There seems to be some confusion in various quarters of the Communion regarding why Episcopalians are so deeply disturbed by Bishops and Primates from other Provinces claiming congregations and, as in the case of San Joaquin, entire Dioceses, that are within the Province of TEC as their own.
First of all, for those who really desire to understand (rather than debate) this matter, it is important to separate it from any other current issues. Why these actions are being taken are not relevant to this particular discussion. Neither are various pronouncements from Bishops, Primates, or others in leadership positions within the Communion.
What follows are just a few of the reasons why this has become a "line in the sand" for Episcopalians:
1. To recognize the validity of a congregation being able to select their Bishop or Primate by a congregational vote is to invite chaos. We understand ourselves to be part of the "One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church." Our mission is rooted in acknowledging that since God is moving throughout the world, we cannot limit our view to what is best for our individual congregations.
There's a name for the perspective of my parish being the only thing that matters; it's called congregationalism, and is quite dominant among Protestant denominations in the U.S., a nation that places high value on individualism. But it has never been considered a vision of the Church that is acceptable within Anglicanism.
Simply put, one cannot just abandon their Diocese, or their Province, and pick a new Bishop or Primate. There cannot be more than one bishop with jurisdiction in a diocese, for valid practical as well as theological reasons.
2. These foreign interventions short-circuit the pastoral response to disagreements between a congregation and their Bishop. There have always been those within a diocese who find themselves in disagreement with their Bishop on one matter or another. Situations in which the relationship between the bishop and a congregation becomes strained always includes in their goals some form of reconciliation. Sometimes the work of becoming reconciled takes many years. Usually such a reconciliation involves compromises being made by both the congregation and the Bishop. With most of the congregations that have recently left, there was no opportunity given for such reconciliation to occur. Why? Because a foreign bishop was waiting in the wings, promising them the moon.
3. Various offers of compromise, such as Delegated Episcopal Oversight and the Episcopal Visitors Plan, in which those in conflict with their Bishop or Primate might have an alternative Bishop function in that capacity, have been rejected. The counter demands have included, without exception, a clause that the proposers knew would be unacceptable to the leaders of TEC. Usually, this took the form of giving veto power over any decisions to a foreign Bishop. This was not accidental. A compromise was never what was sought. That was not part of the plan:
...Our ultimate goal is a realignment of Anglicanism on North American soil committed to biblical faith and values, and driven by Gospel mission. We believe in the end this should be a “replacement” jurisdiction with confessional standards...The goal, in which "offshore" bishops now play an integral role, is to create a replacement jurisdiction within North America. If this means that they must use any means necessary to destroy TEC, they will do just that. Thus we have the intense smear campaign going on against TEC, often from the mouths of these same "offshore" Bishops.
...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...
...While we cannot offer AEO under an AAC diocesan Bishop at this time, we do have non-geographical oversight available from “offshore” Bishops, and retired Bishops...
Compromises have been offered. They were rejected. Instead, foreign Bishops were brought in. This is considered unacceptable by Episcopalians.
4. To justify the creation of this "replacement jurisdiction," outlandish lies have been repeated over and over again in an attempt to "prove" that TEC is apostate, heretical, etc. Even though these lies have been repeatedly exposed as the false accusations that they are, they continue to be repeated by those committed to destroying TEC. The foreign Bishops establishing beachheads in North America are depending on this constant flow of false propaganda to function as a smokescreen for their most unethical behavior. Episcopalians will not tolerate the continuation of this attack on our integrity to justify the plundering of our assets.
5. The motivation behind the actions of some of the foreign Bishops and Primates involved in this scheme are questionable. For instance, the Province of the Southern Cone is known to be one of the smallest Provinces in the Communion. One motivation that must be considered is that Presiding Bishop Venables has discovered a way to alleviate the financial difficulties that such a small Province would most likely be encountering. A few healthy assessments from North American congregations would seem to be a very tempting idea.
I'd rather not engage in such speculations, but, in light of the less than scrupulous actions I have already mentioned, it seems appropriate to me to wonder about such things. If the Bishops are revealed to not be acting in good faith in other matters, it is not beyond the realm of possibilities that they are involved in other unethical activities as well, such as attempting to make a profit from the misfortune of others.
6. We have a responsibility to protect the legacy of many generations of Episcopalians who have built and maintained our congregations. This "great cloud of witnesses" gave the fruit of their labors to build up the Episcopal Church in their local setting. We cannot allow a foreign Bishop to take away that legacy.
There are other reasons why these intrusions into the internal affairs of TEC by foreign Bishops is a major issue for Episcopalians. I'll let our readers point out additional ones.
My point is that those considering going on a plum picking excursion in North America need to think twice. This is a matter that Episcopalians are not going to drop. It is our line in the sand. If you engage in this unethical, and possibly illegal, behavior, you will be held accountable.