Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Circle Begins to Close

Uh-oh: maybe this could have been predicted, but then again, hindsight brings the connections into sharper focus:

The Episcopal Church
Office of Public Affairs

Bishop Stacy Sauls named Episcopal Church Chief Operating Officer

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has named Bishop Stacy F. Sauls as Chief Operating Officer for the Episcopal Church.

“The Episcopal Church Center exists to support the Church in serving a diverse and changing world,” noted Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori. “The churchwide staff has achieved new levels of excellence and innovation as the Church Center has been reorganized and some staff has been dispersed to offices in other geographic regions of the Church. This transition represents a healthy and forward-looking opportunity to build on that good work. Bishop Sauls brings a unique set of gifts to the next chapter of this ministry, particularly his distinguished service as a diocesan bishop. I am deeply grateful that he will join us in facilitating this work.”

Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori made the announcement May 31.

As Chief Operating Officer, Sauls will oversee the staff of the Episcopal Church Center in New York City as well as offices located in Washington, DC, Los Angeles, CA, Seattle, WA, Puerto Rico, and elsewhere. Sauls will coordinate the work of the Church’s mission program, communication, finance and administration duties while assisting the Presiding Bishop in her role as Chief Executive Officer. Also, he will be an ex-officio member of the Executive Council and an active member of the board of Episcopal Relief & Development.

“This is the most interesting and rewarding time I can imagine to serve the Episcopal Church,” noted Sauls, Bishop of Lexington for more than a decade. “I am anxious to collaborate in the transformative leadership being provided by our Presiding Bishop and the devoted service being offered by Bonnie Anderson, President of the House of Deputies, and to bring my own creativity in challenging situations to the team. I am grateful to the Presiding Bishop for her confidence and the Executive Council for its endorsement.”

To think: the author of this Memorandum, which sought to justify the Presiding Bishop's uncanonical actions after the fact, is now to serve at her right hand.

The head of the Episcopal Church Property Task Force, who "expressed his concern that the [Episcopal] organization only has available to it 20 hours per week of legal counsel and is increasingly concerned that the church does not have a lawyer", is now the chief operations officer for that organization. As a former attorney, he will now not be able to become that lawyer, because he will be taking his orders from the Presiding Bishop -- in connection with whom he remarked, in the same quote linked above:

The EC does not have counsel, even though the PB does have and, it seems, everyone assumes that the PB’s counsel is everyone else’s counsel.

Will he now make that same assumption?

Did anyone else hear the sound of a clasp snapping shut at 815?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Breaking Down the Rule of Law

What is one to say about the current instances of lawlessness at all levels of society? Consider just the following:

Young punks feel they can get away with vandalizing a donut shop just so they can help themselves to donuts and drinks. The police have no suspects, and doubtless their ineffectiveness emboldens the punks.

A divided (3-2) New Jersey Supreme Court decides that the precise amount which the legislature should appropriate to "poorer" school districts is five hundred million dollars -- never mind what the legislature thinks, or where the money is to come from; the court orders the legislature to authorize the spending of the money. (Should the legislature take the $500 million from the budget it allocates to the courts?)

The United States Supreme Court, by a 5-4 majority, orders that California immediately release 37,000 of its incarcerated inmates, in order (ostensibly) that California might be able to provide better medical care to its inmates who remain incarcerated. (In other words, California should release only the most able-bodied of its inmates -- the ones who are presently able to cause the most harm, but who do not, accordingly, require any ongoing medical treatment. Either that, or it should release the sickliest inmates for other California communities to care for, allowing it to spread its limited health care options among the ones who are not as sick. That is a Hobson's choice.)

President Obama, after pushing strongly to enact universal health care reform, has allowed his administration to issue 1,372 exemptions from the legislation's requirements to provide universal coverage to their employees, thereby encouraging widespread cynicism about the sincerity of the so-called "reform."

Despite his contentions in 2007 (as Senator Obama) that the presidential power did not include the ability to order a unilateral attack on a country posing no current threat to the United States, Barack Obama (as President) did precisely that in regard to Libya in 2011.

President Obama's attorney general, Eric Holder, apparently feels free to authorize criminal indictments against the very CIA employees whose interrogation techniques violated (so he now claims) the law. Those techniques, authorized by the same DOJ which he now heads, indisputably contributed to the recent location and killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.

Is it any wonder, then, given the widespread disrespect for the rule of law in our society, that the same kinds of lawlessness are seen in the church? And not just in any church, but in the Episcopal Church (USA) -- again, at all levels?

At the highest level, there is an entire page of links on this blog to posts which catalogue the multiple canonical offenses committed by the Presiding Bishop and those around her. The canonical offenses committed by General Convention and by the House of Bishops are catalogued there, as well.

But there is lawlessness at the diocesan level, too, as when the Bishop of Massachusetts conducted a wedding ceremony in violation of the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer.

Or as in the case of the Bishop of Pennsylvania, who, after his reinstatement following the dismissal of "conduct unbecoming" charges on narrow statute of limitations grounds, has continued his long-standing feud with the diocesan Standing Committee, has ignored their requests, and insists on remaining Bishop even though all meaningful communication between him and his Diocese has broken down.

The lawlessness extends, alas, down to the parish level, where many priests openly welcome "all persons" to the rail at Holy Communion, baptized or not, and brag about their violation of Canon I.17.7 -- now with the backing of the national Church.

According to most political philosophers, religion (from the Latin re-ligio, meaning "bind again") has been the most frequent source of the formation of communities with shared values.

