By Daniel Martins

At the annual convention of the Diocese of San Joaquin in 2002, there were eight candidates for four clergy deputy positions to represent the diocese at the July 2003 General Convention of the Episcopal Church. My name was one of the eight, and I got the seventh-highest number of votes, making me the third alternate. Thus, I planned to follow the goings-on in Minneapolis from the comfort of home, via the internet.

As events unfolded, however, I soon found myself first alternate, so I made Minnesota travel plans, and by the time I got to the convention, I was styled “C4,” which meant that I had a seat at the table, with a single clergy alternate behind me. It was the first of six consecutive General Conventions that I attended, an experience for which I cannot think of an adequate comparison. I represented San Joaquin again in 2006, Northern Indiana in 2009, then attended three times as a member of the House of Bishops: 2012, 2015, and 2018. I intentionally timed my retirement so I would not have to attend in 2021, but the pandemic moved it to 2022 anyway, so I was doubly protected.

But 2003 is unique among the six, and not just because it was my first. In a very real way, all subsequent meetings of General Convention, and virtually all other Anglican synodical gatherings around the communion, have been in some way dealing with the detritus of what happened in Minneapolis that year. The recent actions of the fourth Global Anglican Futures Conference (GAFCON), which purport to upend the historic role of the Archbishop of Canterbury in the life of the Anglican Communion, can be traced by a very clear line back to what the Episcopal Church did in General Convention 20 years ago this summer. It seems an appropriate time, then, for a retrospective look at what happened there, and a reassessment of subsequent events.


The spark that lit the powder keg in 2003 was the fact that the Diocese of New Hampshire had elected its canon to the ordinary, the Rev. Canon V. Gene Robinson, as its next bishop. Under the canons of that time, episcopal elections that occurred within a certain window before General Convention were considered for consent at that gathering rather than by the various diocesan standing committees and bishops with jurisdiction responding individually. Hearings were held for each affected bishop-elect, and votes were taken in the two houses of convention. The two houses had to concur for a consecration to be authorized.

What made Gene Robinson a lightning rod for controversy was his being in a partnered relationship with another man. While there were many openly gay and lesbian priests in the Episcopal Church by 2003 (though not without significant controversy from the 1970s to the 1990s), no bishop had been so open when elected. Because a bishop is ordained “for the whole church,” not just for the electing diocese, and is a symbol of unity not only within a province but beyond it, Robinson’s election sent shock waves through the worldwide Anglican Communion. Just five years earlier, at the 1998 Lambeth Conference, a sizeable majority of the gathered bishops voted in favor of a resolution declaring homosexual practice “incompatible with scripture.” Deputies and bishops arrived in Minneapolis loaded for bear, but with polarized perceptions of who the bear was.

I don’t know that anyone thought the conclusion was ever anything but foregone. Yet we all chose to act as though it were not, that discussion and debate and a robust period of open campaigning (Robinson supporters sported large “Ask Me About Gene” buttons) might actually sway deputies or bishops one way or another. At that time, there was a sufficient number of Episcopalians of a conservative mindset on sexuality and marriage that, under the auspices of the American Anglican Council and Episcopalians United, those so inclined gathered daily at a nearby church of another denomination for lunchtime caucuses and strategy briefings (not only on the Robinson consent but on other proposed legislation in which tradition-minded Episcopalians had a stake) and daily celebrations of the Eucharist that were more of a “comfort food” in contrast to the often cutting-edge General Convention liturgies.

In keeping with my convictions on Christian sexual morality, consistent with the center of gravity in the diocese that I represented, and in solidarity with our bishop, I joined the San Joaquin deputation in declining consent to Canon Robinson’s election. We were on the short end of that vote, by about a 2:1 ratio. Then the matter moved to the House of Bishops. I recruited the alternate who was behind me to take my seat in the House of Deputies while I got in line for admission to the relatively small visitor gallery in the House of Bishops.

