Friday, November 21, 2008

How to Wreck the Anglican Communion

The uncanonical depositions of Bishops Cox, Schofield and Duncan by the House of Bishops, based in each case a vote by less than the number of bishops required by the Canons, have tended to draw attention to the argument over the proper number of votes required. I have dealt with that issue in a number of previous posts: they are listed in the Guide to This Site under the heading "The Presiding Bishop Defi[l]es the Canons." What I would like to do in this post is focus attention on how the House of Bishops' misreading of the Abandonment Canon (Canon IV.2) is undermining the collegiality on which the Anglican Communion was first founded.

[UPDATE - BREAKING: See the important new and comprehensive paper on the general topic of this post, written by the Rev. Dr. Philip Turner of the Anglican Communion Institute.]

Each of the three bishops was charged with having "abandon[ed] the communion of this Church" ---in the case of Bishop Cox, by having performed actions on behalf of, or (in the case of Bishop Schofield) by having participated in steps to have a diocese leave The Episcopal Church for, or (in the case of Bishop Duncan) by having contemplated the taking of such steps to leave for, another church in the Anglican Communion.

You see, the problem in each case with such a charge is that if the word "communion" is defined as "the fellowship and rites as shared with each other by communicants of The Episcopal Church", which is how Bishop Jefferts Schori and all the bishops voting for the phony depositions defined it, then there results a slight logical problem with interpreting the next phrase of the language of Canon IV.9. The reason is that the same word "communion" is used again, but this time in an obviously different sense. Here is the language of the first two phrases; see for yourself:
If a Bishop abandons the communion of this Church (i) by an open renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline, or Worship of this Church, or (ii) by formal admission into any religious body not in communion with the same . . .
Do you see the problem? The second time it is used, the word "communion" clearly refers to the common rites and liturgy that The Episcopal Church shares with all the other churches in the Anglican Communion. In fact, "religious body in communion with this Church" describes not only the other churches of the Anglican Communion, but also Churches whose orders TEC recognizes through formal agreement, such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. So the liberals' illogic has them reading the word in a very narrow sense the first time it is used, and which clearly contradicts the sense in which it is used just a few words later.

The result is a self-isolating construct. By so reading their Canon, the Bishops have fenced off their own narrow "communion" from the communion shared by all Churches in the Anglican Communion. The inevitable consequence of such a staking out of private territory in the religious domain is, as it ever was in the sordid annals of church history, disagreement and discord. In short, the Bishops' pettifoggery with their Canons is wrecking their own Church---and in the process, the larger Anglican Communion itself.

Consider, first, those voices within TEC, on both sides of the aisle, who agree that the depositions of Bishops Cox and Schofield were uncanonical---voices as disparate as Dean Robert Munday of Nashotah House Seminary and D. C. Toedt, a lawyer who blogs as The Questioning Christian.

Next, consider the dioceses within TEC which refused to recognize the validity of the depositions: Northern Indiana, Springfield, Central Florida, Western Louisiana, and South Carolina. This had the immediate effect of creating enclaves within TEC itself which did not accept the actions of the House---not unlike, to be sure, those dioceses which have indicated they will not be bound by the resolutions of General Convention, such as Resolution B033 of 2006 regarding consents to ordination. However, the result was, as already noted, the exacerbation of a tendency to repudiate the national authority of the Church, a tendency which had already begun with the actions of GC 2003, and even earlier.

With its similarly unlawful deposition of Bishop Robert Duncan, the House has now greatly magnified the level of protests over and refusals to recognize its actions, which now threaten to become a cataract spilling over into the Anglican Communion as a whole. Even the Archbishop of Canterbury has refused to recognize the validity of Bishop Schofield's deposition, and has continued to receive Bishop Duncan at Lambeth both before and after his "deposition."

How can the Bishops who voted to depose possibly insist on such a blinkered reading of the language, when it is bringing about the very phenomenon they are describing in their interpretation? In other words, they are reading the Canon to define into existence a "communion" of The Episcopal Church that is completely separate and apart from the communion of the Anglican Communion as a whole---and by the act of so reading and applying their Canon, they are bringing that separate and isolated "communion" into existence.

