Monday, March 31, 2008

Five Violations of the Same Canon!

I have to interrupt my planned sequence of posts to deal with recent events. They have become too outrageous to ignore.

Let us begin to catalog here the manifold abuses by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori of the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church. For having occupied her office for such a short time, it is truly a remarkable record---and this post will deal with her violations in just one case!

In July 2006, before the Rt. Rev. Jefferts Schori took office as Presiding Bishop, then Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold received allegations that the Rt. Rev. William J. Cox, the retired assisting Bishop of the Diocese of Oklahoma, had ordained to the ministry three candidates on behalf of, and at the express request of, the Most Reverend Henry Luke Orombi, Archbishop of the Anglican Province of Uganda. Bishop Cox's supposed offense consisted of performing the ordinations in June 2005 at Christ Church of Overland Park, Kansas, which earlier in 2005 had left the Diocese of Kansas (after agreeing to purchase its assets from that Diocese for one million dollars) and had affiliated with the Province of Uganda. Bishop Wolfe of Kansas then joined with Bishop Moody of Oklahoma in bringing charges against the 85-year-old Bishop Cox, which Presiding Bishop Griswold forwarded to a disciplinary Review Committee under Title IV of the Church Canons. The Review Committee had not completed its investigation by the time that Presiding Bishop Griswold's term expired in November.

One of the acts of the Most Rev. Jefferts Schori at her first meeting presiding over the House of Bishops in March 2007 was to announce that she had received the certification of the charges by the Review Committee and that Bishop Cox, then at age 86 the oldest living Bishop of the Episcopal Church, would be placed on trial for the ordinations at Christ Church. Rather than face such an ordeal with his 85-year-old wife, who has Alzheimer's Disease, Bishop Cox sent Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori a letter of resignation from the House of Bishops on March 28, 2007. What did the Presiding Bishop do in response? Noting that the letter stated that Bishop Cox intended to continue his "episcopal ministry" under the ecclesiastical authority of the Presiding Bishop of the Southern Cone, she promptly referred his letter of resignation to the Title IV Review Committee and asked it to determine this time whether he had "abandoned the communion of this Church" within the meaning of Canon IV.9 (which provides for an investigation, but not a full-blown trial). The Committee duly obliged with a certification of abandonment in a letter to Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori written on May 29, 2007.

In the first of many canonical violations to follow, Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori inexplicably failed to carry out her duties under Canon IV.9:

The Canon says:

If a Bishop abandons the communion of this Church . . . it shall be the duty of the Review Committee . . . to certify the fact to the Presiding Bishop and with the certificate to send a statement of the acts or declarations which show such abandonment, which certificate and statement shall be recorded by the Presiding Bishop. The Presiding Bishop, with the consent of the three senior Bishops having jurisdiction in this Church, shall then inhibit the said Bishop until such time as the House of Bishops shall investigate the matter and act thereon. . . .

Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori was told on May 29, 2007 that the Review Committee had certified that Bishop Cox had "abandoned the communion of this Church" by resigning from the House of Bishops and submitting to the jurisdiction of the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone. Let us pass over for the moment the utter absurdity of such a finding in the case of such a saintly bishop (I will address the abuses of Canons IV.9 and IV.10 in a later post), and focus on the sequence of events. Despite receiving the certification, Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori failed to secure the consent of the three senior bishops having jurisdiction to inhibit Bishop Cox, and she inexplicably sat on the certification for over seven months---until she informed Bishop Cox of it in a letter written on January 8, 2008. Yet the Canon says (with italics added for emphasis):

The Presiding Bishop . . . shall forthwith give notice to the Bishop of the certification and Inhibition.

