4/29/2005

Emerging Corporate Megalomania

The Moderator of the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes, in an interview with The Living Church invoked by reference the preamble of the Constitution of the Episcopal Church which says, to wit:

“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), is a constituent member of the Anglican Communion, a Fellowship within the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, of those duly constituted Dioceses, Provinces, and regional Churches in communion with the See of Canterbury, upholding and propagating the historic Faith and Order as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer. This Constitution, adopted in General Convention in Philadelphia in October, 1789, as amended in subsequent General Conventions, sets forth the basic Articles for the government of the Church, and of its overseas missionary jurisdictions.”

This business about the Preamble to the Episcopal Church’s Constitution has been the subject of considerable analysis on the House of Bishops / House of Deputies List as well as in other places. A search on Google reveals a wide variety of responses. You might also see my article, General Convention's Actions and the Constitution of the Episcopal Church.

According to the Living Church the Moderator said,

“Well, of course we claim to be, constitutionally, the Episcopal Church. And there’s every evidence, both from what the Windsor Report says and what the primates said in accepting it, in their communiqué in Northern Ireland, that we are the Anglicans. If the Episcopal Church’s constitution says that we’ll be constituent members of the Anglican Communion, and the Anglican Communion now says, Episcopal Church, you’re in time out. In fact, you’re not only in time out, but it appears you’re making a decision to walk apart. If in General Convention 2006 the Episcopal Church determines to walk apart, then the question we ask is, who is the Episcopal Church? And our legal basis will be to say, we are, of course, because they have broken the constitution.”

So there you have it: the Network argument that from the Preamble to the Constitution of the Episcopal Church we are the Episcopal Church only if we are in fact a “constituent member” of the Anglican Communion.

The Moderator is further quoted in the Living Church as saying,

“If they determine to move out, well, then they’ve determined to move out. We’re the Anglicans here. We’ll also stand in a way that says, we’re the Episcopal Church where we are. You know, there’ll be infinite court battles, but it’ll be very interesting, since the Communion will have said the Episcopal Church walked apart, and the Episcopal Church’s Constitution says that you’ve got to be constituent members, and we’re the only ones they recognize as constituent members, so who’s the Episcopal Church, legally? It’ll be very interesting time. I mean, we don’t want to go to court, but it’s quite clear the Episcopal Church is always ready to go to court, and this time I think they might not be so willing to go to court, because we think there’s every reason they’ll lose.”

The Moderator raised once again the specter of legal battles in which the Preamble would be used as a test to determine which of two competing groups is, in fact, the Episcopal Church.

No matter that the Preamble is NOT substantive as part of the Constitution. The claim is that if the Episcopal Church is not a “constituent member” of Anglican Communion bodies ( The Lambeth Conference, the Primates Meetings, the Anglican Consultative Council) or are out of communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury, it is not in reality the Episcopal Church at all.

No matter that the majority of its bishops, deputies, dioceses, parishes and people believe themselves to be the Episcopal Church. A minority group, recognized by the Anglican Communion bodies and the Archbishop, could claim (they hope) to be the “real” Episcopal Church and in turn argue for ownership of title, property and wealth, effectively overthrowing the Church.

I don’t know where all this business of invoking the Preamble to the Episcopal Church’s Constitution will go legally, if it ever comes to it, but the sooner we face into this one the better.

Somehow I feel this whole interview rehearsal of a legal strategy is smoke and mirrors meant to distract us from the workings of people in the wings, managing a greater effort to a stranger end.

The hint is this interesting tidbit from the Moderator :

“We’ve had some really exciting presentations on a vision for church planting, and at the heart of that vision is making a whole movement of self-replicating churches that reach and make disciples and create more churches. And that vision includes doing it across boundaries and lines. So [we’ll do it] not just in the old way, where we’re trying to create Episcopal churches, but we’re trying to build the Kingdom. And we’ll do it with whoever, wherever it seems right to do it. The exciting part is there’s a realignment going on. There’s a reformation going on.”

