Irreconcilable Differences?

At the recent meeting of The Episcopal Church’s Executive Council in Helena, Montana, the theme of “reconciliation” was much in evidence. Work continues on the Council’s formal response to the St. Andrew’s Draft of a possible Anglican Covenant which the Archbishop of Canterbury believes is the best chance we have for deeper reconciliation across the Anglican Communion.

The Executive Council re-committed its time, talent, and treasure to assist loyal members of the Episcopal dioceses of San Joachin and Pittsburgh in rebuilding those dioceses now that significant numbers of ordained and lay leaders have left The Episcopal Church for an overseas diocese and Province. And there was also a proposal to enter into serious conversation (without “preconditions”) with the “Common Cause” partnership of disaffected Episcopalians in this country to see what can be done in cooperation and common mission in the future.

“Irreconcilable differences” are often cited as reasons for folks leaving The Episcopal Church (or a troublede marriage!) these days. “That is a deeply un-Christian concept,” Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold once said and our current Presiding Bishop agrees. “Reconciliation is the foundation of our participation in God’s mission,” Bishop Katharine declared.

For Christians, there are no “irreconcilable differences!”

14 Responses to “Irreconcilable Differences?”

  1. rwk Says:

    Well, it will be charitable and Christ-like if the moderator of the CCP, Bishop Duncan, chooses to sit down with those who chose to treat as they did. I noticed the ENS press release couldn’t even mention his name. I will believe there is a heart for reconciliation in 815 when the lawsuits are dropped.

  2. ecubishop Says:

    On all sides?

  3. rwk Says:

    Yes, on all sides…but…

    I’m not sure who you’re speaking of. There is plenty of evidence that in the case of the Virginia congregations the lawsuits were initiated by the Diocese and the National Church. I can produce the documents, the protocol, the stand still agreement etc. If you’ve never seen them, maybe you should. This is a furrow we’ve plowed before, so I really do not expect any progress. If you cannot accept that there was a standstill agreement and the filing for the record of the congregational votes was not the initiation of a lawsuit then there is not much more to discuss. I cannot speak for California, New York etc. But the fact that there are lawsuits across the nation shows what a failure the “waging of reconciliation” has been.

    On the other part of this equation, Bishop Lee had pulled together a broad array of clergy from his diocese and after a year of prayerful joint discussions they had agreed that there were indeed irreconcilable differences and had worked out a way to keep dissenters and loyalists as close as possible. I don’t remember Bonnie Anderson of Presiding Bishop Schori being invited to any of those meetings. That plan failed because of intervention from 815. It was poor judgment and a not a very successful “waging of reconciliation”.

    I am a dissenter who was willing to give she was was mine and is now your Presiding Bishop the benefit of the doubt from the beginning. I stood up for her in front of the Falls Church congregational meeting. I argued that we needed to be willing to listen. She was and has been a total disappointment. She has made no effort to bridge the divide. Not from Dar Es Salaam, not afterward. I have no faith or trust in the Episcopal Church as an institution. Individuals like Bishops Little, MacPherson, Wolf and yourself — because, although we disagree on some things you still treat me with respect — still command some respect but that is about all.

    I’ll say again, I’ve long since passed having ill will. Like many divorces, it’s painful but you just try to move on.

  4. rwk Says:

    Here is the text of the standstill agreement. I can get you a scanned copy if you’d like. Pay special attention to para 2B. Nothing changed in Virginia until CANA congregations were informed the were being sued and clergy deposed.

    DECEMBER 18, 2006

    1. The Diocese of Virginia (“Diocese”) and The Episcopal Church (“TEC”):

    a. will not initiate any attempt to take possession the congregations’ property.
    b. will not initiate any canonical or ecclesiastical actions against the congregations or their clergy or vestries.
    c. will not initiate any civil legal action against the congregations, their clergy, their vestries, or their trustees.
    d. will permit the congregations’ clergy and stay to continue to pay premiums and receive benefits under the Diocesan health care plan until at least January 31, 2007.

    2. The congregations:

    a. will not initiate any transfer or conveyance of their property.
    b. will not initiate any civil legal action against The Diocese/TEC, but may report their congregations determinations by filing a petition/report with the relevant VA Circuit Courts pursuant to Va. Code 57-9 without violating the agreement. The congregations’ Va. Code 57-9 filings will state that notice has been provided to The Diocese/TEC. The congregations will not take any further steps to bring the Va. Code 57-9 filings to judgment. Upon the Diocese’s request, the congregations will seek a stay of their Va. Code 57-9 filings. If the Diocese seeks to intervene in the Va Code 57-9 filings, the congregations will not oppose such intervention and upon the Diocese’s request will jointly with the Diocese move to stay the filings. In not opposing the intervention, the congregation of course reserve the right to contest the Diocese/TEC’s alleged interest in the property.

    3. The Diocese/TEC and each of the congregations:

    a. will seek in good faith to negotiate with each other an amicable resolution of their differences concerning the property and clergy status.
    b. may terminate the agreement by giving 7 days notice to all other parties, but this shall not affect the agreement between any remaining parties unless they independently invoke their right to terminate. This Agreement shall terminate on January 18, 2007 unless renewed by mutual agreement.

