Episcopalians in the dock (day two)

CourtroomJudgeWe are now in day two of the post-Dar es Salaam world and the focus is moving — as it should in U.S. newspapers — back to the local and national angles of this global Anglican crisis.

As you would imagine, the Episcopal Church establishment is not very happy at the moment.

Clearly, the Global South primates intend to keep the First World leaders on the witness stand. Click here for yesterday’s post that contains many links to commentary on both sides in the blogosphere. It is no surprise that many Episcopalians are now saying that it’s time to take their cathedral keys and walk away.

The bluntest language is in The Washington Post (no wire story today), and The New York Times has a defiant quote from the bishop of the Diocese of New York, which should raise some eyebrows. It is also refreshing that the left wing of the Episcopal Church is now being ultra-candid and, thus, so is the mainstream press. Check out the lede on Laurie Goodstein’s roundup in the Times:

There was a time when the Episcopal Church in the United States was known as “the Republican Party at prayer,” but in the last 30 years it has evolved into the Rainbow Coalition of Christianity.

There are hip-hop Masses, American Indian rituals to install a new presiding bishop and legions of gay and straight priests who don the rainbow stoles of gay liberation. Its pews are full of Roman Catholics and Christians from other traditions attracted by its aura of radical acceptance.

Now the conservatives who numerically dominate the global Anglican Communion have handed their Episcopal branch in the United States an ultimatum that requires the church to reel in the rainbow if it wants to remain a part of the Communion.

Many would raise questions about that remark that Episcopal “pews are full,” since the church is still in an era of statistical decline and its few megachurches tend to lean right, especially across the Sunbelt. Still, I think Goodstein’s point is solid. There was a time when most converts to the Episcopal Church came from the evangelical side of the aisle. Today, what flow there is — especially in blue zip codes — probably comes from the edgy left. That has to affect the climate in the all-powerful Northeast region of the church that surrounds the major media.

Anyway, the Episcopal Church has always attracted converts. The interesting question is why its membership numbers decline, even with converts coming in the doors. But I digress.

Here is one of the hot quotes that will be making the online rounds today:

In interviews yesterday, some liberal and moderate leaders who constitute a majority in the American church voiced everything from confusion to serious misgivings to defiance. Many took umbrage at what they saw as meddling by foreign primates who are imposing their culture and theological interpretations on the American church.

“Being part of the Anglican Communion is very important to me,” said Bishop Mark S. Sisk of New York. “But if the price of that is I have to turn my back on the gay and lesbian people who are part of this church and part of me, I won’t do that.”

Meanwhile, there are some Episcopalians who think they have spotted a way out of this latest trial. The key person is former New York Times and Washington Post reporter Jim Naughton, who now serves as the spokesman for the Diocese of Washington.

OtisCharlesWeddingWhat’s his take? Click here (and here) to find out. But here is his theory in the Times report, although in this case it is being voiced by other people. Interesting.

The communique calls for the House of Bishops to “make an unequivocal common covenant that the bishops will not authorize any Rite of Blessing for same-sex unions.”

Some liberals yesterday were latching on to what they saw as a loophole because the wording specified that the bishops would not “authorize” rites. There are many bishops who have not formally authorized ceremonial rites for gay unions, but who nevertheless allow priests to perform them. If this is all the communique is requiring, they suggested, the Episcopal Church can live with that.

“Blessings happen, sure,” said Bishop Sisk of New York. “But I didn’t authorize them.”

So Sisk is willing to leave the Anglican Communion, but he doesn’t think he’s guilty as charged. Interesting.

Meanwhile, the big news in Alan Cooperman’s piece in the Post is not in the lede. You have to scroll down a bit for the good stuff.

One of the key passages in the Tanzania communique was the request — some would say “demand” — by the primates that lawyers on both sides stop fighting over the properties and assets of the conservative parishes that want to remain Anglican, but flee the Episcopal Church. This is a huge story in the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington.