So much for not crossing boundaries. “We’ll do it with whoever, wherever it seems right to do.”

And so much for the Kingdom of God, which as I remember is not of this world. The Kingdom of self-replicating churches, etc, is not a new idea, but might well be a good one, if one really wants a Kingdom of clones. The notion of realignment and certainly reformation is always a possibility and God knows is a potential instrument of God’s will. But none of this is the Kingdom of God.

It seems to me that what we have here is something much less grand: another element in the attempt to justify a church takeover as part of a wider effort.

The Moderator says,

“One of the things we’ve seen in this meeting has been the sense in which God is realigning his whole Church. This is much bigger – and it’s been said many times in this conference – than the Episcopal Church, much bigger than the Anglican Communion.”

If all this is about “realigning his whole Church,” these must be heady times indeed for the Moderator and the Network.

I believe they have set their sights higher than they ought to have. It is one thing to believe the Episcopal Church has gone astray and that the Anglican Communion needs to become an agency for correction. It is quite another to believe that the Network is the agency for “realigning his whole Church.”

The word for that is corporate megalomania.

12 comments:

  1. john thorpe30/4/05 1:44 AM

    I think you're reading more megalomania into Duncan's comments than he actually possesses. I don't know the man personally, of course, but the one time I heard him speak he didn't seem like that kind of man. He seems to genuinely want to reform our church and not to harm it if it can be helped. Isn't the whole Network thing a reactionary measure, a response to a perceived danger from GC03 instead of a plan to take over? Yes, there's a plan in place now to supplant ECUSA as the American branch of Anglicanism, but would this plan have surfaced without GC03? and can it succeed without GC06? It looks to me like we in ECUSA are putting leaks in our own boat, and I don't blame Duncan or anyone for hoarding a life preserver.

    What's so bad about self-replicating churches: isn't that what Christians are supposed to be about anyway? I'm missing the alternative between non-evangelistic churches and the self-replication or 'cloning' which you seem to think unhelpful.

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  2. Thanks for your comment. I try hard to distinquish between Robert Duncan, the person, who I respect and indeed love, and who I have called friend, and the Network Moderator. Bishop Duncan is a thoughtful and convinced man.

    On a good day I am too. It just turns out that I believe strongly that the efforts of the Network (and of the Moderator as its head) have been wrong-headed - heading in the wrong direction.

    If there are people who want to change the direction of the Episcopal Church, let them get elected bishop, get elected deputies, and then change things. Barring that possibility they might consider leaveing this church and forming another.

    But to insist that they are the "real" Episcopal Church, although clearly not so in fact, is a bit odd to say the least.

    About self-replicating churches: of course that is what Christians are supposed to do, EXCEPT in so far as self-replicating means with all the prejudices and intolerance already present and available (racisism, sexism, anti-gay, etc.) Who needs a replica of Sunday Morning that is still segregated?

    What we need is self-correcting replication, in which not all the bad points of ecclesial personality get replicated as well.

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  3. What is interesting is that I think Duncan must have in mind jurisprudence that speaks in terms of hierchical churches, as opposed to congregational churches. The Serbian Orthodox Church case could support his position. Either way, his thought that a court might have to make a decision on whether or not the Episcopal Church can legally leave the Anglican Communion is an interesting one. Hopefully, we'll never have to see how it plays out.

    Brad Drell

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  4. The crucial point in hierarchical churches is the legal hierarchy: and the General Convention is the top of the Episcopal Church's hierarchy, not Lambeth. As such, the General Convention is the only body competent to interpret its own governing documents, including the Constitution. Nothing in the Preamble gives any legal authority to any entity, and so it cannot be invoked on that ground. One must in applying laws of any sort see what the law says: in this case the preamble states a fact: the Episcopal Church is a constitutent member of the Anglican Communion. It does not state that this continued membership is a requirement.

