Thursday, May 26, 2011

Breaking Down the Rule of Law

What is one to say about the current instances of lawlessness at all levels of society? Consider just the following:

Young punks feel they can get away with vandalizing a donut shop just so they can help themselves to donuts and drinks. The police have no suspects, and doubtless their ineffectiveness emboldens the punks.

A divided (3-2) New Jersey Supreme Court decides that the precise amount which the legislature should appropriate to "poorer" school districts is five hundred million dollars -- never mind what the legislature thinks, or where the money is to come from; the court orders the legislature to authorize the spending of the money. (Should the legislature take the $500 million from the budget it allocates to the courts?)

The United States Supreme Court, by a 5-4 majority, orders that California immediately release 37,000 of its incarcerated inmates, in order (ostensibly) that California might be able to provide better medical care to its inmates who remain incarcerated. (In other words, California should release only the most able-bodied of its inmates -- the ones who are presently able to cause the most harm, but who do not, accordingly, require any ongoing medical treatment. Either that, or it should release the sickliest inmates for other California communities to care for, allowing it to spread its limited health care options among the ones who are not as sick. That is a Hobson's choice.)

President Obama, after pushing strongly to enact universal health care reform, has allowed his administration to issue 1,372 exemptions from the legislation's requirements to provide universal coverage to their employees, thereby encouraging widespread cynicism about the sincerity of the so-called "reform."

Despite his contentions in 2007 (as Senator Obama) that the presidential power did not include the ability to order a unilateral attack on a country posing no current threat to the United States, Barack Obama (as President) did precisely that in regard to Libya in 2011.

President Obama's attorney general, Eric Holder, apparently feels free to authorize criminal indictments against the very CIA employees whose interrogation techniques violated (so he now claims) the law. Those techniques, authorized by the same DOJ which he now heads, indisputably contributed to the recent location and killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.

Is it any wonder, then, given the widespread disrespect for the rule of law in our society, that the same kinds of lawlessness are seen in the church? And not just in any church, but in the Episcopal Church (USA) -- again, at all levels?

At the highest level, there is an entire page of links on this blog to posts which catalogue the multiple canonical offenses committed by the Presiding Bishop and those around her. The canonical offenses committed by General Convention and by the House of Bishops are catalogued there, as well.

But there is lawlessness at the diocesan level, too, as when the Bishop of Massachusetts conducted a wedding ceremony in violation of the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer.

Or as in the case of the Bishop of Pennsylvania, who, after his reinstatement following the dismissal of "conduct unbecoming" charges on narrow statute of limitations grounds, has continued his long-standing feud with the diocesan Standing Committee, has ignored their requests, and insists on remaining Bishop even though all meaningful communication between him and his Diocese has broken down.

The lawlessness extends, alas, down to the parish level, where many priests openly welcome "all persons" to the rail at Holy Communion, baptized or not, and brag about their violation of Canon I.17.7 -- now with the backing of the national Church.

According to most political philosophers, religion (from the Latin re-ligio, meaning "bind again") has been the most frequent source of the formation of communities with shared values.

Thus the question becomes: if the church herself cannot observe the rule of law, who -- or what -- will set the standard for the community which enables the church to function? And how long can any institution last without the rule of law?


  1. A parishioner of one of my former churches, now a Federal judge, used to listen patiently to people kvetching about lawyers, then say, "The alternative is pistols at ten paces."

    Without shared values and rules for their application, we are indeed reduced to various means of doing one another in.

  2. Good for you, curmudg!
    I think you have hit a whole board of nails on the head, and I am considered a commie leftist anarchist by some.

    Jim Morgan
    olympia, WA

  3. How disconcerting to witness Baptism before Communion rejected with the same political zeal as Voter I.D.

  4. Looking back over some of the history I was not taught in school, documented in several books by historian Thomas E. Woods, Jr., I am not a little surprised that as much of the Rule of Law as remains has remained for this long. It has, insofar as I can see, been undergoing erosion for more than a century and a half, although the rate of erosion has accelerated perceptibly during my lifetime.

    It is in reflecting on that acceleration that I sometimes contemplate becoming an ex-patriate, although I am unsure there is any nation better, let alone one which might allow my immigration.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  5. This is what is TEc calls following the law by calling a blessing a "generous pastoral response."

    The Living Church reports that "When a new state law goes into effect June 1 that grants legal recognition to same-sex couples, clergy in the Diocese of Chicago are permitted to use a rite called 'The Witnessing and Blessing of a Holy Union'” [PDF].

    I call it "breaking the rule of law."