September 28, 2015

Parallel Anglican Universes?

I was taken aback Friday when I received the weekly newsletter from the American Anglican Council. (For those unfamiliar with the AAC, I should explain that it is an organization whose goal has been to turn The Episcopal Church to “orthodoxy” or, failing that, to liberate as many Episcopal assets as possible for a conservative “Anglican” church in America. It is, in other words, a kind of ecclesiastical terrorist group.)

Image from Ashey essay
Image from Ashey essay
What amazed me was the lead essay by the Rev. Canon Phil Ashey, CEO of the American Anglican Council and, apparently, a priest of the Anglican Church in North America. The essay is titled “Archbishop Welby, What Will You Do about It?”

The essay begins with the complaint that one of the judges of the South Carolina Supreme Court, which recently heard oral arguments from the Episcopal Church in South Caroliina—the remnant of the Episcopal Church diocese—and the breakaway group led by deposed bishop Mark Lawrence, is an Episcopalian and is prejudiced against the breakaway plaintiffs.

Ashey proceeds to lament the Episcopal Church’s propensity to sue breakaway churches and dioceses and tries to position the dissidents on the ethical high ground by suggesting that they are usually defendants who would prefer to negotiate settlements. (Ironically, it was the breakaway group that initiated litigation in South Carolina and who clearly picked a judge expected to be friendly to the group’s case.) Christians should not sue Christians, he asserts. Of course, our legal system was largely designed by Christians. But never mind. The argument about who sues whom, of course, is silly, since thieves don’t usually sue their victims.

Ashey laments that the Anglican primates, in their 2007 meeting in Dar es Salaam, considered, but did not pass, a resolution calling for an end to property litigation. “Some have said,” he continues, that Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby intends to use the January primates’ meeting he recently called to complete the disciplining of the Canadian and American churches that was left undone in Tanzania.

What? I thought. My impression was that Welby’s intention was to create a looser Communion, not to return to the failed project of enhancing uniformity among Communion churches. That was not precisely what the press release from Lambeth said, but it seemed to be the sense of what was being told to reporters informally. (See my essay “Anglican Communion II?”)

In the end, I don’t know what to believe. Is the Archbishop of Canterbury playing both sides, suggesting relief from the constant bickering to Western churches while suggesting to the Global South that their goal of disciplining those same churches might again be on the table? This sentence from the Lambeth press release may explain the “[s]ome say” in Ashey’s essay: “Our way forward must respect the decisions of Lambeth 1998, and of the various Anglican Consultative Council and Primates' meetings since then.” How is that possible in a looser Communion?

Is the meeting in January intended to loosen the ties that bind Communion churches to one another, or is Welby trying to finish what Rowan Williams could not? Is Ashey living in a parallel universe, or have liberals mistaken Welby’s intentions? It is beginning to seem that Welby has scattered bait to bring both sides together. If he is successful in bringing everyone to the table, does he have a plan, or is the January meeting a total crap shoot?

Update, 1/10/2016. I fixed a minor grammatical error in the final paragraph.

September 27, 2015

What Are the Representatives That Gave Boehner Grief?

Congressman John Boehner
Congressman John Boehner
This past week was notable for its profusion of big news stories. (I’ve already written about one of these, the Volkswagen scandal. See What Can VW Do?”) One of these stories was the announcement by Speaker of the House John Boehner that he will resign from the House of
Representatives at the end of next month.

As might be expected, there was a good deal of commentary in the media about the Boehner news. Much of that commentary involved conflicts between the Speaker and members of his own Republican Party in the House. For example, NPR’s Renee  Montagne noted, “The Republican speaker has battled with conservatives in his party for years.” Other NPR stories (e.g., this one today) have noted Boehner’s conflicts with his party’s “conservative base.”

Such rhetoric seems to suggest that John Boehner is some kind of liberal, a conclusion that could not be further from the truth. By any measure, Boehner is conservative—very conservative, in fact. His problem with members of Congress from his own party is largely about tactics, not about fundamental objectives. The conflict in the House was nicely characterized (again on NPR) by David Brooks:
And John Boehner is an institutionalist and a politician. He believes in politics. You’ve got a Democratic president. There’s only so much I can do; I got to compromise here; I got to adjust there. A lot of his opponents don’t believe in politics. They believe in self-expression. They just want the pure stand. And so they hated him because he didn’t do the pure stand. But he was practicing politics as it is conventionally practiced.
(The above quotation is from a transcript. I’m sure Mr. Brooks would edit it if given the chance.) Those representatives who are more interested in self-expression than in politics are not simply “conservative.” They are radicals, and calling them “conservatives”  does not adequately distinguish them even from the mere right-of-center. They are more extreme than even the likes of John Boehner, and they are more about dismantling the government than governing. They long for a time—perhaps a mythical time—that lacked taxes, government regulation, social welfare programs, and actual facts, a time when women and niggers knew their place. The 1870s might do the trick. The 1880s might be better still.

