February 10, 2008

The Pittsburgh Laity Speaks

An article in yesterday’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette described an open letter from laypeople in the Diocese of Pittsburgh supporting Bishop Robert Duncan in his efforts to remove the diocese from The Episcopal Church. (See “Episcopalians support break from church.”) The latest letter is a response to an earlier letter from 12 conservative Pittsburgh priests indicating that they are not going to leave The Episcopal Church. The Post-Gazette reported on that letter in its January 30 story “Letter shows rift among Episcopal conservatives.” The two stories are not equally newsworthy. That conservatives have strongly supported Bishop Duncan’s schismatic plans in recent diocesan conventions makes a declaration of support for him from Pittsburgh laypeople a ho-hum, dog-bites-man story. (Duncan’s proposals have generally been approved by conventions by something like 3–1 margins.) That self-identified conservatives would break publicly with Duncan, however, is a man-bites-dog story worthy of prominent placement in the morning edition.

What is going on, of course, is a battle to control the perception of how much support there is in the diocese for one position or another. It is also a battle to characterize the positions themselves. Although what the general public thinks is of limited importance, what clergy and laypeople in the diocese believe will be crucial in determining who will leave The Episcopal Church and who will be willing to fight over property when what appears to be an inevitable schism occurs.

That there are at least two contending parties has long been obvious. On the one hand, there are those who have consistently supported Bishop Duncan, his withering critique of The Episcopal Church, and his plans to wrest the Diocese of Pittsburgh, along with all its assets, from the church’s control. The leaders of this group include the bishop, Assisting Bishop Henry Scriven, and Canon Mary Hays. They have been strongly supported by most members of the Board of Trustees, Standing Committee, and Diocesan Council, as well as some prominent rectors and Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry faculty. Opposed to the bishop have been most of the clergy and parishioners of about a dozen parishes of various sizes, including some of the largest and smallest in the diocese. The opposition has rallied behind the efforts of Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh, a Via Media USA alliance member, and Calvary Church, whose rector, the Rev. Dr. Harold Lewis, is regularly vilified by Duncan supporters for having brought a lawsuit against Duncan and other diocesan leaders in 2003 to prevent the improper alienation of Episcopal Church property.

The two obvious parties are usually called “conservative” and “liberal,” though these terms are certainly inadequate. Operationally, they might best be described as, respectively, revolutionary and loyalist, at least with respect to their attitudes toward The Episcopal Church. That is, one group disdains The Episcopal Church and is willing to destroy or wound it for the sake of its perception of truth, whereas the other group values the church and wants to preserve it. In this sense, the group usually called “liberal” is peopled by conservatives.

Usually, of course, “conservative,” in the religious sense, refers to people holding views typical of nineteenth-century Evangelicals. (This may be an exaggeration, but it is surely true that Duncan’s supporters, despite their rhetoric, do not “believe what Christians have always believed,” and they certainly do not exemplify the traditional Anglican preference for unity based on liturgy, rather than on doctrine.) In that conventional sense of “conservative,” it has long been clear that many adherents of this theological viewpoint are not revolutionaries and are not willing, for whatever reason, to abandon The Episcopal Church. These non-revolting theological conservatives have kept a low profile in the diocese, probably because their views lead them to regard their bishop with great ambivalence. Everyone has known that they are out there, yet there has been much speculation as to who was actually in this group, at least among the clergy. The revolutionaries wanted this group to join the revolution, and the loyalists hoped that its members would rally behind the barricades in the face of the insurgents.

The “liberals” in Pittsburgh are a mixed group, united by their support of The Episcopal Church. Some of these people, by nearly any measure, should be called liberal. Many people do not understand, however, that Southwestern Pennsylvania is a socially, politically, and religiously conservative enclave, and that churches such as Calvary, which is reviled for its liberalism, would seem decidedly middle-of-the-road if transported to another part of the country. No objective observer expects to see open communion or the blessing of same-sex unions in Pittsburgh Episcopal churches any time soon. Some very conservative people attend churches that have been adamant in their support of The Episcopal Church, and being progressive, as it is usually understood, is hardly a requirement for membership in Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh.

