Thursday, March 01, 2007

Brainstorming for Bishops

As will surprise no regular reader, I have been following all the discussion regarding the Communique of the Primates’ Meeting in Tanzania, with its attached Schedule and draft Covenant. There is, as always, a great deal of argument (most of it civil, most of it thoughtful) about the meaning and import of the documents, and of specific passages of them. If you want to see the breadth of opinion, I commend you to all the usual suspects.

There is, however, one thing on which everyone agrees. By the end of September of this year the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church is expected to respond, based on its corporate interpretation. That response is expected to include steps for action.

And with that in mind, and with the short time before the March meeting of the House of Bishops, perhaps we need to be involved less in abstract interpretation, and more in recommendations. After all, time is passing, and thoughtful decision making takes time in and of itself. We outside the House (and I imagine those inside the House) will not come to consensus of the “best” interpretation, but they inside the House will come to some functional interpretation. And everyone expects that functional interpretation to be made incarnate in action steps.

Tobias Haller of In a Godward Direction has offered his suggestions. It’s thoughtful and pretty thorough. I often think the inside of his head is better organized than mine, and this is suggestive of that.

On the other hand, I think there is plenty of room for other, less fully organized, reflections (and I’m sure he would, too). After all, in many settings the first step in decision making is brainstorming, laying out all possibilities, even if farfetched. Certainly, some ideas are ultimately rejected as impossible (which might mean literally beyond capacity, and might mean simply too painful to carry out); but some may seen as possible, and even as useful, that hadn’t been imagined before.

In that light, I would like to make two suggestions.

First, the House of Bishops can propose its own draft for an Anglican Covenant. It would not be the first, as I have noted elsewhere; and while the model proposed in Tanzania has some cachet because of its source, it is currently a model, circulated for study. The House of Bishops could gather its own Committee and suggest an alternative. That could only be seen as active interest and participation in the Covenant process, without seeing any previous model as privileged. It could describe the House’s understanding of how autonomy and responsibility are balanced in “interdependence.” It might express an opinion on the relative authority of statements of Primates meetings and of actions of the Anglican Consultative Council. It could conceivably be available for the June meeting of the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada and the July meeting of the General Synod of the Church of England. While acceding to this or any model of a Covenant would require action of General Convention, this is certainly within the capacity and authority of the House of Bishops.

Second, the House of Bishops might call for more meetings of the Anglican Consultative Council. Within our polity in the Episcopal Church we believe that the priesthood of all believers and the movement of the Spirit within each baptized person require all orders of ministry to be represented in any binding decision. We could call for the same incarnational action on the part of the Communion, lived out in more frequent meetings of the ACC. I believe the Primates Meetings have taken on the image of being more important than the ACC in no small part simply because the Primates meet more often and so issue more public statements. Since we might be called upon to spend more money to make it happen, we should express willingness to do so.

Third, the House of Bishops might decide as a body that American bishops will voluntarily withdraw from the next Lambeth Conference, just as we voluntarily withdrew from the last meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council. This should be balanced with a decision not to withdraw from the next or future meetings of the ACC or from meetings of the Primates. I think this would have value for a number of reasons.

  • It would define our withdrawal in terms of our interest in mission and peace, and not in someone else’s terms of “discipline.” It would include our understanding that this was not rejection of the Communion, that we were choosing to “fast for a season,” and not to “walk apart.”
  • It would get the Archbishop of Canterbury off the hook well ahead of a crisis, without requiring him to refuse to invite any or all of our bishops. While it is unclear just how much Archbishop Williams agrees with actions of General Convention, allowing others to continue to pressure him does not serve us. While he might or might not be grateful (at least publically), that’s not the point. It shows respect for his office and our own emotional security by refusing to participate in a tug of war for paternal recognition.
  • It would pressure possibly schismatic bishops within the Episcopal Church to declare themselves. If the House has expressed its mind that no Episcopal bishop will attend Lambeth, any bishop who participates demonstrates decision to leave the House. Those who are committed to reconciliation, to remaining the loyal opposition within the House, will be willing to share in this fast for that purpose.
  • It will save a lot of money. I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t contribute to supporting the Lambeth Conference, paying for all those other bishops to attend. I think we should. Our dioceses will still save a lot of money for mission in not paying the expenses of our bishops. Paying for others while not attending ourselves follows the Gospel model of going the extra mile. It may also “heap coals of fire....”
  • While there is risk that Lambeth without our bishops will make statements and take positions that we cannot accept, no one will be able to claim our bishops were complicit. Indeed, it will be hard to declare any position as “the standard of teaching for the Communion” if such a large segment of the bishops of the Communion do not participate. Considering that our bishops are a minority at Lambeth, such statements may be expected if we do attend. This would at least undermine the air of dignity and authority of such statements.
  • Declaring early that this is under consideration will give others in the Communion to express their feelings about our participation in Lambeth. Some bishops in the Global South have expressed willingness to see us excluded, however that willingness might be qualified. It would be interesting to hear whether others had a commitment to seeing us included.

