Wednesday, September 06, 2006

By Their Fruits Shall You Know Them (Catherine Thiemann)

By Their Fruits Shall You Know Them:An Analysis of AAC and Network Activities
Catherine Thiemann

Editor's Note: This piece is reprinted with permission from the website of St. Paul's Cathedral (San Diego). Catherine Theimann is a member of St. Paul's Cathedral, in the Diocese of San Diego, where she serves on the Altar Guild. Raised Episcopalian, Catherine went through the requisite post-college atheist decade before being born again and eventually finding her way back home. She is a musician, a runner, and the mother of three children.

Over the past ten years, the Episcopal Church has been subjected to increasing attacks for its breadth of theological perspectives and its hospitality to all. Since the consecration of New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson, an openly gay man living in a committed monogamous relationship, the attacks have become more strident. A small but vocal faction, comprised of people both inside and outside the Episcopal Church has used significant resources to paint a false picture of our Church. These actions are similar to the attacks of the McCarthy Era, when a lie would be told often enough until it was deemed to be true. Half-truths are particularly useful to this approach because they require of the truth-teller a more detailed and sophisticated response than the attacker wields in the initial assault. The Internet only assists this kind of campaign of misinformation, offering a hood of anonymity to those dishonorable enough to wear it.

Regrettably, it is necessary to make a careful rebuttal of the unkind and dishonest representations of our Church which are antithetical to the spirit and words of Jesus, who calls us to be “one as the Father and I are one.” The American Anglican Council and the Anglican Communion Network have created, through expensive DVDs, websites, and slick printed material, a gross distortion of our Church that must be confronted.

This document first asserts the true nature of Anglicanism and orthodox faith. It then confronts the incorrect and divisive assertions of the American Anglican Council and the Anglican Communion Network. We call on these organizations to cease their divisiveness and to join all faithful Episcopalians in the real work of the church: to proclaim the Good News in Jesus Christ, to be bearers of hope to a world too often filled with despair. As the hymn says, "They will know we are Christians by our love."

What is Anglicanism?

Born out of the bloody English Reformation, in which dogmatic rigidity wreaked physical and spiritual destruction on both sides of the conflict, Anglicanism has long striven for peaceful coexistence. In 1559 the Elizabethan Settlement codified the terms of this coexistence, and two acts of the Settlement are in question today, The Act of Supremacy and The Act of Uniformity.

The Act of Supremacy declared the English monarch supreme governor of the English Church, thus establishing the principle of local self-governance as opposed to the central authority inherent in Roman Catholicism. This principle remains a central part of our tradition today: Anglican provinces (including the Episcopal Church) give to Canterbury not the obedience due to a father, but the respect due an older brother.

The Act of Uniformity mandated the use of one official Prayer Book. Although it established uniformity of worship (shared Creeds, a common lectionary, and common baptismal vows) it provided wide latitude for individual belief. From its earliest days the Anglican Church has intentionally allowed for diversity, even saying explicitly in the 34th Article of Religion that “Every particular or national Church hath authority to ordain, change, and abolish, Ceremonies or Rites of the Church ordained only by man’s authority, so that all things be done to edifying.” (1)

This diversity causes short-term discomfort, but it leads in the long run to an edifying dialogue and, eventually, to a common understanding of truth. For example, the Eucharistic conflict between transubstantiation (the bread is the body of Christ) and consubstantiation (the bread represents the body of Christ) was eventually resolved with the Doctrine of the Real Presence.

Thus, current arguments that link “classical Anglicanism” with “confessional” standards are historically flawed. This was confirmed in 1888 by the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, which states, “We account the Nicene Creed a sufficient statement of the Christian faith.” (2) Those who say the Creed on Sunday have confessed all that classical Anglicanism requires.

The Articles of Religion specifically grant the kind of autonomy implicit in the original Act of Supremacy, and it was this autonomy The Episcopal Church exercised in 2003, as the Anglican Primates themselves acknowledged in their February 2005 communiqué (3). That other provinces, even bishops within our own Church, might disagree with the decisions of 2003 is no cause for surprise. Three dioceses within the US still decline to ordain women thirty years after such ordinations were made legal and nine years after they were mandated. Until recently we have been a Church that took pride in the peaceful coexistence of diverse opinions.

What is Orthodoxy?

The word "orthodoxy" (from the Greek ortho, right and doxa, thought) typically refers to correct theology or religious doctrine, as determined by some overseeing body. Since Anglicans lack such a body, the idea of Anglican orthodoxy is rather a contradiction in terms: we are united by our worship, not by the fine points of our theology. Our beliefs are summed up in the Creeds, which our Catechism says are “statements of our basic beliefs about God.” Since Anglicanism doesn’t require adherence to any beliefs beyond the Creeds, our orthodoxy would seem to be fairly simple.

