That about sums up the General Convention on Wednesday, June 14th. “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” This is a famous quote from the movie Cool Hand Luke.
The quote is attributed to "Captain, Road Prison 36," who was played by Strother Martin. (see Ask Yahoo) Here is the entire quote: “What we've got here is failure to communicate. Some men you just can't reach, so you get what we had here last week which is the way he wants it. Well, he gets it. And I don't like it any more than you men.” Paul Newman as Cool Hand Luke later mocks the Captain using the first line.
Well there it is: Wednesday felt like a failure to communicate. Events both big and small contributed to this feeling:
The House of Deputies did one very good thing: It elected Bonnie Anderson as the President of the House of Deputies. It was an easy vote. She was the only candidate, with no opposition. She will be very good indeed in that office. The voting went easily.
The same could not be said for a more complex election – that for members of the Church Pension Fund board. After an exercise of over an hour in trying to vote, we produced a failed electronic ballot, a mountain of frustration and a parliamentary muddle. So we will try again tomorrow, using a paper ballot.
Otherwise the legislative process is churning along.
The real failure to communicate concerns the hearings in the evening. I spent most of the evening at the Program, Budget and Finance hearing on spending requests. The statements about the programs were emotionally eloquent (mine was pretty much a failure), but very few provided explicit information. Testimony seemed to be gauged to “winning hearts,” an admirable activity to be sure but not of much substance. I don’t know if the hearing produced anything in the way of new information.
What was good is the large crowd that came to the spending hearing. It was in competition with the open hearing on the Special Committee on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. The sign up to speak at the PB&F hearing was at 7 PM and when I arrived promptly at 7 to do so, the line was already over sixty deep. There were finally 90 or so requests to speak.
Upstairs and down the hall the Special Committee was having its hearing. I caught only the end of that session but heard the Archbishop of York speak. Every person testifying was given two minutes, but he went on for several more minutes, even though warned by the time keeper that his time was up. It is hard, I suppose, to tell the Archbishop to shut up. It seemed easier to do so in other cases.
He should not have spoken at all, or perhaps by invitation at a regular session of the Committee. What he had to say was an important perspective, and I believe his intentions were right and good. He is not, however, one’s usual witness, and he is not in any way responsible to the community of General Convention for the implications of his comments. When he opined that the current resolutions were not strong enough to satisfy the expectations of the Windsor Report, the Archbishop was miscommunicating by producing a very loud noise in an otherwise modulated conversation. He was a speaker with the volume turned up so high as to produce distortions.
The Rev.Nigel J. Taber-Hamilton was at the whole of the hearing and produced the following helpful tabulation of speakers for and against the resolutions:
“Those people speaking against the Special Commission/Committee resolutions because they went too far: 18 (mostly against resolutions A161/ A162)
Against because the resolutions don’t go far enough toward Windsor: 8
Those speaking generally about implementing all of Windsor: 8
Those speaking in favor of the resolutions 11
Those speaking generally 3”
His final tabulations / best guess as to the meaning of it all was this:
“Total speaking against (too far + not far enough + must completely implement Windsor: 34 or 75.6%. Total speaking for: 11 or 24.4%"
He said, "My own feeling – this is representative of what will happen on the floor of the House of Deputies. It will mean that the resolutions will fail. This is especially likely if there is a vote by orders.”
If Nigel is right, and this is representative, the resolutions might well fail. But of course the hearings were not for the middle, but for the edges of the debate. Perhaps the middle is larger than this. We shall see.
Here is the problem: If the Committee fails to communicate through the resolutions a middle way sufficiently broad to attract wide support, the combination of those who think the resolutions too stringent and those who think they do not go far enough will together produce a stalemate on the floor, a stalemate which will be recorded as a defete of the resolutions.
The real failure to communicate is bound up with having to discuss these matters in the context of legislative processes at all. Voting against the propositions will be viewed as a rejection of the requests of the Windsor Report, but voting for the propositions will be viewed variously as capitulating or inadequately responding. There seems to be no adequate room for a positive response that gives light, but does not blind and gives heat but does not burn.
The legislative process is not subtle enough to provide us with a process for nudging the ecclesial ship to one side or the other of the obstacle in its path. Instead it gives us only the possibilities of putting the engines in reverse or plowing on ahead. And those who would like to nudge the ship this way or that are finding that the information on the size of the rock is flawed. We are not sure we can get around it even if we want to. We are not sure we can slow down enough not to run into it. So what do we communicate to the engine room, or to the tugs pushing against our side?
Well, the metaphors abound, but the work goes on. Perhaps, today, Thursday, there will be new communication, and perhaps even revelation.
We live indeed in Hope.