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Licking Their Chops
Greg Griffith, Southern Anglican

Via Media USA's "Day After memo" - technically, the minutes of its September 2005 steering committee meeting - has been made public, and both sides of the Anglican debate are seething. The organization was doing a bit of wargaming on June 2006's General Convention, putting together some contingency plans based on a few possible scenarios, and somebody leaked their minutes.

The organization's proposed response to one scenario in particular has triggered much controversy. It is this one: Following ECUSA's 2006 General Convention, at which the body fails to endorse adequately the Windsor Report, and perhaps locks down even tighter its pro-gay, anti-Bible agenda, the Anglican Communion Network and its membership of orthodox Episcopalians announce that they have split from the Episcopal Church, and appeal to the Anglican Communion (through one of its instruments of unity) to designate it as the only official expression of Anglicanism in North America.

Normally, what goes on in a Via Media steering committee meeting would be of no consequence except as a clinic in socially liberal, theologically vacuous discourse. But what these leaked minutes reveal is nothing less than a planned coup of orthodox Episcopalian dioceses and parishes.

At the moment, the specific item that's getting the most coverage and generating the most controversy is the organization's glibly-stated plan to have blank presentment papers ready for filing against bishops in Network dioceses, who would be charged with "abandonment of communion."

This action alone would be chillingly predatory, but there is more. But before we get to that, some background...

In January 2004, a memo by a priest named Geoff Chapman was made public in which Fr. Chapman outlined some ideas proffered by orthodox Anglican leaders in America concerning the horrendous notion of "a realignment of Anglicanism on North American soil committed to biblical faith and values, and driven by Gospel mission. We believe in the end this should be a "replacement" jurisdiction with confessional standards, maintaining the historic faith of our Communion, closely aligned with the majority of world Anglicanism, emerging from the disastrous actions of General Convention (2003)."

Revisionists howled. They immediately pointed to the Chapman memo as proof that the leading orthodox Anglican organizations in America - the American Anglican Council and the closely-connected Anglican Communion Network - that had represented themselves as the "loyal opposition" to an ECUSA they believed had strayed dangerously afar from the Christian faith, were in fact plotting a coup that would result in a "successor province" to ECUSA that would leave Frank Griswold and Co. - meaning a majority of revisionist bishops and dioceses - out in the cold.

The Chapman memo is therefore the obvious corollary to the Via Media minutes, right? Wrong. As far as property is concerned, the Chapman memo seeks only to allows orthodox parishes and diocese to keep theirs. It makes no mention of going after the property of revisionist churches. The Via Media minutes, in stark contrast, propose a procedural, legal, and media blitzkrieg with the goal of seizing property from orthodox churches.

The question has long been settled of whether or not the two opposing American camps can reconcile their disagreements and peacefully co-exist. They cannot. What hasn't been settled are the scores of questions that will determine the future of worldwide Anglicanism for centuries to come.

First among them is what the presumed head of the communion - Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams - would do. So far, in the words of one famous theologian, about all he has done is hold our coats while we fight. Conservatives are suspicious of Williams because of his admitted liberal theology and seemingly interminable patience with the double-speaking ECUSA left. Arguably the fact that they remain in the communion at all is thanks almost solely to his refusal to take a side in this debate. But he has also been held in a weird kind of contempt by those same liberals for whom he has been their most valuable champion. They are quick to show this contempt by pointing out that should he ever decide to discipline them, or attempt to ex-communicate them, he in fact lacks the authority to do so. They are quick to verify his authority when he refuses to kick them out, but even quicker to disdain his authority at the first suggestion he might actually do so.

Second is what the heads of the world's 37 other Anglican provinces will do. 20 of the world's 38 primates have declared themselves in broken communion with ECUSA, and many have also broken communion with the Anglican Church of Canada. Almost all of the African provinces, representing approximately two-thirds of all the world's Anglicans, no longer accept monetary contributions from ECUSA. They turn their missionaries back at the border. Two months ago I had the pleasure of sitting and interviewing a Kenyan bishop, and I made the mistake of asking him what their - meaning most of Africa's - intentions were moving forward in this debate with ECUSA. He was very polite about it, but he was also unambiguous. He said, "I do not believe you understand. There is no debate with ECUSA. As far as we are concerned, it is over. We don't take communion with them, We don't take their money. We send their missionaries back to the airport. We are through with this debate, and we are moving forward in proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world. This strange state of being in the same communion as those with whom we have declared we are out of communion, will not last much longer. It is only a matter of time before the break is official."