It was all very regimented. The convention “runners” had an equivalent number of chairs they knew to be in the gallery set up in the corridor, and I managed to be in the number that were seated in those chairs. Others were turned away; it was a very hot attraction. Eventually, we were ushered into the chamber, and we sat on a raised platform, like a jury filing into a courtroom. In short order, formal debate began, but there were no surprises. It was as much theater as a parliamentary deliberation. Yet the atmosphere was somber, thick with tension and foreboding. Prayers were said and votes were cast and Gene Robinson’s path toward consecration as Bishop of New Hampshire was cleared, by a proportion similar to the deputies’ vote. Leaders of the opposition had arranged with the presiding bishop to make a public statement after the vote. One representative spoke for them, but a gaggle of 20 or 30 gathered around him at the microphone, all with countenances for which “severe” is not an adequate descriptor.

Soon thereafter, both houses of convention stood in recess for the day, and the defeated conservatives repaired to our nearby gathering place to lick our wounds, pray, and sing hymns. There was a powerfully palpable sense of love and mutual support and faith in the providence of God in that space in that moment. There were lots of tears and hugs. We sang the classic evangelical hymn with the refrain, “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand,” I have resisted the impulse to describe that assembly as the “loyal opposition.” We were united in our grief over what the General Convention had just done. We were the opposition. But, perhaps without our conscious awareness, in that moment the first hairline fissures appeared among us. We were divided in our loyalty to the Episcopal Church. In the ensuing two decades, that hairline crack has become an ecclesiastical Grand Canyon.

In the fall of 2003 there was a large gathering of conservative Episcopalians (most of whom self-described as orthodox, though such a label can be provocative among those who say the creeds without crossing their fingers, yet support the direction the Episcopal Church has taken on sexuality and marriage) at Christ Church in Plano, Texas, which was then a large parish of the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas (around 2,000 on an average Sunday). They plotted strategy, drafted statements, and sent out feelers to other quarters of the Anglican Communion, including the Archbishop of Canterbury. And they attracted international attention, including a telephone call from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, soon to become Pope Benedict XVI.

I did not attend that assembly, but I did go, at the request of my bishop, to a follow-up meeting in 2004, back at Christ Church, Plano. There we created an entity that would be known as the Anglican Communion Network, an alliance of Episcopalians that endeavored to function as a sort of “church within a church,” maintaining a theologically orthodox witness and strengthening alliances across parishes and clergy within the Episcopal Church (TEC). There were, to be sure, whispers of more radical action among those gathered in Plano. During debate over the text of the founding document, a sitting diocesan bishop rose to make crystal clear his expectation that anything we formulated would be consistent with TEC’s constitution and canons. In the end, my signature was on that founding document. And it is probably appropriate to note that Christ Church, Plano, has long since departed TEC, and the bishop who was so adamant about conforming to the constitution and canons is now a member of the College of Bishops of the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA). But I get ahead of myself.

In the meantime, still in 2003, the Archbishop of Canterbury created the Lambeth Commission on Communion to take counsel about appropriate responses to what TEC had done in Minneapolis. This commission eventually issued a document that became known as the Windsor Report. It satisfied neither conservatives (on the issue of sexuality, the overwhelming majority of Anglicans worldwide) nor progressives. It called for a moratorium on further consecrations of practicing homosexual bishops, as well as on public rites of blessing for same-sex unions, and for those from provinces that did engage in those practices to voluntarily recuse themselves from the councils of the communion. But it stopped short of recommending concrete discipline against the Episcopal Church. Most intriguingly, the Windsor Report advocated the development of an Anglican Covenant, something of a written constitution, that would provide mechanisms for dealing with crises such as the Robinson consecration.

At General Convention in 2006, the presiding officers created a special committee with the remit of crafting a response to the Windsor Report. I was asked to serve on this committee, and it remains one of the most intense and demanding experiences of my life. We labored day and night, believing that the fate of the Anglican Communion was possibly in our hands. For the first time I could remember, I actually missed Eucharist on a Sunday precisely because I was consumed with the work of the special committee. In the end, in typical Anglican fashion, convention passed a resolution that was equally odious to all concerned — too much rhetorical groveling for progressive partisans, and utterly lacking in the sort of substance desired by the rapidly shrinking number of orthodox who remained in TEC.

