NOOSE TIGHTENS AROUND ECUSA AND REVISIONIST DIOCESAN BISHOP
By David W. Virtue
Slowly but surely the noose of orthodoxy is tightening around the neck of the revisionist Episcopal Church, its dioceses and bishops.
Consider the following.
Nine bishops have weighed in on Connecticut Bishop Andrew Smith and told him in no uncertain terms that they will intervene in the case of the "Connecticut Six" and lay a presentment on him if he does not withdraw the inhibition against Fr. Mark Hansen.
"We would prefer to find some way other than this deepening battle, but we refuse to allow this recent aggression to go unchecked or unchallenged," the nine wrote in a letter to the bishop and the Standing Committee. (Last week Smith sent in a Diocesan SWAT team, confiscating the church, changing the locks on the church doors, firing the priest, breaking into his computer and installing a priest-in-charge without vestry consent.)
This has not happened since the infamous Righter Trial of 1996 which declared the Episcopal Church had no core doctrine on sexuality. Walter C. Righter, the former Bishop of Iowa and assistant Bishop of the Diocese of Newark, NJ was tried and subsequently found not guilty for ordaining a non-celibate homosexual to the priesthood.
Now, nine years later a number of diocesan bishops have again taking up the cudgel of orthodoxy and have promised to wade in on another revisionist bishop, this time for his actions against a godly orthodox priest, the Rev. Mark Hansen. This time they could be more successful. Still the question must be asked, will orthodox sitting bishops move beyond statements and cross diocesan lines to publicly rescue priests like Hansen?
Interestingly enough four of the original presenters against Righter are among those bringing charges against "Drew" Smith. They are; James M. Stanton, Bishop of Dallas; John-David Schofield, Bishop of San Joaquin; John W. Howe, Bishop of Central Florida and Jack L. Iker, Bishop of Fort Worth. Clearly what goes around comes around.
Bishop Smith had already been warned by seventeen bishops, thirteen of them diocesans who wrote him on April14th appealing to him to back down in his battle against the six Connecticut parishes with these bishops pleading with him to turn back from this "conflict." He ignored them.
Smith believes he has the right as the sitting bishop to do exactly as he pleases to his parishes and priests regardless of anything, which includes snubbing the conclusions of the Windsor Report, providing acceptable DEPO to the "Ct. Six", and warning the Anglican Panel of Reference that he intends to defy their authority.
As a bishop he lost all theological sensibility and defied his own consecration vows when he participated in the consecration of an openly homoerotic priest to the episcopacy, with the result that the retired Bishop of South Carolina declared the See of Connecticut vacant.
Smith is worse than a canonical fundamentalist. He distorts the canons to deny Hansen a church trial and his actions indicate a deepening canonical fundamentalism that is increasingly the hallmark of revisionist bishops who fly in the face of Holy Scripture and two thousand years of tradition and church history. Another name for this is fascism; it is my way or the highway. The mask of diversity and pluriformity is ripped off to reveal an ugly devilish monster.
But trials take time. After the charges have been laid, they must go through a review panel (Title IV Review Committee) which is made up largely of liberals with usually a token conservative that could take many weeks before they decide whether to proceed with a presentment and trial. They have the power to stonewall it, which is always the preferred style of Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold. If they let it proceed to trial it is quite possible that Smith could be let off the hook completely (like Righter), or given a censure, and considering the history of such trials that is very possible. If he were to be found guilty and tossed out of his diocese, every revisionist bishop would be vulnerable. That seems unlikely based on past history.
But what such a trial does do is expose the soft underbelly of revisionism and sends yet another message to the Global South Primates and bishops that The Episcopal Church is deeply divided and may well come apart at the seams after the next General Convention. It also sends a very loud message to the Archbishop of Canterbury and to the Panel of Reference that orthodoxy is alive and well in the Episcopal Church, and a number of bishops are prepared to fight back when push comes to shove.
BUT it is not just individual bishops like Smith who are in deep trouble in the ECUSA; the whole church got another wake up call this week, when it was announced that a new body had been formed called the Council of Anglican Provinces of the Americas and Caribbean (CAPAC) modeled after the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa (CAPA).
"It has become necessary because of the confusion and theological chaos that has been introduced in the region by the unilateral actions of the Episcopal Church in the USA (ECUSA) and the Anglican Church of Canada, who have departed from historic Anglican faith and practice. The ensuing conflict has drained huge amounts of energy and resources from the mission of the church around the world. CAPAC is being organized to re-energize mission and ministry in the region," said a press release.