Back to the Via Media minutes.

While the second half of the document is getting all the attention - and perhaps rightly so - the first half contains much information that deserves closer attention.

First up is the mention of Bishop John-David Schofield of the orthodox-leaning Diocese of San Joaquin. You can read here a Via Media representative's account of a March 2005 meeting between Bishop Schofield and his clergy:

Bp. Schofield was pleased to have participated in a phone conference with 18 other bishops in which Archbishop Venables (Primate of Southern Cone) reported on the recent meeting in Ireland [which produced the Dromantine Communique - G.]. Bishop Schofield told us that the Archbishop assured this group of bishops that the Anglican Communion is yours (i.e. the AAC's with its Network) in three years.

Archbishop Venables is known as man who doesn't mince words, and also as man who doesn't make idle threats - or promises. His confidence about who will likely inherit America's official Anglican province is reassuring, but far from a given.

In the Via Media minutes, an affiliated groups calling itself "Remain Episcopal" reports that:

At clergy convocation Bishop Schofield announced that the Episcopal Church's refusal to repent at GC will trigger the diocese announcing that the Episcopal Church has left the A.C. This was part of an announcement about "Where he stands." There is supposed to be a DVD of this talk. He expects the network to be recognized immediately after convention. After convention, all bets are off for those priests who don't follow his lead. They need to "watch out." In the past he had offered to let liberal parishes leave, but not now.
If Bishop Schofield is correct about what his diocese will do in the extremely likely case that ECUSA comes nowhere near expressing the kind of repentance called for in the Windsor Report, much less endorsing its substantive recommendations, then it's almost certain he will not be alone. One can perhaps conceive of a scenario in which, say, the Diocese of South Carolina, or Fort Worth, or Pittsburgh, goes it alone, but it's extremely hard to envision a scenario in which that lone diocese is San Joaquin.

So with this knowledge let's assume as a given three things:


  1. ECUSA has no intention of making what is, to orthodox Episcopalians and the Global South, anything remotely resembling an adequate embrace of Windsor and an expression of the repentance for which it calls.
  2. San Joaquin is at worst the least-bold diocese to declare that ECUSA has abandoned communion. Therefore,
  3. If San Joaquin walks, all those dioceses that have been further out in front of the orthodox opposition will also declare that ECUSA has abandoned the communion. So in addition to San Joaquin, there will be the other Network member dioceses of Quincy, Albany, Rio Grande, Springfield, Central Florida, Dallas, Fort Worth, South Carolina, and Pittsburgh - ten in all. There may also be one or two more, such as Western Louisiana, whose bishop Bruce McPherson has stated in no uncertain terms that he does not intend to follow 815 off the theological cliff. It's of course also possible that one or two of the Network dioceses may balk. In any event, let's assume that about ten dioceses throw down the gauntlet in a way we have not seen so far.

The remark that "In the past [Bishop Schofield] had offered to let liberal parishes leave, but not now," is hard to believe. It would make +Schofield the first bishop to move from a "go where you wanna go" stance to an "all your church are belong to us" stance.

Moving along, Via Media's Dallas group reports:

The group believes there will be a power battle between Stanton and Duncan for control of new church.

A power battle between Stanton and Duncan is certainly possible, but whether it rises to the level of likely is, to say the least, up for debate. Bishop Duncan seems not to have taken, so much as he has been given, the role of leader of whatever successor province may arise following an formal split.

The real significance of this brief report by Via Media's Dallas chapter - one that seems to be about a power struggle between Stanton and Duncan - is that it assumes as inevitable a formal split in the Episcopal Church. Someone should tell Via Media Dallas that, according to Presiding Bishop Griswold and the rest of the revisionist power brokers and diocesan fence-sitters in ECUSA, all is well in the Episcopal Church; that this will all die down, that we're moving on, we're focusing on mission, that we have much bigger things to worry about than one gay priest in some backwater diocese, and, most of all, that a split in the Episcopal Church USA is - pish tosh! - unthinkable.

