Friday, October 10, 2008

Incongruities in the Central Valley

WARNING: Those who get irritated when I write about my former diocese of San Joaquin may want to click over to the stock market news ... or something.

Some years ago--I can't recall whether it was during my time there or not, but it was certainly during the episcopate of Bishop Schofield--the canons of the Diocese of San Joaquin were amended to include the following:

Sec. 33.01: All members of the clergy of this Diocese shall be under the obligation to model in their own lives the received teaching of the Church, and specifically that all clergy are to abstain from sexual relations outside of Holy Matrimony.

The ecclesial entity that presents itself as the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin is gearing up for what it is calling its 49th Annual Convention (October 24-26), to be held in the town of Hanford. Interestingly, the ecclesial entity that presents itself as the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin will be holding what it considers its 49th annual convention on the same weekend, some 40 miles away, in the city of Fresno. 

Both of these entities claim to be in some sort of continuity with what was spun off from the (Episcopal) Diocese of California in 1911 as as Missionary District, becoming an actual diocese in ... well ... whatever year would make this one the 49th. Most of the property that they both lay claim to (and which the "Anglicans" mostly possess at the moment) is real and material. But they also claim to "own" the diocesan canons as they have been amended by successive conventions over the years. 

Now, however, those canons (indeed, those dioceses) are like characters in the science fiction movie wherein Arnold Schwarzenegger played both a cop and the (direct-to-adulthood) clone of said cop. Both of them shared the same memory of life before cloning; both considered themselves "real" and the other an interloper. But the divergence has begun. The newly (and, I must say one more time, illicitly constituted) Episcopal diocese quickly moved to restore the Accession Clause (to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church) that had been removed earlier, and repealed the canon specifying adherence to the Province of the Southern Cone.

Now they have the luxury of time for further cleanup, and 33.01 is on the chopping block. The proposed amendment strikes the final clause: "...and specifically that all clergy are to abstain from sexual relations outside of Holy Matrimony." Here's the explanation:

There is considerable concern that the canon as currently drafted is in conflict with the Canons of the Episcopal Church, under "Rights of the Laity" (Canon 1:17.5) and “Rights of the Clergy” (Canon 3:1.2), which forbid discrimination on the basis of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, disabilities or age. The proposed deletion of the language in the subject canon would remove any actual or potential conflict with the Canons and Constitution of the National Church.

So, if I am reading between the lines correctly, the professed concern is that the language that is proposed to be striken potentially runs afoul of the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, because persons with a sexual orientation toward those of their own sex cannot be married; hence, to enjoin them from sexual relations would be to discriminate. Have I got that right? Is there something I'm missing? 

But wait. This is California we're talking about. And in California same-sex marriage is presently legal. (Proposition 8, the constitutional challenge to that legality, appears headed for defeat.) So how is the canon as presently worded discriminatory? Or are there other motives involved?

This is one more neon sign that 815 and the powers-that-be were never interested simply in an ongoing Episcopal diocese in California's central valley. They could have had that by actually following the canons they are sworn to uphold and allowing the duly-elected members of the Standing Committee to do their job. Six of the eight were ready to play ball. But no. After having been fired from the Anglican Standing Commitee by Bishop Schofield, they were, within days, fired from the Episcopal Standing Committee by the Presiding Bishop (notwithstanding the fact that she had only the power to do so, not the authority). 

It's no big secret why those in power resorted to obfuscation and chicanery. Had they followed the canons, there would today be a legitimately constituted Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin. Only it would have very much the same theological complexion as the old one (not completely the same, but close). You can bet your biretta that Sec. 33.01 of the diocesan canons would not be up for evisceration at the 49th annual convention of the diocese. And that is a prospect that the minions of the "progressive" juggernaut could not abide. 

In other San Joaquin news . . . Bishop Lamb has announced that the canonical depositions of clergy who have not professed fealty to him are proceeding apace. This is in stark (and sad) contrast to the position taken by the Bishop of Western New York, Michael Garrison, in response to news that his largest parish, St Bartholomew's in Tonawanda, is decamping to the Southern Cone. Rather than deposing the rector, Father Arthur Ward, Bishop Garrison is just politely transferring him to the canonical authority of Bishop Venables in Buenos Aires. What a concept.

18 comments:

Lynn said...

DAn - you might want to make a quick edit, St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church, Tonawanda, is in the Diocese of Western New York.

Now my bias will show, hopefully in a gracious way. Bishop Garrison was probably gracious because the parishioners who voted to leave TEC have made a clean break and are buying a new building; and Fr. Ward, the Rector, actually made a formal request for transferring his orders to the Southern Cone.

Metro Buffalo has some interesting and sharply defined demographics areas. The Episcopal and Catholic Cathedrals are right across the street from each other - the TEC cathedral has higher attendance. The RC diocese has closed 77 of the 275 or so parish churches. Traditionally, this is a very Catholic area - it depends where a church is located these days.

