Wednesday, January 2, 2019

A Note from Crusty: Taking a Hiatus

Since this is the first day of the General Ordination Exams, I am re-posting my blog from last year.  This blog will not be hosting any GOE commentary this year, for reasons outlined below.  And, since Crusty always buries the lede beneath a sea of words, I have added to last year's post a note at the end I will be stepping away from the blog overall for the foreseeable future.



I was talking with someone a few weeks ago who was not particularly a fan of these General Ordination Exam blog postings, and even thought I was undermining collegiality with my fellow members of the General Board of Examining Chaplains by continuing to post them. It was a good, open, honest conversation: despite the character I play on this website, I like to
My favorite Beatle.
 think I’m open to discussion and engaging with people who may hold different opinions than I do. I reminded my colleague that I abide by all the confidentiality and social media guidelines established by the Board: I do not share the questions 
with anyone. For the past two years, I did not write a word of these postings, I do post them, but only after all persons have finished the examination. I have violated none of the established standards of confidentiality or social media guidelines. My colleague reiterated that these blog postings were not to their liking. Finally I asked,

Do you know why I started doing this?” There was a pause. “Actually, no,” the person replied.

It’s not to be mean, or difficult, or to undermine collegiality,” I said, “though I realize I have to take responsibility for the reality that I may have offended people, and I need to hear that. I started doing this back in 2012, the first year I served as an administrator. I came up with the idea to post and dissect the questions for two main reasons. (And, BTW, I have stated these reasons over the years on the blog.)

The first is that taking the GOE was one of the most miserable experiences I’ve had in the church. I had no idea how to prepare, I thought some of the questions were confusing and others unfair, and, then when I got my evaluations, my evaluators said some things I thought were unacceptable, making assumptions about me I thought grossly unfounded. And I had no way to respond to any of this: I had no agency in the matter at all. Some people I didn’t know wrote an exam, other people I didn’t know evaluated it, and I was stuck with the results. I thought, at that time, if I can make this experience a little less isolating and lonely in the future for other people taking the exam, then I’d do it. Lo and behold, 18 years after I took the GOEs, I found myself in that position as academic dean at an Episcopal seminary. So I kept my promise and tried to make the exam a little less isolating, tried to create a shared sense of community among those taking the exam. That’s one reason.

The second is that the General Board is not accountable in any way, shape, or form to the broader church in any real way. Sure, we submit a report to General Convention, and sure, dioceses can vote with their feet and decide they don’t want to use the GOE. But for something that’s been around for so long and the vast majority of clergy have taken, it’s a bit shocking there’s no systems for discussion, evaluation, or feedback of the examination. If a question comes out that is confusing, or poorly written, or unfair – there’s no recourse. If an evaluator says something that is inappropriate -- there’s no recourse. If there’s a discrepancy in data – for instance, if there’s a question where there is a huge gap in pass rates between men and women, for instance – there’s no feedback loop. There’s more mutual accountability with my parish budget at monthly Vestry meetings as a simple country parson than an exam that impacts people’s lives and considered part of fitness for ordination. We had more mutual accountability when I was academic dean at the seminary. As a seminary professor, every course by every professor gets a course evaluation. Almost every event, public or private, that the seminary did, from alumni day to new student orientation, we sent out an evaluation. We don’t solicit feedback for the GOE in any way, shape, or form. I started this blog for this second reason – to try to raise issues and concerns around mutual accountability, because it’s not happening in anywhere else in any kind of tangible or transparent or recognizable way.”

That’s what I said to my colleague. These are the two reasons I started doing this, although I have not been involved the past two years in these blog postings after I was elected to the General Board. And I clearly hit a nerve, these are some of the more popular blog posts of the year.

I have concluded that it’s time to bring these postings to a close, and I will not be posting or hosting any GOE discussions. I’ve concluded that because the two reasons I started doing this six years ago, as outlined above, are no longer possible.

With regards to making the exam takers feel a little less anxious and isolated by providing a communal, shared experience: given the changing nature of the GOE, this just isn’t possible anymore. More and more people take the exam asynchronously apart from the four-day period in early January, given the changing nature of theological education, with more bivocational persons and persons trained locally and not in seminary programs. To maintain the integrity of the examination, in good conscience I cannot post anything until everyone has completed the exam, which is now often weeks after the majority of individuals have taken the exam. This is why in 2017, the postings came out up to two weeks after the exam began, and almost ten days after the bulk of people completed it. Given the asynchronous way the exam is now taken, the postings can no longer function as that kind of communal experience, because of the need to safeguard the integrity of the exam process.

The second is that substantive accountability cannot be brought about by online commentary alone. Online commentary can raise awareness, but often does not bring about substantive change on its own – it has to be combined with structural engagement. This is why I agreed to be nominated for the General Board of Examining Chaplains, the group that prepares, administers, and evaluates the GOE. I agreed to be nominated because another colleague asked me, point blank, “Are you just going to complain about the GOE, or do you want to have the opportunity actually to do something?” I admitted the colleague had a point, agreed to be nominated, and was elected by the 2015 General Convention to the General Board of Examining Chaplains, and am halfway through my six-year term.

As I have said repeatedly in these postings, the exam is improving. We could list many improvements: the move to a simple proficient/non-proficient evaluation, central to a competency-based testing process; the inclusion of an evaluation rubric that both the exam taker and the evaluator receive; the move towards open resources on all questions, including electronic resources; and more. To be sure, the examination still has room to 
Byzantine mosaic of Nyssa's epektasis.
improve. 
We all do. I’ve been preaching regularly for over 20 years and believe me I can improve. St. Gregory of Nyssa believed that we continued to grow and develop spiritually after our deaths as our souls move into the eternal peace of God. It has improved dramatically and substantively thanks to the faithful work of the members of the Board, who, like me, take this ministry to which we have been entrusted seriously. But it, like all of us, always has room for continued improvement.

I cannot speak for others, only myself, but here are some of the ways I think accountability to the church can be strengthened: by asking exam takers, Commissions on Ministry, seminary faculties, and other constituencies to evaluate the exam yearly just like we evaluate every single course at seminary; if a question has a pass/proficiency rate differs dramatically from other questions (for instance, if every other question has a pass/proficiency rate above 80% and one has a rate of 50% – that’s something to flag), to do a post-mortem on possible reasons why; to collect additional data, such as proficiency rates by gender and ethnicity (to see if, despite best intentions, there may be a gender or racial gap in the exam).When looking at mutual accountability gathering feedback is essential, as well as having systems in place to address what we might find. We do it for almost everything else in the church. For God’s sake, I’m a parish priest, and I didn’t move the placement of the announcements in the service without gathering feedback from parishioners.

