April 30, 2009

Communion Partner Bishops’ Statement

Back in September, I expressed surprise that the Anglican Communion Institute (ACI) was promoting the wrongheaded and potentially schismatic essay by Mark McCall, “Is the Episcopal Church Hierarchical?” Apparently, advocacy of McCall’s ideas was not a fluke; the ACI Web site now hosts a statement by a majority of the so-called Communion Partner bishops (and three bishops not listed as such) that is warmed-over McCall, combined with a big helping of self-serving, anti-democratic Anglo-Catholicism. “Bishops’ Statement on the Polity of The Episcopal Church” (hereinafter “Statement on Polity”) was posted April 22, though it is dated April 18, 2009. The statement is “endorsed” by the president, vice president, and senior fellow of the ACI. Five bishops who are on the Advisory Committee of the ACI are signatories of the statement. (Attorney Mark McCall is also on the Advisory Committee.)

The ACI seems so taken with Roman Catholic centralization of ecclesiastical power that it is willing to promote a revisionist church history that threatens to inject a possibly fatal anarchy into the Anglican Communion if that will help obtain approval of some version of an Anglican covenant. The ACI has, I think, made a pact with the devil.

The ACI has been quite single-minded in its advocacy. McCall’s September 2008 paper, with its provocative title and equally provocative ideas, was much criticized on the Web and elsewhere. Dr. Joan Gundersen wrote a rebuttal to the McCall piece called “A Response to Mark McCall’s ‘Is The Episcopal Church Hierarchical?’” that was published by Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh. Gundersen is a historian of The Episcopal Church, and her critique relied primarily on historical evidence, rather than on legal speculation. McCall posted his own rebuttal, “Fatal Flaws: A Response to Dr. Joan Gundersen,” on the ACI Web site the day after Gundersen’s piece appeared. “Statement on Polity” cites McCall’s original paper six times in footnotes but ignores Gundersen’s analysis. One might have hoped that the scholarly members of the ACI would have encouraged the bishops—presumably a less scholarly crowd—to conduct a more comprehensive literature search and to answer objections raised by Gundersen and others. But “Statement on Polity” is not scholarship; it is naked, self-interested, and destructive advocacy.

Controversy about “Statement on Polity” began even before the document became public. The day before the statement was posted on the Web, Mark Harris wrote a commentary on his blog about some of the e-mail messages exchanged by those involved in writing it. (The e-mail, which was not addressed to Harris, of course, has been published by the Washington Blade.) The ACI president, the Rev. Christopher Seitz, chided Harris the next day. (In Shakespearean prose, Seitz declared, “We assume him [Harris] to be a man of civility and honor.”) This ACI post was quickly followed by one by Mark McCall himself, who criticized Harris both for revealing the e-mail contents and for his “misunderstanding” of McCall’s viewpoint. Ironically, McCall complained about Harris’s follow-up post, which links to the Gundersen paper but not to McCall’s rebuttal. On April 28, a new ACI post appeared under the name of ACI vice president, the Rev. Dr. Philip Turner. Turner was upset both with Harris’s posting of e-mail messages and the reception the bishops’ composition has received from Harris and others. “Unanswered Questions” does enumerate some interesting questions related to “Statement on Polity,” but some of the questions are surely of the have-you-stopped-beating your-wife? variety.

An Overview of “Statement on Polity”

As much as I would like to present a thorough analysis of “Bishops’ Statement on the Polity of The Episcopal Church,” I neither have the time to do the project justice nor do I want certain aspects of the document to go unanswered any longer than necessary. I will therefore essay but a modest critique of the document, commenting especially on those assertions I find personally most irksome. (This post is, even with its modest objectives, outrageously long and lamentably late in coming.) First, an overview of the piece.

