June 24, 2006

Fear, Folly, & Disorder

Fear cloaked as courage, victimization masked as sacrifice, and disorderly expediency: these are the qualities that typified the dysfunction of the closing day of the General Convention meeting in Columbus.

Fear of fear itself

Our leaders spoke of not giving into our fears. But what were the fears they hoped we might set to one side? The only fears of which I was aware on the last day of the General Convention were fears we did not set to one side: fear that the Anglican Communion might split, or fear that we as a province might be excluded from the conversation. It seems very possible that in spite of the good intention, our action on the last day of Convention will not prevent the Communion from splitting, and though we may have provided Canterbury with the minimum to allow an invitation to the Anglican conversation pit, we no longer have anything to say.

How much better to have let our Yes be Yes or our No, No. How much better it would have been to tell those who accuse us of imperialism — within our church or in other provinces — that we have no wish or will to impose our views upon anyone, and are willing to take whatever steps are necessary to assure them of this willingness, including placing our future as part of the Communion in their hands. How much better to be excluded to the margins (or even off the page) for doing what we believe to be right: for Christ would be with us in our exclusion to the edge or over it, as he was always more comfortable in the company of those deemed sinners than in the synagogues of the ones who thought themselves righteous.

The sacrifice of the few for the many

I wasn’t a Girardian before this General Convention; but I have to admit I saw the Girardian principle of scapegoat-making in full play: as a few were selected to be the offering that would relieve the anxiety of the many. In the course of debate, a number of persons spoke of the sacrifice being made in the first-person plural; however, it was evident that very few of them were making any personal sacrifice at all. And while it is always permissible to sacrifice oneself, it is never so to sacrifice someone else.

As the day wore on I began to appreciate what it feels like to be the Sudetenland, as a little piece of paper marked B-033 offered the false promise of peace in our time. It is already evident this blemished sacrifice has been rejected by the augurs.

Disorderly Houses

On the last day of Convention, disorder plagued both Houses. The deputies had on the day before considered and rejected a resolution urging the church to refrain from ordaining any bishop, or blessing any relationships, that might provoke anxiety. The deputies also heard a substitute imposing moratoria à la Windsor — unconstitutional because the General Convention cannot abridge the rights and responsibilities of the various organs of the church except by amendment of the Constitution and Canons. I am happy to have pressed the point on the liturgical question, on the basis of Article X of the Constitution and the Book of Common Prayer, which gives bishops the right to authorize liturgies not provided for in the BCP; the President received my objection in good spirit and after further consultation ruled against consideration. The original resolution was rejected by a wide margin, and a motion to reconsider it similarly failed. So far the normal orderly procedures of the House.

It was on the following day that pressure began to be exerted, with the calling of a joint session in which the Presiding Bishop appealed to both Houses to pull the Episcopal fat from the Anglican fire. The Bishops departed to their chamber and adopted B-033, substantially the same as the first resolve that failed in the Deputies: calling on the various organs of the church to refrain from consenting to a bishop whose manner of life might add to the tension in the church. (We all know what that means, and to whom it refers, I assume.) In order for the Bishops to take up this matter, it was necessary for them to suspend their Rule XVIII, which forbids new legislation after the second day of Convention, and even more strongly on the final day of the session. I assume the Bishops took this necessary step prior to adopting their Resolution B-033.

In any case, this resolution was then sent to the Deputies, who had to suspend their Rule 28 governing the consideration of a matter once settled, and should likely have suspended Rule 31.b.7 on the reconsideration of a reconsideration without material change. (The Parliamentarian ruled that as the matter of B-033 did not include the resolve about rites that it was materially different.) After the vote on the second reconsideration passed, debate was engaged, into which was inserted an address by the Presiding Bishop-elect, concerning fear, swords and shields, and conjoined twins. I fear this action will cost her ministry more deeply than we can even begin to estimate at this point, and that B003 may not turn out to be so much a gift as a burden.

I remain concerned when such a scramble at accommodation combines with a helter-skelter setting aside of rules of order — rules not designed for their own sake, but to prevent this very sort of coercive (or, if you prefer) persuasive exercise of power: to protect the rights of the assembly and its many members. One of the things that could well be said of GC2003 — whether one agreed with its decisions or not — was that all canonical rules and regulations were followed scrupulously. The same, quite simply, cannot be said of GC2006: rules were not followed, but suspended.

After all is said and done, I do know one thing: Jesus is my friend. I thought the Episcopal Church was my friend, too — really. And B033 is not how you treat your friends.

In conclusion

Can good come of this? Yes, I do believe, in God’s good time and with God’s good grace. But expediency often shows itself to be inexpedient in the long run. Perhaps an icon for the Episcopal Church at this point might be the electronic voting system adopted for this General Convention. It was hoped that it would simplify and expedite our process. In fact it took up far more of our precious time together than was wise of us to expend, leaving us stumbling over ourselves in the closing hours of what I cannot call debate, but simply haste. When the means by which we do things (the institution of the church) becomes more important than, and draws resources from, the things we are called to do (the mission of the church) — well, we have made the error of Babel: as if the point was that we be united, that we not be scattered to bring the message to the world’s ends. The “unity” of Babel is the antithesis of the Gospel. Pray that God may restore the gift of distinctiveness that shatters the false unity of accommodation.

—Tobias S Haller BSG


Ann said...

yes - sad stuff.

Anonymous said...

Oh, Tobias, maybe it is your youth that allows your hopeful ending. I don't share that attribute, being 73, priested for 49 years, and monastic for 24. I have searched my mind for even the hint of a positive outcome for B033, and I can't find a single one.