In other words, there are three significant parties in the Pittsburgh diocese—the insurgents, the enthusiastic loyalists, and the reluctant loyalists. The Episcopal Church is certainly more liberal than most Pittsburgh Episcopalians, and the loyalist camp that has just come out of the closet knows that its members are destined to feel somewhat uncomfortable and marginalized in their chosen church for the foreseeable future, no matter how “inclusive” that church is. Such is the fate of minorities, and no one has figured out how to change it. When the Pittsburgh schism actually arrives, I suspect that additional revolutionaries will get cold feet and join the reluctant loyalists, albeit reluctantly.

The New Letter

The letter from the Duncan-supporting Pittsburgh laypeople is posted on a new blog called “Pittsburgh Laity.” For convenience, and because it may disappear or be changed—the blog suggests that more names may be added over time—I reproduce the letter, dated February 8, below. You can find the currently posted version here. (The letter is relatively short, but it concludes with a long list of signatures.)

A Statement of Support for the Diocese and our Bishop

As committed laity within the Pittsburgh diocese of the Anglican Communion, we hereby publicly express our strong support for the godly direction of our Bishop, Robert Duncan, and for the strategy approved by delegates to our annual diocesan convention last November. It is not our bishop who is mistaken, but rather the interpretation of the twelve dissenting clergy that is skewed: our diocese is not separating from the Church, but can no longer travel with a national Episcopal body that is departing from its foundations. As a result, we are participating in a necessary realignment with biblical, catholic, traditional and evangelical Anglicans across the globe. Last November, delegates demonstrated an astounding show of support for this direction, a decision that was not hasty, but that came after nearly five years in which we waited for our national church to repent and to respond to the pleas of the rest of the worldwide Anglican Communion. They did not, and since then have clarified the disturbing course to which they intend to hold—promoting a so-called “gospel” that is faithful neither to Jesus, nor to the
Holy Scriptures.

We are told that a major reason for the dissent of these twelve brothers and sisters from our Diocese is “the prospect of protracted court cases evolving from the diocese's realignment effort” (Pittsburgh Post- Gazette, January 30, 2008). We want to remind them and the public that the court cases came about because of suits against the diocese and officers of the diocese; our bishop did not initiate these suits. Indeed, with others who support him, he has done everything possible to defuse the situation outside of the courts. We are responding to an attack (an attack in secular court, forbidden in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians), not initiating it. In this response, the Diocese is preventing a take-over of parish properties by the national church: such actions protect not only the majority of parishes who agree with the direction of the Diocese, but also the parishes of those who have seen fit to dissent from the decisions of the annual diocesan convention. Perhaps clergy could have taken the “high ground” by recommending that Christians not defend themselves, and so be prepared to suffer loss for the sake of truth; this would have demonstrated integrity. However, it is unconscionable that the faithful be constrained, because of the fear and inconvenience of litigation, to continue in communion with those who preach and walk after a different gospel. For the sake of our children, our children’s children, and those to whom we deliver the good news, we cannot agree with those who would counsel us to maintain our ties with an increasingly apostate national church. We pray that in the coming year, even more laypersons will recognize the danger and folly of remaining in the punctured hull of the Episcopal Titanic.

We understand that faithful pastors who stand against the policies of the national church face hardship, including likely loss of position and full pension. As laity, we know that there are those who will attempt to take away the places where, in some cases, our families have worshipped for generations. Under the current threat, we understand the fear of those who do not want to move with the Diocese, though it grieves us that some of our brothers and sisters have given way to such fears. Even more, however, we applaud and honor our own bishop and those many other priests of this Diocese who are prepared, as our shepherds, to “put their life on the line.” They are acting as they are, not to be quarrelsome, but for the sake of truth and love for the worldwide Anglican communion-- especially for numerous courageous Anglicans in Africa, South America, Asia and elsewhere, who are also standing against innovative departures from Christian life and faith.

No, Pittsburgh Diocese is not arranging to “leave,” but to stay. We intend to stay and be the Church that we have always been, believing and practicing as we have always done, with other faithful Anglicans across the world, with those of the past who paid for the truth with their lives, and with the apostles and ancient theologians who transmitted the knowledge of Jesus and the Triune God.

