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SALT LAKE CITY, UT: Springfield Bishop Raises Questions about his Future in TEC

SALT LAKE CITY, UT: Springfield Bishop Raises Questions about his Future in TEC
[Can I] remain in communion with a church that engages in false teaching as long as it continues to be a church?
Is it heresy or just false teaching?

By Bishop Daniel Martins
June 30, 2015

We're at that point that is inevitably reached in every General Convention when there's an increasing sense of urgency in the air. Resolutions that pass in one House and then get amended in the other, have to first go back to committee, where the amended version must be concurred with, and then sent back to the House that initially approved it. Adjournment is a time certain event late Friday afternoon. Resolutions run the risk of getting lost in the cracks. This produces anxiety.

Committee 11 this morning put the final stamp on getting Prayer Book revision going, so the measure will soon show up in the House of Bishops. I do hope we might eventually consider the route taken by the Church of England, where the 1662 version remains the standard book, but it's mostly used only by cathedrals for choral evensong. Most parishes use a volume called Common Worship. I would be very pleased if we could allow the 1979 BCP be for us what the 1662 BCP is for the Church of England, and put the new rites in another collection.

To my dismay (I'm dismayed a lot these days), we also considered and moved along a resolution that calls for the formation of a task force to consider the question of Holy Communion for the unbaptized. The House of Bishops rejected this resoundingly only three years ago. I hope we do so again.

The afternoon legislative was brutally long and ... well, just brutal. Once again, an executive session consumed more tomato than it should have (IMO), dealing with the same issue that was before us yesterday. This time, I really do think we've got it sorted out.

Once again, we had to postpone, and then return to, the "make churches greener" resolution because of non-substantive snafus. But it was eventually approved. I vote No simply because I believe this is the sort of thing that can be handled locally, and what can be handled locally should be handled locally.

The bulk of our time and energy, however, was consumed by two marriage-related resolutions. A054 authorizes new liturgical rites that can be used for the celebration of any marriage that is legal in the United States. It includes what I consider to be adequate protections for bishops and dioceses that hold a traditional understanding of marriage. I can and will prohibit their use in the Diocese of Springfield, though I will be obligated, upon request, to facilitate their availability. Referral of such requests to an appropriate neighboring diocese will be considered a good-faith response. I can live with that.

Resolution A036 is another matter. It alters the canon governing marriage to make the language gender-neutral. My handful of allies and I felt this is where we needed to make our stand. We immediately moved a minority report that emerged from the Special Committee on Marriage as a substitute for the resolution. This report was simply a document affirming the traditional understanding of marriage, and was not an alternate canonical change. We had cleared it in advance with the parliamentarian, who deemed it in order. But one of the bishops fairly quickly challenged the Presiding Bishop's ruling that the substitute was in order, and called for a vote on the matter, which is allowed in Roberts Rules. A majority of the bishops voted to overturn the Presiding Bishop's ruling, so our substitute was taken out of play. The parliamentarian was, of course, correct, so this was simply the names exercise of raw power. The mood of this convention is "spike the ball."

Debate proceeded, and there were a couple of amendments and amendments to amendments moved, but none carried. My allies and I did successfully request a roll-call vote, however, which tends to annoy people. Nonetheless, we felt it important for us to be on the record for the benefit of worldwide consumption, particularly among our Global South friends, who are always under pressure to cast us aside in favor of an exclusive relationship with the ACNA. There was some 150 or so bishops still around (down quite a bit from Saturday's PB election). There were 26 No votes and five abstentions. We got our heads handed to us.

One could argue that there are some details still in play before it's possible to conclusively say, "Done deal." And the House of Deputies still has to act, though the conclusion there is more foregone than with the Bishops. Nonetheless, the Episcopal Church has, today, effectively redefined marriage--a universal and timeless human social institution that Christians have believed is, in fact, not merely a human social institution, but a gift from God that is literally prehistoric, participating in the order of creation. We have done so, moreover, without even a pretense of consultation with the other provinces of the Anglican Communion, to say nothing of the rest of the Christian world. It is an act of breathtaking hubris, an abuse of common sense truly worthy of the descriptor Orwellian.

Is it heresy? This is the question I will continue to ponder. I don't use that term loosely. It has a high bar. Mere false teaching (which this manifestly is) is not necessarily, or even often, heresy. Heresy must ultimately be traceable to the denial of one of the articles of the creeds. The creeds don't talk about marriage. The creeds do, however, talk about creation. They name God as the creator of heaven and earth. If marriage was indeed established by God in creation, we are denying the character of that creation when we trivialize the sheer given-ness of "make and female created He them." These are some preliminary thoughts, at least.

This requires a great deal of further thought, prayer, consultation, and discernment. One of my ecclesiological taproots is that one is obligated to remain in communion with a church that engages in false teaching as long as it continues to be a church. When such a church progresses from mere false teaching into formal heresy--not just de facto heresy, but heresy enshrined in its liturgies and canons--and then persists in that heresy over more than one generation--and I would suggest forty years as a benchmark for "more than one generation"--then it ceases to be a church, and a faithful Christian is obligated to not be in communion with it. We've certainly been winding the forty-year clock. Is it now ticking?

The Rt. Rev. Daniel Martins is the Bishop of Springfield

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