Thursday, October 28, 2010

Bishop Lawrence: How to Do It Right

Bishop Mark Lawrence of the Diocese of South Carolina shows every other bishop in the Episcopal Church -- including especially the Presiding Bishop -- how one canonically removes clergy under one's jurisdiction who have departed ECUSA for another province of the Anglican Communion.

One does it by a simple, two-sentence declaration of removal: "Notice is hereby given that on October 21, 2010, acting with the advice and consent of the clerical members of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of South Carolina, I removed N. N. and N. N. from the ordained ministry of the Episcopal Church. This action was taken for causes which do not affect the moral character of the persons removed from the ordained ministry of the Episcopal Church."

There is no phony or illegal resort to the Abandonment Canon (IV.10); there is no phony pretense of treating some communication from the departing clergy as a "voluntary renunciation of the ordained ministry" which the bishop uses to claim that "N. N. is released from the obligations of all Ministerial offices, and is deprived of the right to exercise the gifts and spiritual authority as a Minister of God's Word and Sacraments conferred in Ordinations."

The integrity of the Communion, and of the role which the Episcopal Church (USA) plays in it, is honored. The Recorder of Ordinations is notified, and the clergy are no longer on the rolls of ordained ministers in the Episcopal Church -- but they are still fully ordained, and qualified to be licensed as ministers in another province of the Anglican Communion.

See how simple it is to follow the canons when one is of a mind to honor the Church's membership in the Anglican Communion? Bishop Lawrence once again puts his colleagues to shame.

That does not stop the usual back-biters from sniping at him. They and their ilk believe that despite the binding precedent of South Carolina's highest court ruling that the Dennis Canon had no legal effect in the State, he should have wasted diocesan resources, and frayed tempers still more, by a vain pursuit of St. Andrew's parish property in the state courts. (You can find the link to The Lead's post to this effect in the column to the right.) It is attitudes such as theirs, which the Presiding Bishop exemplifies, which are wrecking the Church and the Communion.

Thank you for setting the proper canonical example, Bishop Lawrence!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Cracks at the Top (Part V of "The Constitutional Crisis")

Now that we have the reports from the third and final day of the meeting in Salt Lake City of ECUSA's Executive Council, we are finally able to fill in the picture of what is going on among the Church's elected and appointed officials. The picture is neither pretty nor reassuring.

First and foremost, the Executive Council continues to tiptoe through the tulips, and to ignore its role to act as a watchdog for the whole Church during the 154 weeks out of 156 when General Convention is not in session. As documented in the series of posts called "ECUSA's Attorneys -- a Runaway Train", the litigation in which the Presiding Bishop has embroiled the Church on her own continues to drain the latter's resources -- but as far as Executive Council is concerned, it has no oversight role to play. We find out that in approving a reduced budget for 2011, the Council approved the Church taking out a new loan of up to $60,000,000, and securing its note by mortgaging its headquarters at 815 Second Avenue, as well as by pledging unrestricted endowment funds.

The new loan is necessary because the Church has already borrowed $46.1 million, the note for which falls due at the end of this year. Of that amount, nearly $10 million was used to acquire land for a new site for the Episcopal Archives in Austin, Texas, and the balance was used for improvements at 815 Second Avenue -- a good part of which has now been rented out to third-party tenants.

The Church has bought raw land when it does not yet possess the additional money required to construct a building on it, and the raw land itself is not financeable -- that is, since it is non-revenue producing, it cannot be used to secure a loan. Other income-producing assets of the Church must be pledged in its place. The $10 million property will just sit there, incapable of being developed for the time being, because, according to the last resolution adopted by the Executive Council on the subject,
A diversity of individual gifts is needed for the next phase of oversight and effective completion of the many tasks that lie ahead for the successful raising of funds; relations with development partners, neighborhood businesses, governmental agencies; finalizing design; and, the selection of appropriate consultants and construction contractors. The number of members is not as critical as the skills available; individual members may possess several of the desired skills.
The $37 million spent to refurbish the headquarters on Second Avenue obviously will not finance all of the new borrowing the Church now needs to make as a result of the past decisions made by its leadership. It is left to Mr. Kurt Barnes, the Church's Treasurer, to (a) decide how much he can borrow on behalf of the DFMS (the Church's corporate arm), up to $60 million; and (b) how much of that amount he can finance with a mortgage on the building at 815, and how much additional the DFMS can put up in unrestricted trust funds.

Is it any wonder, then, that Mr. Barnes should feel himself under great pressure? He is having to navigate the fragile DFMS vessel between the Scylla of the Church's many pressing needs for operating capital (in a world of declining revenues and diocesan contributions), and the Charybdis of the Presiding Bishop, who is waging a one-woman war against all the former Episcopalians she can manage to sue. She expects him to come up with the money to pay the bills, and the Executive Council turns a blind eye to the amounts she is spending.

The tensions resulting from the failure to deal with the elephant in the living room -- the uncontrolled cost of dozens and dozens of lawsuits -- finally spilled over into the deliberations of the Executive Council. In particular, the head of the Council's Committee on Finances for Mission (and also a member of the Audit Committee), Dr. Delbert Glover, ran into a conflict with the Treasurer, according to the report from ENS:
FFM chair Del Glover told his committee earlier in the meeting that because of past budget decisions, only about $500,000 of the principal [on the $46-million-dollar loan due later this year] has been paid off.

"To the extent that we are not paying debt, we are borrowing money to do the ministry of the church," he said.

The resolution calls for mortgaging the Episcopal Church Center in Manhattan and securing the rest of the borrowing with unrestricted endowment assets. The current debt is in the form of a line of credit.

Finances for Ministry initially discussed the borrowing authority during an Oct. 23 session that grew somewhat heated when [Treasurer Kurt] Barnes objected to Glover having appointed a subcommittee to look into the refinancing possibilities and the borrowing philosophies behind them. Barnes said he was told that the subcommittee was to be a council of advice for him, but said "the council of advice never invited my opinion, so I don't feel it's a council of advice."
ENS's report details more of the Treasurer's complaint, and Dr. Glover's response:
He said that the subcommittee's report did not take into account the work that he and Margareth Crosnier de Bellaistre, the church's director of investment management and banking, had been doing for many months to explore refinancing options and solicit proposals from lenders. "It acts as if we've been asleep," Barnes said of the report.

"The way it was approached, my staff and I absolutely felt that our intelligence or ability was always being challenged," Barnes said. "We give 10 hours a day to this church and then we have other people who say, 'but you don't know what you're doing.' That's our problem and if we have misread it, then I am sorry."

Glover said that the finance office staff had misread the subcommittee's intent. He said the group, made up of former members of the Joint Audit Committee of Executive Council and the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society and those with expertise in the area, was in fact offering advice and contacts, not implementing policy. He said the need for the subcommittee grew out of the audit committee's concern about the level of debt the church has and about the payment coming due at the end of the year.
The Presiding Bishop was not exactly forgiving in her response:
"The job of Executive Council is to set policy, not to implement it and that's where the rub has come," she said.

"It denigrates the staff, that's not helpful," she said of the creation of the subcommittee, adding that "it overreaches the authority of this committee."

"I think people have gotten past the anger and the insult," she told Glover, "but let's not have it happen again."
Notice -- she says "people" have gotten over their anger, she thinks: she does not include her own feelings about the matter. At the same time, she is pointedly, but indirectly, telling the Council to keep its collective nose out of her areas of authority -- such as lawsuits against former Episcopalians.

At least we now know what was the occasion for the Presiding Bishop's remarks reported here last Monday, complaining about "a sometimes rather adversarial attitude in Council", and a "confusion [of] roles . . . [in which] committees try to do the work of staff."

Still, this explanation does not apply to the Presiding Bishop's opening remarks to the Council, in which she warned against the Church's committing "suicide by governance." Those remarks came before the flare-up between Mr. Barnes and Dr. Glover.

Instead, after looking at all of the reports of the meeting, I surmise that what occasioned the latter remarks was the Presiding Bishop's ongoing frustration with the difficulty of dealing with recent events in the Diocese of South Carolina, as discussed in the first post of this series. ENS reports that she had the Council authorize a response to the Episcopal Forum of South Carolina, which explained that "there are canonical limits to how her office and the Executive Council can intervene" in the situation there.

This has to be the first time in her term thus far that the Presiding Bishop has publicly admitted that there are any "canonical limits" to her office. Note that the report from ENS does not say anything about whether the Presiding Bishop referred the Forum's letter to the Title IV Review Committee, because if she had done so, she would be obliged to keep the referral confidential until that Committee decided either to bring a presentment, or charge Bishop Lawrence with "abandonment of communion." Although she is reported as having welcomed the Rev. Jim Simons' offer to meet with Bishop Lawrence, I am afraid that based on her past conduct, especially in connection with Bishops Cox and Duncan, she cannot be trusted. Only time will tell what further steps she is taking against Bishop Lawrence.

