10/30/2006

Union with the General Convention: Calling the Question

It is not a time for the squeamish, and as the good Dr. Hunter S. Thompson observed, “There is a lot of wreckage in the fast lane these days.”

Word is out tht the Chancellor to the Presiding Bishop has served notice to at least two dioceses that changing their canons in order to remove the “‘unqualified accession’ to the Constitution and Canons of the General Convention of The Episcopal Church” will not go unnoticed. The Living Church online posted the story today and by this evening Fr.Jake has produced a masterful commentary HERE, and Daily Episcopalian has the following comment HERE .

Many of us have been wondering just how long it would be before runaway dioceses would be challenged to slow down. Now we know. The time is now. “Unqualified” means just that, and if you don’t slow down and read the fine print the time is up.

I wrote about this in an earlier blog. Perhaps a revisiting of part of that essay is in order:

“There is, however, the matter of unqualified accession to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church. The admission of new dioceses into union with the General Convention includes submission of the Constitution of the Diocese which includes a statement of “unqualified accession to the Constitution and Canons of this Church.” (Constitution V.1) But what about those dioceses whose admission formed the Convention out of which the Constitution was written or those who were admitted prior to the requirements of “unqualified accession (if such a time ever existed)?”

It can be argued that those dioceses have in fact conformed by practice. But whatever those arguments, bishops, by their unqualified pledge at ordination, are required to conform to the Constitution. Here is what the oath looks like: “In the Name of God, Amen. I, N., chosen Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in N., do promise conformity and obedience to the Doctrine, Discipline, and Worship of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. So help me God, through Jesus Christ. (from the 1789 BCP). Now the form reads (from the Constitution – VIII) “I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and new Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation; and I do solemnly engaged to conform to the Doctrine, Discipline, and Worship of the Episcopal Church.”When a Diocese changes its own Constitution or Canons to strike unqualified accession or conformity, and /or the Bishop of that Diocese has declared him or her self to be subject to the Constitution of the Diocese and not the Episcopal Church there has been a breach of unqualified accession. At that point, it seems to me, the Diocese and / or the Bishop has defaulted on the oath of conformity. At some point the General Convention can declare the dissolution of the union between the Diocese as currently constituted and the Episcopal Church and reconstitute the diocese with a Constitution that gives unqualified accession and with a bishop who continues a pledge of conformity. It seems to me then that there is a basis on which the General Convention could declare a Diocese vacated by its Bishop and Diocesan Convention, and by extension by its Deputies – the proof of which would be that the Diocese fails to send representatives, fails to financially support or fails to exercise authority in conformity with the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church. What the General Convention then does with the ministry in the territory now vacated can be dealt with by reorganizing the diocese...
The conclusion is then that no Diocese may secede from the Union that constitutes the General Convention. People may go, but the missionary obligation of the Episcopal Church for the work in the territory vacated remains and the determination of the ecclesial structure of the work done in that territory is made by the General Convention…The days may be upon us when the General Convention may be called upon to deny seating, voice or vote to deputations, or to declare a diocese vacant, and determine new structures for the work in those jurisdictions. Certainly it seems more and more important to find ways to hold bishops accountable to their oaths and dioceses to the requirement of “unqualified accession to the Constitution and Canons of this Church.”

I invite you to read the rest.

Union is no easy matter; not easy to achieve, and not easily denied. The Chancellor is doing his job.

Call the question.

15 comments:

  1. I forget if you need a second to call the question but here it is anyway: Second!

    PS - And may I add, BRAVA!

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  2. Widening Gyre31/10/06 9:26 AM

    From TLC: 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.”

    Mark, given your familiarity with the Constitution and Canons, where in either do we give enforcement powers to the Presiding Bishop? I thought our PB was more figurehead/facilitator/pastor than a president/policeman. I don't mean to suggest there are not ways to handle your "question" but I'm not sure the PB's office has the authority here. Please correct me if I am mistaken about our Constitution and Canons. Thanks.

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  3. Dear Widening gyre...(I wish I had that name!)...

    No expert, but here is what I think might happen:

    (i)The PB would notify Executive Council that in the opinion of the Chancellor the required assent to the Constitution and Canons had been removed from the Diocesan Constitution and Canons.

    (ii)Acting as the General Convention agent, the Executive Council would then vote to notify the diocese that failure to reaffirm assent would mean that the Diocese fails to test of inclusion in the Union which is the General Convention of the Episcopal Church.

    (iii) The Presiding Bishop would determine whether the Bishop of the diocese in question continued in his or her oath to conform to the Doctrine, Discipline and Worship of the Episcopal Church. If so, that bishop would remain part of the House of Bishops. If not, that bishop would be removed from active membership in the House.

    (iv) assuming that the diocese did not reaffirm assent, the Presiding Bishop could bring a motion declairing the area in which the diocese was working open to the establishment of a new missionary diocese with a bishop initially appointed or elected by the House of Bishops.