The bishops begin with an argument intended to justify their authority apart from any particular ecclesiastical body. While asserting their authority and independence, they minimize the powers of the Episcopal Church’s Presiding Bishop and suggest that the current office holder has arrogated new powers to her office. The bishops proceed to advance the novel theory—especially familiar to those of us in the Diocese of Pittsburgh who have long been subjected to it by our now-deposed bishop—that The Episcopal Church is a “voluntary association” of autonomous dioceses. They then argue that dioceses are not subordinate to a “central hierarchy.” This section relies most heavily on McCall’s earlier work. According to the authors, The Episcopal Church is less hierarchical than, for example, the Presbyterian Church. (In his response to Mark Harris, McCall asserts that our church is hierarchical, but that the hierarchy is “dispersed,” presumably with dioceses at the top level of the distributed power centers.)

The next section of the document is “The Nature of Our Vows,” in which the bishops assert that their oaths to conform to the “discipline” of The Episcopal Church does not mean conforming to the Presiding Bishop’s understanding of the church’s polity. They assert: “Our episcopal vows contain no pledge of obedience to a higher office or body, as do churches with metropolitical hierarchies.” The bishops finally get to the purpose of the piece in the penultimate section. They assert: “Not only is the diocese the fundamental unit of The Episcopal Church, it is also the fundamental unit in catholic ecclesiology by which the people of God in the particular or local churches relate to the wider communion.” They then cite Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams’ famously stupid remark to Bishop Howe on the matter of diocesan supremacy. They express the concern that dioceses might be prevented from signing on to an Anglican covenant if the covenant is rejected by the General Convention. Given the preamble to the church’s constitution, rejection of the covenant by The Episcopal Church “would plunge The Episcopal Church into a constitutional crisis,” they assert. Then follows the pièce de résistance: “Any attempt to prevent willing dioceses from signing the covenant would be unconstitutional and thereby void.”

The bishops conclude with this paragraph:
We have found it necessary to address these issues as a matter of faithfulness to our apostolic vocation and our Constitution. The traditional doctrine and worship and the historic polity of the Church are in grave peril. For this reason, we emphasize that The Episcopal Church consists of autonomous, but interdependent, dioceses not subject to any metropolitical power or hierarchical control. The Ecclesiastical Authorities in our dioceses are the Bishops and Standing Committees; no one else may act in or speak on behalf of the dioceses or of The Episcopal Church within the dioceses. We intend to exercise our episcopal authority to remain constituent members of the Anglican Communion and will continue to speak out on these issues as necessary.

General Observations

One can make a number of general comments about “Bishops’ Statement on the Polity of The Episcopal Church.” I offer those below in no particular order, and I will not attempt to justify each one. Some of the assertions I will not justify here have been dealt with adequately by others. My observations:
  1. Many assertions in the document are untrue.
  2. Many assertions, whether true or not, are irrelevant.
  3. The self-interest of the authors is—not to put too fine a point on it—readily apparent.
  4. The document assumes acceptance of a particular churchmanship—excuse my use of this obviously sexist term that has, to my knowledge, no non-sexist counterpart—that is not shared either by a majority of Episcopal Church bishops or by a majority of Episcopalians at large. Because of this, the bishops, who represent themselves as occupying some middle ground between conservatives who have left the church and the church’s “liberal” leaders, in fact are radical conservatives who might even be criticized as being cowardly for not leaving a church for which they seem to have so little respect or understanding.
  5. Independent observers of the manner in which the authors use their sources might have a difficult time reaching the same conclusions as the authors.
  6. There is a point to be made about the degree to which the Episcopal Church hierarchy is “defective,” but it isn’t the point made by the bishops.

Some Random Comments

I think that Dr. Gundersen has done a good job of putting dioceses in their proper historical context, so I will say little about the matter here. Frankly, some of the arguments made in “Statement on Polity” in support of the primacy and autonomy of dioceses are ludicrous. The bishops point out, for example, that voting is by dioceses in the House of Deputies (though not in the House of Bishops, I might add), and all diocese get equal votes. So what? One could make a similar statement about the U.S. Senate, but one would be wrong to conclude from it that states are supreme in the United States of America and can secede at will. The bishops are even misinformed in thinking their dioceses members of the Anglican Communion. National and regional churches are Communion members. There are a few extra-provincial dioceses included, but the dioceses of the bishops who signed “Statement on Polity” are not extra-provincial; they are part—an indivisible part—of The Episcopal Church. It makes no more sense for dioceses to be signing an Anglican covenant than it would be for Texas to sign a treaty with the United Nations.

