July 30, 2013

Slash and Backslash

I was reading a style guide and encountered a section about the slash (/). This reminded me of a pet peeve, which I will mention here in the hope that it may change the behavior of some readers.

SlashThe slash (solidus, virgule, etc.) has been around for a long time. The backslash (reverse solidus, reversed virgule, etc.) is of more recent vintage, a product of the computer age. “Backslash” became a commonly used word as a result of its use in MS-DOS.

Unfortunately, people got so used to saying “backslash” when talking about their computers, they began saying “forward slash” when referring to a slash. This is redundant.

The Wikipedia entry for “virgule” calls “forward slash”a retronym. (Interested readers might want to look at the Wikipedia entry, as well as the Wikipedia entry for “backslash.”) It is a retronym, of course, but it is an unnecessary one. “Film camera” is a useful term to distinguish a particular device from a digital camera. It is only needed because we have come to call any device that takes pictures a camera. “Slash,” on the other hand, has not become a generic term for either a solidus or a reverse solidus.

The only reason to use “forward slash,” I assert, is in certain situations where there are references to each character in close proximity. For example, this sentence might be reasonable: ALGOL allows the symbol for logical-or to be represented by a backslash followed by a forward slash. Even this sentence looks a bit odd, since, by analogy, we might expect to see “forwardslash.”

So, here is my rule: The "/" character is a slash; the "\" character is a backslash.

Why Hasn’t Abortion Become More Acceptable?

NPR ran a story this morning about how, particularly in the South, opposition to abortion has increased over the years. The story suggested that most people are ambivalent about abortion and can be influenced by various legislative proposals to restrict the practice if they seem consistent with, for example, the religious views of those people.

The report made me ask myself why acceptance of homosexuality has increased, whereas, at least in some areas, acceptance of abortion has decreased.

It is widely believed that the acceptability of homosexuality has been fueled by the increasing willingness of homosexuals to come out of the closet. It was easy to demonize a group of people that was largely invisible. That became much harder when people knew people who acknowledged their homosexual orientation. When you know friends, co-workers, or children who are homosexual and who otherwise seem to be good people, it becomes difficult to condemn them and others of their ilk.

Now, consider the class of women who have had abortions. How many women do you know who you know have had abortions? I don’t know any, although some high-profile women from time to time have admitted to having had an abortion. I suspect that women would have an easier time naming abortion clients, but I suspect that even women do not speak about their abortions any more than necessary.

There are no Abortion Pride parades. There are no I Had an Abortion T-shirts. I suspect that we will not be able to put the abortion fights behind us until women who have had abortions come out of the closet.

July 28, 2013

An Anglican Milestone

The latest electronic newsletter from the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh contains this notice:

The 148th Diocesan Convention
The 148th Diocesan Convention will be held on November 1-2 at St. Stephen’s Church in Sewickley, PA. The pre-convention hearings will be held on Thursday, October 3rd at 7 pm in the sanctuary of St. Stephen’s in Sewickley, and on Sunday, October 6th at 3:30 pm at Christ’s Church in Greensburg.

As a rule, I don’t pay a lot of attention to the diocese carved out of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh by Bob Duncan and his minions and justified by the extralegal votes at the 2007 and 2008 diocesan conventions. It is, however, laughable—not to say irritating—that the Pittsburgh schismatics claim to be approaching their 148th annual convention.

Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh logo
Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh logo
Following the October 2008 vote to leave The Episcopal Church, both the winners and losers claimed to be the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. Even those of us who weren’t confused by this had a hard time writing clear accounts of developments that kept the players straight. Sometime early in 2009, the Web site of Duncan’s diocese exchanged “The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh” for “The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (Anglican)” as its banner. In October, after Judge Joseph James had ruled that diocesan property rightfully belonged to the diocese in The Episcopal Church, the Duncan diocese announced that it would appeal the decision but would also change its name to “The Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh.”

It has never been adjudicated in Pennsylvania (or anywhere else, to date) whether a diocese can remove itself from The Episcopal Church. Diocesan property was awarded to the Episcopal Church-affiliated group on the basis of the stipulation agreed to by then Bishop Duncan that grew out of the Calvary lawsuit. That stipulation, signed in October 2005, read, in part:
Property, whether real or personal (hereinafter “Property”), held or administered by the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America (hereinafter “Diocese”) for the beneficial use of the parishes and institutions of the Diocese, shall continue to be so held or administered by the Diocese regardless of whether some or even a majority of the parishes in the Diocese might decide not to remain in the Episcopal Church of the United States of America. For purposes of this paragraph, Property as to which title is legitimately held in the name of a parish of the Diocese shall not be deemed Property held or administered by the Diocese.
Consideration of the stipulation, no doubt, was responsible for the initial decision to retain the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh name. It was never clear, however, how Duncan and company could claim to have left the Episcopal Church while still being “the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America,” particularly after the Presiding Bishop immediately recognized the loyal Episcopalians as representing the Pittsburgh diocese. It certainly wasn’t clear to Judge James.

Duncan claimed that the removal of the diocese from The Episcopal Church was proper and that the Episcopal group recognized by the Presiding Bishop was a new diocese. Not only did Katharine Jefferts Schori not treat the Episcopalians as having formed a new diocese; neither did the General Convention. The situation was even clearer. By the time of the October 2008 convention, Duncan had been deposed, so the Standing Committee was the ecclesiastical authority. The Rev. Jim Simons was a member of the Standing Committee, and he stayed with The Episcopal Church. Thus, there was conspicuous continuity in diocesan leadership among the Episcopalians.

