1/21/2008

Bishops behaving Madly.

This past week several bishops have acted and spoken in ways make us think that they are not simply behaving badly but are really behaving madly. Observe:

(i) The deposed bishop of Harare, Bishop Norbert Kunonga flat out went berserk in several church contexts. (See HERE and HERE) This man is crazy, yes, but also dangerous. People he doesn't like are whisked off stage.

(ii) Bishop Ackerman of the Diocese of Quincy and Forward in Faith is at the very least confused. He may be more. Given that this Church has ordained women for over thirty years and he has been bishop only since 1994, by which time the church had ordained women to the priesthood for almost 20 years and to the episcopate for eight years, it would seem he has lived in a limbo of unrealized hopes and fears. That cannot have been good for his mental health. Well, it shows.

Bishop Ackerman has just written a defense of Bishop Schofield of San Joaquin that bears witness to his confused state of mind. He writes,

"We note with great sadness the retaliatory canonical actions of certain members of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, a Province of the Anglican Communion, against a Bishop of another Province of the Anglican Communion, the Right Reverend John David Schofield, Bishop of San Joaquin. We applaud, Bishop Schofield's Primate, (since December 8, 2007) the Most Reverend Gregory Venables, for coming to the defense of one of his bishops.

We further must call into question the use of the particular Canon pertaining to the abandonment of the Communion inasmuch as the American Province is not a Communion. That particular designation is reserved for the worldwide expression of Anglicanism. In an age when Christianity must be increasingly serious in its endeavors to proclaim the received Gospel of Jesus Christ and to take seriously the Great Commission to "go and make disciples of all nations," by baptizing, teaching, and obeying all that our Savior has commanded, we are distressed by litigious behavior that inhibits mission ministry.

Forward in Faith North America has endeavored to provide a safe place for orthodox Christians, and has sought a variety of measures, such as Alternative Primatial Oversight, as a means of preserving the "Faith once delivered to the saints."

We commend Bishop Schofield, as one of the founding members of Forward in Faith North America."

There are several oddities about this message from Bishop Ackerman, but I have underlined the two that most clearly suggest a confused mind.

There has been sufficient blog time on the first of his confused comments. He contends, as does Bishop Schofield apparently, that inhibition and possible deposition are not applicable to Bishop Schofield since he has left the building. Well, it turns out that is malarkey. The Episcopal Church has inhibited him and probably will depose him. That may not make much difference to Bishop Schofield personally; having found a new home elsewhere, but it makes a difference to the Episcopal Church. Deposition will in fact affirm what Bishop Schofield already believes, that he has abandoned this Church. And then of course the argument can take its natural course: he has left the building, he must leave the keys.

The second of his confused statements is about that phrase, "abandonment of the communion of this Church." This phrase has been of some interest since it is not one often used. But its meaning is clear. It means the bishop has not been able to share bread and wine in union with the other bishops whose dioceses form the Episcopal Church. His statement is just silly, a smokescreen, or a sign of a confused mind – any or all of the three.

(iii) Then there is Bishop Anderson, President of the American Anglican Council, who in his recent weekly newsletter said this:

"Consider a situation where a person is mistreated in a company, and he announces that he has resigned and accepted a position with another company. The first company president jumps up and says, "You can't resign, I fire you!" But in TEC's case they don't want to "fire" or "sack" Bishop Schofield from TEC, they want to handcuff him to TEC so they can depose him and return him to being a lay person. TEC's problem is they can inhibit Schofield's shadow and that is about it - they have lost jurisdiction. Still they continue with their mantra that lay people can leave, but parishes and dioceses can not leave, and clergy can only do what TEC says they can do... but John-David Schofield has left and has been welcomed into the Southern Cone by the Primate, Gregory Venables. What part of "no jurisdiction" does Jefferts Schori not understand?

In her inner councils she was laying the fire not only for John-David, but also for Robert William Duncan, bishop of Pittsburgh. Her intention seemed to be to make a Ridley and a Latimer of them."

Bishop Anderson, now of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) is hoisting the flag of martyrdom, something we were sure was in the making. I have remarked on several occasions on the emerging martyr complex of Bishop Duncan. Some time ago there was a terrible video produced urging fence sitting bishops in the Episcopal Church to do the right thing, even if it involved martyrdom. Well, here it is again…the Presiding Bishop is set on burning Schofield and Duncan at the stake – making martyrs out of them.

Susan Russell, Integrity President and blogger of "Inch at a time," posted an essay on Anderson's confused rant. She gives him the drama queen award, a tasteful award to be sure, since the alternative is to suggest that Bishop Anderson is not being dramatic, but deranged. Susan pegs it either way: Bishops Schofield and Duncan are not martyrs they are perpetrators.

(iv) And finally, we return to Bishop John David Schofield, who is reported by Dan Martin, to have sacked five or six of his eight person Standing Committee. Dan who writes Confessions of a Carioca, one of the best conservative leaning blogs around, has written a careful description of the matter HERE and HERE. The reader really must read both blog reports to get the depth of Dan's care and concern for friends and church both.

Whether or not Bishop Schofield was doing what he felt necessary, given the peculiar circumstances in which he finds himself, the effect is crazy making. Either Bishop Schofield left with a diocesan governance group or not. If he and the Standing Committee both left he could at least make some claim (invalid I suspect) that the ecclesiastical capacities of the diocese were being carried out with agreement between the Bishop and Standing Committee – that they were a whole. Given what happened the inhibition of the bishop means that he cannot dismiss the Standing Committee and that they are in effect (given his claim to have left) the ecclesiastical authority in the Diocese.

All of this will take a bit of sorting out. It may mean that the continuing diocese has in place a Standing Committee able to function as the ecclesiastical authority, one that may indeed be conservative and opposed to much of what the Episcopal Church is about these days, but none the less a real part of the life of the Episcopal Church. My hope is that these members of the Standing Committee will be recognized as legitimate and continuing members of the Episcopal Church able to act on behalf of the diocese as their canons dictate. Fr. Martin said it best,

"… by any reasonable reckoning, these four priests and two lay persons (who, incidentally, are members of two of the large parishes represented by the priests) are still the members of the Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin. It is tempting to say that there are now two lay vacancies on that committee, but I have to think about the due process angle a little more. In any case, if 815 wants to know who they should be talking to--that is, the Ecclesiastical Authority of the diocese, given the inhibition (to say nothing of the voluntary departure) of the Bishop--there is now no doubt."

Bishop Schofield states that he had received the resignation of the five or six members of the Standing Committee. The members in question did not resign. Rather they were dismissed. When the bishop is unable or unwilling to admit to the reality of what he has done, it raises the prospect that he has imagined that indeed they did resign and were not dismissed. That confusion is not to be taken lightly. It is part of an odd fantasy land in which whatever one thinks is simply true because one has said it; it is certainly not an adequate dealing with reality.

The core group of folk related to the Network effort called the Common Cause Partnership includes Duncan, Ackerman and Anderson. Each in their way is given to making it up as they go along. They are martyrs or alternately beyond the reach of those who would punish them; they are the clear witnesses to the "faith once delivered to the saints" but strangely do not seem able to understand what communion (not capitalized) means, or for that matter what abandonment means. And they are joined in the current struggle by Bishop Schofield who seems to have lost his sense of balance.

All of this does not bode well. These bishops may not be mad, but they are behaving madly. These are disturbing times when even the best or worse (depending on how you look at it) can get unglued. At the very least we ought to pray for these men. And, as it must be in these times in Anglican Land, we must be watchful. We don't need madness.

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