June 30, 2009

Kudos for Bonnie

The Lead reported yesterday that the House of Deputies will be given the option of discussing the controversial Resolution B033 passed in the waning hours of The Episcopal Church’s 2006 General Convention.

In an e-mail message to deputies, House of Deputies president Bonnie Anderson said that the House would be given the opportunity to spend two hours early in the Convention in a committee of the whole, not debating any of the dozen or so resolutions proposed to deal with the situation created by B033, but discussing the resolution “apart from the context of legislative procedure.”

Anderson’s message, as reported by The Lead, was as following:
Dear Deputies and First Alternates,

With just a few days left before we gather together in Anaheim for the 76th General Convention, I want to inform you of a procedure available to the House of Deputies that we will propose to use to have a discussion, not debate, regarding resolution B033 that was concurred at the 75th General Convention. We will have this discussion in the context of a “Committee of the Whole”. The purpose of this discussion will be to exchange information and viewpoints among the deputies, and to inform Legislative Committee #8 World Mission, to which committee all the resolutions relative to B033 have been assigned.

What it is:

Committee of the Whole is a parliamentary process that enables a legislative body such as the House of Deputies, to discuss a topic in an orderly manner, without debate or taking a final action on a resolution on the matter. It is used primarily when a deliberative assembly wishes to have a discussion on a particular topic.

How it will happen:

The Legislative Committee on Dispatch of Business will present a special order of business to the HOD in the same manner all special orders are presented. The HOD will review the procedure presented by Dispatch and the House will vote whether or not to use or to amend the Committee of the Whole procedure as proposed.

When it will happen:

During the legislative session on Wednesday, July 8, Dispatch will present the special order for consideration by the HOD.

If the special order is adopted, on Thursday afternoon, July 9, the HOD will meet for one hour in the first session of the Committee of the Whole during the regularly scheduled legislative time; and on Friday morning, July 10, the second session of the Committee of the Whole will meet for one hour during the regularly scheduled legislative session.

It is my belief that the House of Deputies will benefit by having an opportunity to discuss B033 apart from the context of legislative procedure. Many deputies have indicated their longing to discuss B033 together as a House. The HOD Legislative Committee on World Mission (#8) has indicated their work will be aided by this conversation in the HOD prior to the committee’s open hearing on the topic.

I look forward to our work, prayer and deepening relationship.

Please join me in daily thanksgiving for our ministry together, as it is and as it is yet to become. Please join me daily in asking the Holy Spirit to be present with us in all our deliberations, celebrations and conversations.

Bonnie Anderson, D.D.
President, The House of Deputies
Kudos for Bonnie for creating this possibility! If the House of Deputies avails itself of the opportunity she has presented—I sincerely hope it will—it might be able to develop a consensus regarding what the effect of B033 has been, where the church should be going in the years ahead, and how the Convention can best point The Episcopal Church in that direction. Even if consensus proves elusive, the thinking of individual deputies should be clarified, which cannot but lead to better decision making when it comes time to consider particular resolutions.

In 2006, I was very concerned about how the General Convention of that year was going to deal with the challenge presented by the Windsor Report. In the introduction to a report I wrote for Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh, “What Should General Convention 2006 Do?,” I said the following:
The church’s proper response to events that followed General Convention 2003 needs to be considered in the context of those events and of longstanding movements in the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion. Deputies should familiarize themselves with that history, which is documented and explicated elsewhere. Above all, the following questions must be kept in mind as resolutions are considered:
  1. What problem are we solving?
  2. How is any proposed resolution supposed to contribute to a solution?
  3. What are the likely (and possibly even unlikely) negative consequences of any proposed resolution?
Discussion should be conducted in a spirit of generosity, of course, and with a bigger question always in mind: What is the Holy Spirit calling us to do at this time and place to further the mission of the Church?
These same considerations should be kept in mind, as, three years later, we continue to deal with what I believe is the Anglican Communion’s destructive interference with The Episcopal Church’s ability to pursue what it sees as its holy mission. Spending two hours focused on B033 will give the House of Deputies time to explore the nature of the circumstances in which we find ourselves and how we might change that situation for the better.

