September 28, 2007

Bishop Salmon’s Solution

The September 25 statement from the House of Bishops turned out to be something of an anticlimax. It contains hardly anything new, other than support for the Presiding Bishop’s latest dead-on-arrival plan for dissenting dioceses like mine (Pittsburgh). More interesting was a report to his diocese from Bishop Ed Salmon, recently retired from, but now temporarily heading, the Diocese of South Carolina. (Because the diocese’s Web site has the irritating habit of putting important current material on its home page without indicating where it can be found permanently, I have reproduced the whole report below. At least temporarily, the report can be found here.)
A Report on the New Orleans House of Bishop
from Bishop Edward Salmon

In the interest of clarity, I would like to report to the clergy and people of the Diocese of South Carolina on the meeting of the House of Bishops in New Orleans. I am particularly concerned that you hear directly from me as the distortion in the media and on blogs is profound.

From my perspective this was probably the best meeting I have attended and at the same time the most painful.

I asked for and was granted permission to speak to the whole House beyond any contribution I made in the various debates.

The presence of the Archbishop of Canterbury was helpful in getting us to look at where we are as a Church and a Communion; and what that says about our ecclesiology.

Profound pain was experienced when members of the ACC Steering Committee and the Primate of Jerusalem and the Middle East addressed the House. They told us how the decisions made by the Episcopal Church had affected their mission and ecumenical relationships destructively in their lands. It was a moving experience.

Just as devastating was the address from Bishop Jeffrey Steenson explaining why he was resigning his orders and becoming a Roman Catholic. We are good friends and have worked closely together.

We then had a report giving us the list of congregations leaving the Episcopal Church in part or whole for other Anglican jurisdictions and the names of these jurisdictions. A number of the clergy were well known to me. Even the loss of one because of our conflict is a painful matter for me at the end of my ministry. It is a matter of great sorrow.

In my address to the House, I said that I appreciated the hard work that had resulted in the document that was before us.

I also stated that I could not support it for the following reasons:

  1. It did not respond as requested to the three points raised by the Anglican Primates in Dar es Salaam.
  2. It did not provide alternative oversight that met the needs of those who asked for it.
  3. It placed the condition that our responses must be in keeping with our Constitution and Canons. The chaos we are in requires tremendous grace, not law.
  4. There is oppression of those not in agreement, often unaware to those responsible.
  5. Statements by our leadership saying that 95% of the Church was doing well or that only a small percentage were affected makes discussion impossible. The Episcopal Church Foundation says we are in a systemic decline which is significant.

I believe that the impact of these days has produced the potential for us to move because this is the first time in my memory this has been revealed to the House face to face by members of the Communion. I am committed to continue to work for that day faithfully, but I cannot support the document for the reasons stated.

--The Rt. Rev. Edward L. Salmon, Jr., is acting Bishop of South Carolina

What caught my attention in Salmon’s remarks was his third reason for not supporting the statement released by the bishops: “It placed the condition that our responses must be in keeping with our Constitution and Canons. The chaos we are in requires tremendous grace, not law.” In other words, we should throw out all the rules we have agreed to live by and do what Bishop Salmon and his allies think we should do. What an extraordinary thing to say! The good bishop believes that disregarding the church’s constitution and canons is necessarily part of the solution to our present troubles. In fact, an unwillingness to abide by established rules is part of the problem, perhaps even the problem plaguing the Anglican Communion.

Even before Gene Robinson was elected bishop in New Hampshire—and increasingly frequently since—we have had Anglican provinces consecrating erstwhile Episcopal priests as bishops in their own churches, so that they can poach Episcopal Church parishes, contrary to ancient tradition. We have primates arrogating power to themselves with no mandate from the Anglican provinces. We have bishops changing their diocesan constitutions in ways prohibited by the constitution of the General Convention. Bishops, such as my own, who have vowed “to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church” are conspicuously undermining its authority and conspiring with bishops of churches with which The Episcopal Church is not in communion to subvert our church. The same bishops who are expected to “share in the leadership of the Church throughout the world” share in deliberations with other Episcopal bishops only when it suits them, picking and choosing sessions of the House of Bishops they will and will not attend, and eschewing the fellowship of their colleagues so aggressively that they will not even deign to stay in the same hotel with them. Likewise, we have parish priests encouraging hatred of The Episcopal Church among their parishioners and urging vestries to abandon The Episcopal Church and steal its property. Priests who disobeyed church canons or have been accused of serious civil crimes are escaping discipline though their acceptance into other Anglican jurisdiction by bishops disdainful both of The Episcopal Church and of its canons.

And Bishop Salmon believes that we should not be constrained by adherence to our constitution and canons! Is it not a great coincidence that those urging the showing of grace and the putting aside of rules are the very people advancing their own agendas through their arrogant disobedience? We do not need, as Bishop Salmon suggests, less law; we need more. We need an Anglican covenant that regulates the transfer of clergy from one province to another and prohibits incursions into geographic regions served by other provinces. We need a curb on the arrogance of primates who believe that they are God’s avenging angels on earth. More than anything, we need presentments against priests and bishops who display disdain for the church law they have sworn to uphold.