Edith M. Humphrey, Ph.D., Church of the Ascension (Oakland) and District 7 Delegate
William F. Orr Professor of New Testament, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary
Appointed Member of the Commission on Ministry, Pittsburgh Diocese

Dr. Leslie Thyberg,
Chair, Board of Examining Chaplains for the Priesthood, Diocese of Pittsburgh

Mr. Chris Thyberg
Director of Global Missions, American Bible Society

Dr. Jeanne Kohn, Church of the Ascension (Oakland)
Director of Music Ministries

Dr. Andy Kohn, Church of the Ascension (Oakland)

Gillis Harp, Ph.D., Grace Anglican Fellowship, Slippery Rock, PA;
Professor of History, Grove City College

Stuart P. Simpson, Fox Chapel Episcopal Church
Deputy to Diocesan Convention; Deputy to General Convention
Board of Trustees, Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry
Board of Church Army USA

Ann F. Castro, Grace Church, Mt. Washington;
Adjunct Professor of Greek, Trinity School for Ministry

Robert G. Devlin, Fox Chapel Episcopal Church
Senior Warden; Chancellor of the Diocese

Kenneth W. Herbst, St. Peter's Church, Butler, PA;
Lay Leader for Pittsburgh Episcopal Cursillo; Diocesan Standing Committee member

Marilyn Clifton Chislaghi, Church of the Ascension (Oakland)
Parish Administrator
Board of Anglican Frontier Missions

A. Michael Galbraith, Church of the Savior, Ambridge
Alternate to General Convention, Member of Array, and on the Commitee for Donegal Property

Mary Ann Evankovich, St. Andrew's New Kensington and District 3 Delegate
Fourth Day Coordinator for Pittsburgh Cursillo Secretariat;
Member of the Diocesan Commission of Racism

Ann Dickinson, St. Stephen's Sewickley

Leslie Uncapher Zellers, St. Andrew's New Kensington

Tony Errico, St. Andrew’s New Kensington
Member of Vestry

Kenneth Clever, Holy Innocents, Leechburg
Previous vestry member

Pat Errico, St. Andrew's New Kensington

Gregory R. Campbell, St. Paul's Kittanning
Layreader and St. Paul's vestry member

Eric W. Cook
Organist and Choirmaster, St. Paul's (Kittanning)

Lois J. Ilgenfritz, St. Mary's, Charleroi

Charles T. Hach, St. Alban's Episcopal Church

Duane F. Ilgenfritz, St. Mary's, Charleroi

Gladys Bell, St. Mary's, Charleroi

William J. Bell, St. Mary's, Charleroi

Robin Capcara, Church of the Ascension

Jim Catlos, Holy Innocents

Kay Catlos, Holy Innocents

Jesse Catlos, Holy Innocents

Cindy Zimmerman, Somerset Anglican Fellowship

Lynda Miller Holy Innocents

Robert S. Smith, Holy Innocents, Leechburg, PA

Margot S. Smith, Holy Innocents; Leechburg, PA

Dr. Daniel C. Lujetic, Senior Warden, Church of the Good Samaritan, Liberty Borough

Stephen B. Whipple, St. Stephen's Ambridge

Ellen Cappelli, St. Alban’s Murrysville

Guido Cappelli , St. Alban's Murrysville.

Tasso Spanos, Shepherd’s Heart Fellowship

Wendy Scott Paff, Church of the Ascension (Oakland)

Marian M. Kreithen, Church of the Ascension, Convention Deputy, District 7
Altar Guild Directress, Lay Eucharist Minister and Visitor

