Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Revamp the PB and PHOD: What You Don't Surrender, The World Strips Away

Bruce Springsteen went through some rough times in the late 1980s and early 1990s.  He fired his longtime band and got divorced from his glamorous Hollywood wife, while at the same time finding redemption in a new love and starting a family.  Reflecting on this period of transition, he once wrote: "In the end what you don't surrender/Well the world just strips away."  Trying to be what you are not, or cannot, is, in the end, a hopeless and futile effort -- because in the end the world will strip away what you are trying to avoid some way, some how.  Or, as Ahab said to Elijah, caught for stealing Naboth's
Bruce giving his acceptance speech after being elected PB in 2015.
vineyard: "Have you found me, o my enemy?"  "Yes, I have found you," Elijah replies.  One of Crusty's favorite exchanges in the Bible:  Ahab well knows what Jezebel has done on his behalf is wrong, and defies Jewish Law -- and further knows deep, down inside it is wrong and that he will be found out for it.  And sure enough, he is:  Elijah, and by extension God, finds him out.  Or, as The Message translation puts this exchange, "So:  you've run me down?"  to which Elijah replies, "Yes, I have found you out."

Crusty is starting to get anxious, even though the next General Convention of The Episcopal Church is still two years away.  The main work of the Task Force for Reimagining The Episcopal Church, or the unfortunately acronymed TREC (people, it rhymes with dreck) seems to mainly be throwing out twitter crowdsourced questions.  There is supposed to be a process of consultation, including a gathering in 2014 to present their report, and (currently) a $200,000 line item for this.  This is down from the $400,000 requested in Resolution C095 which established the Commission, and COD certainly hopes this amount survives throughout the triennium.  He also certainly hope TREC ends up doing something, because the last f*****g thing we need is to do the work of TREC at the 2015 General Convention and have wasted three years and $200,000.  But TREC has fantastic people on it and COD will hold out the hope that awesome stuff and specific proposals will emerge from them by the November, 2014 deadline.

On top of TREC's monthly crowdsourcing, Crusty's eyes popped at a number from the recently concluded Executive Council meeting.  $100,000 was added to the budget of the Presiding Bishop's Nominating Committee, to bring total budget expenditure to $226,000.  And that's just nominating the Presiding Bishop!  Executive Council also began the process of creating a transition team to assist in the move towards the new PB who will be elected in 2015 -- adding in transition and installation of the new PB, then the amount for nominating, electing, transitioning, and installing a Presiding Bishop comes to over $500,000.

This is from a church that wrings its hands about seminarian debt, and cut in 2012 the $65,000 per year pittance to help alleviate this. But we can blow a pro-rated ballpark $170,000 per year on nominating and installating our primate.

We continue to be addicted to governance.  As C095, the resolution establishing TREC, put it, we spend 47% of the budget adopted at General Convention on governance and structure.  And we show no signs of changing that.

Crusty advocated holding a special General Convention just before the regularly scheduled 2015 General Convention to allow for a speedier process of any constitutional changes.  Constitutional changes must be passed at two consecutive General Conventions.  Thus, you could make presentations at a 2015 Special Convention, which would be solely focused on presenting a report and proposed changes.  Then those proposals would be taken up by the regular meeting of Convention to follow immediately after it (since Constitutional amendments may only be voted on by regular, and not special, General Convention, as outlined in Article XII of the Constitution) for a first reading, and with a second reading in 2018 to make any changes to the Constitution.  As it is, Crusty has serious concerns about any constitutional changes even being addressed in 2015.

a)  Presenting the proposals at that Convention, and allowing for the time needed for them to be hashed out in Committee, with amendments and other resolutions submitted, will take an extraordinary amount of time -- how many Resolutions were combined in committee to create C095, which just called on us to look at establishing at Commission?  Better to do this in a 48-hour Special Convention focused solely on a TREC report, adjourn that at 12:00 noon, reconvene a regular Convention at 12:01 pm, and then proceed.

b)  Convention's attention will get diverted to electing a new PB and whatever budget mess comes our
way.  Seriously, Convention sometimes reminds me of Doug from Up, distracted by whatever squirrel runs in front of it.

c)  TREC doesn't present substantive proposals, and we f*****g do TREC's work at General Convention.

COD has a tremendous concern Convention will say, "Gosh, this is so complicated and important, and we need to let the new Presiding Bishop provide leadership and input, let's kick the whole thing to 2018."  Which means any Constitutional changes wouldn't possibly be enacted until 2021.  That's if we can even afford to hold General Convention in anything resembling its current format in 2021.

