The Rt. Rev. Wallis C. Ohl, Bishop of Ft. Worth, and the Rt. Rev. John C. Buchanan, Bishop of Quincy, have asked General Convention to “set the record straight” on hierarchy in the Episcopal Church. They also have accused nine brother bishops of “boundary-crossing.” Their letter follows.

Ohl-Buchanan Letter

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About The Author

I am senior editor of The Living Church. My wife, Monica, and I attend St. Matthew’s Church in Richmond, Virginia.

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One Response

  1. Benjamin Guyer

    I have now pulled off the shelf the recently published volume by James Dator, Many Parts, One Body: How the Episcopal Church Works (Church Publishing, 2010). I hope to begin reading it this weekend. While thumbing through the pages and then reading the conclusion, I came across the following, fascinating statements:

    “The basis, or locus, of governing authority in the Episcopal Church is one of the most vexing problem in connections with its polity.” (p. 143)

    and then:

    “The church has not made an official and final decision concerning the question of the source of governing authority. All three of these positions may be found passionately argued in the literature of the church.” (pp. 143- 4)

    The three positions referred to (p. 143) are 1.) strictly episcopal (thus, from Christ through the apostles to the bishops), which claims that the House of Bishops, not the General Convention, is the locus of authority; 2.) strictly diocesan, “with (or even without) its bishop(s)”; 3.) strictly self-governing via the General Convention. Dator argues that the third view is correct, yet in fn. 5 on p. 144 he notes that Seabury and other “high” churchmen have historically argued 1.), that “low” churchmen have usually argued 2.), and that White argued 3.). Importantly, Dator begins this footnote by writing, “The first and second views are chiefly asserted” (ibid.)!

    Why then does Dator choose the third option? He offers an important caveat – his is no manifesto, it seems, and thus allows for complexity and nuance – by writing that the government of ECUSA is “unitary…however, it is hugely decentralized. In this decentralization, it takes on confederal, more nearly than even federal characteristics” (p. 144). Of course, in the end he denies that the church is “structurally confederal” (ibid.). But what matters for us is that although he advances an argument for unitary government – “there is no limit at all upon the General Convention’s governing powers, unless it is the ancient canons and the necessity for conformity with the catholic faith; but General Convention alone interprets these finally. Thus, the government is unitary” (ibid.) – he is very clear that other positions exist, that they always have existed (as far back as Seabury and White!), and that ECUSA’s actual structure is highly odd.

    +Ohl and +Buchanan’s request for clarification of the Episcopal Church’s hierarchical nature is effectively a request to resolve a centuries’ old debate that has highly respected and highly respectable advocates. I don’t suspect that the bishops in question are actually aware of what they are seeking to have resolved. And, to be quite honest, I find no small level of irony in Bonnie Anderson’s call for restructuring here – she represents, without question, the most anti-hierarchical contingent in the church. So her own call is at direct cross purposes with those of +Ohl and +Buchanan, whether she realizes it or not.

    What a bastion of sad and sorry confusion. I will keep the persecuted in my prayers!


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