    Moreover, pointing to the Preamble (which dates from 1967) will be of little use when the preface to the BCP, dating from the foundation of the Church in 1785/9, explicitly refers to the "ecclesiastical independence" of the Episcopal Church. The BCP has, for the Episcopal Church, Constitutional authority.

    Finally, it should also be noted that the Constitution of the D&F, which is the corporate and legal body of the church, makes no reference to the Anglican Communion whatsoever.

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  5. As always Tobias is on the case. Perhaps he can point us to his own further words on this?

    I have today checked with a "high ranking" canon law expert who suggests that although there is substance in the Preamble, it has to do with designating the name "the Episcopal Church" as a second name for "The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America." That the Episcopal Church is a constituant member of the Anglican Communion is not substantive in the same sense.

    Tobias is helpful in pointing out that General Convention is the Key.

    The Episcopal Church General Convention made the statement itself, with no check-in with "upstream" entitites. Were it to check-out it could do so as well. In neither case is there a reference point outside our own polity to determine if we are truely the Episcopal Church or not.

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  6. What worries me the most is the idea that growth is a sign of faithfulness, thus growing churches equal good churches and shrinking ones are the bad ones. The truth is that marketability and popular opinion have about as much to do with the gospel as a rubber chicken.

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  7. Thunder Jones, your comment is the best thing I've read today. And that's only fifty percent because you said "rubber chicken."

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  8. Growth is not necessarily proof of faithfulness but if we are to be known and recognized by the fruit we bear, healthy and growing churches can be evidence that we are bearing good fruit. The Great Commission exhorts us to go and make disciples of all nations .... Can we be faithful to that Commission and not concerned about incorporating others into the fellowship. Lee Buck frequently says God doesn't care about numbers, except that every number is another soul and God sure does care about souls. So pat yourselves on the backs that your numbers are shrinking and that there aren't people out there in need of hearing the message of salvation. If commitment to that cause is "corporate megalomania," I am glad to suffer from that pathology.

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  9. It is important to preach the gospel. I think the imperative thing is not that churches necessarilly be bursting at the seams with members (though growth in numbers of people is not necessarilly a bad thing) but that churches be healthy and vibrant.

    God cares about souls and bodies. One cannot seperate the two.

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  10. My big beef with the "attendance" claims of the ACN, AAC, et al. is that they state that as authoritative proof that God likes them better than the heretical and revisionist liberals. That's simply a dumb argument.

    Church planting is great (so long as there is a need). Discipleship is essential, but we also need to remember that every time Jesus started getting a crowd he'd say something about the Kingdom that would make just about everyone leave him.

    On the other hand, I don't want to say that empty churches are a sign of fidelity. I just want to point to the silliness of claiming numbers are proof that the "true" gospel is being preached.

    All we need to do is look to the revivalists of the Great Awakenings to see how preachers can use certain somewhat dubious techniques such as emotional appeals and fear of Hell in order to fill pews. Yet that is far from Anglican Christianity.

    And if we’re talking about the power of numbers, we need to remember that people watch American Idol and it just plain sucks.

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  11. Andrew Petiprin5/5/05 1:22 PM

    Great comment, Thunder Jones. After noticing your favorite bands on your profile, I'm not surprised to see such wisdom.

    I also resent the connection some make between numbers and truth. I really see the world upside down right now. What is popular is so rarely true or valuable to me right now. This certainly extends to my view of the Church. A truly prophetic faith may have to face almost total rejection in this generation. The growth in fundamentalism seems to indicate that this is happening. So it goes.

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  12. And if we're going that way, how about the fact that the churches are virtually empty in all of Europe and most of the rest of the West?

    And not for lack of self-proclaimed "orthodox" churches, either. This great exodus occurred almost entirely under the papacy of JPII, the great conservative.

    There are also 65 million unchurched in the United States, and this number grows each year.

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