Tuesday, June 16, 2020

NOTES, 16 JUNE 2020

For the last few days, I have been away from my computer. We all need to take a break now and then. However, while I was away, some highly important events occurred, so there is much to catch up with today. My usual disclaimer is that what I offer here is only personal opinion. I am not an officer in any church or other institutional body; and I speak for no one but myself.


On Friday, 12 June 2020, a panel set up by the Disciplinary Board for Bishops held a public hearing in the matter of Bishop William Love, of Albany. Both the Episcopal Church and Bishop Love asked for summary judgment in this case. The church charged that Love violated the vows he made at his consecration to conform to the discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church and should be held accountable. Bishop Love contended that he had not violated the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church.

The specific issue revolves around Resolution B012 in the 2018 General Convention of the Episcopal Church. It provided for same-sex marriage in all dioceses under certain conditions. Bishop Love rejected this resolution in his diocese and maintained his policy of banning same-sex marriage in the Diocese of Albany. The church lawyer said that with this, Love violated the discipline and worship of the church.

The facts of the case were not in dispute. Love admitted to blocking B012 in his diocese. His position was that he did not violate the doctrine of the church which was contained in the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer and in the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church. B012 was not put in the BCP and was not given canonical status; therefore, B012 did not become doctrine of the church. He could not be held in violation of something that did not exist.

The central issue became whether a resolution of the General Convention is in and of itself a law of the church and applicable to all of the dioceses, or just a suggestion to the dioceses until and unless it is either specifically spelled out in the canons or placed in the BCP. In short, was a resolution of the GC a law of the church?

The issue at stake, and the arguments presented, were really rather simple and straightforward. They were not complicated or difficult to understand. The church lawyer argued for a broad interpretation, that the Episcopal Church is hierarchical and the highest body has authority over the dioceses. A resolution of GC necessarily has authority over the dioceses. Love's lawyer argued for a strict interpretation, that GC can make law only by placing it in the Constitution and Canons or in the BCP. Therefore, a resolution of GC is not necessarily authoritative in and of itself.

So, the sides conflicted over the power of a resolution of the GC. The church argued that a resolution has inherent authority over the dioceses. Love argued that a resolution does not have inherent authority and that it becomes enforceable only if it becomes an official canon of the church and/or is spelled out in the rubrics of the prayer book. B012 was placed in neither the canons nor the prayer book and therefore is not mandatory over the dioceses.

What the hearing panel now has to decide is whether Bp Love has violated his consecration vows. If he has, he faces discipline. If he has not, he is exonerated. However, the losing side can appeal the decision. This whole matter may drag on for a long time to come.

In my opinion, the odds are that the panel will find for the church side. The point of a resolution of GC is to make policy and procedure for the whole Episcopal Church. If this were not enforceable, it would be only a suggestion. What good would that be? Suppose Congress passed laws that were only suggestions to the states and could not be enforced unless they were written into the Constitution. This would be virtually unworkable. We have an example, embarrassingly enough, here in Alabama. The State of Alabama has the longest constitution in the world. It is 44 times longer than the U.S. Constitution. It holds 946 amendments at last count. The reason for this is that any act of the legislature that affects even one county has to become a constitutional amendment. It is absurd and has led to ridiculous and burdensome outcomes such as very long ballots on election day with one amendment after another. Why should I have to vote on dog racing in Demopolis? No, the reason we have law-making bodies is to make law.

I fully expect the Episcopal Church to impose some sort of discipline on Bishop Love who, to his credit, has voluntarily followed the policies and procedures of discipline so far. I see no movement in Albany today toward secession, such as we saw in South Carolina before the schism of 2012.

It is interesting to compare the case of Bp Love with that of South Carolina. Fundamentally, they dealt with the same issue, hierarchy, that is, whether the General Convention had authority over the dioceses. Even that had a difference. Love is not exactly arguing that GC has no authority, only that this right has to be specifically spelled out in the canons and/or in the BCP. 

South Carolina was different. There, in 2010 and 2011, the diocesan convention voted self-governance and the right to nullify the laws of the national church within the diocese. It voted to repeal the diocesan accession to the canons of TEC. The national church did not respond to this outright act of rebellion. In 2011, Bishop Lawrence was investigated by the Disciplinary Board for Bishops for numerous charges of violation of vows. The DBB voted not to charge Lawrence with violation. Lawrence then very publicly disregarded the Dennis Canon by granting quit claim deeds to the local parishes. This in-your-face defiance of Episcopal Church canon law gave the church no choice but to take disciplinary action. Meanwhile, the two dozen or so leaders of the diocese made a secret deal to remove the diocese from the Episcopal Church if the church took any action against Lawrence, something that everyone knew was likely in view of the quit claim deeds. The DBB really had no choice this second time but to vote that Lawrence had abandoned the communion. On October 15, 2012, the presiding bishop placed a restriction on Lawrence who promptly informed the diocesan leadership. Schism. The leadership declared the secret resolution to be in effect and then announced this to the world. So, the way Love is handling his case now is entirely different than the way Lawrence handled his case. We should all be grateful to Bishop Love for this.

For a lengthy article on the Love hearing, see this ENS report. 

A video recording of the three hour and twenty-two minute hearing may be found here. 


We Americans are now dealing with multiple crises: COVID-19, economic recession, and reaction to racism. The country has not seen a situation as serious as this since the end of the Second World War, 75 years ago. At first glance, we may feel that everything is out of control. While this is definitely a time of change, I do not see it as a negative. In fact, I am more hopeful of the the future now than I have been in a long time. Here is my view.

President Trump came to power three and a half years ago on a policy of divide and conquer. He did his best to turn social groups against each other. In a quest for authoritarian power he attacked every institution he saw as a challenge, the FBI, the intelligence community, the courts, the Congress, and the media. He survived the Mueller probe and the impeachment movement. However, he could not survive the coronavirus and its effects. His incompetency was put on full display in front of the virus, the economic collapse, and the subsequent massive street demonstrations. The majority of Americans, who had never supported him, increasingly rejected the president.

The people and the institutions held in spite of Trump's best efforts against them. By the countless thousands, the people took to the streets to denounce racism, something that Trump had stoked for years. The people defended the principles of democracy and human rights. In so doing, they repudiated Trumpism. 

The institutions that had come under tremendous stain held the line. The generals rebelled against the president when he tried to use the armed forces against the American citizens marching in the streets under their constitutions rights. Trump's grasp at authoritarianism collapsed. Meanwhile state and local governments arose to the occasion in the fight against the virus. The Federal Reserve  and the Congress staved off economic catastrophe. 

By far the greatest demonstration that the institutions held the line came from the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday. It issued a major decision defending the human rights of homosexual persons. It declared that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protected homosexuals in the workplace. They cannot be fired simply because of their sexual orientation. The majority (6-3) opinion was written by none other than Justice Gorsuch, a Trump (and Heritage Foundation) appointee. To me, this decision is great in and of itself but also because it proved the indispensable American institutions have survived Trumpism. This tells us that American democracy is still strong. It tells me that the the counter-revolutionaries are losing in their reaction against the great democratic reforms of the late Twentieth and early Twenty-First Centuries. The force of democracy is greater than that of reaction. This is true in spite of three and a half years of a demagogue doing his best to diminish democratic and human rights values. America stayed true to its past. It held the line for us all. This is a moment to stop and absorb it all. This is a monumental point in history.

I have much more to say but this blog piece has grown too long. 

Remember friend, we are here for the living of this hour. Peace.