How can a seven-month delay in notification meet the requirement of "forthwith"? It cannot. Apparently the delay occurred because the Presiding Bishop could not get the consent of "the three senior bishops having jurisdiction in this Church" to Bishop Cox's inhibition, and at a press conference concerning the matter this past March 12, that was the impression she initially gave. If so, the senior bishops are to be commended for trying to act as a brake on the Presiding Bishop's determination to depose Bishop Cox, but one of the three senior bishops admitted to George Conger that "he had never been asked" to consent to Bishop Cox's inhibition.
Canon IV.9 goes on to make clear that only a Bishop who has first been inhibited "will be liable to deposition" under its procedures:

Unless the inhibited Bishop, within two months, makes declaration by a Verified written statement to the Presiding Bishop, that the facts alleged in the certificate are false or utilizes the provisions of Canon IV.8 or Canon III.12.7, as applicable, the Bishop will be liable to Deposition.

So we come to Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori's second major violation of this canon: she had no authority under it to require Bishop Cox to make a verified declaration refuting the allegations within 60 days, or else to face a vote of deposition in the House of Bishops. Her letter to him of January 8 not only was written seven months too late, but it was a complete abuse of her canonical authority to write it at all.

(Apparently Bishop Cox was by this time too weary of the un-Christian attitudes on display from his colleagues, and too wise to spend any money on legal fees disputing the Presiding Bishop's abuses of her authority. He admits today that he has willingly abandoned the communion of The Episcopal Church, and seems even to be rather glad to be separated from it. "This is not the same church in which I was ordained," he says.)

Not content with violating Canon IV.9 twice in the space of eight months, Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori violated it a third and a fourth time just two months later, at the recent meeting of the House of Bishops at Camp Allen in Navasota, Texas from March 9-12. She violated it by proposing that the House consent to her deposition of Bishop Cox when she had not been successful in having him inhibited, and then, on March 12, she violated the following language of the Canon (presented in bold for emphasis) in announcing the results of the unrecorded voice vote:

[If the inhibited Bishop does not satisfactorily refute the charges of abandonment, then] it shall be the duty of the Presiding Bishop to present the matter to the House of Bishops at the next regular or special meeting of the House. If the House, by a majority of the whole number of Bishops entitled to vote, shall give its consent, the Presiding Bishop shall depose the Bishop from the Ministry, and pronounce and record in the presence of two or more Bishops that the Bishop has been deposed.

There were only 131 out of the total of 294 bishops entitled to a seat and a vote in the House of Bishops who registered for the meeting at Camp Allen in March. Of those, at least 15 had left by the morning of the last day of the session, on March 12, and by the time the resolution to depose came up for discussion some hours later, only 68 active bishops (plus an undisclosed number of retired bishops) answered the roll call. (Sixty-eight active bishops is the minimum number required to constitute a quorum of the current House of Bishops!) By the language of the Canon quoted in bold above, which has not changed substantively in meaning since the first version was adopted in 1853, a majority of 294, or 148, votes were required to make a valid consent to Bishop Cox's deposition as of March 12, 2008. Even if the vote had been unanimous (and the Secretary of the House of Bishops agrees that it was not), it would have fallen at least 32 votes short of the majority required if there were 116 present, and by far more if the number had dropped to 68 plus a few retired bishops, as reported.

This did not stop Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori from announcing immediately that Bishop Cox (and Bishop Schofield, who will be the subject of a separate post) would be deposed in accordance with the untallied voice votes in favor of the resolution---and thus she committed her fourth violation of Canon IV.9, by claiming that she and the House of Bishops had followed its requirements. A few days later, she added her fifth and final violation of this Canon (in just the case of Bishop Cox!) by signing, in the presence of two other bishops, a declaration of deposition. Even that latter document, however, was replete with errors and misstatements: Bishop Cox is described as "the Bishop of Maryland, Resigned", when he was never the diocesan, but rather the suffragan, Bishop of Maryland, and he was the assisting bishop of Oklahoma, not Maryland, when he retired in 1988. Moreover, if he was "resigned", then The Episcopal Church must have accepted his March 28, 2007 letter of resignation---but how could it later depose him once he had resigned? [For a technical clarification on this point, for which I am grateful, see the comment by Dan Martins below.] Finally, the declaration of deposition is defective on its face: it never recites that he was inhibited before being deposed, as required by Canon IV.9 in clear language.