The Presiding Bishop nomination and election situation puts several issues before us, showing just how screwed up process and thinking is at this point.

a)  We are spending more money just on electing and nominating a Presiding Bishop than on the Commission charged with presenting a comprehensive plan for rethinking and restructuring the Church.  Add to this the fact 2012 Convention asked the nominating committee "to allow for any bishop or deputy to express the intent to nominate any other member of the House of Bishops from the floor when the committee presents its nominees to the joint session of the two Houses."  Crusty wishes he was making this up.  We're spending $226,000 and three years to come up with nominees when we also want to be able nominate anyone from the floor.  Occam's Razor, people!

b)   We will be going through a process of nomination not knowing what, if any, recommendations concerning the office of Presiding Bishop TREC may make.  Imagine someone coming to you and saying, "Hey, we'd like to interview you for a job, but there's a Human Resources committee completely rethinking our whole HR structure.  You interested?"  You'd be insane not to ask, "How can I interview for a job when I don't know what the job description may be?"  Yet that is what we are doing, only it's taking three years and over $200,000 to nominate and elect someone for a position we may change.

Crusty proposes the following to the Joint Nominating Committee and TREC:

1.   Nominate candidates to be a caretaker PB, an experienced or even retired bishop who may be willing to serve for a triennium.  We cannot elect a 9-year incumbent and possibly think we can make any changes to the office, so, in reality, we are locking in many aspects of our current structure through 2024 by electing a 9-year incumbent in 2015.

2.   So essentially elect an interim PB in 2015 while the church considers proposals to restructure and rethink the church.  Get a commitment from candidates, and have the PB-elect publicly announce, the intention to resign at the end of the 2018 General Convention.  Instead of spending over $500,000 to transition to an office which might be restructured, why not actually think about changing the office?  Currently we are coming up with a transition plan for the people in the office, not the office itself.

If we are able to make a first vote on Constitutional changes in 2015, and a second in 2018, then we could elect a new PB to serve under the new definitions of the office.  If we are unable, we could do any number of things depending on circumstances.  Ask the incumbent to stay on for three more years.  We could elect someone to serve out the remainder of the term through 2024, and then elect someone under any new provisions.  Sure, there would be some bumpiness and perhaps uncertainty, as in any kind of interim or transition period, but is this any worse than locking ourselves into our current system through 2024?

OK, all of the above is just about what we should be thinking about now, since actions and decisions made during this triennium have implications for our overall process of restructuring.

That doesn't even get to Crusty's ideas on rethinking the office of Presiding Bishop.  This needs to be
Put each bishop's name on a Jenga piece and have this kid pull it out: new PB!
part and parcel of a much broader rethinking of governance and structure. Like a game of Jenga, moving one piece has implications for the whole structure.  Or, as one of COD's colleagues in the twitterblogosintersphere put it, "Change one office, you need to change them all."  Any changes to PHOD and PB would impact the Secretary of General Convention, Canon to the Presiding Bishop, and so on, right down to Nearly Headless Samuel Seabury (if Samuel Provoost had his way), the House Ghost of the HOB.

Briefly, to give you a preview, Crusty is planning on busting out the following for rethinking presiding officers:

a)  make the Presiding Bishop a diocesan bishop again.  Upon election, the PB gets a suffragan or assisting bishop.  Rethink and scale back some aspects of the role and expand others, focus on the understanding of the office of Bishop in the Prayer Book as as guide to create an office that truly is chief pastor.

b)  roll back the governance creep that has been making the President of the House of Deputies a kind of co-primate.  COD has written on this here nearly 18 months ago:  the PHOD cannot be a co-primate because the office is not configured that way.  The Speaker of the House is not the Vice President.  The PHOD is nominated by, and elected solely from, the House of Deputies.  The PB, despite the time, expense, and cost, is nominated by a committee representing bishops, clergy, and laity and elected by one house and confirmed by another, with duties beyond being a presiding officer laid out in canon.  The PHOD is not representative because it is not intended to be.  The absurdity here is laid bare in the proposal noted above that  any deputy should be able to nominate the PB but only deputies can nominate and elect the PHOD.

c)   this is not because Crusty is anti-laity: far from it.  Taking into account elements outlined in sections (a) and (b), COD would create a new office.  Call it what you want: General Secretary, Grand Vizier, High Inquisitor, whatever.  This would become the elected CEO of the church. The PB would focus on being chief pastor and presiding officer of the HOB, and the President of the HOD would focus on being presiding officer of the HOD.  Allow any bishop, clergy, or lay person (not just a deputy) to be eligible for election, and require election by both Houses, not election by one and consent by another (as with PB) or election only by one (as with PHOD).  Lots of other provinces of the Anglican Communion have a General Secretary/provincial-wide elected office.  Let's research those.

