November 29, 2012

In (Rare) Praise of Rowan Williams

I have not been a big fan of Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. As he comes to the end of his tenure, however, I’d like to say a few words on his behalf. In this, I am inspired by a story from Anglican Ink titled “Archbishop of Canterbury defends ACC-15 from claims it is irrelevant.” The article reports on what the archbishop told the General Synod regarding the work of the recently concluded meeting in New Zealand of the Anglican Consultative Council.

The essence of Williams’ defense of what was done in Auckland can be seen in this excerpt:
The archbishop said the model employed at ACC-15 was akin to that he introduced to the 2008 Lambeth Conference were [where?] issues were not discussed so that conclusions or actions could be reached, but to give disparate voices a platform for their views to be heard.
Personally, I was greatly relieved that the 2008 Lambeth Conference did not assume a legislative role, a role that has been greatly misunderstood and misused in the past. I was particularly gratified (and surprised) that ACC-15 passed no resolution regarding the Anglican Covenant. A general discussion of the Covenant would, no doubt, have been acrimonious, and, at any rate, approval or rejection of the Covenant is out of the hands of the ACC. (Action by the ACC may eventually be called for when, as seems likely, the failure of the Covenant to be widely adopted becomes painfully apparent.)

Williams suggested that what was most important at the ACC meeting was not corporate decision-making but small-group discussions aimed at understanding one another:
It was his belief the communion did not need further “bureaucratic, public, administrative decision making” but was better served by the different factions of the church “reading the Bible together.”
Perhaps the archbishop has indeed learned a thing or two during his decade-long tenure. Moreover, his view of the future was something of a surprise:
Dr. Williams also spoke of the rising importance of the networks of the Anglican Communion, which represented “some of the most creative, most universally supported work that we do.”

The archbishop added that networks may be the future of the communion’s ecclesial structure replacing the current crop of “instruments of communion.”

“Perhaps the larger question that we’re up against is how do we hold together the burgeoning life of networks, alliances—less formal associations across the Communion—with the unavoidable need for decision-making and managing bodies,” he asked.
Networks, which have been much encouraged by the departing archbishop, are largely concerned with common mission rather than divisive theological issues. An emphasis on networks, along with a corresponding reduced role for the Instruments of Communion (especially the Archbishop of Canterbury) might make for a more effective, less contentious Anglican Communion. Perhaps “the need for decision-making and managing bodies” will be less than Rowan Williams imagines.

November 26, 2012

Further Thoughts on the Church of England’s Failure to Authorize Women Bishops

Last Tuesday, the General Synod of the Church of England rejected a measure to allow women to become bishops. (See “Church of England Rejects Women Bishops Legislation.”) Since then, it has been hard to keep up with all the commentary on the General Synod’s  decision, a task complicated by my visiting my son and daughter-in-law for Thanksgiving.

Bishops and clergy approved the measure, but the lay vote fell short of the two-thirds majority required for passage. It is not yet clear why each of the negative lay votes was cast. One might imagine that some voted against the legislation because they
  •  Oppose making women bishops (or oppose the ordination of women generally);
  •  Believe that the legislation compromised the status of future women bishops by granting too much to those opposed to women bishops;
  • Believe that insufficient concessions were made to opponents of women bishops;
  • Were uncomfortable with the uncertainty about how the legislation would work in practice, given that the Code of Practice was not specified; or
  • Thought the legislation was otherwise defective.
How people voted is now available, though, as an Episcopalian, I have no idea what to make of this information.

The press has generally seen the General Synod vote as a debacle indicating that the Church of England is out of step with the people of England. The Archbishop of Canterbury has been blamed for inadequate leadership; the bishops of the church have been blamed for mucking with an apparently viable compromise measure; the structure of General Synod has been attacked for failing to produce the “right” result, and opponents of female ordination have been criticized for aggressively recruiting candidates for General Synod sympathetic to their position.

Linda Woodhead, writing on the Modern Church Web site, put her finger on not only the cause of most recent church disaster, but on the explanation for why Rowan Williams’ tenure as Archbishop of Canterbury has been that of one spectacular failure after another. Woodhead’s essay is “It’s believing in the common good that’s got the Church of England into this mess over women bishops.” The underlying problem, she asserts, is concern for the “common good,” the belief that unity must be achieved at any cost. The church has tried to keep everyone happy, and it has done so by making concessions to those who cry the loudest. She says
You can see the same principle at work it in the way Rowan has considered maintenance of the unity of the Anglican communion a greater good than support for the cause of women and gay people in the church. Even the slow death of the church in Europe is considered a price worth paying for the ever-receding goal of the common good.
Woodhead, a Professor of Sociology of Religion at Lancaster University, criticizes the church’s aversion to conflict that puts undue power into the hands of vocal minorities. She questions whether “oneness” is Christian at all. In contrast to John 17:21’s “that they all may be one,” she offers this:
There’s rather a deal more in Jesus’ teaching about hating father and mothers, and setting brother against brother. ‘Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I came to bring not peace but a sword.’
She concludes with this:
Clinging to an impossible ideal of unity discounts justice, and paints honest disagreement as dishonourable troublemaking. You can see the fruits of this state of mind in where the Church of England has ended up in its treatment of women.
I find it hard to argue with anything Woodhead has to say. It is helpful, however, to look more deeply into what unity can, in practice, be achieved.