JamesW. said...

Lynn: I'm a little confused here - what does property ownership issues have to do with whether a priest has "abandoned the communion of this Church"? Are you saying that a priest abandons communion if his/her parish wishes to assert parish ownership of its property, but doesn't abandon communion if his/her parish chooses not to contest parish ownership of the building???

Don't get me wrong - I am all in favor of graciousness. But what you are suggesting seems a little ungracious and manipulative (on Lamb et.al.'s part) and very unprincipled on TEC's part.

Br. John said...

Dan, this is a remarkably important column, not only for what it says about San Joaquin but for what it demonstrates regarding the agenda and motivation of TEC. Thank you.

Lynn said...

jamesw -

I don't see TEC as a congregational church. So to me this is a group of people acting as individuals leaving the Episcopal Church. Including the Rector, who has asked to be released from his fealty to his bishop. They are going down the road and starting a new church.

St. Bartholomew's hasn't paid its fair-share pledges to the diocese for over three years. Perhaps that's how they made a nest egg to buy a larger property, who knows.

This isn't as simple as it seems anyway. The news reports say 99% of the parish members voted to leave TEC, but that's not the count on the streets of Buffalo (still a majority, however). And you don't have to be confirmed or received as an Episcopalian to be a voting member of a church there...perhaps that leads t a more congregational viewpoint. (For the record, I was baptized and confirmed as an Episcopalian, and have been a Methodist, and then returned to TEC...I've never been a member of a congregationalist church; I didn't really understand that kind of thinking for a long time).

Phil said...

Thanks for bringing us this news, Dan. That's what this was all about from the beginning: sexual license. I predicted some months ago San Joaquin would have its first supposed gay "marriage" by Christmas. I stand by that - now I can add that the charade might even be performed by a priest enjoying his new found freedom under the revised canons, and getting a little on the side - heck, maybe with two mistresses. What's the problem, after all? Men are made that way, and it will be fully within the Lamb-Schori rules.

Anonymous said...

Dan,
I think that you have made a huge leap of assumption regarding the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin. First, the canon in question puts sexual sins in a higher category than lying, gluttony, etc, because it is the only one mentioned. It is the first part of the canon that is important, clergy are to live a life that reflects the received teaching of the church. When we start putting one category of sin above another, we fail to understand our complicity in sin at a deep level, then we fail to rely on grace and mercy. Our diocese is still very conservative and orthodox, we also happen to be loyal to the Episcopal Church.
Mark Hall

Dan Martins said...

Mark,
I appreciate your response but I'm afraid I can't buy it. Nobody is advocating for the "declassification"
of envy or gluttony or greed from the category of "sins." But over the past three decades or so, there has been a rising chorus of advocacy for the church collectively to it alter its traditional negative moral judgment on certain sexual acts that take place outside the context of marriage. The canon as it stands was an attempt to clarify the position of the Diocese of San Joaquin with respect to that rising chorus. In times of controversy, such clarifications are often seen as desirable or necessary. But apart from that consideration, surely you must realize how the proposal to delete the canonical language is likely to be heard and understood by outsiders--and, I would suggest, outsiders of all persuasions on the issue of sexual ethics. That's just Politics 101. If you don't believe me, click on over the Stand Firm and you'll get an education. In any case, *your* explanation differs markedly from the explanation offered by the Committee on Canons & Constitution, which is that it conflicts with TEC anti-discrimination language. So I ask again, Since same-sex marriage is legal in California, who is being discriminated against by the language of the canon as it stands?

Dan

Leslie Littlefield said...

Thank you Mark Hall.

Beryl Simkins said...

Across the country, in Episcopal churches, and in any churches, how many have such a canon? We all know the 10 commandments. We all know the expectations for gracious and loving behavior. We all know we are called to live a life of fidelity, honesty, compassion. We don't need canons for specific "life" rules. You say we can click over to Stand Firm for a look at what others see. I have been to that site, a ways in the past. I have seen there, a lot of "bearing false witness" against one's neghbor. I have seen hatred, disrespect, a toxic atmosphere. I choose not to go there any more to see what they have to say. If people have thoughts, opinions, beliefs, they can present them respectfully, and without calling people names.

Phil said...

Sure, Beryl, and you’re pure as the wind-driven snow. Or, you would be, if you hadn’t contributed plenty to sites on your own side full of hate, disrespect and toxic atmospheres. And your criticism of those that endorse your agenda? Nowhere to be found.

Beryl Simkins said...

Phil,

I have NEVER been disrespectful to people. I have NEVER called people names. I have ALWAYS presented my opinions in a respectful manner.