Higher education has changed dramatically in the past twenty years, and one of the most important aspects has been the emphasis on measuring outcomes and gathering feedback from constituencies, largely pushed by accreditation agencies. If you ran a seminary in 1990, you had to explain what degrees you offered, how you offered them, and demonstrate you had the resources (faculty; library; financial stability) to offer them. A massive change in the late 1990s and early 2000s was to demand that you show that you were actually doing what you said you were doing, and to be able to back that up. You say you have adequate financial resources? Show me your student loan default rate. You say you are preparing your students for parish ministry? Do a survey of recent graduates and ask them how well prepared they feel. And what happens if you find out you have a high student default rate? What steps will you take to address it? And so on. Collecting data and doing surveys is 
Add a question from the Bobs on Annual Reports?
pointless unless you have systems in place to process the feedback and inform how you do what you do. Has this gotten burdensome at times? To be sure. But overall it has been tremendously important in requiring seminaries to create a feedback loop to inform best practice and establish procedures and policies to address issues that might arise. 
Imagine if we asked parishes to do something similar, to take any kind of step to see if what they believe they are doing they actually are doing, and what systems they have in place for changing course if need be.

The GOE has improved by leaps and bounds in the past 5-7 years, in part because the General Board has begun bringing best practices of current educational and testing methodology to the exam. An important next phase will be to bring in evaluative and feedback best practices to continue to improve the exam – and, as such, Crusty is committing himself to this process. To put it real simple: if we can improve accountability to the church in structured, institutional ways, we won’t need rambling, pop-culture referencing blog posts to shriek into the wind to hold the exam accountable.

Let me be clear: I have not been formally asked in any way to stop blogging the GOEs. If this had been demanded of me, I would not have complied. I am doing this solely on my own volition.

Let me be clear: I stand by every word I’ve written on this blog or posted by others. I engage the readers in the comments and have answered personal emails sent to me because I believe in being held accountable for what I say and do as I try to hold others accountable.

I am sorry if my words here over the years may have hurt people or been cause of offense. Really, I am. I have a thick skin and let most criticism slide off me, while at the same time having a circle of close colleagues and a peer group I check in with. At times that may make me seem insensitive to others, and not realize how much words can have an impact. I am sorry for any offense. However, while offering that apology, I also would ask anyone who may take offense to think long and hard about how much of their offense is reaction to hearing negative feedback. Developing standards of mutual accountability, and being willing to process critical feedback, is sadly one of those areas where the church lags behind the secular society we often presume to think we are above.

To all of you disappointed there will be no blogging of the GOEs, I am putting my hope in the possibility of living in a world where blogging the GOEs may some day no longer necessary.

I also be stepping away from this blog for the foreseeable future.  My thanks to all of you who have read over the years, I am continually amazed anyone has any interest in what a verbose, rambling, expletive-laced, pop culture name-dropping blog that looks like a GeoCities website from 1996 has to say.

So let me close out one more time:

Well, friends, it's time for Crusty to ride off into the sunset for good on GOE blogging.  Thanks for joining me for the ride, and special thanks to Dread Pirate Crusty for filling in for the past two years.

And despite what you may think, and what Crusty has been accused of by some people, COD is not opposed to the GOEs.  Crusty loves the fact the Episcopal Church has always had a competency-based system, ever since the Course of Ecclesiastical Studies introduced by William White.  There's never been a single standard, unlike, say, the PCUSA or ELCA or Roman Catholic Church where degrees are normative, even written into polity in some cases.  With a competency based system, we have an inherit flexibility -- should we ever choose fully to embrace it -- in how we train persons for the ordained ministry. 

So be good, people.    Remember to stay grounded in prayer, Christian discipleship is hard and the only way to make it is to develop and cultivate a life of prayer.  Exercise regularly, it's the only free and 100% effective way to avoid numerous health problems. And have at least one minor vice to show the world you're human.

Glory to God, whose power, working in us, can do more than we can ask or imagine; Glory to God from generation to generation in the church, and in Christ Jesus forever and ever.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

I Will Not be Gaslighted

The Living Church recently published an article "All women Episcopal slates emerge."  Crusty was not pleased with this article, and agreed with a critique by a colleague of his on the Twitmachine:



Yes, these are strong words.  Twitter by its nature requires packing things into few characters; if you have read these gassy, overwrought blog posts full of 1990s hip-hop references, you must know how hard Twitter is for Crusty.  So in this posting COD is glad to unspool exactly what he meant in these words.  I've had a funeral, a Sunday sermon to finish, and an ICU pastoral visit to make, so my apologies for the delay in posting the fuller response I began drafting yesterday.

These comments resulted in Crusty being accused of "grandstanding for likes" and being informed that this interpretation of the article was incorrect.  Or, in the exact words:  



Apart from being a personal attack by an employee of The Living Church on Twitter -- which Crusty doesn't mind, Twitter is all about offering opinions, and frankly I don't care what the individual in question thinks of me  -- this tweet needs a response. 

For one, Crusty does not grandstand for likes, the original tweet only had a handful of them. In terms of all-time likes, this tweet probably wasn't in the top 100 of my thousands of tweets. If I were trolling for likes, I would
This is how you troll for likes.
have included a clever GIF of some sort.  That's how you boost likes, people.


For another: more importantly, I profoundly disagree with the characterization of the article asserted here.  

I stand by my original critique that this article is lazy journalism and is misogynistic.  

And I have no desire to write a letter to the editor or offer a response in the pages of The Living Church, because I do not respect The Living Church as a journalistic entity, and have not done so for several years.

There is a history here.  Crusty used to write for The Living Church.  I had the occasional opinion piece/short article and some book reviews published there over the years.  I canceled my subscription and declined all further invitations to write for The Living Church after they published a feature article which compared Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori to former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.  This comparison was offensive, insulting to those who suffered under the horrors of Amin, and meant solely to denigrate the Presiding Bishop.  I did exactly what I was accused of not doing in this case -- I did approach TLC staff directly.  Editorial persons at The Living Church told me my interpretation was incorrect, that was not what the article meant, and further said I was attempting to force political correctness onto the Living Church.  

That was the end of my connection to TLC, and also why I am not engaging their staff.  I tried that years ago and was just ignored and told I was PC.  So why bother?

OK, so let's break this down.

1)  I called the article "lazy." I stand by that.  Here's why:  

The first sentence of the article:

"Before this year, the Episcopal Church never had an episcopal election in which every candidate on the slate was a woman. But the emergence of four women-only slates in 2018 has shattered that norm, leaving observers to wonder: why now?" 


First off, only 4 of the 11 slates were all female; 7 of the 11 were not all female, so not having all-female slates is still the norm.  It has not been shattered.

But more importantly:  Who are these observers?  Who is asking this question?  I could have written a very different lede.  As a matter of fact, as these slates were emerging, many colleagues of mine were wondering, "Why did it take so long?” Not "Why now?" I could have given actual names of actual people asking "Why not earlier?"

From the very outset, the article uses unnamed observers, which remained unnamed throughout the article, framing all-female slates as an aberration ("shattering norm") that must somehow have a reason behind it.

