Friday, December 25, 2015

A Meditation for Christmas

Ach, Herr, du Schöpfer aller Ding

Ach Herr, du Schöpfer aller Ding,

Oh Lord, Creator of us all,

Wie bist du worden so gering,

How art Thou now become so small,

Dass du da liegst auf dürrem Gras,

That there Thou liest on hard straw bed,

Davon ein Rind und Esel ass?

From which both cow and donkey fed?

(Music: Heinrich Schütz, 1585-1672 [SWV 450]; Text: Martin Luther, 1483-1546 [Stanza 9 of Vom Himmel hoch da komm' ich her, 1536]; Performance: Kantorei Choral Ensemble, Kansas City Art: Fra Angelico, The Nativity, 1439-1443.)

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI reminds us of a possible answer to Martin Luther's question:

The medieval theologian William of Saint Thierry once said that God – from the time of Adam – saw that his grandeur provoked resistance in man, that we felt limited in our own being and threatened in our freedom. Therefore God chose a new way. He became a child. He made himself dependent and weak, in need of our love. Now – this God who has become a child says to us – you can no longer fear me, you can only love me.

(H/T: the Rev. Canon Kendall Harmon, Titus1:9)

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Episcopal Abuses Turn Inward [UPDATED]

In a development that few Episcopalians of four or five years ago could have imagined, the Episcopal bishops of the most powerful and financially secure dioceses have begun to turn on their own once-strong, but now severely weakened, parishes. Having driven out all the dissenters at enormous expense to their coffers, these dioceses are increasingly trying to make up their losses by sacrificing valuable real estate -- even if it means turning out previously loyal congregations from their hard-won property. And -- who could have foreseen it? -- the parishes most harmed by the continuous litigation were precisely those with the most valuable properties.

A prime example is the Diocese of Los Angeles, led by the litigious J. Jon Bruno -- he of the forkèd tongue. For nine years he waged war in the California courts against four dissident congregations to prevent them from keeping title to their own parish properties. Using the notorious Dennis Canon, he was singularly successful in having California courts impose an irrevocable trust on the local parishes' real estate, so that when they voted to withdraw from the diocese, they necessarily forfeited all rights to their property.

But his victories came at a tremendous cost: the Diocese had spent more than eight million dollars as of last year, and was still incurring more costs to subsidize two of the remnant congregations in their newly recaptured sanctuaries. Bishop Bruno negotiated sales of two of the properties: the parish of All Saints Long Beach was allowed to purchase their property on a long-term contract, and he sold the church of St. David's in North Hollywood to a private school.

Initially he announced that the other two parishes -- St. Luke's in the Mountains, and St. James the Great in Newport Beach -- would continue as usual to serve their remnant congregations, which had been seriously diminished during the years and years of costly litigation. But Bishop Bruno cannot help but speak with a forkèd tongue, remember? While St. Luke's was struggling along as a vicarage, Bishop Bruno's plans for St. James evidently changed just eight months after he re-dedicated it for service. On May 20, 2014 he obtained approval of the diocesan corporation to transfer into his corporation sole the title of St. James's multi-million dollar, ocean-front property in one of the most exclusive neighborhoods of wealthy Orange County. Effectively this gave him alone the sole power to deal with and dispose of the property. (Note: he did not inform the St. James congregation of this transfer.)

Sometime in early 2015, Bishop Bruno completed private negotiations to sell the entire St. James property (consisting of four separate parcels) to a developer who planned to replace the church buildings with luxury condos. He waited until May 2015 to announce the sale to the congregation, who predictably reacted with shock and hostility, mingled with their honest attempt to try to view the matter from his perspective. However, given Bishop Bruno's proclivity for prevarication, and his unwillingness to meet the congregation even halfway, things went downhill in a hurry.

The congregation first published an open plea to the Diocese, which went nowhere. Next, in a twist worthy to be dubbed "poetic justice", the original donor of the St. James property informed Bishop Bruno that the property had been given to the Diocese on the condition that it be used always and only for "church purposes." Bishop Bruno claimed in turn that the donor had released the property restriction in 1984, and filed an aggressive lawsuit against the donor for "slander of title" -- whose intricacies I explained in this previous post.

Shortly after Bishop Bruno filed his lawsuit against the Griffith Company (the donor of the St. James property), the parishioners struck back by lodging Title IV disciplinary charges against Bishop Bruno. As difficult as it might be to imagine, the gist of the charges amounted to the fact that Bishop Bruno had repeatedly lied to them. After seeing to it that St. James congregation was locked out of its buildings -- which had no other use for anybody, pending all the various legal proceedings -- Bishop Bruno left the country on a four-week vacation to Italy.

The Reference Panel of the Disciplinary Board for Bishops, headed by the Presiding Bishop of the Church, initially referred the matter to official conciliation, and appointed a conciliator. After a valiant effort, the latter had to admit defeat in that Bishop Bruno was not interested in any solution that did not allow the Diocese to recover the nine million it had spent on its legal follies, and also did not believe he had done the slightest thing wrong. The case returned to the Reference Panel, who assigned it to a Conference Panel to conduct an informal hearing on the charges and supplemental charges that had been lodged.

(Sarcasm on/) Meanwhile, members of the congregation who appealed to Church headquarters to try to mediate their interim use of the St. James property were met with open arms and welcoming queries as to how they might be most helpful, along with suggestions of how the parishioners might best manage their Sunday School until the disciplinary process took its slow and painful course. (/Sarcasm off.)

With no help appearing from any other quarter, the St. James congregation and its vicar, the redoubtable Canon Cindy Voorhees, filed suit against Bishop Bruno's corporation sole and the prospective developer to stop the sale. Bishop Bruno's latest demurrer to that action has not yet been heard, pending the case's assignment to a new judge (see next paragraph). You can read the congregation's response to the Bishop's demurrer here.

The litigation between Bishop Bruno and the original donor intensified, before likewise hitting a snag. The Griffith Company met the Bishop's complaint with an anti-SLAPP motion (whose legal niceties I explained in this post about an earlier phase of the litigation), which the Bishop vigorously opposed, and to which opposition the donor replied in kind.  But the judge to whom the motion was assigned (the Hon. Walter Schwarm) recused himself, on the remarkable ground that he was an Episcopalian. (When has any Episcopalian ever done that before in these matters?) A new judge was assigned, to whom the developer-purchaser promptly objected. But Orange County has an endless supply of civil judges, so the Hon. David Chaffee now has the responsibility for both Bishop Bruno's and the parish's lawsuits.

Some interesting further facts emerged from the pleadings filed between Bishop Bruno and the Griffith Company. As I discussed in this earlier post, that Company's 1984 reconveyance of the St. James parcels to the Diocese without the exclusive-use restriction applied on its face only to three of the four parcels occupied by the Church. Bishop Bruno contends that the omission of the fourth parcel was a typographical/secretarial error, since he says (but supplies no proof of the fact) that a prominent member of St. James in 1984 paid the Griffith Company $800,000 for the reconveyance.

The Griffith Company denies that it received any money for the transaction -- and once again has the documentary evidence on its side, since the deed of reconveyance shows a transfer tax paid of zero (meaning that no money officially changed hands for the transaction), and declares itself to be a "Gift Deed." And if it was just clerical error to omit the fourth parcel, then why didn't anyone from the Church move back in 1984 or 1985 to have the deed corrected? Indeed, to this date neither Bishop Bruno nor the diocese has filed any suit for reformation to correct the description in the deed. (Instead, he has filed for the indirect remedy of quieting title to the fourth parcel, even though the only deed referring to that parcel is the original one in 1945 -- which imposes the use restriction.)

It would thus appear that the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles has been given the gift of eternal litigation. (It might want to consider the application of Jesus' words in Mt 26:52 to its situation.) The parish has put up a Website which contains a useful timeline, with links to all of the documents referenced above, and more, which you may use to stay abreast of developments.

In another part of ECUSA's domains, the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago appears bent on following in the footsteps of the Diocese of Los Angeles -- though not yet (thank God) to the point of civil or disciplinary litigation leading to the sale of property. Nevertheless, the tendency to follow Neuhaus' Law -- by which the traditional and orthodox is first made optional, before eventually being proscribed altogether -- seems alive and well.

