6/01/2013

Anglican Ink at times Smears the Page - regarding political test for new bishops

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.

Well nuts. 

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 Common Prayer)?
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.)

 2. Were nominations received and considered from a variety of sources both inside and outside the Diocese? 

(none of our business either.)

3. 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? 

(see above)

5. Did all the nominees from the Committee, and by petition, receive equal access and support through the entire process? 

(see above)

6. 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.)

7. 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.








8 comments:

Lionel Deimel said...

I largely agree with this post. We should not consecrate (or even ordain) someone we suspect is unwilling to abide by legitimately enacted church rules.

On the other hand, the church as a whole has very poor tools to intervene in a diocese that has run off the rails. If problems can be anticipated if a particular person is consecrated, we should use the consent process as a means of avoiding them. No one has a right to be bishop, so, if we unnecessarily prevent a good candidate from becoming a bishop once in a while, we should consider it the cost of doing business. It is not something to avoid at all cost. Clearly, Keven Forrester was rejected for theological reasons. (Is this what George Conger would consider a political reason? Possibly.)

The problem in our church, of course, is that there is a class of clergy possessed of a particularly absolutist sort of theology that does not admit of compromise of any kind. Such a person, when elected bishop, might answer all your legitimate questions satisfactorily—perhaps even honestly—yet, in certain circumstances, might hold his or her (though probably his) own views above those of the church. At that point, the bishop might leave the church alone or might leave taking people and property as well. If we suspect that such a person has been elected, we should not give consent. This, I think, is primarily what the Rev. Mr. Conger fears.

CS said...

I agree with your evaluation of the first 7 questions; where I must part ways with you is closer to the beginning. I assume you didn’t want to take the time to lay out a detailed history re: Bp. Schofield and Bp. Lawrence; I can understand that – they weren’t the point of the post. What I don’t understand is why you chose to make what summary information you did present so obviously biased. That doesn’t strengthen your argument. As for Bp. Martins, more on him below, but getting the necessary consents certainly wasn’t the end of his troubles with the national Church.

You defended "the track record under the current rules of the game", as if that track record, in and of itself, somehow makes the concerns expressed in Anglican Ink preposterous; I simply fail to see the merit in that argument. As part of your argument, you cited the election of Bp. Schofield as evidence that TEC has not been “out to get all those candidates for bishop”, asked why anyone would fear political litmus tests, and wondered if “they [have] 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?”

First, Bp. Schofield was elected in 1988; I doubt very many people would agree that 1988 counts as having been “in the past few years”. Twenty-five years is more than a few. Second, I think any objective evaluation would have to conclude that the atmosphere in the Church has changed considerably over the past 25 years. Consider just the following two examples:
(1) The baseless charges brought against Bp. Benitez, Bp. Howe, Bp. Lambert, Bp. Love, Bp. MacPherson, Bp. Martins, Bp. Stanton, Bp. Beckwith, and Bp. Salmon. I seriously doubt that anything like that would have occurred in 1988. Perhaps more significant, the complaints against those bishops were filed the day before the parties in the Quincy lawsuit were to file their lists of expert witnesses – and at least one of those bishops was supposed to be on the list for the Anglican Diocese of Quincy. Surely anyone can understand why that might have been seen as an attempt to intimidate and silence?
(2) The countless lawsuits brought by TEC against dioceses and parishes. In at least one case, if not more, a diocese and departing parish were able to reach an amicable and mutually acceptable agreement, only to have 815 throw a wrench into the works and force the parties into an expensive and lengthy court battle. The PB has also scuttled agreements to allow departing congregations to buy their buildings, and has been quoted as saying that she wanted any sales contracts to include clauses prohibiting subsequent re-sales to the departing congregations. (I think it’s worth noting here that refusing to allow a financially qualified party to purchase listed property on the basis of that party’s religious belief or affiliation is blatantly unconstitutional, and any such clause would be void ab initio.)

In short, if people on the conservative end of the spectrum feel that TEC is out to get them, it really shouldn’t be all that hard for you to understand why. Dismissing their concerns (and them) as preposterous, ridiculous, foolish, crazy, or paranoid is not helpful; so far from contributing something positive or helpful to the situation, it only makes things worse.

Ed said...

Me thinks "CS" protests too much. Read the Chapman Memo.

SCM said...

He protests too little, but what he does write is accurate and requires considered reply. Sadly, that will not happen.

SCM

Chris H. said...

After reading several posts on various blogs in the past year or so when a diocese announces a new slate of candidates, the real political test is:

Does the slate include:
2+ female candidates
1+ minority candidate
1+ gay/lesbian
Any remaining male candidate must be progressive/inclusive and swear they will allow ssm. Points taken away if they are firm regarding baptism before communion, literal resurrection, etc.(What Lionel describes as absolutist theology. Good TEC bishops must be "fudgy" after all. Mustn't scare away the humanists who see TEC as a good works/justice club.)
Bonus points given if a candidate is any combination of the first 3 types. Triple points given if they're all 3 at the same time. The comment at the Lead about Western Michigan's new bishop caught my eye,"...nobody outside the diocese seemed to pick up on the fact that only one of the candidates was heterosexual."

Forrester might have made it if the conservatives hadn't made the fight public and gotten it into the secular news. Several liberal bloggers were saying,"So what? He can't be that bad" until the public got wind of it and started wondering what Episcopalians actually cared about. Then they decided to look and say, "Maybe not". Same thing with the "Episcopal/Muslim" priest. None of the progressives cared-it was in the diocese newspaper after all-"Look at our Muslim priest" until the public started going, "What!?!"

Marshall Scott said...

I'm sorry, CS, but citing the charges against those bishops cited isn't compelling. They were all elected bishops, and so aren't examples of distortion of the election process - which was the specific point Mark was addressing. Whether the charges are baseless is another argument.

That said, I do agree that things have changed in the Episcopal Church - as they have before. There was a time in the Episcopal Church before the Oxford Movement. As the Catholic tradition found a place again in the Episcopal Church, some folks were refused consents; and once those refusals had stopped, some felt they had to leave (and so began the Reformed Episcopal Church). The 1928 Prayer Book had its detractors for its changes from the 1892 Book. Changes have happened in the Episcopal Church, and will happen again.

Did those earlier changes affect elections and consents? Yes, occasionally. That said, the best protection against that is a clear and transparent process. Do we have one? Are there concerns? Those are the questions Mark is raising

Lionel Deimel said...

Some time ago, getting consents was pretty much a given. It is good that potential bishops are receiving more scrutiny from all quarters, left, right or center.

Just for the record, I believe in obeying the canons, which includes offering communion only to the baptized. I don’t, on the other hand, approve of checking membership cards at the altar rail. :-)

Jim Pratt said...

Well said.

The real political question is the one on diversity. It would be unreasonable to expect a diocese like Fort Worth (at least under prior leadership) to have a female candidate for bishop, or for somewhere like North Dakota to have an African-American or Hispanic candidate. As to the process, there needs to be consideration of local custom and tradition, not a "one-size fits all" process.

The prime consideration for consents should be what is of concern for the wider church: is this bishop-elect going to be able to function as a partner in the corporate ministry of the House of Bishops and the wider church. Questions of suitability for the local context should be left to the diocese, who (hopefully) know what they need.

As to the financial ability of the diocese to support the bishop's ministry, it is a good question to ask, but not in the consent process. Here in the Province of Canada, our canons require that, before the Metropolitan calls an electoral synod, he/she must be satisfied that sufficient financial provision is in place. One would hope that a diocese would be honest about its finances before an election.