Badminton anyone?

This is a post about the Anglican Covenant. Bear with me.

Everyone enjoys a horse race. But imagine a horse race in which the last to finish was the winner. Changing the rules of the race radically changes how it is played. The outcome is predictable assuming the jockeys understand the rules. It’s in no one’s interest to move. The result is always stalemate.

It was big news at the London Olympics when badminton teams were intentionally trying to lose. Reactions to watching world-class athletes repeatedly hitting the shuttlecock into the net ranged from amused, to bemused, to unamused.

However, it was well known the round robin tournament design created these adverse incentives. No one expected players to take advantage of those rules. We all know now that the players were seriously penalized for playing by the rules. Their behavior was called unsportsmanlike. Yet the World Badminton Association that sets the rules (and evidently makes up the penalties for unsportsmanlike behavior on the fly) is not sure it will change the design — ‘there is no guarantee the format will be changed because it has “brought action to many, many more viewers and prolonged the Olympic experience for many, many more players.”‘ Talk about perverse incentives; I hear the sound of money.

Which brings us to the Anglican Covenant. Among the No Anglican Covenant folks in The Episcopal Church, and worldwide there was dismay that General Convention took the advice of its World Mission Legislative Committee and chose not to take action on the Anglican Convention. Kicking the can down the road was the phrase I and others used.

The chair of the sub-committee on the Covenant, Mark Harris, has posted an explanation of the sub-committee’s thinking. Here’s one bit.

B005 Substitute essentially changed the question of adoption from something requiring immediate response to a question we could answer at our leisure, when we are ready to do so. We changed the assumption of the game plan.

In my mind, the larger Anglican Covenant game involves a sales pitch where the producers of the Anglican Covenant said we needed to buy a particular product (The Anglican Covenant) because we need, or want, or desire, what it can do for us. The product was advertised to make us part of a very special group – the Anglican Communion – if only we would buy and use the product. If we didn’t – well the heartbreak of psoriasis is nothing compared to the heartbreak of second tier life – not an outcast, but not a player either. But the choice was ours – buy or don’t buy. Every province supposedly gets the same offer – yes or no – and on that full inclusion in the Anglican Communion rests. But who make this game up?

For some of us on the committee and out there in Anglican land it was clear that it was the product of the same minds that turned Lambeth Resolution 1988,I.10 into a litmus test of Anglican purity, and the Windsor Report into a definitive road map. Both those Anglican disasters made the Covenant the clear strategy of those who were and are opposed to anything like inclusion of gay and lesbian Christians in the life and leadership of the churches. The Anglican Covenant has been widely disliked as an instrument that serves the wrong ends by the wrong means.

As in the race to be last, in this game being last to join is a strategy that is best regardless of what others do. In the language of game theorists it is a dominant strategy. And as has been observed, it’s the strategy adopted by most of Gafcon, too. Jump on the train just at the instant before it’s too late for anyone else to join.

Pastoral, schmastoral. Winning. That’s what it’s all about, right?

Badminton anyone?

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