An essential feature of Anglicanism derives from the Elizabethan Settlement—members of the church agree to worship in a uniform fashion, but they are not required to hold the same underlying theological views or to have a common understanding of their common worship. Whether one believes in transubstantiation, say, has essentially no bearing on one’s position in or relationship to the church. Such Anglican diversity allows the church to pursue mission in the world without the constant distraction of theological battles that have plagued so many Christian traditions. (In practice, we have seen a weakening of common worship, but, so far, this has not led to a crisis.)

Within the Anglican tradition, as within other traditions, certain conflicts die out over time. Episcopalians once argued over slavery and over whether it was proper to have candles on the altar. One would be hard pressed to find a contemporary proponent of slavery or a rabid opponent of candles. People have left, the arguments have lost their energy, and people have died.

One can easily imagine an Anglican resolution—one allowing forward movement at any rate—to such difficult matters as same-sex blessings: Let those who want to perform them do so, but require no one to do so. This is almost what The Episcopal Church has done, though it let bishops decide for their dioceses, rather than a more democratic (and Anglican?) scheme in which individual parishes could make that decision. Under such a regime, if I attend a parish that does not bless same-sex unions, how am I harmed by the existence of other parishes that do?  I may think the rector and parishioners of the blessing-friendly church mistaken in their theological views, but I already tolerate all sorts of presumed theological error among friends and enemies alike. Besides, I could be wrong.

The ordination of women, however, is another matter. To begin with, it makes no sense to allow for women priests but not for women bishops. In fact, some people go so far as to argue that, if we are not going to ordain women, we should stop baptizing them. Not everyone subscribes to such Christian equality before the Lord, but women priests are a reality, even in the Church of England and despite the indignity of their status inflicted by the existence of flying bishops.

Some, of course, argue that sacraments performed by women are not valid, and allowing women to be bishops will, in time, contaminate the whole body of English clergy. It is difficult to take this argument seriously, as Article XXVI of the Thirty-nine Articles explicitly rejects such a Donatist argument. In the end, opposition to women bishops comes down either to the belief that it is improper for women to have authority over men or that men simply don’t want to give up authority.

For the sake of argument, assume that there is a defensible argument against women bishops. The vote in General Synod indicates that very few hold such a view. Should the view of those few be not only respected (i.e., tolerated), but should special accommodation also be made for it? I think not—not for any theological reason, but for an organization one. It is simply impractical to forever maintain a two-tier clergy distinguished by who has or has not been involved in the ordination of women. The two groups will necessarily intact in synods, in conferences, on committees, etc. How can one group not be “tainted” by the other? Will they wear either black or white armbands to distinguish the two groups? How can priests preach unity to parishioners while keeping many colleagues at arm’s length?

Additionally, distinguishing clergy, as the defeated measure would have done, would only perpetuate the disagreement and make it difficult ever to unify the clergy. (It is always easier to split than it is to come back together.) Opponents of women bishops actually want to assure that their views will always be represented in the church, but this would not actually be good for the church. Sometimes, the church simply has to make a decision and live with it.

Views of small minorities die out slowly. It took about thirty years after women were allowed to be ordained in The Episcopal Church for them to be ordained in every diocese. It will take time for women to be considered seriously for episcopal appointments in the Church of England. The church needs to get on with making that happen, and it should do so with no concessions to those opposed to having women bishops.

November 23, 2012


Here is another poem inspired by Facebook. I wrote his poem this morning.

by Lionel Deimel
When Facebook friends are many,
But real-life friends are few,
And there really aren’t any
Who will deign to dine with you,
It might be time to ponder
If there’s something that you do
That makes other people fonder
Of folks that aren’t you.

November 20, 2012

Church of England Rejects Women Bishops Legislation

The General Synod of the Church of England has just voted to reject the legislation that would have authorized women bishops. A two-thirds vote was needed from all three orders—bishops, clergy, and laity. In the end, the compromise legislation was scuttled by the laity.

Church of England logo
Bishops voted in favor 44 to 3, with 2 abstentions. Clergy voted in favor 148 to 45, with no abstentions. The laity voted for 132 to 74, with no abstentions, but that was not good enough. It was, however, close.