A Covenant of Understanding was signed by four leaders that included Archbishop Drexel Gomez, (Nassau) Archbishop Greg Venables (Southern Cone), Robert Duncan (ACN Network moderator) and Donald F. Harvey, Moderator, Anglican Network in Canada.
The noose tightened just a little bit more around the neck of the Episcopal Church.
Within the US itself the Episcopal Church and its leader Frank Griswold faces increasing opposition.
The formation of the Network (NACDP) by Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan to provide a safe place for orthodox Episcopalians, both Evangelical and Anglo-Catholic has proven a serious thorn in the side of the establishment, with a number of revisionist bishops threatening parish priests that if they join they could lose their jobs. The recent shouting match among the House of Bishops in Texas recently showed how skin deep collegiality really is. This indicates a depth of insecurity and paranoia we have not seen before. It is further indication that the noose is tightening around revisionist necks.
The establishment of the Convocation of the Church of Nigeria in North America, a parallel church organization for the estimated 250,000 Nigerian Anglicans in North America by the Primate of Nigeria Peter Akinola to provide a safe place for Nigerian Evangelical Anglicans in a country where Episcopalianism is spiritually bankrupt, is yet another example of a church with a noose that is tightening inexorably around its neck.
Domestically the ECUSA faces a growing threat from the Anglican Mission in America which will shortly see the birth of its 80th congregation most of which are ex-ECUSAN parishes with their three-figure congregations. Their next winter conference will draw 10 Primates, yes 10; it's doubtful the Episcopal Church could draw that many if they paid their way!
And to tighten the noose from within, The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth has appealed to the Archbishop of Canterbury's Panel of Reference for assistance in its dispute with the Episcopal Church over the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate. The argument by Bishop Jack Iker is that the 1997 General Convention made the ordination of women priests mandatory in every diocese, while the Anglican Communion seeks to maintain an "open process of reception" on this issue. This will open an old wound that will certainly reverberate around the ECUSA.
And among themselves some 19 ECUSA bishops, nearly half orthodox met in California recently to discuss what? They wouldn't say of course, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure it out especially when you have V. Gene Robinson, Bob Duncan and Jack Iker representing the most extreme viewpoints in the Episcopal Church sitting in the same room together. One could write the script blind fold.
"Hi, I'm Jack Iker, and I'm Anglo-Catholic to the core."
"Hi, I'm Bob Duncan, and I'm a high church evangelical and there is only one gospel."
"Hi, I'm Vicki Gene Robinson and I'm gay living with another man after divorcing my wife and..."
VGR: "So you wanna split the church over my being gay, gee guys why can't we all just get along, what will it take for us all to stay together?"
Iker: "You don't come close to being catholic in faith and practice, Mr. Robinson. What will it take you ask....your departure."
Duncan: "We have two religions in ECUSA and they cannot coexist..."
The truth is ECUSA is running out of spiritual oxygen, and with Common Cause drawing together the orthodox in ECUSA including both Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics and nearly all the Continuing Anglican groups, it is only a matter of time when these combustible forces ignite and leaves the Episcopal Church in a shambles. For the present time it is being held together by dead men's money from Trust Funds with several thousand dying congregations on life support.
For sure there are healthy dioceses, some of which are even growing and starting new congregations, but if General Convention 2006 does not see the Episcopal Church living up to the demands of the Windsor Report and the clear resolutions from at least three instruments of unity, several dioceses have said they will stay with the Anglican Communion which could translate into walking apart from The Episcopal Church.
In his brilliant analysis of the pluriform rot in ECUSA, the Rev. Dr. Brother George N. Gray examines the big Anglican picture and looks to the Archbishop of Canterbury to wield the sword of truth. He writes; "We have already heard many warnings throughout the Church catholic including the new Pope. Whatever decision Williams makes the greatest of ironies in this painful and difficult process is not lost on Anglicans. The Anglican Communion has long prided itself on not conforming to one person's edict, but ironically that is exactly what the Anglican Communion is waiting on: one man to make a decision. This one person, the final instrument of Anglican unity, has yet to make a definitive statement by either word or deed of which hermeneutical principle of truth the Communion should follow.
Whatever decision the archbishop makes, the Episcopal Church has made its decision, and it is looking up at noose thrown over a tree branch waiting for the hangman to pull the lever and lower the corpse into an ecclesiastical graveyard.
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