Thus the question becomes: if the church herself cannot observe the rule of law, who -- or what -- will set the standard for the community which enables the church to function? And how long can any institution last without the rule of law?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Be Not Ashamed of Your Faith

Today's Gospel reading was from the famous (or, depending on how you interpret it, infamous) fourteenth chapter of John, verses 1 through 14:
Jesus’ Parting Words to His Disciples

14:1 “Do not let your hearts be distressed. You believe in God; believe also in me. 14:2 There are many dwelling places in my Father’s house. Otherwise, I would have told you, because I am going away to make ready a place for you. 14:3 And if I go and make ready a place for you, I will come again and take you to be with me, so that where I am you may be too. 14:4 And you know the way where I am going.”

14:5 Thomas said, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 14:6 Jesus replied, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 14:7 If you have known me, you will know my Father too. And from now on you do know him and have seen him.”

14:8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be content.” 14:9 Jesus replied, “Have I been with you for so long, and you have not known me, Philip? The person who has seen me has seen the Father! How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 14:10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you, I do not speak on my own initiative, but the Father residing in me performs his miraculous deeds. 14:11 Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me, but if you do not believe me, believe because of the miraculous deeds themselves.14:12 I tell you the solemn truth, the person who believes in me will perform the miraculous deeds that I am doing, and will perform greater deeds than these, because I am going to the Father. 14:13And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14:14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

Why is this passage famous (or infamous)? Consider this interchange between a reporter for Time magazine and the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church (USA):
Q Is belief in Jesus the only way to get to heaven?

A We who practice the Christian tradition understand him as our vehicle to the divine. But for us to assume that God could not act in other ways is, I think, to put God in an awfully small box.
(And this was not an isolated instance. She elaborated on her answer later with an NPR interviewer -- and in doing so hastened the departure of certain parishes in Virginia from the Church.)

Do you see the mistake here? Simply put, Bishop Schori's answer separates the Father from the Son -- it ignores the Holy Trinity. Jesus and God act independently of each other; Jesus, far from being One with the triune God, is a mere "vehicle" with which to approach God's presence.

It is evident from the context of his words (re-read the whole passage!) that what Jesus was saying (to paraphrase it clumsily) was this: "The Father and I are one -- I am in Him, and He is in me. You cannot approach the Father without approaching me." (Paraphrases -- that is, departures from what the Greek is saying, in an attempt to explain it better to English speakers, are dangerous. That is why translations such as The Contemporary English Version, God's Word and The Good News Translation must always be checked against a literal translation, such as the Net Bible I have quoted here. For example, the former three all translate the Greek phrase erkhetai pros in this passage as "goes to" rather than "comes to": "No one goes to the Father except through me." That unfortunate choice adds to the sense of separation from the speaker, who is Jesus, while "comes" strengthens the context that the speaker and the destination -- God -- are one and the same.)

Those, like the Presiding Bishop, who treat his words as saying: "Unless you believe in me, you cannot get into heaven" are perpetuating the false dichotomy of exclusivity versus inclusivity that has so broken up the Episcopal Church -- and the Anglican Communion, for that matter. Jesus is neither exclusive nor inclusive. Those are the wrong words to describe what he offers us, because they imply that he does all the choosing. (Those who believe in predestination, I realize, will not have any problem with that implication.) The choice is the believer's, to believe or not to believe, to go on sinning, or to strive to sin no more -- and Jesus is simply stating a truism: if you believe in the Father, you believe in him, and vice versa, because he and the Father are one.

Jesus emphasizes again and again in the passage quoted above that he and the Father are one and indivisible. As human beings alive on earth, the only form in which Jesus' disciples could encounter God was in the person of Jesus himself -- that is why he throws Philip's question back at him: "Have I been with you for so long, and you have not known me, Philip?". To know "me" -- i.e., Jesus -- was to know the Father, whom Philip foolishly asked Jesus to show to them.

All of us, however, who were born after Jesus died on the cross, can no longer encounter God in the flesh here on earth -- at least not until the Second Coming (as of this writing, alas, not yet under way). Our encounters with God, or the risen Jesus, are spiritual ones. But make no mistake: they two, along with the Holy Spirit, are one and the same God. Jesus himself told us so.

To encounter God spiritually is to encounter Jesus, whether one recognizes the latter as such or not. If what Jesus told us was true (and we can be certain that it was), then there is no God without Jesus, and no Jesus without God. God without Jesus is an intellectual abstraction, a god without love, and of no practical consequence to humans, while Jesus without God is a pointless sacrifice of a good and holy man.

Have no concern, therefore, for the ultimate fate of those who claim to find their paths to God other than through Jesus -- it's not up to you. While men may separate Jesus from God in their own minds, rejecting the former while claiming to accept the latter, if it is truly God whom they encounter, then they are also encountering Jesus at one and the same time. Whether they are aware of that truth or not does not make it any less the truth. We who have been given the gospel message are thus doubly blessed, because we have been given also the key to understanding the true meaning of such encounters: since God and Jesus are one (with the Holy Spirit), we reach the one through the other, and at the same time. For that same reason, we do not have to worry about being called "exclusive" or "inclusive" -- one who truly believes in God the Holy Trinity cannot be described by those words, because other people's choices are not up to the believer.