This, also from Dallas' Via Media, is worth noodling over:

Stanton says there is no Via Media, and Jekko is now assistant bishop. Have stripped all outreach funds from budget to place in evangelism. DVM is getting ready to challenge this. New interim Dean of Cathedral is Network’s church planting guru, Kevin Martin. Expects to be named real dean.

Four key points here:


  1. Stanton says there is no Via Media. Stanton, the Bishop of Dallas, is almost certainly not referring to the group Via Media. He is referring instead to a variation on a theme of the ancient idea - a fundamental one on which all of Anglicanism is founded, that of the via media, the "middle way," between hierarchical Roman Catholicism and congregational Protestantism. What Stanton almost surely means is that there is no splitting the difference between the orthodox and revisionist positions such that the church can be saved. That Stanton believes this comes as no surprise, but we should nonetheless take heart that he seems unwavering in his opinion.
  2. Have stripped all outreach funds from budget to place in evangelism. I haven't seen the Diocese of Dallas' budget, but what I would suspect is that when DVM says that the bishops have "stripped all outreach funds," what they really mean is "stripped all outreach funds from pointless gay-and-lesbian-centered activist groups." If this is the case, then the only thing to say to Bishops Stanton and Jekko is: Good on ya, mates.
  3. DVM is getting ready to challenge this. Good luck. There are many hopeless battles in the Episcopal Church on which the orthodox are on the losing end; this is not one of them, especially considering that...
  4. New interim Dean of Cathedral is Network's church planting guru, Kevin Martin. Expects to be named real dean. Kevin Martin is, as our Native American brethren would say, Big Medicine. If the power in the church is in the pews, then the orthodox members of the Diocese of Dallas appear to be on the verge of getting Einstein as their new dean.

Moving along:

Episcopal Voices have web site that is beginning to really do good work, a yahoo group, meetings 2 - 3 times a year with speakers. Quiet group, doesn't know where to go from here. Lay led. Meg got together a group of clergy, most of whom are VM trying quietly to get as many people as possible on diocesan committees. They are looking for a way at diocesan convention to create "up/down" roll call vote to make clear who is is [sic] going to leave and who wants to remain part of TEC. They had been looking for an outreach project that would build bridges with people from other parishes, Katrina and Rita have given them that. Major committees of diocese are all "owned" by network.

Key points:

  1. "They are looking for a way at diocesan convention to create "up/down" roll call vote to make clear who is is [sic] going to leave and who wants to remain part of TEC" is an outright admission that they are not just willing to entertain the question of who leaves and who stays, but that they are in fact catalysts in forcing the issue. Elsewhere in the memo, the Diocese of Central Florida is described as being in "disarray," but if "Major committees of diocese are all 'owned' by network," it's less likely the case that the diocese is truly in disarray, and more likely that Episcopal Voices is simply unhappy with who's in charge. [An aside: Web site traffic discussions are mostly navel-gazing for hopeless geeks, but EV's hit counter told me I was the 1,129th visitor to the site. Stand Firm Mississippi alone gets 50% more than that on a typical day; TitusOneNine gets three times that much on a typical day. So for you orthodox wonderers in Central Florida, rest easy - it doesn't appear that the EV web site is going to storm the tower of your diocese's power structure.]

Finally we come to the second half of the document, where the Really Big questions are posed.

The minutes prepare us for the discussion that follows by giving us the lay of the land through Via Media's eyes:

How to prepare for split after 2006 GC

Split? Wha? Huh? Wha?

Who said anything about a split? Last I heard, this was a minor disagreement of no importance to anyone; a parlor game, really. Schism? Surely you jest.

But.

Very clearly, Via Media is operating on the assumption - not the speculation, but the assumption - that the Episcopal Church will split following General Convention in June 2006.

So either:

Appeal to ABC to suggest that only diocesans be able to vote at the next Lambeth conference, or to ask for other actions.

