Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Questions raised on ethics of Episcopal officials publishing private correspondence between bishops and their lawyer

Dr. Philip Turner has some questions:

The posting of a stream of private emails that came from an unnamed source, including the correspondence of senior Bishops of this church and their lawyer, has added considerable heat to the debate that has followed publication on the ACI website of the Bishops’ Statement on the Polity of The Episcopal Church.

To date, the discussion that has taken place on the Web has served more to cloud than clarify the significant issues now faced both by The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. If one reads carefully the comments of those who find themselves in disagreement with the Bishops’ statement a number of questions come to mind—each of which deserves a clear and unequivocal answer.

1. Why would one publish, without confirmation by the parties involved, a thread of private and privileged emails that came from a source not previously known?

2. Is it not the case that priests’ publishing the private emails of bishops is a matter of grave pastoral disorder?

3. How can one confirm that the source is not lying about how the private correspondence was obtained, and that instead the emails were stolen and a convenient alibi provided?

4. Why did the published version of the emails rearrange them in a specific order and omit some; and why was this published on the website of an Episcopal Church in Pasadena, CA, and also watermarked and published by a secular Gay publication in Washington, DC?

5. Why is the version published on this Episcopal Church website now inaccessible?

6. Why would one publish a version of the Bishops’ statement without verifying first that the list of signatories is correct? (The list in fact was not correct.)

7. Why would one imply or directly state the signatories thought it permissible for a diocese to withdraw from The Episcopal Church when no such claim was made in the Bishops’ statement?

8. Given the frequently repeated objection that a diocese is in fact not free to sign onto the covenant even if The Episcopal Church refuses to do so, and given the fact that The Episcopal Church is defined in its Constitution as being in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury, is the claim being made that a diocese that wishes to remain in communion with Canterbury even in circumstances where The Episcopal Church status has been compromised must simply submit to seriously impaired or broken communion?

9. To put the question another way, if The Episcopal Church were to refuse to sign the covenant and its status in relation to Canterbury and the other Provinces of the Communion were compromised, is it being suggested that dioceses that believe their Catholic character to have become questionable should not seek an uncompromised relationship?

10. Some have questioned Dr. Ephraim Radner’s claim that use of the term “churches” in the draft covenant is understood to include non-provincial jurisdictions, which might (as at present) mean dioceses or other ecumenical partners, or even other ecclesial entities as Archbishop Williams has indicated in his discussion of this matter on various occasions. Are these persons saying that Dr. Radner is not telling the truth?

11. If the claim is being made that he is not telling the truth, on what basis is such a claim being made?

12. One person commenting on the Bishops’ statement wondered if the signatories should not be charged with Abandonment of Communion. On what basis would a responsibly stated objection to actions that appear either unconstitutional or contrary to the canons be grounds for charges of Abandonment?

13. How can a claim about the proper meaning of the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church be considered as grounds for having abandoned them?
Read it all here.


Scott Gunn said...

I think it makes sense to raise some of the questions you raise about publishing these emails. Without knowing all the circumstances surrounding their publication, it's hard for us to know what to think about the ethics -- if there was a problem.

That said, I have two questions. First, will you and other conservatives be similarly vigilant when other emails are published without permission? Messages from the HoB/D list are published by right-leaning blogs all the time. I hope to see similar concern for these instances as well.

Second, I wonder if the outcry over the publication of these emails isn't a red herring to distract readers from the contents of the message. Some of the strategies proposed and things said in the emails are disingenuous as best and shameful at worst. Let's not lose focus on that.

I will, to be sure, want to see what answers turn up to the questions you raise.


BabyBlue said...

1. I do not support publishing emails off the HoB/HoD listserve since it is their rules not to do so.

That being said, it's become rather clear that the HoB/HoD listserve is really an activist forum to wear down opposition, as I witnessed yet again at the piling on of Bishop Howe after he recently attempted to post there. I don't understand why Elizabeth Keaton is still permitted to post there every day since she lost her re-election bid for the Diocese of Newark. I don't believe that is a free forum, but designed to wear down opposition.

Stll, the rules are that the e-mails are not to be published without permission. That should be respected.

2. I read the Communion Partner bishops' emails and I guess I am not shocked, having attended five General Conventions and countless Diocesan Councils and this is what happens when people plan strategically. Do we think the "Chicago Consultation" just got together to swap howdies?

Do we think people just wake up in the morning and think stuff up? Of course not, it takes strategic planning, consulting, asking questions, and thinking. I've seen some mighty interesting notes published by the opposition on the internet (usually by naive newbies) and it's often even more intrinsicate.

