June 8, 2007

All about the polity

Recently a number of folks have tsk-tsk’d the appeals to polity made by the House of Bishops, in confessing their inability completely to comply with the requests of the Dar es Salaam Primates’ Communiqué. Surely, they seem to say, preservation of the communion is more important than polity.

First of all, what is the communion apart from polity? Not a few on the conservative side of the spectrum already refuse to recognize our communio in sacris, the unity we share in Christ and celebrate in the Eucharist. And others are proposing a new political structure in the form of a Covenant — which is nothing less than a form of polity for the Anglican Communion.

Secondly, polity is important; it is the law of the church. The matters before us touch upon some significant features directly addressed by that law. Bishops are not only pledged to preserve the unity of the church, but to abide by its discipline, and that discipline is embodied in these laws.

What bishops can and cannot do

The House of Bishops, acting alone, can pass a “mind of the house” resolution by which the House agrees “it” will not consent to the election of any bishop who might be offensive to the wider communion; or not authorize any novel liturgies in their dioceses.

What the House of Bishops, acting alone, cannot do, is make such actions binding upon all the individual bishops with jurisdiction, since the right and responsibility to grant or withhold consent, or to authorize liturgies, is a canonical right or responsibility belonging to each of them individually. (Article II.2, Canon III.11; Article X)

This is all tied up with the legal principle “What touches all shall be consented to by all” — and “all” means “all” — that is, a decision abrogating the legal rights and responsibilities of a member of an assembly can only be made either by a change in the law that grants or requires those rights or responsibilities (which the House of Bishops acting alone is not competent to do, since a change in the law of the Church requires concurrent action by the House of Deputies) or by unanimous consent (of which they are competent, but which is unlikely). And even unanimous consent does not have legal force in terms of compliance. This is part of the ABC of the laws governing assemblies.

At the same time...

As I have observed in the past, if enough of the bishops with jurisdiction voluntarily withhold consent to an election, then consent will fail. The same applies to diocesan authorization of liturgies: bishops can agree among themselves not to authorize novel rites.

Practically speaking, if such “mind of the house” resolutions were to be passed at the next session of the House of Bishops (with the understanding that under our canon law individual bishops will, and must, remain free to exercise their consciences on how they deal with the matters in their own dioceses) it would very likely be enough to satisfy the more irenic among the Primates, including the Archbishop of Canterbury.

In doing this the bishops will in fact be doing as much as they can do, under the law of the church, which they are sworn to uphold.

But should they take such a course, which will be seen by many as inadequate, others as cynical, and some as hypocritical? It is abundantly clear that nothing short of a complete and iron-clad reversal will please the more irate among the Primates. The CAPA-commissioned “Road to Lambeth” (September 2006) went far beyond the requests of the Windsor Report and called for “the resignation or removal from office of Gene Robinson and the passage of legislation which would bar any similar ordinations of priests and consecrations of bishops.

There was an opportunity for at least the latter to happen at General Convention 2006. It didn’t. And it is not going to happen; not in September (where it cannot) nor at the next General Convention (where it will not). A number of Rubicons (perhaps one should say Potomacs) have already been crossed, and any number of dies cast. And although Bishop Robinson has not been invited to Lambeth as a participant, it has been mooted that he might be allowed to attend as a guest — surely a compromise that leans well towards the liberal cause rather than against it; especially considering the demands from the “Global South” that no Bishop who either consented to or participated in the consecration of Bishop Robinson be allowed to attend. Archbishops Akinola and Orombi are on record as standing by “The Road to Lambeth.”

At the other extreme, some liberals have suggested that the bishops stand in solidarity with Bishop Robinson, and refuse to attend. Although I understand the impulse and resonate with it, it seems to me that doing so would be to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory — although taking this position does have its advantage in the delicate game of brinksmanship.

But it seems to me that now is not the time to issue ultimatums as resounding echoes to the trumpets from the “Global South.” It seems to me that wisdom and shrewd thinking are called for here, and a bit of common sense; and above all to trust that the Episcopal Church is, after all, right in its actions. The wind from the South has largely spent itself — though a bit of tacking will still be necessary as we chart our course for the coming years.

I will, in suggesting this, no doubt be accused of being too political. But then, it’s all about the polity.

