The news that there will be a telephonic meeting of Executive Council on December 7th, called by members of Council to address the concerns of members about the anti-gay, anti-freedom of speech, homophobic legislation being considered in Uganda is good news. Difficult, but good.
The news is of course good because in its own strange way the church is getting itself together to make a statement of outrage at the slip back into rampant homophobic hate for which the Uganda's legislation is only an example.
It is difficult news because beneath the surface there are passionate currents running. Some of these passions concern the vision and "place of being" of the GLBT community in the life of The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. Some concern the matter of the international movement for justice and civil rights. Some concern the governance of The Episcopal Church. Some concern the persons and groups actually governing - The Presiding Bishop, the Officers of the Executive Council / Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, the Executive Council itself and the commissions / committees / boards and agencies of The Episcopal Church.
The news is difficult, in other words, because it points to a wide range of issues that, should they be explored, concern a systemic reevaluation of who governs in TEC and why.
The news is also good because the matters raised by the effort to articulate the position which is almost universally acknowledged as being TEC's regarding the repression signaled by the proposed legislation - namely that we oppose and strongly condemn the criminalization of homosexuals - also helps us focus our attention on the need to rethink the future forms of governance in this Church.
This Executive Council, with its particular makeup and with its symbolically important leadership in the Presiding Bishop and President of the House of Deputies, and with its feisty entering class of 2009, is in no mood to take past Executive Council patterns of action as normative. The fact that members, rather than the Presiding Bishop, would call a special meeting is significant. That they would do so concerning matters that in the past would have been either brought up in regular session of Executive Council or spoken to by the Presiding Bishop is also worth noting. And, to make matters even more interesting, the members of Executive Council are more and more participant members in a very different community of knowledge and authority - one based on knowledge and authority as shared rather than derivative of this or that matter of merit. All of which is to say that the Executive Council, formed as a mechanism for corporate organization is becoming a mechanism within an incorporated - that is to say incarnated - community.
The development of new senses of the role and function of Executive Council is in part a product of increasing tensions in the Anglican Communion and within the Episcopal Church, tensions that have not adequately been addressed by existing canons and procedures of the church. So just as the Presiding Bishop has had to find new ways to work with the canons to provide clarity that particular bishops have indeed abandoned the communion of this Church, the Executive Council has had to find new ways to deal with the possibility of constant communication and demands for action among its members. Communication beyond the confines of the meetings of the Council begin to yield in passions, concerns, matters of inquiry and even matters of political struggle that were not present when Council could only correspond by snail mail or fax and by telephone, and when the rigors of corporate behavior mitigated against such rash interaction.
So it would appear that Executive Council is on a cusp, to use old age of Aquarius jargon. We are moving from being the corporate board of a corporation - the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society - and the governing body between Conventions of the General Convention of The Episcopal Church - to being the incorporation of a broad based body of elected persons who will define for themselves the limits and actions appropriate to the Council.
Where before we might have expected the corporate board rules to prevail here there are too many "networking" linkages to make those rules of behavior work. Now new ways of communication, new lines of trustworthy or trust building linkages will develop, new sources of power and authority will develop. The Executive Council is no longer understood by its members as being modeled as a corporate board. The message of inclusion, on a board level, has begun to effect the workings of Executive Council itself.
I think this is to the good. But there is no way that it will not be painful. Persons whose offices have power precisely in a corporate model will find these changes very difficult. Others who have built their own position on allegiance to this or that officer will find themselves no longer having a court in which to move about with subsidiary powers. At the same time various factions will develop and at one time or another attempt to become the new corporate officers, not realizing that their powers derive not from the old values of the corporate board but from the new values of the incorporated community.
These are times of heady change and there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. However the issue of responding to the the Uganda legislation plays out, the power shifts that result are signaling a move from corporate to incorporate, from carnation to incarnation, from a form of governance based on civil models (and what are bishops except ecclesial alternatives to civil administrators in the Roman Empire) to a form of governance based on a post modern projection of the best of reformation thinking in which the company of believers share the oversight collectively.
I think we are beginning to see in all this a movement beyond the mere shadowing and mimicking of civil structures to a new attempt to grasp the possibility of all the faithful working as an incorporated entity to do the work God has given them to do.
So the good news is that Executive Council is flexing its "incorporated" muscle. The bad news is that until it gets it all worked out there will be the odd wild punch and the occasional one well placed blow below the belt. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth and blood on the floor.
And after perhaps a new beginning.