Nothing Will Alter That

The leading defender of faithful Episcopalians has gone public about a private, high-level meeting at Episcopal Church (ECUSA) headquarters last May, charging – in light of events since – that no assurances given to traditionalists by liberal American Church leaders can be believed.

In a warning to Anglican primates now meeting in Canterbury, Charles Nalls of the Washington-based Canon Law Institute underscored recent assertions that ECUSA’s liberal hierarchy is engaged in a pogrom against traditional Episcopalians, and ‘nothing that might be said by [Presiding] Bishop [Frank] Griswold or his liberal colleagues can alter that.’


Nalls – who has been active in defending inhibited/removed orthodox Episcopal priests Samuel Edwards, David Moyer and Kevin Donlon (among other faithful clergy and parishes) – is hardly unaware of the Episcopal hierarchy’s reputation for insincere dealings with its ideological opponents.

But he said he was moved to break silence about the meeting between orthodox leaders and Griswold and other revisionist bishops in New York City last May 15, because the prelate who offered the most assurances to conservatives then – Virginia Bishop Peter Lee – has done the most to belie them.

The last straw for Nalls in this ‘scandalous’ matter was what he considers Lee’s ‘third strike’ against the faithful in the last year – the prelate’s rebuff of appeals from some Virginia Episcopalians for him to intervene against a lecture on the ‘gnostic’ origins of Christianity, slated at one of his parishes today.

Nalls said that Lee – who also leads the ‘Task Force’ seeking to compel compliance on women’s ordination in three remaining traditionalist dioceses – was at the forefront of palliative claims to those at the May15 meeting who pled for relief in the assault against Fr. Edwards and Christ Church, Accokeek (MD) by Washington Bishop Jane Dixon, and for the ‘sustained pastoral care’ which Griswold and other Anglican primates pledged for parishes at serious theological odds with their bishops. They also raised concerns about the Task Force’s activities and the future of traditionalists in ECUSA.

High Level talks

Present for the orthodox side were Nalls; Fr Moyer, president of Forward in Faith, North America; FIFNA-aligned Bishops Jack Iker of Fort Worth, John-David Schofield of San Joaquin (CA), Keith Ackerman of Quincy (IL), and Donald Parsons (retired of Quincy); and Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, who is aligned with the conservative American Anglican Council.

They were joined by Griswold; Lee; New Hampshire Bishop Douglas Theuner, chairman of Griswold’s Council of Advice; and the presiding bishop’s chancellor, David Beers.

An official statement from the meeting said it involved ‘a candid expression of views concerning the [Accokeek dispute], which the bishops viewed as symbolic of a rapidly deepening rift between conservative Episcopalians and a perceived majority willing to resort to exclusionary practices in key dioceses.’

‘A Creative Way Forward’

It noted that the orthodox bishops pleaded for a ‘creative way forward’ to resolve the Accokeek conflict and – in light of the ‘principle of diocesan sovereignty’ pressed by Dixon in that dispute – asked ‘searching questions … about coercive implemention’ of General Convention A045, which mandated the Task Force.

Traditionalist bishops present said that Task Force visits would be ‘disruptive and triangulating in the lives of their dioceses,’ said the statement. ‘The Presiding Bishop sought to reassure the bishops that the Executive Council, in its appointment of the Task Force, had a temperate spirit in which they wanted the Church to move forward with the ordination of women in all dioceses, but in ways that respected the theological integrity of the various dioceses.’

According to Nalls, Griswold said little during the encounter at ‘815’ (Episcopal Church headquarters). Orthodox leaders made several failed attempts to secure concrete provisions, such as a written agreement that Iker would provide alternative oversight for Fr Edwards and Accokeek.

What they emerged with instead, he noted, was many assurances from Lee and other liberal leaders, including one by Theuner which (in Nalls’ paraphrase) insisted that orthodox believers are ‘valued, esteemed and loved’ in ECUSA. The only solid commitment from the hierarchs appeared to be the ‘temperance’ pledged on the Task Force visits.

‘We left thinking that any visitations would be conducted with respect and due notice,’ Nalls said. They also hoped – falsely – that the leaders’ word on the other issues would have some value.

Nothing in the tenor of this meeting, Nalls said, could have portended the assaults on traditionalists in the ensuing year – particularly by Lee, who recently held a ‘star chamber’ type meeting of the Task Force in Iker’s diocese without his permission – ‘notably coincident with the inhibition of another person at the May 15 meeting, Fr Moyer.’ And instead of helping to resolve the Accokeek dispute, Lee entered into it, joining 25 other bishops in going to court in (amici curiae briefs) against two colleagues supporting Fr Edwards.

Just this week, moreover, Lee refused some Virginia Episcopalians’ appeals to help keep a lecture on the ‘gnostic’ origins of Christianity from taking place at Emmanuel Church, Middleburg, claiming that he is not ‘a censor of unorthodoxy and guarantor of tradition’ in his diocese. Lee asserted that ECUSA is better suited for the ‘thinking pilgrim’ than persons desiring ‘dogmatic clarity’ on questions of Christian belief.

Princeton scholar Elaine Pagels, author of The Gnostic Gospels (1979), claims that Christianity began as a spiritual movement with diverse beliefs until male bishops oppressed the gnostics (holders of secret ‘knowledge’). Not inconsequently, feminist and liberal scholars find in gnostic texts support for female leadership, rejection of authority figures, a spiritual (rather than bodily) resurrection of Christ, and even mystical sex.

Nalls wondered what Bishop Lee saw as being his job, if it is not to be a ‘guarantor’ of orthodoxy and tradition in his diocese – in line with his consecration oath to drive away all strange doctrine.

‘What part of his vows does he not understand? Is there no longer any doctrine that is strange to the Episcopal Church?’ Nalls asked. ‘Who is violating his ordination vow, Lee, or Fr Moyer, who has been fighting for the faith once delivered?

‘Peter Lee showed himself as a corporatist in dealing with the Accokeek case – sitting at the right hand of Frank Griswold,’ he said. ‘In his lead role in the amicus brief against Accokeek, he again proved himself a corporatist … After all, as he stated in [a] letter to the Canon Law Institute, he is obliged to protect the property of the Church. Now, he has shown himself to be a man of no theology…’

Nalls did credit the bishop with being completely honest, however, about one thing last May. Asked if there would ever be another traditionalist bishop in ECUSA, ‘Lee said no.’ Nalls’ report confirms earlier leaks from the meeting.

When he pledged confidentiality at the May 15 gathering, Nalls said he did so on the assumption ‘that I was dealing with Christians, or at least those who would behave in accordance with the representations they made. That has proven incorrect, time and time again in the last year.’

Concluded Nalls: ‘In my opinion, nothing that has been or will be said [by liberal ECUSA leaders] can be believed. Nothing has come through for traditionalists in the American Church. Quite the contrary, it has gone the other way.’

He urged Anglican primates to view the Episcopal House of Bishops’ ‘covenant’ on supplemental pastoral care ‘in light of the false assurances given a year ago.’

This piece first appeared in the April edition of our sister publication The Christian Challenge