Sunday, December 02, 2007

San Joaquin On Deck

Pittsburgh did it. Fort Worth did it. Now it's San Joaquin's turn this coming weekend. But there's more at stake this time, because San Joaquin is coming back for seconds. As Bullwinkle said to Rocky: "This time for sure."

According to the constitution of most (all?) dioceses of the Episcopal Church, a proposed amendment to said constitution does not become effective until it is passed on a second reading. At its annual convention last year, San Joaquin approved, by overwhelming majorities in both the clergy and lay orders, the following language for Article II of its constitution:

Article II
Anglican Identity
The Diocese of San Joaquin is constituted by the Faith, Order, and Practice of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church as received by the Anglican Communion. The Diocese shall be a constituent member of the Anglican Communion and in full communion with the See of Canterbury.

The previous (that is, still-in-effect at this moment) Article II is all about acceding to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church, and to the authority of General Convention. For most of the diocese's history, that accession was unqualified, as is required by the Constitution and Canons of "this church" for dioceses that are being admitted into union with General Convention. About five years ago--my memory fails me--that accession was qualified in that the diocese reserved to itself the right to declare null and void any action of General Convention considered to be in conflict with the diocese's own constitution and canons. For whatever it's worth, that prerogative has never been exercised. It may also be worth mentioning that San Joaquin's deputation to General Convention has been seated twice--unchallenged--after that qualifying language was added.

Full disclosure: Prior to a move three and a half months ago, I was for thirteen years rector of the oldest parish in the Diocese of San Joaquin (indeed, the third oldest Episcopal church on the west coast). I was, at various times, a member (and chair) of the Commission on Ministry, a Rural Dean, a member (and chair) of the Board of Examining Chaplains, Secretary of Convention, an instructor in the diocesan school for ministry, coordinator of training and licensing for (licensed) lay ministries, and a member of the Standing Committee (one full term and one interrupted by my move). I also served as an elected deputy to the past two General Conventions. You might say I was involved in the life of the diocese, and while I no longer have a direct stake in the outcome of the impending vote, I have a huge emotional stake. I poured out my life serving the Diocese of San Joaquin, and its bishop, whom I revere and love.

There are many ways to parse the meaning of the proposed new Article II, and the effect of its passage. First, in broad terms, it makes clear the desire and intent of the diocese to be and remain Anglican, and it strongly indicates an understanding of Anglican identity as rooted inherently in a state of full communion with the See of Canterbury. I find this, taken in its plain literal sense, to be greatly encouraging. It states a firm resolve not to be part of any renegade spinoff iteration of Anglicanism led by the Global South, sans Canterbury. Does this guarantee that no one within the leadership or membership of the diocese has a notion of Canterbury being other than of the esse of Anglicanism? No, it does not. But anyone who entertains such a vision would be wise to vote against the proposed change and work on another version that gets it right (and which itself would have to pass two consecutive conventions), because the version on the table firmly commites San Joaquin to playing on Canterbury's team, which is to say, at this point in time, Rowan Williams' team.

Again, reading the amendment in its most direct sense, it does not cut ties with the Episcopal Church. Granted, Bishop Schofield and most of those who assemble in Fresno this Friday understand it as doing so, and the Presiding Bishop and her legal team will no doubt concur. But that is simply not what the language says, nor is it what was intended by those who drafted the language. I can speak with some authority on this because I was one of a group of three clerics who drafted the language and submitted it as a substitute for that which had been prepared by the diocesan staff, under the auspices of the Committee on Constitution and Canons, which, after some initial consternation, accepted the substitute as "friendly." Yes, reference to the Episcopal Church is removed from the proposed Article II, but affiliation with the Episcopal Church is nowhere expressly denied, and it is not implausible ("likely" is another matter--I'm talking plausibility here) that the diocese could pass this amendment and still continue to order both its interal and external life according to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church. What I'm suggesting is that adoption of the new Article II is not, in an of itself, a smoking gun. Such evidence of "abandonment of the communion of this church" would have to be found elsewhere, in some other act of the convention or the elected leadership of the diocese (i.e. the Bishop, the Standing Committee, and the Diocesan Council all acting in concert in a way that unambiguously separates themselves from TEC).

One such act, of course, would be for the diocese to accede to some larger direct authority other than the General Convention--like, for instance the Province of the Southern Cone. By all accounts, this is what the Bishop and his inner circle hope will happen. To my knowledge, however, there is no resolution to that effect that has been drafted, vetted, and submitted through channels. Anything that comes before the convention that would formalize an alignment with the Southern Cone will be something that most delegates will not have laid eyes on before their attention is directed to the PowerPoint projection on the white walls of the Eden Community Room of St James' Cathedral. Anything put forward at such a late hour, and without thorough discussion beforehand throughout the diocese, is bound to raise both concern and confusion, which does not bode well for the passage of a resolution that would provide a clear "we're outta here" gloss on the constitutional change.

