Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Still beating the political drum at SFIF

Editor's Note: This is more of the lunacy that comes from a conservative remaining in pecusa.  No wonder Stand Firm's readership has been steadily declining while the readership of VirtueOnline continues to grow.
And then there's the rules for conversation given below - this is typical of the tight control that has been a hallmark of Stand Firm's decline.  The writer is either ill-informed or ignorant of church history, e,g, the history of the episcopate which had at least three models coexisting early in the life of the church.

At Stand Firm, the founder left pecusa for the Roman Catholic Church, this week David Ould gave notice that he's dropping out, so maybe there is some desperation at SFIF.  But, still, the SFIF dynamic of control remains, and I would guess this theme of sniping at the ACNA will continue.

I’ve been pondering the various political issues that are or will be confronting ACNA over the years.  I expect most readers could come up with a list of a dozen or so, with just a few moments of thought.

When I say “political issues” I don’t mean that each one doesn’t have a theological component or even foundation.  Most to all “issues” are connected with theology and foundational worldview. By “political” I mean the decisions and actions of an organization filled with people of conflicting interests, goals, values, and theories about life, the universe, and everything—in other words, filled with people—that must navigate those conflicts effectively enough to prevent said organization from falling apart.

To use my old tennis club analogy . . . recall that TEC is a tennis club that has been taken over at the highest levels by people insisting on shooting skeet right next to or on the tennis courts.  They’re not “playing the same game” as the tennis players, and in fact their game is antithetical to the game of tennis.  The vast majority of the leaders of TEC don’t share the same faith or Gospel or basic values.  So necessarily the organization is riven with deep, foundational division and chaos.  The current leaders would like the tennis players to continue paying dues to the “tennis club” and otherwise supporting the “tennis club” in order to support the skeet shooters—but to be quiet and not make trouble about the fact that the tennis players are interested in playing tennis on their tennis courts without the loud booms of guns and the rain of skeet rubble and random shell casings onto the tennis players’ heads.

In the case of ACNA, I surmise that all of the members of the tennis club wish to play tennis.  This is a Very Good Thing.  So there is “unity” on the basic purpose of the club, but also “standard divisions” at the lower level on other matters.

For instance, perhaps some of the tennis players would like to have grass courts.  They believe that grass court tennis is the sine qua non of tennis-playing and without them, a tennis club is nothing at all.  Other players point out that the construction, care, and maintenance of good grass tennis courts is very expensive and would take a good chunk of the budget.  Others want to have a nice club house to which to invite their friends, whom they are hoping to lure into the tennis club.  Others want to offer Nearly Free tennis lessons in order to expand the game of tennis to others who are less privileged. Others want better tennis pros to teach them the finer points of volleys and smashes.

Although there is much “philosophy” [and perhaps even religion] behind those questions and decisions, these are also political questions about the nature and secondary goals of the organization, and the negotiation of competing interests and values.  Everybody is agreed on “playing tennis” but as any tennis player knows, there is so so so much more to decide and negotiate and argue over than merely “tennis.”
The fact is, despite the agreement on “playing tennis,” some tennis club members may choose to go elsewhere if such decisions, significant to the world of tennis players, are not arranged to their satisfaction.

And that is one big reason why we have Rome, and Baptists, and Presbyterians, and Methodists, and EOs, and Plymouth Brethren.

Yes yes yes, I know it is about Truth.  After all, I think *I* have the truth!  But such questions are also political and organizational, and therefore about the negotiation of conflicting interests, and not merely about truth.

With all of the above being said, here are the rules of this thread.

—Please talk about WO on another thread.  You can go to the Open Thread on ACNA bishops to effectively engage on the topic of WO.

—Along with not talking about WO, please don’t get into the *theology* of your particular position on this thread—that will suck up all the airspace.  For example, if Matt comes onto this thread and says “one political issue I see is that the Reformed bishops are far outnumbered by the AngloCatholics,” I don’t want the thread to then veer off onto the merits or wickednesses of Calvin, Beza, Dordt, limited atonement, anti-Christmas trees, free will, Newman, etc, etc.

So my question for the Open Thread is this: other than WO, what political issues do you see that will need to be addressed by ACNA, and therefore by a new Archbishop of ACNA?  Obviously, the political issues that you see, and where you fall on those decisions that will be made [even if the decision is made to “punt” or “leave it at status quo”] will have direct bearing on which bishop in the College of Bishops you think would make a good choice for Archbishop.

As an outsider to ACNA I’ll happily start the ball rolling with my pick of one of the most important issues confronting the ACNA and about which which almost nobody is speaking [except in oblique, circumspect ways because those people already know what they wish to have happen but don’t want to talk about some of the deeper issues involved] . . . and that is . . . what should be done about the existence of Affinity Dioceses?

First, a little background.

