Thursday, October 13, 2011

'EXCOMMUNICATION OF TRUTH'

Bishop James R. Mathes, of the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego, tells the true story at the Daily Episcopalian and corrects the muddled conglomeration of misinformation from the article at the Wall Street Journal titled "Twenty-first Century Excommunication” and the accompanying video. Shame on the WSJ for this grossly inaccurate report! Where in heaven's name did the reporter, Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, get her information? The spin in the story, and it's all spin and no true story, seems to come from the breakaways who believe they can leave the Episcopal Church and take the silver on their way out.

Bishop Mathes' response in its entirety is posted below:
In an online story published by The Wall Street Journal, titled “Twenty-first Century Excommunication,” and accompanied by a video interview of the reporter, Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, the recent property disputes of The Episcopal Church were grossly mischaracterized. I have served as the Episcopal bishop of San Diego for almost seven years, and in that capacity dealt with three congregations in which the ordained leaders and their followers attempted to leave the Episcopal Church with parish property. In these dealings, I was threatened with death and told I will go to hell by those who claim to love Jesus more than I do. Other colleagues have had similar experiences, from death threats to being spit at during church services. Ms. Hemingway would have you believe that the animus we have received is about scriptural interpretation, but make no mistake: this is about power.

To fully understand this situation, it is important to grasp the canonical (i.e. legal) structure of The Episcopal Church. Parishes are creations of the diocese in which they are situated, in some cases deriving their tax exempt status because they are an irrevocable part of the diocese. As a condition of ordination, clergy vow obedience to their bishop. Congregations begin as mission churches under the direct supervision and financial support of the bishop with property held by the diocese. When such a church becomes a parish, by vote of diocesan legislature, the congregation pledges to be subordinate to the constitution and canons of the Episcopal Church as well as the constitution and canons of the diocese. After becoming a parish, they may incorporate under the religious incorporation statutes of the state in which the congregation is situated. The diocese will usually transfer title to real property to the parish at that time to be held in trust for The Episcopal Church.

When individuals purported to alienate property which had be given to The Episcopal Church, I was bound by my fiduciary role as a bishop to prevent that from happening. Because The Episcopal Church, like so many others, follows state laws of incorporation, I had no alternative but to file suit in civil court to remedy the matter. This is analogous to a landlord finally going to civil court to gain relief from a non-paying renter or an owner using legal means to deal with a squatter. Thus, those leaving The Episcopal Church were catalysts of these law suits by breaking their solemn vows and by attempting to seize property they had no right to possess.

What is particularly regrettable about Ms. Hemingway’s piece is confusion about the relationship between The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, which is easily remedied with a simple visit to the Anglican Communion’s official website. There you will find every diocese of The Episcopal Church in their cycle of prayer; you will not find The Anglican Church in North American on that list. This is not to say they do not need our prayers. It is simply an indicator of who is an Anglican and who has merely appropriated the label. You will not find Missouri Synod Lutherans there either. Thus, The Episcopal Church remains a constituent member of the Anglican Communion. Despite Ms. Hemingway’s interpretations, our leader (called a primate), the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, is a participant in the Meeting of Primates of the Anglican Communion; Robert Duncan, the leader of the breakaway Anglican Church in North America, is not. At our last House of Bishops meeting, a gathering of all bishops of The Episcopal Church, we were visited by the primates of Japan and Central Africa. Like an eclectic extended family, we have our differences, but we regularly gather together.

Ms. Hemingway suggests that The Episcopal Church is depriving these departing Episcopalians of a relationship to Anglican bishops and foreign dioceses. Oddly, these individuals claim to desire a relationship with a bishop of their own choosing. But bishops are those who by definition maintain order and oversight over the church. To put it in historical terms, this is rather like choosing to secede from the nation when the current leadership is not to your liking. Thus, when the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church urges her colleagues not to provide aid and comfort to those who would undermine our church, she has history on her side.

In the final analysis, no one has been excommunicated; rather some individuals have left our church. On their way out, they have tried to take what does not belong to them and, in an unimaginative attempt to cover their unseemly behavior, they have pointed the finger at their victim, The Episcopal Church. The Wall Street Journal and Ms. Hemingway have either been duped or shown a stunning lack of care in reporting. The only thing in this story that has been excommunicated is the truth.
(My emphases throughout)
As Walter Cronkite said as he signed off his news show, "And that's the way it is."