What would I be doing were I still in the Diocese of San Joaquin? I think I would be actively whipping votes of the 'Nay' variety. Although I reluctantly voted in favor of it last year, subsequent events in the life of the Anglican Communion, viewed in the context of a Catholic ecclesiology that is, I believe, one of the critical elements of our 'Anglican DNA,' lead me to conclude that the most faithful course for an orthodox Anglican (individual, parish, or diocese) in the Episcopal Church is to make an "unqualified accession" to the principles of the Windsor Report and to otherwise bravely and charitably endure the slings and arrows of life in "this church." Many whom I revere disagree with me on this, but so is my conscience formed (and, I trust, informed). But, I would be going about my politicking with a heavy heart. This is really a Lose-Lose proposition either way.

And it's by no means a slam dunk: The motion has to be approved concurrently by two-thirds of the clergy and two-thirds of the laity. I'm not making any predictions, but just counting noses among the clergy, I would be sweating bullets and working the phones if I were the floor manager for this bill. Do not misread me here: The overwhelming majority of both clergy and laity in the diocese are "reasserter" in their theological and moral views. The overwhelming majority--near unanimity here--hold Bishop Schofield in the highest personal esteem and love him for his faithful pastoral care and courageous witness. There is, of course, a small minority of "progressives" in San Joaquin, and they will, one can safely presume, be voting in the negative. But there is also a contingent of both clergy and laity who, while as theologically and morally conservative as the day is long, are not persuaded that cutting ties with TEC is even morally justified, let alone imperative. I doubt there is any active conspiring between these two elements that are usually at odds with one another, but they will form a de facto political coalition that should keep things close, and my own eyes will be glued to Anglican TV when the time comes next Saturday.

Both the mainstream media and blogsphere, with their insatiable appetite for polarizing headlines, will focus all attention on the one big vote, and herald the result either as something akin to the first shot fired on Fort Sumpter, or a joyful affirmation of fealty (unqualified, of course) to the Episcopal Church. It will, in fact, be neither. Whichever way the vote goes, there will be partings among friends, among those who have labored shoulder-to-shoulder for the cause of the gospel. These partings will be tearful and, at moments, angry. The largest and (heretofore) healthiest parishes of the diocese will be ripped asunder. All will suffer financially, and that even before the pernicious litigation from 815 gets underway (if the Ayes have it). This is all tragic. This is all of the Evil One. Lord, have mercy.


A Square Peg said...

We are willing to stand up for what we believe. We will not be bullied and overpowered by ECUSA. We will be faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ and the teachings of the Apostles and Scripture.

We will not stay in a judicial body that is straying theologically. We will take up our cross and stand faithful to Christ and follow him to the end of day. We will be united with all other Christians throughout the world in the Anglican Communion who believe the same way. We will not run as others have done to avoid this diocesan convention.

Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven. "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law-- a man's enemies will be the members of his own household. Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”
Matt 10:32-38

Anonymous said...

Square peg, please understand I agree with you about TEC "straying theologically". They have been doing that for decades. Their theological shifts can be followed through most General Conventions from 1900 on. If you can not stay in the judicial body that is straying NOW, why could you stay in it for so long before? No matter if the straying is sexual, or women's ordinations, or remarriage after divorce, or the devaluation of the 39 Articles... what makes it a NOW thing?

Can it be that some of us will take up our cross and standing faithful to Christ will follow him INTO the midst of those who have lost their way? My calling is to follow Christ. Both to obey Him and to walk with Him where He goes. The Gospel accounts are full of where Jesus went in order to teach, correct, inspire & reprove. He went to the lost, the confused, the ones who had strayed (theologically & other wise)in order to give them a glimpse of the Kingdom, the right relationship to the Father.

If all the orthodox leave and there is no one left to teach the laity in TEC or to encourage the clergy in orthodoxy (as well as orthopraxis) then we have made a judgment that they (the people of TEC) are not worthy of God's Salvation. I'm not sure anyone who claims to be orthodox can make that judgment. It would violate the Great Commission and of course begins the slippery slope of who else do we refuse to share the Gospel with? Where else do we exclude, by our decisions..our judgments is unworthy to know Jesus?

Again, peg, I agree with you, individuals in TEC are straying, the leaders are straying, bishops are straying, a majority of the delegates at general convention are is straying. I just can't walk away from my brothers & sisters with the attitude of "I have the truth & they don't deserve to hear it or be saved". Some of us are called to be faithful to Jesus by being that light in the wilderness, a voice of orthodoxy surrounded by sinners. Do not condemn fellow workers in the Kingdom because theirs is a different call than yours.

Frair John said...

