March 27, 2009

Oh, that Pittsburgh!

I ran into a friend in the parish office the other day. He was reading the March 22, 2009, issue of The Living Church, and he pointed out a disturbing item he had just found. In the “People & Places” feature at the back of the magazine was this entry under “Ordinations/Priests”:
Pittsburgh — Aaron Carpenter, Keith Pozzuto, Aaron Zimmerman.
The item followed similar listings from Maine, Newark, and elsewhere, and it was followed by listings from Rio Grande, West Virginia, and other dioceses.

What troubled my friend was that the ordinations in Pittsburgh were not ordinations in the Diocese of Pittsburgh in The Episcopal Church. They were instead ordinations performed by Robert Duncan, deposed Episcopal bishop who now claims to head the “Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (Anglican),” which is allegedly part of the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone.

Sandwiched as it was among notices from 11 dioceses of The Episcopal Church, most readers would not have known that the ordinations listed for Pittsburgh had nothing to do with The Episcopal Church.1 Surely, the staff of the magazine knew this. Why was the jurisdiction of the ordinations left ambiguous? Why, in fact, were these ordinations noted at all? The magazine has not been in the habit of noting ordinations in, say, the Reformed Episcopal Church.

The masthead characterizes The Living Church as “An independent weekly serving Episcopalians since 1878.” Magazine covers used to carry the tag line “An independent weekly serving Episcopalians,” but this has been changed recently to “An independent weekly supporting catholic Anglicanism.” (Perhaps that’s “Catholic Anglicanism.” The tag line is in all caps on the front of the magazine.)2 The magazine’s editorial policy has been sharply critical of The Episcopal Church in recent years, and its editor-designate, Christopher Wells, is a person of strong Anglo-Catholic leanings who would like to see church doctrine dictated by an Anglican Communion body outside The Episcopal Church.

What is going on at the magazine that for so long has been the best source of news for Episcopalians about The Episcopal Church? Is it broadening its scope? Is it hedging its bets? I believe that the shift in the tag line from “Episcopalians” to “catholic Anglicanism,” as well as the shift from “serving” to “supporting” are both significant. I fear that The Living Church is increasingly viewing its mission as one of advocacy, rather than journalism, and many Episcopalians are not very happy about what it seems to be advocating. I hope I am wrong about this, and I have to admit that I have no idea what purpose was served by not indicating clearly what “Pittsburgh” referred to in its March 22 ordination listings. Perhaps it was something of a trial balloon or a way of subtly expanding its coverage to those groups forming the new Anglican Church in North America. I do know that friends who have read The Living Church regularly now seem pretty much fed up with it.

1 The ordinations are all listed on the calendar of the breakaway group led by Duncan. Aaron Carpenter’s ordination took place on December 9, 2008, at St. Philip’s, Moon Township. That of Keith Pozzuto took place at Christ Church, Brownsville, on December 12, 2008. The ordination of Aaron Zimmerman was held at St. Stephen’s, Sewickley, on January 24, 2009.

2 After this post was written, it was pointed out to me that The Living Church Foundation, Inc., the publisher of The Living Church, has its mission statement on the Web. That mission statement begins: “The historic mission of The Living Church Foundation is to promote and support Catholic Anglicanism within the Episcopal Church.” Notice the capital “C.” Reading this page also made we aware that the banner of the Web site of the foundation has changed. It used to read (I reproduce the case use this time): “THE LIVING CHURCH FOUNDATION[:] SERVING EPISCOPALIANS since 1878.” The banner now reads: “THE LIVING CHURCH NEWS SERVICE OF THE LIVING CHURCH FOUNDATION, INC.[:] REACHING OUT TO ANGLICANS EVERYWHERE.” Apparently Bob Duncan still qualifies as “Anglican.”

March 21, 2009

Shame on You, David Anderson

Reading the weekly messages of David Anderson, the president of the American Anglican Council, is always a surreal experience. Of all the prominent speakers on the angry Anglican right, Anderson has always been one of the most outspoken and outrageous. I wish that more Episcopalians would read what Anderson writes; it would make clear to them just how extreme the “orthodox” militants of (or recently out of) The Episcopal Church actually are.

Graphic from David Anderson’s messageI write this particular essay in response to Anderson’s latest diatribe in the AAC’s “Weekly Update,” which you can read here. Anderson’s message dated March 20, 2009, begins with complaints that The Episcopal Church insists, in various circumstances, in resisting the theft (my word) of its property by dissident congregations and bishops. Although I find Anderson’s opinions on church property disingenuous and wrongheaded, I will admit that it is possible to construct arguments in support of them that have at least surface credibility. Anderson’s views on church property issues are well known, however, and they are not what got me upset with his letter.

After his opening complaints, Anderson moves on to the platform of The Consultation for this summer’s General Convention. Anderson begins his “analysis” with this sentence: “A group within the Episcopal Church calling itself the ‘Consultation Platform’ is preparing for a large presence at TEC’s General Convention in July, 2009, in Anaheim, California.” Whether Anderson is being dismissive here or is just ignorant is not clear. The group whose platform is being criticized, an alliance of various church-related organizations, each of which, I suggest, has more right to lobby the General Convention than does the schismatic American Anglican Council, is called “The Consultation.” The page to which Anderson links contains what is called “The Consultation Platform 2009.” The Consultation had a very conspicuous presence at General Convention 2006, and Anderson has no excuse for misidentifying it or implying that it is some upstart alliance. But this isn’t what got me upset, either.

