Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Pray for Bishop Yamoyam

I was deeply distressed, along with the members of the Executive Council, when Bishop Yamoyam of the Philippines apparently (it was later confirmed) suffered a stroke and had to be rushed to the local Dearborn/Detroit hospital. As the ambulance workers carried the bishop away, I was grateful for the attention being given to him by the Executive Council members present. Many prayers were lifted up on his behalf, and I called people back home to let them know of the situation.

Consequently, I was deeply saddened to read this morning that Bishop Yamoyam is still in very serious condition and may not survive. Let us all continually remember him in prayer to the one who made us and gives us life and breath.

Hat tip: Kendall Harmon

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Now You See It, Now You Don't: Disappearing ENS Text concerning Bishop Salmon

Late Monday, I noticed an Episcopal News Service story that struck me as extremely negative toward Bishop Edward Salmon of the Diocese of South Carolina. A few hours later, the two offending paragraphs had been removed from the article. To set those paragraphs in context, they followed comments from Salmon that made it into the revised piece now available at Episcopal Life Online (the text that survived both versions starts the excerpt, while the paragraphs originally on the web but later removed are in bold below):


Salmon, who described himself as trying to live "graciously" as an Episcopalian "on the short end of the stick," acknowledged that there is "profound disagreement" in the Episcopal Church and in his diocese, and predicted that no solution will make everyone happy.

He said he is convinced that the Episcopal Church will not change its stance and that people on all sides of the issues are "deeply convicted about the Gospel upon which they stand.

""What we need to do is deal with each other on that basis," Salmon said.

During the question-and-answer period, he denied that he had ordered diocesan clergy to refrain from praying for Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori during the Prayers of the People, despite more than one participant saying their rectors had told them he had.

After Salmon left to go to another appointment, one participant, to murmurs of assent, said that Salmon's statement was part of a pattern in which "we're told all sorts of things and then the bishop denies that it's true."


So Salmon was quoted in the original article as recognizing "profound disagreement" in his diocese and commending everyone honestly "deal[ing] with each other on that basis." But the two paragraphs that originally directly followed that section of text suggested that he apparently at minimum badly communicated with his diocese and at worst lied to the flock over which he still shepherds.

Those are serious and (to put it mildly) offensive inferences to make, and they were conveyed through the viewpoints of anonymous Episcopalians. Did ENS want to suggest that Salmon is not, or at least may not be, trustworthy? Apparently not in the end, as those two paragraphs were removed -- but they somehow made it into the earliest web version of the story.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Executive Council Responds to HOB Statement

The Executive Council of the Episcopal Church passed resolution NAC 026, "Response to House of Bishops Statement on Resolution B033," this afternoon without any amendments.

Resolution NAC 026 raises sharp questions concerning the House of Bishops’ mind of the house statement, declaring that the statement “may inappropriately suggest that an additional qualification for the episcopacy has been imposed beyond those contained in the constitution and canons of the Episcopal Church.”

The resolution praises the House of Bishops “for undertaking the monumental task of trying to clarify the conflict between the canons of the Episcopal Church and the demands raised by the Dar es Salaam communiqué.”

Nonetheless, it criticizes the statement for “exacerbate[ing] feelings of exclusion felt by many of the lesbian and gay members of our church by defining Resolution B033 … to include lesbian and gay people.” It also claims that both B033 (and implicitly, by extension, the HOB statement) “discourage[s] the full participation by lesbians and gay persons in the life of the church and enshrine[s] discrimination in the policies of the Episcopal Church.”
The resolution also endorses the “listening process.”


Resolved, the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church, meeting in Dearborn, Michigan, expresses its appreciation to the House of Bishops for undertaking the monumental task of trying to clarify the conflict between the canons of the Episcopal Church and the demands raised by the Dar E [sic] Salaam communiqué, and be it further

Resolved, the Executive Council affirms with the House of Bishops the essential and renewed study of human sexuality as noted in the “listening process” of the Lambeth Conference of 1998, and be it further

Resolved, that the House of Bishops’ statement exacerbated feelings of exclusion felt by many of the lesbian and gay members of our church by defining Resolution B033 from the 75th General Convention to include lesbian and gay people, and be it further

Resolved, that by calling particular attention to the application of B033 to lesbian and gay person [sic], it may inappropriately suggest that an additional qualification for the episcopacy has been imposed beyond those contained in the constitutions and canons of the church, and be it further

Resolved, that while B033 focuses on the consent process for bishops, the broader impact is to discourage the full participation by lesbians and gay persons in the life of the church and enshrine discrimination in the policies of the Episcopal Church, and be it further

Resolved, that the Executive Council acknowledge with regret the additional pain and estrangement inflicted on lesbian and gay members of the church, and we pledge to work toward a time when our church will fully respect the dignity of every human being in all aspects of the life of our church.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

When Episcopal Church Struggles Hit Your Father's Home Town

Even in small-town New England, Episcopal Church issues are hitting home.

My wife Sharon and I spent an extended Columbus Day weekend in the Northeast, largely in Newburyport, MA. My father was born there over 80 years ago and grew up during the depression. His family attended a Congregational church that now is a member of the United Church of Christ. We were blessed to visit family there, but we found that even in small town New England, Episcopal Church issues were having an impact.

Because when I picked up Saturday's local paper, I couldn't help notice a front-page article detailing the local Episcopal Church's (one town over) struggle to survive after the majority of its congregants left for the Anglican Church of Kenya. Only 10 families remained to keep the original Episcopal Church afloat. In contrast, according to congregational statistics from the Episcopal Church, average worship attendance had been at over 300 in 2006.

That's a huge drop. If we apply the U.S. 2006 average family size of 3.20 persons to the families that remain (and that seems to be close to the mark, given year 2000 census figures for both the town and the county), we're looking at roughly 32 members left in the Episcopal congregation. That means that at most roughly 11 percent of the congregation did not break away to form the new All Saints Anglican Church in a nearby community and remained with the Episcopal Church.

I can't imagine the pain that those who remain with the local congregation must feel to see their congregation shrink by roughly 90 percent. And while the article mentioned that 40 families are now involved with the Episcopal parish, it also noted that "[t]he group of Episcopalians in West Newbury was left with so little money, it will now be recognized as a mission, not a church. ... All Saints West Newbury no longer has the legal status of a church due to its financial state and does not have an ordained priest to lead them."

This congregation provides just one example of the type of pain that Episcopal Church parishes around the country are experiencing due to the denomination's departure from Christian orthodoxy. Long-time friends become strangers and perhaps even enemies to one another as parishes split apart. Financial concerns become an albatross around the neck of parishes. In some locations, priests are unavailable to lead parishes suffering from a split. And as the recent House of Bishops meeting in New Orleans demonstrated, the Episcopal Church continues to downplay the effects of the departures.

All Saints West Newbury says that it does not want to merge with another Episcopal parish. Instead, members are hoping to raise enough money to get the congregation back to church status within a year. If it is not able to rebuild, will it be able to survive? Or might it end up like my father's church, a United Church of Christ congregation now obviously progressive both theologically and in its social witness, with apparently only a few dozen people in average Sunday attendance? (Sharon and I went there on Sunday.)

Even in very secular New England, neither the possibility of closure nor the prospect of a small remnant can be desirable for the Episcopal Church. But as long as the denomination continues on its present trajectory (and the recent House of Bishops statement did absolutely nothing to suggest that the Episcopal Church is changing direction), it doesn't take rocket science to see the continuing effect: more alienated parishioners and more departures. And when it hits everywhere from small-town New England to Chicago, IL ; from Broomfield, CO, to Savannah, GA -- Houston, the Episcopal Church has a huge problem.

Friday, October 5, 2007

The Anglican Communion Institute (ACI) on the House of Bishops Statement

Here's the "money quote" from an excellent response to the recent House of Bishops statement:

[W]hen faced with a clear choice, the local audience was ultimately still more determinative than the global one and the demands of being an American denomination triumphed over the disciplines of belonging to the Church Catholic.

To all of those arguing that the ACI statement is "soft": remember that this is probably the most critical issue for the ACI. This is strong criticism indeed. And it is also sober-minded about the implications that now arise for the whole Anglican Communion:

[I]t may be many years before another crossroads is provided at which all those who have traditionally gathered together as constituent members of the Anglican Communion are able to meet in order to nurture their common mission, strengthen the bonds of affection and seek to find a common mind for our common life together as Anglican Christians.

Fool Me Once, Shame on Me. Fool Me Twice (or an Infinite Number of Times)...