Since when did being in ordained ministry relieve people of any obligation to act as civilized members of human society?

September 24, 2007

The Church Waits

After conferring with the Archbishop of Canterbury and other Anglican leaders in New Orleans Thursday and Friday, the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops has had the weekend to work on responses to demands by the primates and entreaties by Rowan Williams. It does not seem too dramatic to say that the future of The Episcopal Church and that of the Anglican Communion might be changed dramatically by today’s deliberations by American bishops, the product of which is expected sometime tomorrow.

Archbishop Williams seems to have framed the choice open to the bishops as one of preserving the unity of the church or of opting for justice for gays and lesbians. He clearly favors unity. He is wrong.

Suggested responses from Episcopal Bishops seem to be all over the map, from Pierre Whalon’s proposal that offers a strong defense of what The Episcopal Church is and has done, to John Howe’s idea, which seems to be to split the church and the Communion now, in order to avoid doing it later. The Living Church reports that a draft response is in preparation.

As the church waits to see what our bishops will say, I want to express two unrelated concerns.

Replacing the Presiding Bishop

My first issue arises from my being a via-media Episcopalian in a rabidly militant-traditionalist diocese. Pittsburgh is one of a handful of dioceses that have asked for “alternative primatial oversight.” It is clear that bishops such as Duncan, Iker, and Ackerman are not going to get what they want in this regard, and they will probably reject (or perhaps have already rejected) anything less that might be urged on them by the other bishops. I assert, however, that no plan at all should be offered to them, and I am not pleased that Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori keeps searching for a new plan each time the last one is dismissively rejected by Bishop Duncan and his allies.

If individual parishes are unhappy with their bishop, they can apply for DEPO, the plan established by the House of Bishops in 2004. DEPO is surely imperfect; its goal is reconciliation, though it is hardly specific enough to inspire confidence that that goal is likely to be realized. Moreover, a parish participating in DEPO is likely to contain members who are not displeased with their bishop but who are likely to be unhappy with the bishop assigned to them under DEPO. What of them? At least, in many locations, a parishioner in a parish applying for DEPO who is not dissatisfied with the bishop quite possibly has the option of attending a nearby parish of similarly satisfied Episcopalians.

But what is “alternative primatial oversight” all about? In Pittsburgh, many parishes—most, probably—are happy with their bishop; he is, in fact, something of a cult leader here. Bishop Duncan is already supplying these parishes just what they want, self-righteousness, served with gratuitous disdain for The Episcopal Church and its Presiding Bishop. Given that the Presiding Bishop exercises virtually no “oversight” over either diocesan bishops or ordinary parish churches, why would such people want “alternative primatial oversight,” which could only place another bishop over this self-satisfied arrangement? Then, there are parishes like my own, where the bishop is usually mentioned with rolling eyes and sighs of exasperation. My fellow parishioners are not pleased with our bishop, but we can at least be consoled by the existence of a sympathetic Presiding Bishop leading The Episcopal Church. If some “oversight” scheme is imposed on us, we cannot simply go to the Episcopal diocese across the street. We are trapped in a way a parishioner of a minority view may not be trapped when a parish asks for DEPO.

It is time to recognize that the purpose of the church is to minister to ordinary Christians, not simply to self-important diocesan bishops. If Bishop Iker cannot abide female priests, why should the church indulge his sensibilities if to do so disenfranchises those under his care? Why should Bishop Duncan’s loathing for The Episcopal Church result in my being alienated from the church I joined and the church I love? When both Iker and Duncan consented to their consecrations, they know what church they were pledging to nurture and support. If they cannot do that, they should resign or, as a last resort, be removed.

Unity or Justice

Just as the church does not exist for bishops, neither do people exist for the church. Instead, the church exists for the people. (Jesus did not found the Church, of course, so ecclesiology largely has to be developed without much direct guidance from the recorded words of our Lord. This viewpoint is surely suggested by passages such as Mark 2:23–28, however.)

It is commonplace to observe that the Church moves slowly—perhaps, even, should move slowly—accepting change over decades or centuries. According to any theory that sees such glacial movement as normative, keeping peace within the church is more important than the lives of individuals or, for that matter, of truth itself. (Galileo immediately comes to mind.) Apparently, the present Archbishop of Canterbury subscribes to such an inhumane theory. I do not, and it is difficult to believe that the God of love would ask us to sacrifice his children for his Church. Justice delayed, so the saying goes, is justice denied, and both the Old and New Testaments seem quite clear about the need to seek justice for the downtrodden of society.

If our bishops have to choose either the unity of the church—a small branch of the Church, actually—or justice, why should they not choose justice? They would, thereby, improve the lives of actual persons who would otherwise be disdained or actively harmed by the church. Moreover, many gay and lesbian Christians are actively working in an ordained capacity and are contributing to the building up of God’s kingdom.

