Monday, July 02, 2012

The Provincial Legislative Process in the Anglican Church in North America

By Robin G. Jordan

In this article I examine the Anglican Church in North America’s provincial legislative process. As we shall see, this process favors the maintenance of the status quo in the ACNA and works against the introduction of sweeping changes in that ecclesial body even where they are greatly needed.

As I have written elsewhere, the internal organization of the ACNA at the provincial level is authoritarian and elitist. It is authoritarian because it concentrates power in leaders that are not constitutionally responsible to the ecclesial body’s general membership. It is elitist because leadership and governance in the ACNA are confined to a select group of people. Power is concentrated in the hands of a limited number of people.

Proposed legislation in the form of amendments to the constitution and additions or alterations to the canons may originate within the Governance Task Force or outside that committee. A proposal submitted by the archbishop of the ACNA, the ACNA College of Bishops, the ACNA Executive Committee, an ACNA bishop, an ACNA diocesan council, or an ACNA diocesan synod is likely to be taken with more seriousness by the Governance Task Force and to carry more weight with that committee than a proposal submitted by a non-episcopal member of the Provincial Council , a non-episcopal member of the Provincial Assembly, a clergy member of the ACNA, a lay member of the ACNA, or an outsider, clergy or lay.  The exception to the latter might be a member of the GAFCON Primates’ Council or a bishop of an Anglican province that recognizes the ACNA.

Among the reasons that the proposals of those in the first group are likely to receive more attention than the proposals of the people in the second group are the prestige of the episcopal office and long habit. A number of the members of the Governance Task Force are themselves bishops. Ignoring an ACNA bishop, diocesan council, or diocesan synod might have undesirable consequences, including the withholding of funds from the ACNA and the eventual withdrawal of the diocese from the province. With the exception that I noted, paying no attention to a member of the second group is less likely to result in such consequences. In the case of the noted exception it could, however, lead to a cooling of relations between the offended province or diocese and the ACNA.

The PDF file of the ACNA governing documents posted on the ACNA website identifies a number of texts proposed by the Governance Task Force  and approved by the Executive Committee. The link to the PDF file is titled “Constitution and Canons of the ACNA: Amended January 2012.” Only the Provincial Council and the Provincial Assembly acting in concert can amend the constitution and canons. Canon I.1.4 states:

“The Council shall have an Executive Committee which shall be the Board of Directors of the Anglican Church in North America, a non-profit corporation. The Executive Committee shall set the agenda for meetings of the Provincial Council. Any ten members of the Council may have an item of business placed on the agenda for consideration. The members of the Executive Committee shall be the Archbishop, who shall be chairman, and twelve (12) other members, six (6) ordained and six (6) lay, elected by the Council from among its members. The Executive Committee may elect a replacement for any member of the Executive Committee who does not serve for his or her full term of office. The Executive Committee shall have custody of documents and other property of the Church not vested in any other body or person….”

Nowhere in the ACNA constitution or canons do we find any provision requiring the Executive Committee to approve any proposed changes to these governing documents. The Executive Committee, under the leadership of Archbishop Duncan, appears to have arrogated to itself power and authority not given the committee by these documents or recognized by them as inherent in the committee.

Based on the August 2011 roster of the members of the Executive Committee the committee consists of:

Phil Ashey+
Hugo Blankingship, ex officio
Travis Boline+
Tad Brenner
+Julian Dobbs
++Robert Duncan, ex officio
+Royal Grote
+John Guernsey
+Don Harvey, ex officio
Michael Howell
Claus Lenk
Diana Lopez
Russell Martin+
Nancy Norton
Bill Roemer, ex officio
Samuel Thomsen

Compare this roster with August 2011 roster of the members of the Governance Task Force:

Hugo Blankingship, Chair
Phil Ashey+
Larry Bausch+
Travis Boline+
Mike Donison
Jerry Cimijotti+
Mike Donison
Jeffrey Garrety
+Royal Grote
+John Guernsey
Paul Julienne
Matt Kennedy+
Barclay Mayo
Jim McCaslin+
Mary McReynolds
+Martyn Minns
+Bill Murdoch
Ron Speers
Wick Stephens
Art Ward
David Weaver

Now compare the two preceding rosters with the August 2011 roster of the members of the Archbishop’s Cabinet—a body in the ACNA created by Archbishop Duncan but with no official standing under the ACNA constitution and canons:

Provincial Concerns
+Keith Ackerman
+David Anderson
+Julian Dobbs
Jack Gabig+
+John Guernsey
+Charlie Masters
++Leonard Riches
David Roseberry+
+Ray Sutton
+Bill Thompson

Global Concerns
+Keith Ackerman
+David Anderson
+Bill Atwood
+Julian Dobbs
+John Guernsey
+Martyn Minns
Nancy Norton
++Leonard Riches

Ex Officio
Hugo Blankingship
+Don Harvey

Note the people whose names appear on all three rosters as well as the number of bishops and other clergy on the Executive Committee and the Governance Task Force and in the Archbishop’s Cabinet. Note the extent to which these three bodies overlap and the multiple positions their members occupy. An examination of the rest of the rosters of Officers, Courts, Task Forces, Committees not only reveals further overlap but also shows a number of the individuals listed in the first three rosters occupying more positions at the provincial level in the ACNA.

