Saturday 9 May 2009

Covenant debate – who was to blame for chaos?

Yesterday morning’s debate was very confusing and at times a real mess. Canon Kenneth Kearon, General Secretary of the Anglican Communion, attended a media briefing directly after the Anglican Communion Covenant debate had concluded.

Press conference with Canon Kenneth Kearon
Canon Kearon’s explanation about what had happened and exactly will happen next as a result of the motion was helpful.

Delegates voted in favour of the Covenant but had been divided between those who wanted to send the text (including the new Section 4) to the Communion now, and those who believed more time was needed to consult on Section 4.

If the delegates were voting simply to delay the process, they wouldn’t have agreed to bring it back to ACC-15 for final decision, which sets a 3 year deadline (2012).

A working group will be set up speedily to consider who will look again at the text of Section 4 of the Ridley Cambridge draft in consultation with the Provinces.

The working group will bring the (possibly amended) text to the meeting of the Joint Standing Committee which is scheduled to take place by the end of 2009.

The Ridley Cambridge text will then be sent to the Provinces for consideration (Section 4 integrated with Sections 1-3).

The Ridley Cambridge draft of the Covenant will not therefore be ready to be considered by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church at Anaheim in June 2009. General Convention will not consider the Covenant until 2012. The process in other Provinces may not allow them to consider the Ridley Cambridge draft by 2012. There will be less than 21/2 years available.

Journalists blame Archbishop and Resolutions Committee
Canon Kearon was asked questions by, and presented with statements from certain members of the media at the press conference. These are the people who write accounts of meetings on which the majority of people depend for information.

Questions put to Kenneth Kearon by some journalists at the conference implied that the Archbishop of Canterbury and the resolutions committee were to blame for the chaos.

One journalist said he was confused, and if he is confused, how do we expect people to take the Communion seriously. Incredible dishonesty is going on here. The covenant has now failed, he said. I could see his story being written as the questions were asked and statements made.

Another journalist quoted Archbishop Drexel Gomez who said the Communion is close to breaking up and we’re in an emergency.

A third journalist said there was a clear split in the final vote on the disputed clauses. Indiscipline can now continue, he said, adding “the whole Communion wants the Covenant” - which isn’t exactly true.

The chaotic debate
My perception was that there were two reasons for the chaos. The first and most significant, which hasn’t been reported elsewhere, is that no-one was at hand to advise the chair on the standing orders which set the rules for ACC meetings. At meetings of the Church of England General Synod a legal adviser always sits to the left of the chair and can offer instant advice. Yesterday’s debate would have benefitted from having John Rees closer at hand to provide advice.

The second cause of the chaos arose within the meeting itself. Delegates for whom English is not their first language ( and for some, not even second or third) find it understandably difficult to follow the process. Cultural differences about process and the way decisions are made and where power lies or should lie also affected delegates’ understanding of what was happening. And finally, some delegates carried a very strong agenda to the debate and their interventions contributed to increased tension and rising confusion.

When the Archbishop of Canterbury intervened, he did so to rescue the session from increasing chaos. I thought he summed up very succinctly and helpfully exactly where the debate had reached and what the delegates intended. Other journalists thought the Archbishop had abused the democratic process and had been putting that possibility to delegates as they dispersed at the end of the debate. This enabled them to say at the press briefing, “Delegates think …”

The chair of the resolutions committee might have intervened as +Rowan did, and might also have been accused of contravening standing orders. But no-one knows what the standing orders say and certainly no-one was referring to them in the course of the debate. Conservative members, Stanley Isaacs and Bishop Mouneer Anis in particular, repeatedly stood to make points of order, but I doubt if anyone knew whether they were legitimate according to the ACC Constitution.

Bishop Mouneer claimed that when Resolution A was defeated and debate continued on Resolution C (which included clauses from A) something illegal had been done. John Patterson, chairing, said that the vote on A had been taken in anticipation that material would be introduced in C and the ACC knew this.