In a sense, however, such considerations are moot. The first annual convention held by Duncan’s group was held under the name of The Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh. Its 2009 convention was, by any reasonable measure, its first annual convention.

All of which is to say that Archbishop Robert Duncan and his Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Anglican Church in North American are to be congratulated on their upcoming 5th annual convention. This is surely an important milestone in the short history of the diocese and the unaffiliated Anglican Church in North America.

Terms of Use

I logged on to Netflix yesterday to check on the available of a movie and saw this below the usual Netflix menu bar:

Because the above screen shot may be difficult to read, here is the text:

Important Reminder

Your use of the Netflix service is subject to our Terms of Use. Please take a moment to review the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy and confirm the following:
I have read and agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.
This is followed by the I agree button. The “take a moment” plea is a bit disingenuous, as I will explain below.

Presumably, I had already agreed to Netflix’s terms when I first signed up for the service and also agreed to accept any new terms Netflix decided later to impose. I noticed, for example, that the current Terms of Service includes this:

Changes to Terms of Use

Netflix reserves the right, from time to time, with or without notice to you, to change these Terms of Use, including the Privacy Policy and EULA, in our sole and absolute discretion. The most current version of these Terms of Use can be reviewed by visiting our website and clicking on “Terms of Use” located at the bottom of the pages of the Netflix website. The most current version of the Terms of Use will supersede all previous versions. We will endeavor to post prior version(s) on our website when the Terms of Use are updated. You can see changes from previous versions of the Terms of Use that we have posted by visiting our website and clicking here.
There’s good news and bad news here. The bad news is that you have no real control over the Terms of Use. The good news is that the link above provides access to previous versions of the customer agreement, and those versions include change bars, which, if correctly placed, allow readers to see the changes made from one version to another. Of course, it would be more helpful were changes from one version to another called out more conspicuously, rather than buried in PDF files three levels deep.

Netflix logo
The real problem with the Netflix Terms of Service (and most such notices) is that it is outrageously long. The link to the Terms of Service in the aforementioned Important Reminder takes you to a statement almost 9,500 words long. Embedded in this notice are other links: one to the End User License Agreement (more than 2,400 words), one to Social Terms (nearly 1,300 words), and one to DVD Terms and Conditions (approximately 2,800 words). Other links lead to information (rather than regulations), such as a hardware compatibility table. Some links seem to go to the wrong page, and several lead to a 404 (page not found) page. Some of the pages linked to from the Terms of Service contain other links. Somewhere, I found a link to Open Source Notices (another 1,000 words), but, eventually, I gave up in disgust on my project of finding everything I was supposed to agree to.

Statements like Netflix’s Terms of Service have clearly gotten out of hand. At least Netflix only provides an I agree button, rather than one, like so many agreements, that indicates that you have actually read the agreement.

An executive summary of the Netflix Terms of Service would be a great help. Or, perhaps, Netflix should employ a simpler statement, something like the following:
In return for your money, we will provide a service (or not). Everything we do is on our terms, and we will punish you in any way we choose for anything we decide we don’t like. You cannot sue us, and any disagreement will be adjudicated through binding arbitration, where, we can assure you, you will lose. Have a nice day.
Oh, and then there is the Netflix Privacy Policy to read.

July 24, 2013

Bishop Nazir-Ali Gets It All Wrong

I generally find retired Bishop of Rochester Michael Nazir-Ali quite irritating. The same can be said about David Virtue’s Web site VirtueOnline (“The Voice for Global Orthodox Anglicanism”). A story about Nazir-Ali on VirtueOnline, therefore, was sure to be a perfect storm of militant traditionalist drivel. And that is exactly what “Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali sees hope for the Anglican Communion: GAFCON II is the saving grace of a conflicted communion” turns out to be. It is the product of an interview of the bishop by VirtueOnline contributor (and Nazir-Ali fan) Mary Ann Mueller.

Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali
Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali
Photo by Steve Nimmons
I have neither the time nor the inclination to offer a general review of the VirtueOnline piece. Suffice it to say that Nazir-Ali “is convinced that GAFCON is the way forward in Anglicanism.” For some, perhaps, but my guess is that the Communion as a whole—and certainly The Episcopal Church— is not going there.

What prompted me to comment on the VirtueOnline feature at all (and to stop reading well before the end) was this passage:
“I think it is absolutely scandalous,” he said with measured words, "that people like +Mark Lawrence—who is one of the finest bishops that I have even known and who upholds Catholic truth and Christian teaching and the Gospel in everything that he does—should be deposed for doing so, and not for any other reason.

“I mean, this is a topsy-turvy world that we are looking at,” he continued, “where people are being deposed for being Biblical, for being creedal, for being Catholic by others who, if you read what they write or say, clearly seem to be heretical in their exegesis of the Bible, their doctrine of the Church, and in what they believe about the Person and work of Jesus Christ and so on.”

The Church of England bishop said that he and others had no problem whatsoever in recognizing and continuing to support Bishop Lawrence, Bishop Jack Iker, and Archbishop Robert Duncan and their clergy who have been dismissed by The Episcopal Church for their traditional and orthodox Anglican faith.