What I find incredulous is that the very people who taught us how to strategize are the ones having the tantrums! Having read such strategies from the progressives over the years when people inadvertenly publish their notes on the internet, I've seen how "Via Media" organized to oppose the conservatives after General Convention. This is how it's done - I'm not shocked. I wish it were different, but that's how it's done - like making sausage, and who would know that better than the very people who published the e-mails. It's almost comical.

And of course, this correspondence was between bishops and lawyers and that elevates their publishing to a whole different realm of ethics. What peopel say to their lawyer should never be published without permission. That's actually punishable by law, isn't it?

One of the primary strategic publications is called After the Ball, which is a strategic outline for gays and lesbians to gain acceptance in American social institutions. It is clear that this book's strategy was put to full use in the Episcopa Church. I recommend the book wholeheartedly, it's like reading a recent history of Integrity and The Episcopal Church. But it is filled with schemes that will mak your hair curl.

That being said, I wish it weren't so. I wish we were all friends and we could sit down at the table and talk and share and not fear. But those days are sadly over and wishing them here will not make them so. We are a church in crisis - and notice I say we, we may be in a divided house but we're still in the same house - and until whoever is left standing can admit that we have grave problems and those problems are all our fault (we conservatives loathed showing up for diocesan and General Conventions and had to be dragged there kicking and screaming with some notable exceptions. When we finally woke up it was virtually too late - that's our fault, we didn't show up, we didn't show up, no we did not show up, and when we finally did we had no idea how to work politically, we were naive and foolish, again with some notable exceptions - but that's our fault). I think I spent my first of five General Conventions in a daze, making tunafish sandwiches for a handful of people and wondering what the heck was going on, with aging bishops kissing their male lovers on esclators on their way down to the House of Bishops - it was a wake-up call, indeed.

I think the publication of the e-mails was shocking as it was done by elected officials of the Episcopal Church, even as the Executive Council was meeting. I wonder about the environment they are in now, that they would publish e-mails from sitting diocesan bishops who are still inside the structures of The Episcopal Church. They want to stay! Even though the retired Archbishop of Cantrbury tells them its curtains - still, they want to stay!

Their statement is exactly what was taught in the Diocese of Virginia. The parishes in Virginia formed the diocese and the diocese sent one of the senior rectors to England and got him consecrated and then they decided to join General Convention. It took a while - Connecticut was all for it, but Virginia took a while.

Not everone did, you know. Not everyone who wanted to joined General Convention. There were a bunch of churches in New England that also wanted to join General Convention but they couldn't get the Archbishop of Canterbury to consecrate their candidate for bishop. According to Dr. Tom Prichard of VTS who came and spoke to a Regional Council in the Diocese of Virginia when I was president, they were turned down flatly by the Archbishop of Canterbury and so while they were birthed as Anglican churches they never joined General Convention because they couldn't get a bishop consecrated by Canterbury. And so they became the Unitarians.

In Virginia we had the opposite happen. Many, many of the Anglican churches had thrived without a bishpo for two centuries and so when the offer was made to make a bishop for Virginia they refused. And so they took their parishes and bacame Virginia Baptists - they kept the prayer book (it still is often used for their marriage rites) but threw out the bishop.

That happened even here in Fairfax, where Payne's Church went Baptist after the Revolution (and is still Baptist to this day). The Falls Church had to replant the church in Fairfax, where it first met in someone's home and then at the Fairfax Courthouse, finally being planted as Zion Church on the corner of North and Main and later changed its name to the original parish name, Truro.

Even to this day, Virginia Episcopalians do not often have kind things to say about the Baptists (Presbyterians and Methodists do not receive such disparaging remarks, the memory is long, even if people now forget why.

I do think the statement put out by the Communion Partners is worth discussing openly and thoroughly. I wonder why the TEC leadership appears to be so frightened. I don't get that. If what the Communion Partners are saying acan be refuted, then refute by canon and constitution what is wrong. Don't have a hissy fit charging the bishops with disloyalty and deposition. What the heck is going on here? "Off with their heads?"

However, I don't think it can be done - and perhaps that's why there is all the wailing and knashing of teeth. I think the Communion Partners are correct - this is what I learned in Virginia and why Bishop Lee summarily dismissed the authority of the Presiding Bishop's office after he returned from General Convention in Columbus as being simply the person who picked out the service music.


beyond the episcopale said...

Your critique is excellent. Yes, conservatives did seem to be opting out of debate. Perhaps the stunning loss of the BCP and its replacement by a Catholic-Lite prayer resource (the BCP) was so wounding that little else seemed to matter for a while.

The new prayer books stinks, to put it bluntly. Let no one forget how badly it has sat with us.

