On the eve of Nevada Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori’s investiture as the 26th Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, her chancellor, David Booth Beers, has written identical letters to the chancellors of two traditionalist dioceses demanding that they change language “that can be read as cutting against an ‘unqualified accession’ to the Constitution and Canons of the General Convention of The Episcopal Church...“The timing of this letter is shocking,” Fort Worth Bishop Jack L. Iker told The Living Church. Is it really, Bishop? Let me suggest to you what I find even more shocking:
...In recent years, four dioceses – Fort Worth (Texas), Pittsburgh, Quincy (Ill.) and San Joaquin (Calif.) – have amended their constitutions to qualify the diocese’s accession to General Convention, reserving the right of the diocese to reject bylaws which in their view contradict scripture and/or historic church teachings. Spokespersons for Pittsburgh and San Joaquin reported being unaware of receiving a similar letter. Fort Worth, Quincy and San Joaquin are the only three dioceses in The Episcopal Church which do not ordain women.
Mr. Beers concludes his letter stating “should your diocese decline to take that step, the Presiding Bishop will have to consider what sort of action she must take in order to bring your diocese into compliance”...
The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, otherwise known as The Episcopal Church (which name is hereby recognized as also designating the Church)...Within the Constitution and Canons, "the Church" is understood to refer to "The Episcopal Church." Now consider Title IV, Canon 9; Of Abandonment of the Communion of This Church by a Bishop:
If a Bishop abandons the communion of this Church (i) by an open renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline, or Worship of this Church...The Presiding Bishop, with the consent of the three senior Bishops having jurisdiction in this Church, shall then inhibit the said Bishop until such time as the House of Bishops shall investigate the matter and act thereon.I think "qualifying" all references to "The Episcopal Church," refusing to recognize our Presiding Bishop, and planning to leave Province 7 certainly qualifies as an "open renunciation," don't you? This is indeed shocking behavior.
I must admit that I am really not all that shocked by any of this. I saw Bp. Iker once during General Convention. That one glimpse was enough to read the character of this man. It was during the hearings on the Windsor resolutions. There was a long line of those preparing to testify before the committee. Bishop Duncan spoke just before Bp. Robinson. As Bp. Robinson began his statement, Bp. Iker and his entourage stood up and sauntered out of the hall.
This Bishop may assume he is coated with teflon. The inaction of 815 may have encouraged him to act in such an arrogant manner. I would remind the bishop that our new PB has recently returned from a visit with the Archbishop of Canterbury, in which they had a "frank conversation about challenges in the Communion..." Bp. Katharine is known for her sharp intellect. I think it is safe to assume that these letters were a part of her "frank conversation" with Dr. Williams.
Anticipating this quick action on the part of our new Presiding Bishop may explain the bit of backpedaling we have recently witnessed by the Diocese of Dallas. We can anticipate more cracks to appear in the solidarity of the "AlPO" dioceses in the weeks to come.
Bishop Katharine has called your bluff, Bp. Iker. Raise or fold? Regardless of how you decide to play, betting your mitre, and the well-being of all those congregations placed under your pastoral care, was a shocking gamble.
UPDATE: Jim Naughton offers some wise words for us to think about. Here's a taste:
...I generally agree with Jake and Mark on the issues confronting our church, but I am more uneasy than they about these letters. My unease may be rooted in reasons peculiar to myself, or to a person in my profession, but I think it hints at a broader problem: namely, the seeming unwillingness of our leadership to recognize the virtue of dealing more openly with the press and with Church members regarding the problems before us.There's also a good discussion going on at Mark's place.
When your organization is involved in an ongoing controversy, it is extremely advantageous to be able to control the content and timing of news stories. The Episcopal right understands this well, and keeps creating well-timed news events that get reporters’ attention, and foster the impression that they are on the march while the Church leadership is in retreat. Here was an occasion, however, where both the content of the next news story (“Chancellor sends letters”) and the timing of the news story (a clock that starts ticking when the letters are mailed) were entirely in Church Center’s control.
If it is a given that the content of the letters will become public, the most media-savvy thing to do is to release the letters broadly with an explanation of why you were doing what you were doing and why you were doing it now. This not only insures that your side of the story leads whatever pieces might be written, it also guarantees that your interpretive framing of the story will be taken seriously...