Similarly, the Anglican approach to Scripture has long been one that assumes intelligence and moderation among Christians. The Catechism says we understand Scripture “by the help of the Holy Spirit, who guides the Church in the true interpretation of Scriptures.” (4) Richard Hooker, cited as a source of “orthodoxy” in the AAC’s document, “Equipping the Saints,” stresses that Anglicans read Scripture in light of reason and tradition. Yet AAC Chairman David Anderson denied the importance of reason at a November 2003 meeting in Atlanta, saying that “reason could not be trusted.” (5) In a document called “A Place to Stand,” his organization helpfully outlines what Episcopalians must believe in order to be “orthodox.” Despite the traditional sufficiency of the Creeds, “A Place to Stand” accords as much consideration to questions of sexuality, abortion, and political involvement as it gives to the Church’s teachings about the Creeds, the sacraments, and God’s participation in human history through Jesus and the Holy Spirit. (6)

The attempt to declare the Episcopal Church unorthodox is misguided. Despite charges of everything from revisionism (7) to paganism *8), the Episcopal Church has changed neither the Creeds nor the baptismal covenant. Efforts to divide the church over fine points of “orthodoxy” are at best un-Anglican and run counter to the Church’s mission “to restore all people to unity with God and with each other in Christ.” (9)

About the American Anglican Council (AAC)

The American Anglican Council was formed in 1996 as a response to the perception that Church leadership was moving “further and further away from the historic biblical Christian faith.” (10) The AAC grew rapidly: by the year 2000, revenues were over $1 million per year.

Although membership fees were never the AAC’s main support (only 12% of revenues came from such fees in 1997), they declined steadily in importance and haven’t been listed as a source since 2000. Despite such weak membership support, in 2003 the AAC spent $248,000 on its presence at General Convention. By 2004, they were a well-established advocacy group, spending just under $600,000 on employee compensation, $124,000 on travel, and $114,000 on printing and publications (11). As membership fees declined, the AAC increasingly relied on wealthy individuals, and on one donor in particular, Howard Ahmanson, who provided more than half of the AAC’s revenue in 2000 (12).

Who Is Howard Ahmanson? A former disciple of the controversial Rousas John Rushdoony, who advocated basing the American legal system on Old Testament law (including stoning adulterers and homosexuals), Ahmanson now attends St. James, Newport Beach, California, an AAC parish that has declared itself part of the province of Uganda. Ahmanson has been quoted as saying he "no longer" considers stoning "essential." He leaves room, though, for further consideration: "It would still be a little hard to say that if one stumbled on a country that was doing that, that it is inherently immoral, to stone people for these things." (13)

Although the AAC claims to be the orthodox voice of the Episcopal Church, as of August, 2006, their website listed only 329 parishes and three dioceses as affiliates, or 4.5% of the 7,200 Episcopal parishes in the U.S (14). Furthermore, the AAC’s affiliates include 24 churches receiving pastoral oversight from bishops outside the U.S. (twelve with Uganda, six with Bolivia, three with Rwanda, and three with a deposed bishop in Brazil). Since the importance of diocesan boundaries has been upheld by such diverse sources of orthodoxy as the 4th Century Council of Nicea and the conservative champion Archbishop George Carey (15), one has to wonder what the AAC means by the term "orthodox."

In fact, with such small numbers, and with an apparent aversion to the statutory leadership of the Episcopal church, it is hard to see how they can claim to speak for the church at all. Is the AAC the voice of orthodoxy for the Episcopal Church? Or is it the voice of Howard Ahmanson?

Since the AAC stopped reporting the amounts of major donations in 2003, a financial paper trail may not be the most effective way to understand the group’s activities. Fortunately, Scripture guides us in this regard. Jesus said, “By their fruits shall you know them,” (16) and the fruits of the AAC have been division.

In a now-famous letter sent in December of 2003 (17), St. Stephen’s, Sewickley, rector Geoff Chapman identified himself as “responding on behalf of the American Anglican Council and their Bishop’s Committee on Adequate Episcopal Oversight.” He outlined a two-stage process through which the AAC would achieve its "ultimate goal [of] realignment of Anglicanism on North American soil" resulting in a “replacement jurisdiction.” The document outlines the AAC’s plans to build relationships with “the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes” and “innovatively move around, beyond or within the canons.” AAC parishes should “seek to retain ownership of our property as we move into this realignment.” They should seek pastoral oversight from “offshore Bishops and retired Bishops” who, because of Anglicanism’s lack of central oversight, cannot be effectively disciplined when they cross diocesan boundaries.

