Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Modest Proposal for Reshaping, Part 3: Interim Bodies

No, interim bodies are not some kind of sci-fi version of an artificial intelligence moving through various replicants in pursuit of eventual domination of humans. That would be far more entertaining than the interim bodies COD is taking about. It's the unruly name given to the various entities which meet in between General Conventions and exercise some kind of form of governance or oversight, of various things and in various ways. And Crusty Old Dean does mean unruly: the official church acronym for these entities is...wait for it...CCABs: Committees, Commissions, Agencies, and Boards. The fact that there are four types of them indicates we are in for a lot of disparate groups with disparate responsibilities.

Before we get too deep into this, Crusty Old Dean should remind you this proposal should be read in light of previous ones here (calling for initiating a process of reform), here and here (explaining why our current structures don't work), and here (a proposal for restructuring General Convention).

Again, to cover some old ground again (with help from the Dept of Redundancy Dept): part of the complex overlaying of different governing structures in the Episcopal Church results from the fact that a minimalist, skeletal Constitution that imagined a network of dioceses with a minimalist denominational structure designed for a handful of Episcopalians struggling to survive on the Eastern seabord has developed over 220 years into a church with over 100 dioceses in 16 different countries with over 2,000,000 members and which has a denominational structure doing things no church in 1789 ever would have imagined. We have, sometimes gradually, sometimes in spurts, created, added, subtracted, and reorganized governing structures over two centuries. Thus we have creatures which have been around for almost 200 years (the current Standing Commission on Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations is the resulted of a name change in 2003 and a merger in 1976 of various commissions, one of which dated back to 1862; Convention has been electing trustees for the General Theological Seminary for some time) and some which are relatively new.

Thus we have CCABs. They are a disparate bunch. There are 14 different Standing Commissions of General Convention, which, as their name indicates, are creatures of the Convention, charged with oversight in between Conventions of everything from Constitution & Canons to Lifelong Formation, each established by Canon. These Commissions prepare reports and resolutions, and have a liaison appointed by the Presiding Bishop and President of the HOD. The members of Standing Commissions are appointed by the PB (bishops) and President of the House of Deputies (hereafterPHOD) appoints clergy & lay persons. There is the General Board of Examining Chaplains, whose members are appointed by the HOB and confirmed by the HOD. The Convention elects Trustees for the Church Pension Fund and the General Theological Seminary. The General Board of Transition Ministries and the Archives have their members appointed by the PB and PHOD. There is the Executive Council, which has members elected by General Convention and others by the Provinces. There is the Domestic & Foreign Missionary Society (hereafter DFMS) technically the official corporate entity of the Episcopal Church, established in 1821 as a mission society, and, when we invented a denomination, became the legal shell into which we scuttled like some ecclesial hermit crab. Legally and ecclesially, for instance, employees at the Church Center, from the mailroom to the ecumenical officer, are employees of the DFMS.

Some members of these CCABs are elected; some are appointed. Some have a close working relationship with the General Convention, some do not -- for instance, does the General Convention supervise in intimate detail the Church Pension Fund and General Theological Seminary (at least since the Arthur Carey incident and subsequent Romish witch-hunt, demonstrating we don't WANT General Convention actually to exercise oversight of any of the places it elects Trustees for)?

Thus it seems clear these CCABs function in a variety of ways. This can lead to confusion, inefficiency, and lack of mission clarity, but COD thinks the most pernicious element arising from CCABs is conflicting understandings of authority and oversight. Who, really, has oversight of the mission work of the church in between Convention? The Executive Council? The PB? The official Standing Commissions of Convention? What is the role of staff of the Church Center, and how does their work relate to the CCABs? Since Commissions meet once or maybe twice a year the Church Center staff do a lot of the day-to-day work. This has in part led to a dysfunctional relationship between the PB and Council, with an awful lot of turf-protecting coupled with turf-expansion. COD really has no desire to get into this, but, suffice to say, anyone with any experience in the dynamic between Executive Council and the Presiding Bishop know that there can, at times, be a tense relationship. And COD does NOT mean to single out this PB, this PHOD, or this incarnation of Council (you should know by now COD doesn't single anyone out, he singles everyone out): pretty much every single PB and Council since it became an elected office and the PB became the sort-of-but-not-quite-CEO of the denomination.

It's important also to see the gradual change in understanding of what is now Executive Council: it was formed in 1919 and eventually became known as the National Council. It functioned very much as a collective oversight of the church's ministries. Council was divided into departments, absorbing previously incorporated agencies that did similar work. Employees worked for the National Council and received oversight from the Council and the PB: its original name was "Presiding Bishop and National Council." Doesn't really "pop", but it was meant to be functional.

Almost 100 years later, this has changed. Executive Council functions largely legislatively: its committees do not necessarily provide oversight for program and mission. What we would call program development is largely under the purview of the Presiding Bishop, who hires & fires and directs staff. Council does not manage or give oversight to staff. In addition, Standing Commissions have had their roles clarified -- in the 1800s and early 1900s they were mostly (though not exclusively) a group of more or less ad hoc commissions that were created as occasion needed and ended when work was done (though some were required by Canon and still are; the Committee on State of the Church, for instance, presenting its triennial report). They now are mainly charged with following up on GC Resolutions referred to them, or developing new ones in light of situations which may emerge in between Conventions.

It seems clear to COD that Executive Council and the interim bodies are in need of reform as well, to streamline our processes and make us more responsive to mission. As you may guess, COD has some suggestions:

1. Proposal for Reforming Executive Council:

Cut the number elected by General Convention in half, from the current 4-4-12 (bishops-clergy-laity) to 2-2-6.

Increase the number elected by the Provinces from 2 to 3 in a 1-1-1 ratio -- with the requirement that each person come from a different diocese in that province, and that one of these comes from one of the smaller dioceses in the Province (to be determined by something like -- "one representative from one of the dioceses in the province in the bottom third of membership/number of congregations" or something similar). Thus Council is more or less the name size, from its current 38 to 37 in this structure.

Why change this? Two reasons.

--Increasing representation from the Provinces will help insure the needs and concern of smaller dioceses are not lost in the transition to proportional representation in the General Convention (used here in reference to COD's revised, unicameral body, not its current 2-headed beast). 9 of the 37 members would be guaranteed to come from smaller dioceses. In the current Executive Council setup, there is nothing to ensure this at all (though it occurs in practice).

--Build stronger connections to the Provinces, and more ownership by Provinces in mission and governance. More on that later, COD has suggestions for revamping dioceses and provinces.

2. Having GC Standing Commissions coordinate with Executive Council committees. Right now there is little overlap between Executive Council's internal committees and the Standing Commissions of General Convention. When COD used to go to Executive Council meetings, I sometimes had to think about what committee I should attend; there was no clear, logical cognate.

As part of this process, reduce the number of Standing Commissions.

COD has no real opinion on how many there should be; but having 14 Standing Commissions and several different Executive Council internal committees and several different "teams" into which church Church Center program staff are grouped is akin to when you had to change money into 17 different currencies to move across Europe, or when stevedores had the job of breaking down cargo packed into one kind of container into different kinds. The implementation of the euro and of the standard shipping container show the positive effects of being able to move across platforms.

So for the sake of argument, 7 Standing Commissions. These 7 SCs would correlate to a Committee of Executive Council. In turn, these would correspond to the internal groupings of mission & program staff at the Church Center. COD humbly proposes something like this: (again, I'm not married to it; as COD often said when negotiating ecumenical agreements, "I'm only married to my wife, not the language here.")

--Justice and Advocacy
--Global, Anglican, Ecumenical, and Interreligious Partnerships
--Mission and Ministry Development
--Congregational Development
--Constitution and Canons/Governance
--Evangelism and Communication

So, taking a page from a current Presidential candidate, COD proposes

COD 7-7-7 PLAN!

7 Standing Commissions which correlate to the same 7 Committees of Executive Council which correspond to the same 7 internal groupings of Church Center staff. This would help with consistency of message, focus on priorities, and in general allow for better interaction and communication from these differing forms of oversight and program work.

Get the General Convention out of the business of electing leadership for organizations it really has no right to be involved in, or where it does not exercise oversight, or where oversight should be lodged somewhere else. Otherwise it is at best a waste of time and at worse an inauthentic farce. Allow the Church Pension Fund, Archives, and General Seminary (sorry, Bishop Hobart, your vision of creating a central seminary for the Church never came true and we don't need to keep electing some of its trustees) to become entirely self-governing. Groups where Convention and/or Council actually are involved and have an oversight role -- such as Examining Chaplains and Transition Ministry -- would have the functions of their General boards/governing agencies subsumed into one of the 7 Commissions and staff.