Christopher Wells and I reflected on how General Convention 2006 had dealt with Communion issues in a “Reader’s Viewpoint” essay for The Living Church titled “The Church Faces a Foreign Policy Challenge.” We suggested that dealing with the Anglican Communion was analogous to a country’s pursuing its foreign policy, except that, in the case of The Episcopal Church, a legislative body, rather than an executive, must play the leading role. In that essay, Christopher and I offered suggestions for how the General Convention might do a better job next time around. (We thought that an Anglican covenant might be up for discussion in 2009, but the existence of B033 and developments within the Communion in the past three years provide a similar challenge to our legislative assembly.) We listed a number of ideas we thought would be helpful should a commission be appointed to suggest legislative action. Among our suggestions were the following:
  1. At convention, the committee [i.e., the legislative committee dealing with proposed resolutions] might consider holding hearings before the Houses of Bishops and the House of Deputies in joint session, concentrating on strategy, rather than on the minutiae of particular resolutions.
  2. The legislative houses should discuss the strategy recommended (or strategies offered) by the commission and whether it is the one the convention really wants to adopt. Participants, having had ample time to respond to the commission’s report, will have been prepared for this.
Of course, the resolutions dealing with B033 are not being presented by a commission, but the basic advice we gave is still appropriate. Both houses of the General Convention should be concentrating on strategy, on the big picture of what we are trying to accomplish as a church. Bonnie Anderson’s initiative is making it more likely that the House of Deputies will do this. I hope the House of Bishops will do so as well. (As a smaller, more cohesive body, the House of Bishops is probably better equipped to focus on strategy, rather than simply on short-term tactics.)

As to what our church’s strategy should be, I offer another paper I wrote before the 2006 Convention as a useful resource. “Saving Anglicanism” was a plea to consider Anglicanism’s emphasis on common worship, rather than on particular doctrines, as a concept to be valued even over the fellowship of the Anglican Communion itself. Characterizing “traditional Anglicanism,” I said, “To put the matter into modern terms, the pragmatism of the [Elizabethan] Settlement had the effect of facilitating mission within the church and diverting English Christians from endless and irresolvable disputes over doctrine and morals. This did not, nor should it have, put an end to disputes.”

Unfortunately, in recent years, the Anglican Communion has engaged in endless and irresolvable disputes. Some, both within and outside The Episcopal Church, believe that these disputes must either be resolved definitively or those who disagree with them need to be forever exiled from the Communion fellowship. In the context of what I called traditional Anglicanism, this is a false choice. Enforcing a confessed uniform belief across the Communion and declaring that we will modify that belief only when a Communion consensus develops that it should be changed is a “solution” offered by those who believe that the church should never change and who profess—even in the light of overwhelming evidence to the contrary—that it never has.

But the Church must change if it is to survive, adapting its understanding and message so that it remains compelling in changed circumstances to modern people. I actually believe that lack of central authority in the Anglican Communion is one of its strengths, as the autonomy of individual churches provides the freedom to experiment with doctrine and liturgy without the entire Communion’s having to endorse it. (A loose Communion structure also gives churches unsympathetic to innovation credible deniability when confronted with complaints about innovations elsewhere in the communion.) As I said in “Saving Anglicanism,”
Is it not as likely that catastrophic conflict can be avoided—as it has been avoided for the past three centuries—not by getting more engaged in one another’s business, but by becoming more tolerant and less engaged? To interpret the current conflict in psychological terms, the Episcopal Church did not make traditionalists unhappy, they chose to be unhappy. They could have made a different choice. Perhaps the salvation of the Anglican Communion lies in less communication, less consultation, and less caring for one another.
This is really the only way forward that I can see if both the Anglican Communion and the integrity of the churches of the Communion are to be preserved.

I hope, then, that the General Convention will adopt a strategy that preserves the ability of The Episcopal Church to live out the Gospel as we understand God’s call to us in 21st-century America. This is a higher goal than preserving peace within the Anglican Communion or even than preserving the Anglican Communion itself.

