A Sad, But Necessary, Decision…

Last Thursday, the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church called for the deposition of The Rt. Rev. Robert Duncan from the ordained ministry. It was a sad, but necessary decision, in my opinion because of the following facts.

In Dec. 2007 the Title IV Review Committee of our church certified that Bishop Duncan had “abandoned the communion of this church.” The Canon Law of The Episcopal Church define abandonment as “an open renunciation of the Doctrine, Discipline, or Worship of this Church.” In this case, what Bishop Duncan had renounced was the church’s discipline.

He has actively worked to remove the Diocese of Pittsburgh from the authority of The Episcopal Church in clear violation of Canon Law. He sought affiliation with the Province of the Southern Cone also in violation of his ordination vow to “conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church.” He used assets of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh to accomplish these goals.

Contrary to what many may believe, and have stated, this was not about Bishop Duncan’s theological positions. Many loyal bishops, clergy and lay people of The Episcopal Church hold similar views and yet remain faithful members of our church. This was about our church’s polity and the consequences of violating that polity by one who has sworn to uphold it.

At first glance, it’s hard to see how this action serves the goal “that we all may be one.” However, accountability is critical to preserving community life. We have seen the consequences of a lack of accountability on the “left” as well as on the “right” in this church for many years. Perhaps we are finally achieving the kind of maturity which will allow us to hold one another accountable…for the sake of the community…and for the sake of the common witness to the Gospel we hope to make in The Episcopal Church.

12 Responses to “A Sad, But Necessary, Decision…”

  1. rwk Says:

    I will have to disagree on many counts. From the perspective of many of us, including 35 bishops within TEC, the deposition of Bishop Duncan was unjustified and illegitimate. I’ve read the Canons and I look at the “advice” of the Chancellor with the deepest skepticism as do many. It looks merely as “a means to an end”. I sincerely doubt it would hold up in court, should it come to that. Hopefully, Bishop Duncan is bigger than that.

    I look at the way other bishops, who have openly flaunted the doctrine of TEC, were treated with kid gloves. I consider how the clearly, at the time, illegal/extra-canonical ordination of women was given a free pass and the conscience protections have been eroded. Liberal “canon-breakers” are living comfortably on their pensions. Then I look at the way Bishop Duncan was treated and no doubt the way Bishops Schofield and Iker will soon be treated and I see that TEC cares far more about property and polity than it does the broader communion or doctrine. I am honestly grateful the bishop of my youth, Bishop Sheridan died before this came to pass because it would have broken his heart. I fully assume that there will be some pretext for removing the current standing committee of Pittsburgh as well despite the fact that TEC has no authority to do so. I am waiting for that shoe to drop and will marvel at the “interpretations and advice” it will take to achieve it. I’m just grateful the peculiarities of Virginia law allowed us a lifeboat and other Anglicans saw fit to offer sanctuary.

    I am a “regular” here and there is much we are “one” on, but this is not one of those issues. What a SHINING EXAMPLE of tolerance it would have been to let dissenting congregations and dioceses leave where we could still all be part of a broader communion, the Anglican Communion — and ONE in some sense imperfect as it may have been. No credible offer of alternative oversight has ever been seriously proffered. Instead, the scorched earth policy continues and it’s played across the pages of national newspapers. TEC continues to burn bridges instead of build them.

    Finally, TEC will ignore the fact that a vast majority of the world’s Anglicans and their primates will continue to recognize Bishop Duncan as a bishop in Christ’s church even though the rapidly aging and shrinking Episcopal Church does not. Am I bitter and disappointed? Yes. Am I surprised? No.

  2. Episcopal Bishop: A Sad, But Necessary, Decision « A Blogspotting Anglican Episcopalian Says:

    […] Full post: A Sad, But Necessary, Decision… « That We All May Be One […]

  3. ecubishop Says:

    rwk: I acknowledged that there has been a lack of accountability on the “left” as well as on the “right.” My hope is that our getting clarity around some boundaries and mutual accountability will cut both ways.

