Monday, November 10, 2008

Diocesan Independence and the War Between the States

As we in the Diocese of Fort Worth approach our historic convention at which we will determine whether or not to sever our relationship with the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, it has become necessary to reassert an element of the precedent for our action, and thereby confront the charge that our deliberations and our possible move are historically unfounded and illegal.

In addressing his diocese’s separation from the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, The Right Reverend John David Schofield, Bishop of San Joaquin, likened their decision to that of the Southern dioceses, which, during the Civil War, withdrew from that Convention and formed the General Council of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States of America. He maintained that his diocese, as an independent jurisdiction, had the right to separate from the General Convention, as those Southern dioceses did. Some, however, have suggested that the Confederate dioceses had to separate because of the Southern states’ secession from the Union, and thus any analogy with our present situation is flawed. Quite simply put, their argument is that if the states in question left the United States, their respective dioceses could not have, therefore, been a part of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. From there some have reasoned that there is no inherent freedom in a diocese to separate from the General Convention.

In addressing that claim, it is best to begin with the assertion that the Southern Dioceses had to separate from the General Convention. While many Southern Bishops felt the secession of the states to require a separate ecclesiastical structure, not all Southern bishops accepted this notion. The Right Reverend Thomas Atkinson of North Carolina refused to accept that the actions of the state had any bearing on the dioceses, but rather that the Confederate dioceses acted of their own accord, as they had the authority to do. The following quotations from Bishop Cheshire’s work The Church in the Confederate States: A History of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States and from Bishop Atkinson’s Diocesan Convention addresses illustrate his position on the independence of the diocese as an ecclesiastical entity:

“ … And now that soundness of judgment and clear view into the true principles of Church polity, which Bishop Atkinson had showed in 1861, became manifest. Of all the Southern Bishops he was the least embarrassed or trammeled by the results of the war. Those who had maintained, in theory or in practice, that political separation, ipso facto, produced, nay, effected, ecclesiastical division, had to face the correlative of that proposition--namely, that the restoration of civil unity necessitated, if it did not ipso facto restore, ecclesiastical unity. He, on the contrary, had maintained, and had acted upon the principle, that political union or disunion did not of itself at all affect the Constitution or organization of the Church. Therefore, when the war ended, and the union of the States was assured, his position was no ways affected. His hands were free and his mind also was free. He had no need to struggle to reconstruct his principles, or to cast about how he might save the remnants from the wreck. Party heat had not affected his judgment in 1861, and he came to the consideration of the situation in 1865 with the same calm mind and clear vision. He said to his people, in effect: The war is over. Bitter as is the confession--we have failed, and all the States are again united under the authority of the Federal Government. We acted for the best. We have no regrets, and we make no apologies. We formed the Church in the Confederate States, because we found it necessary to do so. We did not wait to ask permission from the Dioceses in the North. The emergency was, and is, the explanation and the justification of our course. Facing the present situation, and feeling, as we did in 1861, that we have the right to act freely, and are not controlled or constrained by the course of political events, we find that the interests of the Church, and consistency with our own principles and professions, require us to go back to the Church in the United States. We believe our sister Dioceses will follow us, but we must act upon our own convictions. We can not wait because others are so situated that they can not act with us at this moment. We can act at once, and we believe it is for the interests of all that we should act at once. And so North Carolina showed then, as perhaps she has at other times shown, that she can be prompt when the occasion calls for it, though sometimes she is slow” (p. 272-73).

“Bishop Atkinson alone contended that the political action of the State had of itself no effect whatever upon the Church; but that the Diocese was free to remain connected with the Church in the United States or to form an independent organization as the necessity might seem to require with reference to its own spiritual interests and work” (p. 29).

Bishop Atkinson’s Address to the Diocesan Convention of the Diocese of North Carolina, 1861:

“…I mention this to show that I did not then, as I do not now, entertain the view, which many hold, that the severance of the National Union does, of itself, and without any act of the Church, produce a disruption of the bonds which bind our Dioceses together…” (p.29).

“…The duty of the Church in this Diocese, to the State, is then clear. The only question is, what is her duty to herself? Is she to regard the Ecclesiastical system of which she formed a part, as dissolved by the act of the State, without any action of her own; or, is she to consider it as still subsisting, and liable to be abolished, or modified, as she, after deliberate inquiry and consultation, shall see best?” (p. 6).

