Bishop Stanton barks up the wrong tree so that we won't notice the bite.

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.


  1. Been watching the miniseries drama John
    Adams recently. These arguments sound eerily familiar!

    Goes to show the present unpleasantness has a distinctly American flavor, and hits some deep buttons in our cultural psyche, but I wonder if Bishop Stanton has been following the court decisions as of late...

    The Federalists did have some influence after all, and the Union was reestablished at the conclusion of the Civil War.

    What does seem in vogue these data both politically and ecclesiastically is to claim either diocesan (or state) autonomy or federalism, depending on which best suits our agendas.

    An American luxury? You betcha'!

  2. To take Ricard's post a bit further ... What is one person's "barking up the wrong tree" might be someone else's "emergence of the hidden wisdom of God's people" as suggested by Bishop Shelby in an article approved by both Richard and Mark.

  3. If one reads the depositon provided by Fr. Mullins there is no structure save the national church. We are not even close to the political structure that so many schismatics think. There is no way to diocese to sign on (with a striaghht face) because the real power rests with General Convention, the Constitution, the Canons and the Prayer book. Amen.

    OT: We need to engage as many perosns as possible to write to Bishop Mark Lawrence to permit the St. Mark's Chapel to become a mission in the Episcopal Church. See Off Topic and Real Anglicans for more.

    Thanks, Mark.

  4. The arguments here both for an against are familar in many human organizations, even in large international corporations. What is the appropriate balance between centralized authority and de-centralized authority? Central authority places the power in the hands of a few (yes even in General Convention from a practical point of view), but provides structure and recognized authority. Decentralized moves power back to the local groups, but encourages chaos and disintegration.

    During my time in IBM (35 years) we moved between the two extremes based on our current busines needs. Sometimes a more centralized approach was required (early 1960's as computers became the mainstream of our business), then at other times a de-centralized one (e.g. The PC was developed by an independant business unit which was given the freedom of bypassing many of the corporate regulations)

    What is going on today in the Episcopal Church is a general unhappiness with the centralized power strutures as evident by actions at the local level. It refelcts a feeling of helplessness at being heard at the national level.It even goes down to the parish levels, with some congregations remaining in the Episcopal Church, but having minimal connection with deanery events or diocesan connections. For all intents and purposes some have become congregationalists.

    The solution? Understanding and a loving reaction by the centralized power structure rather than litigation. Resorting to legalities(by either side)is admission of the loss of our connectedness with each other. Also voting to leave (as in the case of Ft. Worth, etc)is also an admission of loss of connectedness. The apostle Paul warned us heavily about that. If we truly believe that we all make up the Body of Christ then in the end only agape love can bring us back together, not the courts.

    Deacon Gary,
    Diocese of Southwest Florida

  5. Mark,

    I think you properly identify what Bishop Staton is about, but you simplify the argument somewhat. Stanton admits that only provinces (i.e., Anglican churches of the Communion) can adopt or reject the covenant, but he argues that dioceses and the General Convention have overlapping jurisdiction, so that either can vote on ratification. (He is interested in more than his diocese just passing a resolution that the covenant is a good thing.) Stanton’s message was part of a three-pronged attack on TEC by the Anglican Communion Institute. See my post “Dallas: A Diocese to Watch.

  6. Deacon Gary's comments would be an eloquent and timely appeal if, in fact, there were "a general unhappiness with the centralized power structures as evident by actions at the local level". In fact, any unhappiness which exists is confined to a very few dioceses which which have a particular axe to grind. The rest of us find the national church to be an almost irrelevant abstraction which rarely intrudes on our parish centered lives.

    If there is any urgent need for decentralization, it is within the diocese. We have seen the damage done by bishops who rule their diocese with an iron fist. We need to commit ourselves to allowing diversity within each diocese so that conservatives can thrive within liberal dioceses an liberals within conservative dioceses. Otherwise, large communities of the faithful will remain underserved, with St. Mark's Chapel in South Carolina as only one of many examples.

  7. If this intended diocesan assent to the Covenant is anything more than a "sense of the diocesan convention" resolution, then it would be tantamount to allowing all 50 states to make their own foreign policy and trade agreements.
    We are back on the ecclesiastical level to the argument that dominated the first half of the 19th century in the United States. Are people citizens of their states, or of the nation, first? The issue at hand then was slavery. That argument was settled in the Civil War and with the 14th Amendment.