There is not a simple lesson in all this, as people voted as they did for different reasons. Is the Church of England dysfunctional? Probably.

This is a serious defeat for departing Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. It is a defeat also for incoming Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. I predict this vote will cast a long shadow.

November 17, 2012

The Deimel Conjecture

I heard an interview with mathematician Thomas Hales on the radio yesterday. Hales is notable for having apparently proved the Kepler conjecture. The interview made me realize that I have devised at least two propositions that might be called the Deimel conjecture.

A conjecture, in this sense, is essentially a proposition one suspects is true (i.e., is a theorem) but which one has been unable to prove. A meaningful conjecture, as long as it remains a conjecture, is either very difficult to prove, false, or unprovable.

The first significant conjecture I posited involves my dissertation work in automata theory. It is not clearly interesting (i.e., important) and, in any case, is difficult to state concisely. What I will offer as the Deimel conjecture is not clearly interesting either, but it is reasonably easy to state. The conjecture is the following:
In every base b > 2, there is at least one nontrivial PPDI.
Base (or radix) is the value on which a traditional positional system of number representation is based. In everyday life, we use a decimal or base-10 system of representing integers. Thus, for example, 12310 (i.e, 123 in base-10) represents
1 x 102 + 2 x 101 + 3 x 100 = 100 + 20 + 3
Aside from base-10, the most commonly used systems for representing numbers are binary (base-2), octal (base-8), and hexadecimal (base-16). With a little arithmetic, one may easily verify that
12310 = 11110112 = 1738 = 7B16
(Since base-16 requires 6 more numerals—number symbols—than the 10 we conventionally use, we employ letters to represent values greater than 9. Thus A = 10, B = 11, etc.)

 A number n is a pluperfect digital invariant (or PPDI) in base-b if it is represented in base-b by the digits
dmdm-1dm-2 … d1
dmm + dm-1m + dm-2m + … + d1m =  n
We refer to m, the number of digits in the representation of n in base-b, as the order of the PPDI. By a nontrivial PPDI, we mean a PPDI of order greater than 1, since every 1-digit number representation in any base represents a PPDI. (Think about it.)

In case your eyes have glazed over, I will offer a couple of examples to clarify what PPDIs look like. For example, 407 is an order-3 PPDI in base-10 because
43 + 03 + 73 = 64 + 0 + 343 = 40710
Likewise, 1824 is an order-4 PPDI in base-9 because
24469 = 2 x 93 + 4 x 92  + 4 x 91 + 6 x 90 = 1458 + 324 + 36 + 6 = 182410
24 + 44  + 44 + 64 =16 + 256 + 256 + 1296 = 182410
PPDIs are not common, but neither are they rare. In base-10, for example, there are 89 PPDIs of orders 1 through 39. (There are no base-10 PPDIs of order greater than 39.)

So let me return to what I will now call the Deimel conjecture:
In every base b > 2, there is at least one nontrivial PPDI.
By exhaustive search, it has been shown that there is at least one PPDI for every base from 2 to 1000. This certainly suggests that the conjecture might be true, but it doesn’t guarantee that there are nontrivial PPDIs in bases 1001 or 56000 or 2894361. In fact, however, we know more. I have proved the following, seemingly odd, theorem:
THEOREM: There is at least one nontrivial PPDI in every base b > 2, except possibly where b = 18k and all the following are true: (1) k is neither a perfect square nor twice a perfect square and (2) neither k-1 nor k+1 is divisible by 5.
Numbers and operators
The strange restrictions seen in this theorem result from the fact that it is possible to show that certain patterns of PPDIs occur in related bases. The simplest such result asserts that any number written as a 1-digit number in a given base is a PPDI. Several 2- and 3-digit PPDIs are the bases of theorems asserting the existence of PPDIs in related, larger bases. Such theorems fail to tell us about, for example, base-90. Using a computer, it has been shown that the smallest PPDI in base-90 is a 8 digits long. It is difficult even to form hypotheses about what PPDIs in larger bases might be implicated by such a representation. Quite possibly, no other PPDI is related to it in a simple way.

Although it is not clear how to prove the Deimel conjecture (or even improve on the theorem offered above), there is an obvious way of going about disproving it. All one has to do is consider all PPDI candidates in base 1001, 1002, etc. (Fortunately, it is easily shown that there is an upper limit to the magnitude of any PPDI in a given base.) In other words, the conjecture can be disproved by exhibiting a counterexample. This procedure has the disadvantage or requiring a lot of computer time, and, if the conjecture is actually true, a counterexample, i.e., a base without nontrivial PPDIs, will never be found no matter how much computing power is thrown at the problem.