Look: (a) by some miracle, WWAC accepts B033 and +Katharine gets to Lambeth 2008. Then we are back in exactly the same place: either make B033 permanent or risk being rejected again or (b) B033 is rejected by WWAC (Duncan, Inc. has already done that, odds are 99 to 1 that Global South will do so in September, and given ABC's luke-warm response, his acceptance is less than likely). Then what?

We will be broken from WWAC and stuck with the "policy" of B033 at least until GC2009 ? and you and I know that there simply are not the necessary 50+ bishops and Standing Committees who will risk moving against B033 to confirm an election.

The only move conceivable in my mind is that there might be 3 bishops (nearing retirement or retired) who would risk Presentment by participating in an uncanonical, underground consecration (as per the women's ordination in Philadelphia).

If not, what about the God-called gay and lesbian candidates to episcopacy who will be rejected in just the next three years, with Newark and Olympia elections coming up soon?

I wish I could have your optimism, but right now I sin mightily against the Virtue of Hope! And find it very had not to judge ++Frank and +Katharine for intervening in a dubiously uncanonical way!


Chip Johnson+, SF, CoJ said...

Fr> Heller,
As an outsider (cradle Episcopalian, confirmed 1951, 25+years ordained in the Church of God, and back to TEC in 1998, now an Anglican of the Province of Christ the Good Shepherd) and a Hobdee kibitzer, and one from 'the other side of the aisle', may I say that I have gotten more from your blogging and Hobdee entries than almost any other.

I left the Episcopal Church just over a year ago, over an ordination dispute with my then bishop, +Creighton South Dakota, and since I was to profess in the Company iof Jesus as a Franciscan, it was time to move.

I cannot see how any good can come from GC2006. All interests were scuttled by the suspension and abrogation of canon and parliamentary rules. No one individual or faction can claim any knid of victory, political (which should not be a factor in the affairs of the Church) or moral or even the interests of justice.

Like everyone else, we wait with baited breath, on the decisions of the not even foreseeable future that will affect the health, growth, and even the survival, of Body of Christ.

My heart is just as broken as those who feel they were betrayed by the passage of ?B033?. \neither faction won that victory, it was an engineered mess from it's inception in the HoB, then rammed down the throats of the joint meeting of the Houses, then touted as the salvation of the Episcopal Church's relationship with Lambeth, which IT DID NOT satisfy.

Where does the Church go from here? The only place to be is to our knees, both those inside ECUSA (or TEC, or PECUSA, or whatever it will ultimately become) and those of us who are doubly 'separated brethren'.
We grieve for the Body. It is sundered. It is in need of divine intervention, the only hope for any semblance of survival.
Please pray for our mission and province, as we will continue to pray for your.

Pax Christi ?
Br Chip, cj

Anonymous said...

we have known for a long time that ++Frank likes to rule by fiat, by declaring what he wants, and coercing representative bodies into giving in. we have seen that in full measure here, in which he rode roughshod over the procedures of both houses to get a resolution passed in his desperation.

++Frank loves to talk about sacrifice, in the sure and certain knowledge that no sacrifice will ever be expected of him, and so he can go out, telling himself he did the very best he could. we are confronting his ego and (ironically) the ego of +++Rowan here, in which "sacrifice" is something other people must do to maintain one's own sense of importance.

nobody wants to be the ABoC who presided over the demise of the anglican communion. nobody wants to be the PB who did so. and so the personal fears of these two men have, i think, done more to harm us than anything +Akinola, +Duncan, +Iker, or the rest could dream for.

those folks simply set up the sword, and then told +++Rowan and ++Frank to jump on it, and they are happily finding people to toss on it in their stead.

Anonymous said...


Yours was one of the commentaries on B033 that I was looking forward to reading, and I'm glad to see that the reaction from someone who is much cooler-tempered than myself is pretty much the same, down to the Neville Chamberlain reference. Frankly, now I'm embarrassed to be an Episcopalian. We're behaving like the centrist Democrats of Christendom, compromising and trying to remain in dialogue with people whom we naively assume can be persuaded with rational discourse.

My only hope is that at GenCon 2009, hindsight will be 20/20 and that the continued trashing of TEC will bring people to their senses regarding the fultility of appeasement.

Anonymous said...

My dear Brother Tobias,

Thank you so much for your clear, thorough, pointed, and passionate response to the actions of GC2006 and Resolution B033. I have been angry, betrayed, and conflicted about this. Furthermore, I am serving in "conservative land" in Eastern North Carolina where my Rector (a Deputy for East Carolina) believes that the B033 debacle was a grand triumph for the Middle Way and that all rules suspensions necessary for it to take were simply a process of the Holy Spirit. He has in his own way demonized the right and the left in order to celebrate his perceived place in the Middle Way.

I am grateful for your wise and passionate response and for your convictions expressed (I am sure eloquently) in the House of Deputies. I am grateful for having read your blog as it has helped me put into words the depth of the reasons for my distress. It has also allowed me to know that I am not alone - even if I feel like a stranger in a strange land by wanting justice and embrace for all God's people regardless of any of these human defined categories of exclusion.

Pray for me as I seek to discern the movement of the Holy Spirit in my vocational life and hope that I will return to a context that more deeply reflects the diversity of God than the one I am in.

Thankfully and Faithfully,

The Rev'd. Jeremy M. Warnick, Vicar
Christ Church in New Bern, North Carolina

Gordon said...

Dear Father Tobias,
Thank you for your great entry regarding B033. The way I look at the slap in the face to g/l/b/t Episopalians is that our church finds their membership in the Anglican Communion club more important than the people who make up the EC.
I fear that the Windsor Report and the Anglcian Communion has become an idol to our church leaders.