Sunday, May 25, 2008

Perception is Reality

That old internet dowager, the House of Bishops/Deputies listserv, is usually a little slow on the uptake, so its members are only beginning to share their wisdom over the controversy that won't quite go away--namely, a pattern of conveniently incoherent intepretation of canons on the part of the Presiding Bishop and her staff. Some express annoyed dismay that we're talking about it at all. To them I had this to say earlier today:

What follows is nothing new. It isn't anything that hasn't been said many times before, including by me. But one should never tire of telling the truth when it needs to be told, and the responses on this thread make it abundantly clear that some critical elements of the truth have not yet sunk in with a lot of the members of this list.

So, here goes ... one ... more ... time.

Everybody I know is willing to stipulate to the substance of the charges against Bishops Cox and Schofield--that they have indeed "abandoned the communion of this church" (i.e. TEC). (One could make a case that the abandonment canon was the wrong one to use in their cases, but that's another conversation.) So nobody on either "side" of this mess is contesting the outcome--that Bishops Cox and Schofield be no longer allowed to exercise ordained ministry as representatives of the Episcopal Church. That ball is not in play and nobody is trying to put it in play.

Opinions vary on this, but I, for one, do not attribute any dishonorable or malevolent motives to the Presiding Bishop or to Chancellor Beers with respect to how the depositions were handled at the March HOB meeting. I think it was an honest mistake on their part. I agree that they were following established precedent. Nor do I blame the bishops for not objecting at the time; they too were following precedent and assumed everything was on the up and up. They may have been culpably ignorant, but they were, I would wager, nonetheless ignorant. Nobody was trying to pull a fast one, and nobody was sitting mutely while an injustice was being perpetrated. But, as has been amply demonstrated, it was a bad precedent, and two wrongs don't make a right. There is a legitimate distinction to be made between the precedent of a judicial opinion and the precedent of an administrative practice. The former helps shape the body of legal tradition. The latter, when it is pursued in error, only compounds the error, and makes it only that much more imperative that the error be rectified.

All this is taking place, of course, in a wider context of grave crisis in TEC and in the Anglican Communion. We are staring at each other across spiritual minefields, from foxholes and trenches. The general level of trust and presumptive good will is at what could be an all-time low in our history. The "bonds of affection" have been strained not only *to* the breaking point but well beyond that point. In such a conflicted environment, process becomes all the more important. Even when we cannot trust one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, a shared commitment to due process--to the rules we agreed to live under in less cantankerous times--becomes the only bit of glue that can bind us together, short of a completely sovereign and veritably miraculous intervention of the Holy Spirit.

In such a conflicted state, when mutual adherence to constitution and canons is all we have to hang onto, the strict observance of those canons by everyone involved takes on paramount importance--more importance than in more "normal" times, when the resilience of the organism is more capable of tolerating some technical defects in processes like the deposition of bishops. We don't live in such times presently, and, as a body, we don't have the resilience to withstand such defects. There isn't enough trust to go around at the moment. If there were ever a time when we need to be punctiliously compliant with the letter of our own laws, this is that time.

And what do we have now in this time of Anglican angst? We have a widespread and growing *perception* that due process was abused. We have heard officially from South Carolina, Central Florida, and Springfield. I predict there will be more. This perception of canonical laxity extends from the Cox-Schofield depositions to the whole manner in which 815 has dealt with the San Joaquin meltdown--IMO, a much more egregious problem. In such a time as this, even the perception--let alone the reality--of canonical abuse poisons the well from which we all drink.

Fixing the mess, and restoring some modicum of confidence that we are abiding by our own rules, is difficult but not impossible. There are multiple ways this could happen, but the simplest one, in Bishop Schofield's case, would be for the HOB, by a telephone poll, to accept his letter of resignation from the HOB as tantamount to resignation from ministry in TEC, and just be done with it. But if some find that objectionable, then the Title IV Review Committee should meet (a half-hour conference call should suffice) to form the charges against Bishops Cox and Schofield, either using the same "abandonment" canon or, better still, filing a presentment and scheduling a proper trial. My guess is that neither gentleman would show up to contest the charges, so it need not be a matter of inordinate expense. But the benefits of such a move--especially if combined with an effort to face up to the boondoggle that was made of San Joaquin--would be immediately palpable.

