Monday, July 26, 2010

Shifting the Deck Chairs: the ACC's Standing Committee In-Action

In the Anglican Communion Office's report of the second day of proceedings at the meeting of the ACC's "Standing Committee", we find this paragraph:
A proposal from Dato' Stanley Isaacs that The Episcopal Church be separated from the Communion led to a discussion in which Committee members acknowledged the anxieties felt in parts of the Communion about sexuality issues. Nevertheless, the overwhelming opinion was that separation would inhibit dialogue on this and other issues among Communion Provinces, dioceses and individuals and would therefore be unhelpful. The proposal was not passed, and the group agreed to defer further discussion until progress on Continuing Indaba project had been considered.
Dato' Stanley Isaacs is a Malaysian attorney, and one of four lay persons serving on the fifteen-person Committee. The next meeting of the ACC will be his last, because he has already served at the two previous meetings. The fact that his motion did not pass is a reflection of the composition of the Committee, as discussed in this earlier post. Its membership now comes largely from ECUSA and those provinces sympathetic to it.

Canon Kearon, the Secretary-General of the ACC, delivered a verbal report which closed with the following remarks:
He concluded by noting that the credibility of the Primates' Meeting and the ACC was being openly questioned by some and this criticism was increasingly focused on the Standing Committee itself. Chair Bp James Tengatenga stressed it was important for everyone to remember that ACC members were elected and sent by their own Provinces and Synods and represented a very wide spectrum of views across the world. Vice Chair Canon Elizabeth Paver said the Committee needed to respond to criticisms "positively and robustly", welcomed the appointment of the ACO's new Director for Communications and said that improved communication and openness would promote trust and better understanding of the work of the Instruments.
Bishop Tengatenga would seem to be unaware of the problem Canon Kearon identified. The problem is not that the (non-Primate) members of the "Standing Committee" are each elected by their respective Provinces; it is, as I documented in this earlier post, the the current membership of the Committee reflects only a minority of those provinces, with no representatives from the major provinces of the Global South. A full one-third of its fifteen members come just from ECUSA, the Church of England, and the Church of Wales (whose archbishop previously announced his intention to ignore Lambeth Resolution 1.10 from 1998).

However, moves appear to be afoot to alter further the structure of the ACC and its "Standing Committee" significantly in the coming years. First, the Archbishop of Canterbury indicated that he would like to see some changes:
Archbishop Rowan Williams questioned whether the ACC's committee structure was appropriate for this new century. He said questions needed asking about whether revised Instrument structures were required to better foster the relationship-building parts of the Communion's life, "so when it comes to looking at the complex questions of the Communion we have a better foundation upon which to build."

Later in the meeting, the Committee asked a small group of Standing Committee members to prepare a proposal for ACC-15 on undertaking a strategic review and planning process relating to ACC membership and meetings and Standing Committee structure and operation.
Moreover, it appears that the ACC is finally getting around to dealing with the 2009 request made by the Primates to give them a majority of eight positions on the fifteen-member Committee, instead of the current five (however, see the Note below -- it would appear that the "Standing Committee" [inadvertently? deliberately?] changed the Primates' proposal somewhat):
After extensive discussion on the Primates' Meeting 2009 request to increase its Standing Committee membership from five to eight, the Standing Committee:

1. noted the request from the Primates' Meeting 2009 to increase from 5 to 8 the number of Primates on the Standing Committee

2. affirmed that the proper body to make a decision about this request is the ACC

3. without expressing a view for or against the request asked the Legal Adviser to draft constitutional changes to implement the following structure for the Standing Committee for consideration at the next Standing Committee meeting and eventually by ACC-15: The President, the Chairperson, the Vice-chairperson, 8 Primates, 8 other Trustee-members (non-Primates) [Ed.: Note that this proposal would increase the number of Trustee-Members from 15 to 19, so that the 8 Primates plus the ABC would not be a majority unless the Chair or the Vice Chair were also a Primate, whereas if they were both clergy-laity, then the Primates would be in a minority.]