Bonnie Anderson is making it possible for the House of Deputies to consider our church’s strategy in these troubled times. Whether that results in a view much like my own remains to be seen. The opportunity, however, should not be passed up.

June 24, 2009

Quick Takes for 6/24/2009

St. James asks for Supreme Court review

Earth Times reported today that St. James Anglican Church (the former St. James Episcopal Church, Newport Beach), was to file a petition for a writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court today, asking that court to overturn the California Supreme Court decision that awarded the St. James property to the Diocese of Los Angeles. The move was expected. I cannot see that the high court has much incentive to take this case, however. Readers seeking amusement can read the press release here, which outlines the argument of the petitioners.

ACNA “unites” Anglicans

ACNA logoI watched the Q&A at today’s press conference at the Inaugural Assembly of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). (The event was available on the Web from AnglicanTV Ministries.) Much was being made by Bishops Duncan and Minns of the new church’s uniting, rather than dividing Anglicans. It takes chutzpah to make this claim. Yes, the new organization is bringing together various Anglican splinter groups, such as the Reformed Episcopal Church, but at least some of these groups are grasping desperately at a chance for Anglican respectability. Of course the “uniting” is only happening after most of the members of four dioceses “un-united” from The Episcopal Church. What are these people smoking?

As an aside, Bishop Minns objected to a reporter’s referring to ACNA as Ack-na, insisting that the full name, Anglican Church in North America be used. The real objection, I think, is that Ack-na sounds too much like acne, a coincidence about which I will say nothing more.

Via Media USA comments on ACNA

Via Media USA, which now has a shiny new Web site—see my post here—that makes it easier to post new material, has commented on the advent of ACNA. Recently ordained—by a real church—VMUSA facilitator Christopher Wilkins says the following:
We note with sadness the latest acts of schism by those who have left The Episcopal Church in search of another Anglican church home. Recognized only by those primates already tied to the ACNA through Episcopal Church parishes claimed by their provinces, this is still a place apart from the entire Anglican Communion. Whether founding a self-styled “Anglican Church in North America” and selecting a new archbishop will bring comfort to these people and renew their sense of purpose and mission, or whether it will continue to isolate them in the echo chamber of their own apartness, remains to be seen.

“In my Father's house,” said our Lord, “there are many rooms.” There has always been room in The Episcopal Church to welcome all who seek God, worship Christ, abide in the power of the Spirit, and know God’s name as Love, not Division. This, we are certain, will continue. What God may have in store for those who find ever-new ways to reject the company of their fellow Christians and fellow Anglicans we do not presume to judge.
You can find the statement here.

June 22, 2009

New Via Media USA Web Site

Via Media USA logo
Via Media USA has a new Web site. You can view it at http://viamediausa.org.

Does anyone remember Via Media USA? It is the alliance of local groups of Episcopalians concerned about the commitment of their respective dioceses to The Episcopal Church. Most of these groups organized independently in 2003 and sent representatives to a meeting in 2004 in Atlanta, Georgia, at which Via Media USA was formed. A mission statement was written at that March meeting that remains the same to this day:
Via Media USA, an alliance of associations of laity and clergy, is committed to promoting and protecting the faith, unity, and vitality of The Episcopal Church as the American expression of Anglican tradition.
  • Via Media USA strives to emulate Jesus Christ, respecting the dignity of every human being;
  • Affirms the four principles of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral—
    • the Nicene Creed as a sufficient statement of belief,
    • the Holy Scriptures as containing all things necessary to salvation,
    • the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Eucharist,
    • and the Historic Episcopate;
  • Acknowledges that Holy Scripture must be understood within the context of its origins and traditions of interpretation, as well as with the mediation of reason and the Holy Spirit;
  • Nurtures greater understanding of Anglican tradition and Episcopal polity; and
  • Celebrates its diverse understandings of matters outside the basic tenets of the faith as indicative of humanity’s struggle to understand God’s will for contemporary societies.

Via Media, the middle way, is not a compromise for the sake of peace, but a comprehension for the sake of truth.

