Wednesday, July 4, 2012

PHOD Opening Statement: Cut It Out With False Dichotomies:

President of the House of Deputies Bonnie Anderson and Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori delivered their opening remarks to a joint session of General Convention today.  There was much to commend in both addresses, which traditionally have helped frame what is before Convention. 

COD appreciated in particular the way the President of the House of Deputies (PHOD) put to rest the old canard that the framers of the US constitution were the same folks who framed the Episcopal Church, and nuanced this by reflecting on the way the Episcopal Church was part of a “cross-fertilization” of ideas that emerged from the Revolution and post-Revolutionary years.

COD, however, found some perplexing and even troubling aspects of the PHOD’s address. 

For one, she reflected that:
We have not yet realized the ideal of shared leadership of laity, clergy and bishops.  Too many potential leaders in our church are excluded because people who already have power and access to money, technology, and education enjoy the privileges not available to all of us.  We are a great and diverse body gathered here today, but I know — we all know — that too many voices are still missing. Too few of us gathered here today are poor, or young or people of color. In our idealistic yet imperfect polity, too many voices remain unheard in the councils of the church.”

This is simply an apples to oranges comparison.  How does the struggle to have shared leadership of clergy, laity, and bishops relate to the exclusion of those who lack in power, money, technology, and education?  COD is not contesting the point:  yes, people are excluded and marginalized.  But the exclusion on the basis of race, class, socio-economic status, and access to technology is NOT tied to one’s ecclesial order in the church . We have bishops and clergy who come from financial strapped dioceses and we have lay people who come from wealthy dioceses with access to power, technology, and education.  We lack representation from poor, young, and people of color from episcopal, clerical, and lay orders.

These two points -- the failure to realize shared leadership of lay persons, clergy and bishops and our lack of diversity – simply are not directly correlated to one another.  Rather, they are part of a larger problem that transcends and is separate from a struggle for shared governance.  Yet here they are linked. 

Further, she noted that

Worse yet, in recent months, it’s even become fashionable in some circles to celebrate the exclusive nature of the church in the name of efficiency — to treat our governance as a lifeboat in which there is precious little room for laypeople and clergy, to question the value of our shared authority to the future of The Episcopal Church, to assert that the diversity of voices in our governance is just much, too loud, too messy, too expensive, and way too big.”

So this is not simply a lone apples to oranges comparison:  the "exclusive" nature of the church referenced above is again set against shared authority, and what follows is a set of false dichotomies set up for no other reason than to disparage all those interested in and seeking reform of the church as being motivated by a desire to disenfranchise the laity and stand for exclusivism.  Indeed, not only disenfranchisement, but, apparently, death itself:  the charge that some want to make governance a lifeboat into which few are invited, thus letting the rest freeze like poor Jack in Titanic (or so COD is told; he has actually never seen Titanic).

In her remarks the PHOD rightly calls out the choice between mission and governance as a false choice:  “I am worried that a false choice between mission and governance will keep us from hearing the voices of all the baptized as we restructure the church and create a budget for it.”

She should heed her own warnings when it comes to false choices. To frame matters as a choice between mission and governance is a false one, because mission and governance are intertwined; how organize ourselves shapes and informs how we do mission.   But saying we have to choose between the role of laity and clergy in the governance of the church and reform is an equally false choice, and one that these remarks simply revel in.

To quote the PHOD elsewhere in her remarks, “We need to cut it out.” 

If we are going to frame our restructuring conversations, perhaps it would be more productive to frame them as honest efforts by many of the same clergy and laity referenced here to have a sincere and heartfelt discussion about the future of the church we all love.  We need to cut out sweeping, single-minded, and wide-ranging accusations that efforts by clergy, bishops, and, yes, lay people in asking honest questions about how we might be better organized are simply efforts to make the church less diverse and to disenfranchise the laity.  These is the real false choice that was presented to us today.


  1. Perhaps we need to consider the PHoD's address from a different perspective? Perhaps she has touched on two disparate issues - the limits placed on lay participation in church decision making in general and the lack of diversity within the participation that is allowed?

    Perhaps her address is a call to recognize that the laity ARE the most numerous order of gospel ministers of the church - the primary missioners of the Church to the larger world - and the failure of the other orders to support laity in THEIR missioning is exemplified by too much attention to governance and administration of bishops and clergy and institutional props and not enough to the preparation and equipping for gospel ministry of the pewsitter majority....


  2. I agree completely on your point that laity are the primary missioners of the Church; as she frames it in these remarks it's a false choice offered. After all, half of the HOD are laity, and there are plenty of lay people here at Convention who focus a lot on governance. It's not that clergy and bishops do so at the expense of empowering the ministry of all; it's something all can slip into. Making all that we do to be the preparation of the "pewsitter" as you say is something all orders are called to, and all orders at times fall short.


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