Almost since the day of my election as Eleventh Bishop of Springfield, there have been rumors that some folks in my former diocese (San Joaquin) would mount an organized campaign of opposition to my consecration (scheduled for 19 March 2011). I had hoped that they were the sort of rumors that turn out not to be true. Sadly, this was not the case. Last Thursday I received a phone call from Bishop Jerry Lamb, provisional bishop of the (reconstituted) Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin. Bishop Lamb informed me that, within a matter of a couple of hours, a set of documents would be sent to all the Standing Committees and Bishops-with-jurisdiction asking that they withhold consent from my election. (The package may be found here.)
Since I am aware that Standing Committees across the Episcopal Church meet at various times of the month according to local custom, and that several will indeed be meeting within the next week, and since I don’t have access to the email addresses of all the members of these committees, a platform like my own blog is the only one available to me in which I might effectively respond to charges made by the Bishop and Standing Committee of the Diocese of San Joaquin. I do so acutely aware of the fine line between “presenting a defense” and “being defensive.” I hope to competently do the former while avoiding the latter.
One of the things I have become aware of in all this is that what a person knows to be true about his words and actions doesn’t always correspond with what others perceive about those words and actions. As I have considered my words and actions as a priest active in the affairs of the Diocese of San Joaquin during my thirteen years there (1994-2007), I am aware of how plausible it is for others to surmise that I was at all times an “insider,” that I had Bishop Schofield’s ear and was part of a relatively small group of advisors whom he took into his confidence. I was, after all, a Rural Dean from 2000 until my departure, and a member of the Standing Committee for one term and part of another one, separated by a year of hiatus. I was also an Examining Chaplain and put in charge of organizing many diocesan liturgies.
For much of this time, particularly the first five years of the last decade, this perception can probably be said to be largely true. I shared the concerns of Bishop Schofield, and the majority of clergy and laity within the diocese, over the steady movement of the Episcopal Church’s leadership away from classical Anglican and Christian moral teaching. I was alarmed by the actions of General Convention in 2003. In January 2004 I, along with one other priest and two lay persons, accompanied Bishop Schofield to the organizational meeting for what became the Anglican Communion Network. I signed the charter of that network. Yet, at that very meeting, after some animated discussion, the majority of those voting clarified the intention of the group that the ACN was to operate within the constitution and canons of the Episcopal Church. I voted with the majority on that question, and would not have signed the charter had the matter not prevailed. Also at that same meeting, we explicitly repudiated the so-called “Chapman Memo,” which laid out a strategy for “replacing” the Episcopal Church with another Anglican province.
As we know in retrospect, of course, the Anglican Communion Network did not long retain a commitment to operating within its original framework. In August 2006, I once again represented the diocese at an ACN council meeting and was dismayed by how the tone had changed. Clearly the impetus toward separation on the part of some key leadership was a “done deal.” Even before that time, I had begun to distance myself from participation in such activities, and to voice my reservations at meetings of the Standing Committee and Rural Deans. As a result, I, along with other leaders of similar persuasion, began to perceive that we were being frozen out of the decision-making process, that Bishop Schofield’s true inner circle consisted only of three or four diocesan staff members.
I found myself, then, in an exceedingly awkward place. I revered—indeed, loved—my Bishop, and wanted to be loyal to him to the extent of my conscience. I did not wish to number myself among his detractors, or even to aid them in any way. Moreover, I realized that, even had I been inclined to do so, directly opposing him would have been an utterly fruitless effort. He commanded a strong following among both clergy and laity—and even among the majority of my own parishioners. And as I have mentioned, I was in basic sympathy with the concerns driving the high level of frustration and anger within the diocese.
Yet, at the same time, I knew I could not go where he was going. The sexuality conflict is serious and troubling, but it is my sense now, and was my sense then, that having what I perceive to be the “wrong” view on conflicted issues does not make someone my enemy, only my opponent. I can “share a church” with people who disagree with me on these things; indeed, I believe it a gospel mandate that I do so.
So the path I ended up following was one of loyal and oblique opposition. Ironically, the documents posted by the current San Joaquin Standing Committee, if one takes the time to examine them closely, quite clearly illustrate this. When the Committee on Constitution and Canons proposed an amendment to Article II of the diocesan constitution that said, in effect, “We’re going to be Anglican, and affiliate with a province to be named later,” I cooperated with two clergy colleagues in crafting a substitute that would have been compatible with remaining within the Episcopal Church. (True, it omitted any mention of TEC, but it is worth noting that the “unqualified accession” language had already been removed some years earlier, so that concern was not at issue in 2006.) This was supplemented by a resolution that we drafted that appointed a committee to study various options for ensuring continued affiliation with the Anglican Communion, one of which would have been continued affiliation with the Episcopal Church. I did everything within my power, given the political realities in the diocese, to retard and subvert progress toward separation from the Episcopal Church. I even proposed an amendment to the constitutional change on the floor of convention that would have restored mention of the Episcopal Church to Article II, but my amendment was roundly defeated. So I failed in my efforts, but it was not for lack of trying.
Of course, from late 2006—actually, about the time of the diocesan convention that year—and on into the following year, I was involved with the search process at St Anne’s in Warsaw, Indiana, where I now serve as rector. I accepted that call in May 2007. In my experience, God’s timing usually turns out to be pretty good (!), and in this case it got me out of a situation where my opposition would have needed to turn from oblique to direct, not only with my bishop, but with my own parish, where the vestry was overwhelmingly committed to Bishop Schofield’s leadership. As the saying goes, it would not have been pretty.
Let me conclude by reiterating my intention to make my vows when I am consecrated a bishop without crossing my fingers, either physically or mentally. I will neither attempt to lead, nor cooperate with anyone else’s effort, in taking the Diocese of Springfield out of the Episcopal Church. In fact, I will oppose any such effort. I have tasted the fruit of that sort of activity, and it’s not sweet. I am committed to the Episcopal Church, and believe my specific vocation is to exercise my ministry within the Episcopal Church. My voice has been and will continue to be a minority voice on many important questions. I accept what comes with that territory. It is my call.