Sunday, August 9, 2009

A Modest Proposal for Going Forward

There is much soul-searching going on in the Anglican Communion, as well as within the Episcopal Church (USA) itself, about what proper response can be made to the actions taken by General Convention, and by various dioceses which have adopted same-sex blessings and nominated persons in same-sex partnerships for ecclesiastical office.

Well, I have a modest suggestion to make, for those who might be at odds, and uncertain as to what to do --- at least, on the diocesan level.

I shall take as my point of departure the text of today's Gospel reading, from St. Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians (4:25 - 5:2):
25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. 28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
St. Paul first says, "Put away falsehood, and speak the truth." Very well --- here are some truths:

1. The organization which calls itself "The Episcopal Church", by itself, is not a church. At the national level, it is an abstraction, a mental construct which takes in donations from its members and employs people in bureaucratic tasks.

2. There is no Supremacy Clause in the Episcopal Church Constitution. The much-touted "authority of General Convention" is a delegated authority, coming from the individual dioceses which are its members. It does not run the other way: General Convention is powerless to tell a Diocese what to do --- and if it tried, it would have no means of enforcement, anyway. (Secular courts will not enforce or get involved in matters of religious discipline.)

3. The Episcopal Church (USA) is no longer "episcopally led"; instead, it is episcopally suffused. It is "Episcopal" only in the sense that its bishops give consent to the ordination of other bishops. Even that, however, is not an exclusive function: Canon III.11.6 allows the ordination of a Bishop to be performed "by any three Bishops to whom the Presiding Bishop may communicate the testimonials" (italics added). And as will be seen below, one does not even have to go through the Presiding Bishop, if ECUSA refuses to cooperate.

4. Nor is the Episcopal Church (USA) canonically governed. Its Bishops, and especially its Presiding Bishop, routinely defy (and defile) the Canons. The much-touted changes in Title IV approved by the recent General Convention did nothing to stop the abuse of the Abandonment Canons, for example. Because retired bishops kept their right to vote, it is now next to impossible to depose any Bishop canonically, since the Canon calls for a majority vote by the full 300-odd bishops having a right to vote. That will not stop the illegal depositions, but they will remain illegal; and those bishops who vote for them are violating the canons.

So much for speaking the truth. Now, what follows? Listen to St. Paul again: "Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear."

In light of that message, here is what I suggest for orthodox dioceses still within ECUSA: let the ECUSA bureaucracy, and let General Convention, go their merry way. Apply the Peter Principle to what they have done, and are doing, and allow them to rise to the level of their own incompetence. They are so incompetent that they cannot touch you, if you keep in mind the simple truths noted above. ECUSA is a voluntary association, with no authority over its member dioceses. It is, I repeat, powerless to order a diocese as such to do anything. The Emperor, in other words, has no clothes, and it is high time for everyone to recognize that fact.

If deposition is threatened, it has to be (under Title IV as now revised) for "abandonment of The Episcopal Church" (emphasis added). Refer to truth statement #1 above: the Episcopal Church (USA) is not a church, and as such it cannot be abandoned by any diocese remaining orthodox, and which refuses to withdraw. ECUSA maintains that dioceses cannot withdraw, anyway. So call their bluff: "You say we cannot withdraw, and so we are not withdrawing. So how can we be said to be 'abandoning' the Episcopal Church? We're not abandoning it; we're staying."

Isn't that marvelous to contemplate? By acquiescing in their asserted power to keep you in, you turn that power against them. If taken to an extreme, I suppose General Convention might have to vote to disaffiliate from you, and not the other way around. And would not that be the height of irony? Imagine the headlines: "ECUSA Votes to Kick Out Diocese; Warns Others Against Leaving."

If instead they try to proceed by "deposing" the diocesan, hold their feet to the fire. Demand the specification of charges detailing just how the act of staying in constitutes "abandonment." Round up all the retired bishops (where there are many more orthodox) to come to the meeting and vote against the proposed "deposition". If the vote still succeeds, it will nevertheless be invalid unless passed by the canonically required majority, as I mentioned, and so can be ignored. How can the Presiding Bishop purport to "derecognize" a Standing Committee if it has taken no vote to withdraw? And how could she convene a "special convention" to do her bidding so long as a majority remains to oppose it? (If she demands a "loyalty oath" to ECUSA in order to participate, sign it --- you are remaining loyal to ECUSA.) So long as you stay in, you hold all the power of the Diocese; the national Church, as I say, has no power whatsoever.

