The title of the Appendix is “Framework Procedures for the Resolution of Covenant Disagreements.” For many who thought a Covenant a good idea, this was the whole point: to structure a way of addressing, and actually reaching resolution on difficult issues (and, sadly, often the hope for resolution was regardless of whether that might mean reconciliation). At the same time, this Appendix lays out a confusing “framework,” within which procedures aren’t a whole lot more organized than they’ve been with no Covenant in place.
One point in the Appendix struck me as interesting, and as particularly important for the Episcopal Church. The Appendix offers four “Routes” for addressing issues between provinces, and my concern is in the first:
4. Route 1: A Request of the Archbishop of Canterbury
4.1. When the Archbishop of Canterbury makes a request to a [national] Church, that Church must within six months of receiving it (a) accept the request or (b) reject the request. The absence of a response will be considered as a rejection.
4.2. If a Church rejects the request, that Church may within three months of rejecting the request appeal against it to the Joint Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates. The Church may appeal when it considers that there has been no threat to the unity or mission of the Communion.
4.3. On appeal, and within three months, the Joint Standing Committee must decide whether there has been a threat to the unity or mission of the Communion.
4.4. If the appeal is successful, the Joint Standing Committee shall certify immediately that the matter is closed subject to Articles 3.2.1, 3.2.4 and 3.2.5b of the Covenant.
4.5. If the appeal is lost, the Archbishop shall submit the request, rejection and appeal decision to the Anglican Consultative Council which shall deal with the matter in accordance with Paragraph 8.
What strikes me about this “route” is the time frames, especially in clauses 4.1 and 4.2. I’m sure for many six months might seem adequate time. However, our recent practice has made that problematic. Consider: recent statements from Primates Meetings were addressed to the House of Bishops, who insisted that full responses had to come from General Convention, and so their ability as a House to respond was limited. This was clear after the meeting in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, when the bishops held not only that their ability to respond was limited, but also that their limited response could only come in their September meeting, more than six months after the “request” from the Primates. The Executive Council, the continuing executive body between triennial General Conventions also met, and also affirmed that a true “response” would have to come from General Convention. Indeed, many statements were made that “primacy” in the Episcopal Church resides in General Convention, and so the ability of even the Presiding Bishop to act was limited. (Heck, there’s not even consensus as to whether the Presiding Bishop has authority, much less how much, to help the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin reorganize.)
So, with this established precedent, just how would the Episcopal Church “respond to the Archbishop” within six months? And remember that, “The absence of a response will be considered as a rejection.” How would we even act within nine months so as to request some sort of “appeal” or review from the Joint Standing Committee? Perhaps a special Convention could be convened; but that kind of trouble and expense would seem appropriate only in the most dire of circumstances. What would we do with a problem that was meaningful, but only sort of?
This is, really, a situation we have created for ourselves. We have insisted (and both as a blogger and a Deputy to the 2009 Convention, I have to include myself) that authority and primacy resides with the General Convention; but it’s hard to imagine a response within six months from a group that only meets every three years. The necessary response would be for us to clarify within our own Constitution and Canons how authority would be exercised between General Conventions. I’m not sure what I would want that to look like, and I imagine I am not alone in that.
Now, in one sense this isn’t “urgent.” Between the time needed to come to a final Draft and the time needed for the “constitutional processes of each national Church” to accomplish reception, I can’t imagine we’d actually be looking at a Draft in General Convention before 2012. I know some would hope that this issue would just go away before then; or if it didn’t, the Draft that finally came would have experienced an “appendectomy” (sorry, but I’m a hospital chaplain; I couldn’t resist) so that this “framework” or any much like it was gone.
I think, though, that those who suggested these time frames were quite conscious of how we in the Episcopal Church reacted after Dar es Salaam. We weren’t able to “respond” within six months, or even nine, with the established authority of General Convention. Granted, those most at odds with the Episcopal Church haven’t been (and presumably won’t be) interested in any response that wasn’t immediate and conforming, However, we can predict that there will be issues between provinces – after all, there are human beings involved – and there may be future “requests” for response within a given time. If a framework for resolving such issues is ultimately proposed, timing is something we’ll need to be thoughtful about. After all, sometimes timing is everything.