March 29, 2011

It’s Our Church, Too

I was delighted this morning to learn via The Lead that the Rt. Rev. Kirk Smith, Bishop of Arizona, was tweeting from the House of Bishops meeting. The bishops were discussing the Anglican Covenant, and I was quite interested in learning that the Bishop of Atlanta, as well as visiting archbishops from Congo, Canada, and Korea had expressed serious reservations about the Covenant.

I was just as surprised when Episcopal News Service moved a story on the House of Bishops session that included virtually nothing of reservations about the Covenant. The anonymous ENS account included only the following:
The panelists spoke frankly about the covenant and their provincial context. Each expressed their commitment to continued conversation internally and externally on the topic of the covenant. Everyone affirmed their relationship with the House of Bishops as friends and fellow Anglicans.
Perhaps “frankly” is really a code word, but Bishop Smith was rather more straightforward in this tweets. Here is a sample:
Archbishop of Korea: The Covenant is "colonialist" document. It does not free the Asia church but keeps it controlled by English church.
The Lead is now reporting that there will be no more real-time tweets from the House of Bishops meeting. Ann Fontain has noted that “there are concerns about confidentiality.”

Why are ordinary Episcopalians (and, for that matter, the larger public) not allowed to know what goes on in House of Bishops meetings? Why, in fact, are these meetings not simply open to the press? If truly confidential matters need to be discussed, the House can go into executive session.

I am an Episcopalian, and I have a right to know, and if ENS is not simply a propaganda machine, it should report news that is freely available on the Internet.

March 27, 2011

Needed: An Anniversary Prayer

An innovation brought to my parish by our current rector is the commemoration of birthdays and anniversaries on the first Sunday of each month. Worshipers whose birthday or anniversary falls in the current month are invited to the front of the church, and prayers are offered for each group. It has been the practice that the entire congregation reads the prayer for birthdays, namely, Prayer #51 on page 830 of the prayer book:
Watch over thy child, O Lord, as his days increase; bless and guide him wherever he may be. Strengthen him when he stands; comfort him when discouraged or sorrowful; raise him up if he fall; and in his heart may thy peace which passeth understanding abide all the days of his life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
This is a perfectly acceptable prayer, though the congregation may stumble over some of the necessary substitutions—“children” for “child,” for example. No attempt is made to modernize the language—substituting “your” for “thy,” for example—which would be more consonant with our Rite II Eucharist. (One could address these problems by printing an edited prayer in the bulletin, but we don’t do that.) One might object, however, to the fact that this “birthday” prayer, despite its being labeled as “For a Birthday,” does not even allude obliquely to a birthday! Prayer #50 is more satisfactory in this regard, but it has an even trickier required substitution, as it is written to apply to an individual:
O God, our times are in your hand: Look with favor, we pray, on your servant N. as he begins another year. Grant that he may grow in wisdom and grace, and strengthen his trust in your goodness all the days of his life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
This would be a more appropriate prayer if it were edited for the bulletin.

The anniversary prayer is read only by our rector for reasons not completely obvious. He uses the prayer at the top of page 431 of the prayer book, which is part of the Marriage liturgy:
O God, you have so consecrated the covenant of marriage that in it is represented the spiritual unity between Christ and his Church: Send therefore your blessing upon these your servants, that they may so love, honor, and cherish each other in faithfulness and patience, in wisdom and true godliness, that their home may be a haven of blessing and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Wedding ringsThis prayer shares a deficiency with Prayer #51, namely, it does not allude to the occasion being celebrated. It is remarkable that the prayers for various occasions that are listed beginning on page 814 do not include an anniversary prayer. How could the compilers of our prayer book have overlooked the need for such a prayer?

All this is by way of asking for suggestions for creating a completely satisfactory anniversary prayer. I have begun writing an anniversary prayer, but I am not sure I have all the right elements. The prayer should refer explicitly to the annual celebration and should avoid the analogy between a marriage and Christ’s relationship to the Church. (The Ephesians 5 notion that the wife must obey the husband as the Church must obey Christ is anachronistic in 21st-century America.)

Suggestions, anyone? If you already have such a prayer, please offer it.

March 22, 2011

Why the Anglican Covenant Should Be Rejected

Thumbs downHaving just reported on a presentation of the pros and cons of the Anglican Covenant—see “Pittsburgh Covenant Debate”—I was a presenter myself in another such program last night. My talk, which I delivered at a Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh meeting at Church of the Redeemer, was titled “Why the Anglican Covenant Should Be Rejected.” Because the talk was rather long, I will only provide a brief summary here. You can read the whole speech in a PDF file here. [Since I wrote this post, I have corrected two obvious typographical errors in the original transcript.]

I summed up my view of the Covenant in this paragraph:
Unfortunately, the Anglican Covenant is a bad idea, badly implemented. Arguably, it is neither Anglican nor a covenant. The notion that such a pact is desirable is based on faulty assumptions, and the Covenant has been promoted out of mean-spirited motives. The proposed agreement has the potential to cause a fatal division of the Anglican Communion, whether or not it is adopted by a majority of its churches. Its potential for harming our own church is significant, and our ability to evade injury may be limited.
Most of the talk was devoted to supporting these assertions.

