15 July 2019

Marriage Canon Redux

On Friday the General Synod considered second reading of a motion to amend Canon XXI, on Marriage in the Church. The rules for amending canons having to do with doctrine, discipline or worship (including Canon XXI) require that any amendment be adopted by a 2/3 majority in each of the three Orders (laity, clergy and bishops) at two successive sessions of the General Synod. The proposed amendment was adopted by the requisite majorities in 2016, and came back for second reading in 2019. This time it was defeated in the Order of Bishops.
There was much weeping and gnashing of teeth.
But what happened and what didn't happen?
This process started in 2013 with a motion requesting that amendments be brought to the 2016 General Synod to permit solemnization of marriage for same-sex couples. The underlying assumption was that, since we weren’t doing same-sex weddings at the time (at least not openly) then there must be something in the canon that prevented such weddings and those who brought forward the 2013 resolution wanted that changed. But the assumption was wrong.
As I noted in a previous post, I realized in 2005 that the Canon does not define marriage or prohibit same-sex marriage. No canon in the Anglican Church of Canada ever has. So what would the defeated motion have accomplished if not to give permission to solemnize same-sex marriages?
The resolution would have done three things:
  1. it would have declared that the canon applies to same-sex marriage as well as opposite-sex marriage;
  2. it would have replaced a couple of incidental gendered references to the couple with gender-neutral language;
  3. it would have added a provision prohibiting solemnizing a marriage between a same-sex couple except where the bishop grants permission.

So what does the (narrow) defeat of this resolution mean?
It’s important to understand that defeating a motion is not the same as passing its opposite. So when we did not declare that the canon applies to same-sex marriages, it does not mean that we declared that the canon does not apply to same-sex marriages. Synod said no such thing.
It’s true that we didn’t change the couple of gendered references to the couple into gender-neutral references, but the vast majority of references are, and always have been, gender-neutral, using phrases such as “the parties to the marriage” and the word “persons”. And the gendered references do not imply any restrictions or a definition of marriage. They are completely incidental.
And, crucially, we did not add a prohibition on same-sex marriage. No such prohibition exists, and it has not been added.
Read that again: there never has been a prohibition on same-sex marriage in our canon and the Synod in defeating the resolution failed to introduce such a prohibition (and an exception where the bishop gives permission.)
Many thought that by defeating the motion they were defeating a mechanism to give permission for something was previously banned. In fact, they failed to introduce a mechanism to ban something that was not previously prohibited.
The three quarters who voted for this resolution were surely voting for equal marriage. Yes, three quarters of the members of General Synod were saying they support equal marriage. They were prepared to accept a local option to prohibit equal marriage in some dioceses to send the message to LGBTQ+ persons that they can marry in church if they so desire. That was the deal: say yes officially to equal marriage overall, in return for individual bishops having the authority to opt out in their own dioceses. By not adopting the motion due to the vagaries of our procedure, we have also not adopted that ability to say “no” locally.