From whence did the Diocese come? Did it spring forth from the forehead of the Apostles ala Athena from Zeus?

Kirstin said...

You and I could hardly be further across the aisle from each other--but I really respect you for writing this. Thank you.

I hope your old colleagues read it, and take it to heart.

Anonymous said...

Now do tell us, Father, how this argument serves your own theo-political interests—namely that by arguing that the proposed constitutional change is not a smoking gun, there's nothing the loyalist Church can do about it until after your precious former bishop absconds with our churches.

This goes beyond spin to pure bull.

Josh Indiana

Alan Rogers said...

Since anonymous mentions divorce and remarriage as a manifestation of "Theological straying", I am compelled to offer an observation.

There are churches all over the Diocese of San Jaoquin, officially and unofficially, drawing lines in the sand about the gays. The latest official one is St. Paul's Bakersfield, which accuses TEC of "blessing...sin" in its parish profile.

The ultiimate irony to me is that these same churches re-marry divorced persons regularly, with the Bishop's permission, then allow them to serve in leadership positions.

I think this constitutes picking and choosing what "sin" is.

Anonymous said...

While I'm pretty much an old fashioned "orthodox" priest, I've never had a good feeling about people splitting over whatever the issue du jour is. Having come from the Presbyterian Church to the Episcopal Church, I know that being one with many I disagree with is preferable to being a congregation (or diocese) beholden to itself. I'm convinced that splitting leads only to more splits. I keep going back to what Jesus did...he chose Peter, a fisherman with potentially heavy tax liability, and he chose Levi, a tax collector. Of course, when we say "yeah, but this situation isn't exactly the same", we're in good company, namely, Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, guys like that.

Anonymous said...

Dear Father,

Do you still feel the same way after that appalling letter from Jefferts Shori to + John-David? Your response is a recipe for the extinction of orthodoxy not only in TEC but everywhere.
Thank God Athanasius was not so minded!

Anonymous said...

It seems as though the word UNITY has been sadly forgotton in all of the rhetoric that has been shared on various blogs, websites, etc. What ever happened to the idea that we are all members of one body and that each member has need of the other members? TEC needs orthodoxy. We need to find a way to stay at the same table and realize how much we all need each other. CJS's letter to Bishop Schofield was not appalling but rather an appeal to stay and "fight" for beliefs and principles. Running is easy; staying is hard. May God have mercy on all of us.

Anonymous said...

"CJS's letter to Bishop Schofield was not appalling but rather an appeal to stay and "fight" for beliefs and principles."

As the Duke of Wellington said when addressed as "Mr Smith?"
"If you believe that, you will believe anything."

RFSJ said...

Fr. Martin,

with respect, I think your analysis is misleading. Bishop Schofield's Pastoral Letter of 11/18 indicated quite clearly the intent of the Diocese to realign with the Southern Cone. to say otherwise is disingenuous at best.


Anonymous said...

Bishop Schofield's letter to which you refer indicates the intent of Bishop Schofield. A bishop alone does not a diocese make. "The diocese" (at least insofar as it is represented in convention) will speak on Saturday. Perhaps the delegates will concur with him, perhaps not. If it passes, I do not think it will be by more than 70% in the clergy order--that is, barely the necessary two-thirds.

Unknown said...

Fr Dan,
I think the fact that you are getting heat from both sides here means... something, anyway. Fortunately, or unfortunately, my diocese is not considering the actions that have been taken in FW, SJ, or Pittsburgh. I don't know how I would vote. My prayers go out to your friends and former colleagues this weekend and also to all the orthodox like you, and me, who are left behind, a little less strong each time more leave.

Anonymous said...

By way of full disclosure I must make clear that I am not a cradle Episcoplian, having been raised LCMS. I am 62 years old and have been Episcopalian for 37 years. That having been said, I have been described by the rector of the parish prior to my current one a as "very catholic" man.

I understand your position, but I am not sure that such is where the Holy Spirit is leading me and my wife. I am currently in a very catholic parish, probably the most catholic in our Diocese (Olympia). But I have begun to wonder if I am not more catholic than the parish, let alone the Diocese or TEC. Since 2003 I have felt a pull toward an εκκλησία closer not only to the early church but also to the desert fathers. I find myself drawn more and more toward the idea of swimming away to such a jurisdiction, given the dysfunction of TEC. The only questions for me are (a) is this a calling of the Spirit, (b) does my beloved wife feel likewise called, and (c) if so, is the body of water to be swum the Tiber or the Bosporus? Regardless of the ultimate answer, I am compelled to pray for not only our own circumstances, but also those for our current parish community and for those in TEC who will stay, and those who will go.

Perhaps the most distressing aspect of this whole mess is the attitude I see in the actions and attitudes of a majority of the leadership within TEC.

Blessings and regards