Saturday, September 06, 2008

“Is The Episcopal Church Hierarchical?” Short Answer? No.

BB NOTE: The short answer, as the Anglican Communion Institute (ACI) has learned through their investigation of The Episcopal Church's constitution and canons, is that the answer is no.

This has become extremely evident in the litigation now underway in Virginia. As we've written before, there is no way that the Church in Virginia would have joined together with other dioceses to form the type of organization that the current occupants of 815 have been promoting.

It is as it was explained by Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, to the Bishop of Central Florida, John Howe. Canterbury has a direct relationship with diocesan bishops.
But I would guard us all that this position seemed to be taking a political shift - a major political shift - at Lambeth. At Lambeth it was confirmed that the proposed Covenant would be shopped around to the all the provinces, not dioceses - indicating a provincial recognition of power over the diocesan bishop. Also, with the strengthening of the Primates Council's authority (though as we see over and over again, there is no way to enforce anything that this group - or any group - says or does, except by the will of the people). With this in mind, TEC has turned to litigation and the courts to enforce what cannot be enforced within its own political walls (and that is costing them millions and millions - an accounting of which we have not seen - take note of that). This is not going well of late because the internal documents of the organization do not support the type of organization being promoted by the current inhabitants of 815. But that is the course they are taking and it behooves anyone who thinks that parlaying with this inner-circle of litigation-minded purple shirts and their lawyers will get them anywhere beyond total capitulation or a lawsuit with their own name on it.

I also appreciate the position that ACI (and perhaps those orthodox bishops still vowing to remain in TEC who do not privately plan to go to Rome once they retire) when they write in their intro into the document, "What is legally permitted may not on all occasions be theologically or morally justifiable. Our caution, therefore, is that the paper may provide justifiable constitutional license for a course of action that we believe in some instances to be arguably “legal” but nonetheless deleterious to both Gospel truth and Christian unity." ACI is worried.

But I would argue that the polity of the Episcopal Church (for better or worse - but we are Americans, after all) is based on the idea - founded in the experience of the American experiment - that hierarchical and centralized churches (Protestant and Catholic) must be held accountable to the possibility of Reformation. Our founders wrote that principle right into the Declaration of Independence when they wrote, "When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation."
This is at the heart of the American experiment. If it's a sin, well, that's a major oops.

What we understood and understand today is that a corporate or political organization is NOT THE SAME AS THE CHURCH. The Episcopal Church, The Church of England, yes, even The Church of Rome - they are all all corporate organizations. They are not The Church Triumphant - the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. The Church is a mystery. Different corporation expressions of The Bride of Christ can come very close - many, many closer than others - but we should not confuse our human endeavors to create corporate organizations with being the mystical Body of Christ.

I know this is not the view held by all - I don't have close friends going to Rome for nothing - but it is a view held by many. And certainly it is no sin to separate from a corporate organization that has tragically lost its theological mission to accommodate the spirit of the age.

For those who question the morality of separation, it might not be a bad time to review the Declaration of Independence and decides once and for all whether our own founders made one grave philosophical and moral mistake with the late King of England. We can imagine where some today may have landed during that conflict two centuries ago. The boats going back to England after Cornwall surrendered at Yorktown were filled to the brim with loyalists and Canada wasn't founded as a summer-time resort.

It's now all up at the ACI website. You can read the paper here and
ACI's rather anxious commentary here.


James said...

BB, "the Church Triumphant" is the church in heaven. We are the "Church Militant."

Hening said...

As long as TEC is part of the Anglican Communion and has a leadership model based on the order of bishops, it is by definition a hierarchical or monarchical model.

As a vestry member of my parish, there is much confusion about who own what, and who makes the ultimate decision, but it is clearly the Bishop that sets policies and takes his orders from the top.

This is a very different system from the Presbyterian or Baptist model.

BabyBlue said...