UPDATE: From Cathy in the comments...
Posting these links here too (as well as on FB):

From the WSJ website: To send a letter to the editor for publication in the print journal: wsj.ltrs@wsj.com. To react to something you've read in the Online Journal or comment on our news coverage, email newseditors@wsj.com.

Honestly, do tell them. Most of the WSJ editorial staff are not going to be experts on the ins and outs of the Anglican church and they won't understand these issues, unless someone points out that a report is inaccurate.
Cathy is right. We should not leave it to Bishop Mathes and bloggers to counter the misinformation. Anyone can write to the WSJ. The more letters the editors receive, the more they will take note.

30 comments:

  1. Yay Bishop Mathes! Good for him. I hope he sent this to the WSJ.

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  2. Thanks for the post of this, Mimi.

    I am not sure about the editorial board of the WSJ but they missed the boat on this one. Hemingway has not checked her sources.

    I know about Good Shepherd, Binghamton. When the ACNA church left the property they trashed it and diocese had to sell at a low price in a city that had too many Episcopal churches in a depressed economy and a seriously depleted population base. The Good Shepherd parish had become even before their departure barely fiscally viable as a self-sufficent parish.

    Can you imagine Roman Catholics wanting to leave the denomination, following a disgruntaled priest or bishop and expecting to take the buildings? Why do people think they can take Episcopal buildings, endowments, rectories and camp holdings simply because the bishops choose to go their own way?

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  3. IT, you and BP are fortunate in your bishop.

    Muthah, Good Shepherd was Matt Kennedy's church, right? If so, I know the whole sordid story.

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  4. Posting these links here too (as well as on FB):

    From the WSJ website: To send a letter to the editor for publication in the print journal: wsj.ltrs@wsj.com. To react to something you've read in the Online Journal or comment on our news coverage, email newseditors@wsj.com.

    Honestly, do tell them. Most of the WSJ editorial staff are not going to be experts on the ins and outs of the Anglican church and they won't understand these issues, unless someone points out that a report is inaccurate.

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  5. I thought the WJS article was extremely accurate. I have been watching this situation for years, and Bishop Mathes fails to mention the bishops that have been deposed; parishes trying in good faith to negotiate settlements with TEC only to have TEC sue them; and the latest twist which is that a parish that is able to negotiate a deal with TEC must sign a waiver stating they may not join ACNA for 5 years. TEC would rather turn a Christian church into a mosque than sell it to ACNA.

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  6. Bryan, you have a right to your opinion. I've been watching the situation for years, too, and I agree with Bp. Mathes' statement. Anyone, any group is free to leave the Episcopal Church for whatever reason, but those who leave cannot take the property with them. I can't imagine what would lead them to believe that they could.

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  7. Cathy,

    It would probably be a better idea to let the WSJ article sit without letters to the editor.

    If the author of the piece were to be inspired to dig deeper and uncover the personal lawsuits against vestry, trustees and clergy, that would resonate with readers in a way that arcane discussions of AC membership do not.

    RalphM

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  8. I'll tell you what - if the Episcopal Church will exchange its counterfeit "gospel" for the vibrant faith expressed in the XXXIX Articles, those who left the Episcopal Church will return.

    On another point, whose name is on the deeds? Who paid for the buildings and their upkeep, and who bought the things necessary for worship, education, etc? Sometimes the diocese gave help to get a parish started - but not always, and the diocese does not hold title to parishes, as is true in the Roman Catholic Church. A parish has to be financially independent - and it is their name, or often "The Rector, Wardens, and Vestry of X", that is on the deed, contracts, etc.

    Matt Kennedy says that they did not "trash the building" when they left, that their income was sufficient for ministry - and has doubled since they left the building sold to the Muslims.

    This is all very sad. It did not have to be this rancorous. But it is, and it is going to be messy for a while, I am afraid. And meanwhile, the Episcopal Church will keep on shrinking.

