Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The House of Bishops Convenes

It's been said that Anglicans have a high view of episcopacy and a low view of bishops. As the bishops of the Episcopal Church wing their way to Camp Allen (some 60 miles northwest of Houston) for their regular semi-annual meeting, Episcopalians of all theological stripes have ample reason to invoke that ironic aphorism.

I am not privy to the meeting's agenda, but it seems safe to assume that they will consider certain key items:

The bishops will vote on whether to depose the Bishop of San Joaquin, concurring with the report of the Title IV Review Committee that he has abandoned the discipline of the Episcopal Church. It is impossible to imagine a plausible scenario under which they will not do so, and by a wide margin. The issue is largely moot anyway, because Bishop Schofield will be the first to agree that he is no longer under the discipline of General Convention, its constitution, or its canons. But deposition is such an ugly and vindictive path to follow. Why not just send him peacefully to the Southern Cone, forswear litigation, and be about the work of building up a new Episcopal diocese in the San Joaquin Valley? Canon law has pretty much been thrown to the winds there anyway, primarily by the Presiding Bishop. But I've pretty well already said my piece on that.

The bishops will be briefed on and discuss the latest attempt to cross-breed some elements of DEPO with some elements of the Primatial Vicar plan with some elements of the Primates' Dar es Salaam plan of a year ago. This is important, but not terribly so. The reason it's pretty much a yawner is that, while it may help to hold what's left of Anglicanism together for a while longer, it does nothing to heal the fissures that have appeared in the last several months, nor does it seem able to impede the momentum toward final schism. A bolder stroke is needed to neutralize GAFCON.

The bishops will consider ongoing developments in the process that may lead to the adoption of an Anglican Covenant. Most of them don't like it in concept, let alone in execution, so it's difficult to see anything momentous happening on this front.

So there isn't the same level of suspense as there was last September at the New Orleans meeting. Probably the biggest issue that won't get talked about is just what the role and authority of bishops--either individually or collectively--is in "this church." Many these days are fond of pointing out that TEC is "episcopally led but synodically governed." Such admonitions are largely in response to the rest of the Anglican world addressing a series of requests over the last five years to the House of Bishops, with the implied assumption that they are capable of speaking officially for the Episcopal Church. Even the bishops themselves seem to take umbrage at such an implication.

But to make too sharp a distinction between leadership and governance seems to me a bit overwrought, and in a peculiarly American sort of way. Was there a House of Deputies at Nicea or Chalcedon? I don't hold bishops in any higher degree of awe than the next person, especially as the House of Bishops is largely populated by people my own age or younger! But I am still pretty keen on episcopacy, and don't see any problem with letting bishops govern as well as lead. There is a role for synods, but it shouldn't have anything to do with teaching or declaring doctrine.

11 comments:

ruidh said...

The issue is largely moot anyway, because Bishop Schofield will be the first to agree that he is no longer under the discipline of General Convention, its constitution, or its canons. But deposition is such an ugly and vindictive path to follow.

I disagree. Deposition is the only course which can be followed as he hasn't submitted a resignation. He remains a bishop in TEC until he resigns, dies or is deposed. There is no other alternative.

Cany said...

Well, Dan, perhaps you missed Schofield's first statement that he was, in fact, part of TEC and the So. Cone. Though I know you didn't miss this.

Had the man had any class at all, let alone conscience, he could have taken himself out of TEC the correct way, joined the so. cone the correct way and moved on. But he didn't.

Furthermore, he could have handed over the keys and left those considerable (and growing) TEC/remain folks with a place to worship.

Since you obviously had a heavy hand in all this, it is just incredible that you manage to post some of this with, um, a straight face.

Anonymous said...

To ruidh & cany;
While I agree he should have resigned from HOB, it would not have made any difference, the PB would still have gone after his ordination and that is vindictive. See what she is doing to an 83 year old retired bishop who DID resign from the HOB in TEC..William Cox. He too is facing deposition for abandonment this week.

As for the tec/remain folks growing...well only maybe. Once the shift of church membership settles out [with folks transferring both into & out of those congregations] then we can talk about growth.

Virginia Gal said...

There is a role for synods, but it shouldn't have anything to do with teaching or declaring doctrine.

Fr. Dan, you are talking a rather Roman view and definition of a synod, are you not? The role of lay leadership in the Episcopal church is nothing new, and their inclusion was by deliberate design the the 18th century. PECUSA was a reflection of the same cranky rebels who fought the Crown in other ways, too. And created the concept of a Government of checks and balances.

You must also give the laity a bit of credit. We tend to be an educated group, theology included. We were encouraged to be that way in our Sunday school training, since the 1928 catechism wasn't any more detailed than the new one. This does not encourage the Roman way of looking only to ordained church leadership to determine what is right and wrong in God's eyes. The lines of our organizational hierarchy have always been zig-zags, rather than a classic top-bottom approach.