3. Solving the lack of clarity between Executive Council and Presiding Bishop.

There has been nearly a century of development and mission creep since the Presiding Bishop and National Council was formed in 1919, with the vision of the PB at the head of a Council which would provide oversight for program areas. Council has become largely legislative and oversight of staff and mission/program devolved almost entirely to the PB. This leads to confusion and at time conflict. When sometimes people would say, "Well the PB has oversight of staff," COD would opine, "Yes, but not fiduciary oversight: power of the purse is with Council." So therefore does the PB really have oversight? And what role do positions like Canon to the PB and Chief Operating Officer play? These positions internally have often looked different from PB to PB and Canon to Canon and COO to COO in the past 50 years or so. Some have had vdefined portfolios, some have served as sort-of-Chief of Staff.

We need to embrace and acknowledge collective oversight, shared between PB and Council. This was the intention of the creation of the elected offices of PB and Council in the landmark 1919 Convention. It is also how our polity works in other levels: while technically the staff works only for the Rector, in practice in many congregations there is active participation by lay persons in oversight of program and staff. In dioceses Standing Committees, or Executive Committees, or an elected Diocesan Council, work with the Bishop and staff.

COD proposes that oversight for all program and mission work in between General Conventions, from Church Center staff to coordination of Standing Committees, be vested in Executive Council and spelled out in the Canons (remember we suspended all the Constitution and Canons in 2012, and thus are in the process of drafting new ones? Keep up with COD, people!). In practicality -- a 37 member Council doing this would be unwieldy -- there would be an elected Executive Committee of Council consisting of 2-2-4 (bishops, clergy, laity) which would take primary responsibility for this in conjunction with the elected officers of Council. The officers of Council would be paid, full-time positions. The President would still be the PB, the VP a clergy or lay person, a Secretary (distinct from the Secretary of GC), and a Treasurer, who would be the same as the GC and DFMS Treasurer. Funding for this would come from eliminating positions made redundant (no longer a need for a COO since those functions would be handled by VP and Secretary of Council) and reducing the number of Standing Commissions by half.

Having solved the matter of restructuring General Convention and interim bodies, in our next installment COD hits close to home: restructuring dioceses. Stay tuned. It may be a while, Crusty Old Dean is formally being installed this week -- so COD realizes he probably should have been calling himself Yet To Be Formally Installed Crusty Old Dean up to this point.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Anglican Covenant: Adopt It! Sort of!

Crusty Old Dean was doing his duty as an informed Episcopalian when he clicked on the link to "A Message from Executive Council," and was lulled, as he usually is, by the koan-like opening sections these disptaches usually take. COD hopes deep down in his heart they will one day model one of these summaries on "Message to the Grassroots", but, alas, this has not occurred yet. There is still time.

COD noted with interest the report from Executive Council on the Anglican Covenant, with a proposed recommendation to the 2012 General Convention. COD duly clicked through, reading the report while waiting for his plane to Traverse City, MI. COD found himself split:

Endorsing wholeheartedly the content of the report of Executive Council on the proposed Anglican Covenant.

Disagreeing with the recommendation not to adopt the Covenant.

COD agrees with the accompanying Report, that there is little objectionable in Sections 1 and 2 of the Covenant (leaving aside the question as to why this appendix to the 2004 Windsor Report had taken on a life of its own and many, many other recommendations of the Windsor Report have been ignored or forgotten), a couple of concerns with Section 3, with the concerns in Section 4 being legion ( almost literally: COD came up with over 40).

This concern, in COD's opinion, is rightly placed. Indeed, we have already had a mini-trial run of how the Covenant might work -- namely, the removal of ecumenical representatives from the Episcopal Church on the international dialogues and commissions run by the Anglican Communion Office. The definition of a "moratorium violation" was defined by an as yet undefined small group of persons and written narrowly to apply only to the Episcopal Church: violation of the moratoria outlined in the Windsor Report was deemed to have occurred by actions of a member church taken in their national synod, thus exempting Canada (diocesan, not national Synods, approving same sex blessings) and a host of provinces which have intervened in the USA (with various explanations given that these were taken by individual bishops or primates, not Synods, or were no longer occurring).

COD informed persons within the Anglican Communion that even this writ of attainder designed to apply solely to the Episcopal Church was flawed: episcopal consents are not given by bishops acting in synod, but by bishops functioning in their capacity as diocesans. Consents are not given at a usual gathering of the House of Bishops, where retired, suffragan, assisting, coadjutor, diocesans, and other bishops such as those serving as seminary deans (disclaimer: COD is not one of those deans) all have votes and are considered members of that Synod. Likewise lay and clerical assent was given by Standing Committees acting individually and not collectively in a synod. Thus despite their best efforts, even their definition of a moratorium violation was incorrect. COD was informed he was perhaps parsing a little too much; he replied simply, "Pot kettle black." COD, after all, didn't start the fire. After much cajoling by many parties, however, the representative from the Province of the Southern Cone was also removed from international dialogues.

So this little incident filled COD with concern about the, "Trust us, we'll figure out the disciplinary thing and all the undefined aspects of how it will actually work," that more or less pervades Section 4.

Despite all of this, COD still disagrees with the recommendation not to adopt the Covenant, for several reasons.

The first is political: flat out refusing to adopt the Covenant will allow the spin machines to ramp up their usual, "arrogant unilateralist Episcopal Church" engines. All of the excellent points made in the accompanying report will be summarily ignored, and this will facilitate and expedite those who simply want the Episcopal Church to go away and let the Anglican Communion return to its morass of ecclesiology and human sexuality, to the days when everything was fine, when we knew there was no clear ecclesiological definition of what the Communion was but we could ignore it when gay people just stayed in the closet like they should.

Another reason is that churches which are in process of adopting the Covenant, as the noted in Section 4, may still participate in helping to sort out, design, and implement the processes mentioned in Section 4. Simply by not adopting the Covenant removes us from the discussion, and will permit the designing of a process even more blatantly developed to exclude the Episcopal Church than the kangaroo court which ousted our ecumenical representatives.

Other provinces have taken a similar tack: the Church of Ireland, for instance, formally "subscribed" to the Covenant, and in doing so also stated that the Covenant was "under" the Preamble and Constitution of the Church of Ireland. The Scottish Episcopal Church is in the process of gradually responding to, and endorsing, individual sections of the Covenant -- with an annual Synod, this gives them that kind of flexibility. Either way, COD thinks these decisions allow the Church of Ireland and Scottish Episcopal Church to stay engaged in the Covenant discussions. It's also entirely possible the instruments of Communion will accept the dodges dreamed up by Ireland and Scotland but reject any proposed by the Episcopal Church -- because, again, this process has been used in the past to misrepresent the facts and only apply to the Episcopal Church.

COD proposes that we find language similar to the Church of Ireland and a process similar to the Scottish Episcopal Church. Provisionally accept the Covenant, pending discussion in the Anglican Consultative Council on concerns about Section 4. Offer to hold a Special General Convention, so they cannot used the argument that they can't wait until 2015. There is the comment in the Executive Council report that we are asked to adopt the Covenant more or less as a whole; but since when do we do what the Anglican Communion has asked us to do? Why start now? Besides, Ireland and Scotland have already developed processes in adopting the Covenant which do not fulfill that request, why should we be held to a different standard?

We must stay engaged, and we must not provide easy opportunities for our voices not to be heard. The Windsor Report achieved what little authority it has because it was adopted by the Anglican Consultative Council, in a narrow vote, because we "voluntarily" withdrew our representatives from voting. Thus excluding ourselves created some of the mess we are in. We cannot continue to do so with a summary rejection of the Covenant. If we are going to be excluded, make the forces in the Communion seeking to silence, marginalize, and exclude us have to do so intentionally. This will show them for who they are. Don't give them the opportunity.

Otherwise, we will be at the mercy of the Archbishop of Canterbury's Star Chamber. We know how well that will go: after all, as the great poet Pink Floyd once put it, "Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way."

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Proposal for Restructuring the HOB and HOD:

This proposal should be read in conjunction with my original call to begin a process of reform and restructuring at the 2012 Convention -- for that posting, click here.

Crusty Old Dean apologizes for the gap in between the posting of my 2006 GC reflections, my initial call to suspend the Constitution and Canons, and only now getting to putting forward some of my thoughts on what new structures might look like. COD has been traveling this week, speaking at a conference of Lutherans, Anglicans, and Catholics (LARC) in Michigan. COD plans on rolling out a series of proposals over the next few weeks, beginning with the HOB and HOD this time around.

