« September 2005 | Main

increasing chaos among breakaway movements

Officials of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin made much in October of proposed changes to their constitution. The changes they were advocating as of October 1 -- the ones that diocesan public relations officer Fr. Van McCalister announced here had been with the diocese's secretary of convention since September 1 -- can be found here. These changes would remove all reference to the Diocese of San Joaquin being part of The Episcopal Church or subject to The Episcopal Church's constitution and canons, instead saying that the diocese "accedes to the Faith, Order and Practice of a province of that branch of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church known as the Anglican Communion" in an attempt "to transfer all relationships and communion from ECUSA to an Anglican Province to be determined at a Special Convention called by the Bishop of San Joaquin."

The last 48 hours have seen a fair amount of confusion and speculation, though, as the Fresno Bee and the AP each reported that the diocese had backed down from their earlier proposal to break with The Episcopal Church. As always, Jim Naughton of the Diocese of Washington was on top of developments, but it was difficult to ascertain what precisely was going on without a published text of any revised proposals for San Joaquin's convention.

As of the afternoon of November 30, the Fresno Bee was reporting the change in direction this way:

Clergy and lay delegates had been poised to consider a groundbreaking resolution to split from the Episcopal Church - the U.S. wing of the 77 million-member Anglican family - as divisions over the Bible and sexuality tear at the faith's national leadership.

Instead, they'll consider a watered-down proposal that makes no significant changes to the conservative diocese's status. Amendments can be made during the meeting, which starts Friday.

"Instead of declaring that we're on our way to this or that province, it says we recognize and declare that we're Anglican," said the Rev. Van McCalister, a spokesman for the diocese, which covers a wide swath of Central California.

The AP said this:

Episcopal leaders offered conservatives more independence from the national church Thursday, as a California diocese quietly backed down from its threat of a swift break with the denomination. ...

A spokesman for the Diocese of San Joaquin, the Rev. Van McCalister, would not elaborate Thursday on why his diocese changed course on breaking away.

Today, the Connecticut Six blog published what they presented as "a copy of a new amendment to be proposed at the convention in San Joaquin after the committee votes to remove the initial new amendment." If this is accurate, I'd say that the Fresno Bee and AP leads were misleading. The text of the newly proposed constitutional amendments removes all references to the Diocese of San Joaquin being a part of The Episcopal Church and subject to its constitution and canons; as Fr. McCalister told the Fresno Bee, the only thing the new proposed revisions don't suggest that the old ones did is that the diocese would be joining another province immediately. But the new revisions do say far more than "we recognize and declare that we're Anglican" -- something that wouldn't need declaring as long as the diocese was a part of The Episcopal Church, a province that is fully a member of the Anglican Communion according to the Archbishop of Canterbury. I find two things very interesting about the newly proposed amendments:

First, and unmentioned in news coverage to date, is that the newly proposed revisions to San Joaquin's constitution include an entirely new one:

4. To Amend Article I of the Constitution which requires a ¾ vote of approval by orders.
Following the word “embrace” add the words “but not be limited to”, so as to read:
Article I

Title and Territory
This Diocese shall be known as the Diocese of San Joaquin. Its territory shall embrace but not be limited to [emphasis mine -- SDB] all that portion of the State of California included in the counties of San Joaquin, Alpine, Stanislaus, Calaveras, Mono, Merced, Mariposa, Tuolomne, Madera, Fresno, Kings, Tulare, Kern, and Inyo.

In other words, the report of Fr. Jake Stops the World that San Joaquin Bishop John-David Schofield's presentations to congregations included the claim that he would be free in the new structure he envisions to plant new congregations "even in deepest, darkest Los Angeles, and the deepest, darkest San Francisco ... wherever" now have solid (well, as solid as the Connecticut Six blog's report) textual evidence to back it up. So much for "Windsor compliance"; the Bishop of San Joaquin plans to plant congregations in the dioceses of other Anglican Communion bishops. If Fr. Jake's report is correct, he's also claiming to have the backing of "the Primates" -- or at least, the six who recently visited the U.S. for the board meeting of Anglican Relief and Development -- per a message from Bishop Duncan of Pittsburgh.