The Bishop responsible for the current revision of the Canons evinced no more of an understanding of the failures to follow the process than did Katharine Jefferts Schori. Commenting on the deposition of Bishop Cox, Indianapolis Bishop Catherine Waynick is quoted as writing that "while the 'canons may need to be clarified, what does not seem to need clarifying' was that 'William Cox willfully violated the canons by functioning where he had specifically been asked not to.'" She thus pronounced him guilty of charges that were never brought to trial, and which formed no part of the reasons for his supposed deposition.

This is a sorry, sorry chronicle of abuse and arrogance, probably not exceeded at any time in the history of the Episcopal Church since the days of Archbishop Laud. All who played any part in it, as well as those who are urging that the result be left to stand as is, warts and all, are covered in a shame that ought to be intolerable for an ordinary mortal, let alone one who has been consecrated to holy orders. Yes, a curmudgeon has to have something to grouse about from time to time, but with this latest disgrace to the Church, my cup has indeed run over.

UPDATE: Bishop Cox's attorney has demanded that Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori retract her defamatory certification that he was lawfully and regularly "deposed". At last, there might be some accountability in this desultory affair! [Tip of the hat to Mark McCall.]

Monday, March 10, 2008

Consequences of making V. Gene Robinson a bishop

In the recent news that it "will not be possible" for Bishop Robinson to attend the 2008 conference at Lambeth, we see the consequences of GC 2003's ratification of his election (and of TEC's subsequently proceeding to consecrate him) coming home to roost. Here is what the Primates warned TEC and those bishops who would participate in his consecration in their communique from Lambeth Palace in October 2003:

If his consecration proceeds, we recognize that we have reached a crucial and critical point in the life of the Anglican Communion and we have had to conclude that the future of the Communion itself will be put in jeopardy. In this case, the ministry of this one bishop will not be recognized by most of the Anglican world, and many Anglican provinces are likely to consider themselves to be out of Communion with the Episcopal Church (U.S.A.). This will tear the fabric of our Communion at its deepest level, and may lead to further division on this and further issues . . . .

Were truer words ever spoken? It is simply incredible for me (admittedly, a curmudgeon) how those on the side of +Robinson's ratification deny all responsibility for bringing into existence the very consequences that the Primates warned about before Presiding Bishop Griswold et al. proceeded with the consecration of V. Gene Robinson. That is also why I cannot abide those +Robinson supporters who try to justify GC 2003's and the bishops' actions by saying that they were (1) necessary under the circumstances, (2) a method of witnessing to "equal rights for all" in TEC, or (3) setting a course for the rest of the Anglican Communion to follow, under the motivation of "the Holy Spirit". Poppycock and balderdash!

As to what was "necessary under the circumstances," please read carefully the previous three posts---necessity can never be a sufficient justification for tearing "the fabric of our Communion at its deepest level." As to "equal rights for all", please remember that as the body of all sinners gathered in supplication for God's grace through Christ's atoning sacrifice, the Church is in no position to demand any rights for anybody, including civil rights for our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. While it may be politically defensible and entirely correct to demand such equality in civil society, there are and can be no "civil rights" before God. Why? Because God owes us nothing. We---individually or collectively---have no right to demand anything of God, either for ourselves, or on behalf of any body else.

As for wanting to be in the vanguard of social enlightenment, please read again the quote from the Primates' Statement at Lambeth above. Such actions, when taken by TEC's General Convention and its bishops, were taken in the name of TEC---that is, they were taken by General Convention and by the bishops in their representative capacities (because they were consecrating him in the name of TEC). "Civil disobedience" cannot by definition be acted out in a representative capacity, however---just ask Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, or any of the other great leaders who laid their individual freedom on the line to make a point in favor of social change, and as a result, inspired their followers to go along with them. There is no risk, and hence no statement in favor of civil rights, if all you are doing is purporting to act on behalf of somebody whose consent you could not lawfully claim to have obtained before you announced your action (because civil disobedience is meaningful only if you lay your own freedom on the line---not somebody else's who doesn't happen to agree with you).