The Most Rev. Henry Orombi, Archbishop of the Church of Uganda, nails it in his comments concerning the recent House of Bishops statement (emphasis my own in the following paragraphs):

(Church of Uganda News)

The Episcopal Church USA (TEC) has clarified its commitment to continue on their path to abandon the Biblical and historic faith of Anglicanism. They, in fact, have decided to walk apart, and we are distressed that they are trying to take the rest of the Anglican Communion with them.

We cannot take seriously a statement from TEC that merely pledges “as a body” to not do something. TEC betrayed the Anglican Communion when it elected and confirmed as bishop a divorced man living in a same-sex relationship. We were further betrayed when its Presiding Bishop agreed to the Communiqué from the 2003 emergency Primates’ Meeting that he deeply regretted the “actions of the…Episcopal Church (USA),” and immediately proceeded to assert at a press conference that he would preside at that consecration. He then explained that the Primates believed their statement “as a body,” but individual primates were free to disagree.

Now, TEC has told us that they pledge “as a body” not to “authorize public rites for the blessing of same-sex unions.” We have every reason to believe that individual bishops will feel free to disagree and continue to permit blessings of same-sex unions in their dioceses, rationalizing it as part of the breadth of their pastoral response, and all the while denying their complicity. This is unacceptable.

TEC has lost the right to give assurances of their direction as a church through more words and statements. They write one thing and do another. We, therefore, cannot know what they mean by their words until we see their meaning demonstrated by their actions.

Archbishop Orombi, meet the Rt. Rev. Charles Bennison, Bishop of the Diocese of Pennsylvania, who voted "no" to the final House of Bishops statement:

When, on September 25, the House of Bishops ... affirmed that non-celibate gay and lesbian persons are included among those to whom [General Convention 2006 resolution] B033 pertains, knowing that resolutions are recommendatory, not canonically mandatory, and that therefore compliance is voluntary, I honestly could not promise I would not consent to the election of a gay or lesbian priest to the episcopate.

As I said in one of my House of Bishops posts, "whenever you read formal Anglican communications, it's time to put on your analytical hat and remember this guiding principle: every word counts." Bishop Orombi has analyzed the House of Bishops' statement well.

Because whether we're talking about consent to the consecration of a priest living in a gay or lesbian relationship or same-sex blessings, given its track record, how can the Episcopal Church be trusted? How many other bishops might leave open the option of going against the House of Bishops statement, using the argument that "resolutions are recommendatory, not canonically mandatory, and that therefore compliance is voluntary"?

Hat tip: Kendall Harmon

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

What's at the "Epicentre of Tensions" in the Anglican Communion Today?

The Joint Standing Committee's report to the Archbishop of Canterbury has just been released. There are many problems with the report, not the least of which is, as Kendall Harmon and others have pointed out, that not everyone on the committee signed off on it.

But one fundamental error stands out to me at this time: the committee's evaluation of what it calls "the epicentre of tensions in the [Anglican] Communion."

"At the epicentre of tensions in the Communion over the last five years has been the fact that the Episcopal Church elected and consecrated as a Bishop a person publicly acknowledged to be living in a committed same-sex relationship" (emphasis my own).

No, no, a thousand times no. The issue is not, and never has been, "[public] acknowledg[ment]" of such a relationship. The issue always has been the actual relationship -- or, as the House of Bishops itself put it, "[n]on-celibate gay and lesbian persons."

Ironically, the quotes that follow in the report from the primates and the Windsor Report emphasize this very fact (all emphasis my own):

"[Gene Robinson's] chosen lifestyle would give rise to a canonical impediment to his consecration as a bishop" -- the primates, October 2003

"... any candidate to the episcopate who is living in a same gender union" -- the Windsor Report

Yes, everyone knows the standard progressive rejoinder: "We've had gay and lesbian clergy for centuries; they just haven't been open about it." That argument can be applied to clergy with a myriad of issues and sins, however. Is it the "[public] acknowledg[ment]" that's divisive, or the actual relationship? If a single bishop living in a relationship with a man or woman outside of marriage caused similar tensions, would the issue be the public acknowledgment of the relationship, or the actual relationship?

Because at heart this is still fundamentally an issue of what the church is to teach regarding marriage and holiness in sexual relationships. As the committee itself noted, Lambeth Conference Resolution 1.10, which upheld the traditional definition of marriage as a "lifelong union" of one man and one woman and encouraged sexual abstinence outside of marriage, "expresses the understanding on Christian marriage and sexual relationships actually taught and held by the vast majority of Anglican churches and bishops across the globe - indeed, by the vast majority of Christian denominations and their leadership."

It's possible that the committee did not intend to stress the "[public] acknowledg[ment]" over the actual relationship. If so, we have here a case of poor wording choices. Otherwise, we have at best shortsightedness. No doubt everyone could agree with the committee if it had said only that the consecration of a bishop living in a same-sex relationship was "[a]t the epicentre of tensions" -- at least on a surface level. (The roots of the tensions, of course, extend to much deeper issues.) But let's not forget here that public knowledge of a gay bishop is not causing the "tear in the fabric" of the Anglican Communion garment. It's the fact that the Episcopal Church goes against standard Anglican Communion, and Christian, teaching that's important here.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Possibly the Most Significant Detail of the Mind of the House Statement

I already covered this in my previous report on the second Tuesday afternoon press conference, but I reprint it here and expand upon it because it is, in my mind, probably the most important feature of the mind of the house statement.

I asked Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori why the mind of the house statement said:

"We ... pledge not to authorize for use in our dioceses any public rites of same-sex blessings until a broader consensus emerges in the Communion, or until General Convention takes further action" (emphasis my own)

instead of: "unless a broader consensus ... unless General Convention ..."

as the primates' communique said.

The presiding bishop responded that "until" was Windsor language. I concurred and asked if any bishop objected to the use of "until" as opposed to "unless," and she replied, "no." She could not recall any opposition to this major shift in wording.

That's incredible. Let's remember that while the Windsor Report said "until," the primates deliberately changed that word to "unless."

There's a huge difference here. The primates asked the House of Bishops for assurances that they would stop same-sex blessings and stop consenting to the consecration of bishops in a same-sex relationship unless the mind of the Communion ever changed on these matters.

Now the Episcopal Church is saying, essentially, that the mind of the Communion inevitably will change -- or, at absolute minimum, that's a strong hope. Any moratoria -- a word intentionally left out of the statement -- will only be temporary. And the Episcopal Church is only concerned about stopping the "authorization" of "public rites" that currently do not exist. Local same-sex blessings will continue.

Apparently part of the Episcopal Church's mission is now to witness to the Anglican Communion of the rightness of the "full inclusion" of gays and lesbians. This mind of the house statement only maintains the status quo for as long as the mind of the Episcopal Church does not change -- and there's no doubt that there will be a major push in 2009 to reverse the current state of affairs.

Report on the Second Tuesday Afternoon Press Conference

The second Tuesday press conference contained the most illuminating conversations of the entire week. Many statements revealed just how far the Episcopal Church has departed from the Anglican Communion. In order in which the topics and comments occurred:

*When questioned about how the wording of the final mind of the house statement is not likely to satisfy other primates of the Anglican Communion, Bishop Thomas Shaw of the Diocese of Massachusetts said that to take that angle would be to miss the spirit of the document. He said that the two purposes of the statement were 1) "to respect the integrity of the Episcopal Church," and 2) "to embrace the Anglican Communion."

*Shaw further noted, "I personally ... am disappointed ... that the gay and lesbian gifts for ministry are not going to be recognized in the near future in the Episcopal Church."

*Bishop Nathan Baxter of the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania, when asked why there was nothing in the statement about the covenant, said "That's still in process ... we're not a creedal church ... [we have] less of a rationally-defined life" than other Christian denominations with more defined creeds. "We are watching to make sure a covenant helps us to be in conversation with our Anglican partners rather than to define what that conversation should be like."

*I asked Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori why the mind of the house statement said:

"We ... pledge not to authorize for use in our dioceses any public rites of same-sex blessings until a broader consensus emerges in the Communion, or until General Convention takes further action" (emphasis my own).

instead of:

"unless a broader consensus ... unless General Convention ..."

as the primates' communique said.

The presiding bishop responded that "until" was Windsor language. I concurred and asked if any bishop objected to the use of "until" as opposed to "unless," and she replied, "no." She could not recall any opposition to this major shift in wording.