After giving a brief history of the Covenant and a summary of its contents, I addressed what I called technical problems. I identified two such problems: a strange adoption process and a dangerously vague compliance-enforcement mechanism. Here is some of what I said about the way the Covenant is being adopted:
There is no specified time period within which churches must act. Presumably, this is because the governing bodies of some churches meet infrequently. Our own General Convention meets every three years, for example. In principle, churches could take a year, or decades, or centuries to dispose of the Covenant. The failure to require timely response to the Covenant is potentially problematic, since enforcement of its provisions is placed in the hands of churches that have “adopted the Covenant, or who are still in the process of adoption [emphasis added].” The Covenant does not specify what constitutes being “in the process of adoption.” Presumably this odd provision follows from an even stranger one, namely that “This Covenant becomes active for a Church when that Church adopts the Covenant through the procedures of its own Constitution and Canons.” (Compare this to the case of the U.S. Constitution, which did not go into effect until 9 of the 13 states had ratified it.)
I then discussed the nature of Anglicanism, building on my paper “Saving Anglicanism,” which I wrote shortly before the 2006 General Convention was called upon to respond to the Windsor Report. No doubt, this paragraph will be controversial:
It is the latitudinarians, the broad-church Anglicans, who are most characteristically Anglican—one might even say the pure Anglicans. It is the broad-church people who willingly accept diversity within Anglicanism, concentrating on Christian mission, on one hand, and on their own spiritual journeys, on the other. Meanwhile, the radical Protestants, usually characterized today as Evangelicals, and the radical Catholics, usually described as Anglo-Catholics, continue their efforts to remake Anglicanism according to their own ideals. This struggle has been more or less active during various periods in the 400 years following the publication of Hooker’s Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity.
I went on to say that the extreme Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics are rejecting the Covenant, whereas the latitudinarians have no use for it. Only the institutionalists willing to trade belief for unity—Rowan Williams most notably among them—seem to have any enthusiasm for adopting the Covenant.

I then focused attention on the more prosaic difficulties with the Covenant, drawing on arguments that have been advanced elsewhere. One of my arguments restated an interesting point made by the Rev. Nate Rugh in his talk a week earlier:
Not only will the Covenant encourage Communion-wide conflicts, but it will also encourage dissidents in local churches to bump up their disputes to the Communion level, rather than trying to reconcile them in the national or regional church. This is exactly what Bishop Duncan did, even in the absence of a Covenant.
I concluded by listing some of the ways the General Convention might consider responding to the Covenant. This is a tricky subject that involves both what deputies might want to do and concerns about how the actions of the General Convention might be perceived. Not only do I lack a clear vision of what the church’s legislative assembly should do, but I was reminded, in the discussion following my presentation, that the voting rules of the House of Deputies might have an important influence on what resolution is put forward. Effectively, for any important vote, a super-majority is required. Because any resolution is therefore difficult to pass, wording becomes very important. Is failing to pass a resolution adopting the Covenant equivalent to passing a resolution rejecting it? What is the effect of rejecting a resolution to not adopt the Covenant? There may be an opportunity to employ some creative ambiguity here, but I am going to save thinking about that for another day.

Here is how I actually concluded my talk:
Our church will be criticized, irrespective of what it does. Why not do the right thing and reject the Covenant? I suspect that many churches are waiting to see what the Church of England, the Anglican Church of Canada, and The Episcopal Church are going to do. A rejection by the Church of England is, unfortunately, unlikely, as English Anglicans pay great deference to their bishops, and particularly to their archbishops. It therefore falls to the Canadian and American churches to say the obvious—the Covenant is not a good idea. Rejecting the Covenant may or may not derail what seems like an unstoppable express, but, at the very least, we will not be complicit in destroying Anglicanism or paying for the destruction of our own church. In the end, our mission might be to pick up the pieces of the Anglican Communion and reconstitute them as a fellowship that is truly Anglican.

March 16, 2011

Out of the Frying Pan

The news from Japan seems only to get worse. A nuclear catastrophe seems each hour more probable. This morning, I reflected on events of the past week in poetry. (My poem below can be found on Lionel Deimel’s Farrago here.)

Out of the Frying Pan
by Lionel Deimel

Plates shift
Earth shakes
Oceans move

Quaking lasts
Roads crack
Shelves empty

Earth stills
Breathing returns
Life resumes

Sirens blare
Some flee
Some stay

Waves arrive
Cars float
Buildings crumble

Power fails
Cooling stops
Fears surge


March 15, 2011

Pittsburgh Covenant Debate

Sunday afternoon (March 13, 2011), St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in the Highland Park neighborhood of Pittsburgh held the first parish forum that I know of on the Anglican Covenant in our diocese. The program was called “The Anglican Covenant: Point–Counterpoint.” It was a presentation by two Pittsburgh priests espousing pro- and anti-Covenant positions, followed by a question-and-answer session. It was attended both by St. Andrew’s parishioners and a smattering of Episcopalians from other churches.

St. Andrew’s is actually doing a fine job of educating its members. The parish sponsored a series of talks in the fall on Anglican history, and Sunday’s presentation had been preceded by a session on the content of the Covenant. A future session will be a discussion of the Covenant among the members of St. Andrew’s.