In other words, no congregation or other assembly of TEC agreed before the ratification of +Robinson's election to authorize an act of "Anglican civil disobedience" on their behalf---that is, no Episcopal parish gave any delegate to GC 2003 the authority to flout Lambeth 1998 Resolution 1.10. And no diocese of TEC authorized any bishop to consecrate +Robinson in defiance of that resolution and of the Primates' October 2003 Communique. Those were steps taken by delegates to GC 2003, and by the consecrating bishops, individually, and thus on their own consciences. (They may have pretended to themselves that they were acting on behalf of all the Church, but they had never been given the authority so to act.) Accordingly, the procedures by which V. Gene Robinson was ratified, and then consecrated, as the Bishop of New Hampshire have no validity within the polity of The Episcopal Church.

For TEC to continue to maintain the charade (that +Robinson was validly ratified and consecrated) is a tragedy of the first order, and is at the very root of the divisive currents that TEC is now experiencing. So many members of TEC (whether or not they constitute a current majority of General Convention is irrelevant, because of the limits on GC's authority as established in the first two posts) are in disagreement with the actions of GC that exceeded its authority that the leadership of GC (and of TEC) no longer speak with the voice of authority behind them. They instead are viewed as partisans of a discredited view that has caused the fabric of the Anglican Communion to be rent at its deepest level.

Actions have consequences. The attempt by TEC's General Convention and bishops to make a statement for civil (gay and lesbian) rights in the context of the Anglican Communion has had most severe consequences for both TEC and for the Anglican Communion itself. It is time for TEC, its General Convention and its consecrating bishops to accept full responsibility for the division they have created, and to acknowledge that they acted beyond the authority which they could lawfully expect, or command, from TEC's members.

Next, we will address how TEC's leadership has compounded their insults to its membership by insisting on litigation to bully those who disagree with it.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

What did TEC's polity really require of GC 2003?

We come thus to the nub of the problem.  I could state it in this way: Which takes priority---the polity of TEC, or its identity as a constituent member of the Anglican Communion?  To do so, however, would set up a false dichotomy, and would at the same time lend support to some of the game-playing that is going on at TEC's highest levels.  For the truth is that if TEC's polity may be viewed as something separate from the Anglican Communion as such, then TEC was never really a member of the Anglican Communion at all.

Go back to the principles established in the first post:  General Convention is limited in what it can do, and one of the things it cannot do is decide to take TEC out of the Anglican Communion.  The "polity" that could make such a decision is only the full membership of TEC acting in their capacities as sovereign individuals to decide on their group identity, and that is not what is meant by "the polity of The Episcopal Church".  The latter is a representative polity, exercised by and through elected delegates and bishops.  Because they are our representatives, they have a fiduciary duty to act in our stead and on our behalf to adopt those measures which we have empowered them to adopt in our name---and only those measures.  Anything else is beyond their authority, and that limit on their authority to act in our name is an essential part of TEC's polity.

Thus the choice to ratify V. Gene Robinson's election was not a choice between upholding TEC's polity and following the advice of a resolution adopted by the assembled Anglican Bishops at Lambeth.  That would be a false choice, because the polity of TEC includes conducting the affairs of the Church so as to keep it a constituent member of the Anglican Communion.  It does not embrace taking TEC out of the Anglican Communion, which is what violating the advice of a Lambeth resolution encompasses.

The real choice presented by the ratification question, then, was this: Shall TEC remain a constituent member of the Anglican Communion, or not?  And as already shown, that was a choice that was beyond the purview of General Convention to make.

