Smith says what is happening in Connecticut mirrors a strategy outlined in a widely distributed memo from a conservative priest in Pennsylvania.Emphasis added.
The memo, released last year, details a plan for conservative parishes to challenge the authority of Episcopal bishops with the ultimate goal of realigning Anglicanism in North America.
"What has happened here certainly is similar to the memo," Smith said. "I do believe it's about power."
But the Rev. Christopher Leighton of St. Paul's Church in Darien, one of the six priests facing removal, says the parishes are not following a playbook and do not intend to split with the Connecticut diocese or the Episcopal Church.
"We're not threatening to leave," he said. "We're threatening to stay, and that's very frustrating for Andrew Smith because he's trying to get rid of us. The confrontation is over doctrine. We've always been loyal to him, no matter what he says. My parish is going to remain part of the Anglican Communion."
The six said their meeting with Smith was not what they expected.
"We were hopeful of an atmosphere in which true negotiations might take place," they said in a written statement. "Instead, we walked into a trap, a brutal and long meeting in which Bishop Smith attempted to coerce us individually into an admission that we had abandoned communion."
The six have sought since last May to report to a different bishop. Smith says he would have to agree to the bishop and retain some control over the parishes, but that's not acceptable to the six. They also cut financial ties with the diocese and requested control over who is ordained.
"They asked for a number of changes in church structure and policy that I simply cannot do," Smith said.
The diocese took the issue to the Standing Committee, a group of elected clergy members and lay people that acts as an advisory panel for the bishop. The committee concluded March 29 that the six priests were acting out of communion with church canons.
Smith says his problem is with the priests' refusal to recognize his authority, not their opposition to Robinson.
"There's a sense that I'm trying to remove them to quiet them, and that's absolutely not the case," Smith said.
But Leighton contends the six are being silenced.
"We are being obedient to God, and as much as we possibly can, we're supporting" Smith, Leighton said. "As long as Andrew Smith makes decisions that lead to the health and well-being of the church, we will support him, but when he makes decisions that are bad for the health of the church, we can't support him."
It appears that everyone involved is into strategizing. Bishop Smith is correct in the assessment that this is about power. It's about each side getting their way and not about the common good.
Imagine what would happen if all involved were a little more awed and terrified by the concept "whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven." (Matthew 16:19.) Do those words mean if we believe we are right then we get to play God's role? They can't mean that. Perhaps the words are a bit of a joke on us. If we are not God, it's because we are fallible. We are not always right.
Fortunately, as long as we are divided in what we believe is right there's no danger that we will have the same powers as God to mete out rewards and punishments. But we can still be foolish and inhibit the coming of the kingdom of God.
This provides an interesting look at Matthew 16:19. Evidently it is about church polity. But how did it get there? Was it inserted by God or by someone who wanted to claim he had God's endorsement?