We need a name for such people. They are sometimes described as tea partyers—read this essay if this spelling disturbs you—but this too seems inadequate for a number of reasons. It suggests an antipathy toward taxes, perhaps, but the philosophy (or philosophies) of these folks is much broader. The term suggests that there is such a thing as the Tea Party, but there isn’t, possibly because these people are wary of organizations generally. They are individualists that don’t give a fig about any wider community. Among them are nativists, racists, narcissists, religious fundamentalists, anarchists, hysterics, anti-intellectuals, science skeptics, homophobes, misogynists, anarchists, and political reactionaries. Of course, not all right-wingers exhibit all these pathologies, but you get the idea.

So, how should we refer to Republicans who are beyond “conservative”? This is a bit of a tough question, because the group is not homogeneous, and decency requires a name that is descriptive without being blatantly insulting, tempting though that might be. (“Political terrorists” comes easily to mind.) My word choice would be “reactionaries.” No doubt, many would prefer a term like “traditionalists,” but there are, of course, many traditions to which one might or might not want to return.  “Reactionary” simply implies returning to the past.

Does any reader have a better idea?

September 25, 2015

America and Americans

I got into an exchange on Facebook the other day based on a tweet that someone had copied to Facebook. The tweet began with
Learn geography [sic] people:
The tweet went on to complain that the Pope was not visiting America for the first time, since, as an Argentinian, he has been in America for most of his life. The poster suggested that reporters should be speaking of the Pope’s first visit to “the United States.”
There is, of course, a certain logic to this argument, as well as a suggestion of arrogance on the part of reporters. My initial response was simply that the use of “America” to refer to the U.S. is well established. If someone in Europe announces a trip to America, we don’t expect them to turn up in Mexico City or Quito. “America,” when not referring to the U.S., is usually accompanied by clarifying words: “North America,” “Central America,” “South America,” or “the Americans.”

Admittedly, it would have been correct to say that the Pope was visiting the United States for the first time, but the complaint that using the term “America” somehow demeans the rest of the Western Hemisphere is patently ridiculous. Even the Pope ended his speech to the Congress with “God Bless America.” Clearly, he was referring to the U.S.

What are the citizens of the United States to be called? Surely not “United Statesians.” The name of the country is United States of America, and I have never heard citizens called anything but “Americans.” What other term could we derive from the name of the country?

Despite the fact that the usage may seem to the ultra-sensitive to be unfair to other residents of the hemisphere, what became the United States began as English colonies. Going to America in, say, the seventeenth century, meant going to those colonies, not to Central or South America. Residents of the colonies were generally called colonists, but that had to change after 1776. “Americans” became the obvious choice.

When I call myself an American or say I am from America, everyone knows I’m not from Canada or Chile, and no one should take offense at my usage. These arguments will not convince the culture police who are always looking for conventions at which they can take offense. Normal people, however, should go on using “America” and “American” without guilt.

Some Base Running Advice

I should begin this essay with a disclaimer. I am not a baseball player or baseball expert. I love the game, but I have never played organized ball. I am a fan, though not a fanatical one. I follow the Pittsburgh Pirates, but I don’t know much about players on other National League teams. I don’t even care to know anything about the American League—not until the junior circuit eliminates the designated hitter and returns to playing real baseball, anyway.