As a visiting bishop in the colonial-based Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, Bishop Nazir-Ali is helping keep Bishop Lawrence and the Diocese connected to the wider Anglican world now that the South Carolina bishop has been defrocked and his diocese has seceded from The Episcopal Church in their struggle to maintain Anglican orthodoxy.

“I have also helped the Diocese, in a small way, in its relationships with the rest of the Anglican Communion by giving them some kind of theological grounding in how to think of themselves for the future,” Bishop Nazir-Ali explained.

He clarified that it is inherent upon traditional Biblically-grounded Anglican Provinces, which have remained faithful to the Anglican formularies and have maintained Catholic faith and order, to make sure that the Catholic faith is not wiped from the Anglican map in North America and Britain. That is why he and others have reached out to like-minded traditional and orthodox Anglicans in the United States. As his adopted land becomes more sectarian, he is also concerned that Britain will follow in the same spiritually decaying footsteps as North America.
So, Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali believes that Mark Lawrence was deposed for upholding “Catholic truth and Christian teaching and the Gospel in everything that he does” and “for being Biblical, for being creedal, [and] for being Catholic.”

This, of course, is total nonsense. The only “beliefs” for which Lawrence was deposed were his belief that his ordination vows to “guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church” and to “well and faithfully perform the duties of [his] office in accordance with the Constitution and Canons of this Church” were optional, and that absconding with property dedicated to use by The Episcopal Church was not really theft. (See, for example, the ENS story “Presiding bishop accepts Mark Lawrence’s renunciation.” One may quibble over the means by which Lawrence was deposed—the church may have bent the rules to be as gentle as possible with the bishop—but most objective observers would agree that he abandoned the church and left with real and personal property that did not belong to him.)

Nazir-Ali also believes that that interfering in the internal affairs of another Anglican church is just fine, and he is happy to support the schismatic actions of Lawrence, Iker, Duncan, and others of their ilk. He proudly acknowledges his support for Lawrence and his free-floating diocese. One wonders of Nazir-Ali considered whether encouraging Lawrence to advocate for this theological point of view within The Episcopal Church might have been a better way of assuring that “the Catholic faith is not wiped from the Anglican map of North America.”

Is this the behavior we expect of a bishop of a sister church of the Communion? Alas, increasingly, it is. The GAFCON movement of which Nazir-Ali is so fond is all about enforcing “orthodoxy” and “Biblical Anglicanism”—an oxymoron, I suggest—among Communion churches.

I don’t think it a stretch to suggest that most Episcopalians are alarmed at such a future for the Anglican Communion. The movement of which Nazir-Ali is a part is not going away, however. In the very long term—centuries perhaps—all may be well. In the near term, it is likely that GAFCON will either split the Communion into two rival groups, or The Episcopal Church will have to withdraw from or, at the very least, step back from participation in a dysfunction and destructive Anglican Communion.

July 19, 2013

The Rolling Stone Uproar

August 1, 2013, Rolling Stone cover
I am appalled by the reaction to the cover photo of Boston bomber suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev published by Rolling Stone. The objection seems to be that the cover photo makes Tsarnaev look handsome. (I’m not personally impressed, but some seem to find the photo sexy and, therefore, objectionable.) Rolling Stone is hardly glorifying Tsarnaev, however. The photo is labeled “THE BOMBER,” with a subtitle “How a Popular, Promising Student Was Failed by His Family, Fell Into Radical Islam and Became a Monster”—not the stuff of hagiography!

On the radio today, I heard people saying that Rolling Stone should have printed pictures of the damage done by the Boston bombing, not pictures of a perpetrator. Apparently, these folks believe there is only one way to cover this story—their way, of course—and covering it any other way is shameful, unpatriotic, making the bombers heroes, etc. These people need to read and contemplate the implications of the First Amendment.

Rolling Stone introduces the cover story on its Web site with this perfectly reasonable introduction:
Our hearts go out to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, and our thoughts are always with them and their families. The cover story we are publishing this week falls within the traditions of journalism and Rolling Stone’s long-standing commitment to serious and thoughtful coverage of the most important political and cultural issues of our day. The fact that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is young, and in the same age group as many of our readers, makes it all the more important for us to examine the complexities of this issue and gain a more complete understanding of how a tragedy like this happens. –THE EDITORS
Of course, those who are indignant over the Rolling Stone cover are unlikely to have read the story, much less the editorial justification for it. (In a perfect world—even in a somewhat less defective world—such an explanation would be totally unnecessary.) The editors are right in thinking that their story is all the more important because Dzhokhar Tsarnaev looks so normal. That he doesn’t look like a mad bomber begs for an explanation of what went so horribly wrong in his short life.

I cannot be too upset at the hand-wringing by those always on the lookout for the next imagined journalistic faux pas about which to be outraged. What I am very upset about is the number big retailers who, in a paroxysm of self-righteousness (or monumental cowardice), have announced that they will not sell the August 1 issue of Rolling Stone. Among those retailers are 7-Eleven, CVS Pharmacy, Walgreens, Kmart, Rite Aid Pharmacy, and a local supermarket chain, Giant Eagle (details here). I don’t actually plan to boycott any of these merchants, but I would like them to know that I don’t like their censoring what magazines I have access to. Others should do the same.