COD will interrupt this series of proposals on restructuring General Convention to post his remarks to the LARC group, if only to show that COD is equally critical in reshaping the ecumenical movement as his is with the Episcopal Church.

Enough already. As they would say in the great state of Wisconsin: Forward! (punctuation supplied by COD; not part of state motto)

A MODEST PROPOSAL FOR RESHAPING THE House of Bishops AND House of Deputies

1. Replace the current bicameral structure.

Bishops, clergy, and lay persons sit in a single, unicameral body. Resolutions are only presented to this body. They are discussed and debated in this body. When it comes to a vote, however, bishops, clergy, and laity vote separately. For a resolution to be enacted, it must pass in a simple majority in all orders. For the Constitution to be amended or the Prayer Book to be changed, it must achieve a 2/3rds majority in all three orders. We can also include a provision to permit 2/3rds vote on individual matters, which would most likely come through a suspension of the normal rules of order, which would itself require a 2/3rds vote.

We will name this new body with our historic name: it will be called, simply, the General Convention. Each order will have its own moderator: for bishops, the PB; for clergy, an elected moderator/president with a six-year term; for laity, an elected moderator/president with a six-year term. Clergy & lay moderators may be re-elected once. There will also be a Vice President in each order. There will be a single secretary for the General Convention, to be elected by the body as a whole according to rule laid out in a new Constitution and Canons, either a bishop, priest, or lay person, for a six-year term, re-electable once.

This reform meets a number of needs. It radically simplifies and shortens the entire legislative process. COD often found himself at General Conventions past humming the classic lines by Bob Dylan, "Me I sit here to patiently/waiting to find out the price/we have to pay to get out of/going through all of these things twice." In the current system, resolutions, even if assured of passage, must go through both houses. Even more mundane resolutions must be placed on and voted on two different consent calendars! It will also reduce the embarrassing and unnecessary phenomenon of resolutions dying because they could not make it through houses simply because time ran out. It would avoid the ridiculous parliamentary circus that engulfs Convention in its final 48 hours as it madly dashes to pass things, often unable to give important matters their proper attention (like the Title III Canons in 2003, which were simply punted down the line to 2006). In 2003, for instance, the House of Bishops had nothing to do on the last afternoon, and adjourned in early afternoon and gave blanket approval to anything sent to it by the HOD (the action itself of extraordinarily dubious validity, which was thankfully not tested).

It will also preserve the historic checks and balances in Episcopal polity, as well as the equal place of laity in the governance of the church. It is consistent with the polity of other churches. The model proposed is similar to way in which the General Synod of the Church of England functions. (Disclaimer: this should not be read as COD indulging in Anglophilism. As someone who has a copy on the wall of his office of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic in 1916 by the Provisional Government, COD is no Anglophile. COD also promises to relate some of his deadening interaction with the Church of England in later posts.)

There may be some concern that this does not give "equal" representation to the laity, who now make up 50% of the House of Deputies. I think we should not let this 50% number color the debate too much. In reality, bishops, clergy, and laity already vote separately on major issues: The House of Bishops has its own house, and in the House of Deputies it's called voting by orders, is required for some things, and can moved to vote on almost anything. So in a sense this is a streamlining and reworking of a principle we already have in place, that important decisions require the consent of bishops, clergy, and laity (and already requires a supermajority of clergy and laity). It is already how Standing Commissions and the legislative committees at General Convention function, where clergy, bishops, and laity sit, debate, and discuss together but vote separately. Besides don't get attached to that 50% because COD is also proposing

2. Proportional Representation

Dioceses would be represented in proportion to their membership, using a formula to be determined and developed. There would be a minimum number for each, just like there is in Congress. The current apportionment system reflects the situation of 1789, not 2011.

As part of this proportional representation, cut the House of Deputies to a much smaller number, perhaps 500. The current 800+ figure is an extrapolation of the no more than 4 clergy and 4 laity representation in the 1789 Constitution. COD doesn't care too much on the exact number of a smaller House of Deputies; it is just ludicrous that a church of 2,000,000 has over 800 representatives in the HOD alone. If the US congress had a similar ratio, there would be over 120,000 members of Congress (population of USA is 150 times greater than TEC membership; 150*800 = 120,000). We also have 200+ bishops eligible to vote in the House of Bishops (included retired bishops). It is often intoned that the House of Deputies is one of the largest deliberate, legislative, representative bodies outside of the Indian Parliament. This is just not right - literally and figuratively. For one thing, it's not true. The ELCA Churchwide Assembly has over 1,000 voting members. The United Methodist General Conference has over 900. BTW, the ELCA is at least twice the size of the Episcopal Church, the UMC roughly three to four times the size. Second, it's nothing to be proud of; to COD it only illustrates reveling in undeserved exceptionalism which has been part of the Episcopal Church's hubris.

Our current system is a holdover from the days when a handful (literally, in some places) of Episcopalians in some areas of the country feared being overwhelmed by other regions with more numerous Episcopalians. Regional differences and theological parties were also reflected.

The result is a current system which is undemocratic and unrepresentative. The dioceses of North Dakota, Idaho, Western Kansas, Nevada, Utah, and Eastern Oregon, just to name a few, have six times as much representation as the diocese of Connecticut in the House of Deputies, which has more parishes and members than all of them combined. Not to mention the amount that the diocese of Connecticut remits in its diocesan assessment to the work of the church while still having the same representation of much smaller entities. In addition, we already have de facto proportional representation in the House of Bishops: larger dioceses with multiple bishops have more representation than small dioceses with one bishop, or even those with none. (But don't get too attached to that, COD has a plan for reorganizing the diocesan structure as well.) For now, COD finds it hard to take seriously an Episcopal Church which rails against taxation without representation in the broader Anglican Communion while countenancing an undemocratic and unfair apportionment system in its own General Convention.

COD firmly believes that the system should have opportunities built-in to make sure that issues which are important to smaller dioceses are not ignored or overshadowed by larger ones, and COD has a plan for that, too, to be revealed in time, lest COD be accused of being some city-slicking, out-of-touch, coastal Episcopalian urban elite (would that COD were). COD is not ignorant or unaware of problems which face different kinds of dioceses; the mother-in-law of COD is a (previously Canon 9) deacon from Idaho and COD was married in the Church of the Ascension in Twin Falls.

Thus lay representation would be based on the number of baptized members. Clergy representation would be based in turn on the number of members of a diocese, again in a proportional system. Thus hypothetically a diocese with 2,500 or less would be guaranteed X number of clergy and Y number of lay representatives; 2,500-5,000 would have X clergy and Y lay representatives, and so on. Do not hold COD to those number thresholds. The only D's COD ever received before becoming a D were the D's he received in Algebra II and in Geometry. Mathematics is not COD's strong suit. All active diocesan, coadjutor, assisting, suffragan, and other bishops granted vote by the House (e.g. when the Ecumenical Officer was a bishop from 2001-2009) would have voice and vote. Retired bishops may attend but do not have vote and have no voice unless specifically called on and recognized by their chair. The ratio of laity to clergy would be 3-2 in each diocesan apportionment, and thus 3-2 in the Convention, so that clergy, which make only make up 50% of the current HOD, would outnumber clergy in the revised GC. This proposal would not include bishops, but no fear - we will reduce that number so that only diocesan, suffragan, coadjutor, assisting, or other active bishops granted a vote will have voice and vote.

3. Streamlining the Legislative Process

The current legislative system simply does not do an adequate job of making sure the Convention uses its time wisely. Resolutions may come from different sources: Commissions and/or Executive Council; Bishops (requiring a certain number of sponsors); Deputies (requiring a certain number of sponsors); and Dioceses. Bishops and Deputies (B and C resolutions) may submit resolutions up to 5:00 pm on the second (sorta third) day of Convention.

The deadline for submitting resolutions at the Convention should be moved up a day: it is technically the 2nd day of Convention, but in reality it is the 3rd day. As currently structured, people arrive. Then there is a whole day when only legislative committees meet, the PB and PHOD make opening remarks, and legislative committees meet again -- kind of Day 0 since the technical "1st" day again consists mostly of legislative committees but also has some plenary time. The technical 2nd day sees a little more legislative sessions of the Houses, but still budgets a lot for committee meetings.

Convention thus has not much to do for the first 48 hours while people spend their time in Joint Legislative Committees. COD would move that filing deadline up to the end of what is now termed the "1st day" and make what he calls "Day 0" when everyone is there but in legislative committees almost all of the time into the new first day by seeing that Convention actually has some work to do.

