Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Via Media Movement: No Orthodoxy -- We're Episcopalian!

In February, after Bishop Mark Lawrence published the correspondence between his Chancellor and Mr. Thomas Tisdale, who called himself "South Carolina counsel for the Episcopal Church", I put up a post entitled "What in the World Is Going on in South Carolina?" I asked how it could be that the Presiding Bishop and her Chancellor had hired their own attorney to investigate Bishop Lawrence's actions, unless there were some kind of a move afoot to lay charges of "abandonment of Communion" against the good Bishop. Such a move, if taken before there was any action by the diocesan convention toward leaving the Church, would have eerie parallels to what the Presiding Bishop and her Chancellor had done in the case of then-Bishop Robert Duncan, of the Diocese of Pittsburgh.

Let it never be said that Episcopalians are ones to let a good title go to waste. For the Episcopal Forum of South Carolina, a group first organized in 2003 as a counterweight to reaction in the Diocese to the confirmation of the election of the Bishop of New Hampshire, soon announced a series of forums across the State in April and May of this year, entitled "What in the World Is Going on in the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina"?

I began doing some delving into the pages at the Forum's website, and what I found sheds a little more light on what is really going on in the Diocese of South Carolina. Mark Lawrence may not have realized just what he walked into when he was elected a second time by the Diocese to succeed Bishop Edward L. Salmon, Jr. -- a second time, because the Presiding Bishop ruled that the consents by a few of the standing committees had not been "in order" following the first election. He was the only candidate on the second go-around, so it is obvious that a strong majority of the clergy and the laity in the Diocese were determined that he should be their bishop. However, the members of the Episcopal Forum were not as convinced as the majority.

Rumors had been flying well before the first election in 2006 that the Diocese was planning to leave the Church. Indeed, the five founding members of the Forum announced its creation after a special convention held in October 2003 adopted some resolutions which appeared to point the way in that direction. (You can read what I believe are the texts of those resolutions in the archives of the American Anglican Council: Resolution #1 [note the background text of Resolution R-1 passed at the annual convention the previous year]; Resolution #2 [with further background material], and Resolution #3 [documenting financial pressure applied to Archbishop Malango of Central Africa by the administrator of the Grants Program of Trinity Church Wall Street].)

One has to recall the sequence of events in order to place the sudden blooming of the Episcopal Forum into context. General Convention had confirmed Bishop Robinson's election in July 2003. This event triggered a number of special diocesan conventions that fall -- in Pittsburgh, Fort Worth, Albany, Central Florida, and South Carolina -- and public meetings in a number of others. The Primates also met in London in October 2003 and issued a warning to the Episcopal Church (USA) not to proceed with the consecration of Bishop Robinson. (Incredibly, the warning was signed, along with all of the other Primates, by Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold -- who then led the consecration three weeks later.) About the same time, in November 2003, the Diocese of Nevada, under one Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, approved rites for same-sex blessings. (It would appear that Bishop Schori has a long history of sticking her thumb in the eye of the Communion.)

In reaction to denunciations of these acts by the bishops of the conservative dioceses, by the American Anglican Council and by others, counter-organizations began to spring up in the orthodox dioceses. These organizations modeled themselves on earlier groups which had begun meeting as early as 1999 in the Dioceses of Dallas and San Diego. (See, for example, this initial press release from the Episcopal Forum of South Carolina, in which it states: "The Episcopal Forum of SC is modeled after similar groups in other Episcopal Dioceses where schism is a threat.")

