The exercise of power

Design Indaba, Capetown

I am pleased to see the new openness - see Day 1 and following - of the SCAC. It must have felt like this while looking through a peep-hole at the priest celebrating mass in mediaeval churches.

It is clear that power in the Anglican Communion is now located in the Standing Committee - but it is not so clear that power is being exercised there.

Given that the account of the SCAC meeting was designed to obscure as much as it revealed there is little evident between the lines. Watch out for Jan Butter, the new Director of Communications. His skill in obfuscation is highly honed and he can expect a job anywhere in the Anglican Church - and a good few other organizations as well.

But it is possible to read some things between the lines. This can only be speculative - though what else is the blogosphere for - but it seems to me that (1) there is insufficient clarity about the purpose and function of the committee, (2) there is confusion between representation and executive functions, and (3) much power is exercised elsewhere.

A mini ACC?
The ACC was intended and is constructed as a consultative body (hence its name), not as a parliament. Its Standing Committee looks and feels like the ACC in minature rather than a body whose members were chosen because of their executive capabilities.

For example, much like an ACC meeting, a large amount of time was given to presentations of work done by various ministries and networks. It wasn't clear whether this was because the presentations raised particular policy questions or required key decisions. Maybe they did and it just wasn't reported. But if not, what were the presentations for? This is not a new group of people and members can surely be kept informed of what's happening by email / paper. There may well be reasons for calling officers in to address issues face-to-face. But a programme of presentations per se is a distraction technique. It keeps people informed of action based on decisions taken previously and elsewhere.

There was also no sense that this aggregation of agencies were working to, or could be measured against, a single plan. How is the SCAC supposed to be an executive without a clear framework to measure both progress and direction of travel?

Exercising power in the SCAC
The key question is: at what level of significance are members of the SCAC required to assent to (and thus have the power to veto) policy decisions in relation to the Communion's ministries, networks and other initiatives? Do they have to positively assent to new groups, or can they stop those once created? If they don't make decisions beforehand they do not exercise power.

The most obvious point which showed the SCAC's lack of power, and also their annoyance with that fact, was the exclusion of TEC from some of the Anglican agencies:

Recent developments in the Communion

There was an opportunity for members of the Committee to express their views and ask questions about the decision to remove or alter the status of members from one province serving on the Anglican Communion’s ecumenical dialogues and IASCUFO. The Archbishop of Canterbury and Secretary General Kenneth Kearon explained the rationale behind this decision. In particular the Committee was assured that the Archbishop had not acted unilaterally but with the support of the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion; that they had acted within their powers; and that the action had not been punitive in intention. Rather it had been taken—following the breaking of the agreed moratoria—in response to the needs of the Communion in respect to ecumenical dialogues and faith and order bodies. Committee members were told that other Provinces were under consideration. (Day 1)

The Committee are told in terms that they may express views and ask questions. Great, so can I, even if I can't ask questions in person. And I would not be reassured by the assertion that the decision had not been taken unilaterally but by two people. President and Chief Executive acting together can hardly be construed as action by two people who come to the same conclusion by independent routes. The Committee are effectively being told, in the last line, to keep off the grass - they will be informed but neither consulted nor given a veto.

And just what are powers by which the President and Chief Executive acted - what is their source, where are they set out, how far do they extend, how may the exercise of those powers be scrutinised, evaluated?

(Presumably the statement of an absence of a punitive intention is intended to convey both that the action was nicer than had its motivation been otherwise, and that the perception of being punished is of no concern to those who took the decision.)

The most explicit attempt to exercise power was the attempt by Dato Stephen Isaacs to exclude TEC from the ACC by, in effect, a private member's motion (Day 2 and Day 4). (Mark Harris exploded, accusing the SCAC of 'usurping powers not its own' here.)

On Day 2 the proposal was defeated, on Day 4 it was revisited. Phillip Aspinall asserted that the SCAC did not have the power to make such a decision (though this did not, apparently, stop them voting on it).
It was also stated that the Standing Committee did not have all the powers of the ACC, especially when it came to the Membership Schedule.
Nonetheless the ACC membership was in fact the most noticeable omission for the agenda. Resolution 14.37 of the last ACC asked the Standing Committee to consider the entry of the Spanish Episcopal Church and the Lusitanian Church (which, incidentally, opposes the Covenant), and to review relationships with all extra-Provincial jurisdictions with the ACC (ACNA?). This has the potential to significantly reshape the ACC. You would have thought that there would have been a passing reference - or perhaps there was, but it was just omitted from the public record.