*When asked whether she saw any hope for gays and lesbians relating to the repeal of resolution B033, Bishop Jefferts Schori responded that the Episcopal Church's General Convention would have to act to change the resolution and, hence, the status quo. She said that she had no doubt the 2009 General Convention would work to address this issue.

*When questioned about whether the House had ignored the requests of the primates for moratoria on consents to the consecrations of bishops living in a same-sex relationship and same-sex blessings, the bishops assembled were quick to correct what they said was a misunderstanding. For more information, see my previous post.

"Moratoria" Deliberately Not Used in Mind of the House Statement, according to Presiding Bishop

At a second press conference following the bishops' Eucharist on Tuesday afternoon, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and other members of the House of Bishops clarified that the term "moratoria" intentionally was not present in today's final mind of the house communique.

When questioned about whether the House had ignored the requests of the primates for moratoria on consents to the consecrations of bishops living in a same-sex relationship and same-sex blessings, the bishops assembled were quick to correct what they said was a misunderstanding.

It is "not accurate to talk about moratoria," said Bishop Thomas Ely of the Diocese of Vermont. "This House is committed to the full participation of gays and lesbians in the life of the church. We have ... work to do" to bring the rest of the Communion along, he said.

Bishop Nathan Baxter of the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania, responding to the same question, said, "We're on a journey, and the journey has not changed." He cited John 13:35-36 as a theme verse, apparently in connection with the Episcopal Church's struggle for the "full inclusion" of gays and lesbians.

At the end of the press conference, Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori, who clarified that "Moratoria is not the word we used," made the most revealing comment. She said that one member of the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates of the Anglican Communion and the Anglican Consultative Council had told them that they had a role to play in demonstrating the gifts of gays and lesbians to the wider Anglican Communion.

Is Only 5 Percent of the Episcopal Church Experiencing Conflict?

This morning, after listening to tales from over 20 dioceses of congregations splitting and foreign "incursions" (evidently the new preferred term for the formerly popular "border crossings") around the Episcopal Church, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori made this astonishing statement:

"The conflict that you read about in the headlines is not reality for 95 percent" of the church.

Really? But then what do we make of the Episcopal Church's own summary of its 2005 congregational research?

The most frequent source of confl ict mentioned, however, was "actions of General Convention 2003 regarding the Bishop of New Hampshire." Overall, 78% of Episcopal congregations reported experiencing some confl ict over this issue, with almost half (47%) of all congregations reporting that they had moderately serious or very serious conflict.

And according to the denomination's 2005 FAST Facts, only 35 percent of parishes with conflict over General Convention issues had their conflict resolved.

Two years have passed, but for the presiding bishop's (admittedly possibly loose, intended just to give a general impression) statistic to be anywhere near accurate, a vast change must have taken place thanks to the departures of so many parishioners.

Once again, we see the Episcopal Church's denial of the reality facing the church. Couple these statistics with the comment this morning that the denomination could lose half of its "active clergy" (later clarified as meaning full-time priests) in tne next 10 years, and it's clear that the church faces very serious challenges.

Monday, September 24, 2007

So You Don't Have Your Diocese's Permission to Conduct Local Same-Sex Blessings?

No problem! It doesn't appear to matter:

"The fact of life is that [the Episcopal Church has] never authorized same-sex blessings .. It does not happen in my diocese with my permission."
Bishop Jon J. Bruno of the Diocese of Los Angeles, at the House of Bishops Monday afternoon press conference

But a same-sex "wedding" occurred just Saturday. From the Sunday, September 23 New York Times (All Saints Episcopal Church in Beverly Hills is part of the Diocese of Los Angeles):

And as far back as 2003, when the Episcopal Church allowed for local same-sex blessings in resolution C051 at General Convention 2003, this comment was made, according to the Episcopal News Service:

While the resolution will not make a big difference in her diocese of Los Angeles, where blessings already occur, convention’s action will be welcomed by bishops who were seeking national authorization to respond to pastoral needs of gays and lesbians, said the Rev. Susan Russell, executive director of Claiming the Blessing, an organization that supports gay and lesbian concerns.

Words Matter: The House of Bishops Continues in Denial

The primates' draft "Message from the Bishops of the Episcopal Church," its mind of the house statement (the final version of which is scheduled to be released at the end of the day tomorrow), provides yet another illustration of how words matter in the Anglican world. Arguably the strongest word in the document is "imperil," and take two guesses as to in which context the writers use it.

Do they say that the Episcopal Church's actions have "imperiled" the Anglican Communion? Nope.

Do they say that the Episcopal Church's actions have "imperiled" the unity of the Episcopal Church, even with the loss of thousands of Anglicans as a result of those actions? Guess again.

Here it is:

"We pray that a way forward can be found which will bring an end to the incursions of extra-provincial bishops. These incursions imperil the Communion's principle of honoring one another as we work together in good faith on these very difficult issues" (emphasis my own).

Yes, it's the action of bishops from the Global South and other locations making "incursions" (i.e., starting groups like the Convocation of Anglicans in North America [CANA] to provide a home outside of the Episcopal Church for orthodox Anglicans) -- who cause the authors to use the word "imperil" -- and in connection with the Anglican Communion, no less. (Comparatively, the authors admit only that "the blessings of same sex unions, no matter how public or private, is unacceptable" to other member provinces of the Anglican Communion.)

Hmmm. "Unacceptable" vs. "imperil." There's still a vast difference in the way that the bishops view the Episcopal Church's own actions when compared with those of other bishops in the Anglican Communion. And the deep denial on the Episcopal Church's part of both the negative effect its actions have had on the Communion, and within the denomination itself, continues.

Words Matter: "Formal" Same-Sex Blessing "Services"?

It's time for another episode of Words Matter in the ongoing Anglican Communion struggles!

Stephen Bates in The Guardian is reporting that:

Senior Anglican church officials and American bishops were last night meeting in New Orleans to draft a statement aimed at keeping the US Episcopal Church within the worldwide communion in the face of attacks from conservative church members over the Americans' attempt to remain welcoming towards gays.

The move, which will be discussed within the US house of bishops at its meeting today, seeks to allow liberal clergy to continue offering pastoral support to gay couples while ruling out, at least for the present, formal blessings services or the appointment of more openly gay bishops.

Note the wording: "formal blessings services" (emphasis my own).

To this writer's ears, it sounds like a lot like the progressive spin that bishops rarely, if ever, actually authorize same-sex blessings. It also raises the questions of (1) what constitutes informal "blessings services", (2) whether "informal blessings services" are authorized, (3) what constitutes a "formal blessings service," and (4) whether it is possible to hold a same-sex blessing without either a "service" or a "formal service."

Of course, details are lacking at this point, and I have no idea how specific Bates is being in his wording. It's what comes out of the House of Bishops that will count. But whenever you read formal Anglican communications, it's time to put on your analytical hat and remember this guiding principle: every word counts.

Oh, and this too: Watch out for the technicality land mines.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Good and the Bad: Wonderful Imagery, Shades of Universalism

My wife Sharon and I attended the 10 AM service at Christ Church Cathedral in New Orleans this morning. It was in many ways a wonderful service; the stately worship of venerable hymns and a stunning jazz performance by Irvin Mayfield were inspiring. It was a blessing to sing the Nicene Creed, something that I'm not sure I've ever done before. The Anglo-Catholic elements of the service stirred my heart. (The absence of the prayer of confession, however, was troubling; it may have been removed to allow for the blessing and dedication of the Elysian Trumpet.)

But one element of the service, sadly, encapsulated the mixture of emotions that my wife and I have experienced the last couple of years as we've watched the Episcopal Church depart from biblical, Anglican, and Christian orthodoxy: Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori's sermon. There was much to commend in it; in some ways, it pointed to the very best elements of the Episcopal Church. But it also contained assertions that deeply disturbed us.

First, the good: The sermon contained much that demonstrated compassion for the least and the last among us -- and in this situation, for the people of New Orleans. Bishop Jefferts Schori may have used a somewhat strained comparison, taking Jesus' words to his disciples about his disciples traveling light on their missionary journey and comparing them with the exodus of New Orleans residents from the city due to Katrina. Nonetheless, her point that "those forced to travel or even start over can find ... grace" was a good word.

Furthermore, the presiding bishop is an articulate speaker, and she can compose wonderful phrases. "The God who gives us breath is going to sing the jazz of life in you once more," was deeply moving and even stunningly poetic. And given the blessing of the trumpet that occurred after the prayers of the people, Bishop Jefferts Schori's description of Christians as "trumpeters of good news" was a clever, and relevant, metaphor.

