Noises off...

The Archbishop of Canterbury has issued an Advent Letter to the Primates of the Communion, and in it made some comments about the proposed Anglican Covenant, in which he clarifies that
it outlines a procedure, such as we urgently need, for attempting reconciliation and for indicating the sorts of consequences that might result from a failure to be fully reconciled...It alters no Province’s constitution, as it has no canonical force independent of the life of the Provinces. It does not create some unaccountable and remote new authority but seeks to identify a representative group that might exercise a crucial advisory function.
Once again we are presented with something "urgently" needed, but which ultimately creates nothing new, more, or other than a procedure for giving advice as to how to get along, or face the consequences of not getting along. One of the reasons the Archbishop offers for adopting the Covenant is the supposed greater "coherence" following these advisory processes will bring about, allowing us better to interact with other Christian bodies.
We should bear in mind that our coherence as a Communion is also a significant concern in relation to other Christian bodies – especially at a moment when the renewed dialogues with Roman Catholics and Orthodox have begun with great enthusiasm and a very constructive spirit.
But, of course, this "coherence" will only arise if and when disagreeable provinces of the Communion settle their disagreements — for which the Covenant, once again, provides only advice and the exercise of what amounts to peer pressure to conform — or those who continue to resist this pressure are edged out of being "representative" of Anglicanism towards these other supposedly more "coherent" ecclesial bodies.

The Archbishop also asks a question, and then assumes his question has no takers as he rushes back to square one.
I continue to ask what alternatives there are if we want to agree on ways of limiting damage, managing conflict and facing with honesty the actual effects of greater disunity. In the absence of such alternatives, I must continue to commend the Covenant as strongly as I can to all who are considering its future.
I can, of course, think of any number of "alternatives" to what I continue to see as a deeply flawed and, by its own self-confession, ineffectual effort at conflict management:
  • Reliance on the Covenant for Communion in Mission from IASCOME
  • Restoration of the purely consultative function to Lambeth, with a staunch refusal to adopt any resolutions at all, other than those that directly empower mission and ministry
  • Expansion of ministry and mission cooperation between provinces, focused not on the mechanics of the Communion or disagreements on policies, but on doing the things Jesus actually commanded
  • Continuing to provide forums for the sharing of views between provinces, as in the Continuing Indaba and Mutual Listening Process which is “a biblically-based and mission-focused project designed to develop and intensify relationships within the Anglican Communion by drawing on cultural models of consensus building for mutual creative action.”
That last one sounds like a particularly good alternative, doesn't it. I could go on, but I think the picture is clear. I note that two of the alternatives listed above are on the Anglican Communion website. It is not as if these things are hidden away or unavailable. Whatever role the proposed Covenant might take in the future of the Anglican Communion, it is by no means the principle player, and could well simply be put in the category of offstage sound effects.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Communion does matter.The Covenant is not the same as Communion.

The Archbishop of Canterbury released his Advent Letter today and in it he extols the wonderful work he and others are doing in the Anglican Communion. (It is a public letter but it directed to the Primates and Moderators of the Anglican Communion.) He talks about the Anglican Communion as "a gift" and is dismayed that some see the Anglican Communion as "a problem." He insists that the Anglican Communion needs the Anglican Covenant now more than ever.

(Dr. Williams writes:) "This is why the Communion matters – why it matters for a bishop in Jerusalem facing the withdrawal of a residency permit...a congregation in Nigeria facing more interreligious violence, an island in the Pacific facing inundation because of climate change, an urban community in Britain wondering how to respond to rising social disorder as poverty and unemployment increase. The Communion is a gift not a problem to all such people and many more. Only in such a mutually supportive family, glorifying and praising God in Christ together, can we truly make known the one Christ."

The Archbishop's letter acknowledged the "numerous tensions" in the Communion, but cautioned Communion members never to say "I have no need of you" to anyone seeking to serve Jesus Christ. He also used the letter to appeal for "more careful and dispassionate discussion" on such issues as the powers of Primates' Meetings as well calling for "a sustained willingness on the part of all Provinces to understand the different ways in which each local part of the Anglican family organizes its life."

Dr Williams also commended the Anglican Communion Covenant "as strongly as I can" stressing that it would neither change the structure of the Communion nor give "some sort of absolute power of ‘excommunication’ to some undemocratic or unrepresentative body."

