Monday, November 28, 2011

Rot from Without, Decay from Within

Let me say at the outset that I began this blog in 2008 because I believed that there were things going on in my Church -- the Episcopal Church (USA), of which I had been a faithful member from baptism -- which required broader attention from those potentially most affected. Specifically, I believed that events ever since 2003 needed attention from those lay people in the Church who might not be able to interpret the legal niceties being urged in the various court and disciplinary proceedings which had been brought in the Church's name up to that time, but who could, as traditional Episcopalians, appreciate that not all of the legal positions being taken by their Church were, shall we say, "kosher".

Ever since my first post, I have focused on the constitutional and canonical violations by those at the head of the Church -- generally the steps they took to remove from the Church's ministry those with whom the leadership disagreed on matters such as same-sex marriage, and to alienate the Church from the vast majority of the Anglican Communion. If you are an Episcopalian, I ask that you put all of the hype which you may have read about the Episcopal Church (USA, that is) being "in the forefront" of the movement to recognize same-sex "marriages" into the context of what I shall now relate.

Others have sketched the history by which gay and lesbian activists gradually increased their representation in the deliberative bodies of the Church, beginning in the 1970s and increasing steadily until General Convention 2003. At that Convention, the same-sex activists achieved their first significant advance with the confirmation, in both the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies, of New Hampshire's election of an openly gay man, who had divorced his wife and left his children to partner with another man, as their bishop.

Yet in 2003, it still was not legal for newly elected Bishop V. Gene Robinson to "marry" his same-sex partner in the State of New Hampshire. Nor could such a "marriage" have been recognized within the Episcopal Church (USA). Its Book of Common Prayer, then as now, sets out on page 422 the rubrics for holy matrimony solemnized by the Church, which include this statement (bold emphasis added):
Christian marriage is a solemn and public covenant between a man and a woman in the presence of God. In the Episcopal Church it is required that one, at least, of the parties must be a baptized Christian; that the ceremony be attested by at least two witnesses; and that the marriage conform to the laws of the State and the canons of this Church.
In conformity to this rubric, Canon I.18.2 of the Episcopal Church (USA) has since 1972 contained language to this effect (emphasis again added):
Sec. 2. Before solemnizing a marriage the Member of the Clergy shall have ascertained:
. . .
(b) That both parties understand that Holy Matrimony is a physical and spiritual union of a man and a woman, entered into within the community of faith, by mutual consent of heart, mind, and will, and with intent that it be lifelong.
In addition, the current Canons require that every couple married in the Church sign a very specific statement beforehand, the text of which is set out as follows in Canon I.18.3, subparagraphs (e) through (g), with emphasis added as before:
Sec. 3. No Member of the Clergy of this Church shall solemnize any marriage unless the following procedures are complied with:
. . .
(d) The Member of the Clergy shall have required that the parties sign the following declaration:

(e) "We, A.B. and C.D., desiring to receive the blessing of Holy Matrimony in the Church, do solemnly declare that we hold marriage to be a lifelong union of husband and wife as it is set forth in the Book of Common Prayer.

(f) "We believe that the union of husband and wife, in heart, body, and mind, is intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; and, when it is God's will, for the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord.

(g) "And we do engage ourselves, so far as in us lies, to make our utmost effort to establish this relationship and to seek God's help thereto."
The reports of same-sex marriage ceremonies carried out within the Episcopal Church (USA), such as those conducted by Bishop Thomas Shaw of the Diocese of Massachusetts, and by clergy at All Saints Church (Pasadena) in the Diocese of Los Angeles with the approval of Bishop J. Jon Bruno, thus make a mockery of both the foregoing canons, as well as of the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer.

The latter (rubrics), by the way, outrank the canons of the Church. General Convention can vote to amend the Canons at any single session, but it can effect an amendment to the Book of Common Prayer only in the same manner that it can amend ECUSA's Constitution -- by passage of the amendment at two successive General Conventions, with referral in the interim to each of the Church's several dioceses for their consideration and approval.

Thus, same-sex marriage ceremonies in the Church could not be approved unless and until there was an amendment approved to the Book of Common Prayer. To my knowledge, no such proposal to amend the BCP rubrics has been proposed for GC 2012 in Indianapolis -- the only proposal of which I am aware is to establish rites for the blessings of same-sex civil unions (or "marriages", if that is what the law of the particular State involved recognizes). If none is properly proposed before the applicable deadlines for such legislation, then same-sex marriage ceremonies in the Episcopal Church (USA) could not be approved at least until GC 2018.

