The New Episcopal Church: What Hath General Convention 2015 Wrought?

Written by:
Monday, July 27th, 2015

The Anglican Communion Institute has followed with care and interest the decisions of The Episcopal Church’s (TEC’s) General Convention 2015. We have pondered key aspects of these decisions, and spoken to a range of participants and members of the broader Anglican Communion.

In summarizing our reflections, we note that the following things are clear:

  1. A Trial Rite for same-sex marriage (A054) was passed in the House of Bishops a) without a roll call vote and b) without a majority of all the Bishops entitled to vote, as prescribed by the Constitution. By this action, the plain sense rules agreed to by all in the form of Constitutional order have now been reduced to whatever decision General Convention agrees at the time.
  2. The scriptural texts and the plain language of the Book of Common Prayer Pastoral Office for the Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage are now subject to a generic fallacy: the particular language and logic of one man and one woman are held to be examples of the use of “mankind” to refer to men and women in earlier times. That this is manifestly not analogous is made clear by the necessity of the removal of Mark 10 as one of the central texts to be read at marriage services. Neither Genesis nor Mark refer to “man and woman” as examples of non-generic language meaning “people” or “persons.” So by this canonical action (A036), the character of the Book of Common Prayer rites has been reduced to societal accident and happenstance. It is little wonder then, by this same logic, that the rubrics and core understanding of the sacrament of Holy Communion were only narrowly upheld over against appeals for “open communion.” This is the result of treating the Book of Common Prayer as a kind of smorgasbord of liturgical possibilities: a set of suggestions which each new age’s aspirations are to transform. The need for constitutionally approved measures for altering the BCP is now a former age’s quibble.

By contrast, we believe that Genera Convention 2015 has left the following things quite unclear.

  1. On the one hand, the HOB insisted that a Trial Rite has in some sense to be authorized by a Diocesan Bishop before it can be used “throughout the church” in his or her diocese. This is consistent with the regulations governing a Trial Rite (we can leave aside whether the origins of Trial Rite usage presupposed wholescale BCP revision, which is not at issue in the case of creating rites just for a new understanding of “generic marriage”). Yet A054 also insists that Diocesan Bishops must “make provision” for the new rites. Just what does this collision between a Diocesan Bishop’s authority to regulate rites and a requirement for making provision mean? The answer is, “no one knows because this is what happens when you set up a collision as has been done.” This means that various proposals can be envisioned or are being formally declared. Bishop X works with neighboring Bishops to see that the rites are provided elsewhere and not within his diocese or by his clergy. Bishop Y attempts this and neighboring Bishop says No. Bishop Z uses some version of the “Doyle Plan.” Bishop W wants flying Bishops to come into his diocese, but finds that LGBT couples want marriages in parishes where the congregations are divided. So how does this all shake out?
  2. Given the latitude with which the BCP and the C/C are being treated, and given that The Episcopal Church has no Historical Confessions, supreme Ecclesiastical Court, Book of Discipline, Barrier Act or other mechanisms for ordering its common life, how are we to understand the future of this church body? And how are we to understand the role of a Bishop and a Diocese, itself governed by constitution and canons?

The current situation

The Anglican Communion Institute has over the past decade argued that The Episcopal Church runs the risk of cutting itself off from the very documents that give it identity (including Holy Scripture, the Book of Common Prayer and the Constitution). This is now a fait accompli. We have before us a New Episcopal Church.

Even the illusion of the Episcopal Church as its own kind of world-wide Communion—a notion invented to offset the concerns and claims of the Anglican Communion as such, after the consecration of Bishop Robinson—suffered a grievous blow at General Convention 2015. We witnessed the entire bloc of Central American Bishops, on behalf of their dioceses, dissenting from the actions of General Convention in the area of canonical and Prayer Book revision regarding marriage. Where that new development will lead is but one further area of confusion post General Convention 2015.

What is not unclear is that all calls to adhere to our historical polity, constitutional governance and the rule of law have been rejected by those who gathered at the last GC. We will now witness a new kind of NEC “Bishop”; a new understanding of the NEC Diocese and its Constitution and Canons vis-à-vis General Convention’s most recent actions; a new conception of the authority of the Book of Common Prayer; a fresh confusion over just how the new A054 will find its footing in conservative dioceses, perhaps only clarified via disciplinary action or social-media campaign and advocacy.

The time ahead

All this points to a time ahead of stress and uncertainty for Anglicanism in the United States. ACI believes that the following elements, however, must be recognized and acted upon if this time ahead is to prove fruitful rather than simply destructive.

