Thursday, December 06, 2007

And the Bishop Is an Honorable Man

Bishop John-David Schofield, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, has responded to a letter from Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori. Her letter entreated him to “reconsider and draw back” from actions in the coming diocesan convention that would, in the opinion of those supporting them, remove the Diocese of San Joaquin from the Episcopal Church.

Bishop Schofield’s is the third response to the third such letter. Former letters went to Bishop Duncan of Pittsburgh and to Bishop Iker of Fort Worth. The three responses have been different, more different than the letters sent to each bishop. Bishop Duncan’s was short and to the point, if not sweet. It asserted resolution and sad necessity, using words from Scripture and the implied image of Martin Luther. Bishop Iker’s response was longer, and full of angry projection and disdain.

Bishop Schofield’s is different yet again. It is well written and subtle. It seems to meet a pastoral initiative with a pacific response. It even includes consideration that the diocesan convention might step back, and that he would then continue in the Episcopal Church, if in dissent.

To say it is “pacific,” however, is not to imply it is either passive or pacifist. If ever there was a case of damning with faint praise this would be it – well, perhaps, if there were actually any praise intended.

While saying he appreciated the “pastoral tone” of Bishop Jefferts Schori’s letter, he makes clear his perspective. The Episcopal Church is “an apostate institution that has minted a new religion irreconcilable with the Anglican faith,” guilty of “false teaching and sacramental actions explicitly contrary to Scripture.” Bishop Jefferts Schori is a liar, who “in Dar es Salaam, and in the presence of the assembled Primates... verbally signified... agreement to [the proposed scheme for alternative oversight]. By the time you returned to the United States, however, you denied your public statement and declared you had only meant to bring it back for further consideration.” He appears certain enough of his view through his window into her soul.

He, of course, does not need association with such a person or such an institution. “My understanding of the authority of the Holy Scriptures, as well as Catholic Faith and Order are shared by the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Churches and by some 60 million faithful Anglicans worldwide.” However, current understandings of "Catholic Faith and Order" in the Roman Catholic or Orthodox churches would not recognize his orders as valid. However he may dissent from matters of discipline in the Episcopal Church, his orders are Anglican, and so not recognized.

He asserts that the invitation of the Province of the Southern Cone to provide oversight meets the provisions of the Dar es Salaam scheme. That is, of course, incorrect, in that the Dar es Salaam recommendation required official participation of the Episcopal Church and of primates delegated by the Primates and by Canterbury in the decision. Whether that recommendation, did or did not violate Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church, this invitation is certainly no substitute. Here there is no participation, either from the Episcopal Church or from the wider Communion, in any form.

Will the diocesan convention reconsider? I pray it will, but I have little expectation. Certainly, Bishop Schofield is clear what he thinks necessary. And if they reconsider, will Bishop Schofield stay? He claims he will:

In the event that the clergy and laity reject this offer from the Southern Cone, I would, of course, follow your recommendation to participate as a dissenter of the present unbiblical course of action being pursued by the House of Bishops. To do anything else would be to abandon God’s people of San Joaquin and, in the end, prove to be a hireling and not a shepherd. For me, at least, this is the honorable course the Lord would have me follow.

If he did, of course, I would wonder about the content and the intent of his dissent. After all, he has labeled the Episcopal Church “apostate,” and the present course of action “unbiblical.” I believe that he means what he says.

But I don’t think he’s worried. I think he’s comfortable that the majority of diocesan convention agrees with him. I think that, with his full support, the diocesan convention will effect the changes in its Constitution, in pretense of separating from the Episcopal Church, and will seek support and “protection” from the Province of the Southern Cone.

And so Bishop Schofield has laid out the choices he sees. He can violate his (thrice) signed commitment to “conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church” (and, yes, the Book of Common Prayer is that specific), and ancient catholic tradition; or he can continue to “dissent” in a Church he considers “apostate.” Either course will certainly be hard; but I can’t imagine how either course can be considered “honorable.”

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