Archbishop Rowan Williams lent his voice in support of the Windsor Report, indicating that he would neither soft-pedal the recommended moratoria, as progressives hoped he would do, nor impose tighter strictures against TEC, as conservatives wanted from him. He concurred with the notion of an Anglican Covenant, and put his personal prestige behind it. He also summoned, over the ensuing years, a series of meetings of the Anglican Communion’s primates. Each time, Anglicans of all stripes held their breath, either hoping for or fearing a particular outcome.

The one that most sticks in my mind happened in 2007, in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. I suspect Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori left there feeling thoroughly drubbed. There was a detailed schedule of recommendations appended to the primates’ final communiqué that, had they been implemented, would have taken TEC resoundingly to the woodshed. I remember feeling encouraged, believing that the church I served desperately needed such disciplinary measures. To my disappointment, the other instruments of communion — the Archbishop and the Anglican Consultative Council being the only others in play at the time — declined to muster the executive action necessary to give substance to the primates’ collective desires. If I were to identify a moment when the prospect of a timely, clear, and healthy communion response to TEC’s actions in 2003 slipped over the horizon, this would be that moment.

It was no surprise, then, that when General Convention gathered in Anaheim in 2009, the atmosphere was palpably different. Some remarked that it was more peaceful, and lacking in contention, and they weren’t wrong. But the irenic tone was not the result of some fresh wave of unity among the bishops and deputies. Rather, it was because most of the orthodox party were not there. While in 2003 we required a large hall for lunchtime caucusing, our needs were now met by a snack bar’s alcove. Where did everybody go? They left the Episcopal Church, forming what, with some fits and starts, quickly became the Anglican Church in North America.

And, by 2009, we were well into the prolonged era of property litigation in the secular courts. While some TEC bishops at first attempted to work out charitable and pastorally realistic settlements with those who felt compelled to depart and take their church buildings with them, the presiding bishop and her legal counsel soon adopted a scorched-earth policy, forbidding even cash sales if the buying entity intended to represent itself as an Anglican church. The litigation is now, as far as I know, in the rearview mirror. The record is mixed. In Virginia and California, TEC prevailed nearly uniformly. In Texas and Illinois, the ACNA came out the winner. In South Carolina, it’s complicated, but it amounts to splitting things pretty much down the middle. In all places, St Paul’s admonitions about Christians suing Christians in secular courts (1 Cor. 6) seem to have fallen through the cracks.

In the fall of 2006, the diocese where I served, San Joaquin, voted in convention on the first reading of a constitutional amendment that deleted any mention of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, the intention of which was to thereby secede. In all honesty, while I had reservations about the measure, and managed to annoy my bishop when I spoke about those reservations, I ended up voting in favor, reasoning that it was only a first reading, that a fairly “loud” statement needed to be made, and this would certainly be loud. Before the next convention, however, I accepted a call to a parish in the Diocese of Northern Indiana. So, while I was there when the gun was cocked, I was gone when it was time to pull the trigger, thus sparing me an agonizing decision that would likely have put me squarely at odds with a majority of my vestry. The Diocese of San Joaquin eventually lost all its court cases, and my former parishioners, who had remained loyal to their bishop and become part of the ACNA, had to surrender their historic building, where they and their children had been baptized and where their ancestors were interred in the columbarium.

There’s no point in rehearsing all the sad details, so I will fast-forward to today. TEC continues to hemorrhage members at a virtually exponential rate. Dioceses are increasingly unable to sustain themselves and are merging with neighbors as a way of managing the decline. I will not join those who want to lay this decline to the fissiparousness that has grown like a noxious weed since 2003. I believe other cultural factors are more prominently in play, as the disease is affecting, to one degree or another, all Christian brand names. The ACNA, by contrast, while still much smaller than TEC, is enjoying some growth, though not spectacularly (it reported 974 congregations and 122,450 in 2022).