But there were also troubling aspects to the sermon. Early in the sermon, Bishop Jefferts Schori said that Jesus' words about "driving out demons" were "about removing the forces that divide." Later, she described Christians as "banishers of ... division."

If this is so, what are we to make of the Episcopal Church's actions? Its movements away from orthodox belief and practice, away from the larger Anglican Communion, and away from the body of Christ as a whole have caused almost nothing but division. Where have we seen unity result from the Episcopal Church's actions? What does it say when bishops who have served the denomination faithfully leave the church -- some for Rome, some for a home in the Anglican Communion outside of the Episcopal Church? What does it say when thousands of laypeople leave the church?

(There are also theological issues here for orthodox Anglicans, including taking the text at a metaphorical level to the exclusion of a literal level. But that's the subject for another post.)

But the most troubling assertion came at the end of the sermon: "None of us is going home until all of us have a place to lay our heads ... When the saints go marching in, it's going to be with every last one of us!"

My wife looked at me and asked, "Universalism?" I replied, "I'm afraid so." Because unless "us" simply referred to Christians assembled in the cathedral, or even the Episcopal Church as a whole, there's no other way to take it. Furthermore, the presiding bishop had inclusively spoken of people of New Orleans in general earlier in the sermon, and had broadened the picture to everyone in the world by the end of the sermon. (If the presiding bishop was not speaking of universalism, clarification to that effect would be greatly appreciated!)

I know it may be difficult for progressives to understand this, but universalism is something deeply troubling to orthodox Anglicans -- and not due to any "theology of scarcity" or somehow "less gracious" theology. Yes, we love John 3:16, and we believe it fervently. But we also find that we cannot dismiss or ignore Jesus' warnings concerning eternal separation from God -- concerning Hell. We believe that God has entrusted the Church with the Scriptures; the Church is not free to overlook any part of Scripture. And universal salvation at best appears to be just a faint hope in Scripture, as Roman Catholic theologian Richard John Neuhaus once said; many orthodox Christians do not hold to any possibility of it.

It's been said many times over that the issues creating our current unhappy state are deep ones far below the surface of our differences over sexuality. The sermon by Bishop Jefferts Schori demonstrates this. The issues that I've mentioned grieve me and my wife to the point that we are now essentially Episcopalians in exile attending a CANA church. There is so much promise for the Episcopal Church, but its drift away from orthodoxy, and its apparent insistence on putting its convictions before those of the worldwide body of Christ, are creating division, not unity.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

What I Would Have Asked Rowan Williams

I was not in line at the microphone when questions from the press were taken at Friday's press conference with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. By the time I had formulated my thoughts in a halfway concise way in my head, Neva Rae Fox, communications specialist for the Episcopal Church, had announced that we were at the last question.

But I would have asked Rowan Williams this:

Your Grace, what would you say to the priests who have watched their congregations dwindle by the dozens or even hundreds over the last several years because the departing parishioners believe they can no longer stay in the Episcopal Church? What would you say to those priests who have seen the loss of key lay ministry leaders and well-loved families who have been in the church for years or decades? What would you say to those priests who have seen parish ministries decrease in their effectiveness or even fold because the support for them is no longer there, thanks to the loss of so many people? What would you say to the priests who in light of these factors believe that their congregations will lose most of their vitality if they remain in the Episcopal Church and are on the verge of leaving-- or to the priests who already have taken their congregations out of the Episcopal Church for such reasons?

Because that's happening, folks. Orthodox Anglican parishioners and clergy can testify to it, and it has happened to progressive parishes as well. Nearly three years ago, a progressive friend of mine was taking over Sunday School at her progressive congregation because, by her account, 100 to 200 people of her 300-to-400 average Sunday attendance parish had left over the Episcopal Church's General Convention 2003 decisions.

Let me speak personally here. I consider myself an evangelical with a not-fully-formed Anglo-Catholic heart. The visible unity of the Church, and the reunion of all Christian denominations, has been a passion for about 16 years now. I am a strong proponent of the catholicity of the Church. I am very sympathetic to orthodox Anglicans who want to work within the existing structures of the Anglican Communion. That is my first desire as well. (I am also an idealist, a strong INFP for Myers-Briggs scorekeepers.)

But when I see parishes losing their people and ministries over this issue, then the evangelical and more practical sides of me say, "What can they do but leave?" My desire for the visible unity of the church runs up against my concern for individuals and individual congregations. And it's also clear that the Episcopal Church's heterodox actions are not helping to unite either the Anglican Communion or the body of Christ as a whole.

I would have liked to have heard some measure of understanding from the archbishop over the extremely difficult choices that orthodox Anglican clergy are facing. (I imagine that many-to-most priests have wrestled or continue to wrestle far more than I do on this issue.) I wonder if he would have said anything different than "don't leave because the sacraments are still valid," which is essentially what he told Mary Ailes (better known as Baby Blue) at the press conference. The archbishop's point about the sacraments is one with which I thoroughly agree, but there are other serious considerations at hand here.

Blinded by Technicalities

A few things are hitting me at this late hour as Friday turns into Saturday.

*First, thank you to all who have been praying for Louisiana/gulf coast weather. The sub-tropical depression turned into a tropical depression, but is now just a low. The biggest threat now appears to be "an isolated tornado" along the gulf coast. Of course neither the bishops, nor visitors and press, nor -- most especially of all -- the people of New Orleans and the gulf coast need another hurricane or anything even remotely similar. So thank you all for your continued prayers.

*Second, there's naturally been a lot of discussion today about the afternoon press conference with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. Some people have been on an emotional rollercoaster over the Archbishop of Canterbury's words. Personally, nothing that he said surprised me. Technically, I can agree with him that the September 30 deadline was not an "ultimatum" in the strictest sense of the word. (It's hard to say that something is an ultimatum when discipline has never been applied across the Anglican Communion and measures currently are not in place for such discipline.)

But to be technical on this issue misses the real point -- and, distressingly (though not surprisingly), the Episcopal Church leadership's stances on the primates' communique continually have relied far, far too much on technicalities. We've seen it before many times:

*Only x percent of parishes have left? That may be technically correct, although here the Episcopal Church's statistics don't match up with those of the Anglican Communion Network (ACN). But even if accurate, it conveniently ignores the fact that thousands of people have left and continue to leave the Episcopal Church -- and progressive parishes have not been immune to this trend -- in a denomination suffering from decreasing attendance that is wracked with conflict over the denomination's stances on the consecration of non-celibate gay and lesbian bishops and same-sex blessings.

*We don't need a "pastoral scheme" from the primates, thank you very much; we already have Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight (DEPO) and we will look for additional pastoral solutions? Again, technically true regarding the existence of DEPO. But DEPO has not been effective at keeping thousands of people from leaving the Episcopal Church. And now the Episcopal Church has eight bishops who have agreed to provide pastoral oversight, but is there any substance to the plan? The Episcopal Church's appointed bishops for yesterday's press conference couldn't tell us of any; they said that the details were still being worked out.

* Everything will be fine if we can just focus people on mission? True, common mission often helps build bonds even among people with major differences. But this time people on both sides of the aisle truly believe the gospel is at sake. The Rev. Susan Russell and the Integrity crowd trumpet it. Orthodox Anglicans believe it not just concerning homosexuality, but issues more fundamental to the faith, including who Jesus is.

Many more examples could be cited. But the fact remains that the September 30 deadline can only be disregarded by the Episcopal Church to the Anglican Communion's great detriment -- and possible collapse. The primates' requests may not constitute an "ultimatum" in the fully technical sense of the word, but given the current structures of the Anglican Communion, it's about as close to an "ultimatum" as you can get. And there's no denying that at minimum several Anglican Communion provinces see the deadline as a crisis point -- effectively, an ultimatum.

And so when Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams downplays the deadline at a press conference, it is gravely disappointing. The requests that the primates have made are extremely serious ones that the Episcopal Church cannot afford to sidestep.

Fortunately, there are other indications that Williams emphasized the seriousness of the matter to the Episcopal Church -- at least behind closed doors. In fact, he evidently was rebuked by some Episcopal Church bishops for telling the denomination that it needed to find a way to give the primates the assurances for which they have asked.

The question remains: Will the Episcopal Church put the needs of the larger Anglican Communion above its own interests? Or is it now thoroughly convinced (despite the opposition of many of its priests and some of its bishops) that it must stay faithful to its "gospel" of "inclusion"? Has it deceived itself into believing that everything will be fine if it both remains in the Anglican Communion and continues on its present course away from biblical and Christian orthodoxy? These are questions with which the bishops must continue to wrestle at its meeting in New Orleans.