Alexandra Tiel, Church of the Ascension

Brian Tiel, Church of the Ascension

Alan Komm, Church of the Ascension

Senior Warden
Diocese of Pittsburgh Celebrate 250

Timothy Podnar, Church of the Ascension

Cole Van Ormer, Church of the Ascension

Jay Gowdy, Church of the Ascension

Brian Mack, Church of the Ascension
Member of Vestry

Paige H. Forster, Church of the Ascension

Nancy B. Foster, Church of the Ascension

Agnes Green, Church of the Ascension

John K. Walsh, Church of the Ascension
Member of Vestry

Michael W. Luckett, Church of the Ascension

Brad Hgoz, Church of the Ascension

Nicole D. Mack, Church of the Ascension

Joelle Humphrey, Church of the Ascension

David Picking, Holy Innocents Episcopal Church

Katherine Picking , Holy Innocents Episcopal Church

Gordon Keith McFarland, Holy Innocents Church, Leechburg, PA
Member of Vestry

Alison D. McFarland, Holy Innocents Church, Leechburg, PA
Member of Diocesan Council & Deputy to Diocesan Convention

Andrea Paskorz, St. Andrew's New Kensington,
Member of the Vestry

Diane Kaufmann, St.Alban's, Murrysville

John Kaufmann, St.Alban's, Murrysville

Cyndi Taylor, St. Philips, Moon Township

Elaine P. Morehead

Ministry staff of Shepherd’s Heart Fellowship

Theresa T. Newell, D. Min., St. Stephen’s Sewickley
Diocese of Pittsburgh Standing Committee

Director of Travel-study, Trinity School for Ministry
Chairman, CMJ USA

Gloria J.Clever, Holy Innocents, Leechburg
Former secretary to Bishop Henry Scriven

John W. Polczynski, St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, New Kensington, PA
Junior Warden

Julia A. Polczynski, St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, New Kensington, PA
Member-Pittsburgh Episcopal Cursillo Community

William F. Roemer, St. Stephen's Sewickley

Deputy to General Convention;
Trustee of Trinity School for Ministry;
Treasurer of Anglican Communion Network;
Board Member of Anglican Relief and Development Fund

Gale Wilson, St Paul's, Kittanning and Delegate of District 3
Parish Ministry Committee

Georgette Forney, St. Stephen’s Sewickley
President, Anglicans for Life
Co-founder, Silent No More Awareness Campaign

James D. Bradley Sr., St. Pauls Kittanning
Member of Vestry

Paul Stirbis, Church of the Good Samaritan, Liberty Boro, District 8

Bernice Rowe-Stirbis, Church of the Good Samaritan, Liberty Boro, District 8

Travis S. Hines, Church of the Savior, Ambridge,
M.Div., Director, Center for Distance Learning,
Trinity School for Ministry Postulant for Holy Orders.

Linda Banks Grissom, St. Alban’s Murraysville

Amy V. Campbell, St. Paul’s Kittanning,
Parish Secretary; Assistant Treasurer

Tina Wurschmidt, Shepherd’s Heart
Worship Pastor and Lay Leader

Sarah M. Kwolek, Church of the Savior, Ambridge

Interim Music Director

Mark A. Kwolek, Church of the Savior, Ambridge

Interim Music Director

Peter Frank, Church of the Nativity, Crafton

Amy Maddalena, Church of the Ascension, Oakland

David F. Black
Member Diocesan Board of Trustees
Growth Fund Committee
Pittsburgh Episcopal Foundation/Chaplaincy Endowment Committee

Richard Jernigan
All Saints’ Church, Brighton Heights

A. Dwight Castro, Ph.D.
Professor of Classics
Westminster College, New Wilmington, PA
Member of the Vestry of Grace Church, Mount Washington

Sue Crary
Treasurer, Church of the Ascension

Allison S. Burgan
Member of the Vestry of Fox Chapel Episcopal Church


Aaron Pelot, Church of the Ascension (Oakland)
University of Pittsburgh Student

Margaret Whitacre, Grace Church, Edgeworth
Organist and Vestry Member

Patricia Kriever, Grace Church, Edgeworth
Former Senior Warden

Thomas S. Hay
St. Stephen's Sewickley
Former Treasurer & Vestry Member
Former Member of the Board of Trustees of the Diocese of Pittsburgh
Senior Investment Officer, The Pittsburgh Foundation

Beth Kriever, Grace Church, Edgeworth

John Kriever, Grace Church, Edgeworth

Nicolaas G. Storm, Esq.
St. Philip's Episcopal Church, Moon Township
Former Senior Warden
Delegate Diocesan Convention
Member Commission on Ministry

