September 26, 2009

The Upside-downity of Subsidiarity

I've been thinking more about the proposed Covenant and Archbishop Rowan's post-GC Reflections these last few days, including some helpful conversation in London, both with friends and in connection with other programs. I have also found Savi Hensman's essay to be of great help in providing some further digestive enzymes to break down the harder-to-swallow portions. I promise to offer some additional thoughts on the Covenant and the Archbishop's Reflections anon, but wanted to note a shift in direction within the Virginia Report and further movement in the Windsor Report which is, I think, to some extent diagnostic (if not prognostic) about less than helpful trends. It has to do with a shift in the understanding of subsidiarity.

The Virginia Report (4.8 ) helpfully quotes the Oxford English Dictionary for its definition of subsidiarity:

The principle of "subsidiarily" has been formulated to express this investment in the local and face-to-face. Properly used, subsidiarily means that "a central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed effectively at a more immediate or local level."
and goes on to say (4.9):
Subsidiarity may properly be applied to the life of the Church in order to resist the temptation of centralism.
However, a bit further along the drift towards that very centralization begins to scrape bottom, including the introduction of vertical rather than horizontal language (albeit in scare-quotes):
4.10 ...Every "higher" authority ought to encourage the free use of God's gifts at "lower" levels. There must be clarity on what has to be observed and carried out at that level, and also on the limits of its competence. As much space as possible should be given to personal initiative and responsibility. For example, in the relationship between a bishop and a parish priest and congregation, there is initially a giving of responsibility to the latter for the task of worship, witness and service within its geographical boundaries or area of immediate influence. The priest and parish will be given a set of tasks which they are obliged to fulfil. These will be few in number and general in character The limits of their authority and responsibility will also be explained to priest and parish. These will essentially reflect agreements made previously by church synods, and expressed in canons and other ways. They will be honoured by all unless and until they are changed by the due processes of agreement. Subject to such boundaries the priest and parish will be encouraged to use all their gifts, energy and commitment to enable the gospel to go forward in that area. The bishop and parish priest will maintain the highest level of communication possible so that encouragement, advice, and, where necessary, correction can be given, together with new task as occasion arises.

4.11 Anglicans may properly claim that the observation of different levels and the granting of considerable freedom to the lowest possible level has been a feature of their polity. In Anglicanism today canonically binding decisions can only be made at the level of a Province or in some Provinces at the level of a diocese.
You will notice that the text I have italicized in section 4.11 has already inverted understanding of "subsidarily" from the assignment of broader duties to a more central authority into the grant of freedom to a lower level.

By the time we get to Windsor, even this dim memory has faded, and subsidiarity is essentially trivialized, and described as only concerning matters literally of no importance.
38 This highlights a fourth key strand of our common life: subsidiarity, the principle that matters should be decided as close to the local level as possible. Subsidiarity and adiaphora belong together: the more something is regarded as 'indifferent', the more locally the decision can be made. It does not take an Ecumenical Council to decide what colour flowers might be displayed in church; nor does a local congregation presume to add or subtract clauses from the Nicene Creed. In part this belongs with the missionary imperative: the church must give its primary energy to God's mission to the world, not to reordering its internal life.

39 The fourth reason for our present problems is thus that it was assumed by the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Diocese of New Westminster that they were free to take decisions on matters which many in the rest of the Communion believe can and should be decided only at the Communion-wide level.
And so it is that this notion, originally about the bottom-up nature of governance, which refers by a natural process broader functions to a more centrally coordinated authority, has become the classical pyramid of top-down government.

Yet surely it can be shown, as I have stated time and again, that the actions of New Westminster and TEC were precisely consonant with the original meaning of subsidiarity. To use the language of WR39, their assumptions were precisely correct, and the false assumption was that of those who felt such matters could only be decided at the Communion-wide level. However, as the Virginia Report notes, "In Anglicanism today canonically binding decisions can only be made at the level of a Province." There is no Communion-wide canonical procedure for the approval of the election of bishops, for example, and no bishop has any authority outside his or her own province -- that is, the province that, through its appropriate canonical processes (the only such processes that exist, approved his or her ordination. The office of bishop is precisely the locus of a subsidiary function. Until an Anglican Congress or Council is established, bishops of the whole Communion have been given no authority to legislate for the whole Communion. They have not yet been granted that subsidiary authority, to do what cannot be done more effectively at a local level, where, if a Province doesn't want to have a partnered gay bishop, it need not do so -- nor allow such a one to function within its borders.