I am inclined to suspect that my conjecture is indeed true, but the only evidence I have for that is the lack of a counterexample in light of a good deal of searching for one. I have no idea how to go about proving the conjecture. I challenge the mathematically inclined with nothing better to do to try to prove or disprove the Deimel conjecture. I must offer the disclaimer, however, that I know of no past, present, or future practical use for the result, whatever it may be. Do let me know if you resolve the status of the conjecture.

I treat PPDIs more formally on my Web site. You should go there if you are thinking of tackling this problem. Good luck!

November 16, 2012


The Anglican cathedral in Christchurch, New Zealand, has been damaged by two major earthquakes, and what to do with the building has become a controversial matter. The Diocese of Christchurch decided to build an architecturally unorthodox temporary cathedral and eventually to replace the damaged building, which is considered dangerously unstable.

I was surprised that a  recent story on the cathedral speaks of the “deconstruction” of the building. Erecting a building can be called construction, so it is not unreasonable to call tearing down a building deconstruction. Conventionally, however, the systematic elimination of a structure is referred to as demolition. The only definitions I could find for deconstruction relate to philosophical or literary analysis. Is a new definition for deconstruction coming into vogue or are people inventing jargon to replace a perfectly serviceable word, namely demolition?

The question is this: Is demolishing a building different from deconstructing it? Before I read the entire article, I thought that deconstruction might mean disassembling, the careful dismantling of a structure, preserving at least some of the pieces for future use. What is clear from reading the article (and certainly from reading the court opinion that is the subject of the piece) is that what is being referred to is stripping the building down to the level of about 2 meters. Apparently, the walls are unstable, but the foundation is not (or is not a hazard, in any case).

I am inclined to think that the use of deconstruction in the story (and in the court proceedings) constitutes an unnecessary and unwise neologism. The diocese was given notice “in accordance with Section 38(4) of the [Canterbury Recovery Act of 2011] that your building is to be demolished to the extent necessary to remove the hazards.” If deconstruction, as used in the New Zealand discussion means nothing more than tearing down, the word is unnecessary and pretentious. Demolition, dismantling, or tearing down would each serve as well. If deconstruction is intended to mean dismantling down to the sill, I suspect that the need for the word is insufficient for it to achieve widespread comprehension (and therefore acceptance).

November 11, 2012

Hope for the New Archbishop of Canterbury

Like many Anglicans around the world, I have been trying to figure out just what we have gotten in the newly named Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. I surely won’t aspire to writing a profile of him, but I would like to share a few thought on what I’ve found.

First, although Welby seems firmly in the Evangelical camp—I was not happy to read of his association with Holy Trinity, Brompton—I count it as encouraging that he has spent much of his adult life in the “real world,” namely, as an oil industry executive. He may be more sensitive to the effects that statements and actions can have on actual people and groups of people than academic Rowan Williams, who seems curiously lacking in that sort of perception.

For the sake of the Church of England—really for the sake of Anglicanism generally—I am pleased that Welby is supportive of women bishops. In his post-appointment news conference, he said, “I’m deeply committed to the ordination of women to the episcopate and believe that is key in the future of the Church of England.” It is perhaps unfortunate that the vote on the women bishops legislation to take place just over a week from now is not taking place under Justin Welby. Perhaps the legislation might not have contained the potential poison pill whose inclusion the incumbent archbishop championed. If the legislation does pass, Welby may have a benign influence on what becomes the code of practice regarding requests for male bishops.

In his news conference, Welby was asked about his work in reconciliation. He spoke of bringing people together where they can listen carefully to one another and recognize one another’s humanity and integrity. Even if the people do not come to agreement—this usually doesn’t happen, he said—people can go away with a sense that they can deal with one another. This sounds a lot like the Indaba process and not very much like the Anglican Covenant approach to dealing with conflict in which the “offending party” is not even guaranteed a hearing. Welby said that this sort of reconciliation is “something that will very much be a part of what I do.” I take this as a hopeful sign.

According to Fox News, Welby has described his thinking on marriage equity as “evolving,” though he has so far been an opponent of the idea. It is unclear whether Welby realizes how Americans will understand such a position in light of the fact that President Obama’s “evolving” views led him to support gay marriage. In any case, this is another hopeful sign, though perhaps just less so.