So Cooperman did talk with “Martyn Minns” of Truro Church in Fairfax — note that there is no “Bishop,” no “Rt. Rev.,” no “the Rev.,” no nothing in front of his name — and with the Diocese of Virginia.

U.S. conservatives hailed the communique. Martyn Minns, of Truro Church in Fairfax, one of 15 Northern Virginia congregations that have voted since 2005 to separate from the Episcopal Church, said it gives the U.S. church just “one last chance.”

… The communique also recommends against litigation to settle property disputes between Episcopal dioceses and departing congregations. Minns, now a bishop in a missionary branch of the Anglican Church of Nigeria, said he hoped that the Episcopal bishop of Virginia, Peter Lee, would agree to mediation.

But Patrick Getlein, spokesman for the Virginia diocese, said it has no plan to drop its legal claims. The departures “set in motion a spiritual and legal conflict that at this point remains unresolved,” he said.

I think it will be interesting to see if a split begins on the Episcopal left between those who are ready to leave the Anglican Communion and those who want to fight on. The question, of course, is how a departure by the Episcopal Church would affect the standings of millions and millions of dollars in property and endowments. Is there a document somewhere that defines the “Episcopal Church” as the body that is in communion with Canterbury?

Let me stress that Naughton’s theory about the U.S. simply declining to “authorize” an “official” liturgy has merit — as spin and as a tactic in a legal argument. The wording is what it is. Still, I don’t think there is any doubt about the intent of the primates in the communique document as a whole.

In my Scripps Howard News Service column this week, I note that the Episcopal Church has been using this “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to same-sex rites for some time now. The primates know that and have addressed that issue in the communique.

One final question, if I may. Are there bishops in the Church of England who are using this same “look the other way” strategy on same-sex rites? And does the Tanzania communique apply to them as well? Just asking.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Camassia

    “…its few megachurches tend to lean right.”

    Can you give an example of this? I’m just surprised to hear that because here in L.A. there are two Episcopalian megachurches (All Saints Pasadena and All Saints Beverly Hills) and they both definitely lean left.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Well, that’s California.

    Pick almost all of the major churches in Texas and across the Sunbelt to NoVa.

    It would be interesting to see a top 10 list for parishes — with member stats, Sunday attendance stats and growth stats.

  • Martha

    And this is the bit that makes me smile wryly: the left (for whatever value you want to assign to that label) doesn’t like what the wider church is doing, so it’s going to split off on a point of principle, and expects to keep the name, the history, the kudos, the whatever accrues to the name and notion of Episcopalian.

    The right (for whatever etc.) doesn’t like what the wider church is doing (in TEC) and wants to split off on a point of principle; TEC hounds them through the lawcourts.

    Pot and kettle, sirs and madams?

  • Martha

    tmatt, here’s a bit of 2004 statistics for TEC from the titusonenine blog:



    Now, if we do some rough rounding off and take the membership to be 2,500,000 with a weekly attendance of 850,000 that means approximately one third (33%) show up in the pews every Sunday. Don’t know how this compares with other denominations, but I can’t say as a one-third full church strikes me as filling the pews.

  • Martha

    And one final comment, then I’ll shut up about the travails of our Episcopalian brethren (sistern included, naturally!)

    “Blessings happen, sure,” said Bishop Sisk of New York. “But I didn’t authorize them.”

    *rolls eyes* Dear, darling Bishop Sisk – from the horrific experience of the dreadful scandal of sexual abuse in my Roman Catholic church, I can tell you right now that “I didn’t know nuffin’ about what was goin’ on” ain’t gonna cut it with your congregation, let alone the other Primates in the Anglican Communion.

    Having made a Big Deal out of how each bishop is solely and alone responsible for his/her own diocese, and Trespassers Keep Out, the last thing TEC needs is a bishop getting up on his hind legs to say he can’t keep control of his own diocese.

