A broken process or one that worked?

Following the release of the Joint Standing Committee's report to the Archbishop of Canterbury on the subject of the American church's response to the Dar Es Salaam communiqué, there are have been charges that the report should ignored because the process by which it was written was flawed. Andrew Goddard, in a piece on the Anglican Fulcrum site looks closely at this question and describes in detail the process by which the report came to be:

"[The Joint Standing Committee's] report makes clear that the process in New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA) was not as smooth as it could be – ‘sadly the House of Bishops were not able to complete the process of developing their response before our meeting concluded’ – and the JSC’s response to this has itself occasioned further controversy. As the JSC reports:
The Joint Standing Committee were however briefed by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and other bishops on the Monday evening, and had the opportunity to agree together the main outlines of how they might wish to respond in the light of the various options facing the House of Bishops. All members of the Joint Standing Committee present in New Orleans have been consulted electronically in the preparation of this report once the actual text of the statement of the House of Bishops was available.

This account appears to have fuelled rumours and suspicions of a ‘fixing’ of the outcome. These have focussed on two areas. First, that in their briefing from TEC bishops, the JSC agreed to respond positively if TEC’s HoB took certain courses of action or used certain words. Second, that there was a clear conflict of interest as the Presiding Bishop of TEC is a member of JSC and signed the final report and appears to have been involved in assessing the actions of her own province’s HoB. Although the reality was messy, neither of these allegations has been substantiated with any evidence and both have been strenuously denied. Individual members of the JSC undoubtedly spoke with members of the HoB about the process of developing a response and the JSC apparently made clear that certain possible responses (such as those arising from the official Writing Committee of the HoB) would not meet what was asked by Windsor. There was, however, no negotiation of a settlement or suggestion from JSC that if certain words were used then the JSC would give support. Rather, after attending discussions with the HoB early in their meeting, the JSC withdrew but was kept informed of the developing situation within the HoB by the PB (Bishop Stanton has charted some of the different versions discussed at various stages) who then absented herself from JSC’s deliberations to return to the HoB.

It is clear that the last full set of wording from the HoB of which the JSC was made aware (on the evening of Monday 24th) before its meeting ended was not the final version. It would appear they drew up the main lines of their response in what became Part One of their report based on one of the versions arising from the work of Bishops Jenkins, Bruno and Chane. This possible outcome clearly represented a significant movement from the earlier totally inadequate work of the Writing Committee although it was already clear that the treatment of same-sex blessings was the most problematic and contentious area.

After supper on the 24th the PB reported further to JSC on what became the final summary document with its eight short statements. This meant that the JSC meeting ended hopeful but without sight of the final text and so unable to reach a final definitive assessment during its meeting.

The process agreed by JSC, given these unintended and difficult circumstances, was that the ACO Secretariat would write a first draft based on the JSC’s discussions. It was originally hoped this draft would be circulated by Thursday evening with responses given by Saturday morning so that any revisions could be made and the report given to the Archbishop of Canterbury (after his return from the Middle East that morning) by Saturday evening. In line with this, once the HoB’s full resolutions were public, the ACO drafted the report in the light of the JSC discussions. Part One was circulated to all JSC members on Thursday 27th for comment and/or approval by 9AM BST Saturday and Part Two (and a revision of Part One in light of initial comments) circulated on Friday. At this stage it was clear that the process of consultation could not be properly completed by the weekend and so the deadline for comments was extended to Monday 1st October at 9AM.

When that deadline was reached a third draft of the whole report was circulated and JSC members were asked to give their assent or dissent by Tuesday 9AM. Late on Monday, Mouneer Anis (the Presiding Bishop of Jerusalem and the Middle East) made his first response and requested two extra days. Following discussions with Lambeth Palace, it was agreed that the JSC report would be submitted to the Archbishop if the point was reached where 2/3 of the JSC had signified assent. Those who had yet to respond were therefore asked by email if they could signify assent or make any other comments. By Tuesday morning it was clear that 2/3 of the JSC had given approval to the report and so the report was sent to the Archbishop of Canterbury and circulated to all members of the JSC and all Primates. This timing also enabled the content of the report to be known by the relevant Primates when the Archbishop of York attended the CAPA meeting in Mauritius.

On Wednesday 3rd, the text was finalised as one having the assent of 2/3 of the JSC and with a clear statement as to which members had not yet given consent. This was then sent to the ACC (as recommended by the JSC at their meeting in New Orleans) around 12 noon and made public on the ACO website at 3pm. It appears that it was only shortly after this general publication that comments were first received from Bishop Mouneer and these were duly circulated to the JSC and Primates and then added as an appendix to the main report. Later still on the Wednesday afternoon, Elizabeth Paver (one of the ACC JSC) gave her affirmative response (confirmed subsequently by phone) and on Thursday morning the listings on the internet-published report were accordingly altered and Bishop Mouneer’s comments added."

Read the rest of the background here.

Comments (1)

When Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori signed on the credibility of the response was flawed. Had she recused herself the report might have had a better response.

But we may be at the final point of conflict where those who approve of a contextual response and those who do not are unable to hear one another any more.

There's no polite way to tell someone they're a homophobic bigot - or a Christ-denying heretic - so most of us simply ignore opinions different from our own.

Tom Rightmyer in Asheville, NC.

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