Friday, March 06, 2009

A Warning from the City Wall

By Robin G. Jordan

Note: I had considered titling this article, "Midsummer Madness," as the "Inaugural Provincial Assembly" has been moved up to June 22, 2009, the day after the Summer Solstice. It will also be a New Moon.

Bishop Bob Duncan recently announced that the Inaugural Provincial Assembly of the new Anglican Church in North America to be held in Bedford, Texas had been moved up to June 22, 2009. In his announcement Bishop Duncan stated that the meeting would be more like the annual Winter AMiA Conference than the General Convention of The Episcopal Church. The last two items on the agenda would “the consideration of the ratification of the (Provisional) Constitution” and “the consideration of the ratification of a Code of Canons.” The meeting will be what I anticipated in my article, “The ACNA Constitution: What You See Is What You Get,” a carefully orchestrated media event at which those groups of churches wishing to become constituent bodies of the ACNA will be invited to ratify the seriously-flawed provisional constitution and an expanded version of the provisional canons.

The form of church government embodied in the provisional ACNA constitution is not synodical but corporate, with most of the power concentrated in the small, clergy-dominated Provincial Council rather than the larger, more representative Provincial Assembly. The Provincial Council is comparable to a very powerful board of directors and the Provincial Assembly to a very weak stockholders meeting. This form of church government is also analogous to The Episcopal Church striping the General Convention of its powers and giving them to the Executive Council without requiring any accountability to the General Convention on the part of the Executive Council. The Provincial Assembly has no real power. It elects the Provincial Council and ratifies the amendments and additions to the ACNA constitution and canons. As the provisional ACNA constitution is worded, it must ratify these changes. It cannot initiate legislation of its own. It cannot conduct hearings and investigations. It cannot demand reports from the Provincial Council or ACNA officials. It cannot suspend or remove members of the Provincial Council or ACNA officials. This form of church government is even more susceptible to manipulation than that of The Episcopal Church. One special interest group can eventually come to dominate the Provincial Council and impose its agenda upon the ACNA—women’s ordination, gay marriage, or whatever. There are no safeguards to prevent the possibility of such a takeover happening. It is the kind of church government the liberals would love to implement in TEC. It would give them absolute control of that denomination and they could pick up the pace of reshaping it to their liking.

Under this form of church government the existing leadership of the ACNA, the leadership of the Common Cause Partners, will retain their hold on the reins of power in the ACNA and will continue to determine its direction. A provision in the canons requires the ACNA College of Bishops to select the first bishop of each new constituent body of ACNA from a list of candidates nominated by that body. This means that the leadership of the ACNA can pick the candidate that they find most supportive of the direction in which they wish to take the ACNA. The College of Bishops is not required to select a bishop from the first slate of the candidates that the new constituent body nominates. It is very possible for the College of Bishops to refuse to pick a bishop until the new constituent body nominates a candidate to its liking. This is a method of selecting a bishop that is used in a number of African provinces. In North America, however, selection of a bishop by a college of bishops has usually been reserved for those occasions when a diocese cannot agree upon a choice of bishop. For example, the Diocese of Ecuador recently asked The Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops to select its bishop. The first bishop of a diocese or other judicatory plays a key role in shaping the culture of that body and in turn the direction that it will take.

I must wonder whether those who are so caught up in the excitement of the establishment of what they hope will be a new province of the Anglican province have fully weighed the implications of this and other aspects of the form of church government embodied in the fundamental documents of the ACNA.

Most provinces of the Anglican Communion have a synodical form of church government. In a synodical form of church government a provincial general synod is the governing body of the province and a provincial council or standing committee is its administrative and executive arm. The provincial council or standing committee is accountable to the provincial general synod and subject to its control and direction. The diocesan synod or an elected or partially elected diocesan episcopal electoral college selects the bishop of a diocese, subject to the confirmation of the provincial college of bishops or the provincial general synod.

The form of church government that the ACNA is implementing is out of character with North American Anglicanism. If it represents the character of a new “Anglicanism” that the ACNA is seeking to promote, North American Anglicans may wish to think twice about becoming a part of the ACNA and giving their support to that organization. The synodical form of church government in which the laity share in the government of the church with the bishop and the clergy is something that is worth preserving. However, under the ACNA form of church government the laity will be relegated to what will at best be a token role. The ACNA form of church government reflects a strong prejudice against the participation of the laity in decision-making that affects the faith and life of the church. It calls to mind statements heard in certain quarters over the past few years that the laity was responsible for the drift of The Episcopal Church into heterodoxy and heresy and that if the clergy had been in charge, it would not have happened. Such statements ignore the fact that bishops and other clergy were the ones who set TEC on its current path and show more than a tinge of clericism.

