Sunday, May 31, 2009

What They Saw Is Exactly What They Got

The reign (a word I use advisedly) of ECUSA's current Presiding Bishop has been marked thus far by some striking characteristics in contrast to anything that ever came before:

1. First and foremost, the number of lawsuits in which the Episcopal Church (USA) is a plaintiff in court against its own---the initiator of litigation against fellow Christians---has multiplied enormously. A summary of cases I gave last August showed there were then eighteen pending suits that had been brought by ECUSA (either as an original plaintiff, or as a subsequent intervenor) in five different states: California (four lawsuits, counting three in Orange County and one in San Joaquin), New York (two lawsuits, one of which settled in September 2007), Virginia (eleven separate lawsuits), Georgia, and Connecticut. Of those, only the three in Orange County had been brought before Katharine Jefferts Schori became Presiding Bishop. Since that post, ECUSA has filed two more lawsuits: one in Pittsbugh and another in Fort Worth, and it was named as a defendant in a preemptive lawsuit brought by the Diocese of Quincy in Illinois, before ECUSA filed suit itself. So under the current Presiding Bishop, ECUSA initiated suit in eighteen separate instances, and there are twenty-two lawsuits for which she now has responsibility. (And that is the case despite the fact, as I pointed out in this post, that the Constitutions and canons nowhere give the president of a body which is not itself a member of the unincorporated association of dioceses authority to bring suit in court "on behalf of" the association as a whole.)

2. The amount of its resources which ECUSA is devoting to litigation in the civil courts has multiplied even more enormously. As detailed in this post, ECUSA's budget for litigation went from an original estimate (at GC 2006) of $300,000 for the triennium 2007-2009 to a currently budgeted $4,704,138 for that same triennium, plus a further $1.8 million proposed to be budgeted for the next three years, for a total of over $6.5 million.

3. The number of clergy deposed since November 2006 (when the Presiding Bishop's term began) comes to 121 --- and counting. (With the recent action in San Joaquin, the number more than doubled.) That number is up from just 36 in the years 2004-2006 --- nearly a fourfold increase. (The details---excluding San Joaquin---are on pages 22-25 of this Report.) And now there are a potential 72 more depositions scheduled in Fort Worth.

4. Three bishops were "deposed" (not canonically) under the current Presiding Bishop, while she "deemed" another six to have voluntarily renounced their orders --- without their ever having in fact done so (see page 25 for details). That makes nine bishops removed in less than thirty-six months without bothering so much as once to observe the canonical procedures. (Previously, such an abuse had occurred only once in Presiding Bishop Griswold's term, and once in Presiding Bishop Browning's term; no one saw them for the canonical violations they were at the time, but an illegality can never serve as a precedent. And counting those two, there had been just five bishops of ECUSA deposed in the entire four-hundred year history of the Church, before Presiding Bishop Schori started her current campaign.)

5. Despite an unprecedented downturn in its revenues, with resulting layoffs and downsizing in ECUSA's staff, the Presiding Bishop has found room in the budget to hire a personal legal adviser, in addition to her Chancellor.

6. At the same time that she has sought novel ways to fund litigation costs, the Presiding Bishop has urged the Church to hold fast to maintaining the Millennium Development Goals as its "first mission priority".

What may be surprising to some is that the Presiding Bishop is doing nothing more, and nothing less, than she said she would do if the House of Bishops chose her for that office. In a now largely-forgotten interview during her candidacy that she gave to Louie Crew, she answered his point-blank questions with equally frank answers (his questions are in italics, and her answers are in bold):
What do you see as the major pressures that would be upon you in moving from being Bishop of Nevada to being the Primate? I realize that primates have a responsibility to all of the people. What is and is not appropriate in terms of your own leadership?

The only parallel that I can draw is moving from Oregon to Nevada. I remember telling people the learning curve was not steep; it was overhanging. Having done some rock-climbing, I knew what that meant.

There is an opportunity, a charism in that position, that really offers the possibility to cure the whole body, and to try and stand in that crucified place that addresses the whole body.

My sense is that we still live very much in a colonial church. The eastern establishment still rules much of the church. There is a hunger in other parts of the country, and in other dioceses that are not part of this country, to hear and see some other movement that addresses their concerns.

Somehow being able to hold the whole body in prayer and in tension with the rest of the body.

What about those who seem bent and determined to leave or to wound the body if they don't get their own way?

I think they need to be challenged, more so than they have been. I see signs of hope in the House of Bishops, an unwillingness to continue to put up with bad behavior. We haven't seen any action yet, but I think it is coming.

Do you have any sense of what that action might be? Would a verbal rebuke be enough?

It won't be enough in some cases, I am sure. But I have the sense that there is some desire to hold each other accountable for actions that are not canonical, for actions that have the appearance of being downright schismatic.
"[The dissenters] need to be challenged . . . hold each other accountable for actions that are not canonical. . . that have the appearance of being downright schismatic." It was all there for everyone to see at the time, particularly when she identified the ones she was talking about as those who no longer came to the meetings of the House of Bishops:

What would you see as your major efforts in being a healer and a reconciler to the unhappy divisions of our church without encouraging further hostility?

I am a pretty good listener. I don't have any problem listening and being in dialogue with people who are willing to talk with me. The challenge in the House of Bishops has been the few who won't come. I have reasonable relationships with all of those who do come.