At the aforementioned news conference, John Martin, representing The Living Church, asked a pointed and actually rather nasty question: “Have you firsthand experience of the Episcopal Church USA, and what are your thoughts about how to contain its differences from other parts of the Anglican Communion within the body of the 77 million Anglicans?” Happily, Welby expressed no interest in putting the American church in quarantine. He noted that he had met with Episcopal Church bishops at their March 2012 meeting. VirtueOnline published his address at that meeting, where Welby said, in part:
I have found some myths demythologised. For example the myth that TEC is only liberal, monochrome in its theological stand, and the myth that all minorities of view are oppressed. There is rather the sense of a complex body of wide views and many nationalities addressing issues with what I have personally found inspiring honesty and courage, doubtless also with faults and sins, but always looking to see where the sins are happening. The processes are deeply moving even where I disagreed, which I did on a number of obvious issues, but the honesty of approach was convincing, the buy into and practice of Indaba superb. In summary, there has been a sense of calm confidence and expectation, and of facing the vast challenge of the next 10-15 years. You have a better pension plan too.
He also said, “What is clear too is that in in the Communion we need to fit our structures to the reality of our changing and complex relationships, not try and shape reality to structures.” Perhaps this presages an emphasis of what the churches of the Communion need as members of the Communion, rather than what roles should be played by the so-called Instruments of Communion. This is another hopeful sign. (I recommending reading Welby’s entire, though rather brief, address to the American House of Bishops.)

In completing his response to Martin’s question, Welby said this: “It’s not for me to tell them [The Episcopal Church] how to do their business, and I don’t intend to do that.” This is yet another hopeful sign, although Welby did refer to statements he made about homosexuality at the time and chose not to elaborate upon. I don’t know to what, precisely, he was referring.

On the whole, I am encourage by what seem to be the views of the next Archbishop of Canterbury. Of course, I had been encouraged by statements made by Rowan Williams before he was made archbishop. I have learned my lesson, will contain my enthusiasm, and will adopt an attitude of wait-and-see.

November 9, 2012

Facing the Republicans

I was returning home with a friend tonight after attending the first day of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh’s annual convention. We were riding a light rail train from downtown Pittsburgh. Ed and I were discussing Tuesday’s election and other matters around how Americans select their president. I made the mistake of repeating what I wrote in a post earlier today, namely that the Republicans had a bad candidate, bad policies, and bad supporters. At that point, the male half of a young couple sitting in front of us turned around and challenged me, specifically about the “bad candidate” and “bad policies” remark. This began a spirited exchange for which I has glad to have a supportive friend at my side. At one point, however, the female half of the couple chimed in.

I had been asked who would have been a better Republican candidate than Mitt Romney. I wanted to answer “Jon Huntsman,” but I couldn’t remember Huntsman’s name, so I described him as something like “the other Mormon who was in the race for the Republican nomination.” At that point, the woman in the seat in front of me accused me (as best as I could figure out at the time) of religious prejudice. She then asserted, rather inconsistently, it seemed, that Obama was a Muslim. I disputed that, but, at that point, I threw in the towel, letting Ed take over the argument, as my stop was next. I felt, however, that at least the last third of my assertion about the Republicans had been proven.

Two Language Observations

1. Outreach

I was listening to a radio interview of a couple of Republican Party operatives who were addressing the question of whether and how the party might have to change to perform better in elections. (This is the season of speculation about what went wrong in the recent presidential election. The obvious answer, of course, is bad candidate, bad policies, and bad supporters. But I digress.) One of the speakers said that the party needs “to outreach to minority communities.” This is a decidedly odd use of outreach as a verb, and it illustrates the ongoing jargonization of American English. Why not simply say that the Republican party needs “to reach out to minority communities”?

2. Democrats

In the same segment, I heard something that drives me crazy. It has become almost universal for representatives of the Republican Party to refer not to the Democratic Party but to the Democrat Party. One of the interviewees did that on the radio today. This usage is simply wrong. The name of the party of Barack Obama is not the Democrat Party, but the Democratic Party headed by the Democratic National Committee. How would Republicans feel if Democrats consistently referred to the Republic Party?

Why do Republicans do this? I think it is because democratic evokes strong positive emotions in Americans in a way that republican does not. And Republicans have adopted a take-no-prisioners attitude toward the opposition party. Apparently, it has not occurred to Republican leaders that, rather than indulging in casual, mean-spirited name-calling, they might attract more adherents by becoming a party of reasonable people who are at least as interested in good governance as they are in winning elections. Don’t hold your breath on that one.

November 8, 2012

The Dog That Didn’t Bark

ACC-15, the meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council concluded yesterday in Auckland, New Zealand. The most representative body of Anglicans worldwide met for 12 days, listened to reports , participated in much discussion, and passed 41 resolutions. Those resolutions are, however, mostly unremarkable.

The big news from ACC-15 is what didn’t happen. Participants spent little time considering the status of the Anglican Covenant, and ACC-15 neither passed nor proposed any resolution concerning the Covenant. This is the dog that didn’t bark.

