World Mission “punts” Covenant resolution

The World Mission legislative committee led by Bishops Ian Douglas and Ed Little and Deputies Mark Harris and Josephine Hicks has brought forth a resolution on the proposed Anglican Covenant that essentially kicks it down the road to 2015.

The World Mission legislative committee led by Bishops Ian Douglas and Ed Little and Deputies Mark Harris and Josephine Hicks has brought forth a resolution on the proposed Anglican Covenant that essentially kicks it down the road to 2015. In spite of a predominance of comments at the hearings that speakers want the chance to vote to reject it (or for that matter accept it) Douglas and Hicks (who are active in Anglican Communion affairs and served on the Anglican Consultative Council) and Little (known to support the document) have led the committee to bring forth this “do nothing” resolution. B005 substitute purports to be “pastoral.” The committee seems to also ignored the fact that the Church of England, the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, The Scottish Episcopal Church and others have voted to either not accept or reject the document. D008 seems to have widespread support and echoes other provinces’ resolutions.

Center Aisle, the publication for General Convention by the Diocese of Virginia writes:

“Pastoral … not divisive” became the mantra of World Mission as it worked to craft two substitute resolutions on how the Episcopal Church should respond to the Anglican Covenant and the Anglican Communion.

B005 Substitute, “Ongoing Commitment to The Anglican Covenant Process,” would have General Convention “decline to take a position on the Anglican Covenant at this convention” for pastoral reasons, and asks that a task force of Executive Council monitor ongoing developments about the covenant.

D008 Substitute, “Affirm Anglican Communion Participation,” calls for the Church to “maintain and reinforce strong links” across the communion, and even to deepen its involvement with “Communion ministries and networks.”

Both resolutions go to great lengths to express gratitude for those who “faithfully work” on Anglican issues.

“We don’t just choose to be together, we are compelled to be together,” the Rev. Canon Mark Harris, Delaware, said, talking about Anglican issues in general. “The bonds of affection really are quite strong.”

Deputy Josephine Hicks, [ed. also active in ACC) North Carolina, said, “We’re still players and we want to be there. I like this language about continued participation in the councils.”

The Rt. Rev. Edward Little, Northern Indiana, echoed those feelings….

Harris explained the committee’s desire to make B005 focus on pastoral issues, as opposed to “contentious engagement with the issue.”

“As a primary mover of this,” Harris said, “I have to say that I understand why this may be difficult for some because it is not taking a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ stand on the acceptance of the Anglican Covenant. The belief of the subcommittee is that we grew to respect one another in the process of the discussion to a place where it was our collective sense that we needed to present to the convention the possibility that when we are in a place of considerable internal dissent of a variety of sorts, such that there is no clear mandate in one direction or another, that we say to each other, ‘Continue to sit at the table and be in discussion with each other.’”

It is, Harris said, “like saying, we’re sitting at the dinner table and we’re arguing, but we’re still commanded to sit down at the table and share this meal.”

The Rev Malcolm French, international convener of the No Anglican Covenant Coalition, writes:

Episcopal Church General Convention – Day 5

For reasons that escape me, we actually had our busiest day at the booths today. We’re hearing increasing frustration from many deputies about the possibility the committee may report out a “defer the decision” resolution on the Anglican Covenant.

This apparent intent of the committee seems to be rooted in an assumption that a polite “non, merci” could not pass the House of Bishops. I think there are two – well, actually three – problems with this approach.

First, I’m not convinced that the state of play in the House of Bishops is, in fact, what the committee assumes it to be.

Bear in mind that the two bishops on the relevant subcommittee do not want a “no.” Bishop Little of Northern Indiana would actually like to say “yes,” while Bishop Douglas of Connecticut believes that ambiguity gives the Episcopal Church better room to manoeuvre. I’m not suggesting either is being dishonest. They both seem to be decent and honourable folk. But perception is inevitably filtered through the lense of desire, and their perception does not seem consistent with the observations of other bishops.

My intelligence suggests that something between 40 to 45 percent of the bishops actually want to say “no,” while a slightly smaller amount want to avoid a “no,” whether for tactical reasons or because, like Bishop Little, they’d actually like to say “yes.” However you cut it, that leaves 15 to 20 percent “swing voters” who could be persuaded either way. One bishop I spoke to from the “don’t say no” camp actually believes his position is the minority of the decided bishops, while one pro-Covenant bishop seems convinced a “no” from the House of Bishops is a slam dunk.

Second, it is not at all clear that an ambiguous motion to punt the decision to 2015 would pass the House of Deputies. I’m certainly not convinced it would. As the days go on, the patience of the deputies for the Covenant seems to be wearing ever thinner.

Third, this whole dynamic seems consistent with one of the major flaws of the Anglican Covenant. It is a very “purple” document – concerned principally (and almost exclusively) with bishops. It seems almost to envision a church which is both episcopally led and episcopally governed, where the concerns of bishops are the principle engine of decision-making and where the role of the laity is, as the old saw has it, “to pray, to pay and to obey.” In the workings of the legislative subcommittee, we see a process that is driven, not by the heartfelt views of deputies, but by the combined anxieties and machinations of bishops.

If I might risk to make an outsider’s observation about process, it appears to me that the committee structure which exists in the Episcopal Church, while providing the appearance of collegial transparency in the development of legislation and resolutions may actually do just the opposite. The subcommittee proceedings seem less a healthy exchange of views than a self-reinforcing echo chamber. The Primus of the Episcopal Church of Scotland referred the other day to the “smoke-filled rooms” of the General Convention. This allusion to the bad old days of political powerbrokers and machine politics should, perhaps, be a clarion call to reconsider the whole approach to “managing” the debates of the Church.

Dare I say, the Episcopal Church’s response to the Anglican Covenant should be determined by those who have been authorized to make decisions on behalf of the Church – the Deputies and the Bishops – and not by a cabal of apparatchiks, however well-intentioned.

Episcopal Church General Convention – Day 6

Attended the hearing on another pair of “let’s not say no” resolutions on the Anglican Covenant. After breakfast, we watched the whole committee approve the replacement resolutions that they were always intending to send despite the overwhelming testimony for a clear no vote at the hearings the other day. Very disheartening.

We need to work out the floor strategy. The committee’s first resolution, affirming the Continuing Indaba and the Episcopal Church’s love of the Anglican Communion is about as controversial as tapwater, but probably needs to be said. I’m inclined that the best approach to the “just say anything but no” resolution is an amendment to replace the whole thing wth a clearer resolution based on last night’s final resolution from the Anglican Chuch in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia.

Speaking of which, here is the Anglican Communion News Service story on the ACANZAP decision, and here is the resolution that was passed, may I remind you, without dissent.

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