Thus the "suicide by governance" remark, and the warning against any "appeal to old ways and to [an] internal focus", has to be seen as an expression of regret that any clergy or laity in the Church should declare any resistance to moving forward with the new changes to Title IV of the Canons, which go into effect next July. As documented in the post mentioned earlier, the new changes will give the Presiding Bishop a whole host of metropolitical powers over her colleagues which are nowhere authorized by the Constitution. The changes are utterly void, as General Convention cannot override the Constitution with any Canon. But the Presiding Bishop has refused to declare that she will refrain from asserting the powers thus illegally conferred upon her. For her to acknowledge "canonical limits" at this time on her office, therefore, serves simply to underscore that refusal: "I can't do anything about South Carolina now," she is saying, "but just you wait until next July . . .".

In the process of making her remarks about how she wishes not to be held back by any qualms over such things as the new metropolitical powers given to her, or by anyone's wishes that "things remain as they have been in former times" (see the bizarre reference to the old ministry desk in this previous post), the Presiding Bishop managed to step on the toes of her Vice Chairman, the President of the House of Deputies, and those members of the Council who serve in that House. She actually had the gall to imply that "deputies are elected to represent the interests of their dioceses."

One could almost hear the objections of "Heresy!" all the way out here, in California. For in saying so, the Presiding Bishop had committed an offense far worse than contradicting Holy Scripture: she had dared to contradict the Holy Ghost, who alone guides the consciences of the individual deputies in their votes. That deputies should "represent" their own dioceses? -- what utter blasphemy, what poppycock!

And here we see the unique dynamics of having a woman serve as Presiding Bishop: no male within hearing of her remark even thought of correcting her. That function could be undertaken only by another woman, in this instance one of the deputies from the pseudo-diocese of Fort Worth:
Council member Katie Sherrod, Diocese of Fort Worth, asked for time on the agenda and told Jefferts Schori that "while you did not question the need for a House of Deputies, I fear your remarks that bishops' vocation is 'their ability to do big-picture work, care for the whole flock, to invite others into the big-picture, long-term conversation while deputies are elected to represent the interests of their dioceses' will increase those tensions, not relieve them."
Imagine a male bishop (other than Bishop Lawrence) talking like that to the Presiding Bishop -- especially after they all have stood meekly by while she continued to assert power after power not given to her anywhere in the Constitution and Canons. But one false step about how the deputies "represent" their dioceses, and the females in the room are all over her. Moreover, this false step unleashed a torrent of fears about bishops supposedly planning how they could "eliminate" the House of Deputies, and govern the Church by themselves:
Sherrod said that she believes that "most deputies do indeed approach their work with a big-picture view of the church and a concern for all the people as much as, if not more than, many bishops do."

She said that her "deeper concern" is a "growing sense" that "some bishops are dangerously close to saying to the clergy and deputies, 'We have no need of you.'"
Those words harkened back to earlier tensions between the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies, which were visible to a certain extent in their respective remarks made to General Convention 2009. Now, faced with Sherrod's rebuke, the Presiding Bishop had to backtrack quickly, and eat humble pie:
Jefferts Schori said that she was not aware of bishops who want to do away with the House of Deputies, adding that she was "sorry to hear that."

She said she was trying to point to the tension between bishops "who ideally in vocation are called to care for the whole and deputies who are elected by individual dioceses who represent the interests of those dioceses." When a murmuring of "no" arose, the presiding bishop said "just a minute, let me finish," explaining that she meant that dioceses elect deputies from out of the context of the diocese's stance on the issues facing the church.

"I'm not impugning the understanding of individual deputies that they are called to serve the whole church," she said. "What I am simply saying is that deputies in their election are called by particular dioceses. That's not a perfect distinction, but generally it's a tension and I hope I was careful to say that I don't think we should resolve that tension."
Not resolve a point of tension? Why not? Who wants tension between people who are supposed to work together? Notice the Presiding Bishop's obfuscation in response, followed by the common sense of another female Council member:
"If we resolve the tension, we have failed. That tension should be energizing and keep us talking to each other and honoring the gifts of different vocations."

Council member Gay Jennings, Diocese of Ohio, suggested that the councils of advice to the presiding bishop and the president of the House of Deputies ought to meet together to consider the perceptions discussed during the council meeting.

"As we approach [the 2012 meeting of General Convention in] Indianapolis, I would hate to see this kind of tension become exacerbated," Jennings said.
Seeing all this sparring on the distaff side, two males on the Council reacted in predictable fashion. One tried to use soothing words, while the other complained about all the in-fighting going on:
Diocese of Michigan Bishop Wendell Gibbs told his council colleagues that "the body cannot afford to have any member say to another 'we don't need you.'"

He added that the members of the church must "trust not just in one another but trust our God."

"We're an incredible gift to the world given by God," Gibbs said of the Episcopal Church. "I come into this gathering trusting that every one of you is here for God's purpose and we have to go from that."

Council member Mark Harris, Diocese of [Delaware], said that there are times that he values the discussion about how to be more nimble in the future, but sometimes feels "worn down and oppressed by the concern about organization rather than the concern about mission."
Which remarks provided the occasion for the Presiding Bishop, Deputy Sherrod and President Anderson to pull in their claws and make peace:
At the end of the discussion, Jefferts Schori thanked Sherrod for voicing her concerns.

"I intended to be provocative; I think that's part of my job," she told the council. "I am absolutely rejoicing that we can have a conversation like this. I don't think we could have had a conversation like this a year ago. We have grown in our ability to do this kind of work."

During her closing remarks to council, House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson said that after eight terms as a deputy she still "marvel[s] at the democratic way in which our church governs itself and the way in which our authority is shared among all the baptized."

Anderson expanded on her view of the Episcopal Church's democratic governance. She told the council that "the Holy Spirit dwells among us, it dwells and presides in the councils of the church. What a council seeks to understand by its debates and votes is not the mind of the majority of its church members. We seek to understand the mind of the Holy Spirit."

She said people are attracted to the Episcopal Church for many reasons, including "by the way the authority shared for accomplishing God's mission."

"Our energy as a church, our ability to do much with few members, comes from a sense of ownership and investment that Episcopalians feel in the mission of their church," she said.
To read the Council's own message to the Church about its accomplishments at the meeting, the discussion with the Presiding Bishop was full of sweetness and light. Such messages never disclose who wrote them, but in the past Deputy Sherrod has participated in doing so. Somehow I think she helped write this latest one as well, because it includes this otherwise pointless quote from a sermon given by the Bishop-elect of Utah (I have added the emphasis):
Bishop-elect Hayashi said that moments of clarity and understanding, of self-knowledge, are important for those called to be leaders in our church, that the first task of a leader is to come to an understanding of who he or she is – and to lead from there. We have to know we are caught up short by our own image of our leadership abilities -- and then let that go, for it is only by opening our arms and gathering in all that God has to give us can we then turn and offer it to others.
Based on her latest remarks to the Council, and what she told them a year ago, I think the Council's members are entitled to be very confused and very concerned about just what kind of "clarity and . . . self-knowledge" prevail in the Presiding Bishop's "understanding of who she is". In October 2009, Jefferts Schori told the Council:
She reminded Council that no diocese had left the church, only individuals. She reported that the reorganizing dioceses are experiencing pains and liberty. She reported that the staff at the Episcopal Church Center (hereafter, ECC) was working in new ways and beginning to experience resurrection. TEC, she said, was discovering opportunities borne of crisis: the choice was resurrection or tomb . . .
And this October, she told the Council that the option was between choosing "leeks and watermelons and the fleshpots of Egypt", or "wandering in the wilderness for a while because we haven't done it before."

I think the strain is showing in ECUSA's leadership, and that there are cracks at the top. After all, just look at what strain the litigation has caused to the dioceses -- on both sides. (Even the Presiding Bishop admits that the groups she has put up to suing their former bishops are experiencing a bizarre combination of "pains and liberty[?!]", while at the same time she says they are suffering from "governance handcuffs". It must be one of those "both-and" concepts which the followers of fuzzy logic so love.)