4. requested the Finance and Administration Committee to advise on the financial implications of this proposal.
(And don't forget that the ACC passed a resolution at ACC-14 asking the Primates to "include an equal number of non-Primatial members of the Standing Committee as non-voting participants in the Primates' Meeting." If that happens, we would see a gradual fusing of the two bodies over time.)

Who is really running this show? There is no question that the Primates are gradually bringing their weight to bear against the structure of the ACC, using as a lever the change in its status from a public charity to a private limited company, as detailed in this post. Nevertheless, to understand what is really going on, one has to go a little behind the scenes. For it must be said: both the "Standing Committee" and its legal adviser, the (honorary) Canon John Rees, have lost a good deal of their credibility as a result of the seating of the Rt. Rev. Ian Douglas as one of its members.

At Jamaica in May 2009, it was Canon Rees and the (then) Joint Standing Committee who, meeting a day in advance of the start of ACC-14 itself, declared that they had ruled that the Rev. J. Philip Ashey was not "qualified" to serve as an alternate representative of the Province of Uganda, because although canonically resident in Uganda, he was physically resident in the United States, and thus was violating the moratorium against border-crossing. Sources informed us at the time that the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori argued vehemently against allowing him to be seated, and her views prevailed in the Committee.

After one of the sessions at ACC-14, Canon Rees participated in a press conference, where he gave some background to the impending constitutional changes for the ACC, and answered questions from the floor. There is an .mp3 file of the session which may be listened to or downloaded from this page. The first question addressed to Canon Rees had to do with the interpretation which the JSC had given to the word "qualified" so as to refuse to seat the Rev. Ashey, and he was asked whether anything would be different under the new constitutional structure.

If you listen to his response (beginning at about 07:30), you will hear Canon Rees first point out that the same language about a "qualified" representative appears in the new articles. He goes on to say that nothing in the new provisions should cause any change in the interpretation of the word "qualified":
The Joint Standing Committee, meeting and making that decision, if it were faced with the same decision again, I would imagine would approach it on the same sort of basis: and the basis, the underlying basis, must be that . . . as charity trustees, they have an overriding duty to see that the overall purposes of the charity are sustained, and so if a decision is being made which appeared to be undermining the arrangements for the charity generally, then I would expect them to approach it the same way on another occasion.
Except that, this time, in the case of Bishop Douglas, who is in continuing violation of the moratorium against allowing same-sex blessings in his diocese, Canon Rees advised the Committee that it could seat him, nonetheless. One sees clearly by this decision who controls the "Standing Committee", and just whom Canon Rees is really serving with his "advice."

To claim that seating a representative who was engaged in "border-crossing" would undermine "the arrangements for the [ACC] generally," thereby triggering the duty of the Trustee-Members to take action to prevent it, while now seating, as one of the very Trustee-Members of the ACC, a representative who sanctions the blessing of same-sex unions by the clergy under his pastoral directions, is another of those hypocritical acts which is the hallmark of those who lean to the left. In their mind, there is no hypocrisy. For in the first instance, the Committee acted to block a representative who was inimical to the views of its majority, while in the second instance, it upheld the status of one who espouses those views.

The high-minded appeal to the "arrangements for the ACC generally" is just so much legal salad-dressing. It makes palatable what would otherwise taste raw and crude, and stick in one's throat. But it has nothing to do with what we are being asked to swallow.


  1. Above you note that: "[The Standing Committee's] membership now comes largely from ECUSA and those dioceses sympathetic to it."

    Just for the sake of accuracy -- I counted 2 (Bishops Douglas and Jefferts-Schori) Americans out of 13 members. Bp. Douglas having been appointed by the ACC and Bp. Jefferts-Schori by the Primates. Are you saying the ACC and the Primates are sympathetic to current movements in the Episcopal Church and therefore appointed two ECUSA bishops to the S.C.?

    Additionally, of the remaining 11, 3 are from Britain , and one each from Malawi(Tengatenga), West Africa(Amable), Bangladesh, Malaysia, Ceylon. None of these provinces could be characterized as "sympathetic" to developments in the ECUSA could they?

    So that leaves, apart from the 2 americans, a New Zealander, and Australian, and a South African who might be thought of as representing provinces 'sympathetic to the ECUSA'. I don't think 5 out of 13 would be considered "largely". Unless I'm missing something here.