While the provisional ACNA constitution makes provision for the formation of constituent bodies on the basis of territory or theological affinity, what has been happening since the ACNA began to accept applications for recognition of groups of churches as ACNA constituent bodies is that the bodies that have been seeking recognition have been largely forming on the basis of territory. Already different theological affinity groups are vying for dominance of these forming constituent bodies. The formation of constituent bodies solely on the basis of theological affinity would have reduced, if not eliminated, the occurrence of this kind of power struggle and would have given each theological affinity group a place in the sun. Duncan’s reference to the newly formed constituent bodies as dioceses suggests that the ACNA leadership has a weak commitment to the commitment to the principle of forming constituent bodies on the basis of theological affinity. This may explain why the ACNA has not encouraged groups of churches to form themselves into a constituent body on this basis and to avoid the power struggles over which theological affinity group dominates the new constituent body.

The ACNA canons require that a group of churches seeking to become a constituent body of the ACNA must have at least twelve churches with an ASA of at least 50 each and total combined ASA of 1000. This effectively excludes the recognition of small groups of churches or groups of smaller churches as constituent bodies of the ACNA, thereby barring a small group of churches belonging to a particular theological affinity group or a group of small churches belonging to a particular theological affinity group from becoming a constituent body of the ACNA and providing a nucleus for constituent ACNA body composed of churches belonging to that theological affinity group. In order to be admitted to the ACNA such a group of churches must affiliate with a group of larger churches with which it may not have any theological affinity and to which it can be expected to play second fiddle. The group of larger churches will dominate the leadership of the constituent body and shape its culture and the direction that it takes.

What was missing from Duncan’s announcement was that before Inaugural Provincial Assembly the Code of Canons would be made available for public examination and comment. This is an example of the tight control that the ACNA leadership has maintained over the drafting and amendment of the canons and its lack of interest in any input from outside its own ranks. It is also an example of the ACNA leadership’s approach to the decision making process. There is no real public discussion of proposals before they are presented for approval or ratification. The element of transparency is singularly lacking in the ACNA, as is the element of open and participatory decision-making.

These developments do not bode well for the ACNA since they replicates in conditions in the ACNA very similar if not identical to those in The Episcopal Church. They will not only produce power struggles but can also be expected to lead to the ascendancy of one theological affinity group in the ACNA and the marginalization of other theological affinity groups. Even though they are major stakeholders in the ACNA, building its churches, and funding its ministries, the laity will have a negligible share in making the major decisions that affect them. A small oligarchy will make the important decisions behind closed doors. This is what the future holds in store for the ACNA.

North American Anglicans might ward off this approaching danger by going to Bedford, resoundingly rejecting the provisional constitution and the expanded version of the provisional canons, and demanding a more synodical form of church government for the ACNA and a new constitution and new canons for the ACNA including guarantees and safeguards that would prevent the development of conditions in the ACNA like those in The Episcopal Church. Sadly they are so bemused by the desire for a third province in North America, they will in all likelihood ratify whatever is put in front of them. When the excitement wears off and the disillusionment sets in, they are likely to regret their actions. But by then it will be too late and the damage will have been done.


Good Shepherd Weekly said...

Hi Robin

Your misunderstanding of the constitution is on display here.

1. You assert that the wording of the Constitution requires the Assembly to ratify decisions of the Council. That is not true. It holds the power to ratify or not. The Assembly, in other words, has a veto or check on the decisions of the council

2. The Council is not a clerical star chamber. It will be made up of members elected from and by the Assembly--equal parts bishop, clergy and lay

3. To say that the meetings of the Assembly will not be solely legislative is not to say that there will be no open debate of various pieces of legislation. The ratification power of the Assembly demands that such debates be openly held.

4. There standard is NOT 20 parishes of over 50ASA, but 12 parishes of over 50ASA.

5. There is an exception clause (see the canons) that allows smaller entities to join.

6. There will be provisions for for missionary dioceses or dioceses in formation that do not, in fact, meet the above standard.

7. Apart from the Standard the ACNA could very easily devolve into a morass of pretend "dioceses" which in reality are little more than a "bishop" and a few home bible studies. Too many continuing groups have, to their detriment, ignored the necessity of numerical requirements based on ASA and end up with more bishops than parishioners.

8. You are more than welcome to express your concerns at the Constitutional assembly in June...strange that you should assume that you will not be heard before the fact.

Finally, one point of agreement...I think you may have a legitimate concern
with regard to the lack of power to initiate legislation.

Matt Kennedy

Jim said...

Hi Robin,

Two things:

First we disagree on what anyone in TEC would want. Your comment that the polity described in the proposed constitution is what some TEC leaders wish for is unsupportable and unfair.

