Thursday, January 24, 2008

Interesting days with our schismatic bishops. Bishop Schofield of San Joachin has been inhibited, meaning he is not authorized to perform any function as associated with his office, -- a first step in his being deposed for abandoning the communion of the Episcopal Church. Bishop Duncan has not been so inhibited. In both instances there is a committee that serves as a kind of grand jury and then the three senior active Bishops of the church have to agree to the Presiding Bishop’s action of inhibition. In the case of Bishop Duncan, both Bishop Lee of Virginia and Bishop Wimberley of Texas decided that because Duncan has not led his diocese to vote for some kind of separation or realignment that as yet he has not done enough to show his abandonment of the church.

I’m not certain that I understand enough of what is involved in the charges but I thought that inhibition had to do with the actions of an individual rather than a diocese. On that basis and without benefit of a confidential report (merely reading the press) Bishop Duncan gave up on the communion of the Episcopal Church a long time ago.

When I was an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill I was on a student committee of the Chapel of the Cross where Peter Lee was the rector. Our job was to give our response to various candidates he was considering as an associate for campus ministry, --essentially the Episcopal Chaplain for the University. Bob Duncan was the man he called. I remember the occasion well as the putative Bishop was taken on by a pretty hard core evangelical student about various matters and Duncan tried to support that student’s basic positions while arguing for a more generous understanding of God and God’s intentions toward humanity.

No too long after that I visited a friend at Oxford University and went to hear Fr. Duncan preach at the Anglo-Catholic St. Mary’s Church there on the Syro- Phoenician woman who wanted to eat the scraps form the master’s table, talking about how Jesus was a Jew of his time and how he changed his mind.

Later, now ordained, I returned to the diocese of North Carolina and reconnected with Bob who had built a major Episcopal network of students in Bible Study groups who gathered for worship late on Wednesday evenings. By all accounts it was a model chaplaincy and a genuine Episcopal alternative to some of the more established (and conservative) campus groups like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes or Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship. He was always somewhat Anglo-Catholic in style and preference in those days, but able to represent the liberality of a Church who takes seriously the notion of the Incarnation.

He subsequently went to be rector of a university parish in Newark, Delaware and then on to Pittsburgh where he was Canon to Alden Hathaway, the Bishop. Hathaway had previously served in Northern Virginia and had at some point in his ministry moved to the Evangelical view of the world enough that he was an active supporter of the Trinity School of Theology in his diocese, itself a reaction to the perceived theological liberalism of Virginia Theological Seminary. I saw Bishop Duncan a couple of times in those years at various church meetings, but we did not really stay in contact. I remember his hospitality, his wife, and his great big dogs. I remember him as a good priest. And I do not fully understand how any currents of our church’s life have shaped his actions and statements in recent years.

Bishop Lee, his former boss, is coming in for some criticism on the blogosphere for being weak or somehow acting as though he is in an old boys club of some sort. I would take him at his word:

I along with the two other most senior active bishops in the House of Bishops were asked by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori to review the evidence and give consent to moving forward with the inhibitions of the Rt. Rev. Robert Duncan, Bishop of Pittsburgh and the Rt. Rev. John-David Schofield, Bishop of San Joaquin on the charge of abandonment of the communion of this Church. I gave my consent for the inhibition of Bishop Schofield. It is clear that by his actions and their result he has abandoned the communion of this Church. I did not give my consent for the inhibition of Bishop Duncan at this time. The Diocese of Pittsburgh, which Bishop Duncan leads, has not formalized any change to their membership within the Episcopal Church. I do not take either of these actions lightly, the giving or withholding of consent to these inhibitions. I fear that Bishop Duncan’s course may be inevitable. But I also believe that it is most prudent to take every precaution and provide every opportunity for Bishop Duncan and the leadership of the Diocese of Pittsburgh to turn back from the course they seem to desire and instead to remain in the Episcopal Church.

The Rt. Rev. Peter James Lee
Bishop of Virginia

Peter Lee has always been generous, perhaps to a fault, to the conservative Christians in his parish and then in his diocese, while also being clear about his own positions. (He supported the consecration of Gene Robinson, and has taken no end of grief in the form of personal attacks from those same people.) He styles himself a centrist in our church and has been a magnificent bishop in a complex diocese for a long time. We are not in touch on a terribly regular basis these days, but I am proud to count him a friend and can only imagine how saddened he is by the decisions or those parishes of his diocese, and particularly their clergy, who have decided to leave the Episcopal Church, and initiate law suits for their property on the day after their votes to leave to which he and the diocese now have to respond. I am among those who believe the diocesan leadership would be betraying their trust if they did not respond, whatever their personal preferences and desires in the mater might be.

I don’t really know what the consequences of inhibition and subsequent deposition would be. I imagine that it will make clear that people so inhibited are no longer representatives of the Episcopal Church in any sense. I can’t imagine their not going about their business as usual claiming –presumably accurately although in direct contravention of the Windsor Report and therefore beyond the Anglican pale—that they are bishops of the Southern Cone (or wherever). I’m also not sure about next steps but think that a vote on inhibition goes to the whole House of Bishops when next they meet.

On the basis of what I know and understand now, it is clear to me that Bishop Duncan has no interest in the wellbeing of the Episcopal Church and has clearly abandoned communion with us, denying the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Church and therefore the vows of his Episcopal ordination. I have no doubt he has done this as a matter of conscience and find his desire to ‘realign’ the church misguided and unhelpful to our mission and ministry. His interest in keeping the lines that he has crossed muddy still doesn’t move the lines.

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