Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Oxymoron of Church Politics

[O/T: See this post for an update (scroll to the bottom) on the San Joaquin litigation.]

Perhaps no event in current memory has so well brought into focus the aims and aspirations of the LGBT wing in ECUSA as the recent publication of the Communion Partner Bishops' Statement, in conjunction with the Anglican Communion Institute. The Statement, and the circumstances surrounding its publication, served as a filter of sorts, eliminating all the usual background noise and hiss, and allowing one to perceive in its raw and unmitigated form both the political ambitions of the Episcopal left, as well as the sheer fury of which they are capable over any attempt to thwart them.

It was indeed extraordinary to be able to read the Statement in its complete form (with footnote references) on the sites of Episcopal LGBTs and their supporters before the ACI officially published it (with slightly different signatories). Not only did they rush to publish it ahead of time, but they also published the private and confidential emails that were exchanged between the drafters and some of the signatories (I shall not compound the offense by providing a link). As BabyBlue documented, they then indulged in an orgy of self-congratulation over their breaches of privilege.

Many other bloggers have excoriated those who have no regard for the privacy of communications between an attorney and his clients, but I find nothing new in how low those on the left can sink in order to (as they believe) advance their cause. After all, they did not treat as confidential the email they purloined from Bishop Duncan, because they believed it would assist in getting him deposed without a trial. Yet they are the first to cry "Foul!" when their own emails published on the House of Bishops/House of Deputies list, which go to thousands of subscribers, and then (surprise!) turn up published elsewhere without their permission. As I have demonstrated time and again, the left generally abhors the consistency that logic impels; for them the end justifies the means nearly every time.

Their level of ad hominem attack is just as typical. Forget that fifteen ECUSA bishops have endorsed the Statement as an accurate description of Church polity; focus on the person who advised them---and don't forget to slur the only woman bishop among the signers, too. Along the way, add in some sexual innuendo and calls for deposition and "excommunication" (now there's a hierarchical idea), and you have a particularly odiferous gallimaufry of sentiments. (Again, I refuse to perpetuate the calumnies by repeating them, or by linking to them; you can find them on your own.)

The Statement by the Bishops was also nothing new or surprising---it amplified on the ACI paper written by Mark McCall and published one year ago, but proceeded from the perspective of those bishops who signed it. Given this fact, one has to ask the question: why the outrage this time? It exceeded by far anything which the earlier statement provoked.

After slogging through the Episcopal LGBT posts, and mining them for what substantive points in opposition they contain, I believe I have one explanation, at least, for the overreaction on the left. Keep in mind that the bishops are circulating this Statement just three months before the start of General Convention 2009. Now if ever there was a legislative body about to be convened over which the LGBTs in ECUSA think they have complete control, it is GC2009. Louie Crew has been hard at work for years to prepare first for the diocesan conventions which would elect their deputies, and in the time since has researched and published the name and email of each and every deputy, and identified LGBTs and their supporters among them. The catalog of Resolutions proposed for a vote includes no less than eight proposing to overturn or modify the infamous Resolution B033 from General Convention 2006---as though it had been binding in the first place (it was not).

In short, GC 2009 is slated as the Convention where Episcopal LGBTs can and will finally take complete control over ECUSA's agenda---approving rites for same-sex blessings, adopting canons that would prohibit priests from solemnizing civil marriages, encouraging open communion for all without regard to baptism, pushing off consideration of that dreaded Anglican Covenant, and so on and so forth. The years of patience in mastering the complexities of diocesan elections, in seeing LGBTs and their supporters elected as deputies and then appointed to major committees, and in steering both the budget and the agenda in the directions desired, are about to pay off.

But what if the castle that has been the object of such effort does not actually command the territory? What if, like Dorothy, the Episcoleft finds that there is no omnipotent Wizard on the throne, but just a little man pulling levers and throwing switches behind a curtain? What if the LGBTs manage finally to take over the governing levers of ECUSA only to find out that ECUSA is not hierarchical after all? Ay, that would indeed be tragic, if such years of effort proved to be ultimately in vain.

