Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Balanced and Charitable Response to Bishop Mathes and Virtue Online

I hope to present to you a balanced and, above all, charitable response to an article on Virtue Online, which, in my opinon lacks both.  I pose a question to my readers, what good does it serve to be orthodox and lack charity?  We all know that many bishops, clergy, and laity in the Episcopal Church have gone down a path that many cannot follow, but for those who have departed, can we not agree to, "speak the truth in love"?  I have the unique opportunity of serving the Lord in the Anglican Mission and in the Episcopal Church, in that order, and I thank God for that opportunity, as I have learned much during my journey.  Perhaps my greatest concern in this whole mess is that those who have left have taken their orthodoxy with them but it has been coated with a hatred for the Episcopal Church which blinds the heart from Christian charity.  Does not Scripture say, "And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity."?  I am not contesting the orthodoxy of those in ACNA nor the heterodoxy of many of our bishops but rather the attitude of the heart of those involved in leaving and likewise our bishops' response, which has been less than charitable to those departing.  "Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?"

In particular, this response stems from a recent post on VirtueOnline which intends nothing less than to contend everything that the Bishop of San Diego, James R. Mathes, who makes several good points in his response to the Wall Street Journal article, "Twenty-First Century Excommunications," an article which did present some misinformation.  I do not know the Bishop Mathes's theological stances, nor does it matter, we are to love saints and sinners alike, and as a bishop in the Church, he deserves our respect nonetheless.

I will post Bishop Mathes's comments in bold, David Virtue's comments in italics, and my own in normal font.

In an online story published by The Wall Street Journal, titled "Twenty-first Century Excommunication," and accompanied by a video interview of the reporter, Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, the recent property disputes of The Episcopal Church were grossly mischaracterized. I have served as the Episcopal bishop of San Diego for almost seven years, and, in that capacity, dealt with three congregations in which the ordained leaders and their followers attempted to leave the Episcopal Church with parish property. In these dealings, I was threatened with death and told I will go to hell by those who claim to love Jesus more than I do. Other colleagues have had similar experiences, from death threats to being spit at during church services. Ms. Hemingway would have you believe that the animus we have received is about scriptural interpretation, but make no mistake: this is about power.

It is partly about power - power wielded by liberal and revisionist bishops who have "another gospel" that is not the genuine Good News proclaimed in Holy Writ. As a result, tens of thousands of Episcopalians have left the Episcopal Church and are forming orthodox Anglican communities of faith that do proclaim the Good News that does not include endorsing a variety of pansexual behaviors, is not accepting of sexual sin and demands that all repent and come to a knowledge of Jesus Christ. It IS primarily about "scriptural interpretation" and theology and the wielding of power is a part of it.

Bishop Mathes has lost fully one quarter (nine) of his parishes (Episcopalians) to other Anglican jurisdictions because of the Episcopal Church's apostasies.

On the issue of power. 

No Presiding Bishop has wielded more power in the history of The Episcopal Church than Katharine Jefferts Schori. She has deposed more bishops than any other Presiding bishop in American ecclesiastical history. 

She has spent more money (upwards of $22 million) on lawyers to litigate for properties that she and her bishops will ultimately be forced to sell than any other Presiding Bishop in history.

Recently, Bishop Paul Marshall of Bethlehem came out blasting her silence over l'affair Bede Parry (a pederast former RC priest Jefferts Schori admitted into TEC) threatening to tell all in an article, maybe even a book, on cover-ups in the Episcopal Church that he knows about. She has intimidated her bishops into silence about the real goings on behind the scenes in TEC, according to the Bethlehem Bishop.

Jefferts Schori is a bully who bullies bishops who don't fall into line with her revisionist gospel.

What is happening to South Carolina Bishop Mark Lawrence is a pure power play to wrest the diocese from him and turn it over to a liberal bishop.

Both Bishop Mathes and Virtue have made good points here.  First, in response to Bishop Mathes, I do not doubt that he has been displayed unpleasant and thoroughly unChristian messages from over-enthusiastic departing members.  I hope that they are few in number but I suspect that this is commonplace.  This behavior is juvenile and immature for Christians, much less adults to engage in, however, without seeing the comments I will have to end my comments on this matter at this point.  Bishop Mathes is completely right about the nature of this fight:  power.  It seems a strange coincidence that Robert Duncan became Archbishop so quickly.