  • Martha

    Okay, so I said I’d shut up, but I just couldn’t resist this bit from the post lower down on Ash Wednesday, because I think it goes so far to answering the question tmatt posed:
    “The interesting question is why its membership numbers decline, even with converts coming in the doors.”

    “Tucson’s largest Episcopal congregation — St. Philip’s in the Hills, 4440 N. Campbell Ave. — is hosting two Lenten programs geared toward people who are either disaffected from church or questioning some tenets of their faith.
    “Lent is a time of reflection, and thinking deeply about who you are and what you are,” said Brad Stroup, a longtime St. Philip’s member who follows a Zen Buddhist practice and will lead a series of six Lenten forums at St. Philip’s. The forums have titles including”How similar are the teachings of Jesus and the Buddha?”
    “I would hope for Christians the forums would reconfirm their faith,” Stroup said. “I hope to reach people outside our church, and people outside of any church. My feeling is that there is a growing number of people in the Christian faith who are not sure, who are looking around for ways to address issues that are not being answered in conventional ways.”
    Stroup is an adviser for an alternative, monthly service at St. Philip’s that will become weekly during Lent. The “Come & See” service is about shattering tradition — instead of a homily, the pastor or lay leader tells a story and asks for feedback. The language in the liturgy is different — there are no pronouns, for example, leaving God’s gender open-ended.
    The service specifically welcomes people who question whether Jesus really is the only path to God and salvation, and those who have found Christianity to be intolerant, mean-spirited or hypocritical.”

    So adopting a practice associated with historically orthodox, liturgical churches in preparation for the holy season of Easter when we remember the day of our salvation by the death of God made man – they plan to mark it by running a series on how Buddha, Jesus – one’s as good as the other; don’t really have to exclusively believe that ‘sin, death and hell’, ‘redeemed by his blood’ stuff, come on in and do what you like, boys!

    Maybe a Zen Buddhist practitioner who questions the very heart of the dogmas of Christianity is not the best-placed to make and keep Christian converts? Just sayin’, is all…

  • http://www.geocities.com/frgregacca/stfel.html Fr. Greg


    You ask:

    Is there a document somewhere that defines the “Episcopal Church” as the body that is in communion with Canterbury?

    The Preamble of the Constitution of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church reads as follows:

    “The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, otherwise known as The Episcopal Church (which name is hereby recognized as also designating the Church), is a constituent member of the Anglican Communion, a Fellowship within the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, of those duly constituted Dioceses, Provinces, and regional Churches in communion with the See of Canterbury, upholding and propagating the historic Faith and Order as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer.” (Emphasis added)

    as found here: TEC Constitution

  • Tom Stanton

    From Cooperman’s Article:

    Russell said the U.S. church has done all it can to avoid that choice. “The idea that the criteria for being in communion with each other is you must agree down the line on doctrinal points — that has never been how Anglicans have operated,” she said. Nevertheless, Russell said, her group will urge U.S. bishops, who are scheduled to meet next month at an Episcopal retreat center near Houston, to “utterly reject” the Anglican demands.

    Thanks tmatt for pointing out an article which (though not immediately) gets to the heart of the matter. Some Episcopalian leaders don’t view historical doctrine as being relevant to Christianity. It might make you sick, it might make you happy – but for all of that, this is the real point of contention.

  • Dan

    “Its pews are full of Roman Catholics and Christians from other traditions attracted by its aura of radical acceptance.”

    Does anyone have any statistics about the flow of converts between Catholic Church and the Episcopal Church? I suspect none exist. I read from time to time things that suggest that the current problems in the Episcopal Church is causing a net flow to the Catholic Church. Goodstein’s statement suggests the flow is not all one way. However all the evidence seems to be purely anecdotal. The situation is complicated by the fact that a substantial percentage of conversions, into the Catholic Church anyway, are done more out of convenience for a marriage than out of conviction.

  • Dale

    tmatt said:

    Is there a document somewhere that defines the “Episcopal Church” as the body that is in communion with Canterbury?

