One thing that was said numerous times was that the Episcopal Church is beyond reform. It sounded like those present wanted it to appear that they have given up, and are making their final plans to leave. The assumption, of course, is that there was ever any intention to reform TEC. Personally, I have my doubts if that was ever their real reason for being.
The Council approved a Theological Statement, which, among other things, included the rather unusual insistence that the standards for Anglican doctrine, discipline and belief are to be found in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and the 1562 Articles of Religion. My understanding was that this statement is intended to give the Network and their "Common Cause" partners a place to begin their future discussions regarding working towards common goals.
Bp. Duncan of Pittsburgh fielded questions. Many of the kinds of false accusations against TEC that we've grown used to hearing were tossed around. One point that Bp. Duncan made that I found most outrageous was the repetition of the line that the Network was launched to keep conservatives in TEC; it was never intended to lead them out. We've heard that line many times before. It is one of Kendall Harmon's favorite chants. The problem with it is that the facts just don't support such a statement.
A brief look at some of the things that the Network leaders have said among themselves over the last three or four years (since that organization came into being) makes it pretty clear that the intention to stay in TEC was, at best, a minority view. Instead, they committed to "guerrilla warfare."
For instance, there is this March 2004 email from Father Jim McCaslin, Dean of the Southeastern Convocation of the NACDP to all the Network leaders. Fr. McCaslin is upset that Don Armstrong, Executive Director of the Anglican Communion Institute, wants to maintain "the broadest appeal" for the Network, and is afraid that appeal "waters down our direction and commitment to the point that our ultimate purpose is compromised..." As an example of this compromise, McCaslin cites that "Don mentions 'exit' and 'parallel church' strategies negatively and a 'staying' strategy positively."
And then, of course, there is the 2003 Chapman Memo, with plans to begin using "offshore bishops."
Earlier this month, Ephraim Radner, who has been quite involved with the Network since the beginning, wrote an essay in which he depicts the initial purpose of the Network in this way:
...There was always, from the beginning, a tension in play among traditionalists between those who believed that a separate or parallel province in North America was necessary quickly – and hence that the “movement” aspect of this witness needed to be immediately translated into structural independence –- and those that did not. That tension was manifest in the reluctance of many conservative TEC bishops to join the Network at its inception, because of their fear that this tension was not resolved within the group, and worries they held over precipitous structural disengagement from TEC, that would decimate congregations, rain down law-suits, and split the Communion. This reluctance was viewed by some – although not all – of the Network leaders as a failure of nerve on the part of non-Network bishops, and a kind of moral distaste grew up between the two groups, a distaste that has poisoned trust and dampened communication to this day...The attempt by Bp. Duncan and others to rewrite the story so as to make themselves look like faithful conservatives who were driven out of TEC is ridiculous. Only those who have not been following the real story would fall for such absurd exaggerations. The fact that they would attempt to pass off such a falsehood as truth really damages their integrity.
Monday afternoon, visitors representing the Common Cause partners were allowed to offer their greetings to the assembly. As I listened to the representative from the Reformed Episcopal Church, I found myself wondering why all these dissenters don't just join the REC.
It would appear to be a good fit. The REC has been around since 1873. They recently entered into a covenant with the Anglican Church of Nigeria, which is expected to lead to full communion. They share the same disdain for TEC. The REC has five seminaries, and some stability, with moderate growth. Why is the Network going through this long and tedious song and dance? Just leave and join the REC. Seems simple enough.
Of course, most likely the reason that such an obvious option is not being considered is the notion, heard over and over again today, that dioceses and parishes will be able to leave intact and join some future entity not yet identified. Why they insist on holding on to this idea, when it is fairly clear that it will never meet the demands of the canons or slip past the scrutiny of the courts, is beyond me.
It appears that what happens at the next House of Bishops meeting, or the next Lambeth conference, is not really a factor anymore. These folks are headed out the door, regardless of what anyone does. Mark Harris has some thoughts on the Network's apparent recent shift away from Canterbury.
Before the Network drags this out any longer, and wastes more money on lawsuits and new bishops' vestments, maybe it would be prudent for them to take a closer look at the REC?