Naturally, and obviously, all of this needs to be spelled out in more detail.  But it's not 1789 when we first invented the roles of PB and PHOD.  It's not 1919, one of the last times we fundamentally rethought them.  All of that just a teaser as to what Crusty's working on for his summer vacation, stay tuned for more.

We cannot continue to be addicted to governance: what we don't surrender and rethink, the world will strip away.  We already have a dramatically different denominational staff than a decade ago because we cut and reconfigured in continued response to financial cutbacks without ever asking what kind of denominational staff we should have.  Are we heading down the road to getting the same kind of church?

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Suicide by Canon: the House of Bishops Letter on Episcopal Consents

At different times in the course of this blog, Crusty has expressed his frustration at the deficiencies of the Episcopal Church's canonical structures.  To give some quick backstory, there are a variety of factors that come together to lead to instances of canonical mayhem:

a)  some essential and integral components of the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church were laid down in 1789 for a tiny church ( maybe 15,000 members?) scattered along the Eastern seabord in a handful of dioceses.  There are some growing pains in extrapolating this to a church of over 2,000,000 members with over 120 active bishops in over 100 dioceses in 16 different countries.  Things like voting by orders and have a bicameral governing structure meeting separately in a compressed timeframe come to mind.

b)  canonical revision has been sporadic and often occasional -- that is, canons are revised in fits and spurts over time, and often in response to specific events.  Here's a quick example: in 1873, Bishop George Cummins of Kentucky wrote to the Presiding Bishop about his desire to resign his episcopal orders and form a new church.  Under the canonical provisions of the time, all the Presiding Bishop
He could have been deposed for the ears and facial hair  alone. 
could do is tell Cummins he had six months to think things over or he would be deposed.  Cummins promptly held an organizing conference and consecrated a new bishop for his Reformed Episcopal Church.  So the canons were revised to allow the Presiding Bishop to temporarily inhibit bishops (under certain provisions), since there was no procedure in place in 1873 and Cummins was technically still a bishop of the Episcopal Church when he consecrated Charles Edward Cheney.  We could go on and on about canons revised specifically in response to certain events.  Now, extrapolate over 220 years, and you get canons designed for specific situations accumulating over time.

c)  there have, at times, been thorough attempts and efforts at redoing chunks of the canons.  For instance, the canons of preparation and discernment for ordained ministry were overhauled at the 2003 and 2006 General Conventions, and the Title IV provisions for clergy discipline were overhauled in the 1990s and again at the 2009 General Convention.  We overhauled much of our denominational governance at the 1919 General Convention, creating what is now the Executive Council and making the Presiding Bishop an elected office.

So that's the big picture:  the canons, at times, are a mess, and for lots of systemic reasons.  Hey, COD can't contain himself.  A couple other great examples:

--we had to revise the canons to bring about coherence in the timeframe for episcopal consents that are given at General Convention.  The canons used to say in some places consents would be given at General Convention if an election was "within three months" and in other places "within 120 days".  So in the canons we had two different time frames for when consent needed to be given at Convention!  After reconciling these two timeframes, we then went a step further and eliminated the whole consent process at Convention and now leave it solely to diocesan Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdiction.

--the canons use the term "in communion" without defining it and by using it in different contexts; for instance "clergy ordained by bishops in communion" with this church.  Well, some diocesan bishops ended up defining this as they understood it, receiving clergy (rather than ordination or conditional ordination) from churches with whom the church has no formal agreement (for instance so-called non-canonical "Old Catholic" Churches) or licensing bishops to perform episcopal acts (as when the deposed bishop of Pittsburgh permitted a Reformed Episcopal Church bishop to preside at confirmations).  So eventually a patch was needed, and Title I, Canon 20 was created precisely to resolve the whole question of what "in communion" means (shameless plug: which Crusty helped to draft).

That's just some problems with the Constitution and Canons themselves.  Another whole issue is the problematic implementation and interpretation of the canons.  One of the most common concerns regularly inviting and/or communing non-baptized persons.  There are a whole range of issues involved in communion non-baptized persons, one of them being canonical:  it is something explicitly prohibited by the Constitution and Canons, but routinely ignored.  There are serious issues of accountability and integrity of governance if we have canons that are routinely ignored while others are implemented.  Read more about what Crusty thinks about this here.

