Monday, November 24, 2008

Who's Episcopal and Who's Not

In 2000, Arnold Schwarzenegger starred in the sci-fi flick The 6th Day. He plays a cop who discovers that there's a clone of himself running around--fully grown, identical in voice and appearance, and sharing all his memories and abilities. You don't need me to describe the conflicts and plot possibilities inherent in that notion; they're pretty easily imagined.

Here's a parody on that theme. But before you watch it, if you're up to speed on the plot of 24/7 serial tragi-comedy Anglicanland: The Reality Show, prepare to make some connections.

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Did you see the Emerging North American Province? Did you spot the Church-of-General-Convention? Did you catch a glimpse of the Covenant-signing Communion Partners? 

No? You didn't? You must look more closely. Oddly enough, I think there is some insight for Anglicans in this film--well, maybe not in the execution, but certainly in the concept.

Earlier this month, the dioceses of Quincy and Fort Worth did what everyone knew they were going to do and severed their relationship with the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, and thereby from the institutional (constitutional and canonical) structure thereof. In so doing, they joined San Joaquin and Pittsburgh. For the time being, this appears to be it, unless there are rumblings from elsewhere that I have missed.

After practicing on San Joaquin (with several miscues amply noted in the record), the Presiding Bishop and her Chancellor have by now learned their lines pretty well--so well, in fact, that the rest of us can lip-synch with them: "We lament the news that some individuals in the Diocese of X. have decided to leave the Episcopal Church. Of course, while individuals are free to leave this church, dioceses and parishes cannot. Hence, all property, real and personal, which was under the trusteeship of those persons who have left is now owned by those who choose to remain members of the Episcopal Church. In the meantime, we will be deposing Bishop N. and all the clergy who have departed with him."

Or some such.

The news today is that the Presiding Bishop attempted to "pull a Duncan" on Bishop Iker of Fort Worth and have him inhibited and desposed just for planning to leave, but the Title IV Review Committee declined to act with sufficient expedition to make this possible. But now--appropriately after the fact--they have indeed met and certified the charge of abandonment, and Bishop Iker has received his inhibition letter. Formal deposition will no doubt occur at the March 2009 meeting of the House of Bishops.

Of course, none of this matters to Bishop Iker and the strong majority in the Diocese of Fort Worth, as is evident in their quick response to 815. The substance of these statements ("You're not the boss of us anymore...and you never were anyway") is quite predictable and not particularly noteworthy. But two details merit a second look. 

First, the letterhead still reads "The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth," and I don't think it's because they're just trying to be frugal and work through their old supply before they spring for new stationery. Now, when San Joaquin said "See yah!" they couldn't wait to get rid of the word "Episcopal" from all their communications media. People treated it like a bag of rotten food retrieved from the back of the bottom shelf in the refrirgerator, holding it at arms length with one hand and pinching their noses with the other on their way out to the trash bin. But when Pittsburgh's time came, they continued to style themselves the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh even after renouncing their relationship with General Convention and aligning themselves with the Province of the Southern Cone. Now, apparently, Forth Worth is following suit. (Whether Quincy has done the same I am not aware.)

Then, to drive this point home, the letter from Fort Worth's Standing Committee not only rejects the validity Presiding Bishop's Letter of Inhibition against Bishop Iker (since she has no authority over clergy discipline in the Province of the Southern Cone), but calls it a "border crossing." (!) 

The inference begging to be drawn from both Pittsburgh and Fort Worth is that not only do they believe themselves to have seceded from the Episcopal Church, but they have done so organically and with institutional continuity with their former selves, such that those parishes where the leadership wishes to be part of TEC cannot do so by passively "remaining" anywhere, but need to actively withdraw from "the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, Jack Leo Iker, Bishop" and then seek affiliation with TEC on whatever terms it can negotiate. And while these processes are working themselves out, the Presiding Bishop and her emissaries are viewed as interlopers if they have any dealings with those who were clerical or lay members of the Episcopal Diocese of Forth Worth as it was constituted on November 14.

It comes as no surprise that 815 has a different narrative by which they read current events. In that narrative, only individuals can leave, so anyone who is no longer under the authority of the constitution and canons of TEC and who continues to occupy property or control other assets of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth is, in fact, a squatter at best, and very possibly a thief. Those who decline to follow their leaders to the Southern Cone represent the continuing "Episcopal dioceses" of San Joaquin, Pittsburgh, Quincy, and Fort Worth. 