No doubt those voting to ratify sincerely believed that they could have their cake and eat it, too---that they could ratify the election contrary to Resolution 1.10 and still remain within the Anglican Communion.  This was an act of self-deception, however, for which the price is still being paid.  (How many of those who voted to ratify at GC 2003 would still, seeing the turmoil, litigation, anguish and despair that have ensued, knowingly so vote today?)  It simply is not possible to maintain that you are a constituent member of a group whose advice you refuse to follow, and your hypocrisy will be evident for all to see.

The argument that the choice to ratify the election was a matter of local "adiaphora" was put to rest by the Windsor Report, and need not be restated here.  Suffice it to say that a resolution adopted by a majority of Anglican bishops cannot be viewed as "adiaphora".

And what of the role played by TEC's bishops, including its presiding bishop, in subsequently defying a communique from the Primates' Meeting by participating in the consecration of V. Gene Robinson just weeks later?  Bishops, as the Windsor Report again observes, fulfill a special fiduciary role in the life of the Church, and should be held to a higher standard than the laity.  For them not to have a sufficient regard for TEC's Anglican identity in these circumstances was a deplorable betrayal of the role entrusted to them as "guardians of the faith."

Thus, neither civil rights, nor adiaphora, nor "TEC polity" required the ratification of V. Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire---in fact, TEC's polity, properly understood, required the rejection of his election.  One cannot live successfully a life of contradiction, and that has been TEC's fate ever since.  

Saturday, March 8, 2008

What authority does General Convention have?

We have agreed (see previous post) on a basic principle of Episcopal polity: the mandate of General Convention does not, and cannot, include the power to decide that TEC will no longer be a constituent member of the Anglican Communion.  Such a decision, which goes to our very identity, can be made only by the members of TEC themselves, and not by their elected delegates. (See also the full analysis of this point by Dean Paul Zahl, R.R. Reno, Christopher Seitz and Philip Turner here.)

Likewise, the mandate of General Convention does not extend to banishing the Holy Bible from Episcopal services of worship.  Despite what some of its defenders may claim, General Convention is limited in the things it can properly do.

Another limitation on the powers of General Convention is that it does not get to define what it is to be "Anglican".  Being Anglican comes from having an identity in common with others who are outside of TEC, and beyond the jurisdiction of General Convention.

At the same time, the Anglican Communion is not hierarchical, and there is no central authority with the power to set requirements to be called "Anglican".  By tradition and custom, to be an Anglican Church has meant to be "in communion with"---that is, to share liturgies and rites with---the Archbishop of Canterbury as the spiritual head of the Church of England.  (Even that custom, however, is changing.  Some churches declare themselves Anglican even though they do not consider themselves in communion with the See of Canterbury.)

The closest thing to a definitive body of rules and rubrics that can be called "Anglican" is the Book of Common Prayer and the collective resolutions adopted at previous Lambeth conferences.  While the latter are advisory, rather than binding, they nonetheless represent the collective sense of all the bishops within the Anglican Communion.  Just as there are no rules requiring what opening you have to play when starting a chess game, Lambeth resolutions do not mandate what you can and cannot do in your church.  If you begin a chess game as though you knew the Ruy Lopez opening, but then deviated from that line because you felt like trying something different, people who know chess will not credit you with being a Ruy Lopez player. And in the same way, if you disregard the resolutions adopted at Lambeth in your church, then people who are familiar with them will not credit you with being Anglican. 

This, then, is the dilemma of being in TEC and the Anglican Communion at the same time. General Convention followed its own internal procedures when it ratified the election of V. Gene Robinson to be Bishop of New Hampshire, but at the same time it violated the advice of Resolution 1.10 when it did so.  Because being identified as Anglican is dependent (among other things) on following Lambeth resolutions, General Convention started down a path that threatens TEC's Anglican identity.  And since we are agreed that General Convention lacks the authority to take TEC out of the Anglican Communion, it follows that although General Convention may have had the authority to ratify the election of an Episcopal bishop, it should have declined to exercise that authority in this instance---if it meant defying a Lambeth resolution.

