Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Just the Facts

For the sake of those who are not Episcopalian, and for the sake of those who are stating misinformation in the comments, here's a few of the facts, formulated in a simply Q & A style, courtesy of Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh:

Q: Has the Episcopal Church, USA acted unlawfully by violating its own constitution and canons?

A: No. The diocese of New Hampshire and ECUSA followed every procedure spelled out in diocesan and national canons and constitution. Canon Robinson was a priest in good standing in his diocese. This charge is based on two points: that the church acted contrary to the “faith and order” of the Anglican Communion, and that it acted in defiance of Anglican Communion directives. In fact, it is the American Anglican Council and the self-anointed “orthodox” primates who are acting unlawfully. They have tried to undo decisions duly prayed over and passed at the ECUSA’s 74th General Convention by appealing to outside bodies, refusing to acknowledge a legal election and consecration of a bishop of the church, demanding that the Anglican primates assume powers never granted them, and insisting that the ECUSA ignore its own constitution while planning for alternative oversight for dissenting parishes.

Q: Did the ECUSA defy the Anglican Primates by consecrating Gene Robinson as bishop?

A: No. The primates do not have the power to forbid a province to do anything. Clearly a majority of primates wish that New Hampshire had chosen another person as bishop. The statement issued by the primates on October 17 acknowledged that Robinson’s consecration would tear the fabric of the communion, regretted that the Episcopal Church’s actions (and actions of the Canadian Church) did not represent the communion as a whole and short-circuited the dialog on human sexuality called for by the 1998 Lambeth meeting. The primates asked provinces to consider (in consultation with the Archbishop of Canterbury) providing alternative oversight for dissenting parishes, and requested that the Archbishop appoint a special commission to explore issues of governance within the communion. This commission is to report within a year. Most of all, the primates urged that no province take precipitous action and to wait for the commission report. The primates wrote their statement knowing that the Robinson consecration was going forward, thus the consecration itself should not be considered a “precipitous action.”
Q: But isn’t it only fair that a congregation gets to keep its property?

A: The current membership does not individually or personally own a church building, communion silver, endowments, etc. After all, when a family moves to another state, the parish doesn’t buy out their “share” in the assets of the parish. Every generation of a parish cares for church property in trust for those to come, and as a sacred trust to honor the wishes of those who went before. A parish’s claim to property is collective, and parishes are not created as independent congregations but as communities of the Episcopal Church. All of us in the Episcopal Church have a stake in every parish – diocesan, missionary, and national funds may have helped secure loans or encourage specific ministries of a parish; when we travel we expect to find active parishes that we can visit; we work collectively on many forms of ministry all in the name of the Episcopal Church. In other words, no parish is an island.

Q: Why is alternative oversight of dissenting parishes an issue?

A: It shouldn’t be. A diocese is a geographical unit. Diversity of belief and approach within the diocese is healthy and represents the diversity of the Episcopal Church. To insist on dealing only with a bishop or other similar-thinking parishes is to narrow the Episcopal Church and lose what can be learned from other approaches. If we believe the historic documents of the church, alternative oversight is unnecessary. Article XXIII of the Articles of Religion defines a lawful minister as a person “chosen and called to this work by men who have public authority given unto them in the Congregation, to call and send Ministers.” Thus anyone ordained or consecrated following the usual procedures of the ECUSA is a valid minister. A belief that a bishop or priest has been immoral does not negate the validity of the orders. Article XXVI states that the worthiness or unworthiness of a minister does not affect the validity of the sacraments. These two Articles were the Anglican way of declaring themselves against the Donatism heresy - a heresy that confuses the office held by an individual with the personal attributes of the individual, and insisted on absolute purity of belief and life. Nonetheless, the ECUSA, in the interests of accommodating diversity, has offered a plan to accommodate parishes that refuse to deal with their own bishop. This plan was being developed before the primates made their request. The AAC has rejected the plan and demanded one that violates a clause of the ECUSA constitution. The clause has been in the constitution unchanged since the first constitution was adopted in 1789.

Q: Why shouldn’t a diocese be the final judge of actions of general convention?

A: The General Convention is the ultimate authority in the ECUSA. From its beginning, the ECUSA has had a requirement that to be admitted to ECUSA a diocese must give unqualified accession to the constitution of the national church. It is the equivalent of the supremacy clause in the U.S. Constitution. Constituent parts of a whole do not have the power to overturn actions of that whole. The requirement for an unqualified accession is a part of the contract that created the diocese. To impair this clause in any way is to break the contract and put the diocese outside the Episcopal Church. The Diocese of Pittsburgh was recognized by General Convention in 1865. Given that the country was just bringing to a close four bloody years of civil war (a war that discredited ideas of nullification and secession), it is hard to believe that the Diocese of Pittsburgh somehow did not understand that this accession was permanent.

Q: What is so awful about not funding the national church? Contributions are voluntary aren’t they?

A: We all benefit from the work of ECUSA. It educates clergy and helps with national searches. It develops Sunday school materials, and resources for Altar Guilds and other groups. It is the source of our Book of Common Prayer, Hymnal and other resources for worship. The national church gives money back to parishes through grants and reaches out to those in need around the world. The national church helps fund missions in the U.S. and around the world. To accept services but refuse to help pay for them is selfish and immoral.

Q: I keep hearing the words “apostate,” “schismatic,” and “heresy” – What do they mean and do they apply to the current situation?

A: To be apostate is to rebel against the church and renounce its doctrines. Schism is the act of promoting discord, disharmony or division within a church by rejecting the governing authority of that church. Heresy is a belief that goes against the core doctrines of the church. The AAC has used all three terms to describe the ECUSA. However, it is the AAC that is rejecting the governing authority of the church and seeking to block the duly authorized canons and constitution. By calling for a “new reformation” the AAC is tacitly acknowledging that they are the innovators and are trying to change basic beliefs and polity of the church. A common trait of a schism is that each side will claim to be the protector of the “true” church. In reality, only one side will actually have the legal authority to be the church. In this case that is ECUSA. The AAC has applied both apostasy and heresy to ECUSA for supposedly renouncing the historic faith of the church. However, the core doctrines of Christianity are summed in the Creed, and no party in the current situation is challenging or renouncing the creed. What is tragic is that all parties in this dispute agree on Christology, the creeds, the sacraments and on the apostolic succession. They also agree that Holy Scripture is the revealed Word of God. Where they disagree is on what that Word reveals, and how it is revealed.

The above is the understanding of most Episcopalians concerning what is going on. Roughly 10% of our members would disagree with these statements. Hopefully, this will answer most questions. But if there are others, feel free to ask them.


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