I have to point out, though, that the debate specifically over homosexuality is not going to go well for the conservative side unless said side gets away from people like Dr. Nicolosi et al. (Nicolosi, a famous academic fraud, is all over YouTube having hissy fits when his theories are questioned, no matter how politely. He's gayer than Bishop Robinson.)

While you have time--and I speak in a kindly way!!--while you are "on the way to court," read what the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism wrote in its recent debate on same-sex matters. By far the best and most careful discussion on the matter by religious conservatives to date.

For a start, our elder brethren do not claim that religious law has any bearing on civil rights for all people. Their debate, from the outset, was not armchair pontifications about the Senate and the national blah blah blah, but rather about the halachic requirements for being a faithful Jew.

Would you agree that the "gay debate" in the ECUSA should be ONLY about the religious status of gay Epsicopalians? That civil rights are self-evident, and off the table?

Would you have the courage to call for same-sex marriage in all 50 states and the repeal of DOMA, and yet stand by the religious requirement of one man, one woman?

Could Episcopalians get over the deep implicit narcissism of expecting the law of the land to follow our interpretation of the Bible?

If not--if you stake your reputation on the likes of Nicolosi et al--you will definitely lose further credibility. You have no right to act as self-appointed consultants to the Congress. George Washington and George Washington's CHURCH are two different things.

Take a friend's advice and fight for what matters: an identifiably Anglican prayer book, the gracious return of all female "priests" to their true lay status, restoration of the Apostolic Succession, and in short, a church that actually seeks to be faithful to Christ and not a political ideology.

episcopale again... said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anam Cara said...

Hmmm. Episcopalians behaving badly....


So what else is new?

Sibyl said...

Beyond the episcopale,

It is likely that you are seeing Dr. Nicolosi with the same lense VGR sees Holy Scripture.

You asked: "Would you have the courage to call for same-sex marriage in all 50 states and the repeal of DOMA, and yet stand by the religious requirement of one man, one woman?"

Though your question is addressed to BB, I want to answer it as well.
NO - I cannot support the illusion of same-sex unions or same-sex sexual acts, nor can I support adoption of children by persons affected by same-sex attraction, because these are not good in any way, spiritually, emotionally/mentally or physically for any of the participants, adult or child.

We cannot approve or bless or condone what is harmful, unhealthy and unholy. That would be hateful. A loving person cannot do this, even though pressured, accused of evil, or persecuted.
Though you may reject this, we, who care about you, who suffer the same wounds yet know the redemptive power of Jesus Christ, must seek, hold to and stand on the truth that homosexuality is unhealthy, harmful and unholy.

This is the greater compassion, the greater love than standing back and letting you perish in a delusion or a deception.

God is able to heal, to deliver us out of all sin.
He has done so and will continue to do so for those who choose His way over their own.

I Corinthians 6:9-11; Hebrews 7:25.

Anonymous said...

Hey BB- I'm a frequent reader, rare rare commenter :)
There is a lot that can be said about publishing these emails, but the fact that they were privileged is sort of a silly objection. It is not, as you asked, punishable by law. The privilege is for the client to do what he will with, an attorney cannot be forced to reveal privileged information. But if a client receives it, and chooses to forward it on to the world, or inadvertently forwards it on to the world, it looses its privileged status.
An example: ie, A.S., as your attorney, send you B.B an email outlining some possible legal defenses. You B.B decide to forward it to your friends C & D, and inadvertently also send it to E. C, D, and E can do what they will with it, without regard to the privileged status. Now if I, A.S. send it to the wrong person, I could be in trouble with my state bar assocation.

I really appreciate all your coverage of all things anglican!

Anonymous said...

Baby Blue,

It's Dr. Bob Prichard at VTS.
Where can I find the info you

Observer said...

BB - I don't think you should have the personal attack on Mark Harris on your blog.....not necessary or productive (or good)

BabyBlue said...

I'll write more later, but I just want to thank Anon above for the correction on Bob and Tom. For years I have mixed up Tom and Bob, who are brothers, sadly even to their own faces. I think I decided long ago that Tom looks like a Bob and Bob looks like a Tom, but nevermind. At least I was able to call their amazing dad by his correct name, whom I served with on vestry. ;-)

Tom of course is a long-time advocate for overseas missions, while Bob is a seminary prof at VTS and Virginia Deputy to General Convention.

I invited Bob to give a talk to the Diocesan Regional Council as part of our exploration and implementation of the Diocese of Virginia's Reconciliation Commissions recommendations of - what year was that? 2005? As probably the premier Episcopal Church historian, he gave a fascinating lecture on how the Episcopal Church was formed, bringing together several factions at that time (Connecticut and Virginia for example were not exactly buddy-buddy) and blocking others (including the Unitarians). He read from notes so my guess is that if you contact him directly at VTS he can point you to either one of his publications or how to obtain his teaching notes. I'll see what I can find as well!