Anderson begins his analysis of the platform this way:
Section 1 is titled “Continue the reformation of the Church.” It has three bullet points: first, “equip all the baptized for their ministry in the world and for their share in the governance and mission of the Church at every level of its life.” This sounds good until you realize that it means inclusion of homosexual practices, transgender issues, and something now being called “intersex.”
Upon reading this, I went to the Web site of The Consultation to see just how one realizes what one is supposed to realize in reading “equip all the baptized for their ministry in the world and for their share in the governance and mission of the Church at every level of its life.” To my surprise, the words “homosexual,” “transgender,” and “intersex,” do not appear on the page. Neither do any related words. Although I do not dispute that organizations such as Integrity do indeed include homosexuals (for example) in their understanding of “all,” that word could also be construed as including the friends of David Anderson who style themselves as “orthodox” and who voice the constant complaint that they do not “share in the governance and mission of the [Episcopal] Church at every level of its life.”

Here we find what did upset me: not Anderson’s telling the reader what he should realize, but his use of the word “intersex.” Although I, like many people, do not see being homosexual as generally being some kind of “lifestyle choice,” I recognize that medicine has not yet fully explained the phenomenon of homosexuality. I believe that one no more chooses to be gay than chooses to have blue eyes, but, even in 2009, this cannot be said to be a scientific fact. My view is very likely true, I think, but the jury is still out. Intersexuality is different.

Let’s ignore, for the moment, that Anderson’s last sentence in the quotation above is something of a grammatical non sequitur and look instead at his phrase “something now being called ‘intersex.’” Anderson is exhibiting either his ignorance or disingenuousness here. “Intersex” and “intersexual” are medical terms referring to individuals whose sex is objectively ambiguous. An intersex person might have external sexual organs exhibiting both male and female characteristics, for example. The terms can be traced back at least as early as the second decade of the twentieth century, and the advocacy group Intersex Society for North America dates from 1993. (ISNA has an interesting FAQ page here.) Intersex conditions are naturally occurring developmental variations that in no way are the “fault” of the people in whom they occur. If one gives Anderson the benefit of the doubt that he actually knows what he is talking about—admittedly, not the most generous assumption here—then Anderson must either believe that people having such conditions are morally deficient (as he believes homosexuals to be) or are somehow subhuman, not deserving of the rights reserved for “normal” people.

If Anderson is simply uninformed about intersexuality, then he is irresponsible in making the statement he makes in his latest message to the AAC faithful. If he is not ignorant, then he is a despicable demagogue who is insensitive to conditions that typically cause great distress to individuals and to their parents. In neither case does he have the moral right to be president of a respectable religious organization or to be a bishop of Christ’s Church. He should be ashamed of himself.

March 13, 2009

Akinola: Anglican Fundamentalist, Fascist, and Theocrat

The Anglican blogosphere is very upset with renewed efforts in Nigeria to pass an anti-homosexual law, one strongly supported by the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion). Well, part of the Anglican blogosphere is upset; other parts are strangely silent on the matter.

This is not the first time such a bill has been introduced in Nigeria, and I have no idea how likely its passage is this time. The bill is certainly distressing. I will offer here a few links to help readers get up to speed on what is happening in Nigeria. The pages referenced have links to other information and opinion.

The Lead is a good place to start: “New bill proposed to further oppress Nigerian gays,” “Nigeria once again considers harshly punitive anti-gay legislation,” “A dumb, depressing document from Peter Akinola and his Church,” and “Nigeria's legal system adequate for persecution.” Be sure to follow links to the Thinking Anglican posts. As noted by The Lead, Changing Attitude has been tracking developments in Nigeria and has a number of news items on the subject. I recommend going to the News Items page of the site and searching for Nigeria bill. Click the “All the keywords” radio button before searching.

The Lead has a link to “Expel the Nigerian Church - Time to Move On,” a post on Pluralist Speaks, and I want to single it out for special mention. The outrage in this essay is more than justified, and the suggested response from the West is surely appropriate.

Thinking Anglicans has posted scans of the two pages that contain the proposed legislation. You can read the text (barely) here and here. For the non-masochists among my readers, I offer a simplified version of the text below.

HB. 150



[Omitted —LED]

BE IT ENACTED by the National Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as follows:

1.—(1) Marriage Contract entered between persons of same Gender is hereby prohibited in Nigeria.

(2) Marriages Contract [sic] entered between persons of same gender are invalid and shall not be recognized as entitled to the benefits of a valid marriage.

(3) Marriage Contract entered between persons of same gender by virtue a certificate issued by a foreign country shall be void in Nigeria, and any benefits accruing there from by virtue of the certificate shall not be enforced by any court of law in Nigeria.

2.—(1) Marriage entered between persons of same Gender shall not be solemnized in any place of worship either Church or Mosque in Nigeria.

(2) No marriage certificate issued to parties of same sex marriage in Nigeria.

3. Only marriage contracted between a man and a woman either under Islamic Law, Customary Law and Marriage Act is recognized as valid in Nigeria.