As it happens, although Via Media USA has issued press releases and done other work that might be expected of an advocacy group within the church, it has probably been most useful for building communication links among Episcopalians in troubled dioceses. The work on the ground has largely been done by its component groups. In San Joaquin, Pittsburgh, and Fort Worth, the local group allied with Via Media USA has played a major role in helping the diocese reorganize after schism. Although Via Media USA leaders have been in touch with Episcopalians in Quincy for some time, that diocese did not have the benefit of a group in place when it voted for “realignment,” and, for this and other reasons, the Diocese of Quincy has had a harder time pulling itself together.

Via Media USA’s Web site was assembled hurriedly after the March 2004 organizational meeting, and the new site represents its first thorough makeover. The site uses a content management system (Drupal), which greatly simplifies maintenance and has facilitated a more transparent organization of material. I volunteered to develop an overall design for the site, but I found myself implementing the design as well. Although I built the site, learning Drupal as I went along, and although I am serving as Webmaster for now, I expect to be training others in how to add and modify content, including how to post on the new blog that is included as part of the site.

For the second time, Via Media USA will have a booth at the General Convention, and the site redesign was very much driven by a desire to create a more modern and attractive cyberface for the organization before the Convention convenes. (I just made up the word “cyberface.” I wonder if people will find it useful.) Much of the content from the old site has been migrated to the new. Some content has been deliberately dropped (or has become unavailable), but other content has been added. I expect more pages to be added in the coming days.

I hope that the new Web site will become an oft-consulted source for material related to the history, polity, and character of The Episcopal Church. The Resources section has been populated not only with material from Via Media USA and its component groups, but with other material useful for educating people about what we view as the true and proper nature of The Episcopal Church. This may be one of the best collections of materials useful in dioceses threatened with schism. Episcopalians concerned about our church’s relationship to the Anglican Communion would also do well to consult this collection.

The usefulness of Via Media Blog will need to be established. I hope that people from Via Media groups attending the General Convention will use it to offer their impressions of the Convention, but I have not yet tried to sign up any bloggers.

Do visit the new site. Comments and (especially) suggestions are welcome. Use the comment link at the left.

June 17, 2009

A Computer Science Perpective on the Stipulation

When I attended the court hearing in the Calvary lawsuit on May 27, I had not yet read a brief from the defendants that was submitted before the hearing but not posted on the court’s Web site until afterward. The title of that brief is “Defendants’ Pre-hearing Brief in Support of the Position That the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh’s Valid Withdrawal from The Episcopal Church Did Not Cause a Violation of the October 14, 2005 Stipulation and Order.” (That the withdrawal was valid has neither been determined nor argued yet.) Had I read this pleading, what took place in the courtroom might have been clearer, and my blog post on the event, “My Day in Court,” might have been marginally more insightful. (But perhaps not.)

In any case, the defendants (Robert Duncan, et al.) argue that the diocesan convention validly withdrew the diocese from The Episcopal Church and that, under those circumstances, the October 14, 2005, stipulation does not require any further action by the court. The defendants’ argument is aggressively and cleverly laid out in the aforementioned brief. I leave it for the reader’s amusement to analyze it.

The plaintiffs have not really offered their argument that the withdrawal from the diocese was not valid—my own argument on the issue can be read here—and they are, no doubt, hoping that doing so will be unnecessary. The Episcopal Church has asserted that a diocese cannot withdraw, but it has not offered its reasoning behind that claim either. There is probably a reluctance to make such an argument, as the church holds that the First Amendment gives it the right to interpret its own rules without interference by the state. In its most recent brief. that argument is made explicitly. (My favorite sentence from that argument: “But even so, it is doubtful whether defendants—persons who have voluntarily removed themselves from The Episcopal Church—have any rightful say about whom or what the Church decides to recognize as its constituent parts, or the officers and members thereof, or how the Church chooses to do so.”)

At the May 27 hearing, the plaintiffs tried to show how both sides were understanding the stipulation when it was signed. Calvary’s attorney, Walter DeForest, testified that he would have made no agreement that did not protect diocesan property for The Episcopal Church and that the possibility of there being two dioceses in Pittsburgh at some point had indeed been considered. The defendants’ attorney, John Lewis, on the other hand, argued that intention makes no difference; the words say what they say, and he obviously thinks they say something different from what the plaintiffs get from it. (There was and is some legal jockeying going on here as to the admissibility of evidence about the context of the stipulation, but Judge James seemed to give the plaintiffs wide latitude. See, for example, the Wikipedia article on the parol evidence rule, which I do not claim to understand.)