As a person who began life as a Presbyterian in very Roman Catholic New Orleans, I have a strong prejudice against extravagant Roman Catholic claims of authority. The Episcopal Church, I discovered, has a rich liturgy to replace impoverished Protestant practice, and that need not come with a lot of Roman Catholic baggage that I tend to view as so much nonsense. (Who does the Bishop of Rome think he is anyway?) Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the introduction portion of “Statement on Polity” cites a document from the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission to this effect: “Decisions taken by the bishop in performing this task [the exercise of episcope within a local church] have an authority which the faithful have a duty to receive and accept.” I acknowledge no such duty, and any awe I might have of bishops is tempered by the observation that the variability in episcopal performance seems comparable to that found in any other profession. If God’s Angel of Death were to visit all bishops tonight, Christianity would still be alive and well tomorrow, and excellent Christian teachers would not have been wiped from the face of the earth.

Whereas the episcopal authors of the document are much taken with their own office, they are surprisingly dismissive of the office of the Presiding Bishop. It is difficult not to suspect that the sex of the current office holder has something to do with this, but I am willing to grant them the benefit of the doubt on this score. (One has to wonder if the absence of Communion Partner bishop Geralyn Wolf’s signature isn’t more than a coincidence, however.) In any case, the office of Presiding Bishop is trivialized in overt and surreptitious ways. The authors point out that the Presiding Bishop’s authorizing a bishop to act in unorganized territory not yet a diocese requires the consent of the House of Bishops. While true, its relevance is unclear. The role of the Presiding Bishop is surely substantive here. If the Presiding Bishop had no discretion in the matter, full authorization would be given directly by the House of Bishops. The Presiding Bishop’s role in the deposition of a bishop is of a similar nature.

The bishops make much of their position as “ordinary”—the word is used only once in the constitution and canons, and only in a rather oblique reference—and the fact that their authority receives little attention in the church’s governing documents, whereas the role of the Presiding Bishop is rather more clearly spelled out. The Presiding Bishop does not have a see, say the bishops, and therefore (apparently) lacks their own “inherent authority.” (The Presiding Bishop has jurisdiction in the Convocation of the American Churches in Europe, of course, which is a diocese in everything but name, and it is not, as the authors suggest, “exercised with the consent of other Anglican bishops having authority in Europe.”) Clearly, the authors view having a see as conferring some mystical authority from God, which authority the authors do not want to grant to the Presiding Bishop. The Presiding Bishop is necessarily a bishop, however, and, in former times, actually served as a diocesan bishop. It is a relatively recent innovation that the Presiding Bishop does not so serve—the exercise of jurisdiction now is mostly symbolic—because the responsibility of heading a diocese and exercising the powers of the Presiding Bishop was found to be too much work for one person. (Canon I.2.3(a) requires that a person elected Presiding Bishop “tender to the House of Bishops a resignation from the Bishop’s previous jurisdiction.”) The ministry of the Presiding Bishop is not greater or lesser than that of a diocesan bishop—note that not all signatories to “Statement on Polity” are diocesan bishops—it is simply different.

What all this is about, of course, is the denial that the Presiding Bishop has metropolitan authority, which is to say, authority to tell diocesan bishops what to do. This is undeniable, of course, but it is also irrelevant. The lack of an archbishop in the American church does not mean that the church is not hierarchical, nor does it mean that dioceses are free to leave the church at will. It does mean that the church is not hierarchical in precisely the same manner as, say, the Roman Catholic Church. Americans would not readily tolerate a despot with papal powers, and the lack of an archbishop is simply a reflection of, in the words of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, “The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of His Church.”