One of the Diocese of Chicago's older parishes is the Church of the Ascension, just north of the Magnificent Mile, which began as a mission in 1857 and by 1869 had become one of the Church's leading Anglo-Catholic parishes. It maintained that tradition faithfully, becoming renowned for the extent and beauty of its liturgy and music, until the advent of the Rev. David Cobb in 2014. No friend of the Church as it had established itself, the Rev. Cobb promptly sacked Ascension's leading musicians, slashed the budget for the choir, and began reducing the number of paid services.

The moves threw the congregation into turmoil. Bishop Jeffrey Lee was forced to intervene. The Rev. Cobb eventually departed, after having been voted a generous six-figure "severance package", and an interim priest was assigned, but the damage to the Church's musical and liturgical infrastructure was by then a fait accompli. The Church found a replacement organist and choir director, but one whose permanent residence is in London. (There is no explanation of how the vestry viewed that as a move that saved money over the previous arrangements.)

The vestry split in the past over support for the Rev. Cobb, and it has been rumored that Bishop Lee will bring in retired Bishop James Jelinek of Minnesota, 73, to transition the Church from Anglo-Catholicism into "affirming Catholicism". (Bishop Jelinek, by all reports, managed this same feat during his recent tenure at St. Paul's Church on K Street, in Washington, D.C. "Affirming Catholicism" is to Anglo-Catholicism as anti-matter is to matter: in contrast to the traditions from which Anglo-Catholicism springs, it endorses the liberal agenda of ordinations to the priesthood of all and sundry, regardless of gender, identity or sexual orientation -- and sees itself as a counter-movement to "biblical fundamentalism".)

There was supposedly a parish meeting with Bishop Lee on December 5, but no reports have emerged on the Web of what happened there. I invite those interested parishioners who have access to this blog to add any further news or information in the comments.

[UPDATE 12/13/2015: Though there is as yet no announcement on the official parish Website, word has come to me that the Church of the Ascension's interim pastor, Fr. Shane Patrick Gormley, circulated the following email to the members of his parish earlier this afternoon:

The Church of the Ascension 
Today, at a meeting of the Vestry, I tendered my resignation as Priest in Charge of Church of the Ascension, effective immediately. In the following comments, I have attempted to balance speaking the truth in love and telling it "like it is," along with respecting multiple sides of a disagreement and my own sympathies.

It was revealed to me this week that our Special Parish Meeting was orchestrated by members of the "Save Ascension" group, a faction that has existed within the parish since earlier this year. Their goals have changed over the course of this year, but have generally centered around the rehiring of former staff members, defaming previous and prospective clerics, and the restoration of what they call "catholic" liturgical practices. Although the Special Parish meeting did bear some fruit, and gave many a chance to be heard, the facts are that the meeting was approached by a majority present with an agenda to usurp my role as Priest in Charge of the parish, and therefore chair of the meeting. 

Members of "Save Ascension" include many who have already dissociated themselves from this parish, vestry members, and still some whom I believe to be genuinely concerned about the state of the parish. For any good intentions that may have led some to join "Save Ascension," they have been muffled and silenced by the procedure which "Save Ascension" has followed--a procedure marked by rumor, speculation, gossip, name-calling, and bullying. I am very quick to acknowledge that these same hallmarks of un-Christian behavior have not been limited to "Save Ascension," but may be found in many members of the parish. Not all members of "Save Ascension" are guilty of this, nor are all those who oppose the actions and mindset of "Save Ascension," but nevertheless, the parish has become a battleground, which is far from how a Christian Church should or can function. Again, not everyone is guilty of poor conduct, but there are some voices that have drowned out those who would speak softly.

Emails presented to me have revealed the desire of some, including vestry members, to usurp the authority entrusted to me as a priest to lead the parish in understanding the will of God for this community. This parish has become a toxic environment, in which the bullies are allowed to speak freely and without consequence, and the apathetic have hoped for resolution without action. I have discerned that there is no way for me to exercise my calling as a priest in such a situation.

I value my time at this parish. I have learned much. Many curacies last no longer than two years, and I by no means regret the nearly two and a half years I have spent here, first as an assistant, then as Curate, and finally as Priest in Charge. That said, I am strongly convicted that the parish is unable to move forward in its current state. Some have explicitly stated that "growth" does not matter to them. Many have lauded the attempts to bring younger families into the parish, yet have done nothing to contribute to creating a liturgical or social space wherein this is possible. While many have been concerned about what will (re)make this a "catholic" parish, the answers to what makes one a "catholic" have differed from person to person. More importantly, many have forgotten that before we may be "catholic," we must be Christian.

Catholic Christianity is not measured by the length of a solemn procession. It is not encapsulated by a biretta atop a priest's head. It does not major in minor propers being sung a certain way. It cannot be proclaimed by a lone voice in a pulpit, no matter his or her quality as a speaker. C. S. Lewis puts it this way, on what true catholic faith consists of:
You must keep on praying for light: and, of course, even in the hall, you must begin trying to obey the rules which are common to the whole house. And above all you must be asking which door is the true one; not which pleases you best by its paint and panelling. In plain language, the question should never be: 'Do I like that kind of service?' but 'Are these doctrines true: Is holiness here? Does my conscience move me towards this?'
I pray that Church of the Ascension will flourish--I truly do. But my conviction (which guides my prayers, my preaching, and my passion) is that it will not flourish as long as individuals within the congregation demand their own way, and insist on the superiority of a time past. From my first sermon on October 13, 2013 to my last sermon on December 6, 2015, I have never stopped asking us to consider, "What is God doing?" I hope you will pray this as I take my leave of this cure, whether for the first time or the hundredth. I hope, and pray, that this parish will seek how it may witness to Christ as his disciples in the world, a world that so desperately needs the love offered on Christ's cross, and the life offered in His resurrection.

In Christ,

Shane Patrick Gormley +

The oblique references in this email to how "the parish has become a battleground, ... a toxic environment, in which the bullies are allowed to speak freely and without consequence" are indeed disturbing. At the same time, the allusions to the necessity of change appear to imply an insistence upon acquiescence in the changes begun by the Rev. Cobb, which are viewed as irreversible. Such a viewpoint cannot be reassuring to those who disagreed with what he set in motion -- those in the Church who, apparently, "demand their own way, and insist on the superiority of a time past" [emphasis added].

The Anglo-Catholic tradition in ECUSA is under heavy assault, as indeed it is in the Church of England. Those who are leading the assault have no heed for its consequences for their Churches' relationship with the Roman Catholic or Orthodox denominations. Those two denominations will never, in the foreseeable future, introduce the departures from orthodox ordination standards which ECUSA and its companions in liberalism have embraced in an effort to "stay relevant" with the changing mores and times. Accordingly, those who part ways with them are parting ways with the church universal -- the church catholic.

Father Gormley quotes, appropriately, C.S. Lewis' Preface to his Mere Christianity. But it behooves both sides of the main point at issue in the Church of the Ascension imbroglio to examine carefully the answers they give to Lewis' questions: "Are these doctrines true: Is holiness here? Does my conscience move me towards this?" Such questions cannot be answered in a vacuum; nor may Anglo-Catholics answer them without reference to the faith once delivered to the saints.

This is indeed a turning point in the history of the Church of the Ascension. Episcopalians have been facing similar turning points for years, now -- and many, like myself, have been forced to pull out of the denomination in order to avoid compromising "the faith once delivered", as we learned it at our forebears' knees, and grew up with it, so that we could pass it on in turn. I pray that God's Holy Spirit will provide the guidance and generosity of Christ's true faith to all who truly turn to Him in these days of doubt, strife and temptation.]

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

We're Not There Yet: Food for Thought

Forget all the speculations about the end times based upon blood moons appearing in tetrads, and the like. Imaginative as they are, such musings all fail the simple test of Scripture.

Although the Jewish people are once again in their homeland, rather than scattered as they were in the diaspora from AD 70 to AD 1947, and have reclaimed their ancient capital of Jerusalem, they have not yet rebuilt their temple there. And the reestablishment of the temple in Jerusalem is a sine qua non for the second coming (I know, I know -- they are working on it):
[1] Then I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told, “Rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there, [2] but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months. (Revelation 11:1-2 ESV)
Though most Americans apparently are blind to it, there is yet another, equally strong indication that we are not yet arrived at the end times described by our Lord in Matthew, Mark and Luke, or by St. John in the Book of Revelation. In our current world, America is still very much on the scene, and poking its nose into every fresh outbreak of violence.  Again, however, the role America is currently playing (for better or for worse) is one that fails the test of Scripture.