Look at what has happened, due to threats of and resorts to litigation, just in the space of a few years on Jefferts Schori's watch:
  • For the first time in its 221-year history, the Church has consented to mortgage its prime property to help pay for lawsuits;
  • Church leadership (and the lack thereof) has caused the DFMS and its treasurer to play fast and loose with the stated purposes for drawing on donor trust funds to finance diocesan litigation;
  • The Church has loaned more than a million dollars of its sorely needed funds to groups with no ability to repay such amounts, even if they finally prevail in the pending lawsuits;
  • The Church has gone to inordinate lengths to prop up groups as Potemkin dioceses, just so they can serve as plaintiffs in the lawsuits, while having little potential to remain viable on their own;
  • General Convention, 815 and the Executive Council are all running in different directions, with no regard for the limits imposed by the Constitution and Canons; and, last but not least,
  • The Church is in a deadly, downward spiral of declining membership, declining revenues and greatly increased debt.
Prolonged litigation is one of the most toxic forms of stress to which humans can subject themselves. The constant worry of what future decisions by distant and poorly informed judges will bring eats away to the raw nerves, while the outlays required leave no resources for survival in tough times. It is time to remember the words of St. Paul:
6:5 I say this to your shame! Is there no one among you wise enough to settle disputes between fellow Christians? 6:6 Instead, does a Christian sue a Christian, and do this before unbelievers? 6:7 The fact that you have lawsuits among yourselves demonstrates that you have already been defeated.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Constitutional Crisis in ECUSA - Pt IV: Leeks, Watermelons and Fleshpots of Egypt

Those who have followed this series up until now, and those who also read my previous series, called ECUSA and Its Attorneys: a Runaway Train, will understand what I mean when I say this latest news almost writes itself. Keep in the background, as you read my excerpts from the ENS dispatches that follow, this post about the lack of executive oversight of ECUSA's finances, this post about the uselessness of General Convention's elaborate budgetary process, and this post about the $21.65 million dollars ECUSA has robbed from its budget to maintain its dozens and dozens of lawsuits against former Episcopalians.

First, we learn from ENS that the Executive Council, meeting this weekend in Salt Lake City, has essentially had to tear up the triennial budget adopted at Anaheim in 2009, with much fanfare about the multiple and drastic cuts it made, and after the Church spent ten million dollars to come together and adopt it:
The Episcopal Church's Executive Council began its three-day fall meeting [in Salt Lake City] Oct. 23 with an agenda that includes consideration of a Church Center 2011 budget that is five percent lower than the version adopted by General Convention in 2009.

Revenue in the proposed reduced budget is $2.1 million less than originally projected, with income from dioceses projected at $682,946 less than expected. The revenue reductions come "as a result of an unpredictable delayed payment by one diocese," as well as major cuts in Church Center spending that also will result in less revenue, according to a memo to council members from the church's Finance Office. The specific diocese has not yet been disclosed.
Right off the bat, the ENS article needs interpretation between the lines. Note that the problem is attributed solely to an "unpredictable delayed payment" from one as yet undisclosed diocese -- but that the extent of the shortfall in projected diocesan contributions is just $683,000, while the total shortfall in projected revenues is more than three times that amount. That means one of two things: either the "unpredictable delayed payment" is a huge one, of $1.4 million (but they expect to get it in a later fiscal year, regardless), or else the additional $1.4 million shortfall is due to other, unnamed factors -- which together total twice as much as the factor they choose to name. This is not a stellar example of how to keep your constituents informed as to just what is going wrong.

Either way, the Church is faced with maintaining its full litigation budget of $3 million while slashing other items by $2.1 million:
The proposed budget calls for ceasing publication of the Episcopal News Monthly and Quarterly publications; closing the Episcopal Books and Resources retail bookstore at the Church Center in New York City and its online store; and ceasing the resource-shipping operation that serves EBAR as well as Episcopal Church Foundation, Episcopal Relief & Development and United Thank Offering. Those agencies have been offered alternatives for fulfilling their orders.

The proposed elimination of EBAR and the two publications means a loss of revenue, but also reductions in Office of Communications expenses. Proposed expense cuts in the Office of Communication total $812,332.

Episcopal News Service's online operation will continue and is due to be expanded in terms of multimedia. Its stories are available free to other church publications. The "Episcopal Church Welcomes You" signs, currently unique to EBAR, would be available for sale from the Christian Alliance for Media (an Atlanta-based organization that began in 1945 as Episcopal TV and Radio Foundation).

Another $790,000 would be cut from 2011 Mission Program operations under the proposal . . .
So how do you respond to a need to cut expenses? Do you settle any lawsuits? No, you simply close down some revenue-producing operations, which have, of course, expenses associated with the revenues they bring in.

Oh, yes, and you also cut more funds for mission -- because you need to devote those appreciated trust funds, given long ago for domestic and foreign missions, to the "mission" of domestic litigation against former parishes and dioceses. It must make sense to someone . . . but not to this Episcopalian or to many others, which is why overall contributions to ECUSA are declining precipitously.

This being the Episcopal Church, however, there is another priority which the shrinking budget has been called upon to meet:
During its Oct. 23-25 meeting, the council also will be asked to consider a plan to flesh out its February challenge to the church to raise $10 million to help rebuild the Episcopal Diocese of Haiti. At the request of Bishop Jean Zaché Duracin, the money would be targeted to the diocese's Holy Trinity Cathedral complex in Port-au-Prince. The complex once contained two schools and a convent, as well as the cathedral church with its world-renowned murals depicting biblical stories in Haitian motifs, which were crafted by some of the best-known Haitian painters of the 20th century.
How do you come up with an extra $10 million in a budget which you are already slashing by $2.1 million? "Voodoo economics" is a term which Episcopalians may have to revive to apply to the solution for the hurting Diocese of Haiti which the Executive Council finds in this particular situation. Once again, I am somehow certain that whatever that solution turns out to be, it will not involve the settling of any pending lawsuits . . .

And then today, we have ENS's next item about the Executive Council Meeting, which reports -- among other things -- the opening address to it given by the Presiding Bishop. I hesitate to criticize the ENS reporter, who is an experienced professional, and has always has done her job superlatively. Therefore, in copying that reporter's exact words in what follows, I leave it to the reader to determine whether what is reported is, shall we say, more or less coherent:
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori challenged the Episcopal Church's Executive Council Oct. 24 to avoid "committing suicide by governance."

Jefferts Schori said that the council and the church face a "life-or-death decision," describing life as "a renewed and continually renewing focus on mission" and death as "an appeal to old ways and to internal focus" which devotes ever-greater resources to the institution and its internal conflicts.
Does anyone else besides this Curmudgeon perceive in these words a certain parallel -- not exact, I grant you, but close enough to be exceedingly troubling -- with a certain situation involving a sinking ocean liner, whose Captain is urging everyone, while facing a "life-or-death decision," not to spend too much more time rearranging the deck chairs, and instead to scramble for the lifeboats? Let's listen to a bit more:
"We need some structural change across the Episcopal Church," she said. "Almost everywhere I go I hear dioceses wrestling with this; dioceses addressing what they often think of as their own governance handcuffs, the structures that are preventing them from moving more flexibly into a more open future."

Later in her remarks, Jefferts Schori said "we need a system that is more nimble, that is more able to respond to change," calling for "a more responsive and adaptable and less rigid set of systems."
"Governance handcuffs"??? Could that possibly mean the handcuffs that 815 is trying to impose on every Diocese by suing it, if it dares so much as to question 815's authority to tell it what to do? Is the Presiding Bishop saying that she intends to let individual Dioceses act with more freedom? Somehow, I think that Bishop Lawrence and the Diocese of South Carolina would be deceiving themselves if they surmised that these words were directed toward them. Listen, if you can, to still more of the Presiding Bishop's opening remarks:
Jefferts Schori said that research shows that when the Episcopal Church tells its story well, it attracts young adults for its liturgy, social-justice stances and passion for mission; immigrants and women at transition points in their lives.
No, she is definitely not speaking to the Bishop or Diocese of South Carolina.
"However, I think we're in some danger of committing suicide by governance by focusing internally rather than externally," she said. "Dying organisms pay most attention to survival. Our Haiti initiative is a positive counter-force to that. It's an example of what's possible when we turn outward rather than inward."
There's that strange phrase again: "suicide by governance." What can she possibly mean by it? This is a Presiding Bishop whose grip on the reins of governance is tighter by far than any other Presiding Bishop in the Church's history. Obviously, it is not her governance with which she has a problem. No, it is someone else who is "too focused . . . internally" on governance. Let us continue with her remarks as reported further:
Jefferts Schori said, there is what she called "a sometimes rather adversarial attitude" in the council that is the result of "confusion about roles."

"Sometimes committees try to do the work of staff," she said. "Council sometimes forgets that its job is about policy-making and accountability, and we live with the challenge of having 40 people challenged to make decisions together. There's a reason why Jesus called 12 disciples, it's a manageable group for conversation."
Oh, my. A rational reader, if he has not become disturbed before this, should hear the alarm bells going off all around at this point. A forty-member Executive Council is "confusing its role" with that of staff?? All because of "a sometimes rather adversarial attitude"? And the result of that is to compare the Twelve as a much more "manageable group for conversation"??

