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?

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