Friday, May 22, 2009

Michael Ingham "In Conflict" with the Truth

The Diocese of New Westminster filed and proudly published for the world on its website last week its Introduction to the case in Bentley v. Diocese of New Westminster, in which oral arguments start next week. One of the arguments which the diocese and named co-defendant +Michael Ingham make is that +Ingham's approval of same-sex blessings is fully authorized under the rules of the Anglican Church of Canada, or as they put it in paragraph 11 of their introduction, "entirely consistent with the Church structures." Now watch their hands closely. They say that "The General Synod resolved in 2007 that "the blessing of same-sex unions is consistent with the core doctrine of the Anglican Church of Canada." "

They wish.

Now there's two -- let's just call them "inaccuracies" for the moment -- in this statement, which purports to be a direct quote from a GS resolution. The substantively less important one irks me the most, because it represents either reprehensible sloppiness in stating important, easily ascertainable facts in crucial, showcase make-your-first-impression pleadings in a case in which millions of dollars and the futures of two major religions are on the table, or a sneaking in of a deliberate misstatement to try to mislead the Court into coming to a false conclusion of fact.

The corresponding wording in the resolution -- A186 -- that was actually passed is "the blessing of same-sex unions is not in conflict with the core doctrine... of the Anglican Church of Canada." (More about this ellipsis later).

Consistent with. Not in conflict with. What's the diff?

Well go to and you'll see a number of definitions for "consistent" but the main ones all start with some form of the concept of "agreement". "Having agreement with", "Being agreeable to". Suppose you ask your buddy, "So how's your wife with that idea of yours of going out for dinner and drinks once a month with your old girlfriend, just as 'old friends?" Do you draw different conclusions about what's going on if he says "No prob. She agrees with it" than if he pauses and says "We're not in conflict about it"?

You see +Ingham wants to create the impression that the ACoC has said it's all hunky-dory with SSBs, that they're agreeable to the Church's system of doctrine in all its fullness. But it hasn't debased itself that far yet. One of the things it has said is that SSBs aren't in conflict with "core doctrine" because they have nothing to do with 'core doctrine', which concerns an entirely separate set of matters. The GS 2007 resolutions start by accepting some of the main premises of the 2005 St. Michael's Report, by the Primate's Theological Commission, one of which is that "core doctrine" is a relatively small area of doctrine containing the crucial good news of the nature of God and the salvivic good news in Jesus Christ. Same-sex blessings aren't in conflict with core doctrine; neither would be officially authorizing rites blessing pornography festivals or all-weekend bar crawls. That doesn't mean either rite would be consistent with Anglican doctrine in its entirety -- or legal on the Anglican church. Such rites would be illegal just as +Ingham's SSBs are illegal, their authorization being beyond his authority.

This misquotation is the smaller part in consequence of the two falsehoods in New Westminster's statement, but it bothers me more because it's either a cheap and sneaky act of attempted deception or an example of gross lawyerly laziness and sloppiness. And if it's the latter, ANiC if it loses will end up paying two-thirds of the cost of the time billed for this little piece of incompetence.

The other lie in the quotation of the GS resolution is one of omission. The actual resolution referred to "core doctrine in the sense of being credal". (BTW no one seems quite sure whether it should be "credal" or "creedal".) That is, core doctrine defined even more narrowly than I have described above, as the affirmations of the great creeds of the early church. As the St. Michael's Report said, "The determination of this question will not hinder or impair our common affirmation of the historic creeds." Which is all quite true, bit hardly any kind of addition to our ecclesiastical knowledge. No, Athanasius and the others didn't find it necessary to put anything in their creeds about homosexuals not being able to marry. Which has nothing to do with whether SSBs are allowable under Anglican doctrine as a whole. The St. Michael's Report said no, obviously not. They're inconsistent with the Church's teaching about sexuality. General Synod 2007 defeated a motion to permit dioceses to perform SSBs. For some reason New Westminster's introduction to the case doesn't tell you these things.

And it's kind of funny that +Michael Ingham (treating the filings of his counsel as his own statements) doesn't seem to know the wording of this resolution. It's not like he wasn't there at the time it was debated. The last two amendments fooling around with the wording of the motion before the final vote -- +Michael Ingham moved one and seconded the other.

Don't get me wrong. The question of whether +Ingham acted legally, illegally, irregularly, prematurely, deconstructionally or postmodernly ain't gonna make a difference in this case. The truth is that the Anglican Church of Canada is so chaotically organized, conceptually incoherent, and inhabited by a spirit of lawlessness that there is nobody who can give an authoritative ruling whether diocesan authorized SSBs are legal or not -- and no means of stopping or disciplining any bishop who simply defied such a ruling if it were given. The ACoC is an ecclesial jungle governed by the law thereof.

But remember when +Cowan of British Columbia sneakily used the quiet of an agreed truce and mediation period to have the locks changed and an alarm system installed and had to be ordered by a judge the next day to hand over the keys and codes and stop tampering with other people's property? Sometimes it's the little things, not the gross and sensational abuses and power grabs, that tell you what kind of people you're dealing with.


David said...

One of the things that strikes me as odd in all this is why the diocese would choose to publish any of their arguments this early in the game.

Alan Stewart said...

My guess is they're just oh so puffed up and 'we're-sure-to-win-this' that they're happy to show their handiwork to the world.

And also most of both sides' arguments are known from the procedural proceedings in Niagara and British Columbia, where both sides had to outline them so the jufge could assess the strenth of their cases, part of determining who got access until trial. Although ANiC has added a new twist in this one.