On the other hand, I watch every Pirates game I can, and I think I may have learned a thing or two by doing so. Although I can’t offer much wisdom about pitching, fielding, or hitting, observation suggests that baserunning on the Pirates team (and on other teams as well, actually) could be improved by following some simple rules. I therefore offer rules below that are often violated, usually to the detriment of the runner. If any of my rules seems wrong, do offer your reasoned corrections.
  1.  Run like hell. When you hit the ball, unless it’s clearly foul, run all out to first base. Plays at first base are often close, and fast runners sometimes beat the throw on what seem like routine plays. Besides, even on routine ground balls, things can go wrong. Running as fast as you can can capitalize on your opponent’s mistakes. If a hit is potentially an extra-base hit, running fast out of the batter’s box can get you safely to second or perhaps even to third. As a fan, it is frustrating watching a batter run at an average speed to first base only to turn on the speed when it’s clear that the hit can be stretched to at least a double.
  2. Don’t slide into first base. A slide into first base is a bad move about 99.99% of the time, but one sees players trying it more than 0.01% of the time. Even the rare slide is usually a mistake. Since a player can run past the base and still be safe, unless you can slide faster than you can run, it is better to run. If you can slide faster than you can run, scientists should study your technique, since you are apparently violating the laws of physics. So, when should you slide into first base? Doing so only makes sense when a fielder is in front of the base trying to tag you before you reach the bag. By sliding, you may be able to evade the tag by making the fielder reach down. (But don’t get your hopes up.)
  3. Slide and stick. When you slide into a base, be sure that, once you touch the base, you continue doing so. Runners are sometimes called out because they reached the base safely but lost contact with the bag for just an instant and were tagged out. This is sometimes difficult advice to take. Practice helps.
  4. Use base coaches. Don’t watch the ball. It drives me crazy when a batter hits the ball and trots toward first base while he watches where the ball is going. This can seem lazy or arrogant (and probably is). Run, dammit. (See Rule 1.) Watching what’s happening in the outfield while rounding the bases slows you down. Rely on base coaches to indicate when you should run and when you should stop. Generally, baserunners should have two speeds, run and stop, with no speed in between. Exceptions are (1) when caught in a rundown and (2) when you are waiting for a fly ball to be caught. In the first case, good luck. Runners seldom survive rundowns, but a clever runner sometimes evades the tag. When waiting to see if a fly ball will be caught, it can make sense to watch the ball before deciding to run. Even this can involve a turn of the body, however, and relying on the base coach may get you to the next base an instant faster.
  5. Stop, but look about. Upon reaching a base where you intend to stop, take a quick look around to see what is happening. A ball may have gone farther than expected or been mishandled. It may be possible to take another base. And, of course, check the base coach. (See Rule 4.)

September 24, 2015

What Can VW Do?

By now, nearly everyone has heard of the scandal involving millions of automobiles built by Volkswagen. Many of the company’s popular diesel cars were equipped with a computer able to determine when emission tests were being performed. At such times, the computer activated pollution controls that reduced emissions to legal levels. Under normal driving conditions, however, emission controls were disabled, resulting in higher performance, greater gas (diesel?) mileage, and increased air pollution.

One can understand how the company thought it could get away with its computer legerdemain. The software that implemented the deception is not easily accessed and was unlikely to arouse suspicion. After all, the cars tested well for emissions, though customers may have had their doubts observing their vehicles under real-world conditions.

Proponents of unbridled capitalism would argue that the potential financial exposure entailed in the VW design should have prevented its implementation. Obviously, the system didn’t work that way. The reward for dishonesty was high, and the likelihood of exposure was low.

Volkswagen has admitted to its end-run around environmental regulations, and its CEO has resigned. It has not been revealed who was responsible for devising the diesel subterfuge, but it is impossible to believe that the scheme wasn’t hatched at the very highest level of management, since the scheme affected vehicles as total systems.

VW faces enormous fines, possible criminal indictments, a crash in its stock price, and possible consumer lawsuits. Moreover, it will have to “fix” more than 11 million diesel automobiles.

What kind of fix is even possible? The software must be replaced with code that makes emission testing valid. That change alone, however, would leave owners with high polluting vehicles that, in many locations, would not even be legal to have on the road. If the software applies pollution controls under all operating conditions, owners will have vehicles with reduced performance, reduced fuel efficiency, and reduced resale value. I predict that owners will not like that. As it is, many buyers thought they were buying a car that was good for the environment, and they are angry that they were deceived.

A fully acceptable fix, then, must reduce emissions without affecting fuel efficiency or performance. This is a huge technological challenge, as locomotive builders, who now must meet strict emission standards, can attest. It is not even clear that the affected vehicles can be appropriately modified using their existing engines. My guess is that the Volkswagen automobiles were designed with the assumption that meeting emission regulations on a day-to-day basis was unnecessary, and a retrofit that removes that design criterion may be impossible, at least at any reasonable cost.

My guess is that VW will either have to buy back 11 million vehicles or, if owners are willing, swap the defective ones for replacements that actually do what was promised. Personally, I would take the money and buy a new car from a different manufacturer. I would never again buy a Volkswagen.

September 18, 2015

Justin Welby on the Hot Seat

After I wrote my essay on Archbishop Justin Welby’s proposed meeting of primates, I learned that GAFCON had given the archbishop the finger. In an anonymous press release, GAFCON declared
… the GAFCON Primates will prayerfully consider their response to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s letter. They recognize that the crisis in the Communion is not primarily a problem of relationships and cultural context, but of false teaching which continues without repentance or discipline.

Consistent with this position, they have previously advised the Archbishop of Canterbury that they would not attend any meeting at which The Episcopal Church of the United States or the Anglican Church of Canada were represented, nor would they attend any meeting from which the Anglican Church in North America was excluded.
There are two things to notice here. First, GAFCON declares that the real problem with the Anglican Communion is false teaching. Put more neutrally, the GAFCON crowd adheres to a version of Christianity radically different from that of other members of the Communion. This correctly identifies the problem, and the gap is, I think, unbridgeable.