4.—(1) Persons that entered into a same gender marriage contract commit an offence and are jointly liable on conviction to a term of 3 years imprisonment each.

(2) Any person or group of persons that witness, abet and aid the solemnization of a same gender marriage contract commits an offence [sic] and liable on conviction to—

(a) if an individual to a term of 5 years imprisonment or a group of persons to a fine of N2,000 or both,

(b) if a group of persons to a fine of N50,000 only.

5. The High Court of a State shall have jurisdiction to entertain matter arising from the breach of the provisions of this Bill.

6. In this Bill, unless the context otherwise requires—

“Marriage” here relates to a legal union entered between persons of opposite sex in accordance with the Marriage Act, Islamic and Customary Laws.

“High Court” to include High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.

“Same Gender Marriage” means the coming together of persons of the same sex with the purpose of leaving [sic] together as husband and wife or for other purposes of same sexual relationship.

7. This Bill may be cited as Same Gender Marriage (Prohibition) Bill, 2008.


This Bill seeks to prohibit marriage between persons of same gender, and witnessing same, and provided appropriate solemnization of the marriage penalties thereof.

I never read last anti-homosexual bill proposed for Nigeria, but I think this one is, well, less Draconian. That is little comfort, however, since this one is quite Draconian enough. Put simply, entering into a same-sex marriage lands you in jail for three years, and your marriage is not recognized anyway. Apparently, aiding and abetting (or just witnessing) the unhappy couple could land you in jail for five years. (I am utterly confused about how one is to parse Section 4 (2), so the penalties are a bit murky.) You could also be fined, it would seem.

Thinking Anglicans has provided a PDF document generated from a scan of a statement by the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion). Since the quality of this document is poor, I offer its text below. This is, I believe, a correct copy, with formatting more or less intact. Labels used in lists differ slightly from the original, so, when quoting from my text, consult the PDF if numbering is involved.

(Anglican Communion)

Archbishop, Metropolitan and Primate of All Nigeria




The Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) is a bible-believing church. It sees the world as the creation of a loving, caring and rational God whose wisdom is unsearchable. That he created man in his image is a clear indication that man is the crown and caretaker of creation. In his infinite knowledge, he created them male and female with the injunction to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth …” (Gen 1:28).

The present trend in certain quarters to cast the bible aside and foist on the world a religion that does not have God and the bible at the centre was why orthodox Anglican all over the world gathered in Jerusalem (June 2008) for the Global Future Anglican Conference (GAFCON), which dwelt extensively on human sexual orientation resolving to be faithful to the plain teachings of the bible on this. The introduction of this bill at this stage of national development is one of the best things that have happened to us as a nation.

Section 1 (4) of the bill should be upheld for the following reasons:
  1. The Bible clearly forbids the practice.
    1. Leviticus 18:22 “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination. [sic]
    2. Leviticus 20:13 “If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood guilt is upon them.”
    3. Romans 1:26–27 “For this reason, God gave them over to degrading passions, for their women exchange the natural function for that which is unnatural and in the same way also men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire towards one another, men with men committing indecent
      acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. [sic]
    4. [This item is erroneously numbered viii in the original. It would be difficult to reproduce that error here. Likewise, the next item was numbered ix in the original. Sorry about that. —LED] 1 Corinthians 6:9 “Do not be deceived, neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkard nor slanderers nor swindlers will intent [inherit?] the kingdom of God. [sic]
    5. Genesis 19: 1–29 “It was because of the sin of homosexuality that the city of Sodom and Gomorrah was completely wiped out from the face of the earth. [sic]

      Any society or nation that approves same sex union as an acceptable life style is in an advanced stage of corruption/moral decay. This bill therefore seeks to shield Nigeria from the complete annihilation that will follow the wrath of God should this practice be accepted as normal in this land.

  2. Marriage is a creation of God between a man and a woman.
    Genesis 1:27 “So God created people in his own image; God patterned
    them after himself; male and female he created them. [sic]

    Matthew 19:4–6, haven’t you read the scripture? Jesus replied. They record that from the beginning God made them male and female; and this explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one. They are no longer two but one; and what God has joined together, let no man put asunder”. [sic]

    We must note that it was God who ordained marriage. Since was not invented by man, it must be practiced in accordance with the will of God.

  3. Those who argue for the legalization of this unwholesome practice on the claims of human rights must first of all recognize and respect the right of God to order his creation the way he wants it. Human rights therefore should not infringe on the right of God to remain God.

  4. Part of the purpose of God is to ensure that human existence is sustained through procreation. “God blessed them i.e. Adam and Eve and told them, multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1: 28). Same sex marriage is a violation of this divine injunction and will only endanger human existence.

  5. The world is a global village. The explosion in information technology has made communication very easy. As with every other thing in human development, globalization has both good and bad sides, which are disseminated through the ICT to every nook and cranny of human society. The Harmful effects of the bad side of globalization can have very painful effect on a nation and its citizens. It is therefore the duty of every responsible government to ensure the protection of her citizens from all harm including bad influences.

    The presence of gay churches, fellowships and clubs in Nigeria is not only embarrassing but also very unhealthy. The passage of this bill will no doubt ensure that this moral cancer did not destroy the social fabric of our dear nation.

