In Good Faith

Judge Randy Bellows of the Fairfax County Circuit Court has set April 25 – June 14, 2011 as the dates for the trial of the litigation between The Episcopal Church (TEC) and the Diocese of Virginia and nine churches who voted to separate from the Diocese of Virginia and join the Convocation of Anglicans North America (now affiliated with the Anglican Church in North America) in 2006.

In addition, Judge Bellows ruled that it would be a bench trial instead of a jury trial asked by the Virginia congregations. Judge Bellows also ruled against the proposal by the Diocese and TEC to split the trial into multiple sections where the churches would be addressed together as a group and then separated church by church. In addition, Judge Bellows ruled that Church of Our Saviour Oatlands would not be separated from the other Virginia congregations but would be part of the April-June trial. Church of Our Saviour had not sought a jury trial.

The form the trial will take will begin with The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia presenting their case, followed by the Virginia congregation responding and presenting their counter case, followed by TEC and the Diocese presenting their rebuttal and opposing the counter suit, followed by the Virginia congregations presenting their rebuttal as well as their rebuttal to the opposition of their counter suit. It sounded as though final arguments may be presented by brief. Judge Bellows then would rule on the entire case perhaps some time in June.

There were several things that struck me about the court hearing last Friday. First of all, I have never seen the Episcopal Presiding Bishop’s personal chancellor David Booth Beers speak or smile to anyone in the Virginia congregations in all the times we have gathered together. But this Friday he was sitting next to the Diocese of Virginia’s Chancellor Russ Palmore and at one point, noticed that Bishop David Bena, CANA Suffragan Bishop for the Anglican District of Virginia and former Suffragan Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Albany, had come into the court room. Before the hearing began, David Booth Beers got up from his front row seat and walked over to the opposite side of the court room and to the back and warmly greeted Bishop Bena. Bishop Bena returned the warm greeting. I later learned that back in the early days of Bishop Bena’s ministry he was in the Military Chaplain’s office at 815 and got to know David Booth Beers who even then was the chancellor.

Similar types of outreach happened following the hearing when attorneys from the Diocese of Virginia greeted the CANA attorneys, exchanging pleasantries beyond the casual nod. This was a marked change even from the last hearing when there were some barbs exchanged during and after the proceedings.

Another highlight – possibly because Judge Bellows said it more than once – was that he announced that he was going to proceed through the preparations for the trial and during the trial itself “in good faith,”and urged the parties to do as well.  It was a rather interesting phrase considering who is populating his court room. He repeated this more than once – that he would assume that all the parties were operating in good faith and not seeking to undermine the other, but assume the best of one another. He said he would continue to assume that all the parties were operating in good faith with each other until he saw differently, in which case he would intervene.

It came across to me that he was saying – quite strongly in fact – that counsel from both sides should follow his direction and assume that all were operating in good faith. One might think at first that such a view would be naive, until you pause a moment and realize that if he is led to think differently, he has the authority to take this case in any direction he deems fit. He has the authority, in his way, to basically direct the parties now to operate in good faith. If they don’t, it will be at their own peril.

Since he repeated himself on this particular point – holding back from stipulating certain rulings on the assumption that the parties would operate in good faith with each other – it seemed to drive home to me the point that it was as though he was chastening both parties that this is how he was going to operate and they would be wise to do the same.

I have been pondering that phrase, “Good Faith” all weekend, especially in light of work now underway by lay leaders in Virginia to find a way forward toward resolution. Bona Fides is Latin for “in good faith.” Wiki states that “Good Faith” is “good, honest intention … or belief. In law, it is the mental and moral state of honesty, conviction as to the truth or falsehood of a proposition or body of opinion, or as to the rectitude or depravity of a line of conduct. This concept is important in law, especially equitable matters.”

Webster Dictionary defines bona fides as “evidence of one’s good faith or genuineness.” What this says to me is that it’s not just what is presented in court, but how it is presented. And if we are able to restore this view – that all parties are operating in good faith – could that not bring us back to the table to find common ground resolution that would build us all up for mission as members of the same faith family?

After all this time – as we see here at the Cafe from time to time – good faith has taken a hard hit over the years. One could point to reasons why this may be, but as Judge Bellows said – at this point, right now, right where we stand can we pledge to operate in good faith, seeing as marks of that trust evidence of genuineness and honesty?

How would such a thing happen? The reality seems so far away, as the comments on the earlier post and other sites that have picked up that post reveal. I know of only one way – and that it to reorient ourselves to a new disposition, one that comes to us in who’s name we carry. This can’t be done by will power alone, the wounds go deep and even the bravest among us would be challenged to have such a will.

It is interesting to think about how God operates in good faith, even knowing who he is dealing with. Even the famous words of John come to mind, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son …” It wasn’t that we deserved it or had earned the right to have a savior, not by a long shot. But it was because he loved us that he found a way to bring resolution between himself and the world – he took the initiative. Our response is as John writes, “that whosoever believes in him …” Do we dare to believe?

Where do we begin? Perhaps with the one who is the most genuine and honest, who Paul describes so well in the 13th chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians. Oh that we may love one another like that.

Perhaps this Christmas may open our minds and hearts in ways we never could have imagined. May it be so.