And what if bishops make the other choice, choosing “unity”? In the most benign view, they will be selling out their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters for, at best, a temporary peace in the Communion. For many bishops, this choice will necessarily come at the price of their personal integrity, as it will mean denying their own understanding of the Gospel for the sake of others’ they sincerely believe to be mistaken. In fact, the sad Jeffrey John affair suggests that, if the bishops give in to the “orthodox” primates, they simply will be inviting demands for endless additional concessions. The unity of the Communion cannot be saved through surrender; perhaps it cannot be saved at all. Our only hope for true unity is standing up for what we truly believe and asserting that Anglican comprehension is more likely, ultimately, to lead to truth than is power politics. The bishops should stand up for what they truly believe, trusting that Gamaliel’s advice (see Acts 5:33–39a) still applies: “[I]f this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!”

Pray for our bishops.

September 13, 2007

Enquiring Minds Want to Know

In “Agreeing to Agree,” I referred to a Boston Globe story that had Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan saying that he intended to try taking his entire diocese out of The Episcopal Church. Duncan’s canon, Mary Hays, in a September 10 meeting, categorically denied that the bishop had made the statement. (See “‘... the bishop didn’t say that.’”)

In a sense, it does not matter whether Bishop Duncan made the statement or not; his actions speak louder than his words, and he clearly is trying to take the entire Diocese of Pittsburgh out of The Episcopal Church. (See “Something Dramatic.”)

For the record, however, a number of people wrote to the Globe reporter inquiring as to what, precisely, Duncan said in Nairobi. The interview on which the story was based was recorded, and Michael Paulson went back and listened to his recording. He supplied the following exact quotations:

  1. “The reality is, of course, we’re realigning.”
  2. “We won’t go anywhere, but we’ll associate, as these congregations have, as dioceses, with other provinces. We have a number of offers.'’
The quotations suggest how difficult it is to quote people engaged in ordinary speech. The only quotation in the Globe story from Duncan was “We are realigning,” which elevates an idiomatic utterance to something a bit more formal. The second statement by Duncan is, syntactically, very complex and hard to understand. Moreover, its meaning is only clear now that we see what Duncan wants to do to the Diocese of Pittsburgh’s constitution. It is easy to see why the reporter paraphrased and simplified what the bishop said.

What is interesting and new is this: “We have a number of offers.” Presumably, this refers to offers by Anglican primates to take the Diocese of Pittsburgh into their jurisdictions.

From whom, I wonder, have these offers come? The Episcopal Church would like to know. The Archbishop of Canterbury would like to know. How fortuitous that they will be able to ask Bishop Duncan about the matter at the House of Bishop’s meeting in New Orleans in a few days!

Controlling the Message

Monday’s District V meeting at St. Paul’s (see “‘... the bishop didn’t say that.’”) was unsatisfactory, at least in the minds of the parishioners I have spoken to. This is largely because the format of the event was tightly controlled by representatives of the diocese. Whereas many attendees assumed that the meeting would provide an opportunity to exchange views, especially with laypeople from nearby parishes, it is clear that the true purpose was to get out the diocese’s message. This was a Diocese of Pittsburgh rally.

Enforcing the rules of the meeting was the Rev. Tara Jernigan, a deacon at Church of the Nativity, Crafton, a District V parish. Listen to her introduction:

IE users may need to click twice on play button.

It is usual, as Jernigan said, to limit the time allotted to speakers at conventions and at pre-convention hearings, although most attendees Monday night did not know that. Likewise, the rule that one cannot speak twice if someone else wants to speak to an issue and has not yet been given the opportunity is standard in Pittsburgh. Such rules are reasonable. At conventions and pre-convention hearings, however, it is not usual to stifle debate and to allow only questions. Jernigan explained that “we want to honor all of those opinions” that people might have. How strange to honor one’s opinion by preventing one from expressing it! Only our diocesan “leaders” would get to express their opinions.

Likely, few listeners paid close attention to the Jernigan rules. We wanted to get on with the meeting. Surely, since attendence was small—about 60–70 people had shown up, I estimated—there would be opportunities for give-and-take between members of different parishes.

Because there were so few people present, I had no trouble being recognized for a second time. After a remark on the topic that had just been discussed, I got to an important issue I wanted to articulate. In raising it, I ran afoul of another of Deacon Jernigan’s rules, one that had not even been stated—I showed emotion, apparently. I was chided for doing so, and I was chided for expressing a viewpoint. After Bishop Henry Scriven responded to my remarks, the Rev. Richard Pollard, acknowledging my precedent-setting action, took the opportunity to express his own views on the nature of The Episcopal Church and on the way change comes about in it. He, too, was chided by the ever-vigilant deacon. Listen for yourself; decide if my emotions were out of control:

I was not the only person who, at this point, thought the format of the meeting dysfunctional and manipulative. Happily, it was not necessary for me to say so. St. Paul’s parishioner Paul Ostergaard did that for everyone:

At the end of the meeting, Jernigan suggested that people could send suggestions as to how to improve such meetings to the diocese via e-mail. “I love debate,” she said, even though her function that night seem to be to prevent it at all cost. In the audio clip below, there is an inaudible exclamation near the end. This is the point where I asked, from my pew, if God would strike us dead if we expressed an opinion. You can hear Jernigan’s reply.