  6. It is a well known fact that individualism is one of the marks of secularization and post-modernism. This culture which dominates the Western World presently is alien to Africa in general and Nigeria in particular where existence outside the community is inconceivable. The family is the nucleus of any society and its destruction will lead
    inevitably to the destruction of the society. Same sex marriage is out to foist on the world a false sense of the family which will bring disastrous consequences to mankind.

    This bill therefore will not only preserve the Nigerian families but will also ensure that the community spirit in African does not die.

  7. One of the Corollaries of same sex marriage is the introduction of male prostitution. For a long time now, Nigeria has had to battle the unhealthy practice of female prostitution because it got to the point of being a national embarrassment. This battle is far from being won. If male prostitution is added to the social problem of Nigeria at this stage of our national development the effect will be very catastrophic particularly to our youth.
Section 1 (5)
This section is perfectly in order as allowing persons of the same gender enjoy the benefits of a valid marriage would mean a tacit recognition of the practice which this bill seeks to outlaw. Refusing them the rights and privileges of a valid marriage will make the practice unprofitable and unattractive.

Section 1 (6)
Nigeria is a sovereign state and has the right to make laws that will regulate the life of her citizens. It will amount to reducing her status as an independent nation if laws made in other lands are imposed on her. Again our law courts as a creation of our constitution are also made to interpret the same. They cannot therefore interpret or enforce any law or right that is not recognized by our constitution.

Furthermore, we must take note of the various stages of pernicious western influence in our nation and continent. The slave trade dehumanized us, the political colonization humiliated us while neo-colonization has continued to exploit us through imperial institutions/agents like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The present clamour for unrestricted human rights especially in relation to same sex union is yet another ploy to unleash more mayhem on this nation.

Section 2 (3) & (4)
Places of worship are built according to the religious worldview of the people. They reflect their understanding of God and man’s relationship with him. Every worship that goes on in these places is as revealed in the peoples [sic] sacred book. Since both the Christian Bible and the Muslim Quran are unequivocal in their condemnation of same sex marriage, it will therefore be impossible to develop a liturgy for such a service that is a true reflection of the teachings of the scripture. It follows then that using either the church or mosque to solemnize same sex union will be like burning a strange fire in God’s alter [sic]. The consequences of this will be disastrous.

Secondly, some places of worship are licensed by our law to solemnize marriage. Our understanding of marriage in Nigeria is that it is a union between a man and a woman. It will no doubt run counter to our constitution should we use places made for the solemnization of a union between a man and a woman to that of people of the same gender.

Section 3
This section is in tandem with the laws of the land.

Section 4
We accept this section with the following amendment.
  1. The penalty for engaging in same gender marriage should be five (5) years imprisonment each.
  2. The term of imprisonment for witnesses should be three (3) years.
  3. Section 4 (c) should be three (3) years imprisonment for an individual while one year imprisonment without an option of fine should be the punishment for group of persons.

Same sex marriage apart from being ungodly is also unscriptural, unnatural, unprofitable, unhealthy, uncultural, un-African and un-Nigerian. It is a perversion, a deviation and an aberration that is capable of engendering moral and social holocaust in this county. It is also capable of existincting [sic] mankind and as such should never be allowed to take root in Nigeria. Outlawing it is to ensure the continued existence of this nation. The need for doing this is urgent, compelling and imperative. The time is now.

The Most Revd. Peter J. Akinola
Archbishop Primate and Metropolitan
Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion)