You may search the whole Bible, but you will find in Revelation, Daniel, Ezekiel, Jeremiah or any other prophetic book no reference to any nation that resembles today's America and that also plays any kind of a role -- either as a supporter or opponent of Israel -- in the wars that Scripture foretells for the end times.

Some would contend that America is the great "Mystery Babylon" of Rev. ch. 17:
[4] The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality. [5] And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth's abominations.” [6] And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.... [18] And the woman that you saw is the great city that has dominion over the kings of the earth.” (Revelation 17:4-6, 18 ESV)
After all, could this language not fit the world-wide mercantilism of America today?
[11] And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore, [12] cargo of gold, silver, jewels, pearls, fine linen, purple cloth, silk, scarlet cloth, all kinds of scented wood, all kinds of articles of ivory, all kinds of articles of costly wood, bronze, iron and marble, [13] cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, oil, fine flour, wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and slaves, that is, human souls. (Revelation 18:11-13 ESV)
Well, even if America (or New York City) is the country (or city) portrayed there, that fact furnishes small comfort. Go to Rev. 18:10:
[10] They will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say, “Alas! Alas! You great city, you mighty city, Babylon! For in a single hour your judgment has come.”
So: if America (or NYC) is to play any role before the Bible's end times, it is one leading to its extinction before the end of the first act. Which brings me back to where I started: America, as such, appears to have no role to play in the very end times. 

Indeed, I would suggest that what makes the Bible's account of the end times so unique is the utter absence of America -- the most prominent world power on the stage today -- in their unfolding. Such an observation implies, does it not, that America must suffer a pretty bad fate before there is any chance of the Second Coming?

Christians, never fear. America is working hard toward its own demise as a world power -- even as you read this. It is aborting its unborn at an ungodly and unprecedented rate. The number of lives it has snuffed in (or just out of) the womb completely blots out Herod's slaughter of the infants of Bethlehem. (Even at that, Herod didn't end so well, either.)

America under President Barack Obama has also turned its back upon Israel, and appears to be doing its best to give aid and comfort to her most determined enemies. Obviously, Obama has not consulted his Bible recently, or if he has, he must have skipped over Gen. 12:3:
[3] I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse ....
So all may yet be on track. As I say, it's at least food for thought.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Has America Sold Her Christian Soul?

The ISIS/ISIL/IS (could we please agree on a convention, folks? -- see below) terrorists in Paris have finally pushed America over the top, it would seem.

Well, let the reader decide. Here are just the straight facts:

1. The President proposes to increase the number of refugees authorized to immigrate here by up to 100,000 per year by 2017. This year alone, at least 10,000 will come from Syria.

2. More than 96% of the Syrian refugees the President and the State Department are bringing in identify themselves as Muslim.

3. Since over 70% of the civilian mass murders in recent times have been carried out by Muslims; since ISIS/ISIL/IS proclaims itself to be the re-establishment of the ancient Islamic caliphate; and since ISISILIS (let's just call it that: pronounced I-SIS'-I-LIS, to rhyme with syphilis) has announced its intention to bring Paris-style terrorism to these shores, many Americans think that to bring tens of thousands of Muslims into America from a country where ISISILIS operates is a particularly bad idea.

4. The Republicans in the House, led by their new Speaker Paul Ryan, have introduced a bill that supposedly requires the Government to check all new Syrian emigrants before approving them for travel to the US and resettlement there. The bill is a sham, because its vetting requirements are mostly meaningless, impractical to carry out, and may be evaded with a simple certification.

5. The President, however, is not one to allow the House Republicans to show him up as unconcerned for America's safety. He has announced he will veto the Republican bill -- before he even has seen what it will finally say -- because his administration is already taking the necessary steps to protect usAnd the media, as usual, are right behind him.

6. At the same time, the chief religious denominations in the US are also joining in castigating the Republicans for trying to put limits on the resettlement of Syrian Muslims -- even if some of the immigrants might prove to be terrorists traveling incognito. That is just the price we will have to pay for our upholding Christian principles of charity toward all strangers -- "be not afraid!"

7. Other religious groups and House Republicans -- a definite minority in both places -- point out that it is a little hypocritical for the majority denominations to speak of "simple Christian charity", because it is precisely the Syrian Christians who are being persecuted and driven out of their traditional regions. At the same time, the State Department, pursuant to Obama's direction, absolutely refuses to open up any refugee resettlement slots for Christians.

8. President Obama and the major Christian denominations say that admission to America must never be based on any kind of "religious test" -- regardless of the fact that our immigration laws require that a refugee's religion be taken into account, since one of the most prominent forms of persecution in refugee areas is religious persecution: just as Syrian Christians are, as you read this, being persecuted and driven out of their homes by Syrian Muslims.

9. Evangelical Christians add that they do not need any of their fellow Christians rescued, as they are already "eager to share their faith with [the non-Christian] new arrivals."  So the suffering Christians should apparently just go on suffering, as far as their evangelical brethren are concerned.

10. Meanwhile, as all this takes place, Obama's unilateral changes last year to immigration enforcement policy are allowing over 80% of those already here illegally to stay without fear of deportation.

The end result is that President Obama and his State Department, joined by the media and major Christian denominations, want only Syrian Muslims brought into the country, regardless of their backgrounds. The House Republicans, meanwhile, want to be seen as opposing this policy while also doing nothing  to stop it, or to help Syrian Christians. All of them do not want the immigration laws enforced as written -- if doing so would mean that most Syrian Christians would qualify for resettlement here. The Christians, as a consequence, are left to perish.

As Dave Barry always says, you cannot make this stuff up.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Credit Where Credit Is Due

It becomes progressively more and more difficult to find worthwhile stuff about which to blog or comment these days. My erstwhile denomination, the Episcopal Church (USA), has sunk into the mire of blasphemy and irrelevance, and is not even worthy any more of notice. My country is headed by an utterly self-absorbed, pusillanimous and law-breaking President, whom neither his friends nor his enemies will rein in. It has a Congress consisting largely of people so absorbed by their need to get re-elected that they are afraid to have any principles, and consequently are beneath contempt. And it has five Supreme Court justices who simply mock the law and their function as the tribunal of last resort in a putative democracy, and see nothing wrong with making up the law as they go, while openly flouting their contempt for the rule of law.

There remain, I am glad to report, a few voices of sanity in this chaos of lawlessness and cowardice. These voices have the courage to say what they know to be right, to be heedless of the consequences of their standing up for the right, and to press their case for unvarnished truth without ceasing, all in the teeth of implacable hatred and opposition.

That said, it is rare enough when these voices recognize and acknowledge each other.

The always excellent Touchstone Magazine, well worth its reasonable price of subscription and a continuing source of inspiration and refreshment, has published just such a tribute -- from one notable Christian voice of sanity to another. One of its long-time senior editors, Dr. S. M. Hutchens, has written a fine tribute to the crucial role played in our country today by none other than -- yes, you heard me correctly -- Rush Limbaugh. Here is a key extract:
I have a personal interest in what Rush says and how he is treated because the more I listen to and about him, the more I am frightened by the venom and mendacity of charges brought against the sanity and simple goodness for which he stands as a national symbol, his faults notwithstanding. Christians who speak ill of him should in justice recognize him as an ally, for if he sinks, they will sink with him, and for the same reasons. Where the hatred of his accusers, fortified by absolute faith in the rectitude of their madness, is not constrained by law and superior force, it will surely lead to persecution, eventually bloody, because that is the way of the world. Hatred must have a victim to charge with its own sins, and to visit with the appropriate punishments.
Be sure to read the entire brief essay. And while you're at it, consider supporting such voices of sanity by subscribing to Touchstone Magazine.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Ave Imperator, Te Morituri Salutamus

This page contains links to all the posts I have put up about the current sad state of the so-called Anglican Communion. "So-called"? Yes: it is certainly no longer a "Communion", because it has very little in common, and most of its members are not talking to the rest. And it can no longer be called "Anglican", because while that term may once have taken its meaning from the doctrines and worship of the Church of England, that body's ever-dwindling membership, too, is no longer of one mind on just what its doctrines and worship should be.