July 14, 2013

Revised Pittsburgh Proposals

I indicated in a previous post, “Who Can Be President of the Pittsburgh Standing Committee?” that I would be submitting proposals to amend Article IX, Standing Committee, and Canon XXXII, Of Amendments, to the Committee on Constitution and Canons. I did that Friday.

What I submitted was informed by an e-mail discussion among current and former members of the Standing Committee plus a couple of other people (me, for instance). There was nearly universal agreement among people with Standing Committee experience that (1) it should be possible for a layperson to be president of the Standing Committee, and (2) there should be no restrictions on who can become an officer of the Standing Committee. Although I initially wanted to limit the ability of a Standing Committee member to hold the same office more than once during his or her four-year term, there are no such restrictions on other bodies (Diocesan Council, for example), so it seemed unfair to burden the Standing Committee in this way.

Unsurprisingly, the group had less to say about Canon XXXII, which deals with amending the Pittsburgh canons, but the response to my proposal has generally been positive.

My proposal to amend Article IX to allow for a lay president of the Standing Committee can be read here.

My proposal to amend Canon XXXII to clarify how canons are amended can be read here. It is unclear what will be needed to effect the proposed change, as the present Canon XXXII specifies (badly) the procedure for amending the canons. Will the procedure that we have been following be used, or will the diocese suddenly try to take Canon XXXII literally?

Jesus (or Luke) Got It Wrong

Today’s Gospel reading from the Revised Common Lectionary for Proper 10, Year C,  is Luke 10:25–37. It is the familiar story of the good Samaritan:
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” [From the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, and used by permission]
This passage was discussed in my weekly Bible study yesterday, and, during the discussion, I discovered a problem I had never noticed before.

The lawyer tells Jesus that the law requires that you should love your neighbor as you love yourself. He then asks Jesus who is his neighbor, to which Jesus responds with his famous parable, which, in fact, does not really answer the question. Luke’s story seems garbled, though it isn’t clear whether Jesus or Luke was confused.

To see why this is true, let N be the relation “is the neighbor of” and let T be the relation “loves as oneself and treats accordingly.” (If this notation is unfamiliar, see the note at the end of this essay.) Let L be the property “acts according to the law.” Let a and b represent people. We must have that

aNb Lb bTa

Because of what the law requires toward a neighbor, we can also say, by definition in this context, that
aNb bTa → Lb

Let p be the priest, l be the Levite, s be the Samaritan, and r be the robbery victim. The story offers these facts:
  1.  ¬ pTr
  2.  ¬ lTr
  3.  sTr
From this information, we can conclude
  1. ¬ rNp ¬ Lp
  2. ¬ rNl ¬ Ll

That is, either the robbery victim is not a neighbor of the priest or the priest is not acting in accordance with the law (or both). A similar statement can be made about the Levite. About the Samaritan, we can say very little. It is possible that that the robbery victim is not a neighbor of the Samaritan, but the Samaritan exhibits loving the robbery victim as himself anyway. It is also possible that the victim is a neighbor of the Samaritan, in which case, because of his actions, it can be concluded that he is acting accordance with the law, i.e., Ls, even though, as a non-Jew, the Samaritan would not be under obligation to so act.

At the end of his story, Jesus asks, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The question is curious, at least in terms of what the lawyer wanted to know. Jesus does not ask for whom the robbery victim is a neighbor. That is, he does not ask for all persons x such that rNx. Although this is probably the most interesting question for both the lawyer and us, the parable offers no definitive answer to this question. Jesus actually asks for all persons x such that xTr, that is, who loved the robbery victim as himself. To this question, the answer is only x = the Samaritan.

As told by Luke, what the parable of the good Samaritan tells us is what loving one’s neighbor as oneself looks like. Modern readers tend to view the moral of the story as being that everyone is our neighbor, but the story does not support that conclusion, although it is not inconsistent with it.

Why did Jesus not offer a parable that answered the question that was asked? I have no idea. Perhaps he thought that showing what loving your neighbor looks like was more important. Perhaps the story has just not come down to us as it happened. 

By the way, Wikipedia lists other interpretations that have been made of the parable, which shows what can happen when theologians have time on their hands.



aRb means that variable a is related to variable b by the relation R. R is simply a set of ordered pairs of related variables. In the above example, aNb means that a is a neighbor of b. Pa means that variable a has some property P. P is simply a set of values. La, above, means that a acts according to the law.

The logical operators used above are and (), implies or if then (→), not (¬), and or ().

July 10, 2013

Who Can Be President of the Pittsburgh Standing Committee?

The Nature of the Problem

In a discussion of diocesan affairs a couple of months ago, someone brought up the fact that, in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, the president of the Standing Committee is always a member of the clergy, even though the Standing Committee is composed of four laypeople and four clergy. This is of some concern, as clergy have had what many consider undue influence in the diocese in the past and, arguably, in the present.

The presidency of the Standing Committee is of symbolic importance even if, in most circumstances, it does not confer great power on the office holder. The president does have influence, however, and is privy to information that is either unavailable to others or not readily so.