    I wouldn’t contradict the quote that Fr. Greg provides from the Constitution of TEC. When it comes to what a state court will consider, though, it is more likely to look at the deed or other title document for the property to detemine legal ownership. The court will require the party claiming a right to the property that the party has been duly authorized by the procedure set forth in the corporate documents (articles of incorporation, bylaws) of the entity named on the deed to possess and/or dispose of the property.

    So, before you start asking whether broken communion affects title, you need to know what name (TEC, diocese, congregation) is on the title and what the relevant corporate documents require for authorization to act on behalf of the corporation.

    I think this part of the canons of TEC is more relevant to the property disputes:

    CANON 7: Of Business Methods in Church Affairs

    Sec. 1(b) Funds held in trust, endowment and other permanent funds, and securities represented by physical evidence of ownership or indebtedness, shall be deposited with a National or State Bank, or a Diocesan Corporation, or with some other agency approved in writing by the Finance Committee or the Department of Finance of the Diocese, under a deed of trust, agency or other depository agreement

    Sec. 3. No Vestry, Trustee, or other Body, authorized by Civil or Canon law to hold, manage, or administer real property for any Parish, Mission, Congregation, or Institution, shall encumber or alienate the same or any part thereof without the written consent of the Bishop and Standing Committee of the Diocese of which the Parish, Mission, Congregation, or Institution is a part, except under such regulations as may be prescribed by Canon of the Diocese.

    Sec. 4. All real and personal property held by or for the benefit of any Parish, Mission or Congregation is held in trust for this Church and the Diocese thereof in which such Parish, Mission or Congregation is located. The existence of this trust, however, shall in no way limit the power and authority of the Parish, Mission or Congregation otherwise existing over such property so long as the particular Parish, Mission or Congregation remains a part of, and subject to, this Church and its Constitution and Canons.

    If the congregations followed these regulations properly when the property was received, any endowments (and probably real estate, too) are in the name of the diocese. As long as the diocese follows the proper procedure in its own corporate documents for possessing and/or disposing of property, the court is unlikely to take any other factor into account.

    Courts are loathe to pass judgment on anything that might be a question of religious doctrine. TEC might become the Temple of Isis, and the courts will not care, as long as the church followed the proper procedure.

  • Irenaeus

    You mention that evangelicals are no longer becoming Anglicans in the numbers they once were. That may be true, but there are a lot of younger evangelicals who are still becoming anglicans, either ECUSA or AMiA. I teach at a very evangelical institution in the midwest, and many of our students come in with baptistic/pentecostal/low church theology and leave anglo-catholics, Catholics, or Orthodox, particularly anglicans of a various stripe. Anecdotal, but the ECUSA is still a live option for a lot of young evangelicals longing for deeper liturgy and faith.

  • http://weblog.theviewfromthecore.com ELC

    “Blessings happen, sure,” said Bishop Sisk of New York. “But I didn’t authorize them.” I wonder how he’d square that cynical sophistry with the very straightforward “Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No’.” Not that I think he’s actually interested in squaring his actions with the teachings of Jesus.

  • Michael

    The focus on TEC while ignoring the “gay issues” in the rest of the First World Anglican church is telling. While TEC has been more outspoken, there are a number of Anglican priests throughout the First World who are in same-sex relationships. None of them are bishops–at least not openly–but the issue of blessing or approving same-sex relationships isn’t a uniquely TEC thing.

    Of course, there is no active dissident movement with rich funders pushing those issues in the rest of the First World. That is a uniquely American phenomenon. It is also primarily Americans working behind the scenes in influencing the Global South Seven and the leaders of the “traditional” Anglican revolt.

  • http://www.getreligion.org/?p=2 Douglas LeBlanc

    Michael writes:

    Of course, there is no active dissident movement with rich funders pushing those issues in the rest of the First World.

    On the contrary, evangelical Anglicans throughout the First World care deeply about sexual morality, and these groups are examples:

    Anglican Church League, Australia.