(Purely as an aside at this point, I have to ask my more theologically inclined readers their opinion of this assertion by the Presiding Bishop that the purpose of Jesus' gathering His Apostles around him was for "manageable conversation.")

Could the Presiding Bishop here be complaining that she has to work with the full Executive Council? And could that mean that there are some of its members who are currently being less than compliant on accepting the current autocratic situation? If I were a member of the Executive Council, and if I had asked some inconvenient questions about why all the money was being spent on fees that were going to the Chancellor's own former law firm, for results that were middling to poor at best, I might feel as though I were the target of these cryptic remarks.

To continue with the report (I am skipping over a major topic, not germane to the present thread, which will have to form the subject of a separate post):
[The Presiding Bishop] urged the council to claim its "rightful function" to help the whole church focus on the "big-picture, long-distance view, not just bean-counting."

"The budget needs to be managed, personnel need to be treated justly; that's not our primary focus, those are vehicles for mission," she said. "We do have the capacity to think bigger and more strategically for life in the future."
Now this little speech definitely needs translation, because it is not addressing the most pressing issues. There is that reference again to the Council's "claiming its 'rightful' function"; while at the same time the Presiding Bishop seems to assert that management of the budget and the just treatment of Church personnel is not its function. She wants the Council to focus on the "big-picture, long-term view."

One the one hand, I want to read between the lines to conclude that the Presiding Bishop is saying something like this to her Executive Council: "Do not get caught up in questioning how much is being spent for this or that. Leave the determination of legal fees and what they are being incurred for to the knowledgeable staff around me, such as my Chancellor David Booth Beers, and my able Special Assistant for Litigation and Church Discipline, Mary Kostel. Take instead the 'big-picture' view, the 'long-distance view,' and don't trouble yourself with bean-counting."

But on the other hand, this is the Executive Council we are dealing with. And what has been their foremost concern over the years? Is it the amount the Church is spending on litigation? Perish the thought.

No, what the Executive Council members have been most exercised about over the previous years are the layoffs in personnel at 815. And as I documented in this post and this one, the staff at 815 has not exactly been on the same page as the Executive Council when it comes to those layoffs that have already occurred. And now, more layoffs are apparently being proposed. So is all this undercurrent of disagreement about personnel layoffs, instead of about the enormous amounts the Presiding Bishop is paying her Chancellor's law firm?

If so, then what we have is definitely an argument about the rearrangement of the deck chairs on the sinking Titanic. For look at the extent to which the Presiding Bishop engages in circumlocution and evasion before she goes on to specify just what she considers a proper "long-distance view" that is worthy of the Executive Council's consideration:
Jefferts Schori said "we don't know what the future will look like ... but what we do know, if we're honest about it, it will look different than it did last year or 10 years ago."
The future looks different now than it did a year ago, or than it did 10 years ago? Excuse me, but what does she really mean to say?
"Are we willing to choose life and new possibility or are we going to choke on a microscopic, regulatory, restricted focus?" she asked. "Can we help the whole church choose a more open future?"
I am still not tracking with these remarks: just what does the Presiding Bishop mean by a "microscopic focus"? Or a "regulatory, restricted focus"? Would that be one that demands that she account for what she alone determines should be spent on the Church's legal fees? Or would it be one which focuses only on who is next in line to be laid off, and why?

To continue:
She suggested that "choosing life is going to mean wandering in the wilderness for a while because we haven't done it before."
Again, I say, this is a seasoned reporter who is giving us the substance of these remarks. We should not question the messenger, but the message: "Wandering in the wilderness?" One "chooses life" by deciding to "wander in the wilderness"?

The analogy is to the Israelites in Egypt -- but their choice was between freedom under God's guidance of the Exodus, or -- continued slavery in Egypt. Is the Presiding Bishop saying that we in the Episcopal Church (USA) are under a Pharaoh's yoke? And just what will this "wandering in the wilderness" achieve for the Church?
Jefferts Schori said that some of the issues the council might face include questions of whether the church still needs a large office building in Manhattan, whether the church can share ministry with other denominations, whether dioceses be challenged to do more together and whether seminaries can collaborate to serve the wider church.
(Emphasis added.) Oh dear, oh dear -- this is getting very worrisome. Now we are talking about selling the headquarters at 815 Second Avenue? And about letting other denominations and the individual dioceses combine to handle the responsibilities of ministry for which the DFMS solicited all those donations? And about training Episcopal, Lutheran and Methodist priests in a combined seminary? Well, those are certainly ideas to think about. But what about cutting down on litigation?

There is no report of that topic ever coming up, except possibly the (earlier) reference to the Council's adjournment into an executive session, to discuss a report from the Audit Committee. At the same time, this cannot be an issue just about staff layoffs at 815. The members of the Executive Council are expressly told to ignore the "abundant fear" they might experience in facing this "new future". Whatever else that "new future" may entail, it cannot be limited to one that is missing just a few people at headquarters.

And now, the report of the Presiding Bishop's remarks launches off into entirely new territory. If the past was prologue, what follows is complete and utter mystification. Listen to a truly astonishing example of the Presiding Bishop's voicing a concern that is utterly irrelevant to this entire discussion:
"I hear murmurings out there about what there isn't anymore," she said, citing a recent conversation with a priest who asked about a pastoral ministry desk that existed at the Episcopal Church Center in Manhattan decades ago.

"The murmuring isn't necessarily bad, but we have to test whether it's born out of fear," she said. "God's calling us in to a new future. Are we going to chose life? I want to invite us all to lift our heads and look into that future. It's not going to look like the past. It's going to take courage and perseverance because there will be abundant fear. There will be abundant resistance. There will be many cries for the leeks and watermelons and fleshpots of Egypt. What will we choose?"
We go in two paragraphs from a long-missing ministry desk to the "leeks and watermelons and fleshpots of Egypt"??? (The former two are a reference to Numbers 11:5, using in the case of "watermelons" the translation of the New English Bible. But the use of the term "fleshpots" for "pots of meat" [see Exodus 16:3] harkens back to the King James Version -- an anachronistic mixing of Bible translations which makes no sense at all, if one wanted to avoid the more sensational context of the term which dates, according to Merriam-Webster, from at least 1592.)

Thus one has to ask about the Presiding Bishop's references to the Torah, in comparing the choices which she sees ahead: what in the world???

Is that what the current choice is between? The future, to which the Presiding Bishop calls the Church under her sole guidance, or remaining with the "leeks and watermelons and fleshpots of Egypt?"

Now do you believe me that we are in a Constitutional crisis in the Episcopal Church?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Woman Sued for Seeking a Roommate Via Her Church's Bulletin Board

The politically correct do-gooders are out in force in Michigan. The Fair Housing Center of West Michigan, which styles itself as "a private, non-profit organization established in 1980 to ensure equal housing opportunity as guaranteed under federal, state, and local fair housing laws," has filed a civil rights complaint against a woman in Grand Rapids who posted an advertisement at her church last July seeking a Christian roommate.

The full, incredible story may be read here. Some choice excerpts:
"It's a violation to make, print or publish a discriminatory statement," Executive Director Nancy Haynes told Fox News. "There are no exemptions to that."

Haynes said the unnamed 31-year-old woman’s case was turned over to the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. Depending on the outcome of the case, she said, the woman could face several hundreds of dollars in fines and “fair housing training so it doesn’t happen again.”

Harold Core, director of public affairs with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, told the Grand Rapids Press that the Fair Housing Act prevents people from publishing an advertisement stating their preference of religion, race or handicap with respect to the sale or rental of a dwelling.
And how did the non-profit, private Fair Housing Center find out about what a parishioner put up on her church bulletin board? From a politically correct private snitch, that's who:
Haynes said the person who filed the initial complaint saw the ad on the church bulletin board and contacted the local fair housing organization.

The ad included the words, "Christian roommate wanted," along with the woman's contact information. Had the ad not included the word "Christian," Haynes said, it would not have been illegal.

"If you read it and you were not Christian, would you not feel welcome [sic] to rent there?" Haynes asked.
Not only was this not "advertising" in the commercial sense of the word, this was protected speech: an attempt by a member of a church to communicate with her fellow parishioners, through a private medium furnished by the church.

But the complainants seem to be incapable of understanding basic First Amendment law:
Haynes said the unnamed 31-year-old woman’s case was turned over to the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. Depending on the outcome of the case, she said, the woman could face several hundreds of dollars in fines and “fair housing training so it doesn’t happen again.”

Harold Core, director of public affairs with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, told the Grand Rapids Press that the Fair Housing Act prevents people from publishing an advertisement stating their preference of religion, race or handicap with respect to the sale or rental of a dwelling.

"It's really difficult to say at this point what could potentially happen," he told the newspaper, noting that there are exemptions in the law for gender when there is a shared living space.