There is, I think, no compelling reason for the Standing Committee president to be a priest or deacon. Many dioceses agree. A check of the governing documents of other dioceses revealed some diversity in how the president of the Standing Committee is chosen. Of 45 dioceses I checked, 32 allow either a clergy of lay committee member to be president. In 4 cases, the order of the president is either unspecified or, if it is, I couldn’t find where it is. In 9 dioceses, the president must be of the clergy order. None of the dioceses required that the president must always be a layperson.

In the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, the composition of the Standing Committee is specified by Article IX of the diocesan constitution:
Article IX
Standing Committee

Section 1. The Convention shall at the Convention of 1952 elect a Standing Committee, to consist of four members of the Clergy and four Lay persons as follows:
One member of the Clergy and one Lay person shall be elected for a period of four years; one member of the Clergy and one Lay person shall be elected for a period of three years; one member of the Clergy and one Lay person shall be elected for a period of two years; one member of the Clergy and one Lay person shall be elected for a period of one year. At each Annual Convention thereafter one member of the Clergy and one Lay person shall be elected for a period of four years. No member of the Standing Committee shall be eligible to succeed himself or herself until the next Convention following the expiration of term of office.
The Standing Committee, when there is no Bishop, Bishop-Coadjutor, or Suffragan Bishop, or no one of them is capable of acting, shall be the Ecclesiastical Authority of the Diocese.

Section 2. The Clerical members of the Standing Committee must be of those entitled to Seats in the Convention of the Diocese.

Section 3. The Lay members of the Committee must be communicants in some Parish of the Diocese in union with the Convention.

Section 4. The Committee, at their first meeting, shall choose a President from among the Clerical members, and a Secretary, either Clerical or Lay. The Secretary shall keep a record of the proceedings of the Committee, and all books and papers in their hands relative to the Church shall be subject to the examination of the Bishop and of the Convention.

Section 5. The Standing Committee shall fill all vacancies that may occur during the recess of the Convention, in their own body, or in any Committee appointed to sit during the recess of the Convention, and also in such offices as are held by annual election.

Section 6. The Standing Committee shall also be the council of advice to the Bishop.

Section 7. The Standing Committee shall have such additional rights and duties and powers as may be conferred by the Canons of the General Convention or of this Diocese duly enacted.
Although it is out-of-date in certain respects, the document “Policies and Procedures of the Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh,” dated January 1997, specifies how the selection of officers for the Standing Committee is made in practice:
It has been the tradition that the member of the clergy with seniority on the committee (beginning his/her fourth year) is elected President and the Lay member with committee seniority is elected Secretary. This election takes place at the January meeting.
Several observations need to be made here:
  1. It is assumed that the Standing Committee president must be clergy.
  2. In the normal course of events, every clergy member of the Standing Committee will serve as president for a year; every lay member of the Standing Committee will serve as secretary for a year.
  3. Because of the “tradition” of our Standing Committee, the annual election of officers is no election at all, assuming that one’s notion of election necessarily involves a democratic choice by the electorate.
 Objections can be made to the system (and tradition) currently in place:
  1.  Although it is probably wise to elect a president and secretary who have one or more years of experience on the Standing Committee, it would be surprising to the point of miraculous were the most senior clergy member always the best choice for president and the senior lay member always the best choice for secretary.
  2. It likewise would be miraculous if the senior members of the Standing Committee always wanted to hold the offices to which tradition now assigns them.
  3. In particular, some people, of whatever order, do not perform well in executive positions, and many people perform badly as secretary. It would be wiser to choose officers on the basis of inclination, availability, and competence.

Addressing the Problem

Since the tradition operates under the assumption that the president of the Standing Committee must be a member of the clergy, we must first ask if that assumption is indeed valid. I argued to our chancellor that it is not. At issue is Section 4 of Article IX and the phrase “at their first meeting.” I suggested that this means (or logically could be construed as meaning) “at the first meeting of the Standing Committee following the convention of 1952.” In this interpretation, the committee for 1953 necessarily had a clergy person for its president, but subsequent committees were no so constrained. Alas, I was unable to convince Chancellor Andy Roman that my interpretation was a credible one. He said that the phrase “at their first meeting” referred to the first meeting of each new committee, where the Standing Committee is new every time its constituent members change. The distinction is important, as it determines whether a canonical or constitutional change is required to allow for a layperson to be Standing Committee president. A canonical change can be effected by a single annual convention—but see below—whereas a constitutional change requires action by two successive annual conventions.

I have not seen the 1953 and prior convention journals, which might clarify what was intended by Section 4, but I have to concede that the original intention likely was to forever require a clerical Standing Committee president. In any case, it would be virtually impossible to enact a canon that allowed for a lay Standing Committee president under the theory that the constitution did not require a clergy president in the face of a contrary view on the part of the chancellor.

Resigning myself to not being able to change the requirement of a clerical presidency in 2013, I proposed that Section 4 be replaced with the following, with subsequent sections renumbered as necessary:
Section 4. The Committee, at its first meeting of each calendar year, shall elect a President and a Secretary from among its members, without regard to whether those elected are members of the Clergy or Lay persons. Persons so elected shall serve until the next such election.

Section 5. No member of the Standing Committee shall be eligible for election as President or Secretary who has held that office during the member’s current term on the Standing Committee.