More importantly, a growing proportion of the ACNA, both lay and ordained, including its bishops, have never been members of the Episcopal Church. They have come to the Anglican tradition, mostly from various forms of free-church evangelicalism, directly via the ACNA, without any interaction with TEC. These people do not carry the baggage of hurt and anger that loads down the former Episcopalians who welcome them, and this changes the dynamic significantly. I have experienced this firsthand (including, I must say, while assisting the entrance of some into TEC). Among the former Episcopalians in the ACNA are many whom I love, respect, and even revere. They were co-laborers with me in the cause of the gospel of Jesus Christ while we yet served under the same ecclesial yoke. I miss them as colleagues, and wish them abundant blessing in their ministries.

But this very realization fills my heart with bitter pain. When I simply consider the human resources — the people, not just their number but their quality — that the Episcopal Church, my church, has lost in the last two decades of conflict, I want to weep. How much more virile our witness to the culture around us would be if they were still with us, and active in leadership. I need to say, as kindly as I am able, but as directly as I need to, that my fellow Episcopalians have not sufficiently mourned this loss. I have wept inwardly at meetings of the House of Bishops as we discuss grappling with the forces of decline without even a whisper of regret or sadness over what we have lost. We have nursed our perceived wounds over property disputes, but we have not grieved the absence of those who were yet so recently a vital part of our common life, and how we have been impoverished by their absence. There are tears that yet need to be shed. There are important truths that yet need to be told and heard in the councils of the Episcopal Church. There will be neither very much life nor very much health until we allow that to happen.

More to the point, though, TEC, instead of summoning any residual collective humility, has doubled down on the sort of offending behavior that sparked the sequence of events issuing from 2003. (Of course, the tinder for that blaze had been accumulating for decades before then, but that’s a story for another day.) While the Book of Common Prayer has not yet been revised to reflect the changed doctrine of marriage, efforts to do so are proceeding apace. The canons have already been amended to accommodate the solemnization of same-sex marriages, and diocesan bishops have been deprived of their inherent role as chief teachers and liturgical officers in their dioceses by General Convention’s Resolution B012 (2018), which requires those who conscientiously object to such rites to nonetheless make them available in their dioceses by enlisting the delegated pastoral oversight of a colleague bishop. A dedicated and capable diocesan bishop has already been forced to resign from office (and has joined the ACNA) merely for stating that he would not comply with the resolution if he were asked.

As a result of all this, particularly the changes to the marriage canon, might it be possible that the Episcopal Church has strayed over the line from mere false teaching into formal heresy? “Heresy” appropriately comes with a high bar, and is not a label to be lightly applied. Yet, by redefining marriage, are we not at least adjacent to abrogating the doctrine of creation, which is set forth in the first article of both the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds? It has been argued (as I did in a series of articles published by TLC in 2010) that a Christian owes presumptive allegiance to the church of his or her present membership, provided that such a church is and remains in fact an actual valid constituent part of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church of the creeds. When a church moves beyond the toleration of false teaching into mandatory heterodoxy, and persists in such a position over the course of more than one generation, it then ceases to actually be a church. Using biblical thought patterns, one might conceive of a “generation” as approximately 40 years. By that reckoning, barring a monumental act of institutional metanoia, TEC will cease to meet the definition of “church” in about 35 years, if it is even institutionally viable by then.

But my ACNA friends — and that’s pretty much how I still think of them — are not off the hook. If TEC is guilty of heresy, those who founded the ACNA, and those now involved with GAFCON, are guilty of schism. Some, I know, would consider schism a lesser evil than heresy, presuming that when truth and unity come into conflict, truth must be given the presumptive advantage. I do not accept that distinction, because the gospel does not accept that distinction. Those who violate truth also practice schism, because truth is essential to unity. In heresy, unity is fatally compromised. Those who practice schism also violate truth, because unity is essential to truth. In schism, truth is effectively absent. Unity and truth are a package deal. They are two sides of the same gospel coin.

A priest I know wrote many years ago (and I paraphrase here), “There are two cardinal rules: You don’t change the faith, and you don’t break the church.” The Episcopal Church, in redefining marriage, has changed the faith. Those who departed to form the ACNA have broken the church. Both have grieved the Holy Spirit, and undermined the witness of the gospel. Two decades on, this is the sad legacy of 2003.

