In The Episcopal Church...why don't we just say so?

Nothing makes for better "in-house" special information than the practice, well established in The Episcopal Church, of not actually saying what we mean, or alternately, not actually meaning what we say.  This practice is refined to the point where only those who know the secret realities of the inner workings get to fully participate in decision making in the Church's governance. These worthies live in rarefied regions of inner knowledge. The rest of us wonder what the hell is going on.

Some examples:

(i) There are four nominees for Presiding Bishop, produced by the Joint Committee through a process spelled out quite adequately in the canons. Now comes time for other nominations, called "nominations from the floor." At a joint session of the House of Bishops and House of Deputies the Nominating Committee will formally place the names they have brought forward in nomination. Then the canon (I.2.1.f) says, "At the Joint Session to which the Joint Nominating Committee shall report, any Bishop or Deputy may nominate any other member of the House of Bishops for the consideration of the two Houses in the choice of a Presiding Bishop, and there may be discussion of all nominees.

That is what it means to nominate from the floor.

However, earlier the canons specifically charge (i.1.2.1.e.2) the Nominating Committee with:

"establishing a timely process for any bishop or deputy to express the intent to nominate any other member of the House of Bishops from the floor at the time the Joint Nominating Committee presents its nominees to the joint session of the two Houses, and for each Bishop so nominated to be included in the information distributed about the nominees."

Now,on the day of the joint session, any bishop or deputy can nominate any bishop he or she likes. That's what it says.

But the assumption of the earlier section is that the Nominating Committee will put in place a process for expressing the intent to nominate. This, for obvious reasons is prudent, since with notice all persons so nominated can be vetted, prodded, screened, and otherwise deemed OK for the process.

Still, nothing prevents a genuine last minute nomination from the floor by someone who can claim extraordinary reasons for doing so.

If we are not going to allow real nominations from the floor we should say so.  If we are, then we should say that. But what we have is an area of nebulous muck.  Ah, but perhaps not.

Apparently the House of Bishops agree among themselves that they will not consider someone actually nominated from the floor, without the previous screening, and so forth. So, we have the insider out. No matter what the canon says on the surface, those who are not screened according to the Nominating Committee's (or perhaps even the bishops own) criteria won't be considered.  

Now I don't know if this agreement exists as a long term standing understanding in the House of Bishops, if it gets discussed each time there is an election, or if it only exists sometimes, but it adds a layer of insider information not available in the canons.

It would be helpful for the canons to be clear that either (i) real nomination from the floor is possible, or (2) dispense with the pretense of nominations "in the moment" being possible (get rid of the "nominations from the floor" idea).

I'm not against screening, a needed thing. I am against saying one thing and meaning another.

(ii) The Constitution of The Episocopal Church states (Article 1), "There shall be a General Convention of this Church, consisting of the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies, which Houses shall sit and deliberate separately; and in all deliberations freedom of debate shall be allowed. Either House may originate and propose legislation, and all acts of the Convention shall be adopted and be authenticated by both Houses."

Thanks to Scott Gunn for pointing out that there is no exception offered in the Constitution. Actually, reading his whole article, I see that he also remarks on the "from the floor" problem.  He is on the case. I wrote on this some time ago. I got roundly trounced by a Church legal beagle who informed me of the bishops trump card. 

But given Scott's observation, perhaps we either ought to clean up the Constitution to provide for joint sessions, or drop the "joint sessions" idea entirely. The other regular "joint session" that takes place is on the matter of the DFMS budget, but in the past there was a clear division of that being part of a meeting of the DFMS, not the General Convention. So General Convention did not meet, but rather the DFMS, of which the members of the two houses, while General Convention was in session, constituted the meeting membership. 

Of course it all could become moot if the TREC proposal of a unicameral legislature  takes hold.

(iii) I have already written on the problem of the two canons in conflict: namely the canon that provides that clergy can decline to marry any couple at their discretion, and the canon that says that clergy and this church may not discriminate. See my article HERE.

If we mean to allow clergy to act with discretion in a class of cases (all gay couples, all formerly married couples, etc.) then let us say so, specifically excusing this discretion from the non-discrimination canon. If not, then let's say that: as pertains to the ministries and sacraments of this church no clergy can exercise unilateral discretion for a whole social class of persons.   