  4. rwk Says:

    I have yet to see any accountability on the left. From where I sit it looks as if the left/liberals/progressives in TEC control all the levers of power. There was I time I was firmly in the middle, TEC has shifted aggressively to the left over the last 15-20 years and suddenly I’m some kind of radical. When I see a +Spong, +Bruno or +Swing held to same level of accountability maybe I’ll consider there is progress, but honestly, right now it just looks like a purge.

  5. ecubishop Says:

    Well, keep an eye on Philadelphia! And, while you and I may disagree with Spong, Bruno, and Swing on things, they did not violate the canons. Schofield and Duncan clearly did.

  6. Edwin Says:

    The deposition of Bishop Duncan, and your defense of it, demonstrates yet again the ecclesiological issues that underlie the current crisis. I did not realize until the past few years just how seriously many Episcopalians take the authority of the Episcopal Church as a denomination. I thought that Anglicans had moved beyond the idolatrous nonsense of the sixteenth century and did not take national-church ecclesiology seriously. Clearly many Episcopalians do. And this is extremely disturbing. I have yet to see a convincing defense of this ecclesiology (Hooker made a good effort, but in my opinion this is the weakest point in his theology), yet it is assumed by many Episcopalians. I was always told that as an Anglican I was committing to the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, and, given the “sad divisions” of that Church, in a more practical though more tentative way to the Anglican Communion. In the ten years I have been Episcopalian, I have never considered the Episcopal Church as more than a convenient geographical grouping of particular dioceses. Had I been told in 1998 that the Episcopal Church was the “Church” to which I primarily and supremely owed allegiance, I would never have become Episcopalian.

    From this perspective, it looks disingenuous and hypocritical when Episcopalians such as yourself defend the deposition of Bishop Duncan as necessitated by “accountability.” Conservative Anglicans reasonably ask: where is the accountability to the Catholic Church as a whole, or to the Anglican Communion? We don’t see any of this in the recent actions of the Episcopal Church. If we are being asked to bear with actions that go contrary to the sentiments of the Catholic Church as a whole (however defined) and the Anglican Communion as a whole, why are we then expected to show reverence to the relatively trivial “authority” of the Episcopal Church?

    Of course, what you are saying is in fact not hypocritical at all, if you really believe that the Episcopal Church is the body that holds authority over all of us and to which we are primarily accountable. Conservatives, I think, find it hard to believe that anyone can seriously believe anything so plainly contrary to Scripture, Tradition, and reason. Clearly this is a failure in imagination on our part. You apparently do believe it. And our task is to push you, as lovingly and respectfully as possible, to explain why.


  7. ecubishop Says:

    Ecclesiologically, as you say, the Anglican Communion recognizes itself as simply part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. We have always known that there is a “partial-ness,” even a transitory nature of our communion which will only be healed when Jesus’ prayer is fulfilled that we all may be one.

    Until that time, we are made up of dioceses, national churches, and a worldwide fellowship of those dioceses and national churches. Those entities have, to a greater or lesser degree, consitutions and canons and even a developing “covenant” to help us live together. There has to be accountability to those and (as The Episcopal Church may learn one day!) consequences for violation.

    I do have say to say: the Church of England would certainly not hesitate to identify herself as a “national church” and would not agree that this is only “idolatrous nonesense from the sixteenth century.”

  8. DH Says:

    So where do I sign up to hold others accountable to the Canons and the rubrics of the BCP?

    It was a mantra in seminary that TEC had no core doctrine except for the BCP. Therefore, anyone who wilfuly ignores or violates the rubrics of the BCP is by definition a candidate for deposition under the guise of abandoning the communion and violating the Canons.

    So, for starters, when will charges be presented on those bishops who allow open communion (or at least give it a winking pass) in their dioceses?