Another problem is the way the canons are used to end pastoral relationships between bishops and dioceses, or between parishes and clergy.  Just as some law enforcement officers speak of "suicide by police," where some people confront law enforcement more or less begging to be shot in lieu of killing
No deadly force used by these Police.  Best album ever!
themselves, we, at times, practice our own version of "suicide by canon", more properly "pastoral dissolution by canon," using the canonical process to end problematic pastoral relationships.  The situation with Bishop Charles Bennison in Pennsylvania is the most recent example, where the canon on conduct unbecoming of a member of the clergy was stretched to barely credible extremes in order to get a canonical conviction and deposition -- only to be overturned on appeal when the appeals body ruled that the canons had been applied inappropriately.  Read more about Crusty's thoughts on abuse of canonical provisions for other purposes here.

And then came the House of Bishops Committee on Pastoral Development (HOBCOPD).  BTW, Crusty wonders:  shouldn't it be House of Bishops' Committee on Pastoral Development? (Watch, this will get the most comments in the comments section, COD raises this not because he cares but because he knows grammar czars simply can't help themselves.)  They have recently weighed in on providing guidelines for the giving of consent to episcopal elections.  For a quick review of Episcopal polity in case someone who has stumbled blindly onto this blog and has somehow made it this far looking for a "What's Happening" reference:  when a diocese chooses a bishop, that choice must be confirmed by a majority of Standing Committees (bodies consisting of lay and clergy representatives elected by dioceses with certain canonically defined roles of oversight) and a majority of bishops with jurisdiction (bishop coadjutor or bishops diocesan).  However, canonical ambiguity emerges:  what does "consent" mean?  Does it mean that these votes should just be box-checking, that the election occurred properly and according to guidelines?  Or is there a broader role of consent -- is the church beyond the diocese somehow approving or endorsing this particular selection, and therefore should employ certain standards?  Fortunately, this is one of the few times when the dysfunction in the church is so systemic that it transcends liberal and conservative, something that is truly miraculous, as both "liberal" and "conservative" candidates have failed to receive consents in recent years.  The election of Kevin Forrester in the diocese of Northern Michigan did not receive consent, largely due to concerns from some that the bishop-elect used unauthorized liturgical texts and had been "ordained" as a Zen buddhist monk.  Likewise, the first time Mark Lawrence was elected bishop of South Carolina, consent was not given, with many who declined to give consent citing concerns about Bishop-elect Lawrence's response to questions about respecting the polity of the Episcopal Church.

So there's clearly a canonical ambiguity here, which the letter from the Committee on Pastoral Development notes in more than words:

“The House of Bishops Committee on Pastoral Development has observed two extremes in the process  
Crusty only believes in one Extreme.  
of granting consent:

"At one extreme, a bishop comes under intense scrutiny without apparent appreciation for the rigorous process he/she has already undergone in order to be elected.

The opposite extreme find bishops and Standing Committees offering uninformed consent; consent granted with little regard for the fairness of the process, or other circumstances which could eventually affect the ministry of the elected bishop and the mission of the diocese.”

That pretty much hits the nail on the head -- and is the main reason why the consent process was changed so that consents are no longer given at General Convention, but are solely done by the
Bishop-elect, what are your opinions on the Filioque? 
diocesan Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdictions.  At the 2006 Convention, giving of consents to episcopal elections was running the risk of becoming the Episcopal Church's version of Supreme Court nominating hearings, with candidates grilled with questions by various interests groups on matters already vetted in the election process and being held to a different parliamentary standard -- largely out of fury by conservatives that another openly gay bishop had not been elected, so they had to fulminate against someone for something.  One bishop-elect in 2006 was questioned about a confidentiality agreement (which, of course, the bishop-elect could not comment on), while another was raked over the coals for his number of marriages.

While we are back to having a consent process being solely done by Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdiction, the question of "consent" still remains.  What does it mean?  What standards should we use?

Well, kids, call Crusty crazy but he thinks the way to define our understanding of consent is IN THE CANONS.

Not in a letter by a committee of the House of Bishops seeking to interpret the canons.  A quick perusal of the questions demonstrates this -- they follow, cut and pasted from the PDF COD downloaded from one of the tubes that make up the internet.  The questions are intended to be "additional discernment" for Standing Committees and bishops as they consider to give consent, and are preceded by the header "Questions Bishops and Standing Committees might consider before offering consent to an episcopal election.”

