Saturday, October 18, 2008

In the Land of the Canon-Eaters

Back from a trip that did not include any regular Internet access, and I must say: I recommend such a vacation now and then to everyone who blogs---it will help you keep your sanity. Because on my return, I find the usual insanities and contradictions abroad in the name of The Episcopal Church---this time, an episode which I shall style:

A "Murder of Crows" Compounded

A few posts back, I warned that the result of TEC's piling irregularity upon irregularity would be "a murder of crows, a scold of jays, and a sneak of weasels." The unorganized group that styles itself "the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin" continues to make my point.

In the post just linked, I pointed out the charade behind the Remain Episcopal group's calling itself a "diocese" of TEC---with TEC's complicity, because it needed a plaintiff in a lawsuit to claim the property that went with the Diocese that left. The "diocese" that remains is not a proper Diocese of The Episcopal Church, because only General Convention can make it so, and General Convention does not meet until next year. As much as TEC and Remain Episcopal would like to wish it were not so, the Diocese that was a proper diocese of TEC amended its own Constitution and canons to put itself under the authority of the Province of the Southern Cone. Those amendments were perfectly proper and legal under California law, and they violated no language in TEC's own Constitution and Canons. TEC itself is a "voluntary association" of member dioceses, and members of voluntary associations are, as the name itself says, free to decide to leave at any time.

Since the only legal entity under California law which had been a TEC diocese chose lawfully to amend its governing documents, there is no legal entity left under California law in that region to fulfill the function of a diocese in TEC. Such an entity will have to be newly organized from scratch under California law, and when it has so organized and can be recognized as a legal entity, it can apply to GC 2009 to be admitted as a diocese (provided GC 2009 makes a few further canonical modifications, the details of which I have discussed here). Only then will there be a properly constituted Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin once again.

Neither TEC nor the Remain Episcopal crowd, however, gives a fig for the Constitution and Canons of TEC when they constitute an obstacle to TEC's gay-rights agenda. I shall say it again: TEC, and those who collude with it, such as Bishop Jerry Lamb and the whole Remain Episcopal crowd in San Joaquin, are no longer interested in being a church in the Anglican Communion if it means they cannot promote a gay-rights agenda. So TEC is transmuting into, as one commenter at StandFirm aptly put it, "a gay religion club."

For proof of this statement, one has only to read Father Dan Martins' post on the canonical change proposed for the upcoming "non-convention" of the "non-diocese". In other words, we have a gathering of the Remain Episcopal crowd, which is not yet a legal entity that can be a diocese of TEC, announced as a regular "annual diocesan Convention", which is supposed to adopt a change in the diocesan canons so as to make it "canonical" for gay clergy to have sex with their partners, whether or not they are "married" to those partners under (current) California law (as proclaimed by a 4-3 majority of the California Supreme Court). You can read for yourself the proposed change to Canon 33.01, which currently reads as follows:
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 change proposed would delete the last clause, and make the Canon read:
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.
According to the TEC/Remain Episcopal group, the rationale for the proposed change is this:
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.
In this so-called "justification" for the proposed change, we have a textbook example of how the liberal mind regards canons. First of all, we are told that the "canon as currently drafted is in conflict with the . . . 'Rights of the Laity' (Canon I.17.5), as well as with a corresponding canon that sets out what the justifiers say are corresponding "Rights of the Clergy" (Canon III.1.2; but see below). Canon 33.01 says nothing about the laity; it speaks only to clergy who would propose to engage in sexual relationships outside of marriage. So how do the justifiers reach the conclusion that it infringes on rights of the laity?

If we are to take the explanation at face value, the perceived conflict must arise from the fact that the diocesan Canon explicitly forbids something which the national canon explicitly (or implicitly?) guarantees as a "right". But what does the diocesan Canon forbid? Sexual relationships outside of marriage. Thus we are forced to conclude that in the eyes of the justifiers, at least, among the "rights" of the Episcopal Church laity guaranteed by Canon I.17.5 is the right to have sex with a member of the clergy to whom one is not married. For if the proposal is to delete from the Canon the language that clergy "are to abstain from sexual relations outside of Holy Matrimony" on the ground that this "potentially" infringes the rights of the laity under Canon I.17.5, what else can we conclude?

Surely, however, what will remain of the Canon after the proposed amendment is sufficient to prohibit extramarital relationships of the kind forbidden by the Seventh Commandment. So just what kind of relationships are we talking about between the laity and the clergy which are "guaranteed" to them under the provisions of Canon I.17.5 and III.1.2, respectively?

