Canons, schmanons?

Anyone who is ordained in the Episcopal Church has promised to adhere to the “doctrine, discipline, and worship” of our church. This would include, presumably, the canons. I don’t think we should get to decide which ones to follow, and which ones not to follow. If we don’t like canons, we can change them. But there’s a process for doing that, officially, as a church.

I don’t much like it when people flout the canon that requires baptism before communion. I don’t much like it when secessionists flout the canons about church property ownership. I especially don’t like it when our national church leaders flout canons, as they’re now doing in San Joaquin.

First, our Presiding Bishop sacked the Standing Committee of that diocese. Why? Because they allegedly voted to leave the Episcopal Church. Though that fact seems to be in dispute. Even if the Standing Committee had taken the vote, surely our church should wish to make use of due process. Our leader is Presiding Bishop, Chief Pastor, and Primate. She is not given the additional titles of Judge and Jury. There is no canonical basis for a Presiding Bishop to swoop in and remove anyone in a diocese (apart from the procedures spelled out in Title IV).

There is a canon (I.17.8) which is cited by the Presiding Bishop in her letter to the Standing Committee. This canon requires those holding church office to “well and faithfully” perform their duties. What are the standards? Who decides? Who is allowed to remove people under this canon? Is an accused entitled to due process?

Of course, there is another puzzling fact in this case. Just a few days before the PB vacated the Standing Committee, Bishop Schofield removed six members for not being loyal enough to the Southern Cone. Got that? From one side, they’re accused of being too ECUSA-ish. From the other, they’re too Southern Cone-ish. Based on what Dan Martins says, it seems that maybe the Standing Committee got caught between two sparring bishops. In that case, they should have been entitled to protections of due process from either side. Sadly, they weren’t.

There’s a second, even more egregious and obvious example of canonical disregard by our PB. According to this blog post by Dan Martins, she has sent a letter to the Diocese of San Joaquin, in which she says this: “There being at this time no Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, or any qualified members of the Standing Committee of that Diocese…” and then proceeds to announce a call for an organizing convention.

Of course, this is plainly not true. There is a Bishop of San Joaquin. He’s announced his attention to leave. He’s under inhibition. But neither has his resignation been accepted nor has he been deposed. So he’s still the bishop. Under my first point, I would argue that there’s also still a sitting Standing Committee.

I am puzzled. I don’t understand why a good leader such as our Presiding Bishop is ignoring the rule of law. If we’re going to punish people for violating canons (as we should), then we should follow them. It might have taken a few more months, but things could have worked out under the provisions of our canons.

I fear that for perceived short-term gain, we have ignored justice. I’ll say it again. In our church, justice should be our goal for everyone. Even those (such as Bishop Schofield) who have behaved badly. Even for the Standing Committee (who may not have quickly jumped onto the 815 bandwagon). I hope we’ll handle Fort Worth and other secessionist dioceses better. Perhaps we’ll all learn from the San Joaquin debacle. Let us pray.

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3 Responses

  1. I’m used to hearing about the “vacant” see of San Joaquin on certain blogs, but I’m disappointed to find the Presiding Bishop talking that way. She ought to know — her Chancellor surely does know — that John-David Schofield remains Bishop of San Joaquin until the canonical processes reach their proper conclusion, even though he is at present inhibited from performing some of the usual duties of that office.

    I’ve long thought that we’re seeing the lawlessness of the 1970s, unchecked and even lauded at the time, coming back to bite us. But then I tend to be a fundamentalist about the canons, as also about the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer (which indeed have the force of canon law). With the canons, unlike with Scripture, there seems to be no way of taking them seriously that isn’t a kind of fundamentalism; and if we don’t take them seriously, we have — well, pretty much the mess we have now.

  2. many parish clergy get in the habit of thinking they run the show, canons be damned. they work by thinking “this is good,” and so “i must do it.” they think their job is to make everything as good as possible by whatever means.

    this is all wrong. but it is a common line of thinking. many at VTS think it is a legitimate question, for example, “under what circumstances would you break the seal of the confessional?” the question what part of “morally absolute” don’t you understand? has been raised, and the answer has essentially been, “i don’t recognize myself as bound by any rules.”

    all that works, most of the time, more or less, in most parishes, on the theory that if people don’t notice or complain, then it doesn’t matter. (how often have we heard a liturgical craziness defended with “it’s not a salvation issue” or “i don’t think they noticed”?) then they become bishops. it isn’t so happy when they are bishops.

    KJS, rather like FTG, and ELB, had the theory that they got to make rules. FTG was notorious for simply ignoring canons and procedures he didn’t like. if he was against a GC resolution, it didn’t get implemented, period.

    this is more of the same. but i believe that the problem is not so much about KJS. it’s about the parish clergy who get into a habit of ignoring canons and rubrics. we need to start thinking of those folks as violating their ordination vows.

  3. Bryan says:

    Ignoring “the rule of law” seems fairly rampant in the Episcopal Church. I never ceased to amazed at the extent to which many of my fellow clergy think they have the right to revise liturgies in the BCP and to set aside canon lay whenever it suits their own personal fancies. IMHO, this is a FAR more distressing matter than the divisive issues du jour. Writing about it on my own blog, I call it “Anomic Anglicanism”:

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