08 July 2012

Yes or no? Or maybe?

Rumour has it that the legislative subcommittee working on resolutions regarding the Anglican Covenant at the Episcopal Church's General Convention is crafting a pair of resolutions. The first, apparently, would be a mom-and-apple-pie affirmation of their commitment to the Anglican Communion. Nothing wrong there.

The second is where this commitment intersects with the proposed Covenant. And here, according to my spies on the ground, is where things get a bit weird. Some would like to see a clear resolution adopting the Covenant, though I can't imagine many who actually believe that such a resolution would pass. Others would like a clear resolution declining to adopt the Covenant. So, a clear Yes, or a clear No.

The trouble, apparently, is that the legislative committee believes that a clear No won't fly in the House of Bishops. (The General Convention is a bicameral body, divided between Deputies – clergy and laity – and Bishops. And every resolution must be adopted by both.) And so, evidently, the solution being contemplated is that the second resolution be a motion to defer a decision. Tune in next time, in other words, same Bat-time, same Bat-channel. Come back again in three years when we will be pleased to defer the decision again. Maybe then we'll have the courage to defer the decision for thirty years instead of three.

Frankly, there is no need for a resolution to defer the decision. They could accomplish that with no need for debate or legislative time on the agenda simply by not putting forward any resolution at all. So what's this all about?

It's about not wanting to be seen to be the bad guy, that's what it's about. The Covenant was designed to give the wider Communion a way of sending the Episcopal Church to the naughty corner, and ever since the Windsor Report, which first proposed a Covenant, chastised the American Church for its actions in consecrating an openly gay bishop, that Church has been tiptoeing around the Communion trying not to sound half as naughty as it is being depicted as being by its critics. And, of course, saying No to the Communion would be interpreted by those same critics as just another bit of evidence of its naughtiness.

The trouble with such tiptoeing is that it comes at the cost of dishonesty. Yes, the Episcopal Church can tell everyone it's deferring its decision, but everyone will know that it's just a sign that the Episcopal Church wants to have it both ways: to avoid saying No without saying Yes. Because there's no chance the Episcopal Church will say Yes. Why say No when we can say Later? Except no-one is seriously going to be fooled by this. No-one is going to believe that the Episcopal Church might say Yes when Later arrives.

Why say No when saying Later long enough will let the Covenant die a natural death?

Or why not simply be honest?

Here's my suggestion: The General Convention should go ahead with the proposed first resolution, affirming its commitment to the Anglican Communion. I believe that this resolution will be adopted more or less unanimously by both houses. Because I believe the Episcopal Church truly is committed to the Communion.

But what comes next should be two resolutions: one to say Yes, and one to say No. If the Yes fails (which it will), the No should be put forward. And if the Deputies have the courage to say No clearly, it will be up to the Bishops to decide what to do. If they don't say No, the effect will be a definite Probably Not without actually saying No. But at least everyone will know where the General Convention stands, even if it isn't willing to say so clearly.

In either case, now is the acceptable hour. It's time for the General Convention to tell the Anglican World whether it has the courage of its convictions. Yes or No. We don't want to be tuning in next time to find out.

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