Affinity dioceses are wide and varied, and have to do with people of similar theological or ecclesial or other views [like philosophy of evangelism] being “together” in a diocese even when they are not geographically contiguous.  For example, my understanding is that the Missionary Diocese of All Saints contains most to all of the Forward in Faith members who left TEC. But in a sense, the REC dioceses *might* be called “affinity” in that, though they are geographical, they are people of similar theological/ecclesial views [as compared, say, to the Diocese For The Sake of Others, led by Bishop Hunter] and wish to remain “together” even whilst they are in ACNA. The same may be said of the existence of CANA dioceses.  Though they are largely geographically related they overlap into other ACNA dioceses, because the people of CANA wish, for whatever theological or ecclesial or political reasons, to remain together.

Such dioceses—whether strictly non-geographical affinity [like All Saints] or geographical-yet-affinity [like the REC] have been able to choose bishops that fit their theological/ecclesial priorities.  And that is a very key thing.

One of the “compromises” involved within setting up ACNA’s governance and the choice to give immense power to the bishops and providing no equivalent “House of Deputies” to laity and clergy [instead they get a “Provincial Council” mixed with bishops and a “Provincial Assembly” mixed with bishops]—was that 1)parishes would own their own property, 2) parishes could leave the ACNA, 3) changes in the Constitution and Canons took 90 days to be active [and thus there was a 90-day window for departure prior to any draconian changes like “give us all your property”], and 4) parishes/clergy/laity could set up Affinity dioceses beyond the reach of various geographic dioceses—and therefore those bishops.

Lately, there has been some huffing and puffing about the allowance for such dioceses not being sufficiently “catholic” [whatever that means these days], since “catholicity” apparently demands “geographically contiguous dioceses.”

I’ll put it to you that that kind of rhetoric probably disguises some of the underlying issues surrounding Affinity dioceses, to wit:

—the recognition that on secondary but Deeply Significant issues, ACNA isn’t “unified” but is, in fact, “divided.”  Please note that I have reiterated on this thread and others that 1) I think it is normal for organizations to be “divided” and that 2) ACNA is “unified” on the most primary issue of The Gospel.
—the recognition that there are far too many ACNA bishops and dioceses—and feeling as if the “easy way” to resolve that is simply to jam everybody into geographically contiguous dioceses
—the recognition that, as word and story and history leak out through the underground railroad of communication that exists within ACNA [as with so many organizations], congregations and clergy and laity wish to be under some bishops and not under others
—the recognition that the free market of dioceses that has been established within the ACNA will mean that certain dioceses will die, and leave the bishops of such dioceses in limbo since “Each bishop in active episcopal ministry shall be included in a Provincial College of Bishops as provided by canon.”  If a bishop’s diocese disappears due to the free market that ACNA has established, then is he “in active episcopal ministry?”

So there is substantial power on the part of congregations to choose a diocese with which to affiliate as such congregations do not have to join geographic dioceses when they are formed. They may choose a diocese with which to affiliated based on the theology/ecclesiology/politics of the diocese, and based, of course, on the bishop.  Congregations may even “seek transfer” between dioceses in ACNA “with the permission of the Bishops involved” and if a bishop refuses the allowance of a transfer and is deemed intolerable, the congregation may simply choose to leave the ACNA entirely.

Further, congregations existing within a diocese may join a new “affinity diocese” in formation:
“Each congregation commits to openness with its existing bishop/jurisdiction concerning its participation in the formation of the diocese/cluster/network that, if accomplished, might have the effect of removing that congregation from its present affiliation with that bishop/jurisdiction.”
And later, in the application/standards appendix:
“This too is a certification statement that each constituent congregation has notified its domestic bishop, or overseas bishop if that congregation does not have a domestic bishop, of intention to change jurisdiction by becoming part of a new grouping that will receive its own bishop. By endorsing the Constitution and Canons, the ACNA bishops have already granted permission for their congregations to enter into new groupings. Therefore, while only notification rather than permission is required, it is only prudent, godly, and gracious for each congregation to discuss this matter with its bishop prior to a decision to become part of a new grouping.”
Those allowances have meant that, despite their existence within all three decision making bodies of ACNA [the Provincial Assembly being called a “decision making body” is somewhat generous], bishops don’t have all the power in the ACNA.  Congregations may effectively choose one’s bishop—particularly at the outset of a congregation’s formation, but even later on, in departing for a newly forming entity.

I suspect that all of this has led to some uneasy recognitions by the College of Bishops. The standards for the creation of new dioceses—and thus election of new bishops—are so low within the ACNA that the departure of one major parish can sink a fledgling diocese below the numerical standards required for a diocese to exist, much less plummet one’s diocesan budget into the ground.  Further, there is a little-discussed possibility to avoid even those low standards for creation of dioceses/bishops by the “Request for Waiver of Canon I.5.1 Standards.”
As stated in 1 above, Canon I.5.1 provides for a possible exception to standards for those groupings that may fall short of the numerical standards and yet by virtue of other factors believe that they should not be placed in the temporary “In Formation” status. This section provides the opportunity to describe other factors that the Provincial Council might consider in granting full status as an exception to numerical standards. Such factors could include such matters as falling a bit short of twelve congregations with an ASA of 50 but having a collective ASA well above 1,000 or perhaps falling a bit short in both categories but demonstrating outstanding fruit in areas of evangelism, church planting and congregational growth.
It would be interesting to find out whether that waiver has ever been requested, and if so how many have been granted.