Although separation seems to be the ultimate goal of GAFCON, taking over the Communion from the heretics would be fine, too. If that isn’t possible, being thrown out of the Communion will also work, and it has the added advantage of making martyrs of the dissidents.

Thus, GAFCON engages in extortion: ACNA must be represented at the meeting and The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada must not be.

One wonders just what has been said in conversations between the Archbishop of Canterbury and GAFCON leaders. The Lambeth press release shows numerous signs of the archbishop’s attempt to appease the militants—the invitation of Foley Beach, the emphasis on scripture, the invitation to participants to set the agenda. Clearly, his efforts have not been enough.

This puts Welby on the hot seat. The GAFCON threat is not an idle one, as GAFCON has shown that its bishops are willing to forego attendance at meetings in protest. Reconciliation, which is likely impossible anyway, is logically impossible if both sides are not at the table.  If Welby gives in in this game of chicken, the Communion is done for. In that case, the Americans and Canadians should insist on attending anyway or withdraw from the Communion completely. Either case creates another crisis. If Welby resists GAFCON extortion and the GAFCON primates do not attend, the meeting will either be pointless or an opportunity to create a new Communion with churches willing to live peaceably with one another. Of course, GAFCON might not carry through on its threat, but that seems unlikely.

Welby should hold his ground. Stay tuned.

September 17, 2015

Anglican Communion II?

The big news yesterday in Anglican circles was that Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has scheduled a meeting of Anglican primates to discuss the future of the Anglican Communion. The “special Primates’ gathering” is scheduled to take place in Canterbury January 11–16, 2016, according to a press release from Lambeth Palace.

These are the salient points made in the press release:
  • The 37 other primates of the Communion have been invited.
  • The purpose of the gathering is “to reflect and pray together concerning the future of the Communion.”
  • Specifically, the “structures of the Anglican Communion” are on the table, as well as the “approach to the next Lambeth Conference.”
  • Primates, rather than Lambeth Palace, are requested to set the agenda (though religiously-motivated violence, the protection of children and vulnerable adults, the environment and human sexuality” are suggested topics).
  • The primates must “consider recent developments,” reconsider the workings of the Communion, and pay “proper attention to developments in the past.”
  • Specifically, the way forward “must respect the decisions of Lambeth 1998” and of various meetings of the ACC and primates’ meetings.
  • Churches must proclaim the gospel, but they do so in very different environments.
  • Because we are called to unity but tempted to divide, there must be space for disagreement.
  • “Our authority as a church is dispersed, and is ultimately found in Scripture, properly interpreted.”
  • Welby hopes the primates will find a way to “focus on serving and loving each other” and proclaiming the good news.
  • The meeting is proposed for January 11–16, 2016.
  • Archbishop Foley Beach, of the Anglican Church of North America, or his representative, will be invited “to be present” for part of the meeting.
The announcement from Lambeth has begotten a good deal of commentary. Responses have also been to news reports such as Andrew Brown’s story from The Guardian. Brown, relying on Lambeth Palace sources, asserts that Welby believes a dysfunctional Anglican Communion needs to be restructured as a looser confederation, in which churches are in communion with Canterbury, though not necessarily with one another. Brown characterized Welby’s vision of a possible Anglican Communion future this way:
Asked whether this represented, if not a divorce, a legal separation, a Lambeth source said: “It’s more like sleeping in separate bedrooms.”
What are we to make of this announcement?

To begin with, it is clear that Welby, the acclaimed reconciler, has abandoned any hope of making the Communion into one big happy family, the hopeless task that consumed the time, enthusiasm, and stamina of his predecessor. The modern project of overlaying a common theology and morality onto a diverse group of churches united mostly by historical connections in the distant past has, as was inevitable, failed. In particular, now seems as good a time as any to declare that the Anglican Covenant, that agreement in which Rowan Williams invested so much hope and prestige, is, for all time, dead. That some churches have adopted the Covenant and are therefore in a quasi-legal relationship with one another is a bit of a problem, and this is one that should be considered in January.

My initial reaction to the announcement from Lambeth was negative. Certainly, from the perspective of The Episcopal Church, the meetings of the primates, which became frequent after the artificial “crisis” occasioned by the 2003 selection of Gene Robinson to become Bishop of New Hampshire, had become a source of great mischief. Welby, who had dismissed the possibility of holding a Lambeth Conference in 2018 and had talked with the primates without ever calling them together, had seemed content to let sleeping dogs lie. But, according to Brown, Welby did not want to leave a contentious and rudderless Communion to his eventual successor.