September 12, 2007

Something Dramatic

Is the diocese planning something dramatic to be revealed on Tuesday evening, or has Chancellor Devlin been reading too many spy novels?
That was how I ended my post “Pittsburgh Mystery” Monday. I actually thought that I might have been a bit dramatic myself. What more could the diocese do, after all? It had already gutted the accession clause in its constitution!

I must say that I underestimated the ability of Bishop Robert Duncan and his followers to create a parallel universe in which up is down, black is white, and wrong is right. More about that later.

Although I considered going to the Diocesan Council meeting last night, I did not actually do so; I knew that other loyal Episcopalians who had not been tripping out on hallucinogenic mushrooms would be there as observers. I had, I thought, done my duty by attending the District V meeting. (See “‘... the bishop didn’t say that.’”)

Revelations at the Diocesan Council Meeting

So what happened? A series of constitutional amendments are being proposed. You can read them here. These were accepted for passing along to the annual convention in November for its consideration. This was done with essentially no discussion and only token opposition. (Some members of Diocesan Council are elected by districts, and, by geographic accident, some districts contain enough mainstream parishes to actually elect one of their own to the Council. There were three votes opposed to the resolution to change the constitution.) Council also passed along a resolution that would rescind the unlawful changes already made to the accession clause of the diocesan constitution. (This resolution, obviously, did not come from the diocese.) At least one member of Council had trouble dealing with the cognitive dissonance of presenting two conflicting proposals to the convention, but the bishop explained that this was perfectly in order. (That resolution can be read here. The diocese eventually posted a version of this as well.)

The diocese quickly posted an explanation of what it was planning to do, along with a link to its own proposal and Bishop Duncan’s pre-convention report.

Cockamamie Theories

Bishop Duncan declares in his report that “it appears the time has come to begin the process of realignment within the Anglican Communion.” This, of course, is because The Episcopal Church has not submitted to the demands of those who have no authority to tell it what it should do and who would surely not submit to analogous demands made of them. He complains further that The Episcopal Church has not allowed “sufficient integrity to dioceses like Pittsburgh, concerning traditional Faith and Order.” I had not known that integrity could be granted by The Episcopal Church. I actually thought it was something one either had or did not have. What Duncan means, of course, is that The Episcopal Church is unwilling to allow a bishop to be unconstrained by its own faith and order—a constraint every bishop vows to accept at the time of consecration—rather than doing whatever he chooses because he—invariably he—believes he knows God’s will.

Duncan subscribes to the theory—likely because it is convenient, rather than because it is compelling—that the church is not really a church at all in the sense most people think of churches. It is not an unified whole, but a confederation of completely independent dioceses that unite with one another as long as it is convenient to do so. That this is patently ridiculous should be clear from the fact that the church’s constitution requires, in Article V, “unqualified accession to the Constitution and Canons of this Church” in a diocese’s constitution. (This is hardly the place for a complete argument that the church is not a confederation, just as the United States of America is not a confederation. Interested readers should read Dr. Joan Gundersen’s essay in answer to the confederation theory, “History Revisited: Historical Background of the Proposed Amendment to Article I, Section 1 of the Constitution of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.” I also recommend my own essay, “Unqualified Accession.”) “Constitutional changes proposed for consideration at the 142nd Annual Convention,“ Duncan writes, ”would begin the process to exercise our right to end the accession of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh to the constitution and canons of The Episcopal Church of the United States of America.” There is, of course, no such right.

This brings us to the substance of what the Diocese of Pittsburgh is proposing to do. For openers, the present Article 1 (Acceding to the General Constitution) is to be rewritten as follows:
The Church in the Diocese of Pittsburgh is a constituent member of the Anglican Communion, a Fellowship within the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of those duly constituted Dioceses, Provinces and regional churches in communion with the See of Canterbury, upholding and propagating the historic Faith and Order as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer.
(Interested readers can find the current Diocese of Pittsburgh constitution and canons here.) This wording, of course, parrots the Preamble of the Episcopal Church constitution. There are two problems, however. First, the text eliminates any reference to the church’s constitution, and certainly to any “accession.” Then, there is the matter of declaring the diocese to be a part of the Anglican Communion. Provinces (i.e., regional churches), not dioceses, belong to the communion, and, although a few extra-provincial dioceses overseen by the Archbishop of Canterbury are part of the Anglican Communion, one suspects that Rowan Williams has not blessed the arrangement contemplated by Pittsburgh. Even if the Diocese of Pittsburgh were in a province, be it The Episcopal Church or some other province, it would not strictly be a member of the Anglican Communion any more than it is at present.