In Episco-speak, "diocesans" means "diocesan bishops," which excludes suffragans, assisting bishops, retired bishops, and such. Why does Via Media want only diocesan bishops to have a vote at Lambeth? Because when you remove the non-diocesan bishops, you end up with a significantly larger revisionist majority than you would otherwise. So much for letting every voice be heard.

And next we come to the real meat of the minutes:

What will be our response the "Day After" when the bishops start announcing they are in a "new" Anglican Communion and the Network is "recognized" as the only legitimate expressions of the A.C. in North America?

My oh my oh my... So many questions this one line raises. To begin with:

Note again that there is little of the "what if" tone about these speculations, and much of a "when" tone. When the bishops start announcing they are in a "new" Anglican Communion. A new Anglican Communion? Surely not one comprising only their ten or twelve puny dioceses? Let's face it: Whether you think the leaders of Network dioceses are brave or stupid, surely they are neither so brave nor so stupid as to think they can just pick up and walk out of the Episcopal Church all by themselves, and expect anything but years of litigious grief.

If that’s true, then what does the question Via Media is asking really mean? It means that the group is pretty much convinced that the Global South will get up from the table of the Canterbury-led Anglican Communion, and walk away; and that the Network dioceses will follow suit.

This means that for all their bluster and dismissals of the Africans' talk of finally shaking the dust from their feet, of leaving the Americans and Canadians to be caretakers over their dying sects, the left is in fact convinced that the Africans mean what they say. As I described earlier, the Africans, for their part, could not care less about what a bunch of folks in America calling themselves "Via Media" think about whether or not they mean what they say. The key here is to understand that Via Media is convinced that the Africans mean what they say, and that is an admission that so far none of the liberal activist groups (at least to my knowledge) has publicly made.

and the Network is "recognized" as the only legitimate expressions of the A.C. in North America...

What could this possibly mean? The Network? "Recognized"? As "the only legitimate expressions of the [Anglican Communion] in North America"?

But how could the crown of "legitimate" Anglicanism in America ever rest on any head but ECUSA's, and so soon after June's General Convention? Surely by "The Day After" they don't mean literally the day after; but just as surely, they don't mean the next Lambeth Conference, which doesn't kick off until 2008.

Since this scenario assumes that ECUSA is not to be the official Anglican province in America, and that the torch is passed to the Network before Lambeth 2008, and that the Network can't pass the torch to itself, then the torch will have to be passed by the only Anglican instrument of unity with the authority to do so.

That is, none other than the Archbishop of Canterbury.

But under what circumstances does the Archbishop pass that torch? Certainly not in a communion that includes ECUSA, Canada, the Global South, and Canterbury. No - only in a communion in which the Global South has gotten up from the table, and ++Rowan, his bluff called, excommunicates the Episcopal Church in return for the Global South's sitting back down at his English table.

If my reasoning is correct, then this is another valuable insight into the thinking of ECUSA liberals: They may be quick to claim publicly that the ABC doesn't have the authority to excommunicate them, but privately they do in fact believe he does. Just as valuable as this insight, is that they believe he actually might do so.

Furthermore, it assumes that ECUSA will be doing its property-grab from outside the Anglican communion. More on this important question in a moment.

Have ready blank presentments for abandonment of the communion.

This means, very simply, that Via Media is proposing to line up the documents necessary to bring that group of aforementioned bishops up on presentment charges for "abandonment of communion," much the same way the army orders new body bags in advance of a military operation.

Now, if you believe that Via Media is a bunch of out-of-touch crackpots adjusting their tinfoil hats over far-flung wargame scenarios... then there's no point in reading in any further. On the other hand...

Have already drafted request stating that the see is vacant and requesting appointment of interim bishop. Need to coordinate with PB on these appointments.

Now we come to what is perhaps the most important line in the whole document: Need to coordinate with PB on these appointments.

A broad reading of this might mean that Via Media expects it can coordinate the whole blitzkrieg - from blank presentments on - with Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold. But under even the strictest reading we must take this to mean that Via Media feels it has the juice to coordinate with the Presiding Bishop on the appointment of new diocesan bishops to what it will charge are vacant sees.