In just the same manner, General Convention could undoubtedly follow all of its internal procedures correctly and adopt a canon banning the use of the Holy Bible in Episcopal services. (Just as the Emperor Caligula once proposed to use his authority to make his horse Incitatus a Roman consul.)  That it could do so by no means is a demonstration that it has the power to do so; adopting such a canon would turn TEC into a laughing-stock of organized religion, and would call into question its identity as a Christian faith.  That is (on a slightly smaller scale) what has happened with its ratification of the election of V. Gene Robinson.  Once again, the fact that it did ratify the election is no proof that it had the power to do so, to violate a Lambeth resolution, to elect and to consecrate as a bishop a man whom the rest of the Communion would refuse to acknowledge as a bishop---and still call itself Anglican.

Does this mean, as some have said, that the ratification of Robinson's election was an unconstitutional act?  Not in the strict sense of that word, since Resolution 1.10 was not a part of TEC's constitution.  I submit, however, that it was an act beyond the authority of General Convention, since by so acting, TEC placed itself at odds with the Anglican Communion, and signaled that it would not abide by a Lambeth resolution.  That was not the act of "a constituent member of the Anglican Communion", and so was beyond the authority given to General Convention by TEC's members to maintain TEC's place in that Communion.  It was also a usurpation of the power to decide questions of our Anglican identity, which, because they go to our essence, can be exercised only by TEC's members, as a collective whole.  Finally, it was an abuse of the power residing within TEC's polity to elect and to consecrate bishops of the Anglican Communion.  Instead, it served only to put TEC onto the path where today it claims sovereign authority to elect bishops without regard to whether they are acceptable to the Anglican Communion or not, although some---but by no means all---of TEC's bishops for the time being promise to use "caution" in exercising that power. 

Indeed, it is remarkable that General Convention has arrogated to itself powers to decide questions of identity which it denies to individual dioceses and parishes.  That is, it is all right for General Convention to flout a Lambeth resolution, but it is not all right for the Diocese of San Joaquin to decide to affiliate with a different province, or for the parish of Falls Church in Virginia to align with a different Anglican church.  In General Convention's view, what is sauce for the goose is definitely not sauce for the gander.  Yet TEC would not be having these problems of identity if General Convention 2003 had preserved the Church's Anglican identity by remaining faithful to the terms of Lambeth Resolution 1.10.  It is hypocritical not to accept full responsibility for the consequences of that one act.  Once a group is perceived as having abandoned its collective identity, those who disagree with such actions will do what is required to maintain the identity they perceive as having been abandoned.

Friday, March 7, 2008

What is an Anglican, and who decides the question?

What does it mean to be "an Anglican"? This is the question that is dividing the Anglican Communion today. Different groups, and different persons, will give different answers. If a Bishop receives an invitation from the Archbishop of Canterbury to attend the 2008 Lambeth Conference, does that mean that the Bishop can consider that he/she is an Anglican? I submit (pace ++Rowan Williams) that an invitation to Lambeth is not the test. However, the fact that you do not get invited to Lambeth is a pretty good indicator that you are not regarded as "Anglican" by the majority of bishops calling themselves Anglican. (I will deal with the cases of V. Gene Robinson and the bishops of CANA and AMiA separately.)

The first requirement of being "an Anglican" is to acknowledge that there is a body in Christ that is greater than the church of which you are a member. Whether your church calls itself "The Episcopal Church" or "The Church of England" or by some other name, to be an Anglican is to acknowledge that your church is part of a larger ecclesiastical body.

Every Anglican starts out being the member of a church within the Anglican Communion. The Anglican Communion itself has no definition apart from its constituent churches. The Archbishop of Canterbury is nothing more than the primate "of all England", who by historical precedent is also recognized as the titular head of the Anglican Communion, but his authority in that capacity is pretty much limited to convening meetings of the other Anglican primates, and issuing invitations to the decennial conference at Lambeth Palace.

