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Bishop William Love v. The Episcopal Church: an Exercise in Sophistry

Bishop William Love v. The Episcopal Church: an Exercise in Sophistry

By David G. Duggan
Special to Virtueonline
October 11, 2020

I have no dog in the fight of Bishop William Love v. The Episcopal Church. I have never worshiped in a church in the Diocese of Albany. I do not get invited to weddings, either same or opposite sex. I have gay acquaintances and have had gay clients. I have treated and strived for them the same I would do anyone. And though I was a trial lawyer for many years I am not a "canon lawyer" versed in the intricacies of the canons of the Episcopal Church, which seem to change to suit the purpose. Regardless of the mutability of the rules under which Bishop Love was judged, I find the decision by the "hearing panel" convened to consider whether he "violated his ordination vows" troubling for several reasons. And this regardless of the underlying issue: whether the Episcopal Church should in any form kowtow to the popular age which holds same sex marriages to be fully consistent with God's created order.

First, the idea that a hearing body, not composed entirely of Bishop Love's peers (at least 2 of the 5 panel members were not bishops) could render judgment of a theological nature on someone of that status is abhorrent. Only a bishop who has been called to discipline a wayward priest or decide whether the parishes in his see must be closed because of declining attendance can judge whether a fellow bishop has violated the order and discipline under which all bodies, even churches operate. Neither of the two non-bishops has any experience with these matters; one of the bishops was described only as an "assistant" (not suffragan or coadjutor) and regardless of her personal experience was never the one in the hot seat. "Peers" means of equal stature, and the fact that a majority of the hearing panel were not of Bishop Love's status within the church truly speaks to the legitimacy of its determination.

Second, is the implicit ruling that when one takes one's vows as a bishop, he is pro tanto submitting to "majority rule" on matters of faith and doctrine, even those contrary to scripture. Before reciting various promises, the bishop-elect states: "I ... solemnly declare that I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation; and I do solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church." Thereafter, the candidate responds:

Will you guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church?
Answer: I will, for the love of God.
Bishop: Will you share with your fellow bishops in the government of the whole Church; will you sustain your fellow presbyters and take counsel with them; will you guide and strengthen the deacons and all others who minister in the Church?
Answer: I will, by the grace given me.

Note that nothing in these questions or vows indicates what prevails when there is a conflict between the Holy Scriptures and the "doctrine, discipline and worship of the ... Church." Note also that in the 1976 order of service, the bishop elect is not required to affirm that he is "persuaded that the Holy Scriptures contain all Doctrine required as necessary for eternal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ" (as was required in the 1928 order of service for the consecration of a bishop).

Nor does the 1976 PB contain an "incorporation clause" by which the bishop-elect re-affirms a priest-candidate's affirmation of that statement. Hence, the question whether a bishop is within his consecrated authority to prevent within the diocese committed to his care a belief, or a system he finds contrary to scripture.

The church disciplinary authorities circumvented this by contending that the order of service for same-sex marriages was a "prayer-book revision" which had been duly approved. This is pure sophistry. If a majority of the delegates at the national convention determined that the Nicene creed should delete the "filioque" clause (the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son) used in the Western Church for the last 1,000 years, and a Bishop objected, he could be disciplined? Under what principle can a Bishop be found to have violated church "discipline" by failing to attorn to a doctrine nowhere found within the Church when he was consecrated. In civil law, this would be known as a violation of the ex post facto clause of the US Constitution.

I posted the preceding concerns on another forum and was uniformly vilified by those posting comments. I was accused of hatred, homophobia and asked to leave the church for expressing the neutral view that this issue was one of theology and not governance.

I want to suggest a viewpoint not earlier considered: that Bishop Love's decision was for the good of his diocese and for the national church. By becoming the sacrificial lamb on the altar of homosexuality, Bishop Love avoided the unpleasantness that has infected dioceses from Connecticut to California. As some have noted, he could have led the Albany Diocese out of TEC, but with quite uncertain results.

All one need do is look to the millions of dollars spent in legal fees in South Carolina, Texas, California, Quincy (IL), Virginia and elsewhere over the carcass remains of a denomination that has lost at least a third and probably more than half of its weekly attendants in the last 20 years since the issue has become front and center. Bishop Love's decision allows those parishes to stay within the national church or, if they so choose, try to affiliate with ACNA or another Anglican denomination, each responsible for its own decision.

The objective reality is that 1) Bishop Love was consecrated (2006) before New York sanctioned same-sex marriages (2011); 2) that Scripture uniformly condemns homosexual relationships; and 3) no matter how much lipstick is put on the pig of prayer-book revision, changing matters central to the faith is a radical re-definition of what the Episcopal Church believes. And to those who believe that the Holy Spirit has "spoken" through the deliberations of the national church, I ask: where was the Holy Spirit when the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America, unique in protestant US Christendom, did not split during the Civil War over the issue of slavery? Was the Holy Spirit "deep in thought, or busy, or traveling? [Or m]aybe he [wa]s sleeping and must be awakened" then? I Kings 18:27 (NIV). Or was it cowardice or lack of clarity on a moral issue?

In this other forum (the inquiry and the follow-on comments have been deleted), some quoted Plato, Aquinas or John Shelby Spong in defense of the decision, or cited Henry Tudor as an example of how the Church addresses matters of a carnal nature. I'll go you one better: Martin Luther before the Diet of Worms: "For a man to violate his conscience is neither right nor safe. I can do no other. God help me."

Bishop Love's conscience-based decision will ultimately be judged not by us but by the God of our salvation and judgment "who is sifting through the hearts of men before His judgment seat." Perhaps in the "punishment" phase of this kangaroo proceeding he will be defrocked or allowed to retire (pension intact) or subjected to "godly admonition," or some such other sanction, but he will have his defended his conscience, his office, and his belief in the supremacy of Scripture.

David Duggan is a frequent contributor to virtueonline. He is a (mostly) retired lawyer writing and worshiping in the Diocese of Chicago. You can find his book of award-winning devotional essays 'Glimpses of Grace, Reflections of a Life in Christ' on Amazon.

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