February 26, 2014

Some Initial Thoughts on the TREC Study Paper on Governance and Administration

The Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church has issued its second study paper. This one is titled “TREC Study Paper on Reforms to Church Wide Governance and Administration.” (For convenience, I will refer to the paper as RCGA.) I read through the paper today and thought it useful to offer some initial impressions.

I have my own views on how we run our General Convention, and I find the recommendations of the task force to be reasonable, even though they are presented without much justification. I must admit to my eyes having glazed over as I read the section on administration. I may have more to say about that later. (Or not.)

The view of the General Convention that undergirds RCGA’s recommendations is that the convention is too big, too long, too specialized, too unwieldy, and insufficiently focused. In the paper, these assumptions are largely implicit, and there is no attempt to justify how implementing its recommendations will correct the implied deficiencies.

The recommendations can be summarized as follows:
  1. Limit the range of legislation and establish legislative priorities.
  2. Add a focus to General Convention as a “Missionary Convocation” by including non-deputies and adding workshops, network meetings, etc.
  3. Reduce diocesan deputations to three laypersons, three clergy, and a maximum of three alternates; and exclude retired bishops from voting in the House of Bishops.
  4. Limit “the legislative function” to seven days.
  5. Empower a legislative committee to meet 90 days prior to the convention to winnow resolutions, assign resolutions to legislative committees, and to decide what resolutions will be allowed in the 90 days before convention.
  6. Reduce the number of legislative committees.
  7. Allow legislative committees to kill resolutions.
  8. Reduce the assessment on dioceses to something closer to 10% and “develop a sensible means of holding dioceses accountable for paying their assessments.”
  9. Allow legislative committees to hold virtual meetings beginning 90 days before the convention to accomplish preliminary work, and allow “the church public” to participate in this work.
My own experience with General Conventions—I have attended General Convention, though never as a deputy—has left me frustrated with the legislative process. Important resolutions sometimes get short shrift, while inessential ones seem to be debated interminably. Recommendation (1) is clearly intended to facilitate doing a better job of setting legislative priorities. It is not clear, however, that the suggested changes will sufficiently improve legislative efficiency to avoid having the fourth recommendation be counterproductive. It simply takes a certain amount of calendar time to perfect legislation and give it a fair hearing.

Reducing the size of deputations will save money for dioceses, though it doesn’t clearly reduce the cost to the general church of staging a General Convention. Moreover, having fewer deputies means that there are fewer people to do the necessary committee work.

Whether wise or not, it was clear that there was going to be a recommendation to decrease the number of convention deputies. At least in some diocese, recommendation (3) will have the effect of decreasing the diversity of deputations. (Whether deputations are diverse is highly dependent on the election procedures for electing deputies.) It is not at all clear that there is any benefit to be gained by limiting the number of alternates. There is some slight administrative overhead to having more alternates, of course, but dioceses send at least some alternates without subsidizing their attendance.

Limiting the number of alternates to three is curious. Should diocese designate two clergy and one lay deputy as alternates? Two lay and one clergy? Three alternates of the same order? If we want to decrease the size of the House of Deputies, I suggest that deputations consist of two clergy and four laypeople. Clergy have more than enough influence; they make up half the House of Deputies and all of the House of Bishops. Let dioceses decide how many alternates they want to send.

The matter of retired bishops voting has frequently been raised, but no action has been taken. It probably is time to take away their votes, which seldom affect outcomes anyway.

Recommendation (5) seems helpful, as long as the committee cannot simply kill legislation its members do not like.

Recommendation (6) is more specific than I have suggested in the above list. RCGA suggests combining the constitution and canons committees, for example. The recommendation does not eliminate fundamental tasks, but it may reduce administrative overhead, which is positive.

The actual wording of recommendation (7) is this: “Expressly permit legislative committees to let resolutions die in committee.” I assume there is some ambiguity about the power in question. Actually, I am inclined to think that legislative committees have too much power already. If a committee receives resolutions that take very different positions on a subject—dealing with the church’s response to the Windsor Report or Anglican Covenant come immediately to mind—a committee can bias the work of the convention by bringing forth one resolution or another. I am not at all convinced that the will of the 2012 General Convention was to duck a decision on the Anglican Covenant because the church was so divided as to its desirability. The convention passed the cowardly Resolution B005 because that is what a committee brought forth, and insufficient time was available in the House of Deputies to adequately debate the resolution. (See recommendation (1).)

