Title IV – Disciplinary Canons

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This entry was originally posted July 1, 2009 as part of the website “Slouching Towards Anaheim.”

“Without discipline, there’s no life at all.” -Katharine Hepburn

For people new to General Convention, one of the hardest parts is trying to understand the issues without the history. Knowing the history of a resolution is vital to understanding why it is written the way it is and why certain parties may be for or against it.

I think this is most true this year for Resolution A185, the proposed revisions to the disciplinary canons (commonly known and referred to as Title IV). Canons are not lightly changed in the church, much like amendments are not easily made to the US constitution. The revisions to Title IV are 20 years in the making, dating back to the late 80’s when the Church found itself dealing with a number of old sexual misconduct situations. The Church’s disciplinary system had been essentially the same for it’s entire history, and at General Convention in 1991 a resolution was passed directing the Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons (SCCC) to study the disciplinary canons and report back. In 1994 the SCCC proposed extensive changes to the canons that were then voted in by General Convention.

There were several problems with the new system, many based on the fact that it was essentially the same as Uniform Code of Military Justice. The new system was also costly and time consuming. Even so, in 1997 these codes were reaffirmed when General Convention voted to have them apply to bishops as well as priest and deacons.

Then in 2000, General Convention created a task force to study the theology of discipline and report back. They reported in 2003 and proposed changes to the canons based on their studies to the 2006 General Convention. This year, the task force reports back once again with what generally seem to be improvements on the 2006 draft, though it is largely the same.

I won’t go into detail here about the specifics of the process and the changes made. On the whole the new canons are built on a theological base, and strive to be more about healing than punishment. Because the changes are so vast (this resolution takes up 25 pages in the Blue Book) I could see problems with specifics coming up once again on the Convention floor. However, the impression is that this might be the year for Title IV, when the changes are adopted and finalized. My own insider information says that Title IV is likely to hit the floor of Convention on the first Friday, and at General Convention earlier is always better, as it is more likely that the resolution will be discussed fully and honestly when there is plenty of time.


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