. . .

But Haynes said officials plan on pursuing the matter.

"We want to make sure it doesn't happen again," she said.

The accused woman is receiving a free defense from the Alliance Defense Fund, which has fired off a letter from its attorneys to the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. The letter correctly notes:
[The defendant woman] is not a landlord. She does not own a management company. She does not run an apartment complex. She is a single person seeking to have a roommate live with her in her house. She is not prohibited by either federal law or state law from seeking a Christian roommate . . . To the extent either law is applied against her to interfere with her right to live with a Christian roommate, such action would be in blatant violation of her First Amendment rights to freedom of association.
Thus far the Department has not responded. No doubt its attorneys have to go brush up on the First Amendment, and then seek the permission of the Department's official in charge of politically correct communications before they can reply.

Mark Twain, when he ran across an equally infuriating public body, made a remark which could readily be adapted here (substitute as appropriate for "school boards"):

"First God made idiots. That was for practice. Then He made school boards."

Washington, Watch Out!

Here is a small sign of the tsunami that is going to hit Washington in just eleven more days:

[Note: the original video to which I linked was "removed by the user" at YouTube. I have now linked to another copy.]

There is now more on this story at this link: League of Women Voters official accuses audience of "phony patriotism". It turns out that right after the video above ends, the moderator actually scolded the audience for daring to defy her. And thanks to Google, it has been learned that the moderator, a Kathy-Tate Brandish, was one of Barack Obama's original supporters and organizers in Evanston, Illinois. The League and its officials may be "scrupulously fair" when hosting candidate debates, but at the same time they are clueless in perceiving the groundswell under their feet.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Oral Arguments Before the Fresno Court of Appeal

This article from the Fresno Bee gets it, I think, about right:
The appellate justices who will decide whether the U.S. Episcopal Church or the breakaway Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin owns the diocese's church properties on Wednesday appeared uncertain about the court's authority to rule on the issue.

"We are involved in a very confusing question of power of the church versus power of the court," said 5th District Court of Appeal Justice Dennis Cornell, who repeatedly compared the schism between the two church groups to the Civil War.

Justice James Ardaiz also acknowledged the case was "confusing."
It is confusing to be faced with a case in which one side claims to be the same legal entity as the other side. Instead of organizing and forming a new diocese of their own, the dissenting minority in 2008 claimed to be still the original diocese, and they have tried to maintain that position in the courts ever since. The courts are thus presented with the question of how a legal entity such as an unincorporated association can divide, yet stay the same because a church asserts: "Once a diocese, always a diocese." Like anyone else, churches must conform their legal entities to the requirements of civil law, and it would seem impossible for an association organized in 2008 with headquarters and staff originally located in Stockton (now in Modesto) could be the same in the eyes of the law as an association organized in 1961 and still with property, headquarters and staff in Fresno.

The first question Justice Ardaiz asked was: "How can this court decide who is the proper Bishop of San Joaquin?"

This question arises only because of Bishop Lamb's claim that his "diocese" is the same diocese formed in 1961. He and his attorneys will not admit that a new organization came into being in 2008. But if that is the case, how could the old organization have validly elected a new bishop in 2008 without following the canons and constitution of the very diocese they claimed to be -- particularly after Bishop Lamb himself supplied the proof that there was not a quorum of resident clergy present at the "convention" which elected him? This is why the question asked by Justice Ardaiz was fraught with technical issues of canon law, with which the courts normally do not concern themselves.

The justices asked aggressive questions of both sides. They appeared to be seeking explanations from all the attorneys as to why this case was before them in its current posture. More than once, their questions indicated a doubt that civil courts could (or should) decide the issue of who was the Bishop of San Joaquin, without getting entangled in ecclesiastical matters which the courts are barred by the First Amendment from considering.

Justice Cornell got right to the heart of things when he asked ECUSA's attorney: "If you think Bishop Lamb is the Bishop of San Joaquin, with the right to have all the Diocese's property, then why did you move for summary judgment on this complex question of who is the rightful bishop of San Joaquin? Why didn't you simply bring a lawsuit to regain possession of the property"? (The justice used the legal term for such a lawsuit, called an "action in ejectment.") The attorney admitted, "We do have such a cause of action in our complaint, your honor." "Well, why didn't you choose to try that cause of action first?" Justice Cornell persisted. The attorney for ECUSA was candid in his response, and admitted they had requested first a declaration from the court that Bishop Lamb was the Bishop of San Joaquin because they believed "such a judgment would help sort out all of the property matters." It was not clear that the answer was what the justices were looking for. They seemed to prefer an approach where the court would be asked to decide just straightforward issues of property ownership, without having to delve into the arcana of church constitutions and canons.

There were present at the argument only two justices of the three-justice panel scheduled to hear the case. The third, Justice Gomes, could not reschedule his vacation to be present yesterday, after the court itself reset the hearing date over by one month. The parties stipulated that he could decide the case after listening to the tapes of the oral arguments.

As a result, the justices will not decide the case for at least a number of weeks yet, after their colleague is up to speed and they have a chance to confer with him.

A decision that the first cause of action as presented by ECUSA was non-decidable by the courts ("nonjusticiable", in legal terms) would not provide a definitive answer to the question of whether a Diocese may leave the Church consistent with its own and the Church's Constitutions. If that is what the Court of Appeal decides (and that is only a speculation, since it is almost impossible to discern which way a court will go from the questions it asks at oral argument), it will provide yet one more instance of the unpredictability of litigation in general, and of Church litigation in particular.

On a side note, I understand from talking to the court's bailiff after the arguments that "one of the bishops" missed most of the argument, and had to be let in late. The commenters below have confirmed for me that it was Bishop Schofield. Apparently, as he was coming to the court building, he witnessed an accident in which a pedestrian was struck and run down by a motorcyclist. He went to the victim's assistance, and stayed with her until professional help could arrive. He is to be commended for setting an example of a Christian's proper priorities.

Monday, October 18, 2010

And Yet Another Lawsuit in Fort Worth

One thing about those Episcopalians -- they just love to litigate. Attorneys from the firm of Hill & Gilstrap, who as I reported in this post argued the case for remnant group in Fort Worth before the Court of Appeals, have filed a new lawsuit in federal court in Fort Worth, once again naming Bishop Jack L. Iker as the sole defendant. (See my report on the earlier federal lawsuit against Bishop Iker in this post.) The suit is brought in the name of All Saints' Episcopal Church, which has a history of threatening Bishop Iker with litigation. As my time is very short just now, let me quote the press release issued by Bishop Iker's office (you may download the latest complaint from the link):

Fourth lawsuit arrives

FORT WORTH, Texas – With three suits pending in two Texas counties, members of the minority that chose to stay in The Episcopal Church (TEC) two years ago have launched another assault on much the same grounds as the first three. Today All Saints’ Episcopal Church on Crestline Road in Fort Worth has sued Bishop Jack Iker personally, in federal court.

There can no longer be any doubt that this litigation is intended to harrass, intimidate, bankrupt, and divert the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, its Corporation, and its leadership – particularly Bishop Iker – from carrying out the mission of the Church.

Ironically, only this weekend Bishop Iker made several comments in jest to a gathering of clergy and laity of the Church of England in London, saying that he had “not checked the Internet today” to see whether he had been sued again.

In dispute now is the right of the Bishop to recognize a parish in his diocese as All Saints’ Episcopal Church.

In November 2008 Bishop Iker was under threat of arrest for trespassing if he so much as set foot on the property of All Saints’ on Crestline. Thus, it was impossible for him to know the will of the majority of the parish so that he could decide whether to release the property to All Saints’, as he soon did for four other parishes that chose to stay in TEC. Instead, in January 2009 he met with concerned members of All Saints’ at another location, in the presence of the parish’s attorney. They expressed concern about a loyalty oath being required of vestry candidates and other signs that their voices were being disregarded by some parish leaders. The Bishop told them they could try to stay the course, leave as a body, or leave individually to join other parishes. Less than 10 days later approximately 100 parishioners walked out of their annual meeting and organized themselves for worship and ministry in another location.

Title to the property where the church sits is held by the diocesan Corporation, yet never since then has Bishop Iker attempted to interfere with the activities at the Crestline campus. Neither has he attempted to interfere with three other diocesan congregations which occupy diocesan property but identify with TEC. Moreover, in other cases, where a TEC-loyal minority has split from a parish to worship elsewhere, the Bishop has never attempted to stop a congregation from using the name of the diocesan parish from which it split.

Clearly, this suit is but the latest attempt to demonize Bishop Iker and ignore the decision by an overwhelming majority of delegates to two diocesan conventions – where the Bishop himself has no vote – to separate from TEC. Over and over, the complaint speaks of the Diocese, its Web site, parishes, assessment income – even the worship services themselves – as if they belong to Bishop Iker personally.