The Rev. Bruce Robison introduced the presenters, explaining that they had informally been calling the debate the Clash of the Titans. This got a bit of a chuckle, though the afternoon was a good natured discussion and not much of a clash at all. Taking the pro-Covenant position was the Rev. Bill Geiger, rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Indiana, Pennsylvania. Representing the anti-Covenant position was the Rev. Nate Rugh, curate at the nearby Calvary Episcopal Church.

Each presenter was to speak about 15 minutes. Geiger went over his time allotment, but Rugh managed to say what he wanted to say in a quarter hour. This worked fairly, however. Geiger summarized the content of the Covenant. This was, in the context of the programs at St. Andrew’s, technically unnecessary, but it was probably helpful, even if it took a while. (St. Andrew’s had copies of the Covenant available to the audience, though not much use was made of them.) Geiger spoke in an informal manner from notes, whereas Rugh, who wanted to cover a lot of information in a short time, read from a prepared text. He did this well, and his style kept listener interest, but he did speak rapidly.

Geiger noted that his church also has done a study of Anglican history and is about to embark on a three-week Covenant study. He noted that he is probably more conservative than his congregation, since Christ Church lost a number of families in the 2008 diocesan split to the diocese now headed by Archbishop Robert Duncan. Both St. Andrew’s and Christ Church are models of how to conduct Covenant discussions.

The Case for the Covenant

Geiger admitted that the Covenant is probably not up to the usual literary standards of Anglicanism. Reading it, he said, “is like swimming through molasses.” In any case, many in the Global South find the covenant too weak, and many in the West think it too strong. It makes people on the right and left mad, he asserted, which suggests that it just might be all right.

In its currently polarized state, it is difficult to compromise, to see value in opposing positions. Our via media tradition does not require opponents to “kiss and make up,” he said, but The Episcopal church had not really listened to what other Communion churches had been saying when it decided to make Gene Robinson a bishop. (The Covenant grew out of the Windsor Report, which was created in response to the Robinson decision, though there is nothing about sexuality in the Covenant.) The Covenant, Geiger asserted, is designed to strengthen relationships by having churches make promises to one another.

Geiger said that the first three sections of the Covenant cover no new ground. Of course, the role of the Standing Committee to rule on disputes and recommend relational consequences is new, but the Instruments of Unity can act now, even in the absence of a Covenant.

Do we need the Covenant? Geiger said that he though it would be helpful. He introduced a family business as the central metaphor of his talk. Families, he said, do not kick members out, but they can grow apart. He introduced the idea of a European family business making gear for mountaineering. Then family members move to other countries, in Africa and America, say, and begin making sporting gear for the markets they find there. The U.S. branch of the family begins making clothes for beach volleyball, and the German branch objects, saying that it tarnishes the reputation of the family business worldwide. The analogy is obvious, and there needs to be a way of dealing with such disagreements.

The Covenant provides a way of talking through disagreements, Geiger asserted, and, it is to be hoped, keeps the family together.

The Case Against the Covenant

Rugh declared that he was against the Covenant because it would change the nature of Anglicanism. It would, he said, damage the thing it was designed to save. He then listed three effects of the Covenant that would forever change Anglicanism: it would change our polity, change our relationships, and change the way we do theology.

Citing the origins of the Church of England and The Episcopal Church, Rugh asserted that Anglicanism has always claimed that “locality and particularity” are essential for Catholicity. As the Communion grew, autonomy has always been an important principle, one to which the Covenant pays lips service even as it undermines the concept. Whereas the Communion, under the Covenant, does not make churches do or not do anything, the threat of relational consequences will make the demands of other churches hard to resist. Not only is power centralized under the Covenant, Rugh said, but that power is largely wielded by bishops and Anglican Communion Office bureaucrats, which diminishes the role of ordinary laypeople and rank-and-file clergy.

Rugh noted the cognitive dissonance in the juxtaposition of “explicit and forceful” and “bonds of affection” found in the Windsor report. He, too, pulled out a family model, suggesting that families do not sign contracts and create second-tier members. He suggested that the Covenant would actually weaken relationships between churches, but his most interesting argument was that it would weaken relationships within churches by encouraging unhappy members to appeal to Communion authorities rather than working out differences internally.

Rugh quoted former Archbishop Michael Ramsey to the effect that Anglican theology is not a particular system or confession, but a tool to pursue understanding of our relationships to God and our neighbors. Such a concept of theology is messy, he said, but has served us well. The Covenant, however, will “trade away our birthright” by setting up the Standing Committee, not the Bible, as the ultimate authority in Anglicanism.

In closing, Rugh noted that he had presented the conservative case against the Covenant, because he thought agreement would most easily be found there, but that he could have made more liberal arguments (about how the Covenant hurts LGBT people, for example).

Questions and Answers

In the period following the formal presentations, Robison asked people to formulate questions that could be put to both presenters, not just to one or the other.