However appalling an Episcopalian might find the proposed legislation, this message from Archbishop Akinola is likely to be even more disturbing. I will offer a few observations about the statement, but I strongly suggest that you read it first. Some random thoughts:
  1. Can Akinola really believe that “[t]he introduction of this bill at this stage of national development is one of the best things that have happened to us as a nation”? Nigeria must indeed be a very unhappy place.
  2. My concerns about Section 4 are shared by Akinola. Clearly, the draft legislation is a bit muddled.
  3. Many have disputed the interpretation of the scriptural passages supposedly touching on homosexuality. I have read more than my share of this literature, but I do not claim special expertise here. Suffice it to say that the interpretations offered by Akinola would be considered minority viewpoints in The Episcopal Church and in many other churches as well. Moreover, some of the points that seem to be made clearly in one or another of the passages quoted seem much less clear in other translations. No serious discussion of these passages can be carried out without analyzing the ancient sources.
  4. The interpretations offered by Akinola suggest that he is, if not a fundamentalist, then something very close to it. Like all fundamentalists I have known, however, his attitude toward scripture never seems to show the consistency one might expect. Why, for example, does Akinola accept the judgment of homosexual behavior of Leviticus 20:13, yet not accept stoning as a proper response to it? In particular, how can he support a law that offers only a prison term, rather than a death sentence, to a married homosexual couple?
  5. Akinola has no respect for the United Nations concept of human rights. His argument seems to be that if it says so in the Bible, no law may say otherwise. This is an argument for theocracy, a form of government with a less than stellar reputation. Since Nigeria has both a substantial Christian and substantial Muslim population, the desire for theocratic government has great potential for leading to ararchy and bloodshed. In this case, perhaps the Christians and Muslims can agree, and the views of those of other religions (or of no religion) can be ignored.
  6. Akinola is not very careful in quoting. Whereas leaving off closing quotes might be thought of as merely a punctuational lapse (as in the citation of Genesis 1:27), his treatment of Genesis 19:1–29 in unconscienable. The passage cited is not the passage that seems to be quoted. Instead, what passes for a quotation, albeit without closing punctuation, is actually an interpretation of the passage, and a widely rejected one at that.
  7. Akinola’s annotation of the Sodom and Gomorrah story reveals another aspect of his theology. He apparently believes that the sins of a nation will necessary bring God’s wrath against that nation. This idea is either axiomatic—in the end, we’re all dead—or historically falsifiable. The statement that “[t]his bill therefore seeks to shield Nigeria from the complete annihilation that will follow the wrath of God should this practice be accepted as normal in this land” is exactly equivalent to the claim made by Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell about how liberals and gays were responsible for 9/11. Akinola’s logic is but one step removed from sacrificing virgins to guarantee a good harvest.
  8. Homosexual marriage is hardly going to lead to the “existincting” (extinction?) of humanity. What is this man thinking? Fewer mouths to feed on this earth would actually be a blessing, but, for example, two single lesbians are not going to produce more children than two married ones. What is the logic here? (It probably is that the lesbians will simply marry men and reproduce. Get real, Archbishop.)
  9. In general, Akinola reasons about the harmful effects of not passing this bill, though without explaining or justifying his logic. How he gets from A to B is something of a mystery. How, for example, will allowing homosexual marriage lead to the introduction of male prostitution? First, I suspect that male prostitution is not unknown in Nigeria. Beyond that, however, I would think that allowing gay men to marry would decrease the demand for male prostitutes. Am I missing something here?
  10. It is clear from this document that Akinola has a good deal of hostility to the West over how his nation has been treated. There is some justification for this anger. The notion that “[t]he present clamour for unrestricted human rights especially in relation to same sex union is yet another ploy to unleash more mayhem on this nation,” is, however, pure paranoia. Frankly, I have no interest in telling the Nigerians what to do with their country. I only wish they felt the same about mine.
Akinola has been one of the heroes of the militant traditionists in The Episcopal Church. It is time, however, for them to disavow the rantings of this fascist fundamentalist. It is long past time that The Episcopal Church declare that the “Anglicanism” of Peter Akinola has little in common with its own notion of Anglicanism. It is an embarrassment to The Episcopal Church that we are in the same Anglican Communion as the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion). The only way we can justify this continued relationship is if our churches are completely autonomous and the world understands that we are not responsible for the rantings of Archbishop Akinola. This will not excuse our silence regarding the stance of the Nigerian church, however. We still have an obligation to respect the dignity of every human being.

March 11, 2009

Another Motion from the Duncan Camp

Defendants in the Calvary lawsuit filed another motion with the court March 9, 2009. This one is titled “Amended Motion to Restore and Preserve Status Quo and Motion to Establish Procedure for Adjudication of Challenges.” (You can read it here. It is a long download, more than 7 MB, but it has the advantage of being searchable, which the file provided by the court is not.) The motion being amended is that of January 20, 2009, which was titled “Motion to Restore and Preserve Status Quo and Preclude Interference with Diocesan Property.” (You can read that motion here. This file, also searchable, is slightly smaller.)

What this motion is about is best seen by simply reading its beginning paragraphs:
On January 20, 2009, Defendants filed a Motion to Restore and Preserve Status Quo (the “Motion for Status Quo”) to stop Plaintiffs and a newly-created diocese aligned with The Episcopal Church (the “New Diocese”) from interfering with the Diocese’s ability to hold and administer Diocesan property. Plaintiffs and the New Diocese have asserted that the Diocese’s withdrawal from The Episcopal Church (“TEC”) is invalid. Rather than seeking a judicial determination of this issue, Plaintiffs and the New Diocese have proceeded as though it has already been resolved in their favor and thus demanded that the New Diocese be given immediate access to all Diocesan property. This conduct has caused the Diocese's investment accounts at Morgan Stanley (the “Morgan Stanley Accounts”) to be frozen, despite the Court’s prior determination that Diocesan property should not be encumbered, but administered as it always had, pending the resolution of the major issues in this litigation. Since Defendants filed the Motion for Status Quo, it has become apparent that absent immediate relief from this Court, Defendants will be unable to defend themselves in this litigation, and the Diocese's continued operation will be threatened.