The fact is that the TEC-led minority lost, but it has not been gracious. Its leadership is embittered. The suit’s claims of “unfair competition” and “public confusion and harm” are frivolous and would be laughable if not for the fact that litigation and personal animosity damage the cause of the Gospel.

It is time for this wasteful mockery of Christian doctrine and of the civil court system to stop. However, if the minority continues to bring trumped-up charges, we will continue to defend ourselves.
The release then proceeds to discuss other recent filings in the original lawsuit brought by the remnant group in state court (Tarrant County):
To that end, we can also announce the following:

In the case pending in the 141st District Court (Tarrant County), there is no hearing date set at this time. On Oct. 8 the Diocese filed a Motion to Enforce Appellate Mandate and Strike Amended Pleadings. This asks the court to require that the plaintiffs abide by the June 25 appellate ruling, that individual members of the minority group have no authority to bring litigation on behalf of the Diocese.

In the [trademark] suit filed against Bishop Iker in federal court on Sept. 21, the Diocese’s response, filed over the past several days, includes:

• An Original Answer on behalf of Bishop Iker, denying every allegation in the suit. The Answer seeks dismissal of the suit on grounds that the plaintiff’s attorney lacks authority to represent the Diocese and that Bishop Iker does not use or claim the seal or diocesan name personally.

• A Complaint in Intervention filed by the Diocese to dismiss the suit against Bishop Iker on the basis that the suit was filed without authorization by those with authority to make such decisions for the Diocese. It seeks all attorneys' fees and expenses for having to intervene; and

• A Complaint in Intervention filed by the diocesan Corporation, whose marks have been registered without authorization, asking the court to cancel the registrations, enjoin the minority from their use, and sanction the minority lawyers. In addition, it asks the court to award a sum for damages and the full amount of attorney’s fees incurred.
The Episcopalians in Fort Worth who are financially underwriting these harassing lawsuits need to review St. Paul's Epistle to First Corinthians. They are providing living proof of the age-old wisdom behind this medieval Spanish proverb:
El judío échase á perder con pascuas, el moro con bodas, y el cristiano con escrituras.

The Jew ruins himself on passover feasts, the Arab on weddings, and the Christian on lawsuits.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Part III of The Constitutional Crisis in ECUSA: "If You Want Our Voice, Then We're Giving It to You"

The constitutional crisis in ECUSA continues to worsen. Many people observing the events in South Carolina have drawn a parallel to the shelling of Fort Sumter which started the Civil War, but I believe that to be an inappropriate analogy. There is, after all, no ECUSA "enclave" within the Diocese of South Carolina which could have any parallel to the federal garrison at Fort Sumter before the War Between the States. If a parallel must be drawn, then a closer one would be the situation just before the start of the Revolutionary War, when a distant sovereign was claiming the right to impose duties on the colonies without their having any mechanism to object to such tyranny.

That is not to say that there are no "federalist sympathizers" (sc. "815 loyalists") within the Diocese of South Carolina. There are a few, and as is typical of such misguided federalists, they want to uphold the power of the "national government" over the local one. The problem is that the Episcopal Church is in the United States of America, and is not of the United States of America.

That is a tiny semantical difference between the meaning of "in" and "of", but it is absolutely crucial to understanding the current crisis. So let me repeat: there is no such thing, and never has been any such thing, as the "Episcopal Church of the United States of America." What we have, and always has had since 1789, is what the "federalists" in our midst would too conveniently forget and ignore: a (Protestant) Episcopal Church in the United States of America. (To verify that fact, please see the text of the original 1789 Constitution of PECUSA, which I reproduced in this post (scroll down to the bold and centered headline); and please look at the latest online version of our Constitution, which you may download from this page.) To quote from the Preamble to the most recent version: "The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, otherwise known as The Episcopal Church (which name is hereby recognized as also designating the Church), is a constituent member of the Anglican Communion . . ." (emphasis added).

Ever since 1789, the Church has acknowledged that it is an entity which exists in, and not as something superior to and above, the churches (dioceses) in the several States of America. That is to say, each State (in 1789, at least) had its own version of the "Episcopal Church" in that State. (The churches in those States later became the churches in each of the numerous dioceses.) Contrast that language to the terminology used to describe the President: we speak of the "President of the United States of America", and not of the "President in the United States of America" -- the latter would make no sense, given our Constitution which establishes a federal government, separate and above the governments of the individual States.

Likewise with Congress: its official title is "the United States of America, in Congress assembled" -- signifying that each of the States comes together in a larger legislative body, with the powers to legislate for all of them as conferred by the specific clauses of the Constitution. That same Constitution also creates a national executive and a national judiciary, while ECUSA's Constitution does no such thing. It creates only a legislative body, and unlike the United States Congress, which is in session throughout most of each year, ECUSA's legislative body is in session for just a few days every three years. So, please -- spare us the "parallels" between the government of ECUSA and the government of the United States; there are precious few, and none which is relevant to the present discussion.

A government of a country needs an executive power, as well as a judiciary power, in addition to a legislative one. A "government" for a church, on the other hand, can get along perfectly well with only a legislative body to regulate national standards for clergy, and with no supreme executive, or supreme judiciary authority. Indeed, that is just how the Episcopal Church in the United States of America has been, for the last 221 years of its existence.

There are those in the Episcopal Church today, however, who would stand its history on its head, and claim that the Presiding Bishop is both its chief executive and its chief judicial officer. The only duty of the Presiding Bishop conferred on that position by ECUSA's Constitution, however, is to preside -- over the House of Bishops. All else has been conferred by subsequent canons -- such as the making of the Presiding Bishop "the chief Pastor and Primate" of the Church.

In the hierarchy of church law, the Constitution is at the top. Then comes the Book of Common Prayer, with its rubrics and liturgies which require two successive meetings of General Convention to be changed. Last come the Canons, or bylaws, which may be adopted by vote of a single General Convention.

If Canons (bylaws) are enacted which are contrary to the Constitution or the Book of Common Prayer, what is one to do? How can one follow canons which are contrary to the Church's higher law, and still claim to "accede" to the Constitution of the Church?

This is the constitutional dilemma which now, thanks to the misguided zeal of General Convention 2009 and its predecessors, confronts every diocese in the Church, and not just the Diocese of South Carolina. The latest General Convention adopted far-ranging changes to the Title IV disciplinary canons of the Church. There is no rational way in which any sane person, viewing the changes as a whole, can conclude that all of the changes so made are consistent with the provisions in ECUSA's Constitution.

For just one example of what I mean, take first this paragraph from (revised) Canon IV.7.1 as approved at GC 2009 (bold emphasis added):
At any time the Bishop Diocesan may issue a Pastoral Direction to a Member of the Clergy, canonically resident, actually resident, or licensed in the Diocese.
A "Pastoral Direction" must satisfy these requirements (set out in revised Canon IV.7.2):
A Pastoral Direction must (a) be made in writing; (b) set forth clearly the reasons for the Pastoral Direction; (c) set forth clearly what is required of the Member of the Clergy; (d) be issued in the Bishop Diocesan's capacity as the pastor, teacher and overseer of the Member of the Clergy; (e) be neither capricious nor arbitrary in nature nor in any way contrary to the Constitution and Canons of the General Convention or the Diocese; and (f) be directed to some matter which concerns the Doctrine, Discipline or Worship of the Church or the manner of life and behavior of the Member of the Clergy concerned; and (g) be promptly served upon the Member of the Clergy.
Have you got that? A diocesan bishop may "at any time" issue such a "Pastoral Directive" to a member of the clergy under his or her jurisdiction. However, what happens if the "member of the clergy" in question is a bishop, such as a Suffragan or Assistant Bishop? In that case, revised Canons IV.17.1 and IV.17.2 provide (bold emphasis added):
Sec. 1. Except as otherwise provided in this Canon, the provisions of this Title shall apply to all matters in which a Member of the Clergy who is subject to proceedings is a Bishop.

Sec. 2. In all matters in which the Member of the Clergy who is subject to proceedings is a Bishop, the following terms used in Canons IV.5 through IV.16 and Canons IV.18 and IV.19 shall have the following respective meanings:
(a) Disciplinary Board shall mean the Disciplinary Board for Bishops as provided in Canon IV.17.3.

(b) Intake Officer shall mean a person appointed by the Presiding Bishop.

(c) Bishop Diocesan shall mean the Presiding Bishop, unless the Member of the Clergy who is subject to proceedings is the Presiding Bishop, in which case Bishop shall mean the Bishop authorized by Canon IV.19.24. . . .
So by the express language just quoted, the Presiding Bishop of ECUSA will be empowered (or would be, if the canonical changes were constitutional) to issue to any other bishop in the Church, at any time, a "Pastoral Directive" which touches on "some matter which concerns the Doctrine, Discipline or Worship of the Church or the manner of life and behavior of the Member of the Clergy concerned . . .".