COD proposes the following legislative streamlining:

--The deadline for all reports from CCAB (Committees, Commissions, Agencies, and Boards) is November 1, including all resolutions they are referring to Convention.

--Executive Council then holds two meetings, one in November/December and another in February/March. At these two meetings
In its own Committee structure (more on that later, COD has plans for Council) discusses all the resolutions from CCABs. It has the power of a legislative committee: it may combine and amend resolutions, and will also take initial votes to recommend or not recommend their passage at Convention. It will act as a sort of Super Joint Legislative Committee.

--Any resolution referred by a CCAB that are passed on to Convention by by Executive Council does not go to a legislative committee at Convention, but directly to one of the Houses. Such a resolution has already been vetted by two representative bodies of the church, and does not need to go before a third. Any resolution, according to a process laid out in the Rules of Order of the (new) General Convention, could be sent to legislative committee by a process to be laid out, so that if Convention does want to vet a resolution for a third time, it may.

This will allow for Convention to get to work right away instead of twiddling its thumbs waiting for legislation to trickle in.

This is just an initial salvo in how to restructure General Convention so that it is is more representative of the church and more streamlined in its functioning, while still preserving essential components of our polity.

More thoughts in weeks to come.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Why General Convention is Broken, Part 2: A Personal Reflection

This is Part 2 -- for part one, click here.  
This may seem like ancient history, but, in the run-up to the 2006 General Convention,
the House of Bishops met and announced they would not give consents in *any* episcopal
until General Convention had had a chance to meet.  In response the usual Luddite anti-bishop, 
histrionic factions in the church lambasted 
this as a unilateral, uncanonical, arrogant action by the bishops.  COD, in turn,
thought the bishops were respecting the polity of the church saying only Convention
could weigh in on such a matter. A Special Commission was set up in advance of
Convention to receive all sorts of resolutions and proposals coming in from diocesan
conventions. There was the need to make an official response to the report of the
Windsor Commission, which came out in 2004, and to make some sort of policy
clarification or decision on how to handle any potential future elections of openly
gay or lesbian persons in committed partnerships. The Commission issued a
resolution, A161.

It originally read: "Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, That the 75th
General Convention of The Episcopal Church regret the extent to which we
have, by action and inaction, contributed to strains on communion and caused
deep offense to many faithful Anglican Christians as we consented to the
consecration of a bishop living openly in a same-gender union. Accordingly,
we urge nominating committees, electing conventions, Standing Committees,
and bishops with jurisdiction to exercise very considerable caution in the
nomination, election, consent to, and consecration of bishops whose manner
of life present a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains
on communion."

It was amended in legislative committee at Convention to: "Resolved, the
House of Bishops concurring, That the 75th General Convention of The
Episcopal Church regret the extent to which we have, by action and inaction,
contributed to strains on communion and caused deep offense to many
faithful Anglican Christians as we consented to the consecration of a bishop
living openly in a same-gender union. Accordingly, we are obliged to urge
nominating committees, electing conventions, Standing Committees, and
bishops with jurisdiction to exercise very considerable caution refrain
the nomination, election, consent to, and consecration of bishops
whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will
lead to further strains on communion.; and be it further Resolved, That
the General Convention not proceed to develop or authorize Rites for
the Blessing of same-sex unions at this time, thereby concurring with
the Windsor Report in its exhortation to bishops of the Anglican Communion
to honor the Primates’ Pastoral Letter of May 2003; and be it further Resolved,
That the General Convention affirm the need to maintain a breadth of
responses to situations of pastoral care for gay and lesbian Christians
in this Church; and be it further Resolved, That the General Convention
apologize to those gay and lesbian Episcopalians and their supporters
hurt by these decisions."

This was taken up first in the House of Deputies. There was, of course,
a move to vote by orders. COD would have bet all the money in his
bank account which lay and clerical deputations would be moving the
vote, and, course, he would have won.
Then the following series of events occurred:  Debate continued on the
resolution. The House took a recess. After the recess a substitute
resolution from one of the conservative deputies was proposed, which
would have put a formal moratorium in place ona gay and lesbian persons.
COD said to a colleague, "They can't do that, the qualifications for bishop
are outlined in the Constitution, not just the canons." There was general
nodding in the group where COD sat.

Someone tried to move the substitution out of order; the chair ruled
that motion out of order; the chair's ruling was challenged; a vote was
held to try to overrule the chair, which failed. All of this, mind you, for
a proposed substitute motion which had absolutely no chance to pass
regardless of its obvious unconstitutionality. Then the time allotted for
debate had expired, so there was a motion to continue debate, which
failed. After termination of debate the chair announced that, after
consultation, the resolution was in fact out of order because it would
require a constitutional change (since qualifications for bishop are
outlined in the Constitution as well as canons). Of course, this ruling
was challenged, a vote was held, and the ruling was upheld. So the
entire time spent on the substitute was a waste and debate returned
to the A161 as amended by the legislative committee. The vote by
orders (remember the vote by orders called ages ago?) was held, and,
of course, the resolution failed anyways. Everyone knew it would have
failed even without a vote by orders, but such is the system we have.

But wait, it's not over. There was then a motion to take up the original text
before it had been amended - there was suddenly almost a panic in the
House, with the realization that an enormous amount of time and energy
had been put into having the Episcopal Church say something, anything,
in response to the Windsor Report and to the broader Anglican Communion.
And after voting down amended A161, there was nothing in the pipeline. So
the vote to reconsider was proposed, mainly to be able to amend the original
A161 to make it more palatable. There was no debate as the question was
immediately moved. And the motion to reconsider failed, through a combination
of conservatives and liberals who did not want A161 to be considered, each
for their own reasons.

We all walked out of the House of Deputies kind of stunned. It had be a
long and emotionally draining session, much of the time in COD's opinion
frivolously wasted on procedural obfuscation and downright inability of
people to know what the Constitution and Canons required. And nothing,
nothing, had been accomplished. COD thought of all the money, time,
and resources the church had spent over the past few months to bring over
800 people together in this representative body and accomplish nothing.

COD retired to the House of Bishops, hoping to have something else
attract his attention. They were debating a fairly innocuous resolution,
COD really forgets what it was, until one bishop rose to amend the
resolution -- a fairly moderate bishop, neither liberal nor conservative.
He stood and proposed an amendment, changing "The General Convention
shall direct," to "The General Convention shall advise" the dioceses to adopt
some kind of report. Speaking to the amendment, the bishop said, shortly
and curtly, "The General Convention can't tell dioceses to do anything," and
sat down. Without any further discussion, the HOB voted in favor of the amendment.

COD wanted to stand and shout, "OK, first of all: that's wrong. General
Convention can tell dioceses what to do. You may not ordain dogs,
for instance, or permit communion of the unbaptized – even though some
dogs would make excellent priests, and bishops and dioceses and congregations
seem able to ignore the ban on communion of the unbaptized. Second of
all, even if true: THEN WHY ARE WE HERE? If this in fact the case, hold
General Convention once a decade to let church folk mingle and reminisce
and pass useless resolutions, and fully empower every diocese do
whatever the f**k it wants."

You may gather COD was becoming a trifle irritated at this point. But
that's not the case. The frustration was bubbling from depths of despair.
So much needing to be done in the world and in our church, and we seemed
incapable of doing it.

But it wasn't over. Like Rasputin or a Monty Python plague victim, the
debate over A161 was not dead yet. Presiding Bishop Griswold took
the unusual step of calling for a special joint session. Remember that each
House treats the others like vampires: bishops may not enter the floor
of the House of Deputies and vice versa unless special resolutions are
adopted permitting it. The only time there is usually a joint session is to
consider the proposed budget. Bishop Griswold called for a joint session
and essentially asked the HOB and HOD not to go away from this Convention
without making some kind of response to the broader Anglican Communion,
citing as much "confusion" from our Anglican partners as anything else about
the actions of the Episcopal Church. There were those who praised Griswold
for his leadership; but also murmurings that the mind of the HOD had been
clear and that some back-door process was in motion, instigated by bishops.

A substitute was proposed from the House of Bishops, B033. It read: "Resolved,
the House of Deputies concurring, That the 75th General Convention receive
and embrace The Windsor Report's invitation to engage in a process of healing
and reconciliation; and be it further, Resolved, That this Convention therefore
call upon Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdiction to exercise restraint
by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose
manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further
strains on communion."