Therein lies, I think, the source of the ferocity summoned to defend the proposition that the Episcopal Church (USA) is hierarchical. And therein lies also the explanation for the Presiding Bishop's campaign to become a metropolitan in deed, if not in word. For those on the left, authority is useless if it cannot be exercised to further the agenda, and to increase one's hold on power. (This is why their ultimate authority is the Holy Spirit---no one can say for certain what He does and does not approve, and so He can be cited as in support of anything. Power without accountability is to those on the left as catnip is to a cat.)

The Statement from the Communion Partners Bishops strikes straight at the heart of the many-headed Episcopal hydra, by insisting that each of the heads is not subject to an overarching authority in all things, but is capable of making autonomous decisions on its own where no power has been ceded---regardless of what resolutions may be passed (or defeated) by General Convention. A resolution from General Convention is nothing more than a momentary consensus, just like a resolution from Lambeth. But there is this difference: there is no Constitution spelling out any authority of the Lambeth Conference, with the result that its powers of suasion are purely moral and collegial. The Constitution of ECUSA, on the other hand, spells out in detail the makeup, the procedures and the authority of General Convention, so that anyone who wants to know whether it has power to legislate on a given subject can look it up. (Hint: if it's not there, then it has no power to legislate.) Lambeth at its roots is moral, while General Convention is pretty much political.

And being political, it is a prize to be taken over, from the left's point of view. The right has all but ceded the contest, and is of necessity retreating to the ultimate reality of ECUSA's polity: ECUSA is a voluntary confederation of dioceses. It always has been, and will continue to be unless and until the requisite language of supremacy is adopted in the Constitution. Even then, however, there would be no mechanism for resolving disputes between the various branches about meaning and interpretation unless there were also created a Supreme Ecclesiastical Court, or unless a metropolitan were created and vested with that authority. (Then we would have the anomaly of an Anglican Church vesting supreme authority in a "pope"!)

Since ECUSA for the time being is a voluntary confederation, the solution for those who cannot agree with the decisions taken and directions announced at the national level is to withdraw from the confederation. The mystical idea that the dioceses are joined in some kind of indissoluble "union" that is greater than any of their individual selves is a leftist fantasy that has no support in either the Church's history or its governing documents. It springs from a desire to control---or more correctly, from an instinct not to cede control when the battlements have been breached, and the mechanism taken over.

What that mechanism today chiefly amounts to is the power to decide how money shall be spent. The Church's triennial budget exceeds $150 million, and that is a lot of money. Even more, there are hundreds of millions---even billions---behind that in long-term investments and trust funds. It is thus no small prize to be taken over, I grant you.

Viewed as a political prize, however, the Church ceases to be a Church. Its mission is being determined by politics rather than under the governance of the Holy Spirit. So long as the battle rages for the prize, the fiction that it is a Church has to be maintained at all costs, because no one who could affect the outcome must realize what is at stake. And with the publicizing of views like those expressed in the Bishops' Statement, the risk is now great that the momentum so carefully accumulated over the years will be seen for what it is: nothing more (or less) than a political attempt to take over a money machine.

And that is why the Bishops, the ACI and its lawyer have received the treatment they did. Only those who are plotting already can regard the publication of such a power-renouncing statement of subsidiarity as "an unprecedented power grab by anti-gay bishops who will assert they are not bound by the Episcopal Church's governing body: General Convention."

The spectacle of taking over a church politically, of even speaking in terms of a church "power-grab", is so antithetical to the essence of a church that in the end it must be self-defeating. Let the Episcopal LGBTs take over General Convention, I say, and let them show the entire church how quickly $9 million can go down the drain in just twelve days. Offer resistance, to be sure, but let it be only as much as may be required to make them show their colors. Once they have declared themselves completely, let them have the floor for as long as they want. Attendance will dwindle, voluntary contributions will evaporate, and eventually the trust funds themselves will be depleted. The true test of what ECUSA can be will come when it has no more money.


  1. I agree on all substantive points, learned Curmudgeon, but one bit of your argument gave me pause. You wrote,

    Since ECUSA for the time being is a voluntary confederation, the solution for those who cannot agree with the decisions taken and directions announced at the national level is to withdraw from the confederation. The mystical idea that the dioceses are joined in some kind of indissoluble "union" that is greater than any of their individual selves is a leftist fantasy that has no support in either the Church's history or its governing documents. It springs from a desire to control---or more correctly, from an instinct not to cede control when the battlements have been breached, and the mechanism taken over.

