Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Ephraim Radner's Unrealistic Proposal for the Sake of the Gospel

Ephraim Radner poses a genuine and timely challenge to Episcopalians/Anglicans across the theological spectrum. It will be interesting to see how it is received.

Here's an excerpt from Radner's article published in The Living Church:

In the face of the tragedy in Haiti, I want to make a proposal. It’s not a realistic proposal, I grant; but it is a serious one. My proposal is this: that all those Anglicans involved in litigation amongst one another in North America — both in the Episcopal Church and those outside of TEC; in the Anglican Church of Canada, and those outside — herewith cease all court battles over property. And, having done this, they do two further things:

a. devote the forecast amount they were planning to spend on such litigation to the rebuilding of the Episcopal Church and its people in Haiti; and

b. sit down with one another, prayerfully and for however long it takes, and with whatever mediating and facilitating presence they accept, and agree to a mutually agreed process for dealing with contested property.

Before addressing the “unrealistic” character of this proposal, let’s be clear about the money that may be involved. As I read TEC’s national budget, for instance, over $4 million has been spent already on “Title IV” and litigation matters in the dioceses, and over $4 million more is budgeted for the next triennium. Let’s assume that some comparable amount is being spent by the opposing parties — maybe not as much, but still a lot. I don’t know … $3 million over the past three years and $3 million more over the next? Maybe less. Then there are the dioceses alone that are spending their own money. I know that Colorado has spent upwards of $3 million in these matters, and its opponents again, perhaps less again but certainly a sizable amount. I really don’t know what we’re talking about here — maybe $20 million already spent, maybe more? And certainly another $10 million in the pipeline.

Isn’t this rather crazy? Isn’t this in fact unfaithful? Isn’t this, indeed, perverse and even blasphemous?

And it is certainly so in the face of the needs we have just been witnessing in Port-au-Prince, needs which, it must be said, have been around us all the time these past years, but here have come into a blinding and heart-rending focus. ...

... with these kinds of movements in place, there could be, through God’s mercy and spiritual movement, a rethinking of the shape that North American Anglican struggles have taken, the toll they have wrought, and the call to a different form of engaging deep disagreements, even ones that, in themselves, brook little resolution on a theological plane. Who knows what God might do to people who humble themselves enough to give themselves away?

This is all very serious, as I said. Whether or not I have this or that detail correct, the general thrust of the proposal is clear enough and, to my mind, compelling enough in terms of gospel truth and divine demand. What would Jesus do? I think we all know.

But I also realize that it is all rather unrealistic: TEC leaders will say they have a fiduciary responsibility to sue for disputed property, and that this is “mission”; departed congregations and dioceses will say the same thing in a different guise, and add that “TEC started it”; each will say the other won’t listen or has never responded to overtures for mediated discussion; the level of mistrust and hostility is seemingly too high to overcome with either reason or charity.

Meanwhile, we will text our $10 to the Red Cross, give $25 to Episcopal Relief and Development or Anglican Relief and Development, wire a little money here, dig some trenches there, salute Paul Farmer and microcredit programmers for good work, and go back to court. Haiti will struggle, but not alone; Christ will be there, even as he leaves us behind.

Read it all.


Joe said...

Fr. Owen,

Amen and Amen! That said, you are also correct that the litigants on both sides will keep right on doing what they have been doing. Perhaps some serious thought about the "righteous judgment" of God is in order. Lest we never forget that each of us will face judgment and God's ultimate justice (and it ain't the "justice" that so many engaged in the Episcopal discussion talk so much about).

God's peace.

Joe Roberts <><

Bill Carroll said...

This piece looks good on the surface, but it is in fact an opportunistic attempt to reframe the property litigation--shamefully, sinfully exploiting the suffering of the people of Haiti to attempt to score political points.

The leadership of TEC is faithfully discharging its moral, canonical, and fiduciary responsibility to defend Church property against theft. This property is held in trust for the poor. God forbid we should allow the American far right, acting through the IRD, to hijack it. I've consistently argued that these things should be settled out of court where possible. The barrier to this happening comes from ACNA, which does not respect the canonical framework within which the property in question is held.