Resolution (8) is not a simple matter. The general church could ask for less money from dioceses if all dioceses actually contributed to its upkeep. Dioceses that fail to pay their assessment, except in cases of severe financial hardship, should loose their votes both in the House of Deputies and House of Bishops. Historically, failure to pay any of a diocese’s assessment has resulted from hostility to the general church. That is a different problem entirely.

Recommendation (9) sounds like a good idea, but the technical problems may be difficult, particularly that of allowing all comers as spectators or, in some cases, as participants.

As for recommendation (2), adding a kind of ministry fair to the General Convention, I am skeptical. On the one hand, it would bring more people to the convention—I thought we were trying to reduce the size of it, however—but, at the same time, it would of necessity make it difficult for deputies to attend, as they should be attending to legislative matters. I would rather see such an event completely separate from the General Convention, perhaps held in years in which there is no convention. The main synergy achieved by combining legislation with a ministry fair involves the dual role of exhibits.

Although RCGA offers some interesting suggestions, it is disappointing that it is vague about the motivation for them and fails to make the case that implementing its recommendations will somehow improve the work of the General Convention. It is not obvious that TREC thought deeply about the issues with which it is dealing.

Postscript. What follows may seem petty, but I think my observations suggest deeper problems.

Alert readers may notice that I abbreviated the name of the study paper as “RCGA.” Its full title is “TREC Study Paper on Reforms to Church Wide Governance and Administration.” Why did I not use “RCWGA”? Well, this paper uses “church wide,” though other material from TREC uses “churchwide.” In fact, on the TREC Web site, one can find both “Task Force for Re-imagining the Episcopal Church” and “Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church.” In general, the material from TREC, content aside, seems poorly edited and formatted. Perhaps this is the result of too many cooks spoiling the broth. It might have been useful to identify a general editor for TREC material early on.

February 23, 2014

Premiere of “Holy Eucharist”

My hymn, “Holy Eucharist” received its first public performance today. My choir at St. Paul’s, Mt. Lebanon, sang it as a communion anthem.

Not only was my hymn being sung for the first time today, but the digital recorder on our new sound system was being used for the first time. I recorded the performance, but the recording is less than ideal. To begin with, we have no easy way to record in stereo, so the recording is monaural. Perhaps more problematic was microphone placement. Two microphones were used on tall stands from which, I think, they picked up too much organ and too little choir. Perhaps, with experience, I will make a better recording in the future. In any case, you can get some idea of how the hymn sounds when performed as intended.

Information about my hymn is available on my Web site. You can hear my recording here. I will eventually put a link to the recording on the page about the hymn at Lionel Deimel’s Farrago.

Comments (and interest in using the hymn in your own church) are appreciated.

Eucharist elements

February 19, 2014

A Few Problems with the Pastoral Guidance from Church of England Bishops

Church of England logo
Quite a bit of commentary has appeared in response to the pastoral guidance regarding same-sex marriage from the Church of England’s House of bishops. (See Thinking Anglicans posts here and earlier. Note that that guidance was necessitated by the fact that same-sex marriages will be legal in England next month, even though the Church of England does not approve of them.) Reactions to the pastoral guidance have been largely negative, though occasionally apologetic. A Web petition has even been created urging the bishops to withdraw their statement.

It is hardly necessary for me to attempt a complete analysis of what I view as an unfortunate statement that has been well assayed by others. I do wish to make a few observations, however, pointing out some of the less obvious problems with the episcopal directive. Let me begin by calling attention to this sentence:
However we are all in agreement that the Christian understanding and doctrine of marriage as a lifelong union between one man and one woman remains unchanged.
This is an arrogant assertion.What the bishops really mean is that the official doctrine of the Church of England has not changed. Other equally Christian men and women—including many in the Church of England and, one suspects, even in the House of Bishops—have a different understanding of marriage.