This opening sentence is thus a two-fer: sloppy journalism (unnamed sources) and then using that sloppy journalism to shape the entire article itself around a question the article
Woodward and Bernstein needed two sources.
itself is asking: "Why now?"

The article hides behind these unnamed sources and observers when it is in fact the one doing the observing and posing the questions. This is the journalistic equivalent of eisegesis in biblical study.

This trend continues in the second paragraph, noting the "trailblazing" began “when a two-woman slate was introduced to a diocese that has never elected a woman as bishop.”

Since an overwhelming majority of dioceses have never elected a woman as bishop, this detail might seem a bit irrelevant Yet this is actually foreshadowing to an argument that will be made later in the article but which is not stated here in the Kansas discussion.

Several paragraphs later we will be told that "West Tennessee has never had a woman serve as bishop, and nearly all of the 31 congregations around the diocese have a man in the top clergy role. And even though the bishop search process did not consider sex, Meade [President of the Standing Committee] said, raising up more women to serve across the diocese is a goal."  The reference to Kansas is not a stray detail, it echoes the language around West Tennessee that introducing all-female slates in dioceses that have not had women bishops must be intentional everywhere as it was, apparently, in West Tennessee.  Even though there is a difference between "raising women up" and "all female episcopal nominating slates."

And in the West Tennessee example, "nearly all" is not defined by article -- is that 95%? 90%? 80%?  What is "nearly all"? Also, what is the threshold of female leadership that makes it not an imposition to have an all-female episcopal slate on a diocese that has never
"Nearly all" members of the Stonecutters are earthlings.
had a female bishop?  Does electing a woman previously as bishop mean that diocese is completely open to women in leadership?  Does having a certain percentage of women in leadership tip the scales and make it OK to impose this "shattering norm" on a diocese? 


That's what Crusty meant when he said lazy journalism. "Unnamed observers" asking questions that really only The Living Church is asking in this article. It could barely even get a single quote opposing an all-female slate, all it got what someone quoting a retired priest who asked why there weren't more male candidates.

2) Here's why I called the article misogynistic:

Because it frames the emergence of all-female episcopal slates by peddling a conspiracy theory that female activists are manipulating the episcopal election process. This is simply repulsive, appalling, and unfounded.

Let's number the ways this article does this!

a) “Some observers believe the quest for more diversity among churchwide leaders is resulting in less diversity (i.e., women only) in episcopal slates.”

No "observer" says this, it is the same circular argument used repeatedly in this article. Unnamed observers ask questions and believe certain things that are never named, when it is the article which is stating these things. Who is this observer who said that the quest for more diversity is resulting in less diversity? Nowhere named. Not a one.

The only "observer" cited here is Bob Prichard, professor of church history at Virginia Theological Seminary. Let's look at what he says: " 'Interest groups have for centuries shaped elections in order to elect bishops from their own camps, whether they share a common race, ethnicity, or theology,' Prichard said."  

As quoted here, Prichard offers not a single historical example of slate stacking by interest groups.  Crusty says "as quoted here" because it's quite possible Bob offered historical examples; COD is an historian himself and could also offer some examples. But here is the important sentence:

"For activists to stack slates in order to expand the ranks of women in the House of Bishops would be consistent with this election-shaping tradition, in his view."  Where does this come from? Did Dr Prichard himself say this, or is he agreeing with some conspiracy theory for which not a single shred of evidence is produced or proposed?

Later, Dr Prichard says:

“I would guess that what we’re seeing is a demonstration of increased leverage of females on those nominating committees,” Prichard said. “As part of the ladder up, the percentage of women and level of activism of women on those search committees is increasing. And we’re seeing the results of that."  
There is not a shred of evidence of any kind that females on nominating committees are stacking slates.  It is simple shocking that a "guess" by a single person is put forward as evidence of women activists shaping episcopal slates.   Where is the evidence that these nominating committees have more women on them than, say, three years ago?  Has a demographic study of the composition of search committees been consulted?  What is the definition of an activism, and how is this purported difference in "levels" of activism measured?

2) "Search committees, however, are sometimes joining the all-women trend unwittingly." 

Couple problems here.

First of all, it's incorrect. In the two examples cited, it was not the search committee at all.

The article states that the diocese of Colorado “withdrew the only male nominee, the Rev. Canon Michael Pipkin, upon learning of issues in his background.”  These “issues” were, in fact, “serious personal and professional issues” brought to light, so serious the Standing Committee voted unanimously to remove the candidate.  There’s as much emphasis here on Canon Pipkin’s "maleness' as on the “issues.” This was not done unwittingly. It was done purposefully and unanimously, and by the Standing Committee, not the Search Committee.

Another all female slate was the result of two male candidates withdrawing. This was not the Search Committee, which actually presented two male candidates. It was the candidates withdrawing themselves.

So again, this is a two-fer: sloppy journalism and conspiracy peddling.

Sloppy journalism in that this sentence is factually incorrect. These two slates were not the result of actions by Search Committees. Editing and fact checking also apparently did not pick up such a straightforward and clear error of fact. They were also not "unwitting", these two slates were the result of deliberate actions, one by a Standing Committee, the other by two candidates.

And the conspiracy peddling corollary? The other examples of all-female slates are, presumably "wittingly", that is, deliberate.  

This is why I called this article misogynistic:  The charge that specifically female activists are manipulating episcopal nominating processes, without a single shred of evidence or comment by anyone.  

If not misogynistic in peddling a conspiracy theory that cabals of women are bent on taking over the House of Bishops, then it is perhaps at best reckless, careless journalism, presenting something without any substantive corroboration.

In the end, Crusty rejects the entire premise of this article.

1) Crusty rejects it as journalism. As an opinion piece, fine: people are welcome to have opinions, ask questions, and offer their views. I am under no illusion that people agree with what I say on this blog, and, frankly, I don't care if people agree. What I write here is all opinion. You don't even need to read it. Seriously, why are you here?

But this article does not do so: it is pretending to be a legitimate journalistic article when it can't even pass a lower journalistic bar of being factually correct and having actual sources for what it suggests.

2) Crusty rejects the central concept that all-female slates are norm shattering aberrations that need explaining, which the article repeatedly does: "Trailblazing"; “Those pressing ahead with all-women slates…”

Put another way: would there be any mention of a diocese somehow “pressing ahead with an all-male slate” in an article by The Living Church? Would TLC publish a feature article on it? Would "unnamed sources" talk about males manipulating nominating processes?

Of course not.

COD would have no problem with articles comparing Presiding Bishops to Idi Amin and female activists taking over episcopal elections if they were presented as opinion columns. It's a free church and TLC is not accountable to anyone, and people have a right to their opinion, and I'm free to disagree with it.

It's when this is portrayed as "journalism" and to disagree is to be imposing your beliefs which I reject.



If "they say" and "some people" are the only sources, then this is careening The Living Church into Breitbart News territory.  