As a church we have got to be better self-differentiated. We have to decide what it is we are going to stand for and be clear about it, and then say 'these are the consequences.' . . .
The Presiding Bishop claims to be "a pretty good listener" --- but in the very next paragraph, she makes clear that she will not tolerate disagreement once a decision has been made, because if so, "these are the consequences . . .". (See #1 to #6 above.) Being absolutely sure that one is right is fine for her, but not for those who hold differing views:

I particularly like your emphasis in your part of the DVD on how you struggled to reconcile science and faith and did so by an awesome recognition of Mystery.

I am most worried when people are absolutely sure that their view is the right one.
And then---can you believe this? She goes right on to insist that she values "diversity" in the Church most:
What do you value most about the Episcopal Church?

I value most its historic ability to live with diversity and to celebrate that diversity. We have gotten better in some areas over the years, like liturgical diversity. We are wrestling mightily at the moment with theological diversity.

I love the Episcopal Church's ability not to define everything, to allow for a varied interpretation. Some see that as a mighty sin, but I see it as one of the gifts of the creator. To be created in the image of God doesn't mean just one thing.
And of course, one value which Mr. Crew asks her about right up front is the one she says she will fight for:

If a gay or lesbian person is elected on your watch, would you consent to the election?

If a gay or lesbian person is elected on your watch, would you be willing to serve as key consecrator?

That is a hard question. I have to tell you that I was not certain how I would vote on +Gene until that day.

I was deeply moved by your part of the DVD in which you told of the two things that struck you the most about that.

Louie, I don't think I can say right now. I don't think I can. I need to tell you if you don't know that my heart bleeds for the position of gay and lesbian people in this church. I think I must wait on the movement of the Spirit. I was part of the Special Commission on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. What we asked, what we recommended, was that electing dioceses, and Standing Committees, and nominating committees act with very considerable caution.

How does that caution translate in behavior? You don't get much of a choice if a diocese elects a lesbian or gay bishop.

That's right, and if God brings us to that day, I think we will act according to how the Spirit moves us. I am sorry not to be able to be more direct.

Obviously the whole church wants us to move toward more unity, but there is also the question of how far we will get if we don't take a stand. It's a flip side.

There is a piece of me that doesn't want Gene Robinson to be the next Li Tim Oi.
(Florence Li Tim-Oi is the woman who was first made a priest in 1944 because of wartime necessity in the Diocese of Hong Kong, but who surrendered her license after the war. She had to wait until 1971 before the Diocese elected to ordain any other women to the priesthood.)

There are a number of insights to be realized from this interview, apart from the fact that it predicted what would happen if +Jefferts Schori was elected as Presiding Bishop. Most striking to me are the inherent contradictions, which, as I fear I must never tire of pointing out, do not bother liberals in the slightest. Let me spell them out for you:

A. Katharine Jefferts Schori says she values "diversity" most in the Church, but at the same time she is troubled by those who are most sure they are right. From this it follows that it is fine with her if your opinion differs from hers, so long as you are willing to admit that she is right and you are wrong.

B. In respecting diversity, particularly in consecrating gay persons as bishops, the Church will "act according to how the Spirit moves us." But those who "seem bent and determined to . . . wound the body if they don't get their own way" --- because those who were "moved by the Spirit" instead got their way --- need to be challenged, and shown that there are consequences. So it is the ones who refuse to recognize the validity of gay ordinations who are being "downright schismatic", and who need to be punished---apparently because they are not moved by the Spirit. (They could not be, because otherwise +Gene Robinson might prove to be another Li Tim-Oi.)

C. Despite her scorched-earth, take-no-prisoners litigation tactics, the Presiding Bishop still views herself as offering "the possibility to cure the whole body, and to try and stand in that crucified place that addresses the whole body." In other words, she sees herself as the cure for ECUSA's current failings, and as a martyr who is taking all the unpleasantness upon herself ("stand[ing] in that crucified place") for the sake of the whole Church.

So the Presiding Bishop reserves to herself and those who agree with her the description of "being moved by the Spirit." Those who disagree are simply too sure they are right, are schismatic, and are bent on wounding the Church. Have you got that straight? And at the same time, she is a martyr for the cause of social justice, so it is impossible for her to conceive that she could be wrong.

In the DVD interview to which Louie Crew twice fawningly refers (still available here), the future Presiding Bishop is likewise true to her colors: God is mentioned only in passing, and Jesus Christ is not mentioned once, just as in the printed interview. General Convention had to wait for her inaugural sermon for the Presiding Bishop to mention the name of Jesus --- and when she did so, it was to refer to Him as --- deliberately, knowing the shock and pain it would cause to those who disagreed with her --- "our Mother Jesus". How is that for "listening", for "dialogue"? In other words: "I'm in charge now --- and you will listen to me, do you hear?"

There cannot thus be any surprise at how the Episcopal Church (USA) is being led today. It was all there on the table before her election. ECUSA got just what it bargained for. And it finds itself now exactly in the place where she promised to take it.

Dum excusare credis, accusas. (St. Jerome)


  1. As the Diocese of Quincy filed a preemptive lawsuit, I shall post a preemptive comment. No, I am not "bashing the Presiding Bishop", or being discourteous to her in any way. I am matching her own words to the facts as they have happened since she assumed office. She herself is her own accuser. I will say it again:

    Dum excusare credis, accusas.

  2. Thanks I guess for dredging this up.

    "We have gotten ,better, in some areas over the years, like liturgical diversity."

    Here is one example of that diversity as applied by an Episcopal church.

    "We are wrestling mightily at the moment with theological diversity."

    I wish she had expounded on what she meant by that. Did she mean the wrestling needed to keep increasing diversities of heresy under one big tent?
    And why is her chosen arena for the wrestling match the courtroom rather than a Council of Primates?