"It outlines a procedure, such as we urgently need, for attempting reconciliation and for indicating the sorts of consequences that might result from a failure to be fully reconciled," he said. "It alters no Province’s constitution, as it has no canonical force independent of the life of the Provinces. It does not create some unaccountable and remote new authority but seeks to identify a representative group that might exercise a crucial advisory function."

He said the fact that the moratoria were being "increasingly ignored" was deepening mistrust "which is bad for our mission together as Anglicans, and alongside other Christians as well. The question remains: if the moratoria are ignored and the Covenant suspected, what are the means by which we maintain some theological coherence as a Communion and some personal respect and understanding as a fellowship of people seeking to serve Christ?"
The Archbishop is right in telling us that Communion is important. It is essential that Anglicans around the world work together on these and other important questions. We need to do more to encourage common mission and the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that we all share.

Communion is a gift. The problem is not the Communion. The problem is the Covenant.

To make the argument, Dr. Williams begs the question: since he did all the visits and all these events happened without the Covenant in place, then is it possible to be a Communion without the Covenant? Would these connections cease if the Covenant were to not pass? Would Anglicans stop working together or would our voice be diluted in any way without the Covenant in place?

Put another way, would the voice of Anglicanism be any stronger in Zimbabwe and would it influence Mugabe any more if they had the Covenant in their back pockets? Would having the Covenant stop Polynesian islands from being any more submerged and would the urban parish be any more relevant to it's neighborhood with a fully empowered Anglican Covenant?

Once more he talks about how we must not focus on the things that divide us, while extolling a document that defines itself in terms of division, rather than reconciliation. He says we need this to make room for everyone. Dr. Williams asks for an alternative to the mechanisms outlined in Part IV. He says that no one has offered an alternative. While this point is in itself debatable, allow me instead to make a my own humble suggestion:

Instead of spending time (as Section Four posits) on throwing each other out when we disagree, how about building a communion that encourages dialogue and reconciliation?

Instead of focusing on eliminating conflict by making sure that no innovation can happen without the approval of the most conservative member of the Anglican Communion, how about creating a structure and processes that encourage members of Churches who see the implications of the Gospel differently to come together, listen to one another, pray together, share experiences of mission together, and break Eucharistic bread together?

The Covenant diminishes the Communion because it assumes that Communion only happens when we agree. The truth is that Communion is happening because we share Christ. It is a gift of the Holy Spirit that is made possible by death and resurrection of Christ. Communion is because we share the same Lord, the same faith, the same baptism. A Covenant that does not help us do the hard work of living that out--that helps us pray together--despite our disagreements is not a Covenant worth having.

The Covenant certainly cannot exist without the Anglican Communion, but can the Anglican Communion exist without the Covenant? The answer is that it already does.


a review of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

This film has been around for a few years, but I only had the opportunity to view it last night. It contributed to troubled sleep the rest of the night.

Naturally for any film attempting to address the Holocaust, this work deals with the horrors of that surpassing act of inhumanity. But by placing the primary focus on a child, on two children, this work evokes an emotional level not reached by many other films. For behind these children’s suffering always lies the child’s unanswerable question, Why?

The film naturally addresses the reality of inhumanity, but neatly summarizes how easy it is to dehumanize others and then treat them inhumanely. When young Bruno asks his father about the people on “the Farm” (as he imagines the camp to be), he receives the halting answer, “Those people... well, they really aren't people.” That is it, in a chilling nutshell.

The film is beautifully made, with fine performances and skillful direction. It builds rather like a Mahler symphony to its inevitable and tragic end, and is profoundly moving and disturbing, perhaps most of all because that question is left hanging in the air: Why?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Just Us!

When I hear about this:

A 6-year-old Grant County boy has been accused of first-degree sexual assault after playing "doctor" with two 5-year-old friends.
And then consider that we have the highest percentage of our population in prison of any country in the world, I don't think this case is simply a problem of overzealous prosecution or "freaking out" about kids.

First, because it doesn't show up in the linked article, one relevant fact about why the "inappropriate touching" occurred:

"D" is 6-year-old child who previous to the alleged criminal act in issue, had medical issues that necessitated rectal examinations by medical personnel.
"D" is the child being charged with a felony. The girl involved told authorities they were playing "butt doctor," and no penetration occurred.