The AAC rushed to disavow this letter, and yet virtually all the actions Chapman recommended have come to pass. Over 10% of the AAC’s listed affiliates have already been “offshored” as the letter recommends. That these are parishes-in-waiting for the “replacement jurisdiction” is clear from the agreements they have made with foreign bishops. For example, the letter purporting to unilaterally transfer AAC affiliate St. Anne’s Oceanside, CA, to the Diocese of Bolivia states that “when an Anglican orthodox province is formed in the United States of America at some future time, St. Anne’s Church will affiliate with that Province.” (18)

What will constitute an “orthodox” province? Again, we have only to look at the AAC’s current actions. Parishes and individuals wishing to join the AAC must submit a signed copy of “A Place To Stand,” (19) the statement of faith posted on the organization’s website. Thus, an “orthodox” Anglican province would subvert the founding principles of Anglicanism by requiring highly specific, signed confessions from its members.

About the Anglican Communion Network

The Anglican Communion Network was formed by four bishops, including current Network Moderator Robert Duncan, Bishop of Pittsburgh, in response to the ordination of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire, which they say “created a situation of grave concern for the entire Anglican Communion and beyond.” (20) Although the Network claims that Archbishop Rowan Williams suggested their formation, considerable evidence suggests otherwise. Likewise, their claims of good faith are refuted by their actions.

The founding Memorandum of Agreement of the Network, signed by four bishops on November 11, 2003, says, “The Network shall be formed and shall operate in good faith within the constitution of ECUSA.” (21)

However, a meeting agenda dated the same day and bearing Robert Duncan’s handwriting was filed as evidence in the case of Calvary Episcopal v. Duncan. (22) The document designated “Bob Duncan, Bishop of Pittsburgh, as Moderator Bishop” (23) of the Network, then goes on to make nineteen demands of the Global South Primates, including:

  • Tell +Rowan that if he will not recognize the Network, they will separate from him. (24)
  • Declare that in the present crisis, the issue of boundaries is suspended. (25)
  • Insist on an invitation to the Moderator whenever the ECUSA PB [Episcopal Presiding Bishop] is invited. (26)
Seven requirements of affiliate bishops in North America include:

  • We will direct AAC and FiFNA to organize road shows to exppain [sic] and promote the Network. (27)
  • We intend to cross the US/Canada boundaries. (28)
  • We commit to the guerrilla warfare of the next year. (29)
Thus, from its very founding, the Network has operated from a position of duplicity, declaring good faith publicly, while making threats in private, drawing up battle plans and jockeying for political position. True to his word to use the AAC to promote the Network, Bishop Duncan appeared four days later at the AAC regional meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, without permission of the local bishop (30). At that meeting, he expressed his hope that ECUSA would be “cast into utter darkness” and “fall apart like the Soviet Union.” (31) At the same meeting, AAC president David Anderson claimed that the AAC was “building a shadow church within a church.” (32)

The complicity between Network and AAC forces to replace existing Episcopal parishes with “confessing” parishes went public in November of 2005 when the Network held a conference in Pittsburgh titled “Church Planting in the Network.” A workshop on “Coaching Church Planters” was led by a member of St. Stephen’s, Sewickley, home of the famously forsworn Chapman letter. Workshop materials employed Geoff Chapman’s distinctive syntax (33). Since it is a violation of canon law for anyone but the diocesan bishop or parish to plant a new church, how was this conference part of an “Anglican Communion?” And most disturbing, how can the Network explain an earlier memo under the same name as the conference that outlines ways to connect “breakaway plants” to “a foreign bishop?” (34)

At the 2003 Georgia meeting, AAC President David Anderson admitted he was disappointed with the “nuanced” and “diplomatic” response of the Anglican primates to that year’s General Convention, saying he had hoped for a “strong, dare I say, brutal action from the primates.” (35)

Here, then, is the brutal truth: the Anglican Communion Network deals in half-truths and secrecy.