It is ironic, therefore, in light of Jesus' clear message to his disciples, that today's lectionary also included this passage from 1 Peter 2:4-10:
A Living Stone, a Chosen People

2:4 So as you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but chosen and priceless in God’s sight, 2:5 you yourselves, as living stones, are built up as a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood and to offer spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 2:6 For it says in scripture, “Look, I lay in Zion a stone, a chosen and priceless cornerstone, and whoever believes in him will never be put to shame.2:7 So you who believe see his value, but for those who do not believe, the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone, 2:8 and a stumbling-stone and a rock to trip over.They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may proclaim the virtues of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 2:10 You once were not a people, but now you are God’s people. You were shown no mercy, but now you have received mercy.

As Peter carefully explains (and who should know this better than Peter?), Jesus is at one and the same time "a chosen and priceless cornerstone", but also "a stumbling-stone and a rock to trip over." Those who stumble on the rock of Jesus are precisely those who would claim that making belief in Him the criterion for admission to heaven is "to put God in an awfully small box." So to speak, I say, is to separate that which cannot be separated, and also to commit the Arian heresy of thinking that Jesus is "smaller" than God.

But it is not just the Presiding Bishop who stumbles over the correct interpretation of Jesus' words in John 14:6. Those who came to the defense of her reading included many of her ilk (including Episcopal Cafe and the usual blogs), as well as even some atheists. And in the attractiveness of such a misreading to so many lies the truth of Peter's description of Jesus as a "stumbling-stone."

Only those, you see, who feel defensive about their faith are the ones who can be made susceptible to guilty feelings about its so-called "exclusivity." The apologia run in this vein: "Well, I know I have my faith in Jesus to get me into heaven, but that doesn't mean you have to think as I do to get there is well. God is very big, and wonderful are His ways -- I am sure He can find other paths for you to get to Him, as well. Now, isn't that inclusive of me?" And if you are defensive about Jesus, then he is a stumbling-stone for you.

The answer, therefore, which I wish our Presiding Bishop had given to Time's interviewer would run something like this:
“‘Belief in Jesus’ is the same as belief in God. So your question really asks if belief in God is the only way to get to heaven. Now, maybe you could think that there is a heaven without God, but that's not very likely. If you don't believe in God, you won't believe in heaven. So the answer to your question is ‘Yes’ -- belief in God is the only way ‘to get to heaven,’ as you put it.”
That is being neither defensive, nor offensive -- it is simply stating a truism. And that the reporter's question could have been answered so simply shows why the question itself is a loaded one: it tries to put Christians on the defensive. "Be not ashamed of your faith."

Christ is the cornerstone -- he does not have to be a stumbling-block, unless you let it happen. Again, "be not ashamed of your faith."

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Lift Thine Eyes

This article last month in the Financial Post, little noticed in the media, provides some refreshing and down-to-earth treatment of the so-called global warming controversy. Its author, David Evans, is a mathematician and engineer, with six university degrees; he worked from 1999 to 2005 in the Australian Department of Climate Change, modeling the carbon content in Australia's environment, and returned there to work part time in 2008 to 2010 -- but no longer. He was once fully aboard the bandwagon that claimed there is man-caused (anthropogenic) global warming; but now the manifold failures of models to predict our climate have convinced him to the contrary. (Or not exactly the contrary: he agrees that there is some man-caused global warming, but that it is minuscule, inconsequential, and completely swamped by the earth's own feedback mechanisms.) An excerpt:
The whole idea that carbon dioxide is the main cause of the recent global warming is based on a guess that was proved false by empirical evidence during the 1990s. But the gravy train was too big, with too many jobs, industries, trading profits, political careers, and the possibility of world government and total control riding on the outcome. So rather than admit they were wrong, the governments, and their tame climate scientists, now outrageously maintain the fiction that carbon dioxide is a dangerous pollutant.
He explains the previously dominant theory in words that any layman can understand:
Most scientists, on both sides, also agree on how much a given increase in the level of carbon dioxide raises the planet’s temperature, if just the extra carbon dioxide is considered. These calculations come from laboratory experiments; the basic physics have been well known for a century.

The disagreement comes about what happens next.

The planet reacts to that extra carbon dioxide, which changes everything. Most critically, the extra warmth causes more water to evaporate from the oceans. But does the water hang around and increase the height of moist air in the atmosphere, or does it simply create more clouds and rain? Back in 1980, when the carbon dioxide theory started, no one knew. The alarmists guessed that it would increase the height of moist air around the planet, which would warm the planet even further, because the moist air is also a greenhouse gas.
Mathematical models of climate change are each based on an assumed "amplification" of the greenhouse effect that results from the increased production of moist air as the earth's temperature rises:
This is the core idea of every official climate model: For each bit of warming due to carbon dioxide, they claim it ends up causing three bits of warming due to the extra moist air. The climate models amplify the carbon dioxide warming by a factor of three — so two-thirds of their projected warming is due to extra moist air (and other factors); only one-third is due to extra carbon dioxide.

