By the Rt. Rev. John H. Rodgers Jr.
Perhaps you noted that I place the word "Church" in quotes when I
refer to the Episcopal "Church". I do this because one of the errors we find
in the Newspapers is found in statements like: "St. Swithens, a congregation
of the Episcopal Church, has decided to leave the "Church"." If one takes the
19th Article of the 39 Articles seriously as Anglican doctrine, the
Episcopal "Church" has forfeited its right to be called a visible Church. It
no longer bears the essential marks listed therein; chiefly, it no longer
preaches the Gospel or disciplines those in its ranks that publicly deny
basic parts of the Gospel message. Since the departing congregations, most
often leaving at the cost of their endowments and property, are
congregations wherein the Gospel is preached, it would be far more accurate
to say that the Church in its local expression is leaving a religious
institution that has forfeited its right to be called a Church. I try to
signal that situation by putting the word "Church" in quotes when I speak of
the Episcopal "Church".
However that theological matter is not the error in the newspapers
that I want to address in this brief article. I do not want to speak of
individual or of congregations leaving dioceses, but rather of dioceses
separating themselves from the Episcopal "Church" and how the newspapers
almost invariably get it wrong when they speak of what took place, and of
the resulting situation and the subsequent area of dispute.
First we must state the undisputed facts:
1. The Dioceses (San Joachin, Pittsburgh, Quincy, and Fort Worth) in
question have met in diocesan council and have twice voted to separate
themselves from the Episcopal "Church". They have done this in meticulous
compliance with the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal "Church". The
proceedings are well documented for all to see. All of the congregations
were represented or at least the required quorum, through their official
representatives. This official act of the dioceses is a fact.
2. This action involved the entire diocese, irrespective of how any set
of congregational representatives voted or abstained. It was an official
diocesan decision. The entire diocese separated, lock stock and barrel, from
the Episcopal "Church". Thereby all of the congregations, all of the property
of the diocese and of the congregations of the diocese, including endowments
etc., ware separated from the Episcopal "Church". No exemptions were
recorded regarding particular congregations or properties.
3. Some individuals, even the majority of a minority of congregations,
did not agree with the decision and subsequently declared that they were no
longer part of the historic diocese that had voted to separate.? These
individuals have continued to occupy the buildings and use the funds that
belong to the diocese from which they have departed. They are no longer
congregations of the diocese; in essence they are uncovenanted individuals,
and have neither legal nor moral right to the buildings, funds or endowments
they are using.
(The fact that these dioceses do not wish to sue these individuals or
groups in court and wish to deal with them in godly charity is good and in
accord with Scripture, but that godliness on the part of the dioceses must
not be understood by these individuals and groups as if the dioceses were
abandoning their legal rights. Should these individuals drag the dioceses
into court, they must expect the dioceses to claim their legal rights to the
entire diocese. They would be better served to deal with the dioceses out of
court. One is reminded of Jesus admonition to resolve such issues before
they were brought before the judge.
This understanding of the relation of congregation to diocese is
exactly what the constitution and canon of the Episcopal ?Church? describes
and is precisely the basis for how the Episcopal ?Church? has dealt with and
continuous to deal with congregations that seek to leave their dioceses.
What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.)
4. There is nothing in the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal
"Church" that prohibits a diocese from separating from the Episcopal
"Church". (If I am correct, dioceses did separate from the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America at the time of the "Late Unpleasantness." When the Southern Dioceses returned there was no denial that they had left nor was there any amendment to the Constitution of the Canons to forbid such departing. If this is true, then there is legal precedent on the side of the dioceses who have voted to separate from the Episcopal "Church".)
5. The leaders of the Episcopal "Church" have arbitrarily decided that
it is impossible for a diocese to separate itself from the Episcopal
"Church". They offer no Constitutional grounds or Canonical grounds for this
claim. It is a matter of their sheer assertion. To bolster this arbitrary,
dubious and scandalous assertion, they have formed new dioceses, standing
committees and congregations and claim or threaten to claim the property and
endowments of the dioceses that have voted to separate themselves fro the
Episcopal "Church". In addition the leaders of the Episcopal ?Church? make
things even worse by continuing to claim that these new entities are really
the historic diocese that voted to leave. To make everything even more
difficult, the Episcopal ?Church? uses the names of the historic dioceses
for these new entities. Lest I be misunderstood, I want to state that I do not hold that there is anything wrong with the Episcopal "Church" forming new dioceses, standing committees, etc. They can do what they want. I am not utterly opposed to
overlapping jurisdictions, for that matter. What is wrong is the claim that
these new entities which have rejected the decision of their historic
diocese are continuing expressions of the historic dioceses that left, and
the using of names that obscure the fact that these are in fact entirely new
These are the facts. Now what might we hope that the news reporters would
write in the newspapers?
1. We would hope and expect that the reporters would understand and write
that for a diocese to separate from the Episcopal "Church" is quite a
different matter than that of an individual or a congregation leaving a
diocese of the Episcopal "Church". Different procedures are involved. One
has no bar in the Constitution and Canons and the other has all sorts of
restrictions stated. Whether these canonical restrictions in the case of
congregations leaving dioceses are good or godly or scriptural is another
matter. The point is they are very different actions and lead to very
different consequences as we have tried to state above. To fail to make this
clear misleads the reader. It is simply wrong to write: "In Diocese X 70%
of the congregations remained in the Episcopal Church and that 30% of the
congregations did not leave the Episcopal Church." When the Diocese
institutionally and legally, separated itself, all of the congregations
belonging to it were separated with it by that decision, like it or not.
2. We hope and expect that the issues as to why the diocese voted to
separate itself from the Episcopal Church would be clearly stated and the
whole story covered with the views of all sides and groups stated.
3. Finally, we would hope that the dispute over whether or not a diocese can
leave the Episcopal "Church" would be clearly delineated. The usual way of
stating things actually prejudices the case against the diocese that has
voted to separate and assumes the language of the Episcopal "Church".
Confusion reigns and the arbitrary nature of the claim of the Episcopal
"Church" is obscured.
Rt. Rev. John H. Rodgers Jr. ThD
Bishop in AMIA (ret.)