Bryan Owen said...

Bill, it's hard for me to not read your accusatory comments through the lens of Speed Leas' levels of conflict, perhaps as a manifestation of the Church having moved from level 3 to level 4 conflict.

While I am certainly acquainted with the hermeneutics of suspicion (I attended Vanderbilt Divinity School, after all), I read Radner's piece as a sincere plea to shift the focus to the Church's mission. The Left makes that sincere plea all the time with regard to conflict over sexuality issues. Why can't someone from the Right make the same plea over the issues of litigation, and particularly in the wake of the horrific tragedy in Haiti, without being accused of sinful duplicity? Why presume to know what's in Radner's heart with such certainty that we dimiss his proposal as just more political posturing and sinful exploitation?

Those are serious charges which you say are "in fact" the case. Where's your evidence for these "facts"? Are there any genuine warrants to back up these charges in this particular case beyond personal antipathy towards Radner?

BillyD said...

I'm sorry, but the idea that Episcopal Church property is "held in trust for the poor" made me laugh. Would that the poor made up a large enough proportion of ECUSA that we might be a Church of the poor, but as it is we are not. We may not be the Republican Party at prayer any more, but we're still as a whole rather privileged.

Bryan Owen said...

All quite true, BillyD. And yet, to whom are we entrusted with all that we have if not "the least of these"? So while at one level I, too, can laugh at the statement that our property is "held in trust for the poor" because it is all too often so clearly false, I can also lament that we fail to live into that trust by the tendency to privilege folks like ourselves and our pet causes (and this tends to be true across the theological spectrum).

Bill Carroll said...


I don't know what Radner's motive was, and I have not doubt that he was very sincere. I do think that it's one thing to shift a conversation that is about conflict to the Church's mission and quite another to shift a conversation that was about Haiti and how to respond to make a statement about the Church's conflict. This precisely is why his statement, which looks good on the surface, is both opportunistic and reprehensible.

Bryan Owen said...

Bill, what if it's the case that our conflict as a Church hinders our capacity to respond to the Haiti crisis as fully and effectively as we otherwise could? (Surely it can't be helping us do a better job.)

And how exactly is it "opportunistic" and "reprehensible" to ask: "Can we find a way to move beyond our conflict and the insane amount of money we're spending fighting each other to refocus our energies and finances on proactively addressing Haiti?"

Is it really "opportunistic" and "reprehensible" to suggest that if A and B are in conflict, that they do well to (at least temporarily) transcend their differences by coming together to address what each regards as worthy cause C? And that, in doing so, hitherto unforeseen ways to address if not fully resolve the conflict between A and B may arise?

Don't we find it laudable when Democrats and Republicans - who often have serious conflict and substantive disagreements - do that sort of thing? Or when persons from different and incompatible faith traditions do that sort of thing?

In short, isn't working together for the common good in spite of our real differences and disagreements a morally praiseworthy thing? And is it really wrong to hope that something good could come out of what otherwise can only be described as a horrific tragedy?

plsdeacon said...

Bill Carroll,

One could make the argument that TEC is trying to steal congregations who own title to the property and have always owned title to the property. So, please dispense with such rhetoric. It is not ACNA that is the barrier to out of court settlements. +KJS has said that she will not allow any bishop to sell congregational property to Anglicans in the US that are not part of TEC. So, the barrier to an out of court settlement would seem to be with her, not with the departing congregations.

Remember, the only winners in this litigation are the trial lawyers.

Let's stop the litigation and return to the negotiating table with the idea in mind that we are looking for a solution that honors the contributions of the congregation, the diocese, and TEC. Congregations that wish to depart should be allowed to keep their property, but should pay the diocese a price.

BTW, in a bit of serendipity, the word I had to type was nonjurz - it reminded me of the non-jurors that consecrated +Seabury. (grin)

Phil Snyder

Bill Carroll said...