The page of Anglican posts will soon contain a link to this one -- and that may be its last.

After all, I feel a bit like the Cheshire Cat -- as the meaning of "Anglican" fades away, so does any role for an "Anglican Curmudgeon." Having left the Episcopal Church (USA) on account of its adoption of blasphemous marriage rites, I no longer even have a formal tie to the wider Communion -- not that the tie was all that firm, anyway, once V. Gene Robinson received a miter and ring in 2003. Those of us who remained in ECUSA after that date, as well as any who are bravely trying to stick it out still, may fairly be described as clinging to the faintest wisps of the beauty that once was there.

There is talk of a reckoning that will be demanded at the forthcoming gathering of the Anglican Primates in Canterbury next January (n.b.: not a "Primates Meeting" as such, or one of the former, now-failed Instruments of Unity, but just a gathering that has no structure in advance). The Primates of GAFCON and the Global South will be there, along with -- at the former's insistence -- the Primate of the Anglican Church in North America. This alone should serve to distinguish what will take place from what has gone before.

But what are the possible outcomes of such a gathering? Let's be logical, and list all the possibilities (within reason):

1. In response to a passionate appeal from their orthodox brethren, the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada repent of their waywardness, resubscribe to the tenets of Resolution 1.10 from the 1998 Lambeth Conference, and humbly apologize to their peers. Can we all agree that this possibility will never happen? -- and not just because ECUSA can act only through its General Convention, which will not be in session again until the summer of 2018. It will never happen while the current crowd of liberal revisionists are in charge of the great majority of Dioceses, and they are prepared to run through all of ECUSA's trust funds before they will be forced to make any meaningful changes. (And before that happens, their proclivity for blasphemy will pollute the Book of Common Prayer.)

2. In response to a passionate appeal from their orthodox brethren, the Episcopal Church (USA) and the ACoC speak the truth to the assembled Primates: they are not about to change, and will continue on what they maintain is their "inclusive" course. This is almost certain to take place at the meeting. The question then becomes: what will the other Primates do in response?

a. Nothing, except take another sip of tea and keep talking. Knowing what we know of the Most Rev. Eliud Wabukala, this will never happen. He and the other GAFCON Primates will demand that the Archbishop of Canterbury discipline the renegades by "disinviting them" from all future Communion-wide functions and events. (He can do this with regard to the Lambeth Conference and the Primates Meeting, both of which convene at his invitation. But he has no ability to control who comes to the meetings of the Anglican Consultative Council, which controls its own list of who are its constituent members.)

b. In response to the GAFCON Primates demand (see 2.a above), Archbishop Welby agrees that he will no longer invite either ECUSA or the ACoC representatives to either the Primates Meetings or the Lambeth Conference. The gathering will then break up; the representatives of ECUSA and the ACoC will leave, along with their supporters from ten or so other provinces. (The Archbishop of Canterbury cannot legally operate the formal mechanisms of the British charitable corporation called "the Anglican Consultative Council" -- with its corresponding role in the Anglican Communion -- without them, however, and so he will most likely stay in a formal relation with them through that body.) The rest may remain to discuss future agendas -- or they may go home, too, and postpone further action to another day.

c. In response to the GAFCON Primates demand (see 2.a above), Archbishop Welby refuses so to discipline the renegade provinces. The gathering will then definitely split up, and the majority of the provinces present will depart for home. Those remaining (the twelve or so provinces described in 2.b. above) will continue to meet, and may meet as often as they wish in the future, but without the majority of provinces ever again attending. The minority will claim control of the organs of the Anglican Communion, and so will keep that name. The majority will organize under a new structure, with a modified name. Whether they will maintain any kind of relationship with the see of Canterbury is extremely doubtful, in my opinion -- what would be the point, once he made it clear that he would not do what they asked?

d. In response to the GAFCON Primates demand (see 2.a above), Archbishop Welby waffles, in a bid for more time and to keep all the parties talking. This is ++Welby's most likely response to GAFCON's demand, in my opinion. His goal will be to work out the terms for a "two-tiered" Communion, with the one tier consisting of those not in communion with ECUSA or the ACoC, and other tier consisting of the remaining provinces. Even if he were to succeed in this goal, and keep all the Primates around long enough to achieve it, notice how similar the outcome would be to that sketched out in Scenario 2.c above: the only difference would be that the first tier would stay in some kind of "communion" with the see of Canterbury. And if Canterbury decides to stay in communion with ECUSA and ACoC, then the outcome will be like that sketched in 2.b. above.
Indeed -- notice how similar the final outcomes of all of the last three scenarios are. The UK charity that represents the "Anglican Communion" as such will remain in place, because it is a perpetual corporation, and it is under the more-or-less permanent control of the minority revisionist provinces. The Archbishop of Canterbury is the legal head of that charity, and so will remain in formal relation with it, no matter what the majority of Anglican provinces decide to do. And since that majority will decline to play any part in an organization in which the revisionist minority are also members, they will also have to organize as a new entity, regardless of what the revisionists do (short of repenting, which will never happen).

I conclude from this analysis that the Anglican Communion is almost certainly headed for a formally divided future -- one that reflects in fact the pro forma division which has been in existence ever since the Windsor Report and Dar-es-Salaam. Whether or not it remains a single but two-tiered entity, or becomes two entirely separate organizations (the old one, controlled by the minority, and a new one formed by the majority), will be up to the GAFCON / Global South Primates and how much they value an ongoing relationship with Canterbury. And that outcome will probably be determined by how well Archbishop Welby manages the first few hours of the meeting next January.

Either way, it looks like it is curtains for your Curmudgeon. Just as I am done with ECUSA, I will not have anything to do with an ongoing Anglican entity which allows ECUSA -- in all its blasphemous ugliness -- to be a member. And as I mentioned, if the minority retains the legal right to the control of the British charitable corporation, the new organization will probably not even call itself "Anglican."  I may not even bother to cover the demise, if it follows the most likely path sketched above. But stay tuned for a while longer, because the whole scenario is in God's good hands.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Life Now Has a Price Tag

It has now come to this.

The price for human fetal parts and tissue: From $30 to $100 per specimen.

The price for one of the largest-ever-seen bull elephants in Africa: $60,000.00.

All life now has its price, from the tiniest specimen to the largest.

For God, the price was infinite. He gave up his only Son to pay it -- for our sake.

But Man, driven by Satan's lusts, now cheapens it. In doing so, he mocks the unfathomable worth of Christ's sacrifice. And the caverns of Hell rock with scorn.

This is a sin-sick world.

May we yet repent of this madness.

And may God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Blatant Bias on Display in ECUSA's South Carolina Case

Before the oral arguments yesterday in The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina v. Episcopal Church in the Supreme Court of South Carolina, your Curmudgeon had heard mention of the fact that one of the five justices who would be hearing the case was active in one of the parishes affiliated with the defendant Episcopal Church in South Carolina. I did not look into the question further until I watched the oral arguments live, and could see the justices as they put their questions to each of the attorneys for the litigants.

I took particular note, as I watched, of the attitude and unspoken assumptions behind the questions asked by Justice Kaye Hearn, the newest person elected to that Court. In many cases, it seemed (to this appellate attorney) that her questions were designed more to provide encouragement to ECUSA's attorneys, and to advance their arguments, than they were to probe the various issues at stake in the case.

A little research on the Internet provided the facts that Justice Hearn was a former member of the congregation and choir at St. Paul's in Conway, South Carolina -- a parish that chose to remain with Bishop Mark Lawrence and his Diocese. A group of two dozen or so from that 500-member parish decided they could not remain, and left to form what has since become St. Anne's Episcopal Church, also in Conway. The records there show that Justice Hearn's husband, George, is a member of the parish's vestry and mission committee.

All fine and dandy -- if a little too reminiscent of the case of Justice David E. Nehmias, of the Georgia Supreme Court, who wrote the majority opinion for that Court awarding Christ Church Savannah to the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia. It turned out that Justice Nehmias declined to recuse himself from the case, even though he was a prominent member of an Episcopal congregation in Atlanta. In doing so, he failed to follow the example of Presiding Justice George Carley, who recused himself from the case because he belonged to an ACNA parish in the same city.