By 2003, the name "Via Media" had become popular as a means of self-identification for several of these groups.
"The term 'Via Media' comes from the 16th-century Anglican theologian Richard Hooker, whose work established Anglicanism as a 'middle way' between continental Protestantism and Catholicism," said the Rev. Edward Copland of Southwest Florida Via Media Episcopalians, the newest Via Media group. "Via Media groups in the Episcopal Church provide a balance to the American Anglican Council and Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes, whose Web sites and publications call for criticism of the Episcopal Church and its presiding bishop," Copland explained.
The quotation is from this March 2004 article published by ENS, which does a good job of pulling together all the various threads of the Via Media-related groups. One characteristic of these groups is their misappropriation of Richard Hooker to their cause, as you can see from the above quotation. They profess to be his followers in employing the concept of a "three-legged stool" in traditional Anglicanism -- affording scripture, tradition, and reason equal weight in judging the correctness of doctrine:
We are loyal to the doctrine, worship and discipline of the Episcopal Church USA. We are nurtured by scripture, tradition and reason – the three-legged stool of traditional Anglicanism. We are Episcopalians striving for that via media of diversity and tolerance in the Diocese of Fort Worth.
In fact, the author of The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity never alluded to or described any such "three-legged stool". To quote an acknowledged scholar of his works:
Hooker never gave us a "three-legged stool." In fact, he mostly emphasized only two things. One was, of course, Scripture. The other was the Church with her authority, by which he meant both what has been handed down in Tradition (which word he did, in fact, use positively in this connection), and also good, right and just polity. Reason, as such belongs to the Church as the Church, not simply "to men and women" as individual thinkers. The closest he ever came to mentioning Reason of individuals, or to mentioning anything even remotely like a "three-legged stool," was in a context wherein he taught that individual reason must be subject to the Church:
"Be it in matter of the one kind or of the other, what Scripture doth plainly deliver, to that the first place both of credit and obedience is due; the next whereunto is whatsoever any man can necessarily conclude by force of reason; after this the Church succeedeth that which the Church by her ecclesiastical authority shall probably think and define to be true or good, must in congruity of reason overrule all other inferior judgments whatsoever.” (Richard Hooker, The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Book 5.VIII.2)
Even the Rev. Dr. Francis Wade, engaged by the Forum to give a talk which was played for the April-May gatherings in various locations throughout the Diocese, knows that it is incorrect to assert that Hooker recognized the "three legs" of Scripture, reason and tradition as being on an equal footing. In a written version of his lecture being shown to Forum members, he states:
The key word is “conversation.” Richard Hooker illumined this path for us in the 16th century. In his day there were three distinct ideas about how people could find and nurture God‟s truth. Humanists like Erasmus maintained that reason was all that was needed. Puritans were convinced of 'solo scriptura' or only the Bible was necessary. At the Council of Trent Rome decreed that tradition, the wisdom of our forebears, was what would guide us. Hooker saw the wisdom of each and said that God's truth emerges in a conversation between scripture, tradition and reason. He did not coin the image of a three legged stool that is commonly used to describe Hooker's insight, and I doubt that he would have liked it if he had heard it. The three-legged stool image implies an equality that I don't think Hooker would have bought into. For Hooker tradition and reason are in conversation about scripture. The Bible is central. Because of Richard Hooker we understand the truth of scripture to emerge in a conversation with reason and tradition. That is a point often forgotten in our current disputes.
Dr. Wade's talk is thus crucial for Forum members to listen to, in order to counter the misleading representations of Hooker's view of Scripture in relation to reason and tradition being promulgated by Via Media and its branches. However, Via Media distorts more than just the writings of Richard Hooker.

Another troubling characteristic these groups have in common is a reliance on, and tendency to cite, this passage from the Gospel of John in support of the "new things" which they claimed the Holy Spirit was leading the Episcopal Church (USA) to accomplish (Jn 16:7-15, with emphasis added):

16:7 But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I am going away. For if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you, but if I go, I will send him to you. 16:8 And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong concerning sin and righteousness and judgment – 16:9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 16:10 concerning righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 16:11 and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.

16:12 “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 16:13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. For he will not speak on his own authority, but will speak whatever he hears, and will tell you what is to come. 16:14 He will glorify me, because he will receive from me what is mine and will tell it to you. 16:15 Everything that the Father has is mine; that is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what is mine and will tell it to you.
The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church recently cited this passage in her pastoral letter defending the Church's repudiation of Resolution 1.10 from the 1998 Lambeth Conference, in response to the letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury.

A third characteristic is a tendency to aggrandize the importance and significance of ECUSA as a prime mover and leader among the world's churches -- and not just within the Anglican Communion. Here is a typical passage along these lines, from Katie Sherrod of Fort Worth's Via Media:
Plenty of folks have analyzed what happened at Lambeth [2008]. I've done it myself on my blog, Desert's Child.

But even as I wrote that analysis I was nagged by the knowledge that I was missing something important, something key to understanding the dynamic of Lambeth. I've finally got it.

It is the Baptismal Covenant.

We -- The Episcopal Church -- have one. They -- the rest of the Anglican Communion -- do not.

. . . [I]n the years since the "new" Prayer Book was adopted we have been changed by the baptismal covenant in deep and fundamental ways that, when combined with our church's democratic polity, made a clash of world views between us and the rest of the Anglican Communion inevitable.

All these years of reaffirming the Baptismal Covenant have caused us to recognize that lay people also are "ministers" in the church and that our ministry is to be valued.