So I think in the coming five years there will be increasing rhetoric about the “non-catholicity” of “affinity dioceses” and the desperate need to avoid “overlapping jurisdictions.”  But eliminating affinity dioceses strips congregations of significant power, and makes them vulnerable to an array of bishops that some might think shouldn’t have ever been made bishops at all, besides which puts actual existing affinity dioceses in jeopardy.  Further, it eliminates the only possibility of natural “culling” of bishops in “active episcopal ministry” who don’t have the skills to grow their dioceses and from whom other parishes wish to flee, because it bases the existence of dioceses on “geography” and the existing/selected bishop for that “geography.”  One’s zip code would determine one’s bishop—just as in so many US states, politically speaking, one’s zip code determines one’s public school, neatly circumventing the competition that would greatly aid in the improvement of our woeful public education system.

Of course, if the existence of “too many dioceses” [read: bishops] is really a concern of those claiming the need for “catholicity” one simple solution is to greatly strengthen the numerical requirements for the creation of new dioceses, whether affinity, or geographic.  Had the numerical requirements been triple what now exists, my guess is that we would have far fewer ACNA dioceses, and far less difficulty with “overlapping jurisdictions.”  In order for clusters or networks to grow a bishop, with accompanying diocesan budget, really isn’t as necessary as some might think.

The logistical challenge of doing away with affinity dioceses is that the ability to create and maintain “affinity dioceses” is embedded within both the Constitution and Canons—in many many paragraphs, their existence is noted, affirmed, and dealt with equally as with geographic dioceses.  Further, in the application for admission there is this statement:
“The new province is committed to organizing itself around the historic principle that parishes form around a bishop. Simultaneously, it recognizes that either geographic proximity or affinities because of relationship are equally valid ways of practicing that principle. The additional principles that follow are designed to respect the choice of each congregation for either affinity or geography as its organizing principle.”
Here it’s worthwhile to mention the three primary bodies that the Constitution and Canons allows for in ACNA:

The Provincial Council—[made up of one bishop, one clergy, and two laity from each diocese/cluster/network] votes to receive new dioceses/clusters/networks “whether regional or affinity-based”, appoints the provincial tribunal, votes to remove dioceses from membership in the province, establishes program/budget of the province, and adopts changes to Constitution and Canons,requiring a simple majority vote to amend/delete canons and a 2/3 vote to amend the Constitution

The Provincial Assembly—makes recommendations, and votes to ratify Constitution and Canons or any amendments—amendments to Constitution require 2/3 majority, amendments to the Canons require a simple majority

College of Bishops—elect archbishop, approves or rejects selected bishop of a diocese/cluster/network [or selects from a slate of nominees—there has been some rumbling that this latter is much preferred because . . . “catholicity” . . . ; > ) ]

So other than doing away with affinity dioceses by amending both Constitution and Canons, how might those opposed to such dioceses decide to effectively eliminate them?

Two actions might take place.  First, it appears that a diocese is approved for membership by a majority vote of the Provincial Council—so, presumably if a majority of the Provincial Council decides it does not wish to have affinity dioceses, they could simply not approve their formation or entrance.

Secondly, since the departure of a congregation from one existing diocese to another existing diocese must occur “with the permission of the Bishops involved” it is possible for a bishop to prevent a congregation from departing his diocese.

What’s already occurred is “negotiation” and “horse trading.”  I first began receiving emails from concerned parishioners in ACNA several years ago when some parishes were “transferred” seemingly arbitrarily to other dioceses, the result of episcopal horse trading. The reasons ultimately seemed to be about “financial stewardship” and other matters of “equality” amongst dioceses.  If that is an accurate portrayal of what goes on—and I do know that bishops ask for “trades” of parishes from other dioceses, in exchange for departing parishes—I think that’s pretty contemptible.  There’s not much to be done about it other than 1) a bishop that is receiving a parish refusing to trade out another parish [which is very “non-collegial”], 2) a parish paying for its freedom, or 3) a parish simply leaving the ACNA, and perhaps later on applying for admission to a specific and different diocese.

As dioceses confront “failure to thrive” I suspect there will be more and more skirmishes over departing parishes.

At any rate, I’ve spelled out what I think will be a very significant political issue within ACNA—with real consequences, some of which I’ve mentioned above—in the coming years.  I’m an outsider, but I think it’s pretty clear I support affinity dioceses, since there is immense division [again, over secondary but significant issues] between the theology/ecclesiology/values of certain dioceses/bishops and congregations, and because it gives laypeople back a very limited bit of power and influence in a church whose bishops hold the vast majority of power.  Such congregations would have to show a high degree of initiative and organization and networking in order to “chart their own destiny” a bit within the ACNA, but the allowance for affinity dioceses makes that at least possible.

I think that is a good thing.

What about you?  Other than WO, what political issues do you see that will need to be addressed by ACNA, and therefore by a new Archbishop of ACNA?

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