The movement of a proposed change to the ACNA constitution or canons through the ACNA’s provincial legislative process requires repeated consultation between the Governance Task Force and Archbishop Duncan, the Archbishop’s Cabinet, the College of Bishops, individual bishops, the Executive Committee, and individual episcopal and non-episcopal Provincial Council members in order to gain and retain the support needed for adoption by the Provincial Council and ratification by the Provincial Assembly. This consultation may lead to changes in the proposal to make it more acceptable.

The ACNA’s provincial legislative process is highly susceptible to behind-the-scene politicking and deal-brokering. This may range from one member of the Governance Task Force agreeing to support the proposal of another committee member in return for the other member’s support of his own proposals to more complicated deals involving bishops, non-episcopal Executive Committee members, and non-episcopal Provincial Council members.

The Provincial Assembly meeting in an abbreviated business session to consider ratification of proposed changes in the constitution and canons is easily manipulated. The delegates are unable to discuss at length any proposed change to the governing documents that the Provincial Council has adopted and the ratification of which the Council is recommending to the delegates. They cannot amend the proposal or recommend changes to the proposal. They cannot substitute an entirely different proposal. All they can do is vote up or down on the proposal—ratify the proposal or send it back to the Council. If this business session is scheduled in the evening after a busy day when the delegates are tired or late on the last day that the Provincial Assembly meets when the delegates are not only tired but also in a hurry to return home and a number of delegates already have left, the Archbishop or someone appointed by him to preside over the business session should have no great difficulty in ensuring the ratification of the proposal.

Canon I.2.1 identifies as the work of the Provincial Assembly “strengthening the mission of the Church as defined in  Article III of the Constitution.” Article III states:

“The mission of the Province is to extend the Kingdom of God by so presenting Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit that people everywhere will come to put their trust in God through Him, know Him as Savior and serve Him as Lord in the fellowship of the Church. The chief agents of this mission to extend the Kingdom of God are the people of God.”

Canon I.2.1 further identifies as the role of the Assembly deliberating upon matters affecting the faith and mission of the church and making recommendations to the Provincial Council in regards to such matters. This means that the Assembly cannot make recommendations on any matter not related to the church’s faith and mission. The Assembly cannot recommend changes in the governance of the ACNA, its recognition procedures for new dioceses, its modes of choosing bishops, or its disciplinary procedures for clergy.

At the present time the only way that needed changes in these areas can be brought about is through the concerted effort of a group of dioceses  banded together for this purpose. This group of dioceses must be willing to withdraw from the ACNA and to erect a new province in the event it is unsuccessful. The present leadership of the ACNA needs to be aware that it risks losing a sizable part of the province if it does not go along with these changes.

Since there appears to be little interest in giving more powers to the Provincial Assembly and turning it into the principal governing body of the ACNA, it might be better to remove the Assembly from the provincial legislative process altogether and transfer the ratification of changes to the ACNA governing documents to the dioceses themselves, to the diocesan synods. A system like that in the Anglican Church in Australia in which certain categories of legislation are not binding upon a diocese unless the diocesan synod assents to the particular legislation in one of these categories would be highly desirable. The clergy and lay representation of each diocese in the Provincial Council, renamed the Provincial Synod, could be expanded and made proportional to the size of the diocese. The functions and powers of the Executive Committee need to be clearly spelled out in the canons and a limit placed upon the number of offices, taskforces, and committees in which an individual may serve.

As far as that goes, it might be better to do away with the Provincial Assembly entirely. Regional and diocesan mission conferences and mission training centers would be a much more effective way of keeping the ACNA focused upon church planting and missions, as would itinerant trainers working in teams, going from diocese to diocese, congregation to congregation, conducting seminars and workshops, and equipping both clergy and laity for church planting and missions on their home turf.

In an upcoming article I am going to examine the system of committees and taskforces in the Anglican Church in North America. I touched upon this system and its drawbacks and problem areas in this article. I plan to take a more in-depth look.

The Evangelical Bar in the Anglican Church in North America

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