That’s the core of the issue. All the disagreements and misunderstandings spring from this. The alarmist case is based on this guess about moisture in the atmosphere, and there is simply no evidence for the amplification that is at the core of their alarmism.
Somehow, that predicted increase of heightened, moist air was never found, despite massive searches for its existence. To keep the theory alive, scientists used distorted and even falsified data:
At this point, official “climate science” stopped being a science. In science, empirical evidence always trumps theory, no matter how much you are in love with the theory. If theory and evidence disagree, real scientists scrap the theory. But official climate science ignored the crucial weather balloon evidence, and other subsequent evidence that backs it up, and instead clung to their carbon dioxide theory — that just happens to keep them in well-paying jobs with lavish research grants, and gives great political power to their government masters.
Instead of being locked into a cycle of steadily increasing warming, recent satellite data (unbiased by the artificial warming measured by earthbound weather stations, which are often located in direct sunlight, or next to hot asphalt, or air conditioning condensers) shows that we are headed into a shorter-term cycle of global cooling (as though anyone coming through the recent snowy spring needed to be told that):
The Earth has been in a warming trend since the depth of the Little Ice Age around 1680. Human emissions of carbon dioxide were negligible before 1850 and have nearly all come after the Second World War, so human carbon dioxide cannot possibly have caused the trend. Within the trend, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation causes alternating global warming and cooling for 25 to 30 years at a go in each direction. We have just finished a warming phase, so expect mild global cooling for the next two decades.
But the consequences of the mania induced by the global warming alarmists will continue to shackle us even as we huddle close to our heaters and furnace vents. California already has a cap-and-trade system in place, and there is still a strong movement among the Democrats to impose such a system nationally. The moratorium on drilling for fossil fuels, and the incentives to search for inefficient and environmentally harmful alternatives, from wind farms to mercury vapor light bulbs to ethanol, have contributed to a huge increase in consumer costs -- everything from transportation to utilities to commodities.

When government mandates change based on dubious science, we are all losers. But there is a larger picture here, which is harder to see, and which is the consequence of man's sheer conceit that he is all there is, the summum bonum of evolution, and able to control his environment (and soon, his own genetics) through the marvelous tools provided by science.

It was man's conceit that made him susceptible to the idea that the carbon dioxide produced by his activities alone would eventually bring about catastrophic change in the environment. And it is still man's conceit that he is the magnificent result of eons of random atomic jumbling and haphazard molecular assembly, winnowed out by natural selection, which fuels the "new atheism" so determined to replace the religion of God with the religion of science.

Attempts to elevate man to godhood in the place of, or at least as an equal to, God himself have comprised mankind's story since the Garden of Eden, through the Tower of Babel, Solomon's Temple, the Caesars, and most recently, the "new designer religion" in which people pick and choose the elements of a religion which they like, and discard or ignore the bits that do not suit. This is the essence of our fallenness -- to think that we are capable of doing and managing everything on our own, without the need of God or his all-enveloping grace, and that we can make the world as good as, or better than, He could.

The remedy for such conceit is the same it has always been, and was best expressed long ago by the Psalmist:

I lift my eyes to the hills --
From whence comes my help?

My help comes, yea, from the Lord,
The Creator of heaven and earth.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Introducing - the Curmudgeon's Canon

[UPDATE 05/17/2011: Thanks to the efforts of reader/commenter F.W. Gundlach, this post is now available in Adobe Acrobate (.pdf) format, downloadable at this link.]

The ersatz Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, through its bishop, the Rt. Rev. Kenneth Price, has circulated among its clergy a series of talking points, in question-and-answer format, which convey the official party line on the Diocese's dispute with Bishop Duncan's Anglican Diocese. The whole document calls out for fisking, so here we go -- the questions are in bold, the party-line answers are in green, my fisks are in blue, and I have added the italics for purposes of emphasizing the phrases I deem noteworthy [N.B.: for some unknown reason, Blogger's colored text is not reproducing, so I have temporarily put the official, party-line answers in italics, while my fisks are in regular type, and the previous simple italics are now all bold italics]:

Questions and Answers about
the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh and the Realignment

What happened to all of the parishes that are no longer active in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh?

Since the 2008 Diocesan Convention, 42 parishes have stopped participating in the Episcopal Diocese because the leaders maintain their parishes and the diocese had withdrawn from the Episcopal Church and realigned with the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone (based in South America) and more recently, the new Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). We don’t see things the same way. We say that people can leave the Episcopal Church, but not parishes or a diocese. To respect the views of those who disagree with us without prejudice to either point of view, we’ll use the terms “realigned congregation” and “realigned diocese” to describe the present situation.

What a circumlocution -- an entire diocese votes at its annual convention to leave the Episcopal Church (USA), and the great majority of parishes who decide to stay with their diocese are described as having "stopped participating" in the minority which chose to leave that Diocese, and to form their own new diocese -- which has yet to be formally admitted into the Episcopal Church in accordance with its Constitution and Canons (hence the term "ersatz"). The ones who "stopped participating", in other words, are the ones who stayed exactly where they were, and continued to participate in the Diocese as they always had -- while the ones who left, and hence really "stopped participating" in the Diocese, claim now to be the the real players all along. In the world of the ersatz Episcopalians, black is white, and upside down is right-side up.

"We say that people can leave the Episcopal Church, but not parishes or a diocese." Shall I demonstrate here just how silly that mantra is?

The minority parishes, led by Calvary Church, sued the Anglican diocese and claimed all of its property because it had left the Episcopal Church (USA), supposedly in violation of a stipulation that required it to stay in the Church as a condition of continuing to hold onto and administer its own property. So if a diocese cannot leave the church, what was the whole lawsuit about? And why was it necessary to get a court order transferring the property from the diocese that was sued to the new diocese that was formed after the vote to leave passed?

If it is true that no diocese can ever leave the Episcopal Church (USA), then there was no violation of the stipulation -- because if only people can leave, it's not the people who hold the title to the diocese's property, so they can't take the property with them. The diocese holds title to the diocese's property. And if the diocese holds the title, and it cannot leave the Church, then there is no basis for any lawsuit.

I realize that Episcopalians who think like this are impervious to logic. But the rest of us can surely see how ridiculous it is to make the claim that "a diocese cannot leave the Church", and then file suit against a diocese for having done so, and to take away its property in order to be able to give it back to the diocese which you claim never left in the first place -- oh, never mind. Let's go on, shall we?

