Sunday, March 30, 2008

Never, Ever Pray For Justice

Cany, who seems rather pleasant, posted the following comment, below:
Matthew: couple of thoughts:

1. 3 of the members of the standing committee belong to churches that have voted to go south. they are, then, in the southern cone, not TEC. they must be a member of TEC to sit on the standing committee. therefore, at best, the standing committee has three members... cannot function.

2. the PB has a fiduciary responsibility to TEC... for assets. she cannot just turn away from that responsibility.

3. how the HOB issue will turn is unknown, but the VERY SAME process has been used in depositions of other bishops... and not a blink.

4. there are other churches, above and beyond the 18 that are staying with TEC in the SJDiocese who have still not decided what direction to take. members of churches who did leave to go south are migrating back to TEC.

5. Shofield left TEC, not the reverse. He has no right to assets in the church. Christ would not support thievery. There is no special commutation for bishops who act badly... and there shouldn't be. If a vestry embezzled funds, would we excuse that?

blessings, cany


Sounds reasonable, right? Unfortunately there are a few problems with Cany's message.

First is a mea culpa. I should know better than to post a 'woulda coulda shoulda' post. They can lead to all sorts of pernicious problems, such as conflation of timeline. At the time PB Schori failed to recognize the San Joaquin Standing Committee, it had six, not three, members. I'm sorry if I were less than clear about when the things I outlined should have occurred. That the churches they belonged to voted to go, could not have happened. Remember 'individuals can go, not churches, not diocese and certainly not property.' By the official stance of the Episcopal Church, those churches could not have left. The SC members therefore did not leave.

Secondly, as an attorney who mostly does real property, trusts, and estates, I am up on fiduciary responsibility. As the Presiding Bishop, the PB is first and foremost a bishop, one who has sworn to defend the faith, as well as uphold the canons and covenants of the Episcopal Church. There is a Bible verse that appertains to the theft of property, 1 Corinthians 6: 1-11. However, I think 'theft' is a rather strong word. Certainly, the national church has contributed little to no funds to the former Diocese of San Joaquin or its individual churches. The Diocese, or rather Bishop Schofield has legal title to the property. The Dennis Canon is an attempt, and the California Courts are about to decide how successful, to insert an equitable ownership claim by the Episcopal Church. There is also an equitable claim that could be made by the individual donors to the churches in question. The term 'theft' is therefore a prejudicial and un-Christian word to use as it is apparent to anyone other than a loyalist of either side, that there are facts and circumstances that can justify either parties position.

Third, the point is about prior behaviour. The claim is made that it justifies the current bad behaviour as it set a precedent. If you steal a dollar from me every day for a week, can you then claim when I catch you seven days later stealing again, that your prior behaviour established a precedent? The bishops in question did not and are not disputing the charges. Personally, I think Bishop Schofield is no longer an Episcopalian bishop. So does he. That still does not excuse a failure to follow proper procedure. And that is what all this is about. A failure to follow proper procedure. There is a widely shared perception that 815 has been cutting corners to achieve desired results (Compare and contrast the processes for approval of Bishops Lawrence and Johnston for example).

Fourth, I have yet to count eighteen churches forming the Diocese of San Joaquin. I put the count at twelve. I could be wrong, but I'm getting my information from their own website. I would love to receive any additional information as to what other churches have joined or rejoined the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin. As for individuals moving back and forth between the two diocese, I don't think anyone is shocked or surprised by such happening.

Fifth, we are back to the 't' word again ("theft"). I would note in passing it is a crime in California to steal property. The value of the property in question is more than enough to cause the stealing of it to be a felony. I seem to have missed the news that criminal charges have been filed against Bishop Schofield. Please see point two, supra, about property theft and the proper reaction to it.

To hammer home my primary concern, I'm not interested in this because I'm a member of the Province of the Southern Cone. My perspective is that of an Episcopalian. I do not see how my church is diminished by the loss of certain real property in California. I very much do see how my church is diminished by a substantial number of former members in California.

That my church's leadership is more concerned about the loss of property that has been and is being used by the people that left, rather than the people themselves tells me that the leadership of my church's priorities are wrong. I do not mean a little wrong, I mean totally wrong. I get rather wound up when I think about this.

There is no justification for the 'don't let the door hit you on the arse on way out' attitude that I hear from the church loyalists. No justification. None.

When you cite Jesus as justification for not excusing theft, you run afoul of His own words. (Luke 6: 27-36). The problem is I keep hearing people clamouring for justice. No Christian ever wants justice, not ever. The true radical nature of Christianity is shown by its demand that we deal more than justly with others. We must deal lovingly, even when we are dealing with the unjust.
I fail to feel the love expressed in any of the positions taken by 815. On the other hand, Bishop Schofield, whose position does have some merit, has let it be known that churches who do not wish to break apart, may remain Episcopal. However much you may despise him, that is the right thing to do. It is the right thing to do for 815 as well.

On a meta note. As I alluded to above, I really don't care whether Bishop Schofield is counted as an Episcopalian or not. The same holds true for Bishop Cox. I do care, very much, about due process and fairness. A great deal of my concern stems from what is likely looming for Bishops Duncan, Iker and MacBurney. As Cany mentioned fiduciary responsibility, another concern stems from my fiscal concern that the church is spending its resources wisely. Adding together the sums spent or committed to be spent as a result of the San Joaquin morass as well the Title IV procedures and the ongoing civil litigation, the Episcopal Church has burnt through over a million dollars on all this. I'm just a humble attorney, I don't have anything close to a million bucks lying around.