    Anglican Essentials, Canada.

    Fulcrum, Great Britain.

    I leave it to others to decide whether these groups have been bought and paid for by “rich funders,” as I think such assumptions do no justice to the theologies of the right or the left.

  • Michael

    But Douglas, none of those groups are as powerful (or as well-funded) as their U.S. counterparts. I have no doubt that the American dissident movement and other traditional Anglicans aren’t sincere in their beliefs. I also have no doubt that the fact that they have lots of big funding which gives them a louder megaphone.

    If we are going to talk about this as a battle of white, First World elites forcing the Global South to accept liberal theology, it seems reasonable to point out are a lot of First World elites paying the way for the Anglican revolt.

    Revolutions cost money, especially when the key players are in the world’s poorest countries. There’s no shame in wealthy Americans funding and encouraging the Global South revolt.

    It’s disengenuous, howeveer, to act as though this revolution is all a theological groundswell from the streets of Abuja, when it is also equal parts a well-orchestrated theological movement funded from Orange County and fermented from milliion dollar homes in Falls Church and Fairfax.

  • Darel

    The recent Communique of the Anglican Primates does say in para. 17 that, in its view, TEC is already “permitting Rites of Blessing for same-sex unions”. In para. 21 the Communique recognizes “an inconsistency between the position of General Convention” which rejected creation of an official rite of blessing, and “local pastoral provision” which provides said rites although in an unofficial capacity. The latter is exactly what “causes concern” among the Primates and is thus clearly interpreted as unacceptable.

    Naughton’s loophole is already closed. The TEC status quo on same-sex blessings has already been deemed unacceptable. What remains unclear, however, is what exactly “an unequivocal common covenant that the bishops will not authorise any Rite of Blessing for same-sex unions in their dioceses or through General Convention” needs to look like to satisfy the Primates. Do the Primates hold the belief that all actions permitted — either expressly approved or implicitly sanctioned via failure to suppress — by bishops in a diocese are by definition “authorized” in that all priests in a diocese are under the authority of the bishop?

    If so, the “unequivocal common covenant” would appear to require a commitment not simply to refuse to authorize — which TEC has already done in General Convention at least — but to actively suppress same-sex blessings. We’ve already heard from the likes of the Bishops of Washington, of Minnesota and of New York that such a standard will most definitely not be met.

  • http://www.philocrites.com Philocrites

    For some very interesting data on Episcopal Church rates of conversion and disaffiliation, see Barry A. Kosmin and Ariela Keysar, “Religion in a Free Market” (Paramount Market Publishing, 2006). Kosmin and Keysar are the sociologists who conducted the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) in 2001.

    Chapter four focuses on “religious switching” and interprets findings related to the 33 million American adults (16 percent of the population) who at some point changed their religious affiliation. Page 57 includes a chart that reports that 745,376 American adults “switched out” of Episcopalian/Anglican affiliation — but here’s the kicker, TEC critics — 899,908 switched in.

    I’m sure Kosmin and Keysar would be happy to be interviewed.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt


    Great, great info and I will try to reach them!

    This also makes total sense.

    Great info!


    * about 800,000 out, mainly from the right.

    * about 900,000 in, many from the left and many into alternative evangelical parishes.

    * major struggles retaining young people (like all churches, but especially oldline) and

    * ultra, ultra low birth-rate numbers equal

    The demographics of the US Episcopal Church.

  • Pen Brynisa

    “Its pews are full of Roman Catholics and Christians from other traditions attracted by its aura of radical acceptance.”

    Does anyone have any statistics about the flow of converts between Catholic Church and the Episcopal Church? I suspect none exist.

    Which do you suspect do not exist, the converts or the data?

    This is entirely anecdotal, but I was raied Roman Catholic and am now an Episcopalian. My rector, as it happens, used to be a Roman Catholic priest, and the rector of the parish on the other side of town used to be a Roman Catholic nun.

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