Anyway, only paragraph 1 of the stipulation is at issue right now:
Property, whether real or personal (hereinafter “Property”), held or administered by the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America (hereinafter “Diocese”) for the beneficial use of the parishes and institutions of the Diocese, shall continue to be so held or administered by the Diocese regardless of whether some or even a majority of the parishes in the Diocese might decide not to remain in the Episcopal Church of the United States of America. For purposes of this paragraph, Property as to which title is legitimately held in the name of a parish of the Diocese shall not be deemed Property held or administered by the Diocese.
I want to set aside the legal arguments that have been made to this point and offer my own observation on the stipulation, an observation that is a product of my computer science background. (The logic and linguistics education I received at Georgia Tech comes in handy on unexpected occasions.) I don’t know if my observation will be one that no one else has made, but my framing of it may be new. As an aside, permit me to note that I have always though the stipulation was oddly phrased, but unnatural language is frequently the result of complex negotiations.

A concept that arises in the processing of programming languages for computers is that of binding, the association of identifiers (i.e., variable names) and storage locations where values, which are the “meanings” of identifiers, are stored. Binding may be done early (“static binding”) or late (“dynamic binding”), either before the program is run or during its actual execution. The time of binding can affect the semantics of the program (i.e., what the program actually does). Happily, one need not actually understand binding to understand the point I want to make below.

As explained in court by the chancellor of the Episcopal Church diocese, Andy Roman, “Diocese” is a “defined term” in the stipulation. Everywhere “Diocese” occurs in the stipulation, one should read “Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America.” Roman actually went through the exercise of reading paragraph 1 this way at the hearing. In reading the stipulation this way, he was applying late binding to the text; when we read the text now this way, diocesan property must be held by “the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America.” Since Duncan’s “diocese” is not in The Episcopal Church, this phrase cannot refer to that entity. In this method of understanding paragraph 1, the defined term is processed through textual substitution.

On the other hand, one might handle “Diocese” using early or static binding. In this way of interpreting the text, the phrase “the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America” is used to identify an entity, the pre-schism diocese headed by Bishop Robert Duncan. “Diocese” is simply a variable name whose value (meaning) is fixed once and for all to be a particular organization. Even if the nature of that organization changes—it could cease to be a part of The Episcopal Church, for example—“Diocese” continues to refer to it. In this interpretation, Duncan’s “diocese” could continue to hold diocesan property post-schism.

Defendants have also focused on the phrase “shall continue to be so held or administered by the Diocese,” arguing that, if withdrawal were proper, only their entity could “continue” doing anything, since the church would have had to create a “new” Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. This is a bit of a problem for the late-binding interpretation of the plaintiffs, but likely not an insurmountable one. Under that scheme, the text now asserts that property shall continue to be held or administered by the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America. If withdrawal were proper, the property holder must be part of The Episcopal Church, but it need not be the pre-schism diocese. The property can continue to be held by such an entity (i.e., held by such an entity at every moment in time) if The Episcopal Church designates such an entity from the moment of schism, which it has essentially done. That is, the property is always being held by an Episcopal Church diocese, but not always by the same one.

The foregoing is not meant to be a definitive legal argument, but only an interesting way of looking at the dispute about what paragraph 1 of the stipulation means. (It might also be a lesson to anyone who uses defined terms in an agreement: multiple interpretations might be tenable.) One way or another, I believe that the right of the church to interpret its own rules is the concept that eventually will award property to the Episcopal Church’s Diocese of Pittsburgh. It may take us a while to get there, however.

June 16, 2009

Who Will the General Convention Be Listening To?