However,

I have NEVER claimed to be as pure as the driven snow. I just do my best, keep trying to understand people, keep trying to listen.

And I am done here.

Phil said...

Perhaps not, Beryl: but, plenty of your compatriots have. Yet, you feel free to call out those at Stand Firm as though they're uniquely caustic, while cheerleading on those at sites more in tune with your ideological agenda. That's hypocrisy, even if it's clothed in a soothing voice.

JamesW said...

Lynn: I am sorry I still don't understand your argument. In your first post, you said that Bp. Garrison of WNY was gracious in NOT pursuing abansdeoment charges BECAUSE the parish which reaffiliated with a different Anglican Province didn't seek to maintain their ownership of their property. My question to you was what does property ownership have to do with whether the parish did or did not "abandon communion"?

You are suggesting that either

(a) - Bishop Garrison is understandably gracious on the "abandonment of communion" issue if he is paid off in an other irrelevant issue (in other words, bishops can be bribed to not a apply the applicable canon);

OR

(b) - Bishop Lamb is applying the "abandonment of communion" canon unjustly and unfairly.

Let me put it this way - either disaffiliating from TEC is "abandonment of communion" or it is not. You need to answer that question YES or NO. Property ownership disputes are irrelevant to this determination.

So if a bishop says "If you pay me off with the property, I will not apply the canons which should otherwise apply", then that is actually being manipulative, is it not?

Lynn said...

jamesw,

I saw your comment yesterday, and decided to think about it before posting.

I don't see this in quite the same black-and-white terms as I read in your thoughts - perhaps I am wrong about that. This is not a snap decision by the parishioners of St. Bartholomew, Fr. Ward, or Bishop Garrision. I suppose negotiation and compromise could be considered a combination of manipulation and acts of graceful behavior.

The main difference I see here is that Fr. Ward did acknowledge his bishop, and worked with him. It's much simpler than San Joaquin. But then, I think San Joaquin will turn out to be the most complicated situation of all of them anyway, even without the very real emotional turmoil.

As my father would say...if there was an easy solution, we would have found and implemented it.

JamesW. said...

Lynn: Don't get me wrong - I am happy that Bp. Garrison acted in the way he did - I wish that all situations could be resolved gracefully.

What I have a problem with is any suggestion that the price of gracious negotiation is a surrender of potential legal rights on the part of a parish.

Lynn said...

jamesw - I guess we circle back around to whether TEC is a congregational church, and probably the Diocese of WNY. St. B's isn't that old a church (by local standards, the parishit was formed post-WWII it seems), I think Canon 13 probably was intact when they petitioned the diocese for membership. If so, they clearly gave rights to the land and building to the Diocese, and of course they are five years delinquent. The New York courts seem to be enforcing these agreements.

Perhaps Bishop Bennison is truly letting the parish and Fr. Ward with grace, and saving both sides a great deal of anguish (and yes, money). And it truly is grace if the cards are stacked in his favor. And remember they are essentially neighbors in a small community. If you think about it, this all played out pretty quietly. We may be the only two people outside of Buffalo who are still discussing the matter. In my mind, the Diocese owns the land, the church building, and is owed five years of money from the parish. The law probably backs me up, and you probably disagree. We look at it differently.

And remember where we agree - both sides handling it with grace.

Aghaveagh said...

Phil said:

"Sure, Beryl, and you’re pure as the wind-driven snow. Or, you would be, if you hadn’t contributed plenty to sites on your own side full of hate, disrespect and toxic atmospheres. And your criticism of those that endorse your agenda? Nowhere to be found."

Phil, in support of Beryl I can say that I have never read anything from Beryl that was not respectful and considerate towards others, even though she has encountered nasty attacks.

I question holding her responsible for the (admitted) venom of others.

Yes, many, many people on both sides have engaged in really mean and unchristian dialogues. We shouldn't, no matter who we feel. Yes, I probably have been guilty of this as well. I shouldn't.

But frankly, the "tu quoque" argument is not a justification for inconsiderate behavior. Can we recognize each other as Christians? I hope so. Even if (for whatever reason) you cannot recognize Beryl or me or anyone else who has decided to stay in the Episcopal Church as Christians, we are still God's creation.

The song goes, "they will know we are Christians by our love." When we fall short of this goal (as we all do), we seek amendment of life and try again.

Phil, I mourn for the divisions that separate us. I greet you in the name of Christ as my brother.

Phil said...

Aghaveagh,

Of course, I can recognize both you and Beryl as fellow Christians. I didn’t say otherwise, but thank you for the irenic tone of your comment.

I’m not holding Beryl responsible for the caustic tone of others, merely questioning her decision to rail against one side while remaining silent concerning her own. If “toxicity” is a problem, it’s a problem for everybody. Not owning up to that is, as I said in my second comment to her, hypocrisy.