Over on Anglican Ink George Conger writes with a heavy hand about a proposed "political test for new bishops." He calls them "new confessional guidelines." Oooooh! The great terrible monster Episcopal Church is out to get all those candidates for bishop. It's the fear of every conservative- that there will be a litmus test, failure of which will lead to the exclusion of all right thinking bishops elect from actual election.
First, let's remember the track record under current rules of the game, shall we?
Schofield, right of the Pope, got elected in San Joaquin and received the needed majority of consents. While some may later have regretted having given consent, he got them and then later blew off the church that gave him license and made him bishop. He was deposed.
Lawrence, elected in South Carolina was turned down by bishops and standing committees who asked too many questions about precisely his conformance to the doctrine and discipline of The Episcopal Church. He got elected again and on the second round was accepted. He pretty much immediately moved to remove South Carolina from union with the General Convention. He was found to have renounced the ministry of The Episcopal Church, notably his office as Bishop.
Up there in Northern Michigan Keven Forrester found that consents were impossible, litmus test or no. And he was no conservative.
And good friend Bishop Dan Martins got consents in spite of considerable efforts to bind him even without this set of questions.
So the first question is this: why the fear of "political tests?" Have they been so onerous in the past few years that the fear of them could lead to suspicions of the questions that we might collectively decide to ask of elected bishops as they go through the consent process?
I think not. Conservatives know how to play on liberal guilt just fine.
But then there are the questions that Anglican Ink considers beyond the pale. They are as follows:
"8. Will the Bishop elect uphold the Oath of Conformity as found in the
Book of Common Prayer on page 513 (page 415 in the Spanish Book of
9. Will the Bishop elect recognize and respect the office of the Presiding Bishop and the authority of General Convention?
10. Is the Bishop elect willing to participate fully in the councils of
the Church and to adhere to the norms of behavior as adopted by the
House of Bishops?"
Number 8 is a no starter. If the bishop elect answers "no" then honest as he or she might be, its "no" to that person. If they say "yes" and later try to find a way out, then they are not doing as they said they would. Strike out.
This is different from saying, "yes, and then asking are we agreed on what it means to "uphold the Oath of Conformity as found in the
Book of Common Prayer." At least then the conversation takes place before consent.
Number 9, to "recognize and respect the office of the Presiding Bishop and the authority of General Convention" involves the perhaps touchy subject of whether or not "recognize and respect" as it pertains to the PB includes agreeing with her or him. It does not.
But it does involve both acknowledging that the Presiding Bishop is by canon the chief pastor and Primate of The Episcopal Church and that office has certain assigned roles, one of which is to be chief consecrator of bishops. Recognizing and respecting the office means accepting that the PB by right can take on the role as chief consecrator. Period. Respect of the office goes at least that far. If the PB declines for one reason or another that is different. But "recognize and respect" at least goes that far.
It goes further, of course. The PB chairs meetings of the House of Bishops. No matter if the bishop candidate can't bear the possibility of a particular person being in the chair, the respect of the office must include putting up with particular incumbent. Get real.
To "recognize and respect the authority of General Convention" means at least the promise to obey the canons that General Convention puts forward for the whole church. If you don't like governance in the manner carried out by The Episcopal Church stay in it and change it or go elsewhere. But while it is as it is, recognition and respect of the authority of General Convention is a must.
All of this has nothing to do with "political" tests, but with tests of transparency. Either you do or you don't really mean what is said in the oath of conformity. Either you do or you don't "solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church."
Number 10 asks, "Is the Bishop elect willing to participate fully in the councils of
the Church and to adhere to the norms of behavior as adopted by the
House of Bishops?"
Well, on pg 518 that question gets asked more politely. But here it means will you actually come to meetings, attend them and not pout? I presume this question is asked because in the past some bishops have come and attended only parts of the meetings, or have walked out when things go badly for them, or have as a caucus removed themselves from the House of Bishop to another venue for Eucharist and meetings more to their liking. The question is, will you stick it out and stick to the house rules of behavior while in the house? A "yes" answer does not mean you can't work to change them, or you can't challenge the house. But it does mean you have to be committed to taking an active part in the councils of the church, including the House of Bishops.
So... what's the gripe? These sure as hell are not the makings of a "Political" test. My sense is the Anglican Ink writer is writing up for the somewhat paranoid readership who are ready to believe TEC is about to, or already has, sold them down the river.
Anglican Ink got it exactly backwards. The last questions are not the dubious ones. The first seven are. Here they are (with short commentary included) :
1. Was the election conducted in a fair and impartial manner according to best practice guidelines of The Episcopal Church in consultation with the Presiding Bishop’s Office?
(This is none of our business. The Constitution specifies that "In every Diocese the Bishop or the Bishop Coadjutor shall be chosen agreeably to rules prescribed by the Convention of that Diocese." (Article II.) There is no mention of any guidelines, consultation or whatever.)
Were nominations received and considered from a variety of sources both inside and outside the Diocese?
(none of our business either.)
Was equal consideration given to women and minority candidates for this office?
(well, sorry to say this isn't either. If we want to make this part of the process then we need to put into place a canon or whatever to make it necessary to do so.)
4. Was a process in place allowing candidates to be placed into consideration by petition?
Did all the nominees from the Committee, and by petition, receive equal access and support through the entire process?
Are adequate stipendiary resources and benefits budgeted from Diocesan funds to support the Bishop elect in the office into which he or she is called?
(good question... but not for consent process. That might be a good line of investigation in looking at forms of episcopal ministry and how they might be supported, and maybe the source of some canonical stuff later.)
Is there a process in place to complete a letter of agreement between the Bishop Elect and the Standing Committee, to be completed and filed in the Presiding Bishop’s office at least thirty days prior to the Ordination?
(What? Is this a requirement now? If so, where described in canon? )
So the problem with the first seven questions is that the first five run counter to Article II which speaks of being agreeable to the Diocesan Canons. On the assumption that Diocesan Canons are reviewed by the whole church (which they are not always) and revised to meet TEC canons, that is the place to take most of the questions. I am unaware of canons covering questions six and seven. Any takers?
The problem with this list of questions is that the first five are about the process of election, and the only real question is "was this person elected agreeable to the canons of the Diocese?" If we want to insist that there be consistent election canons that is a different issue and has a different place to land.
The next two are about financial matters. Hopefully the bishop elect has good financial and legal advice. But the consent process is about election, not about diocesan personnel practices.
The last three are the only ones that seem reasonable. It could be argued that they are already part of the ordination service, but it is clear that some have taken considerable liberty in interpretation of conformity, respect and engagement with the community of bishops. They are not political questions, they are insurance questions. They insure that the bishop elect understands the expectations.
It is the first seven that are political. They attempt to question an election on criteria not required of the election process, unless such criteria are already part of diocesan canons.
Perhaps I misread the canons. Where is there any reference to a required set of guidelines regarding elections of Bishops, requirements of equal access to consideration by virtue of location, gender or race or ethnicity? Perhaps they are there as General Convention mandates, but if they regard the election process they need to be part of the canons.
I don't believe they are there. So the first seven questions are really the lead in to a political position regarding elections. It is they that are the political prodding. And I don't mean necessarily in a bad way. They are asking questions we might well want to ask. But until there are canons requiring more of elections than what Article II of the Constitution demands these questions are out of order.