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 itselfOur 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 manyI 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 HousesOn 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 conclusionCan 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