It cannot be homosexual relationships, can it? For this is a canon that is operative in California, where gay marriages are currently the law, so a prohibition on sexual relations outside of "Holy Matrimony" would not seem to create a problem in California. Ah, but two considerations now rear their ugly heads: 1) there is a proposal that goes before the California voters on November 4 that would define marriage as between "a man and a woman", and so remove the right of gay persons to claim that their sexual relations were occurring within marriage; and 2) the Canon speaks not of "marriage" as such, but of "Holy Matrimony," that is, marriage as defined by the Book of Common Prayer---which, regardless of what California law says, defines marriage as between "a man and a woman.

So now do we have our Episcopal civil rights straight? Before the proposed amendment to Canon 33.01, the right to have sexual relations extended only to those male and female clergy who were married to partners of the opposite sex, and their sexual relations could be only with those partners, and no one else. But that restriction is seen as "infringing" on the right of gay laity and gay clergy to have same-sex relations with whomever they choose, however often they choose, and whenever and wherever they choose. Such a right was, in the view of those proposing the change, implicitly guaranteed when General Convention adopted Canon I.17.5 in 1994, to read as follows:
No one shall be denied rights, status or access to an equal place in the life, worship, and governance of this Church because of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, disabilities or age, except as otherwise specified by Canons.
But now, wait a minute---if this language guarantees the right to homosexual relations at any time and place with any partner of one's choice, it can only be because such relations are an intrinsic part of "the life, worship and governance" of TEC. And notice that if the Canon indeed may be so read, then it has to guarantee the same freedom to copulate to heterosexuals, who are also a group defined by their "sexual orientation." So if gays get to have sexual relations outside of Holy Matrimony because of this Canon, then so do straights. And where does that leave "Thou shalt not commit adultery"?

One would think that one would pause before accepting a reading of a national canon that explicitly "guarantees" a right to sexual relations that violate the Seventh Commandment. But not the folks behind Remain Episcopal---no, they plunge right ahead, in their zeal to guarantee to all gays the right to do what they do. And this is why I agree with Father Timothy Fountain that TEC has become "a gay religion club."

I cannot refrain from noticing as well that the appeal to Canon III.1.2 is utterly bogus. For that Canon does not grant the same "right" to clergy that Canon I.17.5 supposedly does to laity. It reads (with italics added for emphasis):
No person shall be denied access to the discernment process for any ministry, lay or ordained, in this Church because of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, disabilities or age, except as otherwise provided by these Canons.
I doubt that even TEC has gone so far as to claim that gay sexual relations are an inherent part of "the discernment process for any ministry . . . in this Church." But that is what the "justification" offered for the proposed change to Canon 33.01 purports to say.

There is not a current word in the English language adequate to describe the liberals who simply choose to make a Canon of the Church mean whatever they want it to mean from one moment to the next, from one argument to the next, and from one court to the next. The meaning of a Canon, in their eyes, is not to be derived from its language, but rather from its function. Thus it is the function of the "Abandonment of Communion" canon to depose a bishop, priest or deacon without the bother of a trial; well, then, let it be read however necessary to accomplish the deposition desired in a given case.

And likewise, in this case, it is the "function" of Canon III.1.2 to extend the same rights to gay clergy as Canon I.17.5 does to gay laity: therefore let them both be read as equal and parallel, and as guaranteeing the right of sexual relations outside of Holy Matrimony (as defined by the BCP) to all as well. As for the Seventh Commandment, well, obviously a TEC Canon trumps that!

Those who feel at liberty so to read the Canons of this Church are dooming it to anarchy, or even worse, to the mindless and random insults and injuries of Lewis Carroll's Wonderland. By analogy to Homer's Lotos-eaters, whose devouring the lotos plant made them forget who and where they were, forget about house and home and simply concern themselves with getting more of the plant to eat, I shall call such persons the "Canon-eaters". By treating the canons as nothing more than objects to be consumed as necessary to maintain the current regnant heterodoxy, the Canon-eaters are breathing new life into Tennyson's lines:
In the afternoon they came unto a land
In which it seemed always afternoon.
All round the coast the languid air did swoon,
Breathing like one that hath a weary dream.
Full-faced above the valley stood the moon;
And like a downward smoke, the slender stream
Along the cliff to fall and pause and fall did seem.

. . .
A land where all things always seem'd the same!
And round about the keel with faces pale,
Dark faces pale against that rosy flame,
The mild-eyed melancholy Lotos-eaters came.

Branches they bore of that enchanted stem,
Laden with flower and fruit, whereof they gave
To each, but whoso did receive of them,
And taste, to him the gushing of the wave
Far far away did seem to mourn and rave
On alien shores; and if his fellow spake,
His voice was thin, as voices from the grave;
And deep-asleep he seem'd, yet all awake,
And music in his ears his beating heart did make.