The roots of the Covenant can be traced to the emergency meeting of the Anglican primates unwisely convened by the inexperienced Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams in October 2003 in the wake of the General Convention’s having given its blessing to the consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire. At ACC-15, for the first time since that unfortunate meeting, differences over sexuality did not play a prominent role in a Communion-wide meeting.

Alan T Perry has written a very helpful post, “Fallout from New Zealand,” about the Anglican Covenant and ACC-15. Alan remarks
I conclude from the ACC’s silence on the Covenant that it is moving on from the project. If it’s not important enough for the ACC to comment on officially, then it’s lost its significance for the Communion. I think it can be shelved.
Do read “Fallout from New Zealand.” I don’t want to dispute anything Alan says there. Instead, I want to expand on what he wrote.

First, it is instructive to see just how little discussion there was at the Auckland meeting concerning the Covenant, based on news reports, anyway.

According to Episcopal News Service (ENS), participants were presented October 30 with a report on the consideration of the Covenant by Anglican churches. It is not clear whether the report was prepared by the Anglican Communion Office or by the Inter-Anglican Standing Committee on Unity, Faith and Order, both of which have seemed heavily invested in the adoption of the Covenant. In any case, as I noted in a recent post, the report distorted the facts.

The report, which has not been made public, asserted that the Church of Ireland was one of six churches that have accepted the Covenant as is. According to Anglican Communion News Service (ACNS), however, the General Synod of the Church of Ireland made a point of “subscribing” to the Covenant, rather than “adopting” it, reserving thereby to the Irish church certain matters of interpretation of the Covenant. It is a stretch to suggest that Ireland therefore accepted the Covenant as is.

According to ENS, “the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia has subscribed to the covenant’s first three sections but said it cannot adopt section 4, which outlines a process for resolving disputes.” This characterization also shades the truth. According to a May 10, 2010, report, the General Synod/Te Hinota Whanui of the New Zealand church, acting on the Ridley Cambridge Draft of the Covenant, approved “in principle” provisions of the first three sections of the draft. It also referred the Covenant “to the Epsicopal units of this church for consideration and reporting back to the 2012 session of the General Synod/Te Hinota Whanui, with a view to the Synod/Te Hinota then making a final decision regarding its adoption,” and it asked for a legal opinion on parts of Section 4. The 2012 vote, which came on July 9, was characterized by Anglican Taonga this way: “As expected, the General Synod said a final: ‘No’ to the proposed Anglican covenant today.” The resolution adopted said, in part, that the General Synod
Is unable to adopt the proposed Anglican Covenant due to concerns about aspects of Section 4, but subscribes to Sections 1, 2, and 3 as currently drafted to be a useful starting point for consideration of our Anglican understanding of the church.
Being “a useful starting point for consideration of our Anglican understanding of the church” is not an endorsement of the Covenant (or part thereof) per se.

I also dispute that the Episcopal Church’s General Convention made a “partial decision” on the Covenant. What it did was to  avoid making a decision, an action that was an alternative to rejecting it outright. Never did the legislative committee considering the Covenant consider seriously adopting the document.

Perhaps the biggest distortion in the report, however, is placing England in the category of having made a “partial decision” on the Covenant. The Church of England flat out rejected the covenant, assertions to the contrary notwithstanding. A majority of dioceses were needed to approve the Covenant in order for the General Synod to take a final vote on approval. A majority of dioceses rejected adoption, however. (See the tally by Modern Church.) Church of England leaders have been embarrassed to admit that the Covenant was soundly rejected by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s own church.

As for the Anglican Church of Korea, I cannot find documentation on its declaring the first three sections of the Covenant “excellent and useful” while postponing consideration of Section 4. The reaction of the Korean bishops to the St. Andrew’s Draft of the Covenant—this was all I could find on the Web about Korea’s dealing with the Covenant—was extraordinarily negative.

Bishop Victoria Matthews followed up the report with her take on where the Covenant stands. See my earlier post, “Living in Safety,” for my take on her tepid pitch for the Covenant. Matthews showed a video on “the history and detail of the Covenant”—the video is not available on the Web as far as I can determine—after which participants were invited to reflect on what they had seen in small groups. (See ENS story here.)

