815 can’t have it both ways
I’ve tried to stay quiet on the whole ECUSA-lawsuits-and-depositions meme lately. Frankly there are plenty of other blogs out there who follow all this with great commitment and high passion. I think the whole thing is a travesty, because it takes us away from what the church should be doing.
Anyway, the Anglican Curmudgeon has a thorough post detailing some of the problems with recent canonical and legal arguments that 815 has emitted lately. Suffice it to say, it boils down to this: you can’t have it both ways.
On the one hand, our Presiding Bishop’s staff maintains that “majority of the whole number” means “of those who happen to show up.” That’s in the case where it has to do with bishops voting to depose a bishop. This is contrary to the plain text of the canons, but that’s what 815 maintains as the real meaning of the text. Along with many others, I think this sets the bar too low — making it too easy to depose bishops. That should be an exceedingly rare and hard-to-do thing.
On the other hand, our Presiding Bishop’s staff maintains that “majority of the whole number” means “of everyone, even if they didn’t come” when it comes to congregations voting to leave ECUSA. How can the same words mean two different things? When it’s convenient. All this is designed to support a legal process that I think will not be helpful to anyone, ultimately.
Here’s my take on all this. We should be very firm in disciplining clergy who violate their ordination vows. Period. Once someone has violated them (as opposed to talking about it), we should precisely follow the canons and deal with the matter quickly and justly. This, by the way, should include people who disregard the worship of the church, not just those who reject our polity. To name one example, “open communion” is expressly forbidden by General Convention and canon. Yet it goes on undisciplined, all the time. (I’m conflicted on this one, but until the canons are changed, I must follow them.)
I think we should be generous when it comes to things. If the vast majority of a congregation votes to leave, I’d like to see us have the option to work out a fair sale price for a building or other tangible assets. They are not entitled to take away these assets for free, but neither should we sue people into oblivion over property.
Unfortunately, people have gotten themselves into nasty rhetorical, political, and legal battles. There is rarely a spirit of charity present in these conversations, from what I can see. May I suggest two positive examples?
When Bishop Jeffrey Steenson was no longer able to serve in ECUSA in good conscience, he left the church honorably and nobly. You can read his eloquent statement to the House of Bishops here. The strategy followed by Bishop Iker and others is not up to this standard. Those of us who have taken ordination vows must not violate them by seeking to destroy the church to which we have pledged our obedience. Rather, it is for us to leave and continue our work where we are not troubled by our conscience.
Here in Rhode Island, one of our congregations felt it necessary to leave ECUSA several years ago. The Bishop & Standing Committee were able to work out an equitable sale price so that the congregation could stay in their building. The priest renounced, I believe, rather than force a deposition. To this day, relations between the departed congregation and the rest of the Diocese are good, as far as I know. At no point was the mood combative. Rather, all parties began with the presumption of charity and proceeded accordingly.
I am particularly disappointed by what seems to be the hypocrisy noted by the Anglican Curmudgeon. Sure, some of the parties involved might have behaved badly. But those in highest authority must always take the high road. Or should I say, the narrow road. I pray that all parties (secessionists, conservatives, liberals, 815, and the rest) will begin to approach all these conversations with a spirit of charity. It’s not too late to begin with a clean slate. Isn’t that what Christians say? Maybe we should practice what we preach.