11 July 2019

Read the Memo: The Living Church and the Chancellor's memo on marriage

This week the Living Church published an article disagreeing with the Chancellor of General Synod regarding Canon XXI. The Chancellor produced a memorandum on the Canon in 2016, mainly dealing with the procedures for changing the Canon, but also pointing out the implications of not adopting a motion (any motion) and noting that the Canon does not currently prohibit solemnization of marriage between persons of the same sex. The key point is that not adopting a motion declaring the Canon applies to same-sex marriage is not the same thing as adopting a motion saying it doesn’t.
Apparently the Living Church has finally got round to reading the Chancellor's memo, and they disagree with his analysis. They're wrong.
The author of the Living Church article comes with some impressive credentials. The article notes that he holds a degree of Master of Laws (LLM) in Canon Law from Cardiff University. But with respect, he does not appear to have read Canon XXI very closely, at least not closely enough to bother actually quoting the Canon. And he misquotes the Chancellor’s memo as well. I know from experience that this is not the standard of research expected in the Cardiff Canon Law programme.
Back when I was completing my own LLM in Canon Law at Cardiff (2007) I wrote an essay on the evolution of Canada’s marriage canon. In the process I researched and carefully read every canon on marriage ever adopted in Canada, beginning with one adopted in 1880 by the Province of Canada, 13 years before the General Synod existed. It was suggested that I submit my essay for publication, and when I did the reviewers asked me to add a section on how Canada might make provision for some limited version of same-sex marriage. This was just a few months after the adoption of the Civil Marriage Act (2005) by Parliament making same-sex marriage available across Canada.
The funny thing was, as I re-read the Canon, I realized that it did not define marriage at all, and neither stated that marriage is limited to couples of the opposite sex, nor prohibited solemnization of marriage between same-sex couples. The Canon was, and is, entirely silent on the question. Eleven years later, the Chancellor of General Synod would come to the same conclusion.
As I wrote the new section of my paper, I suggested that if it were desirable to implement limited same-sex marriage, the first step would be to insert a clause in the Canon prohibiting same-sex marriage, then another providing for some exception. (I would not personally advocate this approach.) In some ways this would mirror what happened with re-marriage after divorce. Marriage by divorced persons was not prohibited by canon in Canada until the General Synod adopted a canon to that effect in 1905. It would later be permitted as an exception to the rule, with certain conditions, when the current Canon XXI was adopted in 1967. The general rule forbidding re-marriage is stated explicitly in section 9 of the Canon, with the exception provided for in parts III and IV.
It should not be surprising that Canon XXI is silent on the question of same-sex marriage, given that it was adopted in 1967, years before same-sex couples began pressing for the right to marry in Canada, and even before same-sex relations were decriminalized. The idea simply could not have occurred to the drafters of the Canon. Nor, apparently, did it occur to the drafters to include a definition of marriage in the Canon. In effect, the civil definition of marriage as set out by Parliament, is implied by the provision at section 5 that the requirements of civil law must be met. (At any rate, General Synod would not have the authority to exempt couples from the requirements of civil law!)
It is sometimes suggested that our Canon must in some way prohibit same-sex marriage because of a couple of gendered references to the couple. But in fact the vast majority of references to the couple are already gender-neutral. See, for example, sections 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, and 9, which use terms such as “parties to the marriage”, and “persons” to refer to the couple. The two incidental gendered references to the couple may be oversights in the drafting process. But at any rate, nowhere does the Canon state that marriage is limited to couples of the opposite sex. (It doesn’t prohibit polygamy, either, though no Anglican I know of is advocating such a change, which would violate civil law anyway.)
Ah, say some, but what of the reference to the marriage of man and woman in the Preface to the Canon? Surely that counts? No, it doesn’t. The Preface is nothing more than a discussion of marriage prefatory to the actual Canon. Like the preamble to an Act of Parliament, it is of no legal force. And even the Preface doesn’t actually define marriage, it merely “affirms ... the goodness of the union of man and woman in marriage” (paragraph 2).
And the Chancellor’s memo? The Living Church claims that the Chancellor “suggests that the existing Canon XXI on Christian marriage deals only with the marriage of one man and one woman and as such, cannot be taken to prohibit same-sex marriage.” But that’s not what the memo says. Rather, the memo states that, as I have noted above, the canon was drafted at a time when same-sex marriage was impossible. It does not say that the the canon “deals only with the marriage of one man and one woman.” It says that the canon does not currently contain any prohibition of solemnization of a marriage between persons of the same sex. The memo also states that there is no definiton of marriage in the canon. You can read the memo in full here. (PDF) See especially paragraphs 31 and 32.
Second reading of an amendment to Canon XXI will be before the General Synod as it meets this week. The resolution as it stands does three things:
  1. it declares that the canon applies to same-sex marriage as well as opposite-sex marriage;
  2. it replaces the couple of gendered references to the couple with gender neutral language;
  3. it adds a provision prohibiting solemnization of a marriage between a same-sex couple except where the bishop grants permission.
People of good will may, in good faith, disagree on whether the motion should or should not be adopted. But either way this will be an important debate in the life of our church. It would be preferable that the debate be well informed. The mischaracterization of the Chancellor’s memo in the Living Church article does nothing to inform the debate. Quite the opposite.

14 February 2018

Oaths, Subscriptions and Consensual Compact


Occasionally the question arises as to the nature and status of the Constitutions and Canons of the various synods in the Anglican Church of Canada. Fundamentally, enquirers ask about the basis for the authority for such rules.