The bishops emphasize their view of the limited authority of the Presiding Bishop by criticizing the actions of Katharine Jefferts Shori in recent church disruptions:
We emphasize this significant feature of our governance at the outset because in the recent controversies surrounding the withdrawal of several dioceses from The Episcopal Church the Presiding Bishop and others acting on her behalf, including the Presiding Bishop’s chancellor, have purported to act within dioceses, to “recognize” or “de-recognize” diocesan officers and to speak on behalf of The Episcopal Church in civil litigation involving dioceses. We respect the desire of the Presiding Bishop to provide pastoral assistance in these areas, and indeed we too want to do all that we can to reach out to persons in those dioceses who wish to remain in The Episcopal Church. But neither she nor anyone acting on her behalf has constitutional authority to act without consent from the Ecclesiastical Authority except in unorganized territory.
I have a special interest in the view expressed here because my diocese (Pittsburgh) is one of those to which the bishops refer. Others have commented that the bishops do not express an opinion on the recent “realignments,” but it does not require great powers of inference to conclude that the bishops have some sympathy, if not for the realignments themselves, then at least for the view that dioceses have the right to remove themselves from The Episcopal Church in search of a more sympathetic province. They speak, after all, of the “withdrawal,” rather than, say, the “purported withdrawal” of dioceses, yet they refer not to the Presiding Bishop’s acting, but to her “purported” acting. (The bishops’ statement is somewhat garbled, but the point is clear. Surely, the Presiding Bishop acted, and surely the dioceses voted to withdraw. Whether the Presiding Bishop acted properly and whether the withdrawal was proper, and therefore effective, are the real questions here.)

What has the Presiding Bishop done that has so upset these bishops? In the Diocese of San Joaquin—her role was similar in Fort Worth and Quincy—she merely acknowledged the obvious, namely that the bishop and all members of the standing committee had left The Episcopal Church. She also played a role in organizing a convention to elect a provisional bishop. It is not hard to justify these (actual) actions by reference to Canon I.2.4(a)(1) (where the Presiding Bishop is authorized to speak “for the Church as to the policies, strategies and programs authorized by the General Convention”) and to Canon I.2.4(a)(3) (“In the event of an Episcopal vacancy within a Diocese, [the Presiding Bishop shall] consult with the Ecclesiastical Authority to ensure that adequate interim Episcopal Services are provided.”) Of course, the Presiding Bishop had to recognize that the standing committee of the Diocese of San Joaquin had no members, and so she acted in conjunction with an empty committee. (Some will consider this logic a stretch, but is no more a stretch than Congress regularly uses to justify regulating all manner of activity not so clearly allowed by the Constitution.) The problem faced by the Diocese of San Joaquin and the Presiding Bishop was a troublesome one. Absent the provision of Canon I.2.4(a)(3), no one in or out of the Diocese of San Joaquin had the explicit right to call a special convention. What the Presiding Bishop did was reasonable and, I think, proper. What do the signatory bishops think should have happened? Do they think the Diocese of San Joaquin should simply have been written off because no one had “authority” to do anything? How pastoral (or sensible, for that matter) would that have been for the church’s “Chief Pastor and Primate”? In Pittsburgh, the situation was somewhat different, as one member of the standing committee remained in the church. The Presiding Bishop was not needed to call a special convention. Nonetheless, with two entities claiming to be “the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh,” The Episcopal Church needed to pick one, if only to determine where to send the mail! Surely as “Primate,” the Presiding Bishop had the “inherent” right to figure that out. (Admittedly, the “choice” of “dioceses” had legal implications.)