Here the official Journal of the General Convention understates matters that infolded in the House of Bishops. COD was there during the debate. One bishop stood and offered an amendment to the Resolution, after which COD's colleague from another Christian communion leaned over and said, "That's a statement, not an amendment." Nonetheless debate proceeded on the amendment for about five minutes before the chair announced, "The proposed amendment is not in the proper form." That amendment was withdrawn and debate continued, with various amendments proposed and the usual arguments from both sides. COD was sitting near a table that had one prominent conservative bishop waving his table card to speak. The chair announced that it was time for a vote. The bishop flung his card on the table in disgust at not having had the opportunity to speak. Even COD thought: in for a penny, in for a pound; we're here, we might as well not let people walk away feeling they had not been heard. The vote was taken and B033 passed.

Then came what is not in the minutes: after the Resolution passed, a bishop from the liberal wing stood and disavowed the action taken. Other bishops stood and agreed. Conservative bishops, not to be outdone, expressed their disavowal of the action. COD walked out of the HOB and saw that Bishop Duncan of Pittsburgh was already speaking to reporters, denouncing the action of the HOB in passing B033. COD found himself thinking, "Then what is the HOB for? What was the whole debate for, if not for people on the left and the right to say their peace within the framework of our canonical structures? What is the whole process for, if anyone can then stand and disavow any result they disagree with?"

Again, it was not over. B033 now had to go to the House of Deputies. There was yet another twist: The Presiding Bishop-elect addressed the House of Deputies and urged them to adopt the resolution, putting her ecclesial capital behind it. After considerable debate, the Resolution was adopted. It was a spirited debate: many deputies thought the House was turning its back on full inclusion of gay and lesbian persons; others were resentful that the bishops seemed to be pushing a new resolution after one pretty similar had already been defeated; others said that while they might be opposed they would vote for the sake of the broader communion, to give a signal that we were not turning out back entirely on the Anglican Communion, and because Bishop Jefferts Schori had said she needed this. Some deputies were openly weeping once the resolution passed – wait for it -- on a vote by orders.

COD bumped into a clergy friend who asked him how the debate went. COD replied with the last verse of the Book of Judges, "In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes." We had a Constitution, and Canons, parliamentary process, representative governance, but none of that mattered. Liberals and conservatives had been and would continue to more or less do as they pleased, and we would gather every 3 three years and pretend we were somehow the pinnacle of democracy in the church.

But it was not over. Convention still had business to attend and discuss. As assistant ecumenical officer, Crusty Old Dean had been working on the dialogue with the United Methodist Church. We were proposing Interim Eucharistic Sharing, where Episcopalians and United Methodists could hold joint eucharistic services while continuing in dialogue, similar to the arrangement between Lutherans and Episcopalians between 1982-2001. The United Methodist Church's Council of Bishops had passed this in 2005. We needed to sign on for it to come into effect. Yet it was now the last day of Convention and there was an enormous backlog of resolutions. Remember, if not passed by both houses, resolutions are listed as defeated by non-concurrence. House of Bishops had passed Interim Eucharistic Sharing. Deputies just needed to get to it.

COD was concerned the witching hour of 6pm would arrive, the resolution would not be voted on, and we would have to go to our partners and say, "Sorry, I know you passed this, but we were debating a resolution supporting the teaching of evolution." Which we were: the House of Deputies was debating a resolution to endorse and support the teaching of evolution, an utterly meaningless piece of legislation that no one would remember and would do absolutely nothing. COD called over a page, wrote a note, and asked her to deliver it to a Deputy. The deputy got COD's note, walked to a microphone, and asked whether we could move on and prioritize other resolutions that could be considered more urgent. The chair replied resolutions were considered in numeric order by their legislative committee -- each Committee is numbered, beginning with Committee #1 on Constitution and Canons, and going through #19, Communications (these numbers are from Convention 2009 -- with the lovely Committee #20, "Miscellaneous Resolutions"). The deputy could, of course, vote to suspend that process -- which would have required a motion, and debate, and then an argument about which resolutions were more important, and by that time 6 pm would have come and even less would have been done. The message was clear: too bad, people, we're stuck with our polity.

They got to the resolution on Interim Eucharistic Sharing with the United Methodist Church. COD was relieved. A deputy then rose to amend it, to specifically include the historically black Methodist Churches. COD was furious. There had been an explanation in the Blue Book Report on how this dialogue was dealing with the black Methodist churches. The exact same matter had come up in legislative committee. We were only proposing the United Methodists because we were reaching out to the black Methodists and didn't seem right to vote on something that was not on those churches' radar screen. We were continuing in dialogue and relationship with those churches, but only taking this action now with the United Methodist Church. This deputy making the proposed amendment had even asked someone to bring these concerns to the legislative committee, which were communicated back to the deputy in question. For whatever reason the deputy apparently still wanted to amend -- knowing that amendment means defeat, because the House of Bishops would not have time to consent. After discussion with the chair, the deputy did withdraw the resolution, but again not without using precious legislative time to restate for the third time issues that had been dealt with in the Standing Commission on Ecumenical Relations in its Blue Book Report and by the Legislative Committee at General Convention. The vote was taken, Interim Eucharistic Sharing approved, and COD had had enough. I was done. I walked out of the House of Deputies.

I bumped into a friend in the hallway, and we went for a drink. We were both in a kind of daze. He asked me how I thought Convention went, and I found myself blurting out, "I used to roll my eyes at General Convention and think of it as an annoyance. Now I see that it is a destructive force in the life of our church."

It gave me no pleasure to say that. But it also made me realize the system is not fine.

Stay tuned to COD. In the next set of postings, I will be outlining suggestions for sustained overhaul of our entire system of governance.

Why Generation Convention is Broken, Part 1: A Personal Reflection

Crusty Old Dean has been inundated with a veritable trickle of questions from people about the 2006 moment I have alluded to, when I realized that General Convention no longer worked. In these next two posts, I hope to outline how I came to that revelation.

And, for once, COD says that GC is broken without any of his trademark snark and with an absence of assonance. I come to this conclusion with a great sense of dread and despair, knowing that our church has so much to offer to the world, yet wastes so much time, energy, and money.

The Executive Council of the Episcopal Church is meeting as we speak, and, in part, reacting to some of the proposals but forth by COO in a presentation to the HOB last month. In a sense, COD agrees with PHOD (President of the House of Deputies) Bonnie Anderson: yes, in general, the system works – IF you by works you mean a representative body of elected bishops, clergy, and lay persons meet at regular intervals and provide oversight to the Episcopal Church. Other than that, I don’t think we agree that the structure works. I think it is wasteful, repetitive, and in some ways profoundly un-democratic and un-representative. I think there are longstanding ecclesiological issues between how diocese relate to a denominational structure, the role of the Presiding Bishop, the place of Executive Council, what the internal Provincial groupings are – just to name a few – which have never been addressed.

Change is needed. And you know what? We have always had change. No reason to stop now.

The organization and structure of the Episcopal Church has been continually updated and tweaked to reflect events and realities that were not foreseen. For instance, the requirement that a bishop visit parishes in a diocese once every three years emerges from the refusal of the Bishop of Massachusetts, a staunch evangelical, to visit the even more staunchly Anglo-Catholic Church of the Advent. In 1853, the greatest presbyter ever (GPE), William Augustus Muehlenberg, presented a daring, innovative, and forward-looking proposal for restructuring the church. It, of course, was buried in a committee whose eventual recommendations included such earth shattering proposals such a that the Litany might be left out of the liturgy on Sunday mornings. In 1919, the National Council was created to bring some order to a bunch of overlapping, ad hoc, and semi-official commissions and organizations that were carrying out the mission work of the church -- and in addition made the Presiding Bishop an elected office, recognizing the needs of the church and society required qualifications more than the most senior bishop. We have realized many times, on many occasions, that our structures need some fixing. Sadly we seem to be under the opposite sense now, that, in reality, they are just fine. It is the belief we don't need change which is the anomaly, not the push for reform.

OK, introductory remarks concluded.  In response to underwhelming demand, as
the movie director Wolz tells Tom Hagen in the Godfather, “I'll be even more frank, just
to show you that I'm not a
hard-hearted man.”

Back then, five long years ago, Crusty Old Dean was Assistant Deputy to the Presiding Bishop for Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations. I served as liaison to the Standing Commission on Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations, consultant to the Joint Legislative Committee on Ecumenical Relations at General Convention, and coordinated the attendance and hosting of our ecumenical and interreligious partners at Convention. I was there from the beginning to the bitter end. There were a number of moments at GC 2006 when Crusty Old Dean (who was neither as Crusty nor as Old as he is now, and by no means a Dean) began to feel unsettled.