Clearly, the Communion is dysfunctional, and a determined effort to rescue from its wreckage some useful organizational entity might have a positive outcome. Is there really much likelihood, after all, that things can get any worse? “Lambeth sources” rate the probability of a “catastrophic failure” next January at 25%. No doubt, the probability of more prosaic simple failure is much higher. But, as they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

If Welby is truly interested in a thorough restructuring of the Communion, he shouldn’t be suggesting that the primates take on other topics such as those mentioned in the press release. These can only be distractions from any attempt to fix the Communion at its deepest level. Discussing topics that don’t lead directly to knock-down-drag-out fights may feel like a welcome change, but they will leave institutional problems unresolved.

Anglican Communion II Compass Rose
Although rethinking the Communion is an attractive idea, even after further consideration, I am not sanguine about prospects for the meeting. Although, reading The Guardian, one might eagerly be anticipating Anglican Communion II, it hardly seems that Welby intends to rebuild the Anglican Communion from first principles.  Most worrisome is his apparent commitment to the 1998 Lambeth Conference and to decisions of the AAC and Primates’ Meeting. Why did Welby not mention earlier Lambeth Conferences? Clearly, he is alluding to the notorious Resolution I.10 condemning homosexuality and to recent events at Communion meetings at which ultraconservative Third-World churches conducted a vendetta against Western churches, particularly The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. How can we possibly re-imagine the Anglican Communion as a less contentious fellowship of churches if the Archbishop of Canterbury insists that we respect the very actions that have brought us to the brink of organizational suicide? Moreover, if a total restructuring of the Communion is contemplated, why is Welby even talking about the next Lambeth Conference?

The antepenultimate paragraph of the Lambeth statement gives more cause to worry about where Welby wants to take the Communion. He is quoted as saying, “Our authority as a church is dispersed, and is ultimately found in Scripture, properly interpreted.” As I have often protested, the Anglican Communion is not “our church,” not a church at all, in fact. There is no Anglican Church, only Anglican churches. Justin Welby’s church is the Church of England. He has no other church and no actual authority to make anyone outside the Church of England do anything. Why do Archbishops of Canterbury continue to talk about the “Anglican Church” ? (Not only does Andrew Brown not consider the Communion a church; he describes it as a fantasy! Crusty Old Dean, Tom Ferguson, has offered a similar view.)

Others have registered strong objection to the notion that church authority “is ultimately found in Scripture, properly interpreted,” thereby seeming to ignore tradition and reason, those other foundations of Anglicanism. I’m not sure whether I should share this concern. “Properly interpreted” might be a nod to reason (or not), but church tradition—unless one means by that the Communion tradition of the last 40 years—was surely left out of the Lambeth statement. Welby seems to be referring to the unfortunate formulation of Resolution 11 of the 1888 Lambeth Conference (“The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as ‘containing all things necessary to salvation,’ and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith.” [emphasis added]) which has found its way into various Anglican documents, most notably, the Anglican Covenant.

Then there is the matter of inviting Foley Beach to the upcoming meeting. He is clearly not going to be a full participant and may even be relegated to being an occasional observer. To this Episcopalian, however, the invitation to Beach feels a bit like inviting your rapist to your wedding. It is unclear whether the invitation suggests a reduced will to keep the Anglican Church of North America out of the Communion or whether Beach’s invitation is bait intended to convince GAFCON primates to attend. (It is worth reading what Foley Beach himself had to say about his invitation.)

Brown, based on his inside sources, believes that Welby is looking to a Communion in which churches are in communion with Canterbury, but not necessarily with one another. The various churches can coöperate on projects by mutual consent, but there would be no expectation that Anglican churches share a common view on controversial issues. Welby apparently thinks that such an arrangement could keep the militantly conservative churches within the Communion.

This view is delusional. GAFCON/FOCA is rapidly becoming a separate communion, whose leaders are increasingly absent from major Anglican gatherings. Moreover, the Welby plan assumes that the Church of England remains a sort of neutral corner at which both liberal and conservative churches can feel comfortable. But the existence of the Anglican Mission in England and the increasing conservative distress with the Church of England’s embrace of women and likely change in its policy regarding gay marriage will make that church as much a pariah to the GAFCON crowd as are the churches of the U.S. and Canada.

Although I have not had much time to consider a possible Anglican Communion II in light of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s announcement, here are some brief suggestions as to what it should look like:

  • Let the GAFCON crowd go its own way as an alternative communion. This will strengthen the Anglican Communion and decrease conflict. If the Communion consists only of churches in industrialized Western nations, so be it. (Actually, it won’t be.)
  • Pare down the Communion bureaucracy. Let individual churches (including the Church of England) coördinate whatever activities need coördinating. The central bureaucracy should involve itself mainly with communication.
  • Let the titular head of the Communion rotate among the primates of the Communion churches.
  • Devise a fair scheme for financing Communion activities, and sanction any church that fails to pay its fair share.
  • Eliminate the Primates’ Meeting, AAC, Lambeth Conference, and Standing Committee. Focused meetings can be held to deal with particular common interests.
  • Institute periodic meetings dealing with common concerns—perhaps mostly regional meetings—that involve both clergy and laypeople. Any meeting involving bishops should also include lay representatives.
  • Declare that the Communion has no authority over individual churches, and no actions of Anglican Communion I have any authority.
  • Disallow overlapping Anglican jurisdictions, except by mutual agreement. If ACNA becomes part of the GAFCON Communion, so be it. It should never be allow into Anglican Communion II.
  • Declare the Anglican Covenant null and void among the churches remaining in the Communion.
I will be shocked if any of this happens, but I can dream. In fact, I will be quite surprised if anything of substance comes of the January meeting. Stay tuned.

Update, 9/28/2015. I made a few corrections to my essay. Some were to correct obvious typos; others involved substitution of one preposition for another. I made no substantive changes.

Update, 1/10/2016. I corrected the date of Gene Robinson’s election, which was 2003, not 2002, as originally stated. I also corrected a minor formatting error in the list of suggestions for Anglican Communion II.

September 13, 2015

What Might Resolution A054 Mean in Practice?

Resolved, That the 78th General Convention authorize for trial use in accordance with Article X of the Constitution and Canon II.3.6 “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Marriage,” and “The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage 2,” … beginning the First Sunday of Advent 2015. Bishops exercising ecclesiastical authority or, where appropriate, ecclesiastical supervision will make provision for all couples asking to be married in this Church to have access to these liturgies. Trial use is only to be available under the direction and with the permission of the Diocesan Bishop …

— Resolution A054, adopted by the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church
Seal of the General Convention
Proponents of marriage equality were overjoyed by the passage of Resolution A054 earlier this summer, but it was clear from the outset that the resolution incorporated a classic Anglican fudge whose ultimate significance remains uncertain. When this resolution was passed by the House of Bishops, it was clear that the intention was to allow bishops opposed to same-sex marriage to avoid having to authorize the use of same-sex liturgies, while at the same time making same-sex marriage available throughout the church. Interpreting this resolution appears to require doublethink.

Actually, it is difficult to determine what parts of the resolution should be taken literally. What does it mean to “have access” to the same-sex liturgies? The apparent meaning is that a couple can have a service using one of the specified liturgies if requested. A literal reading might, on the other hand, simply require that a couple can read copies of the liturgy. This may seem a perverse suggestion, but to “have access” is not really defined in the resolution.

Moreover, the requirement that the liturgies be made available to “all couples asking to be married in this Church” is problematic. Not even the marriage liturgy in the current Book of Common Prayer is available to “all couples asking to be married in this Church.” A priest may refuse to marry a couple, seemingly for any reason, and, in any case, at least one of the parties must be baptized. Resolution A054 retains these provisions, so “all couples asking to be married in this Church” is not to be taken at face value.

Another oddity in this resolution is the responsibility to make the liturgies available laid upon bishops, specifically, “[b]ishops exercising ecclesiastical authority or, where appropriate, ecclesiastical supervision.” What happens if a diocese does not have a bishop? Does the requirement devolve upon the ecclesiastical authority, i.e., the Standing Committee? The direction that “[t]rial use is only to be available under the direction and with the permission of the Diocesan Bishop” would seem to suggest that a diocese lacking a diocesan bishop cannot use the trial liturgies at all. I don’t know what was intended here or how this provision will be interpreted should a situation requiring interpretation arise.

The question that most obviously arises from Resolution A054 is what happens when a diocesan bishop declines to permit the use of the trial liturgies in his (or, less likely, her) diocese. It has been assumed that a bishop may do this, although one could argue that, at the very least, the resolution does not explicitly provide for such refusal. This admittedly minority view is buttressed by the requirement to make the new liturgies available to all comers. Nonetheless, it was assuredly the understanding within the House of Bishops that a diocesan bishop could withhold permission to use the trial liturgies if provisions were made to make them “available” to hapless couples unlucky enough to reside in such a bishop’s diocese.

I have to offer a digression here. Neither Article X nor Canon II.3.6 requires that permission of the bishop be required for the use of a trial liturgy. The provision of Resolution A054 was presumably needed to secure the votes of bishops unwilling to offend the sensibilities of the most reactionary members of that body. Clearly, however, The Episcopal Church as a whole has decided to move forward on same-sex marriage, and allowing diocesan bishops to obstruct that intention seems much like the medieval notion that the religion of the people must be that of the prince. It is a fundamentally anti-democratic idea inconsistent with the ethos of our church.