In response to Virtue, I think he obviously has harvested a grudge in his heart some time and would do him well to seek forgiveness.  However, in spite of his harsh language, he does accurately portray misuse of constitutional power in the Episcopal Church, particularly by the Presiding Bishop.  There has been a surge in power given to the Presiding Bishops of the Episcopal Church since the early 20th century, partially due to the unchecked influence of Anglo-Catholicism on this body.  The Protestatnt Episcopal Church was originally a confederation of independent, soverign dioceses who elected a presiding bishop to lead the General Conventions.  This office has slowly morphed into a prelatical power, similar to an Archbishopric, save name only.

To fully understand this situation, it is important to grasp the canonical (i.e. legal) structure of The Episcopal Church. Parishes are creations of the diocese in which they are situated, in some cases deriving their tax-exempt status because they are an irrevocable part of the diocese. As a condition of ordination, clergy vow obedience to their bishop. Congregations begin as mission churches under the direct supervision and financial support of the bishop with property held by the diocese. When such a church becomes a parish, by vote of diocesan legislature, the congregation pledges to be subordinate to the constitution and canons of the Episcopal Church as well as the constitution and canons of the diocese. After becoming a parish, they may incorporate under the religious incorporation statutes of the state in which the congregation is situated. The diocese will usually transfer title to real property to the parish at that time to be held in trust for The Episcopal Church.

Legally correct. Perhaps. It should be remembered that nearly every parish was built and paid for by its people, not the church. The Dennis Canon has been defanged in the State of South Carolina. By no means is there certainty that the National Church will win in Ft. Worth, Virginia, San Joaquin or Quincy. Even if they do, the victories will be pyrrhic. TEC is losing market share and closing the equivalent of one whole diocese a year. The Diocese of Delaware will put its cathedral on the chopping block next year. The rump Bishop of Pittsburgh is trying to cut deals with a modicum of success, but at the end of the day, he will be left with empty properties he will be forced to sell for pennies on the dollar in the name of the Dennis Canon, Jefferts Schori and The Episcopal Church.

Even when they win the properties in property disputes, the victories are pyrrhic. The congregations are aging fast and disappearing. There is virtually no youth coming forward to take their place in the coming years either in the pews or pulpits.

Bishop Mathes is correct in that property belongs to the Episcopal Church and the courts of this nation are confirming this in their rulings.  I think departing congregations should realize this when they intend to leave.  Virtue's response is nothing less than a red herring.  The bishop explained the canonical reality of the structure of the Episcopal Church which has been confirmed by a majority of state courts.  This is not the time to discuss the benefits of the canonical structure of the Episcopal Church nor whether individual settlements could be made but rather the canonical structure is in favor of the Episcopal Church.

When individuals purported to alienate property, which had, been given to The Episcopal Church, I was bound by my fiduciary role as a bishop to prevent that from happening. Because The Episcopal Church, like so many others, follows state laws of incorporation, I had no alternative but to file suit in civil court to remedy the matter. This is analogous to a landlord finally going to civil court to gain relief from a non-paying renter or an owner using legal means to deal with a squatter. Thus, those leaving The Episcopal Church were catalysts of these lawsuits by breaking their solemn vows and by attempting to seize property they had no right to possess.

Not true. Some bishops have settled without going to court. Mathes conveniently forgets that the bishops of Central Florida, Dallas, Kansas and New Jersey have settled property disputes without going near a courtroom.

I think the Bishop could have pursued settlements with individual parishes such as other bishops have done, perhaps the best example involving St. George's in Helmetta, NJ.

What is particularly regrettable about Ms. Hemingway's piece is confusion about the relationship between The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, which is easily remedied with a simple visit to the Anglican Communion's official website. There you will find every diocese of The Episcopal Church in their cycle of prayer; you will not find The Anglican Church in North America on that list. This is not to say they do not need our prayers. It is simply an indicator of who is an Anglican and who has merely appropriated the label. You will not find Missouri Synod Lutherans there either. Thus, The Episcopal Church remains a constituent member of the Anglican Communion. Despite Ms. Hemingway's interpretations, our leader (called a primate), the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, is a participant in the Meeting of Primates of the Anglican Communion; Robert Duncan, the leader of the breakaway Anglican Church in North America, is not. At our last House of Bishops meeting, a gathering of all bishops of The Episcopal Church, we were visited by the primates of Japan and Central Africa. Like an eclectic extended family, we have our differences, but we regularly gather together.