Could the same bias be operating in the case of Justice Hearn? Consider just the following, taken from the oral argument by the attorney for the appellants (Bishop vonRosenberg's group and ECUSA), Blake Hewitt. These are excerpts from that argument in which Justice Hearn exclusively had the mike. Notice, please, how few of the verbatim quotes below are actual questions which Mr. Hewitt might be expected to have some trouble in answering, as opposed to softballs lobbed in his direction. Notice, too, how many of the quotations are not even questions, but are advocacy speeches which would have been appropriate coming from Mr. Hewitt's mouth, but scarcely proper for a sitting justice to make in a case presented for decision before an impartial court. [Note: Times shown in brackets are for the tape at this link.]

1 [1:56]: But didn't [Judge Goodstein] also disallow you from introducing evidence that would tend to show that [ECUSA] is not a congregational church?

2 [2:45]: Mr. Hewitt, in this case the national Church has called itself a "hierarchical" church. Of course, we could look at Wikipedia, but we wouldn't have to do that, we could also look at the myriad of court decisions, including one from our own 4th Circuit, the Dixon case, which is a very thoroughgoing analysis of what constitutes a hierarchical church, and it seems by any definition, this Church is hierarchical.  But does that matter -- in this case?

3 [4:49]: Your argument is that the Dennis Canon imposed an express trust on this property, and for thirty years, the Dio ---

4 [5:44]: But of course, in this case, Judge Goodstein wouldn't even let counsel for the national Church bring in what had been done as far as disciplining Bishop Lawrence -- in fact, she threatened to revoke his pro hac vice [status] if he didn't stop talking about that, isn't that correct?  

5 [6:10]: Well, [Judge Goodstein] seemed to think that [the] two principles -- hierarchical principles and neutral principles -- can't co-exist, but there's lots of cases that say they can: what's your position on this?

6 [8:35]: And, Mr. Hewitt, doesn't this [questioning the effectiveness of the Church's enactment of the Dennis Canon] call into question the teaching of Jones v. Wolf, about what is necessary for a national church to be able to create a trust -- if that burden is supposed to be 'minimal'?

7 [10:16]: And isn't it correct that this particular Diocese enacted its own version of the Dennis Canon?

8 [10:36]: And Mr. Hewitt, I want you to -- I'm not disregarding the number of cases that have reached the result you are arguing for, with regard to the Dennis Canon, and in almost all those cases, cert[iorari = review] has been denied or dismissed by the U.S. Supreme Court, but I would like you, or I would like to hear you, about the Masterson case out of Texas, which seems to take more -- more of an All Saints view. I will note that our sister state of Georgia, in a 2011 opinion, noted that the South Carolina decision in All Saints has not been followed in a church property case by any court outside that case -- outside that State -- so we're dealing with a bit of an outlier, if you will -- but tell me about Masterson.

9 [12:58]: What about all the quit-claims that were issued here?

10 [17:45]: [Interrupting a question by Chief Justice Toal] Well, of course, Mr. Hewitt, if we're going to talk about that [Bishop Lawrence's ostensible authority to execute quitclaim deeds] -- I would like you to talk about his vows, and how the national Church assumed he would be true to those vows, especially when he wrote a letter saying "I intend to stay with the national Church" -- period. So please talk about that.

11 [19:48]: Might that [Bishop Lawrence's signing the Bishop's Statement on Polity] be one reason that in All Saints cert was not sought [by Bishop Lawrence]?

12 [21:35]: If this case -- this Diocese -- is truly congregational, and can just pick up its toys and leave whenever it wants to -- why did it then become part of another larger group? Did it, did it not -- after it purported to leave the national Church?

13 [22:01]: Sure is a lot in the record, and I thought there was some discussion that they were part of another larger group, and so my question was: if they really were congregational, why -- ... [22:22]  I thought it was Global South, a group of third world (mostly) provinces, in Africa -- I mean, I could be wrong.

14 [22:40]: Why isn't this a case -- I'm going to ask the same question of opposing counsel -- why isn't this case, boiled down to its essence, just a question of who should lead this Diocese -- who is the rightful bishop --  and hasn't the national Church answered that question by ordaining Charles vonRosenberg?

There was not one question or statement from Justice Hearn which Blake Hewitt could have had trouble dealing with -- in fact, it many instances (such as Nos. 1, 4, 5, 6, 10, and 14) they were just a case of passing the baton to a fellow race runner. In short, this was not a dialogue between court and counsel; it was collaboration between counsel and a co-counsel who sat on the bench.

Notice, too, how in excerpts No. 4 and 10 above, Justice Hearn tried to interject the issue of Bishop Lawrence's faithfulness to his ordination vows into the case. Religious vows are not for the civil courts to consider. That is why churches have ecclesiastical courts, and that is why the Episcopal Church (USA) brought its disciplinary charges against Bishop Lawrence. So Justice Hearn had no business whatsoever egging on ECUSA's attorney to speak about ecclesiastical matters that were not before the Court.

But what if Justice Hearn had an ulterior motive for doing so? Further research on the Internet disclosed that Kaye Hearn of Conway, South Carolina is a signatory member of the Episcopal Forum of South Carolina -- and that she joined when she was still a member of St. Paul's. The Episcopal Forum, for those who may not remember, was instrumental in instigating the bringing of disciplinary charges againt the Rt. Rev. Mark Lawrence. Moreover, here are just some of the principles to which each member subscribes:
Who are we? 
  • Episcopalians who are united in our desire to remain members in good standing in The Episcopal Church (TEC) and the Anglican Communion.
  • Episcopalians who accept that the governing authority of TEC, as given by its Constitution and Canons, is the General Convention of the Episcopal Church.
  • Episcopalians who believe that the Holy Spirit is working in the deliberations of The Episcopal Church, General Convention, TEC Executive Council and its conferences and committees
The bias in favor of the national Church that infuses these principles is not hidden; it is made plain for all to see. The second principle alone expresses an opinion on an issue that is at the heart of Bishop Lawrence's case against the national Church. To this attorney, it is simply unbelievable that a sitting Justice who had long ago subscribed to these principles in public would not recuse herself from sitting in judgment on Bishop Lawrence's case.

But we are not done yet. Let's take a look at the corresponding extracts from the oral argument of Bishop Lawrence's attorney, Alan Runyon.

15 [29:23]: I have two questions for you about that, Mr. Runyan. The first one would be the language in the All Saints opinion that talks about where a civil court is presented an issue which is really a question of religious law, but is masquerading as a property dispute. And I know you're familiar with that language, so: why isn't this that type of situation? But my second question -- and I'm sure you'll address it -- there has been a motion to argue against precedent, there's a different Court here -- of course, we take precedent very seriously -- but the majority of this Court did not sit on the All Saints case, and you would have to acknowledge, it is an outlier in this country. So, if you could address those two issues for me -- I understand why you want to argue All Saints; I would, too, if I was in your position -- but if you could answer that for me. 

Notice how Justice Hearn keeps trying to discredit the unanimous decision in All Saints, by belittling it as an "outlier" (this is the second time she used that terms -- see No. 8 above). She brazenly suggests that the three newest Justices on the Court could overrule what five Justices unanimously decided just five years ago. Only a person who resented that decision personally when it came down, and who has fought it ever since, would spend so much effort trying to discredit it in court.

16 [34:44]: [The deference approach is] the majority rule [in cases] on the Dennis Canon? ... There might be eight or nine [cases], at least... And I recognize the different nuances to each of those cases.

17 [35:10]: Are you talking about All Saints? When you say that the law is clear? Well, let's look at All Saints -- there was no analysis in All Saints of the myriad of cases that go the other way. There was no mention of that. How do we know what was really presented in All Saints?

18 [35:47]: You would say that the only way that there could have been a trust created is if the national Church got each individual parish to agree? ... But how would that be the 'minimal burden' that Jones v. Wolf says they're placing on national churches to do this very thing? [Mr. Runyan responds that the court in Jones v. Wolf did not say that.] Well, we'll talk about that. 