  2. Fr. Montgomery, you do indeed miss the substance of what I have written. In this earlier post, I grouped the current SC membership (minus the Primate-elected members) as follows:

    United States and Great Britain (ECUSA and the churches of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland):

    Archbishop Rowan Williams (President) (CoE; ex officio)
    + Archbishop Barry Morgan (CoW)
    + Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori (ECUSA)
    Bishop Ian Douglas (ECUSA)
    Canon Elizabeth Paver (Vice-Chair) (CoE)

    Churches of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa:

    + Archbishop Phillip Aspinall (CoA)
    Canon Janet Trisk (CoSA)
    Dr Anthony Fitchett (CoANZP)

    Churches of the Provinces of Central and West Africa:

    Bishop James Tengatenga (CPCA)
    Mrs Philippa Amable (CPWA)

    Churches of the Province of Southeast Asia, and of Bangladesh and Ceylon:

    Bishop Kumara Illangasinghe (Ceylon)
    Dato' Stanley Isaacs (CPSEA)
    + Bishop Paul Sarker (Bangladesh)

    I noted that the first eight were all ideologically on the same page -- given the positions they had demonstrated at, and since, ACC-14. Those eight alone are sufficient to carry a majority of the "Standing Committee" as currently constituted. But even more demonstrably, I noted that the votes to seat the Rev. Canon Trisk and Bishop Douglas had been unanimous. So that is the basis for my assertion that the Committee's membership comes largely from ECUSA and those [provinces] sympathetic to it." (I have corrected the original post by changing the word "dioceses" to "provinces.")

  3. I would also add that those most opposed to TEC and its gospel have already left the SC - Anis, Marshall, Orombi and Okrofi. While some of the remaining SC members may not be sympathetic to TEC (it seems that the Malaysian representative certainly isn't), those who see that it is following a different gospel have already left in protest. Perhaps we should call it the "Last Man Standing Committee".
    It's also very strange that a body that claims to represent the AC has no one from Nigeria, Kenya or Tanzania - some of the largest and fastest growing churches in the AC. They haven't resigned from the SC, they weren't selected in the first place. You can understand the accusations of colonialism from the African churches when it is claimed that this SC represents the entire AC.
    Andrew Reid

  4. Of course, missing from the SC discussions altogether is how the SC can allow the consecrator of Mary Glasspool to sit as a member of the SC after having removed Rev. Ashey from a seat on the ACC. Not to mention, of course, that said member consented to the consecration of Gene Robinson. Not to mention authorized SSBs from the moment of taking office in Nevada shortly after Lambeth 98. The SC is completely discredited, and the majority of its members are not in Communion with the majority of the Communion they pretend to "represent." It is a ruling junta.

  5. Any committee that comes up with statements such as:

    "...the group agreed to defer further discussion until progress on Continuing Indaba project had been considered."

    should be seen as a "show committee" and not a "working committee."

    "...progress on Continuing Indaba..."

    What a ridiculous thought.

  6. As a former staff member of the Anglican Communion Secretariat in London I find this conversation sad and misleading. The Standing Committee should be seen as what it was intended to be, namely those who are actually making decisions (and not just for the small office) but for ACC meetings (where decision making has never been the main emphasis. Since my ordination and having supplied in some 19 churches in London no one every asks me about the ACC but many respond to my comments on visits made with the Archbishops to places like Sudan or Palestine. The people in the pews seem to be better in prioritising than others.

  7. I counted the number of persons from each province on the ACC-14 participant list, including the co-opted members. I was intentional to include the co-opted members since the chair could have used that group to help correct any proportional representative imbalance. I also included the empty Ugandan seat. I did not include the primates standing committee, as they are selected by the primates, rather than the ACC. I did include the Archbishop of Canterbury. Using province membership data from here, I calculated the number of communicants represented by each ACC participant. The participants from Scotland each represented 26,000 communicants; New Zealand 146,000. In contrast, Nigeria 6,666,000; Uganda 4,391,000, Kenya 2,500,000.