They embrace this tragic result by focusing on just the word "Discipline" in the first part of the definition. For the liberals, to leave TEC for another church or province in the Anglican Communion is "an open renunciation of the . . . Discipline . . . of this Church." (In fact, in the case of Bishop Duncan, they considered him to have violated the Canon simply by stating his future intention to leave the Church.) But the problem with that reading of the language is that the second phrase of the canonical definition of "abandonment" would have to read like this:
If a Bishop abandons the communion of this Church (i) by an open renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline, or Worship of this Church, or (ii) by formal admission into any other religious body whatsoever . . .
And that is not, as you can see above, what the Canon says. Moreover, read in the way that our Bishops our currently reading the first part of the definition, then even if the second part were to read as just stated, it (the second part) would be wholly superfluous, because all cases of joining another church would be subsumed under the first part. So as the liberals have thus far read the Canon, they either have to ignore the second part of the definition, or proceed with their illogic while they wreck their Church and the larger Communion of which it used to be a part.

As a little thought exercise, imagine the following dialogue between Socrates and Bishop Stacy Sauls, who is trying to defend the House of Bishop's position on the depositions as he has done in the past:

Socrates: So, tell me Bishop Sauls, does a member of your clergy abandon the communion of The Episcopal Church if he leaves you to join the Catholic Church?

Bishop Sauls: Yes. The Episcopal Church is not in communion with the Catholic Church, and the second part of the definition makes it an act of abandonment to join such a church.

Socrates: Then I take it that it would not be an act of abandonment for a member of your clergy to join a church that is in communion with The Episcopal Church?

Bishop Sauls: That act would not violate the second part of the definition, it is true, but it would violate the first part, because it would involve a renouncing of the discipline of this Church.

Socrates: But in each case it is true, is it not, that the clergy in question has joined a Church that is other than the Episcopal Church?

Bishop Sauls: That is true, yes.

Socrates: And in joining another Church, the clergy in question has thereby renounced the discipline, as you call it, of the Episcopal Church?

Bishop Sauls: That is also true, yes.

Socrates: Then I am afraid do not see the purpose of the second part of the definition, since both cases of abandonment seem to be covered by your interpretation of the first part.

Bishop Sauls: Oh, we added that second part to take care of the case of Bishop Ives of North Carolina, who left us in 1853 to join the Roman Catholic Church.

Socrates: But if that language was added specifically to address the case of Bishop Ives, as I understand it, then it must have been because it was felt that the language of the first part did not cover the situation?

Bishop Sauls: I imagine so, yes.

Socrates: We are making some progress, I believe. So if the drafters of the Canon in 1853 felt they needed language to cover the joining of another Church, not in communion with The Episcopal Church, then surely they did not think that the language of the first part covered the case of joining any other Church at all, isn't that right?

Bishop Sauls: (Puzzled) How's that again?

Socrates: Well, put yourself in the place of those who proposed the Canon in 1853. They have some language which makes it an act of abandonment to renounce openly "the Doctrine, Discipline and Worship of this Church," did they not?

Bishop Sauls: Yes, they did.

Socrates: And they had before them, did they not, the case of Bishop Ives, who had just left the Episcopal Church to join the Roman Catholic Church?

Bishop Sauls: That is also true.

Socrates: But they were not satisfied, were they, with just the first part of the definition, and so added the language of the second part specifically to cover the case of Bishop Ives?

Bishop Sauls: Given the reasons for adopting the Canon in 1853, that is so, yes.

Socrates: Then do you not see that the drafters did not think it was a renunciation of the "Doctrine, Discipline and Worship" of this Church to join another Church, and so felt they had to add language to cover that event? Otherwise, they simply could have retained the first part of the language, by itself, as sufficient?

Bishop Sauls: I see that now, yes.

Socrates: But in adding the extra language, the drafters specifically made it part of the definition of abandonment to join a Church that was not in communion with the Episcopal Church, did they not?

Bishop Sauls: They did, yes.

Socrates: So would you not agree with me that since they added those specific words, they must not have believed it to be an act of abandonment to join another Church that was in communion with the Episcopal Church?

Bishop Sauls: Stated that way, I would have to agree with you, yes.

Socrates: And the language of these two parts of the definition remains pretty much the same as it was in 1853, does it not?

Bishop Sauls: That is true, yes. In 1904, the words "Doctrine, Discipline and Worship" were changed to read as they do now, "Doctrine, Discipline or Worship." They did that to take care of the case of a clergyman who successfully defeated a charge of abandonment by arguing that while he may have renounced the Church's "doctrine and discipline", he had never abandoned its "worship" when he joined the Reformed Episcopal Church.

Socrates: But in making that one-word change, they still left in the second part of the definition as it had always been, didn't they?

Bishop Sauls: Yes, they did.

Socrates: And by leaving it in, they must have intended for it still to carry some meaning, isn't that correct?

Bishop Sauls: They must have, yes.

Socrates: So do you agree that to read the change made in 1904 to the first part as depriving the second part of all meaning would violate the intent of those drafters?