Is the Episcopal Church continuing to sue the realigned diocese?

No, it is the other way around and has been for over a year. The Stipulation signed by Bishop Duncan and diocesan leaders in 2005 came into play with the realignment vote and, after Judge James’ ruling regarding its application in 2009, it has been the realigned diocese which has been suing to appeal, rehear and overturn this ruling.

Oh, good grief -- do they really expect their parishioners to be so ignorant that they don't realize that an appeal is just a continuation of the original lawsuit by the party that lost at the trial level? If there is some stigma that attaches to appealing an adverse decision, I am unaware of it. It's called trying to correct error that occurred below -- the appellate court reverses only for error. So if you sue me on a false claim and win in the trial court, then I am not supposed to appeal it, because that would be suing you back? And if you oppose my appeal, and argue that the trial court got it right, all of a sudden that's not suing me to keep your judgment? If there is a distinction they are trying to draw here, it eludes me.

Next question:

Does the Episcopal Diocese want to kick realigned congregations out of their buildings?

There is no reason for realigned congregations to abandon their buildings without talking with us and the Episcopal Diocese has not asked any parish to vacate the property. Indeed, the Episcopal Diocese has invited realigned congregations to enter into negotiations in order to come to a settlement regarding these properties.

Translation for the uninformed: "We invite you to sit down with us and tell us how much you are prepared to pay not to have to vacate your own property, and then we will tell you if we think that is enough. And if you are not prepared to pay what we ask, then you had better prepare to vacate your property."

Why does the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh have an interest in these properties at all, especially since these people left the Episcopal Church?

Good question -- let's watch how they answer it, and take it apart sentence by sentence:

Each of the realigned congregations occupies and uses properties and assets that were given faithfully by Episcopalians for the ministry of the Episcopal Church, sometimes over generations.

Er -- the faithful Episcopalians who long ago gave properties and assets to their parish had no concept of the kind of church you want to operate there today. Had you been able to tell them at the time they made their gifts, it is a certainty that the gifts would have gone elsewhere. So don't put on the mantle of "faithful Episcopalians" -- it doesn't become you.

It is not fair for the assets of one denomination to be taken by a group of people and then used to set up a competing denomination.

Excuse me, but I do not recall Jesus Christ saying anything about "competition" in giving us all the Great Commission. If you see your mission as a church in "beating out the competition", then I question whether you can even call yourself a "church."

(The ACNA purports to replace the Episcopal Church as the American branch of the Anglican Communion.)

No, it doesn't -- that is a false statement, and one that is again unworthy of anything that calls itself a "church." None of Christ's disciples had to fear being "replaced" -- except one: Judas. You might want to avoid identifying with such a precedent as his.

The leaders of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh are stewards of the assets of the Diocese, not owners, acting as trustees for the generations of faithful Episcopalians in Southwest Pennsylvania.

Oh, really? And who appointed them as the trustees of their property, as opposed to Bishop Duncan and his colleagues? To argue in this way is to beg the very question at stake -- see the answer about the intent of "faithful Episcopalians" above.

We cannot simply give away that property to others.

There you go again, begging the question. Who said it was your property to give?

What is the “Dennis” Canon?

The “Dennis” Canon is a canon of the Episcopal Church (I.7.4) passed by General Convention in 1979 (to which Pittsburgh sent its deputies) stating that all parish property and assets are held in trust by the dioceses of the Episcopal Church solely for the benefit of those dioceses and the Episcopal Church. This means that the parish property can only be used for that purpose.

And what, pray tell, gave General Convention the authority to enact such a canon? Did the delegates in 1979 come with powers of attorney from their respective parishes, authorizing them to sign away their properties in trust to the national church? Was there even any discussion of this point at General Convention in 1979? Given that there is not even a definitive record of the canon's passage, it seems that there was not.

Which brings up an interesting question: suppose General Convention were to enact what I shall call "the Curmudgeon's Canon", in the following words:
All property, real and personal, belonging to any member of the Episcopal Church shall be subject to a lien in favor of the Church for up to ten percent (10%) of its value. The lien shall not be subject to enforcement as long as the member in question remains a member in good standing of the parish to which the member belongs.
Would you contend that General Convention had the authority to enact such a canon? Why or why not? (After all, it just expresses an understanding that has always been implicit in belonging to the Church.) And if it were enacted, would you agree that it was immediately effective and enforceable in all 50 States (except, perhaps, South Carolina)? Again, why or why not? And then if a parishioner chose to leave his parish, would you contend that the lien could still be enforced against his property?

The Dennis Canon has been upheld by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in its 2005 decision involving the Diocese of Pennsylvania and the Parish of St. James the Less. The canon built on an understanding that had always existed in the Church.

Ah, yes -- St. James the Less. Nice example to pick -- nice job the Diocese of Pennsylvania has done in making the property usable again to "faithful Episcopalians." And as for building "on an understanding that had always existed in the Church", see this post.

Not only were parishes required to accede to the Episcopal Church Constitution and Canons, but many parishes, when founded, included articles in their charters and bylaws disqualifying leaders who advocated non-conformity to the Episcopal Church.

Oh, really? Please cite me even one example of a parish's articles or bylaws which disqualify "leaders who advocate non-conformity to the Episcopal Church." And how is it fair to penalize the parishes which did accede to ECUSA's Constitution and Canons by reading that accession as some sort of blanket permission to sign over their properties at the whim of General Convention?

Why shouldn’t an Episcopal congregation be able to leave the Episcopal Church and keep its building?