It was always the voices of those who oppose the full inclusion of LGBT people who claimed abuse of process and argued for instant closure and the sending of the Covenant now. They do not want to allow as much time as it takes to listen, to wait on God, and ensure the Covenant receives maximum assent.

A flavour of the debate
Calmer voices were heard in the early part of the debate on an amendment to include a fourth moratoria asking for the cessation of litigation, which was ultimately lost.

Josephine Hicks of the Episcopal Church incursions had started in 2000, 3 years before the consecration of an openly partnered gay bishop. And continue even though, at personal cost, TEC has fully complied with the moratoria. Incursions continue despite what the Archbishop of Canterbury, Primates meeting, ACC, etc, have said. It is time to move beyond the moratoria and allow TEC, Canada and other Provinces to be true to themselves and allow all members to participate fully in the life of the Church and the mission of God.

Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori urged delegates to vote against the amendment. Those who wish to appropriate property have done so without consultation. Bishops have a moral and fiduciary responsibility to protect church assets. Bishop Barry Morgan from Wales supported her – a Welsh bishop would have no choice but to take legal action to recover or protect assets.

Stanley Isaacs from South East Asia said the ACC should not be afraid of moratoria. For the good of the Church there should be no limit on restraint for the good of the church.

After coffee they debated an amendment proposing to detach Section 4 of the Ridley Cambridge draft and send it to the Provinces for review. Members like Stanley Isaacs wanted to send the Covenant now. It would be disastrous to send the Covenant without Section 4, he said - It is a ray of hope to us in Provinces where the homosexual problem divides the Communion and embarrasses our churches.


  1. Thanks for your report, Colin - I know we're on different sides of the fence but I appreciate your reporting - you do keep the rhetoric at bay very well. I was pretty ticked off yesterday by the chaos - it's frustrating and I think you are right. They needed a parliamentarian who knows what the rules are and can repeat them calmly and slowly and clearly, allowing for translation if necessary. Why there is no translation going on is beyond me.

    I think that if they wanted to reintroduce amendments or resolutions that have failed, you need to table it before you vote up or down or it's DOA. I think that was a mistake. People assumed they knew what the rules are, while others seemed to make it up as they went along. Add the translation factor and the bias for English and it's a recipe for disaster.

    Just a correction - it's Josephine Hicks, not Joseph Hicks. Though one never knows these days when that could change. ;-) But I think she's still Josephine.


  2. Josephone Hicks is I think referring to the confirmations which took place in 2000 in Rosemount PA when five Global South bishops including two primates presided at a confirmation in the parish of Rev David Moyer, President of FIFNA who was in serious dispute with his bishop.
    However, the first geographical boundary crossing was much earlier - the Bishop of London, Graham Leonard, from 1986-90 offered episcopal oversight to an Anglo-Catholic parish in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma which was in dispute with the Episcopal Church. The second was in 1998 when Tom Johnston was called as rector of a conservative parish in Little Rock, Arkansas over the objections of the Bishop of Arkansas. Apparently in order to avoid him being disciplined within the Episcopal Church, Johnston‘s letters dimissory were sent from his former diocese of South Carolina not to Arkansas but to the diocese of Shyira in Rwanda, whose bishop, John Rucyahana, had trained at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry. Larry Maze, bishop of Arkansas commented that, ‘It seems clear that Mr. Johnston has no intention of moving to Rwanda to carry on his ministry, and that such action was taken only to remove himself from accountability in the American church. In effect what had been a national dispute involving the integrity of diocesan boundaries, is now an issue transplanted to the larger Anglican Communion,’ Johnston himself commented, ―I believe we‘re seeing the first wave of a coming reformation.’
    The liberal response was well expressed by Jim Rosenthal, then News Director for the Episcopal Church, ‘I‘ve never seen a similar situation within the church where a bishop outside the country claims oversight of an American priest. There‘s no precedent for it, and no one knows what it means. It does raise canonical questions.’