  • The ACN website claims they have “received encouragement from the Archbishop of Canterbury,” yet a December ‘03 email from Bishop Duncan, himself, admits “Our sense is that Canterbury if anything, is moving away from us.” Legal counsel Hugo Blankingship confirmed in reply, “I personally don’t see much chance that ABC [Archbishop of Canterbury] will recognize the Network at this time. Perhaps that changes if pressure within the Communion builds up.” (36)
  • The Network’s DVD Choose This Day implies parishes can successfully “realign” with foreign Anglicans; yet the two congregations featured in “The Decision,” the companion video on the same DVD, are allied with a group that is not recognized by the Archbishop of Canterbury. (37)
  • Network membership and decision-making is not open and dmocratic. While the Episcopal Church lists the rosters, meeting information, and minutes of all sixty-six Committees, Commissions and Agencies of General Convention (38), no such information is available on the Network’s governance. The only responsible parties listed on the ACN website are six staffers under the Contact icon and the four original signers of the Memorandum of Agreement. Nine other bishops are claimed as signers, but as of September, 2006, their names do not appear.
  • Of the ten dioceses listed as affiliates, nine are sufficiently unhappy with Network activities as to have websites dedicated to opposing it. (39)
The AAC and the ACN in San Diego: A Case Study

The Bishop of San Diego, James Mathes, was elected in November of 2004, over a year after Gene Robinson’s election. Thus, he neither consented to Robinson’s election, nor participated in his consecration, two litmus tests for “orthodoxy,” nor was he a deputy at General Convention 2003.

During the first eighteen months of his Episcopate, Bishop Mathes met with AAC clergy to hear their concerns more often than he met with any non-governing body of the diocese.

The Bishop treated the Windsor Report as if it were legislation rather than an invitation to a process, and no person or organization within the diocese has been able to charge him with a violation.

The San Diego Diocesan Convention of 2006 hosted Network Bishop Jeffrey Steenson as its keynote speaker, allowing for a thoughtful presentation of the Network’s position on the Windsor Report. Bishop Steenson and Bishop Mathes then engaged in a panel discussion of the Report and took questions from the floor.

With the support of the Standing Committee, Bishop Mathes arranged for Bishop Steenson to provide pastoral care to parishes that requested it. Unlike the multi-step process required for DEPO (Delegated Alternate Episcopal Oversight), this arrangement required nothing more of the participating parish than a written request. It was granted to All Saints’, Vista, in June, 2006.

Nevertheless, the diocese has been troubled by a string of disruptions.

  • On January 28, 2006, St. Anne’s, Oceanside, delivered a letter to the diocesan office declaring themselves a member of the Diocese of Bolivia.
  • On July 17, 2006, 87 of 165 members at St. John’s, Fallbrook, voted to leave the Episcopal Church for the Diocese of Luweero in Uganda. (40)
  • On July 31, 2006, Joe Rees, rector of All Saints’, Vista, resigned from the Episcopal Church to join the Diocese of Bolivia. Citing uncertainties of property ownership, he turned in his keys and immediately reported to work as “executive pastor” at St. Anne’s, Oceanside, from which he said he would work to plant a new church in Vista. (41)
  • All three parishes are members of the Network and the AAC. St. Anne’s and St. John’s received legal advice in advance from Eric Sohlgren of Payne and Fears, the attorney who advised AAC flagship St. James, Newport Beach, on its secession from the Diocese of Los Angeles. (42)
The departures affecting all three parishes were accomplished with the complicity and assistance of the Bishop of Bolivia, the Bishop of Luweero, and the Archbishop of the Southern Cone. Yet, when Bishop Mathes reviewed the circumstances surrounding St. Anne’s with Bishop Duncan at the March ’06 House of Bishops, Duncan declined to use his influence to assist in maintaining the order of the church.

  • As of August, 2006, the Network website featured a page on Church Planting that describes “regional centers” generally located at “flagship parishes,” that will “find and support” members for new congregations in designated areas, a configuration that suggests the arrangement between St. Anne’s and Fr. Rees’s church planting plans. (43)
  • During an August meeting in Pittsburgh, the Network and the AAC, along with their “Common Cause Partners,” affirmed a “Covenant Declaration” that includes the intention “to ensure an orthodox Anglican Province in North America.” (44)
  • As noted earlier, the document attempting to transfer St. Anne’s, Oceanside, to the Diocese of Bolivia states that “when an Anglican orthodox province is formed in the United States of America at some future time, St. Anne’s Church will affiliate with that Province.” (45)
Thus, despite Network and AAC claims to safeguard the orthodoxy of classical Anglicanism, their actions violate such founding principles of Anglicanism as local autonomy and such ancient standards of orthodoxy as the geographic integrity of the Episcopate. Most tellingly, their actions have sown discord rather than unity. As Jesus said, “Are grapes gathered from thorns or figs from thistles? Thus, you will know them by their fruits.” (46)