There is a political aspect to this case (plenty of info on that in the petition and elsewhere); but what interests me is the idea of criminalizing the behavior of others.

The parents of "D" are outraged at a six-year old being treated like a criminal, and well they should be. But who thinks a criminal prosecution of a six-year old is appropriate under any circumstances, and why? Well, apparently, people with the power to prosecute in a country where incarceration has increased 500% over the past 30 years (roughly the same time period that wages have stagnated for 80% of the population while rising for 20% of the population. Coincidence?) We have turned to criminal prosecutions to cure a variety of ills, so it's almost no surprise we would now criminalize "playing doctor" between small children.

Does it seem extreme to link this stupid case to the problem of incarceration? Well, some of this story is of a piece with the national story about prosecutions. Prosecutors love convictions, and not just because they hate criminals. Prosecutors, as this story amply shows, are political animals (not all politicians make sensible decisions in the name of politics). And this prosecutor, like many, obviously doesn't yet want to admit this prosecution is a mistake, or that a 6 year old boy is not an adult.

[L]egal scholars looking at the issue suggest that prosecutors’ concerns about their political future and a culture that values winning over justice also come into play. “They are attached to their convictions,” Garrett says, “and they don’t want to see their work called into question.”
That's from a NYTimes story about convictions being overturned by DNA evidence, and what lengths prosecutors will go to in order to protect their records. Prosecutors are political animals, and in a culture that values not just winning, but criminalizing behavior and punishing people with prison sentences, isn't it just a matter of time until that attitude is applied to children?

This prosecution is vile, rancid, egregious, and indefensible. As the attorneys for the parents point out:

"[The experts say] a 6-year-old child is unable to intellectually and emotionally associate sexual gratification with the act that D has been accused of committing," Cooper said....
And as they note in their lawsuit, a six year old boy is simply incapable of forming the mens rea (guilty intent, basically) necessary to charge him with a felony. That is simply hornbook law: without the mens rea, the act is not criminal. This is the basis for the "insanity defense" in some crimes: if the defendant didn't have the mental capability to form a criminal intent (if, for example, in a delusional state the defendant was killing in self-defense), there is no crime. Of course, for murder suspects who are "not guilty by reason of insanity," there is treatment instead of jail time. But six-year olds are not guilty by reason of the fact they are incapable of forming criminal intent, at least as regards a crime of sexual assault. This is why children are not charged like adults, or treated criminally like adults. It is absurd to charge a child with such an offense. But is it of a piece with the society we've become in the past 30 years? Do we feel so out of control that we are mad to be in control of someone, anyone? Chris Hayes opined over the weekend that if we see a loss of the "American Dream" (the idea that we will be better off than our parents), our politics would go bonkers.

I'm still wondering why he said: "If".

Disciplinary Board Clears Charges Against Bishop Lawrence

The Rt. Rev. Dorsey Henderson, President of the Disciplinary Board for Bishops, has released a statement announcing that the eighteen-person Board could not muster a majority to charge the Rt. Rev. Mark Lawrence of South Carolina with "abandonment of the Communion of this Church." Thus ends a clumsy attempt to take seriously the allegations of "abandonment" lodged by dissidents from Bishop Lawrence's own Diocese, who tried to turn his steadfast insistence on the central importance of Holy Scripture to the life of the Church into a case for his abandonment of it.

Bishop Henderson, stung by the vehemence with which his initial announcement of "serious charges" against Bishop Lawrence was greeted, appears to have been unable to refrain from letting loose a parting shot, even as he retreated from the fray in ignominy (my italics added):
It is also significant that Bishop Lawrence has repeatedly stated that he does not intend to lead the diocese out of The Episcopal Church—that he only seeks a safe place within the Church to live the Christian faith as that diocese perceives it. I speak for myself only at this point, that I presently take the Bishop at his word, and hope that the safety he seeks for the apparent majority in his diocese within the larger Church will become the model for safety—a “safe place”— for those under his episcopal care who do not agree with the actions of South Carolina’s convention and/or his position on some of the issues of the Church.
"Apparent majority", Bishop Henderson? Did your investigations uncover that the dissident Episcopal Forum (some of whose members must have anonymously filed the childish charges) has at best about a thousand members? (There are even fewer, if we count just those who are willing to have their names publicly associated with the group.) And did you learn that Bishop Lawrence's Diocese has more than twenty-five times that number of Episcopalians, who are choosing to remain under his pastoral care?