A proposed new section of the constitution would, in fact, put the diocese into some unspecified Anglican province to be determined by canon, and, therefore, easily changed at the convenience of the diocese:
The Diocese of Pittsburgh shall have membership in such Province of the Anglican Communion as is by diocesan Canon specified.
A proposed new canon places the diocese, for the moment, at least, in “The (Protestant) Episcopal Church in the United States of America,” but the diocese is hedging its bets and, of course, threatening The Episcopal Church, should its House of Bishops, in the upcoming meeting in New Orleans, not surrender to the international tyrants who are the Anglican Primates.

The diocese has, in fact, nicely parameterized its future constitution so as to not require troublesome constitutional changes whenever it chooses to province-shop. This is how “deputies or delegates” to the General Convention (or whatever synod in whatever province) are described in the proposed constitution:
Section 1. At each Annual Convention, there shall be elected [four] Clergy and an equal number of lay persons to serve as deputies or delegates to any extra-diocesan conventions, synods or meetings that may occur between Annual Conventions and to which the Diocese shall be invited to send deputies. They shall possess the same qualifications as member of Standing Committee and shall be elected by a concurrent majority of both orders.

Section 2. At the same Convention, there shall be chosen in the same manner and with the same qualifications, the same number of Clergy and Laity to serve as alternate deputies.

Section 3. Should a vacancy among the deputies or delegates occur by reason of resignation, removal from the Diocese, death or otherwise between the stated times of
election, it shall be filled by the highest ranking Alternate, as determined by the General Rules of Order.

Section 4. In case of failure or neglect of the Convention to elect deputies or delegates, those already in office shall continue until successors are chosen.

Section 5. It shall be the duty of the persons so elected to signify to the Bishop, in writing, at least one month before the meeting of the extra-diocesan convention or synod, their acceptance of the appointment and their intention to perform its duties. If a person so elected fails to give this notice or fails to attend the convention or synod, the Bishop shall notify a replacement in accordance with Section 3 hereof.
Not content with a piece of southwestern Pennsylvania, Bishop Duncan seeks empire. The amended constitution specifies the limits of the diocese as follows:
The Diocese of Pittsburgh embraces all those counties of the State of Pennsylvania known as Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Cambria, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Somerset, Washington and Westmoreland. Additionally, for reasons found satisfactory to any Convention of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, parishes outside of the boundaries of the aforementioned counties may be considered for admission into union with the Diocese of Pittsburgh, provided that they meet all other requirements set forth in the Constitution and Canons of the Diocese of Pittsburgh for canonical admission.
Contrary to Episcopal Church practice, the Diocese of Pittsburgh has the potential to not even be contiguous! Imperial conquest requires rules for incorporating new territory into the empire, and that is given in the following text:
Any Parish formed and desiring union with the Diocese, and regularly organized according to the Canons, may be admitted into union with the Convention, on motion, by a majority of votes; provided, it shall have laid before the Convention its Charter and By-laws, or its original Articles of Association, or a duly certified copy thereof, wherein it expressly adopts and recognizes the authority of the Constitution and Canons of this Diocese, and commits to upholding and propagating the historic Faith and Order as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer. And provided, also, that it shall have complied with the canonical requirements for such admission.
Hypocrisy reaches its apex here. (Well, maybe not. See below.) Whereas the Diocese of Pittsburgh is about to disregard completely the constitution and canons to which it pledged its unqualified accession, it now will demand absolute fealty from its own parishes!

And Cockamamie Consequences

Pittsburgh Episcopalians are used to the bishop’s mantra that he is not leaving The Episcopal Church, but the church is leaving him, walking apart, etc. We have learned to ignore such patent nonsense. However, my own parish became alarmed at this rhetoric recently when it received a letter (dated June 25) from Bishop Duncan suggesting that our newly selected rector might not be approved by him. The church, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, in Mt. Lebanon, had made it quite clear, both to the bishop and to potential candidates, that it was committed to staying in The Episcopal Church. Priests who might wish for a different parish future, it was clear, need not apply. Bishop Duncan wrote:
Given the extraordinary moment of decision now before our diocesan family, and what I perceive as a trajectory likely to lead St. Paul’s to separation from the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, I do not believe I would be faithful to my responsibilities as Bishop of all the people to agree to the call without Standing Committee consultation.
Because the parish wanted to stay in The Episcopal Church, it was, in Duncan’s looking-glass world, threatening to separate from the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. Little did St. Paul’s’ Vestry members realize how seriously the Duncan intended his words to be taken. (The parish’s choice of rector was eventually approved, though perhaps because the candidate was so qualified that no reasonable excuse for not doing so was readily available. The bishop had more important matters on his mind.)

So what of churches like St. Paul’s if Duncan is successful at creating his non-Episcopal Church empire? The question was asked at the Diocesan Council meeting. (There are at least a dozen churches in this situation, and their numbers may increase as the bishop’s behavior becomes more erratic.) The bishop explained that the settlement agreement resulting from Calvary Church’s lawsuit provides a procedure by which parishes wishing to leave the diocese may negotiate their exit. The bishop says that this procedure can be used by parishes who want to remain in The Episcopal Church! This, of course, stands the settlement agreement on its head, as the point of the agreement, as far as Calvary Church was concerned, anyway, was to protect Episcopal Church property. Clearly, Bishop Duncan expects not only to remove his diocese from The Episcopal Church—apparently the Boston Globe got the story right—but to claim all the property as well. This is exactly what the Calvary lawsuit was initiated to prevent. Judge James may have something to say about the matter.

