July 20, 2012

Legislative Action on the Anglican Covenant: Narrative and Analysis

After the passage of the substitutes for resolutions B005 and D008 July 11, 2012, I was too tired to write about what happened. I began a post about the events in the House of Deputies the next day, but I left for home before I could finish. I returned to Pittsburgh by car, which was both prolonged and tiring. Once I did get home, it quickly became clear that I was getting sick. I’ve spent a number of days in bed and, more than a week later, I am not yet well. Medicine ordered by my doctor has been only so helpful, and I’ve yet to get a good night’s sleep since I took ill. Nevertheless, I am once again ambulatory. I think this post is still useful. I hope it will have been worth waiting for.

The Resolutions


As I noted July 9, 2012, the World Mission Legislative Committee sent substitute resolutions D008 and B005 to the House of Deputies. The intention of the committee was to present D008 for action first, thereby assuring that the church would express a clear intent to remain active in the Anglican Communion no matter what resolution was finally passed regarding the Anglican Covenant. For this purpose, the committee worked from the resolution from Tobias Haller, D008, which did not even mention the Anglican Covenant.

The original Haller text was essentially replaced by the committee. The final resolution is related to the proposed one only in its support for the Communion and its explicit mention of the Continuing Indaba process in which Haller has been an enthusiastic participant.

As presented to the House of Deputies, D008 begins by expressing “profound gratitude to those who so faithfully work [note the use of the present tense] at encouraging dialogue within the diversity of the Anglican Communion.” Notably, the resolution thanks neither the Archbishop of Canterbury—the original D008 was obsequious in its appreciation of Rowan Williams—nor the drafters of the Anglican Covenant. It goes on to “celebrate the great blessing of the Anglican Communion in its diversity within community as autonomous churches in relationship bound together in our differences in service to God’s mission.” In the next resolve, the church reaffirms its commitment to the Communion as expressed in the Preamble of the Constitution of the General Convention. I would have avoided this particular reference—see “A Preamble Proposal”—but the second and third resolves constitute a strong commitment to the Communion as we have understood it in the past, not as some would modify it through adoption of the Covenant.

The next two resolves describe how The Episcopal Church will participate in the Anglican Communion: by maintaining and reinforcing “strong links” within the Communion—this seems a rather amorphous commitment—by participating in the “wider councils of the Anglican Communion”—bodies such as the Anglican Consultative Council, presumably—and by deepening “its involvement with Communion ministries and networks,” employing the Continuing Indaba process, where applicable. This latter resolve seems to give Continuing Indaba more prominence than is strictly justified, but few will quibble with the commitments here—The Episcopal Church means to remain an active participant in the operations of the Anglican Communion.

The final resolve focuses not on our relation to the Communion but on a commitment to encourage support for the Communion within our own church:
Resolved, That The 77th General Convention encourage dioceses, congregations and individual members of The Episcopal Church to educate themselves about the Communion as well as promote and support the Anglican Communion and its work.
Again, no one is going to read this too closely, but I think the emphasis is slightly off kilter here. Certainly, we should encourage Episcopalians to educate themselves about the Anglican Communion. The Episcopal Church does not exist, however, to support the Anglican Communion. The Communion exists to support its member churches, a task at which it is notably failing at the moment. We should support the Communion only insofar as doing so advances the mission of The Episcopal Church.

All that said, the rewitten B008 is basically motherhood and apple pie and, unsurprisingly, proved popular.

