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Badminton anyone?

Badminton anyone?

This is a post about the Anglican Covenant. Bear with me.

Everyone enjoys a horse race. But imagine a horse race in which the last to finish was the winner. Changing the rules of the race radically changes how it is played. The outcome is predictable assuming the jockeys understand the rules. It’s in no one’s interest to move. The result is always stalemate.

It was big news at the London Olympics when badminton teams were intentionally trying to lose. Reactions to watching world-class athletes repeatedly hitting the shuttlecock into the net ranged from amused, to bemused, to unamused.

However, it was well known the round robin tournament design created these adverse incentives. No one expected players to take advantage of those rules. We all know now that the players were seriously penalized for playing by the rules. Their behavior was called unsportsmanlike. Yet the World Badminton Association that sets the rules (and evidently makes up the penalties for unsportsmanlike behavior on the fly) is not sure it will change the design — ‘there is no guarantee the format will be changed because it has “brought action to many, many more viewers and prolonged the Olympic experience for many, many more players.”‘ Talk about perverse incentives; I hear the sound of money.

Which brings us to the Anglican Covenant. Among the No Anglican Covenant folks in The Episcopal Church, and worldwide there was dismay that General Convention took the advice of its World Mission Legislative Committee and chose not to take action on the Anglican Convention. Kicking the can down the road was the phrase I and others used.

The chair of the sub-committee on the Covenant, Mark Harris, has posted an explanation of the sub-committee’s thinking. Here’s one bit.

B005 Substitute essentially changed the question of adoption from something requiring immediate response to a question we could answer at our leisure, when we are ready to do so. We changed the assumption of the game plan.

In my mind, the larger Anglican Covenant game involves a sales pitch where the producers of the Anglican Covenant said we needed to buy a particular product (The Anglican Covenant) because we need, or want, or desire, what it can do for us. The product was advertised to make us part of a very special group – the Anglican Communion – if only we would buy and use the product. If we didn’t – well the heartbreak of psoriasis is nothing compared to the heartbreak of second tier life – not an outcast, but not a player either. But the choice was ours – buy or don’t buy. Every province supposedly gets the same offer – yes or no – and on that full inclusion in the Anglican Communion rests. But who make this game up?

For some of us on the committee and out there in Anglican land it was clear that it was the product of the same minds that turned Lambeth Resolution 1988,I.10 into a litmus test of Anglican purity, and the Windsor Report into a definitive road map. Both those Anglican disasters made the Covenant the clear strategy of those who were and are opposed to anything like inclusion of gay and lesbian Christians in the life and leadership of the churches. The Anglican Covenant has been widely disliked as an instrument that serves the wrong ends by the wrong means.

As in the race to be last, in this game being last to join is a strategy that is best regardless of what others do. In the language of game theorists it is a dominant strategy. And as has been observed, it’s the strategy adopted by most of Gafcon, too. Jump on the train just at the instant before it’s too late for anyone else to join.

Pastoral, schmastoral. Winning. That’s what it’s all about, right?

Badminton anyone?


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Daniel Weir

It seems to me that the action of GC accomplished what was accomplished by the diocesan synods in the CofE, i.e., a refusal to vote one way or the other on the Covenant. Neither the GC nor the CofE’s Snod have taken a yes or no vote on the Covenant, but have, by different routes, opted out of the game.


It can make sense to “step out of the game.” Often enough folks have seen an analogy in the Covenant effort and in Communion conflicts to family system theory. Often what makes a difference is when a healthy person simply chooses not to participate. That might seem to suggest a “No;” but if both “Yes” and “No” have been structured into the game, “stepping out” would indeed suggest rejecting both.

It seems to me, though, that we have not been the first to try to change the rules of “the game.” Both Southeast Asia and Ireland did something that they said was acceptance of the Covenant; but each did so with specific redefinition of “adoption.” They also both added (mutually exclusive) signing statements. Even the Church of England hasn’t been relieved of that. The diocesan synods were clear; and yet the leadership interpreted this as “we’re just not ready yet,” and implied that if could be introduced again.

The committee, and the Convention majority, wanted to find a way to step away from the Covenant and explicitly not step away from the Communion. This effort at compromise (not with the Covenant-ophiles, but among ourselves) won out over explicit rejection.

Marshall Scott

Dave Paisley

The analogy with the badminton is a bit tortured. The round robin part of the tournament is used routinely in many sports (most notably world soccer) and is a way of avoiding favorites losing flukily in the early stages of a tournament and being knocked out altogether. It also means every team gets to play at least three games, thereby making the round the world trip (for many) worth the bother.

In this case, the Chinese favorites lost a game and ended up second in their group. The team that won the other group would face them in the next round. Knowing this going into the game two of the disqualified teams attempted to lose to avoid meeting the pre-tournament favorites in the next round. It happens.

Soccer takes this out of play by having the last matches of the round robin take place simultaneously.

In the end, though, I couldn’t really tell what point you were trying to make, it was all so convoluted…

Michael Russell

Had the actual document been a product of Right Reason, all would have flocked to consent. That they haven’t is a sure sign of its uselessness. It was a power play, so poorly constructed that its principal proponents had whatever power might actually exist snatched away by far more skilled maneouverers in the ACC.

Those folks now sulk off to the side while the ACC has to promote a document not particularly suited to what they usually do.

Now I like the “Rope-a-Dope” strategy we have applied, but there always came a time when Ali stood up and decked the opponent, ending the fight. I liked GC77 for that moment, but the majority preferred to bounce on the ropes longer. Perhaps this now becomes more like English Chancery Court when decisions take lifetimes, but neither strategy will change the foes of TEC.

With the Olympics on we are now getting used to amazing gymnast tortions, so who know maybe the convoluted theology and ecclesiology of the Covenant will get some sympathetic traction?

John B. Chilton

“Just say

Yes or


—anything else you say comes from the Evil One.”

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