Let me begin at the beginning of today's work. The full committee began this morning by taking public testimony on three resolutions, two of which, C115 and D046, dealt with the Anglican Communion. Resolution C115 is a pure delay resolution. Malcolm French and I used this as an excuse to argue that a rejection resolution actually could pass both houses and that the Covenant is a bad thing, we know that now, and there is no reason not to proceed with outright rejection.
The conventional wisdom all along has been that the House of Deputies would have no trouble voting against Covenant adoption, but that the House of Bishops might not go along. Mark Harris, chairman of the subcommittee assigned to work on the Covenant resolutions, has said all along that he believed that neither a positive nor a negative resolution on the Covenant would pass both houses and that the House of Bishops definitely could not pass a “no” resolution on the Covenant.
Malcolm tried to make two points. First, New Zealand has just essentially said “no” to the Covenant, and the way they did so could be a model for The Episcopal Church. He also wanted to say that the subcommittee’s perception that the House of Bishops could not go along with a rejection of the Covenant is not necessarily correct. Our discussions with bishops suggests that there is at least a 50-50 chance of passing such a resolution in the House of Bishops.
Remarkably, Mark Harris strenuously objected that Malcolm was not addressing the resolution but responding to what had been said in the subcommittee. He asserted that the latter was out of order because the subcommittee’s work had not been reported to the full committee, which is where Malcolm was testifying. This was a strange argument, since Malcolm was explaining why it was unnecessary to delay action and was addressing what was the conventional wisdom. It was also strange because, since the subcommittee meetings are open meetings, all the world, except, in Chairman Harris’s view, the members of the committee not on the subcommittee, could know what had been said in the subcommittee. (Harris later apologized to Malcolm in private.)
My testimony was simply that the Covenant is bad, we know that, and we can dispense with it forthwith. Specifically, I asserted that its purpose is to inhibit or punish liberal action by The Episcopal Church (or any other church), that it is badly written (vague, etc.), and that it has been misrepresented both by its text and its supporters. (For example, it says that autonomy is unaffected, whereas it clearly is.) I said that the first three sections of the Covenant define, however vaguely, what the Communion will fight about in the future and that Section 4 tells, however vaguely, how we will carry out that fight. This is our Anglican future under the Covenant, I said. It is obvious, and we do not need more time to decide that it is a future we do not want.
Suffice it to say that nothing we said had any effect on the whole committee or on Chairman Harris’s subcommittee. The committee is sending substitutes for D008 and B005 to the legislative floor. Each of the original resolutions has been substantially rewritten. The final text is not available to the outside world as I write this. In fact, I have not seen the final text.
Watching the work of the subcommittee has been profoundly discouraging. Early on, the chairman declared, without evidence as far as I can see, that a Covenant rejection resolution could not pass in the House of Bishops. Even before public testimony was taken, a tentative decision was made to submit two resolutions, one supporting the Anglican Communion and one ducking the Covenant decision using some (initially undetermined) reationale. It is significant that, in all the subcommittee deliberations I witnessed, the public testimony from Friday night was not mentioned even once! And yet, that testimony was largely in favor of rejecting the Anglican Covenant. (See my earlier post here.) Chairman Harris told us that the subcommittee was divided in its opinions, and he simply went along with the wishes of the group. That is not consistent with what I observed.
In the end, I do not know why the subcommittee went in the direction that it did. Perhaps it was a victim of the Abilene Paradox, or perhaps something else was going on. The original resolution on the Covenant from Executive Council, of which Mark Harris is a member, said a definite “no” to the Covenant, though perhaps not a definite “never.” The open testimony was mostly against adoption. The information solicited from dioceses was also largely negative.
The purpose of General Convention is to make decisions on behalf of The Episcopal Church. There is every indication that the church is tired of talking about the Covenant, thinks it is and was always a stupid and destructive idea, and wants to be done with it. Yet, it seems that the subcommittee of a legislative committee has decided not to serve the General Convention and the people of The Episcopal Church but to substitute its judgement for theirs. Has this church been so traumatized by the criticisms of those who have left the church or who we think might leave, as well as criticism of like-minded Anglicans in Africa, Asia, South America, and the Caribbean, that we are now incapable of making decisions on our own behalf? How neurotic and risk-averse has our church become? Can we possibly be proud of ducking a decision that England, Scotland, and New Zealand have so boldly made?
It is to be hoped that the House of Deputies will either vote down the substituted Resolution B005 or amend it so as to take the action that most Episcopalians feel is correct, namely turning down the offer to adopt the Anglican Covenant.
Next, the substituted resolutions go to the House of Deputies. It has yet to be determined just when that will happen, but it will happen soon.