June 30, 2009

Kudos for Bonnie

The Lead reported yesterday that the House of Deputies will be given the option of discussing the controversial Resolution B033 passed in the waning hours of The Episcopal Church’s 2006 General Convention.

In an e-mail message to deputies, House of Deputies president Bonnie Anderson said that the House would be given the opportunity to spend two hours early in the Convention in a committee of the whole, not debating any of the dozen or so resolutions proposed to deal with the situation created by B033, but discussing the resolution “apart from the context of legislative procedure.”

Anderson’s message, as reported by The Lead, was as following:
Dear Deputies and First Alternates,

With just a few days left before we gather together in Anaheim for the 76th General Convention, I want to inform you of a procedure available to the House of Deputies that we will propose to use to have a discussion, not debate, regarding resolution B033 that was concurred at the 75th General Convention. We will have this discussion in the context of a “Committee of the Whole”. The purpose of this discussion will be to exchange information and viewpoints among the deputies, and to inform Legislative Committee #8 World Mission, to which committee all the resolutions relative to B033 have been assigned.

What it is:

Committee of the Whole is a parliamentary process that enables a legislative body such as the House of Deputies, to discuss a topic in an orderly manner, without debate or taking a final action on a resolution on the matter. It is used primarily when a deliberative assembly wishes to have a discussion on a particular topic.

How it will happen:

The Legislative Committee on Dispatch of Business will present a special order of business to the HOD in the same manner all special orders are presented. The HOD will review the procedure presented by Dispatch and the House will vote whether or not to use or to amend the Committee of the Whole procedure as proposed.

When it will happen:

During the legislative session on Wednesday, July 8, Dispatch will present the special order for consideration by the HOD.

If the special order is adopted, on Thursday afternoon, July 9, the HOD will meet for one hour in the first session of the Committee of the Whole during the regularly scheduled legislative time; and on Friday morning, July 10, the second session of the Committee of the Whole will meet for one hour during the regularly scheduled legislative session.

It is my belief that the House of Deputies will benefit by having an opportunity to discuss B033 apart from the context of legislative procedure. Many deputies have indicated their longing to discuss B033 together as a House. The HOD Legislative Committee on World Mission (#8) has indicated their work will be aided by this conversation in the HOD prior to the committee’s open hearing on the topic.

I look forward to our work, prayer and deepening relationship.

Please join me in daily thanksgiving for our ministry together, as it is and as it is yet to become. Please join me daily in asking the Holy Spirit to be present with us in all our deliberations, celebrations and conversations.

Bonnie Anderson, D.D.
President, The House of Deputies
Kudos for Bonnie for creating this possibility! If the House of Deputies avails itself of the opportunity she has presented—I sincerely hope it will—it might be able to develop a consensus regarding what the effect of B033 has been, where the church should be going in the years ahead, and how the Convention can best point The Episcopal Church in that direction. Even if consensus proves elusive, the thinking of individual deputies should be clarified, which cannot but lead to better decision making when it comes time to consider particular resolutions.

In 2006, I was very concerned about how the General Convention of that year was going to deal with the challenge presented by the Windsor Report. In the introduction to a report I wrote for Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh, “What Should General Convention 2006 Do?,” I said the following:
The church’s proper response to events that followed General Convention 2003 needs to be considered in the context of those events and of longstanding movements in the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion. Deputies should familiarize themselves with that history, which is documented and explicated elsewhere. Above all, the following questions must be kept in mind as resolutions are considered:
  1. What problem are we solving?
  2. How is any proposed resolution supposed to contribute to a solution?
  3. What are the likely (and possibly even unlikely) negative consequences of any proposed resolution?
Discussion should be conducted in a spirit of generosity, of course, and with a bigger question always in mind: What is the Holy Spirit calling us to do at this time and place to further the mission of the Church?
These same considerations should be kept in mind, as, three years later, we continue to deal with what I believe is the Anglican Communion’s destructive interference with The Episcopal Church’s ability to pursue what it sees as its holy mission. Spending two hours focused on B033 will give the House of Deputies time to explore the nature of the circumstances in which we find ourselves and how we might change that situation for the better.