Second, the last-minute scrambling in San Joaquin is strongly reminiscent of the scrambling that took place earlier among bishops petitioning the Archbishop of Canterbury for:

  • alternative primatial oversight (oops, that was rejected as a term in September)
  • a direct relationship with the Archbishop of Canterbury (that got dropped pretty quickly)
  • a Commissary (defined by Bishop Stanton of Dallas, who proposed the term, as "a sort of vicar from colonial days")
  • a Vicar (offered by the Presiding Bishop and colleagues coming out of the November meeting that +Duncan, +Iker, and others boycotted, and so the idea of "a sort of vicar" -- which a Primatial Vicar would most definitely be -- got dropped in a hurry)
  • alternative primatial oversight -- which is once again the Anglican Communion Network's term of choice, now that a Primatial Vicar was offered and the offer rejected on the same day, on the grounds that it was not sufficiently "primatial" (the very ground on which Bishop Stanton asked specifically for "a sort of vicar" instead) as well as not sufficiently "alternative" and not "oversight." I can't help but wonder what Bishop Stanton thinks of all this.

Not only have the breakaway organizations failed to come up with a consistent and coherent vision of what kind of "oversight" or "care" they want and who could or should provide it, but they also don't agree on what kind of new or reconstituted structure or structures would be best, with various parties proposing:

  • In the case of San Joaquin's newly proposed constitutional revisions, simply breaking off from The Episcopal Church without joining anything else, resulting in "The Anglican Church of San Joaquin," a province consisting of a single diocese "in full communion with the See of Canterbury";
  • In most proposals from the Anglican Communion Network, forming with others a non-geographic or mix of geographic (e.g., the Diocese of Pittsburgh, except that individual parishes would supposedly be free to declare themselves part of another diocese, making for diocesan borders looking a little like patterns in a kitchen strainer) and non-geographic (e.g., the "Forward in Faith Convocation") judicatories to form a "Province X" of The Episcopal Church -- but seemingly not under its Presiding Bishop, constitution, or canons;
  • joining another Anglican province (e.g., the Church of Uganda, Rwanda, or Nigeria);
  • forming a "'college' of bishops and dioceses within The Episcopal Church ... without this requiring either an alternative province or the intervention of bishops from outside the US."

This last "'college' of bishops and dioceses" option is the proposal of the Anglican Communion Institute (ACI), released today on its own website after versions appeared yesterday on the Stand Firm blog and TitusOneNine. Although the ACI shares with the Stand Firm and TitusOneNine blogs the "few good men" model of volunteer writers, it has -- until yesterday -- sought to distance itself from these other blogs, which function most often as a rapid-response machines to energize a highly partisan base, and instead sought to present itself as a kind of six-man (the ACI's regular contributors are all male, all priests, and I believe all white) online academic institution, albeit without scholarly peer review beyond their six "collegial theologians."

The ACI's previous offerings have, for the most part, been characterized by a measured tone, careful argumentation, and copious sourcing -- with the notable exception of yesterday's "Proposal for an Interium [sic] Arrangement While Awaiting a Conciliar Communion Covenant." This proposal -- a proposed alternative to the one released on ENS and the Anglican Communion News Service yesterday, and welcomed (albeit "cautiously") by the Archbishop of Canterbury -- was released to conservative blogs before being published on the ACI's own website, a move which I thought last night might indicate a rush to publish prompted by the Presiding Bishop's proposal.

The text released on those blogs (and now on the ACI's website as well) included a kind of apology for the timing of the release in an introduction that, especially in comparison to the ACI's usual tone and care, strikes me as hastily scribbled. It notes (in what seems to function rhetorically as a kind of apology, in the sense of defense) that their proposal, despite the timing of its release, was a much earlier creation "that has previously been circulated among some of the leadership of the Anglican Communion." The spelling errors that riddle the proposal (most embarrassingly, the spelling of Dromantine as "Dromentine," given that the Primates' Dromantine communiqué is the only primary source to which they refer, even obliquely, in their proposal) are only the first and most obvious indication that, in a student paper, would suggest to me a project rushed to very rapid completion, with no time for proofreading, let alone careful crafting.

Please don't get me wrong: SarahLaughed.net has all kinds of typographical, spelling, and grammatical errors. I am, after all, just one gal with a website that I maintain in my spare time, such as it is. The ACI website, unlike SarahLaughed.net, goes to some lengths to establish itself as being something other than "six guys with a website and some spare time," from the academic-sounding domain name to the academic terminology of "collegial" (without a college) and "fellows." All but one of the six guys of the ACI have a Ph.D., and every honorific title gets listed not only on the front page, but in every byline.