TLC, you can have your opinion on unsourced charges of activist women manipulating episcopal nominating slates. Just don't do so under the guise of journalism. And don't gaslight people when they disagree.




Thursday, September 27, 2018

#WhyIDidn'tReport: Will the Church Respond?

As I sit down to write this, it seems as though much of American society as a whole is going through a collective, public conversation over the issue of sexual assault and misconduct against the backdrop of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford detailing her experience of sexual assault by Brett Kavanaugh.  This reflects deeper issues within our culture as a whole.  It has sparked a powerful reaction from those who experienced sexual assault, sharing their own stories of why they did not report under the hashtag #WhyIDidntReport: revealing systems which often blames accusers, normalizes abhorrent conduct, and protects the perpetrators.  While the issue of the nomination of Justice Kavanagh is what is galvanizing this current discussion, this is something that has been brewing and building for years.  There is the ongoing revelations of sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church, which is about abuse of power both by those who committed acts of predation and in the coverup by the church to protect the institution at the expense of victims.  The crimes of Bill Cosby, for which he has been convicted and sentenced to prison.  The #MeToo movement.  And, of course, the pushback from those who have benefited from power and privilege.

Yet along with these powerful testimonies, there also is the need for men, especially those with authority, power, and privilege by virtue of gender -- and those in the church by virtue of ordination -- also to speak up.  To refuse to accept "boys will be boys" as an excuse.  To refuse to allow the normalization of abusive behavior.  It is shocking, but sadly all to predictable, to hear religious and political leaders offer some version of "What 17 year old boy hasn't done something like this?"

What 17 year old boy?  I went to an all male high school.  I turned seventeen a four years after Judge Kavanagh.  This one.  Not me.  Never did anything like that.  Nor the people I associated with.  Not because I'm a hero:  this is the insanity of the whole "What 17 year old boy hasn't done something like this?".  It normalizes abusive behavior and somehow makes non-abusive behavior that which is considered extraordinary.

Crusty has not commented much publicly on the #WhyIDidntReport, apart from a tweet here or there.  This is for a couple of reasons.

For one, I have tried to use what voice I have to amplify those voices of women that are speaking out: for instance endorsing, supporting, and lifting up my female colleagues who have rightly called out former Senator and Episcopal priest Rev. John Danforth for his comments devoted solely to Brett Kavanagh and not for Dr. Ford.

Another is that my understanding of sexual misconduct and abuse has been profoundly shaped by experiences of two people very close to me, who, while have shared their stories with me, but they are not not mine to share.  These stories are their stories, and for them to share.  One experience was shared with me at the time I myself was entering into my teens, by someone very close to me.  The person said they were telling me this so that I would try to make sure what happened to her didn't happen to other people.  When I saw something, to do the right thing; when I had a chance to try to change things, to try to change them; to in turn raise my own children some day to reflect these beliefs.  I keep a picture of her on my desk, and every time I am faced with a difficult choice or decision, I look to that picture to remind me of the cost can be of not doing the right thing.

Another is that I was taught growing up that doing the right thing in this world isn't something that one should be rewarded or brag about.  My father used to tell me, "You do the right thing because it's what you're supposed to do.  Rewarding people for doing the right thing just accepts a world where not doing the right thing is somehow considered normal."  

It may seem crazy to stand up and say, "Don't be a predator and treat people with dignity and respect!  Treat people who bring accusations of abuse or misconduct justly and fairly!"  But in this world we live in we must do so, otherwise other voices will drown out, shape, and dominate the discussion.  And I also realize that those with privilege have a responsibility to use what that privilege affords to try to shape a world that accords with values of equality, inclusion, and justice.  We can't pretend privilege doesn't exist; to do so is itself dependent on privilege.

Crusty also prefers to let his actions speak, since he has often found in the church, let alone in the world, words and speeches are empty unless they are translated into real, actual, tangible actions.  And, well, I have tried to act when called to do so.  COD has reported a male colleague for sexual misconduct. Crusty has advised students who have shared experiences of sexual misconduct or harassment with him what their options are under the disciplinary system of the church.  As academic dean, Crusty updated the Title IX policies at the institution where I served to provide processes for reporting sexual assault and misconduct that did not place undue burdens on persons bringing forth complaints, and which tried to reflect both mandates from the US Dept of Education and who we are as Episcopalians and the promises we make in our baptismal covenant.  As a Rector of a parish, I have incorporated a sexual misconduct and sexual harassment policy into the Employee Handbook where there had previously been nothing.  This has included definitions of harassment and misconduct and processes for reporting, and also extended and applied these standards of accountability to volunteers who are not employees.  In my 2 1/2 years in my current position I have preached four times on issues of sexism, sexual misconduct, and harassment in the church as part of broader reflections on the #MeToo movement.   

And as a parish priest -- despite the title of this blog I'm now just a humble country parson -- my main response has been responding pastorally.  I have listened to parishioners who are revisiting their own trauma of sexual abuse as this conversation unfolds in our broader culture.  I will be preaching on these issues this Sunday, with the Book of Esther as my text.

For all those reasons I have perhaps not spoken out publicly all that much, but I also realize that as someone with the privilege of being white, male, and clergy, I have to.  If not, then other voices will pretend to speak for me, and normalize behavior that is wrong, sinful, and abhorrent. 

But all the blog posts, tweets, and hot takes are all meaningless unless we are actually to make something of this moment in our culture, to try to bring about change.  All too often when faced with complex issues, we can wonder "But what can we do?"  Yet the reality is there are often real, tangible things we can do.  

What's hard is often not figuring out what to do, but having the will and courage to do what is right in front us.


In a church position where I was serving, the parish administrator came into my office one day.  I had been on the job about three months. We talked through a couple of things, then I said I was going to step out to grab some lunch.  She asked me to stay another 15 minutes or so, and as she did there was a kind of edge to her voice. I said I would be glad to stay, and asked why.  She explained to me the technician who serviced the furnace was coming in, and every time he did, he always asked her out to lunch or a drink, even though she had said no every time and also made it quite clear she was married.  She even asked him to please stop asking, but he kept it up every time he came in. He would compliment her on how she looked, doing so in a way that she found uncomfortable. She told me she did not like being alone with him in the building.  He was in his mid-60s, some 30 years older than her.


I asked her how long this had been going on. She said for a few years.  Years? I blurted. Years? I asked if she had reported this behavior, and she said she had, to a previous person in my position.  The reply to this complaint -- from my female clergy predecessor, by the way -- had been, "This guy gives us a good rate on servicing the HVAC, he did it for years when he worked for the company and now does it in his retirement for us at a reduced rate.  Why don't you just put up with it, it's not much to ask and we're saving the church money than if we had to find someone else."


