May 6, 2010

A Preamble Proposal

The 2012 General Convention should begin the process of amending the Preamble of The Episcopal Church’s constitution. Recall that it currently reads as follows:
PREAMBLE

The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, otherwise known as The Episcopal Church (which name is hereby recognized as also designating the Church), is a constituent member of the Anglican Communion, a Fellowship within the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, of those duly constituted Dioceses, Provinces, and regional Churches in communion with the See of Canterbury, upholding and propagating the historic Faith and Order as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer. This Constitution, adopted in General Convention in Philadelphia in October, 1789, as amended in subsequent General Conventions, sets forth the basic Articles for the government of this Church, and of its overseas missionary jurisdictions.
From a certain objective viewpoint, there is nothing wrong with this introduction to the constitution. In reality, as I explained in my post “Communion Partners Bishops’ Statement,” the preamble merely states what are taken to be facts; it neither establishes nor authorizes anything. (Well, this is not exactly true. See below.)

“Orthodox” critics have accused the church of violating its constitution because they interpret the consecration of Gene Robinson as being outside “the historic Faith and Order as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer.” They have also suggested that, were The Episcopal Church to be banished from the Anglican Communion, the church would face a “constitutional crisis.” All this is nonsense, but it is nonsense given plausibility by an over-broad Preamble. Because the Preamble has been used as a cudgel against our church, we should take this weapon, unfit though it is for serious rhetorical battle, out of the hands of our church’s enemies.

Because it takes at least three years to amend the church’s constitution—it cannot now be accomplished until 2015—we would do well to start the amendment process in 2012. Although I think it wise to amend the Preamble irrespective of developments within the Anglican Communion, proposing an amendment at the next General Convention still allows the 2015 General Convention to reject Preamble changes if it so chooses. Should The Episcopal Church find itself outside the Anglican Communion in the next few years, whether by choice or not, it surely would be wise to delete the reference to the Communion in the Preamble. Acting in 2012 preserves our option to clean up the Preamble in a timely fashion.

The Proposal

The Preamble was added to the constitution to make “The Episcopal Church” an official alternative name for the church. (I will have more to say about this presently.) It is therefore important not to drop those parts of the Preamble dealing with the church’s name. It is also helpful to retain a statement of what the constitution is intended to accomplish. Retaining the critical elements of the Preamble and retaining as much of the present wording as is practical, I propose that the 2012 General Convention be presented with the following as the new Preamble:
PREAMBLE

This Constitution for the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America (otherwise known as the Episcopal Church, which name is hereby recognized as also designating the Church), adopted in General Convention in Philadelphia in October, 1789, as amended in subsequent General Conventions, sets forth the basic Articles for the government of this Church, and of its overseas missionary jurisdictions.

The Name

From the beginning, the name of the church has been the “Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America.” As best as I can tell, the article “the” before the name has never been considered part of the name and has not been capitalized. The original 1789 title of the constitution was “The Constitution of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America,” but the title has been variously rendered over the years, becoming as short as “Constitution. Adopted in General Convention, in Philadelphia, October, 1789.” Unlike many constitutions, that of The Episcopal Church has never had a provision directly asserting the name of the church (“The name of this church shall be ….”), although Article I originally began “There shall be a General Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America ….”

The Preamble was prefixed to the constitution in 1967, and asserted that the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America also has the recognized designation of “The Episcopal Church.” In the present constitution, “Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America” occurs only in the Preamble. In the canons, it appears only in Canons I.1 and I.3. The church is typically referred to as “this Church” or, less frequently, “The Episcopal Church” or “the Episcopal Church.” The use of “this Church” is prudent, as it allows for future name changes without extensive canonical changes, though “orthodox” critics have willfully misconstrued the phrase “this Church” to refer to some broader “Church.”

Notice that I have lowercased the article before “Episcopal Church” in my proposed Preamble. Not so very long ago—and perhaps as recently as 1967—institutional entities often carried official names beginning with “The” (e.g., The American Sugar Refining Company or The Borden Company). The more modern practice removes “The” from official titles, prefixing “the” or nothing at all.

Around the time of the 2006 General Convention, Episcopal News Service began insisting on using “The Episcopal Church,” in its dispatches, but, after a time, this convention was dropped in favor simply of “the Episcopal Church.” (I have continued to use “The Episcopal Church” in my own writing, though with serious reservations.) A legacy of this brief period is the use of “TEC” as a common abbreviation for the name of the church, supplanting “ECUSA” and the earlier “PECUSA.” My guess is that, even if my proposal is implemented, “TEC” will stick as a short designation for the church. Of course, I should note that our church is not the only “Episcopal Church” in the world, or even in the Anglican Communion, but we do seem to have established the right to be the Episcopal Church, whether the leading article is capitalized or not.

Assuming my proposal is adopted, I would like to see most references in the canons to “The Episcopal Church” changed either to “the Episcopal Church” or “this Church.” Most references to “the Episcopal Church” could profitably be changed to “this Church” as well. Please don’t look to me to track down all of them, however.

5 comments:

  1. Dear Lionel,

    In advance of the 2009 GC I proposed exactly this. I could not get two other deputies to co-sponsor it with me. I agree entirely that this has just been a cudgel and really, for a bit, part of the schismatics' legal strategy.
    If I am elected again for the 2012 Convention I will be happy to join with others in removing the "constituent member" language.

    Mike Russell
    San Diego

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  2. Deputies may be more sympathetic to a change this time around.

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  3. When I was submitting my thesis, there was a thesis office at the Graduate College which did a thorough format check. Of particular issue was the exact spelling of any institutions granting prior degrees. There was actually an employee whose full time job appeared to be determining whether Berkley should be referred to as "University of California, Berkley", "University of California at Berkley" or "University of California (Berkley)". (Turns out, it's the first one.) In the process I learned a variety of useless trivia, including the fact that "The" is most certainly capitalized in "The Ohio State University". It would never get through format check any other way.

    The upshot of all of this is that, as far as I know, we can use any capitalization we please in our name. If people want to start a new argument, they are free to do so.

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  4. Apparently Ohio State is clear about its name. The Episcopal Church is just as clearly ambivalent.

    Capitalization (or not) of “the” isn’t the primary motivation for changing the Preamble. I would gladly exchange retaining “The” for the deletions related to the Anglican Communion.

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  5. What needs to be removed from the Preamble is the "constituent member of the Anglican Communion" language. That language was included in 1967 and has been nothing but a source of mischief.

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