First, we must acknowledge that TEC as a national body is no longer recognizably “Anglican” in an Anglican-Communion sense. A broad range of commonly defining features of Anglican Communion churches – e.g.  the Lambeth Quadrilateral, which makes Scripture the “rule and ultimate standard of faith”; the definition of Anglicanism specified in TEC’s own constitution and in 1930 Lambeth Conference Resolution 49 (i.e., “upholding and propagating the historic Faith and Order as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer”); other Lambeth resolutions including 1998 I.10; the Windsor Report and its moratoria that were subsequently adopted by all the Instruments of Communion; the framework of an Anglican Communion “Common Law” (as N. Doe and others have identified it), etc. — no longer exists in TEC.

Second,  dioceses, bishops, priests, and laity who are currently members of TEC, but who do​ continue to hold their identity within the common Anglican elements noted above, need to set about, corporately and in a coordinated way,  to work with the larger Anglican Communion for a way forward.  That kind of work has, in the past, been subverted by a range of local and larger factors, including personal ones.  Something different has to happen at this point, and both the American and Communion leadership concerned with this must work with a new consultative forthrightness and clarity.

Third, we believe that American Communion-minded Anglicans must formally call on Canterbury, and the Primates to respond to the need expressed above expeditiously and constructively.  Past reticence, foot-dragging, deference to local politics, and simple failures to follow through are no longer viable ways forward.

Fourth, we urge friends and ecumenical partners to play a consultative, constructive and creative role in this process.

Insofar as TEC has claimed it has a life in the Anglican Communion it cares about, just to that degree it is necessary for the Anglican Communion to clarify what that might be, in the light of General Convention actions and the new self-understanding in NEC. General Convention has acted and declared its mind. What will the response of the Anglican Communion be?

July 27 2015 | Articles

Good Order And The Re-Definition of Marriage

Written by:
Sunday, June 21st, 2015

On the eve of a General Convention that will consider several important proposals to change the definition of marriage in the Church’s doctrine, discipline and worship, much attention is directed, perhaps belatedly, to the question of good order. Several bishops generally sympathetic to the idea of same sex marriage have expressed concerns that the way in which that innovation is now being proposed violates “good order.” Rejecting this charge, the Task Force on the Study of Marriage, also sympathetic to same sex marriage, has offered an amendment to the marriage canon that it claims will promote rather than undermine “good order.” The Task Force’s secretary, who states that he was “one of the members most closely involved in …the wording of the canon,” responds to the question of order:


June 21 2015 | Articles

Questions Facing the Episcopal Church Over Redefining Marriage

Written by:
Thursday, June 18th, 2015

Men, women and children are distinct and united in their living forms. As a man and a woman unite in sexual intercourse, a child is conceived and then given birth. The physical elements involved in this are obvious and particular. The bond between a mother and her child is among the deepest that is experienced, and goes beyond (but includes) hormones and breast-feeding. It is shaped through a range of physical elements still not well understood. The relationship of a father to this bonded unity has been socially prescribed and encouraged in a variety of ways over time, mainly to uphold the father’s protection and support of the lives of the mother and their child. There is a raft of historical, and much contemporary social evidence, that the weakening of a father’s general, but very concrete role, has harmful effects on mothers and children both, as well as (less well understood) on fathers’ own well-being.

Marriage, understood as between a man and woman, has primarily engaged these realities, and, in various cultural forms, has been defined by them intimately and definitively. Every society within the history of the world that we know of has not only understood marriage as the profound locus of human coming-to-be in this way, but has also been committed to finding ways to guard and strengthen this reality. Not all male-female couplings give rise to the conception of children; but every such coupling derives from a previous procreative marriage, by definition. Hence, marriage has almost always been sacralised in some way as standing at the basis of human life.


June 18 2015 | Articles

Questions for Presiding Bishop Candidates, 2015

Written by:
Tuesday, June 16th, 2015

The following are questions we would want to see posed to and answered by the current candidates for Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church. We hope that our bishops will make sure that these, or questions like them, are put forward and engaged publicly by the candidates themselves.


June 16 2015 | Articles

Excluding Your Enemy: A Comment on the Present State of Episcopal Church

Written by:
Monday, June 8th, 2015

We write to bring to the attention of the Bishops, Priest, Deacons and Lay Persons of The Episcopal Church (TEC) a matter of grave concern. It is a matter that, left unaddressed in the decision-making of General Convention, now threatens the integrity and public witness of everyone who calls him or herself an Episcopalian: is our church prepared to permit in its midst clergy and lay leaders who, however much they represent a minority opinion, are committed to a traditional reading of TEC’s Prayer Book and Constitution? Or will TEC instead seek to drive such persons out, by invective, discrimination, and abuse of the disciplinary canons?

