An Open Letter to My Fellow Episcopalians in South Carolina
Dear Committed Episcopalians in South Carolina,
As a lifelong Episcopalian myself, and as an attorney of 42 years’ experience who in 1980 began to be conversant in the canon law of my Church, I write to you on the eve of your special convention in Charleston tomorrow, which will be convened by our Presiding Bishop. (Full disclosure: I am currently co-counsel to the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin, and am actively opposing my own Church’s litigation against their former bishop, because I so strongly believe that what it is doing in that regard is just plain un-Scriptural, and wrong.)
I do not write with the purpose of sowing discord or confusion. There are those already in the leadership of our Church who have done more than enough of that.
I write instead because I perceive clearly that you are about to be sold a bill of goods, and the goods in the bill are not genuine. Therefore, my principal message to you is: caveat emptor! Look carefully at the motives of those who want to sell the goods to you.
This particular bill of goods was first written only in 2008. I repeat: these goods did not exist in our Church before 2008, when they were invented out of whole cloth by our Presiding Bishop’s Chancellor, Mr. David Booth Beers. (He may or may not be present at your gathering tomorrow; I have no information on that point. But his presence is not necessary, because Bishop Jefferts Schori herself has become so conversant with the goods in question that she is fully capable of offering them to you as the real thing.)
And just what are these particular goods? I shall do my best to list and describe them for you, as follows:
First, that the thing called “The Episcopal Church” is greater than the sum of its parts.
This is demonstrably untrue. “The Episcopal Church”, conceived in that way, is an abstraction: it does not exist as such. “The Episcopal Church” is simply a collection of individual Dioceses, united for a common religious purpose. There is no way on earth for something called “The Episcopal Church” to be “greater” than the sum of those entities—the individual dioceses—that make it up. Instead, “The Episcopal Church” is no more, and no less, than what its member dioceses choose to make of it.
Second, that since “The Episcopal Church” is greater than any of its parts, it follows that “The Episcopal Church” can lord it over any individual one of those parts—and in this case, over the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, headed by the Rt. Rev. (still!—just not within “TEC”) Mark Lawrence.
Again, this is demonstrably untrue, because the first premise on which it is based is demonstrably untrue (see above). The individual dioceses are equal and autonomous partners in the association of dioceses which calls itself “The Episcopal Church.” No one diocese has pre-eminence over any other, and ninety-nine dioceses acting together have no power over the hundredth diocese. In the particular area of defining a diocese’s relationship with all the rest, all must act together, or else there is no agreement with respect to the affected diocese. No diocese, in consequence, may be forced to accept something which the others all want, just because they want it.
Would you like proof? Consider the example of offering Holy Communion to the unbaptized. Today there are a number of Dioceses that allow just that, despite its prohibition by Canon I.17.7, which could not be more plain in its language: “No unbaptized person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion in this Church.” (Emphasis added.)
Or consider those dioceses that are offering not just same-sex blessings, but same-sex “marriage ceremonies” in their churches. The Book of Common Prayer explicitly says that Christian marriage (the kind celebrated by our Church) is only between “a man and a woman.” So how do these dioceses get away with offering same-sex marriages? Simple. They say the Book of Common Prayer does not apply to them in these circumstances.
Need a third example? It is often told to you that every diocese must make an “unqualified accession” to the Church’s Constitution and Canons, as a condition of joining the Church, and that act of “accession” may not be revoked, ever. Well, please look through this earlier post on my site, which shows some 28 dioceses, always treated as members of the Church since their inception, who have never included any accession clause in their constitutions. So how can they be members, even though they never complied with ECUSA’s Constitution? Perhaps you should consider that point in looking over the bill of goods you are being sold.
Third, that the thing called “The Episcopal Church” must “preserve and protect the properties which have historically been a part of it for future generations of Episcopalians.” Hence, the thing called “The Episcopal Church” must file lawsuits against those who would try to take “its property” when they “try” to leave it (something which they “cannot” do).
This is an entire passel of untruths and outright lies, given our Church’s history. The entity called “The Episcopal Church” never laid any claim in law to any parish’s individual property before 2006, which is when our current Presiding Bishop assumed office. Before that, a few individual dioceses claimed that the individual parishes held their properties in trust for the dioceses. Some were successful, but an equal number (approximately) were not.
The thing we call “The Episcopal Church” has scarcely preserved any property for any future generations. Instead, it is spending down its trust funds, which were donated to it long ago for purposes of its church “mission”, to support the myriad of lawsuits which it initiated on the current Presiding Bishop’s watch. It mortgaged its own headquarters, for heavens’ sake. How is that an act of “preservation”?
The litigation which “The Episcopal Church” is using its trust funds to support is all being conducted by the law firm of the Presiding Bishop’s chancellor. Thus far, I have estimated (based on the Church’s audited financial statements) that it has spent approximately $24 million dollars on such litigation, of which the Chancellor’s law firm has earned the lion’s share. The value of the properties thus far “recovered,” however, has been only a small fraction of that amount.
What does that tell you about whether this is all an undertaking in good faith “to preserve properties for future Episcopalians”? And what does that tell you about the motives of those who are urging you to act so that yet another lawsuit may be brought against Bishop Lawrence in the coming weeks?
In sum, I earnestly ask you, in the name of the Church which we both love and hold dear, to search deeply into the motives of those who are asking you to take certain actions, and approve certain resolutions, this weekend in South Carolina. Ask whether they are “of the Church” which we have known and served for so long. No, do not stop there: ask whether they are “of God and of His only Son, who pleaded with us that ‘we all may be one’.”
In His Holy Name, I remain your humble Episcopalian servant,
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