About The Author

Bishop Daniel Martins is retired Bishop of the Diocese of Springfield in the Episcopal Church, which encompasses central and southern Illinois. He is also secretary of the Living Church Foundation’s board of directors. Among the members of the House of Bishops, he hangs out with the group known as the Communion Partners. He has previously served parishes in the dioceses of Louisiana, Northern Indiana, and San Joaquin.

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11 Responses

  1. Tom Malionek

    I would love to revisit the 2010 TLC articles mentioned by Bishop Martins. Alas, on-line archives only go back as far as February 2011, and then only selected pieces. Any chance of re-posting in the archives, or a link, or even just a collection of PDF’s?

    • Robert Kellner

      The house is in rebellion, light has been called dark, dark light, good as evil, evil as good and therein is my take on the TRC. I was confirmed by Bishop Howard September 2022, and now relocated to SC, attending an Anglican congregation. The day I was confirmed, the Dean during the announcements said the previous day, a Saturday, their first same sex marriage occurred. There was a groundswell of clapping. Meanwhile, the Bishop, whose feelings are known about the subject, sitting behind the Altar, grim faced. Later in the service, I was confirmed. This in-your-face announcement stunt – if you will – made for me a mockery of the Confirming Service and the Sacred Space with the raucous adulation about the previous day’s “marriage ceremony” turned my stomach and I knew then the House is in rebellion.

  2. Kirk Petersen

    You don’t name Bishop Love, but of course he’s the bishop who you say was “forced to resign from office … merely for stating that he would not comply with the resolution if he were asked.”

    That is not correct. It’s not that he “would not” comply if asked — he *already* violated the resolution, by declaring that it was not valid in the Diocese of Albany. He did this to the detriment of same-sex couples in the diocese — it was not “merely” a victimless infraction. He was found by a church court to have violated his vow to “engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church.” He then was allowed to resign to avoid more serious potential sanctions.

  3. Daniel H Martins

    I disagree. There was no “test case” in Albany which would have provided Bishop Love with an opportunity to defy B012. It was all abstract, theoretical. The purported basis of his conviction–than General Convention had effectively revised the BCP– was risible on its face. The trial was a kangaroo court with a predetermined outcome.

  4. Daniel Muth

    I heartily concur as to the sadness of the situation, and that we are all implicated. At the same time, the Episcopal Church suffered a catastrophic failure of leadership over an extended span. I do not now, nor have I ever believed that there is a truly proper response to make in such circumstances. Like Bishop Dan, I stayed in TEC as long as I could. Unlike him, I concluded that I had no choice but to leave.

    TEC has long essentially required acceptance of at least the possibility of ordaining women. This has always been unproblematic. I could readily imagine living in a world in which Christ either called women to be apostles, or else authorized His Church to ordain them into the Apostolic Succession. We don’t live in that world, but we could. Ordaining women is a conditional, not absolute, impossibility. Sharing ecclesial space with those who believe, however erroneously, that those conditions have been met is unproblematic. Here, TEC requires belief in something that is possible, even though it is not actual.

    With the ouster of Bishop Love, however, TEC made it clear that the same is required as regards same-sex marriage. We are welcome not to personally participate, but all Episcopalians must believe that such a thing is possible. It is not. Same-sex imitations of coitus are forms of masturbation, not copulation and thus cannot constitute the one-flesh union required of marriage as God has given it. This impossibility is absolute: it is true for all worlds where the human body is what it is, and the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony is as God gave it “in the beginning.” The Episcopal Church now unambiguously requires all of its members to believe something that is completely impossible.

    This certainly constitutes material heresy and may, as Bishop Dan says, constitute formal heresy. I understand his call to wait a generation and appreciate the great charity and sacrifice that this involves. I fully accept that I may be deficient in both, though again, being required to believe the absolutely impossible was for me too much of a solecism against Truth Himself. In my case, the move was not into ACNA, but into a tiny Anglo-Catholic splinter that can’t pretend to be in communion with much of anybody currently alive. It’s far from ideal (save at the parish level), of course. But as I said above, I don’t see any good answers to leadership failure of this magnitude.

