motion made three years ago, whose entire effect was over and done with the moment it passed. On the other hand, one can always hope and pray that in their discussion of the measure as a Committee of the Whole, the deputies will come to the realization that any resolution they could enact in this session would be just as meaningless and ineffective as was B033 in 2006.

There are now no less than twelve resolutions proposed for discussion at GC 2009 which deal, in one way or another, with the corpse that is Resolution B033 from GC 2006. The powers that direct such things have decreed, in their wisdom, that all such resolutions shall be assigned to the Legislative Committee on World Mission. (To view the various resolutions, go to this link, then select, under the first menu at the left ["All Committees"], Committee No. #08, "World Mission", and hit the "Refresh" button. In the list of resolutions that appears, the ones bearing on B033 and its aftermath are Resolution Nos. C007, C010, C015, C024, C033, C036, C039, C046, C054, D013, D021 and D022; also pertinent [as expanding the category of persons to whom holy orders are made expressly open] are Nos. C001 and C061.) The membership of the Legislative Committee on World Mission may be viewed from this link by selecting "World Mission" from the pull-down menu.

I find it somewhat curious that all the resolutions dealing with Resolution B033 should have been assigned to the Legislative Committee on World Mission, which is the Convention's counterpart to the permanent Standing Commission on World Mission. The latter's membership and duties are described as follows in Canon I.1.2(11) (with my italics):
[There shall be a] Standing Commission on World Mission, whose members shall include persons broadly representative of jurisdictions outside the United States of America, as well as persons having direct engagement with and experience in world mission. It shall be the duty of the Commission, as to all mission outside the United States, to review and evaluate existing policies, priorities and strategies, and to promote partnership for global mission among the various groups within the church, to plan and propose policy on overseas mission, and to make recommendations pertaining to the Executive Council and the General
The mission and function of the Legislative Committee on World Mission, I take it, is similar to that of the Standing Commission: its main area of concern is with all mission of the Church outside the United States. And as part of that function, the Legislative Committee on World Mission is going to decide the fate of whether or not ECUSA continues to abide by the recommendations of the Windsor Report. Forget the fact that there is a Legislative Committee on the Consecration of Bishops --- that Committee, don't you see, deals exclusively with whose election as a bishop shall actually be ratified by the House of Deputies during the time that General Convention is in session, and does not deal with the issue in the abstract. And forget the fact that there are Legislative Committees on National and International Concerns (of which the Windsor Report was surely one, at least in times past), on Evangelism, on Ministry, and on the Canons. No, it makes much more sense to the leadership of the House to require the Committee that has exclusive jurisdiction over the Church's mission outside the United States to deal with this subject matter. Do you see the fog descending?

It is not sufficient, however, to benight the Legislative Committee on World Mission with the subject of how a group who meets just two weeks out of every three years can have any effect on the process of nominating and confirming bishops in the other 154 weeks of the triennium. No, the entire House of Deputies itself must be dragged into the fog from the very beginning, and consider that topic as a Committee of the Whole. As Roberts Rules describes the function of such a group (10th ed., p. 513-14 - italics in original):
In a committee of the whole, which is suited to large assemblies, the results of votes taken are not final decisions of the assembly, but have the status of recommendations . . . Also, a chairman of the committee of the whole is appointed and the regular presiding officer leaves the chair . . .

. . . The assembly votes to go into a committee of the whole (which is equivalent to voting to refer the matter to the committee), and a chairman of the committee is appointed. The committee considers the referred matter, adopts a report to be made to the assembly, then votes to "rise and report". Finally, the committee chairman presents the report and the assembly considers the committee's recommendations --- all as in the case of an ordinary committee.
Does anyone else begin to see what the fog of confusion is doing here? Listen to how the President of the House Deputies describes what she thinks the House will be doing (I have added the bold to her words, for emphasis):
It is my belief that the House of Deputies will benefit by having an opportunity to discuss B033 apart from the context of legislative procedure. Many deputies have indicated their longing to discuss B033 together as a House. The HOD Legislative Committee on World Mission (#8) has indicated their work will be aided by this conversation in the HOD prior to the committee’s open hearing on the topic.
In the fog of her confusion, the President of the House of Deputies seems to think that the entire House, as a Committee of the Whole, can serve as a subcommittee of the HOD Legislative Committee on World Mission. She has not read her Roberts Rules --- or even the Rules of the HOD itself, Rule XIII:

XIII Committee of the Whole

52. Whenever so ordered by a vote of a majority of the members present, the House may go into the Committee of the Whole for the consideration of any matter.

