Sunday, January 24, 2010

TECism - ECUSA's Heresy

ECUSA uses as its expert in its church property litigation Dr. Robert Bruce Mullin, who teaches the history of American religion and other subjects at General Theological Seminary in New York. He has filed two declarations in support of ECUSA's and Bishop Gulick's motion for partial summary judgment in the Fort Worth litigation, of which the first gives his version of ECUSA's history (the second deals with the history of the Diocese of Fort Worth). Much of the response (download link here) recently filed by ECUSA/Bishop Gulick in the Fort Worth Court of Appeals (in the mandamus proceedings to review District Judge Chupp's refusal to strike the pleadings filed in the name of the "Diocese of Fort Worth" and its Corporation by attorneys hired by Bishop Gulick) depends on Professor Mullin's first declaration. Before discussing the response itself, therefore, I would like to take a closer look at what Dr. Mullin is saying, and its implications for ECUSA's ongoing litigation over church properties.

Professor Mullin engages repeatedly in a rhetorical fallacy which I have mentioned in these pages before. The original Greek name for it is synecdoche: it means "mistaking the part for the whole" (or vice versa). In the context of ECUSA, it has become such a feature of the Episcoleft's worldview that it may be said to amount to a full-blown heresy, or false belief. It is particularly well set off by today's second lesson, from Paul's first letter to the Corinthians (ch. 12):
12:12 For just as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body – though many – are one body, so too is Christ. 12:13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. Whether Jews or Greeks or slaves or free, we were all made to drink of the one Spirit. 12:14 For in fact the body is not a single member, but many. 12:15 If the foot says, “Since I am not a hand, I am not part of the body,” it does not lose its membership in the body because of that. 12:16 And if the ear says, “Since I am not an eye, I am not part of the body,” it does not lose its membership in the body because of that.12:17 If the whole body were an eye, what part would do the hearing? If the whole were an ear, what part would exercise the sense of smell? 12:18 But as a matter of fact, God has placed each of the members in the body just as he decided. 12:19 If they were all the same member, where would the body be? 12:20 So now there are many members, but one body.

Paul makes the point that many individual members make up the one body of Christ, just as different members make up the body. In exactly the same way, there are currently 106 dioceses (plus four candidate dioceses) which make up the Episcopal Church (USA). Being well-trained in the school of Greek rhetoric, Paul has no trouble distinguishing the parts from the whole: "If the whole body were an eye, what part would do the hearing? If the whole were an ear, what part would exercise the sense of smell?" There can be no synecdoche for Paul; he is far too skilled to fall into that trap.

Now fast-forward some two thousand years. The powers that be at 815 Second Avenue have taken synechdoche, as I say, to the level of a full-blown heresy. Indeed, I propose to dub it the "TEC" heresy (in which TEC could be said to stand for "Total Episcopal Claptrap"). Uniquely, however -- apart from all the previous "isms" of church heresy -- TECism can be clearly expressed in a single, simple mathematical inequality: it teaches that

106 + 4 < "TEC"

Or, said in an equivalent way, "TEC" > 106 +4.

At this point most mathematicians would object, and say that since 106 + 4 = 110, therefore "TEC" must stand for a number that is greater than 110. TECism, however, goes beyond mere mathematics: we are talking of a full-blown, separate religion, by which the abstraction which is "TEC" is considered as a deity of its own, exercising powers and capabilities beyond that of any single diocese, or group of dioceses -- which in the end, after all, must act through mere mortals. Not so with "TEC". Thus it would be even more mathematically accurate to write the equation as: TEC >> 106 + 4 (meaning "TEC is very much greater than 106 + 4").

And just why does this constitute a heresy? Begin with the fact that it is a claim about a religious body that is made up of its individual members. Recall what Paul says, a little further on in the chapter quoted earlier: "Instead, God has blended together the body, giving greater honor to the lesser member, so that there may be no division in the body, but the members may have mutual concern for one another. If one member suffers, everyone suffers with it. If a member is honored, all rejoice with it." (1 Cor. 12:24b-26.) Thus the body is completely dependent on each of its members -- the lesser along with the greater. It is not true to say that the body is "greater than" the sum of its parts, because the body can be nothing other than the sum of its parts. Without any one of its parts, the body cannot function as it should, and is thereby diminished.

Not so with TECism. Just read the following passage from Professor Mullin's declaration linked earlier (this is a summary paragraph [no. 145] at the end):
The General Convention - with its House of Bishops and House of Clerical and Lay Deputies - represents the highest authority within the Church. It determines the Book of Common Prayer and who shall be bishops in the Church. Its legislation instructs on education, clerical responsibilities, rules for ordination, discipline, and many other vital matters. Over the history of the Church, it has been the final authority. The relationship of the General Convention to the Constitution of the Church is fundamentally different from the relationship of the Federal Government to the U.S. Constitution. The General Convention was the author of the Constitution and alone has the power to amend it.
According to Professor Mullin, there is this abstraction, which he calls "General Convention", which does everything in the Church, from drafting the Church's own Constitution, to selecting bishops and instructing on education, clerical responsibilities and rules for ordination. But just what is this "General Convention? It is made up of the delegations and bishops from individual member dioceses. It is no "supreme executive", having a continuous existence and single mind that remains coherent and uniform over time, like an individual person. Instead, General Convention completely reconstitutes itself every three years -- for a period of just ten days at most. The General Convention of the moment is not bound by any prior Convention, and cannot itself bind any future Convention.