On November 5, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams touched on the matter of the Covenant, rather wistfully, I think, and, following Bishop Matthews’ lead, without a hard sell:
The hopes for an Anglican Covenant were in part hopes for a framework, a climate, in which some of those questions might be addressed by consent, not by coercion. We don’t as yet know how that project will finally work itself out. I still hope and pray, speaking personally, the Covenant has a future, because I believe we do have a message to give the Christian world about how we can be both catholic and orthodox and consensual, working in freedom, mutual respect and mutual restraint. Without jeopardising the important local autonomy of our Churches, I think we still need work on that convergence of our schemes and systems, and I say that because I believe we all need to wake up to the challenges here if we are not to become less than we aspire to be as a Communion. Let me repeat the phrase: we need to be aware of the danger of becoming less than we aspire to be as a Communion. I think that we do aspire to be a consensual catholic and orthodox family. I believe we do aspire to be a family that lives in mutual respect and recognition, and to step back from that simply into a federal model, as I’ve said many times before, doesn’t seem to me to be the best and the greatest that God is asking from us as an Anglican family.
News stories indicated that delegates were to return to the matter of the Anglican Covenant on November 6. I don’t know whether that happened, but there have been no news stories about any further discussion of the document.

ENS has run a story offering reflections of the Episcopalian participants in ACC-15. Those reflections are remarkably different from what we have become used to following Communion-wide meetings. Here is a sample. The speaker is Bishop Ian Douglas, who is also a member of the Standing Committee.
“I found that we have been able to go much deeper in conversations around how our churches are so different one from another and also what holds us together as the communion itself,” he said. “It seems like a lot of the old animosities and divisions—differences are absolutely still there; I don’t want to paper over them – but all of the old tensions, I’m just not experiencing at this meeting.”
Other quotations in the ENS story are in a similar vein

So what are those of us concerned about the Anglican Covenant to make of ACC-15?  At the very least, it seems fair to say that the steam has gone out of the drive for Covenant adoption. Perhaps delegates saw the handwriting on the wall. Perhaps no one thought it would be possible to agree on any resolution about the Covenant, no matter how bland. Perhaps no one really cared anymore.

Nevertheless, reports of the death of the Anglican Covenant are premature. Although there seems to be no enthusiasm for pursuing the covenant project, there is the remote possibility that the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby by all reports, might try to inject new life into the campaign to achieve widespread adoption. His corporate experience in the “real world” suggests that he will not want to die in that particular ditch, however. The Covenant will not be dead until those churches that have adopted the pact rescind their action or withdraw according to Section 4.3 of the Covenant itself. That is unlikely to happen until the ACC declares the Covenant a failed project and encourages churches to dump it. It may be a long time before that happens. In the meantime, we should all hope that no church that has adopted the Covenant actually takes it seriously.

Update, 11/9/2012. I added the link the the ENS story “Council considers status of Anglican Covenant in small groups.” 

November 6, 2012


How do you pronounce primer? I ask this because a promotional announcement on my local NPR station used the pronunciation pry-mer to refer to a brief tutorial of some sort. This pronunciation is apparently common in England, but the standard American pronunciation for a reader for young children or a short tutorial of some sort is prim-er. On the other hand, a primer (pronounced pry-mer) can be a paint applied before applying the top coat or a device intended to ignite an explosive charge.



November 4, 2012

Mendacious Mitt

Living in Pennsylvania, I have not seen a lot of Obama for President TV spots. My impression, however, is that the kind of spots I would like to see have not been made. I would like to see TV ads with clips of Mitt Romney expressing his many views on the same subject over the years. His views on abortion probably provide the most grist for the political mill, but his view of foreign policy would probably work almost as well.

The video below from Slate is clearly too long for a TV spot, but it suggests the kind of resources available to a willing political operative. It is easy to see why Mitt Romney’s position has been called “multiple choice.”

Politicians shade the truth all the time. That may not be right, but it is reality, particularly when there is a perceived need to communicate a message in 30 seconds. Never have I seen a campaign like the Romney campaign, however, in which not only does the candidate or his supporters flat out lie, but also, when the lies are pointed out, the American people get neither a retraction nor an apology. Instead, the campaign simply doubles down, continuing to run dishonest ads with impunity.

On the matter of its advertising, the Romney campaign has, in fact, been scrupulously truthful: “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers” [Romney pollster Neil Newhouse]. He certainly got that right!

If a presidential candidate will lie to get elected, do we have any reasonable expectation that he will level with Americans when he is president? Is the nation that venerates Honest Abe ready to elect Mendacious Mitt?

Campaign Rallies

To the surprise of many, Mitt Romney is visiting Pennsylvania today. Admittedly, I haven’t made a scientific study of campaign rallies, but I do question their value. Romney has visited Ohio about a zillion times, but has it won him more votes on Tuesday? I doubt it.

Mitt Romney
Photo by Gage Skidmore
To begin with, no one needs to attend a campaign rally to learn what the candidate has to say. These events are covered ad nauseam in the media. Whenever a candidate says something new or contradictory, we’re sure to hear about it.