The current situation that has given rise to this question is long in the making. Over the last few decades, debates over women’s ordination first, and then over same-sex affirmation, particularly associated with Gene Robinson’s election and consecration as bishop of New Hampshire, set in motion dynamics of mutual recrimination and finally litigious confrontation. Some more conservative members of TEC left, others were determined to stay, and the lines of acrimony and litigation proliferated, abetted by new internet media.


June 08 2015 | Articles

Infant Baptism For A Modern Age

Written by:
Sunday, May 10th, 2015

From the end of the Roman Empire into early modern times the Christian Church has, here and there, practiced forced conversions. The most frequent objects of this practice were Jews; and among them were most especially children, “converted” in the form of forced baptism.

The official teachings of the church since the 5th century at least, forbade such forced baptisms, but the practice continued nonetheless. One problem that the church had to face was how to deal with the children thus baptized. Forced baptism of Jewish children judged to be of the age of “reason” was assumed to be valid, without question: by the age of 7 or 8, a child was capable of making his or her own decision for the faith, and Jewish children baptized at that age, even if against the wishes (and pleas) of their parents, were no longer permitted to be classed as Jewish or to live in Jewish settings. But what about younger children and infants? Was their forced baptism, although illicit, still valid – that is, were the children truly baptized? Assuming the form and bare intent of the baptism were followed, the Church judged the baptisms to be “real”: the children were indeed now “baptized Christians”. But then what? If truly baptized Christians, the church concluded, the children needed to be raised as such. Hence, the common practice of the church was to remove from their families Jewish children forcibly baptized, however illicitly, and place them in Christian families or institutions.


May 10 2015 | Articles

Same Sex Marriage and Infant Baptism

Written by:
Thursday, May 7th, 2015

A controversy has erupted in the Diocese of Central Florida over an apparent request by the dean of the cathedral to postpone the infant baptism of a same sex couple. This led to Facebook and blog postings, general outrage and immediate calls for charges under Title IV. All this before the facts were known.

Given the lack of knowledge of all the relevant facts in this instance it is not appropriate for reasonable people to comment on this particular case, let alone encourage legal proceedings founded on ignorance of the facts. We will not address this case here. However, the question of baptizing infants of same sex couples raises theological issues deserving comment.


May 07 2015 | Articles

What Then Shall We Do? A Note on the upcoming General Convention of the Episcopal Church

Written by:
Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

There are times in the life of individuals, institutions and communities when they are faced with questions for which received wisdom has no ready answers. As loyal members and Priests of The Episcopal Church (TEC), we find ourselves in precisely this position. As our General Convention approaches, changes are afoot within TEC that either have or soon will alter the worship, common life, governance and identity of our church in ways that render all of them in fundamental ways unrecognizable as continuations of what went before. There are forms of change that constitute evolution and there are forms that result from revolution—the elimination of what went before and the establishment of a new thing. It is this latter form of change that appears to be in process, and we find ourselves without an obvious way to respond. Our purpose in the following is to indicate the nature of these revolutionary changes, the dubious means now being deployed to bring them about and the extraordinary challenges they present to Priests like ourselves who have argued over a significant span of time that neither departure for another church nor schism provide an adequate Christian response to the deformation of the church in which God has placed us. The changes of which we speak can be usefully summarized under three headings—Constitution, The Book of Common Prayer and Mission.


April 29 2015 | Articles

Misrepresenting ACI’s Concerns About The Constitutionality of Supplemental Liturgical Material

Written by:
Tuesday, April 21st, 2015

Last week we published an analysis of proposals to have this General Convention authorize supplemental liturgies that would be neither part of the Book of Common Prayer nor a proposed revision of it. Based on the detailed text of Article X of TEC’s Constitution, we concluded that General Convention does not have this authority and […]


April 21 2015 | Articles

The Episcopal Church and the New Episcopal Church

Written by:
Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

In 2013 an “Ecclesiology Committee of the House of Bishops” produced something they called “A Primer on the Government of the Episcopal Church and its underlying theology.” We have evaluated the document in detail at the Anglican Communion Institute website. Recently the document appeared again, this time at a House of Bishops meeting in North Carolina (See the weblog of Bishop Dan Martins).What is the purpose of trying to secure a place for this understanding of TEC’s polity at this point in time?


April 14 2015 | Articles

Next »