Saturday, August 30, 2008

A New Declaration of Independence

The Common Cause Partnership has signaled its intent to petition, and the FCA (GAFCON) Primates' Council has declared it will give priority to the petition, for the recognition of a new North American province within the historical tradition of the Anglican Communion. This marks a watershed in the history of the Communion---a time when the forces resisting the heterodoxy rampant within The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada can no longer be contained within the walls of endless talk erected and maintained by the so-called "Instruments of Unity."

A similar watershed was reached in times past, at a momentous point in the history of our country, and a document was created to memorialize the irrevocable resolve of its founders. That document---the Declaration of Independence---chronicled the abuses and misrule that led to the decision to throw off the King's yoke, and declared to all the world why George III had, by his actions, forfeited his exclusive franchise over the thirteen colonies.

There is no reason why a similar Declaration cannot be drafted now. In just the same way as King George's insults and abuses led our forefathers to declare themselves forever free of his polity, so the members of the Common Cause Partnership, with confidence in the FCA, and with its support, can declare themselves free of the polity of The Episcopal Church (TEC) and of the Anglican Church of Canada (ACoC).

(Some of the members of Common Cause, like the Reformed Episcopal Church, declared themselves free more than a century ago, while others, like CANA and Forward in Faith North America, have from their beginnings been free of TEC and the ACoC. However, because of their exclusive Anglican franchises in North America, TEC and ACoC have been able to date to keep these organizations from being recognized as constituent members of the Anglican Communion. Thus the chief purpose of a modern Declaration would be to state the reasons why those franchises can now no longer remain exclusive, and to lay the foundation for a claim to be independent, co-equal members of the Communion.)   

In putting together the following exercise, I was constantly surprised at how Thomas Jefferson's words could be applied with very little change (once the document had been adapted as a religious, rather than a secular, declaration) to the offenses committed by the leadership of The Episcopal Church. (ACoC readers can easily substitute their own indictments.) Not all of the links below are serious, but most are, and as a whole they bear out the fact that the time has now come to begin the separation that must inevitably occur as we head into the meeting of the House of Bishops in September, the Pittsburgh diocesan convention in October, and the diocesan conventions in Ft. Worth and Quincy in November. Accordingly, with Mr. Jefferson's classic text as a model, here is what such a contemporary "Declaration of Independence" might look like:

The unanimous Declaration of the Common Cause Partners

WHEN in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the religious bands which have connected them with another, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these religious truths to be self-evident, that all baptized Christians are equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, which is Salvation by Grace through Faith.—That to secure these rights, Churches and their Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from God and from the consent of the governed.—That whenever any Form of Church Polity becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it; and to institute a new Church, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Salvation and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Churches long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such a Church, and to provide new Guards for their future security.—Such has been the patient sufferance of these who are now united as Common Cause Partners; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Church Polity. The history of the present Presiding Bishop and General Convention of The Episcopal Church is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these Partners. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

They have refused their Assent to Resolutions affirming the basic Tenets of the Christian Faith, the most wholesome and necessary for the good of the body religious.

They have forbidden their Dioceses to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till their Assent should be obtained.

They intend other Laws demanding the payment of assessments by the Dioceses, unless those Dioceses would relinquish the right of Representation in the General Convention, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

They have called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant, so that the requisite majority needed for action could not attend, for the sole purpose of fatiguing the members into compliance with their measures, adopted without the required number of assents.

They have deposed Bishops and Priests repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness their invasions on the rights of the Dioceses and Congregations.

They have obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing their Assent to Presentments for violation of the Church Canons.

They have made Bishops dependent on their Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

They have erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.

They have established among us, in times of peace, Standing Committees without the Consent of any duly noticed Diocesan Convention.

They have affected to render the Presiding Bishop independent of and superior to the Canons that embody the Discipline of the Church.

They have combined with others to subject us to a theology foreign to our tradition, and unacknowledged by our scriptures; giving their Assent to the teaching of false doctrine.

For Quartering large bodies of clergy preaching and celebrating open sin among us:

For protecting them, by unscriptural enactments, from being excluded from ordination, or from deposition once ordained:

For cutting off our bonds with all parts of the Anglican Communion:

For imposing Immorality on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury through the abuse of the "Abandonment of Communion" Canons, and through new canons proposed for adoption:

For forcing us to look beyond the Seas for adequate pastoral oversight, and for denouncing and hindering our every attempt to do so:

For abolishing the free System of Canon law in the Diocese of San Joaquin, and establishing therein an Arbitrary Church government, so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into other Dioceses:

For taking away the right freely to amend our Diocesan Constitutions, falsely construing our most valuable Canons, and thereby altering fundamentally the Forms of our Church Governments:

For suspending our own elected Ecclesiastical Authorities, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate and execute for us in all cases whatsoever:

They have forfeited and abdicated their exclusive Anglican franchise here, by declaring us out of their Protection and waging War against us.

