Victoria Heard and Jordan Hylden—TEC’s Political Captivity

Posted by Kendall Harmon

We believe the past General Convention structure has slavishly copied in ecclesial ink the politics and legislative processes of American culture. Episcopalians are fond of saying that the men who wrote the U.S. Constitution also created the church’s Constitution and Canons. It is an exaggeration but a telling one: General Convention looks and acts too much like Congress and not enough like a council of the Church.

Joseph D. Small, longtime director of theology, worship and education ministries for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), wrote in the March issue of First Things about what he called his church’s “democratic captivity” — its reliance on secular democratic procedure rather than proper theological discernment to order its common life. This, he argues, has been a key factor in aggravating his church’s divisions. To such observations, we can only concur.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal- Anglican: CommentaryEpiscopal Church (TEC)General Convention * Culture-WatchHistory* Economics, PoliticsPolitics in General* TheologyEcclesiology

15 Comments
Posted May 30, 2012 at 9:28 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. David Keller wrote:

As a three-time GC veteran, I concur with pretty much everything they say.  GC is WAY too big, WAY too expensive and the legislative committees are really where the action is. But here’s the rub. When GC actually does something which is good, the Executive Council, which is even less representative of the church as a whole, can undo what GC did. The prime example is 20/20 which passed overwhelmingly and was immedaitely gutted by Dr. Crew et. al. He saw Evangelism as a threat to his agenda; and I suspect he was correct.  GC as it is currently structured is a prime cause of the loss of 1/2 of TEC’s membership, because by its political nature it has co-opted rationality and theology. And because of its length many, if not most of the lay attendees are government employees and teachers, who have paid vacation time and/or the summer off and tend to be (1) more political and (2) more liberal.

May 30, 11:32 am | [comment link]
2. Ratramnus wrote:

General Convention needs structural and procedural updates, but the authors are wrong to attack the principles behind it.  It is an oxymoron to say that the methods of a democratic republic are slavishly followed.  Democratic governance has always been the untapped genius of the Protestant Episcopal Church and one of the justifications for its first proper name.  People who have come over from United Methodism and, even more so, Roman Catholicism, know this.

Right now, giving the process less democracy and more authority will probably not help the cause of anyone but the “Revisionists.”

May 30, 11:34 am | [comment link]
3. flaanglican wrote:

I may be an Anglican now but I completely understand how General Convention developed.  America declared Independence in 1776. The Anglican Church in America obviously changed its name to the Episcopal Church of the USA to no longer associate itself with The Crown.  The General Convention structure likely evolved to be like that of the U.S. structure to show it is “people-driven”.  The Presiding Bishop is like the President.  The House of Bishops is like the U.S. Senate. The House of Deputies is like the U.S. House of Representatives.

But today, that same structure has the effect of throwing church doctrine out the window with resolutions passed and affirmed by simple majorities and a Presiding Bishop too willing to go along.  Church doctrine is now what General Convention says it is by majority vote.  The once great asset of a newly-declared church free from British coercion is now it’s great liability.

May 30, 11:43 am | [comment link]
4. AnglicanFirst wrote:

“...what he called his church’s “democratic captivity” — its reliance on secular democratic procedure rather than proper theological discernment to order its common life.”

Theological discernment of doctrine for the church, with the advisory participation of theologians, is the appropriate ‘sphere of authority’ of bishops in an episcopally organized church.

Theological discernment of doctrine for the church is not an appropriate ‘sphere of authority’ for the rest of the clergy or for the laity.

A change in doctrine arrived at by the vote of a bunch of clergy and lay people in convention is not a valid basis for a change in doctrine. 

The ‘voice’ of a majority does not mean that that ‘voice’ has made a correct or valid change in doctrine.

In fact, and this has been said often by others, the General Convention and presiding bishop of that convention do not have episcopal authority in the true sense of the word episcopal.

Only the diocesan bishops in ECUSA have episcopal authority to act within their dioceses as Anglican bishops.

Sorry about that.

May 30, 11:44 am | [comment link]
5. MotherViolet wrote:

GC is ‘David fighting in the armor of Saul’

May 30, 12:52 pm | [comment link]
6. Sarah wrote:

RE: “The House of Deputies is like the U.S. House of Representatives.”