Section 6. The Secretary shall keep a record of the proceedings of the Committee, and all books and papers kept by the Secretary relative to the Church shall be subject to the examination of the Bishop and of the Convention.
This change would have removed all constraints on who could be elected officers of the Standing Committee, but would allow committee members to hold either office for only one year during the member’s four-year term.

Apparently, the Committee on Constitution and Canons was disinclined to act on my proposal. Well, I thought, I could offer my amendment as a resolution to the 2013 convention. It was then that I discovered Canon XXXII:
Of Amendments

The Canons may be amended in the following manner only: Amendments must be proposed in writing to the Annual Convention and be referred to, and reported upon by, the Committee on Constitution and Canons.
At this point, I panicked. I thought that the Committee on Constitution and Canons was a gatekeeper for all changes to our governing documents. In particular, if the diocese wanted to make changes to rules governing the Committee on Constitution and Canons, it would seem that that committee could, if it disliked the changes, simply bury them. I brought Canon XXXII to the attention of the committee. Both the chancellor and the bishop objected to making changes to Canon XXXII.

The alert reader will have recognized that I was actually confused. Initially, I thought that allowing the Standing Committee president to be a layperson could be effected through canon, for which Canon XXXII is a relevant constraint. Because the chancellor would not buy my argument that Article IX, Section 4 only applied the the Standing Committee elected at the 1952 convention, the change I sought could only be made through a change to the constitution, for which Canon XXXII is irrelevant. I will have more to say about Canon XXXII below.

Changes to the constitution are governed by Article XV:
Article XV
Alteration of the Constitution

This Constitution, or any part thereof, may be altered in the following manner only: The proposed alteration or amendment shall be submitted in writing to the Annual Convention, and if approved by a majority of each Order, shall lie over to the next Annual Convention, and if again approved, by a majority of each Order, the Constitution shall then stand altered or amended as proposed.
Article XV is quite clear; a constitutional change requires approval by majority vote by both clergy and lay deputies at two successive annual conventions. The provision does not restrict how the “proposed alteration or amendment” is brought to the convention, merely that it has to be submitted in writing. In particular, there is no requirement that the Committee on Constitution and Canons be involved in the process, although the opinion of the committee or that of the chancellor would surely affect a proposal’s prospects.

Presumably, a proposed constitutional amendment could be submitted like any other convention resolution, though I don’t recall any recent constitutional change that did not come from the Committee on Constitution and Canons or it predecessor. The current form for submission of convention resolutions requires two sponsors, described as “any parish or individuals.” (If submitted by a parish, sponsorship by another parish is probably unnecessary, but this understanding is not made explicit on the form.) The form does not even constrain who can be a sponsor. Although resolutions are passed through Diocesan Council, the longstanding understanding is that that body does not concern itself with resolution content, but is only charged with assuring that resolutions are in the proper form.

Tweaking the Solution

A discussion among board members of Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh of an appropriate amendment to the constitution to allow for a lay president led to a disagreement. Some people argued that merely saying that there were no constraints on who could be elected president and secretary would result in the “tradition” being respected, and therefore a continuation of the long succession of clerical presidents. The fix someone suggested to address this problem was an amendment that would require the most senior clergy and lay member to be officers, with the senior lay member being president every other year. It was argued that this provision would guarantee that laypeople would become Standing Committee president, whereas my original proposal did not. I had several objections to this scheme:
  1. The proposal makes the de facto restriction of officers to senior members of the Standing Committee a de jure requirement.
  2. My objection that senior members may not be best qualified for office or might be disinclined or otherwise constrained from holding office is not addressed by the proposal.
  3. One’s ability to become president is dependent on the year of one’s election. Elected one year, you may become president; elected the next year, you may only become secretary. This seems unfair.
I considered these objections fatal, although I could appreciate the argument that modifying current procedures as little as possible would increase the likelihood that an amendment to the constitution could be passed. It was difficult to find a compromise position. I eventually suggested that a coin toss determine whether a clergy or lay person would be president in a given year. This would assure that a layperson would sometimes be elected president, though without specifying definitively when that would happen. (It should happen approximately half the time, of course.) My compromise proposal therefore becomes that Section 4 should be replaced with the following, with subsequent sections renumbered as necessary:
Section 4. The Committee, at its first meeting of each calendar year, shall toss a coin to determine whether the President is to be elected from among the Clergy or Lay members of the Committee. A President shall then be elected from those members of the selected Order, and a Secretary shall be elected from those members of the other Order. Persons so elected shall serve until the next such election.

Section 5. No member of the Standing Committee shall be eligible for election as President or Secretary who has held that office during the member’s current term on the Standing Committee.

Section 6. The Secretary shall keep a record of the proceedings of the Committee, and all books and papers kept by the Secretary relative to the Church shall be subject to the examination of the Bishop and of the Convention.
I hope to put this proposal (or one very much like it) before the 2013 annual convention.

Amending the Canons

Because it appears that a constitutional change will be necessary to to allow for a lay president of the Standing Committee, Canon XXXII, On Amendments, is irrelevant to solving the original problem. Having had my attention drawn to Canon XXXII, however, I could not avoid the realization that it is seriously defective. Moreover, the defense of the canon my the chancellor and bishop is distressing.