After she told me this, I apologized to her for my predecessor dismissing her claims, for refusing to listen to her, and said that my predecessor had been selfish and wrong to treat her that way.  I then told her to treat herself to a long lunch, I would handle the technician. When he came in he asked where the administrator was. I said she was out. I could tell he was disappointed. I let him into the furnace room.  When he came up to my office after finishing the job I told him we were going to switch providers, and his services were no longer needed.

When the administrator came back from lunch, I told her I had already called up a different company and set up the appointment for the next service.  She said, "But that'll cost more!" I said, "You getting sexually harassed and feeling unsafe is not part of your job description. What both he and my predecessor did is not only a sin, it's against the law."


I could literally see the tension flow out of her body, as her shoulders which had been hunched up kind of relaxed.  She stammered, “I never thought it’d change so quickly.”

This story doesn't make me a damn hero.  I don't recount it to puff myself up or buff my woke credentials.  Only to show that all too often the problem is not figuring out what to do, but having the courage to do what is right in front of us. The solution to the situation was straightforward.  Yet a predecessor of mine had refused to do anything.

Several weeks ago I preached on the gospel reading where Jesus healed the blind and mute man.  As part of that, I talked about how when Jesus healed those who were marginalized by disability -- leprosy, blindness, deafness -- he was not just curing them of their infirmity.  He was restoring them to fullness and wholeness of life:  in a society which saw disability as punishment from God (as in John's Gospel:  Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?), where those persons in addition could not work or be part of society, healing meant giving them back their lives and their humanity.  They can not only now hear or see or walk:  they can take their place in society and not live lives on the margins, begging on the outskirts of the village.

This is also something  personal to me. I'm hearing impaired, I was diagnosed at age 24 with a condition that is very gradually robbing me of my hearing, and I wear hearing aids.  I don't talk about it much because sometimes I find people treat me differently, or don't know how to treat me.  Some people have even joked about it, mimicking that they were speaking but not saying any words.  While not making a big deal about it -- plenty of people have it worse, I am able to be a husband and father and have a calling I enjoy, and am thankful for all the blessings of this life -- nonetheless my life changed when I was diagnosed and I don't have the same life as I had.

What does it means to try to restore someone's life? As we will hear this Sunday in the Revised Common Lectionary from the Book of Esther:  "As they were drinking wine, the king again said to Esther, 'What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you.' Then Queen Esther answered, 'If I have won your favor, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me.'"

Esther has not been able to be her true self:  she has hid the fact that she is a Jew from the king, her husband.  Esther has lived in terror: the king's advisor Haman has plotted to destroy the Jews in the Persian kingdom.  She asks for her life:  not just her physical safety, but for her humanity restored, to be who she truly is, along with all the other marginalized Jews in Persia.

As Christians who claim to who preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, this is where we stand at this particular moment in our society.  Will we -- can we -- be instruments which can help restore people to their authentic selves?  Or will we simply reinforce the sinful structures of power and privilege, which the church does so well?

Consider this: the 79th General Convention of the Episcopal Church responded favorably to many of the recommendations of the House of Deputies Special Commission on Sexual Harassment and Exploitation.   The Convention voted to life statutes of limitations for three years on issues related to sexual misconduct, to require awareness training in dioceses, to remove gender identifying aspects from Office of Transition Ministry profiles to address implicit bias, among other actions taken.  The House of Bishops held a powerful listening session at General Convention, which, while not perfect, nonetheless marked an important step. 

Consider this:  Of all the main, daily, official General Convention eucharists, only one presider was a woman, and that was the day when most bishops and deputies went to the Hutto Detention Center, so hardly anyone attended that eucharist.  This despite a Convention that proudly trumpeted the fact that for the first time ever a majority of Deputies in the House of Deputies were women, and who several years ago proudly celebrated the fact that the General Convention had elected a woman as Presiding Bishop and elected a woman to succeed another woman as President of the House of Deputies.  The General Convention that had done all those things also had only one woman as presider in the year 2018.  

That's bad enough.  What's also terrifying is nobody seemed to notice or care.  I brought this up in a clergy meeting in my diocese, and someone who had been at Convention couldn't believe me:  "Really? That can't be right," the person said. I replied, as calmly as I could, "I know perfectly well it's correct, because that one presider was my wife."

General Convention can pass all the legislation in the world, but it's meaningless unless we take actual, real, tangible steps to live into the principles that we claim.  Words and talk are cheap.  It takes the courage and will to do what we know is right, and for those with power and privilege to lay those things aside.

Someone asked me, "So what can we do to make sure that what happened at General Convention doesn't happen again?"  I said, "Good God, it's not rocket science. The way you make sure you don't have more than one woman presider is this:  Step 1.  Recruit a broad range of people.  Do you think if they had a planning team that was 50% women there would have been only one presider?  Step 2.  Listen to people.  People can make all the recommendations they want, but if those with power don't listen, nothing will happen.  Step 3:  Some people need to lay aside their privilege.  I'm sure there were all perfectly good reasons why all those other presiders were men, they are likely all very fine people.  But to make room for diversity, those who have dominated must be willing to let go of power, privilege, and control.  This had nothing to do with figuring out how to have diversity in presiders, and everything to do with the will to do it."

We must have the will to live into what we have laid out at General Convention in response to the issues of sexual misconduct, harassment, and exploitation.  We must also take up matters Convention was not able to resolve or address, such as churchwide accountability for lay persons with regards to sexual misconduct.

As I sit here, with the Senate Judiciary Committee meeting on as I write, I am thinking:

Some day soon, I will have a conversation with my own son, not exactly like the one I had when I was not much older than he is now, but one which makes clear how we respect the dignity of every human being, and be clear about respecting women's autonomy and not normalizing abusive behavior, and to always strive to try to do the right thing, even if it's difficult.

That's a conversation I can make happen.  I find myself then asking:  Will my church be able to have the conversations it needs to have, that I can't make happen in the same way as the one with my own son?

And that I honestly do not know.

Then as I always do, I look at the picture on my desk as I try to determine what to do.  

As she looks back at me across the years, I click publish for this post.  I'm still trying.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Let’s Talk About G-C: Let’s Talk About B-C-P

Summer greetings to all those haggard survivors of the endless death march that is General Convention.  Crusty salutes you!  Crusty attended this General Convention as a civilian, with no particular duties or responsibilites of any kind — I highly recommend this being the way to attend General Convention.

Welcome to the first of COD’s wrapups on General Convention.  In this post Crusty will be looking at how General Convention dealt with issues of Prayer Book revision and liturgical reform.  For the next post, COD will break down how the Convention addressed issues
COD is here, and he's in effect.
raised by the House of Deputies Special Commission on Sexual Misconduct and its report and recommendations to Convention.  In my epic reflection on the United Methodist-Episcopal Church full communion proposal, Crusty chose to frame the post against the backdrop of old school hip hop, because, well hip hop peaked between 1982-1994.  In these General Convention wrap ups, in honor of the Special Commission Report and the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements, Crusty will frame his reflections against the backdrop of some of the greatest female musical artists of all time.  Hence the opening title of this post, giving props to Salt, Pepa, and Spinderella.