One was the election of the Presiding Bishop:  not the result, which COD applauded,
but the process.COD was sitting at a coffee shop across from Trinity Church, staking
out the conclave, joined by a colleague who was ecumenical officer in another Christian
communion which also has bishops.  CODwas explaining the process.  I began by
noting there was some concern about the conclave itself, since our polity required 2/3rd
of all living bishops to attend an electing conclave to constitute a quorum, and that we
only barely managed to clear that.  "Why?" asked COD's colleague.  "Because we have
so many bishops who aren't either diocesans or suffragans."  His colleague was perplexed:
"Huh?"  I explained about assisting bishops, who had been elected and served somewhere,
who resign and serve in another diocese, and the fact retired bishops vote.  My colleague
was particularly unnerved by retired bishops.   "That's crazy," was his reply.  "Why would
you do that?  They’re not accountable to anyone and get to vote on matters they don’t
have to have any responsibility to implement?"  I replied because when the process was
developed there was no way they envisioned 109 dioceses spread over 16 countries
with multiple categories of bishop, so many retired bishops, and bishops increasingly
serving in other ministries (seminary deans, cathedral deans, denominational staff, etc.).
The quorum managed, the election's stunning and prophetic choice announced, and
COD's flush of excitement quickly faded when he learned the vote:  95 in favor, just one
above the majority needed.  COD was concerned that conservative bishops had swung
their votes to Bishop Jefferts Schori in order to elect her, so that this could then be used
in their efforts to convince conservative allies home and abroad about the liberalism of
the Episcopal Church.  They elected her in order to caricature her, COD thought.  Sure
enough, Bishop Duncan of Pittsburgh and Bishop Benitez, retired of Texas, both later
publicly admitted they voted for the PB more or less for these reasons.  
After her election by the Bishops, the House of Deputies then took up the confirmation
process.  COD was sitting with ecumenical colleagues from other Christian communions,
again explaining the process.  COD saw the chair call on someone whom he
recognized.  The person announced that he had a procedural motion, and COD
groaned.  "Why are you groaning?" an ecumenical colleague asked. "We're going to
have a vote by orders," I replied.  Despite the fact that it was obvious Bishop
Jefferts Schori would be confirmed, the usual suspects stood up and demanded a
vote by orders, which is neither debatable or votable.  Thus we wasted time taking
a vote by orders, which, from beginning to announcement of results, takes about an
hour, purely because of the spite of the losing side, knowing what the results would

Thus while applauding the election of the PB, the whole process was filled with
elements that caused COD pause – with the glaring, and un-democratic, fact that a
retired bishop, answerable to no one and with no necessary involvement in the church
under her primacy, was the 95th and deciding vote that elected a PB for the church as a
whole.  How can one retired bishop with ill motives decide a primate for a church of
over 2 million members?

And there were the consents to episcopal elections.  From 1789-1901, the election of
bishops required the consent of a majority of bishops with jurisdiction and Standing
Committees.  In 1901, this was changed to allow for General Convention to give the
consents ordinarily given by Standing Committees, should an election occur within a
prescribed number of days.  This was for convenience and expediency, and reflected
the fact that by allowing the House of Deputies to give consent, clergy and laity from
each diocese were still represented.  From 1901-2003, these consents were more or
less de rigeur, with a few notable exceptions here and there (the election of Jon-David
Schofield in 1988, for instance), until the election of V. Gene Robinson as bishop of New
Hampshire in 2003. A process was developed in 2003 for what had been more or less
by-the-book GC confirmation, including open hearings and voting by written ballot in
the House of Bishops.  COD was roped into counting episcopal consents, though not
for Bishop Robinson, and had to spend 45 minutes hand counting and rechecking
written ballots for the unanimous confirmation of a different bishop-elect.  A time
consuming and tedious process designed solely with regard to one candidate was
nonetheless repeated for all the other consent processes in the House of Bishops.
(Aside:  COD watched the debate from the House of Bishops on bishop-elect
Robinson’s consent not in the HOB – I wanted to be able to get up and pee if
need be – but in the overflow hall next door.  While waiting for the vote to be
announced, COD started a betting pool at the table where he was sitting, guessing
the number of “yes” votes only.  COD went first and guessed, “Sixty-two.”  The result
was 62, meaning I won the pool, resulting in one of COD’s colleagues
speed-dialed *62 for COD on her cellphone.)
Back to the corruption of the consent process. Leading up to 2006, there was an
election in the diocese of California which had openly gay/lesbian candidates
on the ballot, and there was the anticipation that there might be another consent
process which would in essence be a referendum on the church's view towards
service in the ordained ministry by gay/lesbians persons. In particular, conservative
action groups in the church were gearing up for the consent hearings. However, this
did not happen, and no openly gay/lesbian candidates were elected. COD remembers
seeing representatives of conservative groups like the American Anglican Council
and Institute on Religion and Democracy walking the hallways, dejected as though
their puppy had just died: there would be no dramatic, bitter, confirmation hearings
that they had so been looking forward. So they decided to create their own drama,
digging up whatever they could on bishops who were having their hearings at that
Convention, manufacturing controversies about incidents in the pasts of bishops-elect
Beisner and Andrus. A colleague commented to COD, "We seem to have turned the
consent process into Senate hearings on Supreme Court justices...what used to be
the church collectively giving consent is turning into a kabuki theater where people
get to grandstand."

Then came the A161-B033 debacles. For this, friends, you will need to wait for Part Two. For part 2, click here.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Modest Proposal for General Convention, Pt 1

COD has not forgotten his first, epochal, post-heard-round-the-world, where I applauded the initiative of Bishop Stacy Sauls, Chief Operating Officer, to rethink the organization and polity of the Episcopal Church. And, predictably, there were the usual howls from those who objected, more often than not in terms of process than substance. The fact that the presentation was to the House of Bishops awakened the rarely dormant concerns over authority and prelacy which have marked aspects of American religion since the colonial period. Let's not forget, after all, that not only did a large portion of people in the colonies not want any bishops (Anglican or Roman Catholic), there were a good portion of Anglicans in the colonies who did not want bishops. But I digress; feel free to enroll in one of the fine courses Bexley Hall Seminary offers in Anglican Studies to learn more.

Since 2006, when COD had the
epiphany that our system of governance was at best broken, wasteful, and unhelpful and at worst a destructive force in the life of the church, COD has not stopped thinking about ways in which to rethink polity. At some point I will reflect on that epiphany in more detail, but not right now. As such, I don't think COO Sauls' (hereafter COO to your correspondent's COD) proposal went far enough; I think it is too timid of a response.

In this posting, I'd like to lay out what I think could be a more effective roadmap in terms of decision making towards revisioning the polity of the church. In later postings, I'll outline some of the changes I think need to be discussed.

First of all, two main points which guide my thoughts:

1) Essential components of the Episcopal Church's polity remain the same as in 1789. Two houses, equal representation of all dioceses, requirement that legislation pass both Houses, voting by orders and two consecutive Conventions to amend Constitution. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of what has remained the same, just noting the fact.

2) What change has occurred has happened gradually over almost 230 years, mainly in the Canons but to a lesser extent in the Constitution. Our Canons in particular reflect this slow, gradual, incidental (responding to particular incidents), and occasional adjustments. These changes were often a result of our polity not being effectual to meet certain situations. To give but one of a legion of examples: the Presiding Bishop was given the authority to inhibit (now "restrict") bishops because of the case of the Rt Rev George David Cummins, Assistant Bishop of Kentucky (an assistant bishop back then was not the same as our current definition). Cummins went rogue in 1873, announcing his intention to start a breakaway Episcopal Church and consecrate some new bishops (which still exists, BTW, the Reformed Episcopal Church). The PB at the time (coincidentally, Cummins' diocesan) did not have the authority to temporarily inhibit Cummins, only send him written warning and give him time to recant. This was changed to give the PB that authority. We could go on. White & Dykman is nothing but an extended commentary on the backstory to why certain canons and constitutional changes were made.

In some ways, I envy the ELCA (in others, I do not): in the 1980s, heading towards merger, they had the opportunity to sit down and think intentionally about what a church wide organization should look like in the late 20th century. I don't necessarily agree with all aspects of ELCA polity; but at least they were the product of extended thought, reflection, and discussion, instead of relentlessly tweaking of an archaic system designed for a handful of dioceses scattered along the East coast.