Tobias Haller BSG


15 comments:

-frank said...

The people tsk tsking polity do so as the need suits them.
They will tsk tsk if there is too much polity.
They will tsk tsk if there is too little polity.

Oh a tsk tsk here, a tsk tsk there, everywhere a tsk tsk...

cheers

*Christopher said...

I think your approach is largely correct, and of course its political, it's always political. That cannard needs to go away. What I realized yesterday is that a great deal of my anxiety comes into play with this Covenant business because it looks designed to shut down comprehensiveness and make an Anglicanism for which I would never have left the Roman Catholic tradition.

What I want to hear from our bishops and priests is exactly how will "pastoral care", including the importance of ritual in lgbt Episcopalians lives be addressed more thoroughly and openly and concretely as the Canadians began a stab at recently.

We're so caught up in our clergy-driven Church that when I ask priests somewhere in the moderate spectrum this question, they point to +Robinson and say see, ten years ago that couldn't have happened. That's nice, but most of us are laity and this does us or our young lgbt folks good how?

I'm sick of the after-the-fact (meaning after we've figured out something about relationships, made our own commitments and sometimes ceremonies) forms of pastoral care (meaning, well see, we give you Eucharist and baptize your children) that seem to be what our priests and bishops can offer.

We endanger our young and leaves them to either negotiate matters on their own or worrisomely, to find themselves in some of the more unwholesome elements of gay life.

Tobias said...

Thanks, Frank. Perhaps it's a case of a tsk'it a task-it?

*christopher,
Thank you for this. I very much enjoyed your recent reflection at Betwixt and Between, which raised some of the same issues in a very thoughtful way, in contrasting covenant and vows.

The way I see it, it's about living life, rather than the "moment" -- and that's where I think the focus on a liturgical rite falls short, as if just having a rite will provide pastoral care. It seems to me that this is what happened with mixed-sex marriage over the years -- all of the focus on the "event" rather than the "life" -- the "act" of marriage rather than the "state" of marriage. I see the liturgical aspect as being the crown to a whole complex of pastoral care, an environment of support and nurture -- in short, a community of faithful love, in which the couple are at the center of a network of support, not a detached pair in a free-floating relationship. That's one of the reasons I found that one liturgical innovation in one of the rites I studied -- having the couple themselves ask the congregation for their support, rather than making this one more clerical duty! -- to be such a powerfully helpful symbol both of the maturity of the decision to wed and the relationship with the gathering of friends and family. (As I've said, I'd love to see this in any revision of the marriage liturgy!)

I think all of this is reflected in the current attitudes toward the communion: those who want the quick fix of a contract or covenant, rather than the hard work of living in relationship, a wider relationship that goes well beyond just "how well TEC and Nigeria are getting along." The conservatives seem to me to be focusing on "moments" and requests for specific, and fairly narrowly defined, actions; rather than the underlying nature of unity. There are so many lines in the sand being drawn it starts to look like a Zen garden!

I would hate to see the richness of the Anglican Communion reduced to a parsimonious and exclusive society of "right-thinking" true believers. Comprehensiveness is at stake, and it is an essential element of what makes us Anglican.

Grandmère Mimi said...

For the TEC bishops to stay away from Lambeth would be a mistake. If no legislation and no voting takes place, how will the role of a guest be be different? Will Bishop Robinson not be allowed to speak?

This is speculation anyway, because no one is sure that Bishop Robinson will be a guest. Why does the ABC need so much time to ponder whether BR will be invited as a guest?

I agree that this is not the time for TEC to issue ultimatums. Things seem to be falling our way.

Anonymous said...

I accept your interpretation of the canons and polity but the fact is that GC 2008 had sufficient authority and it declined to enact the recommendations of the Instruments. Now, I could be dead wrong, but the impression I get is that the extension to September was made over the objection of the "irate" primates and was designed to give the PB the chance to "sell" the recommendations to TEC. There is NO ONE that I know who expects any kind of postive response to that deadline - so unless backroom diplomacy yields some liveable compromise, Lambeth 2008 is dead and so is the AC as we have known it. Choose this day! Is that good or bad?

Tobias said...