Bishop Sauls: That would be true, yes.

Socrates: All right, then. Let me see what we have agreed upon. We have agreed that the second part of the definition must still be read as meaning what it says---that it is an act of abandonment to leave the Episcopal Church for another church that is not in communion with it. Then it cannot be an act of abandonment to leave the Episcopal Church for another church that is in communion with it. Therefore, the act of joining another church that is in communion with the Episcopal Church cannot be considered an "open renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline or Worship" of the Episcopal Church. Do you see that now?

Bishop Sauls: I do, but you're still wrong.

Socrates: How am I wrong---pray, tell me?

Bishop Sauls: Because we voted to depose them under the Canon, and our Chancellor advised us that we could.

Socrates: Then he must be a wiser man than I---you should certainly follow him, if that is the case.

Bishop Sauls: Thank you, Socrates---we will do that.

My concluding words to Bishop Sauls and all those others in the House who listen to the Presiding Bishop's Chancellor:

This is a man being paid upwards of $500 per hour, while his firm is raking in millions from your Church from the consequences of the actions he has advised you to take. For you to ignore all reason and logic just to follow his advice without question is not just a complete abandonment of your temporal and fiduciary responsibilities on behalf of the dioceses you represent. It is first and foremost a dereliction of your spiritual calling---placing it in the service of a destructive, rather than a redemptive, force.

If my words cannot reach you, then listen to those of the prophet Haggai:
1:5 Here then is what the Lord who rules over all says: ‘Think carefully about what you are doing. 1:6 You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but are never filled. You drink, but are still thirsty. You put on clothes, but are not warm. Those who earn wages end up with holes in their money bags.’”

. . .

1:9 ‘You expected a large harvest, but instead there was little, and when you brought it home it disappeared right away. Why?’ asks the Lord who rules over all. ‘Because my temple remains in ruins, thanks to each of you favoring his own house!


  1. Emotionalism, experience, and shouting beat reason and logic everytime.

    Ask any married man.

    Excellent post by the way. But that's only one of many ways that the Anglican Communion has been wrecked.

  2. It has alwasy been my position that deposing a bishop for "Abandonment of Communion" is the same thing as saying that the Episcopal Church is not in communio with any of the provinces that have congregations or dioceses in the geographical boundries of the United States. Thus, TEC is no longer a full member of the Anglican Communion.

    Phil Snyder

  3. T. U. & D., you are right, of course---but I still find it remarkable that out of 39 provinces and some 44 churches in the Anglican Communion, only TEC has chosen this rather unique of way deposing its own bishops for "abandonment" as its preferred method of wrecking both itself and the Communion.

    Deacon Phil, thank you for that observation; you are entirely correct that by its depositions, TEC is conceding that its "communion" is not that of everyone else with whom it is supposedly "in communion." Thus, as you say, they have self-confessed that they are not a full member anymore---would that the ABC and the other enabling primates in the Anglican Communion saw it that way!

  4. Is it not possible that the liberal revisionists will say that the Province of the So. Cone has stated time and again that they are not in communion with TEc thus for Bishops Schofield and Duncan to take their dioceses to the So. Cone in their (the liberal revisionists) foggy glasses appear that under that guise they are abandoning the Communion of this Church and might try to use it as their counter defense?

  5. TL, I'm sure that is what they would contend, if pressed. However, under TEC's polity, only General Convention, and not individual bishops on their own, may declare the Church to be "in communion" or "out of communion" with another Church. It is because some bishops are choosing to inhibit and depose, while others (e.g., +Howe of Central Florida) are choosing to issue letter dimissory, while GC itself has made no declarations on the subject, that I say that the majority of bishops are using their powers of deposition to wreck the Church and the AC.

  6. Excellent! But Sauls didn't see it this way when he issued a letter inhibition me from exercise of priestly ministry for teaching a Sunday morning Bible class at an Anglican Church after having resigned as Rector of a parish in his diocese.

    In the end, he did me a great favor. I have a wider ministry today than I ever had as an Episcopal priest.

  7. Dear Mr. Haley,

    First, let me compliment you on a beautifully reasoned example of Socratic argument, and, therefore, a compellingly cogent post. However, I don't think that, other than from a North American perspective, they can be said to be "wrecking the Anglican Communion." Rather, they are simply displaying to all the world the moral and logical bankruptcy of their proffered system of progressive politico-religious beliefs, and the utter lack of integrity exemplified by their alleged but invalid depositions of bishops consecrated in, and in conformance with, the one holy, catholic and apostolic church.

    Blessings and regards,
    Keith Toepfer