The Way Forward

The Episcopal Church is being challenged by a rogue bishop in a way it has never been challenged before. It is clear how we must proceed. Bishop Robert William Duncan has abandoned the communion of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. Bishops, do your duty. Your church is waiting.

September 11, 2007

“... the bishop didn’t say that.”

I attended a Diocese of Pittsburgh event last night. It was a meeting of church members in District V, one of the regional groupings of parishes in the diocese. It was an “informational meeting” relating to the visions of the diocese’s future discussed at a May retreat of diocesan leaders. (See “Diocese Asks: What Next?”) Members of District V churches were invited to ask questions of two diocesan representatives, the Rt. Rev. Henry Scriven, Assistant Bishop, and the Rev. Canon Mary Haggard Hays, who appears to be Bishop Robert Duncan’s closest associate in the diocese.

Although four options for the diocese were originally proposed, the diocese has largely stopped talking about one of them, namely, that the diocese undo the unlawful steps it has taken to distance itself from The Episcopal Church—weakening the accession clause in its constitution, for example—and fully participate as a regular diocese of the church. It has been clear for years that Bishop Duncan and his allies have wanted to create a separate Anglican Communion province for their particular brand of Anglican Fundamentalism and to do so by removing parishes and entire dioceses from The Episcopal Church. Clear or not, however, Duncan has repeatedly told those in his charge that he is not leaving The Episcopal Church; The Episcopal Church is leaving him.

In light of such statements, it was refreshing when Boston Globe reporter Michael Paulson reported Bishop Duncan as having said that he would attempt to remove his entire diocese from The Episcopal Church. (See “Agreeing to Agree.”) Seemingly, the statement was made while Bishop Duncan was in Nairobi to participate in the consecration of two former Episcopal priests by the Anglican Church of Kenya to oversee breakaway former-Episcopal parishes in the U.S.

I decided to ask the representatives of the diocese if Bishop Duncan had, in fact, decided what should be done and was only trying to determine who would follow him out of The Episcopal Church. Furthermore, since such a move was canonically (and, almost certainly) legally impossible, how did our bishop intend to carry out his plan?

All my questions were not answered, but the response was certainly interesting. Canon Hays enthusiastically addressed my inquiries. She said, “Number one: I was there, and the bishop didn’t say that.” I found such a categorical denial of the Globe story incredible. Unless Canon Hays followed Bishop Duncan everywhere he went in Nairobi—stop, for a moment, and let that thought sink in—how could she possibly know everything he might have told a reporter? She could, on the other hand, know that Bishop Duncan was not supposed to say what Mr. Paulson said that he did. Will Canon Hays demand a retraction? Will the Globe print one?

Canon Hays explained, “He [Bishop Duncan] cannot, singlehandedly, move a diocese anywhere.” That is assuredly true. He needs supporters to help him realize his plans, and it is clear that the diocese’s “informational meetings” are part of a plan to convince lay Episcopalians to sign on with the ordained conspirators. (I do not expect that the opinions of any deacons or priests will be changed at these district sessions.)

I never got an answer as to how Bishop Duncan expects to carry out his program, but Canon Hays assured everyone that the opinions of the Presiding Bishop’s chancellor and that of The Episcopal Church’s Executive Council that Pittsburgh has unlawfully changed the accession clause in its constitution are only opinions. (Presumably, Pittsburgh cannot remove itself from The Episcopal Church if its actions are constrained by the general church’s constitution.) Canon Hays admitted that no diocese has ever removed itself unilaterally from The Episcopal Church and implied that we will all be witnesses to how that plan works when our bishop attempts to execute it.

As is often done at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, my church, in Mt. Lebanon, Pa., the event last night was recorded. Rather than take my word for what happened, you can listen for yourself to the exchange I have described. At one point in this recording, I reiterated my objection that what Bishop Duncan would like to do is illegal. This brief objection cannot be heard because I had left the public microphone to return to the pew where I was sitting. The nature of my objection is clear from the response, however.

IE users may need to click twice on play button.

September 10, 2007

Pittsburgh Mystery

In a diocese whose bishop brazenly declares his intention to remove it from the Episcopal Church (see “Agreeing to Agree”), it is not surprising that changes to the diocesan constitution and canons might be in the works. Members of the Diocesan Council of the Diocese of Pittsburgh just received a packet of materials for their meeting Tuesday night, September 11. Included for their consideration was a list of 26 proposed changes in the way the diocese is governed. Most changes seem unremarkable, though, taken together, they do seem to represent a power shift away from parishes and to the bishop and to other diocesan leaders, such as those on the Standing Committee. The proposed changes, at most, only hint at the anticipated schism. Diocesan Council, of course, does not enact the changes suggested by the Committee on Constitution and Canons—this is the task of the diocesan convention, which meets in November—but it can influence what is put before the convention.