So let’s get started:  Here I go, here I go, Here I go again — What’s Crusty’s weakness?  General Convention!

1.   Prayer Book Revision.

Crusty has broken this down in previous posts in past years, but it is revealed time and again at each General Convention:  we are in a profound ecclesiological crisis in the Episcopal Church.  On the one hand, in our polity, we created a unitary form of government:  all authority is vested in General Convention, since it is the only entity with the authority to change the Constitution and Canons and Book of Common Prayer.  Yet the reality is we have a unitary form of government with an entity that, at times, seems to have no idea what it is for and what the nature and scope of its authority is.  COD broke this down in detail in his discussion of Resolution D050 from General Convention 2015.  Things have not gotten better, friends, with how General Convention sometimes resembles a shambolic stumbling towards incomprehensible resolutions.

Let’s take Prayer Book Revision, shall we?  COD will lay it out step by step.

--The 2015 General Convention charged the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to "prepare a plan for comprehensive revision of the Book of Common Prayer."  The SCLM did so:  in its report it offered two possible paths.  One was a comprehensive revision, to be begun by action of the 2018 General Convention.  The second was a deeper engagement with the current Book of Common Prayer, authorization and engagement of alternative liturgies already available, and new translations of the BCP into languages used by The Episcopal Church.

SCLM was asked to do something, and it did it.

--After a long, passionate, and respectful debate that occupied several hours of floor time over two days, the House of Deputies passed Resolution A068 to authorize and begin this process of revision of the Book of Common Prayer.

--The resolution then went to the House of Bishops, where the situation was completely different.  There was no long, sustained, passionate debate.  A bishop stood and moved a substitute resolution to replace A068.  Portions of the resolution are incomprehensible gibberish.  It was clear that some bishops interpreted some resolved clauses in wildly different ways.  After a brief discussion, it was moved, voted on, and passed.

And the reality is, this whole resolution is a cynical con by the House of Bishops.  At times it's gibberish because they didn't have the courage to say and do what they really intended.  COD will reflect on a few resolves, break down the gibberish in them, and then translate into real speak from HOBSpeak.

A)  The first resolved:

That the 79th General Convention create a Task Force on Liturgical and Prayer Book Revision (TFLPBR), the membership of which will be jointly appointed by the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies, and will report to the appropriate legislative committee(s) of the 80th General Convention, ensuring that diverse voices of our church are active participants in this liturgical revision by constituting a group with leaders who represent the expertise, gender, age, theology, regional, and ethnic diversity of the church, to include, 10 laity, 10 priests or deacons, and 10 Bishops

First off: Crusty was actually in the House of Bishops when this was proposed.  The Grand Vizier of Things Ecumenical, longtime partner in crime David Simmons leaned over to me and said, "TFLPBR? It looks like a Hebrew word without the vowels.  I hereby propose we refer to this as
Wish I could tie you up in my shoes/Make you feel UnCrusty Too
TaFeLPuBeR!"  And COD replied, "So say we all.  If this thing passes, it shall henceforth be known as Tafelpuber!"  Or, as TLC might sing, "Maybe I'll get rid of all these vowels/and then I'll get back to me." (Miss you, Left Eye.  You left us too soon.)

So they a proposing to create a task force, with members appointed by the presiding officers, to deal with matters relating to liturgy, and that reports to the General Convention.  Huh.

We already have this, it's called the SCLM.

They nowhere explain why they feel the need for a commission like this, why it shouldn't be the SCLM or why they need another commission.  Let's be honest. It's because they don't have the courage to say:  "We don't like Ruth Meyers and the SCLM, we want another commission that we have more control over," which is the whole reason for this substitute to begin with.

Crusty is not sure what to make of the following.  In barely one day, the House of Bishops:

--They created a whole new commission even though WE ALREADY HAVE ONE THAT DOES THIS because they don't like the SCLM and its perceived dominance by Ruth Meyers.

--In the debate on re-admitting Cuba to the Episcopal Church, in one speech, a bishop specifically called out Sally Johnson, the chancellor of the House of Deputies, by name and said her interpretation of the Constitution and Canons was wrong.  Then, another bishop stood and asked for that speech to be transcribed into the minutes to it could be part of the official record.  My jaw dropped at the spitefulness of wanting to put the HOB's opinion in calling out a specific person (and that's all it is, BTW, an opinion) in the official record.

--The House of Bishops has regularly and routinely resisted compensation for the President of the House of Deputies, often couching it as some kind of guerrilla action towards having a co-Primate.

--In the Conference Committee appointed to reconcile the conflicting resolutions on Prayer Book revision, despite talking about engaging the diversity of our church in their resolution, the conference committee had three white male bishops on it.  And nobody said anything until the House of Bishops was called out on Twitter.  No, check that, Crusty called them out, COD tweeted out his shock right away.  As mentioned above, Crusty was sitting in the House of Bishops when they announced the all white male conference committee, despite all their language about diversity in their resolution, and my jaw dropped.  Crusty immediately tweeted out that the House of Bishops appointed an all white male conference committee.  One bishop replied to me and said "No the PB did, not the House."  To which COD replied, "Thanks for the correction.  PB appointed an all white male conference committee and none of the 170 bishops said anything while everyone I was sitting with noticed."

COD does not want to impugn motives to individual bishops.  Yet in barely one day in the House of Bishops, and entity over 90% male, there is a series of potentially troubling actions regarding women in authority and leadership in the church. One of the most important takeaways for Crusty from anti-racism training has been sorting out issues around intent and how things are received or perceived.  While the House of Bishops may not have intended any of these, nonetheless there can seem to be an accumulated suspicion and insensitivity with regards to women in leadership.

So:  Translation from HOBSpeak:  "We don't like Ruth Meyers or the SCLM so we're creating another commission with more bishops on it."  Here's the other Trojan Horse here. Standing Commissions have 5 bishops, 5 clergy, and 10 lay persons by canon.  This Commission has 10 bishops, 10 clergy, and 10 lay persons.  Not only can they again express the corporate disdain for female leadership from deputies, this will also allow for greater episcopal and clerical influence and input by circumventing the canonical requirements for Standing Commissions.

B)  Let's take Resolved #4:

"That this Convention memorialize the 1979 Book of Common Prayer as a Prayer Book of the church preserving the psalter, liturgies, The Lambeth Quadrilateral, Historic Documents, and Trinitarian Formularies ensuring its continued use..."

Here's just a few reasons why this resolved is utter gibberish:

--Why specifically name some sections of the BCP and not others?

--The Lambeth Quadrilateral is a subset of the historical documents, not its own section, so are the other historical documents somehow not in the same category?

--It mentions the Psalter but does not mention, for instance, the lectionary or calendar.  The Trinitarian Formularies are scattered throughout, so it appears to be singling out a specific liturgical aspect that needs to be preserved. The ENTIRETY of the BCP is what is authorized by General Convention.  They are throwing together a hodgepodge of elements from different liturgical components for reasons apparently known only to the 50 drafters of this resolution.