In addition to this relief, Defendants request that the Court establish a procedure to resolve the procedural issues raised by the recent filings of the New Diocese and TEC and bring this litigation to an efficient and orderly conclusion. The Court must put an end to the New Diocese’s attempts to circumvent the adjudication of this matter by claiming to be the Diocese that is a party to this litigation. Defendants request that the Court schedule a hearing on Defendants’ Motion to Strike Praecipe for Entry of Appearance, strike Mr. Roman’s entry of appearance [Andy Roman is the chancellor for the “New Diocese”], and set a deadline for the New Diocese to become a proper party to this case. Moreover, Defendants request that the Court schedule a hearing on the Petition to Intervene of the Right Reverend John C. Buchanan, as trustee ad litem for TEC. Once these issues have been addressed, Defendants request that the Court hold a hearing to establish a procedure for addressing the substantive issues in this litigation, including (I) whether the Diocese’s withdrawal from TEC is valid; and (2) if it is valid, the impact of that withdrawal under the October 14, 2005 Stipulation and Order.
The first thing to notice here is that “Diocese” represents the entity headed by deposed bishop Robert Duncan, and “New Diocese” is the diocese of The Episcopal Church. The irony here, of course, is that the defendants (Duncan, et al.) complain that the Episcopal Church diocese is acting as though issues have been decided in its favor. The motion, meanwhile, makes its own assumptions, namely that the defendants represent the proper successor to the undivided Episcopal Church diocese, and the diocese that is now part of The Episcopal Church is “new.” (See “Duncan Letter Decoded” on this point, which I will say more about below.) Lawyers probably engage in this sort of thing all the time, I suppose.

The first request being made of the court, which becomes clearer as one reads on, is that the defendants should be given immediate access to the millions of dollars of diocesan funds administered by Morgan Stanley. The Episcopal Church diocese did not tell Morgan Stanley to freeze these funds, as the motion implies; it informed Morgan Stanley that ownership of the funds was in dispute. Prudently, Morgan Stanley decided on its own not to risk being sued for giving money to other than its rightful owner, and it chose to wait for a definitive judgment as to who that is. The Defendants want the court to order Morgan Stanley to act in a way that may put it in legal jeopardy.

The second paragraph quoted above has its own ironies. No doubt everyone involved would like to “bring this litigation to an efficient and orderly conclusion,” though perhaps not if it means their side will lose. The defendants, I suspect, are fearing that defeat is imminent, and therefore they are pressing for the indicated hearings. Whether this can postpone the inevitable is unclear, but it might allow opportunity to bring pressure on the Episcopal Church diocese to settle on terms outside those of the 2005 stipulation. This strategy is unlikely to work, but drawing out the litigation is a way of wearing down the opposition, assuming your own side has a sufficiently large legal war chest.

The defendants want hearings on the participation of the Episcopal Church diocese and of The Episcopal Church itself in this litigation. The defendants then want a hearing on whether the vote to remove the diocese from The Episcopal Church was valid. Specific requests of the court are listed in §V, “Conclusions,” beginning on p. 13, and, more formally, in the proposed court order that begins on p. 179.

There is a surprising admission in the motion regarding the question of the validity of the withdrawal from The Episcopal Church, which is dealt with in ¶49–56. In ¶56 we find:
If the challenge to the Diocese’s withdrawal is sustained, and that withdrawal is deemed invalid, this litigation is effectively ended. If the challenge is rejected, there remains only the specific issue of the impact of withdrawal on the Stipulation and Order.
In other words, if the withdrawal of the diocese from The Episcopal Church was invalid, as asserted by the plaintiffs, the original diocese continued, though without the “realigners,” and is the diocese now recognized by the church as its Diocese of Pittsburgh. In this case, the defendants lose. I note in passing, however, that, if the withdrawal were valid, the stipulation still poses problems for the defendants.

Likely to be overlooked as significant by the casual reader is ¶50:
Only this Court has the authority to determine whether the Diocese’s withdrawal from TEC was invalid.
Surely, the court must have an opinion on this matter before determining who is the rightful owner of the property belonging to the Diocese of Pittsburgh before October 4, 2008. I suggest, however, that the determiner of fact in this case is The Episcopal Church, not the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas. If the plaintiffs “proceeded as though [the question of validity of the withdrawal] has already been resolved in their favor,” it is probably because they believe that the doctrine of separation of church and state prevents the court from second-guessing The Episcopal Church as to what its rules are and when they have or have not been violated. The court is not going to take the bait offered in ¶50.

The day of reckoning in Case #GD-03-020941 is, I sincerely hope, close at hand.

March 1, 2009

Duncan Letter Decoded

NOTE: In this post, whenever I refer to the Diocese of Pittsburgh or to any diocesan body, I am referring to the Episcopal Church diocese, as I do not believe the entity over which Robert Duncan now rules is a legitimate diocese, much less a diocese of the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone.
Discredited former Pittsburgh bishop Robert Duncan wrote to his flock February 27, 2009. (The letter can be read here, and, as I have not quoted extensively from it below, I do recommend reading all of the Duncan epistle before continuing to read this essay.) These missives seem to get progressively longer, more self-serving, and more pathetic over time. Nevertheless, this one deserves careful analysis. One might easily miss its objectives, given its wealth of detail.


Recall that, in 2003, in response to initiatives by then bishop Robert Duncan following the General Convention’s consent to the consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire, Calvary Church, a large, affluent, relatively liberal (for Pittsburgh) church, sued the bishop and other diocesan leaders in order to keep church property under the control of The Episcopal Church. Calvary originally sued on behalf of the diocese, but diocesan leaders were able to have the diocese added as a defendant, thereby making it easier to justify the diocese’s paying for their defense.

The litigation and related negotiation resulted, two years later, in an agreement (stipulation) reached outside of court but enforceable by the court. All parties agreed to this stipulation, but there has been ongoing controversy as to whether the defendants were holding up their end of the bargain. Paragraph 1 of the agreement declared that diocesan property would, come what may, remain with the Episcopal Church diocese. Paragraph 2 set out procedures to be followed should a congregation want to leave the diocese. Other provisions are less important for our purposes here.