    I mean, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and if we’re going to enforce the Canons let’s be consistent.

  9. ecubishop Says:

    I could not agree more.

  10. JB Says:

    I found the bishops’ vote to be an amazing event. American men and women who claim to wear the mantle of the apostles decided to take Jesus’ teaching on the other cheek and replace it with the Bush doctrine of intervention, to take the role of reconciler and turn it into rejector, the wisdom of Gameliel and replace it with fiduciary duty, and all this without the American polity ideal of due process. I think the sad fallout of this decision will be the continual flying apart of this church. Those individuals and parishes who have remained in the church as “loyal opposition” have been shown by the very ones who are called to show the most restraint and to be the chief pastors that they and their views are completely unwelcome in this church.

    Your position, bishop, makes sense if your reading of the canons and constitution of the church is correct. But can the bishops really say without crossing their fingers that the language and intent of the canon used was for anything other than housekeeping for clergy who had already left? And what if, as Pittsburgh will likely assert, a diocese may join another province or another convention within the Anglican Communion? For many of us on the outside, Robert’s Rules are pretty clear, and the bishops ignored it (yes, I understand that the majority’s decision to ignore its rules makes it the rule for that discussion, though the question of whether the vote was valid will likely still have to be determined). No trial; no discussion; no hearing and seeing in the light. If words mean only what we want them to mean, who is to say that Pittsburgh’s interpretation is not correct? Besides, one can presume that the diocese has engaged in prayerful discernment of the Spirit and are being led to whatever decision they make — a la the arguments made about GC 2003 and 2006.

    I do not now doubt that Pittsburgh will vote to walk apart as most will feel that they have been driven out, and much of this will now be turned over to the courts (at a tremendous financial and human cost to both sides, I might add). And likely Fort Worth, SC, Central FL, Quincy, Rio Grande and other dioceses will feel they have been given an obvious sign as to the church’s committment “to hold in tension” those with whom we disagree in the church.

    Again, the bishops had an opportunity to be leaders, and again they punted for the sake of expediency or from cowardice. Would +Duncan and the diocese had likely kicked sand in their teeth next month? Most likely, but now we will never know. Then again, those who wear the mantle of the apostles should expect nothing less, servant leaders are called to such an existence to the glory of their Lord. The handwringing that is occuring because our canons force us into this is rightly scoffed at by the dissenters and the rest of the world. As you noted, the canons are only selectively enforced. That the decision came on the heels of a Lambeth where bishops claimed that relationships were so important to reconciliation only lends itself to the charges of hypocrasy now being discussed both here and abroad. And that the decision came when our RCL reading from the New Testament came from Romans 12 only highlights the irony and lack of Christian leadership being demonstrated by many of our bishops. Lord have mercy on us.


  11. ecubishop Says:

    Those who “wear the mantle of the apostles” (and, in that number I would include our Presiding Bishop and Bob Duncan) have always been called to make tough decisions. Conflict in the church is nothing new to us (read the New Testament). The Gamaliel principle is indeed in effect and God will judge us all for our faithfulness or lack of it on the last, great day. I put my trust in him. We are all doing the best we can. Kyrie eleison.

  12. JB Says:

    Well, He is certainly the best One in whom to place your trust : ). Yes, bishops have always been called to make tough decisions throughout the past couple thousand years; and yes, conflict has often been present in our beloved Church. It is tough to see, however, how this decision reflected the cross each of our bishops as His apostle were called to bear. When compared to the stories in Acts, our leadership seems to pale by comparison. And, the decision certainly took the pressure off the far right that I think ++Rowan rightly tried to apply at Lambeth. Few people in the pews will ever read Bishop Marshall’s nuanced discussion, and fewer still will believe it given the way it was handled. Imagine how the relationship of the bishops to the rest of the church and to the rest of the communion would have looked had the bishops been that non-anxious presence and forced Bishop Duncan to make the first move. As you note, He will overcome this as well . . .


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