An Open Letter to the Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (Anglican Church in North America)
October 30, 2009
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Having recently expressed my concerns to the leadership of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (The Episcopal Church) regarding their stance on Judge James’s decision, I feel it only consistent to note my opposition to the intent of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (Anglican Church in North America), as reported in today’s Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, to appeal that decision.
Over the five years that I have been in Pittsburgh, I have taken as a given that the embrace of “miraculous expectation and missionary grace” was a sincere one, even as I learned – as one might reasonably expect – that perfect behavior in all things is for the Church Triumphant rather than the Church Militant. So often have I heard the wise advice to trust in God’s Providence and to refrain from fretting about the future. Concurrently, however, engagement in the legal process, employing the same types of legal argument concerning ultimate jurisdiction and property law as invoked by lawyers for The Episcopal Church, has continued.
Ultimately, at least from this historian’s perspective, there is no way to prove the original intent of Episcopal Church structures, not least because the first generation of church leaders carefully refrained from a single explicit declaration of the corporate nature of the church. All we have are moral claims, which are precisely those upon which the secular courts are unwilling to render an opinion.
It has been frequently asserted that the ACNA diocese has always been willing to negotiate in good faith and that defending against aggressive motions does not contravene the scriptural imperative against lawsuits among Christians. This seems to me like special pleading. If ACNA does indeed have a special purpose in God’s design, then it seems equally plausible that an initial failure in the courts is either a way of telling us that we must “let goods and kindred go” without complaint, or, alternatively, that God is providing an occasion for grace on the part of The Episcopal Church to reach an Overland Park-style resolution. If we are intended to be a new post-millennial, post-institutional body, then among the patterns of behavior that we must set aside is an American understanding of property of which many of us have been only recent stewards.
The future mode of ACNA is apparently to be a decentralized federation of churches (I’m still not sure how we reconcile the model Geoff Chapman described at the Sewickley pre-convention meeting with a catholic ecclesiology, but at least I can understand the reasons why it might be desired). Fighting so fervently on behalf of a lingering diocesan authority that we do not intend to retain in the future is not, to my way of thinking, compatible with that.
While I realize that my perspective is probably a minority one, in retrospect I do think it unfortunate that we never had separate votes – as was done in Virginia – on realignment as a principle and, separately, on recourse to the courts as part of the realignment strategy. Those opposed to court action and who make diocesan pledges to ACNA – as I do – are thus as obliged to see our money being used for a purpose of which we disapprove as are conservatives still in TEC.
I would ask that you carefully reflect and solicit views from a spectrum of people within the diocese before proceeding down the road currently contemplated. A future historian of ACNA would, I feel sure, much prefer to recount a story of a formative church beneath the trees than of one locked in courtroom conflict.
Sincerely, Jeremy Bonner, PhD, Trinity Cathedral