The Anglican Communion Institute, whose working writer - theologians are The Rev’d Professor Christopher Seitz, The Very Rev’d Dr Philip W. Turner III and The Rev’d Dr. Ephraim Radner, has come to the defense of the Diocese of South Carolina and its bishop. The defense took the form of an Easter Day message.
Bishop Mark Lawrence of the Diocese of South Carolina has decided to take on the Presiding Bishop, her Chancellor and the whole Provincial effort to enforce the intent of the Canons of The Episcopal Church as they apply to the holding of property by whatever church entity in trust for The Episcopal Church. Bishop Lawrence has relied on the notion that dioceses have something he calls, "sovereignty." He gets this idea from Bishop Alexander Charles Garrett, a past bishop of Dallas. Bishop Garret stated, "Every Diocese is an independent and sovereign state, held in the unity of the Catholic Church by its Episcopate, according to the rule of St. Cyprian….The Diocese thus becomes the ecclesiastical unit, a full and perfect integer sufficient of itself for all purposes of growth and development."
Out of this quaint idea the ACI puts forward the following propositions:
- The Presiding Bishop’s office is regulated by the constitution and canons and exists historically for the good order of the church. It is not a metropolitical office. The title ‘presiding Bishop’ was chosen with care and inheres with the notion of good order when the wider church gathers. It is not an office with independent political authority.
- The existence of diocesan canons in The Episcopal Church is a departure from the model typically followed in the polity of other provinces of the Anglican Communion. The existence of these canons goes hand in hand with the history and sovereignty of the diocese in The Episcopal Church as the basic ecclesial unit of catholic Anglicanism.
- That no mandate exists that can be enforced by canon law for dioceses to pay assessments beyond the good operating of their own affairs is likewise evidence of the catholic and missionary integrity of the dioceses of this church.
- Diocesan Chancellors exist to assist the Bishop and Standing Committee of the Diocese in maintaining the legal good operating of the Diocese and the undertaking of its internal affairs.
- General Convention resolutions as such have no canonical force. They represent the mind of those gathered and are not legislative in character.
- As a province, The Episcopal Church has no single authoritative voice, but exists with a dispersed character at the provincial level, involving individual diocesan Bishops, diocesan conventions, a triennial General Convention, House of Bishops meetings, and the office of Presiding Bishop.
These are assertions in support of Bishop Lawrence's concern to uphold what he believes to be the true character of TEC as "an association of autonomous and independent dioceses."
There are several problems with these six propositions. Here are a few:
On item 1: The whole business of what makes the Presiding Bishop like other heads of the national or regional churches that constitute the Anglican Communion is a difficult one. The Canons say that the Presiding Bishop is, "the Chief Pastor and Primate of the Church." It is true there is no mention of the Presiding Bishop being metropolitan or Archbishop. But the Presiding Bishop is the Primate as far as such things as The Primate's meetings go. But I like the spirit of this one, until the last line: "it is not an office with independent political authority."
Nuts. Of course it is. The Presiding Bishop has the power of appointment, preside at the consecrations of bishops and at the time of the required visitation to dioceses, has occasion to preach, celebrate the Eucharist, and consulting with the bishop and perhaps lay and clergy leaders. The Presiding Bishop speaks on behalf of the Church. Political authority consists to a large part in the exercise of the bully pulpit and in the context of actual pulpits, the Presiding Bishop exercises profoundly important political authority. Is it "independent"? Who knows. But it is canonical and it is there.
On item 2:
This is fluff. A seeking after wind.
On item 3:
ACI states, "That no mandate exists that can be enforced by canon law for dioceses to pay assessments beyond the good operating of their own affairs is likewise evidence of the catholic and missionary integrity of the dioceses of this church." This is just rot.
Here is what the Constitution and Canons of TEC says about that.
Canon I.1, Sec. 8. The General Convention shall adopt, at each regular meeting, a budget to provide for the contingent expenses of the General Convention, the stipend of the Presiding Bishop together
with the necessary expenses of that office, the necessary expenses of the President of the House of Deputies including the staff and Advisory Council required to assist in the performance of the duties and matters related to the President's office, and the applicable Church Pension Fund assessments. To defray the expense of this budget, an assessment shall be levied upon the Dioceses of the Church in accordance with a formula which the Convention shall adopt as part of this Expense Budget. It shall be the duty of each Diocesan Convention to forward to the Treasurer of the General Convention annually, on the first Monday of January, the amount of the assessment levied upon that Diocese."
The alert reader will note that this is canon law, not simply Convention resolution. Note the phrases "shall adopt", "assessment", "levied", and "shall adopt." This is a mandate of canon requiring assessment for things well beyond the "the good operating of their own affairs." The mandate of canon itself is the basis for this assessment, and every Diocese in acceding to the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church. So much for the absolute sovereignty of the diocese.
On item 4.
Yes. Diocesan Chancellors do whatever is asked of them as legal advisers to the Diocese. One might hope they have something to do with advising the Diocese about its duties and rights in terms of the Constitution and Canons of TEC as well, since those govern the basis on which both bishops and clergy exercise their offices in the Church.
On item 5.
This is an amazing bit of foolishness. I will quote it again.
"General Convention resolutions as such have no canonical force. They represent the mind of those gathered and are not legislative in character."
The ACI folk need to wake up and smell the coffee. Some General Convention resolutions precisely have canonical force, namely those that make changes in the canons. When they are appropriately passed they become canon. All General Convention resolutions are legislative in character, if by "legislative" one means they are passed by a legislature (in this case synodical legislature) and they legislate - that is give sanctioned guidance / direction / mandate / order to some body within TEC. For example: General Convention legislates that there will be an office at the Church Center for this or that ministry and provides budgetary funding for it. It is true that some General Convention legislation is advisory or commendatory only.
On Item 6: TEC does have a "single authoritative voice" on some issues. For example, the Presiding Bishop is called upon by Canon to "Speak God's words to the Church and to the world, as the representative of this Church and its episcopate in its corporate capacity." On most issues that authority is derived from the consent of the governed by way of the decisions of General Convention and the explicit authority granted by Canon for final determination of particular matters. When the Presiding Bishop declares a bishop has been deposed it is on canonical grounds, but the PB speaks the authoritative sentence of deposition. The PB does not have unbridled authority, thank God.
So what is this about? Why in the world would the ACI publish such a message?
Well, the Bishop of South Carolina is making the case for the so-called Communion Partners that the level of autonomy of dioceses in TEC is such that individual dioceses can make their own treaty with the Anglican Communion and can ignore whatever decision is made by General Convention about the value of the Anglican Covenant. With that argument also comes the proposition that dioceses have status independent of any union to the General Convention. Never mind that it is that union that makes possible the rules under which the bishops of these dioceses were elected and have license. Never mind that it is union with General Convention that made the formation of the dioceses complete. Dioceses, rather than state assemblies, are a product of the Church, not the other way around.
As to the argument that those dioceses formed from the state assemblies were free and independent and gathered in to union by mutual accord, fine. We might well notice, however, that when the dioceses entered into the union with others to form General Convention and when they came to be called dioceses, and when the Canons specified ascent to the Constitution and Canons as an assumed and / or specified requirement of being in this union, and when there was no objection to doing so, the matter was closed.
However, Bishop Lawrence seems to think otherwise. Unchallenged (by better voices than mine) that leads to all sorts of possibilities.
Among them might be:
That Bishop Lawrence, gracious in his way of dealing with parishes that leave TEC for other lands, is patiently waiting for his parishes to walk away from TEC and the Diocese of South Carolina, and when most of those in the diocese do, he will walk too, finding a ready made field of congregations - the ones who left - ready to receive him.
Or, that one fine day, the Diocese of South Carolina, having separated itself from all things TEC as per its resolution last year, will decide the time is ripe to pick up and move over to the Anglican Church in North America. Bishop Lawrence can claim that he never intended to leave, but look... all his parishes bolted and in good Christian conscience he believed they ought to be about to do so. If TEC were to then say, as it has in the past, that no, a diocese cannot by itself leave, it would be left with almost nothing - all or most of the churches having left with their goods, and cattle, etc. By that time shutting the barn door would be a pointless exercise.
Well, life is full of possibilities. One of them is that Bishop Lawrence has every intention of being a bishop in TEC, no intention of going anywhere, and will remain as bishop in TEC.
Who knows? What I do know is that Bishop Lawrence needs better arguments than the ones put forth by ACI to support this sovereignty business. And while he is at it, he needs better legal counsel, for one of these days someone is going to confront him with the matter of letting the assets meant for the use of The Episcopal Church in that place (namely the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina) simply drift away.
On the first round I did not think Bishop Lawrence should have gotten consents. On the second I did. Oddly, I like the man. He writes well and engagingly and he is a bishop of this church. But I believe he has led us in a convoluted way into a thicket where we will none of us emerge unscathed.