Last night, at the regular June meeting of Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh, we showed Voices of Witness Africa. Voices is a documentary produced by Cynthia Black and Katie Sherrod for Claiming the Blessing. As explained in a press release from the Chicago Consultation, the documentary “interviews gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Africans about their lives and their relationships with God and the church.” It is intended to advance the process of listening to members of the GLBT community, which the Anglican Communion has been quick to advocate but slow to carry out. According to the press release, not only has the video been sent to those who will be attending the Episcopal Church’s General Convention next month, but it has also been sent to all bishops of the Anglican Communion.

After watching Voices of Witness Africa, we discussed what we had seen and speculated on why it was being sent to General Convention deputies. Many were struck by the similarity of the experiences related in Voices to those of GLBT people in the West. What was not similar, however, was the oppression and violence suffered by the Africans, often with the collusion of the church. (One person interviewed described the African situation as like that of the U.S. 58 years ago, though this may have minimized the intensity of the hostility in her home country.)

Whatever the reasons for producing and distributing Voices at this time—it is not difficult to imagine why deputies received DVDs before leaving for Anaheim—I came away from last night’s meeting with one overriding thought. Yet again, the General Convention will have to deal, directly or indirectly, with our relationship to the Anglican Communion. In 2006, against our collective better judgment I daresay, we pandered to the homophobic sensibilities of African archbishops. Voices of Witness Africa shows, in a very graphic way, other Africans perhaps more deserving of our concern. Will we have faithful GLBT people in mind in Anaheim when we make decisions for The Episcopal Church, or will we once again try to placate their oppressors?

June 8, 2009

Saving Anglicanism

In my last post, I made reference to a paper I wrote in anticipation of the last General Convention of The Episcopal Church. “Saving Anglicanism,” a 15-page essay, was dated May 31, 2006. More information about the paper and a related one, “What Should General Convention Do?,” can be found here. The context for both papers was the need for The Episcopal Church to respond to the challenges of the Windsor Report.

My citation of “Saving Anglicanism” led to my rereading the essay. (It also led to my correcting two typographical errors I had hitherto missed .) Although The Episcopal Church finds itself in a slightly different position with respect to the Anglican Communion as we approach the 76th General Convention, that situation has much in common with the situation just before the 75th General Convention. My advice to the church today would not be much different from that I put forth in “Saving Anglicanism,” save for that slight difference in context.

It is for this reason that I reproduce below the final section of “Saving Anglicanism,” titled “The Decision,” below. I hope that deputies to the governing body of The Episcopal Church will read and think about what I had to say in 2006.

Further commentary from me seems unnecessary, although I will add that the 76th General Convention must effectively nullify B033 and should authorize the blessing of same-sex unions and begin the process of drawing up an official liturgy for the purpose.
The breadth, length, and complexity of the resolutions proposed by the Special Commission surprised many. Clearly, the group methodically enumerated all that had been asked of the Episcopal Church and considered some related matters as well. It then acted with the predictability that we have seen from the rest of the Communion in the past three years to fashion proposals intended to mollify the church’s detractors without conceding anything more than was seen to be necessary. A complete analysis of the resolutions themselves is beyond our scope, but useful commentaries are available elsewhere.

Passing the 11 resolutions or a set of resolutions not too different from them may buy more time, but one has to question the purpose in so doing. Unless the Anglican Communion gets off its current path, its character will be destroyed and the theological essence of Anglicanism, the comprehension of Richard Hooker, will be extinguished. Our object, then, despite what the militant traditionalists tell us, must first be to save Anglicanism, not to save the Anglican Communion, which we cannot allow to become an object of idolatrous veneration. Recent history suggests that our response in typical Anglican rhetoric—the subtle, nuanced, ambiguous language that has allowed us to, as the traditionalists say, “fudge” so often in the past—will, in the current climate, be misinterpreted, ridiculed, and used to stage new attacks on our church. Perhaps the decision of General Convention will be that this is a chance we must take, but it is not our only option.