In our hierarchical denomination, we are governed by canon law. All congregational property is held in trust for the diocese and all diocesan property is held in trust for the Episcopal Church. All bishops, priests, and deacons vow before God to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church at their ordinations, which includes this arrangement. Moreover, each vestry is subject to the same canonical framework, which is the sole source of its authority. Legally, they are trustees of property that is held in trust, proximally for the diocese and ultimately for the Episcopal Church.

Radner is shifting the discussion away from the needs of Haiti, in order to justify theft and schism.

In terms of my own ministry as a parish priest, I'm far too busy organizing an ecumenical fundraiser for Haiti to worry about such things. I'm also far to busy carrying on my ministry in the context of my vows to think about absconding with Church property. Radner and his friends have been plotting this schism for some time. And the blame lies squarely with those who don't take their vows seriously.

We all agree that the lawsuits are regrettable and harm the Church's ability to focus on mission. If you don't want to be sued, don't take what isn't yours. The Episcopal Church didn't choose this fight.

Christopher said...

I don't tend to operate from a hermeneutic of suspicion or of generosity, but of critical appreciation.

Whatever the motives, throwing these two matters together comes off bad in the same way that throwing together the election of Canon Glaspool and the Ugandan situation came off bad at +Susan Russell's blog. It comes across as seeking an opportunity to get one's way by guilting everyone. This would not be the first time I have encountered a sense that the motives of those at C-C are above reproach only to see them justify tactics--like the behind-the-back letter Mark Harris released some time back, even going so far as to deny such actions smacked of worldly power and politicking.

Would the response be so generous here had the unrealistic proposal thrown together the terrible situation with our Haitian siblings and that of Ugandan lgbt persons? Or is that just a pet cause?

Bryan Owen said...

It's important to keep in mind, Bill, that Radner has called for both sides in the disputes to cease and desist. I'm sorry that you don't seem willing to at least give him credit for making that point.

It seems to me that what Douglas LeBlanc wrote over at Scott Gun's blog is applicable to the thread here:

... the assumption is that Ephraim has sided with those who have left unless he explicitly sides with the Episcopal Church’s dioceses instead.

Could it be that some of us actually believe both sides are failing to live up to the behavior to which the New Testament calls the followers of Christ?

Is it within the realm of possibility that Ephraim was more concerned about the suffering people of Haiti than about scoring political points in North America’s never-ending conflicts?

It seems to me the assumptions here are based on eisegesis of Ephraim’s text, rather than what he has written.

BillyD said...

For the sake of argument, let's assume that the breakaway entities are indeed trying to steal Episcopal property, and that ECUSA is squarely in the right (which is also more or less my real life position). Even with that in mind, might it not be a better Christian witness to do as Radner suggests? You know, turning the other cheek, giving your tunic, too, when someone asks for your cloak, going the second mile? Do we really think that God is more concerned with the long range mission of ECUSA than he is with how we live the Gospel in real life?

plsdeacon said...

BillyD's comment makes a lot of sense.

As an additional point, just what will TEC be doing with the empty buildings? Surely it would be better to let the break away congregation purchase them (even at a reduced price) or lease them for a reasonable rate, than it would to keep them empty and continue to pay the upkeep on them. The unwillingness of TEC's leadership to allow such arrangements (especially since +KJS became PB) speaks more about the anger of TEC's leadership than it does about mission imperatives.

BillyD said...

I'd certainly much rather that a church building have a congregation in it than be torn down or turned into a restaurant or bar, although I can imagine instances where I'd prefer nothing to some of the things that pass for "churches" in the US these days. If somebody like the Phelps clan were going to use it, I'd say, "Bring in the wrecking ball!"

There's a lot of angry behavior on all sides, Phil. I wonder how long it's going to be before there's anything like friendly relations between ECUSA and the various spinoffs. Or is their always going to bad blood, like between the Missouri Synod and the ELCA?