Let us set aside, for the purposes of this article, the fact that so many of the traditional Episcopal bishops apparently coordinated, communicated, and acted together within their powers to resist and protest and place on the record the fact that the attempts by the House of Bishops and its chair to depose Bishop Duncan were non-canonical and lawless. The striking contrast in their behavior between yesterday’s meeting and the meeting of six months ago should warm all of our hearts—I feel like I have champagne bubbles in my blood. Effervescent is, I believe, the appropriate word.
But what I’m going to concentrate on is what this does to The Episcopal Church as a whole.
All around TEC right now, there are many moderates waking up to forwarded emails and phone calls from their conservative friends detailing what happened yesterday—the frank lawlessness and violation of the canons, the enactment of an Episcopal Bush Doctrine and penalties for thought and speech crimes, and the violation, once again, of the progressive Episcopalians much-vaunted and loudly trumpeted values of “justice” and “inclusion.” Try as they might, moderates simply aren’t going to be able to defend that behavior, particularly with the well-armed conservative friends having memorized so much of the applicable canons and with the excellent work of Mark McCall and A S Haley pointing out the violations.
Beyond that is the international scene. Barely two months after lots of indabaing with 617 fellow Anglican Communion bishops . . . The Episcopal Church looks like nothing more than the Wild West, with the progressive bishops and the Presiding Bishop serving in the role of the feared and loathed gunslinging criminals who have taken over a town, prior to the deputized sherriff’s men restoring order.
A better metaphor than that for the 88 bishops who voted to attempt to depose is that of a pack of hyenas circling an older, weaker hyena—in essence, mob rule, animal style.
And folks . . . all over the world, the message that bishops will receive is that The Episcopal Church—in its zeal to topple another bishop—violated its own canons, not even being able to wait until it could tie up the loose ends of actually having Bishop Duncan depart “the Communion of this Church” . . . . or, as I’ve pointed out before “the Church of this Church,” which is how the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church is choosing to amusingly interpret that canon.
All over the world, moderate bishops—the ones that came to Lambeth and went away further disturbed over the rank vacuity and pushiness of the progressive Episcopal bishops and their progressive activist friends that were shoving newspapers into their hands and protesting . . . the ones that came in with an open mind and left thinking “wow—I knew scripture was kinda clear . . . and now I know why!” . . . they’re going to see The Episcopal Church’s Pack of Hyenas.
And they’re going to see a frenzied haste too.
Just think, had Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori followed the advice of cooler heads, she could have had two fewer canonical violations, and the support of more of her own bishops . . . because as it is over 30% of the attending bishops did not support the deposition.
She could have had the prior canonically required inhibition of the three senior bishops.
She could have had it scheduled on the agenda in advance.
She could have actually had the abandonment of Bishop Duncan from “the Church of this Church” . . .
But because she wished to gain what she fancied would be a short-term strategic advantage—one that will look even more short-term three months from now—she chose to go ahead and violate even more canons than she might have six months from now.
And the bishops in other Provinces—the ones that have been in the middle—they’ll see it. And it will merely add another straw on the back of the camel.
Three months ago at Lambeth, progressive bishops marvelled over why so many other bishops of the Communion thought that TEC was so anti-gospel and supported same-sex blessings. Three months from now, if they have the opportunity they’ll marvel over why so many other bishops of the Communion think that TEC is so lawless and so uncivilized.
And make no mistake. The 39 bishops who did not vote to support the deposition of Bishop Duncan didn’t all do so because they are “theological conservatives.” Some of them aren’t by any stretch of the imagination.
No, there are two other reasons why an Episcopal bishop would not want to support the deposition of Bishop Duncan. First, some bishops—obviously 30% of the House—care about following the canons, not convenience or political advantage. And second . . . and make no mistake about this . . . some bishops know just how very bad this looks to the rest of the Communion: to the bishops that they sat in indaba with, to fair-minded liberals, to Rowan Williams, and to moderates everywhere who have tried to be fair-minded with TEC.
Katherine Jefferts Schori and her advisors had two choices. They could violate the canons flagrantly and hang ‘em high now, further shattering TEC’s global reputation . . . or they could attempt to follow the canons scrupulously. They chose the former—and I think they knew the cost within the Communion.
The cost is TEC’s further distancing from the rest of the Communion. And Bishop Jefferts Schori was willing to pay that cost.
Oh, I’m sure there’s a certain level of arrogance there. TEC has money, and TEC didn’t experience formal consequences at Lambeth. Sometimes, some of the rich think that there’s always a way to buy back a reputation.
But I think there’s also a level of realism for the Presiding Bishop. I think she knows that this establishes another wedge—and I think she’s okay with that, as long as she gets what she wants locally. All of us should ponder that interesting angle as well.
But let me put it this way.
Were I a conservative—and non-Christian—mole, planted in 815, and established as an advisor to the Presiding Bishop—I couldn’t have scripted this better.
I would have been on pins and needles lest she suddenly grow integrity and a conscience—and changed her mind about hurtling headlong towards yesterday’s events.
I would have flattered her, urged her, appealed to her pride: “Are you going to let them push you around like that—you’re the PB, for goodness sakes. Get out there and act like it. Go ahead and cut him off at the knees—go for the jugular, PB—show ‘em what a strong woman you are. They’re never going to be satisfied with your keeping some of the canons—so why not have it all! We can explain ourselves to our allies later. Right now let’s go take care of business and crack a few heads.”
Thankfully, none of us had to engage in such unChristian poor advice to the PB. Others did that for us.
And the result is that the progressive-controlled national structures of TEC—the HOB, the Executive Council, 815—have constructed another wedge between them and TEC moderates, between them and the rest of the Anglican Communion. The division and the stark contrast between the ruling party of national TEC and the rest of the Anglican world has grown deeper and broader, overnight.
Sometimes the council of the progressive side of TEC is confused, and the understanding is darkened. Sometimes we ourselves bumble into doing the right thing accidentally or gain a little courage. Sometimes, the difference of six months is a huge huge difference.
Today, the sky is blue. The sun is shining and the air is crispy. I’m going to go out running soon with my trusty dog.
It’s a great day to be a traditional Episcopalian and a traditional Anglican.