By Robin G. Jordan
Based upon my study of the provincial governing documents of the Anglican Church in North America and the proposals for a charter for ministry for the PEAR Missionary District in North America, I am convinced that both the ACNA and PEARUSA are heading into troubled waters. The governance models adopted in the ACNA provincial constitution and proposed in the PEARUSA charter for ministry reveals a basic distrust of the laity and large representative governing bodies such as diocesan conventions, general conventions, diocesan synods and general synods. They also show a decided proclivity to blame the laity and large representative governing bodies for developments in the Anglican Church of Canada and The Episcopal Church USA. At the same time they reveal an equally pronounced tendency to ignore or minimize the role of the bishops and clergy of the AC of C and TEC in those developments. That role was substantial. Without the involvement of their bishops and clergy in the spread of liberalism neither province would have become as liberal as both presently are.
The ACNA governing documents limit the role of the Provincial Assembly to ratifying changes in the ACNA constitution and canons and making recommendations. Since the Assembly does not set its own agenda, it in actuality can only endorse recommendations that are presented to it. The Assembly cannot amend legislation submitted to it, much less initiate legislation of its own.
Under the provisions of the revised PEARUSA charter for ministry the PEARUSA College of Bishops and the PEAR House of Bishops are to tightly control what business the College of Laity and Clergy may transact at a Sacred Assembly. Only extraordinary business that the Mission Council cannot resolve may be referred to the College of Laity and Clergy. Only a bishop with the support of a majority of the clergy and churches in his regional network or two PEARUSA bishops may petition for a special session of the College of Laity and Clergy at a Solemn Assembly. The Archbishop of PEAR is free to declare such a session if he sees a need for one.
These governance models embody an elitist view of the church that belie statements in the ACNA provincial governing documents and the PEARUSA charter for ministry regarding the laity. The government of the Christian community is seen as belonging to the bishops and a select group of clergy and laity, not the whole church, clergy and laity together.
These governance models reflect the strong influence of Roman Catholic ecclesiology and governance structures and American entrepreneurial business models. In the Roman Catholic Church lay bodies are convened primarily to implement the decisions of the hierarchy. The sexual abuse scandals of recent years have prompted a call for lay involvement in decision-making in that denomination. The hierarchy has shown itself unable to protect children in Roman Catholic churches, schools, and other institutions. At the same time it has shown itself more than willing to conceal the misconduct of clergy and religious.
In the American entrepreneurial business models a small board of directors composed of the corporation’s top executives runs the corporation. The Enron and similar corporate scandals of the last century drew attention to the problems inherent in these models. With the call for greater accountability and transparency in PEARUSA, the adoption of governance models influenced by entrepreneurial business models is surprising. If one lesson was learned from these scandals, it was the great difficulty that stockholders’ meetings have reining in corporate boards of directors and executives and demanding greater accountability and transparency from them.