“…While then, I see insuperable objections to the acceptance of the Theory that, the secession of the State does, without any act of the Church, produce a disruption of the Church, I see no plausible argument to incline one to accept it. At the same time, some very important changes in our relations with the Northern Dioceses will be necessary, and it may be best to form an entirely new Ecclesiastical system. This ought to be done with the utmost possible forethought and deliberation…” (p. 8).

Bishop Atkinson’s Address to the Diocesan Convention of the Diocese of North Carolina, 1862:

“I do not see then, how any considerate man, who does believe in the authority and mission of the Church, can suppose that its organization has been broken up by the mere act of the State…We do not lose our rights and interest, then, in that Church by ceasing to be citizens of the United States, but only when we voluntarily withdraw from that Ecclesiastical organization, and establish another for ourselves. This, I conceive, we had the right to do, even if the United States had not been divided, were there sufficient cause for it; and that division does itself furnish sufficient cause. In the mean time, according to my belief, until we form a new organization, the old continues to subsist. There is no interregnum of anarchy. We are not left weltering in chaos, without a Constitution, without any binding regulations for the consecration of Bishops, for the ordination of Clergymen, for the enforcement of discipline, so that each man is free to do what is right in his own eyes. God forbid we should ever be in such a condition" (p.34).

Bishop Atkinson clearly held to the view that the Southern states’ secession from the Union did not, of itself, effect the separation of the Southern dioceses from the General Convention. Rather, each diocese was free to make a determination and act, based upon its own “spiritual interests and work.”

Some, however, might argue that Bishop Atkinson represented an extreme minority view, not held by the other Southern dioceses, and therefore not a legitimate position today. Responding to this, it is worth noting that though many of the other Southern bishops held to the view that the secession of the states required separation from the General Convention, when the war ended the proposition of reunion with the Northern dioceses was not immediately assumed by all. Bishop Thomas Davis of South Carolina in a pastoral letter to his diocese, dated October 5th, 1865 states,

“No sound mind can suppose that the separation of the Southern from the Northern Church, under the influence of the political revolution which has passed over the country, can be schismatical...There had been therefore no schism. The Southern Church is now rightly constituted, and is an independent and integral branch of the Church Catholic. As such she can, of right, shape her own course. She is, also, free to return to her union with the Church at the North. Which shall she do? This is the great proposition” (p. 34).

So we see that even among those bishops who held to the necessary separation caused by the states’ secession, reunion of the dioceses after the war was not assumed, but rather diocesan independence was asserted.

Finally, when the Southern bishops and deputies gathered in November of 1865, in Augusta, GA for what would prove to be the last General Council of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States of America they passed two significant resolutions. Rather than insist that each constituent diocese return to the General Convention, now that the war had ended, these joint resolutions affirmed the right of each diocese to decide for itself the ecclesiastical structure with which it would affiliate:

"Resolved, I. That in the judgment of this Council it is perfectly consistent with the good faith which she owes to the Bishops and Dioceses with which she has been in union since 1862, for any Diocese to decide for herself whether she shall any longer be in union with this Council."

V. "That whenever any Diocese shall determine to withdraw from this Ecclesiastical Confederation, such withdrawal shall be considered as duly accomplished when an official notice, signed by the Bishop and Secretary of such Diocese, shall have been given to the Bishops of the Dioceses remaining in connection with this Council" (p.250).

We of the Diocese of Fort Worth affirm with Bishop Atkinson our independence as a diocese and now for the sake of our own “spiritual interests and work” we prepare to take counsel together as to whether we will separate from the General Convention, as the Southern dioceses did in years past. We seek to do so, as Bishop Atkinson advised, with the “utmost possible forethought and deliberation”(p.8). We also do so with the confidence that any deliberation or action on our part is both historically justified and, we believe, thoroughly licit.

44 comments:

sam said...

Father:

I'm sure you know that this example is not going to go very far in convincing the opponents of our realignment; I am not sure that I myself would want to rely very heavily at all on an argument based on the rights articulated by the Confederacy.

My question about Bp Atkinson et al: what, if the governmental separation was irrelevant, was the justification for ecclesial separation along the same lines? I appreciate the way they suggest that the one should not cause the other, but I am not convinced (from what you quote) that there was actually any other reason for the separation: the context seems manifestly different from ours.