20 comments:

Malcolm+ said...

Thanks for posting a very clear summary of your proposed remedy to the depositions issue. I am still not persuaded that there was a defect of process - though I do agree that you and others have made a primae facie case that needs to be heard out. And, more importantly perhaps, I agree that there is a perception of irregularity which is corrosive.

Your proposed solution is reasonably simple and possibly even elegant.

I'd still be interested to hear your proposed way out of the San Joaquin situation. Again, the alleged irregularities are not proven, but there is a prima facie case needs to be answered - and the perception of irregularity, however widely spread, is corrosive.

Anonymous said...

Father Martins+
I also would like your thoughts on a way out of the San Joaquin situation. The fact that the PB removed members of the diocesan Standing Committee when they wanted to remain with the Episcopal Church (presumably because they were conservatives) is very disburbing. Is it any wonder that former Episcopalians in the diocese feel that they cannot trust TEC to respect their theology or to represent them? How can the "new" diocese talk about reconciliation with a straight face?

BabyBlue said...

Dan, you try getting sued when you thought you you were headed to the negotiating table. David Booth Beers told our church trustee in front of others that he would destroy us. If you think you can trust people like that, be my guest.

At the core of this crisis is a theological divide. It's not just a communication divide - we don't speak the same language.

One part of the theological divide understands that we are born in sin and we are in need of redemption. We are redeemed by confessing Jesus Christ and Him crucified - not some Cosmic Christ Our Is The Inner We - but Jesus, son of Mary, son of God, the Carpenter Guy, who went to cross and died for our sins. The Jesus was rose the dead - walked out of the grave (not a metaphor - a GRAVE) and taught thousands and now sits at the right hand of the Father. Who sent the Holy Spirit, who fills us and renews us, makes us new so that we do not need to indulge our sinful desires and wants and greed and sloth, but forgiven and transformed through the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. And He is Lord.

The other side of the divide does not believe we are fallen, that we are sinners and that there is nothing, no nothing we can do for ourselves to save ourselves. Who believe that we are made in the image of God and that image still stands, it's just we need to come out of the cultural closet to see it. Who believe that sinful actions are actually good for the soul, that sin is holy, sin should be blessed. And believing that, are stone cold and blind to the truth. It's a sorrowful pity - but it means we do not speak the same language. I daresay I wonder if we even worship the same God. Os Guinness has said that TEC has moved further away from being a 20th century"Post-Christian" organization, to being pagan. The ritualistic remainaging of the theology, I'm sorry, is a kind of Gnostic paganism. The words are familiar, but they are being redefined, much as Mary Baker Eddy redefined the words when she wrote the Science and Health. We can no more carry on a conversation with the 815-aligned folks then we can with a Christian Scientist. We don't speak the same language any more.

At some point, through what Sarah Hey calls "excruciating pain," we get it. We get it. It's not a happy moment, but it is a breakthrough moment.

I spent five years as an elected officer in the Diocese of Virginia, two terms as an elected Lay President. I went to all the meetings. I believed it was possible to, in Bishop Lee's words, "remain in as close a communion as possible." Even when it came time for us to vote, I still thought it would be possible for us to find a way if we just kept talking to each other.

But that hope was broken, no, it was smashed when we were sued, even after we understood that we would come to the table and find a way to remain at the Table. We had agreed that we were in a place to talk. We agreed. And in days, that all changed when 815 intervened.

David Booth Beers knows exactly what he's doing. Make no mistake about it. If you want change in TEC, you will have to get a new group of 815 occupants. This group has burned so many bridges that the landscape is filled with smoke.

It was not an "honest mistake on their part" when they reimagined the canons! They just never dreamed they'd get caught.

Katharine Jefferts Schori has never been a rector. She appears to be in way over her head. She's a rookie.

She's relying on the council of people who know exactly what they are doing - they are so enraged that perhaps they aren't thinking through what it's doing to the church for the long term. Beers is thinking like a DC litigator, not like a bishop. The old lions of the church are either silenced or slain.