Probably, the most worrisome statement in the pastoral guidance is this one:
We have already committed ourselves to a process of facilitated conversations across the whole Church of England in the light of the Pilling Report. These conversations will involve ecumenical and interfaith partners and particularly the wider Anglican Communion to whom we rejoice to be bound by our inheritance of faith and mutual affection.
Both the Pilling Report and the statement from the College of Bishops of January 27 anticipate a sexuality conversation throughout the Anglican Communion. (Note, for the record, that the House of Bishops is a more restricted group than the College of Bishops.) The Pilling Report even contains an entire section entitled “The obligations of belonging to the Anglican Communion,” which reflects the viewpoint of the Windsor Report and of former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. The general sense of this section is that all Communion churches must move together on matters of doctrine and can only differ on inessential matters, and then only with permission of the Communion. The College of Bishops statement says
We accept the recommendation of the Pilling Report that the subject of sexuality, with its history of deeply entrenched views, would best be addressed by facilitated conversations, ecumenically, across the Anglican Communion and at national and diocesan level and that this should continue to involve profound reflection on the interpretation and application of Scripture. These conversations should set the discussion of sexuality within the wider context of human flourishing.
All this is distressing for at least three reasons. First, we seem to be seeing an attempt by the Church of England to drag other churches—my concern is with The Episcopal Church, of course—into yet another unnecessary and resource-draining process. As it is, our church is still recovering from the havoc wreaked by our sister churches and the former feckless Archbishop of Canterbury in the wake of the completely legitimate actions by the Dioceses of New Westminster and New Hampshire.

Second, the notion that no Communion church can evolve without the permission of all the other churches, many of which exist in radically different societies, is ludicrous and an affront to the workings of the Holy Spirit. It is as if the Industrial Revolution were not allowed to proceed in England until machines could be made available in America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. Progress in England would have to wait until China could progress in lockstep. Were that the case, we would all be eating gruel by candlelight. Anyone who has studied the diffusion of innovation knows that progress simply doesn’t happen when everyone everywhere is required to buy into it. To punish early adopters is to leave us all benighted.

Third, and most significant, is the implication that the institutional church is more important than God’s people. The Church of England seems even to think that the Anglican Communion is more important than itself. The English bishops are terrified that actions they might take regarding same-sex marriage will lead to a fracture of the Communion, and they are willing to sacrifice LGBT people and the respect of the English population generally to avoid that risk. To this, I can only ask the non-rhetorical question: What would Jesus do?

Moving on, we find this passage:
The Book of Common Prayer introduces the Solemnisation of Matrimony by saying, ‘Dearly Beloved, we are gathered here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation to join together this Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony; which is an honourable estate, instituted of God in the time of man’s innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church; which holy estate Christ adorned and beautified with his presence, and first miracle that he wrought, in Cana of Galilee…’
This paragraph is meant to illustrate the church’s current teaching on marriage. I have always found the analogy between holy matrimony and the relation of Christ to his Church to be problematic. To be sure, the love between husband and wife— something that, at some level, we understand—can be used to suggest the love of Christ for his Church—something that is, well, mystical. On the other hand, I don’t think that marriage universally signifies anything in particular. For much of history, not even love between the parties could be assumed. (Marriages were often more about family alliances and property until fairly recently.) More perniciously, the analogy has been used to invest in marriage more significance than it deserves. A divorce is not the equivalent of Christ’s abandoning his church. More importantly, for the present circumstances, the standard description of matrimony subtly works against the notion of equal marriage. The analogy is really patriarchal—the husband is the analogue of Christ, and the wife is the analogue of the Church. The wife is to subject herself to the husband, and the Church is to subject herself to Christ. When the “husband” and “wife” are of the same sex, the analogy breaks down, as Christ and the Church are quite different in nature. The unjustified over-theologization of marriage, therefore, makes it difficult for the theologically oriented to accept same-sex marriage. The average English subject doesn’t give a fig about this, of course.

Finally, there is this:
The Lambeth Conference of 1998  said ‘in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage’ (resolution1.10 [sic]) This remains the declared position of the Anglican Communion.
This remains the declared the position of a particular collection of Anglican bishops more than a decade and a half ago who had no power to impose their views on their respective churches. Resolution I.10 was passed under very peculiar circumstances and has no legal standing in either England or the U.S. This statement is a smokescreen used as an excuse to justify inaction.