The SCAC may not have the power to decide membership but it clearly has the power to do everything up to the point of decision.

If the SCAC remains a mini-ACC, more deliberative than decisive, then it will not exercise the powers nominally located with it. Executive power still has to be exercised - and on present evidence it looks as though it will be exercised by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Secretary General in concert.

Perhaps the most significant discussion (on Day 2) was sparked by Kenneth Kearon's report.
He concluded by noting that the credibility of the Primates' Meeting and the ACC was being openly questioned by some and this criticism was increasingly focused on the Standing Committee itself.
'By some?' By ex-members of the SCAC itself, perhaps; by leaders of the Global South, by Archbishop Orombi here? I doubt that the blogosphere alone would be sufficient to perturb the Committee (it certainly shouldn't).

'Credibility' is an interesting term - presumably not in the sense that the SCAC can't be believed but in the sense that its survivability is in question. I would think 'legitimacy' was a more accurate word.

The recorded responses to the questioning of their credibility were revealing. First, from the ACC Chair James Tengatenga: reaffirm the representative and elected nature of the ACC. Second, from the ACC Vice-Chair Elizabeth Paver: renew trust in the ACC through greater openness and better communications. Both miss the point. It is entirely possible to be a representative body and lose legitimacy. Better PR is important but legitimacy depends on substance, not presentation.

One key aspect of legitimacy in a representative body is the continuing relationship between those elected and their constituency. Presumably the constituency of ACC members is their electorate - the governing bodies of each province (I'm guessing). However the new constitution has been brought in over several years by private conversations between ACC representatives and (to judge by the CofE's actions and the secrecy which surrounded it) a very few of the most senior leaders and advisers in each province. There is a proper place for confidentiality in any organization. But on a matter as basic as the rules by which the organization works such secrecy seems wholly inappropriate. It has broken or evaded the presumed relationship between elector and elected. No wonder questions of credibility and legitimacy are raised.

Second, we do not live in harmonious times. And, in all probability, never will. In such a setting official communications quite properly seek to be a studiously neutral in respect of the contentious issues and contending parties. The consequence is that official publicity is always, necessarily, bland and neutered. It cannot address exactly those issues that its audience wants addressing because those issues are the substance of the dispute.

Credibility and legitimacy will only be restored by both building a relationship between ACC members and their sponsoring provinces in a way which is much more extensive than it is at present (at least in the CofE). Each delegate should be explaining and selling both the Communion and the participation of all Orders in its governance. There should be an active education programme reaching into the parishes. Official publicity can never restore faith in a body once undermined.

But the fact is that some people will only trust the ACC if it abjures homosexuality and damns those who refuse. Others will only trust the ACC if it accepts homosexuals as full people before God. But a representative body (in full or in miniature) merely brings together in one room such incompatible views. Therefore it is highly unlikely it can ever be an effective executive.

The next big change

Archbishop Rowan Williams questioned whether the ACC's committee structure was appropriate for this new century. He said questions needed asking about whether revised Instrument structures were required to better foster the relationship-building parts of the Communion's life, "so when it comes to looking at the complex questions of the Communion we have a better foundation upon which to build."

Later in the meeting, the Committee asked a small group of Standing Committee members to prepare a proposal for ACC-15 on undertaking a strategic review and planning process relating to ACC membership and meetings and Standing Committee structure and operation.

Now this is going to be fun. On past evidence most of the discussion will happen underwater - invisible to all but the most practiced Anglican divers. ACC 15 will see an outline and a limited version may be made public, but no-one in the swim will want the whole matter debated in public.

Perhaps this is a real power of the SCAC. Not the executive power which Williams, Kearon and the ACO seem determined to retain, but considerable influence on shaping the questions and the course of debate.

There is just one hint of hope, however, expressed as 'continuing indaba'. If this is to be the future of the Communion - carry on talking - and structures are reshaped to support and foster continued conversation then there may be hope for good things from and for the Communion.

What are the odds?

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