Anonymous,
Assuming you meant GC 2006 I agree, as I said in the fourth paragraph from the end of my essay. The Convention could have adopted a canon stating, "No one who is engaged in a sexual relationship outside of Holy Matrimony shall be eligible for election to the episcopate." Resolution 2006.D067 had that kind of intent and language, but was not acted upon. Most of the resolutions that were adopted or rejected did not take that form, but were in the form of recommendations; so the strongest action taken was in the form of B033. (I will note that the Constitutional issue concerning authorization of rites is more complicated, and amendments to the Constitution take two consecutive conventions. Still, a canon could also have been adopted, the effect of which would have to be tested.)

I think you are correct on your reading of the postponement; but the interim actions of the "irate" Primates has likely changed the playing field as well. It may well be, as I suggest, that a moderately compliant though far less than ironclad commitment will be acceptable to the majority of the Primates, leaving the minority who are not satisfied (and have asked for more than Windsor did, anyway) free to continue moving in the direction they appear to have taken -- in departure from Canterbury and the Anglican Communion. Far from leaving Lambeth 2008 a dead end, that might mean an even more productive session, not focused on the issue that has taken up so much of the church's time and energy over the last decade.

*Christopher said...

Exactly. Comprehensiveness is at stake, that which is vital to Anglicanism, and the more I realize this the more concerned I've become and the more I've been willing to back off from pushing and rather work on the relationships. I think now, we're just beginning to get an inkling from across the Zen garden that exactly this is what is at stake and we let this go at a great price.

Chris Jones said...

Fr Haller

If the Episcopal Church is a legitimate manifestation of the Apostolic and Catholic Church (whereof I doubt, but nonetheless grant arguendo), then the fundamental character of the office of bishop trumps the specifics of one denomination's polity.

That is not to say that bishops ought not to respect the limits placed upon them by canon law properly enacted. But they are to exercise their essential ministry of teaching and defending the Catholic faith, and exemplifying and ensuring the unity of the Apostolic Church, within the bounds of those canons; not to use the canons as an excuse for failing to exercise that essential ministry.

The primates gave the bishops a clear opportunity to repudiate heteropraxis, and to articulate their loyalty to Catholic faith and order. Even if a "mind of the House" resolution were without canonical force, it would have signalled the bishops' committment to Catholic faith and order, and their determination to reach a canonical resolution to the crisis as soon as possible.

But of course the bishops had, and have, no intention to be loyal to what most Anglicans worldwide, and Christians throughout the ages, regard as Catholic faith and order. Quite the contrary. To suggest that it is the polity of the Episcopal Church that prevents the bishops from responding positively to the Dar communique, rather than the fact that the bishops (and ECUSA) have a different Gospel, is disingenuous.

Tobias said...

Chris Jones,

You may well think I am being disingenuous but your accusation against the Bishops is simply nonsense. The bishops have not forsaken the Gospel in this or any other matter, as the Gospel says absolutely nothing about the Episcopate, or who may be ordained to it.

The "nonsense" here is the purported elevation of something long held (officially) to be a question of (at most) pastoral theology -- not addressed in the Gospel and only tangentially, arguendo, in the Epistles, and rarely in the tradition -- to a central point of creedal importance to the Apostolic and Catholic Church. Your inclusion of this in the category of "catholic faith and order" is an instance of gross misrepresentation of the history of the church. There is absolutely no reason to see this question as any different from the issue of the ordination of divorced and remarried clergy, or of the ordination of women, or of clerical celibacy, or the many other restrictions on who could be ordained that form part of the discipline of the church, or the limitations on what clergy might or might not be allowed to do. (Do the research and you will find the list is extensive; and most of these restrictions have fallen away with time.) It is definitively not a matter of doctrine, but of discipline, and discipline is manifestly capable of change.

In fact, the efforts to come up with a theological rationale in opposition rest on a defective anthropology, which if pushed to its logical conclusion leads to heresy, as with opposition to the ordination of women. If one simply wants to affirm these restrictions as matters of discipline, fine -- but don't try to make it a matter of the Christian faith.

Chris Jones said...

Fr Haller,

... not addressed in the Gospel and only tangentially, arguendo, in the Epistles, and rarely in the tradition

A teaching does not have to be addressed in one of the four Gospels to be of the essence of the faith. To confuse "a Gospel" (one of the first four books of the New Testament) with "the Gospel" (the essential message of Christianity) is an obvious category error.