(iv) There was a time when the official name of this church was only "The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America."  The clear understanding was that this was a church organized with bishops and their jurisdictions, not part of the Roman Catholic Church, but rather protestant, in the United States of America.   It's domestic mission was clear - to be that witness (church) in all parts / states/ territories of this nation state.  All of which was in conformity with the idea of a church for the nation, or what Professor, now bishop and indeed bishop nominee for presiding bishop, Ian Douglas called "the national church idea." 

This set part of the agenda of the DFMS - the domestic mission was to see that TEC- PECUSA was present in jurisdictions with bishops throughout the USA.  That mission continues in our support of those jurisdictions most in need of such support even now.

The agenda of the DFMS that engaged "foreign" mission was less clear. But the basic intent seems to have been to develop the presence of Episcopal  / Anglican communities in those places where Episcopalians found themselves or were sent, with the intent that at some point those congregations and / or dioceses formed in "foreign lands" would become their own expressions of a "national church idea."  That is, they would become their own church entities - a synod or convention of dioceses - that would constitute the "church in place."

But we in TEC have found ourselves in a difficult place, in that we both want to include overseas dioceses and regional groupings of churches related to TEC in the body of our deliberations and life AND we want them to have their own life. The end result is that we call ourselves an international church, in that we have other countries / non- US dioceses as part of our own church body - the General Convention, AND we work at various levels of interest and intent on growing their witness to be THEIR witness, not ours, and for autonomy.

We are, however, very unclear about it all. If we want to be an international church, say so and develop an understanding of ourselves as a church deliberately larger than one with jurisdictions in the USA.  If we want to be the church "in this place," then say so, and be clear that overseas jurisdictions are temporary "for the time being" estates, as we hope for and work for their witness as their own. 

As it stands we are variously enamored with this or that overseas jurisdiction or grouping. Province IX gets lots of attention and has reasonably wide engagement in the life of TEC. It also receives lots of critical comments about its slow development and consistent dependence on funding from TEC and places of corruption. 

At the same time one diocese, attached to Provence II, Haiti, is in all likelihood the largest diocese in TEC, and at the same time one of the least represented in the governance of TEC. There too there is both pride in their being part of TEC and wide criticism of its dependence on US funding official and unofficial, and of possible corruption.

But in neither case is there a clear missionary goal, honestly stated and reflected in canons of the church.  We have mostly abandoned the notion of missionary diocese or missionary bishop, believing that this distinction breeds inequality.  But at the same time we know (or at least the inner gang knows) just who is dependent and why, and just who is really first and second class.  

It is time we straightened this out: Either all dioceses are the same - domestic in that they are part of this body - in which case they get support on an as needed basis, or some are "overseas jurisdictions" part of TEC because we are engaged in a missionary enterprise that expands and frees national or regional episcopal churches to be their own witness in their own places. 

There are those who are just as glad to have side agreements on nominations, disparities between constitution and canons, ambiguity in matters of discretion and discrimination, and lack of clear intention in forming overseas jurisdictions. But my sense is, why don't we just say what we mean?  Why don't we just say so?

Either have nominations from the floor, or not.
Either have a constitution that takes precedence over canons or not.
Either have an exclusion of some forms of discretion from the non-discrimination rule or not. 
Either be an international church or not. 

But perhaps I ask for too much. If it got clearer, then more of us would know what is going on. If it got clearer, some people would leave. If it got clearer, there would be no need for some of us telling others of us that we don't know what we are talking about, because it is all run by the people in the know.

TREC has not even touched on the power that comes from "special knowledge" in this church.


  1. Mark, as you know, the Convocation in Europe developed willy-nilly from "chaplaincies" established in the 19th-century for expatriate Episcopalians. It is now a diocese in all but name.
    I believe that the fact that TEC has established seven other porvinces of the Communion is proof that our tradition is to help other peoples establish their own churches. We need to re-interpret the national church ideal, away from the ghost of the established mother church in our life and toward an ideal of the inculturation of the Gospel.
    As for PB nominations from the floor, recent events have shown that rigorous background checks are essential. Until we amend the C&C, the bishops' workaround is necessary.
    Finally, our canons have a number of anomalies and contradictions. I've been saying for years that we need a thorough write-through.

  2. Mark, two things. The "sit and deliberate" requirement does not prevent a joint hearing of reports, which happens for the PB nomination and the budget presentation. All debate, discussion, and voting takes place separately. (BTW I'm for the unicameral model... ;-)

    On the issue of the "tension" between the marriage and non-discrimination canon, it's important to note that the latter includes the proviso, "except as otherwise specified by Canons." So the "decline to solemnize" canon is one of the exceptions -- and as with age limits (in many of the canons) it can apply to whole classes (for instance, all divorced persons).