The foregoing paragraphs describe, to the best of my ability, the current state of the canon and liturgical law of the Episcopal Church (USA) with regard to "marriage" between persons of the same sex. Such "ceremonies" are neither recognized, nor allowed to be performed, within the authorized liturgies of the Church. It is once again a measure of the lawlessness that reigns at all levels of ECUSA (with the primary example having been long since established by the Presiding Bishop's repeated defiance of the Canons) to note that neither Bishop Shaw nor Bishop Bruno has been required to account, under the more flexible disciplinary canons which took effect last July 1, for their open and flagrant violations of the BCP rubrics, and the canons of the Church, as quoted above. (One can only wonder what kind of "certificate" Bishop Shaw required Dean Ragsdale and her lesbian partner to sign, before he "married" them, that was in complete accordance with Canon I.18.3 (d) quoted above.)

Because these openly acknowledged violations have not been, and will not be, prosecuted by the appropriate Church authorities, one may conclude only that a form of decay has commenced within its venerable halls, which is eroding the very structures designed and intended to hold the Church together as a Church. And a further conclusion thereby presents itself, as an inevitable corollary to the foregoing: those who currently are (mis)leading the Church in this respect must want such decay to have its inevitable effect, in order to hasten the day when the last Scripturally based barriers to officially recognized and sanctioned same-sex relationships will have been discarded as outmoded and anachronistic, and fit only for the scrap heap.

To this dismal picture (from the point of view of Church traditionalists) I am now constrained to add another dimension, which is just as dismaying. Let me begin by filling in some background.

In 1993, the Supreme Court of Hawaii decided the case of Baehr v. Miike, which signaled that a State must have a "compelling interest" in order to deny legitimacy to same-sex marriages. Fearing that a State court's recognition of same-sex marriages might force all other States to recognize such unions under the "Full Faith and Credit" clause of the U. S. Constitution, Congress reacted by enacting, with overwhelming majorities, the Defense of Marriage Act ("DOMA"), which President Clinton signed into law in 1996. This law, relying on the clause in the Constitution (Article IV, Section 1) which gives to Congress the ultimate power "by general Laws [to] prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings [of an individual State] shall be proved, and the Effect thereof [in another State]", defined marriage for all federal purposes as "a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife" (Section 3), and provided that no State "shall be required to give effect to any public act, record, or judicial proceeding of any other State . . . respecting a relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as a marriage under the laws of such other State . . . , or a right or claim arising from such relationship" (Section 2).

Since its enactment in 1996, DOMA has been the subject of multiple challenges in various federal courts, which are recapitulated in detail in this article. Of particular interest to Episcopalians is the current case in Massachusetts of Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, which resulted in a judgment by the federal district court in Boston that Section 3 of DOMA was unconstitutional. This ruling is now on appeal to the federal Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, also situated in Boston.

After defending the constitutionality of Section 3 in lower courts, the Obama Justice Department, pursuant to instructions from President Obama himself, did an about-face on February 23, 2011, and notified the First Circuit Court of Appeals that it would no longer defend the constitutionality of Section 3 in the Gill v. Office of Personnel Management appeal. Since that notification, the House of Representatives (with its Republican majority) has voted to retain the counsel necessary to defend Section 3's constitutionality on appeal.

And there matters stood, while the various briefs on the appeal were being filed. But now comes word, via the public relations page of the law firm of Goodwin Procter -- the law firm of which the Presiding Bishop's Chancellor David Booth Beers is a member, along with her "Special Representative for Litigation" Mary Kostel -- that the firm, which previously acted as counsel for certain parties to the Gill case in an earlier lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Massachusetts' marriage laws, has both filed as counsel, and signed in its separate capacity as an employer in its own right, an amicus curiae ("friend of the Court") brief in Gill which argues for the unconstitutionality of the definition of marriage as embodied in Section 3 of DOMA.

To sum up the current anomalies, as presented in this post:

1. The Episcopal Church (USA) currently defines marriage, both canonically and in its rubrics, as the "physical and spiritual union of a man and a woman."

