7/10/2006

The Archbishop of York opines about General Convention: Let's opine back.

The Archbishop of York, Dr. John Sentamu in his Presidential Address to the Church of England Synod said this:

“Gracious magnanimity is the quality of the person who knows that regulations are not the last word and knows when not to apply the letter of the law. A church meeting may site with the book of practice and procedure on the table in front of it and take every one of its decisions in strict accordance with the law of the Church; but there are times when the Christian treatment of some situation demands that the book of practice and procedure should not be regarded as the last word.

God of mercy! Didn't the 75th General Convention of the Episcopal Church need this! A Convention which was full of life, fun and joy in the Lord, with uplifting worship and Bible studies. A Convention which clearly demonstrated that the Episcopal Church is committed to mission, to the Anglican Communion, and to the Archbishop of Canterbury. A Church that takes the Millennium Development Goals seriously. Poverty, world peace, HIV/AIDS, the living wage, young people, equality for all, are at the top of the agenda.

And yet in spite of the hard work of the Legislative Committee, and its numerous hearings, the Convention failed to meet the precise request of Windsor. It left too much room for doubt and didn't stop the rumour and impression of doing 'our own thing'.

Nine days at the Convention taught me that this rumour and impression unfairly tarnishes all Episcopalians with a kind of arrogance which the present US administration displays through many of its actions. But it's true to say that Oneness in thought and life is trumped by so-called democratic processes and thereby weakens the Church's oneness and witness in Christ.

The Legislative Committee took the recommendations and invitation of the Windsor Report seriously. But the Convention's legislative processes – modelled on the House of Representatives and the Senate, and acting like them – are not fit for the purpose of engendering good conversation (which comes from the same root word in Latin as conversion) and in the end they fell short. As Don Curran, a delegate from Central Florida said: "We have been asked to build a bridge. The bridge is one thousand feet long. If the bridge is only 950 feet long, it does not work. It's useless."

It is impossible to be graciously-magnanimous when the book of practice and procedures is regarded as the last word.”

The Rev. Tony Clavier has posted an important essay on the Archbishop’s comments concerning General Convention. It makes a good read. I don’t agree with all of it, but as usual Fr. Clavier raises important questions.

I second his question at the close, “dare we bring the winds of change to our hallowed structure?” I certainly hope so.

The Archbishop after congratulating the General Convention for being “full of life,” soundly criticized it, saying, “the Convention failed to meet the precise request of Windsor.”

The precise request of Windsor. This was not about having a ‘conversation’ with Windsor, or its writers, or the communion. All of those are met in the wide variety of ways in which The Episcopal Church has indeed engaged the Windsor Report. We have consistently affirmed our desire to continue in conversation with other parts of the Communion on matters having to do with our common life. The report of the Special Commission and before it the response to the ACC, “To Set Our Hope on Christ,” and a wide range of conversations within the Episcopal Church prior to General Convention all attest to the attention paid to the Windsor Report and the conversations about its meaning (only some of which I grant were “graciously-magnanimous.”)

The fact that the Archbishop is so exact in his wording here, “the precise request of Windsor” indicates that far from wanting a graciously magnanimous response, he wanted a response that met prior expectations.

And what were these expectations? Not that we would have conversation (and he is right that the General Convention legislative process does not lend itself to conversation) but that we would by resolution do precisely what Windsor asked (oh, sorry, requested.)

When it was discovered that we would not be able to do that, the charge got laid on “the book of practice and procedures.” I presume he doesn’t believe the same problem exists in the Church of England Synod at which he spoke. The problem at General Convention was not that the book of practice and procedures doomed the possibility of conversation, but that at least one of the resolutions (A161) brought forward by the Special Committee on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion was simply untenable, and the bishop’s resolution B033 on that last day was pressed without real possibilities for in depth consideration.

The problem, at its core, was that the Special Committee brought the matter of A161 (which included parts of the original A162) to the floor so late, having tried to perfect them in committee, that no wiggle room was left. Having voted this sorry resolution down, there was almost no where else to go. I believe the Special Committee worked hard and in good faith, but it could not better have served the wishes of those who had hoped to show that General Convention was unable to respond to “the precise request of Windsor.” The Bishop’s resolution the next day was not able to pass muster either. It appears a response to “the precise request of Windsor” was not met there either.

But none of this is because there was insufficient conversation. Conversations had already taken place before convention and the Report of the Special Commission was meant to further those conversations. That Report and other sources gave rise to a variety of resolutions which were directed to the Special Committee as they in turn worked to report out to the floor resolutions for consideration. The General Convention was not ever proposed as the place for the sorts of conversations envisioned by the Archbishop. It was the place for the end-game conversations about resolutions that would state something for an up or down vote. And so we got some of those up or down votes. This does not mean General Convention is the wrong sort of mechanism, but that perhaps some had untenable expectations of General Convention as a mechanism for conversation.