The annual convention of the Diocese of Pittsburgh voted on October 4, 2008—improperly, most Episcopalians would argue—to leave The Episcopal Church. (See “Realignment Blues.”) Not surprisingly, this eventually prompted Calvary Church to protest to the court that Duncan was violating the aforementioned stipulation by retaining diocesan assets and to ask that those assets be delivered to the diocese, which, by that time, had held a reorganizing convention to fill vacated positions and to declare the realignment vote to have been invalid. (See “Re-Established Pittsburgh Diocese Convenes” and“The Other Shoe Drops.”) Calvary was joined by the diocese in this action. Eventually, The Episcopal Church petitioned the court to join the litigation as a plaintiff. (See“Episcopal Church Asks to Join Calvary Lawsuit,” and “Further Analysis.”)

Earlier this month, Duncan’s group wrote to the Standing Committee proposing a sharing of assets. The Standing Committee replied and wrote to its own constituents explaining, but not directly communicating, the exchange. (See “Pittsburgh Standing Committee Writes to Duncan.”) According to the Standing Committee letter, the Duncan camp sent to the diocese “a two page guide to determining a division of assets of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.”

The last bit of information needed to understand the most recent Duncan letter is the fact that, before the October 4 diocesan vote, two members of the Board of Trustees, Doug Wicker and Doug Toth, drew up and were promoting a plan to divide diocesan assets should the “realignment” vote be successful. This informal proposal received a chilly reception from Across the Aisle, the group of Episcopal Church loyalists planning for the post-convention continuation of the Episcopal Diocese, and a similar reception from representatives of the Office of the Presiding Bishop. (See “Whither Pittsburgh?” concerning the origin of Across the Aisle.)

Identifying the players in the Calvary litigation has become increasingly difficult, as some of the defendants have changed sides, and the “Diocese of Pittsburgh” appears to be both a plaintiff and defendant. In any case, many of the documents involved in the litigation are available on the Web. Instructions for accessing them can be found here.

The Letter

As has become typical of pastoral letters from Duncan, this latest letter is self-serving, as it portrays his side as having a “commitment on our part to find a charitable and non-injurious way through the dispute between us,“ while contending that “powers and principalities have been at work to confuse and to complicate” the situation in which he and his supporters find themselves. The Diocese of Pittsburgh, seemingly, is, by his lights, doing the work of the devil. Duncan also laments how he has been wounded by his former friends. This, of course, is a bit like a bank robber complaining about the lack of Christian generosity among bank tellers. Such rhetoric is contemptible and requires no further comment.

The purpose of the letter, I suggest, aside from making a self-pitying plea for sympathy, is to increase the likelihood that Duncan and his supporters will be able to hold on to as much property (real and personal) as possible. The strategy employed is twofold. On one hand, the letter is intended to advance the legal theory by which Duncan hopes to avoid an adverse ruling in the Calvary lawsuit. On the other hand, it seeks to sidestep the property agreement already in place as a result of that litigation in favor of negotiating something else that might not leave the Duncan faction empty-handed.

There is actually a refreshing forthrightness in the letter. Duncan clearly identifies issues critical to the current litigation, even if he misrepresents them in order to promote the tortured legal theory that represents his only hope of avoiding an adverse and embarrassing judgment by the Allegheny Court of Common Pleas—should it come to that—that would strip him of control of millions of dollars of diocesan assets and remove him from his comfortable quarters in the Oliver Building in downtown Pittsburgh.

In his first paragraph, Duncan uses the phrase “new Episcopal Church Diocese” to refer to the Diocese of Pittsburgh in The Episcopal Church. He goes on to use such phrases as “new diocese” 15 more times. (I beg your indulgence if my count is off by 1 or 2, but I think 15 is the correct number.) This usage and repetition is not an accident, nor is it an accident that one of his minions, the Rev. David Wilson, used the phrase in a recent letter to the editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. On the face of it, it is odd that a disgruntled faction of an organization could leave that organization and argue that what has been left behind is “new,” but that is what has happened in Pittsburgh. Duncan believes, of course, that the diocese had the right to vote to remove itself from The Episcopal Church—more on this below—requiring those who did not want to go along with the “realignment” to form a new group, i.e., diocese. Those who now lead the diocese do not share this view and do not admit that the vote had any organizational significance. They claim that, after the vote, individuals chose to leave the diocese. Individual leaders were asked personally, after the October 4 convention, whether or not they were still in the Episcopal Church diocese.

The October 2005 stipulation to which all parties in the Calvary litigation agreed, declares, in paragraph 1, that diocesan property is to stay with “the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America.” For the stipulation to work in Duncan's favor, his diocese must have controlled property and kept control of it. A “new” diocese obviously cannot be one with which property is “staying.” Duncan freely asserts in his letter: “There is only one way that Diocesan assets could ‘stay in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church’, and that is if the ‘Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church’ was a continuing entity, i.e., the Diocese’s realignment was invalid.”