If you contend that such a change was never intended, then you have to explain the specific language which introduces the revised version of Canon IV.17.1: "Except as otherwise provided in this canon [i.e., Canon IV.17], the provisions of this Title [i.e., Title IV on discipline] shall apply to all matters in which a Member of the Clergy who is subject to proceedings is a Bishop." The authority to issue a Pastoral Directive is contained in Title IV, and that authority rests exclusively in the "Bishop Diocesan." And according to Canon IV.17.2, "[i]n all matters" in which a bishop is the subject of Title IV proceedings, the term "Bishop Diocesan" shall mean the Presiding Bishop.

This has never before been the case in the 221-year history of the Episcopal Church. Any Episcopal canon lawyer worth his salt will confirm to you that at no time in its history has the Presiding Bishop ever had the power to issue a "Pastoral Directive" to a colleague, directing that they do "what is required . . . concern[ing] the Doctrine, Discipline or Worship of the Church or the manner of life and behavior of the [Bishop] concerned." Such a "directive" is the sole prerogative of an archbishop with metropolitan authority: for example, the Archbishop of Canterbury may issue a "pastoral direction" to any member of the clergy in his Province of Canterbury, or the Archbishop of York may do likewise in his Province.

One cannot, however, be conversant with the early history of ECUSA and at the same time be ignorant of the overwhelming sentiment among its founders -- both clergy and laity alike -- against the power of bishops, and in particular, metropolitan bishops. That is why the 1789 Constitution of ECUSA gave no such powers to the Presiding Bishop, and why no version of the Constitution in the years since has ever conferred such powers, either.

What, then, are we to make of the revised Title IV passed at GC 2009? Does General Convention have the ability to confer powers upon Church officials which go beyond what the Constitution itself confers on those officials? Manifestly not.

But there are those, such as Bishop Mathes of San Diego, who insist that "we can work this out in subsequent Conventions." Yes, certainly -- just the way it was "worked out" at GC 2009? Once the power of General Convention to exceed the Constitution is given prima facie recognition -- even if only until the next Convention -- the precedent has been set. Thereafter there is no limit which can be logically set upon its authority.

The leadership at 815 is fond of going into the courts and claiming that diocesan Conventions have "no authority" to enact provisions which contravene the Constitution of ECUSA. Fine, but then why does General Convention have such authority?

This is the current dilemma in a nutshell. Liberals such as Bishop Mathes are incapable of perceiving the dilemma at all, because to their mind and way of thinking, whatever rule "the majority" is for at the moment suffices -- let the "minority" go wring their hands, because "the majority" is currently in power, and the Presiding Bishop can therefore do whatever the majority allows her to do.

Thus, according to Bishop Mathes, a diocese is bound to "accede" to canons which violate or exceed the authority granted to the Presiding Bishop under the Constitution -- while at the same time, the diocese must also "accede" to the Constitution which is thereby violated and trampled. The proposition would make sense only to liberals, who are not confined to the strictures of logic. If a Canon has been adopted which violates or exceeds the Constitution, well, then, it must be legitimate, because "the majority" of General Convention voted for it, and thus it "made the appropriate decision" -- for the time being, at least, until a new majority comes into power.

Bishop Lawrence and his Convention are trying to point out the absurdity of the present situation, in which dioceses and their bishops are being asked to "accede" to canons which violate ECUSA's Constitution, at the same time as they accede to the Constitution itself. As Bishop Lawrence responded to those who asked him just to fall in line, so that his voice may continue to be heard, "If you want our voice, then we're giving it to you."

In pointing out just one flagrant example of how the revised Title IV violates the Constitution, I do not mean to imply that there are not many others -- see this paper from the Anglican Communion Institute for a more comprehensive analysis. The point is that we have a constitutional crisis in ECUSA, and no one but Bishop Lawrence and his Diocese are recognizing that plain fact. If those on the left cannot see what is so plain to those who are versed in the Church's history and canonical law, then there is truly no hope for ECUSA's future. It will descend into a chaos that resembles nothing so much as the years of the French Revolution -- when the "law" was what ever Robespierre and his "Committee on Public Safety" said it was.

Note, by the way, the parallel of Robespierre and his Committee with the revised canons, which also purport to give the Presiding Bishop the authority to command, or even inhibit ["restrict"] another bishop for the "safety . . . of the Community." I kid you not. Here is the text of revised Canon IV.7.3 (remember that the term "Bishop Diocesan" is to be read, in the case of fellow bishops, as "the Presiding Bishop" -- bold emphasis added):
If at any time the Bishop Diocesan determines that a Member of the Clergy may have committed any Offense, or that the good order, welfare or safety of the Church or any person or Community may be threatened by that member of the Clergy, the Bishop Diocesan may, without prior notice or hearing, (a) place restrictions upon the exercise of the ministry of such Member of the Clergy or (b) place such Member of the Clergy on Administrative Leave.
Is that clear? At any time, according to this Canon, the Presiding Bishop may decide on her own that another bishop in the Church constitutes a "threat" to the "good order, welfare or safety" of "the Church, [or of] any person or Community", and proceed, again on her own and totally out of the blue, to restrict that bishop from all further ministry in the Church. The revised canons further provide that the Presiding Bishop (in place of the "Bishop Diocesan") may specify a restriction of any duration (Canon IV.7.5), and may combine the restriction with a "Pastoral Direction" (Canon IV.7.6). Under the revised canons, the restriction is subject to "review" by a panel of three bishops, one priest or deacon, and one lay person; but the Pastoral Direction is not subject to review of any kind whatsoever.

In light of what I have just laid out, please listen again to the words of Bishop Lawrence, addressed to his Diocesan Convention yesterday (emphasis added):
On Tuesday evening of this week as Allison and I were driving home from Sewanee I received a phone call from a fellow bishop. He said that he and five other bishops had received an email earlier that evening from the Presiding Bishop. She was encouraging each of them to speak with me as “the apparent focus of this diocesan gathering does not bode well for [Mark’s] status as a bishop who has sworn to uphold the doctrine, discipline, and worship of this Church.”. . .

Well upon hearing of her email to these bishops I wrote directly to the Presiding Bishop on Wednesday morning addressing many of my concerns and reminding her of the concerns of this Convention; that she had been informed by certified mail of the resolution which expressed our expectation that she remove the attorney unconstitutionally retained within this diocese. I then wrote that after six months we had still not heard from her. While her email in response failed once again to address this concern, she did write of her fear about the havoc that she believes is likely to ensue if I keep on my present course. What she fails to address or I suppose to understand is the havoc that is likely to ensue if we depart from our present course. . . .

Several of those bishops who received the email have called me or sent me emails since that email was sent to them. More than a few of them said, “Mark, we need your voice in the house of bishops. We need the voice of South Carolina.” I said, “This is my voice. You need to understand. This is my voice.” So the question is, “Is there a place for a vigorously stated minority opinion in this church?” I believe it is also the voice of many of the people here in this Diocese of South Carolina. If you want our voice, then we’re giving it to you.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Word to My Readers

The press of current legal work is taking its toll on my ability to blog right now -- especially in the week leading up to oral argument in the San Joaquin case. As many of you have figured out, I try to use this blog to put up mostly original content about the current goings-on in the Episcopal Church (USA), the United States in general, and the Anglican Communion. (Those are three topics enough to fill any blog.)

So while I may find a moment or two to continue the current series on constitutional crises in ECUSA, or to write about the latest filings in appellate courts in Georgia and California, my time right now is in demand from the world in which I earn my living. I hope you will use any resulting gaps in new posts, as well as the feature ("A Guide to This Site") which provides links to all of my past posts on a variety of topics, to search out something of interest you may not have had the time to read or absorb in previous visits to this blog.

Please know that my prayers are constantly with those who are enduring or feeling the consequences of the current lawlessness at the highest levels of ECUSA -- and specifically, they are with Bishop Lawrence and his Diocese as they gather in continued convention this weekend. After the argument in San Joaquin on October 20, there will hopefully be more time to pick up the chronicles of the continuing crises which are (in no order of priority) the Episcopal Church, the United States of America, and the Anglican Communion.

Deus vobiscum.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Fort Worth, a "Shining City on a Hill"

I readily admit, I am partial to the good citizens of Fort Worth, Texas. There were many reasons in the past -- which I have documented on this site -- but ever since I saw this article, I have known, without even the tiniest smidgeon of a doubt, that the people of Fort Worth reflect the very best that there is in America.

It is the icing on the cake that I bring to you now. Fort Worth was the site of a gathering last month which followed in the footsteps of the 9-12 movement, established to honor America as she stood proud in the wake of the dastardly attacks on September 11, 2001.