The predecessor to The Episcopal Church (TEC) began as a branch of the Church of England in the seventeenth century (the first parish, under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of London, was formed in Jamestown in 1607). Subsequent parishes also were formed under the Bishop of London, and no independent bishoprics were established while America remained under British rule. After the American Revolution, the relationship with London could not continue, but there were no bishops in the colonies until Samuel Seabury, elected from Connecticut, arranged to be consecrated by bishops of the Episcopal Church in Scotland (now the Scottish Episcopal Church). Even after the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America (PECUSA) was organized by a convention held in 1789, however, the succession from the Church of England was very tenuous, and the Church barely survived until it obtained a stronger leadership in the early nineteenth century. Today, the Preamble to the Constitution of The Episcopal Church (TEC---the successor name to PECUSA) describes it as "a constituent member of the Anglican Communion", but this relationship had not become formally established until the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral Agreement of 1886-1888. Recently, however, TEC has departed from the teachings and doctrine that were previously adopted by a majority vote of Anglican bishops at Lambeth. TEC has departed from these teachings and doctrine by the unilateral action of its own General Convention in ratifying the election of V. Gene Robinson to be Bishop of New Hampshire, which action was contrary to the spirit (if not the letter) of Resolution 1.10 adopted by the Anglican Communion at its 1998 Lambeth Conference.

TEC has sought to justify its actions on civil rights grounds. The Anglican Communion, however, is not based on civil rights, because inasmuch as we all are sinners, God owes us nothing. There are, and can be, no "civil rights" before God. Each of us sinners must stand before the judgment seat without previous claim of rights, civil or otherwise.

Is this view of the matter dogmatic? No, just principled---curmudgeonly, yes, but in a principled way. To those who would comment here: the Richard Hookers among you are welcome; the John Shelby Spongs are not. If you have a spiritual point of view that is backed by logic or history, by all means, have at it; but if your argument consists solely of emotional hand-waving and jumping up and down, or of ad hominem assertions and invective, it will not last long here. I will exercise my rights as moderator to edit or even delete such comments into oblivion, and without any notice or apology. (That is what it means, after all, to be a curmudgeon. Live with it.)

The warning having been issued, I will welcome honest debate about points that are still open to debate. Such points necessarily involve those aspects of TEC which its leadership is wont to refer to as its "polity"---meaning its autonomous structure within an interdependent Anglican Communion. (I often get the impression, however, that TEC's leadership today considers that autonomy trumps interdependency.)

So let's begin with this proposition: the General Convention of TEC is a body of limited authority, deriving its powers from the members who elect its delegates (both bishops and deputies). One of the limits on its authority is that it has no power to make TEC a branch of the Roman Catholic Church, for example. If we can agree that TEC's elected representatives have no such power when assembled in General Convention, then what can we say about General Convention's power to take TEC out of the Anglican Communion? It follows, does it not, that TEC's members would first have to receive notice of that topic's being on the agenda, and to have authorized their elected delegates to vote on it, before electing any such delegates? Even then, the topic may be non-delegable, since it goes to the heart of our Anglican identity. In other words, the mandate of General Convention should not extend to a decision to take TEC out of the Anglican Communion, because it is a decision that must properly be made only by the members of TEC themselves. Since it touches on a group's very identity, decisions about what that identity is to be are in essence non-delegable. Moreover, there is no grant of such authority in TEC's Constitution; to the contrary, its very first phrase describes TEC's identity as a member of the Anglican Communion, and of no other.

(Note that I am not arguing that TEC could not have a written Constitution that did give such authority to its representatives assembled in General Convention---but such a Constitution could come into being only after a full and open discussion among TEC's members about authorizing the deputies to GC to vote on such a subject. The current TEC Constitution is silent on the topic of changing TEC's identity, so that silence may best be interpreted as requiring a vote on such an authorization before it could be put into effect. Otherwise there would be no limit whatsoever on the authority of GC to legislate, and that is not consistent with a representative polity.)

If we can agree thus far, what follows? Ah, that will be for the next post.