The ABC or the Anglican Consultative Council might not recognize The ACNA and AMiA, but Archbishop Duncan, (ACNA) Bishop Chuck Murphy (AMiA) and all their fellow bishops are recognized by GAFCON/FCA and have strong collegial ties with nearly all Global South Anglican provinces including Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, South East Asia and the Southern Cone - together they represent more than 80% of the Anglican Communion

Bishop Mathes is correct, by leaving the Episcopal Church, departing congregations have departed from official Anglicanism.  The question remains to be solved from Canterbury as to how the oversight given by foreign bishops can provide a relationship to the Anglican Communion.  However, I note that the desire of ACNA is to remain Anglican and I think that the Communion should do its best to accomodate that desire.  Virtue's point is irrelevant to what Mathes said.  Bishop Mathes was commenting on the official definition of Anglicanism, which means to be in communion with the See of Canterbury, which ACNA is not.  It's not a numbers game, GAFCON's support does not make ACNA part of the Anglican Communion.

Ms. Hemingway suggests that The Episcopal Church is depriving these departing Episcopalians of a relationship to Anglican bishops and foreign dioceses. Oddly, these individuals claim to desire a relationship with a bishop of their own choosing. But bishops are those who by definition maintain order and oversight over the church. To put it in historical terms, this is rather like choosing to succeed from the nation when the current leadership is not to your liking. Thus, when the presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church urges her colleagues not to provide aid and comfort to those who would undermine our church, she has history on her side.

How much "order and oversight" has there been since Bishop Gene Robinson, an avowed non-celibate homosexual, was ordained to the episcopacy in 2003? It has brought nothing but chaos to the whole church. In nearly every diocese priests of conscience have asked for oversight or been forced to flee.

The argument that "choosing to succeed from the nation when the current leadership is not to your liking" is absurd. We can vote the leadership out or we can leave the nation (read church), which over 100,000 have done. Jefferts Schori could step down as the Archbishop of Canterbury is said to be contemplating -- 10 years before his time.

How much history will the Presiding Bishop have when all the indications are that by 2050 the Episcopal Church will be a shadow of its former self with a small handful of dying dioceses and large churches that have consolidated from dying ones? AMIA and ACNA are not looking for aid and comfort from TEC. They have never asked for it nor do they want it. They are getting on with the business of preaching the Good News, taking up the urgent call of the Great Commission and making disciples of Christ that TEC is not. And yes, they are planting new churches, opening up new dioceses across the country. What about that does Mathes not understand?

Bishop Mathes has a point here in that the historical relation of the bishop to his diocese is changing.  The relation of the episcopate to geography is almost completely lost in ACNA, although they have a set of geographic dioceses, the trend seems to be moving to affinity-based networks, which is historically not an Anglican approach to episcopacy.  However, this pattern has not spread to the Communion so it cannot be ruled out yet as definitively "unAnglican" yet.  Although I agree that the response of our bishops to departing congregations has been less than charitable and I hope better relations can flourish between those who have left and those who have stayed.

In response to Virtue, first, Bishop Robinson was elected by the Diocese of New Hampshire to be its bishop, it was not forced by the natioanl church.  It has brought chaos but it is something that can't be blamed on the leadership but rather the laity.

TEC is making disciples, that is an utterly false and ridiculous statement.  In my own diocese there is growth.  I have not seen ACNA statistics yet, so I cannot comment on the number of communicants, etc. in that body.  In reality, Mathes did not discuss church planting in his response so I think again that Virtue has diverted the discussion to his liking.  The nature of Mathes's response has to do with the canonical structure of the Episcopal Church and why the response has been taken by the bishops.

In the final analysis, no one has been excommunicated; rather some individuals have left our church. On their way out, they have tried to take what does not belong to them and, in an unimaginative attempt to cover their unseemly behavior, they have pointed the finger at their victim, The Episcopal Church. The Wall Street Journal and Ms. Hemingway have either been duped or shown a stunning lack of care in reporting. The only thing in this story that has been excommunicated is the truth.

What do you call "inhibition" and "deposition" if it's not excommunication by another name? If TEC is a "victim", it is a victim of its own bad theology and equally bad morals. TEC is reaping what it is sowing. It is sowing to the wind and reaping the whirlwind. TEC's own decline and fall is happening because they are doing it to themselves. No one is doing it to them.

"What do you call "inhibition" and "deposition" if it's not excommunication by another name?"  You call it inhibition and deposition because they are different from excommunication.  Excommunication means being barred from taking Communion while deposition and inhibition prohibit clergy from officiating at services.

Of course the bishops of our Church are under divine judgment for abandoning the doctrine of this Church and acting against His will but that does not grant the right to schism, at least in this author's humble opinion.  I end with a quote, "Those who schism with others do lightly bond among themselves."


Unknown said...

"Of course the bishops of our Church are under divine judgment for abandoning the doctrine of this Church and acting against His will but that does not grant the right to schism, at least in this author's humble opinion."