Again, a very good question. Let's watch what they say in response:

The importance of unity in the Body of Christ, despite disagreements that Christians may have with one another, is emphatically communicated in the New Testament. Division of a church is not a biblical solution for disagreements.

Where, oh where, does one begin in response to this fantastical claim? Does "unity in the body of Christ" trump any disagreement over what a majority of Christians vote to uphold and support? Is the majority always right, even when it votes to make bishops of those whom Scripture expressly prohibits being made a bishop? (Could the majority vote to accept Caligula's horse as a bishop, and would the minority be forbidden from splitting off in dissent, in order to preserve "unity in the body of Christ"? What do those words even mean, once you turn them over to interpretation by majority vote?)

If those currently using a building had full power to determine its use, there would be then no limits on what the church building could be used for.

Sheer fallacious reasoning: those who are currently enforcing the Dennis Canon -- against parishes who are reluctant to embrace the leadership's "interpretations" of Scripture -- are indeed exercising "full power to determine" how those parishes' buildings are used. In some cases, they dictate that it must lie dormant until it can be sold to a "non-competing" denomination (such as Islam); and in other cases they dictate that it should be sold to become a nightclub. How are any of those results preferable to the "no limits" scare-mongering which you invoke?

Besides upholding the intentions of past donors,

Oh, please -- spare us the hypocrisy (see above again).

. . . the Dennis Canon provides strict sanctions against those who would divide a church and use its historic assets for a different denomination.

Actually, the Canon itself contains no sanctions whatsoever in its text. Instead, the current leadership of ECUSA, aided and abetted by unthinking judges, invented the "strict sanctions" now applied to parishes which vote to realign, i.e., forfeiture of their property outright. And as for using "historic assets" for a "different denomination" -- oh, please (again). The parish which votes to disaffiliate from your Scriptural abominations sees itself as remaining in the same denomination to which it always belonged; it is you, and you alone, who have converted it into a "different denomination."

Conversely, the canon provides a strong incentive to seek unity, even in the face of disagreement. By making it clear which of two rival groups gets to keep the church property (in which a congregation may have worshiped for generations), church rules such as the Dennis Canon and the traditions that preceded it hopefully minimize the chance of a painful split (or at least provide an objective rule for resolving it) and also protect the ability of a remnant faithful to worship within the Episcopal Church.

In other words, "We enacted the Dennis Canon to keep youse guys in line, see? One false step, and that's it -- you're outta here, wit' no more roof over youse's head." Speaks volumes about the current Episcopal Church (USA) -- but now you have it in their own words.

Are the only two possible models of a settlement the examples of St. Philip’s Church, Moon, and the Somerset Anglican Fellowship?

No. Each congregation has a different situation and so there may be many possible settlements. That is why it is important that each realigned congregation enter into negotiations with the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.

Excuse me, but this avoids the question really being asked. Anyone with knowledge of current events -- anyone but Pittsburgh Episcopalians, that is -- would read the question as asking: "Why did the [ersatz] Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh require St. Philip's to stay away from Bishop Duncan and his Diocese for at least five years? Are you making that [unconstitutional] requirement a condition of every settlement?" And so you have not answered the question. To date, there has not been a single negotiated settlement with you and a parish that owned its own property (Somerset did not own any, but still had to acknowledge the "validity" of the Dennis Canon) that has not contained the requirement to keep away from Bishop Duncan's diocese.

In the case of congregations that negotiate a financial settlement with the Diocese of Pittsburgh, how will the Episcopal Diocese use any monies received?

In all likelihood, the Diocese will use the money to extend its ministry by creating new church plants, encouraging groups of Episcopalians who are rebuilding congregations, and supporting existing parishes.

"In all likelihood" -- that's nice. You could just as well have responded, "In all likelihood, the money we receive will be used to pay our attorneys to sue the remaining parishes for their properties." Given the vagueness of "in all likelihood", and the requirements of the ongoing litigation, the responses are equivalent.

Can any of the congregations come back? And if they can, what repercussions will there be for them?

Any realigned congregation will be welcomed back. There would be no repercussions whatsoever.

None, that is, other than the requirement that they contribute their share of the continuing costs of going after the congregations with which they were previously affiliated. It's a requirement of every gang: "prove you're really one of us by robbing your former friends and neighbors."

As I have said on many previous occasions, please pray for your church -- whether you grew up in it, as I did, or have only recently joined. With propaganda like the above, believed at all levels of leadership, it needs your prayers now more than ever.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Foiled Again!

The litigious laypersons and liturgical leaders of the ersatz Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth have once again been thwarted in their egregious efforts to entomb the eponymous Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth in the entanglements of eternal court proceedings. (The alliteration is a small attempt at conveying what it is like to be a member of Bishop Jack Iker's Diocese these days -- surrounded by process servers arriving with ever more and more official papers that pile on top of one another until one cannot tell where one stops and the next begins.)

The latest attempt at entangling litigation came as Bishop Ohl and his cohorts asked the federal court in Fort Worth to lift the stay it had imposed on the earlier suit they had filed for trademark infringement and other claims relating to their asserted identity. They based their request on the order granting their motions for summary judgment which Judge Chupp had signed in February, and which he finalized in April, and argued that his ruling resolved who was the "real" Diocese of Fort Worth.

Bishop Iker and his attorneys responded to the federal court's subsequent order to show cause why the stay should not be lifted, and argued that nothing had been finally resolved. They noted that they had filed an appeal from Judge Chupp's decision directly with the Texas Supreme Court.