Increasingly, lay people are claiming the "ordination" of their baptism -- an ordination we share with Jesus himself -- and are speaking truth to power in the church. . . .
Nothing is seen by Via Media members as more of a threat to the Church than the response of those whom the Church was, during the years 2003-2008, inexorably forcing out of its ranks. In January 2004, the Via Media-affiliated groups were suddenly galvanized by a story in the Washington Post which published the text of the so-called "Chapman Memo." This document, authored by the Rev. Geoff Chapman of St. Stephen's Church in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, a member of the AAC, quickly became a mainstay of the expanding World-Wide Web, and can still be found on many sites (mostly liberal ones, of course) simply by Googling those two words. The Memo (actually an information letter, addressed to "Dear Friends") supposedly laid bare the "secret plans" of the AAC and Bishop Robert Duncan to organize (with the apparent blessing of the newly appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams) a new and rival branch of the Anglican Communion in North America. They viewed this development as a threat to ECUSA's exclusive franchise, and in response increased their opposition to the orthodox dioceses, their clergy and their leaders:
The [Chapman] letter speaks for itself. Property, not piety is keeping dissident parishes in the Episcopal Church. In the longer term, the AAC expects to use foreign intervention to trump American law and the Episcopal Church Constitution and Canons. Its leaders are assuring dissident parishes that the Anglican primates, a consultative body with no governing authority or standing in the United States, will ride to the rescue of Network parishes, negotiate property settlements and transfer the assets of 2.3-million-member church to a group representing perhaps a tenth of that body. The Chapman letter reveals the AAC's "realignment" for what it really is – the overthrow of the Episcopal Church by extra-legal means.
. . .
Despite all of the efforts of the AAC to divide the Episcopal Church and polarize its membership, faithful Episcopalians are defending the treasured "via media," the middle ground of the church where multiple viewpoints and Biblical interpretations are respected. The organizations that have jointly issued this statement are representative of that middle ground. We call on loyal Episcopalians throughout the church to defend the traditional "middle way" by opposing any actions that advance the strategy outlined in the Chapman letter. . . .
The Episcopal Forum in South Carolina reacted by scheduling forums at a number of churches around the Diocese (Pawley's Island, Beaufort and Hilton Head) -- a pattern it has continued to follow in the years since, in response to each new perceived threat. At a conference held in Charleston in February 2004, entitled "Episcopalians Seeking Unity in Diversity", they provided perspectives from such diverse viewpoints as the Rev. Canon Kendall Harmon (speaking on "the AAC, ACI and Network Perspectives"), and the Very Rev. Sam Candler (speaking on the "Episcopal Church, USA Leadership Perspective").

The next month, representatives from the Forum and similar Via Media groups in eleven dioceses came together in a closed-door session held in Atlanta, which ended in an announcement that they had agreed on the formation of "Via Media USA . . . , committed to promoting and protecting the faith, unity, and vitality of The Episcopal Church as the American expression of Anglican tradition." Several of the voices at the Atlanta meeting are still in the news today:
“There is room for everyone in the Episcopal Church,” said The Rev. Michael Russell, Rector of All Souls’ Episcopal Church in San Diego, Calif., and a member of Episcopal Way of San Diego. “We believe that the Christian way is to love, work and worship together – to resolve disputes within the church without tearing it apart.”
. . .

“We learned about and from each other, drawn together in fellowship,” said Dr. Joan Gundersen of Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh. “Some people who were feeling isolated now feel supported. This meeting has helped us move closer together and has given us a better working relationship.”
But by this time, a lawsuit had already been filed against Bishop Robert W. Duncan and the Trustees of the Diocese of Pittsburgh which sought a court order to prevent them from allowing any parishes to leave with their own property. The plaintiffs were one of the churches in that Diocese, Calvary Church, and its rector, Dr. Harold Lewis, together with a vestry member.

We see in this set of facts, as early as 2004, a recurring pattern. While professing to honor diversity -- and indeed, to seek "unity in diversity" -- the groups allied with Via Media have always taken root only in those dioceses led by orthodox clergy who stoutly resisted the ordination to the episcopacy of individuals in a noncelibate relationship outside of Holy Matrimony as defined (and still defined) by the Book of Common Prayer. For thus upholding the rubrics of the BCP, they have been accused of fomenting schism within ECUSA, sued, deposed and hounded from the Church.