Lastly, I'm wary of this emphasis on diocesan independence. Independence is precisely what we're trying to avoid by distancing ourselves from the General Convention -- otherwise why would we bother joining another province or seek to be in communion with other parts of the Church (and with an eye to deeper communion with other parts of Catholic Christendom)? Independence sounds too much like self-sufficiency. When +Rowan (and the Tradition) speak of the diocese as the primary unit of the Catholic Church, I don't think diocesan independence is quite right. I can't think off hand of a better word to offer -- perhaps I'd say something like: the local bishop has the responsibility to lead his flock in a way that preserves its continuity with apostolic life and doctrine. It is not so much that the diocese has the "right" to leave because it is a diocese (though politically and constitutionally we may be able to say that), but that the whole point of having a bishop is so that the local church remains in communion with the wider Church, and this vote (this realignment) is a prudential move to ensure as much.

Though I suppose all that may be beside the point -- in the end, I gather that you are trying to make a canonical point and not a theological one, so forgive my ramblings. And anyway I'm all for the move -- I'll be there this weekend to witness Convention. I guess I only said the above because I think our actions need to be narrated with great care, and I know that when people (especially other Anglicans) at Duke ask about it all, they're not going to be especially open to an argument based on the Civil War. That doesn't meant that, from a canonical-legal perspective, it isn't true, but I don't think that it will be very persuasive.

Sam Keyes

p.s. I appreciate y'alls blog!

The Rev. Jonathan Duncan said...

Sam,

The reality is that none of our arguments will probably go far in convincing our opponents, but that doesn't mean that it isn't, still, worthwhile to examine and articulate them. As for the Confederacy, my argument has nothing really to do with the claims or rights of the Confederacy, but rather the claims of bishops who happened to be bishops of Confederate states, as those claims relate to their dioceses' relationship to the General Convention. This is by no means an apologia for secession.

The legal/canonical point that Bp. Atkinson makes is somewhat subtle. The secession did not legally force the diocesan separation, but the realities of secession made it a prudent, perhaps even necessary action. The question is, then, whether the freedom to act rested with the dioceses, or whether they were merely victims of a legal change.

You're right, though, Independence is not quite the word I was looking for. This all started from digging up some information for convention talking points and I was looking for a title that summed up the discussion. Your are right, though, this is a canonical-historical discussion, not a theological one, hence the "historically justified and thoroughly licit" comment at the end.

Pax,
Jonathan+

sam said...

Thanks, Father.

I'm impressed, by the way, that you found this from your digging. I definitely think it's worth it to have as much support -- from as many sources as possible -- going into this weekend.

JR said...

Clergy (and seminarians) of Fort Worth, please help me understand...

What is the theology of the episcopate? Is the arch-diocese just an administrative level, or is it a binding part of a healthy episcopal theology? If the latter, then how is its repudiation being faithful?

What is diocesan independence? If the Bishop serves as an embodiment of the ministry of Christ himself before the church, then is this episcopal relation not also an integral part of our theology of marriage? Is not the episcopate a marriage-like covenant symbolizing Christ and his Church? Or, the right way around, is not marriage supposed to reflect (albeit secondarily) the bond of the episcopate by virtue of its relation to that of Christ and the Church? If that is the case, is the ability to opt into and out of the archdiocese not equivalent to divorce? Will Fort Worth now condone divorce and remarriage based on its implied episcopal theology?

If Fort Worth finds the Episcopal Church to have abandoned the communion (and thereby withdraws for realignment), then will Bishop Iker remove any seminarian who is currently serving an ECUSA parish from his current position to serve, I suppose, directly in Fort Worth? It seems that in good conscience he cannot allow them to serve where he will not himself.

Does Fort Worth have some indication from Lambeth that this move is in the interest of the Communion? If not, then how is this faithful to the church?

Granted, I am not asking for canonical precedent, so you may find this a non sequitur to the current post. What I want to know is regardless of precedent (there is, after all, precedent for torture in the Catholic Church), what is prudent and faithful.

I ask these things admittedly as an outsider, but as one with deep friendships in the diocese of Fort Worth. So, please, don't circle the wagons in response. The further fracturing of the communion is deeply troubling. Partisanship amongst "liberals" and "conservatives" is pointless. Please, help me understand why it is that our prayers can no longer be common, why Ft. Worth finds it meet and right to voluntarily and explicitly break communion with so many brothers and sisters in Christ?

sam said...