BabyBlue said...

Some thoughts:

Beyond, you've thrown some cream pies there, especially in your second comment. That has roused us into more pies being raised at one another and I have to say that while Mark and I disagree on many points, especially lately, I consider him a friend and you've just thrown a cream pie at him, which is frowned upon by our resident giant Hagrid who has roused himself from his table and is, unfortunately, headed your way at your seat at the bar. To get him back to his table and his frothing mug of Old Ogdeon's Fire Whiskey, I have blinked out your second note. The first one is troubling as well - remember, if we want to make our voice heard, we need to remember who our audience is. Here at the Cafe, we support men and women who are called by God to leadership, ordained and lay, and we believe that God so loved the world (not just particular bits of it) that He gave His only Son - all of it, not just bits, which would include people who's lifestyles are contrary to the teaching of scripture. We love God because He first loved us - it was never, ever our idea.

That being said, from a biblical point of view - He does not desire to leave us in our mess. He might not deliver us from the mess (though often He does), but He gives us life through it. That does not mean "blessing the mess" (whether it's sexual addictions or abortion), but promises us His Holy Spirit who transforms us from the inside out. That is great news.

When it comes to polity, or how we do things together - that is a wide open question. Because God meets me right where I am, so I am to meet people where they are. Coming into the church as we are, we should be welcomed and not turned away. If people want more of Jesus, the last thing I am going to do is turn them away or force them to jump through hoops to know how much Jesus loves them right where they are. We do have at least one gay couple at Truro who desire more and more of Christ in their lives and they are not turned away from the Lord's Table. I care about them.

It is then very difficult when we love people to want to extend to them other gifts of the church and believe me, I understand the desire to want to love people where they are and not pass judgment on them, especially when there is so much evidence of their need and fragility.

But I think then we have to go back to what we mean when we say we love. Do we understand what love means? If I am convinced that playing in the street is dangerous to your life, I am going to do all I can to stop you from playing in the street. I can see that you are having a blast out there, that it's fun and you want me to bless what you are doing, it may seem unfair that you have to obey the rules since of course you didn't write them, but the rules are there to keep you safe so that you will live. For me to bless what you are doing is to put your life at risk.

That is how I feel about promoting social lifestyles that are contrary to scriptural teaching - that expressions of intimacy belongs in marriage between a husband and a wife. Outside those bounds is like playing in the street. You can sure have fun, there is a thrill in dodging the cars and want others to approve of your happiness, but the rules are there not because anyone is trying to be mean or deny people love, but to keep them from harm.

The question then is how do we do it? You will see that there are a wide variety of ways in which that can be worked out - frankly, if you yell and scream at a child every time they get even close to the edge of street you will succeed at keeping them out of the street, but what damage will you inflict for the long term? It seems that many who want to embrace bohemian lifestyles often tell stories of being virtually yelled and screamed at by the church - and that is in fact what they hear when Christians say they do not support blessing of same sex unions or gay marriage. All they can hear is yelling and screaming of fear.

So we need to understand why the rules are there, why it is not a great idea to play in the street.

Again, I am a supporter of small group inductive Bible Study. The Episcopal Church has done sadly a terrible job of promoting small group inductive Bible Study for its laity and clergy. People don't know the scriptures, have not read them for themselves, studied them, and pondered them in their hearts or - as the Prayer Book says, inwardly digested them. It's just not done. So outside of the liturgy (which is constantly being reworked to fit the latest fads), there is little opportunity to actually not only read the scriptures, but to allow them to come live in us, as Episcopalians. It's just not done.

The best way to keep a child out of the street is to train them up to understand for themselves why a biblical understanding of life sets us free and not enslave us to condemnation. We are free when we play within the rules - the rules are there not to restrain us from being ourselves but in fact are there to set us free to be ourselves.

What happened in 2003 was that the entire church, by electing someone to the level of Bishop of the whole church (as Episcopalians, bishops serve the whole church not just their local diocese - this is tough for us in Virginia, but that's part of the deal of being an Episcopalian - that we belong to the wider church that includes the Church of England, you can imagine what that must have been like in the early days of the republic that even after the first General Convention, we still went back to war with England!!). That being said, it was a strategic and political move to elect Gene Robinson and force the issue on to General Convention. His election date was specially selected to force General Convention to decide whether it would embrace this life style as holy living or not, whether it would embrace what Integrity calls "full inclusion of the baptized" or it would follow the repeated pleas of the rest of the Anglican Communion through all it's instruments of unity to practice restraint. That would not be the case, as we know, and the Episcopal Church tore the fabric the Anglican Communion asunder.