Those are some of my suggestions. Anybody else have anything to toss up?


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you Marshall, for these very insightful comments. I especially appreciate your suggestion for a kind of temporary honorary withdrawal from all participation in the "councils" of the communion as a possible option. That had occurred to me, but it seems that "going to Lambeth" is so "important" for many. Staying away might make more the point that this "conference" has run away with itself, certainly demonstrably far from its documented point of origin. Thanks again, and all blessings.

Reverend Ref + said...

Good thoughts.

I think that the spirit of staying away from Lambeth (fasting for a season) is a good idea. My concern, however, would be that the general consensus of those in attendance would see this as a victory. What I mean by victory is this: The perception that we have agreed to be punished for our actions and that we are willing to follow primatial edicts over and above the polity of TEC.

I'm not sure if that makes sense; but I would agree that we can do better things with Lambeth Travel Money, so to speak, than to send our bishops over there where division and acrimony would appear to run rampant.

I have a deanery meeting next week, and you can be sure that some of this is going to be discussed.

Marshall Scott said...

tobias, rev ref, thanks for responding.

Note, tobias, that I was specific about not participating in Lambeth, but not in withdrawing from all the "councils." I think it would be important (and we would be largely welcome) to return to the ACC, especially as it reflects a similar sense of the importance of all four orders of ministry.

ref, I'm sure you're right: some would see it as capitulation on our part. However, by choosing and announcing our own reasons for "fasting for a season," we do our best to control the message, at least for domestic ears. There is, after all, an important difference in the Gospel between turning the other cheek and suffering for righteousness' sake, and showing care to, or suffering for, only those who can repay us, as it were. Certainly, and this is something tobias has also discussed, this is a fast that affects everyone, and not simply one or another minority within the Episcopal Church.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Marshall, amen on the ACC. Unless we are formally expelled, we really need to resume our seats. It may have been a tactical victory to accept the "invitation to withdraw" but I think it was a strategic error. To remove ourselves from the only even quasi-legitimate "instrument" was a nice gesture, but a mistaken one, on principal.
Keep the faith,

Allen said...

This is a valuable contribution to the discussion that must be held. I linked to it here. I didn't try to engage with it, just lifted up a couple of your points.

Marshall Scott said...


I hope you and your readers find it interesting. I hope you and others can contribute to the brainstorming process.

The AoM said...

A fast from Lambeth alongside the resumption of our place at the ACC to me seems to strike the correct note. This is a fine solution.

There is little doubt the HoB can issue a statement of some kind. The point is whether to, and which. The direct response from the HoB should be an across the board pause in consents. Anything else would likely divide the Church and cause a great deal of spiritual harm in many parts of it.

With your permission I will highlight some of your brainstorming on The AoM site.

Peace and grace in the Name of the Lord.

The AoM

Marshall Scott said...

Admiral, thanks for your comment. And it will be an honor to be referenced at your site, one that I check regularly myself.

Anonymous said...

Marshall. Thank you for the brainstorming. I have been doing so much reading on the web about these matters that my head is spinning. Your comments have helped ease some of the confusion I've been feeling. My own concern has centered on the role of Primates vis a vis TEC. There communications feels like an ultimatum to me. We are a reformed Church and I thought we had got rid of the autocratic rule of bishops long ago. In the end of course, it will not be sorting through polity that will solve this conflict, although polity will matter. It will take patience, courage, skill, tact and hopefulness as we engage the process. It will also take time.(My own pain in these matters tends to make me impatient.) This is why your brainstorming can be helpful to those who have the responsibility to wade through and find the right path. I continue to be fearful that GLBT Episcopalians and the wider GLBT community will be sacrificed in the interests of unity. We in the GLBT commuity are all watching to see if we will be abandoned here as we have often been at the local level. I wonder if our leaders have the courage to be faithful to us when the threat of expulsion draws near. BO33 was partially the result of these fears. Will a compromise be our "fast" and not a fast for others. This brings me to the situation in Nigeria. Where are our leaders as this legislation draws closer to being passed? Where is The ABC and the PB, where is the Church with their condemation of this repressive and frightful legislation when the secular press is so lound and clear in its condemnnation? Their silence does not make me hopeful as we move forward in our response to the Primates. Bob Petite

Marshall Scott said...

Bob, my good friend! I'm honored that you looked at and liked my work here.

There have been statements from enough bishops that they can't and won't "go back" that I don't imagine we'll go backwards. Even the amgivalent statements from the Presiding Bishop seem to suggest that.

That said, I think that if we will think about these issues and offer both our feelings and perhaps some suggestions, we will have made a positive contribution, and perhaps a formative one.