1/27/2008

San Joaquin Standing Committee told by everybody to stand down.

Well, it gets pretty deep and the muck is up to the axles out there in the rarefied world of canons, constitutions and revolution.

Bishop Schofield fired the Standing Committee in San Joaquin. He made it clear:

“In welcoming you to the Province of the Southern Cone on December 8th it is my clear understanding that even though you are allowing a period of discernment for those clergy who are still undecided, it would be highly inappropriate for any officer or leader within the Diocese of San Joaquin to be currently undecided or clearly within the Episcopal Church and continue as an officer or leader. The requirement governing each diocese of the Southern Cone is that all members of Diocesan Council, Standing Committee, and those selected as representatives at Synod be recognized Members of this Province.”

The members of the Standing Committee were elected and seated prior to the convention’s overwhelming vote to accept the invitation of the Province of the Southern Cone. At the moment of ratification, qualification for service on Standing Committee, as well as elected and appointed diocesan leadership positions changed. Therefore, certain members of that Standing Committee who do not meet the above qualifications, by their own conscience, understood that they were not qualified to remain in those positions unless and until they can accept fully their membership in the Province of the Southern Cone. ... Communication and correspondence related to the Standing Committee should now be directed to the new President of the Standing Committee, Mr. Ted Yumoto, at the Diocesan Offices."

According to Dan Martins, this constituted the basis for the Saturday Morning Massacre in which six or perhaps seven of the Standing Committee members were relieved of their positions in Bishop Schofield's Standing Committee. That means that six or seven of the eight members of the Standing Committee had not met the requirement that they were fully members in the Province of the Southern Cone (PSC). It is unclear just how they could signify their acceptance of membership in the PSC, but by whatever measure Bishops Schofield and Venables might use, they failed. So they were canned.

Mr. Ted Yumoto seems to have passed muster, which means that he indeed has pledged his loyalty in some sufficient way to the PSC and has left the Episcopal Church. As President of a Standing Committee of another Province, he relinquishes his right to be Province VIII representative on Executive Council.

But what about the rest? All four of the clergy members of Standing Committee and at least two lay persons did not past muster. Does that mean they wish to remain members of the Episcopal Church, or does it mean they are simply undecided?

Perhaps it is a more calculated effort. If they were to remain in limbo they might still claim to constitute a Standing Committee in the Episcopal Church, still be supportive of the Bishop and continue the effort from within to leave the Episcopal Church and join the PSC. That way they might make decisions as the Standing Committee in the absence of the Bishop that would support the diocesan convention decisions.

Who knows? But then things got more complicated:

On Saturday afternoon a letter from the Presiding Bishop to all eight members of the Standing Committee of San Joaquin was released. Sent to them on Friday, January 25th, she wrote in part

"I am writing to you because I have been informed that you constituted the StandingCommittee of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin prior to and/or during the mostrecent Convention of the Diocese in December 2007. It has come to my attention that inthe past several months you have taken actions in support of an attempt to take theEpiscopal Diocese of San Joaquin out of the Episcopal Church and into affiliation withthe Province of the Southern Cone. I understand that these have included voting to amend the Diocese's Constitution and canons and attempting to organize as the Standing Committee of an entity that identifies itself as an Anglican Diocese of the Province of the Southern Cone. These actions directly conflict with the Constitution and canons of the Episcopal Church. Canon I.17.8 of the Episcopal Church provides that "[a]ny person accepting any office in this Church shall well and faithfully perform the duties of that office in accordance with the Constitution and Canons of this Church and of the Diocese in which the office is being exercised." In the light of your recent actions, I find that you have been and are unable to well and faithfully fulfill your duties as members of the Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin under Canon I.17.8. Accordingly, with this letter I inform you that I do not recognize you as the Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin." The Presiding Bishop notes as reason for denying recognition (i) the Standing Committee's support for the effort to amend the Diocesan Constitution contrary to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church, (ii) the actual voting to do so and (iii) the effort to organize as the Standing Committee of a new body, namely the Anglican diocese within the PSC.

There is little doubt that the Standing Committee as a whole supported the process that led to the Diocesan Convention vote on December 8th.

I have no idea how each member of the Standing Committee voted on the amendment and have seen no reports that would specify that all eight voted in the affirmative. The ENS article on the matter says, "Jefferts Schori, in a letter delivered January 26 to the committee's eight members, cited their unanimous vote to disaffiliate with The Episcopal Church (TEC)." The letter does not state that they unanimously voted to do so, but it may be that other information shows that to be the case.

The third point: that they attempted "
to organize as the Standing Committee of an entity that identifies itself as an Anglican Diocese of the Province of the Southern Cone," is unclear. What seems to be the case is that six of the eight of them were prevented from so organizing because they lacked sufficient credentials.

Still, on the grounds that the sacking of the San Joaquin six might have been misreported and because they had not stood in opposition to the attempt to change the Constitution contrary to the requirements of the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church, and because they were willing to serve (had they been asked) on this new committee, I believe the requirements of Canon 1.17.8 mean that there is sufficient reason to believe that the Standing Committee - all of them - cannot serve responsibly.