Like D008, B005, proposed by committee chair Ian Douglas, was essentially rewritten for legislative consideration. The substitute resolution begins by expressing gratitude—profound gratitude was rejected as too effusive—“to those who so faithfully worked at producing and responding to [emphasis added] the proposed Anglican Covenant.” Again, the Archbishop of Canterbury is not mentioned. The resolution then goes on to say that, after extensive study and prayer, a “variety of opinions and ecclesiological positions” on the Covenant persist in The Episcopal Church. So far, so good. Then comes the money resolve:
Resolved, That as a pastoral response to The Episcopal Church, the General Convention decline to take a position on the Anglican Covenant at this convention.
As I pointed out on July 8, the subcommittee dealing with Covenant resolutions determined that it wanted an excuse not to make a decision about the Anglican Covenant in 2012. To show our sincerity regarding the Covenant—remember the advice to always be sincere, even when you don’t mean it—the final two resolves call for the establishment of an Executive Council task force “to continue to monitor the ongoing developments with respect to the Anglican Covenant and how this church might continue its participation,” which task force is to report its findings to the 78th General Convention. Resolution B006 called for a task force, for which it required $20,000. By making the task force an Executive Council responsibility, it becomes “free,” even if it assigns Executive Council extra work.

I cannot help but wonder just what the penultimate resolution is saying. The task force is to monitor “the ongoing developments with respect to the Anglican Covenant and how this church might continue its participation.” Since the resolution calls for The Episcopal Church to sit back and watch what happens to the Covenant, to what does “continue its participation” refer? Continue our participation in monitoring, that is, in sitting on the sidelines? Who knows? The convention adopted this wording, however.

Strategy


Failing to get a Covenant rejection resolution from the legislative committee, it fell to anti-Covenant deputies to devise a floor strategy likely to achieve a more favorable result than that offered by the substituted B005. After discussing the matter with No Anglican Covenant Coalition moderator Malcolm French, I prepared a briefing paper suggesting several possible scenarios. Passing B005 was clearly not the worst possible outcome from General Convention, nor did it seem the least clear. That seemed to fall to defeating B005. What would it say to the world if the convention rejected not making a decision but was then in a position of not being able to make a decision?

I offered two possibilities: (1) amend B005 to decline to adopt the Covenant, or (2) amend B005 to adopt the Covenant. Our conversations with bishops suggested that plan (1) might pass in the House of Bishops. If it did not, the result would be ambiguous, but it could be spun as a victory against the Covenant. Option (2) had an outside chance of producing exactly the wrong outcome, but no one really seemed to think that General Convention had any stomach for adopting the Covenant. The argument for amendment would be that B005 assumed a failure to agree; why not test the theory? (I strongly support option (2), which I have to credit to Malcolm.) In any case, not being a deputy, I had to leave the implementation of any strategy to others.

Debate


Adoption of Resolution B005 was moved in the House of Deputies, and Mark Harris, who had chaired the subcommittee that developed the substitute resolution, introduced it. He spoke of not having to make a decision on the Covenant now and of not creating winners and losers. He emphasized that the church was busy with too many other matters. Essentially, Harris made the argument he had put into a blog post earlier in the day.

It fell to Jim Newman, of Los Angeles, to put a strategy into play. He moved, and someone seconded, the deletion of everything in the resolution after the word “Church” on line 39 and substituting a period. I did not quite see the point of this amendment, and I’m not sure others did either. The effect was to acknowledge that Episcopalians were not of one mind regarding the Covenant and leave it at that—no explicit acknowledgement of the church’s not making a decision and no call for a task force. This seemed to promise a result that was simply more enigmatic. Newman did not explain the logic behind the amendment.

Lelanda Lee, of Colorado and an endorser of the Coalition-supported D007, then spoke in favor of the amendment, providing something of a rationale for it: (1) a task force is unnecessary, (2) it is not a pastoral response to not provide a response when one is requested, (3) everyone has “Covenant fatigue,” (4) “the Covenant is dead and needs to be buried, (5) more study is not needed, and (6) we should stand for what we believe.

Sharon Lewis, of Southwest Florida, speaking against the amendment, argued that we claim inclusiveness by embracing those on either side. (I may not have quite followed this argument.) Anyway, she advocated the we “tread water and stay in this together.”

Next to speak was Josephine Hicks, of North Carolina and a member of the subcommittee responsible for B005. Developments regarding the Covenant are not complete, she argued, and we will need to continue to monitor them.