I do not think that the notion that a bishop ought to exemplify the Christian faith both by life and teaching is in any way "tangential" in the New Testament nor "rare" in the Tradition. To the extent that a bishop's manner of life exemplifies something other than the traditional Christian faith, that bishop (and his Church body) are making a clear statement of disagreement with that traditional teaching.

That disagreement may be right or it may be wrong (obviously you and I are not in agreement about which it is). But it is a matter of doctrine, not just of discipline, because the standards by which one lives one's life make a doctrinal statement and have doctrinal implications.

There are two different teachings at work here: one, that homosexual behaviour is at worst morally neutral and at best a gift of God on a par with both heterosexuality and celibacy; the other, that homosexual behaviour is a consequence and a manifestation of the Fall. These two teachings are contradictory and at most one of them is consistent with the Gospel.

I don't think it is right to reduce what is clearly a deep doctrinal disagreement to a matter of discipline and polity.

Tobias said...

Chris Jones,

Clearly we disagree on what constitutes "the Gospel" -- which I believe the church has long taught to be encapsulated in the Creed -- that is, that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came down from heaven, and by his incarnation, passion, death, resurrection and ascension wrought the work of salvation. I believe that "eternal Gospel" is contained in the canonical Gospels, prefigured in the prophets and elaborated in the writings of the apostles.

However, clearly on the issue we are addressing, you are making a unsupported claim, by including a particular point of traditional morality within the scheme of salvation -- one not addressed in the canonical gospels, and only arguably in the Pauline corpus. Neither is it addressed in the Creed; so by what authority do you elevate this to the level of "the faith"?

If it comes down to it, I believe that the notion that same-sexuality is morally neutral is consistent with the Gospel -- not simply the canonical Gospel, but the broader notion that the virtue of acts is not determined in reference to the old code of purity ("do not touch, do not taste, do not handle") but on the sublime summary of the Law approved by Christ himself -- to love God and neighbor.

I freely admit that there is not at this point a consensus to this effect to a change in the "tradition"; but it must also be clear that the old consensus (which you refer to as the traditional faith) is no longer a true consensus either, as there is wide dissent both in the scholarly community, the leadership of the church, and among the people of God. And the consensus is moving in the direction of wider acceptance of the possibility that same-sex relationships are capable of being morally good. Obviously the majority of the Episcopal Church's leadership already have reached that opinion. And yes, that means we disagree with the tradition. We do so because the tradition is wrong. You obviously do not accept that, but it is fruitless to argue as if we do not know that we have departed from the tradition, that departure from the tradition is itself the error. This is a point of disagreement in the church, but there is no "consensus" to forbid either holding to the traditional view or espousing the emerging view. To do so is to give tradition a kind of power of mortmain that it ought not hold, and from which, blessedly, Anglicans are free.

Chris Jones said...

Fr Haller

You make my point for me: that this is a matter of profound disagreement about doctrine. The point is not whether I can convince you or you can convince me on the doctrinal matter; it is that it is a doctrinal matter, not a disciplinary matter. The bishops ought not to hide behind "polity" when the crisis is, in fact, about doctrine.

I should have much more respect for the bishops if they would forthrightly say "the Church has been wrong all these years, and her doctrine and practice must change"; and even more respect for them if they were willing simply to separate from those (here and abroad) with whom they no longer share a common faith. It would be so much more honest.

Tobias said...

Chris Jones,

You have now reached the Monty Pythonesque point of mere contradiction instead of argument. Unless you are capable of offering some evidence in support of your position, or a rebuttal to my evidence (that the faith of the Church is sufficiently summarized in the Creed, as the Lambeth Quadrilateral states) apart from saying, "No it isn't," then there is no purpose to the continuance of this one-sided game of badminton.

To claim, as you appear to do, that arguments about what constitutes doctrine are themselves doctrinal arguments strikes me as rather too self-referential to be rational; by that claim, any assertion becomes doctrine upon assertion. (See the Quine paradox.)

The Lambeth Quad establishes the "doctrine about doctrine." Taken in conjunction with the statement in the Preface to the first American BCP, "in every church, what cannot be clearly determined to belong to Doctrine must be referred to Discipline," and the fact that the issue before us cannot clearly be shown to fall under the terms of the Creed, I consider the matter settled.