When Adam Gibson, Mr Shwarzenegger's character in The 6th Day, discovers that there is a clone of himself, he knows that his only hope for a happy life lies in the utter destruction of the clone. Understandably, the clone feels precisely the same way, with the roles reversed. The clone, you see, carries all the memories of the original Adam Gibson. He has no recollection of being recently created and then assuming Adam Gibson's persona. As far as he is concerned, he is Adam Gibson, and anyone else who claims title to Adam Gibson's identity is a mortal threat. 

Now, there are a number of reasons why I am not a Hollywood screenplay writer, and among them is my inclination to resolve the Adam Gibson question peacefully. Maybe the wife and kids could be cloned as well, so there could be two parallel Gibson families, living in widely separated locations (say, one in Texas and the other in Argentina? OK, lame attempt at humor).

I think there is both enough guilt and enough innocence to go around in all four--or, I should probably say, all eight, when you include the clones--of the "Episcopal" dioceses of blessed memory--and for that matter, throughout the vulnerable infrastructure of Anglican Christianity. There need not be either heroes or villains. Everyone, both the leavers and the stayers (whatever one construes leaving and staying to look like), share the same memory, the same appearance, the same voice, the same abilities, as they shared before there were any leavers or stayers. Both have a legitimate claim to their shared inheritance--and I'm talking about an inheritance of identity, which is much more important than any dispute over bricks and mortar. Settling the property disputes raises some difficult issues, some of them agonizing. But they will remain intractable until some accomodation is reached on the identity issue. Solving that one is possible, I'm convinced, if any measure of charity can prevail. It's so easy that it's difficult, and so difficult that it's easy.

4 comments:

Victorian Barbarian said...

Although I disagree with my bishop on many points, including his and the Diocese of Fort Worth's decision to leave TEC, in all fairness he did suggest a better path forward than the one now chosen by the Presiding Bishop.

JamesW. said...

Agree or disagree with the decisions, by any fair and plain meaning of TEC's constitution and canons, and the various diocesan constitutions and canons, there is nothing that prohibits these dioceses from disaffiliating with the General Convention. Accordingly, the Diocese of Forth Worth is that organization headed by Bishop Iker; the Diocese of Quincy is the one currently led by its Standing Committee; the Diocese of Pittsburgh is the one currently led by Bishop Duncan; and the Diocese of San Joaquin is that organization led by Bishop Schofield.

The real tragedy is that had Katharine Jefferts Schori acted in her constitutional role and capacity instead of trying to be TEC's new pope; and if the House of Bishops had accepted Communion agreed upon plans which respected TEC's ACTUAL polity, then none of this division would have happened.

Nicholas+ said...

It is striking and depressing to see how aptly the situation you describe above is explained by Girard's idea of mimetic desire leading to violence and destruction.

And frightening when one thinks that Jesus' primary teaching was to show us that there is only one way to break out of the cycle mimesis.

Martial Artist said...

Fr. Martins,

I think that the portion of the comment above by JamesW is perceptive, although I would state it in a manner I believe is somewhat more precise. I think that this—"by any coherently rational reading of the words of TEC's constitution"—more accurately captures what I think to be a defining issue, and I suspect that may also be closer to what JamesW intended. TEC's approach is not only irrational, based on the plain language of their Constitution and Canons, when their words and actions are compared to the documents defining their polity i.e., it is incoherent. Such a comparison produces in the reader a "say what?" reaction.

While there may be blame enough to go around it is exceedingly clear that one party to these dealings, TEC, is substantially less rationally coherent than the other party, if not egregiously so. I think that difference is a distinction that bears noting, and I suspect that you would tend to agree.

Finally, in reading your post, my initial reaction was that you deem the written correspondence of Fort Worth to be somehow as uncharitable and confrontational as that of the PB. I thought the letters from Bishop Iker and his Standing Committee to be matter of fact, and addressed the issues honestly and forthrightly. Clearly their letters are somewhat, perhaps equally, confrontational, but they stick to facts and actions, and are notably more honest in their choice of words than is the letter from the PB. I am afraid I do not see an equivalence here between the two parties, nor their words and actions.

Blessings and kind regards,
Keith Toepfer