    With the Episcopal Church it is church property and gays (in that order). The argument is over whether the Episcopal Church is a federation or a confederation of dioceses. Those who would like to see a confederation should be careful what they wish for. The independence of their dioceses could disappear into a vast international church with a curia of foreign bishops transforming diocesan conventions from legislatures to debating societies.

  8. A classic test for any argument is to extend it to its logical extreme. +Stanton argues the diocese is independent from the national church body. Taken to its extreme, parishes are independent of the diocese, therefore, following the line of this argument, priests are independent from a bishop.

    But this has not been our tradition or practice. Further, the argument (perhaps made in deed if not in word) is that bishops spring from ________ (I dare not fill in this blank) with authority over a diocese based on ______ (I won’t fill in this blank either). Perhaps the priests are serfs to the parish, or the members serfs to the parish, or the parish to the diocese.

    How can there be a bishop with authority over a priest who is independent from and owes no obedience to the bishop? That would (with respect to my Baptist friends) make us Baptists. Affiliation would be by choice, and apparently, choice alone, but only for as long as that choice is preferred. If a bishop can change his (it really is just his on this matter) mind regarding oaths made at ordination, surely parishes can change their mind regarding affiliation.

    Again, that is not our tradition, at least not as I understand it.

    Whether we like it or not, disputes concerning property are disputes over our fundamental polity, and probably worth fighting for.

    Fr. Jake is entertaining a thoughtful discussion of our ordained ministry and their role and how those roles are both binding and liberating. The traditional roles are also changing. As Christians this should be an easy contradiction to embrace. Or, perhaps not.

    Counterlight is quite correct. Consider the consequences and not merely the conveniences of a decision, or a line of argument.

  9. The Diocese of Dallas convention did not “…engage in the thoughtful study of the Anglican Covenant”. There were no speakers in opposition to the covenant. None. Three speakers in favor of the covenant addressed the convention, and hard copies of the speeches were given to each delegate.

    As an example of these one-sided presentations, one of the speakers (attorney Mark McCall) said the Archbishop of Canterbury “…suggested that dioceses go ahead and endorse the covenant”. Look at what he left out from the Archbishop’s words (excerpted from the Living Church):

    "In a Sept. 28 letter to the Rt. Rev. John W. Howe, Bishop of Central Florida, Archbishop Williams called endorsement from the diocesan bodies a step in the right direction. As a matter of constitutional fact, the [Anglican Consultative Council] can only offer the covenant for adoption to its own constituent bodies (the provinces), the archbishop noted. But I see no objection to a diocese resolving less formally on an endorsement of the covenant."

    He left out the small part about only provinces adopting the covenant. Other than that Mrs. Lincoln how did you like the play.

    I was both ashamed and embarrassed to witness this spectacle. The faithful Episcopalians in Fort Worth, Quincy, San Joaquin, and Pittsburgh are at least free of this disease. The cancer in the Diocese of Dallas remains, slowly killing the body.

  10. Dallas Bob... I corrected the paragraph in which the diocesan convention was mentioned. Now it reads in greater agreement with your note. My primary point in the blog is to say that the article argues on the surface for one thing, but under the surface for another.

  11. Father Mark,

    I was in no way being critical of you with my comments about thoughtful discussion of the covenant. You reported exactly what General Convention asked us to do, and I legitimized my own participation in this convention by telling myself I was following the edicts of General Convention. After attending, it is my opinion that the proceedings were more political rally and less objective, thoughtful discussion.

    I thank you for reporting on these developments. I fear we in the few remaining rogue dioceses are being all but forgotten.

    Thanks again for exposing this radical conservative strategy for what it is - an attempt to usurp authority which the diocese doesn't possess.

  12. "If one reads the depositon provided by Fr. Mullins there is no structure save the national church"
    He is not a priest.