In fact, one of the group's most revealing publications is this 2005 report, In Our Many Voices (.pdf download). Note the dioceses represented in the report, in relation to where they are today: Albany, South Carolina, Central Florida, Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, San Joaquin, Springfield . . . In each case, the statements describe how Via Media organized itself in order to distance its members from actions and statements of the local diocesan bishop. The report from the Diocese of Springfield makes for especially troubling reading, in light of the recent election there (pp. 22-25):
The Episcopal Diocese of Springfield has become increasingly confrontational and divided as Bishop Peter Beckwith has refused any pretext of pastoral engagement and dialogue, but rather has chosen to systematically identify and marginalize (or eliminate) anyone who deigns to have a different perspective on theology or leadership.

The diocese is not liberal, but neither is it archconservative. There are many (even perhaps a majority) who believe that General Convention 2003 erred in its decisions regarding Bishop Robinson and the blessing of same sex unions, but they are not prepared to leave their beloved (if errant) church, but rather prefer to continue the dialogue in faith. Thus, the issues in the diocese are more about Bishop Beckwith’s dictatorial leadership style and the ultra-conservative theology he is determined to impose on everyone—like it or not.

Laypeople—and some clergy—have been totally disenfranchised, and increasingly a ‘congregational’ mindset is emerging. People who do not actively agree and support Bishop Beckwith have been eliminated from any position in diocesan governance. This consolidation of absolute power is troubling in its own right, but even more important will be its role in the near- future election of a new bishop. A semblance of a balance of power (and thus the voice of the laity and clergy) must be restored if the election process is to have any integrity and not simply further alienate and divide the diocese. . . .
As the Via Media groups themselves acknowledge in their press release from Atlanta 2004, "[m]ost of the groups are in the minority in the leadership of their dioceses, many of which have joined a newly formed network." There is no need for any Via Media group in a diocese which has already succumbed to heterodoxy -- no work for Via Media to do there.

By professing to seek "unity in diversity", Via Media in fact is actively promoting the spread of heterodoxy until it prevails in every single diocese within ECUSA.


  1. "By professing to seek "unity in diversity", Via Media in fact is actively promoting the spread of heterodoxy until it prevails in every single diocese within ECUSA."

    Dear Curmudgeon,

    You write as if you neither like, nor approve of this (Orwellian) practice.

    If you will simply engage in The Listening Process, you will soon embrace the loving inclusivity of Via Media.

    Don't fight it. Just accept it.

  2. Judging (as curmudgeons do) by the track records of the spokespersons quoted, the via media movement does not have a prayer.

    Curmudgeons harrumph, others listen.

  3. Curmudgeon, I was at one of the most recent Forum meetings around the diocese. The title was " Continuing the conversation". Yeah, right! WHAT conversation?? There is NO conversation with forum members. Some are actual believers but many are Gnostics who think the Episcopal Church is somehow "progressive". Unity in diversity ? Ummm, ONLY if you are an Epsicopagan. Uhhh, most in this diocese are NOT buying it. Look at the votes at our recent conventions.

    The forum had a couple of people to answer questions at these meetings. One was an attorney who does NOT know canon law. She was spotting the nonsense that TEC is hierarchal. She should really just give it up and keep out of Canon law.

    Keep on keeping on. You are doing a great service.

    SC Blucat Lady

  4. Since you began with a reference to the engaging of an attorney by the PB, I will repeat what I have posted before. The issue is not a diocesan convention attempt to leave the Episcopal Church. The issue is, IMV, a concern about the diocese's willingness to enforce the Denis Canon if congregations attempt to leave with parish property. I can't say for sure whether that concern is well-founded, but it may well be.

  5. Fr. Weir, with all due respect, that is not the issue any longer in South Carolina. The decision of its Supreme Court has become final: the Dennis Canon has no force or effect within its borders. No Episcopal Diocese in the State, nor ECUSA itself, may seek to enforce the Canon in South Carolina courts.

  6. I had previously missed this article. If the Rev. Dr. Francis Wade has been accurately quoted as using the term [emphasis mine] "'solo' scriptura" then he must be a church scholar less than literate in the language of the Church, by which I refer to Latin!

    The grammatically correct term is "sola scriptura," the modifier sola being required to agree in number and gender with the scriptura which it modifies.

    Of course, it could be an error of transcription—I have no assurance that the quotation is accurate in all regards. But I also wouldn't be terribly surprised to learn that the Reverend Doctor's expertise is much vaunted, when all is said and done.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  7. bookmarked!!, I like your website!

  8. I've been surfing online more than 3 hours today,
    yet I never found any interesting article like yours.
    It is pretty worth enough for me. Personally, if all website owners and bloggers made good content as you did, the
    net will be much more useful than ever before.