Saturday, December 05, 2009

For Whom Can the Presiding Bishop Speak?

I was generally pleased with the Presiding Bishop's statement on the proposed legislation in Uganda that would extend the anti-homosexuality laws to include capital punishment for some homosexuals and prison terms for those who advocate human rights for LGBTs. I am glad she spoke out against this law that has been roundly condemned by all human rights advocates on the left and many on the “right.”

But this troubles me a bit: Now I read (from Episcopal News Service) that “The release of Jefferts Schori's statement was followed shortly by an announcement that a request for a Dec. 7 teleconference meeting of the church's Executive Council had been ‘withdrawn’ by the members who signed a petition in mid-November asking for a meeting ‘regarding the urgent human rights situation in Uganda.’”

Our elected members of the Executive Council are withdrawing their petition, so they won't meet and won't issue a statement on behalf of our church.

When I read the Presiding Bishop's statement, I was jarred by her use of "we think" and "we believe" and "we regret." Maybe I flunked Episcopal Catechism 101, but I didn't realize we had a Primate who was authorized to speak unilaterally of behalf of our whole church. I thought only the Roman Catholics had that. I thought we had General Convention and Executive Council to speak on behalf of all of us. I seem to recall Mark Harris wrote powerfully on just this point fairly recently.

Today, Mark seems happy that our Presiding Bishop spoke unilaterally on this matter. In fact, he tags his essay: “The Episcopal Church speaks on the question of the Uganda anti-gay bill.” But The Episcopal Church has not spoken. Our Executive Council has not spoken. Only Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has spoken. Or so it seems to me.

Thanks be to God, our Presiding Bishop has spoken words that I appreciate. But she does not have the weight of the Episcopal Church behind her. She spoke in her own, solitary voice. Her voice is certainly louder than mine, probably louder than that of the Executive Council, and it will be carried by more news media. But, in fact, her voice represents only one vote, as does mine. When our Presiding Bishop speaks in her voice, she speaks in only one voice – not with the full voice of our whole church, and she lacks the backing of our whole church as the Executive Council might have expressed it.

I rejoice that she has spoken these words against the Ugandan legislation. But I regret that she has therein silenced the voice of our Executive Council – the true “voice” that could actually speak on behalf of our whole church. Only the Executive Council can speak on behalf of all the laypeople, priests, deacons, and bishops of our church. Apparently, they have fallen down in front of our Presiding Bishop, now that she has issued her personal statement. In that, I believe they have failed in their duty as our representative voices. I regret that they are so easily cowed.

So I'll take a minority view which will probably be unpopular: I am glad to see KJS's comment. But I do not believe she has the authority to speak unilaterally for all of us, and I don't believe she's entitled to speak in the "we" voice she appropriated; only our General Convention or Executive Council have the right to speak on behalf of our church.

Thus, I am very disappointed to hear that the Executive Council members have cancelled their teleconference Monday. It seems to me that our Presiding Bishop can only speak for herself. Only the Executive Council can speak for all of us. Apparently, they have cancelled their Monday meeting, choosing to believe that our Presiding Bishop’s statement is good enough.

It is indeed good.

But it is not good enough.

Our Presiding Bishop is not an Archbishop. I don’t believe our Constitution and Canons allow her to speak on behalf of The Episcopal Church.

So why is our Executive Council canceling their meeting??

That's my paltry -- and probably minority -- view. I stand willing to be corrected. What am I missing here?

Addendum (12/5/09): I strongly encourage you to visit Father Jake's blog, where he has some good analysis, then good dialogue with some members of our Executive Council. What appears at his blog tracks some conversations I've had with Executive Council members. I am now content.


Blogger susan s. said...

Lisa, according to Mark at Preludium,

"The Presiding Bishop's statement is a classic example of the PB exercising the role given in the canons (I 2.4a 1-2), namely, "speaking for the Church as to the policies, strategies and programs authorized by the General Convention; (and) (2) Speak God's words to the Church and to the world, as the representative of this Church and its episcopate in its corporate capacity."

I'm confident that she had input from others as this statement was formulated.

12/05/2009 10:22 AM  
Blogger Caminante said...

Susan S. refers to the appropriate canon. There is a larger question beyond the Uganda mess, which is compelling and horrid and all those things, and that is how does Executive Council function in this day and age of 24/7/365 news feed when the canons do not provide for this? Like it or not, we are stuck with the canons even though we are pushing quite hard against them right now -- even calling for the special meeting and having it happen by telephone is extraordinary. Come February, which in this day and age might as well be 1000 years away but used to be time enough, I would think we would undoubtedly have a thorough review of the canons regarding teleconference meetings and what to do when urgent matters arise in between our regularly scheduled meetings.

Right now, however, we are caught between a rock and a hard stone, getting things thrown at us right and left (yes, get out your miniature violin, smile) because we either have said not enough fast enough or we should not be engaging in this discussion under these terms.

Back to following the Los Angeles election where I am praying hard the laity don't drag the clergy down.

12/05/2009 1:59 PM  
Blogger Ann said...

I think she is speaking of "we" from the resolutions we have passed at GC -- that is the basis and it is a "we" who have set the standard. When speaking for herself she says "I"

12/05/2009 3:58 PM  
Blogger it's margaret said...

Canons and Tradition aside, Lisa. Yes. It rubs the wrong way on so many levels. Clericalism and hierarchy....

Not putting Canons and Tradition aside, the PB is and has always been the mouthpiece of GC.

12/05/2009 4:45 PM  
Blogger it's margaret said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

12/05/2009 4:45 PM  
Blogger it's margaret said...

sorry --it posted twice!

12/05/2009 4:46 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I had not carefully examined those canons.

And I'll confess this: When I responded here to the PB's statement, my reaction was probably colored by the recollection of her asking SOME OF US to "stand in a crucified place" and all that. I'll confess my "hermeneutic of suspicion" probably was in overdrive.

After a day's reflection, I am less wary.

12/06/2009 12:00 AM  
Blogger Jake said...

Hi Lisa,

Yes, my initial response was the same as yours.

But, even though I still have some of those concerns, after hearing from a few members of the EC, I'm now willing to acknowledge that I might be wrong.

12/06/2009 6:04 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

That's my later reaction, too, Jake -- for I, too, am hearing from some of our leaders. And I trust them.
Thanks for your support!

12/06/2009 6:44 PM  
Blogger Lindy said...

I thought it was a huge, and very positive, step forward for EC to call for the meeting in the first place.

It looks like clericalism because she is a cleric. (Sad to say we still have a few.) It's also her job to speak for GC so, I'm not sure how you get around that.

12/07/2009 6:28 AM  

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