Sunday, January 13, 2008


It has already been widely discussed in the blogosphere that late on Friday, the Presiding Bishop inhibited John-David Schofield from functioning as bishop in the Episcopal Church. He has two months to recant abandonment of communion in this Church, or face a possible deposition by the House of Bishops.
Mark Harris and Tobias Haller sum up the situation with great insight. Much of the response, ranging from the Primate of the Southern Cone to Bishop Iker of Fort Worth states the obvious. Some of it, in my view, is just stuff and nonsense.
At the end of the day, it really matters very little what they say or think. What matters now is the internal integrity of the communion of the Episcopal Church, for that is the communion over which our canons have jurisdiction. John-David Schofield might equivocate and Presiding Bishop Venables may say we have no power over him. But now a process must be followed, with the quite possible end of declaring a see vacant so that the life of the communion of this church may continue, and those who remain Episcopalian, the true Diocese of San Joaquin duly formed by this Church through an act of General Convention, may claim what is rightly within their stewardship and jurisdiction.
And the integrity of communion matters, not because it is perfect, but because communion is about that root word, community, which means how we remain accountable to one another in the context of the greater body.
In this sense, it seems a clear boundary violation has occurred, and the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church is doing what good, differentiated leaders do when this happens: she is stewarding, along with our bishops in collegial relationship, the boundaries of this Church.
With this in mind, it seems to me a number of things are clear:
  • Whatever ontological identity John-David may claim as "bishop," no bishop, and no clergy for that matter, function in the Church without the consent of the body. As other bloggers have noted, we clergy all serve under license. That's how we are held accountable to the greater community that, through our overseers, ordained us and gave us standing in this communion. Even laity are accountable to the communities in which they serve. That is part of what it means to live in community.
  • Vows do matter, even when they are to the imperfect. John-David Schofield and a number of clergy who follow him may regard The Episcopal Church as heretical or disagree with its decisions, either recent or longstanding. They may, by moving to the Southern Cone, believe they are protecting their personal piety and perceived faithful integrity from whatever they believe we, as a Body, have done incorrectly. But that's not the issue. The issue is that they made ordination vows to the discipline, doctrine, and worship of this Church. And John-David in particular agreed to honor the boundaries of collegiality in the House of Bishops, and no other. To actively place himself, as bishop, under the jurisdiction of another House and Primate appears to me and many others to violate these vows, and means risking the privileges and responsibilities of ordination in this Church, including stewardship of any property that is held in trust for this Body in San Joaquin.
  • Accountability matters, as John-David is only likely to discover more profoundly in the coming months. If he ducks accountability for trying to grab at privileges and property he has already publicly forfeited, he could well force the only option then left to The Episcopal Church: court action.
  • In the context of this question, all the rest about human sexuality, Lambeth 1998.I.10, the consecration of the bishop of New Hampshire, and upholding the "faith once delivered to the saints," is simply a smoke-screen for bad behavior in community, a bucket full of red herrings. That is what I mean by stuff and nonsense.

Our Presiding Bishop has been succinct, direct, and collegial in her approach to this situation, a display of true leadership at a time when naked power and property grabs by bishops and archbishops risk making us all a laughingstock. It's a grim time, but there is something refreshing in leadership that draws clear boundaries and takes responsibility for consequences that are measured, in line with the internal integrity of this Church community, and shared in careful discernment.

So now John-David can claim martyrdom or superiority by numbers all he wants. It really doesn't matter.

While there is no place for us to impugn anything about his faith in Christ, the truth is, we are all accountable for our own behavior in community. We make decisions we hope out of a place of inner integrity and then accept the consequences with some humility. That's a simple matter of transparency and vulnerability in right relationship. It seems to me the Gospel has a great deal more to say about this than personal piety, doctrine, righteousness, or beliefs.

And it strikes me that a fundamental misapprehension about this is very much at work near the heart of the present mess.


Anonymous said...

You make good arguments about vows, accountability, and community. Perhaps if England had your insight in the 16th Century these problems would not exist.

R said...


I'm pretty sure these problems go a great deal further back than England in the 16th century!

(Please do use a pen name, at least, if you wish to add more to this conversation, as it helps avoid confusion about who is commenting...)