Legally, the Anglican Church of Canada and its constituent parts are understood as voluntary associations. In such an organization, two or more persons “agree to be bound together for common purposes and undertake mutual duties and obligations.” (I am grateful to Russell Sandberg’s Law and Religion for this succinct definition at pages 72f.) Voluntary associations exist in many forms throughout our society. A secular example would be a curling club. Voluntary associations generally need some form of structure for internal governance and ultimately need to develop rules for governance and operations. This is as true for a church as for a curling club, though obviously the details differ significantly.

Members of voluntary associations agree, or are deemed to agree, to the rules of the organization. This is referred to as the doctrine of consensual compact. In the case of a curling club or some similar organization, a new member might be given a copy of the rules, possibly a membership card, and there would typically be some kind of annual membership fee. Membership would confer rights and obligations, notably the obligation to abide by the rules. And there would be some mechanism to change the rules form time to time.

If we understand the church as a voluntary association, the doctrine of consensual compact implies that the members of the church are understood to have agreed to the rules, and to the system of governance which adopts, amends, interprets and enforces those rules. That is, under the doctrine of consensual compact members of the Anglican Church of Canada are deemed implicitly to have agreed to be governed by our bishops in synods, and by the Constitutions, Canons and other policy instruments that have been adopted or may be adopted from time to time.

When clergy are ordained or licensed, they take oaths which are prescribed in Provincial canons.

Thus, in Canada, a cleric will swear:

I, N, do solemnly declare that I profess the faith set forth in the Scriptures and in the Catholic Creeds and affirm my allegiance to the doctrine of the Anglican Church of Canada as set forth by the Book of Common Prayer and in the Ordinal; in public prayer and in the administration of the Sacraments I will use the form of the Book of Common Prayer and none other except so far as shall be ordered by lawful authority;

I will pay true and canonical obedience to the Bishop of _____ and to his/her successors, in all legal and honest demands;

I will pay true and canonical obedience to the Canons which have been or are from time to time passed by the General Synod, the Provincial Synod and the Synod of the Diocese of _____.

Similar oaths are found in Rupert’s Land as follows:

I, A.B. do solemnly make the following declaration: I assent to the Solemn Declaration adopted by the first General Synod in 1893 (as printed in the Book of Common Prayer), and to the Book of Common Prayer, and of the ordering of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons; I believe the doctrine of the Anglican Church of Canada as therein set forth to be agreeable to the Word of God; and in Public Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments, I will use the form in the said book prescribed and none other, except so far as shall be ordered by lawful authority.

I, A.B. do swear that I will pay true and canonical obedience to the Bishop of ... in all things lawful and honest. So Help Me God.

I, A.B. do willingly subscribe to and declare that I assent to and abide by the Constitution and Canons of the General Synod, Provincial Synod and the Synod of the Diocese of ... that are lawfully in force from time to time.

And in British Columbia and Yukon the oaths are:
I................... do solemnly make the following Declarations:

I................... profess the faith set forth in the Scriptures and in the Catholic Creeds and affirm my allegiance to the Doctrine of the Anglican Church of Canada as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer and no other except so far as shall be ordered by lawful authority;

I will pay true and canonical obedience to the Bishop of ................. and his or her successors in all legal and honest demands; I will abide by the Canons which have been or shall be from time to time passed by the General Synod, the Provincial Synod and the Synod of the Diocese of ……………
For some reason the Province of Ontario no longer specifies the oaths to be taken on its canons, having delegated these to the dioceses. However, that Province has provided a recommended form of oaths, which I believe are in general use, as follows:
I, _________, do solemnly make the following declarations:
a) I profess the faith set forth in the Scriptures and in the Catholic Creeds and affirm my allegiance to the doctrine of the Anglican Church of Canada as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer, in the Ordinal, and in the Book of Alternative Services;
b) In public prayer and in the administration of the Sacraments, I will use the form in the Book of Common Prayer or the Book of Alternative Services and none other, except so far as shall be ordered by lawful authority;
c) I will pay true and canonical obedience to the Bishop of __________, and to his/her successors, in all legal and honest demands;
d) I will pay true and canonical obedience to the Canons which have been, or shall be, from time to time passed by the General Synod, the Provincial Synod, or the Synod of the Diocese of __________.
The key point here is that the norm is that clergy at their ordination and licensing make explicit what is already implicit in the doctrine of consensual compact. That is, not only are clergy as members of the Anglican Church of Canada deemed to have agreed to the relevant Constitutions and Canons by consensual compact; they also explicitly swear an oath to obey the Canons. This undertaking is made in writing.

