March 30, 2013

South Carolina Update

As happened in Pittsburgh, the schism of an Episcopal Church diocese and the claims of the resulting parties have made it difficult to know how to identify the parties. For a time, Pittsburgh saw two groups calling themselves the “Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.” In South Carolina, litigation has actually focused on diocesan names and seal, and the continuing Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina is being prevented by a South Carolina court from using its proper name. In what follows, I will refer to the group continuing in The Episcopal Church, the group that is having to call itself “The Episcopal Church in South Carolina,” as the “continuing diocese.” I will refer to the breakaway group, the ex-Episcopalians calling their body the “Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina” as the “breakaway diocese.
On March 28, 2013, the South Carolina continuing diocese filed responses and counterclaims to the South Carolina lawsuit initiated by the breakaway diocese. (The 84-page filing, dated March 27, can be found here.) In a March 29 post, the continuing diocese reported on the new filing on its Web site.

The latest legal move in the South Carolina saga is reported today by The Post and Courier of Charleston. The story notes Bishop Charles vonRosenberg’s apology for filing on Maundy Thursday, an action dictated by court deadline. The breakaway diocese is said to be withholding comment until after Holy Week.

The latest filing begins by answering the charges of the breakaway diocese, denying everything not explicitly admitted by the continuing diocese. This takes up the better part of 50 pages. There follows 18 additional defenses. Included in this litany are claims that the court lacks jurisdiction, that the plaintiffs have knowingly misrepresented the facts, that the plaintiffs have breached their fiduciary duties, etc. (A dictionary is helpful when reading these defenses. Certainly, I was unfamiliar with terms such as estoppel and laches.)

Beginning on page 56, the continuing diocese makes counterclaims and asserts that it is entitled to monetary damages, accounting of assets, and declaratory and injunctive relief. In particular, the court is asked to enter judgment:
  1. Ordering that the Complaint be dismissed with prejudice;
  2. In favor of the Defendant-Counterclaim Plaintiff on all claims in the Complaint;
  3. In favor of the Defendant-Counterclaim Plaintiff on all counterclaims asserted herein;
  4. Awarding to Defendant-Counterclaim Plaintiff actual, consequential, special, and punitive damages as determined by the Court and allowed by law;
  5. Awarding to Defendant-Counterclaim Plaintiff injunctive relief as the Court determines is warranted and as is allowed by law; and
  6. Awarding to Defendant-Counterclaim Plaintiff such other and further relief as the
    Court may determine is just, proper, and equitable.

March 29, 2013

A PEP Address and Readings on Homosexuality

Homosexuality is a topic of great interest in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh just now. Like people elsewhere in the country, we have been mesmerized by the not always edifying conversation that took place this week at the U.S. Supreme Court. Additionally, we have begun our own formal dialogue on sexuality in the diocese. (See “A Day of Dialogue.”)

The next meeting of Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh will feature a talk on homosexuality by the Rev. Dr. Moni McIntyre. The title for her presentation is “The Usual Suspects: Homosexuality, Ordaining Gay Clergy, and Blessing Same-sex Unions.” A poster for the April 29 meeting can be seen here.

I was a bit surprised when Moni said that she would use the paper on homosexuality by the Rev. Dr. Harold T. Lewis as her point of departure. At first, I had no idea what she was talking about, but I eventually realized that she was referring to a talk given by the now retired rector of Calvary Church in conjunction with the 2002 annual convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.

I didn’t immediately know where to find Harold’s paper, but recalled where he delivered it. The convention staged a “debate” on homosexuality between Harold and the Very Rev. Dr. Peter C. Moore, who was, at the time, the Dean and President of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry. The event was not really a debate; the two presenters simply gave their separate addresses without any interaction with one another. It was all very civilized.

The paper from the local evangelical seminary dean, “Homosexuality and the Great Commandment” begins with an attack on a paper from the Episcopal Diocese of New York, “Let the Reader Understand.” That piece of scholarship was itself an answer to the notorious Resolution I.10, the statement on homosexuality adopted at the 1998 Lambeth Conference. When “Homosexuality and the Great Commandment” moves away from scripture and its interpretation, as it does about half way through, it begins to seem arbitrary and—in 2013 anyway—quite dated.

Harold’s paper, “Human Sexuality and Its Challenge to the Church in the Twenty-first Century,” on the other hand, seems completely up-to-date in 2013. He deals directly with the important issues cited in the subtitle of Moni’s address: homosexuality, ordaining gay clergy, and blessing same-sex unions. Of necessity, the paper deals with hermeneutics along the way.

