Pittsburgh did it. Fort Worth did it. Now it's San Joaquin's turn this coming weekend. But there's more at stake this time, because San Joaquin is coming back for seconds. As Bullwinkle said to Rocky: "This time for sure."
According to the constitution of most (all?) dioceses of the Episcopal Church, a proposed amendment to said constitution does not become effective until it is passed on a second reading. At its annual convention last year, San Joaquin approved, by overwhelming majorities in both the clergy and lay orders, the following language for Article II of its constitution:
The Diocese of San Joaquin is constituted by the Faith, Order, and Practice of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church as received by the Anglican Communion. The Diocese shall be a constituent member of the Anglican Communion and in full communion with the See of Canterbury.
The previous (that is, still-in-effect at this moment) Article II is all about acceding to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church, and to the authority of General Convention. For most of the diocese's history, that accession was unqualified, as is required by the Constitution and Canons of "this church" for dioceses that are being admitted into union with General Convention. About five years ago--my memory fails me--that accession was qualified in that the diocese reserved to itself the right to declare null and void any action of General Convention considered to be in conflict with the diocese's own constitution and canons. For whatever it's worth, that prerogative has never been exercised. It may also be worth mentioning that San Joaquin's deputation to General Convention has been seated twice--unchallenged--after that qualifying language was added.
Full disclosure: Prior to a move three and a half months ago, I was for thirteen years rector of the oldest parish in the Diocese of San Joaquin (indeed, the third oldest Episcopal church on the west coast). I was, at various times, a member (and chair) of the Commission on Ministry, a Rural Dean, a member (and chair) of the Board of Examining Chaplains, Secretary of Convention, an instructor in the diocesan school for ministry, coordinator of training and licensing for (licensed) lay ministries, and a member of the Standing Committee (one full term and one interrupted by my move). I also served as an elected deputy to the past two General Conventions. You might say I was involved in the life of the diocese, and while I no longer have a direct stake in the outcome of the impending vote, I have a huge emotional stake. I poured out my life serving the Diocese of San Joaquin, and its bishop, whom I revere and love.
There are many ways to parse the meaning of the proposed new Article II, and the effect of its passage. First, in broad terms, it makes clear the desire and intent of the diocese to be and remain Anglican, and it strongly indicates an understanding of Anglican identity as rooted inherently in a state of full communion with the See of Canterbury. I find this, taken in its plain literal sense, to be greatly encouraging. It states a firm resolve not to be part of any renegade spinoff iteration of Anglicanism led by the Global South, sans Canterbury. Does this guarantee that no one within the leadership or membership of the diocese has a notion of Canterbury being other than of the esse of Anglicanism? No, it does not. But anyone who entertains such a vision would be wise to vote against the proposed change and work on another version that gets it right (and which itself would have to pass two consecutive conventions), because the version on the table firmly commites San Joaquin to playing on Canterbury's team, which is to say, at this point in time, Rowan Williams' team.
Again, reading the amendment in its most direct sense, it does not cut ties with the Episcopal Church. Granted, Bishop Schofield and most of those who assemble in Fresno this Friday understand it as doing so, and the Presiding Bishop and her legal team will no doubt concur. But that is simply not what the language says, nor is it what was intended by those who drafted the language. I can speak with some authority on this because I was one of a group of three clerics who drafted the language and submitted it as a substitute for that which had been prepared by the diocesan staff, under the auspices of the Committee on Constitution and Canons, which, after some initial consternation, accepted the substitute as "friendly." Yes, reference to the Episcopal Church is removed from the proposed Article II, but affiliation with the Episcopal Church is nowhere expressly denied, and it is not implausible ("likely" is another matter--I'm talking plausibility here) that the diocese could pass this amendment and still continue to order both its interal and external life according to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church. What I'm suggesting is that adoption of the new Article II is not, in an of itself, a smoking gun. Such evidence of "abandonment of the communion of this church" would have to be found elsewhere, in some other act of the convention or the elected leadership of the diocese (i.e. the Bishop, the Standing Committee, and the Diocesan Council all acting in concert in a way that unambiguously separates themselves from TEC).
One such act, of course, would be for the diocese to accede to some larger direct authority other than the General Convention--like, for instance the Province of the Southern Cone. By all accounts, this is what the Bishop and his inner circle hope will happen. To my knowledge, however, there is no resolution to that effect that has been drafted, vetted, and submitted through channels. Anything that comes before the convention that would formalize an alignment with the Southern Cone will be something that most delegates will not have laid eyes on before their attention is directed to the PowerPoint projection on the white walls of the Eden Community Room of St James' Cathedral. Anything put forward at such a late hour, and without thorough discussion beforehand throughout the diocese, is bound to raise both concern and confusion, which does not bode well for the passage of a resolution that would provide a clear "we're outta here" gloss on the constitutional change.
What would I be doing were I still in the Diocese of San Joaquin? I think I would be actively whipping votes of the 'Nay' variety. Although I reluctantly voted in favor of it last year, subsequent events in the life of the Anglican Communion, viewed in the context of a Catholic ecclesiology that is, I believe, one of the critical elements of our 'Anglican DNA,' lead me to conclude that the most faithful course for an orthodox Anglican (individual, parish, or diocese) in the Episcopal Church is to make an "unqualified accession" to the principles of the Windsor Report and to otherwise bravely and charitably endure the slings and arrows of life in "this church." Many whom I revere disagree with me on this, but so is my conscience formed (and, I trust, informed). But, I would be going about my politicking with a heavy heart. This is really a Lose-Lose proposition either way.
And it's by no means a slam dunk: The motion has to be approved concurrently by two-thirds of the clergy and two-thirds of the laity. I'm not making any predictions, but just counting noses among the clergy, I would be sweating bullets and working the phones if I were the floor manager for this bill. Do not misread me here: The overwhelming majority of both clergy and laity in the diocese are "reasserter" in their theological and moral views. The overwhelming majority--near unanimity here--hold Bishop Schofield in the highest personal esteem and love him for his faithful pastoral care and courageous witness. There is, of course, a small minority of "progressives" in San Joaquin, and they will, one can safely presume, be voting in the negative. But there is also a contingent of both clergy and laity who, while as theologically and morally conservative as the day is long, are not persuaded that cutting ties with TEC is even morally justified, let alone imperative. I doubt there is any active conspiring between these two elements that are usually at odds with one another, but they will form a de facto political coalition that should keep things close, and my own eyes will be glued to Anglican TV when the time comes next Saturday.
Both the mainstream media and blogsphere, with their insatiable appetite for polarizing headlines, will focus all attention on the one big vote, and herald the result either as something akin to the first shot fired on Fort Sumpter, or a joyful affirmation of fealty (unqualified, of course) to the Episcopal Church. It will, in fact, be neither. Whichever way the vote goes, there will be partings among friends, among those who have labored shoulder-to-shoulder for the cause of the gospel. These partings will be tearful and, at moments, angry. The largest and (heretofore) healthiest parishes of the diocese will be ripped asunder. All will suffer financially, and that even before the pernicious litigation from 815 gets underway (if the Ayes have it). This is all tragic. This is all of the Evil One. Lord, have mercy.