Occasionally someone suggests that they only agreed to abide by the canons that were in force when they took the oath, and that they are thus not bound by some new piece of legislation to which they take exception. But that’s not what the oaths say. The oath is to abide by the canons which are in force “from time to time”. Our system of governance through synods allows for the adoption of new canons and the amendment or repeal of existing ones. And when synods legislate, clergy have already accepted (and sworn on oath) that any new legislation applies to them.

Similarly, clergy sometimes assert that their oath of canonical obedience of the bishop applies only to the bishop who was in office at the time of the oath, and that when a new bishop takes office they don’t have to obey him or her. Again, that’s not what the oaths say. The key phrase in Canada and British Columbia and Yukon is “the Bishop of … and his or her successors.” And in Rupert’s Land, even though explicit reference to the successors is omitted, the oath is to the Bishop in his or her official (not personal) capacity which implies the Bishop who is in office from time to time.

So what does one do if a Synod legislates in a way that one finds intolerable? It's no good claiming to reserve the right not to be bound by some rule that one disagrees with. Really, there are only three options. The first is to live with it. The second is to propose subsequent amendments that might make it more livable (bearing in mind that there is no guarantee that such amendments will be adopted). And the third is to leave the Church. For clergy, this last option involves relinquishing ministry pursuant to Canon XIX, the colloquial term being laicization. Obviously this last course of action would not be an easy step to take, but that is the ultimate remedy. For under the doctrine of consensual compact, as long as one is a member of a voluntary association, one is presumed to consent to the organization’s rules, and clergy in particular are bound by the canons under oath.

Thus we see the doctrine of consensual compact in action.

19 July 2016

Canonical History made at General Synod

In adopting Resolution A143 (pdf), the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada has made history. The resolution authorized three sets of liturgical texts for trial use for the next three years. The texts in question are seasonal forms of the daily offices, collects for the Revised Common Lectionary and an inclusive language Psalter. These are all available on-line (at the time of writing the web page there still says they are encouraged for use where permitted by the diocesan bishops.)

Although liturgists will appreciate these new texts, none of this sounds particularly ground-breaking, but on one very specific point, the resolution certainly was. What made history was the choice of verb in the resolution: “authorize”.

One might be forgiven for a bit of confusion about the significance of this verb. After all, surely the General Synod has the authority to authorize liturgical texts, and periodically does so, so why is this worthy of even a nano-second of thought? The fact is, that although the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada does have the authority to authorize liturgy, it has studiously avoided exercising this authority since it approved the 1962 Book of Common Prayer. Rather, since that time the General Synod has preferred the route of producing liturgical texts and commending them for use, but only under the auspices of the local diocesan bishop, in his or her exercise of the power of jus liturgicum.

Liturgical law in the Anglican Church of Canada is not very developed – a comment that might equally be made in a number of areas of our canon law – so much of the authority over liturgy that is fleshed out and clearly specified in other Anglican provinces is left to some combination of custom and the bishop’s jus liturgicum (which some would argue is also customary). What is clear is that it is a fundamental principle of Anglicanism that in public worship clergy are permitted to use only texts that have been approved by “lawful authority.” We find this stated in so many words in The Principles of Canon Law Common to the Churches of the Anglican Communion – Principle 56 (2008: Anglican Consultative Council.) The principle is given force in the Oaths and Subscriptions taken by clergy at the time of their licensing. Thus, for example, clergy in the Ecclesiastical Province of Rupert’s Land are required to swear that “in Public Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments, I will use the form in the [Book of Common Prayer] and none other, except so far as shall be ordered by lawful authority.” (Canon VI)

The General Synod’s Declaration of Principles sets out the distribution of “lawful authority” in a variety of provisions, some explicit and some implicit. Section 6(j) gives the General Synod jurisdiction over “the revision, adaptation and publication of a Book of Common Prayer and a Hymnal for the Church. Section 7(b)(viii) gives authority to the Provincial Synods to authorize “special forms of prayers, services, and ceremonies for use within the province, for which no provisions have been made under the authority of the General Synod or the House of Bishops of the Anglican Church of Canada.” Implicitly, then, both the General Synod and the national House of Bishops must have authority to authorize liturgy beyond the Book of Common Prayer.

