Saturday, November 30, 2013

An “Ecclesiology Committee” committee advising the House of Bishops has released a “Primer” on polity prepared with the assistance of various consultants identified at the end of the document. The identity of those preparing this document—most have participated as counsel or witnesses or have been listed as potential witnesses in the various lawsuits—makes obvious that the primary purpose of this document is its perceived usefulness in litigation. ACI principals have also appeared as witnesses in this litigation. This is our response to the claims asserted in this Primer.

1. Claim:
“Final authority in matters concerning all was vested in General Convention and, in due course, Executive Council between Conventions [5]…. From the beginning until now, [the General Convention] has limited its decisions with respect to specific local situations, but in making decisions for the whole church, its authority is supreme [9]…. Episcopalians have, since 1785, consistently assigned final authority and function in our church to the General Convention itself [10].”

ACI Response:

It is likely that the sole purpose of this Primer is to make these two (related) claims about final authority and supremacy. We note the following:

• As first written and submitted to the House of Bishops this document read: “‘Metropolitical authority’ (see below) was vested in General Convention and, in due course, Executive Council between Conventions… [5]” and “Episcopalians have, since 1785, consistently assigned the metropolitical authority and function of our church to the General Convention itself [10].” But this language met considerable objection from the bishops who reviewed it in September and it had to be deleted. A vague “final authority in matters concerning all” was subsequently substituted by the drafters of the document, one implication of which is that “final authority” concerning diocesan matters rests with the diocese. And the history of this document and its drafting demonstrate that even the assembled bishops cannot agree with their own “Ecclesiology Committee” as to the nature of TEC polity. In any event, none of the terms “supreme,” “metropolitical authority,” or “final authority” is found in TEC’s Constitution.

• Many in TEC assert and sincerely believe these claims about General Convention’s authority, but others do not. This is not new. The nature of TEC’s polity has been the subject of debate for two centuries. TEC’s own expert witness, Bruce Mullin, testified at the recent trial in Quincy that “the question, of course, is how hierarchical it is, and that's a long-standing debate….”

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