David Collum, of Albany, then urged defeat of the amendment.

Charles Osberger, of Easton and another member of the subcommittee that crafted B005, also rose to oppose the amendment. He suggested that the amendment contradicted the D008, which was just passed. We are autonomous churches bound together. (I believe he saw the amendment as disengagement from the Communion.)

My notes are a bit confused at this point. Someone spoke in favor of the amendment, saying that he saw no reason for a task force, that it was not pastoral to continue to be engaged with the covenant project. The church, he said, should get about the rest of its business.

Matt Gunter, of Chicago, said that we want to stay engaged, but the amendment has the church “opting out.”

Someone from Lexington called the question, which easily passed. The amendment was then defeated by voice vote.

At this point, the discussion returned to the main motion, adoption of B005. David Cox, of Southwestern Virginia and the subcommittee that had shaped B005, rose in favor of the resolution. He made a point he had made in committee. Sometimes it is important not to do something but to just stand there. Let events unfold while The Episcopal Church stands and waits.

Steven Horst, of Connecticut, apparently with some reluctance, spoke in favor of the resolution. He would not have the church adopt the Covenant, and, even if we did, it would not help, given its rejection by others. “Many want to say ‘no’ with a vivid hand gesture.” (The crowd stirred a bit here.) Although the Covenant won’t accomplish what was intended, it is important to keep the door open. An outright “no” will be seen as a rejection of the good things in Sections 1–3. Horst said that he would prefer a statement that our church “still walks the path of Nicene Christianity.”

Jack Tull, of Florida and yet another member of the Covenant subcommittee, urged passage. He noted that he was the author of Resolution D006, which asserted that the church should spend no more time on the Covenant. The testimony from the hearing Friday night offered insights, however, and he declared himself satisfied that B005 offered the right approach. (My reading of the testimony was quite different. See “Hearing Report.”)

At this point, debate was interrupted for some item of business that had been scheduled at a fixed time. President Bonnie Anderson announced that the people already waiting at microphones would be allowed to speak in the order in which they arrived at their microphones when debate resumed.

I left the room for a time at this point, but it was not long before debate on B005 resumed. Anderson proceeded as she said she would. She asked the people who had been at microphones when debate was interrupted to return to their microphones.

First to speak after the break was Patrick Gray, of Massachusetts. He declared himself in favor of “kicking the can down the road.” He spoke of churches that have adopted the Covenant or not or (like the GAFCON churches) apparently would not. We owe more to liberal provinces, he said. (I failed to follow this logic, but I may have been too busy taking notes to listen as carefully as I should have.)

The final speaker, as it turned out, was Carola von Wrangel, of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe. Von Wrangel described the convocation as a microcosm of the Anglican Communion. It may not look tidy, but we need to learn to stay at the table. There needs to be a place for conservatives as well.

The next speaker, whose name I did not catch, moved to main question. Debate was halted on a voice vote, and another voice vote passed B005.

Michael Millard, of Western Louisiana, rose to observe that the House of Deputies had heard from no opponents of the main motion. At that point, however, D008 and B005 were on their way to the House of Bishops where, as far as I can determine, they were accepted without much discussion.

Analysis


Michael Millard’s point is well-taken. Of the five speakers who addressed the main motion (to adopt B005), all five favored the resolution. Moreover, two of the speakers were members of the subcommittee that had rewritten B005. Additionally, two other members of the subcommittee spoke against the amendment, and their comments essentially supported the unamended resolution as well. Moreover, the debate began with Mark Harris’s pitch for B005. Three speakers spoke in favor of the amendment, which, I would argue, would have had little effect on the message sent by the resolution anyway. Five spoke against it.

