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On Bishop Love

By Daniel Martins

First, a disclaimer: I am a bishop member of the Communion Partners, and much of what I write here concerns the Communion Partners directly. While I am reasonably confident that most or all of my CP bishop colleagues will broadly agree with what I say, I have not vetted this post with them, and I speak only for myself.

Popular wisdom suggests that if you’re taking fire from partisans on both sides of a conflict, you may be occupying the moral high ground. Of course, the truth of this wisdom is evident only to those currently occupying that middle ground, and not necessarily to someone planted firmly on one end or the other who may, when the smoke clears, turn out to have been correct.

In any case, as Episcopalians and those in the larger Anglican ambit digest the news of Albany bishop William Love’s conviction for violating the discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church, and of his subsequent resignation as part of a canonical Accord in lieu of facing a sentence that could have included deposition from ordained ministry, the Communion Partners find themselves on the receiving end of criticism from both mainstream Episcopalians and (mostly) former Episcopalians who have formed the Anglican Church in North America.

Let me switch to the first-person singular here: I am dazed and depressed by these developments. They bode ill for the future of my connection to the church that has been my ecclesial home, in seven different dioceses, for 47 years, and which I have served in ordained ministry for 32 years, nearly a decade of that time as a bishop. Moreover, it also bodes ill, I would suggest, for the future of the Episcopal Church itself.

The reason the Communion Partners even exists as an organization is in response to an unrelenting juggernaut of change over the last four decades or so, with increased intensity since 2003, in the Episcopal Church’s stance toward the moral context of human sexuality and the nature of marriage. When I became an Episcopalian in the mid-1970s, Christians of other than heterosexual disposition were just beginning to “come out” with increasing frequency, form alliances, and demand to be treated with full human dignity rather than as intrinsically and personally reprobate.

The 1976 General Convention passed resolution A-069, stating “that it is the sense of this General Convention that homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the Church.” Even the most conservative of Episcopalians today would have no problem acceding to that much. But the train did not stop at that station. Every General Convention since — all 14 of them — has seen a concerted and high-profile effort to move the ball a little further down the field. As recently as 2012, the goal had morphed well beyond pastoral care, compassion, and tolerance all the way to the generation of rites for the liturgical blessing of same-sex relationships. A mere three years later, emboldened by the Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges decision that was handed down while convention was in session, the Episcopal Church embraced full-on “marriage equality.”

When texts for the celebration of same-sex marriages were approved in 2015, it was clear that permission to implement them lay at the discretion of bishops diocesan. Communion Partner bishops breathed a tentative sigh of relief. We knew ourselves to be already compromised simply by remaining in an ecclesial entity that had engaged in herculean theological and exegetical acrobatics so as to turn away from the clear witness of scripture, the Catholic tradition, and the formally received teaching of the worldwide Anglican Communion. But at least we could say, “Not in my diocese. We will adhere to the classic prayer book teaching on marriage.”

In the run-up to General Convention 2018, this reprieve revealed itself to be short-lived. Resolutions were being prepared that would effectively strip diocesan bishops of their ancient role as the chief teaching and liturgical authority in their dioceses by enshrining the expanded marriage rites in a first reading of a revised Book of Common Prayer. (Bishops may decline to authorize experimental and supplemental liturgies and trial-use texts but may not prohibit the use of prayer book texts.)

To forestall such a cataclysmic event, Communion Partner bishops were quietly cooperative with some strategic allies from the mainstream in developing an alternative proposal — which eventually became the now-infamous resolution B-012. It offered bishops (and their dioceses) whose theological views cannot accommodate same-sex marriage something of a way out: when a parish wishes to host such a ceremony, the bishop can invite a colleague to assume pastoral and spiritual authority over the “situation” — I use such a vague term because some bishops might be satisfied with ceding authority on a one-off basis, while others will need full-on Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight (DEPO).

This is, of course, cold comfort. In an unprecedented manner, it robs a bishop of the pastoral and teaching charisms that are traditionally inherent in the office. It’s the proverbial camel’s-nose-under-the-tent in the direction of the Episcopal Church becoming an utterly monolithic authoritarian ecclesial behemoth, with dioceses functioning as little more than regional offices and bishops as area managers — a far cry from the “wonderful and sacred mystery” of Catholic tradition. Yet, the alternative was arguably worse — same-sex marriage in the prayer book. I am, in the ambit of the Episcopal Church, a “survivor.” Over the last four-plus decades, I have discovered more reserves of flexibility than I could have ever imagined. But that would have been the death of me — certainly as a bishop, and probably as an Episcopalian. I would have found (and still might find, I must remember) myself in ecclesial exile, where the denizens of a strange land would cajole me, in the spirit of Psalm 137, to “sing us one of your Anglican chants.”