Finally, section 9(a) of the Declaration of Principles specifies that “nothing contained in sections 6, 7 and 8 shall limit or affect the powers, jurisdiction and authority inherent in the office of bishop, or exercised collectively by the bishops of the Church sitting as the House of Bishops of any province or of The Anglican Church of Canada.” The power to authorize liturgy locally in a diocese – a central part of jus liturgicum – is understood to be one of those “powers … inherent in the office of bishop” and this provision suggests that it could be exercised collectively by one of the five Houses of Bishops (four provincial and one national).

But if the General Synod has authority to authorize liturgy, it has studiously avoided using it, even when given the opportunity. During the 1970’s – a period of intense activity on liturgical reform across the Anglican Communion – Canadian Anglicans developed a number of rites for trial use. In 1975, General Synod considered a motion “that the Holy Eucharist, An Alternative Canadian Use ... be approved as an alternative form to the Book of Common Prayer service.” After amending the motion to include similar rites from the Episcopal Church and the Church of England, the General Synod then amended the motion to change the word “approved” to “commended”. The concern seems to have been that the General Synod wanted to leave the actual authorization of trial liturgy to the local diocesan bishop.  Perhaps someone present remembered Resolution 45 of the 1897 Lambeth Conference, which “recognise[d] the exclusive right of each bishop to put forth or sanction additional services for use within his jurisdiction, subject to such limitations as may be imposed by the provincial or other lawful authority.” Even so, the Resolution certainly doesn’t say that the General Synod can’t exercise its own authority (and even if it did, being a Lambeth Resolution it has no authority over any General Synod anyway.)

Similarly, when it came time to collect experimental liturgical texts into a Book of Alternative Services (1985), the General Synod chose not to authorize the book but again simply to commend it for use where authorized by the Ordinary. (It says as much in the Introduction). This is in stark contrast to other Provinces, including the Church of England, the Anglican Church of Australia, the Church of the Province of Southern Africa, and the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, Polynesia and New Zealand – to name a few – that all published alternative prayer books and authorized them in parallel to the Book of Common Prayer.

Since the Book of Alternative Services was published, other supplemental and trial use rites have also been developed, including three supplemental Eucharistic prayers, orders for Morning and Evening Prayer and Compline, and a Book of Occasional Celebrations, all of which have been subject to the authorization of the local Ordinary.

But now, with Resolution A143, General Synod has finally chosen to authorize new liturgical texts, albeit only for a three-year period. Historians take note.

I have a dream that one day the General Synod will codify its liturgical law to clarify the various powers over liturgy rather than depending on someone’s memory of custom. That project may never come to fruition, but at least while we wait General Synod has finally chosen to exercise its authority.

30 June 2015

A Canadian at General Convention - A few random impressions

Today is day 6 of the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church. I arrived here in Salt Lake City on the afternoon of day 2, and got myself registered as a visitor. Mostly, I'm here to see how General Convention works, being a Synod junkie. Now that I've reached the halfway point of my visit, it seems about the right time to record a few impressions. (Of course, there may be some errors in what follows, which I'll try to correct if notified.)

My point of comparison is the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada, of which I have been a member 4 times, and have also attended as an Assessor twice. (I've served in both capacities once.) What follows is a set of random impressions and comparisons from that perspective.

General Convention is enormous! It's apparently the second-largest democratically elected legislature in the world (behind the Indian Parliament), and the second-largest convention in the United States (behind the Democrat National Convention).

Formally, General Convention is bi-cameral, unlike General Synod's uni-cameral structure. (curiously, my auto-correct just tried to replace "uni-cameral" with "un-American") However in some ways it might be described as multi-cameral because of its extensive use of legislative committees. (More on those below.)