For a more general criticism of the bishop’s guidance, I recommend reading the press release from the LBG&TI Anglican Coalition.

PEP Meeting Focuses on Leadership Formation

The next program from Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh will focus on leadership formation, one of Bishop McConnell’s three priorities. The Rev. Dr. William J. Pugliese will speak. The title of his talk is “Leadership Formation: How Did We Get into the Mess We Are In and How Do We Get Out.” Bill is a member of the Strategic Task Force Committee, which is considering, among other things, the matter of leadership formation. I’m not sure I understand the nature of “the mess we are in,” but I’m looking forward to what Bill might have to say on the subject.

The meeting will be held next Monday, February 24, at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Squirrel Hill, 5700 Forbes Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15217. It begins at 7 PM. A flyer with details of the program can be found here. Come on Monday and invite your friends.

February 6, 2014

Three Messages about Anti-gay Legislation

Last week, the Anglican universe saw a number of statements addressing the treatment of homosexual persons. The spate of commentary came in the wake of President Goodluck Jonathan’s signing into law a repressive anti-homosexual bill in Nigeria on January 13.

On January 27, Religion News Service ran a commentary, “The church’s role in, and against, homophobia across Africa.” The author is the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, President of the House of Deputies of The Episcopal Church’s General Convention. Jennings’ essay is not what you might expect, not simply a denunciation of the rampant homophobia in Nigeria and elsewhere. Rather than merely condemning the growing persecution of sexual minorities in Africa, she examines its causes, identifies its supporters, and suggests what Christians might do about it.

As an Episcopalian whose church has so often been vilified by African bishops, I was gratified to read what Jennings had to say about Anglicans elsewhere:
Many Christian leaders around the world, regrettably, have been largely unwilling to criticize Christian leaders in Africa who cheered the passage of these punitive laws.

The Anglican primates of Uganda and Nigeria enthusiastically support anti-gay legislation in their countries. I, like them, am a member of the Anglican Communion, a worldwide body of more than 80 million Christians. I am troubled and saddened that fellow Anglicans could support legislation that fails to recognize that every human being is created in the image of God.
Why do we not hear such criticism more often when it is so clearly justified? As long as our church is a member of the Anglican Communion—so often promoted as a significantly large, worldwide body of Christians—we diminish our own church when we fail to dissociate it from the outrageous behavior of our sister churches.

Western missionaries come in for much of the blame for African homophobia in “The church’s role”:
Along with the Bible, Western missionaries also bequeathed to Africans a literal understanding of how to read it. Today, that literalism continues to encourage fundamentalist interpretation of difficult passages like the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.
And there is this long-overdue charge that many have been waiting to hear from church leaders:
The voices of strident homophobic leaders in Africa have been amplified by large infusions of money from American right-wing culture warriors such as Howard F. Ahmanson Jr., who has bankrolled homophobia on both sides of the Atlantic and helped make common cause between right-wing American Anglican splinter groups and the Anglican churches of Nigeria and Uganda.
Jennings admits that Western Christians are limited in what they can do to counter homophobia in Nigeria, Uganda, and elsewhere, but she does have some helpful suggestions:
We can, however, stand in solidarity with progressive Africans and support their efforts to teach new ways of interpreting the Bible and understanding sexuality. When we see human rights abuses, we can speak out. And most of all, we can acknowledge with humility that we bear our share of the responsibility for this tragic legacy of empire and insist on repudiating contemporary efforts to expand its reach.
Jennings’ essay makes one proud to be an Episcopalian.

Alas, the letter written by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York January 29 does not make one equally proud to be an Anglican. We are told that the letter was written to “all Primates of the Anglican Communion, and to the Presidents of Nigeria and Uganda.” There had been increasing pressure to take a stand against legislation advancing in Nigeria and Uganda, particularly directed toward Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. Welby is not only the nominal head of the Anglican Communion but also the senior bishop of the Church of England. (The Queen is the nominal head of the church.) The English population is increasingly accepting of gays and likely to be upset by persecution in its former colonies.