This, of course, is exactly what Calvary Church, the diocese, and The Episcopal Church assert. I offered my own argument for the inability of a diocese to leave the church in “Unqualified Accession,” but others would reach the same conclusion by different (and, I suspect, more transparent) arguments. In any case, if The Episcopal Church asserts that a diocese cannot leave the church, as it now has in the Calvary litigation, the court will run afoul of the First Amendment should it hold otherwise.

Duncan contends that paragraph 1 of the stipulation does not address “realignment,” and, in this, he is correct. The conclusion to be drawn, however, is not that the provision is irrelevant to the current situation, but that the attachment of diocesan property to the diocese in The Episcopal Church is absolute, “realignment” or no. That paragraph 1 is not contingent on “realignment” strengthens its provisions; it does not make them inapplicable.

Having argued that the stipulation does not apply to the current situation, Duncan creates a smokescreen regarding diocesan property just in case someone thinks it does. According to the letter: “Applied to our current situation, it is plain that we are not violating the Stipulation. The Diocese [Duncan’s group] ‘continues’ to hold and administer Diocesan Property, and does so ‘for the beneficial use of the parishes and institutions of the Diocese.’” This statement, of course, ignores what Duncan has just quoted from the stipulation, namely that “the Diocese” everywhere in the stipulation refers to “the Episcopal Diocese of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America.” Bob Duncan, despite his use of Orwellian doublethink, cannot have it both ways. For the purpose of church polity, he cannot be outside of The Episcopal Church while at the same time claiming to be part of it for purposes of establishing his compliance with the stipulation.

It would appear that the plain meaning of paragraph 1 of the stipulation offers Duncan little wiggle room. In fact, one must wonder why he agreed to the stipulation in the first place. Duncan takes exception to the phrases “good faith” and “Bishop Duncan’s attorneys” in the letter from the Standing Committee. I suspect the Standing Committee did indeed conclude either that Duncan’s attorneys acted in bad faith or, more likely, that they acted in good faith, but their client did not. I am inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to the attorneys.

My working theory as to why Duncan agreed to the stipulation is that (1) it was expedient, and (2) he hoped it would not matter in the end. He probably made a serious legal blunder. Duncan was already committed to a path of action, and he may have just been willing to roll the dice—“trust in God,” as he would, no doubt, have expressed it. He wanted to get the lawsuit out of the way and get Calvary contributing its assessment to diocesan coffers once again. (Calvary’s assessment was being paid into an escrow account while litigation proceeded.) Beyond that, it is possible that he somehow thought that the stipulation would be irrelevant because he would work out an agreement with The Episcopal Church or the Anglican Communion that would somehow deliver victory into his hands. He seriously miscalculated and is now trying to escape total defeat.

This brings us to the second (and probably more promising) objective of the letter, namely, to try to induce the diocese into ignoring the fact that negotiation over property has put an agreement in place (the stipulation) and to draw the diocese into new negotiations that, ultimately, would supersede that agreement. The bishop sets forth his case in this paragraph near the end of the letter:
On this point, too, we have been consistent and clear with Calvary and with the court. Our withdrawal is valid and proper, and the Stipulation imposes no requirement on the Diocese to transfer any property to those parishes that leave the Diocese and work together to form a new diocese, aligned with TEC. Despite this legal position, we have repeatedly stated to the court that we would prefer, and that we would agree to, an equitable distribution of Diocesan property, as the leaders of the new diocese are well aware. Moreover, a “first draft” proposal for such a distribution prepared by pre-realignment Trustees Douglas Wicker and Douglas Toth was in circulation even before the vote to realign. The statement of the leadership of the new Episcopal Church diocese that “no proposal has been tendered until February 5, 2009” is misleading in the extreme. Regretfully, the timing of proposals is irrelevant because the Simons/Ayres letter makes clear that the leaders of the new diocese do not want an equitable division; they want all of the Diocesan property. The letter of February 18th unequivocally rejects the offer made by our Standing Committee and embraced by our Board of Trustees to mediate equitably.
By this time, Duncan has asserted that the diocese had the right to leave The Episcopal Church. He never explains how that could be true, but, for the record, he has said elsewhere that the General Convention is a confederation of independent dioceses and that the accession clause required of diocesan constitutions is not required to be left in once a diocese is accepted into union with the General Convention. (This reading of the church’s constitution and canon suggests that Duncan thinks that the General Convention has been populated by incompetents or idiots.) Happily, Duncan does not, in this letter, expound on this theory, which runs contrary to all church history and practice. I will say no more about it here.

Getting back to the paragraph quoted above, “an equitable distribution of Diocesan property” is already in place. Duncan simply does not like it, so, having asserted that the stipulation is irrelevant (or, if read properly, has no implications for him), he calls for new negotiations and faults the diocese for its intransigence. Yes, the diocese does want all of the property. Duncan has already agreed that it is proper that this should be the case. He is reneging on his promise, however—hardly a Christian virtue, I should think—and complaining that the injured party isn’t happy about it. The Wicker/Toth proposal is not, and never was, relevant.

It is time to end all discussion with Duncan and his followers. The plaintiffs should insist on an immediate hearing leading to a judgment that diocesan property must be turned over forthwith. Such a judgment could be appealed, but, in the end, Duncan cannot and will not win. His latest letter suggests that he knows that.