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  9. Steven in Falls ChurchOctober 14, 2011 at 12:05 PM

    What's the source for the claim that the Good Shepherd departees "trashed" the property? I believe the only "trashing" that occurred was when the Muslims who bought the place from TEC removed the cross and painted the red door green. The fact is that TEC rebuffed the departees' attempts to negotiate for the property, launched a lawsuit justified as protecting the property for future Episcopal generations, upon recovering the church immediately deconsecrated it (without attempting to start another congregation there), and then sold it to a group that preaches gospel antithetical to Christ for a price less than what the departees were offering, and probably for far less than the lawyer fees. There is no way you can approach this thing where TEC looks good. TEC is in serious, troubling decline --just look at the 2010 parochial numbers, recent statements by its chief insurance officer, the report presented before GC. TEC needs to be more open to negotiation with departing congregations, who are the ones probably willing to offer the best price for building assets that otherwise would go unused as Episcopal churches if recovered.

    By the way, Fr. Kennedy's congregants are thriving in a church they purchased from the Catholic diocese. It's just up the road from the old church, now an Islamic Awareness Center.

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  10. Ralph, again I must disagree. Sometimes arriving at the truth is messy, but nevertheless shedding light is better than groping in the darkness, whatever conclusion readers and watchers form from the process. The WSJ handed out a one-sided load of misinformation which needs to be corrected.

    Mary, the 39 Articles? Since when are the Articles on a par with the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

    The court cases have all been settled in favor of the Episcopal Church save for the one outlier. Why is it so difficult for the breakaways to understand 'held in trust'?

    If you Google 'Stand Firm in Faith', Matt Kennedy's blog, here's what the headline shows:

    Stand Firm | Casually chronicling the death of the Episcopal Church

    Christlike?

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  11. Stephen, with what money were Matt Kennedy and his parishioners going to pay for the church building? With the endowment that was held in trust for the Episcopal Church that the court ruled did not belong to them? This is a serious question.

    I'm pleased that Fr Kennedy and his parishioners are thriving in their new church, and I wish them all the best.

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  12. Steven, please forgive me for misspelling your name.

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  13. Grandmere Mimi, the XXXIX Articles are a summary of the Gospel as found in Scripture. They cannot be opposed to the Gospel, unless you have some source for the Gospel outside of Scripture.

    As for "Casually chronicling the death of the Episcopal Church" - TEC has been hemorrhaging members and money for a decade. There has been, in round figures, a 20% loss in membership since 2000. The only growing diocese has been South Carolina, now under attack because it is affirming historic Christianity and distinguishing it from the counterfeit "gospel" so prevalent in TEC.

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  14. Charlie, have you read the 39 Articles recently? They are NOT a summary of the Gospel.

    Since I assume some of you came to comment because of the link to this post at Stand Firm, you should know that I am banned from commenting there, not for abusive comments but for suggesting that the group pray for a newly elected bishop and give him a chance before they began trashing him as a revisionist. Oh, and I believe I quoted the Gospel, and Sarah Hey banned me as 'a known raving revisionist'. I had only commented a few times before I was kicked out, and none of my comments included personal attacks or abuse. As you see, I gave Sarah's quote a permanent place on my sidebar.

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  15. SF does not allow any deviation from their point of view. I have seen them trash "their own" - only those who nod and smile at all their rants are allowed. Oh I know I am also a raving revisionist for thinking gays and lesbians are created in the image of just like the rest of us. And I "chew" the bread at communion. LOL

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  16. Grandmere Mimi, I will grant you that the Articles encompass more than the Gospel; they deal with how we know about God and how we are to live for God (and some of that is in terms of being a national Church of England) - but Articles I - XX cover what is essential in being a Christian no matter what one's ecclesial body may be, and Articles II, IV, VII, IX, and XI are the Gospel.

    Yes, I did find this entry from Stand Firm, but I have read your blog before, linking over from An Inch at a Time or Telling Secrets. I guess I am distressed that Bp Lawrence of SC is being hit with trumped up charges.

    Of course, the real problem is that I and others like me believe the Gospel as summarized in the Articles and the services of the '28 BCP (and Prayer A of Rite II and the baptismal questions of assent in the '79 book) - whereas most of the Episcopal Church denies that Gospel, or tolerate those who uphold it only if they say it is not the only Gospel.

    A house divided against itself cannot stand, and we are watching this one crash down. It ain't pretty.

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  17. ...whereas most of the Episcopal Church denies that Gospel....

    Charlie, sorry. Just because you say it doesn't make it true.

    Just out of curiosity, does your church follow Article XXXV?

