Context is everything

schori 01It must be fun, in a twisted sort of way, to be a religion reporter in those regions where the Anglican Wars are raging. The action just never stops.

Recently, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has been flexing her canonical muscles. There was her BBC interview where she claimed — without substantiating the charge — that Anglican bishops other than Gene Robinson were in homosexual relationships. They just don’t announce they “always wanted to be a June bride.” She inhibited San Joaquin Bishop John-David Schofield after his diocese voted to leave the Episcopal Church and affiliate with the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone. The Archbishop of Southern Cone, for what it’s worth, said Schofield was under his authority and the inhibition didn’t mean anything.

Meanwhile, Jefferts Schori has also been involved in a war of words with Fort Worth Bishop Jack Iker. Months ago, he complained about her “aggressive, dictatorial posturing” after she threatened to take disciplinary action against him if he let his diocese vote about whether to leave the Episcopal Church. This week he released another letter she sent him.

I’ve been wondering when we’re going to get a good article analyzing these actions. Reuters religion reporter Michael Conlon summarized some of the recent kerfuffle here:

Leaders of the U.S. Episcopal Church have stepped up a crackdown on conservative dissidents, ordering one bishop to stop his religious work and threatening a second with the same thing.

Both rebuffed the moves.

The second bishop is actually Pittsburgh’s Robert Duncan and Ann Rodgers of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has been all over the story (as usual):

Officials of the Episcopal Church have taken a first step toward removing theologically conservative Bishop Robert Duncan as head of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, but he dodged an ecclesiastical bullet when the three senior bishops of the church declined the presiding bishop’s request to immediately suspend him.

Instead, all the bishops of the Episcopal Church will vote on whether to depose him, most likely at their fall meeting, for “abandoning the communion” of the Episcopal Church. “Communion” is a broad term that encompasses the beliefs, fellowship and structure of a church.

Bishop Duncan yesterday denied the charge.

“Few bishops have been more loyal to the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church,” he said. “I will continue to serve and minister as the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.”

duncan
Rodgers’ story covers all the bases. She explains the intricacies of the church trial Duncan will undergo and the background for the “abandonment” charge. Pittsburgh was another diocese to begin the departure process when it voted overwhelmingly in November to do so. A second vote to confirm must be taken. Rodgers explains how Jefferts Schori tried to get Duncan inhibited but a committee of bishops refused to consent. She also explains that Jefferts Schori called on Bishop Duncan to recant.

Rodgers’ full fleshing out of the story also includes some background on how charges were brought against Duncan. They came from a small minority of Pittsburgh clergy and laity who had previously tried to sue the diocese over the earlier vote to depart. They failed in civil courts before going to church courts.

In fact, the article is so full of context that it’s a testament to how well Rodgers knows this story frontwards and backwards:

The Episcopal Church is fractured over issues of biblical authority, beliefs about the role and identity of Jesus, and sexual ethics. Decades of dispute reached a crisis in 2003, with the consecration of a partnered gay bishop in New Hampshire. . . .

The Rev. Jonathan Millard, rector of Ascension Church in Oakland, who presented the argument to secede at the November convention, called Bishop Duncan “a man of grace and conviction.”

“Maybe this action highlights just how deep the rift is between those who hold a biblical understanding of the Christian faith and those in the extreme left of the church who would seek to depose a bishop for upholding biblical standards,” he said.

Rodgers ends by talking to an opponent of Duncan who praises the disciplinary action against Bishop Duncan and an explanation of what’s next for all sides.

The one thing I think so many stories are missing about the Episcopal Church’s legal battles are a better explanation of the “why.” I don’t know if that’s because Episcopal leaders are doing a bad job of making the case for why they’re cracking down on the property battles as opposed to the doctrinal battles or if it’s because reporters aren’t asking the right questions.

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  • http://www.reenchantment.net Ken

    “Episcopal leaders are doing a bad job of making the case for why they’re cracking down on the property battles as opposed to the doctrinal battles or if it’s because reporters aren’t asking the right questions.”

    In a world of mega churches, Tron screens and a hundred verses of “kumbayah” what orthodox Christians are wanting may look like subtle and nuanced minutia to many observers and reporters. But you’re right, I haven’t seen a story yet where Jefferts-Schori “makes the case” for the lawsuits over property, or why the denomiation elected an “Unitarian” as bishop or why she serves. Perhaps like all girls, she just likes to dress up.

  • str1977

    “Bishop Duncan yesterday denied the charge.

    “Few bishops have been more loyal to the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church,” he said. “I will continue to serve and minister as the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.””

    That is exactly the reason Mrs Schori wants him out.

    Amavi iustiam et odivi iniquitatem; propterea, morior in exilio.

  • Dan Crawford

    Ann Rodgers is one of the finest reporters I have ever read. Unlike some of her colleagues who use press releases as the basis and substance of their stories, Ann does the hard work, checks her facts, talks to all the involved parties, and writes an elegant story. She is the only reason I read the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

  • Scott Allen

    Perhaps reporters are not saying much about the “why” because property battles are obviously about…property. That is, money.

