Some of the more conservative members of the Episcopal Church have been proclaiming that the Church is going to hell in a handbasket since at least the '50s...actually there's always been someone playing the role of Chicken Little, but I'm limiting this discussion to the events that have occurred in my lifetime. Bishop Pike was the lightening rod in the '50s. Some of the ideas in Dr. John Robinson's Honest to God was the next target during the '60s. The '70s were especially turbulent, with the signs of doom being the ordination of women and the adoption of the '79 BCP.
During the last 25 years, the conservatives having been organizing themselves, much like they have within the political scene. The latest sign being held up to denigrate the Episcopal Church is our acceptance of gay and lesbian members as brothers and sisters in Christ, and the affirmation that they are not second class citizens in God's kingdom. That isn't a very radical idea. It is clearly the perspective that one would expect anyone claiming to be a follower of Jesus Christ would take. Yet, it has become the issue that is used as the rallying cry for all of those in the Episcopal Church who have designated themselves as God's official gatekeepers. There are claims now being made that unless you disagree with the Episcopal Church's position on this matter, you cannot be a Christian.
The harsh attacks were ignored for many years, as they were mostly made up of absurd arguments based on the "ick factor." It was assumed by many that eventually sanity would return. The assumption was wishful thinking. Ignoring the loud extremists simply gave them time to organize.
And organize they did. The goalposts were moved, however. No longer was reform of the Episcopal Church sought. The new goal was to destroy the Episcopal Church by any means possible, and set up an alternative entity, run by the conservatives. The details of this plan were revealed in the Chapman Letter. It is worth taking a moment to review that document. If we consider recent developments, it is clear that this is the plan we are watching unfold. For more thoughts on this plot, take a look at my previous commentary, A Closer Look at the Attempted Coup.
I want to focus on one segment of the Chapman Letter;
...Stage 2 will launch at some yet to be determined moment, probably in 2004. During this phase, we will seek, under the guidance of the Primates, negotiated settlements in matters of property, jurisdiction, pastoral succession and communion, If adequate settlements are not within reach, a faithful disobedience of canon law on a widespread basis may be necessary."...non-geographical oversight available from 'offshore' bishops..." Keep that phrase in mind while we consider another internal memo from these conservatives, contained within the court documents of the case of Calvary Church vs. The Diocese of Pittsburgh. The memo is near the end of this lengthy file, and is entitled "Draft Proposal for Overseas AEO." Here is a summary of the proposed phases;
Some congregations have already proceeded to ÂStage 2Â because of local circumstances. While we cannot offer AEO under an AAC diocesan Bishop at this time, we do have non-geographical oversight available from ÂoffshoreÂ Bishops, and retired Bishops. We may also be able to offer oversight from special designated priests acting on behalf of our AAC Diocesan Bishops...
Phase One is "Dual Citizenship." A priest stays canonically resident in ECUSA, but also becomes canonically resident in an offshore diocese. The suggestion is made that CAPA (Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa) take an active role in this process.
Phase Two: The priest leaves ECUSA for the offshore diocese. The congregation leaves with the priest. The ECUSA bishop deposes the priest. The offshore bishop does not recognize the deposition. The example given is David Moyer.
Phase Three: The offshore bishop delegates responsibility of spiritual oversight to the Network (a group of conservatives within ECUSA). The U.S. is divided up into "overseas diaspora archdeaconries."
We've already seen phase two put into motion in the diocese of Los Angeles, and other places.
The new glitch in the conservatives' plan was the release of the Windsor Report, which included this recommendation;
We call upon those bishops who believe it is their conscientious duty to intervene in provinces, dioceses and parishes other than their own:Since the conservatives want to use the Windsor Report for their own purposes, this meant that they would have to carefully word any future communications regarding their plan to use foreign bishops to take over the Episcopal Church. Consequently, the statements from the first group of foreign bishops they hoped to use, CAPA, have to be carefully read to understand what their intention actually is. For instance, consider this one, dated 7 April 2005, from Abp. Peter Akinola, Primate of Nigeria, regarding the formation of the Convocation of Anglican Nigerian Churches in America;
* to express regret for the consequences of their actions
* to affirm their desire to remain in the Communion, and
* to effect a moratorium on any further interventions.
