May 11, 2009

Vanity of Vanities

In response to the Anglican Consultative Council's decision to do further work on the proposed Anglican Covenant prior to submitting it to the Provinces, the Anglican Communion Institute has called for a reversal of that decision, and a continued further movement. (I note in passing that although all three entities in this mix are identified as "Anglican" only the first has any real right to the title. The second is provisional, the last a self-description.)

Perhaps the most strikingly ironic aspect of this is the extent to which the self-styled Anglicans lob their critiques at both the Anglican Consultative Council and the Archbishop of Canterbury -- two of the "Instruments" given positions of authority in the proposed Covenant.

This sums up the vanity of the whole agenda: to urge authority being granted to those whom even those urging it distrust to implement the very authority they urge, and who remonstrate when those authorities do things they do not like. The final paragraph of the ACI document, with its vaguely insurrectional tone, attests to the very lawlessness they deplore.

If lawful and proper action on the covenant is not forthcoming from this meeting of the Council, the only appropriate response is for the Churches of the Communion to begin themselves the process of adopting the Ridley Cambridge Text.

A text which, of course, places [some degree of] authority in the lawful and proper hands of the very people who are saying the text isn't ready for adoption. I should think the only "appropriate response" is to accept what the ACC has decided. That is, at least, rationally consistent. Better than, "Cry 'havoc' and let slip the dogs of war." The ACI appears, more and more to be, not a body interested in order and due process, but a hasty and disobedient group insistent on having their own way.

Vanity of vanities, saith this preacher.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


June Butler said...

Tobias, I'm losing my grip on who's who in the alphabet soup. I had to look up the ACI. They're the group who put out the infamous "Bishops' Statement", which, to my horror, senior bishops of the Episcopal Church affixed their names.

They want centralized authoriteh, but they seem confused as to who will wield the authoriteh. Could it be that the folks in the ACI want to weild the authoriteh? Surely not!

It's all so very confusing.

Unknown said...

Doesn't that statement claim to be put out by bishops but wasn't actually written by them?

Jared Cramer said...

Here, here, Tobias! Well said.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks GM. I would say it is more contradictory than confusing. I think the ACI crew is fairly clear what they want.

Kevin, the earlier statement from ACI to which Mimi refers, although called a "Bishops' Statement" and signed by a number of them, I think you are right to say did not come primarily from Episcopal hands. The bulk of the legal reflection appears be Mark McCall's -- who has some singularly strange notions of what a hierarchy is. (I love how they want to keep up the ruse that the PB has no authority. I can cite a number of canons to the contrary...)

Thanks Jared.

June Butler said...

Your book arrived today, Tobias. It looks good and has that wonderful new book smell.

John D Bassett said...

I think that they are so hostile because down deep I suspect that the natural tendency of the Anglican communion is to live in harmonious disagreement. We have to be encouraged to be divisive. For most of our history we have tolerated huge divergences in theology and practice with a fair amount of equanimity. I think that the same would prevail now if the provocateurs could somehow disappear.

WSJM said...

One of the major honchos of the ACI is the Rev. Dr. Ephraim Radner, an American priest currently on the faculty of Wycliffe College in Toronto. He used to be one of the major honchos of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, but his name quietly disappeared from their website a while back. Is anyone fooled by this?

Christopher said...

This is an incredbile irony. Those who would once have placed definitive and absolute authority in councils in their ecclesiological theories are now crying the Articles, so to speak when councils do something different. You cannot have it both ways. Either we deal with the realities of what composes Anglicanism and develop our theories thusly or not. Either all authority on earth is contingent and sufficient in light of our one Head or not.

Fr. Greg has a post up that I think captures what has happened thus far. The Anglican middle-muddle continues, or so it would seem. Thanks be to God!

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, John, Bill, and Christopher. (And Mimi, too, for the book note!)

It is astounding to see those who clamor for authority reject that authority when it does what they don't want. If Pa says no, run to Ma to see if she will let you do it.

Lord knows I don't think GC is infallible. I am under vows, however (not just my ordination vows but my religious vows) to remain obedient. That doesn't mean I can't continue to argue for change -- but I must do so within the available structures, and not seek to create new novel structures just so I can get my way -- and then complain when those structures don't do as I wish!

The sad thing is that the ACI folks don't seem to realize how foolish they appear. They are living in a carefully constructed world of their own imaginings. They need to get out more.

LKT said...

Oh, Tobias! Why are you disturbing us all with logical thought?

This entry made me smile.

Anonymous said...