All of which is not to say that sentiment in favor of B005 was overwhelming. (The final voice vote was convincingly in favor of the resolution, but the nays were substantial in number.) Apparently, the rules of the House of Deputies do not require alternation of pro and con speakers, but there is a mechanism for determining the purpose for which a deputy rises, and, particularly for more controversial matters, alternation of pro and con speakers is often used to assure that debate is fair, particularly in light of the limited time allowed for debate. I don’t know what President Anderson’s intention was upon resuming debate after it was interrupted, but I’m sure she was not at her best that day. (She initially interpreted the vote to end debate on the amendment to have rejected the amendment itself. She had to be corrected.) When debate was interrupted, Anderson determined the order in which the remaining speakers would be given the floor, irrespective of their position on the motion. Did she do this because she was rushed, or did it not seem important to assure fair debate? In any case, I believe the debate was not fair.

My understanding is that some of those waiting to speak when debate on B005 was halted wanted to offer other amendments to end having to deal with the Anglican Covenant. It is impossible to know for sure just what the mind of the House of Deputies was. My suspicion is that it was leaning toward rejecting the Covenant, but the lack of expressed support for that outcome caused people to “go with the flow” and accept the indecisiveness of B005. There certainly was a widespread feeling that the Covenant was, in some sense, dead, and there was little point in dancing on its grave. One deputy suggested to me that most deputies had made up their minds about the Covenant—they hated it—but they were reluctant to say what they actually thought.

The idea that the Covenant was essentially dead seemed to me very myopic. It never seemed likely that The Episcopal Church would actually adopt the Covenant, but a clear rejection by our own church might have encouraged other churches sitting on the fence also to conclude that the Covenant was the wrong horse to back. Given that the Covenant is already in effect for some church, it is going to haunt the Communion for a very long time. It is difficult to know just how to put it in the grave and keep it there.

I am continually amazed by the prevalence of anxiety in The Episcopal Church over the possible ostracism people fear from the wider Communion. The church is acting like the shy new schoolgirl in town who is fearful of rejection by the cheerleaders and other popular girls in school. The reality, of course, is that the Communion needs The Episcopal Church more than the reverse. This is not to say that our church should be saying to other Communion churches, “We have no need of you.” The existence or stability of The Episcopal Church would not be threatened by isolation from the Anglican Communion, however. Both individual churches of the Communion and the Communion itself would be under threat if The Episcopal Church actually did isolate itself from the Communion. On the other hand, no one has seriously suggested that we should do that!

The subcommittee that modified B005 and D008 specifically intended D008 to reassure everyone about our commitment to the Anglican Communion, so that a decision on the Covenant could be made independently of anxiety over our Communion membership and participation. And yet, even in the debate, and even by members of that subcommittee—the argument of Charles Osberger seems the most egregious in this regard—members of the House of Deputies could not put their Communion anxieties aside and view the Covenant with objectivity. The reality is that there is no basis in the text of the Covenant for isolating non-covenanting churches except in the case of amending the Covenant or running the kangaroo court the Covenant sets up for offenses committed by covenanting churches. Even in the latter case, since proceedings are conducted in bodies that have existence independent of the Covenant, it is unclear that churches not in the process of adoption can be excluded. Their exclusion, after all, is justified by a provision of the Covenant, but, by definition, a church that has rejected the Covenant is not bound by its provisions.

I was told privately by one member of the subcommittee that members of the group were unreasonably deferential toward those who were more positively disposed to the Covenant, particularly Bishop Ed Little and Bishop Ian Douglas, the only bishops in the group. (Little was unabashedly in favor of adopting the Covenant and was delighted that the convention took no position. Douglas’s views were more nuanced, but he, too, wanted to avoid outright rejection.) The operation of the subcommittee was, I think, something of a sham. The committee decided on a course of action before the legislative hearing and, the protestations of Jack Tull notwithstanding, showed little evidence in its deliberations of listening to any of those who testified at the hearing, except possibly Tobias Haller, whose primary concern was unrelated to the Covenant. The majority of feedback on the Covenant, at the hearing and elsewhere, was anti-Covenant, and the subcommittee ignored that and substituted its own judgment about what the church should do.