I will not comment at length on the topic of same-sex marriage, since it is of even less necessary impact beyond those places where it may take place. No one is forcing any other province to do what it doesn't want to do. In the long run, either the individual Provinces have certain liberties in matters of rites and ceremonies -- an explicitly Anglican declaration of subsidiarity and provincial liberty from the very beginning -- or they don't.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


R said...

Reminds me that at the root of the present "crisis" (scare quotes deliberately employed) is the tension in our tradition between Reformed and Catholic heritages.

We might be privileged to have the best of both at our disposal. The flip-side, though, is that we can appeal to either at any given time. At our worst, the tendency is to choose the one that best suits us or our agenda.

I recognize that argument cuts both ways, and probably in all directions! Maybe that, in part, explains the messiness of the current situation.

Bill Carroll said...

Here's what I said about this issue in the ATR.

The Report draws the wrong conclusions from the notion of subsidiarity,
which it conscripts from ethics for service in ecclesiology.27
Subsidiarity refers to “the principle that matters should be decided as
close to the local level as possible” (para. 38). If followed to its logical
conclusion, it would imply emancipating local communities and individuals
to assume adult responsibility for their discipleship. The
church would emerge out of local, lay-led Christian action, as in Latin
American base communities,28 many historic religious orders, and
contemporary renewal movements. The Report, however, uses subsidiarity
to centralize rather than disperse authority.29

Closed said...

I am again reminded of your very helpful resonance with things I have suggested previously, namely, that we look to the Benedictines and other federated religious orders as a model that more accurately reflects our complex ecclesiology. And perhaps look to them in devising how we would consider governance interProvinces.

It seems to me that what folks want is something less complex, and thus, actually less able to handle ambiguity and difference as well as less flexible in terms of mission and Gospel proclamation. I continue to be struck by what appears to me an Reformed theology hankering after a Roman Catholic ecclesiology. It is the worst combination in my opinion. It seems to produce a lot of ideologues and demagogues and egomaniacs.

Brother David said...

Two thoughts Father T;

A classic example of subsidiarity at the time of the emergence of TEC as a province is cognizant in the federalism embedded in the 10th amendment to your constitution which in essence states that powers/authority not specifically reserved to the federal government in the constitution, devolve to the individual states. Yet, as well stated by the Revd. Prof. Dr. Mullins in his brief prepared for the court in the case of dio. Ft Worth, the General Convention of TEC, from the beginning, resisted that concept in the development of its constitution and on at least two occasions (I am relying on memory of having read the brief but once) chose not to include similar language in either the constitution or the canons.

And yet the orthodite and their supporters try to initiate a hybrid subsidiarity which magically skips the province when they on the one hand assert the need for communion-wide ascent to partnered gay bishops, and on the other want dioceses to be able to sign onto the ABC's covenant. You cannot have a cake and eat it as well.

An additional observation; here in the Western Hemisphere are basically two models of Anglican Churches based on steps removed from Canterbury. Of the three provinces once removed from Canterbury, two have Archbishops exercising metropolitan authority and the others, twice removed through some form of having arisen from TEC, have presiding bishops with no metropolitan authority, in spite of the erroneous honorific granted by orthodites to +Venables.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Richard; that tension and uneasy alliance -- as I would simplify it between The Church of Me and The Church of Us -- is still very much with us. Notice, ironically, how people lambaste +KJS for her description of the "personal heresy of individual salvation" -- which is sound catholic teaching! Extra ecclesiam... as variously interpreted. In many ways the Anglican tension between the two is probably more truthful, that it is both me and us. Truth is messy sometimes.

Thaanks too Bill. It is terribly ironic that many who talk about democracy end up instituting tyranny, and who say, "I'm not in a position to impose my opinions" appear in the end to do exactly that! (Rowan, are you listening...?) The Windsor Report, and the early stages of the process, do exactly the opposite of what they appear to approve -- remove decision-making from the local level and push it up to the Duma. Isn't the ironic transformation of Sovietism into Stalinism an example.