Who goes to campaign rallies anyway? Not, I suggest, the undecided voters that we are told the candidates are trying so hard to influence. Not supporters of the opposing candidate who, at this point, are more likely to view the visiting candidate with a combination of hatred and revulsion, rather than curiosity. Not, I suspect, even causal supporters, unless doing so is very convenient. (A worker in a factory visited by a candidate is likely to show up, or else.) People who show up at a rally—coverage on television support this—are enthusiastic supporters who will vote for the candidate anyway, and campaign workers. Probably the biggest effect of a campaign rally in a particular place is on the folks who are already actively working to elect the candidate.

Does anyone really think that the Romney vote in Ohio will be proportional to the number of times Romney has visited the state? Does anyone think that Romney’s visit to Pennsylvania will really help deliver the state to the Republican candidate?

November 2, 2012

Living in Safety

Bishop Victoria Matthews
Bishop Victoria Matthews
I was dismayed by the report from Anglican Communion News Service (ACNS) the other day about a talk given by Bishop of Christchurch Victoria Matthews. The good bishop is a member of the Inter-Anglican Standing Committee on Unity, Faith and Order, a relatively new Anglican body that appears to be the Anglican analogue of the Roman Catholic Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. She was speaking to the meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council, which is currently meeting in Auckland, New Zealand.

Bishop Matthews was addressing the Anglican Covenant, whose “reception”—one can only hope that there is more rejection than reception of the Covenant among Anglican churches—is not going well, even though its advocates are trying to put a smiley face on the matter.

The headline for the ACNS story came from this passage:
She [Bishop Matthews] stressed the point that it was not the work of IASCUFO to promote the Covenant, but rather to monitor its reception.

“As we have sought to do that,” she told delegates, “I have often thought that the document people discuss and the actual Anglican Covenant are two different documents

“One is the document that people have in their mind and the other is the Anglican Communion Covenant on paper. So I really want [people] to read the Covenant and be focused on that. Because often, when people start talking about the Covenant, what they describe in their mind as the Covenant is unrecognisable.”
It is curious that Bishop Matthews asserts that IASCUFO is charged only with monitoring reception of the Covenant. Doing that would only require an Internet connection and a spreadsheet. (The No Anglican Covenant is doing a fine job of monitoring reception of the Covenant and has avoided distorting the facts as the IASCUFO has done.) In any case, after declaring the limited role of the IASCUFO, the bishop proceeds to advocate for Covenant adoption, though this is unsurprising, as IASCUFO has already released material in this vein.

Those of us who have opposed acceptance of the Anglican Covenant are weary of  implications that we have failed to read the document, that we would love it if we only put aside our ignorant preconceptions and confronted the reality of the Covenant’s manifest virtues. In fact, opponents of the Covenant have often been quite specific about the faults of the document, whereas its advocates mostly praise the fantastic, not to say magical, covenant in their minds. (This is obvious from reading the material collected on the Web site of the No Anglican Covenant Coalition.)

To Bishop Matthews’ credit, it must be admitted that she does not put on the hard sell. She freely admits that the Covenant has detractors that see it as either too permissive or too punitive. She implies, however, that, in time, people will come around.

What I found most interesting in the bishop’s talk was this: “I believe that in the original idea of the Anglican Covenant, there was a desire to allow the Anglican Communion to be a safe place for conversation and the sharing of new ideas.” The notion of safety occurs two other times in the ACNS report of Bishop Matthews’ address.

“Safety” is a familiar term to Episcopalians who have followed closely the reactionary insurrection within their church. Congregations who want to leave The Episcopal Church and take their parishes’ real and personal property with them often speak of a longing for “safety.” “Safety” has become a codeword for freedom from exposure to ideas that you don’t agree with. It is unclear whether Bishop Matthews was intending to use “safety” in this sense, but she might as well have.

I have often said that Sections 1, 2, and 3 set out what, going forward, the Anglican Communion will fight about, and Section 4 specifies how those fights are “resolved,” or, more precisely, how the winners will punish the losers. The Covenant is not at all about safe discussion within the Communion; it is about limiting discussion and punishing those churches with the audacity to advance unpopular ideas. Criticism of the Covenant has focused on Section 4 because half the Communion thinks it too draconian and the other half considers it insufficiently so. (The bishop got that right.) Safe discussion—in the commonplace freedom-of-speech sense—does not need the agenda of Sections 1–3 of the Covenant, but “safe” discussion, in the codeword sense, requires both a set agenda and a way of punishing “deviant” viewpoints.

The mistake behind the Covenant is the identification of the problem to be solved. Supporters of the Covenant believe the problem is conflict, and the way to eliminate conflict is to specify right opinion and exile any church that doesn’t get with the program. The real problem, however,  is intolerance of new ideas and an unwillingness to discuss them in a meaningful forum. The need is for the Communion to be a safe place for Anglican churches, not a “safe” place for them.