The matter of how hierarchical The Episcopal Church is is not really a matter of whether or not the Presiding Bishop is an archbishop with the power to override decisions of diocesan bishops. Not even church liberals claim that the Presiding Bishop is the highest authority in the church. The supreme institutional authority in The Episcopal Church—primary allegiance to God can guide individual conscience, but is unhelpful in running an actual church—is the General Convention, and anyone with a sixth-grade reading ability and a copy of the church’s constitution cannot conscientiously conclude otherwise. Extra-constitutional appeals by bishops to the “inherent authority” of ordinaries is merely an attempt to weasel out of their vows. In an earlier post, I discussed how dioceses are constrained by the general church, and, for brevity’s sake, I will not reproduce that argument here. (See “Unqualified Accession.”) Likewise, bishops are held accountable by the general church and can, as we have seen in the case of Robert Duncan, be deposed for subverting it. That the process is cumbersome and little-used is unfortunate.

General Convention can, in fact, do anything it chooses to do and can change the church in any way that suits its fancy. It can give power to or remove power from bishops or dioceses. It can cede power to the Anglican Communion, though it has not done so and, God willing, will not do so. This is what makes our church hierarchical. If our church is defective as a hierarchical church, it is only in that church discipline is difficult to enforce. In a sense, however, this is true of any church not backed directly by the power of the state. The constitution can demand an oath of obedience from a bishop, but it is hard to make the bishop obey. The secular courts come in handy here. Pittsburgh Episcopalians will not need to visit Robert Duncan’s office carrying torches and pitchforks to encourage his departure. The Sheriff with do that for them.

Of course, the Communion Partner bishops do not really believe (or do not want to believe) that our church is autonomous, and they have offered a bogus argument to justify their belief, to which I now want to turn.

The bishops have again raised the issue of the preamble of the Episcopal Church constitution. I first heard their argument—I thought it ludicrous then—from Bishop Robert Duncan in September 2003. This is what the bishops write: “The preamble to our Constitution identifies continuing constituent membership in the Anglican Communion as one of the fundamental conditions on which our governing agreement is based. The failure to maintain that membership would plunge The Episcopal Church into a constitutional crisis.” Of course, the preamble does no such thing (and membership in the Anglican Communion is a pretty fuzzy notion anyway). Recall that the preamble, which was only adopted in 1967, says
The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, otherwise known as The Episcopal Church (which name is hereby recognized as also designating the Church), 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. This Constitution, adopted in General Convention in Philadelphia in October, 1789, as amended in subsequent General Conventions, sets forth the basic Articles for the government of this Church, and of its overseas missionary jurisdictions.
The first thing to notice here is that the preamble neither establishes anything nor authorizes anything. The preamble simply states what are taken to be facts, including what it is a preamble to. The church is a member of the Communion, it says; the preamble does not make it so, nor does it imply consequences should it, at some future time, not be so. Since the bishops quote White and Dykman’s Annotated Constitution and Canons as an authoritative explicator of the church’s governing documents, it is appropriate to quote what those authors have to say about the preamble. I quote this at length because I am tired of hearing the strange interpretation given the preamble by people who are likely misreading it intentionally and are either ignoring historical facts or hoping that others will do so. What follows is taken from pages 4–7 of Annotated Constitution and Canons. I have omitted footnotes citing convention journals.
The immediate occasion of the composition of the Preamble was a resolution submitted to the House of Bishops at the Convention of 1964 by its committee on memorials and petitions. The committee, having received memorials from the Dioceses of Chicago, Montana, New Jersey, and South Florida, petitioning for a change of the name of the Church, requested permission to prepare
a simple resolution on the subject, to be presented to the House at the next session thereof, without explanatory material, and to be voted on without debate.
Permission was granted, and the following resolution was submitted, moved, and adopted:
Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, that the official name of this Church be changed by expunging the word “Protestant” from its title; and that steps be taken to effect the necessary constitutional and canonical changes in harmony therewith.
The resolution was the last in a series of efforts to change the name of the Church that had extended over almost ninety years. The first direct attempt was made in the House of Deputies in the Convention of 1877. It was defeated overwhelmingly. For forty years before 1877, however, the matter had been the subject of debate and often acrimonious controversy in the church press, the High Churchmen of the day advocating a change lest the term “Protestant” obscure the Catholic heritage of Anglicanism, while their Evangelical opponents clung tenaciously to a name which they felt affirmed the Reformation experience of the Church of England.