The two chambers in General Convention are the House of Bishops, presided over by the Presiding Bishop (it includes both active and retired bishops of the Episcopal Church), and the House of Deputies, consisting of 4 clergy and 4 lay members for each of the 109 dioceses. The House of Deputies also includes an Official Youth Presence, made up of 2 youth for each of the 9 Provinces in the Episcopal Church. Unlike the 30 youth delegates in General Synod (one per diocese), the 18 Episcopal youth have no vote, though they do have voice.

The two Houses meet separately (obviously) and have very different look and feel to them. They also each have their own rules of order. I have been able to sit in as an observer in both houses, though on one occasion so far the Bishops met for "private conversations" (i.e. in camera). I'm told the Deputies can do so as well, though they do so rarely. The visitors' gallery in the House of Deputies is much larger, as befits a body that is over 4 times as big as the House of Bishops. (not to mention that it's over 3 times the size of the General Synod)

Both houses are seated at tables. In the House of Deputies, diocesan delegations each sit at the same table. I haven't yet discovered how the bishops are organized into table groups. The smaller House of Bishops speak from their tables, holding up a sign with their table number to be recognized. The House of Deputies have gone high tech, with a scanner being used to put their names into an electronic queue that can be read at the head table so the President can recognize Deputies in sequence at one of eight microphones.

Legislative committees are unknown in General Synod, although we do have sessional committees, but they play a different role. I have been intrigued to sit in on several legislative committee meetings over the past few days. These 23 committees review all substantive resolutions before they go to the two Houses for consideration. The committees hear "testimony" from interested parties, who need not be members of the Convention. In fact, on my first day here, I was invited to address the Governance and Structure comittee on the uni-cameral structure of the General Synod, because the committee was reviewing a proposal to make the General Convention uni-cameral also. Although in General Synod we routinely hear from invited guests, there is no equivalent to someone just showing up and speaking.

Committees review legislation, and may offer amendments, even quite substantial amendments and complete substitutions, based on their deliberations in light of testimony they have heard. By the time a resolution gets to the floor, it is presented by the chair of the relevant committee, and comes with a recommendation that the legislature adopt, adopt as amended, or reject the resolution. They may also recommend that the House "take no further action", which is to say, do nothing with the resolution, neither yes nor no.

At first glance, this committee structure looks like a rather complex and bureaucratic system which gives the committees an enormous amount of power to the committee members. But in fact it seems to serve three helpful purposes. First, it allows for participation beyond the official membership of the Convention. Anyone can offer testimony simply by signing up before the committee meets. Second, it allows for a lot of debate and honing of resolutions to happen before the formal debate, minimizing the number of significant difficulties or omissions in resolutions that might need to be addressed in debate, so Deputies can focus on the substance of a well-formed resolution. Third, and related to the second point, the committees can help the very large House of Deputies do its large volume of work efficiently.

So the reason I might use the term "multi-cameral" is because there is a kind of legislative dance including the two Houses that actually vote and legislate and the 23 committees that debate and craft and hone resolutions and recommend action. An example: in a primatial election in Canada the bishops nominate a number of candidates and then the General Synod reverts to a bi-cameral system (as it used to be) so the clergy and laity (which used to be called the Lower House) can vote (by orders) to elect the new Primate. They inform the bishops of their decision and it's a done deal. Here, I observed the Episcopal primatial election, which involved the bishops going off to vote on a slate of candidates that had been prepared by a committee. Then they sent word of their choice to the President of the House of Deputies, who immediately referred the name to the Committee for the Confirmation of the Presiding Bishop. That committee went away for about 45 minutes or so to confer and then returned with a recommendation to the House to agree with the Bishops' choice. It was only at this point that the House was officially informed of the name of the person elected. (Unofficially, someone leaked the name and it went out on Twitter.) Then the House of Deputies had a vote (not by orders) to confirm the election. Now it was a done deal, and Bishop Michael Curry was officially Presiding Bishop-elect. This interposing of a committee in the electoral process to recommend confirmation was foreign to me, but clearly a natural way of doing things here at General Convention. Strictly speaking, of course, the committees don't make decisions, but they certainly play an integral role in steering legislation through the Convention.

Voting is another interesting point of contrast between our two legislatures. Where the General Synod traditionally votes by show of hands (notwithstanding an experiment with electronic voting in 2013), General Convention uses voice votes. Interestingly, however, on a couple of occasions the voice vote result in the Deputies was sufficiently close that the Chair called for an electronic vote to sort it out, and the electronic vote wasn't as close as the voice vote had suggested. In one case the affirmative vote was over 70%. Obviously there's a danger of voice votes distorting results.

