Tuesday, March 29, 2016


In the recent convention of the independent diocese of South Carolina (DSC), the task force on affiliation recommended the diocese join the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). The task force was set up two years ago when the members were hand-picked by Mark Lawrence. The task force's choice means Lawrence's choice. The diocese is supposed to be in "discernment" about whether to join ACNA, but this is a silly charade. Since he became bishop of the Episcopal diocese in 2008, the diocesan bodies have never rejected a recommendation of his. Some proposals have been tabled in convention (compassion for homosexuals; rector to control local property), but none has ever been voted down. A special convention will be called this fall to pass the first approval of the "affiliation" with ACNA. The second and last vote would come in March 2017 in the annual convention.

What is the ACNA? Let's look at origins, structure, history, and prospects.

ACNA's roots go back to the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a right-wing political action group of 1980 funded by deep-pocketed highly conservative foundations and organizations in the U.S. The longtime head of IRD was Diane Knippers, a conservative Episcopalian and member of the Truro Church of Virginia, a prime seedbed of opposition to the reforms of the Episcopal Church. First set up to promote President Reagan's foreign policy, the IRD turned to a domestic agenda at the end of the Cold War around 1990. It then focused on defeating and destroying forces of liberalism in American life. It soon moved to fighting social reform in three denominations prominent in America, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Episcopal. Knippers and two friends set up the American Anglican Council (AAC) in 1996 specifically devoted to fighting progressive reforms in the Episcopal Church, particularly equality for homosexuals. After the consecration of an openly homosexual bishop in TEC in 2003, AAC became the prime facilitator in the formation of an anti-homosexual church to take the place of the Episcopal Church in the Anglican Communion. AAC officers issued the infamous Chapman Memo in December of 2003 which laid out a blueprint for conservative Episcopalians to leave the Church and form a socially reactionary replacement church. The next month, under AAC's guidance, ten ultra-conservative dioceses of TEC formed the Anglican Communion Network, the framework for the future replacement church. Robert Duncan, bishop of Pittsburgh, was "Moderator," or head of this group. Of the ten dioceses in the ACN, five later voted to leave the Episcopal Church.

In 2008, Duncan was deposed from the office of bishop by the TEC House of Bishops for abandonment of the Communion. Shortly thereafter, in December of 2008, he led a convention of highly conservative elements called the Common Cause Partners (or Communion Partners) to set up a new church to be called the Anglican Church in North America. Its aim was to be the replacement church. It declared itself to be an Anglican "province" in formation with Duncan as its archbishop. Also in 2008 formed GAFCON (Global Anglican Futures Conference), a coalition of socially conservative Anglican primates of the Third World pledged to oppose rights for homosexuals in the Anglican Communion. GAFCON "recognized" ACNA, as the replacement church for pro-homosexual TEC, and Duncan as  "primate." In 2014, Duncan retired and was replaced as archbishop by Foley Beach, who, as Duncan, was consecrated largely by equatorial African Anglican primates well-known for their anti-homosexual rights stands.

The Archbishop of Canterbury made it plain that ACNA was not a part of the Anglican Communion. 

In January of 2016, the primates' gathering in Canterbury discussed the admission of ACNA to the Anglican Communion. They said in their communiqué that if ACNA wished to apply for admission to the AC, it would have to go through the Anglican Consultative Council. They also recommended to the ACC that they not admit ACNA to the AC. This effectively ended any chance ACNA had in joining the AC or of ever becoming the Anglican replacement province in the United States. It is interesting to note that the GAFCON primates in Canterbury abandoned ACNA in the meeting and in the communiqué even though Beach was present in the sessions. Thus, ACNA remains for the foreseeable future an independent church with friendly support of some of the primates of the Anglican Communion, but it is not, and almost certainly never will be, a part of the Anglican Communion.

The ACNA is governed by a Constitution and Canons, available on the Internet. The people of South Carolina would be wise to read and study this document before affiliating with ACNA. The C and C is a strange and contradictory mixture of local rights and central authoritarianism. On one hand, it says that local dioceses will retain their own structures, local properties remain in local ownership, and any diocese and local church may secede from the union at any time (the recipe for the inevitable disintegration of this union). On the other hand, it sets up an authoritarian government controlled by the archbishop and the bishops. All bishops have to pledge personal allegiance to the archbishop.