53. The President shall designate some member of the House to act as Chair of the Committee of the Whole, which, when in session, shall be governed by these Rules, as adapted by the Chair, subject to appeal to the Committee, and also to the following provisions: rise and report to the House shall take precedence.

a) A motion to rise and to report to the House, with or without request for leave to sit again, may be made at any time, shall take precedence over all other motions, and shall be decided without debate by majority vote. No such motion shall be renewed until after further proceedings shall have been had in the Committee of the Whole.
. . .
d) The Committee of the Whole cannot alter the text of a Resolution referred to it, but may adopt and report amendments for action by the House.

Note especially that last phrase: a committee of the whole, like any other legislative committee of the HOD, reports to the House, for action by the House, and not by some other Committee. So in that sense, the report made by the committee of the whole House before the Legislative Committee on World Mission even takes up the matter will render the entire work of the latter Committee superfluous. For consider: if the latter Committee comes out with a report that disagrees with that of the Committee of the Whole, it knows already that any such disagreement will not be ratified by the House (because the members of the Committee on World Mission [except the bishops] were themselves sitting as members of the Committee of the Whole, and if their position had carried the day, then it would have made it into the report). And if it comes out with a report that concurs with that of the Committee of the Whole, then what good has that done?

Apparently, however, the President proposes to use the Committee of the Whole as a tool to give some guidance to the Legislative Committee on World Mission on the twelve-plus resolutions it will be taking up, without actually having to debate the individual merits of any of those resolutions in the Committee of the Whole itself. But how much can be said about a dead Resolution, which but expressed the momentary mind of a legislative body that can never again come into existence? For example, look at the utter vacuousness of one of the twelve resolutions, number C007, which reads in its entirety:

Resolved, the House of _______ concurring, That this 76th General Convention affirms that standing committees and bishops with jurisdiction are not bound by any extra-canonical restraints --- including but not limited to the restraints set forth in Resolution B033 passed by the 75th General Convention-when considering consents to the ordination of any candidate to the episcopate.
This "Resolution" states nothing more than a truism. The very nature of "extra-canonical restraints" is that they are not binding on anyone --- and passing a Resolution declaring that they are not binding is a meaningless act. Indeed, the deputies to GC 2006 recognized this very fact, when they voted to reject an amendment to Resolution B033 that would have inserted into it words purporting to place a time limit on its effects. As reported in these excellent notes on that last-day session:

The first amendment has been proposed to add the words "until the General Convention 2009" in order to give a time limit to this commitment of restraint in episcopal elections.

Frank Wade, the chair of the Special Committee, said that the acts of one General Convention cannot bind another General Convention. We could add these words to every resolution the house passes. This amendment doesn't add anything and complicates much.
Now contrast that (momentary) clear-sightedness about the limited effect any resolution passed by General Convention can have with the following delusionary proposal which is Resolution C010, also before the Committee on World Mission. I give its text below, and fisk it paragraph-by-paragraph:

Resolved, the House of _______ concurring, That the 76th General Convention of The Episcopal Church recognize that the usefulness of Resolution B033 as passed by the 75th General Convention of The Episcopal Church has run its course . . .

Indeed its effect has run its course. Resolution B033, as a motion by a legislative body to make a recommendation, ran its course the moment it was passed. The act of passing it constituted the making of the recommendation it expressed. And as a recommendation only, it could not have any continuing force or effect on either bishops or standing committees.

and be it further Resolved, That the 76th General Convention of The Episcopal Church herewith repeal Resolution B033 as passed by the 75th General Convention of The Episcopal Church . . .

As a motion (and not a statute, like a canon, which has ongoing force and effect), Resolution B033 is incapable of repeal. Can we please understand that essential difference between a motion and a statute? The motion was to recommend something, and the recommendation was made. That act of recommending is now wholly in the past, and like any other past, one-time act, to speak of its "repeal" makes no sense. One might as well vote to "repeal" the Defenestration of Prague.

and be it further Resolved, That The Episcopal Church acknowledges with regret the further oppression visited on the lesbian and gay members of this church by Resolution B033 and its application; and apologizes for the potentially negative impact of said resolution on the ability to respond to the vocational call by the Holy Spirit to the episcopate of any members of this church . . .

Apologies, to be effective, need to be made by the persons committing the offense. General Convention 2006 is over and gone, and can live no more. Its sins (and they were many) are buried with it. "Leave the dead to bury the dead." If anyone must apologize, it should be any bishops and standing committees who took the recommendation to heart and acted on it. Volunteers, anyone?

and be it further Resolved, That The Episcopal Church expresses its appreciation to the lesbian and gay members of this church for their patience during this time of discernment for the church . . .

"Patience"? Did you say patience? And "time of discernment"? What time is that? --- oh, this must be referring to the present discernment going on about making it mandatory to extend holy orders without regard to "the expression of gender identity", whatever that means. (So if a man chooses to "express himself" as a woman --- i.e., be a transvestite and dress up in stockings, heels and padded bra --- does that mean we have to ordain him if he feels called? And does he thereafter lead women's retreats, or just men's? And if we cannot bar him from holy orders, can he be barred from joining the Daughters of the King --- if he is Episcopalian?)

and be it further Resolved, That in the call to see the face of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in each other, this church pledges its utmost effort to keep all parties "at the table" as The Episcopal Church continues to insure the full participation of all of God's children in the life of this church.

