Monday, March 23, 2009

The Episcopal Church: History in the Remaking?

The Presiding Bishop's office is attempting to justify its litigious pursuits and has posted a few justifications on the Episcopal Church website. Kendall Harmon has picked them up over at T19. What caught the eye, this morning, was this statement from the historian of the old Pittsburgh Progressive Episcopalians and who now speaks for The Episcopal Church (though was not sent down to testify at the recent trials in Virginia). She writes to explain why TEC is pursuing litigation in Virginia, when she writes:
"The Convention of the Diocese of Virginia, for example, asserted as early as 1790 that it was the “sole owner” of church property."
Indeed they did in 1790, thinking that they were still the “Established Church” of the Commonwealth of Virginia and would carry on just as if the American Revolution never happened. Indeed, the “Established Church” asserted they owned EVERYTHING in their purview and the Commonwealth of Virginia responded rather forcefully, saying “Oh no you don’t!” and stripped their assumed pre-Revolution authority so that there would indeed be religious freedom in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

In fact, it became a principle in the Commonwealth - the people decided their fate, not the institution - and the decision-making was based on legislation written by none other than Thomas Jefferson himself. It led the way to the clause for religious freedom in the United States Bill of Rights. Thanks be to God.

If an institution wanted the land in Virginia, the institution was required to put the bishop’s name on the deed, as the Roman Catholics did - and do. In fact, there are some parcels of land in the Diocese of Virginia that do have the bishop's name inscribed on their deeds. But the Episcopalians knew better than to do that with the local parishes, for they would have had a massive rebellion on their hands, a rebellion that would would span theological divisions. This was admitted to in court last year.

There have been times that the Diocese of Virginia has tried in recent years to assert institutional power over the parishes and those attempts have been put down by an unusual coalition of both evangelicals and progressives. On that, we have had agreement, as the Bishop of Virginia and his posse soon learned. There are deeply held principles in Virginia that are inclinations from both history and theology for why the bishop cannot compel financial support from the parishes in Virginia ("the Virginia Plan") to the diocese and that his role is historically limited. We Virginians have very long memories, thank you very much, Mr. Jefferson.

It would be wise, I might add, for the leadership of the new province to remember that as well.

How can The Episcopal Church justify lifting out a piece of major Virginia history and let the context go by the wayside? How can a “historian” forget about Thomas Jefferson? But isn’t this the real issue before us now - the lifting of scripture and canons and state law out of context to suit one’s own political and litigious and theological proclivities? Shall we not now add history to that pile?

Is it rather nice to imagine that the American Revolution never happened and The Episcopal Church will return to its exclusionary place as the Established Church where the people have no right to vote (as it is written into the laws of the Commonwealth) after all? What’s next, the restoration of the Throne?

We cannot pull out the bits we like and throw the rest by the wayside, not in law, not in scripture, and not in history.


redleg82 said...

Yeah, and the vestries once had the power the tax. I hope TEC is not going to try to reassert its historical authority there also (though I'm sure they would if they could).

I'm sure the Bishop doesn't want to have his name on the deeds as that would imply that the Diocese has some form of financial responsibility for the property and upkeep.

SometimesWise said...

Ms. (Dr.?) Gunderson has a "history" of writing a "Good Parts Version", and leaving out all the nasty facts that don't fit with her point of view. She's been doing it for quite a while.