Hi JR.

1. The archepiscopate has never been considered a different order -- all bishops possess the fullness ordination. As to whether archbishops (or perhaps patriarchs and primates and metropolitans) are somehow a necessary part of the hierarchy, I don't know; Rome and Constantinople obviously constitute their hierarchies somewhat differently. The Episcopal Church has never had Archbishops, and it is only recently that the PB has taken the title "Primate" (with little to no actual powers that might be called primatial). The Presiding Bishops have always been just that: the president of the house of bishops; as such the PB has no jurisdiction over any diocese. What leads you to suggest that by making our move out of TEC we are repudiating the idea of an archepiscopate?

2. As I said above on this thread, I do not like the notion of "diocesan independence." And again: there is no archdiocese from which to depart. The marriage/divorce analogy is a reasonable one insofar as it points to the communion of all bishops in the Church with one another. By separating from TEC we are not severing a bond that was made indissolubly (the General Convention is not a sacrament); we are realizing by synod and canon what is already sacramentally true: we are not in full communion with the house of bishops and delegates of the Episcopal Church, but we remain in full communion with all Anglican Christians who keep the apostolic faith, within and without the Episcopal Church.

3. It seems that in good conscience he cannot allow them to serve where he will not himself. I think that conclusion is flawed. I wouldn't venture to say where Bishop Iker could and could not serve in good conscience. I know that he could not receive Communion from a female celebrant (and I don't either, even though I serve in a parish with a woman priest), but our Anglican ecclesial situation is pretty complicated. The separation from the Episcopal Church has less to do with a sort of absolute repudiation of every single person, thing, and sacramental act of that province than it does with a separation for the sake of the souls of the faithful here. I think that Bishop Iker is right: life in the Episcopal Church is a dangerous proposition for orthodox Christians. But that is not the same thing as saying that it is impossible or that those who attempt to live this life are doomed.

4. Archbishop Rowan has not been very forthcoming with pronouncements of any sort. I know that he does not view our separation as ultimately contrary to Anglican belief or polity. (Though I do not think he views our action as prudential.) If by Lambeth you mean the Conference, and hence the Communion of bishops, that is more complicated: there is wide support of these diocesan separations, though the question may be a bit different when it comes to a "new province." (See here.)

5. I do not believe that faithfulness can be reduced to the Anglican Communion.

JR said...

Hi Sam,

Thanks for the responses. I think they are helpful. I'll try to answer some of your questions in response:

1.) I stand corrected on the archdiocese. But does this not beg the question of what "realignment" means? What need is there to be affiliated with the southern cone? It seems that it is a repudiation of something in favor of something else. If Ft. Worth recognizes no authority of the PB as a primate, then why vote to realign? Why not continue until that authority is exercised, perhaps in the form of Bishop Iker being deposed? I am not clear how realignment makes sense?

2.) Does every Anglican bishop have the prerogative to decide who is or is not keeping the apostolic faith? Perhaps you will say yes. I don't know. Anglican ecclesiology is indeed a mess. It is in part for that reason that I don't think a bishop finds much intelligibility when abstracted from the Communion. If TEC is still part of the Communion from Canterbury's point of view, then it makes no sense to be withdrawing. It's as if individual bishops can say where the "true Communion" is, whatever that means, since they retain the right to withdraw from one part of the Communion to join another. If the Communion is not defined with reference to Canterbury, then it seems that Anglicanism is just a confederation of independent dioceses.

3.) I'm not sure how you can claim not to say what Bishop Iker can(not) do in good conscience while also saying that separation is "for the sake of the souls of the faithful here." That is as much to say that the souls of the faithful in TEC are in some jeopardy that Bishop Iker conscientiously rejects for the sake of the souls in his curacy. If this is the case, why is life in the Anglican church not a dangerous proposition for orthodox Christians altogether? For that matter, it should at least enter the discussion that the souls of Ft. Worth could be in equal jeopardy from imprudent actions of the clergy that jeopardize the broader communion. I'm not sure what calculus demonstrates that realignment is a safer option for all souls involved, nor is it clear how the intention of these actions is to err on the side of charity to fellow Christians if they are to err (which, you may correct, I think is a reasonable rule of thumb).

4.) A new province? Organized by the bishops who sought realignment? Amidst the current TEC province? Does this make any sense?