The controversy projected itself, at least indirectly, into the Convention of 1844. The church press reported that the Rev. Dr. Samuel F. Jarvis of Connecticut, an eminent, if somewhat abrasive, historical scholar, who had been one of the first two professors at the General Theological Seminary in 1819, had presented credentials in the House of Deputies describing himself as a “Presbyter of the Reformed Catholic Church.” His right to be seated was challenged by a lay deputy from Ohio, then a diocese reflecting the strong Evangelical opinions of Bishop McIlvaine, on the grounds that Dr. Jarvis had “joined another Church.” Jarvis was seated, but the episode produced a resolution offered in the House of Deputies:
That the practice of omitting the full name of the Church in printed Documents, or of substituting any other, is derogatory to the Protestant character of our Church, and of evil tendency.
Action on the resolution was postponed, and it was subsequently withdrawn by its proposer.

The rejection of the move to change the name of the Church in 1877 did not halt the agitation. On the contrary, the issue appeared regularly in Convention thereafter, having a longer life in Convention discussions than any other in the history of the Church. In 1886, for example, one resolution proposed to expunge the words “Protestant Episcopal” from the Church’s name as “too narrow and exclusive a designation of a Branch … of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church,” and, therefore, “pernicious and harmful,” while another resolution sought to change the name to “The American Catholic Church.” Change was defeated in this Convention by a much smaller margin than in 1877, but “The American Catholic Church” persisted as a suggested alternative and appeared again in 1901. In that Convention, as in 1895 and later in 1910, the attempt to change the name was extended to appropriate alterations on the title page of the Prayer Book and in the Declaration of Conformity prescribed by Article VIII of the Constitution.

Partisan controversy gradually diminished after 1910, and efforts to substitute other names for the Church’s official designation were abandoned in favor of simply removing the word “Protestant.” In 1955, for example, a resolution was offered and defeated in the House of Deputies that illustrates the changes sought in the final years before 1964. It was moved that
The name of this Church shall be The Episcopal Church in the United States of America; That Article VIII of the Constitution be amended by omitting from the Declaration required of those to be ordained or consecrated the word “Protestant”… That the title page of the Book of Common Prayer … be amended to describe the Church as The Episcopal Church in the United States of America.
When the resolution passed by the House of Bishops in 1964 proposing the removal of the word “Protestant” reached the House of Deputies, it was referred to the committee on amendments to the Constitution. By that time, the abatement of past churchmanship controversies left the chief obstacle to such change the possibility of legal complications, a matter that had been raised as early as 1877. The committee requested its chairman, the Very Rev. John C. Leffler of Olympia, and its secretary, Mr. David E. Bronson of Minnesota, to draft a suitable amendment that would avoid any legal problems. During the ensuing deliberation they accepted a proposed amendment offered privately by Dr. Clifford P. Morehouse of New York, President of the House of Deputies. This consisted of the Preamble in the exact form in which it was later adopted. The committee approved the proposed Preamble unanimously and presented it to the House of Deputies. After defeating two amendments which were offered during the debate, one of which sought to substitute the resolution as originally presented and the other to amend the text by changing the order of the first two lines, the House of Deputies voted to recommend to the Convention of 1967 the adoption of the Preamble. The House of Bishops concurred.

When adopted by the House of Deputies in the Convention of 1967 by a very large majority in both orders, an action with which the Bishops concurred, the Preamble became, in the words of the resolution presenting it, “an integral part of the Constitution.” Out of the long and often acrimonious controversy over the name of the Church, came not only a peaceful resolution of that issue, but also a valuable and succinct definition of the nature and structure of the Anglican Communion, with an affirmation of the constituent membership of the Episcopal Church therein.