Whether or not you can attend the April 29 PEP meeting, I commend both “Homosexuality and the Great Commandment” and “Human Sexuality and Its Challenge to the Church in the Twenty-first Century” to your attention. I especially recommend your reading the latter, as it makes a clear and concise case for greater inclusion of homosexuals in the life of the church. The link in the previous paragraph is to a reformatted and corrected version of the paper that was done with the help of the author. The only other version of Harold’s paper that I know of on the Web is hard to read and contains errors.

March 23, 2013

A Day of Dialogue

Today, I attended the first structured conversation on sexuality issues that Pittsburgh’s Bishop Dorsey McConnell wrote about to the Diocese of Pittsburgh last month. The purpose of such conversations is given in the bishop’s letter:
The reason for this dialogue, as a practical matter, is to help inform my decision as your bishop on how the diocese should approach two issues current in the Church: the blessing of same-sex relationships and the ordination of partnered gay or lesbian persons. An equally important purpose is for us to come together as a diocese in constructive conversation to find and follow continuing paths to healing and reconciliation.
It still is not clear what informing the bishop’s decisions means, but I can certainly say now what that dialogue looks like.

Today’s event took place at St. Stephen’s, Wilkinsburg. Twelve people were invited to participate in discussion scheduled for 9:30 AM to 3:30 PM. Bob Stains and Mary Jacksteit from the Public Conversations Project of Watertown, Massachusetts, outside consultants engaged to help design the process, acted as facilitators. Coffee, bagels, and other refreshments were available beginning at 9 o’clock. Lunch was provided at 11:45 AM.

My report on today’s activities will be circumspect, as we were asked to agree to a set of ground rules at the outset. Among the ground rules, many of which were unsurprising (only one person will speak at a time), was this:
We’ll maintain confidentiality, meaning that in describing the dialogue later we will not attribute ideas or statements to particular people or repeat personal stories.
As it happened, no one objected to being identified as a participant, but, for various reasons, it probably is best not to get too deeply into what was said. My main objective here is to suggest to participants in future sessions just what they are signing up to.

Our group was to consist of six “progressives” and six “conservatives.” The committee appointed by the bishop selected the people for the event, and I have no special insight into how that was done, but the classification seemed reasonable. Unfortunately, one of the conservatives was unable to attend—at the last minute, I assume—so the group was not balanced as intended.

Ground rules were discussed with the entire group. Bob Stains explained that we were seeking community in the dioceses, which depends on relationships. Relationships are built through conversation. Thus, we were entering into conversation.

For the rest of the morning, participants were broken into two groups, which met in different rooms. The progressives met with Bob, and the conservatives met with Mary. Of course, I can only report on what happened in my group. We began with an exercise on stereotyping and went on to talk about how saying certain things might be detrimental to conversation. It was not clear to me just how helpful this session was, though it gave me insights into the progressive participants. In any case, it got people talking, which seemed to relax people to some degree.

The afternoon session focused more on the matters at issue—the blessing of same-sex unions and the ordination of people in such unions. I should note that both homosexuals and clergy were well represented overall, and this was no doubt useful. It may not be true of future conversations.

Again, we broke into two groups, but, this time, the groups were to consist of three progressives and three conservatives. Lacking one of the latter, my group only had five participants. We were each asked to tell briefly—all answers today were limited to either two or three minutes—an experience that contributed to our coming to our present position. We were then asked to explain what was at the heart of our convictions on the two issues. Finally, we were asked about an experience where we were torn between different values. We were then given time to probe more deeply into what people had said. This did indeed lead to clarifications of certain stated positions, if not necessarily a full understanding of them.

We were then left alone for a time to consider this question for reflection:
What could happen in the diocese over the next year that might enable moving forward together as the body of Christ?
I think this was supposed to be a harder question than it was. I believe that parishes that want to bless same-sex unions should be free to do so and that being in a stable, same-sex relationship should not be a bar to ordination. I was encouraged that no one, at least in my group, was uncomfortable with that position. Interestingly, someone said that conservatives who stayed with The Episcopal Church in 2008 knew that such was inevitable. There was even a suggestion, in my group, anyway, that all this conversation might be overkill.

Finally, we were asked what we wanted to communicate to the bishop. The emphasis was on local (parish) option, and suggestions were offered that collectively might be characterized as ways to improve communication within the diocese.

At this point, the two groups joined, and we concluded as we began, with prayer.

Was the day useful? I think so. I certainly came away feeling less anxious about our diocese and less wary of certain individuals. I got to know other people and people I already knew better. (I knew most of the participants already.) I cannot say that my experience will be mirrored in that of others, but I encourage other people in the diocese to sign up for participating in the dialogue when given the opportunity.