  5. rwk Says:

    Here’s the prayerfully worked out protocol that was ignored in the efforts to reconcile.

    Click to access special_committee_report.pdf

  6. ecubishop Says:

    I have no wish to defend — or second guess — specific legal decisions which have been made…in Virginia or anywhere else. Once we resort to the secular courts, Christianity goes out the window.

    There is blame enough to go around on all sides. MANY lawsuits in other dioceses have been initiated by the breakaway party and The Episcopal Church on the defensive.

    We MUST find a better way to settle these matters.

    I do not know what that way might be, given all that has occurred.
    Perhaps Executive Council’s offer of a conversation without preconditions could be a beginning.

    Regardless — and this is my main point — I am unwilling to accept theologically that there can ultimately be “irreconcilable differences” among Christians.

  7. Jamie Says:

    Unfortunately I have seen evidence in my own diocese (Pittsburgh) that not everyone on both sides believes that those on the other side are actually Christians. My own parish has been called ‘heretical’ and it has been reported that we do not celebrate the Eucharist, that we omit the Nicene Creed, and other things — none of which is true. I agree with you, bishop, that there are no irreconcilable differences among Christians, but don’t both sides have to agree that they are indeed Christians for that to hold true?

  8. AmyS Says:

    RWK… please remember the Diocese of Virginia is the _defendant_ in the lawsuits. The 11 – now 9, as two settled about a month ago – departing parishes filed identical lawsuits in multiple jurisdictions the day after the votes to leave were completed. I’d call that a pretty obvious sign those leaving didn’t want to stay at the table. I also seem to recall the stand-still agreement was allowed to expire when it was clear that the CANA parishes had already filed to keep their property and were in no way prepared to settle out of court.

    Frankly, it makes me really sad that the Episcopal Church I grew up in is suddenly no longer big enough for everyone. Especially when the Table isn’t ours from which to dis-invite one another in the first place.

    I agree with the Bishop: there has got to be a better way to solve these cases. I think it starts with a putting down of the, “I’m right, you’re wrong” brand arrogance we all seem to have.

  9. ecubishop Says:


    Yes, sadly, one of the differences between “ecumenical” dialogue and dialogue between some members of our own communion today is that at least ecumenical partners WANT to be at the table…and commit themselves to that process and to that end.

  10. rwk Says:

    I’ll have to respectfully disagree. The painstakingly worked-out protocol said that the disposition of property would be negotiated separately, after the congregations had voted. Per the Standstill Agreement, filing the votes in the Fairfax County records office did not constitute initiating a lawsuit. In late January 2007, the diocese — after prodding from 815 — chose to not extend the Standstill Agreement and the votes had already been filed. It was the diocese that then initiated the lawsuits. That makes the CANA congregations the defendants.

  11. JB Says:

    You know, bishop, there remain a number of questions about whether some of our leadership is truly Christian. (By that I mean that some of our more outspoken leaders seem to claim that Jesus is not unique or that the resurrection is debatable or any host of other statements which seem to contradict the creedal faith we all are called to confess.) So if our differences are irreconcilable, perhaps there is no Lord for both sides in which they can be united.

    That being said, it is certainly an interesting development and worthy of all our prayers and support, even moreso if the offer was sincerely made. Given the systematic effort with which Anderson seems to have undone Werner’s work to give all a voice, one must wonder. One can also only hope that some of the ego’s on the far right find the grace to sit at the table with those whom they profoundly disagree.

    Christ’s Peace,

  12. ecubishop Says:

    Very poor theology, JB. Baptism makes one a Christian. “The bond which God establishes in Baptism is indissoluble.”

    As to whether “our leadership” is “orthodox” I know of not one bishop who would say that “Jesus is not unique or that the resurrection is debatable”. Not one.

    And, I’m sure George Werner would be pleased to read that someone appreciates the heroic work he did as President of the House of Deputies. Basically, he was pilloried in the Diocese of Pittsburgh which he served so faithfully for many years.

  13. JB Says:

    Silly me, I thought that faith in Christ is what makes one a Christian. Baptism was simply the outward sign of an inward and visible grace. Certainly you are not proposing that baptism is a get out of hell free card and carte blanche to profess and believe everything?

    As to your statement about not knowing one, I would argue that you do. But perhaps they have different conversations with different people . . .

    I am certain George is not the first to run afoul of a strong-willed spouse, if that is indeed what happened. Certainly the HOD is less than it was for Pittsburgh’s actions.


  14. ecubishop Says:

    Indeed Baptism is “an outward and visible sign of an inwardward and spiritual grace” but that grace is not simply “faith in Christ” (which is a subjective thing at best) but “union with Christ in his death and resurrection, birth into God’s family the Church, forgiveness of sins, and new life in the Holy Spirit.” (BCP page 858).

    “Get of out hell free?” Well, (a) salvation is about a lot more than avoiding hell and (b) in a sense, we do “get out of hell free.” Salvation in Jesus Christ is “free” (but not cheap) grace.

    Jesus paid it all.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: