Monday, December 17, 2007

Bishop Howe takes courageous stand for conscience

Last night I received a copy of a letter written by Bishop John Howe (Central Florida) and have been thinking in particular about the part where he writes:

Not a single one of you has asked the question: "Bishop, why are you allowing these rectors who want to 'disaffiliate' the space to pursue their objectives? They are clearly in the process of abandoning the communion of this Church. Why are you not moving against them by inhibition and deposition?"

Here is my answer to the unspoken question: I am deeply sympathetic to any who believe that the current leadership of The Episcopal Church has greatly compromised the "doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as this Church has received them." And I am extremely reluctant to discipline those who, for conscience sake, are finding they MUST "disaffiliate."

I believe that many of our clergy and lay leaders have attempted to be completely loyal to our received heritage, and have tried to reform a Church that is in many ways errant. And they have finally concluded that such reformation is not going to be successful. They want to "protect" the members of The Episcopal Church entrusted to them from any further spiritual incursions against them.

I am not convinced we have come to a point of no return. But I understand why they may believe we have done so.

This is a dramatic contrast to what happened in Virginia after our votes:

Following the votes of the majority membership of 15 Episcopal churches in The Diocese of Virginia to leave The Episcopal Church, the diocesan Standing Committee met on January 18 and determined that the clergy attached to these departed congregations are now leading congregations that have declared that they do not recognize the ecclesiastical or legal authority of either The Episcopal Church or The Diocese of Virginia. As a result those clergy have openly renounced the doctrine, discipline or worship of The Episcopal Church and, therefore, have abandoned the communion of The Episcopal Church. Under the “abandonment Canon,” the clergy have six months to reverse their decision to abandon the church before they are removed from the Episcopal ministry.

The Standing Committee delivered its determination to diocesan Bishop Peter Lee over the weekend. Consistent with the Canons of the Episcopal Church regarding such circumstances (IV.10.1), the Bishop responded to the Standing Committee’s determination and on Monday inhibited 21 clergy canonically resident in the Diocese. In addition, he has rescinded the licenses granted six other clergy canonically resident in other Episcopal dioceses but functioning in The Diocese of Virginia.

Interesting that the decision came from the Standing Committee which directed the bishop to inhibit (and later depose) the twenty+ Virginia clergy. Would it not be the Diocese of Central Florida's Standing Committee that would make such a decision as well? It appears that John Howe would not sign such a decree if one were directed to him. This means that Bishop Lee had a choice to sign or not.

In August, Bishop Lee followed through by "deposing" all the clergy who's congregations voted to separate from the Episcopal Church:

Yesterday, in an official act observed by two presbyters of The Diocese of Virginia and with the advice and consent of the diocesan Standing Committee, the Rt. Rev. Peter James Lee took the required canonical action to remove from the priesthood clergy inhibited by him on January 22, 2007. Those clergy were inhibited following a determination by the diocesan Standing Committee January 18 that they had abandoned the Communion of The Episcopal Church. The possibility of such a determination was explained by the Bishop in a December 1, 2006 letter to the clergy and leadership of the now-former Episcopal congregations. By this action, the former Episcopal clergy are “released from the obligations of Priest or Deacon and … deprived of the right to exercise the gifts and spiritual authority conferred in Ordination.”

In addition to losing their capacity to officiate in Episcopal churches or in any manner as Episcopal priests, the former Episcopal clergy lose their capacity to contribute to pension plans begun during their time as Episcopal priests and any other benefits of service as Episcopal priests or employees of Episcopal churches or institutions. Pension benefits accrued to this point will remain payable.

Those removed from the ordained ministry of The Episcopal Church are:

The Rev. Robin Adams
The Rev. George Beaven
The Rev. Mark Brown
The Rev. Marshall Brown
The Rev. Neal Brown
The Rev. Jeffrey Cerar
The Rev. Kathleen Christopher
The Rev. Richard Crocker
The Rev. Ramsey Gilchrist
The Rev. Jack Grubbs
The Rev. John Guernsey
The Rev. David Harper
The Rev. David N. Jones
The Rev. Marion D. Lucas III
The Rev. Herbert McMullan
The Rev. Clancy Nixon
The Rev. Robin Rauh
The Rev. Valerie Whitcomb
The Rev. Elijah White
The Rev. Frederick M. Wright
The Rev. John W. Yates II

I am sure John Howe can look at this brave list of names and see friends, old friends, friend from the trenches. That he recognizes that they in conscience, "have attempted to be completely loyal to our received heritage, and have tried to reform a Church that is in many ways errant" is great news, very welcomed news indeed.

One of the most difficult aspects of this past year was this - for lack of a better word - brutal step Bishop Lee took against the clergy of the Diocese, after they negotiated in good faith with the Diocese through the protocol that the Bishop of Virginia's own Special Committee set up for before them to do. That it deteriorated so rapidly after 815 intervened (as we learned as fact in testimony in the Virginia Court last month) was deeply troubling. But the additional action of inhibiting the clergy (and suing the laity) followed by deposing the clergy six months later was beyond the pale, since if anyone knew how hard those clergy worked (including John Guernsey, who pioneered the method to negotiate a property settlement) to find a way to stay "in as closest communion as possible" it was the Bishop of Virginia.

It was also clear in the Presiding Bishop's testimony that she will not tolerate anything that will interfere with what she calls "the mission strategy" of the Episcopal Church (another way of saying interfering with franchise - the churches could be sold to any other denomination or even turned into a saloon, but they could not become Anglican Churches, certainly churches that align with CANA for it was clear she recognized that Bishop Minns is as much an Anglican Bishop as Bishop Robinson is, no matter whether they are invited to Lambeth or not). For churches to affiliate under the protection of Bishop Minns meant they were rivals to the mission strategy of the Episcopal Church. The monopoly would be lost - and so much more.

Again, it is courageous of John Howe to stand against that and provide a way (a somewhat bishop-centered way which may be closer to the polity of Central Florida which traditionally has been more Anglo Catholic in its polity than Virginia that has a long memory) for churches and clergy to negotiate without fear of punishment. That is in direct contrast to what Bishop Schori has ordered and while I may have some reservations about the Central Florida protocol, I do not think we should take lightly the fact that Bishop Howe has taken these courageous steps in the face of 815. He is working in direct opposition to Bishop Schori's "mission strategy" and he does for the right reasons.

It was also clear in Bishop Schori's testimony that she felt that an division or schism in the church would cast doubt on to the authenticity of the assertion that God is indeed sanctioning a new view of moral (and immoral) behavior and its consequences (i.e., "The spirit is doing a New Thing"). If there is a division, then it would call into question whether the innovations sanctioned by The Episcopal Church were indeed valid. A division or schism would reveal that they were not, she implied. Therefore, everything must be done to stop the church from dividing, even if it means casting out all those who are publicly resisting the New Thing. It wasn't enough just to oppose the votes, the additional measures had to be taken to frighten others from doing the same thing. The Episcopal Church could not be seen as dividing, no matter what it took to cover that up. If TEC divides the result will be that leaders of the Episcopal Church will be held responsible for leading the people astray into heresy, not a happy thought when eternity rolls around.

Resistance is not futile after all. Bishop Howe again has shown great courage in not giving in to this line of thinking by 815. If churches do go ahead and negotiate a way out, and if he does not depose the clergy or sue the lay leadership, and he permits (as the protocol seems to permit) an Anglican Church entity within the borders of the Diocese of Central Florida, than Bishop Schori is still going to have a schism on her hands. It's a different kind of rebellion, but not one to be taken lightly.

Bishop Howe and I have been friends for many many years and we've had some rather spirited conversations of late. But I thank God for him and for Karen, and for their abiding friendship during these difficult days. We have not always seen eye to eye, but I cannot ignore the resilience and courage it takes to boldly take the steps he's taken, especially in the matter of not publicly humiliating and punishing the clergy and laity who are following their conscience. Indeed, this is a model way of living in "as closest communion as possible" - a hope that was once the dream of my former bishop.


Alice C. Linsley said...

We must remember to pray for Bishop Howe and Karen. This will not be without consequences, both good and bad.

It takes great courage to go against TEC's errant leadership, but God blesses those who stand for Truth, especially if they do so in humility.

Anonymous said...

+God bless +Howe and all who have ever been under his spiritual guidance.

-miserable sinner

Anonymous said...

Well God doesn't need the extra + but such are the vagaries of quick blog typing.


-miserable sinner