In practice, a canonical change is usually proposed by the Committee on Constitution and Canons. (Consideration of a change may have been suggested by someone not on the committee.) The proposal is presented to and voted on by a single annual convention and is passed by a simple majority vote. This procedure is not clearly what is specified by Canon XXXII. A straightforward reading of that canon has the canonical change “proposed in writing to the Annual Convention” and then “referred to, and reported upon by, the Committee on Constitution and Canons.” The canon raises several questions:
  1. When is the referral made to the committee?
  2. When does the committee report?
  3. Is there ever a vote? (The canon does not mention voting.)
  4. If there is a vote, when does it take place?
  5. If there is a vote, what constitutes a vote of approval?
In other words, Canon XXXII is a total mess. The most literal reading of the canon suggests that the proper procedure might be:
  1. Submit the proposed change to the convention.
  2. The convention refers the proposal to the Committee on Constitution and Canons.
  3. The Committee on Constitution and Canons reports on the proposal at the next annual convention.
  4. One might infer that that convention then votes on the proposal, but the canon does not actually say that.
Even if one assumes that the referral and reporting can take place at the same annual convention at which the canonical change is introduced, the nature of the committee’s report is not clarified, and, again, nothing is said about voting. In any case, what Canon XXXII seems to say is not what the diocese has been doing.

Clearly, Canon XXXII needs to be changed. Personally, I believe that the Committee on Constitution and Canons should not be able to block a proposed change. A revised canon, therefore, might be the following:
Of Amendments

Section 1. To amend these Canons, a proposal must be submitted in writing to the Annual Convention. The proposal is accepted if approved by a majority vote.

Section 2. A proposed amendment may be brought to the Annual Convention by the Committee on Constitution and Canons, either at the initiative of said Committee or after consideration by the Committee of a suggested change recommended by one or more persons resident in the Diocese.

Section 3. A proposed amendment may be offered in writing to the Annual Convention in the same manner and under the same conditions that apply to other resolutions to be considered by the Convention. Immediately after the proposal is introduced for debate by the Convention and has been explained by its sponsor or sponsors, but before general discussion thereof, both the Chancellor and a representative of the Committee on Constitution and Canons may, if desired, address the Convention as to the appropriateness of the proposal.
This suggested revision of Canon XXXII removes any ambiguity as to how long it takes to effect a canonical change, specifies how a change is approved, and removes the Committee on Constitution and Canons as a gatekeeper, while allowing it or the chancellor to weigh in on the proposed change. Canon XXXII should be changed at the 2013 annual convention. We will have to ignore the fact that, in doing so, we may be violating the present canon. But we have been doing that for years!

Update, 7/11/2013. I asked our diocesan archivist, Joan Gundersen to check out the history behind Article IX. She responded, as follows (I have made minor edits for clarity):
I went looking in the archives for the information about the Standing Committee article in the constitution. From 1865 on, the article has consistently required that the president of Standing Committee be one of the clergy members. The secretary was to be elected from either the clergy or the laity.

What was changed in 1950-51 was the requirement that the whole Standing Committee be elected each year but with no term limits. The discussion focused on the idea of rotation in office. Thus, they lengthened the terms of office to 4 years from 1 year, but required a rotation off the committee after a maximum of 4 years.

The tradition that the president be the clergy person with the most seniority on the Standing Committee is purely tradition (as is the choice of secretary). The tradition began sometime after the change in the constitution. Throughout the 1940s, the president of the Standing Committee was held multiple times by the same person, and a priest served as secretary, but seniority on the committee doesn’t seem to have been a factor. I’d have to spend a whole lot more time on this to determine whether they were using some form of seniority (ordination, canonical residence, or committee service) to select the person the Standing Committee elected as president.
So, the diocese seems always to have had clerical presidents of the Standing Committee. The change in the ’50s was intended primarily to assure turnover on the Standing Committee and to prevent anyone from holding on to the presidency from year to year. I think most of us would agree that those objectives are desirable ones.

I am, of course, grateful for Joan’s research. I must say that it is a great help to have an archivist on the diocesan staff

Update, 7/12/2013. I will be submitting proposals to the Committee on Constitution and Canons to change the rules for the election of Standing Committee officers. The committee meets next Tuesday (July 16). Thinking further about the matter and as a result of conversations in other venues, my suggestions to the committee will be somewhat different from those presented above. I expect to say more about Article IX later.

July 4, 2013

Independence Day Stuff

Having lost Google Reader, I find myself today trying to make sense of Feedly and configuring it in a helpful way, hoping that doing so will save me time in the future. The process has had me identifying blogs that seem to have died and reading today’s postings on blogs I do not read with regularity. This has me thinking about Independence Day more that I usually do on the Fourth of July.

As usual, however, my day began with NPR’s Morning Edition. I was looking forward to the annual reading of the Declaration of Independence by NPR hosts, correspondents, and commentators. Morning Edition decided to do something different this year, broadcasting the usual reading but with visitors to the National Mall. I liked it better the old way, but you can find today’s version here.

Morning Edition also did an interesting story on the origin of “The Star Spangled Banner.” That reminded me of my own song that I wrote as a possible National Anthem, “Out of Many, One.” I decided not to write a blog post about it, but I did write a quick post on Facebook. (Ironically, I’m writing about “Out of Many, One” in a blog post now.)

A bit later in the day, I ran into an interesting essay from The Guardian. Daniel Hannan wrote “Why Britons should celebrate the American Declaration of Independence,” which contains some surprising revelations.