Bishop Love, alone among the Communion Partners, found that his conscience was not at all (let alone sufficiently) salved by the chimera of an escape hatch offered by B-012. He determined that caring faithfully for his flock as a living icon of the Good Shepherd could brook no compromise with heresy. (Yes, this is a strong and potentially inflammatory category in which to place same-sex marriage, but it is at least arguably an offense against the first article of both the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds, which set forth the doctrine of creation, creation being the theological context in which marriage is rooted by the Book of Common Prayer.) So he stood firm, while his closest colleagues, myself included, bent for strategic reasons. I am not prepared to argue here that he was right and we were wrong, or that we were right and he was wrong. Either could be the truth. Suffice it to say that our informed consciences led us to different places.

So the Communion Partners, who represent a marginal fringe in a church that is only a marginal fringe of its former self, are now regularly castigated (if being labeled “quislings” can qualify as castigation) from, as it were, our right flank — those who continue to identify as Anglican in one way or another but who have left the Episcopal Church. But, while we sincerely desire reconciliation among “all who profess and call themselves Christians” (BCP, p. 814), I, for one, am not losing very much sleep over criticism from such quarters. What does awaken any predisposition to anxiety we might have is how we are viewed and understood by those within our immediate ecclesial household. The integrity of our ministries (to say nothing of, to a not insignificant extent, our material livelihoods and those of the clergy who serve in our dioceses), is profoundly affected by this.

We are repeatedly assured that we are valued members of the Episcopal Church, and that our voices need to be heard. (As long ago as 2009, at the General Convention in Anaheim, I remember thinking that, if I had a dollar for every time somebody approached me to voice, without solicitation, such sentiments, I might enjoy an afternoon at Disneyland.) The 2018 General Convention created a Task Force for Communion Across Difference that has met both in person and online and was even granted some space at the last in-person meeting of the House of Bishops in September 2019. Nonetheless, the sequence of events leading up to Bishop Love’s announcement of his resignation on October 24, frankly, makes my blood run cold, and causes me to question the assurances we have been given in such abundance.

First, there is the fact that Bishop Love was charged and restricted based solely on a pastoral directive he issued to the clergy of his diocese, a pastoral directive that was consonant with the canons of the diocese — to be clear, something he wrote, not anything he actually did. He voiced an intention to act a certain way (that is, to impose discipline on clergy who purport to solemnize a same-sex marriage), without even encountering circumstances that would cause him to follow through on his avowed intent. It has never been anything but in the realm of the abstract.

Second, the charges were brought not by any aggrieved or potentially-aggrieved party, but directly by the Presiding Bishop’s office. There was no actual complainant in the case against Bishop Love, nobody with “skin in the game.” And, while the wheels of ecclesiastical justice did grind quite slowly between the time charges were filed and the final disposition of the case, the time between Bishop Love’s pastoral directive and the initiation of Title IV proceedings against him elapsed, by comparison, overnight.

Third, the case against Bishop Love, and the basis of his conviction, was risibly weak. Most conspicuously, the contention by the Church Attorney (prosecutor), upheld in the written opinion of the Hearing Panel, that the 2018 General Convention, in assigning the newly-authorized rites that status of “trial use,” invested them with the constitutional authority of a proposed revision to the Book of Common Prayer, falls apart on its face. Convention rather overtly declined to initiate a process of prayer book revision, and instead passed a resolution that memorializes the 1979 Book of Common Prayer in presumptive perpetuity (even as it encouraged development of and experimentation with supplemental or alternative texts). The Episcopal Church is manifestly not in the process of revising the Book of Common Prayer, and to assert otherwise is to defy the objective reality of the meaning of words in General Convention resolutions. Bishop Love’s conviction is based on fiction.

Fourth, and of utmost concern, Bishop Love’s resignation does not merely represent a desire on his part to avoid protracted conflict and remove himself from the fray for a well-deserved respite — that much would be understandable. Rather, it is part of a formal Accord (a term-of-art in the Title IV disciplinary canons) between Bishop Love and the Presiding Bishop. A respondent in a Title IV proceeding only agrees to an Accord as a “lesser evil” — it’s tantamount to a plea bargain in a secular criminal proceeding. One cannot help but surmise that the ecclesiastical “death penalty” — deposition from holy orders — was seriously on the table, and that Bishop Love chose resignation rather than the indignity of being deposed. It need not have been so. It was within the purview of the Hearing Panel to administer a proverbial “slap on the wrist.” That they did not is hugely telling.