I began by asking if the Covenant will actually work. I suggested that Sections 1–3 set out what we are going to fight about, and Section 4 tells how we are going to fight. Geiger replied first, never quite giving a reply in the affirmative. The Covenant would provide a way of working through disagreements, he declared. Making commitments to one another is not a bad thing. Most importantly, he said, the Covenant might “reignite a sense of connectedness” and assert the need to consult. The Episcopal Church, in the case of Gene Robinson, did not seem to care about other churches.

Rugh’s answer was a definitive “no.” He indicated that he really had no problems with the first three sections of the Covenant. Church actions would be measured against the Bible, the ultimate standard of faith, and the Standing Committee would make definitive judgments on theological issues. This, he said, would be a fundamental change in Anglicanism.

The next question was actually more of a statement about the Communion. The speaker said that he thought there was value in the Anglican Communion, even though it has not been working well of late. If the Communion is defined by a formal set of relationships, there need to be common principles and values, membership criteria, rules for how it works, and a system of dispute resolution. The Covenant tries to address all those things. He cited Paragraph 3.1.2 as an ideal description of how the Communion should work. He said that he didn’t understand the threat of the Covenant if the Communion is going to be more than an “umbrella term” for a group of churches.

Rugh responded by saying that neither speaker was dissing the Communion. He said he feared the Covenant would harm the Communion. While saying that it is intended to strengthen relationships, the Covenant puts legalistic structures in place that will break down mutual affection. We already have shared principles (the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral); we have shared ways of doing our mission (the Five Marks of Mission); we have ways we have agreed to be together (the Lambeth Conference, etc.). Rather than offering a way of resolving differences, Rugh said, the Covenant confines how we can work toward resolution and profoundly changes who we are.

Geiger admitted that things would operate differently under the Covenant., but he denied that it “would profoundly change how we operate as a Communion.” In extended crises, techniques that have worked in the past may no longer work. That is the situation in the Communion now. He said he thought the Covenant would force serious conversation, and that the resolution process of Section 4 would not easily allow one view to be imposed on the Communion.

The next “question” was also more of a declaration. The speaker noted that, whereas many primates won’t even take communion with other primates, there are still very strong relationships “on the ground” across the Communion. He cited relationships between Episcopal dioceses and churches and their counterparts in provinces supposedly in impaired communion with our church. The Covenant, he said, puts all its emphasis on a level that is already dysfunctional, whereas lower levels of the Communion are working well.

Rugh said that the hope for the Communion lies not in the Covenant but in the Indaba-type listening process begun at the last Lambeth Conference. He spoke of bishops reading scripture together, speaking to one another, forming bonds, and finding ways to disagree and still be in relationship with one another.

Geiger admitted that there are many examples of people working across provinces in impaired communion. Nevertheless, he said, disputes are affecting facts on the ground.

The next questioner asked what difference it would make if we rejected the Covenant. We would still be in the Anglican Communion, she said.

Rugh talked about the Archbishop of Canterbury’s remarks about second-tier status, saying that if that was analogous to the current relationship between the Church of England and the Methodists, that would indeed be a greatly impaired relationship with respect to those churches that had adopted the Covenant. He said he would reluctantly accept such a status for The Episcopal Church. “I think it beats the alternative,” he declared.

Geiger said that we have to ask if we value Communion relationships enough to proceed differently than if we did not care.

At this point, Robison broke in to ask about possible Anglican futures. Something is going to evolve over the next few years, he said. There are more than two possibilities. The Covenant could be adopted by most of the Communion churches, or by only a few of them. In either case, we could adopt it or not. Isn’t a two-tier Communion almost an inevitability? What are the implications for The Episcopal Church if some churches adopt the Covenant and some do not?

Rugh said that he did not have a firm answer on whether The Episcopal Church should sign on to the Covenant if most other churches do. We could say that we will not sign because we think it compromises Anglicanism, or we could sign and accept any relational consequences meted out to us with our heads held high. His preferred outcome, he said, is for Covenant adoption to not gain steam and therefore have little effect.

Geiger, on the other hand, said that the least favorable future is the one in which the Covenant goes away—Rugh’s best hope, apparently. Rugh quoted Bishop Saxbee’s remark about favoring the Covenant discussion as long as it never ends.

The next questioner said it is also important how we treat people in our own church. He cited the case of Gene Robinson. We would have denied relationships among our own people, he said, had we not allowed the people of New Hampshire to choose the bishop they wanted.

Rugh agreed with this, and said that it is unfair when people say The Episcopal Church is simply going its own way.

Geiger said that we have been consumed with the sexuality debate, which is easier for us to have than for some other provinces. The issue is about us, but not only about us.

Rugh said that we have been trying unsuccessfully to have a conversation about sexuality with the rest of the Communion for 30 years. He cited the maneuvers that led to Resolution I.10 at the 1998 Lambeth Conference and the distorted “history” in the Windsor Report. Before Resolution I.10 was put forward, a long report was on the table that better reflected the diversity of opinion on sexuality within the Community.

Robison then essentially called time and invited people to partake of the refreshments, but not before saying that conversation enriches us. Someone in the audience suggested that the kind of discussion we were having represented the best in Anglicanism.


I think only a few comments are in order. First, I hope that more discussions like this one will be taking place in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, in other Episcopal dioceses, and indeed in dioceses all over the Communion.