Jonathan Cagwin, Church of the Ascension (Oakland)
Coalition for Christian Outreach, Staff Member

Chad Whitacre, Grace Church, Edgeworth

Jessica Whitacre, Grace Church, Edgeworth

Shannon Hach, St. Alban's Episcopal Church

Seth Whitacre, Church of the Savior, Ambridge

Roger Maddalena, Church of the Ascension (Oakland)

David E. Berklite
Fox Chapel Episcopal Church
Treasurer, Vestry Member

Robert L. Forrest, Church of the Ascension (Oakland)

Mary Lou Herbst
St. Peter's Butler
Pittsburgh Episcopal Cursillo Secretariat
Servant Community Coordinator

Ruth A. Fitzpatrick, Church of the Ascension (Oakland)

Jane R. Flaherty
Fox Chapel Episcopal Church
Cursillo Secretariat Member, Pre-Cursillo Coordinator

Michelle D. Everson, Church of the Ascension (Oakland)
University of Pittsburgh student

Marilyn German
St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Mt. Lebanon
Former member of the Parish Council, Lay Eucharistic Member and Parish Archivist
Former Diocesan Delegate, District 5
Former member of Diocesan Council and Array
Former Diocesan Archivist

Fritzie Hess, St. Stephen's, Sewickley

Davida van Mook, Fox Chapel Episcopal Church

Ron James, Church of the Ascension (Oakland)

Sally James, Church of the Ascension (Oakland)

Kathleen Hartle, Church of the Ascension (Oakland)

John Stevenson, St. David's Church
Former Senior Warden and Treasurer
Former member of the Diocesan Board of Trustees

Dorothy A. Fleming, St. Martin's Monroeville
Member, Pittsburgh Cursillo Community

Robert M. Fleming, St. Martin's Monroeville and District 8 delegate
District Representative on Diocesan Board of Trustees
Lake Donegal Common Life Committee and Donegal Program and Events Commission
Former Vestry member, Former Senior Warden, Former Treasurer
Former Pittsburgh Cursillo Secretariat

Della A. Crawford
St. Thomas Church in the Field, Gibsonia

Richard Bates
St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, Sewickley

Bill Klingensmith
Holy Innocents Church, Leechburg
Senior Warden

Carolyn Smail
Holy Innocents Church, Leechburg

Linda Roemer
St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, Sewickley

David M. Ball
St. David's Church, Peters Township
Junior Warden
Treasurer
Diocesan Board of Trustees

Curt Henry
Christ Church, Greensburg
Former Junior Warden
Senior Warden
Member of Diocesan Council

Wendi Richert
Christ Church, Greensburg
Projection Team Member

Allan Rathbone, St. Martin's Monroeville

Yvonne Rathbone, St. Martin's Monroeville
Treasurer

Howard Yant
Christ Church, Greensburg

Esther Yant
Christ Church, Greensburg

Truth Topper
Church of the Savior, Ambridge
Vestry member

Howard Finney
Christ Church, Greensburg
Chairman of Worship Committee
Head Usher

Bettyann Finney
Christ Church, Greensburg

Dana Walker
St. Andrew's Church, New Kensington

William Topper
Church of the Savior, Ambridge
District 1 Delegate
Member Diocesan Council

William C. Knapp
St. James Church, Penn Hills
Worship Leader

Linda F. Knapp
St. James Church, Penn Hills

Donna Evans
St. Thomas, Gibsonia

Chris M. Evans
St. Thomas, Gibsonia

Diana Yuhanjak
St. Thomas, Gibsonia

Peter Yuhanjak
St. Thomas, Gibsonia

John J. Means Jr.
Trinity Episcopal Church, Washington
Vestry member

Gretchen F. Means
Trinity Episcopal Church, Washington
Former Vestry member

Bill Lutes
St. Mary's, Charleroi

Mary Lutes
St. Mary's, Charleroi

Mrs. John H. Morgan
Church of the Ascension (Oakland)

Mrs. Barbara Baur
Church of the Ascension (Oakland)