Putting this all together, a pattern of relentless urgency emerges. It’s as if nothing can be allowed to even seem momentarily to eclipse the perceived moral imperative of achieving the goal of “all the sacraments for all the baptized,” no matter the cost, even the tearing apart of a vital and largely unified diocese of the Episcopal Church. Make no mistake: this is not about Bishop Love being held to account for violating his ordination vow to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church. It’s about the weaponizing of the canons of the church for the purpose of prosecuting a single, focused agenda, an agenda which its supporters understand as a matter of gospel justice — and, you know, “justice delayed is justice denied” — but an agenda that sits lightly to the authority of Holy Scripture, which every ordinand in the Episcopal Church confesses to be “the word of God” and which has rent the worldwide Anglican Communion nearly completely asunder. Gospel justice cannot be seen to compete with gospel righteousness. If they seem to be in conflict, then the chances are that neither is being properly understood.

On more than one occasion during Bishop Love’s canonical tribulations, the Communion Partners have voiced concern that there seems to be an inconsistent standard for the application of canonical justice in the Episcopal Church. There is a very unambiguous canon that prohibits the administration of Holy Communion to unbaptized persons. A proposal to rescind this canon was overwhelmingly defeated, with not a single oral argument in its favor, by the House of Bishops in 2012. In 2015, a proposal merely to study the question was solidly defeated, as was a subsequent motion to reconsider that vote. Yet, it is nearly ubiquitous in many parts of the Episcopal Church for oral and written announcements on Sunday mornings to invite everyone in attendance to come forward and receive the sacrament “wherever you are on your spiritual journey” (or words to similar effect). I have had a colleague bishop tell me quite openly that he supports this and does it himself, fully aware that he is thereby violating his ordination vows regarding doctrine, discipline, and worship, and that he is fully prepared to suffer the canonical consequences, should any arise.

So, one might well ask, why have no such consequences arisen for him? And the answer, not surprisingly to anyone who is truly attentive, is not legal but political. No one has filed charges against this bishop, or plenty of others, because doing so would invite all manner of scorn or annoyance on the part of many who are themselves either guilty of the same charges or are keepers of the law, but who are fine with a “live and let live” attitude toward this question. The theological integrity of the Eucharist, to say nothing of souls eating and drinking damnation unto themselves (1 Cor. 11:29), apparently pales in importance beside the imperative of allowing same-sex couples to be able to say that they are in sacramental marriages. The political momentum of the moment is focused on the felt needs of sexual minorities, and because of that the church has the collective stomach for aiming the enforcement of its canons against those who are seen to stand in the way of that goal. It’s never been about the impartial application of canon law; it’s about the fulfillment of the dominant political will. Canons are malleable and will always be bent toward such fulfillment.

So, my Communion Partner colleagues and I — we’re nervous. Over the last nearly two decades, we have remained engaged in good faith with the Episcopal Church. We are Episcopalians! And we have remained Episcopalian at no small cost in myriad personal relationships that have been quite precious to us — relationships with people with whom we have been co-laborers in the work of the gospel, and with whom we still have more in common, theologically and spiritually, than we do with most of our fellow Episcopalians. So, our message to those fellow Episcopalians is: we are here. See us. We do not actually have power to harm you. We want to remain, we believe ourselves called to remain, despite our discomfort with where the mainstream of the church has gone. But we want to do more than remain. We want to flourish. (And we, as bishops, speak on behalf of a generation of amazing young leaders who will be key contributors to the revitalization of this church in God’s good time.) What has happened in Albany makes us think you don’t share that desire, that you are not willing to work with us in creating a space in which we can flourish. Are we wrong about this? What concessions are you willing to make to prove your good intentions?

The Rt. Rev. Daniel Martins is the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Springfield.

7 COMMENTS

  1. My assumption is that at issue is not concessions toward individual Communion Partner Bishops, but their nearly imminent retirement. That is, at issue is whether their replacements will get consents unless they embrace the decision, and the logic behind it, regarding the ill-fated B012, that is, it is part of a BCP revision underway. The reality is that even the best-intentioned schemes for ‘inclusion’ of a handful of conservative Bishops is not identical with carve-outs for the dioceses in which, for this season at least, they are serving. +Love saw this very clearly. By framing the issue around ‘generosity’ toward individual CP Bishops (now very worried ones, by this account), all one needs to do is wait for their retirement. This is the ‘nicest’ way to ‘get rid of the problem’ and B012 was the handiest way to do it.