All of those are small measures that add up to more by their consistency. The academic ring of ACI postings means even more. Contrary to popular stereotypes about academics, most of us don't talk with friends or write notes to family in sixteen-page treatises with copious footnotes and measured tones; when we do strike those notes and pack that much information into an argument, it's because significant time, effort, and care has been taken. When the ACI risks undermining the reputation built up with such time, effort, and care over the course of years by publishing something that looks more like a memo dashed off in an hour than a proposal crafted over the course of weeks and vetted by a broad spectrum of thinkers -- especially on a topic as important as this -- there's got to be a reason.

The most convincing explanation to me remains the most obvious one: the ACI proposal has such a rushed tone because it was very, very rushed. It was released to partisan bloggers first because they could get it published most quickly, and time was of the essence. And time was of the essence because of the sudden rush of competing and conflicting proposals and responses being fired off by the rapidly responding (but not particularly disciplined or coordinated, it seems) machines of organizations that share with the ACI a feeling that, as their proposal states, "any solution that ... leaves her [i.e., the Presiding Bishop] fully at the table" is unacceptable, but seem to agree on little else.

I found myself somewhat astonished that the ACI, normally a group that takes great pains to provide extensive theological justification for their proposals, would state it so baldly and without any reference to scripture or the Church's tradition: I cannot help but suspect that the "conciliar" covenant the ACI awaits, like proposals for the interim, will be evaluated above all on the basis of whether it could ever allow for Katharine Jefferts Schori to be "at the table."

In any case, the ACI's uncharacteristic haste to release a document so clearly "not ready for prime time," and to do so first via conservative bloggers, points to a something of far greater consequence. The proposal from New York for a Primatial Vicar did not require such a rapid answer from the ACI; implementing it would take time and consultation, allowing the ACI time for to exercise their customary care before posting. But other conservative leaders were in rapid response mode, and were making very public statements with language and envisioning structures completely incompatible with the ACI's proposals.

In other words, I believe it's possible that the primary audience for the ACI's hasty release -- the people the ACI was hoping most to influence by it -- were not Primates abroad, but conservatives in the U.S., whom the ACI hopes will unite around their creative, if rather confusing, proposal of a "'college' of bishops" (even they have to put "college" in quotes for the phrase) both within and apart from the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church, and exercising episkope over some, but not all, of the congregations in their dioceses, as well as over some congregations in other bishops' dioceses.

The details of how on earth that could work (aside from providing full employment for Carter Center observers called upon to monitor innumerable fraught congregational votes on who their bishop should be this week or this month) are of as little importance as their complete neglect in the ACI proposal suggests; the main point of the ACI proposal, in my reading, is that breakaway organizations will not be able to gain traction for their proposals so long as they depend upon something the Windsor Report -- in the tradition of church councils going back at least to Nicea -- clearly condemns: namely, the intervention of foreign bishops in others' provinces.

The six guys of the ACI are seeking to combat the significant confusion and dissension among breakaway movements regarding what they want to happen, which in turn represent significant confusion within and conflict among underlying assumptions of ecclesiology: they cannot agree on what it means to be church, and "one holy, catholic, and apostolic" at that; what it means to be in communion; and what it means to be "in Christ" -- all of which, I would say, are in essence one question.

In that endeavor in particular, I am praying for the ACI's success. Something they and I share wholeheartedly, I hope, is the conviction that the Church is called to koinonia -- not "impaired communion" or "associate membership in communion," but Communion, full stop. Anything less among those who celebrate the Eucharist, the Lord's Meal, slanders against the Holy Spirit into whom we were Baptized and the one Lord at whose table we claim to gather.

I may not share the particularities of their vision as to how we might best live into God's call to Christ's Body to be one as Christ is one, but I have to say this: if the subtle and not-so-subtle sniping and competition among those most vociferously proclaiming themselves the guardians of the orthodoxy and koinonia at the heart of the Windsor Report's most helpful exhortations is any indication of what the family of Anglican churches would be like if they had authority to implement their proposals without deep, lengthy, and broad consultation, I think that our current and very messy polity is the better course. If the breakaway movements of American Episcopalians do come to define what the next stages of our life together in the Anglican Communion look like, I hope the ACI's six guys succeed in basing it on principles of conciliarity rather than the competing and fractious rhetoric of some of their conservative competitors within (for the moment) The Episcopal Church. But I remain confident that God calls us to more than that -- to a Communion that includes all the Baptized -- and I look forward to partnering with any and all working toward that goal.

December 3, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0)