Today the parties received notice that federal Judge Terry Means had entered an order continuing his stay in the federal court proceedings pending resolution of the state-court lawsuit by the Texas Supreme Court. At the same time, he entered an order staying all further proceedings in a related federal case filed against Bishop Iker by All Saints parish, one of the congregations that chose to remain in the Episcopal Church (USA). So there will be no need to litigate on both fronts at once, and the parties can concentrate on their state court lawsuit.

At about the same time, however, the Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth entered an order lifting its stay in the appeal taken by St. Andrew's Episcopal Church and Bishop Ohl from the Hood County case involving the bequest left to that church (when it was a member of Bishop Iker's Diocese) by one of its parishioners. The order directed the appellants to file their opening brief.

Meanwhile, an insurance company has filed suit against Bishop Iker also in federal court. The suit seeks a declaration that neither he nor his Diocese are the named beneficiaries under the policies which they purchased and paid for; it adopts the reasoning of Bishop Ohl's complaint by arguing that the actions to take the Diocese of Fort Worth out of ECUSA were ultra vires and void. [UPDATE 05/13/2011: In a release issued today, Bishop Iker's Diocese reports that the judge in this case declined to issue a temporary restraining order to stop arbitration proceedings from going forward under the terms of the insurance contract.]

Which is all to say: there is never a dull moment in Fort Worth.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Parsing the Arguments in Georgia

Oral arguments before an appellate court are an art form of their own. Frequently, an attorney has no more than ten or fifteen minutes to lay out the heart of his case, and more often than not, the judges' questions prevent him from realizing that goal. Nevertheless, the attorney must spend a good deal of time in preparation, by analyzing all of the arguments pro and con, and by developing a smooth thread that links them into a continuous whole. When a question interrupts that flow, the attorney must be nimble at first answering the question, and then picking up the thread of his argument where it left off.

By the same token, I find that reporters' descriptions of oral arguments tell me more about the lawyers' skills in getting their message across than they relate the ebb and flow of the argument. What will stick in a lay reporter's mind is not what an attorney would necessarily understand as the key issue in the case; rather, it is what came through loudest and clearest to that particular reporter from that attorney's argument.

It is thus instructive to compare the various accounts of yesterday's oral arguments in the Christ Church Savannah case before the Georgia Supreme Court. There are only two independent accounts available: one by Associated Press reporter Greg Bluestein, and one by Walter Jones of the Morris News Service. Here is the former's account of the arguments made to the Court by Christ Church's attorney and by Mary Kostel, special counsel to the Presiding Bishop (who was specially admitted on a temporary basis for the purpose of appearing before the top Georgia Court):
A Chatham County court ruled in favor of the national group's claim on the property in October 2009, and the Georgia Court of Appeals later agreed. The courts concluded that state laws and church documents — including a 1979 rule that placed parish property in trust for the national group — should govern the case.

But the church's attorney, Paul Painter, countered that those rules don't apply here because the property wasn't acquired by "deed," as the law requires, but was instead granted by a special legislative act. He also said the appeals court's ruling gave the national church far too much power over land rights.

The Episcopal Church countered that its internal rules should resolve any land dispute, regardless of what state law dictates. The church agreed to those rules back in 1823 and it can't back out now, said Kostel.

"When it came into the diocese, it relinquished its separate identity," she said.
And here is the account from the Morris News Service reporter:
During Monday’s arguments in an appeal of that lawsuit, James Painter, an attorney for the congregation, tried to put the case into perspective.
“It’s fitting that this argument is held on the day after Mother’s Day as Christ Church in Savannah is widely known throughout our state as the Mother Church of Georgia,” he said.
Painter argued that the congregation should be able to keep the $3 million building and property because the grant from Oglethorpe, as King George’s agent makes it unique from other cases of Georgia churches that broke from their own national organizations. State laws on church property were drafted for smaller, rural churches, he said.
Mary Kostel, an attorney for the National Church, countered by saying the congregation volunteered to join the Episcopal Church when it formed after the American Revolution, and in doing so it gave up its right to the property to the national organization by agreeing to follow the national rules.
“If Christ Church didn’t want to turn over its records to the bishop, the financial records when he visited, too bad,” she said. “... Once they were in the church, their property was subject to review and care of the larger church.”
From the two accounts, the gist of the arguments is clear: Christ Church argued that its special status as Georgia's oldest church, with property granted to it originally by Georgia's founder in 1733 and then confirmed to it by an act of the Georgia legislature following the Revolutionary War, should mean that it retains its property free and clear of any trust in favor of the national Church (e.g., the Dennis Canon). For Mary Kostel, however, the decisive act was Christ Church's decision to join the Protestant Episcopal Church (USA) in 1823: at that point, it gave up control over its property, and subjected it to the whims of the national church and its General Convention.

Does the latter argument stand up in light of history? By no means: when Christ Church became Episcopalian in 1823, the most recent precedent regarding church property in PECUSA had been its relinquishment of all claims to King's Chapel in Boston, which had gone from being Anglican to being Unitarian. Here is the account I gave in an earlier post:

Consider, just for one such instance, the history of King's Chapel in Boston. As its name indicates, it was originally founded in 1686 as a colonial parish of the Church of England, and was the first such parish in all of New England. Its current building was begun in 1749, and opened for worship in 1754. During the Revolutionary War its loyalist clergy and parishioners fled to Canada, and the church was unused for several years. In 1782, however, the church opened under the leadership of a young graduate from Harvard, James Freeman. As a Unitarian, he revised the Book of Common Prayer radically to suit the principles he espoused, and the congregation approved his changes.

