GC2012: Nine Episcopal bishops face the music (and it ain’t hip-hop)

July 6, 2012

This is not part of the official agenda of GC77, but the timing is either a brilliant  piece of intimidation directed at any who might oppose human church authorities, or a colossal miscalculation which is bound to misfire. Nine Episcopal bishops (four of them sitting bishops) have been sent emails containing notification of pending charges connected with statements that are alleged to be contrary to the property rights and interests of TEC.

(NOTE: While reading reports of the notifications sent to Episcopal bishops about their statements in the civil actions involving Quincey and Fort Worth, I erroneously counted bishops involved in both cases. Some of the bishops are involved in both. Let’s settle on “nine” as the correct number, with my apologies for the confusion.)

If you expect this little commentary to conclude with a ruling of some sort, forget it. The issues involved deep and longstanding disagreements about the lawful reach of the national organization. The accused bishops have reportedly prepared a response to the charges, and those will probably not be heard in GC. If anybody cares about the opinion of a complete outsider, that is hardly the place for a hearing of such serious matters. However, this episode is not being conducted in private. There are some “first priority” issues that should be discussed

First of all, even if the original civil actions to secure Diocesan assets of Quincy and Ft. Worth were warranted and prudent, there is a larger and very real question concerning the propriety of taking such a step in the secular courts. Does this bring honor to the name of Jesus Christ. There is another way of looking at this. Even though many very fine and intelligent people are repulsed by the Dennis Canon (which grants all local Episcopal Church property to the national body), is it really a good idea to continue this fight? Depending on where you live, courts have had differing opinions about the disposition of Episcopal Church property.This does a great deal of harm to our Great Commission obligation to teach and baptize.

What must unbelievers think of such scandalous divisions? Does a dependence on property and money suggest a lack of trust in Jesus Christ, the head of this living organism we call the church? Yes, it does. Many brave Christians in Africa conduct the Lord’s Supper under a tree. This will fly in the face of the typical American idea of autonomy and self-determination, but Jesus Christ once suggested that his true followers would turn the other cheek.

As to the charges against the bishops who dare exercise the right of conscience in connection with what they consider a solemn duty, many thoughtful people would wonder about the motivation of such harsh tactics, and what deeper meaning this portends about the national organization.You would have to be pretty darned thick not to see how this situation is simply oozing with  irony at the sight of this current Episcopal leadership ruling with such a rod of iron.

One of the bishops described the action as “Stalinist.” While none of the offenders will be shipped off to Siberia if convicted, the angry swipe at men who are shepherds of God’s flock, anointed in Apostolic Succession, and traditionally held to be living symbols of unity, raises a concern about the apparatus working against them. This method of accusation strongly suggests that TEC feels so diminished and robbed of moral authority, that it has no other recourse but this kind of threat.  Even if the accused bishops have done wrong, and I am not suggesting that they have, this group of individuals, set apart for Christ’s ministry, certainly deserve better treatment than to have their personal honor and integrity impugned by email.

The bishops singled out for disciplinary hearings have promised a statement, and that will be heard with great interest. One may strongly suspect that their argument will be drenched in correctness, but that may not be enough. It is time for mature and self-critical Anglicans to ask what good would be served by continued opposition to TEC. You may think this is surrender, but it is actually a declaration of war against the real enemy. If Jesus has indeed been given all authority in heaven and on earth, then we have no choice but to get on with his Great Commission. If we depend on his provision and the leadership of the Holy Spirit, we will be given better buildings, more money for mission, and a place at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.

We have been told to love our enemies and to pray for them, so it should be easy to love our old friends. It is possible to love people without agreeing. Living in peace honors the gospel of peace and makes us better stewards of God’s gifts.


6 Responses to “GC2012: Nine Episcopal bishops face the music (and it ain’t hip-hop)”

  1. A thought: perhaps the episcopate should counsel together on these matters and come back to the National church with their consensus? Would you agree that as a matter of collegiality folks should not blindside one another in matters of litigation? And at the same time, perhaps one should ask if your critique of focus on property does not apply to all those involved? Perhaps this whole matter is the Holy Spirit’s way of asking, “What is the Way?” Thoughts?

    • patlynch Says:

      I agree completely. The emphasis on property is obviously present on both sides (as much as I dislike reducing things to “us” versus “them”). One would think that Christian people, being led by the Holy Spirit, would have found a mutually agreeable solution to the property question. In the alternative, somebody needs to turn the other cheek.

  2. patlynch Says:

    I slept on your idea, and it has some positive aspects. My larger concern is probably more pastoral. If there were an attempted settlement, that would mean that people would take up side and start cheering for “us” versus “them.” A very unhealthy situation would just get worse. The “assets” are not worth the fight – and it would be public, even if the meetings were private. Time to turn the other cheek.

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