The extreme conservatives within the Episcopal Church are quite upset over notes from a meeting of Via Media. Since the notes refer to strategies to implement in case the ten Network diocese decide to bolt after General Convention 2006, the extreme conservatives are shouting "Coup!" and "Leftist Conspiracy!" among other colorful accusations. Personally, I think this is much ado about nothing. I find it unfortunate that Via Media is buying into the hype from the extremists, although I can understand their concern, as the group is made up of faithful Episcopalians who reside within dioceses that have been threatening to break with the Episcopal Church for a few years now. The reality of even a worse case scenario is that the possibility of the Network taking over the Episcopal Church is slim to none. They claim to have 10 diocese out of 111 aligned with them. Outside those 10 diocese, they have about 140 congregations signed up, out of 7,500. Assuming that every congregation in the 10 diocese will also break (which is a generous assumption; the existence of the Via Media groups is evidence that not all the congregations in Network dioceses go along with their plans for schism), the Network might be able to claim allegiance of about 1,100 congregations, or roughly 15%. The idea that the remaining 85% will go along with the Network's claim that, due to the term "constituent" in the Preamble, to remain Anglican one must leave the Episcopal Church and join them, is wishful thinking. The cure will be seen as worse than the disease.
Even though I believe that a scenario in which such a small minority will launch a successful coup to be delusionary, at the same time, plans to protect faithful Episcopalians within the 10 Network dioceses need to be made. One would think that presentments against the 10 diocesans would be a bare minimum response. In this regard, the brainstorming session of Via Media is worth carefully consideration.
What makes this particular flap rather ironic is that the same folks who are now screaming foul have been planning how to destroy the Episcopal Church and take it over with their own coup for a few years now. Pot, meet kettle. Mark Harris offers more commentary on this incident.
Related to this is the settlement of the lawsuit against the Diocese of Pittsburgh filed by Calvary Episcopal Church. You might recall that the documents revealed through this lawsuit gave us an inside look of the Network's plans to overthrow the Episcopal Church. The settlement makes the unusual resolution passed at a previous diocesan convention allowing individual congregations to claim ownership of their property and assets null and void. This strange resolution was an attempted end run around future court cases involving property settlements if these congregations tried to leave the Episcopal Church. At least in the state of Pennsylvania, that ploy isn't going to work. This is good news for the people of Calvary and the other faithful Episcopalians in the diocese of Pittsburgh, but will probably have little effect in future court cases outside of Pennsylvania.
Before leaving domestic issues, it might be timely to mention that there is a distinct difference between what I refer to as "extreme conservatives" and the more traditional "conservatives." A few of the latter can be found in most Episcopal congregations. The former are a rather rare breed, making up, at the most, 20% of the membership. Their leaders are the same folks who were angry about women's ordination and the new prayer book, are now angry about a bishop who refuses to stay in the closet, and, if they stay true to form, will most likely find new issues to be angry about in the future. An example of the difference between the extremists and the more traditional conservatives can be found in the recent address to the diocese of Rio Grande given by their new bishop, Jeffrey Steenson. Bishop Steenson is a well known conservative, who was previously rector of Good Shepherd, Rosemont and St. Andrew's, Fort Worth. Until recently, he was known to oppose women's ordination. Here is a brief excerpt from his address worth noting;
Breaking communion, cutting relationships with other Christians is dreadful business and goes to the very heart of the Anglican understanding of the Church. The Anglican reformers identified three key principles for the unity of the Church, which they got directly from St. Augustine of Hippo in his writings against the Donatist schism in North Africa:If you take a moment to read his entire address, I think you will see the truth in the point I'm trying to make; it is an unfair generalization to paint all conservatives with the same brush.
1. The true identity of the Church as Christ's Body is in no way diminished by the imperfections and defects of its human members.
2. As long as we live in this present age, we must accept that it is God's will that saints and sinners are mixed together in the Church.
3. Breaking communion and separating from the Church is ultimate more damaging than the heretical ideas and practices that may have occasioned them...
Moving on to some international news, it appears that the majority claimed by the extreme conservatives within the Anglican Communion is showing signs of small cracks of disunity, which may eventually shatter the facade they have attempted to present to the world.
First is the brave statement from Changing Attitude - Nigeria which challenges Archbishop Akinola. Thinking Anglicans has more discussion on this story.
Then there is the recent Panama Declaration, in which a number of Latin-American and Caribbean bishops made the following statement;
...With deep sentiment, we regret the forced exclusion of the Province of Brazil from the Global South Conference celebrated in Egypt; exclusion promoted by the Archbishop of Nigeria, Peter Akinola, and we also regret the reception and recognition of the deposed bishop and clergy, from the diocese of Recife by the Primate of the Province in the Southern Cone of America. Nevertheless, we express our hope to be in total reconciliation with our brothers and sisters of the Southern Cone and to continue in our journey of total communion with one another.For some background on what made such a statement necessary, read the Primate of the Southern Cone's letter and the Primate of Brazil's response. We're seeing this happen more and more; one bishop deposes a priest or a bishop, and some other bishop picks them up, ignoring the previous deposition. The decision to dismiss such depositions seems to be based on the beliefs of the bishop doing the deposition and the one being deposed. This is the road to chaos. Not only does this lead to a priest or a bishop's orders only being valid in a specific geographical area becoming the norm, but it will also call into question any ordinations or confirmations done by a bishop who was previously deposed. The validity of a sacramental rite will become based on the belief system held by the bishop or priest offering the sacrament. Is this really where we want to go?
These acts of exclusion from events and the intromission and disregard of the authority in jurisdictions among Provinces, represent the breaking away from agreements and commitments established between primates and they are a product of the intolerant tendencies that we face and we hope that these tendencies will quickly disappear as a result of the inspiration and action of the Holy Spirit and our decisive actions geared towards change and renewal...
Meanwhile, tomorrow the Global South summit will begin. The Archbishop of Canterbury will be present. Stayed tuned, folks. This could get very interesting.