Here they stand, er, leave

pittsburghbishopMan, the hits keep on coming. The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh voted to leave the Episcopal Church and realign with an Anglican province in another yet-to-be-determined country. Ann Rodgers, who writes religion news for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and is a board member of the Religion Newswriters Association, has been covering the story. Apparently Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori warned the diocese that she would remove Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan (pictured) from office if the diocese voted to leave. Rodgers went to the annual convention where laypeople and clergy voted by very large margins to leave:

"We have a tough road ahead. We will be faithful and charitable and do everything we can to help those congregations who are uneasy about this, or who may be very opposed to this, to be part of our fellowship," Bishop Duncan said after the vote. During his speech prior to the vote, he proposed finding ways for two local Anglican dioceses, one of which would be the minority still aligned with the Episcopal Church, to share important assets such as Trinity Cathedral and Sheldon Calvary Camp.

He read the brief reply to Bishop Jefferts Schori. The first of its three lines was a famous quote from Martin Luther when he broke with the Catholic Church: "Here I stand. I can do no other." It continued, "I will neither compromise the faith once and for all delivered to the saints, nor will I abandon the sheep who elected me to protect them."

Rodgers reports that the vote needs to be approved again at next year's convention, after which the diocese will choose a province to join. She gets the church's position on the matter and provides some context:

Because of the requirement to vote again next year, "Today's action of the Diocese of Pittsburgh is not final," said Robert Williams, director of communications for the Episcopal Church. "But, more to the point, dioceses do not leave the Episcopal Church. Dioceses are set in place by the churchwide general convention."

The divisions between liberal and conservative Episcopalians, and between many of the U.S. bishops and their counterparts in the global South, derive from differences over biblical authority and interpretation. Many conservatives say their main concern is that some bishops do not believe that Jesus was God incarnate.

Wait, you mean it's not all about sex? Who knew?

So nice to see Rodgers explain the concerns from a broader context. Rodgers writes that at least three other dioceses have initiated or are contemplating leaving the Episcopal Church. Williams is probably correct that dioceses can't leave the church. But they might not have many parishioners left if the votes continue this way.

Rodgers interviews various folks who opposed the vote and says convention participants discussed the chance of litigation and pension losses.

"At the end of the day, the issues before us aren't about canons and conventions and procedures and lawsuits. They are about the centrality of the cross of Christ," said the Rev. Jonathan Millard, rector of Ascension parish, Oakland, who introduced the resolution.

Not all theological conservatives advocated breaking now. The Rev. Daniel Hall, an Episcopalian working at First Lutheran Church, Downtown, said he shared Bishop Duncan's theological concerns, but that the primates of the Anglican Communion should be allowed more time to try to resolve the situation.

"I cannot support this resolution because of this time of spiritual desolation in which I find myself ... St. Ignatius commends us to refrain from making significant decisions when we find ourselves so desolated," he said.

Though I didn't excerpt them all here, Rodgers quoted folks from all along the spectrum. Her lengthy story helped explain and flesh out the raw numbers of the vote. We'll be sure to check out her follow up stories in the coming year.

The New York Times had a brief story on the vote. It emphasized how Jefferts Schori had promised repercussions against Duncan. I think it would be interesting for a reporter to explain why Episcopal leadership is so hardcore when it comes to canonical issues and so lenient when it comes to theology, church teaching and worship style. To be clear, I'm not saying that critically. If one understands Anglican and Episcopal structure it is certainly defensible and understandable. I just think the seeming incongruity should be explained.

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