Virginia Fitzsimmons
Church of the Savior, Ambridge
Member of the Vestry

Glenn Crytzer
Verger, St. Peter's Butler
Postulant for Holy Orders, Diocese of Pittsburgh

Lynn Crytzer
St. Peter's Butler

Laura Crytzer
St. Peter's Butler

Margaret L. Prather, D.O.
St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, New Kensington

Teri Dillon
The Church of the Good Shepherd
Treasurer, Vestry Member, Daughter of the King
Past Secretary for Good Shepherd and Trinity Cathedral

Ralph Hiller
St. Peter's Brentwood

Lois Hiller
St. Peter's Brentwood
Former Vestry, Altar Guild & Search Committee

Yoseph Barhem
Member of Church of the Good Shepherd (Anglican/Episcopal)
Binghamton, NY

Mark Stevens
St. Christopher's, Cranberry Township

Susan Milligan
Church of the Ascension (Oakland)

Edward J. Milligan
Church of the Ascension (Oakland)

Avin Fernando
Bishop's Committee Member
Seeds of Hope Mission Fellowship

Ian Sadler
Trinity Episcopal Church
District 10 Representative on the Diocesan Council

James S. Moore
Fox Chapel Episcopal Church
Delegate Diocesan Convention
Member Diocesan Board of Trustees
Member Board of Church Army

Carmen Moore
Fox Chapel Episcopal Church

Kathryn Smith
Church of the Ascension (Oakland)

Rebecca Tickner
Church of the Ascension (Oakland)

Frances Hartzell
St. Andrew's, New Kensington
District 3 Alternate

Gerald Hartzell
St. Andrew's, New Kensington

Tom Meyers
St. Andrew's, New Kensington

Ron Yadrick
Church of the Ascension (Oakland)

Judy Yadrick
Church of the Ascension (Oakland)

Ann R. Steenkiste
Fox Chapel Episcopal Church
Former Vestry Member
District 3 Deputy
EFM Coordinator

Jason Smith
Church of the Savior, Ambridge
Area Director, Young Life Beaver County

Margy Baker
Previously Eucharistic Minister, St. George's Waynesburg
Currently member St. Christopher's, Cranberry Township

Jason Toman
Church of the Ascension (Oakland)
Intervarsity Christian Fellowship staff

James J. Vevers
Grace Church, Mt. Washington

Ellen R. Stolpe
Church of the Ascension (Oakland)

Bill Driscoll
Church of the Savior, Ambridge
Candidate for Holy Orders in the Diocese of Pittsburgh
M.Div. student at Trinity School for Ministry

Kim Driscoll
Church of the Savior, Ambridge

The attacks against The Episcopal Church have been led by clergy, especially bishops. The prominent leaders of that movement in Pittsburgh have largely been clergy, although the Episcopal Church loyalists have both clergy and laypeople prominent among their leaders. It is, therefore, refreshing to hear from laypeople in Pittsburgh dissatisfied with their church. (It may take longer for the reluctant loyalist laypeople to organize themselves.) The new letter is endorsed by approximately 175 people (and counting, I’m sure they would assure me). It is interesting to see how the signers have identified themselves. (Or not. Peter Frank, who is Communications Director for the diocese, fails to note the fact, perhaps out of modesty.) Nineteen people hold significant official positions in the diocese. (I discounted many minor offices. All these counts are approximate, by the way.) Three are former office holders or staff members. Eight seem to be paid staff members in their respective parishes; one is the spouse of a staff member; three are relatives of conservative clergy. Six are associated with Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry. Two are from “Anglican” congregations in the diocese but already out of The Episcopal Church. One lists himself as being in New York. Forty-eight are from Church of the Ascension, a large church led by the Rev. Jonathan Millard, an insurgent rector who has argued passionately for leaving The Episcopal Church and taking Ascension’s property with him. (Millard made his case for this at a workshop at the November convention and had a letter published in the Post-Gazette on the subject on Friday.) Several very small congregations are represented by ten or more members.