What caused me to write here today at all, however, is a post by Kendall Harmon on TitusOneNine titled “The Full Text of America’s National Anthem.” Harmon renders the familiar first stanza of “The Star-Spangled Banner” thusly:
O! say can you see by the dawn’s early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming.
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming.
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
Curiously, I have read Francis Scott Key’s poem in many places, and seldom do I find two versions that agree with one another. Even the title is controversial. Key’s original title was “Defence of Fort McHenry.” When the poem was paired with the tune “To Anacreon in Heaven,” it was renamed—by whom I don’t know—“The Star-Spangled Banner” or, as it is often rendered, “The Star Spangled Banner.” The former is clearly the grammatically correct title, but it is not the most commonly used one. (Both versions can be found in the Wikipedia article about the poem. Go figure!)

Harmon’s post, however, does not even give a name to the National Anthem. Instead, what distressed me was the punctuation of the first stanza. Key’s sentence structure is complex, convoluted even, but it does make sense. (I commented on this complexity in my introductory to the Language Notes section of my Web site.) The version shown on TitusOneNine clearly makes no sense. The third and fourth lines, which are shown as a complete sentence, are nothing of the sort. Try saying “Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight, o’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming” to someone, and see what kind of looks you get. The first sentence must end with a question mark after line four.

Wikipedia helpfully reproduces Key’s original manuscript and the first printed version of his poem. Even these don’t quite agree, though they’re close. This seems to be the first stanza as originally intended, though one may quibble about the indentation, which is unclear in the manuscript and which, in the end, is more or less irrelevant:
O say can you see by the dawn’s early light
    What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight
    O’er the ramparts we watch’d, were so gallantly streaming?
          And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
          Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
No modern printing uses “watch’d,” but everything else seems right here. That first sentence might to recast to be, if not more natural, at least more comprehensible, as: “O say, can you, by the dawn’s early light, see what we hailed so proudly at the twilight’s last gleaming, whose broad stripes and bright stars [that] we watch’d o’er the ramparts through the perilous fight were so gallantly streaming?” Yes, that’s a tough sentence.

Finally, I am probably not alone in feeling that our National Anthem is often sung badly (or inappropriately) at public events. I’ve commented on that before, so I’ll not do so again. See my post “Getting the National Anthem Right.”

July 2, 2013

Trouble in the Anglican World: A Pittsburgh Perspective

Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh (PEP) was less than a year old when I was part of a program PEP sponsored at St. Stephen’s, Wilkinsburg, in February 2004. PEP was concerned about the direction Bishop Robert Duncan was taking the Diocese of Pittsburgh, and we were trying to alert others to the danger we were seeing. I gave a talk titled “Trouble in the Anglican World: A Pittsburgh Perspective.” What I had to say had evolved from an essay I had begun writing two months earlier. It would be more that four years before the diocesan convention would vote to leave The Episcopal Church, but PEP had a pretty good idea where things were going. My full talk can be read here. Below are a few excerpts.

By now, most Episcopalians know that their church, and, in fact, the whole Anglican Communion, is in something of an uproar. What many in the Diocese of Pittsburgh do no realize is that their diocese is at the center of the turmoil. This fact will continue to be for us a source of discomfort and stress, but it puts us in a unique position to observe events and even to have some influence over them.

The view from Pittsburgh has, for a long time, not been characteristic of the Episcopal Church as a whole. The conservative culture of this diocese is typical of about a dozen dioceses. The rest—nearly 100 of them—are diverse and, on the whole, moderately liberal. They are going about business as usual. The people in those dioceses who follow the news of the church are watching with interest, but not always with great concern, the “crazy” bishops in Pittsburgh, Forth Worth, Quincy, Jan Joaquin, South Carolina, and a few other dioceses. They should be more concerned.

In October, Canon David Anderson, AAC President stated quite clearly that the AAC, which, at first, looked to create a second Anglican province in the U.S., had decided that it must instead replace the Episcopal Church, lest his church be in communion with the wrong-headed Episcopalians who had voted with the majority at General Convention. In December, a letter from the Rev. Geoff Chapman, Rector of St. Stephen’s, Sewickley, and an operative for the new Network, was leaked to The Washington Post. In that letter, intended for churches inquiring about joining the Network, Chapman made it quite clear that the purpose of the Network was to be the ultimate replacement for the Episcopal Church, whose canons would, at some time in the future, need to be violated with impunity. He also made it clear that the Network expected not only to usurp the status of the Episcopal Church as the Anglican province in the U.S., but also to be the ultimate owner of its property as well. Although Bishop Duncan has tried to distance the Network from the Chapman letter, the fact that Chapman has long been an insider among the conservative dissidents belies the bishop’s denials.

If you love the liturgy of our church, but you long for the moral clarity and biblical literalism of the Southern Baptist Convention, Bishops Duncan, Iker, Ackerman, Salmon, and the rest, are your heroes. According to our bishop, you are already a member of the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes. Write approving letters to Bishop Duncan, sit back, and wait for him to complete his coup d’état against the Episcopal Church. If, on the other hand, you value not only the liturgy, but the notion of Anglicanism as the middle way, the via media, which looks not only to Scripture, but also to tradition and reason for guidance, then you want to oppose the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes, along with its prescriptive theological statement.

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