OK, now on to Modest Proposal, Part 1:

COD thinks COO's proposal is too timid and tentative. Calling in 2012 for a Special Convention in 2015 will draw out this process to the point that the Episcopal Church becomes even more irrelevant than it is. The 2015 Special Convention will make recommendations to the 2015 General Convention to follow. If any are Constitutional changes, they would need to be voted on again in 2018. Of course, if 2015 GC chooses not to act on recommendations of the proposed Special Convention -- say, to study them for three years -- then 2018 would be a first vote, and 2021 a second vote. Thus we are a decade away from implementing any structural changes.

So: instead of the COO plan, COD proposes the following (see how I have buried the lede? this would make my former newspaper correspondent mother and fabulous current Globe correspondent Pete crazy)

Do not call a Special Convention in 2015. This would allow people to debate process (should we have it or not?) and not focus our attention on proposals for reform.


Step 1: at THE NEXT Convention, 2012:

--Take a first reading/vote on suspending the entire Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church. The intention is to give an umbrella framework for gradually replacing the Constitution and Canons without constantly having to take votes by orders over and over for consecutive Conventions for every change made in the Constitution

--Take a first vote on stripping voting by orders in its entirety in the House of Deputies, to be replaced by a 2/3 vote in *both* Houses in a *single* Convention for Constitutional or Prayer Book changes. We have a situation where small minorities in the House of Deputies can slow if not defeat measures which have overwhelming support, and which, correspondingly, only require a simple majority in the House of Bishops. This would seem to be a more fair and equitable way of requiring a supermajority for important changes (which COD supports) instead of an arcane system which gives small minorities the ability to disrupt things oftentimes for disruption's sake. And it extends the supermajority concept to the House of Bishops (we need to strip retired bishops of their vote LIKE EVERY OTHER CHRISTIAN COMMUNION THAT HAS THEM INCLUDING CATHOLIC, ORTHODOX, METHODIST, OTHER ANGLICANS, ETC but that will happen, hopefully, in step 2 below)

Then, from 2012-2015,

--Draft a revised Constitution and prioritize which canons need revising (most of Title I with its cumbersome, repetitive, inefficient, overlapping structures). I would imagine things like Title IV, so recently overhauled, might not need much changing at all.

Step 3: In 2015,

--Take the second vote on eliminating voting by orders.

--Take a second reading on the suspension of the Constitution and Canons. Word the resolution initially in 2012 so that any places where the work has not been completed (say, a draft Constitution but no Canons have been drafted) the 2012 version remains in place.

Under COO's proposal, it's quite possible no major changes would come into effect until 2021. We do not have another decade to fritter. We need a massive mobilization for evangelism, Christian formation, advocacy, and social justice. We need not to spend such a ridiculous amount of money which could be used for mission for our internal governance. We have lost most of Gen X and the Millennials. We have talked change enough without ever actually doing anything other than react -- General Convention 2009 being a classic example. Instead of asking hard questions about how to shape our mission and ministry in the context of a financial downturn, a small group of people decided who and what needed to be cut, presenting it to Convention to take it or...well, there was no other option given.

Let's look at options. In Part 2, COD will humbly propose a few.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Occupy this!

Crusty Old Dean is preparing for a conference he's speaking at next week, where I will be giving three, 2-hour presentations. Plus I am doing some supply preaching this Sunday at a local congregation, because, well, COD just can't get enough of that Jesus. So yesterday I was actually working most of the day, not working in spurts and checking email and Facebook every 10 seconds as I normally do.

And lo and behold, apparently an internet meme had taken over Facebook in the few shorts hours in between the time I logged in (BTW, COD keeps thinking meme should have a circonflex over the first "e". He also is also entertained by the fact that something so banal has such a refined name.)

COD saw repeated posting by friends of an image of the Episcopal Church shield with "Occupy the pews of your Episcopal Church". COD, frankly, was perplexed by this phenomenon.

For one thing, it didn't seem to make sense. The OWS movement is a groundswell of populist anger using nonviolent occupation as civil disobedience to protest injustice. The internet meme (OK, saying it's a meme when it is only Episcopalians using it is a bit much, since there are only only about .8% Episcopalians in this country by population using a generous estimate) seemed an inappropriate appropriation of the image: should we really storm our local churches and refuse to leave?

COD was sharing this with CODW (Crusty Old Dean's Wife), and we both agreed it just seemed a little odd as an image. But then COD said, "You know, on second thought, there are some Episcopal Churches I would like to occupy."

Churches that have lost any sense of mission.

Churches that have clergy who are chaplains that minister only to the members already inside the doors.

Churches that accommodate themselves to the caste system, homophobia, and racism of society.

Let's occupy those churches. That's something I could get with.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Sex & Power

It seems as though Crusty Old Dean can't get his mind out of the gutter, at least when it comes to the titles of his postings. The reality is COD figures he can score higher in Google algorithms if he includes "sex" in his posting titles. Then I can finally figure out what the "monetize" button means on my Blogger editing template. COD is a D, after all, and wouldn't be in the business I'm in if I could monetize.

COD had just finished a faculty meeting (see, I am a Dean!) last Friday when my phone buzzed. COD assumed it was CODW (Crusty Old Dean's Wife) wondering when I would be home. Instead it was a notification from NY on COD's iPhone. I took one look at it, raised my eyebrow, and said softly, "It finally happened."

COD's colleague, who overheard, asked, "What happened?"

COD replied, "Someone is finally being held accountable."

The Bishop of Kansas City was indicted on Friday for failing to notify police of credible allegations that one of his priests possessed child pornography: This is the first bishop to be so indicted on criminal charges, though extensive civil limitation continues. In the archdiocese of Philadelphia, priests were suspended from the ministry only after a grand jury report linked them to possible sexual abuse cases. Monsignor William Lynn, who was in charge of clergy assignments from 1992-2004 at the archdiocese, was charged with two counts of endangering the welfare of a child, but Cardinal Rigali has not been charged and submitted his resignation in the summer of 2011.

A couple of preces before going further:

When this incarnation of the clergy abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church broke in 2002 (emphasis on "this incarnation". It did not begin then: the Porter case had garnered headlines in Massachusetts in the late 80s and early 1990s, and records now show concerns were raised within the church itself at various times about certain persons), COD has noted the tendency to accuse people of being "anti-Catholic" for criticizing the Catholic Church. The Vatican's response in 2010 was to attack the New York Times. In the early 2000s, the The Boston Globe bore this accusation for its series of articles in 2002. Others have often been accused of schadenfreude, of disagreeing in general with certain stands of the Roman Catholic Church and using this to pile on, and so on.

Crusty Old Dean does not think these charges are applicable to him. In the first place,. I schadenfreude (verbing weird language, as Calvin once remarked to Hobbes) EVERYONE. Plus, I have been as hard on my own denomination as I have on the Catholic Church, as repulsed by coverups in the Episcopal Church as in the Roman Catholic Church. Besides, going on the offensive is part of the stock reply. The Vatican did, after all, turn Holy Week 2010 into a pep rally for the Pope, including comparing their sufferings and persecutions to that of Jews (as Raniero Cantalamessa did in his homily on Good Friday in 2010), demonstrating they are either completely out of touch or...well, not sure if there is another option. And, frankly, COD doesn't care if he is called anti-Catholic for drawing attention to the repugnant actions of those who defend and protect child abusers. They deserve every bit of criticism that can be imagined.

Back to the matter in question: in December of 2010 a computer technician reported to the Bishop of Kansas City that pornographic photos of children had been found on a priest's computer. The bishop waited until May of 2011 before reporting the incident to police. The diocese's own internal report stated that proper procedures were not followed, and that actions by the diocese "could have jeopardized children."

Finally, someone is being held criminally accountable for decades of lies, subterfuge, and coverup. This is an important step because COD has often thought that the media has had things wrong. Yes, the scandal in the Roman Catholic Church is about sex. But not only about sex.

The sad reality is that there are sexual predators in the ministry, both heterosexual and with same sex attractions. There are sexual predators among teachers, doctors, lawyers, and all walks of life. COD was once chatting with a priest who had been a police officer for thirty years, took retirement, got ordained, and served as chaplain to the police department in his retirement. I asked him what the biggest change he had seen since his rookie year on the force in 1969. Without hesitation, he replied, "Sexual abuse crimes. In 1969, when I first joined the force, we literally thought these people were creeps in trench coats hiding in bushes preying on strangers. The reality is they are everybody, and could be anywhere, and overwhelmingly prey on people that they know." He paused, looked at me, then said, "For all I know, you could be an abuser."

The scandal is not that there were incidences of sexual misconduct and abuse within the clergy. That is an unfortunate and sad reality, and one which is shared with other professions. The scandal is about abuse of power, something which is not focused on nearly enough in discussions of this issue.