19 [37:00]: Well, let me ask you about that [the methods of creating a trust according to Jones v. Wolf]. Let's stop there a minute. Jones v. Wolf was decided in 1979, coincidentally the very same year that the General Convention adopted the Dennis Canon, and I believe your client had a seat -- had representatives there. The Dennis Canon was in effect here for about thirty years, till this brouhaha happened -- and in fact the Diocese adopted its own version of the Dennis Canon. But what I want to direct your attention to -- is: what about Section 33 31-180 of our Nonprofit Corporation Act, that says: "If religious doctrine governing the affairs of a religious corporation is inconsistent  with the provisions of this Chapter on the same subject, the religious doctrine controls"? Why isn't that saying -- why isn't that South Carolina General Assembly saying something like the Dennis Canon would trump any suggestion of State law?

20 [40:43]: If [the language of accession to the national Constitution] didn't mean anything, then why was one of the first things your client did was to remove that language?

21 [43:30]: Yes, Mr. Runyan -- and I would point out, echoing the Chief's concerns, that this was a non-jury trial. And yet I counted over twenty-five objections to Professor McWilliams' testimony -- in a non-jury trial. You all tried so hard to keep any of that evidence out -- and then, the order is issued, and lo and behold: there's a finding that this Church is controlled by the bottom -- that the parishes are really in charge, rather than the national Church. So -- what is it with that?

22 [47:15]: Doesn't [the claim that there is no judicatory in the national Church with authority over dioceses] just get us back to our different interpretations of what the Dennis Canon means and does?

23 [47:43]: Well -- [this court can't pick between the two bishops] because the national Church has already chosen, has it not? The national Church has chosen vonRosenberg as the bishop. Why doesn't that end it? I wanted to ask you that question, I thought I was going to ... 

24 [48:05]: Why wouldn't -- help me with why we wouldn't defer to the national Church's decision on that obviously ecclesiastical matter? You say in your brief -- in the red brief -- you say "Of course, civil courts could not decide who is the appropriate minister." Well, but it seems like you're doing exactly the same thing here -- you are saying "the court can decide who is the rightful bishop." So help me with that. ... You're [relying on] that All Saints [case] again.

25 [49:54]: But I don't see any argument -- Mr. Runyan, I don't see any argument, or hear any argument from the other side that your clients [do not] have a perfect right, an absolute right, to disassociate, to leave. The problem is: can they take property -- that arguably has been held in trust for the national Church for decades -- with them? 

26 [51:40]: Then let me ask you this question. Isn't it correct that at the time of incorporation the stated purpose of the Diocese was to follow the doctrine and polity of the Episcopal Church -- to continue to operate under the Constitution -- yes, that is the language I was looking for. Was that [language] meaningless? ... And they can change their minds?

Mr. Hewitt then came back for his rebuttal, and received the following final assist from his Episcopal co-counsel on the bench:

27 [55:00] Wait a minute. Speaking of the Diocese's relationship with the national Church, talk to us about in 1922, when there was only one diocese in South Carolina, and they wanted to divide into two. Did they do that on their own?

This was truly a disgraceful performance and display of impropriety by one of the country's highest sitting judges. If she does not recuse herself post-argument, there should be, at a minimum, an investigation as to whether Justice Hearn violated Canons 2 and 3 of the South Carolina Code of Judicial Ethics, which state in part:


A. A judge shall respect and comply with the law* and shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.

B. A judge shall not allow family, social, political or other relationships to influence the judge's judicial conduct or judgment. A judge shall not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others; nor shall a judge convey or permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge.


A judge shall perform judicial duties without bias or prejudice. A judge shall not, in the performance of judicial duties, by words or conduct manifest bias or prejudice, including but not limited to bias or prejudice based upon race, sex, religion, national origin, disability or age, and shall not permit staff, court officials and others subject to the judge's direction and control to do so.

 And here is the Disqualification Standard in that same Canon 3 which Justice Hearn should have applied to herself:
E. Disqualification.

(1) A judge shall disqualify himself or herself in a proceeding in which the judge's impartiality might reasonably be questioned, including but not limited to instances where:
(a) the judge has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party ...
It would be impossible, given her participation as a Forum Member and its role in bringing down Bishop Lawrence, and in having him replaced with Bishop vonRosenberg, for Justice Hearn to deny that she harbors a personal bias against Bishop Lawrence and the Diocese he heads.

We await further developments in the South Carolina case.

On the Oral Arguments in South Carolina

Your Curmudgeon watched the arguments in the case of Bishop Lawrence and his diocese and parishes against the Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Church in South Carolina yesterday, and reviewed the tape carefully once again as archived. The event must have seemed dispiriting to those who supported the trial court's decision, because Judge Goodstein came in for a substantial amount of criticism for excluding evidence that ECUSA wanted to put on -- as it was able to do in San Joaquin, Quincy, Fort Worth and Pittsburgh -- concerning its "hierarchical" structure.

Indeed, much of the argument seemed to dwell upon whether the national Church should be deemed hierarchical, and if so, whether that classification would make a difference to the outcome. And that is precisely where ECUSA and its attorneys wanted to focus it. (How they succeeded in pulling off that strategy will be the subject of my following post.)

For ECUSA and its attorneys, the world of church property law began and ended with Watson v. Jones, an 1872 decision by the United States Supreme Court that, among other irrelevant observations (called "obiter dicta", or "things said beside the point"), offered the view that the then-established Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America was hierarchical. The opinion furnished no analysis or justification for that observation, but simply included PECUSA in a group of churches that the Court contrasted with those it termed "congregational."

For the Court in Watson, the distinction meant this. In a hierarchical church, consisting nationwide of many branches under a central religious government, there would be a supreme adjudicatory body with the power to make decisions on matters of church law and polity that were binding on each and every local branch of the church, and the civil courts were required by the First Amendment to defer to such binding adjudications in any disputes that came before them. In a congregational church, by way of contrast, there was no kind of higher authority beyond the congregation itself, and so a decision by the majority of the congregation was binding on all of its members.

The United States Supreme Court gradually moved away from its holding in Watson, without actually overruling it. As more and more courts saw that deference to a hierarchical church judicatory would result in a victory for the hierarchical church authorities in every case, there began to arise a resistance to giving that category of churches a pass, as it were, on all constitutional issues, and thereby to allow them to govern their members in ways that no other church could. The tendency of the deference rule, in other words, was to favor one class of churches over all the others, and that smacked of "establishing" the hierarchical churches in a manner forbidden by the First Amendment.

In contrast, there was developed a so-called "neutral principles of law" approach, by which churches were treated just like private persons in respect to holding property. By making no distinction in its rules, the neutral principles system guaranteed that all deeds, contracts and other documents affecting title would be interpreted the same, without regard to the person or the Church that created them.

The Episcopal Church's Dennis Canon provides a perfect illustration of this contrast. Cases which hold that ECUSA is "hierarchical" allow the Church to enforce in the civil courts, against individual member parishes, its Dennis Canon -- a mandatory trust that keeps a parish from ever leaving the Church, on pain of surrendering all of its real and personal property to the diocese to which it belongs. Such courts enforce the Canon despite the fact that those parishes never signed or recorded any documents placing their individual real and personal property into a perpetually binding trust. These cases stand for the proposition that hierarchical churches do not have to trouble themselves with complying with State law requirements for the creation of trusts (such as the Statute of Frauds, which requires a trust document be signed by the person owning the property being placed into a trust).

Other churches, to achieve the same result, could do so only by making each individual parish sign and record the appropriate trust papers. But hierarchical churches were free to impose a trust all at once, by fiat, on all parish properties simultaneously. And many trust attorneys believe that such an exemption from the requirements of State law creates an issue under the First Amendment's Establishment Clause.

The Episcopal Church has nothing it can point to by way of language in its governing documents which renders the property of a Diocese (as opposed to that of a parish) subject to any kind of trust in its favor. The South Carolina case involves an entire Diocese of the Church that amended its governing documents so as to secede from ECUSA, and along with it came nearly forty individual parishes that were members of the Diocese. Faced with these moves, ECUSA first argued that even though the parishes had left with their Diocese, the Dennis Canon still meant that they could not keep their property. And as for Bishop Lawrence and his incorporated Diocese, it argued that it had removed him from his office and appointed a new bishop in his place who had the authority to take it over, and take possession of all diocesan property.