There remained the matter of the use of the word “Protestant” in the Declaration of Conformity and on the title page of the Prayer Book. In the Convention of 1976, the House of Bishops proposed the deletion from the title page of the proposed Prayer Book the words “Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America otherwise known as.” The Deputies concurred, and the effect was to leave simply the words “According to the use of The Episcopal Church.” The proposed amendment was adopted by both houses in the Convention of 1979. Likewise, in 1976 the Committee on Amendments to the Constitution of the House of Deputies proposed an amendment to Article VIII of the Constitution, striking the word “Protestant” before the words “Episcopal Church.” It was adopted by the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops concurred. Both houses gave final approval in the Convention of 1979.
The point of all this, of course, is that no one was even thinking about the Anglican Communion when the preamble was adopted. It was adopted to settle on the name—alternative name, actually—of the church. Debate would have been much different had members of the General Convention thought they were somehow subordinating their church to a foreign ecclesiastical body. The Episcopal Church is not formally obligated in any way to the Anglican Communion. God willing, that will continue to be the case.

I personally do not understand why some Episcopalians (and new former Episcopalians) have such a need to be part of the Anglican Communion. (See my post “Do We Need the Anglican Communion?” The recent pining for the Anglican Communion does not really seem to be about Christian unity, as there no corresponding call from the same folks for unity with Methodists or Presbyterians. I believe that the desire for greater commitment to the Anglican Communion is really a political ploy by minority elements of The Episcopal Church to pressure the church from the outside to grant concessions that cannot be won in the General Convention. As such, the effort is disingenuous and mean-spirited.

In any case, it would be destructive both to The Episcopal Church and, I think, to the Anglican Communion if an Anglican covenant could be signed by dioceses and rejected by their provinces. One church observer recently called the very idea of this “bizarre.” (See ENS story here.) I could not agree more and do not even want to think of the implications of such a strange development. We already have a Communion poised to split over theological differences. Allowing dioceses independently to accept or to reject an Anglican covenant has the potential to split individual churches as well. Surely, Rowan Williams knows that even his own Church of England is not immunized against such fracture. It is ironic that the Anglican covenant, which is intended to tie churches of the Communion closer together, could be the trigger for an anarchy that destroys not only the Communion, but also its constituent churches.

Two years ago, I suggested that, if we need an Anglican covenant, we should concentrate on producing an agreement that regulates relations between churches—not a document that sets up a system to punish “bad” behavior, but a document that says what bad behavior is. Of course, I believe that subverting sister churches, by any means, is bad behavior. I am beginning to think that “The Covenant We Do Need” suggests what we actually need now. What we surely do not need is the doctrinal warfare and ecclesiastical extortion in which certain members of the Anglican Communion are now engaging. General Convention had best not engage in this warfare nor succumb to the extortion.

Let me close then with some random comments on the footnotes of “Statement on Polity” that may even offer some comic relief. Why, I wonder, do the bishops, in their first footnote, cite the 1979 prayer book as they do? Rather than citing the book from Church Publishing, the edition from Oxford University Press is cited. Do these people have such low regard for their church that they cannot even bring themselves to cite (“promote”?) the prayer book published by it? Another curious footnote is #13. Pages 12 and 29 of Annotated Constitution and Canons is referenced here. As one might suspect, the bishops are connecting ideas out of context as they try to establish the independence of dioceses. It really matters not that dioceses might have been independent entities before entering into union with the General Convention. Just as Texas and Hawaii were unquestionably independent states before joining the Union, they are now just as unquestionably not independent and are not free to leave the Union.

Alas, so much of “Bishops’ Statement on the Polity of The Episcopal Church” is either nonsensical or simply irrelevant. Arguably, the Communion Partner bishops and the self-important Anglican Communion Institute are just as irrelevant.

Update, 3/10/2013. In an agreement reached in January 2013—see press release here—seven of the bishops endorsing the“Bishops’ Statement” admitted that its analysis of Episcopal Church polity “is likely a minority opinion.”

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