July 7, 2012

Hearing Report

 Last night, the World Mission Committee held a legislative hearing on the resolutions involving the Anglican Covenant. Because the resolutions are all over the map regarding how to respond to the Covenant, the committee sensibly did not try to deal with them separately or try to alternate between pro and con comments. Speakers were given two minutes to speak and were allowed to do so in the order in which they signed up. (In case you have never had to say something meaningful in two minutes, you should know that that it is not a lot of time.)

My guess is that about 150 attended the hearing, exclusive of the committee, but this is indeed a guess. The room was large, but it was hardly filled.

By my count, there were 16 speakers. (I really believe there were 16 speakers, but I ran into at least one person who had a different number.) I did not expect a lot of Covenant supporters to speak, and I was not disappointed. I did expect that a number of bishops might speak in favor of the pact, but that was not the case. Only Tennessee bishop John Bauerschmidt represented the purple shirt crowd. He is the author of Resolution B006, of course. Someone from his diocese also spoke in favor of his resolution, which would commit The Episcopal Church to adopting the Covenant after figuring out how to change our polity to accommodate doing so.

The No Anglican Covenant Coalition had arranged for four speakers, beginning with Susan Russell, the submitter of the Coalition-developed D007. She quoted from the explanation of the resolution and, in keeping with our theme at this convention, urged the committee to choose communion over covenant.

Next, Bauerschmidt spoke of the need to be  “of one heart” and referred to the damage done by the “absence of procedures.” If not the Covenant, he said, what?

Tobias Haller was the next speaker, supporting his resolution D008, which does not actually mention the Covenant in the body of the resolution. He talked of the virtues of the Continuing Indaba and Mutual Listening Process, which prompted a rare question about that from the committee.

Lelanda Lee of Colorado, an endorser of D007, next spoke in favor of  “plain speaking.” She asserted that the Covenant does not do what it set out to do and called Section 4 punitive.

Samantha Butler–I think I have that name right–next spoke in favor of D046, which declares that adoption of the Covenant is moot in light of recent rejections by England and Scotland.

The next speaker was Malcolm French, moderator of the No Anglican Covenant Coalition. He spoke in favor of B007 and, of course, against Covenant adoption or an Anglican fudge. (His remarks are available on the Comprehensive Unity blog.)

Mary Roehrich, from my own Pittsburgh diocese spoke next, remarking on the recent unpleasantness in our diocese and the desire to keep the church free from outside interference.

Mary was followed by Arlene O’Brien. (Again, I may not have that name right.) She spoke in favor of B005. She noted that she was committed to same-sex couples and thought it was wise to wait to see the effect of adoption in other churches. If we say “no,” she warned, it is important how we say “no.”

I spoke next (I think). My remarks are also on the Comprehensive Unity blog. I emphasized that, if we believe the church can change–indeed, needs to change–the Covenant is a problem. “The underlying purpose of the Covenant is not to explicate Anglican theology nor to manage change, but to suppress change and preserve a mythical ‘biblical Anglicanism’ that never was,” I said.

Jim Newman, of Los Angeles, noted that his deputation was unanimously against the Covenant. We expected a missional Covenant, he said, but we got a juridical covenant. Communion churches have been out of communion over a number of issues, but we have remained in conversation. Getting rid of Section 4 is not enough. He said he cannot live with the 1662 BCP. We should continue relationship, he said, but the Covenant is dead.

I completely missed the name of the next speaker, a woman from Southwest Florida favoring D007. She pointed out the disconnect between the amendment procedure for the Covenant, which requires a 3/4 majority, and the procedure to adopt the Covenant, which requires a single church.

The next speaker was from Bishop Bauerschmidt’s diocese and spoke in favor of B006. Christianity only flourishes in community, he said,  not in singularities. Relationships cannot exist without an element of forbearance, which is the heart of community. The Covenant is not about polity. (I cannot help but interject a remark here. If the Communion had been practicing forbearance, we would not have had an emergency meeting of the primates in October 2006, the Windsor Report, or the proposed Covenant. It is not The Episcopal Church that is lacking in forbearance.)

A woman from Europe who, for my bad note taking must remain anonymous, also supported B006, arguing, though I could not figure out on what basis, that the Covenant would strengthen both The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.

Jane Doubler (?), another European, spoke of the need to stay in conversation and to take no decision to jeopardize that. It was not clear if she meant to support any particular resolution.

Ben King supported B005, suggesting that we “kick the can down the street,” as indeed B005 would do.  If I understood his argument, he was saying that African liberals want to be in conversation with other liberals. He also said that our own church is too inward-looking.

Paula Nesbitt, a visitor from California, argued for D008. She has, apparently, done some scholarly research on Indaba and contended that, using the process, people do listen to one another and, in some cases, change their views.

And that was the end of the statements. Others were invited to speak, but no one did.


Seven speakers spoke in favor of D007, the resolution developed by the Coalition. Two each spoke for B005 and D008. Three spoke for B006, though the arguments were not always clear. One spoke for D046, and one simply for staying in conversation.

Resolution D046, I think is a non-starter because the matter of the Covenant is simply not moot. D008 is, in a sense, not about the Covenant at all but about the Continuing Indaba and Mutual Listening Process. Its provisions could be combined with anything. B005, Ian Douglas’s resolution to kick the can down the street, received positive comments from two speakers. (Since the proposer is on the World Mission Committee, he did not speak in favor of his own resolution. Jack Tull, proposer of D006, a perhaps stronger “no” resolution than D007, is also on the committee.)

Clearly, the discussion favored rejection of the Covenant in fairly strong terms. I hope the committee will take this as a sign. D007 could easily be combined with D008 (and perhaps D006), thereby making everyone happy except for those supporting resolutions offered by bishops. Indeed, the committee is concerned that a serious resolution rejecting the Covenant, irrespective of how strongly it supports the Communion, cannot pass in the House of Bishops. I am skeptical of that, as I think the bishops generally do not want the Covenant, but neither do they want to reject the Communion. Actually, no one wants that, and concern about it is simply unjustified paranoia.

The committee cannot send resolutions to the legislative floor before Monday or Tuesday, and, by that time, New Zealand will likely have voted against Covenant adoption. If the committee does not offer a rejection resolution, perhaps the House of Deputies will turn whatever they do offer into such a resolution. We can only hope.

Note: Another report on the hearing can be found here.

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