The Archbishop ended his remarks on General Convention by quoting Don Curran, a delegate from Central Florida who said "We have been asked to build a bridge. The bridge is one thousand feet long. If the bridge is only 950 feet long, it does not work. It's useless." Perhaps Mr. Curran and the Archbishop might remember that General Convention is not asked to build real bridges, and only sometimes metaphorical ones. With metaphorical bridge building, one can also ask if perhaps some others in the Communion might have been willing to stretch a bit and built out say 50 feet from the other side.

15 comments:

  1. I keep re-reading York's comments and only get angrier with each pass. You offer an excellent response.

    York said, "It is impossible to be graciously-magnanimous when the book of practice and procedures is regarded as the last word."

    I am inclined to agree with this, especially when applied to the Windsor Report when said report is referenced as if it were canon law. I believe the problem we faced was not the failure of our legislative process so much as what we were being asked (sorry, "told") to do. That York applies his corrective only to the way we do our business and not to the outlier requests of Windsor show, once again, how our polity is midunderstood and misapplied.

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  2. Archbishop Sentamu says that:

    "The person who is immoderate (akribodikaios) is the person who stands up for the last title of their legal rights; but the person who is graciously magnanimous (epieikes) knows that there are times when a thing may be legally completely justified and yet morally completely wrong."

    True, but the person who is immoderate is also the person who insists that the law enforce their own view of what is moral, while the person who is graciously magnanimous knows that there are times when disagreement about morality requires that we allow people to act according to conscience. Indeed something may be moral even though illegal and vice versa. Thus Archbishop Sentamu says:

    "The person who is forbearing (epieikes) knows when to relax the law under the compulsion of a force that is higher and greater than law. They know the time when to stand on their rights would unquestionably be legal, and would just as unquestionably be completely unchristian."

    This also cuts both ways. We may say that for the sake of morality and forbearance, gay people should not insist on legal equality. But we could just as readily say that for the sake of a higher morality of love, acceptance, peace and tolerance, others should not insist on law that prevents people in same-sex relationships from fulfil their ministries.

    Consequently, a plea for graciousness of itself does not get us very far. It merely changes the language of the debate, causing us to argue as to what is gracious.

    Though preferring 'orthodoxy' (itself a loaded term), in effect Archbishop Sentamu calls for a middle path. But on 'issues' of homosexuality there is no middle path available. Either gay and lesbian people may be ordained (and consecrated as bishops), or they may not. Either faithful monogamous same-sex couples may live together as part of a Christian community that celebrates their relationships, or they may not. The Episcopal Church's General Convention failed with respect to homosexuality because it tried to take a middle path where none exists. But I would not attribute blame to that failure, as it merely reflected confusion in the church as a whole.

    If there is no middle path, we are obliged to decide whether the conservatives or the progressives should be required to tolerate a situation they do not like. Archbishop Sentamu, by his advocacy of Windsor, seems to prefer complete constraint on the part of the progressives, though I may be wrong on this. But if we were to take a stance that inflicts the least pain, we would allow blessing of same-sex relationships, for to do so harms no-one while prohibition causes pain to the people refused. We would be cautious in consecrating as bishops people living in same-sex relationships, unless it was very clear that most people under their oversight agreed and that alternative oversight were available to the others. Would this not offer the 'gracious magnanimity' that scripture enjoins?

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  3. PB-elect Katherine offered a good response to the sort of cirticisms offered by ++York. She said in the Time interview, "these decisions were made because we believe that's where the Gospel has been calling us. The Episcopal Church in the U.S. has come to a reasonable conclusion and consensus that gay and lesbian Christians are full members of this church and that our ministry to and with gay and lesbian Christians should be part of the fullness of our life."

    This is the position of our Church. There are some who don't agree with this but this is the position of our Church.

    I'm glad she is going to be the next PB. Because she is ready for our Church to move on to other business.

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  4. Oneness in thought and life is trumped by so-called democratic processes

    This is almost enough to make me want to be a Congregationalist. The sooner the C of E disestablishes and starts electing its bishops, the better.

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  5. Widening Gyre11/7/06 9:04 AM

    Mark,

    It seems that one of your complaints against York's message is that he viewed the recommendations offered by Windsor as "non-negotiables" and hence our resolutions differed from the "precise request of Windsor." Behind that alleged thought of York seems to be a belief (arrogance? certainty?) that the committee drafting the Windsor Report had come up with the best way forward and the we Americans could not improve on their recommendations.

    Is that close to capturing your complaint?

    I ask because I have noticed in many of your past posts (including this one) that you stress the value of the Special Commission's work on furthering this conversation and how the Special Commission had even submitted its recommendations on how to respond to Windsor. Yet we all know that the Special Committee took these resolutions and modified them in ways that led to the introduction of "sorry" (your word and conclusion) resolutions. I guess I am led to conclude that you believe that the Special Commission's resolutions were our best answer and should have been passed without modification. Is that fair to say? Peace.

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  6. I have written elsewhere and still believe that this is an effort to be balanced. It seems to me that acknowledging his own position of "orthodoxy" (whatever he means by that) is simply full disclosure. I agree with Brian: every point he makes about "gracious magnanimity" can apply to either end.