The government of ACNA is vested in four bodies. 1-"The Council" is the decision-making body deciding on policy and rules for the C and C. In The Council, each diocese will have one bishop, one other clergy, and two laity. 2-"The Executive Committee" formed by the Council as the "Board of Directors" is a committee of 12, 6 clergy and 6 laity and chaired by the archbishop. 3-"The Assembly" is a one-house Duma whose sole job is to ratify decisions of the Council. Each diocese gets seats for bishop, 2 clergy, and 2 laity. 4-"College of Bishops" whose power is to choose the next archbishop and approve new diocesan bishops. In sum. the government of ACNA is under the control of the archbishop and the bishops. It is an authoritarian and anti-democratic institution in which the laity have virtually no power.

The ACNA was created on a negative, that is, opposition to the social reforms of the Episcopal Church mainly on homosexuality, but also for equal rights for women. It should not be surprising then that ACNA's Constitution and Canons expressly forbid rights for gays and restricts those of women. Regarding homosexuality, the C and C has three points blocking rights for gays: 1-Title II, Canon 7, Section 1: "The Anglican Church in North America affirms our Lord's teaching that the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony is in its nature a union permanent and lifelong of one man and one woman." 2-Title II, Canon 7, Section 6: Before a wedding in an ACNA church, the future husband and wife are required to sign a statement that marriage is a lifelong union of a husband and wife. 3-Title II, Canon 8, Section 2, "[ACNA] cannot legitimize or bless same sex unions or ordain persons who engage in homosexual behavior. Sexual intercourse should take place only between a man and a woman who are married to each other." The ACNA is also anti-feminist but less stridently. Title II, Canon 8, Section 3 condemns abortion as sin by declaring the sanctity of human life from conception to death (but it does not condemn the death penalty). The C and C also say only men can become bishops although individual dioceses may choose to allow women to be ordained as deacons and priests. 

The communicants of the DSC should also be aware of how joining ACNA will affect their choices of bishops in the future. Under Title III, Section 4, a diocese may nominate a bishop but is encouraged to select two or three names. However many, the name(s) will be sent to the College of Bishops who must vote by 2/3 to approve the new bishop. In other words, South Carolina can choose a nominee but he will have to get a vast majority approval of the ACNA bishops before DSC can consecrate their choice. If DSC's choice fails to get 2/3 vote, DSC has to start over on choosing a new bishop. Ironically, under a 2/3 rule, Lawrence would not be a bishop today as he received just over 1/2 in 2007 (TEC requires only majority approval). DSC's right to choose its own bishop will be severely restricted after joining ACNA.

Moreover, once a bishop is chosen, he must make an oath of loyalty to the archbishop: Title III, Section 5, "And I do swear by Almighty God that I will pay true and canonical obedience in all things lawful and honest to the Archbishop of this Church." The bishop of South Carolina must sear allegiance to the archbishop of ACNA (there is no oath of personal allegiance in TEC; TEC has no archbishop).

Is the Anglican Church in North America a "province"? No. The word "province" is usually defined as a sub-unit of a larger entity, as a province of the Roman Empire, or a province of the Episcopal Church. A province is not an separate entity in and of itself. ACNA certainly calls itself a "province" and DSC recognizes ACNA as a "province." However, in fact, ACNA is not a province of anything. It is an independent entity. The people of South Carolina should recognize this fundamental fact. It is shameful that DSC is still deliberately misleading its own communicants by continually repeating the myth that DSC would be joining a "province" in the Anglican Communion. The bald fact is that ACNA is not a province. Moreover, ACNA is not in the Anglican Communion. It is not part of the Anglican Communion. Facts are facts.

What are the advantages of DSC joining ACNA? There are obviously certain institutional advantages: pensions, insurance, clergy exchanges, and mutual programs and fellowship/support. The communicants of DSC should weight the pros and the cons of joining ACNA.

Given the uncertain future in the litigation, it is probably wise for DSC to link up with some larger body rather than continuing the sham of an oversight from the Global South. It seems to me that as time goes by, the chances that DSC will prevail in court fade. Day by day, odds turn more and more in favor that the state supreme court will come down on the side of the Episcopal Church. If the state supreme court gives TEC the diocese and all the property, the followers of Mark Lawrence who refuse to return to the Episcopal Church will need a lot of help in reorganizing. The ACNA is right there with a Diocese of the Carolinas. The chances are strong that the state supreme court will deliver its written opinion before DSC calls its special convention in the fall. If so, the delegates will have a lot more to talk about than affiliation. If the court does side with TEC, as I suspect they will, the sensible thing for the delegates to do is to make preparations to return to the church of their ancestors. After all is said and done, the Episcopal Church, and not ACNA, is the home of the Diocese of South Carolina.