In the South Carolina Supreme Court yesterday, ECUSA's attorney argued exclusively for deference to it as a "hierarchical" church. (Never mind that the only true hierarchical relationships in ECUSA are between a diocesan bishop and his subordinate clergy, and in some cases between an individual member parish and its governing diocese. There is no body within ECUSA -- not its General Convention, its Presiding Bishop, or its Executive Council -- which can order or make a Diocese to do anything which that diocese does not choose to do. The relationship between the national Church and its dioceses is thus voluntary, for as long as the parties want to continue it, and may be dissolved at any time by taking the appropriate steps to amend the diocese's governing documents. The national Church, again, has no power to prevent a Diocese from so amending its governing documents.)

To do so, he had to blur the distinctions in the cases dealing with individual parishes -- and he had to ignore the Quincy case altogether (which was not even mentioned in argument). In doing so, he received substantial assistance from Associate Justice Kaye Hearn, as I will detail in my next post.

Two other Justices (who did not take part in the 2009 All Saints Waccamaw decision) seemed to be taken in by the confusion created by all the discussion of hierarchy and the effect to be given to the Dennis Canon. Justice Beatty, who did join in the 2009 decision, was largely noncommittal, and spoke the least of any Justice.

That left Chief Justice Toal, who despite all the tortuous arguments stuck to basic legal principles and analysis: a trust needs a settlor to be created, and the beneficiary of a trust is perfectly within his rights to quitclaim back to the settlor all of his supposed interest in the trust. (There was thus no "breach of the Dennnis Canon" when Bishop Lawrence signed individual quitclaim deeds to his parishes, on behalf of the Diocese as beneficiary of any trust interest that arguably may still have existed following the All Saints Waccamaw decision.) And South Carolina religious corporations are free to amend their governing documents -- including a complete change in their charitable purpose -- as long as they comply with the formalities required by South Carolina law.

To this observer, it seemed as though the Justices had not discussed the case with each other beforehand. And it also looked as though the Chief Justice had taken on the responsibility of writing an opinion in the case -- since she was the one most weighed down with case files and briefs. But whether her opinion will be the majority one remains to be seen. I believe she has the confidence of Justice Beatty, who followed her before. And she may have Justice Kittredge in her camp, as well.

But both he and Justice Costa Pleicones seemed to have difficulty following the ins and outs of the arguments -- thanks to the constant interjections by Justice Hearn on behalf of the Church of which she is an active member. She practically monopolized the argument with long speeches (not questions) that would have sounded more appropriate had they come from ECUSA's attorneys. The resulting final impression of Mark Lawrence and his Diocese having had a rough time in the Court is almost entirely, in my estimation, due to the attempts by Justice Hearn to derail the case by returning South Carolina to the days of deference, as ECUSA argued in its briefs.

Whether her unprofessional and entirely partial tactics will succeed is a question that will have to await the Court's opinion, which could be months away. I shall have much more to say about those tactics in my following post.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Important Developments in South Carolina

Tomorrow morning, September 23, beginning at 10:30 a.m. Eastern Time, the Supreme Court of South Carolina will hear oral arguments in the appeal, taken by Bishop vonRosenberg, ECUSA and its rump group that calls itself "the Episcopal Church in South Carolina", from the adverse decision last February by Circuit Judge Diane S. Goodstein. Her opinion, which followed a three-week-long trial in July of last year, declared that Bishop Mark Lawrence, his Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina and 36 of its parishes were the sole owners of their respective properties, including the trade name, seal and marks of the historic Diocese, which was one of the original founders of ECUSA (then "PECUSA") itself.

Heading up the panel hearing the case will be Chief Justice Jean Hoefer Toal, who in that same position authored the Court's unanimous 2009 opinion in the case of All Saints Waccamaw v. Episcopal Church, which I quoted and analyzed in this earlier post. Also serving on the panel will be Associate Justice Donald W. Beatty, who joined in the Waccamaw opinion. It is not known yet whether any of the other sitting Justices have recused themselves (two of them did so in the Waccamaw case); the fifth, Justice Kaye Hearn, assumed her seat on the Court after the arguments in the 2009 case.

Chief Justice Toal, whose religion is Roman Catholic, is no stranger to the concept of what makes a church "hierarchical." In her opinion in the Waccamaw case, Justice Toal noted that South Carolina Courts are required to resolve church property disputes using "neutral principles of law" whenever possible. They may defer only to "the highest religious judicatories" when they have properly decided an issue "as to religious law, principle, doctrine, discipline, custom, and administration." It should be noted that in her written opinion filed last January, Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein expressly found that there were no such bodies in the Episcopal Church (USA) that had outside jurisdiction over either the Diocese or any of its parishes.

Another point decided by the Waccamaw court is that ECUSA's Dennis Canon did not, in and of itself, create an enforceable religious trust on parish property under South Carolina law. Bishop vonRosenberg's lawyers tried to distinguish that holding before Judge Goodstein, but they did not succeed, and there is no reason to expect that their attempt to do so before the Supreme Court tomorrow will fare any better.

In a related federal case, returned to the federal District Court to reconsider its prior order of dismissal, District Judge C. Weston Houck entered an order yesterday staying all further proceedings in his court pending the issuance of a decision by the Supreme Court of South Carolina. Although the federal case ostensibly presents issues of federal trademark law under the Lanham Act, Judge Houck noted that "South Carolina law provides the rule of decision on the underlying issues" of who rightfully is in control of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, which is a religious entity organized and incorporated under South Carolina law.

Accordingly, it is expected that if the South Carolina Supreme Court issues a ruling affirming Judge Goodstein's decision, Bishop Lawrence will be successful in having the federal court dismiss the trademark claims -- just as Bishop Iker was able to do when a parish there tried the same federal strategy that Bishop vonRosenberg has pursued.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Finally! An Anglican Post

News from the Anglican Communion has been non-existent, largely because it is no longer functioning as a Communion (remember what the Primates warned in October, 2003?), and because developments in the Church of England (as it slowly goes to pieces in the same way that ECUSA did) have left little that can still be called Anglican.

So it comes as a welcome surprise that the Archbishop of Canterbury has called for a gathering of the Anglican Primates in Canterbury next January to discuss the future of the Communion. The agenda will not be dictated beforehand, but will consist of topics suggested by individuals and agreed upon by consensus.

In a nod that acknowledges the collective will of the GAFCON primates, the Archbishop of Canterbury has already extended an invitation to ACNA Archbishop Foley Beach to attend for part of the gathering. According to the Secretary of the Anglican Communion, the Most Reverend Josiah Idowu-Fearon, "nearly all the Primates have indicated support for this meeting" -- since Archbishop Welby's invitation shows that he listened to what the GAFCON primates had to say in his individual conversations with them.

Another factor that no doubt is facilitating a fresh attempt to strive for consensus is that the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church (USA) attending will be the newly elected Most Rev. Michael Curry, rather than his predecessor, who managed repeatedly to give offense to many of the Global South's  primates at their previous meetings, and who was indifferent to the consequences of her conduct for the communality of the Communion. Bishop Curry will take office November 1, and will come to the meeting with a clean slate (insofar as any representative of ECUSA is able to do so). At least there are signs that he will meet his colleagues from an initial position that reflects more of a personal, evangelically-based humility than of an intellectually-based self-assurance or arrogance. If so, that will go a long way toward helping the Primates' conversations recover lost ground, and perhaps even move forward.

Nevertheless, neither ECUSA nor the Anglican Church of Canada have shown the least sign of moderating their separatist stances, and so there can be no return to the pre-2003 Communion. At the same time, their self-inflicted decline in members will lessen their ability to throw their weight around: can you imagine Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori agreeing to attend a meeting at which Archbishop Robert Duncan would also be present? The challenge to Archbishop Welby and the gathered Primates will be to find a path that will allow the greatest possible number of shattered relationships to heal, and so in time (perhaps) to move the Communion to a new consensus.

But for that to happen, the Anglican Communion Office (through both the Archbishop of Canterbury and its Secretariat) will have to distance itself further from financial and ideological dependency on ECUSA and its wealthy constituents, such as Trinity Wall Street. For too long now, from GAFCON's point of view, the revisionists have been calling the shots, but now there are signs that they at last are weakening. That is why Archbishop Idowu-Fearon will play a key role, along with Archbishop Welby, in resolving how best to start realigning the Communion at the upcoming Primates' Meeting, if that process is to begin at all.