I watched the video of the Friday session of the ACC meeting. At first I thought the conservative cries of foul play were overblown. What Rowan proposed seemed clear enough. People seemed to understand what they were voting on. A vote was passed to amend Resolution B (to make it look like Resolution C).

However, I never saw votes up or down--clause by clause--on the content of Resolution had been proposed.

I didn't see the ACC "decide" anything. What did I miss? When were these votes taken? I thought I heard the chair say they would be taken after the break. From what I understand, this didn't happen. (If such is the case, I can't fault the ACI for their anger... I'd be mad, too!) Tell me about the votes because otherwise it looks like the chair decided everything by fiat.


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

I've not reviewed even the video of which you speak. Did you see the video from after the break? I can't really speak to this having seen none of it.

I do understand there was some confusion at the meeting, and that there was a ruling by the chair and an appeal of the ruling of the chair, which if I recall correctly was sustained -- I don't recall off hand who was arguing what -- but that the end result is that the motion was adopted, as has been reported. I am basing this on a comment from the parliamentarian (the "rules man") of the ACC meeting. Where I come from that normally settles things.

In any case, it appears clear that the majority of people there were not ready to accept the Covenant as it was, and the delay on section four was an acceptable compromise. The ACI folks, of course, don't want any delay, or any possible "weakening" of the Covenant. Hence their demand for a reversal. They would have made that demand even had the resolution been adopted without the parliamentary confusion, which is quite beside the point. People who understand parliamentary rules are few and far between these days, and they often deplore such rules when they don't lead to results they agree with.

Daniel Weir said...

Having read the Anglican Communion Institute response, I was quick to remind myself that ACI is four men and a website.

Anonymous said...


Yes, the ACI would have objected to the ruling regardless of whether it was the will of the delegates or not. But that is neither here nor there.

Do you know of any place where one can access a transcript of the meeting...including the challenges and rulings after the break?

I do not and will not "assume" anything about either of these sides. They are virtually at war. If you truly care about the truth, then you cannot cavalierly say that the parliamentarian's decision "settles" things. It certainly does settle things ecclesiastically, but it may or may not settle things ethically...there are such things as abuse of power last time I checked. (And, of course, the possibility of honest mistakes and/or confusion in judgment on the part of those in charge.)

Take the time to look at it...the whole thing...see what you think. Don't just snap to judgment. (After all, the ruling did favor your "side"...I think that calls for extra diligence on your part.)

If parliamentary procedures were duly and faithfully followed, I'm more than willing to see that and take the conservatives to task.

But if the will of the delegates was unintentionally or even unethically thwarted, then I'd like to see you excoriate your own. Fair is fair, don't you think?

Thanks, Tobias!


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear Peshat,

I don't have the time to review the video, but I read George Conger's account of what went on, and it appears the main objection came from Mouneer Anis: that some language from a resolution that was defeated made it back into a resolution that was adopted. He made an objection, and was overruled. He apparently did not appeal the ruling, though he did speak privately with the ABC during the recess.

The other question is whether the 34-30 vote on the clauses concerning the commission to do further work on section 4 was simply to include them, or constituted, in itself, the vote on those clauses -- that is, it was the rest of the resolution that remained to be voted on clause by clause. This appears, in any case, to be what people understood to have happened. And as was pointed out, no objection was made during the remainder of the session, and the resolution was deemed to have passed in full.

I quite agree that this was a somewhat confused process, but it appears there was a considerable consensus concerning the weaknesses in section 4, and the need for some revision. So I do not see that the "will of [a majority of] the delegates" was thwarted, and in the aftermath of the confusing debate most accepted this to be a wise way forward.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you are least judging from the lack of vehemence in the reaction coming from the conservative side. Of course, they have always seemed to me rather timid souls who would rather not make waves.

I don't think there is any possible way of knowing who was in the majority at the meeting. At the end of the day---amidst the confusion--the choice came down to whether (a.) to detach section 4 from the covenant or (b.) to send section 4 back to committee for mediation and revision. No vote was ever taken on whether to send section 4 forward as written. It appears to have been set up as a "heads I win, tails you lose" situation...and thus the thinly-veiled accusations of abuse of power.

You may well be correct that it is indeed a "wise way forward." We shall see whether it pans out that way.