If you want reform, you'll have to clean house. But if the theology remains unredeemed, then you'll just simply get one plastic wear for another. What you need is china and with David Booth Beers stomping about the House of Bishops, all of the china has been broken.

bb

PS I do believe God can make dry bones live. But we have to admit their dry first. And does that happen? If this were a marriage, I'd suggest you move out. Sometimes the best way to save a marriage is to move out.

Dan Martins said...

Baby Blue, I would love to respond to your comment privately. Any chance you can drop me an email?:
frdanmartins@gmail.com

JamesW said...

Dan: I am willing to guess that the PB and her chancellor were most probably negligent when it came to Schofield's deposition, however, other actions on their part suggest that they do intentionally, willfully and maliciously abuse and misuse the canons.

She has been warned now, but continues to insist on her fantastical interpretation of the abandonment canon.

As well, I do not believe that the PB "accidentally" misread the canons as regards the rest of her actions against the DSJ and its officers.

In short, it is my opinion that the PB doesn't really care whether she misused the canons or not. For her the ends justify the means.

I think that BabyBlue's and Greg Griffith's take on TEC's ruling party is spot on - overall as a group, they cannot be trusted. The ends justify the means for them, whether that includes canonical abuse, lying, character assassination, false charges, whatever. And I don't make that charge lightly - I have been around several dioceses and have been able to observe very closely diocesan politics.

Malcolm+ said...

Baby Blue said: "The other side of the divide does not believe we are fallen, that we are sinners and that there is nothing, no nothing we can do for ourselves to save ourselves. Who believe that we are made in the image of God and that image still stands, it's just we need to come out of the cultural closet to see it. Who believe that sinful actions are actually good for the soul, that sin is holy, sin should be blessed."

Every single word quoted above is completely and utterly false.

Perhaps if people engaged with reality instead of concentrating all their efforts on knocking down straw men, then some real dialogue might break out.

Baby Blue, I'm quite disappointed. What I've read from you before is usually more honest.

JamesW. said...

Malcolm: Actually BabyBlue accurately described most of the liberals that I have ever met. In fact, I know of a priest who returned from a clergy book discussion group shocked that she was the only one present who believed that humanity needed a Saviour to atone for our sins. The other clergy present did not believe that there was anything to atone for. A liberal that actually believes in human depravity is more the exception then the rule. And that's not meant as a hateful insult Malcolm, but rather an accurate description of differing belief systems based on every available statement made.

Beryl Simkins said...

God's blessings, Malcom+.
I appreciate your courage, honesty, and reasonableness.

Malcolm+ said...

I can only wonder, James, if the actual experience of the priest in question was that the others present did not agree with that priest's particular understanding of the atonement, and were therefore written off as not believing in the atonement at all.

That, sir, is an accurate reflection of my consistent experience of the way "conservatives" falsely frame the debate.

JamesW said...

No, Malcolm, you are wrong - the scorn was directed at the very concept of atonement. I appreciate you revising my and my priest friend's memory to fit in with your pre-conceived notions though. That is an accurate reflection of my consistent experience of the way "liberals" falsely frame the debate.

I wonder why, Malcolm, is the Confession of Sin the first thing to be dropped from the liturgy in liberal parishes? And why have I heard so many liberals complain that conservatives are so focused on our sin? And why is the Eucharist redefined by liberals as some sort of cosmic Happy Meal to welcome people instead of as a memorial of Christ's atonement for our sins?

Sorry, but I have been around the block enough times not to buy your smoke and mirrors.

Kevin M said...

Babyblue, JamesW,

In response to your statements, let me just say that THIS is why we're no longer willing to compromise. We've tried playing nice; all that got us was more of the same attacks. Now the gloves are coming off. You speak of reform needing a house cleaning. I'm sorry it's come to this, but you're right. The house needs to be cleaned, and we're finally doing what we should have done years ago.

You don't trust us? Oh, spare me the crocodile tears. The statements you have just made give us proof enough that we can't trust you either. You want to be given some slack, then give us some reason to believe you won't then try to hang us with it.

What was said about David Booth Beers and about the "liberal" heresies that supposedly pervade TEC, let me put it this way: Truth is a three-edged sword -- one side, the other side, and the truth in between. Do either of us have the entire grasp of the truth in our perceptions? No. Could some of us have perceptions that are closer to the actual truth? Absolutely. From everything I've seen here and elsewhere, I'm pretty sure which side is closer.

