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DEMOCRACY

At a recent press conference, discussing the format of the upcoming Lambeth Conference, our Presiding Bishop was quoted as saying:

“The parliamentary system as it is generally practiced in the West produces legislative winners and losers,” Bishop Jefferts Schori said. She added that she was hopeful for the conference because of its emphasis on a traditional understanding of conversation. “Conversation entered into deeply and fully leads to conversion and hope,” she noted.

As I read this my heart was “strangely warmed.” I wanted to shout “yes, yes”. And then I thought of next year and General Convention. Surely we have been saying loudly and sometimes rudely to the rest of the Anglican world that we are a democratic church in distinction to their polities. Some rather august officials have even suggested that when our laity and clergy -bishops are clergy – assemble the Holy Spirit tells the church what’s new and exciting! Surely the Pope will be jealous. It is estimated that pope’s have only spoken “infallibly” four times in history. Of course we don’t believe in papal infallibility. Do we now believe in synodical infallibility?

Some may be thinking at this point that TEC has been democratic from its creation, has always decided things in a parliamentary manner, and indeed we tell the world that our bishops are better and our way of functioning more excellent because of our democratic structures and procedures. (Whether our bishops are more holy, more intelligent, better pastors, theologians and administrators than other Anglican bishops is another matter.) Yet in the past few decades surely the Presiding Bishop is right. We have produced “winners and losers” in our own church and now throw Canon Law at those losers who are fed up with always losing and seek other homes. We kill our wounded in the name of law and democracy and our more excellent way.

I rather think that the Presiding Bishop was thinking of the world-wide Communion rather than the Province she serves when she commended conversation over legislation as a model for the upcoming Lambeth Conference. Yet the TEC gander, at least to my way of thinking, desperately needs the goose’s sauce. In a few months our House of Bishops, perhaps this time in due form, will be asked to legislate the equivalent of the death sentence for another bishop. Other democratic systems have long abandoned Impeachment trials and Courts of Attainder. Why? Because of the corruption of human beings who use such methods to settle scores or tidy up their own houses by excluding prickly people.

As we have no effective “Supreme Court” in TEC, majority votes win, whether justice and mercy are served or not. Next year General Convention meets again. Because we have trashed the old Anglican compact, a self-denying ordinance by which we eschewed legislating that which alienates the consciences of groups within our comprehensive church, we are in danger of creating more “losers” and dividing our dwindling church the more.

Mind you, our former “conversational” way of doing things, voting on budgets and funds for mission and practical things, turning a blind eye to new movements or the revival of old ideas as space, time and patience, and yes, God’s Spirit working through what I term the common sense of the laity, required much civility and a good dose of toleration. Neither virtues are much prized today. Under the guise of “justice” often devoid of mercy, believing we have the truth, we would rather conquer and take no prisoners.

Anglicanism emerged in late Elizabethan days as a church willing to live in contradiction, tolerance, perhaps quarreling robustly, but determined to preserve the unity and mission of the church which existed for the world and not as a holy huddle of true believers. When we have forsaken our heritage, denied our DNA by insisting that the winners write the story, we have become something other than Anglican, however much we appeal to liberalism on the one hand or “classical Anglicanism” on the other.

I heartily endorse the PB’s position and hope and pray it will manifest itself when we meet in conversation and Convention in 2009.

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