Christopher Wells and I reflected on how General Convention 2006 had dealt with Communion issues in a “Reader’s Viewpoint” essay for The Living Church titled “The Church Faces a Foreign Policy Challenge.” We suggested that dealing with the Anglican Communion was analogous to a country’s pursuing its foreign policy, except that, in the case of The Episcopal Church, a legislative body, rather than an executive, must play the leading role. In that essay, Christopher and I offered suggestions for how the General Convention might do a better job next time around. (We thought that an Anglican covenant might be up for discussion in 2009, but the existence of B033 and developments within the Communion in the past three years provide a similar challenge to our legislative assembly.) We listed a number of ideas we thought would be helpful should a commission be appointed to suggest legislative action. Among our suggestions were the following:
  1. At convention, the committee [i.e., the legislative committee dealing with proposed resolutions] might consider holding hearings before the Houses of Bishops and the House of Deputies in joint session, concentrating on strategy, rather than on the minutiae of particular resolutions.
  2. The legislative houses should discuss the strategy recommended (or strategies offered) by the commission and whether it is the one the convention really wants to adopt. Participants, having had ample time to respond to the commission’s report, will have been prepared for this.
Of course, the resolutions dealing with B033 are not being presented by a commission, but the basic advice we gave is still appropriate. Both houses of the General Convention should be concentrating on strategy, on the big picture of what we are trying to accomplish as a church. Bonnie Anderson’s initiative is making it more likely that the House of Deputies will do this. I hope the House of Bishops will do so as well. (As a smaller, more cohesive body, the House of Bishops is probably better equipped to focus on strategy, rather than simply on short-term tactics.)

As to what our church’s strategy should be, I offer another paper I wrote before the 2006 Convention as a useful resource. “Saving Anglicanism” was a plea to consider Anglicanism’s emphasis on common worship, rather than on particular doctrines, as a concept to be valued even over the fellowship of the Anglican Communion itself. Characterizing “traditional Anglicanism,” I said, “To put the matter into modern terms, the pragmatism of the [Elizabethan] Settlement had the effect of facilitating mission within the church and diverting English Christians from endless and irresolvable disputes over doctrine and morals. This did not, nor should it have, put an end to disputes.”

Unfortunately, in recent years, the Anglican Communion has engaged in endless and irresolvable disputes. Some, both within and outside The Episcopal Church, believe that these disputes must either be resolved definitively or those who disagree with them need to be forever exiled from the Communion fellowship. In the context of what I called traditional Anglicanism, this is a false choice. Enforcing a confessed uniform belief across the Communion and declaring that we will modify that belief only when a Communion consensus develops that it should be changed is a “solution” offered by those who believe that the church should never change and who profess—even in the light of overwhelming evidence to the contrary—that it never has.

But the Church must change if it is to survive, adapting its understanding and message so that it remains compelling in changed circumstances to modern people. I actually believe that lack of central authority in the Anglican Communion is one of its strengths, as the autonomy of individual churches provides the freedom to experiment with doctrine and liturgy without the entire Communion’s having to endorse it. (A loose Communion structure also gives churches unsympathetic to innovation credible deniability when confronted with complaints about innovations elsewhere in the communion.) As I said in “Saving Anglicanism,”
Is it not as likely that catastrophic conflict can be avoided—as it has been avoided for the past three centuries—not by getting more engaged in one another’s business, but by becoming more tolerant and less engaged? To interpret the current conflict in psychological terms, the Episcopal Church did not make traditionalists unhappy, they chose to be unhappy. They could have made a different choice. Perhaps the salvation of the Anglican Communion lies in less communication, less consultation, and less caring for one another.
This is really the only way forward that I can see if both the Anglican Communion and the integrity of the churches of the Communion are to be preserved.

I hope, then, that the General Convention will adopt a strategy that preserves the ability of The Episcopal Church to live out the Gospel as we understand God’s call to us in 21st-century America. This is a higher goal than preserving peace within the Anglican Communion or even than preserving the Anglican Communion itself.

Bonnie Anderson is making it possible for the House of Deputies to consider our church’s strategy in these troubled times. Whether that results in a view much like my own remains to be seen. The opportunity, however, should not be passed up.

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