    This sounds a lot like the same argument made by certain states in the years leading up to the War of the Rebellion in the now putatively "United States." My point is not to rehash that argument, but merely to point out that it might be somewhat irrelevant to the orthodox position in TEC. The ACI document will convince no one at GC 2009 who isn't already convinced, and we are still going to have to "fight" our way out of the "United Dioceses of General Convention." The question is what will the orthodox bishops remaining in TEC do? If my memory serves me correctly, all the border states with similar intellectual orientations in the War of the Rebellion (i.e., Missouri, Kentucky, western Virginia, etc) went with the organization with the most money and guns, i.e., the northern states. My prayer is that some of these bishops will have the courage of their (intellectual?) convictions and stop making an idol out of what is essentially a secular corporation.

  2. Anxious Anglican, the future for the orthodox in ECUSA after GC 2009 will be very difficult. I am coming to the realization that the only tactic possible with which to meet the left's headlong rush into irrelevance is to withdraw---if not literally, then at least figuratively, by ceasing to send any further contributions to the national Church of any kind. (They also want to pass a canon to make diocesan contributions a prerequisite for the ability to vote at General Convention; so be it---the voting no longer matters anyway.)

    For those dioceses currently receiving subsidies, they are bound to be cut no matter how much kowtowing they do. As I said in the post, the only way to see the real measure of ECUSA will be when it runs out of money; the same may be true of certain dioceses. One thing is certain: the future cannot continue in the same vein as the past.

  3. Well said, Curmudgeon!

    What I do not understand is the CP bishop's craving to be affiliated with the Lambeth Communion. The Communion Office and the Consultative Council have been taken over by bureaucratic revisionists. So I do not see what the advantage of being connected to Lambeth might be. Perhaps the CP bishops think such a connection gives them some form of legitimacy, since it is obvious that they have none within the organization known as TEC.

    Sooner or later, these bishops are going to have to wake up to the fact that they must make some painful decisions. But it has alwasy been that way in the Church Catholic. We have a Lord and Master who calls us to a life of self-denial and sacrifice.

    I suspect that some of the CP bishops are loathe to give up their property to the Yahoos that have takne over the General Convention Church while they slept. I suspect that they will have to face that choice sooner or later. I just wish, for their parishioner's sake, that they would make that choice sooner rather than later and show some real Christian leadership instead of temporizing with the Enemy as they have been doing.

    As you pointed out, contributing money to the General Convention budget is equivalent to serving Mammon.

  4. A.S. Haley: "I am coming to the realization that the only tactic possible with which to meet the left's headlong rush into irrelevance is to withdraw---if not literally, then at least figuratively, by ceasing to send any further contributions to the national Church of any kind."It's really not so much a headlong rush into irrelevance that's so troublesome about remaining in TEc; it's much more about TEc's mad dash and face plant into soul-destroying heresy and apostasy that should concern members of TEc.

    With regards to the ACI/CP statement, I really think Ruth Gledhill nails it when she writes:

    "There is absolutely no way the ACI bishops will be enabled to perform some sort of subtle non-schismatic ecclesiological split manoeuvre on The Episcopal Church, leaving their orthodox dioceses at the centre of a covenental Communion along with Cantuar and the conservatives, with the liberal pro-gay majority forced to dance around on the edges in some 'outer circle' of recognition."

  5. TU&D, you see ECUSA in more monolithic terms than I do. What I see is not any strong or united mad dash into heresy, with everyone hewing to the same line, but instead a helter-skelter jumble of heretical views, loosely united only by a political objective---to seize what the Episcoleft perceive as the reins of power. In no way do they all see eye to eye, and what I am realizing is that the quickest way to let the competing centrifugal forces do their work is to do what one can to remove the glue that is holding the whole jumbled mess together, i.e., the money that props it up.