    The Second Book of Homilies, the several titles whereof we have joined under this Article, doth contain a godly and wholesome Doctrine, and necessary for these times, as doth the former Book of Homilies, which were set forth in the time of Edward the Sixth; and therefore we judge them to be read in Churches by the Ministers, diligently and distinctly, that they may he understanded of the people.

    Regarding Bp. Lawrence, there are no charges against him. There have been complaints from people in the diocese, which the Disciplinary Board has no choice but to investigate. The investigative part of the process was confidential. Bp. Lawrence chose to make the information public and to put his particular spin on it, which, as I see it is to portray himself as a martyr.

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  18. Oh this is all so predictable. Deja vu all over again.

    Fact: every mainstream faith group in the US is losing membership from Southern Baptists to TEC. E.g., 1 in 3 cradle Roman Catholics in the US will leave the faith. The only reason Catholicism holds its own is due to immigration. Young people of all denominations are leaving church in large part because of their perceptions of hypocrisy and stupidity around issues o sexuality.

    Fact: Every one of us can point at churches "bucking the trend" on both sides of the politics. E.g., the Cathedral in Bp Mathes' Diocese of SD is vibrant and growing apace, precisely because of its inclusive practices. And they have a high church style, and say the creed without crossing their fingers, too.

    Fact: the conservatives who have left TEC seem unable to let go.

    If you have decided to leave,go in peace on your own path. Why worry about those left behind who choose a different route?

    And the broader question: why is it that conservative Christians of all denominations feel such a need to engage in self-proclaimed victimhood along with their protestations of purity? Why can't they live and let live?

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  19. Most of TEC denies the gospel -- wow - I don't think so - the congregation I serve would be shocked to hear that - they are faithful Christ followers.

    yes- that is a question IT -- why do they hang on our every word and parse every action -- how about just going off to do whatever it is they do and forget us? Don't try to steal the property and we can each listen for God in our own way.

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  20. "Faithful Christ followers." That depends on what Christ they follow. I was an Episcopal priest for 27 years, until the theological incoherence became more than I could bear to live with. And it was not only incoherence but the amount of disdain I experienced from clergy and many lay leaders. I served in four dioceses and knew people from many others. Maybe the liberals I met did not cross their fingers when they said the Creeds - but that was because they had redefined the terms so thoroughly that they were incapable of seeing how they denied the intended meaning of the terms of the Creeds.

    Is Jesus Christ the pre-existent Second Person of Trinity, made incarnate through the Holy Spirit in a virginal conception in Mary? Was his death for us and for our salvation? Did he rise bodily from the tomb? Will he return bodily to bring his kingdom in its fullness, and to judge the world?

    Or was Jesus Christ an extraordinarily spiritually gifted man with an incredibly close connection to God? Is he to be followed because he is such a superb example and so profoundly wise?

    If the latter - the Gospel is denied. We are not ignorant and merely in need of instruction. We are in rebellion against the King of Kings, and need to repent and be forgiven.

    As for simply leaving and letting the liberals have the buildings etc - a lot of people have walked away, but the buildings were built in order to proclaim Jesus Christ as the Son of God, the Incarnate Second Person of the Trinity. We think they should be used for what they were built for, not to talk about Jesus being a great guy.

    I could go on. But in simple terms, it is simply a sorrowful thing to see the loss of a noble way of being a Christian.

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  21. Charlie, I say the Creeds without crossing my fingers. You might be surprised at how truly orthodox I am in my faith.

    Perhaps your noble way of being a Christian is not the only way for everyone. You may be surprised when you get to heaven to see who will keep you company. Who are you to judge 'liberal' Christians? The Gospel says we are not to judge. Jesus himself is the model for us in his association with all manner of outcasts and sinners. Think what you will of us, but don't be too sure that Jesus thinks as you do.

    Peace be with you.

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  22. I say the creeds without crossing my fingers - I think you are mistaken if you think your list is the only way to believe -- there are many passages that say opposite things. I follow Christ as he commanded in the opening pages of the Gospel -- you may go to heaven and I may not - but I will trust God with that decision. I am more concerned with the command in the Lord's Prayer to make earth like heaven now. Afterlife will take care of itself -- If I get in and you don't I will reach out my hand for you - hope you would do the same.

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  23. Ann, they overstate, and you overstate. It seems of late that I mostly post there in opposition to the SF level of hysteria, but they do let me post.

    What else I think I need to say, I said over on EC.