But the Canon-eaters have not contented themselves with securing the right, as they imagine it, to extramarital sex for all their clergy. No, they have bigger fish to fry---they propose now to read Canon IV.10 to allow them to "depose" all those who elected to pick up licenses from the Southern Cone. And to do this, of course, they really have to bend the rules by eating a few more Canons.

Consider: the "standing committee" of a group that is no longer a TEC diocese has charged that 52 of the clergy who are members in good standing of the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin have "abandoned the Communion of this Church." Never mind that these clergy were all given permission so to transfer by Bishop John-David Schofield before TEC inhibited him, and in so doing joined a Church "in communion with" TEC (at least, from TEC's point of view, since General Convention has not declared TEC "out of communion" with any other Anglican Church), and never mind that Canon IV.10 specifically defines "abandonment" as the joining of "any religious body not in communion with this Church"---we are dealing here with the "logic" of the Canon-eaters, remember?

No, what is remarkable here is a point made first by Father Dan Martins, and touched upon here in the post referenced earlier: by charging these 52 clergy with "abandonment", the pseudo-diocese of San Joaquin is making a legal admission that these same clergy were canonically part of its makeup over the past eleven months. And why is that significant? Because, when the pseudo-diocese held its "special convention" last March 29, those 52 then counted towards the determination of whether a quorum of its clergy were in fact present to transact lawful business, such as the approval of the Rt. Rev. Jerry A. Lamb as provisional bishop, and authorizing him to commence litigation against the Rt. Rev. John-David Schofield.

Canon 3.01 of the Diocese of San Joaquin provides that for purposes of a diocesan convention, a "quorum" includes one-third of all the clergy who were canonically resident in the diocese for the three months preceding the convention. There were 82 such clergy who voted on the changes proposed at the annual convention held in December 2007, including most of the 52 whose names are now on the list to be deposed. For the "special convention" held three months later on March 29, therefore, the required "quorum" of clergy to be present was on the order of at least 28 (one-third of 82). And according to official reports, there were only 21 clergy at the March 29 "convention." Which, under the Canons again, means that the business transacted on March 29 was null and void. Bishop Lamb was not validly approved as Provisional Bishop; the "standing committee" that was purportedly elected was not validly chosen, and currently has no valid authority to charge any clergy with "abandonment", and neither Bishop Lamb nor his "diocese" is a proper party plaintiff in the current lawsuit.

Now the Canon-eaters could have taken the position that as of March 29, the 52 clergy on their list were no longer canonically resident in the diocese, and in so doing, they could have saved their quorum of clergy at the "convention" (which was still unlawful, as not properly called by "the Ecclesiastical Authority" and not called on a minimum of thirty days' notice). But that would have deprived them of their ability to depose those clergy.  And if they recognized the validity of the departures to another Province, the Remain Episcopal group would have undercut their legal position that a diocese cannot leave The Episcopal Church. Thus, by bringing forward charges of abandonment, they are being consistent with their legal position, but they have handed their opponents a significant concession that they failed to have a valid quorum to do business on March 29.

Ah, but these are the Canon-eaters. So listen once again to the languid phrases of Lord Tennyson, who perfectly captures their utter indifference to the impossibility of their situation:

Hateful is the dark-blue sky,
Vaulted o'er the dark-blue sea.
Death is the end of life; ah, why
Should life all labour be?
Let us alone. Time driveth onward fast,
And in a little while our lips are dumb.
Let us alone. What is it that will last?
All things are taken from us, and become
Portions and parcels of the dreadful past.
Let us alone. What pleasure can we have
To war with evil? Is there any peace
In ever climbing up the climbing wave?
All things have rest, and ripen toward the grave
In silence; ripen, fall and cease:
Give us long rest or death, dark death, or dreamful ease.

. . .
We have had enough of action, and of motion we,
Roll'd to starboard, roll'd to larboard, when the surge was seething free,
Where the wallowing monster spouted his foam-fountains in the sea.
Let us swear an oath, and keep it with an equal mind,
In the hollow Lotos-land to live and lie reclined
On the hills like Gods together, careless of mankind. . . .


  1. Oh, what a tangled web we weave
    When first we practice to deceive.

    Martial Artist
    Keith H. Toepfer
    LCDR, USN (ret)

  2. Sir,

    You are like a painter who has beautifully rendered a scene. You have painted the truth.

    The only thing I wish is that the truth were as much a thing of beauty as is your rendering of it.

    We live in sad, sad times.

    Yours truly,
    Hot Rod Anglican