The archbishops’ letter begins badly:
In recent days, questions have been asked about the Church of England's attitude to new legislation in several countries that penalises people with same-sex attraction.
The phrase “same-sex attraction” is one favored by conservatives who consider homosexuality sinful and, for many, an affliction to be cured. To speak of “homosexuality,” on the other hand, might suggest an orientation, that is, a fundamental aspect of personality that is immutable or nearly so.

Although the letter ostensibly is going to be about the official view of the Church of England—the co-authorship of Archbishop of York John Sentamu, who, unlike Welby, holds no special position in the Anglican Communion, contributes to that impression—the letter expresses the personal views of neither letter writer. Instead, the bulk of the letter is a quotation from the communiqué issued at the end of the primates’ meeting that took place in February 2005 in Northern Ireland. The implication is that the Church of England follows the lead of the Anglican primates, who, in fact have authority over neither the Church of England nor any other member of the Communion.

The passage quoted by the archbishops is all about pastoral care for all:
…we wish to make it quite clear that in our discussion and assessment of moral appropriateness of specific human behaviours, we continue unreservedly to be committed to the pastoral support and care of homosexual people.

The victimisation or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex is anathema to us. We assure homosexual people that they are children of God, loved and valued by Him and deserving the best we can give—pastoral care and friendship.
This, of course, says nothing explicitly about the legislation in question. Nor do the concluding paragraphs:
We hope that the pastoral care and friendship that the Communiqué described is accepted and acted upon in the name of the Lord Jesus.

We call upon the leaders of churches in such places to demonstrate the love of Christ and the affirmation of which the Dromantine communiqué speaks.
If any criticism is intended here, it is for the readers to infer (or not). The writers have not articulated any particular moral outrage. Moreover, one has to suspect that Sentamu’s co-authorship—Sentamu is a native of Uganda—is intended to soften the message, which becomes nothing more than a friendly reminder to be nice. (Niceness, I suggest, is the bane of Anglicanism.)

As for Welby’s involvement with this letter, it must be said that he apparently feels torn by competing loyalties. As the chief cleric in the Church of England, one might expect him to condemn the developments in Nigeria and Uganda and perhaps even to accept some responsibility for the colonialism cited by Jennings. On the other hand, recent Archbishops of Canterbury have avoided criticizing the behavior of Communion churches in the questionable name of unity. Welby, who has a reputation as reconciler, apparently intends to continue this dysfunctional tradition.

The day ofter the Welby-Sentamu letter, i.e., on January 30, Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church Katharine Jefferts Schori weighed in with a statement. Her brief message is clearly identified as a church position:
The Episcopal Church has been clear about our expectation that every member of the LGBT community is entitled to the same respect and dignity as any other member of the human family. Our advocacy for oppressed minorities has been vocal and sustained.
There is no hiding behind six-year-old communiqués here. Without actually naming names or, as did Jennings, articulating underlying causes, the presiding bishop gets directly to what she sees as the presenting problem:
The current attempts to criminalize LGBT persons and their supporters are the latest in a series, each stage of which has been condemned by this Church, as well as many other religious communities and nations.
Nowhere does Jefferts Schori invoke the Anglican Communion. Her concern is instead for the human community and for her church’s understanding of God’s will for his children:
Our advocacy work continues to build support for the full human rights and dignity of all persons, irrespective of gender, race, national origin, creed, sexual orientation, physical and mental ability or inability. To do less is effectively to repudiate our membership in the human community. No one of God’s children is worth less or more than another; none is to be discriminated against because of the way in which she or he has been created.
Obviously, a different view of the nature of homosexuality underlies this statement. She concludes:
Our common task is to build a society of justice for all, without which there will never be peace on earth. Episcopalians claim that our part in God’s mission is to love God fully, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. That means all our neighbors. 
As I suspect many Episcopalians are at this time, I am proud of the courage and honesty of my church leaders. Also like many Episcopalians, I have been disappointed yet again at the conspicuous lack of courage and honesty shown by Archbishops of Canterbury.

There is, I suppose, some point to being in the Anglican Communion. Looking to the Communion for courageous Christian witness, however, is a fool’s errand.