I am continuing that discussion in this post to circumvent the constraints of length and (especially) formatting that apply to comments on this blog. In other words, I want to make what I have to say easier to read.
The IssueIn a March 15 post, Fr. Wilson wrote:
I was converted, confirmed and ordained in the Episcopal Church and I served it as faithfully as I knew how in the parish, in the diocese and nationally for 27 years. Finally, I concluded, it was no longer the same church I joined in 1981, it did not hold to or teach the same gospel in which I believed. Sadly, it had left me so I had to leave it.I have heard the mantra of “my church left me” many times from those who have left or who have threatened to leave The Episcopal Church. I probably heard it first from Bishop Robert Duncan. I thought some clarity on this issue was in order. I suggested that leaving the church and taking your parish with you was improper and could be explained only in one of three ways:
- Your interpretation of your ordination vows is radically different from their plain and obvious meaning and intent;
- You believe that you have a higher commitment that allows you conscientiously to act contrary to your ordination vows; or
- You acted without integrity.
The Bishop says to the ordinandAbout this passage, he wrote:
Will you be loyal to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as this Church has received them? And will you, in accordance with the canons of this Church, obey your bishop and other ministers who may have authority over you and your work?
“As this Church has received them” is that small but important phrase and it all hinges on that. I am as faithful today as I was when I was asked to answer that question to the received doctrine, discipline and worship of the Church. It is not I who has revised the doctrine, misapplied or ignored the discipline and disrespected the worship.
My ResponseQuestions are important, of course, but every courtroom lawyer and every public relations consultant knows that answers are even more important. The ordinand answers the bishop’s question as follows (also from BCP, p. 526):
AnswerThis answer is required by Article VIII of the church’s constitution, which reads, in part (emphasis in original):
I am willing and ready to do so; and I solemnly declare that I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation; and I do solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church.
No person shall be ordained and consecrated Bishop, or ordered Priest or Deacon to minister in this Church, unless at the time, in the presence of the ordaining Bishop or Bishops, the person shall subscribe and make the following declaration:That the ordinand’s answer differs somewhat from the question asked by the bishop reflects a liturgical choice to avoid making the service unduly repetitious.I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation; and I do solemnly engage to conform to the Doctrine, Discipline, and Worship of the Episcopal Church.
Notice that the so-called oath of conformity is to the “Doctrine, Discipline, and Worship” of the church, that is, the doctrine, discipline, and worship as they are now, not as they were “received” at some unspecified time. The doctrine, discipline (especially), and worship of The Episcopal Church have and will continue to change over the years. The disciplinary canons of Title IV, for example, received a major overhaul at the last General Convention, and all clergy will operate under the new rules, irrespective of the rules that were in place when they were ordained. (What would a judge say to a defendant in criminal court who argued that the law under which he or she was indicted is irrelevant, since it was passed after his or her birth?)
“The church left me” is, I assert, no defense for a priest’s decision to leave The Episcopal Church and to take a parish, its congregation, and its resources with him or her. There is nothing in the constitution and canons of the church to justify such action. Every priest, however, has agreed to be bound by the “discipline” of the church, which, in the latest Title IV revision is defined explicitly in Canon IV.2 (emphasis in original):
Discipline of the Church shall be found in the Constitution, the Canons and the Rubrics and the Ordinal of the Book of Common Prayer.In particular, the new Canon IV.3 indicates that proceedings can be brought against a priest for “knowingly violating or attempting to violate, directly or through the acts of another person, the Constitution or Canons of the Church or of any Diocese.” Certainly, causing property to no longer be used for the benefit of The Episcopal Church, as specified by the Dennis Canon (Canon I.7.4), would seem to violate that canon.
Justifying the actions of the Rev. David Wilson and other Episcopal clergy in leaving the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh and forming the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh from its assets and congregations cannot be justified by the plea that “my church left me.” Any credible justification—I doubt there is one—must necessarily be more complex and convoluted.