Not all issues were fully aired. I think Rugh’s points were important ones, but, as he indicated, there were more liberal arguments that could have been articulated. Likewise, there was no discussion of whether the particular processes of Section 4 were really the best way to negotiate differences.

In some ways, I thought the discussion was typical of what I have seen elsewhere: Those favoring the Covenant emphasize the potential benefits; those against it emphasize the potential drawbacks. Seldom does one see an accounting of pluses and minuses in an attempt to evaluate the best, worst, or most likely outcome of adopting the Covenant. What if few adopt the Covenant? What if most, but not all, churches adopt it? What will be the influence of the rejection or adoption of the Covenant by The Episcopal Church? (Geiger had mentioned something about his brain hurting when considering all the possibilities.)

I suspect that Nate Rugh was a bit pessimistic. I suspect that Bill Geiger was exceedingly optimistic. At this juncture, there seems to be widespread agreement that the Anglican Communion is in disarray. In order to believe that the Covenant will actually result in reconciliation, one has to believe that the churches most deeply involved in the sexuality debate will be willing to change—or at least suppress—their beliefs. Not only do I believe that that won’t happen, but also I believe that it is unconscionable to ask for it.


Photos from the event are below.

St. Andrew’s Rector Bruce Robison

The Rev. Bill Geiger

The Rev. Nate Rugh

March 12, 2011

Why Is Rowan Such a Disappointment?

Arms of the See of CanterburyYesterday, some friends and I were discussing how Rowan Williams has been such a disappointment as Archbishop of Canterbury. Whereas many of us expected him to be a progressive primate who would move both the Church of England and the Anglican Communion forward, he has instead been an instrument of reaction under whose leadership the Anglican Communion threatens to either fall apart or to descend into irrelevance. Those of us who welcomed the end of George Carey’s tenure had high hopes for the new resident of Lambeth Palace, but those hopes were not to be realized. We prayed that the Jeffrey John affair would prove an aberration, but Rowan’s missteps began happening with such predictable regularity that that it soon became statistically impossible to credit them either to momentary lapses in judgment or simple bad luck.

What went wrong? The answer, I think, is twofold.

First, Rowan Williams, in becoming Archbishop of Canterbury, reached his level of incompetence. He became yet another illustration of the Peter Principle. He was a fine writer and theologian, one who seemed to work well with others. When he became Archbishop of Canterbury, however, it became clear that what he was not was a competent politician, and that’s what he needed to be, what Archbishops of Canterbury have often needed to be. (Some spectacular failures in this regard come immediately to mind.)

His abandonment of his friend Jeffrey John proved a fatal mistake from which Rowan has never recovered. He no doubt thought—I offer the most generous analysis here—that sacrificing John would buy him goodwill among Evangelicals. As any seasoned politician might have told him, however, he was merely throwing bloody meat to the sharks. He proved that he could be intimidated, and those who should have been considered his theological enemies were quick to learn the lesson of the demonstration.

Second, Rowan came to the bizarre conclusion that he should put aside his own personal beliefs—perhaps even his own personality—in order to play the role of Archbishop of Canterbury as he understood it. It is this completely unexpected decision that has so confounded many of the people who recommended him for his current post. After all, Rowan was selected as Archbishop of Canterbury for his accomplishments, his personality, and, presumably, for his personal beliefs.

One can hardly fault the Archbishop of Canterbury for trying to keep the Anglican Communion from disintegrating; doing so is surely a task entailed by his job description. In abandoning his own beliefs, however, he has allowed others to frame the rationale for Communion unity—the establishment of a reactionary worldwide church distinctively un-Anglican in its ethos—and his rudimentary political skills have managed to alienate Anglicans of every persuasion, save for the dyed-in-the-wool institutionalists.

Rowan Williams does not want to see the Anglican Communion self-destruct during his incumbency. I fear the only way to guarantee that outcome, however, is for him to step down. Although this would likely bring an Evangelical to the See of Canterbury, it is difficult to see how anyone could do a worse job than the incumbent. Rowan is playing the role of Archbishop of Canterbury as best as he can according to his understanding of that role. Alas, he has proven to be a very bad actor.

March 10, 2011


I got hungry while running errands today and decided to grab a meal at Wendy’s. My meal came with Wendy’s new “Natural-Cut Fries with Sea Salt.” The fries are quite good. I Wendy’s adhaven’t done a direct comparison with other fries, so I’m not going to say they’re better that McDonald’s’ or anyone else’s fries, but I certainly had no complaints. (I was reading The New Yorker while I was eating, so I was technically not paying close attention to the fries.)

Presumably, the justification for the word “natural” is the fact that the skins are not removed from the potatoes before they’re fried. That’s all well and good, but how does Wendy’s justify “Natural-Cut”? Cutting a potato is in no way ”natural,” whether or not the skins are first removed.

The word “natural” is very evocative, of course, but “natural-cut” simply doesn’t make sense. “Natural fries” doesn’t make sense either. I have a good deal of sympathy for Wendy’s’ ad agency; I really can’t come up with a catchy name for the new fries. I want to call them “peeled fries,” but, of course, that could refer to unpeeled potatoes cut and fried, but it could also refer to potatoes with skins removed that are cut and fried.