    Thanks as always for your reflections.

  3. Thank you.

    Tobias Haller and others also declare the constitution is irrelevant when it comes to GC's power to disseminate rites of various sorts.

    This is becoming a church that is no longer The Episcopal Church.


  4. PS--I looked at your earlier essay where you engage sympathetically with Radner and ACI. In my judgment you put your finger on the place where disagreement will arise, practically speaking: Bishops and Dioceses which choose not to allow non-BCP rites in their dioceses.

    Haller appears to take the view that GC can disseminate whatever rites it wishes, regardless of the Constitution, and that a Bishop may not rule these out of order vis-à-vis diocesan canons or the TEC constitution.


  5. Pierre: About the "national church idea" I agree. What we may need is a combination of the idea of inculturation AND a model of a multicultural church (which we are by virtue of being or becoming more than "Anglican" the expression of the Gospel.)

    Re the PB nomination process. Suppose someone, in spite of the work-around, is nominated from the floor on the day so appointed. I assume no one can prevent that name from going forward because of extra-canonical agreements. So it would simply be put forward and accepted, and that person would be in nomination. Then discussion could happen in the joint meeting and bishops might say, "we have agreed not to..." Others might challenge that agreement by claiming recourse in the Holy Spirit speaking through the nominator challenging any and all previously determined nomination processes. (The Shoes of the Fisherman challenge, as it were.) What then? Well, the bishops then withdraw and do as they will. Then we simply see what it is that the Holy Spirit has in mind.

    Tobias: Thank you for your clarity. However, after the PB nominations discussion may follow in the joint meeting. There it is not just that reports are heard, actions can be taken.

    The canon on marriage does allow clergy to decline (thank God). But the question is, when does "decline" run up against "discriminate"? In any specific case it doesn't. But referring to a class, it does.

    This is why I think Bishops are more subject to charges under the anti-discrimination rule than the rest of us, since they are put in the position of making blanket decisions.

    I must say, if clergy clearly and distinctly state they will decline in all cases of a class, they have moved from discretion to discrimination, and blanket refusal to marry will one day be viewed (I believe) as clearly discriminatory, in the bad sense of the word.

    If we mean, clergy can decline, perhaps we need to affirm this further saying, "the canon on non-discrimination notwithstanding."

  6. Mark: your last four paragraphs are critical reading for anyone of a traditional persuasion.

    "This is why I think Bishops are more subject to charges under the anti-discrimination rule than the rest of us, since they are put in the position of making blanket decisions."

    This is correct. But as I understand the current thinking, Bishops are to be denied the ability to make "blanket decisions" and are not overruled by whatever the most recent GC does.

    Thank you for bringing attention to a very important, church-changing, set of developments/issues. We may well find ourselves in a new church after the GC.


  7. Jim: do you think the Hymnal is unconstitutional? Please cite the Article prohibiting authorizing liturgical texts in addition to the BCP. The Constitution is not irrelevant, but is is as far as I can see silent on the subject of additional liturgical texts. Since we've been authorizing such texts for over 200 years, people must think that's what it means.

    Mark: I'm not sure the q&a for the PB candidates amounts to "deliberation" any more than the q&a about the budget does. There will be no debate or motions entertained, and I think that's what "deliberate" means in a parliamentary context. At least that's my understanding.

    On discrimination, I think you are making a distinction that isn't in the Canons. The "non-discrimination" canon "out clause" has to be about whole "protected classes" in order to reference such issues as age. Marital status is another: a priest could decline to marry any divorced person; and has to decline someone already married! On the sexual orientation side, I would, for example, decline to solemnize the marriage of any person who is marrying a person of the opposite sex as part of their "reparation" therapy.Ultimately, one is not discriminating against a "class" anyway, since each act of discrimination is about the individual -- who may be a member of the class, and may be treated as such -- but this is, to my view, exactly what the "out clause" is allowing. People may not like it -- they may protest, but as long as the canons give "cover" I don't think an ecclesiastical court would find against them.

    I agree with Bishop Whalon that the canons are long overdue for a thorough rewrite, but shudder at the thought. ;-)

    Thanks again!

  8. The prodigal making of rites is not at issue and T Haller should know this.

    At issue--as Mark has intimated--is the authority of a Bishop to regulate rites to be used, in accordance with the BCP.

