Non Placet

There’s plenty that Pittsburgh’s Bishop Robert Duncan and I disagree about. No need to retail all those differences; they’ll be obvious to anyone who knows of us both. I do not understand why, however, the leadership of the Episcopal Church found it necessary to construe the canons in so very unconvincing a way, so as to be able to depose Bishop Duncan before he had the opportunity to commit the sorts of act that might (arguably) have warranted deposing him. (I don’t think the canon that’s being used to depose bishops who can no longer cooperate with the U.S. instantiation of the Episcopal Church should be so used, either, but even if it were, this action seems to premature to me.)
When a sizable proportion of Episcopal congregations blatantly ignore the canons every Sunday (offering communion to unbaptized people, to take just one example), it seems a vicious case of selective enforcement: find a charge to level against “the bad guys,” then force it through willy-nilly. I would not want to be so treated by those who disagree with me, and I cannot in conscience support that treatment when it is applied to someone with whom I disagree.
This sort of politics does not commend the gospel, nor does it proceed from a sound theology of the church’s catholicity, nor can it even claim the shabby banner of “inclusiveness.” However much I dissent from Bishop Duncan’s teachings and tactics, the end does not justify the means. Instead, the unexplained heavy-handedness with which the institutional force of the canons have been brought to bear against Bishop Duncan amplifies my sympathy for him and alienates me from leaders with whom I might otherwise be aligned.

5 thoughts on “Non Placet

  1. So are you saying you expect church leadership to act like Christians? Pretty tall order.

    I don’t mean to make light of Episcopal woes. I have many friends in the Episcopal church and I’m saddened for and with them as the mess continues to get messier.

  2. This would make sense to me if I thought that Duncan couldn’t do any real harm. But he can, and has, and continues to do.

    I agree with you that it is foolish and pointless to use the particular canon; we should repeal it and simply have trials that proceed by default when people don’t bother showing up. Trial courts have all kind of power to prevent ridiculous delays and need not by stymied by people who don’t bother to defend themselves.

    But I have no sympathy with Duncan. Maybe that’s in part because he has made his name saying that I’m not just misguided, but evil, and you get to be merely misguided. I think that gay people, in general, are in a better place to understand the harm that Duncan does.

  3. Paul, yes — I hope others learn from our ugly developments.
    Thomas, if we grant that Bishop Duncan exercises all the maleficence people ascribe to him (and I stress that I’m proposing this only for the sake of argument), he still has not “abandoned the communion of this church” as that canon ought to be understood, and his deposition was not decided by the majority of the bishops eligible to vote. Whether one likes him or not, the point of having a constitution and canons involves equity and integrity, and it undermines arguments in favor of the continuing ministry of, for instance, Bishop Robinson of New Hampshire if people can depose bishops for not being the kind of bishop we like. The perils of this practice are so great — to canonical process, to the spiritual well-being of people who presume to decide who is so dreadful that the canons must be wracked in order to find grounds for deposing them, to those who followed due canonical procedures in electing and consecrating the unpopular bishop (of whatever stripe) — that regardless of whether I support Bishop Duncan’s outlook or policies, I must protest his treatment.

  4. It seems pretty clear to me that abandoning the communion of this church (*this* church) includes a bishop seeking formal admission into a different church without proper letters dimissory.

    But I agree completely that the summary canon is pointless and should not be used. You are missing perhaps my point, which is that the use of an inappropriate canon (I protested its use by Charles Bennison long ago) does not mean that Duncan should not be deposed, and certainly generates no sympathy for me.

    Right result, right defendant, wrong process. (And it was decided by a majority of the bishops eligible to vote; the point of that language in parliamentary procedure is to make abstentions into nay votes; it does not mean, and has *never* meant, a majority of those who are eligible to *attend*. Those who are absent are not eligible to vote, because physical presence is necessary in the absence of a proxy rule.)

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