If nothing else TEC's leaders are products of the existing polity which ipso facto demonstrates (to them) its perfection. :-)

Second, a fair number of us bad, liberal, anglo-catholic types have been saying for years that for the cynics who are leading the crusade against TEC, ACCanada and the CoE, this is not about theology, not about God, and is all about power. Your critcisms make our point well. These men (they all are as near as I can tell) are about setting up a system that neatly guarentees them primacy -- hmmm....


Robin G. Jordan said...

I don't believe it is a question of power for power's sake. It think that it is motivated by the desire to control the outcome and the fear others will hijack their vision of the church and lead it in another direction. There is a great deal of pressure upon the ACNA leadership to succeed.

TEC has been moving toward greater centralization of power over the past 30 years with the national church and not the diocese as the focus of that power. Under Schori the pace of this centralization has picked up.

Robin G. Jordan said...


My conclusion that I would at best receive a token hearing at the meeting in Bedford is based upon my dealings with the ACNA hierarchy to date, and my own past experiences and the experiences of others in The Episcopal Church and other North American Anglican church bodies. I am not one to draw attention to the flaws of the provisional constitution and canons and then do nothing about it. I prepared an alternative proposal for a constitution for the ACNA and submitted it to the bishops of the Common Cause Partnership whose email addresses that I could obtain. I even sent copies to global South primates to forward to the bishops of their respective convocations in North America. A spokesman of the Anglican Church Network had advised me that the two documents would be open to public comment for a year before they would be presented for adoption. Later I learned that the year had been reduced to six months. I did not receive as much as a thank you from most of them. Bob Duncan said that he would forward it to the Governance Committee. One bishop who was the contact person for his Common Cause Partner declined to pass the document on to his fellow bishops. He said that it was not his place. He did point to my attention a flaw in my proposal but it is a flaw that is easily corrected. The reaction of another bishop to my proposal was to demand by whose authority I was submitting such a proposal. I learned from him that the global South primates had approved the provisional constitution and it was not open to amendment. He confirmed what I had already learned from another Common Cause bishop: the provisional constitution that the Common Cause Partnership Leadership Council approved in December would be the constitution of the new Anglican Church in North America. A meeting was scheduled at which groups of congregations wishing to become constituent bodies would be invited to ratify the provisional constitution. Those that did ratify it would become ACNA judicatories. Those that declined to ratify it would not. There would be no amendment of the provisional constitution to make it more acceptable to any group of congregations that found one or more of its provisions objectionable. In the meantime other Common Cause leaders were promoting this meeting in the media as a “constitutional convention.” More recently it has been promoted as an “inaugural convention” and the latest as an “Inaugural Provincial Assembly.” The meeting had been moved forward from August to June.

If the process of drafting the provisional constitutions and canons had been truly open, transparent, and participatory, there would have been no need for the secrecy that surrounded the two documents leading up to the Common Cause Partnership Leadership Meeting in December. The two documents should have been open to public comment at least three months prior to that meeting. What we are seeing is the careful orchestration of the process of providing the ACNA with a pre-approved organizational structure from the unveiling of the provisional constitution and canons in December to their final ratification in June. Anyone who cannot see what is going on strikes me as either in denial or incredibly naïve.

The provisional constitution is seriously flawed. Among its flaws is that its language is unclear and a number of its provisions are contradictory. Article XV, Section 2 contradicts Article VI, Section 2. Article XV, Section 2 states that “may be amended by the Provincial Assembly by two-thirds of the members present and voting at any regular or special meeting called for that purpose.” Article VI, Section 2 states:

“The Provincial Assembly SHALL ratify Constitutional amendments and Canons adopted by the Provincial Council. The process of ratification is set forth by canon.”

The use of “SHALL” in Article VI, Section 2 expresses command or obligation. It is commonly understood to mean “must.” Under the provision of this section the Provisional Assembly has no choice but ratify whatever constitutional amendments and canons that the Provincial Council submits to it.

The fact that you and I disagree upon the interpretation of the provisional constitution shows that it is language is unclear and is open to more than one interpretation. You, I believe, are interpreting it to say what you want or expect it to say. I am interpreting what it says literally and grammatically. The lack of clarity in the language is easily remedied but I have seen no interest in correcting it. Indeed, what I have been asked to believe is that they cannot change it.

I appreciate that you drew to my attention that I had cited a too higher number for the minimum number of congregations required for the formation of a constituent body, or judicatory, of the ACNA. I relied on my memory instead on my notes. I have corrected the text of my article and have submitted a corrected text to the other web site that has published it.
I have reviewed the constitutions and canons or their equivalent of a number of Anglican provinces, extramural Anglican entities, and other denominations in the past few months, comparing them with each other and the provisional ACNA constitution and canons, and have read a lot of figures. They are apt to become mixed together.