Finally, it's patently obvious that no one at 815 has really done a cost-benefit analysis on all this. The Episcopal church is already closing more churches than it is opening. These churches are being sold to raise cash to support the hierarchy. As has been noted by others, the Presiding Bishop is dead set against any settlement with those who wish to leave. This includes disallowing buy outs of church property. How is that being fiduciarily responsible? How is that being fair, let alone loving?

The Gospels make quite clear that the one thing one should never ask for is justice. When we ask for justice, God looks at our own actions. As the confession makes quite clear, all have fallen short of the Glory of God. None of us ever deal justly. And therefore all of us are rightly condemned. I know all this is kind of new to progressives, but it really is all sound doctrine. I'm not running off the rails here. What we need to ask for is Mercy. And that is what we are all called to demonstrate. That is what we do not demonstrate in regards to our dealings with those who wish to leave.

I am seriously tempted to despair when I contemplate my church. We are not behaving justly. We do not exemplify Christ to the world. We repent of sins we did not commit, in times past. We fail to acknowledge the faults we do possess. And we love money and property more than we love our fellow Christians, with whom we disagree. We are not a church, where all are welcome. We are a clique, where if you hold the trendy opinions and agree with the cool kids, you get to hang out. And our circle of pals is going to keep shrinking because no adult really is very interested in joining a clique. Adults do care about learning about who God is, what God has done for them and how they ought to believe and behave as a result of that.

Perhaps we ought to sell the assets of the national church, convert it to cash and use the cash to feed the hungry in Africa and India. Perhaps we need to learn to live as a poor church. I know that we need to live as a humble church.

5 comments:

robroy said...

I have been writing newspaper editors to correct the 18 parishes bologna (or baloney). This is what I wrote the stockton Record reporters:

Rev. Deacon Rolin Bruno had pointed to Mr. Reid out the incorrectness of the "18 parishes have voted to remain in the Episcopal Church" statement. Unfortunately, it is repeated in your next article by Ms Burkin. What is true is that 18 parishes had representatives at the special convention, many of these representing the very small minority in churches that voted overwhelmingly to seek protection under the Southern Cone from the predations of the liberal, canon law flouting Episcopal Church hierarchy. I asked on one of the Episcopal blogs for the correct information. Father Dan Martins was a priest in residence in San Joaquin at St. John's Stockton, who is orthodox but wanted to remain in the Episcopal church. He has written in open disagreement with Bp Schofield. He foresaw the coming events and transferred to Indiana. Thus, he makes a very well connected, "outside observer." This is what Father Dan has to say,

I’ve posted this elsewhere, but it’s important information, so I’ll repeat it: A total of seven intact (more or less, at least--one never knows what fallout any of them have suffered from the right flank) congregations (out of some 47) from the “old” DSJ are part of the new structure--i.e. with the real estate, buildings, and other property. Of those seven, four are (or had been, at any rate) self-supporting parishes: St John the Baptist, Lodi; St Anne’s, Stockton; Christ the King, Riverbank (suburban Modesto), and Holy Family, Fresno. These four parishes and their clergy have for several years formed the core of Remain Episcopal in SJ. The other three are St Matthew’s, San Andreas (a small aided parish); St Clare of Assisi, Avery (very small mission in remote mountain community); and Our Saviour, Hanford (parish recently reduced to “aided” status, highly conflicted, led presently by an orthodox priest). To this list, by all accounts, we might now add St John’s, Tulare, led by the courageous Fr Rob Eaton. Any of the others on the putative list of 18 consist of new plants (Grace, Bakersfield and St Mary-of-the-Mountains, Sonora) and “in exile” remnants from parishes that moved south with the mainstream of the diocese. Of the “intact” parishes, Lodi is clearly the most substantial in terms of numbers and finances (large pastoral/small “transitional” in size). But they are currently without a permanent rector, and while they have an enviable physical plant that is only about five years old, on a great piece of land, they are heavily mortgaged, with monthly interest alone running in five figures.

Now, in Father Rob Eaton's small church in Tulare, the vote was something like 40 to 20. Your paper had an article on that unfortunate, very divided church.

Thus, the correct statement would be, "Approximately 7 or 8 parishes voted to remain with Episcopal Church with dissenting minorities from 10 or 11 churches joining them."

Father Dan has blog, cariocaconfessions.blogspot.com, or he can be reached at his new church's phone number at (574) 267-6266.

Matthew said...

Robroy,

Thank you for your efforts in keeping the record straight. Your figures tally with mine. These inconsistencies of easily verifiable facts really do show what's going on with our church, don't they?

Cany said...

Matthew:

your post is very long, so it will take me a bit to respond. but respond I will.

i'll leave it at that, for now, but have an interest in some of your comments beyond what seems apparent.

Blessing to you. cany

Zana said...

"When we ask for justice, God looks at our own actions. As the confession makes quite clear, all have fallen short of the Glory of God. None of us ever deal justly. And therefore all of us are rightly condemned."

Exactly! Thank you for putting it so succinctly! I've been thinking about justice recently (not just in terms of the VA decision) and had been trying to formulate a brief statement on what it really means when we ask for "Justice". God's justice is terrible to behold - only for the sacrifice of His Son are we spared the consequences.

Matthew said...

You are welcome! Always great to hear from another cat person!

I agree with your assessment of where we stand with God.