The Episcopal Cafe is a progressive online web page which has placed in its window, “Traditionalists not served here.” Today it takes a letter it received and turns it into an editorial, Note the word “editorial”. This isn’t an article by any old Tom, Sarah or Harry. It’s an editorial, presumably signed off by its editors. That surprises me because I know some of them. You may find the editorial here:
The author of this editorially approved piece requires that the Bishop-elect of Dallas, Dr. George Sumner, answer a number of questions relating to the matter of whether, if confirmed, he intends to or may ever seek to remove the diocese from the Episcopal Church. The justification for this loaded question is that at present George Sumner is Principal of Wycliffe College, Toronto, and has on his staff the likes of Ephraim Radner and Christopher Seitz who write for the Anglican Communion Institute. Neither of these scholars has left the Episcopal Church or advocated schism. The ACI has not advocated that traditionalists commit schism. Their offense seems to be that they do not subscribe to a narrow constitutional doctrine which subordinates dioceses to General Convention and to the jurisdictional authority of the Presiding Bishop.
My own bishop, Daniel Martins, comes in for similar opprobrium by the writer because he was one of the bishops charged with treason because he joined an amicus brief challenging the same doctrine. He and his fellow bishops, reminiscent of the seven bishops imprisoned by James II because they refused to endorse his Declaration of Indulgences, apologized under coercion for signing the brief, but maintained their opposition to what has become the received doctrine of Episcopal Polity. (I stand somewhere in the middle on this one.)
Now I count Bishop Martins as a friend. We were priests together in Northern Indiana. I fancy that if he harbored schismatic plans for himself or this diocese, covertly tucked up his rochet sleeve, I would have heard them. He certainly hasn’t espoused ecclesiastical high treason in his Synod addresses, at clergy conferences or other meetings.
Consider the context in which this offensive demand has been made. We are approaching General Convention. The Episcopal Church is being called to reform its structure to meet the demands of a rapidly dwindling constituency, in which the average Sunday attendance of its parishes is a meagre sixty-one, some of its seminaries are in deep trouble, and while the coffers of the national church remain fairly stable, dioceses and parishes are, for the most part, either deeply compromised or drawing close to that situation. Episcopalians are calling for unity, for drastic restructuring and for a return to basics, to core issues and to evangelism. At this moment, as a new Presiding Bishop is to be elected, a person who will face the biggest crisis in our common life since the beginning of the 19th. Century (when disunity and the aftermath of the Revolution brought us close to extinction) one of the largest and healthiest dioceses of our church, that of Dallas, and it’s bishop-elect are to be subjected to a divisive and hostile attack mounted against them. Why?
I don’t think its paranoia to posit -or at least anymore paranoiac than these progressive conspiracy theorists devise – that the real target are those of us who commit the unpardonable sin of dissenting from most of the aims and objectives of the parliamentary majority in General Convention: the tyranny of the majority. In short, traditionalists are not served here. It’s enough to make us turn into schismatics. But we don’t. We regret that the Bishop of South Carolina and his diocese, caved under severe pressure and left. We regret the loss of every diocese, parish and individual Episcopalian. We deplore fragmentation as much as we deplore Episcopalian exceptionalism. We deplore that the Episcopal Church Worldwide Inc., regards itself to be a discreet denomination, accountable only to itself, inward looking and xenophobic. Indeed we accuse these progressives of illiberality, of collusion in driving those who do not agree with them out of the church, because they only believed that which, hitherto, the Episcopal Church has espoused. They are as purist as some extreme conservatives.
Now I happen to believe that one of the laudable intentions of Anglicanism is to comprehend people who disagree vehemently but who kneel at the same altars because they share the same baptism. I share friendship with many progressives, thanks be to God. I hope this blog doesn’t offend them too much but whatever I still love them. I happen to believe with Martyn Percy that contentious issues are to be chewed together slowly and that unity matters because our Lord prayed that we should be one. Unity is the sign of the unity we share with the Trinity. It is not just a cosy idea, or a strategic asset. “We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.”
I hope George Sumner and the Diocese of Dallas will ignore those who question their fidelity to their baptismal covenants, their ordination oaths. Of course the bishops and standing committees of our church are free to ask bishops-elect any questions they desire, but I hope such questions will be framed without malice, without suspicion, without the bitterness of former days. I hope too that the Episcopal Cafe will remove that sign from their window. We will sit with you, pray with you, work with you, laugh with you, cry with you, but we refuse to let you own that which is our common property.