All of this does produce an oddity: Bishop Schofield has dismissed the Standing Committee members (or a majority of them) because they are not loyal to the supposed new order. The Presiding Bishop refuses to recognize them because they worked to bring this new order about. The end result is that they are damned if the do, damned if they don't.

In the secular order the issue here is treason. To act or support actions that attempt to overthrow the government of a country by suspending or denying the applicability of the constitution of that government constitutes one form of treason. Every revolution in its efforts faces the possibility that its supporters are not sufficiently loyal to the cause and every government by necessity must counter that by clarity of loyalty to the constitution of the government in place. So those who cannot with clarity state their loyalties are found wanting by both sides.

In the ordering of the Church the issues are not about treason, but about fidelity. Every officer of the Church is pledged to responsible action within the context of the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church and the Diocese where they reside. If there is a difference between the two the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church take precedence. The Standing Committee of San Joaquin was misinformed when it was told that its previous change in canon was valid, which change claimed that the canons of the diocese took precedence. That is why Executive Council reminded everyone that such resolutions had no merit.

The members of the Standing Committee are by all reports trying to work out their loyalty and fidelity as committed Christians. Whatever else is done we would do well to continue to hold them in our prayers, keep the doors open and the lights on.

That they supported, without objection, the effort to disassociate with the Episcopal Church and assumed they would be the Standing Committee in its new form is of the essence of the matter. It seems certain that had Bishop Schofield continued with them as his Standing Committee they would have accepted. That he did not is mostly irrelevant.

I believe the Presiding Bishop did the required and right thing. I would wager that she did so wishing it weren't necessary.

My sense is that how the Standing Committee members voted on December 8th is an unnecessary and dangerous side trip. I believe we need to let people's votes stand as individual, not as members of committees, etc. The right to vote this or that way on any issue seems to me to be absolute. Accountability for voting contrary to the wishes of a community can lead to not getting elected next time, etc. There is no hiding place. But that's another matter.

Why did Bishop Schofield sack the San Joaquin six (or seven) ? Well, there is an old saw concerning revolution (I know, I know, this is not exactly like secular revolution). The first thing the new government following revolution must do is kill off the revolutionaries. Having principled persons around is good, provided their principles are those of the new rulers. Bishop Schofield and Bishop Venables are not interested in having people who are actually free thinkers. Those were good to have around while mounting the effort to leave. They are not so good to have around afterwords. After all, they are troublemakers.

My hope is that Standing Committee members who have been dismissed first by Bishop Schofield and then not recognized by the Presiding Bishop will understand the difference. Bishop Schofild does not trust them. The Presiding Bishop recognizes that they were prepared to be Bishop Schofield 's Standing Committee and have never indicated that they would not. That calls into question their ability to fulfill their duties under the Canons.

The difference is important and my sense is there will be a real effort to include any of these persons in the life of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin when they sort out their affiliation, as to whether or not they continue as part of the Episcopal Church. I hope they will find themselves continuing in the Episcopal Church, where freedom and service are not seen as incompatible.

When the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin meets in Convention next my hope is that we will see an election of a new Standing Committee and that some of the current members, having remained part of the Episcopal Diocese in one of the congregations, might find their names on the ballot and indeed find themselves elected.

Let us hope for better times and greater clarity, not to mention abundant charity.

5 comments:

  1. Excellent work! Now any of them having second thoughts will be sure to shake the dust from their sandals and say goodbye to 815.

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  2. Father Mark,

    Yes, I agree with you. These individuals should be welcomed back into the diocese, if welcomed back they indeed wish to be, with open arms in the spirit of Christian reconciliation.

    But even I would find it hard to give them back the potential power to do again what they so very nearly succeeded in doing--destroying this diocese.

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  3. Mark-

    I want to underscore that Bishop Katharine said in her letter that any and all of those who chose to leave are welcome to return to TEC if they do what all of us will do and reaffirm their vows to follow the constitution and canons of the church. Whereas it has been the bishop's policy to forever cut off those who oppose him, the PB has a very different approach.

    I agree with you for the most part that one shouldn't be judged on individual votes, even dumb ones. But I think this was a different case. This wasn't just a vote. First of all, it was the second such vote. Everyone had had a full year to consider the situation. Secondly, it was a vote to leave the church. That's different than voting on this budget item or that new mission effort. There's no canonical standard to decide which votes are the really important ones, but it seems to me that a vote about staying or leaving is a singularly decisive one. And yet, Katharine has left the door wide open for anyone to return. Perhaps not to the standing committee, but certainly to fellowship. I agree with your nuanced understanding of the other reasons for dismissing S.C., but I think the vote itself matters, too.

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  4. I'm wondering if the decision to "fire" the standing committee was not to punish them, but to protect them from frivolous lawsuits. You can't sue them if you don't know exactly what they did - and it seems obvious to me that Katharine has no idea and is stamping her foot and demanding that they give her a written response that she could cut and paste onto a lawsuit.
    My guess if this is true then there will be no answer and she will be ignored.

    Why does Kathy have an obsession with money? A church is made of souls, not brick and mortar and gold. Why does it matter so much when you need to truck in people from hundreds of miles away in order to fill a single chapel?

    Just wondering.

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  5. The standing committee of San Joaquin has finally spoken, with much arrogance, not so much charity.

    http://sanjoaquin.wordpress.com/

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