    He wants this authority to belong to GC and whatever it issues forth. This would make for a new General Convention Church and not one ruled by constitution.


  9. did my comment get thrown out?

  10. Jim... I don't believe I've thrown out any of your comments (although I disagree with some of them - of course). Resend whatever it is you thought dropped. We will see. M

  11. Jim., you are the one who raised the issue of GC's authority to authorize liturgies, not me.

    And on that issue, you have misunderstood my position, probably based on reading the misunderstandings of folks from the ACI, who do not seem to grasp the obvious fact that the Constitution does not prohibit General Convention from authorizing liturgical texts -- which include the BCP itself (the only text mentioned by name in the Constitution.) The Constitution also gives Bishops the right to authorize liturgies within their dioceses for special occasions.

    I have not challenged the right of Bishops to regulate provisional liturgies, such as those in the "Enriching our Worship" series, or the "Blessing" liturgy from 2012. I do not believe they have the right to forbid the use of the BCP, Hymnal, Lesser Feasts and Fasts, and the Book of Occasional Services. Do you?

    So I really don't know what you are talking about; but you have misunderstood, and if you persist, will misrepresent, my position.

  12. "I do not believe they have the right to forbid the use of the BCP, Hymnal, Lesser Feasts and Fasts, and the Book of Occasional Services. Do you?"

    No confusion at all. This is the heart of the matter.

    The Bishop does not have to allow any of the last category. Many do not permit them.

    You are correct to indicate this is not fact but your belief. And it is wrong.

    So if GC creates an occasional service type rite, the Bishop may forbid its use.


  13. Well, Jim. I'll just say I am unaware of any bishop who forbids the use of the Hymnal, Book of Occasional Service, or Lesser Feasts and Fasts. You are welcome to the opinion that Bishops have that right, but that is not what the official commentary on the Constitution and Canons states (White and Dykman, page 462). So I am not alone in my opinion, and will go with the opinions of W&D over those of the self-appointed amateurs at ACI.

  14. T Haller.

    'Last Category' = Occasional Services.

    Why do you have trouble grasping this?

    The talk re: LFF and Hymnal is irrelevant. No ssb/m rite will appear in them.

    You are saying that the GC can create a rite and call it an Occasional Service and a Bishop must use it.

    That is false. Bishops can say that Occasional Services find no 'occasion' in his/her diocese and some do that and will continue to do that.


  15. PS

    "amateurs" -- that sounds frankly envious and angry.

    People who teach at bona fide academic institutions for a living are not amateurs like yourself, but professionals. They are not "self-appointed" but institutionally vetted and appointed.

    Let's try to lift the tone, please.

    Sunday blessings, Jim

  16. Jim, I only engaged in this conversation because you misrepresented my views. You continue to misunderstand them, and now offer speculation concerning my emotional state of mind. On all counts you are incorrect.

    In describing the ACI as amateurs in the area of canon law I was not speaking in reference to myself, but in comparison to the official commentary on the Constitution and Canons. Seitz is a professor of Old Testament, and McCall a retired attorney with a background in international law. Neither of them has any claim to expertise in canon law (nor do I, but that was not my point).

    As to your misunderstanding, I was referring to the Book of Occasional Services, and you will find on page 462 of the Annotated Constitution and Canons (White and Dykman) the statement that the use of the rites in this book does not require the permission of the bishop, as it is published in accordance with the rubric on page 13 of the BCP.

    This has no bearing on the present ssb liturgy -- which has only been presented for use with the Bishop's approval. So yes, bishops can bar the use of this rite. That is what the resolution authorizing it said. And contrary to your allegations, I have never said otherwise.

    I hope we can let the matter rest.

  17. No one would dare call in 'amateurs' to appear at trial or they would be pulled apart by the lawyers for TEC. McCall, Turner and Radner all appeared in Illinois. TEC and its expert Mullin lost. The latter was not even called in SC after that.

    I do not believe you have served as expert testimony.


  18. Jim, its time to let it go. Fr. Haller is not an amateur. He is a published writer, a wonderful priest, a theologian and whether or not he has been an expert witness is of little importance. You don't seem to like Fr. Haller's remarks. Fine. But that is not an occasion to question his right or qualifications to make them.

    And, it would be helpful to have some sense of who you are, Jim, beyond the name. Please, if you have other places in which your own views are expressed, let us know.

  19. Who began the questioning of credentials? Surely not me.

    The lack of charity began with Fr Haller and his comments.



OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.