The notion that The Episcopal Church needs to sit back and wait to see what everyone else is going to do vis-à-vis the Covenant is simply embarrassing. Is our idea of responsibility and leadership that we need to wait to see how everyone votes, so we can vote last and be sure to be among the “winners.” Is this what standing up for the Gospel is all about? It seems a little like going to the wagering window only after the horse race is over.

General Convention resolutions create winners and losers all the time. The General Convention exists to make decisions. I dispute the contention by Mark Harris that his resolutions created no winners and losers. Conservative Episcopalians who look to the Communion to halt the church’s attempts to serve 21st-century America were winners in this drama. Supporters of the dignity of women and LGBT persons who look to The Episcopal Church for justice and hope were losers.

Equally risible is the notion that our church is so divided that, for pastoral reasons, we cannot decide what to do with the Covenant. I don’t think the Covenant is more divisive than was approving a provisional liturgy for same-sex blessings, for example. Does anyone really think that any deputation would have walked out of the convention over our rejection of the Covenant? True, the Communion Partner Bishops would have been upset, but that seems to be their normal state. Rejection of the Covenant would not have sent them over the edge.

Conclusions


That the 2012 General Convention could not reject the Anglican Covenant was a disappointment. On the other hand, what it did do can hardly provide much comfort to Covenant supporters within the Communion. That the convention could adopt same-sex blessings and pass non-discriminatory measures supporting the transgender community suggests that the failings were local. As far as the Covenant was concerned, the World Mission Legislative Committee and the President of the House of Bishops failed to serve the church well. Neither in the committee nor in the House of Deputies were the merits of the Anglican Covenant discussed.

The Episcopal Church has sidelined itself for three years regarding the Anglican Covenant. It now falls to other churches to try to save the Anglican Communion from itself.

Yes to Communion; No to Covenant

5 comments:

  1. Lionel, thank you for your detailed report and analysis of the discussion and passage of the resolutions. The results out of the subcommittee seemed to have been preordained, no matter what the testimony. That not one of the cons was given a chance speak before the vote on B005 is distressing, to say the least.

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  2. Thank you for this, Lionel. It's not going to win you many friends but then again truth-tellers rarely do. God knows, you and Malcolm did yo-person's work. I'm very proud of the two of you.

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  3. I was not aware when I wrote this post that Mark Harris had posted what he said in the House of Deputies about B005 on his blog. You can find his speech here.

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  4. Lionel: interesting recap. What I said verbatum as a "pitch" is here: http://anglicanfuture.blogspot.com/2012/07/b005-and-d008-pass-deputies.html My post from earlier that morning was my thoughts prior to speaking later that morning. Later that morning I was asked to speak to the resolution by the WM Deputy Chair, so I wrote my short statement about 9 AM that morning. The two are related versions. The second is what I said.

    As to having made up our mind in the subcommittee prior to the hearing you are incorrect. What we wanted to hear from speakers was any new insights concerning a way forward. There were few that we had not heard before. The hearings were on Friday the 6th. The resolution came to the whole committee on Monday the 9th and was approved then. The date stamp on the file finally given to the deputies indicated a 3:43 PM final form for posting. The legislation was taken up the next day, July 10. To suggest that we were decided on what we would present before the hearings is incorrect. We spent considerable time on Saturday and Sunday working out what we would bring to the whole committee on Monday, and it was not until very late in that process that the "decline to take a position" notion came forward.

    Mark

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    1. Mark,

      Thanks for the clarification of what you said and wrote where and when.

      I stand by my impressions, having observed all the subcommittee meetings except possibly the first. No doubt we could construct a Rashomon-like narrative from the impressions of individual committee members. I don’t question your own view of events.

      I continue to be amazed that, after 9 years of watching The Episcopal Church react—and I do mean to emphasize react—to the upset in the Anglican Communion, I wait in vain for the church to exhibit mature adult behavior with respect to the Communion. How long must we wait, O Lord, how long?

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