    OK...what do I know? But something like that.

    The point is the Presiding Bishop would bring the matter of assent to the General Convention / Executive Council for decision, with recommendations, and would bring the matter of the bishop's oath to the House of Bishops for decision as to that persons continued membership in the House of Bishops.

    The PB has a lot of power in this thing, not the power of personal authority, but the power of presiding over the processes in the bodies that tod have this authority.

    In the end it will require the actions of General Convention / Executive Council AND the House of Bishops to enforce the basis of union in the General Convention / Episcopal Church and to hold bishops to their oaths of conformity.

    Again...I think something like this is how it might play out, but don't know.

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  4. I would suggest that dioceses which predated the "unqualified assent" provisions were exactly the dioceses who expected unqualified assent from all the others. Without specific language allowing an exception for preexisting dioceses, the only reasonable interpretation is that the dioceses agreed to submit themselves to the unqualified asset provisions.

    Similarly with the question of parishes which precede the formation of their diocese. They required assent to the constitutions and canons to parishes which wished to affiliate and so they must be regarded as assuming consent themselves.

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  5. Bill Carroll31/10/06 1:48 PM

    A bishop should rule any such amendment to diocesan constitution and canons out of order on the grounds that it is inconsistent with the Constitution and Canons of the Episocpal Church to which the diocese has already offered unqualified accesssion. National canons always trump diocesan canons, which always trump parish bylaws. That's how it works, people.

    Lambeth is not a synod, because it passes no canons. It only passes nonbinding resolutions.

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  6. obadiahslope31/10/06 3:39 PM

    Yes, non-binding in law.
    But bound by bonds of affection, perhaps? Who knows?

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  7. Mark,

    Thanks again for this, and your responses to the obvious questions: how?

    I hope this is a sign that ++KJS will, as many have suspected she might, bring greater clarity to where the boundaries of our union as a branch of the Church are. And that there are tangible consequences for stepping outside of them.

    Bill, thanks for cutting to the chase. Oaths of ordination seem to be really badly strained in some quarters, says my English side. My American side says, hell, they've been broken for a long time.

    Thank you all for watchful eyes.

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  8. It does seem to me that to act regarding a bishop the PB would still need to take this to the Review Committee of the House. Alternately, three other bishops (presumably with jurisdiction) could do so. I think that would make more sense, and be easier as a first step.

    I've written (here? elsewhere?) that perhaps the Review Committee did not act regarding San Joaquin because, although the changes had been made to diocesan constitution and canons, the bishop's behavior had not (yet) changed; and a charge of violation of ordination vows would be better served by a specific overt action.

    I do agree that the PB is not powerless as leader of the structures of governance. I think it is through those structures, as cumbersome as that may come to seem, that we will be best served.

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  9. "Alternately, three other bishops (presumably with jurisdiction) could do so. I think that would make more sense, and be easier as a first step."

    Lest we forget, +KJS will still be when she becomes PB, a bishop with jurisdiction. She will be ordinary for Europe. If she signs onto a presentment with that as the basis, +San Deigo is gone.

    FWIW
    jimB

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  10. Bill Carroll1/11/06 8:54 AM

    I assume you mean San Joaquin! Not much chance of anyone going after San Diego.

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  11. Widening Gyre1/11/06 10:00 AM

    I must have failed the word verification last time because I had a post from yesterday thanking Mark for his response that never got posted.

    Mark, could you add to your comment that actual language from the diocese that gives rise to your concern. That would be helpful for folks to see, in my opinion. Thanks.

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  12. Apparently the offensive statement from Forth Worth is as follows:

    The Church in this Diocese accedes to the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church, and recognizes the authority of the General Convention of said Church provided that no action of General Convention which is contrary to Holy Scripture and the Apostolic Teaching of the Church shall be of any force or effect in this Diocese.

    So there you have it. Fort Worth accedes to the Episcopal Church but maintains a higher loyalty to Holy Scripture and Apostolic Teaching. Shocking! How dare they?

    You know, if Beers really wants to pursue this, I don't think he'll get very fair. I don't imagine many bishops will really be eager to assert accession to the Episcopal Church canons above loyalty to scripture and apostolic teaching. I realize that the words of the canon do say "unqualified accession," but General Convention has not yet seen it fit to declare itself God, and is not likely to do so until at least 2012. It is very doubtful those words were meant in the kind of absolute sense suggested in this discussion -- placing itself above even holy scripture and apostolic teaching.