    I am troubled by his comments on General Convention. However, again, I need him to be more specific. Is he claiming that our bicameral democratic structure is not conducive to real discussion (with which I disagree wholeheartedly)? Or is he claiming that that there were those who used that process - procedural motions and tedious, tendentious, delaying amendments - to block due process and prevent real discussion from happening (of which I feel I watched a lot in Columbus)? That's a difference that makes a difference.

    Unfortunately, in at least one sense, this is still not a helpful statement. It calls us to something that I think the "middle" - variously labeled "broad," or "fluid," of "mushy" - has been seeking all along, stymied by a rare few radicals and none too few reactionaries. Most of us have a sense of this already. So, this is balanced; and to the extent that it calls people to account for their determination to get what they want or destroy the institution trying, it's reasonable. That doesn't make it helpful.

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  7. Mark --

    Once again I can only second what you so eloquently express (ditto rh & brian &rmf)

    Were we to have more time for exchange in the HoD it would have to be smaller (thus less representative) -- someone who really believes that this should be changed should begin by introducing proposed legislation to effect such a change -- how about proportional representation? What about returning to the notion that a state be a diocese (& adding or subtracting regional suffragans as needed, allowing subsidiary flexibility?)

    But again, the problem was Windsor -- its basic premises were flawed & to try to build on a false foundation will lead nowhere (but to collapse)

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  8. It is impossible to be graciously-magnanimous when the book of practice and procedures is regarded as the last word.

    Isn't that one of the objections some folks have to Biblical literalism?

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  9. Widening Gyre11/7/06 11:59 AM

    Prior,

    Why would reducing the size make GC less representative? I thought deputies were not there to represent the particular diocese but to vote their conscience (or as some might prefer, follow the leading of the Holy Spirit). So by that understanding, a deputy don't represent anyone other than him/herself.

    I wonder if you would prefer to have more deputies since that of course would by your logic make GC even more representative.

    Certainly at our Annual Council where we picked our deputies, the bishop and others actively campaigned against the idea of making deputies tell us their thoughts about certain issues so you could not even then pick deputies who "represented" your particular views.

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  10. Widening Gyre11/7/06 1:32 PM

    accidental southern grammar slippage--don't for doesn't. Sorry.

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  11. With metaphorical bridge building, one can also ask if perhaps some others in the Communion might have been willing to stretch a bit and built out say 50 feet from the other side.

    Wow. That was totally sweet.

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  12. You wrote his does not mean General Convention is the wrong sort of mechanism, but that perhaps some had untenable expectations of General Convention as a mechanism for conversation.

    Mark - I think you are right on point with this observation. One of the difficulties coming to the surface in the Windsor process is the differing "expectations" Anglican leaders possess regarding the constitutive nature of the document in and of itself. I understood the birth and dissemination of the Windsor Report (WR) to be dialogical in nature. It is evident that ++York and others expected the Episcopal Church to comply and uphold the WR's recommendations without amendments or revisions.

    The drafters of the WR, leaders of the Church of England, and certain primates of the Anglican Communion apparently held definitive outlooks and prospects for the Episcopal Church's short-term acceptance of the WR.

    Organizations, like the Anglican Communion who call interested parties to engage in listening and shared value processes should hardly expect stakeholders to adopt such processes without providing input. The Archbishop of Canterbury and his staff should certainly not solicit feedback if they have already established what the outcome should be.

    ++ York apparently thought that the Episcopal Church must somehow be canonically and legislatively responsible to the CofE. This has not been the nature of the relationship for quite some time now.

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  13. DF in Massachusetts11/7/06 6:45 PM

    "++ York apparently thought that the Episcopal Church must somehow be canonically and legislatively responsible to the CofE. This has not been the nature of the relationship for quite some time now." - Jim Strader

    LOL... "quite some time" = 230 years!

    What part of "American Revolution" did they not get? How can they forget that George Washington aimed cannons (not canons, real cannons... the ones that go bang!) at the British fleet in Boston harbor in 1776, forcing them to flee. How could they forget that the fleeing British fleet took CofE clergy who were loyalists with them?

    I think the Archbishops of York and Canterbury need to sit down at a computer and read:

    British forced to evacuate Boston... take loyalist CoE clergy with them

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  14. "Oneness in thought and life is trumped by so-called democratic processes"

    It appears that the Archbishop of York is confusing unity and uniformity, a curiously unsophisticated mistake for a learned person. Surely people (and maybe even churches) can be one without being identical.

    Democratic procedure is not the same as full consensus, certainly; but I find it highly suspect when the faults of democracy are lamented just a few sentences away from the regret that the same unruly democracy has failed to "meet precise requests."

    It begins to sound as though that dangerously tyrannical democracy didn't enforce the right orders from above.

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  15. Even this claim that a deputy is elected to vote their conscience instead of representing a diocese is a political statement. I find it quite odd that the General Convention of a church founded by some of the same designers of our representative system eschews a representative function.

    In standing for election as a delegate, you can certainly ignore your bishop's instructions and claim a delegated authority. You can even tell your diocesan cenvention how you intend to use that authority. That is the spirit of democracy which fills our church to this day.

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