Many published responses to the primates made by dioceses, bishops, and others in the Episcopal Church have insisted on technicalities, blinding the authors to the heart of the matter in the process. Ultimately, the bishops now need to respond to the spirit of the primates' requests, which asked for "unequivocal" responses made "in good conscience" -- not look for loopholes around the letter of the requests.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

HOB Thursday Afternoon Media Briefing: The "Essence" of the Matter Is...?

Several features were entirely predictable ahead of time concerning the just-concluded media briefing with Bishop John Rabb of the Diocese of Maryland and Bishop Robert O'Neill of the Diocese of Colorado:

*The word "conversations" was uttered more times than I could count. We essentially were assured that "deep listening" was occurring in abundance, although that phrase was never used. We were told more than once that the bishops listened with utmost seriousness to the whole range of viewpoints.

*Almost every attempt to get word on what Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams had said to the bishops was sidestepped. Bishop O' Neill was the first to initiate the disclaimer that he couldn't speak for the Archbishop, and that line was used repeatedly (and even once was applied to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori).

And, indeed, we were given the impression that almost everything was in process. Archbishop Williams' two questions for the bishops -- how they viewed their roles, lives, and ministries; and how they would provide adequate pastoral care for orthodox Anglicans -- were described as general questions designed to lead to deeper discussions. We were told that there were no current details available about how the eight bishops appointed as episcopal visitors for Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight (DEPO) would operate. Instead, Bishop Jefferts Schori is still "exploring ways" for providing pastoral care. And we were told that the Dar es Salaam communique was not the "essence" of what the bishops discussed; it was only part of a larger, more wide-ranging conversation.

But then there was this curious tidbit from Bishop O'Neill: "we're two-thirds of the way through the conversation for this meeting."

"The conversation" with the Archbishop of Canterbury? That's surely true. But was O'Neill instead referring to the entire conversation about the larger issues of which the Dar es Salaam communique apparently was not the "essence"?

It's not surprising if the bishops want to hold their cards close to their chests at this point in the meeting. But how much of this is holding back, and how much is happening on the fly? Bishops Rabb and O'Neill seemed genuinely uncertain as to whether any detailed plans had been made for DEPO beyond the announcement of the bishops who would serve as visitors. So is there any real substance (at this time, at least), or is this just something assembled quickly in an attempt to satisfy the larger Anglican Communion?

Most troubling of all, of course, is the thought that the bishops are attempting to minimize the Dar es Salaam communique by focusing on a (from their point of view or desire) bigger picture, or from what they consider to be the "essence" of the matter (whatever that may be). In that case, they might either attempt to delay a full response or maneuver around the real issues that the primates asked them to address. Neither response would be unexpected, but neither would help in the healing of the Anglican Communion.

Worlds Apart

Note: This is a longer version of an article from the forthcoming October 2007 Faith and Freedom.

This summer, two important Anglican meetings illustrated the divergent directions of progressive and orthodox Anglicans in the United States.

First, the Episcopal Church's Executive Council met in Parsippany, NJ, from June 11-14. The Executive Council is one of the major leadership bodies within the denomination; it meets three times a year to deal with Episcopal Church governance in the three years between General Conventions.

Second, the Anglican Communion Network (ACN) held its annual council meeting in Bedford, TX, from July 30-31. The ACN is, as its name suggests, a network of orthodox Anglicans both inside and outside the Episcopal Church. Since its formation in early 2004, it has been a major voice of orthodox Anglicanism in the United States.Both meetings were held against the backdrop of a tense time in the Anglican Communion. The primates of Anglican Communion provinces had issued a communiqué that followed their highly-publicized February meeting in Tanzania. In it, the primates had requested the following of the Episcopal Church:

*That the denomination's House of Bishops would, by September 30, 2007, assure the primates of the denomination's reversal of course regarding the blessing of same-sex unions and the consent to the consecration of bishops in same-sex relationships

*That the Episcopal Church would participate in a "pastoral scheme" designed to provide pastoral relief for orthodox Anglicans in the Episcopal Church and mend the deep divisions between the Episcopal Church and the rest of the Anglican Communion

*That all parties involved in lawsuits over church property—including the Episcopal Church itself—would end their legal actions immediately

Against this backdrop, the two meetings proved to be vastly different. In fact, they demonstrated vividly the gap in worldviews between the groups.


For the rest of the article, go to the IRD website:

Friday, August 31, 2007

A Tale of Two (Potential) Bishops

The Very Rev. Tracey Lind has gained the media's attention as being an openly lesbian, partnered nominee for bishop of the Diocese of Chicago. But her beliefs about staying in the Anglican Communion bear some examination.

In a 2004 essay in the progressive publication The Witness, Lind argued that if the Anglican Communion were to stand against the "full inclusion" of gays and lesbians, then faithfulness to Jesus might require leaving the Communion:

"My sisters and brothers in this enterprise we call Anglicanism ... if the conversation does not shift to the real issues [and, from Lind's perspective, away from the "scapegoating" of gays and lesbians], then perhaps the words of Jesus about leaving house, fields and families behind might even come to include the Anglican Communion. For in the end, it's not about the church; it's about the Gospel."

Let's see here. Lind at minimum foresaw the possibility of, and arguably advocated for, people leaving the Anglican Communion if the Communion ultimately proved rejecting of the Episcopal Church's stance in favor of "full inclusion."

That leads me to a question: How is Lind's view concerning leaving the Anglican Communion substantially different from the view concerning leaving the Episcopal Church allegedly held by Mark Lawrence at the time of his first election as Bishop of South Carolina -- the view that lead to the smear campaign against Lawrence?

Because at worst, progressives could claim that Lawrence at minimum foresaw the possibility of, and arguably advocated for, people leaving the Episcopal Church if TEC rejected the orthodoxy of the Anglican Communion.

Lawrence, to whom consent was not granted this last spring and who has now been elected by South Carolina a second time, was pilloried for, among other reasons, the supposed threat of leading that diocese out of the Episcopal Church. His greatest "sin," to Episcopal progressives, seemingly consisted of statements like this one: "I shall commit myself to work at least as hard at keeping the Diocese of South Carolina in The Episcopal Church, as my sister and brother bishops work at keeping The Episcopal Church in covenanted relationship with the worldwide Anglican Communion."

Is that any more radical a statement of potential leave-taking than what Lind said? Of course not, particularly when your consider that Lawrence said the following just one paragraph prior: "I would ask you to consider the fact that many of us want to remain in the Anglican Communion as well as The Episcopal Church."

Compare that last statement with how Lind ended her essay: "For now, I'm going to stay at the table [in the Anglican Communion] with walking shoes on my feet."

If Lind made her comments today, would they lead to strong opposition to her candidacy -- or election, if Chicago chooses her -- the way that Lawrence's statements did? Would the Episcopal Church's much proclaimed desire to stay in the Anglican Communion lead individuals, groups, or diocesan standing committees to raise a major brouhaha concerning Lind or any other potential bishop with a similar viewpoint -- to the point of seriously waylaying the potential bishop's consecration?

I think we all know the answers to those questions.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Choosing What We Believe

A few years ago, I sat down at a computer keyboard and typed a short letter to the congregation of Truro Church in Fairfax, Virginia.

It was not a letter intended to express my sentiments. Rather, it was a note from the Rev. Richard Crocker to the rest of the congregation about our latest adult education classes.

Yep, I was a ghostwriter for Richard on that occasion, attempting to write something that conveyed the heart and the mind of our overworked, beloved associate rector. I went back and looked over what Richard had said in sermons he'd written about adult education, and even included a phrase or two that Richard commonly utters. I did my best to sound like Richard, yet most of the words were my own.

I fully expected Richard to revise portions of my letter, but he didn't. He reviewed it, and he let it stand as is. It was printed in our adult education brochure.

Did I write the letter exactly the way Richard would have? Of course not. But did what I write agree with (at least some of) Richard's thoughts? It must have, or he never would have let it pass.

If I remember correctly, I composed the letter on Richard's work computer.


Given my experience, and having just come back this evening from a few days away from the Anglican conflict (I was on vacation with my wife, and that will resume tomorrow), I'm feeling both bemused and disgusted with the Episcopal progressive spin on the "ghostwriting" incident involving the Rt. Rev. Canon Martyn Minns and Archbishop Peter Akinola.