    I agree with Ms. Gledhill that the Anglican Communion Office is determined to prevent the outcome she describes, because it also is tied to the money interests at 815 and will not do anything to cross those interests. However, after the Episcoleft enacts its agenda at GC2009, there will be increased pressure on the CP dioceses to withdraw their financial support. If the steps to do so are taken not by the CP bishops, but by the diocesan conventions themselves, what can 815 do? Depose the bishops for "abandoning communion"? Not without really creating a breakup. How can 815 discipline a diocese for not making a voluntary contribution which has to be passed by a vote of its deputies? Passive resistance will be an effective strategy while all the ongoing litigation sorts itself out---which itself will siphon off a large portion of currently available funds.

    All of this is much too complex for a comment added as an afterthought. I will see if I can do a follow-up post where I will lay out my thinking on the future for ECUSA, the CP dioceses, and the pending lawsuits.

  6. Dear Mr. Haley,

    Your post scores a direct hit on the reasons for the harsh reaction among the left to the CP Bishops' Statement.

    This comment is to point out that General Convention, together with the Presiding Bishop and President of the House of Deputies, individually or collectively appoint, fund, and control the bureaucracy that staffs the church headquarters at 815. That power is actually significant, perhaps as significant as GC's power over the budget.

    As you said, GC 2009 will be a sort of culmination of years of work by the left to solidify their control of GC. In my view, GC 2009 will also commence an acceleration of the left's use of the 815 bureaucratic machinery to inject all sorts of radical concepts into TEC. For example, many Sunday School teachers I know avoid the materials produced by 815 and use lessons produced by other denominations. As bad as the Sunday School materials produced by 815 are already, just wait until the new versions next year. And just wait until the new Prayer Book! Finally, I expect 815 to become more openly partisan in US politics.

    I completely agree that money is the glue that holds together the disparate elements of the Episcopal left. I also agree that the remaining orthodox people, parishes, and dioceses in TEC will reduce their giving to 815.

    With those points agreed, let us peer into the future and speculate on what TEC may be like when it is short of money. First, I am not sure that 815 will ever reach the point of where it has no money at all. More likely, 815 will have less money than it does now. In that future, I suspect that TEC will allocate its funds to pay its own overhead and salaries first. Expenditures for outside activities will be cut and, if necessary, eliminated.
    I think that the same "triage" imperatives will apply to dioceses controlled by revisionists. As long as their personal salaries are paid, TEC's leaders will be able to issue pronoucements regarding their views on the political issues of the day. Perhaps I am being unfair to TEC's leaders, but that seems to be a result they could easily accept.

    There are two implications to this hypothesis. First, 815 and revisionist dioceses will really only need to have enough money to keep themselves going. In that regard, Baby Blue's post describing the Presiding Bishop's effort to raise enough money to render 815 financiall independent is revealing. Second, the real fissure point among the Episcopal left will be between those revisionist TEC parishes, dioceses, and 815, which will likely have enough money in trust accounts to keep going, and those that do not.

    I have no information concerning whether the bulk of the revisionist leaders in TEC are in parishes or dioceses that are lucky enough to be endowed, or whether they occupy parishes and sees that rely on donations from 815 or from their parishioners. But it seems to me that this financial question, rather than disputes among revisionists concerning the different varieties of revisionism, is the point at whcih disputes are more likely to erupt among them.

  7. What would happen if, hypothetically, the Diocese of Honduras left TE"c" for the Province of the Southern Cone?

    Would KJS feel it was her fiduciary duty to sue to obtain the assets of the diocese? Would she install a replacement Bishop & Standing Committee? Where would she sue? In Honduras or the US?

    Alternatively, would she do nothing because of the nominal worth of the assets, or because of not wanting to be seen as "beating up" a poor diocese?

    In other words, is there a different standard for different dioceses in TE"c"?

    Yes, this calls for speculation.

  8. spurdy77, thank you for coming here to post your comment. The Diocese of Honduras is a foreign autonomous diocese, and as such, like a domestic diocese (but not a missionary diocese), it may leave the Church without condition at any time to join a different province. This principle was expressly recognized by General Convention 2003 in the case of Resolutions A141 and A142 with reference to the admission of the Dioceses of Puerto Rico and Venezuela---see my exchanges with "Anglican" in the comments at this post.So if Honduras were to leave for another province, the Presiding Bishop would have no basis on which to file a lawsuit. The problem is that she has no basis for filing a suit where a domestic diocese leaves for another Province, either---but as usual, neither she nor her Chancellor is bothered by the inconsistency.