Because General Convention can act only through its deputies and bishops, it is, correctly speaking, simply a collection of individuals. It "acts" or "decides" by taking votes. Usually they are simple voice votes, but on more important matters they are roll call votes by each order in each diocese. (Only the House of Bishops acts at all times by majority vote of its members, who constitute a single order in the Church.) Nevertheless, even when voting by orders, the overall concept of General Convention is that a concurrence by the majority of the member dioceses is necessary for any action or decision to be taken.

Professor Mullin's analysis, by way of contrast, replaces the members of an unincorporated group with an abstract, impersonal entity that is supposedly superior to the group itself, and that supposedly exercises supreme powers over that group. But as we have just seen, this "entity" is nothing other than what you and I would call a "majority."

Think about it for a moment: unincorporated groups can only act through majorities of their members. If Bill and Jane and Mary and Tom and Bob and Cathy and Jim all come together in a group, how can they decide on what their rules are? The first thing they have to do is enter into a contract with each other whereby they each agree to abide by certain rules. This contract is called either a "Constitution" or "Articles of Association". The document spells out what things may be decided by majority vote, and what things have to be decided by a supermajority (or perhaps even a unanimous) vote. At a minimum, it will spell out what kind of notice is required for members to vote on changes, and how many members will constitute a quorum to vote on proposed changes.

It may also, as an option, provide for officers of the group, and delegate to them certain powers and duties in the name of the group. (Note that ECUSA's Constitution does not provide for any "officers" of the Church other than the Presiding Bishop -- to whom it assigns no specific duties, responsibilities or functions. By implication from the title, what the Presiding Bishop does is to preside -- over General Convention, when both Houses are meeting in joint session, and over the House of Bishops when it is not. The Canons add a few specific functions, such as being the Church's "Chief Pastor and Primate" -- but with no primatial authority over other bishops or clergy.)

Assuming that the group designates no representative officers to speak or act on its behalf, the only way the group can do or decide anything is by taking a vote of its members. Each member then represents him- or herself, and if enough of them agree in accordance with the Articles, then the group is said to "decide" to do x. But that is just rhetorical shorthand for saying that "a majority of the members voted to do x." The dissenters, if any, are free not to join in whatever x is -- for example, if the group votes to endorse a specific position, the dissenters are free to publicize that they do not go along with the majority. And if the disagreement is strong enough, the dissenters are free to disaffiliate from the group: just as the law protects a person's freedom of association, so it also protects that person's freedom to dissociate (because the one is the obverse of the other). There is no voluntary association that has any constitutional means of preventing a member from leaving.

It is only the TECism heresy that makes "TEC" into some monolithic organization whose members are forever bound to it, as the States are to the Union (at least, after the Civil War). But the Union, unlike ECUSA, is not a voluntary association. It is a creature of sovereign governments who have indissolubly joined together and fused their sovereignty into a single sovereignty at the national level, while retaining (as to their citizens) their own sovereignty at the State level. No diocese alone is a sovereign government, and no combination of them together can create a sovereignty of its own. This is particularly true of a religious organization, where only God Himself is sovereign.

Professor Mullin thus rewrites ECUSA's history, to make it appear as though throughout there was this single sovereign entity, "General Convention", ruling supreme over the whole Church and making consistent decisions throughout its history. There is no recognition of how the various Conventions over the years differed from one another, and took differing positions -- some of which were at odds with the Constitution and Canons adopted by previous Conventions.

Even now, we have General Convention 2009 presuming to wink at the institution of blessings of a same-sex civil marriage (in those States that recognize such unions) as a kind of "generous pastoral response" to those couples, which is nevertheless completely contrary to the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer regarding the blessings of a civil marriage. Needless to say, no single General Convention alone has any power to alter the Book of Common Prayer -- which is a point that again undercuts the heresy of TECism. For the General Convention which meets three years later and ratifies a change to the BCP is not the same General Convention as the one that first authorized the change to be sent out to the respective dioceses for their consideration. Different people make them up, and even a deputy who represents the same diocese at successive Conventions can change his or her mind, and vote one way the first time, and the opposite way the second time.

The most that can be said of ECUSA's 220-year-old history is that various majorities of various General Conventions assembled over the years have approved various provisions in the Constitution and Canons, which are always subject to change by future Conventions, acting again through particular majorities in accordance with the rules for voting.

Once Professor Mullin's declaration is analyzed in this light, and each bald assertion is carefully recast to reflect what was actually going on at the time, the whole edifice he has so blithely erected crumbles into smithereens. Indeed, the very fact that such a heresy could be put forth in a court of law by a single individual who claims to represent the "whole Episcopal Church" -- without any proper procedures or preliminary deliberations by the membership to appoint him as their legal representative -- is itself a demonstration of the falsity of TECism, as I have observed before. Imagine the Pope allowing some minor bishop to come into court without any authority from him whatsoever, and to presume to speak on behalf of the entire Roman Catholic Church. It could never happen, and that is why the Roman Catholic Church is truly hierarchical, while ECUSA is not.


  1. Gospel reading from 1 Corinthians? Paul's news is good, but it's not THE Good News.

  2. Thanks for catching that, Steve -- it's fixed. Every now and then I have to slip up like that in a post, just to know if anyone's reading it. I'll return the favor sometime.

  3. Well perhaps the Court will see through this attempt to create something out of nothing.