Friday, May 27, 2011

More Fallout from the Colin Slee Memo


Here is the memo in redacted form.

Our dear friend Grandmere Mimi has the links and more on the fallout from this memo coming to light.

Simon Sarmiento posts even more reaction in Britain to this revelation on Thinking Anglicans.

The appearance of this memo is kicking up a huge hornets' nest, not only in England, but internationally. Both Archbishops come off very badly in the memo, I'd say even worse than what The Guardian article, which broke the news yesterday, reported.


The Episcopal Church in the United States elects its own bishops. A candidate for bishop is nominated among others and elected by the local diocesan convention. Then that election is ratified by another vote of the General Convention (it is very rare for the General Convention to go against the wishes of a diocese for a new bishop; on those occasions where that did happen, sometimes the same candidate was resubmitted for another vote and usually ratified). Of course, being an American, I favor this system even though it is far from perfect. Very often, especially in polarized dioceses, a very weak compromise candidate will win out over two or more other much stronger candidates.

In England, the Queen in her role as head of the Church of England appoints all bishops, officially anyway. In actual practice, as I understand it, a diocesan selection committee sends a list of preferred candidates to the Crown Nominations Commission to be vetted by both Archbishops, who then send two names to the Prime Minister who makes the selection on the Queen's behalf. The whole process is confidential, and all of the participants are sworn to secrecy.

Colin Slee did not advocate election of bishops, and says so at the beginning of the memo. He does have a point. When that very peculiar system works, it can work very well and produce some exemplary bishops, as it has in the past. What Dean Slee objected to was the secrecy around the whole process. He says flat out that secrecy had a very corrupting effect on the selection of the new Bishop of Southwark.

He said that the secrecy is especially egregious now since the Church of England threatens to shipwreck on the whole gay issue. The C of E has always been famous (notorious in some eyes) for the large number of gay men in the clergy, especially in the ranks of the very woman-hostile conservative Anglo-Catholic faction. The C of E's pursuit of exemptions from Britain's human rights laws protecting gays and lesbians from employment and housing discrimination, its continuing official hostility to same sex relations, puts it at odds with public opinion which is largely tolerant, if not quite entirely accepting, of same sexuality. That glaring disconnect surely plays a role in the Church's declining active membership. On the other hand, the C of E faces huge pressures to continue its official gay hostility from a large and vocal right wing evangelical faction, and from very influential foreign sources such as African bishops with huge populations behind them, and American right wing activists supported by very wealthy funders with bottomless pockets.
The Archbishop of Canterbury decided early on to preserve the unity of the larger Anglican Communion at all costs (most notoriously at the cost of his once close friend, the openly gay Dean of Saint Alban's , Jeffery John, when the the Archbishop withdrew John's appointment as bishop under pressure from angry evangelicals). He feels compelled to maintain the pretense that there are no gay clergy in the Church of England, despite the fact that the C of E has more of its own clergy living in domestic partnerships than in either the much vilified Episcopal Church or the Anglican Church of Canada.

Colin Slee, in great anguish, points out that this glaring official hypocrisy (which fools no one), plus the secrecy of the nominations process, is corrupting the Church of England and may well wreck it.

Living in what is probably history's largest and most powerful empire, I'm a little reluctant to be pointing a righteous accusing finger at the C of E for its secrecy. At the height of the Vietnam War, Hannah Arendt complained about the American government's addiction to secrecy, what she called the cult of the Arcana Imperii (the Imperial Mysteries). That situation has become a hundred times worse since she wrote that essay in 1970.

Colin Slee and Hannah Arendt together point out that the effect of secrecy is ultimately corrupting. Secrecy breeds suspicion, erodes trust (and ultimately authority), and frequently conceals incompetence, corruption, and crime. I would argue that a similar cult of secrecy, and lack of accountability, is behind the long festering scandals in the Roman Catholic Church.

In the end, Oliver Wendell Holmes was right. Sunshine makes the best disinfectant in matters secular and ecclesiastical.


From Leonardo Ricardo:

5 comments:

IT said...

A complete failure of leadership. Things in dark places rot.

Bill Ghrist said...

A slight correction: In TEC after the election of a bishop, consent normally must be granted by a majority of Diocesan Bishops and by a majority of Diocesan Standing Committees. The exception is that if the election occurs within 120 days prior to a General Convention, then the House of Deputies must consent instead of the Standing Committees. The latter procedure perhaps comes more immediately to mind because it applied in the case of the election of Gene Robinson to New Hampshire, one of the more publicized Episcopal elections.

Ecce Homo said...

Do you really think Rowan Williams is a tyrant?

Counterlight said...

Now I do.

Counterlight said...

My mistake, the famous "Sunshine" quote is not Justice Holmes, but from Justice Louis Brandeis.