    • What we have now is a 21st century Masada. The remaining CP dioceses can only survive at the will of the Pagan Romans, er, the Pagan Episcopalians. They can either siege now and exert their current will and get us annoying Biblical adherents out of the way. Or, they may starve us out by waiting as Chris stated,
      by letting us die without the food and water of consents. We on the mountaintop have decisions to make.

      • If I may add, it is ‘baked in.’ Only a decade ago, at ACI we could gather 20 Bishops, even after ACNA. If the outcome is as it appears, in the light of the B012 ruling, the BCP no longer offers any kind of buffer or lifeline to imagine one is holding on to. How might it be possible to think that a bishop would now function independently of that? I say this with no joy. It just seems the obvious outcome now that the B012 ‘ruse’ is over.

  2. So long as the civil rights model obtains (i.e. the assumption that disapproval of same-sex imitations of copulation is exactly the same thing as racism), there has never been any possibility of traditional witness or fellowship being valued. It might be tolerated for a time, but the end has never been in doubt. There seemed to be cause for hope with the advent of a less ideologically rigid PB, but that seems to be at an end as well. I’ve always considered a critique of the civil rights model a necessity both for toleration of traditionalists and to enable honest theological consideration of the matter, but there was probably never any chance of that.

    It also looks like B012 as a BCP change is a fait accompli. What brings that thought to the fore is the Duncan “deposition” from several years ago. Bishop Duncan had clearly not been validly deposed as the abandonment canon had come nowhere close to being followed. Thus, the See of Pittsburgh was not vacant. Regardless, a new Diocesan was elected and acknowledged as such with little fanfare and no meaningful opposition. I see no reason not to see the same thing here. The BCP has not been revised, but it will henceforth be treated as if it were and there’s no point in pretending otherwise.

    Among traditional Christians, there can be no cause for second-guessing. The failure of Christian leadership on this scale leaves us with no good answers. It is not wrong to stay and act as if the BCP still says what it clearly says. Similarly, one cannot be fairly criticized for deciding that the fatal deed is done and seeking other fellowship. The best we can do is continue to hold one another in prayer and support one another as best we can.

  3. Thank you, Your Grace, for being one of the first to speak publicly further into the truth of the situation and the ramifications thereof. This is monumentally weighty on so many fronts. I do not presume to say anything that you don’t already know, but it may be good for others, beyond those who have already commented, to be aware of some more of the details regarding how the national church achieved the conviction of Bishop Love. This affects the whole denomination and not simply the Diocese of Albany.

    When Bishop Martins refers to Bishop Love’s conviction being “based on fiction” we should not take that to mean that the prosecutorial rationale of the Presiding Bishop’s office, along with the agreement of the Hearing Panel, does not have the force of reality. Yes, the national church convicted Bishop Love via a revised history of GC79, rightly called a lie. However, even though it is well documented to be a lie it still has real force – enough force to convict one of their own, enough force to compel a faithful bishop of the Church to resign, and enough force to send life-changing shockwaves throughout a whole diocese and its clergy. Yes, it is fiction, but it is also very real.

    Here is what is real according to The Episcopal Church.

    1) The BCP was revised at GC79 and four new liturgies, previously approved for “trial use” relating to marriage equality, were added and went into effect Advent 2018. To quote the Hearing Panel, “Resolution B012 was properly constituted and passed as an authorized revision to the BCP.” This point is reiterated throughout the report explaining the conviction of Bishop Love. According to the national church we are all effectively holding a different Prayer Book in our hands every time we lead a liturgy, and we have been holding these ‘new’ prayer books since 2018. These are not future revisions. These are finalized, voted on, and approved according to the church. This is now the doctrine and liturgies of The Episcopal Church and thereby the BCP that all current and future ordinations, and clergy vows, are happening under.

    2) It only takes one General Convention to revise the BCP. (They are not referring to changing the lectionary or the calendar.) To quote the Hearing Panel again, “While such amendments generally require votes at two consecutive General Conventions, Article X(b) provides an exception to the general rule of requiring votes at two consecutive conventions, if the amendment is authorized for trial use as a proposed revision to the BCP that is authorized by the General Convention for trial use. Under this exception, to be effective, the amendment requires only one vote of the General Convention.” The new recipe is simple: “trial use” + “proposed revision” = Prayer Book revision in ONE General Convention. Everyone knows this is not true. However, it is real.