  13. Dear Mr Diemol--At issue is not, as your loose account of affairs has it, whether ACI is negative or positive toward the present TEC leadership. At issue is whether the TEC so many of us were ordained to serve in, or have worshipped in for generations, is any longer available for our service. You do not register this point but appear to presuppose (in a self-evident and haughty way) that the TEC you represent is indeed the TEC of the Anglican Communion ACI seeks to defend. The idea that we are negative toward TEC is therefore nonsense and should be better stated: we are critical of turning TEC into something it is not and has not been. I count my father, grandfather, two uncles, and two brothers parish clergy in TEC, and others in my immediate family as active and enthusiastic members of the TEC of the Communion. ACI is engaged because it believes in the TEC of the Communion, the TEC of the Constitution and Canons. It is for that reason that +Stanton's view of this anglican branch of the church catholic is one we defend and wish to see extended, to the glory of God. I am responding to this only because someone forwarded your note, and Harris's, and do not want the record misrepresented re: ACI and CP. I should have thought that 'liberals' would wish to see the truth represented and a genuine catholicity preserved, but instead there is a self-evidence of the need to support the 'leadership' that sounds like totalitarian power asserting itself. "For all the saints..."

  14. He is not a priest.

    What George, does that have to do with anything? He is not a priest. OK. But he is an expert in Episcopal church history. And I am sorry, but he actually has a whole lot more theological and ecclesiastical education on the matter than some Episcopal priests. The fact that one is ordained does not by necessity make one an expert in anything. The fact that he is a church history major with advanced degrees in the field does make him an expert and qualified to render respected opinions on the subject matter.

  15. My name is C Seitz. If I missed doing something properly so that a prior note for this site will appear, let me know. I do not see it.

  16. C Seitz...thanks for the second note, assuming the note from Anonymous addressed to Mr. Diemol was the note written.

    I am at a conference that is stretching my little liberal heart (the prot. evangelical stuff makes me itch) and learning a lot, but it does mean that sometimes things are posted and I don't get to them for some time.

    If you did not write "Dear Mr Diemol..." you wrote something else as Anonymous and I probably did drop it. I ask that people somewhere in their note us a name - it can be a fiction, but a name - so that I can tell one anonymous from another. I occasionally get notes too wretched to post. So having the rule in place I also sometimes delete things that otherwise are worth the posting.

    Hope this helps.

  17. Thank you. C Seitz

  18. George,
    My apology, I miss spoke. If you read the deposition Mr. Mullin's credentials are stated up front and very clearly.

    I am not sure, once stated what your point was/is but attacking my inability to get the appellation correct does not negate the powerful and elegant statement Mr. Mullin provided in Fort Worth, San Joaquin and other places.
    Thank you, David.

  19. Paul responded to Gary, "In fact, any unhappiness which exists is confined to a very few dioceses which which have a particular axe to grind."

    Indeed. The so-called "conservative" movement in the church seems to oscillate wildly between claims of being an oppressed minority and of bald-faced stmts that they represent the majority of Episcopal pew sitters (as an aside, it would be nice if they could settle on one or the other ;)

    One should also note that, despite protestations when in "oppressed minority" mode that fellow Episcopalians should treat them with greater respect & Christian love, they are completely unwilling to return the favor in dioceses where they hold the reins of power. As a resident of the Dio. of Dallas I have seen this first hand more times than I can count.

    For all of our aggrieved & angry conservatives, I would suggest the proverb from Luke 4:23 ("Physician, heal thyself...") as a good, first step.

  20. For sometime I have thought +Stanton was a man to watch. You will recall the meeting of the Common Cause Partners I think a year ago August past in which the Articles for the ACNA were first put forth. On the first day +Wantland and +Duncan put forth resolutions that would essentially remove the partnership from TEC by overiding the Accession clause. It was +Stanton who jumped in to prevent that from happening and to make provision for Common Cause members who remained in TEC. +Stanton has been trodding a very fine line for a very long time. I was watching the feed from Anglican TV at the time and immediately realized that what Wantland and Duncan proposed would do this. Neither Duncan or Wantland in anyway alerted the attendees of the implications of what they proposed, and, frankly, without +Stanton, the Articles would have passed as written on Day 1. +Stanton and his diocese are in a precarious position, tugged by ACNA on the one-hand and its "theology" and loyalty to TEC on the other. +Stanton is very very bright and I absolutely agree that the position he takes addresses a much more far-reaching question, i.e. the question of subsidiarity, but I also think it would be a little kinder to look at the dilemma this man faces. He and +Howe, I think have flirted the most with the Wantland Duncan crowd. +Howe got burned at least 10 years ago during the "Wantland Coup". The actions of both of them indicate that they will not be easily duped by either side in this debate. Neither will simply buy into the political machinations of either side without really thinking it through. The ACI diocesan sovereignty idea is only an idea and it might work for local consumption in the dioceses and very constrained venues where they work. EmilyH


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.