Sexual predators abuse the power they have in relationship to those on whom they prey. They are in positions of authority which grants them access. They use that authority often to convince those on whom they prey not to tell, or that others will not believe them. They use that position of authority to avoid detection. Parish councils are purely advisory in the Roman Catholic Church, so no lay persons have authority over the parish priest. Lay employees or religious sisters can be fired at will; COD knows a sister who was principal of a school who told the priest she was on to him, and was summarily fired.

It is this abuse of power which is common among both opposite sex and same sex sexual predators. Yet the Catholic Church has made this all about one form of predatory behavior; their response to the issues which emerged from the 2002 crisis was to blame homosexuals who were let into the priesthood, drawing a line that links homosexuality and predatory behavior. This canard was repeated, for instance, by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State, in 2010. Since the overwhelming number of men who prey on women are heterosexual, COD assumed a similar condemnation of heterosexuality as being linked with predatory behavior would be forthcoming. (And, in general, the arguably more pervasive issue of sexual misconduct by heterosexuals is oft overlooked; here is just one example of a serial heterosexual predator protected by his religious order:

Unsurprisingly, no such condemnation of heterosexual orientation and predatory behavior was made. The Vatican either ignorantly or purposely perpetuates this lie that homosexuality is linked with predatory behavior in order to shift blame in the crisis.

Because to do otherwise would focus on the second area of abuse of power: the abuse of power from those in the hierarchy, not just bishops but diocesan chancellors who have more oversight of day-to-day aspects of the disciplinary process in many places. There are also sexual predators who are members of religious orders, not diocesan priests, and thus answerable the the disciplinary systems within their religious orders, something which has perhaps even less transparency than diocesan priests., Abuse of power by failure to discipline clergy, failure to be accountable to the laity in their dioceses, failure, in the case of the Bishop of Kansas City, to comply with the law for mandatory reporting. And the Kansas City and Philadelphia situations show that this is not just something confined to accusations from the distant past. Despite all that has gone on, despite all the promises, there is still the refusal in some places to take the necessary steps to do something as obvious and simple as investigate someone who was found with child pornography. Think on that again: it took the bishop six months to report someone to the police who was found with child pornography.

When looked at from the perspective solely as a crisis of sexual abuse, this seems inconceivable. But looking at the issue of power, and abuse of power, helps cast it in a different light. Accountability cannot be permitted because the system which allowed this abuse to happen would crack. So many people are now tainted by this scandal, the abuse of power has been so laid bare, that accountability would result in a tidal wave. Cardinal Law resigned and was whisked off to the Vatican. But his right-hand administrator during the years in question, John McCormack, who had been made a diocesan bishop in another diocese, continued to serve as Bishop of Manchester until reached the resignation age in 2010.

Issues of abuse of power necessarily ask questions about power in the church: and this is something which will not be addressed, as events in Philadelphia, Kansas City, and who knows what other as yet unknown places have and will continue to demonstrate.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Injustice and Same Sex Blessings (but not what you think)

And this should surprise no one…

The Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music of the Episcopal Church will present a rite for blessing of same-sex unions to the 2012 General Convention. This is all well and good, and is an extension of Resolution C056 of the 2009 General Convention, which called for a study on this question. The SCLM will present a rite for three-year trial use, with, presumably, the rite to be authorized in 2015.

As COD says, well and good. But – and there’s always a but, isn’t there? – COD has two cautions as the Episcopal Church moves forward towards the inexorable approval of same sex blessings (As Theodore Parker said, not Martin Luther King, who cited Parker in his paraphrase, despite what the memorial in Washington says, “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe. The arc is a long one. My eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by experience of sight. I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice.”). But before that, a disclaimer:

COD thinks the church should get out of the “marriage” business altogether, cease to be agents of the state, couples, whether same sex or opposite sex, should be permitted to be married according to civil law, and the church should provide blessings for those civil unions. But, as COD tells his students, getting the church out of being agents of the state is a good reason to get out of the marrying business. Unfortunately in reality there are 300 reasons to stay in the marrying business (picture a $ in front of that 3).

And COD is a firm supporter for blessing committed, monogamous same sex unions and committed, monogamous, heterosexual unions. It was in 1995 that I sat down with my first same sex couple and sketched out what a commitment ceremony might look like. COD served as liturgical assistant to same sex blessings in the 1990s at the Episcopal Church he attended, and, as COD once said in a job interview when asked when his support for same sex blessings began, replied, “I don’t ever recall a time in the Episcopal Church when I did not support or participate in same sex blessings, and I became an Episcopalian in 1991.”

OK, back to the but.

COD is profoundly troubled that the work on same sex blessings was more or less funded by a grant given through the Church Divinity School of the Pacific but essentially to the Standing Commission on Liturgy and music, whose chair, Ruth Meyers, is professor of liturgy at CDSP. Standing Commissions of General Convention, as COD knows from ten years on denominational staff, are just that: Commissions of Convention which meet in between the Conventions and draft legislation, follow up on resolutions, and monitor the area that they are charged with monitoring. COD served as staff liaison to one of the Commissions for nearly ten years. They are not program entities; that is the work of the Presiding Bishop’s staff various other persons employed in mission departments of the DFMS. COD constantly had to walk that tightrope as liaison. The Standing Commission on Ecumenical Relations was not my boss when I was ecumenical officer, the Presiding Bishop was. However the PB's office and Commission shared different aspects of a common commitment to ecumenical work. The Commissions have modest budgets, and are almost exclusively for meetings of the group, and not for new initiatives or programs. COD finds it disturbing that a grant was given to essentially a legislative body which perhaps might have been done in conjunction with a liturgical officer (oh wait, we haphazardly laid off staff in 2009 without a strategic plan), and furthermore a grant given by an outside body to fund this work.

Think about this again: Rites authorized for use in the Episcopal Church are written up in resolution form and the text considered and debated by a legislative body.

Thus an outside organization gave money to a legislative body to assist in drafting legislation for the Episcopal Church.

Good Lord, could you imagine if the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a conservative religious think tank, had given money to the Standing Commission on Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations to support curriculum which advocated for Islam as a religion of terror? Or if the lobbying group for trial lawyers had given a grant to help in the revision of Title IV, the disciplinary code of the Episcopal Church, to the Standing Committee on Constitution and Canons? If the American Jewish Committee gave a grant to the Office of Governmental Relations, which oversees lobbying on behalf of the Episcopal Church in Washington, DC? In an era when many decry the influence of outside money, from the Citizens United decision of the Supreme Court to the Koch Brothers or Scaife families supporting conservative causes, allowing outside money to fund the writing of legislation for the Episcopal Church could have a tremendous law of unintended consequences. Simply because the grant was for something COD enthusiastically and wholeheartedly supports does not make it OK.

Not to mention it is wholly unfair: “popular” causes in the church which attract financial support from outside groups apparently may be funded, outside of the budgetary procedures of the church, while equally important work which is not as appealing – say, COD’s old area of responsibility, ecumenism and interreligious relations – is left to scrabble and get by on whatever General Convention can provide for it. Should various departments of the church adapt their goals to make themselves more appealing to outside grants?

Matters of importance for the church should be funded through the proper appropriations process, and through the proper channels. Outside funding underwriting the work of the SCLM is bad precedent and courts the boundaries of inequity and injustice.

It is also troubling ecclesiologically: one of the main chunks of money the SCLM spent was to bring together deputies --specifically deputies -- from each diocese to a meeting to get an update on the SCLM’s work and to consider its progress at that point in the triennium. Bonnie Anderson, President of the House of Deputies, hailed this as an historic occasion when the HOD first met in between meetings of Convention.

The dog that is not barking here seems obvious to COD. The House of Bishops meets regularly, in between meetings of General Convention. Is hailing this historic meeting of the HOD somehow meant to imply that they should meet regularly outside of Convention?

If so, what are Standing Commission for in the first place? Comprised of equal numbers bishops, lay persons, and clergy, are they not supposed to be the bodies that see to the work of Convention in between Conventions? What is the purpose of Executive Council, also a representative body of clergy, lay persons, and bishops, which meets THREE times per year in between General Conventions, and which also has subcommittees devoted to particular areas of mission and ministry? We don't need more meetings of the HOB and HOD. If anything we need fewer. We need either to empower interim bodies or scrap them if we are not to empower them.

Further proof to COD that we need a complete, total, and thorough overhaul of the polity of the Episcopal Church. Polity development over 200 years by hundreds of incremental incidences has left us in an inchoate ecclesiological morass.