The only question, then, is whether or not the other side's distance is intentional. I'd like to give the benefit of the doubt, but I've been burned enough times to be wary about that.

Malcolm+ said...

Nice try, James. I've had more than enough experience of "conservatives" (as distinct, I note, from real conservatives, sans quotation marks) who attribute caricatured positions to those they disagree with - caricatures that are, at best, oversimplifications and more often outright lies.

"I don't agree with your interpretation of scripture on this point" becomes "S/He doesn't believe scripture." That's a pretty standard line in the "conservative" arsenal.

One disagrees with a particular understanding of atonement and the accusation is that one doesn't believe in atonement at all.

Individual clergy who do not believe in sin and atonement? Yes, I could buy that.

An entire gathering of clergy who scornfully deny that there is anything to atone for? I'd sooner by ocean-front property in Arizona because such property is more likely to exist.

JamesW. said...

Kevin M. - So, you admit that you are all about theological cleansing of TEC, then, regardless of whether the canons are being followed. How inclusive of you, Kevin. Sorry, we won't roll over and play dead for you.

Malcolm - Its really too bad that you don't respond to arguments. Rather you simply deny what the other person has reported because it doesn't fit your preconceived notion of what "is".

The fact of the matter is that the Presiding Bishop herself has stated that Jesus is simply "our way" to the divine. That implies, Malcolm and Kevin, that there are OTHER ways. That implies, Malcolm and Kevin, that Christ did NOT HAVE TO DIE FOR OUR SINS, because we could have accessed the divine via some other way. If Christ did not have to die for our sins, that implies we do not need our sins atoned for. Get it?

Malcolm - you accused BabyBlue of making a "completely and utterly false" statement when she said that liberals believe that "sin should be blessed" and yet the liberals advocate the blessing of same-sex sexual relationships (which the vast majority of Christians both today throughout the world and throughout history have defined as sin). Advocating the blessing of same-sex sexual relationships IS advocating the blessing of sin.

Kevin and Malcolm - you might be able to abuse the canonical process, there is no way to check the abuse of power by the executive branch in TEC. But might will never make right. You can never kill truth with your clenched fist.

Kevin - all BabyBlue and the conservatives have asked for is to be allowed to go our own way with the parish property. Bishop Schofield, Duncan and Iker have already promised this courtesy to the liberals. Yet, you are not willing to allow this. No, you have to bully people, sue them, engage in canonical abuses.

The Anglican Communion suggested a consensus solution to the problem with the Dar Es Salaam Pastoral Plan. It wasn't what the conservatives wanted, but we were willing to try it. But TEC's liberals rejected it. Liberals demand everything, refuse to compromise, then blame everyone else when things turn unpleasant.

You will inherit a dead institution. Purging those who don't think like you won't save it. You can't win - the only question is - how much damage will you cause everyone else.

JamesW. said...

Oh, and by the way, here is a direct quote from perhaps the leading liberal priest in my diocese:

"Even more troubling are his claims for the superiority of Christianity -- that not only are the teachings of Jesus unique, but it is only through Jesus that we can enter into a salvific relationship with God. These claims are dangerously narrow in an era when the piety of all faiths must be honored. I stand with most Episcopalians, and, indeed, the majority of Americans who now believe that Christianity is only one of many possible paths toward God."

And he writes further

"Finally, Gumbel's evangelical theology of the atonement troubles me. In this cosmology, the world is apparently a dangerous place ("enemy territory," to use Gumbel's phrase) from which God rescues us by effecting a cosmic shift in the balance of powers accomplished by Jesus' death on the cross. This approach, while it has historic resonance with the Babylonian and Hellenistic cults that influenced early Christianity, is not the only tradition within Christianity, and lives in tension with historic Anglicanism's deep Incarnational trust in the world -- a world created through Christ and revealing God's love through its inherent beauty and goodness. Anglicanism's spirituality draws us into a positive and loving engagement with the creation and one another, rather than a Puritan attitude of suspicion in which one is quick to define forbidden territories, such as sexuality, evolutionary science, mystical spirituality, and other religions."