But declaring a see vacant is serious business - especially when the see's bishop considers it quite occupied, thank you very much.

So we then have to ask: How is it that Via Media feels it can so casually assume that the Presiding Bishop is open to coordinating efforts on a matter as serious as replacing the bishops in as many as a dozen or so of his roughly 100 dioceses?

It's clear from previous items in this document that Via Media knows when it can and can't assume support from church leaders, and how it must approach those from whom it would like favors. For example, on the matter of trying to get the Archbishop of Canterbury to rule that only diocesan bishops can have a vote at the next Lambeth Conference, they are careful to say they must "appeal" to the archbishop, to "suggest" that he take that action. That's clearly the language of a group to whom the ABC owes no particular fealty.

But on the matter of Frank Griswold and appointing new bishops to "vacant" sees, Frank from ECUSA headquarters is referred to as one might refer to Frank from accounting; or more to the point, Frank from janitorial. In other words, it seems clear that Via Media has every reason not just to wonder whether the Presiding Bishop will be open to hearing their suggestions, but to assume with confidence that he'll happily "coordinate" with them on candidates who meet their approval.

This coziness between Griswold and Via Media should come as no surprise, but along with their plans to file presentment charges against bishops, having their sees declared vacant and new bishops assigned, all with the "coordination" of the Presiding Bishop, it should erase any lingering questions on the part of "moderates" of whether this organization is devoted to an agenda of inclusiveness and reconciliation, or one of scorched earth in which conservatives have no place.

Have request for special convention ready to give to interim bishop so that vacant spots in diocesan government can be filled (trustees, council, standing committee, commission on ministry, etc.)

In plain language, this means that immediately after they come for the bishops, they're coming for the lay leaders. If you're an orthodox Episcopalian in any position of elected or appointed authority, and you're not included in "trustees, council, standing committee," or "commission on ministry," you're almost certainly included in "etc."

Be ready to take legal action on property identify who will serve as litigants, what property needs to be covered.

Here we see the key difference in the way orthodox and revisionists see the battle over property: Orthodox parishes want only to be allowed to leave with the property they've paid for and maintained over the years; revisionists want to keep everything, and they'll drag us into court to do so. Remember this when revisionists answer criticism of Via Media with "Chapman Memo! Chapman Memo!"

Have plan for locations and personnel to provide worshipping communities and "safe havens" for the faithful remnants. Identify retired priests and deacons, lay leadership.

Now this is a shocker! After their schemes have won for them complete control of the Episcopal Church, they still want to give us, the faithful remnant, safe havens in which to worship. Maybe I was wrong - maybe these folks aren't so bad after all.*

They also want to

Develop criteria for recognizing schism

I'm happy to report that this requires nothing more than learning to use Google.

After the carnage, of course, it's time to send out the spin doctors, and they obviously know where their media bread is buttered:

Steps to take after having done the above: Broadcast widely, network of seminary educators to do responses to this issue, office of general convention, office of pastoral care, staff individually, staff of Episcopal Life, NY Times, Jim Lehrer, Washington Post, Bill Moyers, Larry King live, NPR...
Truly, birds of a feather...


The revisionist response so far has been typical. In addition to the knee-jerk cries of "Chapman!" there is this "apology" from Joan Gunderson, the author of the minutes (Cliff Notes: "I'm sorry I got caught"), and this insistence from Mark Harris:

Far from being a "planned coup," the memo describes a strategy for dealing with bishops (presumably the Network bishops) who, following General Convention 2006, might announce that "they are in a 'new' Anglican Communion and the Network is 'recognized' as the only legitimate expression(s) of the A.C. in North America."

The scenario required for this question to make sense involves taking seriously the fairly overt strategies and plans of the AAC and the Network to seek recognition for the Network as the "legitimate expression of the Anglican Communion in North America," and the threat or promise of Archbishops Gomez and Akinola to disengage from any way of being the Anglican Communion that would include ECUSA and perhaps, interestingly, the Church of England. Via Media does indeed take the AAC and Network at its word.