Actually, that is not entirely the case in the Diocese of Virginia, where the powers of the bishop were severely limited (when compared to the Roman Catholic model - or (hold on to your hat) the United Methodist model). There was a major struggle over this when the diocese was first founded and again in the middle of the 19th century when the Oxford Movement took off. But as we've learned in recent weeks in court - and through persistent rumors around Virginia focusing on historic churches that have not yet triggered 57-9, the bishop does not own title to any property that is not in his name - and he did not take action to change that after the Denis Canon was "passed" at a General Convention. Why? Because he does not have the authority to overrule the lay Vestries. Our Virginia founders learned the hard way and they've passed those lessons down to us.

What is clear is that TEC is not hierarchical on a national level - and it's not even hierarchical when compared to the United Methodist model. What is different is that we observe the tradition of the apostolic succession (though of course, Rome quarrels with us on that account) - which is observed as a spiritual authority passed down through Peter.

But in Virginia that tradition has been less-than-observed and even ignored (the bishops wear the low-church vestments and I can't recall ever seeing Bishop Lee in a miter, most especially while visiting a parish for confirmations). This is how Bishop Lee could claim that the election and consecration of the Bishop of New Hampshire had little consequence in the Diocese of Virginia. It took 815's intervention to get him to stop saying that.

And the Bishop of Virginia used the "foreign prelates" argument to incite suspicion when the Virginia congregations voted to separate and join another Anglican province. That was a strategic decision, based on the long-held and deeply felt opposition against Rome and High Church Anglicanism or hierarchical structures in Virginia.

Remember, the bishop of Virginia cannot compel financial assessments in the diocese - he can only ask. The Vestries decide how much - or how much not - to give. In Virginia, the laity holds the purse. And that's by intention by our Virginia founders.

What this paper from ACI illustrates is that there is no "national" TEC. We've all known that (the former PB knew that, making it clear that the present crisis was a diocesan issue) and it hasn't been until Schori moved in to 815 and started signing her correspondence "Primates" (oh the Episcopalians who must be spinning in their graves over that) and acting as though she's an archbishop, not a presiding bishop that TEC started to act as though it was a national church. This or course has been encouraged by the ACC which would like to deal with provinces, rather than diocesans (and why the covenant is doomed for failure). And even the Windsor Report targeted TEC as a province rather than as individual dioceses (when General Convention was clear that the blessings of same sex unions and the elections of non-celibate homosexuals was a local, diocesan choice - not a national choice). But the fact remains that the governing structures and the polity and the constitution and canons do not back that up.

And so Schori has reinterpreted the canons to reinvent the meaning of the word "province" to now mean "communion" - giving her seat a higher authority than she actually has. The canon that was meant to be addressed to those bishops who left for Rome or Mecca or turned their backs on Christ, is now being used against bishops who transfer from one province to another. But the constitution and the canons do not back those actions up - as we see in this ACI paper.

There is a difference between the traditional or even theological spiritual authority and the polity of the church. In many cases, the polity reflects the theology of those who founded the governing structures. This is very much the case in Virginia until recent years when a more nationalistic view has taken root. But we see the differences on the diocesan level.

In fact, it is the Episcopal church structures - built on the assumption of almost a "good ole boys network" - that made it such an easy target for takeover by political operatives. The inclination of some is to then empower a centralized bureaucracy, when in fact, our founders felt that decentralization and empowerment to the laity (ironically, considering we have all these vested clerics and bishops) would strengthen the church from the local-level on up. But that implies an active and engaged laity.

If the church isn't growing at the lay level, it becomes more of a museum piece with endowments than a vibrant, growing, Spirit-filled, mission-minded community. It has stopped producing its main output - more people - making it a prime target for takeover by those who want to use its historic facade for its political agenda. That is why we all bear responsibility for what has happened to TEC.

It's actually a warning to us all - lest we just reinvent the very thing we are attempting to reform.


ettu said...

Any time frame out there yet for the appeals process to the VA and US supreme courts??