    You’d think the right righteous and high-minded Jefferts-Schori would be glad to purge her church of the narrow minded diocese…but no. Why not? After all, the number of seceding diocese is far from a majority of the Episcopal church. The reason is that the basis of Episcopal clout in the greater Anglican world is money — they don’t have the numbers, and if anyone is “out of communion” with Anglicanism it is Jefferts-Schori and her compadres. If they continue to bleed money and membership they’ll cease to be a major force, even in America, and will be just another small denomination with a lousy pension plan.

    Overall, Jefferts-Schori cannot do a better job “of making the case for why they’re cracking down on the property battles” because if this were just regarding “doctrinal battles” they’d be glad to have the conservatives leave.

  • deacon jim

    our polity dictates that we, tec, must go to court to get our stolen property back. the dissenters are free to leave but they must not take the property with them. i’m surprised that you, a religion reporter, still hasn’t figured this out. the honorable way for the dissenters is simply to leave much like i did 40+ years ago when i, and many of my fellow parishoners of a lcms church, decided that we didn’t want to fight the fundy takeover of the synod. it never would have occurred to us to try to steal the property, too. how much more information do you need in this matter?

  • L

    Ann Rodgers does a great job with any story she touches, not only the Episcopalian stories. Kudos to her!

    Re: the comment from Deacon Jim — Conservatives leaving the Episcopal Church would naturally contest the description of “stolen property.” Part of the problem in these lawsuits is that while a great deal of property is held by the diocese, sometimes the parish is the property owner of record. And in Virginia, the breakaway parishes are arguing that Virginia law does not recognize the idea of denominational trusts, and thus the property belongs to the parish. That’s precisely what the fight is about — whose property is it?

  • Chris Jones

    deacon jim,

    As I am sure my fellow LCMSer Mollie could explain to you, the LCMS is a Church body with a congregational polity (unlike the Episcopal Church, whose polity is, well, episcopal). Thus, if a majority of the members of your LCMS parish had voted to leave, you could have left with the property, no questions asked. Some LCMS parishes did just that, forming the AELC (now part of the ELCA). If, however, you could not muster a majority, then you were leaving as individuals.

    Thus your situation is in no way comparable to the Episcopal situation. In the ECUSA parishes which have left, the vestries and the membership have voted to leave by commanding majorities (usually 85-90% or more). If 90% of the people who actually contribute the money to pay the bills and the rector’s salary vote to leave, it is not exactly obvious that what they are doing is “stealing” the property that is maintained by their own money.

    Of course, given ECUSA’s episcopal polity, there is a case to be made that the bishop and the diocese have an interest (or even the only interest) in the property. But it is precisely to sort out the competing claims of the diocese and of the actual members of the parish that these cases are in the courts in the first place. If your simplistic analysis of the situation were sufficient, the courts would have given summary judgement by now.

  • deacon jim

    chris,

    in due time the courts will return the stolen property to the tec. as i said earlier, the honorable way out for the schmatics was through the front door, without the property. if tec churches were all tents, trust me we wouldn’t be having this discussion. if the ‘true believers’ were really just interested in their orthodoxy, then physical property would be a moot point. that’s a simple solution without being simplistic.

  • http://www.reenchantment.net Ken

    Chris Jones: The entire legal/property rights situation in this schism varies from state to state so your characterization in your second paragraph needs clarification. I think it is this kind of stuff that makes the schism so hard to write about. The Virginia churches are acting partially on some 200+ year old precedents that reach back to the Revolutionary War and the taking of the King’s Churches by the winning side. They should have a simple to case to prove. It’s more complicated where individual parishes have borrowed money and asked the diocese to be co-borrower which in most cases required adding the diocese to the title.

    In California, the Los Angeles parishes have no “cloud” on their title and from a strict property rights reading, one would think that the leaving churches would have a slam dunk. Not in the infamous District Nine or the state courts. These days, its a roll of the dice any time you go to court. So much for reasoned judgement.

  • Gary

    It’s not “stealing the property” when it is the members of the church who have paid for the property. The members of my PCUSA church have paid for everything; the land, the building, and all of the furnishings.

  • Asinus Gravis

    It now seems clear that a good reporter should look into the rules and bylaws of the Episcopal Church in America to see what it says about the ownership of the property when a congregation or larger body chooses to leave the Episcopal Church.

    From what I have read elsewhere, I suspect that Schori knows what those rules say, and that those going to courts to try to hang on to the property are hoping to persuade the courts to override the clear Episcopal rules on the matter.

    In spite of their protestations, the dissidents have been utterly unable to persuade the Episcopal Church’s body of lay persons, or the body of clerical leaders, at their national meetings to knuckly under to their doctrinal and/or lifestyle preferences. They are unwilling to continue while in a minority position.