Assuming that a diocesan bishop does indeed withhold permission to use the trial liturgies in that bishop’s diocese, what will constitute an acceptable good-faith effort to make the liturgies “available” to couples who want to avail themselves of them? This if hardly a hypothetical question. Bishop Daniel Martins, of the Diocese of Springfield, helpfully blogged during the General Convention. Even before Resolution A054 was concurred with by the House of Deputies, Martins had this to say on his blog:
[Resolution A054] includes what I consider to be adequate protections for bishops and dioceses that hold a traditional understanding of marriage. I can and will prohibit their use in the Diocese of Springfield, though I will be obligated, upon request, to facilitate their availability. Referral of such requests to an appropriate neighboring diocese will be considered a good-faith response. I can live with that.
Can a same-sex couple looking to get married live with that? How is such a couple expected to feel when told that, not only can they not be married in their own church, but that they must go to an unfamiliar church, probably in another state, to tie the knot? How much more complex will be the wedding arrangements when they have to be handled long-distance? How much will friends and family be inconvenienced by having to travel to another diocese to participate in the wedding? What does all this inconvenience say about the commitment of The Episcopal Church to marriage equality? Admittedly, there are varying degrees of unreasonableness in sending couples to an adjacent diocese, and a bishop in Springfield might more easily get away with doing so than might a bishop in, say, Hawaii. Personally, I consider sending a couple to another diocese an unacceptable form of making a liturgy “available.”

It is possible, of course, that, in a given diocese, no priest and no parish is willing to perform a same-sex marriage. In such a case, even a willing bishop might have trouble fulfilling the requirements of the General Convention resolution. And there would be some inconvenience to a couple if their own parish would not marry them, even if a nearby parish would. I suspect that all or nearly all the dioceses of The Episcopal Church contain at least one parish willing to host same-sex marriages were it permitted by the bishop, but I could be wrong.

If one assumes that Resolution A054 allows a diocesan bishop to prohibit the use of the trial liturgies, there seems to be no straightforward way to make these liturgies “available” within the diocese if, by “available,” one means being able to have a wedding in one’s own church or a nearby church. In other words, if you believe, as I do, that sending a couple to another diocese makes a mockery of trial liturgy “availability,” then either a bishop must grant permission or some more devious plan is needed to provide for the universal access envisioned by Resolution A054.

There is, I suggest, such a devious scheme that respects the conscience of the bishop while making gracious accommodation to the needs of the petitioning same-sex couple. My plan requires that some parish in the diocese—preferably the diocese of one or both members of the couple—be willing to host a same-sex wedding. The plan requires the bishop to grant such a parish DEPO (Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight), putting the parish under the “ecclesiastical supervision” of another (presumably diocesan) bishop. That bishop would then authorize the trial liturgy. The diocesan would have made the liturgy available without providing direction and permission to use the liturgy. The couple would be minimally inconvenienced, the parish would likely be delighted to be out from under its conservative bishop, and everyone would be happy.

One could quibble with my plan, but the fact is that the resolution, besides being intentionally ambiguous, is simply badly written. My solution seems no worse. Would a bishop of Daniel Martins’ ilk play along with this legerdemain? Possibly. It seems the moral equivalent of the government’s asking a church-related organization to certify that it has a moral objection to providing birth control to its employees, thereby allowing the government to provide it by other means. Just as Roman Catholics have complained that signing such a statement certifying an objection is morally burdensome—a view shared by few reasonable people, I assert—an Episcopal bishop could raise a similar objection. I would hope that no such objection would be raised.

Alas, I fear that, as was the case with the ability of women to be ordained in every Episcopal diocese, it may be decades before marriage equality is achieved throughout our church. I pray that that will not happen, and that bishops opposed to same-sex marriage will refrain from imposing their views, however sincerely held, on those Episcopalians under their care. If they do so, we will have fewer Episcopalians in such conservative dioceses.

September 12, 2015

Ben Carson, Humanitarian

Dr. Ben Carson
Dr. Ben Carson
Dr. Ben Carson has lately been rising in the polls judging the popularity of Republican presidential candidates. This is somewhat surprising, given the limited press coverage of the candidate. One suspects that his popularity is largely a function of his keeping his mouth shut and not acting like a raving lunatic when he does choose to speak.

It would be easy to conclude that the retired pediatric neurosurgeon is a thoughtful, compassionate conservative. That would be a mistake. He is instead just another standard-issue, right-wing, social Darwinist Republican ideologue.