We should consider making a more principled, straightforward, and courageous response. We should consider the novel ideal of proclaiming the Gospel as we understand it and defending the approach to theology that most theologians in our church actually use. In simple, clear sentences we could express our sorrow for the hurt that others have experienced and express our sincere desire to remain in communion with all our sister provinces. We could remind others of Bishop Desmond Tutu’s explanation for how we have always maintained communion—“we meet”—and insist that removing the Episcopal Church or its representatives from Communion discussion is hardly characteristic of the Anglican way. Before the Communion creates more rules, we could insist that existing ones be observed. Before we cede authority to others, we could insist that those to whom we have ceded no authority refrain from intimidation. And we could declare that that name-calling, misrepresentation, and subversion are unbecoming a Christian and unacceptable in a bishop.

We could, in other words, insist that we have as much right to make claims on the Communion as it does on the Episcopal Church. Most importantly, however, we could declare our commitment to save Anglicanism at all costs and to save the Anglican Communion if at all possible.

June 7, 2009

Episcopal versus Anglican

Now that Bishop John-David Schofield has left the Episcopal Church to form an Anglican diocese, that’s changed.

Journalists have found it convenient in stories about the Diocese of San Joaquin and others involving departures from our church to distinguish between “Episcopal” and “Anglican.” This is a terminology encouraged by the traditionalist malcontents and accepted, perhaps reluctantly as a necessary expedient, by Episcopalian leaders. We should discourage this deceptive distinction.

I understand the journalist’s frustration with what to call which organization. Not only have I discussed this with local journalists, but I have experienced the frustration keenly myself. When Bishop Robert Duncan and his minions left The Episcopal Church last October, Duncan had already registered a corporation named “Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh” with the Pennsylvania Department of State. ( The diocese had been unincorporated. See “Which Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh?”) Both the Episcopal Church diocese and the Duncan group offered Web sites branded “Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.” (The Duncan site prefixed the name with “The.”) How was a journalist—or an Episcopalian, for that matter—to distinguish the two? (Duncan’s site is now branded “The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (Anglican),” by the way.)

There are, of course, two basic meanings for “Anglican” in an ecclesiastical context. On one hand, it often means a church (or, possibly, diocese) in the Anglican Communion. With the recent talk of each of the “instruments of communion” being able to acknowledge churches independently, the notion of membership in the Anglican Communion is becoming increasingly fuzzy. What still seems to count, however, is recognition as a member body by the Archbishop of Canterbury. (See the Communion’s “Provincial Directory.”)

On the other hand, there is the more generic notion of “Anglican,” indicating a church whose roots can be traced back to the Church of England and that has certain characteristics typical of such churches. Unfortunately, not everyone agrees about what is characteristically Anglican, and adoption of an Anglican covenant could make even the Anglican Communion seem less “Anglican.” Anglicans Online has an extensive list of churches considering themselves Anglican but that are not members of the Anglican Communion.

Robert Duncan’s or John-David Schofield’s or Jack Iker’s claiming Anglicanism for his band of departing adherents has been justified as a move to achieve a connection to Canterbury and inclusion in the Anglican Communion. The diocese of Pittsburgh or San Joaquin or Forth Worth (or Quincy), however, was already in the Anglican Communion by virtue of being a part—an inseparable part, I would argue—of The Episcopal Church. The departure of members of those dioceses for a more tenuous connection to Canterbury through an irregular arrangement with the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone is surely ironic. In any case, although “The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (Anglican)” is certainly Anglican in some generic sense, its claim to be a part of the Anglican Communion is hardly strengthened by its departure from The Episcopal Church. And there would be no need for anxiety about being outside the Anglican Communion were not the likes of Robert Duncan working actively to have The Episcopal Church thrown out of it! (This is akin to rats abandoning a sinking ship after having eaten a hole through its bottom.)

The Episcopal Church’s Diocese of Pittsburgh has at least as much right to call itself “Anglican” as does its Southern Cone rival, and it should not cede the term to the schismatics. Currently, the banner of the Episcopal Church diocese reads:
Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh
of The Episcopal Church in the United States
The diocese should append a tag line:
A Diocese of the Anglican Communion
Arguably, the other “diocese” in town cannot make such a claim.

And how should journalists distinguish the “dioceses”? I think
The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (Anglican)
The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (“Anglican”)
would do the trick.

Postscript. For more of my thoughts on the importance of being Anglican, see my 2006 paper, “Saving Anglicanism.”