Comprehensive Unity: The No Anglican Covenant Blog

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Common prayer, common language?

It is an old observation but no less true: England and America are two countries separated by a common language. Adding Canada into the mix adds French and another separated English!

In 1993 there was no canonical bar in the American canon law to the episcopal election and consecration of a partnered gay man. In fact the exact opposite was true: our canons disavowed discrimination based on "sexual orientation." When Gene Robinson was elected to be diocesan in New Hampshire the election was perfectly legal.

At the conference of bishops which assembled to discuss the election, Presiding Bishop Griswald was asked quite seriously, why he did not simply veto the election so that the controversy would subside. He has spoken about this publicly and said in my hearing that when he was able to stop laughing he explained that the presiding bishop has no authority to veto any election. His English friends were stunned.

We had entered a realm of misunderstanding. A "presiding bishop" in our parlance "presides" that is acts as the chair person at meetings. The English expected him to 'preside' by being in charge. Literally, once the election was canonically lawful, there was nothing Bp. Griswald could do about it. Leaving aside whether or not he wanted to stop the election the most he could have done was to recuse himself as consecrating bishop -- but he would have been required to send a delegate!

Which led to three tracks. First the Windsor Report and its eventual illegitimate child, the "Anglican Covenant;" second ongoing schismatic developments; third an often overlooked effort by Dr. Williams to correct the usage of some terms most especially, "official," "public, "invitation," "request" and especially "bishop."

The Windsor authors in deciding that something must be done to appease the angry Africans "invited" those who either voted for or participated in the consecration of bishop Robinson to "excuse themselves" from various meetings and boards. Imagine the shock when the Americans showed up! Such an "invitation" in English English means "do not come." In American English it meant "think about it and act correctly." Ooops.

The Windsor authors also called for several moratoria: No more "public rites" blessing Lesbian or Gay households ( this applied to Canada;) no more openly gay bishops and no more "incursions." Incursion itself is a polite word for organized sheep stealing with attendant efforts to steal church assets.

In America, a moratorium carries a term. So we might say, "we will declare a moratorium until 2015" or "....until the next meeting of the committee." What we do not do is declare a moratorium without end. Not so we have learned in England where a moratorium can be declared and left untouched until as one folk song has it, "the times do alter."

We know, we all know, that on any given weekend there are more blessings of more homosexual unions in England than in Canada and the USA.
  • In Canada these are done under specific publicly approved canons.
  • In the USA they are done under a clause permitting a "generous pastoral response" to the changes in our civil law.
  • In England they are done under cover.
In England there is no published rite, no official canon position and bishops simply do not notice. A couple can get blessed in England but not recognized. I am reminded of the old line that there is no divorce in Italy and only Roman Catholics can get it.

We Americans are not so good at what the English call "polite conduct" and we might well call "hypocrisy." We prefer to call a "spade a spade." So TEC allows "pastoral response" while the English think we are being obstinate as we and they do exactly the same things. "Two peoples, separated by a common language" indeed. A prior version had a typo here induced by the cut and paste process. The red type is corrected. My apologies.

TEC's general convention after the publication of the Windsor Report engaged reluctantly, in consideration of the "request" (the English meant "mandate" in American English) for a "moratorium." What to do? Remember American canon forbade and continues to forbid discrimination based on sex. The general convention officially did what it does best -- nothing.

Some wanted to accommodate the British desire to appease the Africans. So a sort of non-moratorium was born. The house of bishops in something of a historic moment, did something. They acted very British, and adopted a resolution promising to vote "no" in the confirmation process on episcopal elections where the person elected's "manor manner of life" could be construed to be a problem for our conservative brethren. "Manner of life" was code for "open homosexuality." That promise like the moratorium it was not, had a lifespan. Specifically, it went away when the next general convention convened.

Meanwhile, in England Dr. Williams was it now appears upset that Americans and Canadians did not know how to be proper bishops. Here they were acting as though laity had something worthwhile to say! So we see Lambeth and every other meeting he controls focused on the subject of how to be a bishop. One wonders how those bishops who remember when he was a priest receive his instructions.

In this context let us consider the so-called "covenant" and the latest, lamest excuse for it, "spank the yank."

The document will destroy the communion and replace it with an evangelical dominated, juridical and curial church. In fact, Dr. Williams now refers in public to "the Anglican Church" even though no such body has yet been agreed to by The Church of England! Why do this? Why destroy the communion? Well, to punish the Americans and Canadians of course!

Have you ever heard of a child refusing to do homework because he disliked the teacher? Guess who got the bad grade?