However, there was no bishop in Massachusetts to ordain him, and so Freeman applied to the newly consecrated Bishop William White of Pennsylvania for assistance in becoming an ordained minister. Bishop White had heard about the changes made to the Prayer Book, and asked Freeman to send him a copy. When he saw that the liturgy had been revised to remove every single reference to the Redeemer, he protested that the departure from Anglican tradition was simply too great for the church to remain in communion with the nascent PECUSA: "The invoking of the Redeemer has been too conspicuous a part of our services to be set aside by some of us, consistently with any reasonable expectation of continuing of the same communion with the rest." He also noted that the changes had been approved by a simple vote of the congregation, instead of receiving the imprimatur from a bishop of the church, or ecclesiastical council. This action "was inconsistent with the whole tenor of the ecclesiastical government of the Church of England", he wrote. To leave each church to its own congregational government "would be foreign to every idea of Episcopal government."

Bishop White declared that King's Chapel could not claim to be Episcopal if it adopted Unitarian doctrines and a congregational polity. He delivered an ultimatum: the congregation must return to the Book of Common Prayer as it had received it, or leave and start its new church somewhere else. In essence, he repeated the mantra of the current head of ECUSA: "Go if you must, but leave the keys, since the property is ours."

Freeman and his congregation ignored Bishop White's ultimatum, and Bishop White acknowledged that it had moral force only: he had no legal basis to assert ownership for the Church in any court of law. After also being turned down for ordination by Bishop Seabury of Connecticut, Freeman was "ordained by the Senior Warden of King's Chapel, in the name of the congregation, in words still used in ordinations at King's Chapel today: 'to be the Rector, Minister, Priest, Pastor, Public Teacher and Teaching Elder.'"
Well, perhaps the Church later clarified its doctrine with regard to maintaining parish property in trust for it? Not as late as 1879, when it again lost a claim to the property of a different Christ Church, this one in Chicago. Its rector, Dr. Charles Cheney, left with his congregation to form the Reformed Episcopal Church in 1871, and they continued to meet and hold services in their consecrated building. When the Diocese of Illinois tried to claim the property in court, the Illinois appellate court ruled that it belonged to the parish.

So Mary Kostel's argument -- that the die was cast in 1823, and from that point forward, Christ Church Savannah could not regard its property as its own -- is, historically speaking, hogwash. The only real argument ECUSA has is that its adoption of the Dennis Canon in 1979 was sufficient, under Georgia law, to create an unrecorded trust in the ancient property which literally no one in Georgia knew about at the time, and which did not satisfy the requirements of the Georgia Statute of Frauds (which states that a trust may be created only by a writing signed by the owner of the property placed in trust).

It is, as one can readily see, an extraordinarily weak argument when examined in an accurate historical light. As such, it did not pass muster in the Supreme Court of South Carolina. Whether the Supreme Court of Georgia will also not let itself be bamboozled is something we shall have to wait several more months to discover.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

California Supreme Court Gives St. James its Day in Court

The monumental struggle of St. James Newport Beach to have its day in court just received a definitive boost from the California Supreme Court. In a near-unanimous decision, the Court reversed the opinion by two justices of the Fourth District Court of Appeal, who had decided that the case against St. James was over, and that the Diocese of Los Angeles had won, based solely on the Supreme Court's previous decision in the case. One Justice -- Justice Kennard, who earlier had signaled she favored the antiquated "deferential" approach of Watson v. Jones (see links below), dissented, and said she would affirm the ruling below.

For background on the unusual history of this case, please consult the four most recent posts listed at this page, of which this one gives perhaps the best overview. (The press release issued by St. James on the latest decision may be found at this link.) Suffice it to say that justice has finally prevailed against the plaintiffs' maneuverings, and St. James will receive its day in court. (Of course, watch ECUSA and the Diocese now spend thousands and thousands of dollars to file motions for summary judgment in an attempt to head off that eventuality. Nevertheless, given that their entire case turns on a huge question of fact -- was Canon (now Bishop) McPherson authorized, on behalf of the then Bishop of Los Angeles, to issue a waiver of the Dennis Canon as to the new property being added on to St. James? -- the trial court should most likely deny any such motions, and hold that the case will have to go to trial.)

The decision by a two-justice majority on the Court of Appeals, which the Supreme Court has now reversed, will go down in the annals as a monument to result-oriented judicial reasoning. Even though the two justices did not entirely agree on how to get there, they both knew where they wanted to come out, and they did not care how much bending of due process it took to get there. Indeed, in any future appeal of the case, they ought to be disqualified from hearing it, since their bias against letting St. James have its day in court was so manifest from their opinions. To conclude on the basis of some verbiage that the California Supreme Court has the power to end a case completely and finally, before even an answer to the complaint is filed, is a proposition so preposterous that it deserves to be forever preserved in the scroll of infamy.

Justice Kennard evidences by her dissent that she is irrelevant to these proceedings. She maintains that the "neutral principles" approach of Jones v. Wolf should not be followed in California, and that the courts should simply allow the Episcopal Church (USA) to make up its own rules about church property, without any checks on or supervision over its authority. As such, she is a lone voice on the bench, and her cry to ignore the First Amendment's Establishment Clause has (fortunately) found no followers among her colleagues.

It will now be a number of years, hopefully, before this case reaches the California higher courts again. In that time, perhaps we will see some changes in the appellate bench. Of course, any such changes might not work to improve the situation; but it is difficult to imagine how they could make it any worse.