Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Note to The Episcopal Church: Words really do have meaning and words really do matter

Anglican Curmudgeon has another stellar post up and it's a must-read for any member of the laity on whatever side of the aisle you are on regarding the current crisis facing The Episcopal Church in court. In this time of financial uncertainty, it might be a good time to review how TEC is spending your hard-earned money, especially as it continues to turn to secular courts to solve their escalating problems. Here is an excerpt from a comprehensive post:
The national Church is currently in the rather contradictory position of asking the courts to enforce part of its Constitution for one purpose (reading the accession clause to mean that dioceses cannot leave), but not for another (reading the same clause to mean that dioceses can be admitted and recognized only by General Convention, and not by the Presiding Bishop or the Executive Council acting on their own). The legal entities that have left---unincorporated associations in the case of San Joaquin, and a corporation in the case of Fort Worth---are still around, and still have the same legal existence under State law that they had before the split. They have the same bank accounts, the same diocesan offices and officers, as they had before the vote to leave. So why should the law not recognize them as what they are?

"Ah," the Church says, "but you see, people may leave a diocese, but a diocese cannot leave the Church."

"And where in your Constitution does it say that?" asks the court.

"It's right here, in this clause that requires dioceses to make an unqualified accession in order to join. And by 'unqualified', we meant 'irrevocable', and the dioceses so understood it."

"But 'unqualified' means 'without reservation', not 'irrevocable'," replies the court. "The two words are not the same thing. If I accede to your authority without any reservations, it means I agree to obey you fully while I continue to agree to obey you, but it does not mean that I agree to obey you forever. To mean the latter, I would have to agree to accede to your authority permanently, or irrevocably, or for all time, or some such similar words showing an intent to bind not just myself, but all my successors, heirs and descendants forever. To make that kind of permanently binding contract, the law requires that the language say much more than just 'without any reservations.' The difference is between specifying the subject areas in which you agree to be subservient, and the duration of time the agreement will be in effect. The two are by no means equivalent, at least as far as the law is concerned."

Words in the law have a purpose, and words used in a contract have to be understood in their plain and ordinary sense. Otherwise contract law would become chaos, with one side interpreting a word one way and the other side interpreting it as meaning the opposite, or something entirely different. This is not to say that the words of a contract are never ambiguous; they frequently are, and that is why there are lawsuits. But "unqualified" is not an ambiguous synonym for "irrevocable"---look it up. The two words have different meanings, and are used in law for two different purposes ...
There is so much more - read it all here. And please pass the Root Beer.


Kevin said...

When I first read this, I thought Missing Persons would be fitting musical accompaniment, but thinking about the context, Siouxie would be better for the literary allusion:

'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.'

'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you CAN make words mean so many different things.'

'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master—that's all.'

Alice was too much puzzled to say anything, so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. 'They've a temper, some of them—particularly verbs, they're the proudest—adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs—however, I can manage the whole lot of them! Impenetrability! That's what I say!'

'Would you tell me, please,' said Alice 'what that means?'

'Now you talk like a reasonable child,' said Humpty Dumpty, looking very much pleased. 'I meant by "impenetrability" that we've had enough of that subject, and it would be just as well if you'd mention what you mean to do next, as I suppose you don't mean to stop here all the rest of your life.'

'That's a great deal to make one word mean,' Alice said in a thoughtful tone.

'When I make a word do a lot of work like that,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'I always pay it extra.'

Anonymous said...

This attack on words is really a serious attack on The Word, and on the theology in John 1.

"In the beginning ... the Word was God ... the Word became flesh and dwelt among us."

If words are not dependable, they can claim that Jesus is not dependable either; nor is any part of the Scriptures.