Consideration of Questions 1-7 could be seen as contrary to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church, and in violation of Article II, Section 1:

Crusty teaches church history and Episcopal polity.  A central component of the polity of the Episcopal Church is that "lower" or "local" levels may structure certain aspects of their governance as they see fit, provided that a) they are on conformity with the law, and b) they do not violate any provisions of the levels "above" them.  For example:  COD has been a member of congregations where the entire congregation votes on the annual budget at the annual meeting.  COD has been a member of congregations where the congregation does not vote as a whole, but the Vestry approves the budget, and the parish is informed and has opportunity to comment, but not vote.  Either method is OK (though one in COD's mind clearly preferable) so long as there are no diocesan canons or local law prohibiting such a practice.

Selection of bishops are one of those places where the Constitution and Canons give that leeway to dioceses.  Article II lays it out: bishops are chosen according to "rules prescribed by the Convention of that diocese."  Period (metaphorically speaking, since there is a provided that follows).  As COD has taught in his polity course, dioceses could throw darts at pictures of candidates or draw lots if that is what the diocesan Convention has laid out.  COD always liked the fact that when the Moravians used to draw lots, they left one blank, in case God didn't want them to pick any of the persons.  This actually happened when they were choosing a new person to be their Senior, or Presiding Bishop.  For realz.  Check it out here.  When COD reads first read this he thought, "This don't sound so bad given some people who get elected bishop."  There's no reason bishops need to be elected at all.

Questions 1-7 can been seen as an effort to establish standards for episcopal elections through an interpretation of what "consent" means: to standards on the nominating process (were nomination by petition allowed?), to matters of diocesan personnel policies (is there a letter of agreement in place?), to placing authority in non-canonical standards (conducted in a manner according to best practice guidelines of The Episcopal Church in consultation with the Presiding Bishop's office).  If we are to introduce "standards", should we not direct Standing Committees and dioceses to the Constitutions and Canons of individual dioceses, since the Constitution of The Episcopal Church places the process for choosing bishops squarely with diocesan Conventions?

Let's keep in mind that at the 2006 General Convention, there was considerable discussion around a "response" to the Windsor Report and Anglican Communion on the question of whether the Episcopal Church would given consent to any future openly gay or lesbian persons elected bishop.  Various draft resolutions were debated, from asking bishops and Standing Committees to "exercise caution" to "refrain from" giving consent to placing an outright moratorium on consents to openly gay and lesbian candidates.  COD was sitting in the House of Deputies and commented on the draft resolution, "That should be ruled out of order, since it violates the Constitution."  Surely enough, after a challenge to the chair, who ruled it in order, (and which was defeated and debate went on), eventually the parliamentarian informed the chair the resolution was, indeed, out of order, since qualifications for episcopal elections are left to the dioceses in the Constitution.

Question 8-9 are just from the Department of Redundancy Department.  Bishops already promise to do this in their ordination vows.

Question 10 -- Department of Redundancy Department to questions 1-7.  It adds standards which are not part of the Constitution and Canons or ordination rite in the Prayer Book.

Come on, HOBCOPD: you've got Crusty over a barrel.  

First off, you have several letters in common with COD so I want to cut you some slack.   

Second, Crusty is not necessarily opposed to all of the provisions laid out in this letter (for instance he thinks letters of agreement are important and believes The Episcopal Church is actually moving backwards on inclusion of women and persons of color in the episcopate) -- but WTF are they doing as part of the consent process?  The right place for these questions is in the nomination and election process, not the consent process.  

Once again COD feels forced to state the obvious:  The way to fix canonical ambiguities is IN THE CANONS.  Not to let unelected and/or unrepresentative entities of any kind redefine the canons outside of the canonical process.  

Third:  you're forcing me to agree with other bloggers!  Crusty likes to see himself as operating above
Keanu and Swayze, show us the way!
the liberal/conservative divide (I am shockingly liberal on some things, which makes conservatives not trust me; and shockingly conservative on some things, which make liberals accuse me of betrayal) in a passionless state, like Yoda, Spock, the Queen, and Keanu Reeves.  When COD is agreeing with George Conger (albeit only on the question of establishing some kind of standards) AND Mark Harris (BTW, Crusty actually quite likes them both) some Ghostbuster-like apocalypse of dogs and cats living together is surely coming.

Far from solving anything, this letter from the House of Bishops Committee on Pastoral Development runs the risk of becoming another instance of suicide by canon.  We have recast our canons before:  if something's important enough to do, it is important enough to do properly and, well, canonically.