These two quotations, when read together, accurately represents a worldview which BabyBlue and I described. I am sure this priest would not deny it. I'm not trying to insult this priest, it is what he believes. And I respect his belief. I disagree with him. I don't believe that these beliefs qualify as historic, orthodox Christianity, but I see no reason to pretend they are something other then what they are.

Malcolm+ said...

Of course, an argument from the particular to the general is logically flawed. The fact that you can find A liberal who rejects the concept of sin and atonement is proof that such liberals exist, not that all liberals - or even that liberals generally - reject the reality of sin or the need for atonement.

I can certainly find people who identify themselves as conservatives who believe that violence against homosexuals isn't real - or even that it is justified. Fred Phelps comes to mind.

By your dubious logic, there would be nothing wrong in me accusing you and Baby Blue and Dan and every other conservative of agreeing with Fred Phelps. Or with the Nazi mass execution of homosexuals.

I'm not going to make such an accusation because it would be utter b***$**t. But such an accusation could be defended using precisely the same logic you have used here.

I have no doubt there are heretical liberals. I also have no doubt that there are heretical conservatives. The existence of such does not justify the broad brush slanders that appear to be the very core of your "arguments."

When you start presenting arguments, James, I will happily respond to them. So far all you;ve presented is defamations ad insults.

Kevin M said...

First of all, Malcolm, the Nazi reference probably is not the best one to use given the inflammatory nature of it (and the danger of invoking Godwin's Law).

A better choice would be Akinola's statements about gays being lower than dogs and his full and unqualified support of the legislation in Nigeria to make it a crime even to support the human rights of gays and lesbians.

While I'm sure not ALL conservatives would support such legislation, those who've aligned with Akinola would seem to do so by their choice to put themselves under his control. As for others, the deafening silence I've heard regarding the legislation or the ongoing violence against gays and lesbians there makes me wonder if there isn't some IMPLICIT agreement with it.

JamesW, re: house cleaning, I don't want anyone to feel like they have to leave, but if doing so is the best for your spiritual and psychological health, then I wish you well. When you leave, vacate the premises, shake the dust off your feet, and stop hanging around. If you want to return later, you will be more than welcome. We don't all have to agree on everything, but as long as certain conservatives keep making statements about wanting to force the rest of us to capitulate to their demands or face annihilation, we have no reason to believe that any of you actually want to work through this.

Anyone's free to leave; they just can't take the property that doesn't belong to them. There's a word for that: theft.

JamesW. said...

Kevin: Actually, the courts define theft, not you. And if the courts in Virginia and California award the property to the Anglican parishes and Schofield, then that is who the parishes belong to. Property ownership is an issue currently in dispute before the courts. As I said before, Keven, we won't just roll over and play dead. As for me, I am not leaving TEC yet. I refuse to let an alien religion take over without a fight.

Malcolm: The problem is that Phelps is not, and has never been, a leader of conservatives in my diocese. Kevin's comments about Akinola are perhaps more to point, except that Bishop Minns of CANA has publically distanced himself from the Nigerian legislation. (BTW, Kevin, can you please provide your source for Akinola's statement that "gays are lower than dogs." Also I would like to see direct evidence of "ongoing violence against gays" in Nigeria (aside from any such violence connected with Islamic law). I will not defend myself against association with manufactured stories.)

If a priest is a leading figure in a diocese, and his comments track very closely to the elected leader of TEC (i.e. KJS), then I think it safe to assume that the common view held by those leaders is shared by many of those who follow.

Let us review the course of this discussion Malcolm:

1) I reported that my experience is that Babyblue's comments accurately reflected the opinions I have observed being held by liberals. I provided an example of a clergy discussion group.

2) You said that my experience did not actually happen, because it doesn't match with what you think reality is.

3) I replied that what I recall was accurate. I further provided evidence of what the PB had said which supports my argument. I further provided evidence of what a leading liberal priest in my diocese said.

4) You reply and say that the theological opinions of the PB and leading members of the diocese (SC member, cardinal rector) are not representative of opinion in either my diocese or the Church. You even say that I have as much of a connection with Hitler and Fred Phelps as Episcopalians have with their PB, SC members and their cardinal rectors.