Advertising is harder than it looks.

March 8, 2011

Church and State

I have long been interested in the relation of church and state. The principle of separation of church and state is one of American’s greatest contributions to the world. It is a principle much under attack, however, mostly from evangelical Christians obsessed with issues such as abortion and homosexuality and who insist, in the face of all historical and contemporary evidence, that the U.S. is a “Christian nation.”

The regulation of specific private behavior because some religious group considers it immoral, rather than to benefit society, or even the person whose behavior is being constrained, is, under the American system, simply improper. Yet, it seems that certain religious communities cannot refrain from trying to impose their views of right and wrong on others through the mechanism of government.

Church-state tensions have taken an interesting turn in the U.K., which—not to put to fine a point on it—has different traditions regarding the separation of church and state. That nation is being pressured by the European Union to eliminate discrimination in hiring, adoptions, and the like, and Christians of various ilk have pressed for the right to discriminate on the basis of their personal religious beliefs.

I mention this simply to give some context for my calling attention to an essay in a Guardian blog by Andrew Brown, “The Law of England is not Christian.” (You can read for yourself what occasioned the essay.) Brown quotes from the opinion of Lord Justice Laws (Sir John Grant McKenzie Laws) in McFarlane v Relate Avon Ltd. Laws wrote (the clarification below is my own, not Brown’s):
The promulgation of law for the protection of a position held purely on religious grounds cannot therefore be justified [Law had called enshrining a moral view in law because it is held by a particular faith “deeply unprincipled.”]; it is irrational, as preferring the subjective over the objective, but it is also divisive, capricious and arbitrary. We do not live in a society where all the people share uniform religious beliefs. The precepts of any one religion, any belief system, cannot, by force of their religious origins, sound any louder in the general law than the precepts of any other. If they did, those out in the cold would be less than citizens and our constitution would be on the way to a theocracy, which is of necessity autocratic. The law of a theocracy is dictated without option to the people, not made by their judges and governments. The individual conscience is free to accept such dictated law, but the State, if its people are to be free, has the burdensome duty of thinking for itself.

So it is that the law must firmly safeguard the right to hold and express religious beliefs. Equally firmly, it must eschew any protection of such a belief's content in the name only of its religious credentials. Both principles are necessary conditions of a free and rational regime.
It is ironic that a British jurist should offer an opinion so perfectly appropriate to the American context on the subject of the limits of religious liberty. We must take wisdom where we find it, however.

As Christians, we should perhaps adopt the tagline “Christians don’t let Christian friends become bullies.” Pass it on.

March 5, 2011

The Quotable John Saxbee

Bishop John SaxbeeOne of the highlights of the debate in the Church of England’s General Synod last November was the address of the Bishop of Lincoln, John Saxbee. Saxbee voted to continue the discussion of the Anglican Covenant, but he expressed serious reservations about the wisdom of adopting it.

I was reminded of Saxbee’s speech the other day because the Rev. Dr. Lesley Fellows posted video of it—audio with a photograph, actually—on YouTube. Last November, she posted a transcript of the speech on Lesley’s Blog.

Listening again to Saxbee’s address, I was struck by its containing one quotable passage after another. If you don’t have time to read or listen to the speech—it is only five minutes long—at least read the notable passages below. (I have produced my own transcript independently.)
In relation to the Anglican Covenant, I’m on record as saying in this Synod that I entirely support the process, as long as it never ends.

The Anglican Communion doesn’t need a Covenant because Anglicanism
is a covenant.

And if there is grace and goodwill, then a covenant will be unnecessary, and if there is no grace and goodwill, then a covenant will be unavailing.

The Covenant may, of itself, not be tyrannical, but there are those in the Communion whose treatment of our lesbian and gay sisters and brothers has had at least a touch of the tyrannical about it. And if I ever come to the conclusion that a covenant of this kind would give them comfort, then I would be bound to resist it.

It frankly feels like we will be sending sincere and faithful Anglicans to stand in the corner until they have seen the error of their ways and can be turned to the ranks of the pure and spotless.

We can draw ever tighter circles of sinfulness, or we can draw ever wider circles of acceptance, so that all provinces, and not just some, hear our Lord’s injunction, “Go and sin no more,” but also echo his reassurance, “Neither do I condemn you.”

As an answer to a difficult and complex problem, this Covenant is simple, straightforward, and, I still believe, probably wrong.

There is too much religion in the world and not enough faith, and I think this Covenant seems to be more about factory-farm religion than free-range faith.

And as I ride off into the wonderful sunsets of West Wales, I wish you all well and hope and pray that, as this process continues, you will enjoy discussing the idea of a covenant and hesitate long and hard before signing up to one.

March 2, 2011

Free Speech

Let’s get one thing out of the way immediately. I think that the activities of Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church are totally reprehensible. That said, I applaud the decision of the Supreme Court in Snyder v. Phelps et al., which was announced today.

Church members, as they are wont to do, protested against America on the occasion of the Maryland military funeral of Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder. Snyder’s father sued Phelps in a Maryland court for intentional infliction of emotional distress, intrusion upon seclusion, and civil conspiracy. Phelps was given a multimillion dollar award by the trial court, but that award was first reduced and then overturned. Today, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the actions of Phelps and his church are protected by the First Amendment.