    3) Resolution B012 applies to all clergy, not just bishops. To quote the Hearing Panel again, “Resolution B012 mandated that bishops and clergy provide for same-sex couples to have access to marriage rites locally within their community or congregation.” A clergy person can still personally refuse to perform any wedding. However, a same sex wedding ceremony cannot be refused access to the couple’s worship space even if their rector recuses themselves or invokes Canon III.9.6(a). The Hearing Panel suggests that there is no conflict here, but I am not sure how there is not.

    Tangentially related to all this, it would be good for all of us to know that TEC does not have a ‘rule of law’ as we commonly understand it. Title IV proceedings are not a true ‘church court’ system. Here is one way this applies to Bishop Love’s trial. The Rt. Rev. W. Nicholas Knisely, Bishop of Rhode Island, was one of the three bishops who originally proposed Resolution B012, the resolution Bishop Love defied. Bishop Knisely was also the president of the Hearing Panel that just convicted Bishop Love. Is this a conflict of interest? Of course it is! However, it is not ‘against the rules’ of Title IV. It would seem, however, that Christian conscience should reach beyond Title IV. Someone (Bishop Curry, Bishop Knisely, etc.) should have said, “This just doesn’t look right”, and recused Bishop Knisely from this trial. There are 18 members of the Disciplinary Board for Bishops, ten of which are bishops themselves. Would it have been so hard to find someone else to chair Bishop Love’s Hearing Panel?

    In a pre GC79 press release from the three bishops proposing Resolution B012 (which included Bishop Knisely) they say this, “Q: Are you proposing that these rites become part of the Book of Common Prayer? A: No, at least not now. Our proposal differs in this way from that of the Task Force on the Study of Marriage, which does propose moving toward prayer book revision (Resolution A085). They propose to present the Trial Use rites now as prayer book amendments. ….. Our resolution does not propose any of that, but instead simply extends the period of Trial Use.” (https://www.dioceseli.org/media/diocesan-news/marriageforthewholechurch/) I am well aware that Resolution B012 went through revisions after that press release. However, none of those revisions changed the clearly stated intent of the proposing bishops.

    I highly encourage everyone to read the Hearing Panel’s report on their verdict and to take to heart the shockwaves that it sends throughout the whole denomination. It is stunning the lengths that the national church has gone to convict one of their own: deceptive revision of history (lies), manipulation of canons in order to change the BCP in one convention, and turning a blind eye to a clear conflict of interest. We should be ashamed.
    https://episcopalchurch.org/files/bplove_summary_judgement.pdf

    Mine is a simple summary, and I would welcome a full reporting on the topic. I would also welcome a response from The Most Rev. Michael Curry: presider over the HOB debate on Resolution B012 at GC79, the arranger of the Accord with Bishop Love, and out of whose office a clear conflict of interest was facilitated. As believers we are all “children of the light.” I am inviting The Episcopal Church to step into the light with regard to how they convicted Bishop Love. I have found no one so far who has suggested that anything that I have shared here is not factual.

    Full disclosure: I am a priest in the Diocese of Albany. That being said, I hope that everyone can see that what I have shared here has ramifications well beyond my personal opinions and my canonical residence.

    • It is entirely factual. And as you say, facts do not matter. And that is a reality, not a fiction.

      You have captured the matter economically and directly.

      The BCP is now — with its various outriggings and accoutrements — fit for purpose. Every purpose under heaven — except maintenance of the historical marriage rite, rubrics governing Holy Communion and its reception by the baptized, and so on.

      One sees the considerable commotion accompanying the publication of LLF in the CofE. With all of its obvious baggage, it is a document inconceivable in today’s TEC. The ship has sailed and the flag it flies can be changed every day as needed.

      • This article by B+ Martins, and similar recent opinion articles by Rev. Hylden (Decline is a Choice), and Rev. Montgomery (A Plea for Mutual Flourishing) remind me of the “The War Prayer,” by Mark Twain.

        “For our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimmage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.”
        “When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory — must follow it, cannot help but follow it.”

        The Hearing Panel declared him “Guilty” and signaled the intent to grind B+ Love into powder. By resigning, Bishop Love exposed the intolerant cancel culture politics of the reigning Bishops and sentenced the Church to continued decline into irrelevancy.

        The War Prayer is a prayer of hate and destruction for those who dare disagree—a vote for ideological intolerance for any opinion but your own that allows no disobedience or impurity. And when the preacher finishes the prayer and opens his eyes, the pews are empty.

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