Episcopalians in the dock (day two)

CourtroomJudgeWe are now in day two of the post-Dar es Salaam world and the focus is moving -- as it should in U.S. newspapers -- back to the local and national angles of this global Anglican crisis. As you would imagine, the Episcopal Church establishment is not very happy at the moment.

Clearly, the Global South primates intend to keep the First World leaders on the witness stand. Click here for yesterday's post that contains many links to commentary on both sides in the blogosphere. It is no surprise that many Episcopalians are now saying that it's time to take their cathedral keys and walk away.

The bluntest language is in The Washington Post (no wire story today), and The New York Times has a defiant quote from the bishop of the Diocese of New York, which should raise some eyebrows. It is also refreshing that the left wing of the Episcopal Church is now being ultra-candid and, thus, so is the mainstream press. Check out the lede on Laurie Goodstein's roundup in the Times:

There was a time when the Episcopal Church in the United States was known as "the Republican Party at prayer," but in the last 30 years it has evolved into the Rainbow Coalition of Christianity.

There are hip-hop Masses, American Indian rituals to install a new presiding bishop and legions of gay and straight priests who don the rainbow stoles of gay liberation. Its pews are full of Roman Catholics and Christians from other traditions attracted by its aura of radical acceptance.

Now the conservatives who numerically dominate the global Anglican Communion have handed their Episcopal branch in the United States an ultimatum that requires the church to reel in the rainbow if it wants to remain a part of the Communion.

Many would raise questions about that remark that Episcopal "pews are full," since the church is still in an era of statistical decline and its few megachurches tend to lean right, especially across the Sunbelt. Still, I think Goodstein's point is solid. There was a time when most converts to the Episcopal Church came from the evangelical side of the aisle. Today, what flow there is -- especially in blue zip codes -- probably comes from the edgy left. That has to affect the climate in the all-powerful Northeast region of the church that surrounds the major media.

Anyway, the Episcopal Church has always attracted converts. The interesting question is why its membership numbers decline, even with converts coming in the doors. But I digress.

Here is one of the hot quotes that will be making the online rounds today:

In interviews yesterday, some liberal and moderate leaders who constitute a majority in the American church voiced everything from confusion to serious misgivings to defiance. Many took umbrage at what they saw as meddling by foreign primates who are imposing their culture and theological interpretations on the American church.

"Being part of the Anglican Communion is very important to me," said Bishop Mark S. Sisk of New York. "But if the price of that is I have to turn my back on the gay and lesbian people who are part of this church and part of me, I won't do that."

Meanwhile, there are some Episcopalians who think they have spotted a way out of this latest trial. The key person is former New York Times and Washington Post reporter Jim Naughton, who now serves as the spokesman for the Diocese of Washington.

OtisCharlesWeddingWhat's his take? Click here (and here) to find out. But here is his theory in the Times report, although in this case it is being voiced by other people. Interesting.

The communique calls for the House of Bishops to "make an unequivocal common covenant that the bishops will not authorize any Rite of Blessing for same-sex unions."

Some liberals yesterday were latching on to what they saw as a loophole because the wording specified that the bishops would not "authorize" rites. There are many bishops who have not formally authorized ceremonial rites for gay unions, but who nevertheless allow priests to perform them. If this is all the communique is requiring, they suggested, the Episcopal Church can live with that.

"Blessings happen, sure," said Bishop Sisk of New York. "But I didn't authorize them."

So Sisk is willing to leave the Anglican Communion, but he doesn't think he's guilty as charged. Interesting.

Meanwhile, the big news in Alan Cooperman's piece in the Post is not in the lede. You have to scroll down a bit for the good stuff.

One of the key passages in the Tanzania communique was the request -- some would say "demand" -- by the primates that lawyers on both sides stop fighting over the properties and assets of the conservative parishes that want to remain Anglican, but flee the Episcopal Church. This is a huge story in the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington.

So Cooperman did talk with "Martyn Minns" of Truro Church in Fairfax -- note that there is no "Bishop," no "Rt. Rev.," no "the Rev.," no nothing in front of his name -- and with the Diocese of Virginia.

U.S. conservatives hailed the communique. Martyn Minns, of Truro Church in Fairfax, one of 15 Northern Virginia congregations that have voted since 2005 to separate from the Episcopal Church, said it gives the U.S. church just "one last chance."

... The communique also recommends against litigation to settle property disputes between Episcopal dioceses and departing congregations. Minns, now a bishop in a missionary branch of the Anglican Church of Nigeria, said he hoped that the Episcopal bishop of Virginia, Peter Lee, would agree to mediation.

But Patrick Getlein, spokesman for the Virginia diocese, said it has no plan to drop its legal claims. The departures "set in motion a spiritual and legal conflict that at this point remains unresolved," he said.

I think it will be interesting to see if a split begins on the Episcopal left between those who are ready to leave the Anglican Communion and those who want to fight on. The question, of course, is how a departure by the Episcopal Church would affect the standings of millions and millions of dollars in property and endowments. Is there a document somewhere that defines the "Episcopal Church" as the body that is in communion with Canterbury?

Let me stress that Naughton's theory about the U.S. simply declining to "authorize" an "official" liturgy has merit -- as spin and as a tactic in a legal argument. The wording is what it is. Still, I don't think there is any doubt about the intent of the primates in the communique document as a whole.

In my Scripps Howard News Service column this week, I note that the Episcopal Church has been using this "don't ask, don't tell" approach to same-sex rites for some time now. The primates know that and have addressed that issue in the communique.

One final question, if I may. Are there bishops in the Church of England who are using this same "look the other way" strategy on same-sex rites? And does the Tanzania communique apply to them as well? Just asking.

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