February 5, 2013

Seeing the Future Clearly

A discussion with a friend of my post of two days ago, “God and Gender/Sex,” led me to recount the early days of Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh (PEP). In the process of illustrating my narrative,  I retrieved from the PEP archive the original version of Resolution 1, which was submitted for consideration at Pittsburgh’s 2002 annual convention. Rereading that document, I realized that it did not use the term “inclusive language,” as I had said, but it did address “gender-neutral titles.” I have now revised that original post.

PEP logo
The formation of PEP grew out of the effort to derail Resolution 1, but PEP was not actually formed until early in 2003. By the fall of that year, however, the organization was vigorously opposing the plans of Bishop Robert Duncan. In the further support of my storytelling, I read the press release I had written for PEP in the wake of the 2003 annual convention.

In consulting these two documents, I was struck by two realizations. First, PEP had a clear idea of where Bob Duncan was taking the diocese, despite his repeated assurances that he would not leave The Episcopal Church. He did so, of course, five years later, taking with him as many people and assets of the diocese as he could manage. Second, the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh and the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina were more or less on the same track. Both dioceses would change their constitutions to remove unqualified accession to the constitution and canons of The Episcopal Church, and both dioceses would attempt to circumvent the Dennis Canon. South Carolina took longer to pull the trigger on schism, but its leaders learned from the experiences of San Joaquin, Pittsburgh, Fort Worth, and Quincy, and they played their legal cards more carefully.

I offer here a sample of what I wrote in that November 8, 2003, press release, but I encourage readers to read the entire document:
The convention did not heed the warnings of those present who argued that the first change was illegal and negated a precondition for being a diocese of the Episcopal Church, namely, “unqualified accession” to rules and decisions of the national church. Proponents were also heedless of admonitions that voting for the amendment would be contrary to the vows taken by every ordained person, though they did succeed in assuring that votes of individual members of the clergy would not be recorded. Support by Bishop Duncan belied his promise, repeated the day before, that he would not leave the Episcopal Church. Diocesan Vice Chancellor Robert Devlin advanced the novel theory that the Episcopal Church is a confederacy of dioceses. According to him, the Pittsburgh diocese never acceded to the authority of the national church. Dr. Joan Gundersen, a historian of the church, however, raising a point of order, exhibited the 1865 minutes of the House of Bishops in which such accession was certified. Nonetheless, the schismatic amendment was passed by a vote by orders (clergy and laity voting separately) after approximately 20 minutes of discussion.

PEP believes that submission to the authority of the ECUSA is the glue that connects the dioceses of the church and makes a national church a reality. Dioceses are the creatures of the ECUSA, rather than the reverse. It is through the national church that the diocese is recognized as a component of the Anglican Communion. In a hierarchical institution such as the Episcopal Church, it is through the relationship of the diocese to the national church that all legitimacy, authority, responsibility and benefits flow.
PEP saw clearly where the diocese was going in 2003, but it received little help from the general church in heading off the coming schism. After the disasters in San Joaquin, Pittsburgh, Fort Worth, and Quincy, one might have thought that the church leadership would be more aggressive about trying to head off what might prove to be an even bigger tragedy in South Carolina. (The Diocese of South Carolina has its own Via Media USA group, Episcopal Forum of South Carolina, whose vision of the future was no less clear than that of PEP.)  Of course, you would be wrong in thinking that. The Episcopal Church not only failed to take action before the Diocese of South Carolina implemented its plan to leave the church, but it also failed to file suit before the breakaway group did so. The calamity in South Carolina will haunt The Episcopal Church for a long, long time.

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