    • Mary Barrett

      When did TEC accept/allow divorce among its members? Was there a big fallout?

      • Daniel Muth

        Someone else might know more of the specifics, but my recollection is that individual dioceses in the 1970’s and 80’s fairly quietly started allowing remarriage (it wasn’t divorce per se that was at issue, but remarriage) as a matter of pastoral care. If the divorce could not be helped (and is in any case at best an accession to human sinfulness), preventing remarriage may result in unnecessary additional pain in an already damaged situation. The assumption, though (as I understand), was that individual pastors could provide care in individual situations. It was done fairly quietly and there was no demand that others approve. And of course, there was no change or supplement to the BCP or any sacrament of the Church, nor was anyone punished for not allowing divorce.

  5. Paul Zahl

    I think this is a very important article. It is accurate IMO, thorough, fair in every respect; and — most important in the long run — calls the Church to a place of repentance for the loss of so many traditionally minded clergy in the aftermath of 2003. I knew a great many of them personally; and while there were some who were “itching for a fight”, the majority were humble, pastoral priests who should have been cherished and mindfully included.

  6. Ephemera, 06/27/23 – Human Thoughts

    […] sharing the pews with those who disagree (about my marriage; less so the Creeds). I think that Bishop Daniel Martins, in his ruminating memoir of the 2003 General Convention, is correct to grieve what happened, but his graciousness toward his ideological allies does not […]

  7. David Montzingo

    I am very thankful for Bishop Martins’ excellent re-telling of this story about the heresy and schism in TEC over the past twenty years. It matches my own experiences and remembrances in a helpful, if also painful way, since I was one who chose to leave in 2009. I do have one criticism: the penultimate paragraph addressed to “my ACNA friends” is essentially an assertion (i.e. “unity and truth are a package deal”) for which he has given no substantial biblical, theological, or historical reasons. How was heresy dealt with in the pastoral epistles? the Patristic era? Unfortunately, the proof (if it exists) is left to the reader.

  8. Janmes A. Hammond

    Regarding Mary Barrett’s question about when marriage after a divorce was permitted, the Canons were relaxed in 1936, but such marriages were taking place before that.

    Regarding Bp. Martins’ reflections, I would argue that the dismaying reduction in the number of Episcopalians dates to events long before 2003, let alone 2015. The elephants in the room which few remember date back at least to the 1960s, and I would opine primarily to the special meeting of General Convention which gathered at the request of John Hines in 1969. The task of the special gathering was to review the work which began at the GC 1967, known as the General Convention Special Program. That effort to address horrible inequities in society came at the same time as the publication of the “Green Book,” a first look at what would become the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. To accompany the first truly major revision of the BCP a new Hymnal was in the works. It is irresponsible to forget that the question of ordaining women to the priesthood was also at play. TEC was in a period of immense change, and that change caused both disaffection and anger — palpable anger. The Bishop of Maryland unthinkably was booed by parishioners gathered to hear his report of the special convention.

    History also requires the acknowledgment of a dramatic loss of discipline among both clergy and lay leaders during this period of change, a lack of discipline characterized by the irregular ordination of the Philadelphia Eleven in 74, and by the manner of regularizing same at GC in 76. The Convention found a creative way to read the Canons which enabled the desired goal in only one session of GC. Once the dam of discipline was breached, TEC has seen more and more non-canonical and extra-canonical behavior. Liturgies used on Sunday morning are often unrecognizable, and rarely conform strictly to the 1979 BCP. Readings from Quran are known to have replaced readings from the Bible, even at major services on Christmas Eve. One example in current play across the church is the administration of Communion to unbaptized persons. Sadly, when discipline is enforced, it takes the form of bullying by those in power over those who dare to lead in good conscience, witness the trails of the bishops of Pennsylvania, Los Angeles and Albany. To suggest that TEC’s decline is the result only, or even primarily, of issues of human sexuality is inaccurate, and is not a reflection of history.

    I do find myself in agreement with Bp. Martins about heresy and schism, although I believe that schism is a more grave error since it eliminates any chance of dialogue or reconciliation.


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