While your explanation for why the provisional canons require a minimum of 12 congregations with an ASA of at least 50 and a collective ASA of at least 1000 for the formation of a ACNA constituent body, or judicatory, sounds plausible, it does not explain why so many other sets of canons or their equivalent do not require such a large number of congregations for the formation of a constituent body, or judicatory. I have not yet come across a set of canons or its equivalent that uses average Sunday attendance. Rather they typically use a minimum number of members for a specific period of time before application and require the individual congregations applying together for recognition as a constituent body, or judicatory, to certify these figures, if they require a minimum number of members for the applicant congregations at all. A substantial number of them do not require a minimum number of members for the applicant congregations. Some require a specific number of self-supporting congregations; others do not. The Episcopal Church and a number of North American Anglican entities require a minimum of six parishes and six clergy for the formation of diocese. The Reformed Episcopal Church at one time required ten congregations for the formation of a synod but has dropped that requirement. When compared with other church bodies, the ACNA requirements are quite high. They are high enough to create an obstacle to the recognition of small groups of congregations and groups of small congregations as an ACNA constituent body, or judicatory.

You argue that small groups of congregations or groups of small congregations can be accepted as constituent bodies, or judicatories “in formation. Canon 3 limits "in formation" status to five years but makes no provision as to what may happen if a constituent body, judicatory, “in formation” does not achieve final qualification in five years. There is no provision for the constituent body, or judicatory, “in formation” to apply for an extension. There is nothing to suggest that a constituent body, or judicatory, “in formation” will be permitted more than one shot at becoming a “diocese,” to use Bob Duncan’s words, in the ACNA.

Whatever theological affinity group comes to dominate the Provisional Council and eventually one such group will come to dominate that body, as the government of the ACNA is organized under the provisional constitution, it will control what groups of congregations are recognized and whether the number of congregations and ASA requirements will be waived. The applicant congregations have no right of appeal to the larger and more representative Provincial Assembly. In a substantial number of constitutions and canons that I reviewed, the equivalent of the Provincial Assembly was the body that recognized new constituent bodies, or judicatories. The equivalent of the Provincial Council might provisionally recognize a new constituent body, or judicatory, but the equivalent of the Provincial Assembly makes the final decision. It is also the equivalent of the Provincial Assembly that can suspend or expel a constituent body, or judicatory. As I stated in my article, the provisional constitution concentrates too much power in what in a synodical form of church government would be an administrative or executive body subject to the control and direction of the equivalent of the Provincial Assembly.

The provisional constitution is also unusual when compared with the constitutions and canons or their equivalent of Anglican provinces and other church bodies with a synodical form of church government in that the Provincial Council is composed of an equal number of clerical and lay members. It is more common to find the number of clerical and lay members in the equivalent of the Provincial Council to be proportional to the number of clerical and lay representatives in the equivalent of the Provincial Assembly and the number of lay members of the equivalent of the Provincial Council to exceed the number of its clerical members. The composition of the Provincial Council is even more disturbing since the Provincial Council and not the Provincial Assembly is the actual governing body of the ACNA. Its composition raises serious questions regarding the institutional attitude of the ACNA toward the laity and their role in that church which is embodied in the provisional constitution, as I draw attention to in my article.

It struck me as I was writing the previous paragraph how similar in a number of the ways the ACNA form of church government is to the form of government that the European colonial powers instituted in their African colonies before granting them independence. This form of government consisted of a council that consisted of European colonials and exercised most of the power and a partially elected and partially appointed assembly that consisted of native Africans and was largely advisory.

As I see it, for most people their personal vision for the ACNA, their hopes, and their dreams is influencing their perceptions of the ACNA and its provisional constitution and canons. They want to see only positive things in the ACNA because otherwise they must face the very real possibility that the ACNA is not the land of promise. It is not the land in which the rivers flow with milk and honey, all their troubles will be a thing of the past, and all their wandering in the wilderness will not have been for nothing. I am NOT advocating that they return to Egypt but I am afraid that they have brought Egypt with them, they have not shaken themselves free of its influence, and what they believe is the promised land is another Egypt.

One of the lessons of the Old Testament is that God wants us to serve him wherever we are—in Egypt, in the wilderness, or in the promised land. Until we have learned that lesson and no longer require from God a promised land in order to serve him, we can expect to wander in the wilderness. In the wilderness God burns away all that is unimportant and unessential, just as a silver smith refines silver in fire.


Good Shepherd Weekly said...

Robin, could you contact me by email?

Matt Kennedy