Except that the House of Deputies is not remotely like the US House of Representatives because the HOD is not formed *representationally* by the numbers of people in a diocese, with large dioceses getting more.  Instead we have *two* “Senates” and an HOD utterly divorced from trivial things like size, growth, decline, plummeting decline into the depths, etc.

Each teensy diocese—cataclysmically augering into the ground under the weight of things like Buddhist bishop-elects and Islamopalians—gets to send a pointy hat and the same number of deputies churned up from the depths of its diocesan bureaucracy, elected by *delegates*—almost always the same number—from a parish as the largest dioceses.

There’s nothing remotely “representational” about any of that.

I’m not saying that the *theology* or gospel would be better—we have two antithetical gospels in this organization and those who believe one gospel are the ones who wish to go to things like General Conventions, so the heresies are permanently enshrined in the structures—but I think it would be less dysfunctional, inbred, incompetent, and mentally ill.

. . . Maybe.

May 30, 1:13 pm | [comment link]
7. flaanglican wrote:

Thank you for the clarification, Sarah.  I’m sure I was very simplistic in my comparison.  But the end result is the same.  Church doctrine is now governed by what comes out of GC and who “has skin in the game” rather than Scripture and the 39 Articles.

May 30, 1:19 pm | [comment link]
8. David Keller wrote:

Sarah—I can’t speak for how things at GC have been since my last time in 2003. You have been to the last two and are more likely to know; I suspect it has gotten worse. But in 1997 to 2003 people did care about growth, decline etc. It all got co-opted by the insiders’ obsession with the gay agenda. I think that even re-structuring will not help now, because so many of the orthodox have either left TEC or those who have stayed simply are no longer interested in going to GC. As you know, at our bishops’ request I ran again in 2006 and was not elected.  I spent the middle weekend of CG 2006 on Cursillo staff, and I can assure you I was much happier!

May 30, 1:23 pm | [comment link]
9. c.r.seitz wrote:

And when an unrepresentative GC (see notes above) produces canons that are manifestly unconstitutional, the analogy fails again—as we have no judicial arbitors. So dioceses must take it upon themselves to receive or reject. Prepare for SSBs rites—manifestly unconstitutional vis-a-vs BCP—after this summer…

May 30, 1:43 pm | [comment link]
10. David Keller wrote:

But Dr. S, Bp. Waldo has assured everyone in Upper SC that there will be no rites for SSB’s.  Its only a trial, not the real thing and he is opposed to them right now.  Of course he is going to allow his preists to use them anyway, but don’t worry about it.  You aren’t a bishop like he is, so you can’t really understand bishop stuff.

May 30, 1:51 pm | [comment link]
11. Undergroundpewster wrote:

I agree that General Conventions are dysfunctional. They seem to be doing more harm than good and should probably be avoided. Useful alternative structures are unlikely to be developed by the current crop of inhabitants.

If you do go, be sure to use protection. According to the CDC, GC is a reportable disease.

May 30, 2:12 pm | [comment link]
12. tjmcmahon wrote:

The C&C did not evolve from the Constitution of the US, as pro-TEC advocates love to claim.  It actually has much more in common with the Articles of Confederation- a much looser set of rules.  By virtue of having no judiciary, any diocese can do whatever it wants, and it is power, not discipline, that rules TEC.  As we have seen, those in power can break rules, violate the constitution, and set aside any canon that is momentarily inconvenient.  Under an actual constitutional democracy or republic, this tyranny would be impossible.

May 30, 4:53 pm | [comment link]
13. Publius wrote:

Two points:

First, Stand Firm has posted a statement by Bruce Garner (of Executive Council note) dismissing Hylton/Heard’s piece as the product of straight white boys and women who think like white boys (paraphrased, but not by much). That tells us everything we need to know about how the real leaders of TEC view the Hylton/Heard plea. Reform? Are you serious? Are you serious??!