That gathering in Fort Worth was blessed by the patriotic speech given to it by Adrian Murray, a naturalized Irishman who managed, in just twenty minutes, to galvanize the audience in the grand old tradition of the great American orators of the past. In the videos below (H/T: Moonbattery), Mr. Murray lays out precisely, in the simplest of terms, why the failed experiment that is Obamunism does not represent in the slightest what America was, and is, all about:

To my liberal friends, I say only that this is the way the tide is running -- there is no longer any momentum behind President Obama's agenda for America. The results on November 2 will stand as an indictment of all that has been wrong to date: the hurried passage of monstrous bills which no one in Congress has read; the sheer, arrogant contempt of the representatives in Congress for the people who elected them; and the studied disregard of the economic consequences which they are visiting upon their own districts. As a direct result, there is a giant reckoning which is falling due, and the recent oratory in Fort Worth (and the acclamation it received) is but a small indicator of the country's mood.

There can be no doubt that America's majority feels deserted by those whom, with the best of good will, it elected to office in 2008 in the expectation that they would reverse and halt the trends of arrogance which marked the final years of the Bush administration. They even gave their blessing to the first Afro-American ever to occupy the White House -- only to discover belatedly that the one whom they elected is more beholden to the "my way", Chicago style of politics which enabled his advance, than he is to anything which he pretended to espouse in the campaign.

Those who are about to be rejected at the polls will need to take their defeats to heart, if they are to be capable of serving their constituents in the future. Never again should a member of Congress be able to get away with saying "I don't worry about the Constitution", and then presume that such ignorance constitutes a qualification to run for re-election. Hopefully, those days of coasting on the electorate's ignorance, or apathy, are gone.

America was founded by citizens who argued passionately about the type of government best suited for their new country, but who were able in the end to compromise their deeply held views, in the interest of coming together as a nation. We today have mostly lost that self-governing check on our ambitions. The politicians who now seek our vote appeal mostly to our appetites, rather than to our ideals. As a consequence, we have no one but ourselves to blame for the government we elect. But as Adrian Murray reminds us, we do not have to settle any longer for a government which appeals only to our concupiscence, or to our laziness. The mood that is abroad in the land now summons us all to a higher calling -- to vote in the best interest of the generations to follow after us, rather than to exploit government for our own immediate advantage.

Every American who is worthy of the name can understand the fundamental appeal of that call. Forget being liberal or conservative; forget the labeling which dominates the rhetoric of today's campaigns. Candidates for Congress must pledge to put their country first, rather than their donors, or even their party (if it demands they act against the country's best interest). We can no longer afford what Mark Twain called "the very best government money can buy." If there is disagreement on where America should be headed, then let us have it out in the open, where we can discuss it fairly, and objectively, without being sidetracked by the special interests of the moment.

Either the elections of November 2010 will allow this country to be reclaimed, or they will not. We are at a watershed, and there is no going back -- only going forward. But to go where those who have been directing us until now want most strongly would be a fundamental betrayal of all that which those who founded the country fought for in the first place. We cannot -- we must not -- continue in that direction.

I ask your prayers for America in her coming election. The seduction of stipends, subsidies and support has forever been the Achilles heel of democracies. To betray the finest democracy that has yet existed, in order to exploit the temporary exigencies of our situation, would be treachery of the highest order. Together, we should be able, whether left or right, to agree that "If the government supports the people, who will support the government?" That way lies only anarchy, and eventually tyranny. Democracy deserves -- though it cannot command, since it must be voluntary -- far better.

Indeed, democracy demands that we act as a free people -- not as slaves to those would keep us in chains to the future, while promising us bread and circuses in the meantime. I will resume this dialogue again on November 3: may it at least be then a dialogue, and not an empty rant.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Painful Encounter with the Truth

There is simply no future I can envision in which the left and the right can meet on common ground. It is as though the one is matter, and the other anti-matter: the result when they meet is a spectacular collision, throwing off sparks and lots of energy, but nothing of substance survives; no one (on either side) is the wiser for the encounter.

Witness this "interview", so-called, on MSNBC between its regnant leftist, Rachel Maddow, and first-time candidate for Congress in Oregon's Fourth District, Dr. Arthur Robinson. Ms. Maddow came to her show prepared with little snippets she had carefully excised, some of them more than fifteen years old, from a series of newsletters ("Access to Energy") which Dr. Robinson has been writing since August of 1993, having taken it over from Prof. Petr Beckman of the University of Colorado, who had published it for twenty years before that. (The first twenty-five years of the publication are accessible online, so it is not as though he was making it difficult for her.) She was not interested in the least in asking Dr. Robinson about any of the issues that prompted him to run for office against the Democratic incumbent; she wanted only to cross-examine him about isolated quotes lifted out of context, and having to do with complex issues such as the state of AIDS research in 1995 (never mind now -- it's 1995 that she wants answers on), and hormesis. (You read that right -- Rachel Maddow wanted Dr. Robinson to explain hormesis in a fifteen-second soundbite.)

The result, whether you instinctively lean left or right, is excruciatingly painful to watch, but here it is -- because otherwise you simply could not grasp the gulf between these worldviews from my attempts to describe it:

Rachel Maddow showed again and again in those eighteen minutes that she simply was not interested in finding out more about Dr. Robinson the Congressional candidate. No, she wanted to use Dr. Robinson the newsletter writer of 1995 to make it appear as though the Congressional candidate in 2010 was out of touch with everything she so smugly "knows" to be true: radiation in any dose whatsoever, no matter how dispersed, is harmful to humans (never mind the cosmic rays that bombard us millions of times in a given day, and never mind the radiation emanating from inside the earth itself -- both low-level exposures which we cannot avoid), and AIDS is not a disease that can be linked to a gay or lesbian lifestyle (because she's Rachel Maddow, don't you know).

Welcome to politics in the present age, Dr. Robinson -- which can be described as "the art of the thirty-second smear." The very fact that a man of his caliber would stand for office in these times is witness to just how bad many like him now perceive the state of the Union to be.

Dr. Robinson is a Christian, with a Christian worldview -- which is to say, he accepts the concept that there is such a thing as absolute truth. At the same time, he is a scientist who has devoted his life to the pursuit of scientific truth. The two are not the same, and they are not incompatible -- except in the hands of the secularists, who try to promote scientific truth into a secular form of "absolute truth." Rachel Maddow is an avowed secularist, and evinces the utter inability of such people, for whom humans are the highest life form -- the crowning achievement of random evolution -- to grasp that there is anything superior to, or beyond, human knowledge. For her, "absolute truth" is what she read last week, and a little bit of it changes every month as she reads about new discoveries and advances, filters out what she does not agree with, and forms new opinions compatible with her lifestyle and worldview.

For Dr. Robinson, it is science's understanding of the natural world that changes with each new advance, while absolute truth -- the truth that is from God, eternal and unchanging -- remains ever the same. Our own understanding of that unchanging truth may evolve, as well, as we learn more and more about the world in which we live, and about the past which led to the present. We are limited in our ability to understand eternal truth by our capacities at the moment at which we find ourselves existing. It is supercilious in the extreme to look down on our forebears for worshipping spirits and pantheons of divinities, and to think ourselves "superior" by comparison. (Indeed, it is rather like asking a candidate for office in 2010 about something he wrote in 1995, or about a black magic ceremony she once, long ago, attended as a college student.)

Someone like Rachel Maddow, who worships the ephemeral spirit of now, is completely flummoxed when she comes up against someone who refuses to meet on the playing field she lays out. Her cheap shots and attempts at smearing such a person ring hollow to any fair-minded observer. (I would love to see, for contrast, her "interview" of Dr. Robinson's opponent.) The reason they do so is that she cannot even conceive of the world she thinks she is attempting to enter. "I just want to get to know you," she keeps on repeating. Oh, certainly -- she wants to "know" Dr. Robinson the way a gopher snake wants to get to "know" a mouse. Her self-deprecation is smarmy, and her profession that she "learned" something at the end of the encounter is about as sincere as was W. C. Fields' protest that he was "very fond" of children.

The secularist worldview is headed for a thumping (as Bush 43 so colorfully put it) at the ballot box next month, and the secularists do not like it one bit. Indeed, it appears they are already trying to stuff the box, by hook or by crook. Now is not the time to be apologetic for having a Christian worldview. Like Dr. Robinson, we should face the secularists unflinchingly, and keep calling them to account for their manifold lies and smears. They do not appreciate what truth is, since in their view it keeps changing. But truth -- the real thing -- has this funny way of getting through to all sorts of people. Indeed, it's as though it was "written on their hearts."

Keep speaking the truth, and know that as you do so, you honor the God who made you in His image.