Okay, this leads me to ask this. When the church is not disciplining its Bishops or its people for doing unbiblical things, how long must the people of God suffer? You say the abandoning of the doctrine of the church by the leadership does not grant a right to schism. Tell me, when will the leadership re-embrace the faith and become biblical again? If they don't, when is enough enough? If they continue down the road they are going what will become of the church. They are leading TEC over the cliff. People have been telling them this for not just years, but decades. They refuse to listen. How is this leadership? Who has the authority to depose Schori when she is obviously unorthodox, and none of the other Bishops have the intestinal fortitude to oppose her? I think I've asked enough.

The Hackney Hub said...

I will attempt to answer your questions independently and adequately.

"When the church is not disciplining its Bishops or its people for doing unbiblical things, how long must the people of God suffer?"

I think in such cases as these, the laity are called to action. I recall an instance, perhaps I have the details wrong, but in the early Church there was a time when many bishops were Arians but due to the prayer and action of the laity, orthodoxy prevailed. The problem with splitting because of bad bishops is that we will never have perfect bishops because there is no perfect church. I always encourage people to read about the early 1700's in the Church of England, there were Arian bishops, Socinian bishops, bishops who wanted to include Unitarians in the National Church and every heresy under the sun. Heretical bishops are not new to the Church.

"You say the abandoning of the doctrine of the church by the leadership does not grant a right to schism. Tell me, when will the leadership re-embrace the faith and become biblical again?"

I can't tell you that, as it is in the Lord's hands, but I can tell you that it is farther away now that more orthodox priests and parishes have left, thus diminishing the orthodox voice in the Church.

" If they don't, when is enough enough? If they continue down the road they are going what will become of the church. They are leading TEC over the cliff. People have been telling them this for not just years, but decades. They refuse to listen. How is this leadership?'

PEUCSA has been in trouble for more than one hundred years. By 1900 Anglo-Catholicism and Liberalism dominated the Church. The Church is still the Church. It's not good leadership but they are the elected leaders of our Church. You see, the problem with TEC is not the bishops but the laity. As you know, bishops are elected in TEC, thus they reflect the theology of the laity. If we want to change anything, we have to change the laity, not the bishops.

"Who has the authority to depose Schori when she is obviously unorthodox, and none of the other Bishops have the intestinal fortitude to oppose her?"

There are canonical procedures to depose the Presiding Bishop which is something that should be explored.

Anonymous said...

Does non-resistance and passive obedience apply to fleeing to another diocese or seeking a flying bishop? All we can do is go 'down the Erastian ladder', this being our litany. Perhaps this is complicated by the PECUSA constitution which was based on state dioceses unlike York and Canterbury that began with the province. Keble seems to outline an approach which I'm not sure fits the 1977 crowd, but, considering the relative autonomy of dioceses in America, might apply to the Ordinaries which left with their flock for ACNA:

“It is very possible that I may overlook something which materially affects this question, and which may be plain enough to other persons; but it does seem to me that in the case supposed (of a public censure, and dispensation, refused), loyalty to the Church, her Creed or her Order both, could only be maintained by one of the two following courses: either we should continue in our ministry, respect, fully stating our case, and making appeal to the Metropolitan, or as Archbishop Cranmer did, to the Synod, and that publicly–which course one should be slow to adopt except in a matter which concerned the very principles of Faith and of Church Communion;–or else we should tender to our superiors our relinquishment of the post which we held under them in the Church, and retire either into some other diocese, or, if all our Bishops were agreed into lay communion. The objections in point of scandal to these two courses would be, that the former might sound under present circumstances more as a way of talking than anything else: the latter, unless the case were very amply and openly explained, would appear as if one conceded the notion of the Articles being incapable of a Catholic sense. But explanations might be given. And it seems on the whole that with the exception of such extreme cases as just now put, of positive heresy in one of the Most Sacred Order, this resource of lay communion, painful and trying as it must be in most cases, both in a temporal and spiritual sense, would be the only one properly open to us. Farther than it we could not even appear to separate from that which we believe to be the manifestation of the Holy Catholic Church in our country. We might be excommunicated, but we could neither join ourselves to any of the uncatholic communities around us, nor form a new communion for ourselves. We could not be driven into schism against our will. We could only wait patiently at the Church door, wishing and praying that our bonds might be taken off, and pleading our cause as we best might from reason and Scripture and Church precedents. So little ground is there for the surmise, that advocating the Catholic sense of the Articles is symptomatic of a tendency to depart from the English Church.” (John Keble, The Case of Catholic Subscription)