Just what is this talk of a "safe" place for those dissidents, Bishop Henderson? Did you intend to add to their already neurotic fears and anxieties? I will wager that they are far safer in the Diocese of South Carolina, which is led by an actual Christian bishop who believes in Jesus' command to "love one another as I have loved you", than they would be under a bishop who believes instead in the Old Testament adage of "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." (I refer to certain bishops who shall go unnamed, but who have signaled their vengeful intentions with words such as: "There's a new sheriff in town.")

The real question is just this: is Bishop Lawrence truly "safe" now, Bishop Henderson -- or will you be shortly sending him notification of new charges brought against him on account of his having authorized quitclaim deeds to be delivered to every parish in his Diocese? Those deeds renounce any and all claims (such as claims of any trust interest pursuant to the Dennis Canon) to that parish's property on behalf of the Diocese, and hence all claims on behalf of the Episcopal Church itself, since the latter entity can act locally only through one of its dioceses.

There persists, among the dissidents in South Carolina, and among similar canonical ignorami scattered throughout other dioceses and the Episcopal blogosphere, a notion that the South Carolina Supreme Court did not mean what it said in its decision in the All Saints Waccamaw case. Here is one such view, chosen at random from many such offered on the Web for public consumption:
Three years ago {Ed. note: Actually, it was two years ago, but who cares about being accurate here?}, the state's Supreme Court issued a ruling in the case of All Saints, Pawleys Island that seemed to suggest that the Episcopal Church -- and any other similarly structured church organization like the Presbyterians and Methodists -- does not have a legal interest in parish property held in trust by the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina. {Ed. note: How screwed up can you make things? The parish property was "held in trust by the Episcopal Church"? Didn't you mean to say that in your view, it was "held in trust for the Episcopal Church in the DSC?}

All Saint's was trying to break away from the Episcopal Church and join the Anglican Province of Rwanda, which it eventually was allowed to do. {Ed. note: I'm sure the congregation of All Saints Pawley's Island must be eternally grateful that some unspecified person or body "allowed" them to join the Province of Rwanda, but that implies they had to ask someone for permission, when the Court held precisely that they did not. Their amendments to their own articles and bylaws were fully sufficient, under South Carolina law, to accomplish that result -- without anyone else's "permission."}

Legal authorities and those familiar with the Court's thinking {Ed. note: You mean that the Court thought other things than what it so plainly said in its opinion, and that one has to be "familiar with its thinking" in order to understand what it really meant? Good grief.} say that the ruling was specific to the unique nature of All Saint's case. However, the Diocese of South Carolina, under Bishop Lawrence, disagrees.

Critical to the Court's ruling in the All Saints' case was a "quitclaim" deed executed by the Diocese in 1903 relinquishing any legal interest it might have to All Saints' property.

The existence of that deed tipped the Court's view of property ownership in favor of All Saints' over that of the Episcopal Church and the Diocese.
Not so fast. That 1903 Quitclaim Deed was certainly cited in the Court's decision as one factor in the ruling confirming that the Diocese of South Carolina had released all claims to All Saints Waccamaw's property at that time, but what about the 106 years following? The only hook on which the Episcopal Church and the Diocese (then under Bishop Lawrence's predecessor, Bishop Salmon) could try to hang their claims of a trust interest was the enactment of the Dennis Canon by the national Church in 1979, and of a counterpart by the Diocese two years later.