--These particular sections and/or smorgasborg of BCP-related entities are to be "preserved" and  the BCP is to be "memorialized".  What is the difference between preserving these sections, and memorializing the Book as a whole?  Does this mean we can alter other aspects of the 1979 BCP, but not these sections?  If the intent is for the 1979 BCP to be authorized for use, then why name specific sections that cannot be changed?  Do they mean these particular sections shouldn't be changed in subsequent revisions?

--What does "memorialize" mean?  The bishops themselves didn't know what this meant.  Let's repeat that.  The bishops themselves could not agree on what this verb meant.  One bishop stated that this verb authorized the use of the 1979 Prayer Book in perpetuity for use.  Another bishop
How long till the HOB gets it right?
said he understood it to mean the exact opposite, that to "memorialize" meant "to remember" and would consign it to the church's memory and its past.  They then said that's not what it meant, but didn't amend the resolution.  Sorry, bishops, but "what we said in the discussion in HOB" is not definitive: the resolution needs to be clear in what it says.

--What kind of use?  Officially authorized?  Occasionally authorized?  Authorized under the provisions of the bishop's authority under Title II?  If the resolved clause wants to authorize the BCP as an ongoing liturgical resource, then why can't it just say that?

So: Translation from HOB speak: "We want to move into realm of liturgical usage where there are multiple, authorized liturgical resources, like in the Church of England, Anglican Church of Canada, and other provinces, but are either unable to express ourselves in the English language and/or we don't want people really to know what we are proposing."

C)  And this is how we will do it:

That bishops engage worshiping communities in experimentation and the creation of alternative texts to offer to the wider church, and that each diocese be urged to create a liturgical commission to collect, reflect, teach and share these resources with the TFLPBR; and be it further

So...we are basically now throwing this to dioceses and local bishops?  Congrats, House of Bishops, instead of one SCLM, you're creating 110 diocesan-based SCLMs.  What could possibly go wrong?  COD is all for letting liturgical revision be grassroots based, but a number of dioceses can't even run a functioning ordination process.  Crusty can see two possibilities emerge:

a)  This could really go off the rails and some very...interesting liturgies could emerge; and
b)  Many dioceses just won't participate.   Crusty knows clergy in dioceses where use of Enriching Our Worship is not permitted, let alone the kind of liturgical spaghetti throwing on the wall being proposed here.

And then there's

D) That the TFLPBR in consultation with the Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, Constitution and Canons is directed to propose to the 80th General Convention revisions to the Constitution and Canons to enable The Episcopal Church to be adaptive in its engagement of future generations of Episcopalians, multiplying, connecting, and disseminating new liturgies for mission, attending to prayer book revision in other provinces of the Anglican Communion

Huh? Now we're proposing Constitutional and canonical revisions, in addition to any liturgical revisions to the BCP, without giving any indication of what they might be?  They're doing two things with this resolved:  a) Saying we should make propose Constitutional and canonical changes without giving any hint as to what they might be, because of  b)  the gibberish and jargon that makes up the last half of the sentence:  "be adaptive in its engagement of future generations of Episcopalians, multiplying, connecting, and disseminating new liturgies for mission..."  Damn, this reads like the blurb for a book called "Purpose Driven Liturgy".  If only they could have included "nimble."

So: Translation from HOB speak: "We want to move into realm of liturgical usage where they are multiple, authorized liturgical resources, like in the Church of England, Anglican Church of Canada, and other provinces, but are either unable to express ourselves in the English language and/or we don't want people really to know what we are proposing, and we already said this in a previous resolved and are kind of saying it again."

E)   In discussion in the House of Bishops, and again in the legislative committee where this was sent, there was concern raised that this resolution not be amended by the House of Deputies, because that would send it back to bishops, which may mean that nothing got passed at this Convention before time ran out...which brings me to my to a point COD has made before in advocating for a unicameral General Convention.

Our bicameral structure is undemocratic in that it routinely disenfranchises one house.  At every single Convention, there comes a point, towards the end, when legislation starts piling up, and people say:  "We can't amend this because if we do, it goes back to the other house, and it may not get passed, which means we end up not doing anything about this particular matter."  This happened with Title III and Title IV revisions in 2006 and 2009,  for instance.

At this Convention, the House of Deputies was disenfranchised in Prayer Book reform.  The bishops submitted a substitute, the conference committee just accepted it the substitute so that something would get passed, and the HOD passed it.  The HOD had a long, involved, passionate debate, and none of it mattered.

And, BTW, according to comments in the House of Bishops, 50 bishops were consulted and had input into this resolution.  And they produced something that nobody seems to know what it means. 
As Janet once told us, "This is a story about Control."
No joke, two different Episcopal media reports had the following headlines:

"Episcopal Church Approves Prayer Book Revision"
"Episcopal Church Kills Prayer Book Revision"

Also, this resolution doesn't provide any funding.

To give credit where it is due:

Crusty is actually not opposed to moving towards something like what the Church of England, Anglican Church of Canada, and other provinces have done, with more than one officially and fully authorized liturgical resource.  If this is what the House of Bishops wanted in their resolution, then why in God's name couldn't they say that?

And this resolution does a fine job of naming important elements like including creation care as an emphasis, lifting up inclusive language, stating the need to incorporate electronic and online resources in liturgical revision, calling for newer and better translations into French, Spanish, and Creole, and for embracing the range of diversity within our church in any process of liturgical revision.

F)  There's also the larger Commission question.  The establishment of this commission also reflects the way in which this General Convention officially ended any real efforts at restructuring or reform.  One of the few recommendations General Convention adopted from the Task Force for Re-imagining the Episcopal Church was the elimination of most Standing Commissions.  The 2015 Convention provided only for the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music and the Standing Commission on Structure, Governance, and Constitution and Canons.

By Crusty's count -- and he may have missed a few -- this General Convention re-established or created 39 commissions or task forces.  We now have more than we had in 2015, and we now will spend more on them.

And guess what:  we may it worse.  Standing Commissions, agencies, and boards were defined by canon, had standardized membership which had equal numbers of clergy and laity, and had clear lines
General Convention never gonna get it.
of accountability.  Now we are created a mish mash of Task Forces, special commissions, some with differing makeup of membership, some, like Tafelpuber, which allow for clerical dominance.

[BTW, Crusty predicted this in his 2015 wrapup -- COD said we would eventually have more commissions with unclear lines of accountability and reporting.]

Crusty sees this as a extension of a trend with General Convention:  despite being the only entity created which has the authority to do anything, it seems be unclear, at times, in just what it does.  Instead of having the kind of unitary governance laid out in the Constitution, we instead get a black hole of unitary muddling.