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear Peshat,
Thanks for the follow-up. It does seem that the way forward, and watchful attention to how people address all of the concerns -- on all sides -- is worth the effort. Though I admit there are times when I want to throw up my hands in despair, I recall my essential hopefulness that we will be able to work through the difficulties. But that calls for patience from progressives as well as from reasserters.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

I posted the following at Fulcrum, though it showed up as coming from an anonymous "User 2031" --

It seems to me, as one only reading of the ACC meeting from afar, that while there was no small amount of confusion, there does appear to be a general consensus that a bit more work on section 4 of the RidleyCambridge Draft may prove helpful. I agree with Dr. Radner that we have no way of knowing in advance if the amendments will advance the Covenant cause or not, prove likely to gain wider support or not. We will only know what it says when the work is finished. In a sense we are somewhere in between two bits of rural wisdom about not looking a gift horse in the mouth and not buying a pig in a poke. The Covenant may well be a gift to the future of the Communion, but it is one with which we will have to live for generations to come.

It further strikes me as a practical matter that the confusion of having more than one motion, or version of the Covenant, on the virtual table at one time is not helpful to a less confused state of affairs. In fact, it appears to me that a major reason for the confusion at the ACC arose as a result of people voting on one version of a resolution with the knowledge that another was on its way; and they might well have voted differently on "Resolution A" had it been clear that some of the clauses in it would not be coming back in another form -- that is, a majority seemed to understand that they were not rejecting those clauses from future consideration, but rather rejecting Resolution A. I may be mistaken in this regard, but that is how, for instance, George Conger's account appears to read.

As I say, this confusion is not helpful. But it seems to me that encouraging provisional acceptance of the RC draft of the covenant, prior to knowing what its revised section 4 might or might not say, creates a similar state of affairs. I think that many people can affirm having a covenant "in principle" -- indeed the Episcopal Church is on record in that regard -- but the specifics of any such agreement are important before one actually adopts it. I could support people signing off on sections 1-3 as they have reached stable form, but I'm not sure what that accomplishes at this point.

If the covenant is to be a model for the future of the Anglican Communion for generations to come, surely it is worth the few months it will take to produce a document that can be supported by the widest number of Anglicans possible, and avoid any confusion about who has signed on to what.

Anonymous said...


Though the decision itself may indeed prove to be a godsend, your impression of consensus within the ACC for tabling of the RC draft of the covenant seems to be based on nothing but wishful thinking.

Conservatives thought they had the votes and continue to feel they had the votes. I'm sure I don't know. Both of us can only judge from afar.

I certainly don't know that they were cheated. You cannot know that they were not. If they were short-changed, they DESERVE to be angry--irrespective of the potential for benefit from the established outcome. It seems to me you should have granted them a little more slack rather than dubbing them "a hasty, disobedient group insistent on having their own way."

All the best,


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Peshat, I think we may be talking at cross purposes. I'm referring, in my comments about consensus, to the delegates to the ACC. Only +Anis and +Nwosu seem to be particularly out of sorts, and as the parliamentarian noted, no formal objection was sustained, and the rest of the meeting concluded without the matter needing to be revisited.

The most irate appear to be the members of the ACI, not the ACC. I can understand Dr Radner's feelings in this regard -- as one who worked so hard on the draft it is never fun to see one's work picked apart and dismemebered. However, even given that, I think it important to note that another member of the Drafting Group has made it clear that Dr. Radner does not speak for the CDG.My concern here is to note the discrepancy of appealing for giving authority to the ACC and then making a fuss about a decision which they reached -- which however irregular or confused the process leading to it, does appear to have been the mind of the house. This smacks to me of willfullness rather than obedience.

Anonymous said...


On the contrary, I don't believe we have been at cross purposes at all. My impression looking at pre-meeting reports and post-meeting comments is that your notion of the decision actually being the "mind of the house" is incorrect. Of course, I have no way of knowing.

My last note merely suggested that you have no way of knowing either and should perhaps back off the harshness of your judgments.

As for the comments of Scully, she seems to have had a different view of the covenant process from the beginning (different from Radner) and would have no trouble with section 4 being siphoned off and tweaked.

I see folks like Anis and Radner as passionate for their cause but all in all fairly temperate. You see them as shrill. An honest difference of opinion....

Take care,


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

O.K. Peshat, I still don't think we're saying the same thing. But I think you are correct in saying we don't "know" there was a consensus except by the final record of the meeting; which show the motion as adopted.

But it is not so much that I find Radner "shrill" (though I do, ate least in early comments -- he seems to have calmed down a bit) but that I find the ACI position to be logically inconsistent. Even were they speaking with cold Vulcan like demeanor, I would have to say, Your position is illogical. The authority to which they appeal has ruled against them. Complaining that the ruling was irregular is of no moment, because it is within the procedural competence of that body to decide whether its actions were irregular or not -- and the "rules man" has made his ruling.

Remember, we went through a similar crisis over the adoption of B033 -- the House of Bishops neglected to suspend its rules properly; but as no objection was raised and sustained at the time, B033 entered into the record.

All the best,