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  24. Steven in Falls ChurchOctober 14, 2011 at 10:25 PM

    Grandmere -- I have heard the argument about the trust, but I think it is a bit circular as the trust was part of the overall parish real and financial assets that were subject to the decision (or decisions) of the court in favor of TEC. My understanding is that family members of the Good Shepherd parishioner who funded the trust testified that the founder intended the funds to go with the parish, and would have been quite appalled at the thought of his money benefiting TEC. Oh well, a lesson on how not to preserve donor intent. At any rate, I expect that the Good Shepherd departees could have easily afforded to buy their building without the trust, as they have been able to cobble together several hundred thousand dollars of financing to buy their current property from the Catholic diocese, while TEC ended up selling the building to the Muslims for only 50K.

    No problem on the name -- I prefer the traditional spelling of the martyr Stephen, but am stuck with the contemporary spelling. Must be because I was born in the 1960s. Also, if it makes you feel better, I have been banned from SF also (they didn't even give me a warning).

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  25. Steven, we should form a society. Our name is Legion. How about the Banned At Stand Firm Legionnaires?

    C. Wingate, sorry we can't invite you to join. If your situation should change....

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  26. I daresay that there are plenty of "progressives" who are orthodox in Christology, while being less orthodox in other areas. And no one has it completely right at every level.

    I have never seen a "command" in the Lord's Prayer. There are plenty of petitions, and there is a degree to which we can offer ourselves as God's instruments to help fulfill the petition, but there are no commands, and no possibility that what we do can bring in God's Kingdom in its entirety, because it is beyond our capacity to change the hearts and minds of the entire world. Or even a small part of it. The Holy Spirit has to do that.

    I have found more than a few puzzling passages in Scripture - I have never seen a contradiction.

    The majority of the clergy I have met in the last twenty years - especially those ordained since the late 90's - have denied the diety of Christ and the atoning work of the cross. I know that there is a huge variety of people who will be in heaven, and who can and do work together her in this life - from Mennonites to Copts. I have met and had fellowship with a wide range of believers of all kinds of Christians. And I am horrified at times at how poorly some of those who are orthodox in their statemets of faith can behave, especially in relationships - and in dealing with those who are progressive. Walking and talking should be coordinated. Some peoples' lives are far better than their theology, and some are far worse. Ideally, however, one should believe what the Bible teaches, and should act always with 1 Cor 13 love. (And if I seem a bit strident in what I have said, it is because I have found time and again that those who say they are orthodox in their progressive theology have no idea of what classic orthodoxy is.)

    "The world of dogmatic Christianity is a place in which thousands of people of quite different types keep on saying the same thing, and the world of 'broad-mindedness' and watered-down 'religion' is a world where a small number of people (all of the same type) say totally different things and change their minds every few minutes. We shall never get re-union with them." C.S. Lewis in "God in the Dock", 1970 Erdmans Publishing p. 60.

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  27. Charlie, you don't seem strident, and we could go back and forth until kingdom come, but, I don't care for endless argument. If others wish to continue the discussion here with you, that's fine, but I'm done.

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  28. "Fact: the conservatives who have left TEC seem unable to let go.

    If you have decided to leave,go in peace on your own path. Why worry about those left behind who choose a different route?"


    Perhaps it's being sued personally for following one's conscience...

    RalphM

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  29. From the time the Anglican church was started in England in the 16th century there have been revisionists and conservatives, and much in between - if you look at church history the revisionsits are eventually seen as too conservative and the conservatives become the revisionists - we have argued about kneeling or not kneeling during communion - transubstantiation - vestments or no vestments - communion every Sunday or once a month - communion for only Priests or for the entire congregation - candles on the alter or no candles on the alter - should Baptism be private or public - high vs low church, insence - women priests - new prayer books, new hymn books - traditional music v.s. modern music - now we are arguing about sexual orientation - the list goes on and on and on and in a couple of decades we will have something else to argue about - we are a contencious and questioning people - but we ALWAYS have one thing in common - we are God's people! That is what we need to always remember.

    ECOOS (who has also had posts kicked off Stand Firm!)

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  30. we are a contencious and questioning people - but we ALWAYS have one thing in common - we are God's people! That is what we need to always remember.

    ECOOS, absolutely. Amen!

    I don't believe that I've ever said that the folks who disagree with me or those who leave the Episcopal Church are not Christians or that they are not God's people. I hope I haven't.

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