I suggest that the orthodox, along with any who suffer "deposition", organize their own legitimate House of Bishops, which is sworn to uphold the Canons as actually written. Invite the other ECUSA bishops to attend, and when they do not, have ten members lay before your House a presentment indicting every ECUSA bishop who joined in the illegal vote to "depose" Bishop Duncan; every ECUSA bishop who makes a practice of offering communion to the unbaptized; and every ECUSA bishop who has misused the Abandonment Canons to rid themselves of troublesome clergy.

But don't stop there. Let the orthodox dioceses, and any led by bishops who have been "deposed", assemble and adopt a new Constitution which spells out the principles of diocesan autonomy in a voluntary association for all to see. Let the new Constitution also make express the principle espoused by PECUSA founder Bishop William White of Pennsylvania: "That no Powers be delegated to a general ecclesiastical Government, except such as cannot conveniently be exercised by the Clergy and Vestries in their respective Congregations." Eschew any creation of a "General Convention"; it is not necessary to try to rival ECUSA in the slightest. Should an occasion or question arise that requires a convocation of the member dioceses, let any diocese then call a convocation, and see who comes. Because it is a voluntary association of autonomous dioceses, the convocation is purely representative in function, and will have no power to bind any diocese which does not consent to any action it may decide to take. This will have the merit of encouraging a full consensus before any such decisions are taken.

Ignore ECUSA; let its bureaucracies, as I say, rise to the levels of their incompetence. The new association I suggest is not intended to supplant ECUSA so much as fashion a subset of dioceses who genuinely want to work with each other in going about the true business of a church, and who have no preoccupations with power or status. If it becomes the new paradigm, then rejoice; but in the meantime, do not have concern for the structure. As many observers have remarked about the current schism, the people in the pews are not concerned with the power struggles in the higher corridors; they simply want to come to services on Sunday and worship in the company of their friends and neighbors. Adopting Bishop White's principle quoted above will ensure that the business of the congregation is attended to at the congregational level, and the diocesan business at the diocesan level.

Moreover, by defining itself in such a way, and being governed by Bishop White's principle of subsidiarity, here is the real genius hidden in the proposed organization: it defines itself into nothingness. There is no national organization, no national legislative body (except when the member dioceses all agree to come together for that purpose), and no national bureaucracy. In short, there is nothing to attack, nothing to accuse, and hence also nothing to blame, and nothing to have to fund. There is a kind of "House of Bishops", but even it is still just a collection of bishops who assemble for episcopal functions: its only function is to approve episcopal elections and assign ordinations, to the extent ECUSA's House of Bishops refuses to accept orthodox candidates.

And should bishops who ordain an orthodox colleague without the consent of their heterodox colleagues be charged by the latter with canonical violations, then two can play at that game, as I mentioned earlier. For they are not following the canons either, and are liable to presentment and deposition in the same manner. The result will either be a stalemate, or a backing off by the heterodox, because no one can win (or even profit) from such a confrontation.

As for pensions and retirement, the current contributions will have vested, and nothing ECUSA can do will touch them. I am greatly concerned, individually, for the economic future of this country, and I would be chary (if I were in a position to be affected) of continuing the status quo. Nevertheless, since the dioceses will remain in ECUSA, I see nothing that the ECUSA bureaucracy could do to prevent them making further contributions to the Church Pension Fund. Should they somehow manage to find a way to block such further contributions, then use the occasion to obtain professional advice about establishing an inflation-proof plan which the member dioceses could establish on their own for all future contributions (the ones already made, as I say, are vested). I am not informed about what ACNA is doing in this regard, but maybe there would be found a spirit of willing cooperation in addressing that question jointly.

As for new ordinations: again, I stress, let ECUSA go its merry way. Let the new orthodox House of Bishops confirm ordinands and perform all ordinations to which the heterodox refuse their assent; their orders will be every bit as valid, and if ECUSA chooses not to recognize them, that is its loss, not yours. ECUSA has increasingly cut itself off from the rest of the Anglican Communion, so let it continue to do so, and do not interfere. The historical test of ordination is the laying on of hands by three ordained bishops in the apostolic succession, and that will have occurred, in every case I can envision.