If they try to help ECUSA and ACoC retain their erstwhile roles of influence, they will hasten the eventual disintegration of the Anglican Communion. Likewise, if they listen only to the voices of modernity, according to which each church's or denomination's view of Scripture needs to get in step with the culture, then they will seal that disintegration, by recognizing it as a fact that has already occurred. But if they actually listen to the voices that are seeking to hold the Communion in line with its traditional understanding of Scripture -- an understanding that stems from the very beginnings of the Anglican Church -- they may yet hope to call a halt to the disintegration, and to lay the first firm paving-stones for a Communion that will, one day and once again, derive its strength from its collective faith in the good news of Christ crucified.

The decision is in God's hands. Pray for the Primates, and (if you still treasure what once was there) for the lost Anglican Communion.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Standing up to the Obergefellers (3)

Now that the federal judge has ordered Rowan County's elected clerk released from federal prison so that she may resume her official duties, the Internet is rife with speculation as to whether or not she will go back to ordering (as she did before she was cited for contempt of court) that no marriage licenses be issued under her name at all. In order to cut through all the obfuscation that the left so delights in, let me use this post to lay out a few clear mileposts whose simple obviousness should be evident to anyone interested in a fair discussion.

First, let us review why Kim Davis was ordered to jail. In the wake of the legal confusion caused everywhere by the Obergefellers and their unilateral claim of federal authority to redefine marriage,  while not legislating from the bench, Kim Davis simply stopped issuing all marriage licenses in her county. Period.

All such licenses had previously gone out (by Kentucky law, again) over her name. Since she could not issue licenses to same-sex couples without violating the definition of "marriage" adopted by the people of Kentucky in its Constitution (which she had taken an oath to uphold, "so help me God"), and since she could not issue licenses only to male-female couples without violating the fiat of the majority in Obergefell, she had simply stopped issuing marriage licenses in her county altogether.

I submit that this was a perfectly rational response to the chaos the Obergefellers (as I choose to call them: Justices Kennedy, Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan) had created with their 5-4 ruling in that case (which I now sometimes call "the Obergefallen decision"). That ruling, which had no basis in the jurisprudence of our federal system, but was simply a blatant act of legislating a definition of marriage from the bench, was unobservant -- and disrespecting -- of the traditional restraints on its powers theretofore honored by the Supreme Court, and directly resulted (as the Justices in the minority so plainly warned) in the prompt jailing of a Christian for her sincerely-held religious beliefs.

For those on the left, Kim Davis faced no conflict whatsoever: she should hold her nose and issue licenses to whichever two people happened to ask for them. But religion comes cheap to those on the left: it is something always to be more honored in the breach than in the observance. If religion gets in the way of the left's agenda, it is yesterday's toast, to be discarded without a second thought.

Kim Davis, however, is not a fly-by-night Christian, who observes her religion only when no one else is looking, or could conceivably be bothered by it. By all the evidence (including her facing down the federal judge) she is (after an admittedly rough, secular past) a full-fledged, born-again Christian, who came by her beliefs at great personal cost and tribulation. She is thereby committed to them in a way that the "fly-by-nights" cannot understand. With her newly granted grace of God's forgiveness, Kim is very aware that salvation is not a matter of personal convenience, or accommodation to contemporary desires. And that understanding makes her persona non grata in the eyes of all the secularists who rejoiced at her imprisonment, because it makes her impervious to their demands.

So the ever-handy ACLU drummed up a case by which to sue her, recruiting two gay couples and two straight couples to say that she had denied their licenses. The suit, of course, was filed not in Kentucky state court, but in Judge Benning's federal court, because the Obergefellers had by their ruling ostensibly transformed marriage into a matter of federal constitutional law.

Judge Benning looked at the 5-4 ruling in Obergefell, and reasoned as follows:

"Obergefell is binding upon me as a federal court judge. So I am not free to hold that Kim Davis is within her constitutional rights to withhold marriage licenses from all applicants pending clarification of what law she should follow. Under the holding in Obergefell, which I am bound to apply to the facts of this case, she can neither refuse to license gay nor straight couples, and I will accordingly order her to do so at once. If she refuses to obey my order, I will hold her in contempt, and send her to jail -- because I don't think any fines would persuade her to act differently."

In so deciding, however, Judge Bunning accepted blindly the Obergefellers' premise that they were free to pass federal legislation from the judicial bench, in contravention of the very first sentence of the U.S. Constitution (after the Preamble). Article I, Section 1 begins: "All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives." (Emphasis added.)

I don't see in that language any sharing of the "legislative powers" with any other branch -- do you? How, then, do the Obergefellers get away with legislating a new definition of marriage, to be applied by all fifty States no matter what?

The true answer, which you will not read on any left-leaning blog, is this: They will get away with it only if we let them get away with it -- which is to say, if we do not come to the defense of Kim Davis.

Let us review one more time the impossible dilemma into which the Obergefellers' overreach has landed the Kim Davises of this country (i.e., officials charged with enforcing their State's laws while respecting the authority of the federal government, acting in its proper sphere):

They have commanded that Kentucky's laws defining marriage as only between a man and a woman be struck down as violating their view of the definition of "marriage" as prescribed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

At the same time, in their black-robed collective wisdom, they have declined to furnish the ordinary officials charged with enforcing the laws with a simply worded definition of what "marriage" means. They decree only: "If a State recognizes marriage between a man and a woman, it cannot also refuse to recognize 'marriage' (as we deem it) between those of the same sex."

So we have a judicially declared principle of law, which ought, in the Obergefell case, to apply only to those persons who were parties before the Court in that case.

But under our federal system, other federal courts, and State courts too, are required to recognize principles of federal law as declared by the United States Supreme Court.

And what, pray tell, transforms the ruling in Obergefell into a declaration of principles of federal law?

Is "marriage" a traditional area in which federal courts previously exercised their powers? No.

Well, what about "equal protection of the laws" under the Fourteenth Amendment? What about it?

Doesn't the Fourteenth Amendment require States to apply their laws equally to all people who are similarly situated? Yes, it does.

And aren't same-sex couples who want to get "married" in the same situation as male-female couples? Only if you ignore what the fifty States have always, since the founding of this country, regarded as constituting "marriage." Because if you accept their traditional definition of marriage as between a man and a woman, then you have no denial of "equal protection." 

It is not "discrimination" to deny "marriage" to couples who have never met the basic criteria for marriage -- any more than it is "discrimination" to deny South Carolina residents the right to vote in Kentucky elections.

OK, so let's ignore that, then. Why is the Supreme Court of the United States (or at least five of its Justices, who get to call themselves "the majority") not free to say just what "marriage" is? Because the only way they could do so is by passing a piece of federal legislation. And they are not Congress -- the only federal body the Constitution empowers to pass legislation binding on the fifty States.

Why does redefining "marriage" involve legislation? Because you are not redefining it just for the couples involved in the Obergefell case; you claim to be redefining it for all people in all fifty States. And that is the function of legislation -- as even the most die-hard liberal will have to admit. 

I like to test liberals on the limits of what they would accept from a Supreme Court majority. Currently, my favorite is this:

Suppose a majority of the Justices of the Supreme Court rule that every business in the United States with one or more employees must allow at least one day off from work, in every seven-day period, and in default of choosing a different day, the day off must be Wednesday (to avoid clashes with religious groups). They do so on the grounds -- urged by the labor unions in the case before them -- that the "general welfare" clause of the Constitution allows them so to rule in order to promote the general welfare of all employees in all fifty States.


1. Would you uphold their power to make such a ruling? Why, or why not?

2. What if an employee wants Wednesday off, but his employer decrees that it shall be Thursday, because that is the day that the employer's religion requires that he rest? Does the employee have a federal case? Why, or why not?

3. What if a business (say, like Uber) claims they have no "employees", and therefore that the ruling does not apply to them? Who decides what an "employee" is?

4. What if a church-sponsored school claims that it is not a "business", but a "religious institution"? Again, who decides the question?

Do you begin to see what I mean? Can you begin to understand why the ruling in Obergefell is not a legitimate ruling for the U.S. Supreme Court to make, given its limited powers under the Constitution? Once the Court -- or a bare majority of its Justices -- ignores those limited powers, where do things stop?