The most interesting item in the material provided to Council members was the following note on a separate page:

In addition to the regular constitutional and canonical proposals contained in this mailing, the Council will be asked to consider texts of constitutional and canonical changes relating to the accession clause in Article 1 of the Constitution. In order that those texts not be in the public domain prior to the meeting, the texts will be available for distribution and consideration at the time of Tuesday’s Diocesan Council meeting.

Robert Devlin
Pittsburgh has already modified the accession clause in its constitution (see “Unqualified Accession”), and has been informed by everyone from Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh to The Episcopal Church’s Executive Council that its having done so is null and void, since a diocese has no right to make such a change. It now appears, however, that the illegal action completed at the 2004 annual convention was not sufficiently illegal for the purposes of Bishop Duncan and his schismatic minions. Additional changes are needed to create fig leaves for supporters and smokescreens for detractors.

I have quite limited capacity to make myself upset over the prospect of yet more illegal canonical changes in Pittsburgh. My interest is certainly piqued by Chancellor Devlin’s cloak-and-dagger approach to discussing changes to the diocese’s statutes, however. Would putting these texts—as the chancellor puts it—“in the public domain” on Saturday have consequences that making them public on Tuesday would not? Perhaps what is being unveiled Tuesday night is so momentous that it needs to be carefully orchestrated for maximum impact on the Anglican world.

Is the diocese planning something dramatic to be revealed on Tuesday evening, or has Chancellor Devlin been reading too many spy novels?

September 6, 2007

Agreeing to Agree

Ostensibly, the Diocese of Pittsburgh is engaged in a discernment process that will determine its destiny. In practice, the broad outlines of its future are clear, even if the path leading to that future is obscured. Anyone doubting this need only read the story in yesterday’s Boston Globe, which includes the following paragraphs:
Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan, who came to Nairobi for the consecrations, said he expects to see a new Anglican province in North America that will replace the Episcopal Church.

“We are realigning,” said Duncan, who added he would attempt to pull his entire diocese out of the Episcopal Church, a move that would raise an unprecedented set of legal and financial questions about the ownership of parish buildings and diocesan property.
Make no mistake; Pittsburgh is a conservative place, and its Episcopal diocese is one of the least progressive in The Episcopal Church. It is led by the moderator of the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes, has petitioned for alternative episcopal oversight, and has unlawfully weakened the accession clause of its constitution. The diocese claims to have removed itself from its Episcopal Church province, sends no money to The Episcopal Church for the maintenance of the general church, and hosts Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, perhaps the institution most responsible for what the Rev. Tom Woodward has called the “undermining of the Episcopal Church.”

Despite Bishop Duncan’s efforts, however, his diocese is not monolithic. It is home to Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh, one of the more liberal of the Via Media USA groups, which has been opposing the depredations of the bishop for the past 4-1/2 years. It contains at least a dozen parishes, including some of the largest in the diocese, that have opted out of Duncan’s Network. Among these is Calvary Church, which, in 2003, sued Bishop Duncan and other diocesan leaders in an effort to protect Episcopal Church property from alienation.

It is therefore certain that Duncan will not “pull his entire diocese out of the Episcopal Church.” The question now is who will go and who will stay. Many Pittsburgh clergy are determined to leave, in many cases, along with their congregations. Fewer clergy seem committed to staying in The Episcopal Church, but many of these are proud to call themselves Episcopalians. This leaves a large group of clergy who despise The Episcopal Church but are not yet convinced that abandoning it is a good career move, particularly if their congregations are divided in their loyalties, as many are.

While Pittsburgh clergy meet over lunch in small groups to discuss whether to join the exodus or how to deal with its aftermath, Web sites are providing ammunition to the battle for the hearts and minds of Pittsburgh laypeople. It is laypeople, after all, who ultimately will determine whether Duncan leads a great throng out of The Episcopal Church or merely a dispirited band of malcontents. The diocese has created a site called Parish Toolbox to provide “resources” to parishes uncertain of the way forward. In principle, Parish Toolbox exists to offer materials from all points of view. In practice, its insistence on countering “progressive” material with “conserving” material has meant that the site has expanded slowly and, because it was launched with a substantial collection of resources from the diocese, balance, by any objective measure, seems unachievable in our lifetime. (A more proper characterization of the material—no binary classification can be completely adequate, of course—might be “schismatic” and “non-schismatic,” rather than “progressive” and “conserving.” A recent piece by a diocesan priest who is conservative, by any measure, had to be countered by a conservative, schismatic essay.)

Although the Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh Web site contains a wealth of material that might be used by parishes, PEP, which is anathema to many in the diocese, has not made any special effort to compensate for the deficiencies of Parish Toolbox. However, loyal Pittsburgh Episcopalians seeking to appeal to a wider constituency have created a new site called A Pittsburgh Episcopal Voice, which is offering materials that, in an ideal world, might be expected to be made available through Parish Toolbox.