I haven't yet seen a vote by orders here, but our two systems are very different on that point as well. In General Synod we simply take three votes: laity, clergy and bishops - requiring a majority (or 2/3 majority in some cases) in each Order. You could call this a tri-cameral voting system. For General Convention, voting by orders only applies to the House of Deputies. Here each diocese gets one collective vote for clergy and one for laity. The procedure is that each diocesan delegation polls its clergy and laity separately, with the majority in each order determining that diocese's vote on the question. So with 109 dioceses it would take 55 clergy and 55 lay votes for a simple majority. (General Synod also has a rarely-used provision for voting by diocese, but that's a different matter, and is not done by orders.) Curiously, it is mathematically possible for a resolution to be adopted by a minority of clergy and a minority of laity in a vote by orders in the House of Deputies. Even a matter requiring a 2/3 majority only needs the barest simple majority under this system - literally 50% plus 1!

General Convention is very formal in the way the House of Deputies functions. Everyone is referred to by title: Mr Secretary or Madam President, or Deputy Johnson. (We learned that Johnson is the most common surname in the House.) And the conduct of business is highly scripted, even ritualized. Each item of legislative business follows this liturgy:

President: "Mr Secretary, what is the next item of business?"

Secretary: "Thank you, Madam President. The matter before the House is the Legislative Calendar. The next item on the Legislative Calendar is ...."

Debate is equally formal. Once the debate is concluded, the result is declared and punctuated with a gavel.

Often at General Synod, I hear people comment on how formal and bewildering Synod is. General Convention is at another order of magnitude in its formality. Indeed, General Synod is positively laid back by comparison. But this level of formality is necessary because of the enormous size of the House. Without it, the legislature would quickly become unmanageable. It does mean, however, that there is a learning curve for new Deputies that must be rather steeper than the learning curve for members of General Synod.

Formality in procedure is reflected in dress, as well. At General Synod dress tends to be almost uniformly casual, but at General Convention large numbers of clergy and bishops dress in clericals, lots of men wear jackets and ties (and bow ties!) and women are no less well dressed. This is serious business, and people dress for business.

Differences aside, there is much more similarity between our two legislative bodies. Synod is Synod. Some of the details are different because of size or culture, but overall I feel very much at home here at General Convention. Part of that is due to the similarities in our legislatures, but a good part is also due to the number of kind people who have been so welcoming.

13 October 2013

Business Arising

Earlier this month, the Provincial Synod of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa formally adopted the Anglican Covenant. This might seem like a new development in the life of the Covenant, as the zombie Covenant refuses to die in spite of some clear evidence that it had already been buried. However, it is important to note that the same Synod had adopted the Covenant provisionally back in 2010, when the project still had some life to it.

The full resolution reads:
This Synod

1. Notes the adoption of the Anglican Covenant at the Provincial Synod of 2010;
2. Recommits the Anglican Church of Southern Africa to playing the fullest possible role at the heart of the Anglican Communion, working to promote its unity in diversity and strengthening of bonds of affection, in a life of mutuality and interdependence, shared between autonomous churches, acting each as we are called in our own particular contexts and according to our own ordering, in response to this common gift and calling we have received in our Lord Jesus Christ;
3. Reaffirms its belief that this ordering of shared Communion life may be furthered as set out in the Preamble to the Covenant:
We, as Churches of the Anglican Communion, under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, solemnly covenant together in these following affirmations and commitments. As people of God, drawn from “every nation, tribe, people and language” (Rev 7.9), we do this in order to proclaim more effectively in our different contexts the grace of God revealed in the gospel, to offer God’s love in responding to the needs of the world, to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, and together with all God’s people to attain the full stature of Christ (Eph 4.3,13).
4. Resolves to confirm its adoption of the Anglican Covenant.
The key to understanding the actions of the ACSA lies in the first and last paragraphs of the resolution. Given that it had provisionally adopted the Covenant, the more recent action is thus best understood as nothing more than business arising from the previous meeting of Synod.