(1) Book of Common Prayer, p. 874.
(2) BCP, p. 877.
(3) “It is acknowledged that these developments within the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada have proceeded entirely in accordance with their constitutional processes and requirements.” Anglican Primates’ Communique, 24 February, 2005. Online at
(4) BCP, p. 853.
(5) Summary of AAC regional meeting in Atlanta, online at
(6), June 15, 2006.
(7) “Equipping the Saints: A Crisis Resource for Anglican Laity,” An Educational Resource Produced by The American Anglican Council, 2nd Edition, p. 8.
(8) “Choose This Day,” video online at
(9) The Catechism, BCP, p.855.
(10) AAC website: “How We Began” icon, June 3, 2006
(11) “Following the Money,” by Jim Naughton, The Washington Window, online at
(12) ibid.
(13) “The Strength of Their Convictions” by Peter Larsen, Orange County Register, August 10, 2004. Online at
(14), August 1, 2006.
(15) “Letter to the Primates of the Anglican Communion,” by The Most Rev. George Carey, February 18, 2000, online at
(16) Matthew 7.16
(17) “Memo discloses AAC’s strategy for replacing Episcopal Church” by Jan Nunley, Episcopal News Service, January 14, 2004, online at
(18) “Transfer of St. Anne’s Church, Oceanside, CA, to the Anglican Episcopal Church of Bolivia,” January 28, 2006. Signed by The Rt. Rev Francis Lyons, The Rev. Anthony Baron, and Connie Fowle, Sr. Warden.
(19), June 19, 2006.
(20) “Global South Primates’ Statement,” February 2004, online at
(21), #2
(22), PDF file, “meeting notes”
(23) ibid, point a.
(24) ibid, point 4.
(25) ibid, point 6.
(26) ibid, point 18.
(27) ibid, point c.
(28) ibid, point d.
(29) ibid, point f.
(30) “American Anglican Council Meeting Summary,” online at
(33), refers to the “privilege of coming alongside church planters and empowering them.” Chapman memo, item 4, “These leaders should . . . come alongside conflicted or imperiled congregations.”
(34), PDF file “undated document,” item V,E.
(36) “A December email and reply”
(37) “False Choices and Bad Decisions,” by Concerned Episcopalians of Pittsburgh, 2005, p. 2
(39), sidebar, June 20, 2006.
(40), July 20, 2006
(41), August 1, 2006
(42), August 3, 2006.
(43), August 25, 2006
(44), August 25, 2006.
(45) “Transfer of St. Anne’s Church, Oceanside, CA, to the Anglican Episcopal Church of Bolivia,” January 28, 2006. Signed by The Rt. Rev Francis Lyons, The Rev. Anthony Baron, and Connie Fowle, Sr. Warden.
(46) Matthew 7.16,20.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let us join in singing Cannon Anderson's favorite hymn, "They will know we are Christians by our love of a good fight."

9/07/2006 9:59 PM  
Blogger Phil S. said...

A quick comment:

I really do think that the definition here of orthodox is quite dodgy:

The word "orthodoxy" (from the Greek ortho, right and doxa, thought) typically refers to correct theology or religious doctrine, as determined by some overseeing body

The argument continues with the observation that, since there is no overseeing body in Anglicanism, orthodoxy is a contradition in terms.

My problem with this is two-fold. First, the definition itself is flawed. Orthodoxy as I would suggest is not simply a denominational imprimatur, but rather expresses a range of theological position which has evolved over two millenia which has been informed by the apostolic testimony about Christ seen primarily in the Scripture. Orthodox positions are not arbitrary fiats, but a long conversation over time which is, ultimately based on Scriptural authority.

This doesn't mean that liberals have no contribution to the discussion, but it does mean that, on some key issues, liberals have failed to convince conservatives that their positions are consistent with the norms of this tradition. There are reasons for this, of course, including that liberals are influenced by a rather different intellectual tradition from that of orthodox Christianity; philosophical liberalism.

What I'm saying is that orthodoxy is not dependent on overseeing bodies. What this means is this whole argument which is intended to question the AAC's right to declare TEC unorthodox is built on a weak foundation.

Furthermore, while the Creeds and baptismal covenants are important, they are also not the sum total of the orthodox tradtion either. I am glad that that TEC hasn't disavowed either of these documents, but it is more important to ask what liberals understand by what these foundational documents mean.


9/10/2006 6:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

She is absolutely right, "by your fruits you shall know them!"

11/25/2007 1:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You mean,"by their fruits you shall know them," don't you?

11/25/2007 1:21 PM  

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