What leads me to this conclusion is an interview with the candidate broadcast this morning on NPR’s Morning Edition Saturday. The interviewer was Scott Simon. I was struck by this interchange:
Simon: How many Syrian refugees would you admit to the United States if you were President now?
Carson: Well, we have to recognize that this is a splendid opportunity for the global jihadist so infiltrate those numbers with members of their own organization. So we would have to have in place a very excellent screening mechanism. Until we had such a mechanism in place, we should not be bringing anybody in.
Simon: Wouldn’t a lot of innocent people be left to die?
Carson: You know, my point not being that I don’t want to be compassionate. I would love to bring everybody here and just take care of everybody. It would be wonderful. But the fact of the matter is we can’t do it.
Simon: Well, which leads me to restate the question, and I’ll grant it as a premise you can get a rigorous checking program in place. How many Syrian refugees would you admit if you were President?
Carson: I would admit people that we need—people that can boost our economy based on their skills and what they bring in. And I don’t know what that number is.
In this exchange, Carson was asked about how he would respond to a current humanitarian crisis. His immediate response was to offer an excuse for doing nothing—we need to screen out jihadists, he says. When presented with the hypothetical that the jihadist threat had been countered, Carson seemed like a great humanitarian: “I would love to bring everybody here and just take care of everybody. It would be wonderful.” Be he quickly added, without explanation: “But the fact of the matter is we can’t do it.” Why not, one might ask. Would it be too expensive? Would it be too disruptive? Carson didn’t say.

Remarkably, Carson then changed the subject of what we can do for the unfortunate thousands fleeing war and chaos in their homelands to what we can do for ourselves. Carson doesn’t give a fig about most of the refugees; he is only interested in those who can make an immediate contribution to the American economy. So much for wanting to take care of everybody.

Is this the kind of humanitarian we want to put in the White House? I think not.

September 6, 2015

Why Is Seltzer “Original”?

I am fond of seltzer, plain carbonated water, rather than the flavored variety. I am been perplexed, however, by the term “original,” which invariable is associated with bottled seltzer. For example, the photo below shows seltzers from three bottlers, each of which contains “original” on the label.

Three seltzers

I could have included other seltzers in this picture as well. 

Usually, “original” on a label indicates that a produce was the first of its kind. For example, Hidden Valley markets its Original Ranch salad dressing, which was indeed the first salad dressing of its type. Obviously, however, not every seltzer can be the original one.

I wrote to three companies that market “original” seltzer, asking them about the use of “original.” I received a substantive reply from only one (Canada Dry), and that reply merely referred me to a page on the Canada Dry Web site advertising Canada Dry seltzer. The e-mail message did not really address my question.

Companies marketing “original” seltzer invariable offer flavored products that are basically seltzer with natural flavors and no sweeteners. These products are not labeled “original.” It appears, then, that “original” seltzer is carbonated water lacking other ingredients, although the term “seltzer” (or “Seltzer”) was first applied to naturally carbonated mineral water that contained—not surprisingly—dissolved minerals. In other words, “original” has come to mean “unflavored.” Its use on bottles of carbonated water, however, is misleading, given the usual use of the term.

Does any reader know the origin of “original” as applied to seltzer and how it became universal?

September 2, 2015

Thoughts on County Clerk Kim Davis

My patience with elected Rowan County, Kentucky, clerk Kim Davis ran out long ago. She has refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and has defied a federal court order to do so. Her legal options have pretty much run out, the Supreme Court having refused to stay the order of the lower court. Davis claims that her Christianity demands that she not participate in same-sex marriage. Yet she has issued marriage licenses to divorced people (and has been divorced multiple times herself), which seems more clearly to violate the Christian principles she so boldly proclaims.

Davis will be in federal court tomorrow, and, one hopes, will face fines or jail time for contempt of court. She surely has shown contempt for the courts and our system of government. Personally, I believe she should go to jail, as members of the “Christian” right will, no doubt, send Davis money to pay any fine that might be assessed; they cannot get her out of jail.

The bizarre case of Kim Davis was inevitable. The ill-conceived Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which basically privileges religious rights above all other civil rights and even above the government’s ability to enact reasonable neutral laws, has allowed the religious right to methodically gain special privileges for religious extremists, culminating in the ludicrous Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision.

The free exercise of religion should not empower religious people to impose their beliefs on others. Nor should it allow them to refuse to perform their jobs merely because they don’t approve of doing what their jobs require. Davis is required to apply the law, not to decide what the law should be, which is, as they say, above her pay grade. She has protested that the understanding of marriage has changed since she took office. Well, duh. The law changes, and county clerks are required to apply the law as it is, not as it was or as they want it to be.

If Kim Davis cannot perform her duties as clerk, she should resign and find employment that does not offend her religious sensibilities. Perhaps a hefty fine or jail time will change her tune, though I doubt it. Davis wants to be a martyr, no doubt encouraged by Liberty Counsel, which is representing her. (The Liberty Counsel agenda is made clear on its Web site: “Restoring the Culture by Advancing Religious Freedom, the Sanctity of Human Life, and the Family.)

If Kim Davis wants to be a martyr, we should accommodate her. She will become a heroine of the lunatic right, but reasonable people, including mainstream Christians, will be happy to see the body politic reclaim its right to the rule of law.