Now, here is my most radical suggestion of all: do not give this sub-organization of orthodox dioceses within ECUSA a new name. I hate adding to the proliferation of acronyms, anyway. This organization I am proposing is still ECUSA, only it is just those parts of ECUSA who want to remain orthodox and canonical at the same time. By not giving itself a new name, it cannot be said to be something which intends to supplant ECUSA. It is simply the distillation, if you will, of it into a more orthodox form. Besides, because nothing is to be done at the organizational level that will have any binding legal effect, there is no need for a new name. When it acts, it will be the member dioceses acting collectively, in exercise of their autonomous powers. There are already informal names, like "Communion Partners", or "Windsor Dioceses", which express adequately that collective aspect. So do not worry about what to call yourselves; you are already the dioceses that you are.

Here is the whole point of this exercise: the orthodox in ECUSA just want to be orthodox, and practice their faith at the parish level, under the guidance of a diocesan committed to the same goal. I will have more to say in a later post about the options for parishes who unluckily find themselves in heterodox dioceses. For now, it is best to get an organization going among those dioceses who can and who want to participate in joint action for their own protection. Once that is a fact on the ground, how ECUSA chooses to deal with it is irrelevant. The organization as created is self-defining, and since it consists of already established ECUSA dioceses, it will be self-authenticating, as well. It does not depend on any other entity, least of all ECUSA's bureaucracy, for either "recognition" or authenticity.

This is just a suggestion at this point, and needs a lot more fleshing out. I submit that in doing so, we keep uppermost in mind again the words of St. Paul with which I began:

31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.


  1. I agree with the suggestion that there be no new acronyms! After all, how many acronyms are in the Bible?

    The communion partners (CPs)can confidently keep their acronym if they are also "Curmudgeon Partners" (CPs).

    Is there any way to retire some of the old acronyms?

  2. Retire acronyms? I'll have you know my grandmother created some of those acronyms!


  3. Pewster, the best device for such a task I have come across is Jasper Fforde's Text Sea:

    "A mass of swirling letters and punctuation, the Text Sea (Joined by a narrow isthmus to the Searyllic Ocean) is where words are created spontaneously from letters. They are collected by sou'wester toting textmen aboard Scrawltrawlers. A lowly catch might consist of just words but the bigger trawlers that ply the outer banks of the Text Sea have been known to return with entire sentences, much treasured and sold on the dockside to waiting plotsmiths. When a book is demolished or unused plot devices are not needed they are disposed of by being dumped in the text sea. The unused words are reduced to text within the turbulent waters, the meaning of the word burning off and appearing as a faint blue mist that can be seen at the foreshore. . . ."

    Matthew, see that faint blue mist? That's your grandmother. ;>)

  4. There are many of us throughout the country who echo your thoughts and are forming resolute teams to take affirmative and positive action.

    So many people have been so dreadfully deceived for far too long. They have been denied the material and pertinent facts which would have empowered them to make informed choices and sound decisions in their own best interests.

    I suspect there are very serious plans being implemented to rectify that situation.

    Thank you so very much for your extraordinary skill, persistence, and faithfulness.

  5. Curmudgeon,
    I am especially concerned for the welfare of the individual parish (and mission, although they have even less canonical ability to be less than attendant to diocesan demands). Thankfully, I am not alone in that concern, as it has been expressed consistently and often. Certainly (at least it is my opinion from reading canons, as well) the wide open game plan as you have laid out can easily be applied to dioceses, and in fact already has -- just as it has been that way for liberal agenda dioceses for quite awhile.
    Going on to the next level down, I can also see this plan working out within dioceses IF you have at least 2 and better yet 3 or more congregations willing to engage in such. And again this would be nothing new from the concept of "alliances". This is probably best witnessed at an electing convention.
    What may be more difficult to envision is how convenants might be established to strengthen such as do stand. It is very difficult to comprehend how congregational by-laws might provide any further local proctection.

  6. Anglican Curmudgeon: "Here is the whole point of this exercise: the orthodox in ECUSA just want to be orthodox, and practice their faith at the parish level, under the guidance of a diocesan committed to the same goal."


    Right between the eyes!!

    This is congregationalism/diocesanalism, pure and simple and ultimately distilled.

    This polity and procedures thing is getting so goofy, so utterly farcial, so ridiculous that it just is unbelievable. It's a circus parody. I don't see how this clownery and the participation in this clownery by "conservative" TEc stayers honors and glorifies God.

    It's just all so absurd and surreal.