Such strategizing does not entail Via Media conducting a coup. Rather the strategizing assumes the coup that has been in the works all along - the coup that wrests the claim to legitimacy from ECUSA and gives it to the Network. The AAC is raising a lot of smoke, some fire, and makes no sense at all in its critique of the Via Media memo. Hopefully very few people will take the AAC article seriously.

Canon Harris, by trying to turn the charges of "coup" against the conservatives, is not only incorrect (the Network isn't trying to take over ECUSA, and you can't have a coup when one group couldn't care less what becomes of the other), but he misses the most important question raised in the fallout of the Via Media minutes, and that is: What exactly is the Episcopal Church? I suggest that his attempt to sort out who are the coup-ers and who are the coupe-ees is completely beside the point. The real question is, If the Episcopal Church derives its authority over its member dioceses in no small part from its status as the official Anglican province in the United States, what becomes of that authority when that provincial status is stripped away?

At the moment, as it has been for the last two centuries, the Episcopal Church is the official U.S. branch of Anglicanism based on its being in communion with the See of Canterbury. While this is not the only defining condition of Episcopal Church membership for its constituent dioceses, it is without a doubt a necessary condition for some. Keep everything else but remove the connection to Canterbury (and thus the rest of the communion) and many dioceses want no part, since the parent church no longer satisfies a main condition on which its members based their participation.

No matter what ECUSA liberals say - and no matter what some Network conservatives say - once the Episcopal Church's membership in the Anglican Communion is dissolved, it will change the essential nature of the church in the eyes of the law, and in many of this nation's courts where ECUSA is not threatening to make a grab for orthodox property, it will present a huge hurdle once juries understand that the centuries-old covenant about Who We Are and Why We're Here no longer exists; especially when those juries are full of Baptists and Methodists, as, for example, they will be throughout the South.

The truly sad part about all this is that until the Anglican Communion makes up its mind about what it is and what constitutes a member, being declared in or out of communion with it may end up being of little consequence when it comes to settling the matter of who owns what if one is or isn't a member.

After all this, though, if orthodox Episcopalians take anything from this controversy, it is that for at least one prominent group of liberal strategists, the matter of "The Day After" refers to "The Day After ECUSA Is No Longer in the Anglican Communion." Lock and load, brothers and sisters... I'll see you all on the beach.


Footnote:

The circumstances behind the leaking of these minutes, while not nearly as interesting as the questions the document raises, are still pretty interesting nonetheless.

I don't have the original document, and I haven't seen the one that eventually found its way into Brad Drell's and The Living Church's hands, but my 20 years' experience in the production and transmission of electronic documents lets me say with 100% certainty that the original leaked memo was a printed copy, that was then faxed, and finally passed through an optical character recognition (OCR) program that translated it into a digital document. There are several telltale signs (and one little beauty worthy of the RatherGate memos) that removes all doubt as to the document's provenance.

Why is this significant?

Some of the early speculation as to how the document got out of Via Media's hands centers around errant email - for example, a message with an attachment that got forwarded to the wrong party, or some unfortunate use of the dreaded "reply all" button. In other words, that the leak was purely an accident.

But the fact that this document came from a printed source makes it far more likely that it was willfully given by someone on the inside, to someone on the outside. This means that, all of a sudden, the odds that there's a whistleblower inside Via Media are almost 100%. Hmmmm... now which one could it be?

*Yes, this is a joke. Guess I should keep my day job.

1 posted on 10/26/2005 5:29:25 PM PDT by sionnsar
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To: ahadams2; Fractal Trader; Zero Sum; anselmcantuar; Agrarian; coffeecup; Paridel; keilimon; ...
Traditional Anglican ping, continued in memory of its founder Arlin Adams.

FReepmail sionnsar if you want on or off this moderately high-volume ping list (typically 3-9 pings/day).
This list is pinged by sionnsar, Huber and newheart.

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Speak the truth in love. Eph 4:15

2 posted on 10/26/2005 5:30:53 PM PDT by sionnsar (†trad-anglican.faithweb.com† || (To Libs:) You are failing to celebrate MY diversity! || Iran Azadi)
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