The reference to “autonomous churches” in paragraph 2 suggests that the ACSA does not intend its formal adoption of the Covenant to impair its own autonomy, nor does it seem likely that it will use the Covenant to interfere in other churches' autonomy, given the emphasis on diversity and “acting each as we are called according to our particular contexts.” Whether the Covenant will change anything, notwithstanding the ACSA's apparent understanding that it isn't intended to, remains to be seen. But for it to bring about any meaningful change, positive or negative, would require its widespread adoption.

My sense is that the Anglican Communion as a whole is generally moving on from this project, and the ACSA has simply cleaned up a bit of unfinished business

16 March 2013

Calling for more study

Note: there hasn't been much recent activity on this blog because there hasn't been much recent activity with respect to the proposed Anglican Covenant. I have some ideas about other topics I would like to pursue in this space, but it was initially set up to address the Anglican Covenant. I have decided to reserve this blog for that topic until the disposition of the Covenant has been determined. Once that happens, I will look to other topics as the muse strikes. In the meantime, posts to this blog will inevitably be sporadic.

As previously noted, the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada, at its 2010 meeting, called for study of the proposed Anglican Covenant, to be supported by the production of three documents: a study guide, a legal analysis and a theological analysis. We received an excellent study guide and an equally excellent legal analysis in short order. Last November we were disappointed to receive a flimsy report from the group that had been asked for the theological analysis. I would make a lame joke about how it ought to have been titled The Dogma Ate My Homework, except there was no theology in it.

Resolution A-137 of the General Synod of 2010, having called for study of the Covenant, then “direct[ed] the Council of General Synod, after this period of consultation and study, to bring a recommendation regarding adoption of The Covenant for the Anglican Communion to the General Synod of 2013.”

Yesterday, at its last meeting before the General Synod to be held in July, the Council of General Synod (CoGS) decided on the resolution that it will present to General Synod. To wit, the resolution will:
Request the conversations in the Anglican Church of Canada about the proposed Covenant for the Anglican Communion continue during the next triennium, and

Request the ACWG to monitor continued developments about the proposed Covenant for the Anglican Communion and report to the spring 2016 meeting of COGS and

Direct COGS to bring a recommendation regarding the adoption of the Covenant to General Synod 2016.
You can see the full discussion toward the end of the CoGS notes for March 15th here.

There are several ways to read this development.

First, and most obviously, CoGS is not doing what it was directed to do by the 2010 General Synod. That is, it is not “bring[ing] a recommendation regarding adoption of The Covenant for the Anglican Communion to the General Synod of 2013.” However, in its defence, it could be argued that it would be premature to do so because the period of consultation and study is incomplete. A few dioceses in Canada have undertaken extensive studies of the proposed Covenant in the last three years, but others have presumably been waiting (in vain, as it turned out) for the theological analysis before undertaking their own study. After all, if you're going to do a study, and you've been told that there will be important background material forthcoming, it makes sense to wait for that material. You can't fault dioceses that have been waiting for the background material for not getting on with the study process. Especially when there's evidence that even CoGS hasn't given the Covenant much study. That said, there are no doubt some dioceses across Canada where there simply isn't a critical mass of interest or energy to study the Covenant document. And now that its future and status are in serious question, interest is waning. It would be nice if some credible body were to make a clear declaration as to whether it's worth flogging the horse any more.

The second way of reading CoGS's motion is to see it as a delaying tactic. Perhaps CoGS is suggesting subliminally that General Synod not take any action just now, anticipating a declaration that the horse is dead. Wait a few years, monitor the situation, and then see if there's anything that needs doing.

The third interpretation is that CoGS is suggesting to the dioceses that haven't yet taken the opportunity to study the proposed Covenant that they do so in the next three years or forever hold their collective peace. Maybe. But the problem is that CoGS is not apparently calling for the theological work that was left undone to be done in the next three years. That being the case, the dioceses will still not be in a position to do a thorough study in the next three years because the necessary background material still won't be available. And energy is definitely waning out in the provinces. We have other things to do than engage in a study process that might (and probably will) prove to be entirely superfluous.

It will be interesting to see what General Synod will do with the resolution in July, and what amendments (if any) are introduced.

In the meantime, we continue to watch for the puff of white smoke above Lambeth Palace that will indicate the burning of the Covenant, and the declaration from the balcony: Non habemus pactum.