Ratifying the destruction of the communion to spank North Americans will leave the church of England with the largest number of gay bishops (it is probable they have that now, America has the largest number of honest gay bishops.) England already leads the world in gay unions blessed, but Canada's expulsion will solidify the lead. And yet the idea is that the "covenant" punishes North Americans.

We will be fine over here. Already the "covenant" is having an impact and "spanked yanks" along with disciplined Canadians are establishing flat networks with other autocephalous churches. So for instance we continue to provide aid to poor Ugandans albeit without the Anglican Communion's involvement; the diocese of Virginia, Chicago and St. Louis have direct relationships with Sudanese diocese and a number of diocese have relationships with Mexican diocese. We do that without Canterbury. Toss us out, "spank" us and we will simply continue.

Remember that child? In a "Yank" free world (one wonders how the Canadians take that designation?) the Anglican "Church" will lack a lot of resources, a source of energy and development. It will inevitably become static. In fact the leading voices for the so-called "covenant" openly call for a static institution with a static theology. Static institutions die. Children who refuse to do homework fail.

In attempting to spank us for doing publicly what the English do privately, the Church of England will doom the communion. Slapping someone hurts your own hand.

It is easy to be anti-American albeit hard to be anti-Canadian. Using the Americans as a whipping boy is simple, and in some ways satisfying. It is also a bit hard to defend. We are after all responsible for G.H.W. and G.W. Bush, Twitter, Charlie Sheen and Snooky. Near the end of World War Two, there was actually a discussion in France about whether we or the Germans were the greater threat. The issue remains undecided in some French minds yet today.

Killing the Communion to put us down won't work. It will succeed in destruction of the communion, but not at hurting TEC. We will shed the schismatics and move along networking with friends and probably annoying un-friends. It also won't protect England. Rearward in Faith will have its schism over women bishops regardless.

If this is the best reason available to proponents of the "covenant" (it is) then there is no reason to advance it. That of course is precisely the proponents' problem. And it explains the devious parliamentary tactics some are attempting. They cannot defend the thing on its merits so they put down the Americans. If patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel, anti-Americanism is his last offensive weapon.

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Blogger June Butler said...

Excellent post, Jim. One small caveat: although being part of the Anglican Communion causes us in TEC a good deal of grief, we need to stay in until/unless we are thrown out. And we will all be the lesser for it, because the rest of the AC needs us, although they may not realize it, and we need them, although we may not realize it. However, if we are expelled, we will carry on.

March 23, 2011 at 10:41 PM  
Blogger JimB said...


I agree. Try this, and it is scary, ask members of your church if we should fight to stay. Oh, not many want to lead a walk out, but that is not exactly the issue is it?

Most of my family and friends simply shrug. They will be ticked but that is about all.


March 23, 2011 at 11:32 PM  
Blogger Lionel Deimel said...

Good post, Jim. The longer I involve myself in Communion affairs, the more obvious it is that we use language quite differently on the two sides of the Atlantic. I much prefer American forthrightness!

There is little enthusiasm for the Communion among the Episcopal Church rank and file. In the abstract, we may “need” other churches, but we definitely do not need the abuse we have taken. The Episcopal Church could find lots more productive projects to support that paying the expenses of the Communion so our church can be abused.

March 23, 2011 at 11:48 PM  
Blogger Malcolm+ said...

Two typos noted and a comment.

Typo 1 - While "manner of life" is subsequently used correctly, the first reference says "manor of life" - which sounds far more posh.

Typo 2 - George H.W. Bush wasn't so bad. It was his "H"less son the rest of the world loves to sneer at.

The irony of the anti-Americanism of the Covenanters is that this entire stitch up is being financed by the American far right.

I'm quite sure that generous financial support will dry up once the learn that marginalizing TEC in the Anglican Communion will not accomplish their political ends in the US, with no property turned over to their quisling bishops.

Then the Communion will have no idea how to make up the third or more of its budget that it will have pushed out the door.

March 24, 2011 at 12:35 AM  
Blogger JimB said...

I hate my spelling and spell checker sometimes. You are of course correct and I will fix the problem. I am not sure I agree about the Bushes. Without the father we would not have had Iraq or the son.

I do agree that the money will go away when the campaign fails. And if the stupid covenant has forced TEC and AC Canada out, I am sure running the communion with over a third less money will be a challenge. Actually, as the Africans are so taken with Gaf(fe)Con, it might be even less supported!


March 24, 2011 at 1:39 AM  
Blogger DannyEastVillage said...

Bad as the treatment of the American church has been, under the Covenant things will be worse--much worse--for the signatory churches. They will place themselves at the mercy of the tyrannizing "sola scriptura" African churches. I don't think that will have much savor for Anglicans whose worldview is different from that of people who believe in magic books.

April 19, 2011 at 2:48 AM  

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