The Public Conversations Project people will be on hand for the session next month, but, after that, it is intended that local people will act as facilitators. The hope is that 500 or more Pittsburgh Episcopalians will have participated by the time the project ends. (It is not clear when that will be.) In any case, I hope the dialogue will be useful to the bishop, to those who participate directly, and, indirectly, to everyone else in the diocese.

March 17, 2013

Not Ready for Prime Time?

The new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, did a radio interview last week. It is generally conceded that he softened his stand against gay marriage in the interview, though probably only enough to anger traditionalists and frustrate proponents of marriage equity. (Examples of each response can be found here and here.)

Iain Dale, who conducted the interview, has excerpted what Welby said about gay marriage and posted it on his Web site. I think it must be admitted that what the archbishop said was rather garbled. For example, in response to a question about how he reconciles Jesus’ message of inclusion with the church’s attitude toward gay marriage, Welby said
I think that the problem with the gay marriage proposals is that they don’t actually include people equally, it’s called equal marriage, but the proposals in the Bill don’t do that. I think that where there is … I mean I know plenty of gay couples whose relationships are an example to plenty of other people and that’s something that’s very important, I’m not saying that gay relationships are in some way … you know that the love that there is is less than the love there is between straight couples, that would be a completely absurd thing to say. And civil partnership is a pretty … I understand why people want that to be strengthened and made more dignified, somehow more honourable in a good way. It’s not the same as marriage …
Of course, Welby never answered the question, though he raised others. (What is the inequality in the proposed equal marriage legislation? What does he think about civil partnerships?) Admittedly, Rowan Williams was often incomprehensible, but he did tend to talk in complete sentences.

Welby’s response to another question included this:
The historic teaching of the church around the world, and this is where I remember that I’ve got 80 million people round the world who are Anglicans, not just the one million in this country, has been that marriage in the traditional sense is between a man and woman for life.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby
This statement raises rather more serious questions as to whether the new Archbishop of Canterbury is quite up to speed. First, he should recognize that he is not the archbishop of the Anglican Communion. He is an archbishop of the Church of England and has authority only in that church. What he has with regard to the Anglican Communion is influence, not power, and, after the disastrous tenure of his predecessor, his office likely has even less of that than formerly.

A more serious mistake is his citing of the 80 million and 1 million figures. I was unable to find reliable information regarding the number of Anglicans in the world, but some number between 75 and 80 million is usually cited. (Mark Harris took a stab at unpacking the number in a 2008 post. It surely is not “correct” now and wasn’t even in 2008, but the numbers are likely in the right ballpark.) Conventionally, the number of members of the Church of England is given as 25 million. (Mark uses this figure.) Everyone knows this number is a fiction, a product of the entire population’s being counted, at least by default, as members of England’s established church. Welby’s 1 million figure is closer to the number of people attending Church of England services each Sunday. This figure comes nearer to stating the real number of Anglicans in England, though it is a bit of an under-count. The problem, of course, is that the mythical 25 million figure makes the largest contribution to the 80 million figure. In other words, if Welby thinks there are 1 million Anglicans in England, there surely are no more than 56 million Anglicans worldwide. Being generous, let’s say there are 4 million actual Anglicans in England. This would make—again, generously speaking—59 million Anglicans everywhere.

In other words, what Justin Welby had to say about marriage equity was simply an incoherent, ill-informed mess. I hope we may expect more clear thinking from him in the future.

March 14, 2013

Thoughts on the New Pope

So, the Roman Catholics have a new Pope. News reports suggest that Pope Francis may have a go at cleaning up the mess in the Vatican. He may encourage a new interest in the poor and downtrodden. He seems to have no interest in having his church engage in a meaningful way with the important moral issues of the twenty-first century. If Francis has any sense (or ethics), he will keep his nose out of Anglican affairs.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has wished Pope Francis well: “We wish Pope Francis every blessing in the enormous responsibilities that he has assumed on behalf of Roman Catholics around the world” (See Anglican Communion News Service story here.) He went on to say, “His election is also of great significance to Christians everywhere, not least among Anglicans. We have long since recognised—and often reaffirmed—that our churches hold a special place for one another.”

One can question that last statement, of course, at least as far as it was intended to suggest anything like mutual affection. Under Rowan Williams, the Roman Church was like a disapproving parent, with Rowan the prodigal son pleading to return to that parent’s good graces. To the Roman Church, however, Anglicans are just heretics to be either assimilated or left to their own damnation.

Let’s hope that, after his initial welcome, the new Archbishop of Canterbury will pay little attention to the new Pope.