A Compact

On Tuesday, Parish Toolbox published “A Pittsburgh Compact for a Way Forward in this Season,” a declaration by “153 Pittsburgh Leaders.” I began reading this piece thinking it unusually irenic, but, by the time I had finished, I was asking myself what its purpose was. The signers, the compact explains, in light of the likely “fork in the road ahead that may divide our fellowship,” affirm three principles as guides to action:
  1. Believing: We will follow the leading and live in the faith of Jesus Christ.
  2. Belonging: We will work for the health and unity of the Church.
  3. Behaving: We will walk in humility and grace.
None of these principles seemed especially controversial. Therefore, they did not seem much in need of affirmation. The details were interesting, however.

Under “Believing,” signers agree to “repeatedly test all things” against “‘God’s Word written,’” quoting Article XX of the Articles of Religion. The view of scripture found in this article—it is a view only implicit in a proposition about the authority of the church—is simply not sustainable in the 21st century. No reputable scholar would hold either that scripture is formally consistent (the Church may not “expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another”) or that it is somehow dictated by God in the same literal way Muslims claim for the Qur’an. Signers declare that they live in “‘the faith once for all delivered to the saints’ (Jude 3),” a faith, no doubt, quite different in Christology and in many other respects when these oft-quoted words were first written. They affirm the creeds and pledge to listen to bishops and primates “whose leadership has remained true to the historic faith of the church.” Presumably, not all bishops and primates are included here—the lack of a comma is significant—and I suspect that “church” was meant to be capitalized.

The “Belonging” section, while offering the usual romantic mix of traditionalist motherhood and apple pie, does, eventually, confront present realities. Before doing so, however, it declares the Anglican Communion “a precious gift of the Gospel”—what does that mean?—and asserts that “‘clarity and charity’ go together”—I assume this refers to the love-the-sinner-hate-the-sin thing. (Of course, Anglicanism has maintained what signers call “health and unity” by studiously avoiding clarity.) After repeating the tired charge that The Episcopal Church is choosing to “‘walk apart’” from the Communion, the signers admit that some feel that God is calling them to leave The Episcopal Church, while others are called to stay behind to fight a rear-guard action against “an increasingly hostile ecclesiastical culture.” (“Traditionalist” clergy, a small minority within The Episcopal Church, seems as much bothered by their failure to be hired into high-paying jobs in big, moderate churches as they are by anything having to do with homosexuality. Laypeople should be unmoved by this complaint.) They agree to “respect, honor, and support one another” and to look forward to the advent of “a biblically-rooted, mission-minded jurisdiction,” presumably one encroaching on or replacing The Episcopal Church.

The “Behaving” section certainly does begin meekly enough, with the signers admitting that “our own hands are not clean” with respect to fostering division. They speak of “the pride that has too often accompanied our witness” and beg God for forgiveness. Then, however, we come to the last paragraph:
We are mindful of God’s weakness displayed in Christ’s Cross, and of the Apostle Paul’s consistent advocacy of the weakness of the Cross as the way of Christian life and ministry. Because of this, we forsake the spirit of condemnation and the opportunity for litigation. We look instead for clarity and charity towards all, and will work towards any prospect for just mediation. We pray to God for the heart to bear any difficulties with joyful grace, peaceful spirits, and confidence in His provision.
I'm not sure I follow the logic from the first sentence to the second, but, in this paragraph, I believe that we, at last, can see what the point of this compact is. First, it is clear that the unity being declared in the statement is not that of the Christian Church or of The Episcopal Church, but that of a group holding to a particular, radically Protestant, and not particularly Anglican take on the Christian message. The compact is not a watershed agreement between people who have major disagreements with one another, not a step forward toward a unified diocese. These people are simply agreeing to agree. Examining the list of signers is instructive here. Not only are all the signers either right-of-center or far-right-of-center, but a little checking around makes it clear that no clergy I would consider to be moderate or (God forbid!) liberal were even asked to sign. The compact is, in reality, a statement of solidarity against The Episcopal Church by those who will try to subvert it from without and those who will try to subvert it from within.

The key sentences in the whole compact, I believe, are these: “Because of this, we forsake the spirit of condemnation and the opportunity for litigation. We look instead for clarity and charity towards all, and will work towards any prospect for just mediation.” In the end, this compact is all about allowing congregations to depart with their property. Those called by God “to dissociate from the Episcopal Church” will, of course, try to do so with “their” parish property. Those behind agree not to engage in litigation to stop the theft. They will, presumably, urge mediation as an alternative to a spirited defense of its rightful property by The Episcopal Church. The Episcopal Church and the moderates left behind in the diocese, the signers no doubt hope, will be struck by the loving example of the remaining traditionalists who refuse to demand retribution and will, therefore, allow the schismatics to leave on favorable terms negotiated with the diminished diocese.

Sorry, guys—we’re talking mostly, if not quite exclusively, of guys here—it won’t work. The secret to avoiding litigation is to not give offense. Leave the keys on the desk, and turn out the lights when you leave. To do otherwise is to steal in the name of God.