Bishop Stanton of Dallas has written an article, "Diocese and Covenant: Reflections on Dallas, its History and Future that has gotten a fair bit of play in the past few days.
In this paper Bishop Stanton argues that the Diocese of Dallas has a right to sign on to the Anglican Covenant as a diocese. He states, "We possess ... not only the authority to consider and respond to the proposed Anglican Covenant, but the moral and spiritual imperative to do so. For this covenant concerns us, individually and corporately, and it concerns our future."
The Bishop is right. The Diocese can pass a resolution supporting and signing on to the Anglican Covenant. For some of us that has never been the problem. The question is should the diocese do so prior to and independent of the general Church wide discussion of the merits of the Covenant. The reason to do so is to affirm and maintain a connection to Canterbury and / or to other Provinces quite independently of what might happen at General Convention. The reason not to do so is that marshaling dioceses to sign on now, if successful, can be a way to make any discussion in General Convention moot, and further the direct relationship between dioceses and the Communion completely subverting the national and regional church structures in the process. If the Communion is about dioceses in covenant, then the future of the communion will no longer involve national or regional churches at all. Instead of it being a fellowship of churches, it will be a covenanted world wide church directly made up of dioceses. So the bishop or diocese can, but perhaps should not, sign on as a diocese. It appears Dallas has opted for signing. There it is.
His argument for the diocesan right to sign-on is irrelevant to the realities of the case. He argues that “Every Diocese is an independent and sovereign state,” using the words of Bishop Alexander Charles Garrett in 1895. Later in his argument Bishop Stanton says, "We have a goodly heritage that is at one and the same time Anglican, Episcopalian, and Texan." No mention of American, at least not as a federation of states. He is arguing that TEC is a confederation of dioceses.
The hokum of "sovereign states" as applied to states was proven by the results of the Civil War to have no final warrant. Dioceses, which were first identified with the states of the new union when it was a confederation, may have many of the characteristics of sovereign states but they do not have one. Every diocese part of The Episcopal Church must accede to the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church.
The Bishop so stated saying, "The Constitution of the Episcopal Church requires that an “unqualified accession” be made by the new Diocese," and giving the reference in the Constitution of TEC. So the Bishop readily admits that the so called sovereignty of the diocese is limited by the accession clause.
His argument is that "We are not, as I have said in many places over the last few years, merely the local franchise of a great American Corporation. That was not how our forebears thought of themselves. It is not how we should think of ourselves here, today, either." So he strikes for strongly stated diocesan autonomy. Good for him.
To be honest, the matter of a diocese signing on to the Covenant is not at issue, for there is no canon or even legislation requiring restraint from doing so. There is D020 that proposes that The Episcopal Church as a whole church is to engage in the thoughtful study of the Anglican Covenant and prepare to discuss and act regarding it at the next Convention. On the one hand we perhaps could see the work in Dallas as part of that discussion. It fails to be a discussion of any depth because it short-circuits the discussion process and reaches a conclusion too soon, and so long as it is the work of a mostly autonomous diocese, unconnected to a wider conversation, both Dallas and the rest of the church miss out.
The matter at stake is this: If the Bishop's argument for almost total autonomy holds then the thread that binds the diocese to the Constitution and Canons is very fine indeed and the bishops vows to uphold the CandC are equally weakened. Further, the argument exists primarily to undercut the authority of the canon related to property held in trust. That is what this is about in a larger level now as in the past. The proposal that authority in the church is vested in autonomous dioceses is part of the more general argument that this is not a hierarchical church in the way assumed by the canons.
The bishop has produced a paper that purports to deal with one issue - the right of the diocese to sign off on the covenant. What it supports, however, is another matter: the right of a diocese to autonomy apart from its existence within The Episcopal Church and its canonical limitations.
This paper is a master of distraction - it points us towards one matter that does not require the argument for autonomy given so that when the conclusion is allowed as possible (voting to approve the Covenant) the argument will pass through as acceptable. It does so in order to promote another argument - that TEC has no right to keep a diocese from leaving with the buildings, endowments, etc, since the diocese is essentially autonomous.
The bishop barks up the wrong tree so that we won't notice the bite.