2.   The What Is Not Forbidden Rabbit Hole

Crusty would like to round out this initial post by weighing in on what he sees as a second very troubling ecclesiological trend: the what is not forbidden is permitted maxim.

COD tried to sound the alarm in his reflections on Resolution D050 from 2015: this is where General Convention authorized "An Order for Celebrating Holy Eucharist" for people to write new eucharistic prayers for use on Sunday celebrations.  The rubrics clearly, crystal clearly, state that "It is not intended for use at the principal Sunday or weekly celebration of the Holy Eucharist." 

It could not be more clear.  Yet the ruling from the platform, and in the debate in the House of Deputies, it was stated that since it did not explicitly forbid it, then it was permissible.  Even though the rubric itself does not permit it, it didn't forbid it.  And it passed, overwhelmingly.

Crusty said it then:  if this is the case, then why even have a Prayer Book or a General Convention?  We either have to craft canons, legislation, and rubrics that account for every possibility, or else we don't need them at all because we can pretty much do whatever we want.  For instance, where does it say we HAVE to use bread and wine?  Why can't I use Fresca and Cheez-Its?  There's nothing in the Constitution and Canons and Prayer Book that forbids it.  Why can't I baptize with rose petals instead of water?  Sure, there's a Canon that recognizes baptisms done with water, but it doesn't EXPLICTLY say that baptisms performed with other elements are not valid.

This came up again in the debate of the admission of the diocese of Cuba.  Look, COD supported admitting Cuba and wanted to find a way to do it.  But again this "what is not forbidden is permitted" argument was trotted out.  Sure, there was no mechanism for admitting an extra-provincial diocese -- so the argument that "what is not forbidden is permitted."

One bishop even quoted the revered White & Dykman, authors of the definitive Annotated Constitution and Canons.  (Crusty keeps his two-volume White & Dykman in the bathroom BTW.)  He quoted from White & Dykman that what is not forbidden is permitted. It was hard to follow what was happening live, but Crusty think the reference quoted was the one he found on p. 99
As Bey might say, "If you like then you shoulda made a canon of it
of Custy's edition:  "[General Convention] has the power to legislate on any subject unless expressly forbidden to do so by the Constitution."  The key here is LEGISLATE.  One could make the argument that General Convention had, in fact, legislated on this subject -- it had developed processes for admitting dioceses and missionary districts.  One could make an argument that this actually supports the HOD Chancellor's interpretation.  

And BTW, it is now, apparently, being applied retroactively to history.  Another bishop brought up ordination of women in the Cuba debate, saying "We did that because what was not forbidden was permitted."  This is utter nonsense.  Everyone at that time knew perfectly well that the ordination of women was not permitted under the Constitution and Canons.  It was defeated narrowly in 1973, which is why the irregular ordinations took place in 1974 and 1975.  It is why only retired bishops presided at these irregular ordinations.  Any engagement with the historical record will show women's ordination advocates took these bold and prophetic actions BECAUSE it was not permitted.  The bishops involved were censured and the House of Bishops voted to require the irregular ordinations be regularized by the dioceses where those clergy were resident because they had been irregular.

Crusty will sound the alarm again:  using What Is Not Forbidden is Permitted can lead us to some very dark places.  It can reflect whatever is animating the church at a given time.

Don't believe me?  The one reason The Episcopal Church never had legislated segregation was because we had a canonical governance structure.  Other Christian denominations created non-geographic areas that were for African-American congregations; notoriously the Methodist Church created a Central Conference for African-American congregations.  From 1883 to 1940, various proposals were put forward at EVERY General Convention to created some form of legislated segregation.  What was to prevent pro-segregation forces from saying, "There's nothing that forbids this so we're going to set one up"?

Don't believe me?  There's nothing that explicitly forbids a diocese from seceding from the Episcopal Church and joining another province of the Anglican Communion, like the Diocese of Forth Worth tried to do by becoming a missionary diocese of the Southern Cone, so long as it doesn't try to take any property with it.  The abandonment of communion canon only applies to seeking to be admitted to body not in communion with this church, whereas other provinces of the Communion are in communion with us.  Nowhere it becoming a missionary diocese of another province of the communion forbidden, so it must be permitted.  But you know for damn sure there is no way this would be countenanced by the General Convention.   What is not forbidden is permitted serves to reflect what "we" think at any particular time.

It can foster a climate of lawlessness in the church where we already routinely ignore some canons.  It calls into question our entire governance:  why even hold a General Convention, why even make Constitutional and canonical changes, why bother at all when we can decide at certain times they just don't matter?  Crusty will undoubtedly be called heartless to the suffering of Cuban Episcopalians or somehow opposed to matters of justice.  That's not the case.  There were more than two options here.  The choice was not between not admitting Cuba and doing whatever Convention wanted to do.  Just like there were all sorts of options other than making Rite III into whatever people wanted.  We just trotted out "what is not forbidden" and moved on.   This is a troubling ecclesiological development, one, if it persists, can serve to undermine our already shaky ecclesiology.

Sidenote:  Some may think that because there are some hard words here for the House of Bishops, Crusty is somehow anti-bishop.  In the truly lamentable and toxic atmosphere that characterizes relationships between our two houses, some may even think COD is part of that shadowy deep state that is trying to destroy the episcopacy.  Seriously, it is odd to think of reasonable people debunking flat earth and faked moon landings but suddenly see Game of Thrones-like conspiracies around every corner once they get to General Convention every three years.  Crusty has had hard words for the House of Deputies, too -- I once compared it to Chinese Democracy and Tammany Hall, for instance.  COD is on record for saying repeatedly there are systemic problems with the entire structure of General Convention, he is not singling out the bishops or the deputies.  The whole thing has some serious dysfunction.

Sidenote 2:  COD has also sometimes been accused of being overly critical of others' prose.  This is not being grammar police.  Legislation passed at General Convention shapes the overall course of ministry in aspects of the church, one should think we should be able actually to say what we are trying to do instead of just getting something passed and then letting people figure it out.  COD is not sorry for asking for accountability for a nearly two-week gathering that we spend three years prepping for and which we spend millions of dollars on, and asking it to do more than pass poorly written, vague resolutions in order to do something, anything, ahead of adjournment.   If we want to run our church through barely comprehensible resolutions drafted by a small group of people the night before, there's quicker and cheaper ways to do that than General Convention.  Also, feel free to critique anything I've written.  There's a long paper trail for me, and Crusty stands by what he has written.  Crusty published a church history book with Church Publishing, was lead drafter on the United Methodist-Episcopal Church proposal, I've drafted and edited dozens of resolutions submitted to General Convention as primary staff support to a Standing Commission from 2003-2009.  COD is glad to be held accountable for what he has written, and only asks others being willing to do so as well.

Crusty's General Convention Wrap-Up Part 2: Electric Boogaloo will be coming out next week.

Enjoy your Tafelpuber!  David Simmons, who coined this, has already trademarked it so you have to pay him 5 cents every time you use it.