As you know, Christopher, I entirely agree that a Benedictine model is not only historically appropriate, but eminently workable. I have begun to see in the present Draft of the Covenant enough progress in that direction to remain hopeful -- an agreement to abide by a common Rule without any juridical central authority -- a purely voluntary willingness to coexist and cooperate. As the more frantic voices depart the scene -- the gyrovagues walking apart -- perhaps the sane remainder can hold together. Not, as Benedict noted, to the end of absolute perfection, but so as "to show that we have attained some degree of virtue and the rudiments" of life as a communion of interdependent churches. "Whoever you are, therefore, who are hastening to the heavenly homeland, fulfill with the help of Christ this minimum Rule which we have written for beginners..." (Benedict's Rule, Chapter 72)

Thank you too, Dahveed. I think that is one difference between real Federalism and the Unitary form TEC enjoys. Powers do not "devolve" to the dioceses -- rather certain powers are seen to be "native" to the parish, the diocese, and to the province, with many interconnections (such as we see most clearly in the process by which bishops are elected -- which involves both parishes through their delegates to diocesan convention and the clergy, the diocese itself as a whole, and the other dioceses of the province via consent. The US Federal structure has no analogy: could you imagine if a Governor had to receive the consent of a majority of all other Governors!

June Butler said...

The contrast between the clarity of Savi Hensman's prose and the obfuscation too much present in much of Rowans prose was striking.

Dahveed already noted that "elements" (scare quotes) in the Communion want to tighten centralized control, while at the same time permit dioceses to sign the Covenant independently of the province of which they are a part - or an "element", if you prefer.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Mimi. I too have long noted the odd leapfrog effect of wanting less authority (even denying authority) at the Provincial level (which the Windsor Report and the Covenant both actually acknowledge as the "supreme synods") in a quest for greater centralization of juridical authority (also explicitly rejected in the Covenant).

This continued pressing for something the Covenant doesn't provide is part of the serious spin-doctoring problem.

June Butler said...

Tobias, part of my concern with the Covenant is that the spinners will be the winners. Look at the mischief that's been made in our church over the Windsor Report, which is only a report, but has come to be seen as a law or a canon of the Communion.

And according to Bishop Love, in the recent visit by the seven bishops of TEC, the ABC heard their desire for dioceses to sign the Covenant and did not try to dissuade them from it. Whether this statement is spin or not, I have no idea, however, the seven bishops are running with it.

Even before the Covenant is completed, dioceses can click on over to the website set up by the bishops and express their desire to sign on, and before long, it may come to seem that they've actually done so - demonstrating once again that their strategy of "putting facts on the ground" can be quite successful.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Mimi, I hear what you are saying, but I think the only facts on the ground are these:

1) The mischief due to Windsor is minor compared to the mischief done in spite of and against Windsor -- that is, the real problem people are CANA and AMiA, not the "Windsor Bishops." Duncan likes to pass himself off as a Windsor Bishop, but he ain't.

2) I think the ABoC did in fact dissuade the 7 Bishops from thinking they could bypass the Provincial authority of TEC (the General Convention). He has always been clear (except for the mistaken spin given his letter to Howe, which was about parishes) that the Constitutional and Canonical authority in TEC is GC. This is why he did not recognized CANA and AMiA bishops as bishops.

3) As to individual dioceses signing on -- so what if they do? It means nothing from a legal standpoint, but only expresses their willingness to remain part of the Anglican Communion. They have bought the fear-mongering of NT Wright and E Radner that TEC is going to get dumped from the Communion -- which is not going to happen. At most, and only if we don't sign the Covenant, we might possibly get shunted on to track two. If we don't like the sound of that, there is a remedy.

So, from all of this, it seems to me the best way to forestall facts being put on the ground that we don't want, is to look closely at the Covenant -- once it is in finished form -- and see if it is something we can agree to live with in cooperation with those parts of the Communion who wish to work together with us in a coordinated way. That will of itself drive off the separatists and purists who want TEC out of the picture.

I will say once again, that if such a Covenant had been agreed to thirty years ago we would have had the tools in place to mandate the kind of listening process across the Communion that might have prevented the disaster of Lambeth 1998 -- where conservative Americans were able to put "lies on the ground" and manipulate a few Global South figures to make a fuss about things most of them admitted were not primary concerns in their own contexts.

I don't, by the way, think Radner and Wright are playing the Brier Patch Ploy -- I think they really don't want TEC to be part of the Covenanted Communion.

Anyway, that's my reading.

Locust-Eater said...

Thanks for directing me back to this from Teachers to Ones Liking I think I saw it when you posted it, but was already at my full of covenants and the like.

Taking the time this time to read it, I was reminded of the corporate concepts of 'empowerment' and 'delegation' and perhaps more particularly of 'letting the hands do the work' the latter being associated for me with a story of about how after a hurricane swept through, management at the electric utility gathered and started building a plan of response, and by the time management had finished with their plan, most localities had already had their power restored by empowered maintenance folks who rather than waiting for strategy from on high, went to do what was neeful.


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, LE. A great model for the Church!