Because when you have Susan Russell, Father Jake, Jim Naughton, Mark Harris, and others essentially saying, "Oh, it's not a ghostwriter that bothers us -- it's that we're not hearing the true voice of Nigerian Anglicans, but rather western conservatives who have been trying to destroy the church," it's time to join Baby Blue and sound a tin-foil hat alert.

Progressive Anglicans seem to have an awfully tough time with this. Many are absolutely convinced that there is some Grand Master Conspiracy behind all of the troubles associated with the Anglican Communion. Unfortunately for them, they have to keep reinventing their theories to fit ever-evolving "facts."

It wasn't too long ago that many of them considered Minns to be a puppet of Akinola -- and delighted in insulting Minns as a consequence. Now, they're jumping up and down, proclaiming the CANA bishop and other western evangelicals to be the real power behind Akinola's supposed bluster.

Which is it? It never seems to bother them that they have to change their "facts" -- and they have done so repeatedly -- at a moment's notice. That just confirms to them the intricacy of the Grand Master Conspiracy.

Are the details of the supposed Network/CANA/AAC/IRD/AMiA/(fill in the blank) conspiracy coming to pass? Of course, progressives say -- until things go badly (or at least seem to go badly) for one or more of the groups or individuals supposedly in on this great conspiracy. Then they chuckle that any conspiratorial attempts are failing, and it's game over for those whom they oppose. A few days later, the Network (or fill in the blank) seems to be on the ascendancy again, and guess what? Now the impossible-to-stop Grand Master Conspiracy is right on track. (And, of course, their views seemingly shift whenever it appears politically expedient for them to do so. )

The specter of slandering godly church leaders and other individuals never seems to haunt progressives' minds, either. That doesn't stop some progressives from penning incredibly broad, one-dimensional statements like this one from the Rev. Susan Russell: "So forgive us ... our moment of glee at the rest of the world glimpsing for a moment the truth we've known for years: this 'schism' has been designed, initiated and implemented by those committed to splitting apart the church they have been unsuccessful in recreating in their own image."

Does it ever trouble progressives that orthodox Anglicans even might be (for have no doubt, they certainly are) working for the unity of the church and to keep it faithful to the Lord God who made us all? Do they ever stop and consider that issues such as (but by no means limited to) same-sex blessings and whether Jesus actually died for our sins (as opposed to because of our sins) are not just areas of "disagreement" (a term that unfortunately trivializes the seriousness of the issues), but essential matters of church teaching that not only may harm the unity of the church, but compromise its holiness and the holiness of its members?

Sadly, they apparently cannot be concerned about slander when they are evidently convinced they know the inner hearts, minds, activities, and whereabouts of those whom they so strongly oppose. They express certainty that Minns made the revisions to Akinola's letter, even though none of them were there. They act convinced that Akinola could not have been in conversation with Minns about the document even if Minns did type the revisions himself.

And they do not think twice about grounding their arguments in suppositions. To cite just one example, Father Jake, in critiquing Akinola's letter, made this astonishing statement about a man whom he has never met: "I do not believe his pretense of sadness [concerning the current lower-than-expected number of acceptances to the 2008 Lambeth Conference]. I think he is voicing his wishful thinking."

This type of argument is about as effective as me saying, "I do not believe Father Jake's pretense of conviction in Jesus Christ as the way to God. I think he is voicing an argument to make points with orthodox Christians."

Now, I have never uttered (or even thought, before constructing this hypothetical example) such a statement and do not believe it. There are many reasons why I do not hold that position, the most fundamental one being that I do not know Jake personally at all. Do I have any ground on which to argue that Jake does not hold such a conviction? No. Even if I could point out and criticize statements or actions that seem to (or even actually) contradict Jake's stated belief, I could not call Jake's statement a "pretense." I could believe all I wanted that it was a pretense, but I couldn't state it as a fact that Jake was lying about his conviction.

Similarly, does Jake have any ground on which to argue that Akinola is not sad about the Anglican Communion situation? No. Jake unquestionably doubts Akinola's sincerity, but he cannot assign a motive to Akinola with any first-hand knowledge. He has no grounding whatsoever to call any statement of Akinola's a "pretense."

But this type of overreaching pervades writings of progressives all the time. So a statement like the following one on the part of the Rev. Mark Harris incredibly gets cited by other progressives as if it proved anything:

"It is common scuttlebutt that Bishop Minns in his former capacity as general managerial lackey for the Archbishop was in constant contact with him throughout the Dar Es Salaam meeting. Some thought Minns put the words in the Archbishop's mouth. Well, perhaps he was not lackey but more like the party whip. Now perhaps he is more than whip. Now he appears as the voice behind the throne... "(emphasis added)

Look at the words: "common scuttlebutt" (among progressives, of course), "thought," "perhaps." Are any of these words the grounds on which a solid case can be argued? They're valuable in terms of revealing different progressive viewpoints, but they remain speculation. Even "appears" is a questionable assertion. (And let's not even talk about the offensiveness of terms like "lackey.")

If progressives want to know why so many orthodox Anglicans feel that they cannot remain in the Episcopal Church, they should look to a large degree at their own words and actions. The attribution of speculated, and damaging, motives to orthodox Anglican leaders; "glee" at seeming progressive victories; insults and statements that the departures are inconsequential -- all of these things, and many more, contribute to orthodox Anglicans feeling that they cannot stay in the Episcopal Church.

The view of orthodox Anglican leaders is so negative and one-sided on the progressive end that people are left with a stark choice. Given that all of us, including godly leaders, struggle with sin daily and have our own weaknesses, are orthodox Christian leaders such as (but not limited to) Minns and Duncan to be respected and trusted? Do they have good ends in mind for the church of God, and for the body of Christ? Or are they nefarious leaders who have been plotting the destruction of one segment of the body of Christ for a decade?

This is not the same question as whether to leave the Episcopal Church. Orthodox Anglicans hold different convictions on that matter, and some are still working through that issue. Rather, the question concerns whether we essentially trust orthodox Christian leaders to have the good of the body of Christ in mind, even if we are not going to follow certain ones in either leaving or staying in (as the case may be) the Episcopal Church. To allude to a choice that Harry Potter must make in J.K. Rowling's latest bestseller, this is a question of choosing what we believe amid competing voices. The times demand this when orthodox Christian leaders are slandered with abandon.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Can in Our Lawsuits God Be Glorified?

The property issue in TEC continues to make news headlines. On Friday, August 10, a preliminary hearing on the Virginia parishes' case resulted in both the diocese and the national church agreeing to dismiss the vestry members and clergy members as defendants in the suit.

In itself, that is wonderful news -- cause for thankfulness to both TEC and the Diocese of Virginia for this action. At the same time, it is extremely disappointing that it evidently took the possibility of a court ruling that would have taken the individuals off of the lawsuit to get this response. The court apparently had to suggest to the diocese and the national church that they should strike a deal with the district.

So if the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia can find it in some deep recesses of their beings to take even that step, why can't they just end the lawsuits against parishes, wherever they may be? There really is no reason why the diocese, the national church, and the departing Anglicans cannot sit together at the same table and come to some agreement that addresses all three groups' concerns. Certainly such an outcome would require sacrifice on the part of each group. No group would get exactly what it wanted. But isn't a peaceful settlement one way to make the "hope of [one type of] reconciliation," which Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori says motivates her, a reality? And wouldn't that be worth any sacrifices?

Because what we're dealing with here is not property, essentially, but people -- people and their ministries, their acts of service to God. The clergy and vestry listed on the lawsuit had dedicated their time, energy, money, and service to Christ. The parishioners leaving the denomination have invested the same. And, yes, parishioners who want to be buried in a graveyard on Episcopal Church property, and all those distressed by a parish's departure from the denomination, matter greatly.

I addressed these issues a while back. Sometimes, being out of the office for a lengthy period of time inevitably means that you may not find time to respond to posts that beg for a followup. The Episcopal News Service's (ENS') Rev. Jan Nunley responded to my piece "When Is a Church Building Like a National Park?", which was my personal reaction to some thoughts that she expressed over at EpiScope. Unfortunately, Rev. Nunley's rejoinder essentially missed the point that I outlined above. In fact, she claimed that the use of the church buildings by parishioners, as well as the money that they give, is "irrelevant ... in the civil courts."

And that points to part of the problem here. For as much as the Episcopal Church may want to keep things at an impartial legal level, it cannot escape the fact that its legal actions affect people at a heart level. Because whether you're staying within the Episcopal Church or leaving it, church property is a place of ministry where lives are impacted deeply.