Second, the real issue is not that GC is representative, but how unrepresentative it actually is. Imagine TEC’s polity applied to these United States. It would work something like this:

1. The mayor and paid city staff, plus a few members of the city council, would pick the candidates for city council. Citizens could select among candidates already approved by the leadership. On rare occasion, a candidate not preselected by the leadership would be elected to the city council, but such events would be outliers.

2. The mayor would be selected by a few members of the city council. The city’s paid staff would have input. Once appointed, the mayor would serve for life.

3. The mayor, the city’s paid staff, and a few connected members of the city council would appoint the city’s representatives in the state legislature. The incumbent state legislators, state paid staff, and state governor would influence those selections.

4.  The state legislature would meet once a year for a couple of days. Its agenda would be prepared in advance by the governor, the mayors, paid staff of the state, and a few key legislators. It would be procedurally very difficult for an ordinary legislator to get a bill adopted. The legislature’s actions would be reported to the citizens only vaguely, so only the connected would really know what the legislature did during each session.

5. The governor and his/her cabinet, together with some connected mayors and a few key legislators, would select the state’s cabinet. The legislature would appoint the cabinet from the approved list of candidates. Very rarely would any outsider be appointed. Once appointed, cabinet members would serve for life.

6. The cabinet, plus a few key legislators, would appoint the governor of the state. The president of the country, plus a few key governors, and members of the national legislature, would guide the state officials to select the candidates for governor. Once appointed, the governor would hold office for life. The governor would also sit in the national senate, together with anyone who had been appointed to the office of governor, even if he was not the sitting governor of a state. Senators would hold office for life.

7. The state legislature would appoint the members of the national house of representatives. As at lower levels of this polity, the leadership would influence who made it to the approved list of candidates. The legislature would choose among the approved slate almost 100% of the time.

8. The national legislature would meet for about 10 days once every three years. As noted, the senate would be all the sitting and former governors, who would hold office for life. The house would be the delegates appointed by the state legislatures, most of whom would hold office almost for life. Each state would send the same number of legislators.

9. The national legislature’s agenda would be set well in advance by the cabinet, the president, plus a few influential governors. It would be procedurally very difficult for a private member to get a bill to the floor.

10. The national legislature would elect a cabinet that ran the country during the 3 years between sessions. The president, a few governors, and a handfuk of connected legislators would select the candidates for cabinet. Most of the cabinet’s members would hold office for life. The cabinet could alter whatever budget the legislature adopted.

11. The president of the country would be elected by the senate and would always be a governor/senator. The president would would hold office for 9 years, and would appoint almost all of the paid civil service of the nation.

12. The nation would have no supreme court or rule of law enforceable against the leadership. The senate would meet occasionally during the 3 years between sessions. In theory, the senate could restrain some of the president’s actions, but in reality the senate would rubber stamp whatever the president wanted, because the president could, if provoked, semove senators from their offices as senators and governors.

Now that gives you an idea of the monstrosity that TEC’s polity has become. If the United States operated this way, would anyone consider it democratic?

May 30, 6:18 pm | [comment link]
14. Bookworm(God keep Snarkster) wrote:

I think we would be in a much different place now had the “government” been truly representative prior to the creation of ACNA/CANA, etc. and they not embraced the heresy of doing theology by nothing more developed than “majority vote”.  Good piece, but I think sadly this ship has sailed and it’s not returning to this particular port any time soon.

May 31, 2:02 am | [comment link]
15. NoVA Scout wrote:

The post provides excellent and timely commentary on a fundamental flaw in governance structures.  It is understandable that, at the time of the Revolution, the Church faced enormous issues about how it could maintain an American legitimacy, springing as it did from the State Church of the oppressing Mother Country.  But, as humans are wont to do, they jettisoned far more than was necessary to meet the immediate threat.  It worked for a while when the country was small in geography and population and the leadership was still steeped in traditions of Biblical scholarship.  But it is an unseemly mess at this point and only the most aggressive restructuring can improve the situation.  No. 4’s point about where theological decisions must rest (with the Bishops) is particularly salient.  Unfortunately, the changes most needed are, because of the very flaws in the structure, the ones least likely ever to occur.

May 31, 6:27 am | [comment link]
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