    If my suspicions are proved correct the dissidents would appear to be motivated by: (1) love of property/money, (2) long simmering frustration at not having their views be the dominant ones, (3) culturally ingrained homophobic attitudes, and (4) discomfort at having a woman calling the shots in “their” church. Detailed reportorial work with people in the affected congregations could shed some light on these matters too.

  • http://www.reenchantment.net Ken

    Asinus Gravis writes “dissidents would appear to be motivated by: …(4) discomfort at having a woman calling the shots in “their” church.” No, no, no, no!

    First of all, the word dissident is incorrect because the orthodox have left, in part because they do not acknowlege the authority of the heretic. That’s a fine point you may want to explore — try Nicaea and the other councils that argued what it meant to be a Christian. It was resolved that Jesus Christ was God. You may not know this Asinus but Jefferts-Schori and her minions have said and written things that are contrary to that statement of Faith. They have lost their claim to authority. She just happens to be a woman. Her helpers are men.

    One other point. The only people who think it’s their church are the plaintiff diocese who are suing the congregations. Anyone in the parishes to whom I’ve spoken is quick to acknowledge that the church is God’s house.

  • Ken (2)

    The city 30 miles west of Dallas is FORT Worth, not “Forth” Worth. I would think this is a typo, but I have seen it here before, so perhaps it’s a simple error. In fact, the city developed around a military outpost more properly a “camp” than a “fort”, but what the heck.

  • Sarah

    Heh.

    RE: “As I am sure my fellow LCMSer Mollie could explain to you, the LCMS is a Church body with a congregational polity (unlike the Episcopal Church, whose polity is, well, episcopal). Thus, if a majority of the members of your LCMS parish had voted to leave, you could have left with the property, no questions asked. Some LCMS parishes did just that, forming the AELC (now part of the ELCA). If, however, you could not muster a majority, then you were leaving as individuals.”

    Nothing like a few facts to throw cold water on a potential martyr’s notions. Guess he thought that you wouldn’t know that little detail about the LCMS when he used himself as a model of probity for not taking the property that he couldn’t get a majority to seek in his congregation.

    ; > )

    Nice one, Chris Jones.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Ken (2),

    Thank you for catching that typo. I didn’t see it. Maybe it’s some subconscious error . . .

    Mollie

  • http://www.reenchantment.net Ken

    Pardon me. You are talking about typos while hundreds, no thousands of congregants are wondering whether their investment — let’s not ask what that word implies right now — what their investment may mean or not mean after a court session in weeks to come.

    That is Pathetic! I begin to wonder what Roberta Ahmanson thought this site was to accomplish. If if was to comment on typos — certainly there is something more noteworthy for you to persue. Work on that.

  • Jeff in Ohio

    Ken;

    The purpose of GetReligion is critique news stories, not act as any denominational faction’s spokesman. Reporters and editors improving their work is a worthy goal for anyone interested in religion. Solving the conflicts reported in stories is the task of the people inside them, not the reporters writing about them. Typos matter here.

    Jeff

  • http://www.reenchantment.net Ken

    You’re rite, I’m sorri

  • Ken (2)

    Here’s a couple of links to stories on how the media is treating this woman. To save time, I’m going through the website of a fellow quoted in both stories, but it’s worth following his links to the originals:

    RNS Story

    and the follow up:

    Albany story

    I think the stories and how they handle the Presiding Bishop (think: “kid gloves”) are interesting in themselves, but more so in the light of one of the story’s quoted participants. Canon Neal Mitchell, also quoted in the articles, sometimes comments at Canon Harmon’s site and I am hoping he chimes in, as well.

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  • AmaniS

    Can someone explain this statement
    “beliefs about the role and identity of Jesus”?
    I understand the property and sexual roles, but what is the other division.
    Email me dawn_50@yahoo.com

  • Karen B.

    AmaniS,
    to answer your question about conflicts about the role and identity of Jesus, here are some links.

    There is the Get Religion story above which focuses on Christian – Hindu relations and a worship service in LA which many Christians would consider heretical because it treats Jesus as just another Hindu god.
    http://www.getreligion.org/?p=3101

    You can see conservative Episcopal/Anglican reaction here:
    http://www.kendallharmon.net/t19/index.php/t19/article/9352/

    Or there is Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori’s Q&A at a conservative Anglican parish where she was asked about her understanding of Jesus and His death on the cross, etc.
    You can listen to the audio and read the reaction here:
    http://www.standfirminfaith.com/index.php/site/article/9394/

    I could provide a lot more links, but these are just a few of the most current examples of the larger fight over doctrine, the identity of Christ, the authority of Scripture that has led to the schism we are seeing played out in the property wars, etc.

  • Tom

    Hmmm, perhaps the following will soon play out
    in the offices of Bishop Duncan:

    :
    “Bishop Duncan, the Bishop of Rome is on line one.”


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