This isn't anything "new" or "liberal." I am your contemporary, and TEC was certainly governed with substantial lay input when you were ordained.

Anonymous: our system has checks and balances for the process of inhibiting and deposing Bishops. The PB did not act alone, and the House of Bishops will have the final say. And that 83-yo Bishop still is in active ministry, not a frail old man biding his time in a retirement community.

Anonymous said...

Of course, if KJS was actually trustworthy and meant what she said to her fellow primates, and if the HoB was really interesting in reconciliation and listening, then the DAR proposals would be currently in place and the Diocese of San Joaquin and its bishop would never have left TEC.

I think Dan is right. For good or ill, TEC and the Anglican Communion are entering into a dark age of division and decline. Our hope is the God alone (cause it sure won't be the clever minds of GAFCON, the ACI or TEC!!!) will bring the Communion through this so that it can emerge again 10-20 years from now as a united, orthodox and catholic global Communion once more. As for TEC, it will survive, but will continue its breathtaking decline and will likely emerge in 10-20 years as a small eccentric group that nobody cares about anymore.

Dan Martins said...

ruidh--
I agree that deposition is indeed the only option for those who wish to be ruled by their anger toward Bishop Schofield.

cany--
I don't think I've missed anything. The "I'm both" statement was quickly retracted. Otherwise, the scenario you propose (handing over the keys), even if it is morally preferable, is politically naive. Time to make friends with reality. And speaking of political blunders, the number of "remainers" could have been much, much higher than it actually is had not the PB been so foolish.

virgina gal--
You're right. What I'm describing is not how TEC is set up, and it never has been set up that way. But it's not particularly Roman. Many other Anglican provinces allow bishops to actually be bishops rather than keeping them in handcuffs. I'm just thinking out loud about how I'd like to see things change. Notice I said "like," not "expect." And as for the general level of theological education among the laity (and the clergy, for that matter), I'm not so sanguine. Do you read HoB/D? We've got elected deputies expressing opinions on important theological matters who seem to have never even been to Sunday School.

Anonymous said...

Any comments on +Schofield's letter of resignation?

Mark McCall

Phil said...

"There is a role for synods, but it shouldn't have anything to do with teaching or declaring doctrine."

A-MEN.

This is why ECUSA is neither episcopal nor Catholic.

Cany said...

The last thing I could be accused of is being politically naive. I have worked in the political world all my life.

Shofield has a higher standing, however. There is, as you are well aware, a process for leaving TEC. He chose not to proceed within the TEC guidelines and you know that:) You also know WHY the HOB has to proceed.

You and I both know, Dan, that what Shofield is insisting (that he walked out w/o following procedure, and took the assets and candlesticks with him) is dubious at best and mad at least!

It is nothing more than a test of law to potentially clear the path for others in his wake; a test that I doubt will work.

I admit that what irks me is that you helped him prepare to do this, took off just several months before the December carnage, and obviously believe he is right.

I just have to ask: How can YOU stay in TEC? Given your hand in all of this, would you admit that you, also, should be disciplined? Or do you believe that supporting schism is a step apart?

YOU are WELL aware that the So. Cone/GAFCON folks have an agenda to separate from the Anglican Communion. That has been openly known for years. And while you have said you do not agree Shofield should have aligned with Venables, what exactly DID you expect them to do? It is clear that Shofield had been speaking to Venables prior to your leaving the SJ Diocese. Are you saying you were unaware of this? Hard to believe, Dan:)

It seems to me that you are aligned against TEC, stern to bow. WHY do you stay? It honestly puzzles me.

Cany said...

Anon: "KJS" did NOT bring those charges. She cannot. His case was reviewed, after a complaint was lodged, by the Title IV Committee.

Here, too, there is a process and Cox did not follow it.

Since he violated the process, the Title IV Comm made the determination against him, NOT "KJS".

It didn't just fall out of the sky and it didn't come from Schori.

Like Shofield, Cox has to obey the Cannons.

Get your facts straight.

Cany said...

Well, anon, what do you suggest when a Bishop leaves wrongly...? There are Christ's children at stake.

Would you suggest that they go untended?

Today's Fresno Bee states that Shofield is not open to accommodating those that are, um, angry. Seems to me, that is is exact place in life.

There are TEC people within this diocese that he has said he is not a part of. His words, and those of Venables, not mine.

Do you believe it is right to leave TEC people alone?

Schori placed Moore and Cox there to accommodate those who are NOT leaving TEC, against the background of a Bishop that did, wrongly and in violation of process, claiming the church's ground and people now as all so cone.

You know, and I know, that is not the case.

If you agree that TEC members should be left adrift then you have the same problem Shoefield has.