A side note: When people start going several times a week to a (presumably at least relatively local) national park; send their kids there a few times a week to youth activities; hold weekly meetings there involving dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of people; get married there; go to weddings regularly there; have their family members' funerals there -- then I'll give some credit to the Rev. Nunley's comparison of a church with a national park. But I, for one, have never heard of such regular use of a park by a large group of people -- much less regular religious use, despite the fact that some Americans find more solace in a national park than a church building. (Rev. Nunley is right on that last point.)

The diocese and the national church do offer some words of balm to those who they consider to be "faithful," "loyal," or (to cite Rev. Nunley) "[t]rue" Episcopalians. They sometimes speak of perserving their heritage for future generations of Episcopalians. Those are important concerns. But where is concern for those who are departing? Where are the concerns for existing ministries, including preschools and youth ministries, that will end when the majority (or, perhaps in some cases, all members) of a parish leaves?

It's also worth noting that some parishioners who voted "no" to leaving TEC stand strongly against the direction in which the denomination is heading. People in this group voted "no" because they disagreed on the timing of the departures, the group with which the parishes affiliated, and/or any number of other issues. Diocesan and national church claims to the contrary, they are no more "loyal" to the Episcopal Church than those who voted "yes."

Is there any way in which the needs and concerns of both those leaving the Episcopal Church and those staying within the denomination could be met? If the diocese and the denomination don't come to the table, we'll never know.

I'm no lawyer or property expert, so I'm not speaking from knowledge of all the legal ins and outs of this situation. Additionally, I'm only giving my own personal views on this issue here; I am not speaking for anyone else. But clearly a decision that takes into account all of the needs of parishioners -- both those leaving and those staying within the Episcopal Church -- requires Solomonic wisdom. And it can best be accomplished, in each case where it is occurring, by the diocese, the national church, and the departing Anglicans sitting down together and working out some solution that works to the benefit of all three groups. Such an approach would be glorifying to God.


A side note about the Rev. Nunley's depiction of the IRD as an organization dedicated to "erod[ing]" the separation of church and state: There are many problems with this characterization, not the least of which is that no one here at the IRD holds that goal. Progressive beliefs to the contrary, we're not fond of theocracies. (We do believe in "the naked public square," the open discussion of religious beliefs in the marketplace of ideas. That's a principle and a freedom that applies to progressives as much as conservatives.) But since it would take a lengthy essay (or even a book!) to address the extensive paranoia about the IRD evidenced among many progressives, I'll leave the responses to those already made by different IRD staffers.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Appreciation for a Very Godly Priest...

... whom I have never met but have wanted to meet since I first read his blog three or four years ago. I'm thinking of Father Al Kimel, a former Anglican priest who swam the Tiber to Rome maybe two years back. Thanks to Stand Firm and the wonderful Sarah Hey for her heeartfelt post on Father Kimel's retirement from blogging (kudos to Greg, Matt, Jackie, et. al., as well, of course).

Even though we all have our different stories, Father Kimel's tale is one that should resonate with any of us who have loved the Episcopal Church and who have grieved to see it depart from orthodox faith and practice ... and go off the deep end.

Since Father Kimel so emotionally tells his last blogging tale with an appropriate quote from Tolkien, he got me reflecting on another quote from The Lord of the Rings that I think is appropriate here. Those of us who love Tolkien undoubtedly will remember Bilbo's walking song as revised by Frodo while riding through the Shire before meeting the elves on their way to the Grey Havens (since I'm typing it from memory, pardon any errors):

Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate
And though I oft have passed them by
A day shall come at last when I
Shall take the hidden paths that run
West of the moon, east of the sun

That walking song was on my heart a few days ago while meandering through the streets of DC. While it obviously refers to death/eternity, it also is suitable for any closing chapter in our lives.

Namarie indeed, Father Kimel. But as you say goodbye, do know that your faithful service to our Lord and your work to renew the Episcopal Church have not been in vain. You have inspired people who you do not know and who have never met you to stay faithful to our Lord and Savior. We remember your work on the Baltimore Declaration. In your departure from TEC, our loss was Rome's gain. We thank you for providing us with, for a few years, one of the most spiritually sound, astute, and challenging blogs out there. And if our Lord ever leads you to take up blogging again, many of us will be grateful.

May our Lord grant the healing that you need, for "the hands of a healer are the hands of a king" (Tolkien again, rough paraphrase from memory).

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Clarity Here

A June 16 Richmond Times-Dispatch interview with Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori provides more clarity on the denomination’s stances on controversial issues.

*On the mission of the Episcopal Church: “The church’s role is to remember what God’s mission is and that’s the healing of the world.”

*On gay and lesbian issues: “The full inclusion of gay and lesbian people is part of our mission.”

*On opposition to a woman being presiding bishop and women's ordination: “Three diocesan bishops out of 110 in the Episcopal Church hold that opinion. . . . It's not apparently been a problem.”

*On why it’s exciting to be an Anglican today: “The very fact that we're having controversy means that … opportunities are enormous to grow individually and as congregations, as faithful people, to grow in service to the rest of the world.”

None of these statements is revelatory; they repeat either themes of Jefferts Schori’s tenure as presiding bishop or statements made by other Episcopal Church leaders. What is different here is that she has provided short, direct answers that cut through any confusion:

*Her reference to “the healing of the world” takes all of her themes concerning the “dream of God,” “coming home,” the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs),, and distills them down to five words.

*Her summary statement of the church’s stance on gay and lesbian issues probably is the most clear, succinct statement anyone has made to date.

*Her statistics regarding opposition to female bishops (and female clergy in general) focus only on bishops and ignore laity. Similarly, her descriptions of departing Episcopal congregations recently have focused not on the number of people leaving the denomination, but the number of congregations lost. In both cases, she chooses smaller numbers that boost her cause.

*She reiterates her oft-repeated view that dealing with controversial issues produces spiritual growth. She does not look at controversial issues in terms of how they go against Scripture or the traditions of the church.

Back in February at the Episcopal Urban Caucus meeting, Bishop Jefferts Schori predicted that clarity would prove forthcoming as to where the Episcopal Church stands on controversial issues. With the House of Bishops and the Executive Council at this point apparently agreeing in their lack of movement toward meeting Anglican primates' requests, and with Bishop Jefferts Schori making statements like these, "clarity" may have hit a new high watermark.

When Is a Church Building Like a National Park?

The property issues in the Episcopal Church continue to affect the news. On June 26, an appeals court ruled in favor of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles concerning the properties of four parishes that left the Episcopal Church. The ruling overturns a lower-court decision that proved favorable to the parishes. And just a few days earlier, the Rev. Jan Nunley of the Episcopal News Service (ENS) provided her take on the property issues.

In that blog entry, Nunley argues that even while parishioners pay money for their church buildings, the property is held in trust for the Episcopal Church as a whole. She compares the situation with taxpayers whose dollars go to funding national parks; they cannot take any part of the property no matter how much money they've contributed.

The problem is that taxpayers may well pay for parks that they never use, but parishioners pay for church buildings in which they worship. More: they not only pay for, but participate in, activities devoted to serving God in these buildings. They see their family members and friends grow up in, baptized in, and confirmed in these churches. They dedicate their money, time, and effort into refurbishing meeting spaces for youth and other groups. National parks, as wonderful as they are, normally are not connected with major life events -- or, more importantly, peoples' relationships with God -- as churches are.

Even more: the church becomes home to a variety of groups/ministries throughout the week. What is to happen to all of the ministries when the whole parish departs if all of the parishioners must leave the building? These are real, heartfelt issues, and it's shortsighted to boil the issue down to a matter of payment.

There certainly are substantial arguments to be made on both sides of the aisle about property. There are also some serious issues to be dealt with individually and, if a parish or a majority of a parish leaves the Episcopal Church, perhaps collectively. How does your view on property relate to, and affect, your ecclesiology -- your beliefs concerning the church? If you believe that the church's property belongs to the congregation who paid for it, are you in favor of a more congregational mode of church government as opposed to a heirarchical one? Where do bishops and apostolic succession fit into the picture? Or, when a church espouses heresy, does that itself mean that congregations should fight for church buildings as a way of stopping the spread of heresy? Many orthodox Anglicans today answer that last question resoundingly in the affirmative.

There are questions for the denomination as well. Yes, past parishioners may have contributed to the parish expecting that it would have been available to future generations of Episcopalians, and that truly is a serious concern. But it's also fair to speculate that many of them would have opposed the Episcopal Church's drift from orthodox faith and practice, possibly to the point of agreeing with those who want to keep the buildings as they leave. Given that scenario, how valid is the "trust" argument?