Thus, regardless of the 1903 Quitclaim Deed, if the Dennis Canon or its diocesan counterpart had been sufficient to create a new trust interest in All Saints' property from 1979-1981 and forward, then it would have not mattered what the South Carolina Supreme Court found with regard to the 1903 Deed. Instead, however, the Court made short shrift of the national Church's and the Diocese's attempts to declare a trust interest in property which they never owned:
Furthermore, we hold that neither the 2000 Notice [of claim to a trust interest in the property, recorded by the Diocese] nor the Dennis Canon has any legal effect on title to the All Saints congregation’s property. A trust “may be created by either declaration of trust or by transfer of property….” Dreher v. Dreher, 370 S.C. 75, 80, 634 S.E.2d 646, 648 (2006). It is an axiomatic principle of law that a person or entity must hold title to property in order to declare that it is held in trust for the benefit of another or transfer legal title to one person for the benefit of another. The Diocese did not, at the time it recorded the 2000 Notice, have any interest in the congregation’s property. Therefore, the recordation of the 2000 Notice could not have created a trust over the property.

For the aforementioned reasons, we hold that title to the property at issue is held by All Saints Parish, Waccamaw, Inc., the Dennis Canons had no legal effect on the title to the congregation’s property, and the 2000 Notice should be removed from the Georgetown County records.
(Emphasis added. The Court speaks of the "Dennis Canons" in the plural, because both the Diocese and the national Church had enacted similar provisions in an attempt to create a trust interest.)

What is so hard to understand here? The 1903 Quitclaim Deed was not at all the "tipping point" which decided the case in the parish's favor; nor was it a "unique" factor which would enable a later court to distinguish the All Saints case from any other attempt to invoke the Dennis Canon (or its former diocesan equivalent). The Court's language could not have been more plain: "The Dennis Canons had no legal effect on the title to the congregation’s property . . .". "No legal effect" means "no legal effect." The two Dennis Canons, whether singly or together, were incapable of creating a legal trust interest which could be recognized by any South Carolina court, because they did not satisfy the basic requirement of having the consent of the property's owner to the creation of such a trust, evidenced by its signature on a written trust instrument spelling out its terms.

One of the things I have noticed in writing this blog is that left-leaning, liberal Episcopalians simply will not accept a rule, decision, canon or other pronouncement of law which they do not like. They will invent all sorts of reasons or rationales for evading the plain effect and language of the rule, decision, canon or other pronouncement of law, or for treating it as only a "special case," with no precedential value whatsoever.

Thus the Presiding Bishop found it "inconvenient" to allow the three senior bishops in the Church to have a "veto" over her ability to inhibit a bishop charged with "abandonment of communion", and so she simply ignored that limitation and went ahead and inhibited Bishops Cox and Duncan anyway. Or again, she found it "inconvenient" to require a written renunciation of his orders to get rid of Bishop Iker, so she treated one of his public statements as such a renunciation, and had him deposed on that basis. Likewise, it was most inconvenient to have to muster up a majority vote of "the whole number of bishops entitled to vote in the House of Bishops", since that language included retired ("resigned") bishops who also constitutionally have a vote in the House, and retired bishops hardly ever attend its meetings. So she simply declared that the inconvenient language meant something else, and got her wholly neutral and unbiased Chancellor to issue a ruling backing her up: from now on, a "majority of the whole number" meant only a majority of those who bothered to show up and vote.

The All Saints decision was most certainly a setback for the Dennis Canon in South Carolina. But Episcopalians everywhere must now face the fact: the Dennis Canon was completely ineffective to work its usual magic in that State, because that State has a Court which actually could apply the law of trusts, and of how one is properly created. Just because courts in other States have given the Episcopal Church a pass on its Dennis Canon is no reason to expect such special treatment everywhere. South Carolina, Louisiana, and (soon, I hope) Indiana are States which respect the traditional law of trust creation, and hence in which the Dennis Canon or its equivalents will have "no legal effect."

The dissident Episcopalians are thus blowing smoke when they claim that Bishop Lawrence and the Diocese did something un-Episcopalian in issuing quit-claim deeds to each and every parish. What Bishop Lawrence and his Diocese did was simply following the law as declared by South Carolina's highest State court -- and if to follow the law is un-Episcopalian, well -- there you have it, don't you? To be Episcopalian (at least, to be a member of the South Carolina Episcopalians group) is to ignore what the law plainly says, and to fault and try to drag down others for actually following it (and thereby disagreeing with you).

Accordingly, Bishop Henderson, your warning to Bishop Lawrence is utterly misguided. No one in South Carolina has anything to fear from a Diocese or its Bishop who scrupulously follows the law -- both civil and scriptural. It is precisely the ones who will not follow the law who make the place unsafe for law-abiders.