They have squandered our reserves on wasteful proceedings at law, laid claim to our properties, seized our bank accounts, and destroyed the Lives of our people.

They are at this time plotting new resolutions and legislation for the next General Convention, to complete the works of desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy of the Head of a Christian religion.

They have constrained our fellow Bishops to bring charges against their Will, to become the deposers of their friends and Brethren, or to be deposed themselves by their Hands.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Primate, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free Church.

Nor have We been wanting in attention to our British brethren, from whose Church we were born. We have warned them from time to time of the attempts by The Episcopal Church to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too---especially their Archbishop of Canterbury---have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in Oppression, in Faith Friends.—

WE, THEREFORE, the REPRESENTATIVES of the Common Cause Partners, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of our Churches, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Churches, Dioceses and their Members are, and of Right ought to be FREE AND INDEPENDENT of The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to or Dependence upon the said Churches, and that all political and canonical connection between them and those Churches, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent members of the Anglican Communion, they have full Power to organize themselves as they deem fit, conclude Covenants, recognize and bestow Orders, establish Relationships in Communion, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent Churches may of right do.—And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.


  1. The irony in all this is that bungling British management - or more properly, mismanagement - led to both the original Declaration and to this present one.

    The sad thing is that this could have been prevented, but Dr. Williams decided to fiddle while the Communion was burning. He has only himself to blame.

    I do have one quibble. you say:

    "...and to institute a new Church, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Salvation and Happiness..."

    I just wanted to point out that Salvation comes from the Lord Jesus Christ, not by church polity and organization. Other than that, an excellent effort!


  2. Allen Lewis, you are entirely correct. Jefferson's original text read "Safety and Happiness", and I changed "Safety" to "Salvation", in the process of adapting the Declaration to a religious purpose.

    No one, of course, can ensure Salvation by what they do. However, it seems to me that a large part of how a Church is established (and subsequently governed) has to be pointed towards the goal of enabling Salvation, otherwise what is the purpose of belonging to, and going to, such a Church?

    On further reflection, therefore, I think I will let my revision to Jefferson's text stand. Before the passage you cite, I changed the text to express what I trust you will agree is the doctrinally correct point of view that "Happiness," from the religious standpoint, consists in realizing "Salvation by Grace through Faith." A Church that strives to offer an environment in which its worshippers can, through their faith, aspire to the salvation that only the Lord's grace can bring them is, in my view, fulfilling the role that Christ intended for his Church here on Earth. So, while such a Church is not the direct means of salvation, let it at least be recognized as not placing any stumbling blocks in the way of that salvation which the Lord's grace bestows. Perhaps this sense could best be expressed by changing the verb from Jefferson's "effect" to "allow":

    ". . . and to institute a new Church, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to allow their Salvation and Happiness . . ."

    That still does not accomplish the full intent of your comment, I realize. Since the source of the grace through which salvation is achieved is the Lord alone, even to say that a Church "allows" salvation may be taken as expressing the view that the Church somehow contributes to it, when it would be more accurate to say that the Church is merely the vessel through which salvation is attained---and even then, it is not the sole vessel, but just a vessel. Nevertheless, in establishing a church, men certainly intend that it shall be a, if not the, means of their salvation. So with these comments as an elaboration, I shall leave the text unchanged.

  3. Excellent stuff!

    And I can't wait for the musical version to hit broadway, a la 1776. Imagine what a really skilled costume designer could make of the Presiding Bishop's oven mitt.


  4. Curmudgeon -
    I should have said it was a minor quibble. I certainly hoped that what you expanded on in your reply to my post was what was going on in your head.

    That is the problem with language and declarations. It seems that we cannot say it all in just a few words.

    But your effort was a marvelous one and most inspirational. Kudos to you, sir!

  5. Thanks again for all your fine work. It is much appreciated.

    Here's a quote from a later pol to add some grist to your mill:

    "Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear. -Harry S. Truman, 33rd US president (1884-1972)

  6. Excellent! I always appreciate your posts, and this is one I will share with many. Peace be with you!