    I suppose the Episcopal Church can challenge this first loyalty to scripture and apostolic teaching, and hope they gain enough bishops and deputies to see things their way. But I really doubt it; bishops are not generally stupid, and would at least realize the incredible fallout of such an action, as people realize they must choose between scripture and apostolic teaching on the one hand, and the Episcopal Church on the other. I'm afraid that the Episcopal Church still has too many bishops with good sense, who will say, "We would never ask you to go against holy scripture and apostolic teaching, and we find no problem with this canon." Otherwise, the winners of the outcome would likely be CANA, AMIA, and that pirate bishop from Bolivia you all admire so well.

    My sympathies for all voices crying out, "Yes, yes! Punish them! Punish them!" But you're going to need a much better basis for doing so than this. The Episcopal Church is not God, and it is not Stalinist Russia. It cannot command absolute fealty. Nor would it find this desirable.

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  13. I am only one unimportant person of course in this wider ongoing drama, but these repeats of the newly conserved exclusive claims to a special reading of scripture, often buttressed even further by exclusive claims to apostolic authority, are giving off the hollowest clangy ringing noise.

    Our TEC heritage is that apostolic authority is institutionally shared across all of the church orders, bishop, priest, deacon, and lay people - via a current TEC reliance on our institutionalized/liturgized theology of believer baptism. The contrasts here are between Episcopal/Anglican churches which still occupy royalty frames (Divine Rights of Monarchs) vs churches which occupy democracy frames vs. churches which might occupy mixes of the two. Surely the newly conserved are intentionally and by habit, fatally, confusing Divine Monarchy claims (now made for Primates, or for Network bishops, or for somebody else like Canterbury or whomever) with the worship/witness and institutional processes through which a people of baptized believers calls all orders of vocational/ordained and other leadership from within its common life and relationships.

    Bishop Duncan cannot exercise apostolic authority apart from the rest of us - all of us who are baptized in TEC - who are also following Jesus, and claims to the exclusive contrary are willful dissimulation. If not outright, false dis-information, probably clever enough to be worthy of the younger Karl Rove in his Young Republican era. Ditto, for the new conserved claims about how narrowly or negatively to read the six or seven clobber passages of scripture concerning the queer folks (and now, of course, concerning their friends or families, too).

    The point is the entirely tainted claims of Network bishops/diocesan institutional authorities that they alone have complete and sole possession, in probably something like the purest manner supposedly possible, of scriptural or apostlic authority.

    Read: Institutional power that trumps all other TEC institutional power, because according to its special claims, it possesses a sole purity and power to follow Jesus that somehow is denied to GC or Executive Council or House of Bishops or the sitting baptized person in the local pew.

    Too silly to be believed upon any careful scrutiny, however tingly its quick effects as a new conserved sound bite.

    KJS will continue to move forward, because she has the latent institutional support she will need as Presiding Bishop, and because she is operating within the doctrine, discipline, witness, and worship of TEC - that church provincial whom WE the baptized are.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I am only one unimportant person of course in this wider ongoing drama, but these repeats of the newly conserved exclusive claims to a special reading of scripture, often buttressed even further by exclusive claims to apostolic authority, are giving off the hollowest clangy ringing noise.

    Our TEC heritage is that apostolic authority is institutionally shared across all of the church orders, bishop, priest, deacon, and lay people - via a current TEC reliance on our institutionalized/liturgized theology of believer baptism. The contrasts here are between Episcopal/Anglican churches which still occupy royalty frames (Divine Rights of Monarchs) vs churches which occupy democracy frames vs. churches which might occupy mixes of the two. Surely the newly conserved are intentionally and by habit, fatally, confusing Divine Monarchy claims (now made for Primates, or for Network bishops, or for somebody else like Canterbury or whomever) with the worship/witness and institutional processes through which a people of baptized believers calls all orders of vocational/ordained and other leadership from within its common life and relationships.

    Bishop Duncan cannot exercise apostolic authority apart from the rest of us - all of us who are baptized in TEC - who are also following Jesus, and claims to the exclusive contrary are willful dissimulation. If not outright, false dis-information, probably clever enough to be worthy of the younger Karl Rove in his Young Republican era. Ditto, for the new conserved claims about how narrowly or negatively to read the six or seven clobber passages of scripture concerning the queer folks (and now, of course, concerning their friends or families, too).

    The point is the entirely tainted claims of Network bishops/diocesan institutional authorities that they alone have complete and sole possession, in probably something like the purest manner supposedly possible, of scriptural or apostlic authority.

    Read: Institutional power that trumps all other TEC institutional power, because according to its special claims, it possesses a sole purity and power to follow Jesus that somehow is denied to GC or Executive Council or House of Bishops or the sitting baptized person in the local pew.

    Too silly to be believed upon any careful scrutiny, however tingly its quick effects as a new conserved sound bite.

    KJS will continue to move forward, because she has the latent institutional support she will need as Presiding Bishop, and because she is operating within the doctrine, discipline, witness, and worship of TEC - that church provincial whom WE the baptized are.

    ReplyDelete

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