2. There is no current measure proposed in the governing bodies of the Episcopal Church (USA) which would alter or amend its definition of "marriage" so as to incorporate therein the joining in "marriage" of two persons of the same sex.

3. Notwithstanding the Episcopal Church (USA)'s Book of Common Prayer and its associated Canons, certain clergy (including diocesan bishops) have performed, or have allowed to take place within their Diocese, rites of "holy matrimony" for same-sex marriages within the Episcopal Church's liturgy.

4. The resulting spectacle of lawlessness is undermining the Church from within.

5. Now comes word that the law firm of the Presiding Bishop's own Chancellor, and of her Special Assistant for Church Property Litigation, has gone on record as opposing the Church's own definition of marriage in the BCP and in its Canons.

6. Notwithstanding #5, the Episcopal Church continues to employ both Goodwin Procter, the Chancellor, and the Special Assistant to the Presiding Bishop, as its counsel to litigate against departed parishes and dioceses who are opposed to the Church's apostasy, among other things, concerning Christian marriage.

This is both, as my title indicates, "rot from without and decay from within." The Church is actively subsidizing and promoting the former, while taking no steps to prevent the latter.

In consequence of the foregoing, we have a Church which is speaking with a forked tongue, or out of both sides of its mouth. A Church cannot uphold traditional teachings with regard to Christian marriage, on the one hand, and then work actively to undermine those same teachings in the secular arena, on the other hand. Still less can it employ as counsel those who are hopelessly conflicted with regard to the Church's traditional teachings, and who actively deny in the secular arena that those teachings have any social, legal, or moral validity.

Your Curmudgeon is an eager student of Church history, and is quite familiar with the various histories of Christ's universal Catholic Church, and of the Protestant Episcopal Church (USA) in particular. But for the life of him, he cannot identify any point in the larger Church's trajectory, or in that of the Protestant Episcopal Church (USA), at which one could say that it was more conflicted between its sacred and secular stances than it is this very day. A Church so divided against itself cannot stand, and will not continue to stand, because as such it is a contradiction of itself, and of God's holy Word.

Those who are pushing the agenda of same-sex marriages within the Church are set upon overthrowing (in just the Episcopal Church, and in just a very few years) five hundred and fifty years of documented tradition and rubrics -- in the name of -- what? "Social justice and equality"? Give me a break. Whose "justice", and whose "equality"? Has the Holy Spirit, anywhere or at any time, bestowed an unambiguous and unqualified blessing (using objectively measurable criteria such as increased membership), upon any "Church" which has officially sanctioned and blessed same-sex unions? Are we not, instead, witnessing a re-enactment of the now stereotyped "resistance" against a perceived "unjust denial" of what are regarded as "civil (or equal) rights"? But who is denying whom some "right" which is spiritually theirs to claim from God? Since when has Scripture needed to bend to the force of civil law?

This once-noble Church is being transformed, at the hands of single-minded activists, into a secular cult which will reflect only its lack of all Scripture-based grounding and tradition, and (in their place) will embody only the sacrifice to Caesar of those things which are properly God's. Nothing will then distinguish such a "Church" from its pagan predecessors. As a consequence, nothing about it will any longer have any claim to loyalty or adherence on the part of its traditional members.


  1. Let's see, the law firm on the one hand is out to destroy traditional marriage by its amicus brief, and on the other hand is out to destroy Episcopalians who hold true to the teachings of Christ and the Apostles. It makes perfect sense to me.

    Termites... our pledge dollars are feeding the termites.

  2. As the Midwest Conservative Journal calls it: TEO, The Episcopal Organization. Whenever I visit the columbarium where my parents are interred, I am glad that they did not live to see this happen. Much of what happens in TEC/TEO today does not pass muster as basic human charity, let along Christianity.

  3. Pewster, right again. Par for the course is it not? Sigh.... as my mother said- Incrementalism will win the day. Yep... sure has.

  4. Face it, Mr Haley, the proponents in TEO (I can't call it ECUSA any longer) are insane! Including their lawyers!

    Rdr. James Morgan

  5. "This once-noble Church is being transformed, at the hands of single-minded activists, into a secular cult which will reflect only its lack of all Scripture-based grounding and tradition, and (in their place) will embody only the sacrifice to Caesar of those things which are properly God's."

    I appreciate your lack of surprise.