You accuse me of "defamation" for quoting somebody's words. Okay. But are you really suggesting, Malcolm, that merely quoting KJS's words is DEFAMING her?!?!??? That shows a good deal of shame on your part for your leader.

I think Malcolm, that perhaps Sarah was right about you in a previous thread on this site.

If you want to debate, fine, I'm ready to go. I am not willing to engage in silly word-games with you, in which you distract discussion threads.

Kevin M said...

Let's see here:

Theft (according to Merriam Webster):
1 a: the act of stealing; specifically : the felonious taking and removing of personal property with intent to deprive the rightful owner of it b: an unlawful taking (as by embezzlement or burglary) of property

Hmm, according to Canon I,7,4, the property is held in trust for "this Church and the Diocese thereof in which such Parish, Mission or Congregation is located." Essentially, the property belongs to TEC. People leave TEC but try to take the property that doesn't belong to them. That sounds like theft to me.

Just because you like the silverware, that doesn't mean you can walk away with it when you leave the dinner. This is pretty cut and dry here. What do you not understand?

Malcolm+ said...

I have no doubt, James, that your priest friend SAID that all the other priests at the event sneered at the very notion of sin and atonement.

I also have no doubt that she believed it.

Based on my consistent experience with such stories, I do not believe that her comments accurately reflect the event, since I have seen far too many cases of people comments (or even their silences) to be parsed, twisted and interpreted in ways that are simply not an honest reflection of what they have said.

You've met some liberals that are a$$****s. I don't doubt that for a second.

I have yet to see any meaningful evidence from any conservative anywhere that the denial of sin and atonement is normative in the Episcopal Church, or among the clergy of the Episcopal Church.

I have yet to see any meaningful evidence from any conservative anywhere that the rejection of Jesus uniqueness is normative in the Episcopal Church, or among the clergy of the Episcopal Church.

I have yet to see any meaningful evidence from any conservative anywhere that treating scripture as irrelevant is normative in the Episcopal Church, or among the clergy of the Episcopal Church.

But writing everyone who disagrees with you on the present besetting issue as a heretic who rejects scripture, denies the fall and hates God makes it very convenient.

I grant there are liberals who play the same stupid game. Every conservative, they claim, is a homophobe and a misogynist. It is equally stupid when they do it.

JamesW. said...

Kevin: I have just passed a canon in the Church of Me that declares that all of your property is held in trust for me.

Yeah, I know, that sounds silly, doesn't it. Under standard property law, the legal owner must give consent to an implied trust declared by the purported beneficial owner. I can declare all I want that your property is held in trust for me, but unless YOU consent, it isn't. Also, even if you consent, most trusts are revocable unless declared to be irrevocable.

Kevin - the presence of a unilaterally declared implied trust on the part of TEC does not govern the definition of theft. That is something secular law defines.

And that is what is currently at issue. Does TEC's Dennis Canon establish a legally enforceable implied irrevocable trust on parish property in TEC's favor. The only way that the courts can find this is if they apply a special rule that applies only to churches, and then only to churches which the court has declared to be "heirarchical".

The trend in recent year is for the courts to apply neutral principles of law - in other words to apply the same rules to churches that they would apply to secular corporations and individuals.

This is a matter of state law. Some states still hold to the "heirarchical church" theory, others don't. In Virginia, there is another state law at issue.

Until these laws are resolved, Kevin, there is no "theft". There is property with disputed ownership.

And if you want to make a moral argument, I wonder who is morally more in the right -
1) the people whose money, sweat, labor and love built property and who were responsible for its upkeep and insurance costs OR
2) a multinational ecclesiastical organization which typically has not contributed a cent to the building or upkeep of the property which issued a unilateral declaration that it owned the property.

Let's put it this way, Kevin. Suppose, as is likely, that both the Virginia and California litigation results in victories for the Anglican/breakaway parishes and diocese. Let us suppose that you then publically accuse these congregations of theft. You would be liable for defamation or slander. So let's not throw words around like "theft" until the courts have spoken. I don't have a problem with you advocating why you think the courts should rule in favor of TEC. That is your right. But don't try to make me think that TEC canons should govern the secular law of the USA. Thank you very much.