Chris Jones said...

Fr Haller,

It may be that there is no point to continuance; I am no longer sure that I even understand what you are saying.

Are you saying that the Nicene Creed is a "sufficient statement of the Christian faith" to the point that anything whatsoever which is not explicitly stated in the Creed is not to be regarded as "doctrine"?

I don't think that works. At the very least, things that are referred to in the Creed, without being spelled out in it, have to be the subject of the Church's definitive teaching. So, for example, when the Creed says that Jesus came down from heaven "for our salvation", salvation has to have a coherent and specific meaning, and the Church has to be allowed to have a definitive soteriology. Otherwise there is no way for the Creed to make sense.

To the point of our discussion, the Creed itself has nothing to say on moral teaching. But it does speak of "one baptism for the remission of sins"; and the word sin needs to have a specific meaning, so the Church has to be allowed to have a definitive teaching on it. The Church does, in fact, have specific and definitive teachings on moral issues, despite the fact that the Creed says nothing about it.

Applying that to the issue of how the Church ought to decide whether to ordain a particular individual, I think a fair reading of both Scripture and Tradition tells us that a bishop is expected (with respect to morals) both to teach what the Church teaches and to conform his life to that teaching.

That is why I believe that doctrine is at the heart of the crisis in the Anglican Communion. If that doesn't meet your criteria for what constitutes argument, rather than simple contradiction, I cannot help it. I have done my best.

You may be quite right that there is little point in continuing this discussion. If you still feel that way, I would ask you simply to delete this comment rather than approving it for publication.

Tobias said...

Chris Jones,

Actually your last comment is helpful. It seems where we differ is on the proper meaning to be given to "doctrine." It now appears to me you are using "doctrine" to mean any "church teaching" regardless of its direct connection to dogmatic theology. I don't know if you are an Episcopalian or Anglican -- from the opening of your first comment I'm led to think not, though I may be reading to much into your dismissal of the Episcopal Church as an "Apostolic and Catholic Church." And that may be where the problem lies, as, for instance, the Roman Catholic Church gives a far broader meaning to "doctrine" than Episcopalians do, at least in their formal statements.

For example, Canon III.10 refers to Doctrine as "the Church's teaching as set forth in the Creeds and in An Outline of the Faith, commonly called the Catechism," the latter seen as an explication of the former.

Episcopalians also give a perhaps broader range to "discipline." For instance, it is common in Anglican circles to talk about "the church's marriage discipline" more than about the church's "doctrine of marriage." "Doctrine" is set against "discipline" or "morality" as a separate category. See, for instance, the appended note in the American version of Article XXXV of the Articles of Religion, where the Homilies are referred to as helpful both for doctrine and morals. This is the kind of distinction to which I am pointing. These are different categories.

I know, of course, that at its root, "doctrine" means "teaching" -- but I think Anglicans in general try to restrict the former to matters concerning God, and refer other matters to discipline.

So it may be that what we are dealing with here is a species of logomachy, rather than of substance, at least as far as the words themselves go.

However, to get back to the real point of disagreement (which has been sidetracked by a discussion of what constitutes doctrine, or a change in doctrine) let us for a moment assume your position that the matters under discussion are doctrinal. Let us assume that the changes proposed are changes in doctrine.

And that is where I come to my original point, which is unchanged in spite of this fact: how does the church change its doctrine apart from its polity? You seem to suggest that polity has no power to change doctrine; but clearly -- if doctrine is to change -- then it is only by means of polity that the change can come.

To shift the attention from the Episcopal Church for a moment: if there were to be a change in Roman Catholic teaching (i.e., doctrine in the broad sense you intend) how would it happen? Obviously, by means of the polity of the Roman Catholic church, through the curia and papacy. Now, there are some who might argue that the RCC has never changed its "teaching" on anything; to my mind such an assertion strains credulity.

As I have tried to explain, in our polity the Bishops simply do not have the kind of authority you would like them to have, or think they should have. They could, as you suggest (and as I believe I also said) pass a mind of the house resolution pledging conformity to the requests of the Primates. That may indeed happen in September. All I'm attempting to point out is that will not be (and cannot be) the kind of iron-clad guarantee that some in the Anglican Communion appear to want to have.