The more fractious the behavior of the Anglican church, frankly, the less catholic it presents itself. TEC is a problem, no doubt, but the realignment appears to be imprudent, a result of impatience and strong confidence that Ft. Worth can interpret the apostolic faith as received through Anglicanism more soundly than can the entire Communion. TEC remains, for now, a part of that Communion. It appears, at least, supremely uncharitable realign rather than to remain within the agreed structures of the church through such difficult trials. We confess the Creed as a church in part because it takes a community of the faithful to sustain that faith. I do not recite the creed on Sunday because I can sustain its truth on my faith alone, but am bolstered by the faithful around me. What if we should abandon those around us whose faith wavers? What of charity? What of faithfulness?

If the fear is that the Communion cannot or will not deal faithfully with TEC, then presumably the problem is not with the province but with Anglicanism. Realignment then solves nothing. On the other hand, if the Communion can deal with the waywardness of TEC (and I think they can do so only through the unity of communion), then what does Ft. Worth lose by being a part of TEC until that time? Why the impatience? Will God damn a faithful bishop or the souls in his cure for suffering under a sinful and wayward house of bishops? If the TEC deposes Bishop Iker even as he remains a stalwart champion of the apostolic faith within TEC, what has he lost? I doubt he is really concerned about retaining his job, so what is at issue?

I simply don't see the virtue in this move.

Thank you for your forbearance, Sam.

sam said...

JR: I have a lot of work to do and so don't have time to respond to this now. I will attempt to do so soon (though I think I will see you in person before then).

Fr Duncan: sorry for hijacking the comments from your post!

JR said...

Indeed, Fr Duncan, my apologies for using your comment section for my cathartic dump.

See you soon, Sam.

sam said...

JR,

Let me begin by giving you two links, to those who are probably more articulate than I:
1. Fr Josh's address/sermon on the subject given yesterday.
2. A friend in Quincy's (and fellow Dukie) observations.

Now, in response to some of your specific questions:

1. I stand corrected on the archdiocese. But does this not beg the question of what "realignment" means? What need is there to be affiliated with the southern cone? Yes, it does beg the question. And there are several things to say. One, despite all constitution and canons, the Presiding Bishop is attempting to act like an Archbishop and use this power to destroy our diocese; two, because we believe that institutional and collegial relationships with bishops are important, and we cannot in good conscience remain in such collegial relationship with those who do not hold to the apostolic faith; three, so long as we remain in such official structures we lend credence to the distorted notions of the faith that come down from these places -- when we remain in full visible communion with the Bishop of Los Angeles, the Bishop of New Hampshire, the Bishop of Washington, and the Presiding Bishop, how can we with any authenticity tell our people that the message they proclaim (one of self-fulfillment and liberal progress) is not the same as the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

2. Does every Anglican bishop have the prerogative to decide who is or is not keeping the apostolic faith? No. Though General Convention thinks that it has this prerogative. Our judgments on the subject of TEC's heresies are dangerous, to be sure, but they are, we believe, supported by both the Tradition and the vast majority of other bishops (Anglican and otherwise) Look at the conciliar period: bishops did not wait for ecumenical judgment to make excommunications: they sought ecumenical councils in order to vindicate them when they were in doubt.
... If TEC is still part of the Communion from Canterbury's point of view, then it makes no sense to be withdrawing. But the point is not simply to remain part of the Anglican Communion; it's to remain part of the Catholic Church -- and yes, that brings up a host of other issues, and I am well aware of their difficulty! The problem is that the Anglican Communion does not actually have clear ways of defining or ordering itself right now.

3. That is as much to say that the souls of the faithful in TEC are in some jeopardy that Bishop Iker conscientiously rejects for the sake of the souls in his curacy. Right.
If this is the case, why is life in the Anglican church not a dangerous proposition for orthodox Christians altogether? I think that it may be. But that's because I'm probably some sort of papist. Would it be sufficient to say simply: we're doing the best we can with what we've been given. I do not believe that unity can exist on any level between Christians who cannot agree that Jesus is the Lord.

4. On the new province, I point you to the observations of Ephraim Radner that I linked to in the previous comment. I am not convinced at all that the new province is a good idea. (Though I will remain loyal to my bishop in this.) Well, it may be a good idea at some level, but I find the timing dangerous and imprudent. This is not to say that I do not think it wise to unite the disparate "orthodox" Anglican groups in America...

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