We also call upon these archbishops and bishops to seek an accommodation with the bishops of the dioceses whose parishes they have taken into their own care.
We further call upon those diocesan bishops of the Episcopal Church (USA) who have refused to countenance the proposals set out by their House of Bishops to reconsider their own stance on this matter. If they refuse to do so, in our view, they will be making a profoundly dismissive statement about their adherence to the polity of their own church.
This Convocation will function as a ministry of the Church of Nigeria in America. Our intention is not to challenge or intervene in the churches of ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada but rather to provide safe harbour for those who can no longer find their spiritual home in those churches. While it will initially operate under our Constitution and Canons, it will have its own legal and ecclesial structure and local suffragan episcopate. I will be asking the next General Synod of the Church of Nigeria, which will meet in September 2005, to make the necessary constitutional amendments.Sounds like the implementation of the "master plan" to me, with the disclaimer inserted that the intention "is not to challenge or intervene in the churches of ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada." How it can be read to be doing anything other than that escapes my understanding.
During the intervening months, in cooperation with our friends in the Anglican Communion Network, I will be appointing episcopal visitors from among already consecrated bishops to provide pastoral and episcopal oversight for those congregations already in operation and in formation. I am excited by the possibilities before us and look forward to seeing this ministry grow.
We now have the emergence of the second group of foreign bishops who will be used to implement the conservatives' plan; the Council of Anglican Provinces of the Americas and Caribbean (CAPAC). In their statement, we find this;
...A common call to unify Communion-committed Anglicans currently fragmented by history and the present strident challenges to the historic faith and, in some places, the tragic oppression of faithful Christians. Intending to serve the wider communion by addressing the numerous overlapping jurisdictions in our hemisphere, CAPAC seeks to provide a solution in the context of the wider Anglican Communion.They declare they will comply with the Windsor Report, but may have to "establish interim provisional measures..." One can assume that means they will do exactly what the Windsor Report explicitely said not to do. This statement is signed by Drexel W. Gomez, Archbishop of the West Indies, Gregory J. Venables, Presiding Bishop of the Southern Cone, Robert W. Duncan, Moderator, Anglican Communion Network and Donald F. Harvey, Moderator, Anglican Network in Canada. Note that "the Network" has no official recognition as anything other than a voluntary affiliation of like-minded people. Duncan is the bishop of Pittsburgh; nothing less and nothing more.
Cognizant that it may be necessary to establish interim, provisional measures for mission and ministry, we fully intend to pursue cooperation with the Instruments of Unity of the Anglican Communion in compliance with the Windsor Report and the direction of the Lambeth Conference of 1998...
J-Tron, over on The Propaganda Box has some good commentary and discussion on this latest attempt to make an end run around the constitution and canons of the Episcopal Church.
The Episcopal Church sees the plan unfolding, yet appears to have no plan of their own as a response, other than to attempt to continue with business as usual. The conservatives' plan may be flawed and unethical, but challenging their actions on that basis doesn't seem to have had much impact. As far as the conservatives are concerned, the end justifies the means.
Appeals to Canterbury have been made, and will be made in the future, but realistic expectations must be held regarding the Communion's response. First, the wheels move slowly, and second, many involved in these events do not consider the Communion's statements or resolutions as binding.
So how can the Episcopal Church thwart this attempt by foreign bishops, in league with their conservative allies, to steal congregations? At this point, the only option is the secular courts. I'd suggest that we not wait until the deed is already done. If a foreign bishop steps on the property, have him arrested for trespassing. If a foreign bishop claims ownership of a congregation, have him charged with theft. These people are planning and engaging in criminal actions. It's past time that is said clearly, it seems to me.
Extreme? Maybe. I'm open to suggestions of other responses. In the meantime, if you see unknown clergy prowling the perimeter, ask for their credentials.