Theological Foundation

Title IV disciplinary processes have moved first from a secular trial procedure, then to a system similar to military justice, and finally to a process rooted in theological foundation. As stated in Title IV.1 it aims to promote healing, repentance, forgiveness, restitution, justice, amendment of life, and reconciliation.

The Rev. Dr. Pamela Cooper-White conducted much of the original research for the General Convention that lead to the conversion of the Episcopal Church’s ecclesiastical discipline procedure. She describes how its foundation rests on God’s love that draws us into relationship.

The Rev. Dr. Pamela Cooper-White, Union Theological Seminary

The shift to a theological foundation also changed the tone of the canons. Bishop Wallis Ohl was one of a group tasked by the church to create the words of the current Title IV. The vows of baptism and the vows of ordination were paramount in the foundation of the new canon. Bishop Ohl says it now centers on an expectation that clerics will live as they vowed they would live. Thus, he says Title IV became a positive standard of conduct, rather than a negatively worded standard.

The Rt. Rev. Wallis Ohl, Retired Bishop of Northwest Texas

The Rev. Gay Jennings, President of the House of Deputies

The Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, who was Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church during much of the development of the current Title IV canons, describes how clerics should discuss and renew their vows often, as they lay the basis of their relationships to God and each other.

The Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Assisting Bishop of the Diocese of San Diego, 26th Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church

Church officials and respected clerics are quick to point out that even though the church uses a theologically based system that embraces concepts of forgiveness and reconciliation, Title IV remains forceful when there are transgressions and violations of the vows of baptism and ordination.

The Rev. Dr. Pamela Cooper-White, Union Theological Seminary

Keeping the community together in reconciliation is one of the most prayerfully difficult tasks in Title IV. The Rt. Rev. Wendell Gibbs says we do not embrace reconciliation as an excuse for wrongdoing. Sometimes, an offending cleric must be isolated from the community. However, such a cleric is still one of God’s children. This is an important recognition in a theologically-based disciplinary procedure for clerics.

The Rt. Rev. Wendell Gibbs, Bishop of Michigan

Title IV offers amendment of life as a goal. The spirit of reconciliation offers an opportunity for a cleric who is found to have committed a Title IV offense to come back into the community when appropriate.  Bishop Wendell Gibbs says this may be appropriate in cases where the misconduct was not egregious.

The Rt. Rev. Wendell Gibbs, Bishop of Michigan

Because Title IV is theologically based, we may expect Title IV to grow through the church’s prayer and study in its quest to do the Lord’s work. The history of the church offers profound examples of changes in canons and rubrics so they reflect an inclusive and living church. However, the church’s commitment to being a safe church in which all live into their vows doesn’t change.

The Rev. Canon Michael Barlowe is witness to that prayer and study as the Executive Officer of the General Convention, the body that examines, debates, and prays over the theologically based canons.

The Rev. Canon Michael Barlowe, Executive Officer of the General Convention

The current Title IV is a new way of looking at ecclesiastical discipline, formed by a quarter century of writing and rewriting. The theology of the church, including the vows of baptism and ordination, more clearly led the new way.

The Rev. Dr. Pamela Cooper-White, Union Theological Seminary

In supplemental educational videos, The Rev. Canon Michael Buerkel Hunn, Canon to the Presiding Bishop for Ministry Within The Episcopal Church, explains that the theology of Title IV is found in the way the church responds to a complaint, not in the “softening” of the outcome of a Title IV proceeding.

Additionally, Dr. Steve Nishibayashi, a member of the  Executive Council of the Episcopal Church, says officers of Title IV proceedings need to focus on its theology during the disciplinary process.

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