Struck Down, But Not Destroyed

By Daniel H. Martins

On March 8 Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori’s office released the text of the Accord reached between nine bishops — of which I am one — and those who filed charges against us last June under Title IV, the clergy discipline canon. In January, representatives of the Complainants and Respondents came to Richmond, Virginia, where we were joined by a professional mediator appointed by the Presiding Bishop. This document is the result of the process begun at that meeting, and is described in the canon as “conciliation.” All the parties have agreed to it, the respondents are indemnified from future action in the matter, and the case is closed.

Conciliation is a bizarrely inappropriate word to describe what has happened. Going into the January meeting, we bore no ill will toward our accusers, and welcomed the opportunity to meet them face to face and talk things out. Today, I think it’s safe to say that all nine of us are processing some degree of anger and are feeling substantially alienated from those who brought the charges against us. We feel manipulated and victimized. We are nowhere near happy about this outcome, even though we stand by our decision to accept the Accord.

Some have accused us of cowardly capitulation. I can understand this reaction, so some explanation is in order. But it is vitally important to make a careful distinction between the tone of the document and its substance. In particular:

1. We admitted to no misconduct or any form of wrongdoing. The Accord contains no “finding” of guilt on our part, and the Complainants signed it.

2. We reaffirmed our belief in the assertions of our amicus brief. We continue to believe that the polity of the Episcopal Church as characterized by the 2009 Bishops’ Statement on Polity is true and correct. We have not in any way backed away from this position.

Some have expressed consternation that we acknowledged that we are subject to the Dennis Canon. Yet, all clergy are subject to all the canons. This does not mean the amici endorse or like the Dennis Canon. The matter at hand does not concern the Dennis Canon. This was no concession at all.

We have also been criticized for our laudatory language toward the bishops and other leaders of the “continuing” dioceses. But this language is identical to that of two resolutions passed by the House of Bishops, the second time at last July’s General Convention, where the amici who were present joined in the unanimous vote.

We also agreed not to file any more briefs or affidavits until General Convention considers the question of bishops filing briefs and affidavits. But this is entirely moot. We have made our point about the polity of our church in Texas and Illinois courts. There is no more reason for us to intervene as we did to protect the truth about the Episcopal Church’s polity and the interests of our own dioceses.

When a corporation is sued by a disgruntled customer or former employee, its legal counsel often advises the management to settle out of court, even though they believe the lawsuit is unjust. To take it to trial would be time-consuming and costly, even if it resulted in exculpation. Reaching a settlement is nearly always offensive at an emotional level, but is often the right thing to do when considered rationally. If we had declined to sign this accord, the chances are that the matter would have been taken to the next level — a hearing leading to a finding. The process would have voraciously eaten time and energy and money, preventing us from providing godly leadership and pastoral care to the flocks committed to our charge. We may well have been subject to suspension and/or monetary fines, which would also have hampered our ministry and the life of our dioceses even more.

So we opted to cut our losses and live to fight another day. We did not compromise on anything of essential importance. We intend to keep the conversation about polity alive in the councils of the Episcopal Church. “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair” (2 Cor. 4:8). And we face the future with faith and hope, even as we realize there will be more obstacles and difficulties in the witness we believe ourselves called to bear.

The Rt. Rev. Daniel H. Martins is Bishop of Springfield and a member of the board of the Living Church Foundation.


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