My colleague Alan Wisdom argues that there are also other, less obvious, questions that people should perhaps consider. What impact should the reality of the communion of saints have concerning our view of to whom the property belongs? Can any piece of property be said to belong to only a parish or even a denomination? Does it instead belong to the communion of saints -- all Christians living today, as well as those now with God in heaven and those yet to be born? This line of thinking, while perhaps novel and too impractical for many, has some serious implications for many issues.

But church buildings are not like national parks. The investment made goes far deeper than money, and hits the hearts of people, some of whom have spent a large portion of their life at a given parish.

And the Episcopal Church, in its determination to retain its property, has shut down any attempts at a negotiated settlement (in the case of the 11 departing Virginia parishes, at least). The denomination has, in Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori's own words, resorted to "the big guns," supposedly because "the pastoral solution has failed." But what "pastoral solution" was even halfway attempted? In Virginia, the diocese cut off negotiations and scuttled the Protocol for Departing Congregations that had been in development by a diocesan special committee for nearly a year's time.

It also bears remembering that former Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold said that diocesen bishops are free to pursue what the Living Church magazine described as "an amicable settlement with a congregation that wants to leave the Episcopal Church and retain its building." But ever since Bishop Jefferts Schori assumed her office last November, the national church has taken a legal role in attempting to keep property.

There are serious issues here for the Episcopal Church: by not being open to negotiation with parishes, by demanding that orthodox parishioners leave property without negotiations, by calling them "dissidents" and pitting them rhetorically against "faithful" Episcopalians who stay, by declaring to the press that their leavetaking essentially is inconsequential ... what type of message is the church sending to the world and to those who are leaving? How is a lawsuit consistent with blessing people who leave, a task that Bishop Jefferts Schori has advocated? How is a lawsuit in any way contributing to the health of the Anglican Communion when the primates requested in their February communique that all lawsuits should cease?

For all of its self-professed "more gracious" view of Christianity (according to Bishop Jefferts Schori, at least), the Episcopal Church is now seen by most orthodox Anglicans as hostile toward orthodox faith and practice. Moreover, the denomination is seen to be uncaring and all too laissez-faire concerning orthodox parishioners and, perhaps even more so, parishioners who depart -- uncaring and laissez-faire, that is, except when it comes to retaining the property. One Virginia parishioner said to me a few months back (to roughly paraphrase from memory), "Whatever I may have felt beforehand, why in the world would I now want to stay in a denomination that is suing my parish -- that thinks so little of us as to sue us? You don't do that to your own worst enemy, and this is supposed to be a Christian church!" Where is grace?

It does not have to be this way. I know of a Presbyterian church that left the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) several years ago for a more conservative denomination. The presbytery reportedly told the congregation, in essence, "We don't want you to leave, but if you must, we'll sell you the property for a price." The original building had long been paid off and the congregation had paid for a building expansion not too many years earlier. Paying for the building in essence a second time (though at a greatly reduced rate) may well have seemed unfair to some of the parishioners. Nevertheless, an agreement that recognized the claim on the property by both the congregation and the denomination was reached peaceably and amicably. There's no reason why such a model couldn't work in the Episcopal Church.

But in Virginia recently, when asked about how to respond to congregations leaving, Bishop Jefferts Schori mentioned blessing them and telling them, "we'll leave the light on." That phrase (with the addition of "for you" at the end) may have been a humorous folksy sentiment for Motel 6, but in today's tense Episcopal Church climate it conveys flippancy (at best) instead of warmth. The Episcopal Church apparently cares more for its property than its (orthodox) people, and more for the perceived "trust" in those buildings than (orthodox) teaching and theology. Those perceptions undoubtedly will only encourage more orthodox Anglicans to leave the Episcopal Church. An analogy comparing church buildings with national parks sadly (if unintentionally) trivializes the heart issues involved with the painful choice of leaving a denomination.

The Larger Implications of the Redding Controversy

It's easy in the midst of the controversy concerning the Rev. Ann Holmes Redding (the Diocese of Olympia clergyperson who considers herself to be both Muslim and Christian) to get so engrossed in the trees that you lose the bird's-eye view of the forest. Yes, her bishop's apparent (according to the Seattle Times) acceptance of her dual faiths is dismaying. But both Redding and the inclusive “local option” for dual faiths among clergy have a deeper significance: they are perhaps the most telling illustrations of where the Episcopal Church at a whole is now with relation to its place in the larger Anglican Communion.

Just as Redding views her conversion to Islam as a “calling … very much … about my identity and who I am supposed to be,” the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church recently told the Anglican Communion, “in truth the only thing we really have to offer [to the communion] is who we are.”

This statement came from the council’s June14 letter, “The Episcopal Church’s Commitment to Common Life in the Anglican Communion,” issued near the end of a June 11–14 meeting in Parsippany, NJ. In the letter, the Executive Council—as the House of Bishops did in a resolution last March—communicates its desire to maintain relationships with other Anglicans. The primates of Anglican Communion provinces have given the House of Bishops in the Episcopal Church until September 30 to assure the rest of the communion that in the future (a) the House of Bishops will not consent to the consecration of any bishop living in a same-sex relationship, and (b) bishops will not authorize same-sex blessings.

The council goes on to describe the denomination as a “community” of sincere Christians seeking God’s will who “cannot tell our brothers and sisters with certainty … where the Holy Spirit will guide this Church.” But without a radical reversal of direction, and with more and more orthodox Anglicans leaving the denomination (thus giving progressives even less opposition than they’ve encountered in the past few decades), the Episcopal Church’s direction toward increasingly heterodox theology and social witness seems abundantly clear.

That direction is clearly marked out by the Episcopal Church’s actions over the last four years:

* "Who we are”—the church that consented to the consecration of Gene Robinson as bishop and approved same-sex blessings as a local option partially as a reaction against the 1998 Lambeth conference, which upheld normative Anglican teaching concerning sexuality and marriage

* “Who we are”—the church that not only consented to Robinson’s consecration but proceeded with it even when many primates warned the denomination ahead of time that doing so would cause “tear the fabric of our Communion at its deepest level”

* "Who we are”—the church that insisted at its 75th General Convention in 2006 that it had only “strained” relationships in the Anglican Communion (the primates chose a very different word in their February communiqué, substituting “damaged” for “strained”)

* “Who we are”—the church whose House of Bishops in March of this year identified gay and lesbian rights as an essential part of its “gospel”

* “Who we are”—the church that continues to ignore the requests of the primates as same-sex blessings continue at the local level

And the council concludes its letter with these words: “We believe [t]he Episcopal Church can only offer who we are, with openness, honesty, integrity, and faithfulness, and our commitment never to choose to walk apart.”

Aye, there’s the rub. Implicitly, the council is arguing for the Episcopal Church as a local option in the Anglican Communion—a local option that is free to pursue its own path and continue to go against the mind of the larger communion. It is not asking for other Anglican Communion provinces to take the same path at this time, but it wants to be accepted for “who we are.”

Of course, the council does not want the Episcopal Church to “walk apart” from the Anglican Communion in the sense of consciously choosing to disassociate from the communion. (Orthodox Anglicans hold that the Episcopal Church already has “walked apart” by departing from Scripture and traditional Anglican teaching, and by failing to respond sufficiently to the rest of the Anglican Communion.) Doing so would mean a loss of both worldwide influence and mission. Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has argued in recent months that the church can better influence the larger Christian body by staying within the Anglican Communion.

But neither does the council want the Episcopal Church to curb its sense of progressive justice. There is no mention in the council’s letter of any change for the good of the larger Anglican Communion or the larger body of Christ. The best that the council offers is assurances that the primates have been heard and taken seriously, and that “[t]he advice of the larger community will continue to find reflection in the actions we take.” But when has the Episcopal Church in the last four years truly heeded the primates’ “advice,” much less their “requests”?

The end result of this identity crisis seems to be a church where almost anything can go at the local level, a church that pursues (from a progressive point of view) ever-new revelation from God without the boundaries historically maintained by orthodox faith and practice. It’s a church where, as seems true for Rev. Ann Holmes Redding, a conviction of a local call from God trumps the understanding and faith of the wider body of Christ. Under such circumstances, both Redding and the idea of dual faiths as a local option for Episcopal clergy provide a picture-perfect illustration of the Episcopal Church’s own identity quest as a local option in the Anglican Communion, one consumed with"who we are."