"This church pledges" is a perfect example of that anonymous, impersonal kind of feel-goodism for which we spend millions and millions of dollars to hold a General Convention every three years. Are the Deputies "this church"? They are not. Are the bishops "this church"? They are not. Have the 110 dioceses --- sorry, that's 106 dioceses now, plus the CACE --- each authorized their delegations to make "pledges" in their name? (Oh, wait --- that's right. Repeat after me: "Deputies are not delegates; that is, they are not elected to represent the electing dioceses.") So exactly how, please, do they constitute "this church (of 106 dioceses)" when they assemble for just two weeks out of every three years?

In summary: we have a proposal to convene the entire House of Deputies for two hours on two separate days as a legislative committee to discuss a now-long-dead resolution whose entire effect was over and done with as soon as it passed. (Why can't they equally well take up the Defenestration of Prague in 1618? It would accomplish exactly as much: "Should never have happened ---then we would never have had the Thirty Years War." "Oh, I don't know --- then we never would have had the Treaty of Westphalia, either." "That's true, but what about . . .?" ad infinitum [cue Monty Python and the debate about coconuts].)

That committee of the whole House, which includes the Committee on World Mission, is supposed to instruct the latter on what it should report to the whole House, if it wants the House to enact whatever it reports. That is, the House will decide in advance what one of its Committees should report to the House (because in reality, the jurisdiction of the Committee has almost nothing to do with the resolutions that have been referred to it). So, I ask you: why should the Committee go through the motions, when the Committee of the Whole can do the job just as well?

I note that over at the Covenant blog, Father Dan Martins has this observation:

The following was sent by email to all deputies and first alternates Monday evening. It follows recent calls on HoB/D for a way for the HOD to express its mind on controversial issues early in the convention without waiting for the usual legislative process to play out. I know of no certain connection between the two, but it is at least a coincidence from which one is tempted to infer behind-the-scenes negotiations.
Indeed. It would appear that as far as "godly debate" and "the work of the Holy Spirit" are concerned, there is a certain lack of trust in the process. Veni, sancte spiritus . . .


  1. Susan Russell in a comment at T19 noted that it really doesn't matter what happens to B033 because another way to negate it is:

    "According to a recent opinion by the Chancellor to the President of the House of Deputies:

    A Resolution adopted by one General Convention remains the position of the General Convention until it (1) expires by its own terms, (2) is revoked by a subsequent act of a General Convention, or (3) is superseded by General Convention’s adoption of something clearly contrary to the prior enactment even if the prior act is not explicitly revoked. A General Convention cannot bind a future General Convention, a future General Convention can always change what a prior General Convention has done.

    The Presiding Bishop’s 'preference' that we not revisit past legislation is happily met by option (3)."

    If she is happy, then all must be right with the universe.

    +Mark Lawrence is right, don't fight it.

    Momma always said, "No point in fightin with those folks, you'll just get your clothes dirty."

  2. You are exactly right, UP. There is no common ground on which any rational person can meet someone who is fighting against (or to obliterate from all memory) an already dead resolution. B033 is one giant red herring which will serve only to draw the LGBT activist crowd into a marathon discussion - there is no way that the two hours allocated to it on Bonnie Anderson's schedule will be adequate, and I predict the obsession with it will turn the rest of the schedule for the HOD into a shambles.

    The fog has already descended upon the leadership that could set up General Convention for this kind of a fall, and it will soon envelop all the activist deputies, as well. As you probably know, folks who monitor it tell me that the HoB/D listserv fairly hums right now with the preparations by the activists to make sure they bring everything from laptop batteries to toothbrushes. They are focusing solely on what they will be able to push through for their common agenda, with no thought whatsoever of what it will mean for the larger Communion.

    In the final analysis, however, that agenda is self-defeating, because it will tolerate no other independent agendas around it. Once all the other agendas have been driven off the playing field, the activists will discover that what they have left will not hold together of its own. It is a goal-driven agenda, and the goal is to succeed and drive everybody else from the field. It stands for nothing positive on its own, so when there are no longer any significant opponents, the program will reduce to arguments over rites and vestments --- with a whole new world of possibilities for the "gender identity" crowd.

    I usually prefer to hold back just a bit, and not take on a confrontation that can do little good. But now all I see at the top levels in ECUSA is nothing but benighted leadership, bent on its own destruction. So I say: bring it on! Let's get this over with, and get back to a religion that we can salvage out of the wreckage. ECUSA is the future, but only for a short while longer. It could just be that Anaheim will offer the curtain on the final, perfect storm.

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