Three days ago the Presiding Bishop’s office released the text of the Accord reached between nine bishops–of which I am one–and those who filed charges against us last June under Title IV, the clergy discipline canon. In January, representatives of the Complainants and Respondents came to Richmond, Virginia, where we were joined by a professional mediator appointed by the Presiding Bishop. This document is the result of the process begun at that meeting, and is named in the canon as “conciliation.” All the parties have agreed to it, the respondents are indemnified from future action in the matter, and the case is closed.
“Conciliation” is a bizarrely inappropriate word to describe what has happened. Going into the January meeting, we bore no ill will toward our accusers, and welcomed the opportunity to meet them face to face and talk things out. Today, I think it’s safe to say that all nine of us are processing some degree of anger and are feeling substantially alienated from those who brought the charges against us. We feel manipulated and victimized. We are nowhere near happy about this outcome, even though we stand by our decision to accept the Accord.
Some have accused us of cowardly capitulation. I can understand this reaction. If someone had shown me the agreement I signed at the time the charges were made known, I would have rejected it out of hand. So some explanation is in order.
The rhetorical tone of the Accord is certainly derisive and hostile toward the Respondents. We come off as downright obsequious. This abusive tone is something we made a considered decision to swallow for the sake of putting the matter behind us. But it is vitally important to make a careful distinction between the tone of the document and its substance. In particular, please note that …
- We admitted to no misconduct or any form of wrongdoing. The Accord contains no “finding” of guilt on our part, and the Complainants signed it!
- We reaffirmed our belief in the assertions of our amicus brief. We continue to believe that the polity of the Episcopal Church as characterized by the 2009 Bishops’ Statement on Polity is true and correct. We have not in any way backed away from this position. Yes, we acknowledged that it is “likely a minority view.” Indeed, it probably is at this time. But this does not make it any less true.
Some have expressed consternation that we acknowledged that we are subject to the Dennis Canon. Why the dismay? It’s a canon, and all clergy are subject to all the canons. We acknowledge that at our ordination. This does not mean the amici endorse or like the Dennis Canon. The matter at hand doesn’t even have anything to do with the Dennis Canon. This was no concession at all.
We have also been criticized for our laudatory language toward the bishops and other leaders of the “continuing” dioceses. First, see above re what the obsequious tone buys us. But also note that the language is identical to that of two resolutions passed by the House of Bishops, the second time at last July’s General Convention, where the amici who were present there joined in the unanimous vote. I don’t recall hearing any criticism for that vote then, but it’s exactly the same as what we have said in the Accord.
We also agreed not to file any more briefs or affidavits until General Convention considers the question of bishops filing briefs and affidavits. But this is entirely moot. We have made our point about the polity of our church in Texas and Illinois courts. Those points are now matters of public record. There is no more reason for us to intervene as we did to protect the truth about TEC’s polity and interests of our own dioceses.
When a corporation is sued by a disgruntled customer or former employee, its legal counsel often advises the management to settle out of court, even though they believe the lawsuit is frivolous or otherwise unjust. To take it to trial would be time-consuming and costly, even it it resulted in exculpation. Reaching a settlement is nearly always offensive at an emotional level, but is often the right thing to do when considered rationally. This is the position the amici were in. If we had declined to sign this accord, the chances are that the matter would have been taken to the next level–a hearing leading to a finding. We would have had to retain legal counsel, at great expense. The process would have voraciously eaten time and energy, preventing us from providing the kind of godly leadership and pastoral care to the flocks committed to our charge. And there was no guarantee we would prevail at trial. We may well have been subject to suspension and/or monetary fines, which would also have hampered our ministry and the life of our dioceses even more.
So we opted to cut our losses and live to fight another day. We did not compromise on anything of essential importance. We intend to keep the conversation about polity alive in the councils of the Episcopal Church. We do feel battered and wounded. This has been a demeaning experience. We are dismayed that some we would consider friends feel like we have let them down. We face the future with faith and hope, even as we realize there will continue to be obstacles and difficulties in the witness we believe ourselves called to bear.
(I use the first person plural pronoun a lot in this post. Actually, I only speak for myself, though I am fairly confident my colleagues would agree with how I have characterized the matter.)