The 8–1 opinion of the Supreme Court held that, however obnoxious and hurtful were the signs carried by the defendants—they included “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” and “Fags Doom Nations”—the protesters were addressing public issues, obeyed applicable laws regarding their demonstration, and did not single out Phelps as a personal target. The court said that speech on public issues deserves the highest degree of First Amendment protection.

No doubt, today’s decision by the Supreme Court will be unpopular. Popular speech, however, does not require the protection of the First Amendment. The Supreme Court made the right decision in favor of free speech, and the freedom of all Americans was enhanced by the court’s decision.

Note: The New York Times story about the Snyder decision can be found here. The Web site of the Westboro Baptist Church can be found at I have not been able to reach the site tonight. One can imagine various reasons why that might be the case.

Anglican Legal Advice

In its e-mail newsletter yesterday, the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh, led by Archbishop Robert Duncan, announced a new section on its Web site called Parish Toolbox: Moving Forward Together. Parish Toolbox is described this way:
This page is designed to serve as a resource center (or “toolbox”) for parishes and parish leaders who are effected [sic] by the ongoing litigation from the Episcopal Church diocese. You will find here links to all relevant information, resources, and upcoming meetings.
I cannot refrain from noting the irony of “moving forward together,” given that the Anglican diocese is composed primarily of people who left The Episcopal Church.

There is also a less obvious irony. Before the October 2008 vote that split the Diocese of Pittsburgh, the diocesan leadership under Bishop Duncan created a Web site called Parish Toolbox1. The site was largely a collection of documents. Reputedly, it was intended to help people to decide if they wanted to support “realignment.” In practice, even though some anti-realignment documents were posted, Parish Toolbox was intended to promote the Duncan agenda of removing the Diocese of Pittsburgh from The Episcopal Church. Repeatedly, Duncan asserted that nothing would change after a realignment vote. For example, in a document called “Frequently Asked Questions about Realignment,” the diocese offered this:
If the Diocese chooses to realign, what would the immediate consequences be for individual a) parishes and b) clergy?
a) There would be few immediate consequences for parishes. No property would immediately change hands. Expected lawsuits would largely target the Diocese.

b) Clergy would need to enter a new retirement plan and would be clergy of the province that the Diocese joins instead of clergy of The Episcopal Church.
(This answer, in fact, concedes more than was typical.) The irony is that the current Parish Toolbox is telling parishes how to deal with the change they had previously been told would not occur.

This brings us to the first document on the new Parish Toolbox, “Legal FAQ Sheet.” Like “Frequently Asked Questions about Realignment,” this document invites commentary. It begins:
What is the difference between a parish whose deed is held by the Trustees of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, a parish who holds their own deed, and a parish with no deed or that only acquired property after realignment?
If the deed of your parish is held by the Trustees of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, the court has ruled that your property belongs to the Episcopal Church diocese. If your parish holds your own deed, then your property is not currently involved in any litigation. We expect, however, that the Episcopal Church diocese will try to assert that your parish is subject to the “Dennis Canon” (see “What is the Dennis Canon?” below). Because the Diocese left The Episcopal Church together, we believe that we are not subject to the Dennis Canon. In fact, ACNA canons say clearly that parish property belongs to the parish alone, not the diocese. If your parish has no deed or acquired property after realignment (October 2008), the Episcopal Church diocese has no legal claim on any of your property or assets. Likewise, if your parish joined the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh after realignment, the Episcopal Church diocese has no legal claim on any of your property or assets.
Remarkably, Duncan expected that he could leave The Episcopal Church and take the diocese with him. Therefore, whatever the diocese owned would be under his control. The court ruled that the Episcopalians ran the real Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh and were the proper trustees of diocesan property. Unlike in other “realigned” dioceses, a stipulation agreed to by Duncan determined the fate of diocesan property. It was never clear how Duncan thought he could get around the language of the stipulation, but he is still fighting the plain meaning of its wording. (See “More on the Petition for a Rehearing.”)

What is breathtaking here is the assertion that the Dennis Canon, whose legitimacy is implicitly conceded in the answer, might not apply “[b]ecause the Diocese left The Episcopal Church together.” This might seem like an argument that theft isn’t theft if there are sufficient thieves involved, but I suspect that something more complicated is being asserted. The court has not ruled on whether the realignment vote was proper. Duncan’s lawyers seem very interested in getting a determination on this matter. The argument, I suspect, is that, if the vote was proper, the Dennis Canon does not apply because parishes were properly removed from the diocese. I believe the vote was not legitimate because it was based on constitutional changes that were not legitimate. My guess, however, is that the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County will not find a reason to address the issue. As matters currently stand, congregations that left the diocese must negotiate with the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh for parish assets. That is beginning to happen; Duncan is trying to stop it.

