Sunday, April 27, 2008

Thou shalt not steal!

You don't steal--ever! That was a big one in my house growing up. You just didn't do it. And if you took the five finger discount on a piece of candy at the local store and mom or dad found out, you not only got punished, but you also had to go back to Simmerings and apologize to the husband and wife who owned the store. And since it was a small town, by the time you finished all this, everyone knew and nobody trusted you.

In my community stealing is not only a personal sin it is also a public evil. It puts you at enmity with everything around you.

But in the days of huge severance packages for corporate jerks who sink the company but are bought out to avoid lawsuits, it seems that stealing is only stealing when the thief is in the lower rungs of the economic classes. Oil companies make the largest profits in the history of the planet through collusion, but that's not fraud--it's high finance. Toy companies send most of their work overseas with little if any supervision and the product that comes back to our children is covered in lead-based paint. But that's not negligence--that's out-sourcing.

Why my rant about all of this? The schismatic bishop of San Joaquin, John Schofield, is trying to steal the real property of The Episcopal Church. Plain and simple, no ifs ands or buts about it. Here is what he recently sent out the congregations following him into schism...

To the clergy and parishioners of San Joaquin -We recognize that the news of a lawsuit from the Presiding Bishop and the representatives of Remain Episcopal in Stockton, may be unsettling. However, please be assured that we have been expecting this litigation and the contents contain no surprises. Please know that our legal team has been at work for some time. They are optimistic and remain unperturbed by The Episcopal Church's most recent action. What our legal counsel has accomplished on our behalf is already proving most helpful in defense of property and assets despite the fact that this preparatory work had to be done without the benefit of seeing what the Episcopal Church intended to do. Furthermore, I want to remind you that in spite of the claims by The Episcopal Church, nothing in their current Constitution and Canons prohibits a diocese from leaving one province and moving to another.

I'm not a radical when it comes to this. It is my hope that conservatives and liberals and everyone in between can find a home in The Episcopal Church. I don't want to see the church divided by schism. That only destroys what the faithful before us worked so hard to build.

All of that said, it doesn't change the fact that he once served in The Episcopal Church, and because of reasons of conscience he can no longer remain in communion with us. But rather than resign from an institution he could no longer serve, taking the noble path of many non-jurors before him, he decides to change the rules to keep the church property that was built and has been maintained over the decades by the very institution he can no longer tolerate.

It's theft...there is no getting around it...and no amount of moralizing will make it right. Shame on you, Mr. Schofield. Your mother taught you better than that.


Fresno Mark said...

On the official blog for the "Anglican" Diocese of San Joaquin, called Soundings, they have quoted their favorite bible verse about not going to court, 1 Cor. 6. 1-8. I was incensed as you are at the way they were hiding behind this verse. It reminded me of the person who kills their parents, and then begs for mercy as an orphan. What right does the thief have to say, "You can't sue me, so there!" I posted the following responsive comment -- comments are moderated, and they haven't yet posted it. It is in full agreement with your blog, however. Here's what I said:


Since one of the causes of action is for conversion (i.e., theft), there are some other bible verses you should consider before you hide behind this one:

You shall not steal. Ex. 20:15

You shall not steal.... Lev. 19:11

Neither shall you steal. Deut 5:19

Will you steal ....? Jer. 7:9

There is ... stealing .... Hos 4:2

And Jesus said ... You shall not steal .... Matt 19:18

You know the commandments ... Do not steal Mark 10:19, Luke 18:20

While you preach against stealing, do you steal? Rom 2:21

You shall not steal. Rom 13:9

Let the thief no longer steal.... Eph 4:28

Fr. Peter said...

Father, this is a wonderful post and I think everyone should read it. Although not Episcopal I have been following this very close. Keep up the good work.

Huw said...

So what if it's theft?

On top of the whole "don't go to secular court" thing - because of the scandal - Christians are to forgive no matter what the cost. We are to turn the other cheek, pray for our enemies and even give away our coat if someone steals our sandals. And we are not to judge for as we judge, so shall we be judged.

The Church Fathers even carry it further: and say as you cover up the sins of your brothers so God will cover your sins.

*sigh* If, as John says, we are to be known as Jesus' followers by how much love we show for each other, I don't see either side acting to Christian here.

Anonymous said...

"So what if it's theft?" What an interesting comment. I'm not quite sure what to make of it. Your comment that "I don't see either side acting to[o] Christian here," is pretty much right on the money, at least when it comes to the more extreme on each side. But I think some of your scriptural references are taken out of context.

I simply can't see what the "conservatives" have to gain by leaving TEC and burning their bridges behind them. They could stay right here and continue to advocate for what they feel is right. They may think that action is futile, but they stand absolutely no chance of
doing it after they leave.

I just hope that they aren't the ones our Lord was thinking about when he said, "On that day many will say to me, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?" Then I will declare to them, "I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers."

Huw said...

Hi, Bill - If I have taken the verses, themselves, out of context, I welcome you to show me how they could be understood differently.

Yet I'm perfectly within the context of how the Church Fathers and other saints have understood these passages: take a look at Olivier Clement's "the Roots of Christian Mysticism" or some of the "Sayings of the Desert Fathers" to see how the Church has historically understood the teachings about not-judging and forgiveness.

That's not the same as how she has acted, I admit. And beyond that, I should be clear: I didn't say it wasn't theft, or that theft is not a sin. It may well be theft, and theft is a sin.

One story - A brother who had been wronged by another brother came to see Abba Sisoes. He said to him, 'My brother has hurt me and I want to avenge myself.' The old man begged him, saying, 'No, my child, leave vengeance to God.' The brother said, 'I shall not rest until I have avenged myself.' The old man said, 'Brother, let us pray.' Then he stood up and said, 'God, we no longer need You to care for us, since we do justice for ourselves.' When he heard these words, the brother prostrated himself before the old man's feet and said, 'I will not longer seek justice from my brother. Forgive me, abba.'

Writing as a gay man who seeks to be in this Church with his partner - and with those Christians who reject me - I've no idea who is ultimately "right" or "wrong" in this battle. I have trust in God's mercy and justice: a lot more than I have trust in the mercy or justice from any secular courts.