I do not mean to belittle the commitment of anyone who has signed this letter, but no one should think that it represents a cross-section of the laity of the diocese, which the title “Pittsburgh Laity” might suggest. Many of these people are closely tied to Bishop Duncan, to Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, or to churches led by especially vocal insurgent clergy. That the letter was initiated at Church of the Ascension is obvious from the fact that more than a quarter of the signatures are from that parish.

Analysis

What can be said about the content of the letter? To begin with, its purple prose is painful to read. The rhetoric is overblown and emotional. This is not a letter intended to win converts through its logic, and I suspect that it is intended to rally the troops and denigrate the 12 clergy who dared to defy the movement. Some choice phrases for which I would deduct points on a freshman paper: “punctured hull of the Episcopal Titanic, “those of the past who paid for the truth with their lives,” “godly direction of our Bishop,” and “suffer loss for the sake of truth.” Ironically, of course, while claiming the moral high ground and standing for truth against all odds, even in the face of death, these people seem most interested in leaving The Episcopal Church with their parish property intact. Such willingness to sacrifice is touching!

Looking past the rhetoric, I will mention just a few of the many defective arguments and deceptions prominent here. We must begin at the first sentence, where we encounter the phrase “Pittsburgh diocese of the Anglican Communion.” The “committed laity” signing the letter want to remove the diocese from The Episcopal Church, yet they cannot even bring themselves to admit that the diocese is in The Episcopal Church! The opening paragraph goes on to attack first the judgment of the “twelve dissenting clergy,” followed by The Episcopal Church and its “so-called ‘gospel.’” As it happens, however, the letter never uses the phrase “Episcopal Church”; like rabid Republicans who insist on referring to the “Democrat Party,” the signers cannot even bring themselves to write the name of the church they so despise. (I suppose it is, to the signers, “the church that cannot be named.”) “Anglican Communion,” on the other hand, occurs three times, and members of its (other) provinces are described as “faithful” and “courageous.” Some of us have always thought that the hallmark of Anglicanism, however, was respect for differences. That Anglican virtue is absent here.

A surprisingly large fraction of the letter is devoted to railing against lawsuits, both the existing action brought by Calvary Church and future litigation likely to be brought by The Episcopal Church against seceding congregations intent on retaining parish property. While asserting that the use of secular courts is forbidden by biblical injunction, the letter maintains that it would be “unconscionable” to be constrained by this injunction if it meant that signers could not protect “their” property. Incredibly, the letter argues that Bishop Duncan is “preventing a take-over of parish properties by the national church,” including the properties of parishes that have supported The Episcopal Church. Such parishes have no fear in that regard, however, since they freely acknowledge that the property is held in trust for The Episcopal Church. Calvary would like nothing more than for The Episcopal Church effectively to “take-over” all diocesan property. That is the situation its lawsuit was initiated to protect!

Finally, the paragraph I find most offensive is the last one, where the letter repeats the now trite argument that the diocese is not leaving, but staying. (The bishop usually expresses this by saying that The Episcopal Church has left the diocese; the diocese is not leaving The Episcopal Church.) This is, as they say in England, utter rubbish. I am actually hard-pressed to figure out what logic is being used here, but I am sure it is defective. It may be that, if you are part of an organization and that organization changes over time, even through legitimate processes, you are free to leave the organization and—as we used to say in the ’60s—liberate its property. Perhaps the argument is that, if you are part of an organization you have come to dislike, you are free to declare yourself part of another organization you like better and—as we used to say in the ’60s—liberate its property. Either way, the argument seems a justification for theft, which, if I remember, is enjoined elsewhere in the bible.

I hope that “Pittsburgh Laity” will offer more edifying fare in the future, but I hold out little hope either that it will do so or that it will broadly represent the many Pittsburgh Episcopalians who attend church regularly in the vain hope that their church—their diocese, at any rate—will not self-destruct in the near future.

Postscript (2/11/2008): My tabulation of characteristics of signers of the “Pittsburgh Laity” letter was done rather informally on a few sheets of blank paper. Someone else reports having used both a spreadsheet and a diocesan directory. This procedure yielded a count of 14 clergy spouses. Moreover, I failed to note the two officers of the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes (Anglican Communion Network) who signed the letter.

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