Next question:
How do I find out if my parish’s deed is held by the Episcopal Church diocese?
If you are concerned about the status of your parish’s deed, speak with your rector or senior warden. Every rector and senior warden should be able to tell you the current status of your parish deed.
They should. Perhaps they can, perhaps not. They may not want to.
If we are one of the twenty-four parishes whose deed is held by the Episcopal Church diocese, does that mean we have to leave our buildings immediately?
No, there is indication that the Episcopal Church diocese is interested in an orderly transition, and the court has stated that no congregation will be removed from their building without an additional review from the court. Furthermore, the Anglican Diocese has requested a rehearing of our case. If it is at all possible for congregations whose deed is held by the Episcopal Church diocese to leave their property—the Anglican diocese encourages them to do so. This will mean that your congregation will not face anymore uncertainty and litigation. There is a Board of Trustees committee ready to help any congregation examine alternatives that would strengthen their mission.
The assertions of fact here are indeed true. It is interesting that Duncan is encouraging congregations in buildings owned by the Episcopalians to leave. He is concerned that his diocese is melting away and needs to get out from under debilitating litigation. (Again, see “More on the Petition for a Rehearing” on Duncan’s request to Commonwealth Court.)
If we leave our building, what happens to our parish records?
The TEC diocese is claiming ownership of the parish records. Although the matter has yet to be determined, it would be prudent to copy them.
There is every indication that the Episcopal diocese intends to make records available to all interested parties.

I see no reason to quibble with the next two questions:
After realignment, we filed new papers of incorporation with the state of Pennsylvania. Does this protect us from any future litigation from the Episcopal Church diocese?
No, reincorporation is only one step in a multi-stage process required to ensure freedom from TEC. The Diocesan leadership would be happy to give you guidance on this.

Who owns the ashes in a columbarium? What happens to cremated remains if our parish moves to a new building?
Pennsylvania law clearly states that any remains of a deceased loved one belong to the family of the deceased. If your parish moves to a new building, family members will be able to move the remains to the new location.
The next question is less straightforward:
Are we allowed to have an Anglican priest in a building owned by the Episcopal Church diocese?
Yes, there is nothing to prevent an Anglican priest from continuing their ministry in a parish whose deed is held by the Episcopal Church diocese.
The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh has chosen not to disrupt the operation of such congregations. As landlord and under the Dennis Canon, it would seem to have every right to throw congregations in buildings it owns out on the street, not merely prevent “Anglican” priests from working there. There are two reasons, other than Christian charity, for this policy. First, Judge Joseph James would have to approve, and, legitimately or not, he does not want to see congregations dispossessed. Why would the diocese want to upset a judge who has been ruling in its favor? Second, everyone’s interest will be served by reaching negotiated settlements. Dealing harshly with one congregation will only stiffen the resolve of others, including those having a stronger legal claim.
If I give money to my parish (e.g. tithe, offering), will my money go to the Episcopal Church diocese?
For the most part, any money or property given to your parish after realignment will remain with your parish. However there are circumstances which could limit this. Please ask if you have questions about this.
There is nothing wrong with this answer. The exceptions are mostly mortgage and loan payments. Note, however, that the Episcopal diocese is about to consider churches not paying their assessment as in arrears and subject to a property claim by the Board of Trustees. (See the February 17, 2011, letter from Bishop Price.) I have no idea how the diocese might enforce such a claim.
What is the ‘Dennis Canon’?
The “Dennis Canon” is a name used to refer to Title I.7.4 of the Canons of The Episcopal Church. It claims to establish an implied trust by The Episcopal Church on all parish property. Because the Diocese left The Episcopal Church together, we believe that we are not subject to the Dennis Canon. It is important that no parish acts or makes statements which would imply that they are subject to the Dennis Canon.
See my comments above on the Dennis Canon. The Dennis Canon was passed to establish an explicit trust in parish property, as courts had held that an implied trust might not be enforceable. In the agreements made by the Episcopal diocese with departed congregations, the congregations have had to acknowledge the legitimacy of the Dennis Canon. Good luck, Bob, on this one.
Do the recent settlements with St. Philip’s Church and Somerset Anglican Fellowship effect us?
The Body is always affected when one member acts independently of the whole. Because the details of both settlements are still being kept secret, it is difficult to determine what the impact of these settlements will be on the Anglican diocese and its member parishes.
There is certainly a psychological effect. Moreover, the agreement with St. Philip’s will result in a substantial loss to the Anglican diocese in the form of the parish’s assessment.
Is the Anglican diocese attempting to reach a settlement with the Episcopal Church diocese?
Yes, the Anglican diocese is continuing to work on a “global settlement” with the other diocese. We have tried to do this in a number of ways; we are hoping that this can be accelerated.
Again, good luck. The Anglican diocese may be working on a “global settlement,” but there is no reason to think the Episcopal diocese is working with them on this. (The committee negotiating settlements with parishes is doing so under the terms of the stipulation—the administration of the Anglican diocese has no part in this procedure—and has maintained absolute secrecy as to what it is about.) The Episcopal diocese has indicated that each congregation has its own unique situation, thus making a global settlement unlikely, if not impossible.

1 The URL of the site was The site was taken down sometime after the 2008 convention. Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh (PEP) built its own site, A Pittsburgh Episcopal Voice, which was intended to bring balance to the realignment discussion. One of the PEP documents posted there was “Realignment Reconsidered,” which responded to the answers provided in “Frequently Asked Questions about Realignment” point-by-point.