March 13, 2013

A Disappointing Mesasage

The bishops of The Episcopal Church met for their spring retreat March 8–12, 2013. Daily reports of their activities have been posted on the Episcopal News Service Web site. (See posts here, here, here, here, here, and here.) Reports of the meeting have not been riveting. I was hoping for a newsworthy message from the bishops at retreat’s end. Although the bishops did offer a message to the church, it has turned out to be unremarkable.

Yesterday, the Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs issued “House of Bishops offers a word to the church: Godly leadership in the face of violence.” The letter from the bishops notes that the theme of the retreat was “Godly Leadership in the Midst of Loss.” Losses mentioned included those caused by Hurricane Sandy, the earthquake in Haiti, illness, and violence against Native Americans. Much of the letter, however, concerns gun violence.

It is gratifying that our bishops are concerned about gun violence, though it is not surprising, since particular bishops have already spoken out against it and advocated for more restrictive gun legislation. What is discouraging is that this is the best our bishops could do in terms of taking a stand:
As bishops of The Episcopal Church we embody a wide variety of experiences and perspectives with respect to firearms.  Many among us are hunters and sport-shooters, former members of the military and law-enforcement officers.  We respect and honor that we are not of one mind regarding matters related to gun legislation.  Yet we are convinced that there needs to be a new conversation in the United States that challenges gun violence. 
That’s it; we should talk! I wonder how many bishops receive contributions from the National Rifle Association.

I was even more disappointed by an obvious source of loss that the bishops seemingly ignored—the loss visited on the church by Bishops Duncan, Iker, Schofield, and others, and especially the chaos in South Carolina engineered by Mark Lawrence and his supporters. Of course, I do not know that Mark Lawrence’s exploits and the damage he is continuing to cause were not discussed, but the public reports from the retreat show no evidence that they were. Do our bishops have ideas about how to deal with such losses or, more importantly, how to head them off? Are they incapable of facing the problem, believe that nothing is to be done, or are satisfied with how conflicts have played out in San Joaquin, Pittsburgh, Fort Worth, Quincy, and now South Carolina?

It costs Episcopalians a lot of money to send bishops off to semi-annual retreats. Are we really getting our money’s worth? Would more useful work get done if we limited retreats for bishops and occasionally had a gathering of the House of Deputies between General Conventions?

March 5, 2013

The Episcopal Diocese Strikes Back

I thought it unfortunate that, after the schism in the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, the breakaway group led by former Episcopal bishop Mark Lawrence was first into court. Lawrence and his supporters filed suit January 4, 2013, in a state court “to protect the Diocese’s real and personal property and that of its parishes.” (See Episcopal News Service story here.)

The first party to court, of course, gets to frame the issues, and the Lawrence parties made corporate law arguments about registered trademarks and corporate registrations, rather than arguments about church polity. Moreover, they have prevailed in the early round of litigation, having managed to get the court even to prevent those who did not leave The Episcopal Church from calling themselves the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina.

What Episcopalians consider the real Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, which temporarily has to style itself The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, now has a provisional bishop, namely the Rt. Rev. Charles G. vonRosenberg. Today, Bishop vonRosenberg filed suit in U.S. District Court against “[t]he Right Reverend Mark J. Lawrence and John Does numbers 1-10, being fictitious defendants whose names presently are unknown to Plaintiff and will be added by amendment when ascertained.” (The complaint can be found here. The Episcopal Church itself is not now a plaintiff in the litigation.) The counterstrike by Bishop vonRosenberg is being brought under the Trademark Act of 1946 as amended.

A story on the complaint on the Episcopal Web site explains
Having renounced The Episcopal Church, Bishop Lawrence is no longer authorized to use the diocese’s name and seal. By doing so, he is engaging in false advertising, misleading and confusing worshippers and donors in violation of federal trademark law under the Lanham Act, the complaint says. It asks the court to stop Bishop Lawrence from continuing to falsely claim that he is associated with the Diocese of South Carolina, which is a recognized sub-unit of The Episcopal Church. …

Under the First Amendment, the designated authorities in a hierarchical church have the authority to determine how church controversies are resolved, not civil courts. The complaint cites two United States Supreme Court decisions: Serbian Eastern Orthodox Diocese v. Milivojevic (1979) and Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (2012).
Litigation now proceeds on two fronts. Ostensibly, the issues being argued in the state and federal courts are similar, but it is clear that Lawrence has an edge in the South Carolina courts, and vonRosenberg has an advantage in the federal courts. The battlefield has been leveled.

Update, 3/6/2013. The Post and Courier, a Charleston newspaper, has a story about the lawsuit today.

Update, 3/9/2013. The above post contains a link to the 21-page complaint. The complaint, along with accompanying exhibits is not available. The 273-page PDF file can be found here.